The Coleman-Franken fiasco: Minnesota’s inexhaustible Senate race

hey coleman you lostPolitical cartoonist Mario Piperni’s take on the Coleman-Franken debate

It has been a battle from day one, at least from Nov. 4th when Norm Coleman and Al Franken went head-to-head in Minnesota’s 2009 general election.  Now 312 votes and 198 days separate what was once an election that yielded Minnesota’s newest Senator from a never-ending discussion between Coleman and Franken and the seemingly endless Senator race.

While these politicians are arguing over absentee ballots and election certificates, is the state of Minnesota’s reputation being threatened by the never-ending arguments between Senator-hopefuls?  Is this controversy in Minnesota threatening to mirror the Florida fiasco between Bush and Gore in the 2004 presidential election?

The Politico offset claims that Minnesota’s ballot recount is similar to Florida’s Bush-Gore recount in 2000, which stirred politics pot for months.  In ruling against Coleman last Monday night, The Politico reported a three-judge panel made its view perfectly clear: This case is not Bush v. Gore, and Minnesota’s electoral process is nothing like Florida’s.

“The citizens of Minnesota should be proud of their election system,” the three judges wrote in a sweeping opinion that roundly rejected Coleman’s arguments.  Unlike Florida in 2000, Minnesota has laws in place that spell out the procedures for a recount and set standards to help determine which ballots could be accept and rejected.

absentee ballots in courtMinnesota absentee ballots awaiting court recount

Regardless of Minnesota’s ballot counting system, the election was still ridiculously close in number of votes; therefore each candidate had the right to request a recount.  What started off as an election that originally announced Coleman as receiving the most votes has now been turned into Franken leading the race by 312 votes.

While Franken comfortably claims what he assumes to be his latest title of Minnesota Senator, Coleman and co. are grasping at shirttails to find new lawsuits to file and ballots to claim as their own.  In early April, after a three-judge panel declared 351 more absentee ballots as official votes, the majority of them in favor of Franken, Franzen’s attorney Marc Elias was pleased with the votes and declared Franken Senator and referred to Coleman as “former Senator Coleman.”

Al franken

“Today is a very important step in that we now know the outcome of the election contest, which is the same outcome as the recount,” Elias said. “More Minnesotans voted for Al Franken than Norm Coleman. Nothing Norm Coleman can do in the courts will change that fact.”

But Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg, after the ruling at a press conference, said Coleman would indeed be appealing the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Norm Coleman

“Today was good in the sense that 351 voters got their ballots counted, but we are saddened and disappointed that it was only 351. It should have been 10 times more than that,” said Ginsberg. “Because those voters remain disenfranchised… we will be appealing this to the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

Minnesota has four reasons for rejecting a ballot: the voter wasn’t registered, they failed to sign the ballot, their witness wasn’t qualified or they cast another ballot.  Coleman is claiming that election judges were unfair in their ballot counting and that is why the lawsuits have ensued. “Applying the standard used on election night to all remaining rejected absentee ballots does not mean the court would be turning a blind eye to the statutory requirements,” the Coleman’s lawyers wrote. Instead, they said it would acknowledge that some election officials were looser in their application of state law.

While appealing the ballot count, Coleman’s administration has also been billed $161,510.63 in attorney and lawsuit fees.  The state law on election contests requires the contestant (the person who was behind after the Canvassing Board recount, in this case Norm Coleman) must pay the expenses the contestee (the person who was ahead, a.k.a Al Franken) incurs in defending their case. This requirement applies if, but only if, the contestee wins the case, which Franken says he did, when The Three Judges of the Election Contest Court ruled that he, Franken, had received the most votes and was therefore entitled to an election certificate. Coleman says the case isn’t over until his appeal to the MN Supreme Court is over.

But what does all of this expensive and argumentative recount process mean for Minnesota? A new poll published in the Star Tribune found that a majority of Minnesotans believes it is time for Coleman to take a seat in the fight and Franken to take his seat in the Senate.

Comparing December 2008 surveys to the Star Tribune survey results released this week, both candidates have taken a beating to their popularity levels, 55 percent of May poll respondents saying they view both Franken and Coleman as “unfavorable” as compared to a much lower rate of dislike back in 2008.

A St. Thomas law professor, and writer for the Free Republic, calls the recount “off the tracks – and unconstitutional.”  Quoting the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and the 17th Amendment, Michael Stokes Paulson deems the Minnesota recount “embarrassing for Minnesotans” but finds fault in the court systems for inconsistent vote counting.

“The standards for evaluating rejected absentee ballots likewise must be uniform, with decisions made according to legal standards, not by partisan campaigns. If, as appears increasingly likely, neither the contest proceeding nor the Minnesota Supreme Court brings Minnesota’ s recount into compliance with federal constitutional law, the federal courts may need to step in. The matter could go straight up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Just as likely, a local federal district court may be called upon to issue an injunction against an unlawful state recount process, just as the U.S. Supreme Court needed to pull the plug on Florida’s unconstitutional process in Bush v. Gore.”

Paulson is not alone in his growing tired of the constant political drama between Coleman and Franken, the majority of Minnesotans are also hoping for an end to this madness; their favor toward the politicians diminishing with each day the recount goes on.  While pleading with Coleman to “give it up already” and Franken to reign as Minnesota Senator as the votes say he should be, the rest of Minnesota will wait for both the official and mandatory process of courts and recounts and also an adult politician to grow up and quit fighting a battle he’s already lost.

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Adolescent pregnancy numbers declining but still shocking

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Today, May 6th is the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.  The day aims to provide Americans an opportunity to engage in a national dialogue centered on educating, engaging and empowering Americans to invest in our future by investing in our youth.

After more than a decade of dramatic decline in adolescent pregnancy and birth rates, the United States has unexpectedly experienced increases in 2006 and 2007. Even with the decline, our Nation still ranks first in adolescent pregnancy and birth rates in comparison to other industrialized countries – almost double the next highest country. The reality is sobering: in the United States one in three girls will become pregnant before age 20, totaling more than 750,000 girls per year.  Every year around 750,000 teenagers will get pregnant.

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Unmarried teenagers having children account for 24 percent of all unmarried expectant mothers, and more than two thirds of all teenagers who have a baby will not graduate from high school.  In a speech last week marking his first 100 days in office, President Obama commented on forming a Presidential task force to investigate and provide recommendations on reducing unintended pregnancies, especially among teens.

Bloggers join President Obama in attempts to lower the teen pregnancy rates for the U.S. in blog posts all over the web on this day for prevention.  Individual state leaders are coming together to help create and enforce the kind of program that will actually lower the current rates nationwide.

Minnesota leaders and medical practitioners are also joining forces this week for the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting’s annual conference May 7-8.  Nationwide in 2006, 7,014 females aged 15-19 and 113 females under the age of 15 became pregnant.  Each day in 2006, approximately 19 adolescent females became pregnant in Minnesota.  Information from MOAPPP’s website gave statistics on Minnesota teen pregnancy, stating that since 1990, adolescent pregnancy and birth rates overall have declined significantly in Minnesota. However, the most recent data indicates that both pregnancy and births increased from 2005 to 2006.

Adolescent pregnancy can be prevented and the rates can lower if people work together with organizations like MOAPPP along with support from political leaders.  Lowering the amount of teenage mothers in the U.S. will also help make strides toward lowering welfare numbers as well as raising high school graduate percentages.  A baby is a blessing, especially when the mother is mature, financially stable and emotionally prepared for the undertaking of raising a child.

baby-feet

Possible pandemic creeping into U.S.

pig-noseThe infamous reports of swine flu have taken the media by storm.  The majority of news casts are being filled with swine flu updates and warnings, viewers absorbing any new information they can regarding the recent outbreak of Influenza A.  But is the concern of swine flu a legitimate pandemic concern or all hogwash?

There have been more than 150 swine flu deaths in Mexico but the symptoms and strains of the disease appear to be less deadly across the border in the U.S. and Canada.  Many theories have been formulated surrounding the causes and various symptoms, but one thing is for sure, the swine flu is a real disease that is claiming lives around the country.

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The sheer panic surrounding the threats of influenza have caused countries that don’t even have a single case of the virus to take drastic preventative measures.  Egyptian officials have ordered that all 300,000 pigs in the country be slaughtered at once, yet no case of the swine flu has shown to exist in Egypt at this time.  Egyptian officials have also put a temporary ban on kissing, claiming that every possible preventative measure should be taken.

Meanwhile, street vendors in Lima Peru have turned an influenza threat into a marketing ploy, selling masks on busy freeways during rush hour traffic.  It seems that the facial masks are in high demand as Great Britian has put an order in for 32 million masks.  Maplewood, Minn. 3M has increased production of those very facial masks.  President Obama has reportedly said that more of the country’s 132,000 schools will have to be shuttered.

All of these supposed precautions are being taken even though world health experts say many of these measures may not stop the disease from spreading. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert to the second-highest level, meaning it believes a global outbreak of the disease is imminent.  Numbers from the WHO website stated that nine countries have officially reported 148 cases of Swine Flu.

All the preventative measures can be summed up as simple common sense actions such as washing hands frequently and not sharing beverages or other facial-touching items such as lipstick or hand towels.  Try to stay in good general health. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. Try not touch surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu virus. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

dont-do-thisOh, and don’t do this.

For more information about preventative steps and general influenza facts, check out this link.

Meghan McCain: Beauty and brains or just another politician’s offspring?

meghan

Yes.  She’s pretty.  And yes, she has recently emerged as somewhat of an icon for political happenings and outspoken voices around the United States.  She speaks her mind, unconcerned about the conservative republican toes she steps on.  Although her father ran for the most powerful position in the world under the conservative political umbrella, Meghan McCain has made it very clear that her views are her own and often different from those of her father.

The Senator’s daughter spoke to a collection of “old-school republicans” last Saturday and later divulged that she thought those types of conservatives to be “scared shitless” of the possible and inevitable changes in office that lie ahead.  As an advocate for the gay conservative community, McCain has took repeated shots at the GOP for its antiquated mores.

john-and-meghan

“I feel too many Republicans want to cling to past successes,” said McCain. “There are those who think we can win the White House and Congress back by being ‘more’ conservative. Worse, there are those who think we can win by changing nothing at all about what our party has become. They just want to wait for the other side to be perceived as worse than us. I think we’re seeing a war brewing in the Republican Party. But it is not between us and Democrats. It is not between us and liberals. It is between the future and the past.”

Speaking bold statements like these has landed McCain and late night talk shows and made her a target for critics to scrutinize everything from her weight and tattoos to her views on gay marriage and abortion.  During an interview with Larry King, McCain openly spoke about her views and her similarities and differences in comparison with her father’s conservative political views.

“I consider myself a progressive Republican. I am liberal on social issues. And I think that the party is at a place where social issues shouldn’t be the issues that define the party. And I have taken heat, but in fairness to me, I am a different generation than the people that are giving me heat. I’m 24 years old. I’m not in my 40s, I’m not in my 50s and older.”

Although her views are sometimes in extreme contrast to those of her father, McCain has spoken highly of her parents and her upbringing, claiming her mother to be a loving, protective mother and her dad the “reason she fell in love with the republican party.”

I think it’s encouraging to see someone like Meghan McCain, as a daughter to a famous conservative Senator, who is willing to expand her own beliefs and stances on important issues rather than just assume the beliefs of her parents without thinking for herself.  What’s even more astonishing, is the support that her father has bestowed upon her as she has commented on controversial issues and touchy subjects that most conservatives would shy away from.

“I love my dad so much. He’s the best father to me. And like I said, he’s so supportive of me and my career and what I do and speaking my mind. When you grow up having a maverick as a father and an example, you can understand how I turned out like this.”

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Twitter: The latest (and maybe most popular) Internet sensation

twitterI hate to admit it.  Another Internet obsession is tempting me with its never ending updates and constant reminders of friendly interactions.  It seems as though practically daily I hear a mention of the infamous Twitter, the free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users’ updates known as tweets.

Unlike its online counterparts such as MySpace or Facebook, Twitter limits the character count of each post to 140 characters.  The restriction on tweet size is in attempts to keep the “SMS” or “texty” feel of the website.  Similar to Twitter, a general cell phone text message allows for 160 characters to be sent between phones.

Although still following behind Facebook and MySpace, Twitter’s usage has increased exponentially.  In March 2009, a Nielsen blog ranked Twitter as the fastest growing site in the Member Communities category for February 2009. Twitter had a growth of 1382 percent.

The Twitter sensation has been an easy target for comedians like Jon Stewart who joked on his show about congressman Twittering during one of President Barack Obama’s addresses.  Laughable or not, the idea of easy access information is one to be invested in because studies are starting to prove that quick information access is preferable to a growing majority of Internet users.

In a 2009 study from a neuroscience group led by Antonio Damasio, director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, discovered that rapid-fire news updates and instant social interaction are too fast for the ‘moral compass’ of the brain to process. The study showed it takes longer to activate processing of social emotions such as admiration and compassion, which are critical for developing a sense of morality. Although Twitter was not explicitly singled out in the study, Twitter was primarily targeted by media reports.

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My roommates and friends can be seen here joined in the online action all in a row on their computers sophomore year.  There were six of us living in this apartment at one point and many times most of us would find ourselves glued to our computer screens, chatting away on various social networking sites.  I vow to continue my battle against the urge to register for the online temptation known as Twitter.

Opening Day in all its glory

field-panorama1If you asked me what my favorite sign of spring is, I would mentally sort through (and past) the tulips, robins, tree buds and warm weather.  My most beloved sign of spring is the Major League Baseball’s Opening Night.  I watched opening night on Sunday as the Phillies and Braves dueled in the first baseball game of the 2009 season.

Although the 2008 World Series Champions were favored to win this season opener, the Phillies remained scoreless as the Atlanta Braves were led by pitcher Derek Lowe in a Philadelphia-scoreless battle.

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Our very own Minnesota Twins opened their season on Monday and lost a disappointing game where they struggled offensively and made silly defensive errors.  Fransisco Liriano took the mound and the loss for the first game of the season against the Seattle Mariners.

Our boys of summer came out strong in game two of their season on Tuesday and pulled it together in the ninth inning with two outs for a come from behind win.  The team ran from the bench and from all corners of the field in celebration and united at the center of the diamond for a crowd-pleasing standing ovation.  The number in attendance on Tuesday was down from a sold-out 48,000 opening night to a mere 22,000.  Nonetheless, all 22,000 fans were pleased with Tuesday’s win and hoping to finish the four game series against Seattle with two more wins.

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My first game of 2009 4/8/09

I made my way to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on Wednesday in the last opening series the dome will see.  Reminders throughout the stadium of the new home for the Twins- Target Stadium- is being built right around the corner from the dome.  I feel as though I’ve become rather attached to the dome, and on a night like tonight where the exterior temperature was a chilly 43 degrees and it was a comfortably balmy 68 in the dome, it makes me think the outdoor stadium may be uncomfortable much of the season due to Minnesota’s extreme temperature climates.

The new Target Stadium will feature some amazing amenities for baseball fans of all shapes, sizes and intensity levels.  As talk about the new stadium has remained rather hush-hush, the Twins Ballpark Blog promises to give updates and information for fans wanting to know the status of our wonderful new field.

As the Twins start their last season in the dome, I wish them nothing but the best, and am predicting (and hoping for) at least a Central Division Championship for the 2009 baseball season. Let’s play ball.

Patience please?

traffic-jam

Minnesota Department of Transportation has recently pleaded with metro area commuters and businesses to bear with upcoming road construction on the seemingly needy 35-W.

After I was stuck in stand-still traffic at 8:30 p.m., I find it hard to believe that “normal” rush hour times will not be unbearable as the regularly traveled four lanes of 35W will be cut down to three lanes.  However, a Star Tribune reporter claimed otherwise in a Monday morning report of a “non-impeded” morning rush hour.

MNDOT claims the repairs of the effected highway will only last six months and will lead to a “greatly enhanced commute.” In efforts to repair the stretch of 35-W from Bloomington through the north end of the metro, MNDOT has worked on sections of the highway in intervals so as to inconvenience commuters as little as possible.

I am in full support of bettering the Minnesota roadways. I have even met the commissioner for MNDOT at a political event two summers ago after the collapse of the 35-W bridge. I understand that there is no way around the repairs other than to create traffic obstacles that will ultimately make driving less convenient. But I hope that the construction lasts the six months MNDOT promised and doesn’t spill into the fall and winter months as most construction projects seem to have a tendency to. A recent Star Tribune article suggested alternate means of transportation for usual auto commuters such as car pools and public busses. I think car-pooling is a great idea and a relatively logical attempt to lessen rush hour and construction congested traffic. I view the public bus as an extremely under-utilized mode of transportation and I blame part of it on the inefficiency of the public bus routes around the metro area, but mostly I blame lazy and inflexible commuters for their lack of interest in varying forms of travel.

bumper-to-bumper

After living and commuting without a car in Washington, D.C. for five months, I may be a bit biased to the public transportation system. However I also believe it could be a possible cure-all for hasty rush hour traffic and deteriorating road conditions. Less commuters means less wear and tear on the pavement.

Besides car-pools and city busses, the article also mentioned alternating commute times and talking to employers about possible telecommuting options. Don’t get me wrong; I understand that MNDOT is trying to suggest ways to cope with the upcoming increased congestion on one of the metro’s busiest highways, but changing work hours or working from home may not be feasible for many employees.

For the lucky few, those options may be attainable, but for the rest of us nine-to-fivers, we will most likely be fighting the five o’clock commute along with everyone else.

If you would like more information about contributing to the efforts of cutting back on traffic, check the links below for Metro area public transportation options.

Park and Rides

Public Bus Routes and Schedules

Bike Paths and Information