The Big Story Blog

The Big Story Blog: January 5, 2012 Archive

Voters assess Bachmann's future in 6th District

Posted at 4:00 AM on January 5, 2012 by Minnesota Public Radio
Filed under: Politics

By Conrad Wilson, Minnesota Public Radio News


St. Cloud, Minn - U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's decision to drop out of the contest for Republican presidential nominee brought mixed reviews from her constituents in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, where voters are assessing her bid for the White House and weighing her future as their congresswoman.

Since announcing her candidacy in June, Bachmann has taken her message to national audiences on the road. But she's also managed to hold onto the support of some who put her into office.

Among them is Michelle Keller of Rice, Minn. who is sad that Bachmann is suspending her campaign.

"Michele Bachmann would have been a great president," Keller said. "She knows Minnesota. She knows the Midwest; of the United States. More than most of those politician's know. "

Keller said if Bachmann asked for her advice, she'd have an easy answer: "Try for vice president."

Bachmann can also count on Curt Brandon of Sartell, Minn. He said he's read Bachmann's book, "Core of Conviction: My Story," and supported her because she is a strong Christian.

"She tells the truth the way it is," Brandon said. "Sure she made some mistakes. She's not totally knowledgeable. Maybe she's not even qualified to be president, but she tried and she certainly has done a lot of good."

Others in her district are less supportive of Bachmann's president bid and even her future in politics.

Jim Meinz, who owns and manages real estate in St. Cloud, describes himself as politically independent and not a Bachmann supporter.

"You cringe when you hear some of the things that she says," Meinz said. "She doesn't make you proud."

Meinz said Bachmann might be better suited for a career outside of politics.

"I think that she's all over the board on the issues and I just think that there are better candidates out there," he said.

Bachmann declined to entertain questions Wednesday about what her immediate future holds.

She could run for re-election to Congress, decide to challenge Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, or use her exposure in the national spotlight to transition into a career outside of politics. There's also the chance that the eventual Republican presidential nominee might select her as a running mate.

Should Bachmann consider a run against Klobuchar, she'll have to consider polling data. One poll surveyed before Bachmann's presidential bid shows Klobuchar handily beating Bachmann in a statewide race.

If she decides to run for re-election in the 6th District, Bachmann will do so with new district boundaries that will most likely be assigned by a court. At this point, Bachmann also doesn't know who her Democratic challenger would be.

Stephen Frank, a political science professor at St. Cloud State University, said Bachmann, a prolific fundraiser, will also have to seek new political contributions.

"She had lots of money in her last election and she had millions that she left over," Frank said. "We think it was perfectly legal for her to use that money in her presidential campaign. But I'm thinking she's tapped out ... I'm not sure she has the money she had before."

By running for the presidency, Bachmann's elevated her profile and her views. That could help create more interest around her if she decided to run again for Congress, Frank said, but the opposite could also be true.

"About half of Americans can't name their own congressperson," he said. "A lot don't pay attention and now they've seen her in a national light ... And that may help or it could go against her."

GOP party leaders gave no indication what they want Bachmann to do next.

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge, who thanked Bachmann for running a strong campaign for the party's nomination, said she has some decisions to make.

"Bachmann's steps moving forward are up to her," Shortridge said in a statement released Wednesday. "She and her family will have to decide how she can best serve the things she's been fighting for."

Benilde-St. Margaret hockey player permanently paralyzed

Posted at 11:25 AM on January 5, 2012 by MPR News Staff
Filed under: Sport

By Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio News

The family of a gravely injured high school hockey player say he'll never play -- or walk -- again.

"This news is devastating to Jack and everyone who loves him," the family of Benilde-St. Margaret's sophomore Jack Jablonski wrote on his CaringBridge website. They said they hope his youth and strength may help him overcome at least some of his injury at some point. But they said that for now they are preparing to help him make a transition to life without being able to walk again.

Jablonski was injured Friday during a hockey game against Wayzata at the St. Louis Park Recreation Center. He was checked from behind and hit the boards on the side of the rink. He collapsed on the ice and told his dad he couldn't get up or move.

"Spinal cord damage of this type is irreparable with surgery," said the Hennepin County Medical Center surgeons who operated on Jablonski in a statement released Thursday. "However, Jack is young, strong and determined, and has excellent support from family, friends and the community. This support is essential to helping him recover from surgery and continue with the therapies he will require when he goes home."

"Jack Jablonski's surgery went very smoothly," the surgeons said. "We accomplished the necessary goals, which were to assess and stabilize his spinal column to prevent further injury and allow for rehabilitation."

But the surgeons said that Jablonsky suffered "obviously horrific" injuries. "Jack is young, strong and determined, and has excellent support from family, friends and the community," they said. "This support is essential to helping him recover from surgery and continue with the therapies he will require when he goes home."

Red Wing crash kills one on Highway 58

Posted at 7:18 AM on January 5, 2012 by MPR News Staff

By Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio News

A crash south of Red Wing killed one person and injured at least two others on Wednesday night.

The State Patrol says a car northbound on Highway 58 was trying to pass two other cars when an oncoming vehicle approached. The car tried to veer back into the northbound lane. The driver lost control and the car spun passenger-door first into oncoming traffic.

The car's driver wasn't wearing a seatbelt and died at the scene of the crash.

Leak prompts Prairie Island alert for first time in nuclear plant's history

Posted at 12:32 PM on January 5, 2012 by MPR News Staff
Filed under: Education, Environment

By Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio News

Xcel Energy officials said a leak in a water treatment system prompted them to put the Prairie Island nuclear generating plant on alert early Thursday for the first time in the plant's history.

The alert began at 3:53 a.m. after a worker reported a break in a two-inch PVC pip leading to a tank containing about 500 gallons of sodium hypochloride, a bleach used to cool intake water, according to Dennis Koehl, Xcel's senior vice president and chief nuclear officer.

Koehl said the spill was contained within the plant and the company will investigate what caused the pipe break. He said the spill won't affect the plant's water intake capacity or operations.

State officials say they're not asking anyone in the area to evacuate. Xcel Energy says no radioactive material was released and there is no danger to the public.

"We want to make sure people understand that although this is an alert condition at the plant, that it is a non radiological condition and we do not expect it to escalate into needing any kind of protective action recommendations," said Kris Eide, the state's director of homeland security and emergency management.

Parents with students in the Prescott, Wis., schools got notice this morning that classes were canceled because of a "release" at the Prairie Island nuclear plant. An automated call told parents that the district had closed for the day because of concerns.

Prescott parents were later notified that schools were open, but on a two-hour delay.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently announced it is renewing Xcel Energy's permit to operate the Prairie Island plant for another 20 years.

There are a few minor conditions written into the permit, mainly directing Xcel to replace and refurbish equipment. Xcel plans to invest at least $500 million updating the plant.

Xcel will apply for approval to increase generating capacity, which would prompt additional investments.

The NRC rejected arguments by the neighboring Prairie Island Indian Community that there were too many long-standing deficiencies at the plant.

Update: Xcel Energy officials sent out the following press release about the incident today at about 10:30 a.m.

A crew is working to clean up a chemical spill at Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant, near Red Wing, that prompted operators to declare an alert at 3:53 this morning.

The alert was declared after a plant worker reported a break in a 2-inch pipe going to a tank containing approximately 500 gallons of sodium hypochlorite, which is a type of chlorine bleach. The contents of the tank drained into a bermed area around the tank. There was no release of the chemical to the river. Plant officials expect the spill will be cleaned up by early this evening.

The health and safety of the public was not threatened by this event. There was no release of radioactive material associated with this event, and no injuries occurred.

The cause of the spill is being investigated.

The incident has not affected plant operations; both units continue to operate at full power.

An alert is the second lowest of four emergency classifications established by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The purpose of an alert is to assure that emergency personnel are readily available to assist the station and to provide off-site authorities with current status information.

The Minnesota State Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information Center has been activated. The Joint Information Center is the official source of information for the news media about the incident.

To keep telephone lines open for emergency communications, Xcel Energy asks the public not to call the plant site or Xcel Energy. The state of Minnesota has activated its Emergency Operations Center and is monitoring the situation. The state hotline numbers are: 651-297-1304 (metro); 1-800-657-3504 (non-metro); 1-800-657-3822 (TTY).

Obama unveils strategy for slimmed-down military

Posted at 10:25 AM on January 5, 2012 by MPR News Staff
Filed under: Politics

AP120105024554.jpgPresident Barack Obama, accompanied by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and other senior Defense Department and military officials, delivers speaks on the Defense Strategic Review, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, at the Pentagon.

By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama put his personal stamp Thursday on a rejiggered Pentagon strategy for absorbing hundreds of billions of dollars in defense budget cuts, marking a turning point in U.S. security policy after a decade of war.

In a rare appearance in the Pentagon press briefing room, the president announced that the military will be reshaped over time with an emphasis on countering terrorism, maintaining a nuclear deterrent, protecting the U.S. homeland, and "deterring and defeating aggression by any potential adversary."

Those are not new military missions, and Obama announced no new capabilities or defense initiatives. He described a U.S. force that will retain much of its recent focus, with the exception of fighting a large-scale, prolonged conflict like the newly ended Iraq mission or the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

"As we end today's wars and reshape our armed forces, we will ensure that our military is agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies," he wrote in a preamble to the new strategy, which is titled, "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense."

The strategy hints at a reduced U.S. military presence in Europe and says Asia will be a bigger priority. It also emphasizes improving U.S. capabilities in the areas of cyberwarfare and missile defense.

Obama's decision to announce the strategy himself underscores the political dimension of Washington's debate over defense savings. The administration says smaller Pentagon budgets are a must but will not come at the cost of sapping the strength of a military in transition, even as it gets smaller.

In a presidential election year, the strategy gives Obama a rhetorical tool to defend his Pentagon budget-cutting choices. Republican contenders for the White House already have criticized Obama on a wide range of national security issues, including missile defense, Iran and planned reductions in ground forces.

Obama also wants the new strategy to represent a pivot point in his stewardship of defense policy, which has been burdened throughout his presidency by the wars he inherited and their drag on resources.

The new strategy moves the U.S. further from its longstanding goal of being able to successfully fight two major regional wars -- like the 1991 Gulf War to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait or a prospective ground war in Korea -- at the same time.

The strategy document announced by Obama contained no specifics on the size of expected troop reductions; the Army and Marine Corps already are set to shrink beginning in 2015. The document said the Pentagon will have to find savings in pay and health care benefits for members of the military, but it offered no specifics.

It made clear that while some current missions of the military will be curtailed, none will be scrapped entirely.

"Wholesale divestment of the capability to conduct any mission would be unwise, based on historical and projected uses of U.S. military forces and our inability to predict the future," the document said.

The administration and Congress already are trimming defense spending to reflect the closeout of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan. The massive $662 billion defense budget planned for next year is $27 billion less than Obama wanted and $43 billion less than Congress gave the Pentagon this year.

Appearing with Obama to answer reporters' questions about the strategy document were Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs chairman, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. Panetta in recent months had previewed the main themes of the strategy by emphasizing a need to continue pressuring al-Qaida and paying more attention to Asian security challenges, including China and North Korea.

Factors guiding the Obama administration's approach to reducing the defense budget are not limited to war-fighting strategy. They also include judgments about how to contain the growing cost of military health care, pay and retirement benefits. The administration is expected to form a commission to study the issue of retirement benefits, possibly led by a prominent retired military officer.

The administration is in the final stages of deciding specific cuts in the 2013 budget, which Obama will submit to Congress next month. The strategy to be announced by Panetta and Dempsey is meant to accommodate about $489 billion in defense cuts over the coming 10 years, as called for in a budget deal with Congress last summer. An additional $500 billion in cuts may be required starting in January 2013.

A prominent theme of the Pentagon's new strategy is what Panetta has called a renewed commitment to security in the Asia-Pacific region.

The administration is not anticipating military conflict in Asia, but Panetta believes the U.S. got so bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 that it missed chances to improve its position in other regions.

China is a particular worry because of its economic dynamism and rapid defense buildup. A more immediate concern is Iran, not only for its threats to disrupt the flow of international oil but also for its nuclear ambitions.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.

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