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Norman Borlaug: A man who may have saved a billion lives

Tributes to the father of the Green Revolution. Plus: Obama pushes health care reform, and Republicans push back.

A titan died this weekend, and, thanks to the fact that he had a local connection, the local media provided unexpectedly comprehensive coverage of his passing. His name was Norman Borlaug, and if you haven’t heard his name before, you’re not alone. He was, after all, a scientist, and a rather modest one at that, working in the fields of plant pathology and genetics, which he studied at the University of Minnesota, and both fields are a bit obscure to mainstream America.

But Borlaug, as the Associated Press tells us, may have saved as many as 1 billion people from starvation. He was a man with an unquenchable desire to help other people, and Rochelle Olson and Sharon Schmickle of the Star Tribune sum this up with one remarkable quote: During Borlaug’s waning days, his daughter asked him if he needed anything. His response: “Africa. Africa. I have not finished my mission in Africa.”

The AP also provides a nice summation of Borlaug’s Nobel Prize-winning work: Borlaug was responsible for the so-called “Green Revolution,” an introduction of high-yield crop varieties, along with other agricultural innovations, into starving countries. “Thanks to the green revolution,” the AP tells us, “world food production more than doubled between 1960 and 1990. In Pakistan and India, two of the nations that benefited most from the new crop varieties, grain yields more than quadrupled over the period.” It’s not every day the world produces a person responsible for preserving so many lives, and that person’s passing deserves mention.

It seems like something else transpired this weekend. What was it? Oh yes: The president of the United States presented a skeletal outline of his health reform plan in a speech at Target Center. The Associated Press estimates that there were 15,000 people, which is a bit shy of the 25,000 the venue can potentially hold, but, then, this isn’t a crowd story. Unless, of course, you’re KARE11: Kyle Porter’s story on the speech focused on the audience. But, then, the audience was pretty darned entertaining; after all, the World’s Biggest Obama Supporter was there, and that guy is huge. MPRNewsQ offers a video of supporters and protesters outside the speech. “He’s ruining my country,” one especially bewildered-seeming woman declares. “How? Just watch the news every day.” The Urban Sketchers blog offers some illustrations of the protesters, including a counter-protester masquerading as a protester, carrying a sign reading “Angry white people against everything” (on its back, the sign read, “Don’t bother me with facts. I don’t care.”).

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But let’s get away from the crowd for a moment and discuss the speech itself, which will probably be most famous for the president’s extended riff on why he uses “Fired up, ready to go” as a chant, a tale he has told many times and delivers with the panache and stopwatch deadpan timing of a stand-up comedian. But Obama also detailed the essence of the health care reform plan he is proposing — the essential text, as was released to the press prior to Obama actually making the speech, is available via Eric Black; it’s missing whatever little embellishments and ad libs the president added to the actual speech but otherwise contains the essential details of the plan, as well as capturing the directness of Obama’s language — he opted for plain speaking over poetic oratory here and asked the audience to take responsibility for making his case to their friends and co-workers. Obama also directly referenced Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic as an example of providing high-quality health care for lower costs. “”We want to help the whole country to learn from the Mayo Clinic … and from the good things that are going on in Minnesota,” the Pioneer Press quotes him as saying.

While Obama’s rhetoric was primarily about helping the uninsured and improving the experiences of the insured, Minnesota Republicans are offering their own rhetoric that protects a different group altogether: the insurance companies. According to the Associated Press, Reps. Tom Emmer, Mark Buesgens and Peggy Scott are calling for a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to private health insurance, perhaps in response to state Sen. John Marty’s single-payer plan that the senator told MinnPost would put “the health-insurance industry out of business in Minnesota”. Thank goodness somebody is looking out for the little guy.

In the meanwhile, Tim Pawlenty seems to be backtracking somewhat on last week’s declaration that he might try to block Obama’s health care plan, should it pass in Congress, under the rubric of states’ rights. Eric Black quotes Pawlenty‘s comments on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a legal issue. I was raising it as much as a practical matter, that there are some things that the federal government shouldn’t do, doesn’t do well, and should leave to the states.” Tom Scheck of MPR also quotes Pawlenty as explaining that “I’m not saying that we’re going to do anything unusual or abnormal. I’m just saying we’re going to remind the federal government that there’s a proper role for them and for the states.”

What’s new with the Metro Gang Strike Force? According to the Associated Press, two deputies that were on the Strike Force have been suspended for “improper handling of evidence.” Because everybody must agree that the appropriate response to what a special panel called “appalling and outrageous” misconduct is to remove two of the accused officers from work for 10 and 25 days.

Reuters takes an early look at the Coen Brothers’ new film, “A Serious Man,” which tells a story set in St. Louis Park during the 1960s; the Reuters includes some comments from the notoriously press-shy Joel and Ethan Coen, who were raised in St. Louis Park, including this quote from Joel: “Probably more so in this movie than anything we’ve ever done, this does come from our direct experience.”

According to the Star Tribune’s Judd Zulgad, the Vikings’ season opener, the third they have won in four years, “won’t earn them any style points” but did demonstrate that Brett Favre, working with the team’s running back and wide receiver, can efficiently turn a game around.