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St. Paul attorney in Rwanda story begins to twist

ALSO: St. Cloud’s anti-muslim ads; the grand jihad; lieutenant governors.

The Peter Erlinder story — the one about the Billy Mitchell professor who has made a career out of defending the lowest of the low (cop killers, sex offenders) — is the sort of stuff that sets your eyes rolling. There are, to be sure, nuances to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, but Erlinder’s arrest for returning there to defend a Hutu politician who is trying to rewrite the most well-accepted narrative creates some interesting dilemmas for liberal politicians suddenly charged with pulling his bacon out of the fire. The Strib story, by Kevin Diaz, Randy Furst and newcomer Jeremy Herb, notes that, “In Rwanda, where some 800,000 people lost their lives in ethnic conflict between Hutu and Tutsi, Erlinder has been trying to rewrite the history of good and bad in a conflict that the international community has largely blamed on the Hutu. ‘As I understand it, I don’t think he’s really denying that there was a genocide,’ said William Mitchell professor emeritus Kenneth Kirwin, who has known Erlinder for decades. ‘I think he is more concerned with who was more at fault, or more responsible.’ ” I’m thinking this is a story with no straight lines.

A badly copy-edited report by AllAfrica.com says Erlinder was rushed to a Rwanda hospital complaining about a heart problem related to an artificial valve. “According to Police sources, Erlinder, who was arrested a few days ago on charges of denying the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, had told Police that he had a heart problem an had been fitted with an artificial valve.

‘We rushed him to King Faisal Hospital after complaining of high blood pressure and heart problems this morning,’ Police Spokesperson, Supt. Eric Kayiranga said. A cardiologist was called in, but before he could carry out any tests, Erlinder confessed that he had lied, and that he instead had a history of depression going back 20 years.”

Steve Karnowski files for the AP on the Erlinder story, adding, “Erlinder is accused of violating Rwanda’s laws against minimizing the genocide in which more than 500,000 Rwandans, the vast majority of them ethnic Tutsis, were massacred by Hutus in 100 days. Erlinder doesn’t deny massive violence happened but contends it’s inaccurate to blame just one side. He leads a group of defense lawyers at the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The tribunal is trying alleged masterminds of the genocide, which stopped after Kagame’s mostly Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutu-led government.”

For those interested in a more thorough history of the genocide, here’s a list of the best books on the topic. “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda” by New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch, is perhaps the best known, and contrary to what Erlinder seems to be claiming, there was an ominous mood about the country prior to the mysterious plane crash that ignited the slaughter.

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MPR’s Ambar Espinoza offers a profile of the source of anti-Muslim ads in the St. Cloud area. The … wait for it … flag-waving Baptist preacher and talk-radio host, Dennis Campbell, who recently wrote in his “Pastor, I Have a Question” commentary, “that Muslims ‘seek to influence a nation by immigration, reproduction, education, the government, illegal drugs, and by supporting the gay agenda.’ The pastor wrote that, when Muslims take over a nation, they ‘will destroy the constitution,’ force Islam on society, take freedom of religion away, and persecute all other religions.” Uh, excuse me, Pastor, two things. Can I see a license or something, and tell me again, who’s destroying the Constitution? The good Pastor says “he didn’t intend to instill fear, offend anyone, or encourage hostility toward Muslims. He noted that his ad ends by asking people if they have put their faith in Jesus Christ, repented and accepted Him as their savior.”

By pure coincidence the Power Line boys, Scott Johnson in this case, are enraptured by a new book, titled, “The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.” Johnson devotes a big chunk of his blog post to an e-mail from the book’s author. A choice cut is this: “What is surprising, and dismaying, is that the book’s message should come as news to anyone, as if there were real question about whether such a grand jihad exists. Though our opinion elites and their media allies remain desperate to suppress the story, the proof of an Islamist conspiracy to destroy the West is stark and undeniable, and the instances of Islamists being aided and abetted by Leftists are too numerous for serious people to deny the alliance – not merger but alliance – between the two.” I can only assume that “the gay agenda” is also part of the plot.

The intensely, almost comically overstated coverage of the round of lieutenant governor selections
gets a welcome note of common sense from Mark Zedechlik at MPR. I mean really, since when has anyone cared who was lieutenant governor? Says Zedechlik, “Unless a governor dies in office, quits or otherwise becomes unable to serve, there’s really nothing constitutionally required of the lieutenant governor. [Mae] Schunk focused on education. She said as [Jesse] Ventura’s lieutenant, she always had access to her boss and she says more than once she let the outspoken governor know some of his rhetoric was not sitting well with Minnesotans. ‘Sometimes I walked into his office and I said, ‘governor, this dish rag is getting a little bit soiled.’ ” (What?) Ex-Ventura aide John Wodele is quoted saying, “The further you get away from the endorsements and the primary the less effect they’re going to have, almost no effect during the general election. It’s not going to make a difference. They can hurt you, but they’re not going to help you much.”

Not that the overstated thing has stopped
Joe Bodell of The Minnesota Progressive Project from launching a series of interviews of … lieutenant governor candidates. First up, Yvonne Prettner-Solon, Mark Dayton’s pick. Not surprisingly, Prettner-Solon has not much in the way of anything new to say, unless you count this, ” ‘Mark has always recognized that seniors seem to be a large bloc of people that have individual needs, oftentimes difficulties navigating state government as they move into a time in their lives when they need more assistance. We thought it would be helpful to have a one-stop shop in the Lieutenant Governor’s office where people could call with concerns about housing, economics, health care, whatever their needs are, where we would be able to provide information about resources, hopefully some answers to their questions.’ ” And after that you can take the rest of the month off.

Staff from various Business Journals pick up on rumors that Radio Shack (a.k.a. “The Shack”) might be for sale and that Best Buy might be interested. Says the report, “The New York Post reported earlier in the year that RadioShack may be up for grabs. This week, the same paper said RadioShack has hired Goldman Sachs to explore strategic alternatives including the possible sale of the company. The Post’s latest piece on RadioShack raises speculation once again that Richfield-based Best Buy may be another strategic bidder. However, which entities are in fact vying to acquire the electronics retailer has yet to be confirmed … .”

The Ned Abdul story is getting better all the time
. The flashy developer and nightclub owner — he lives atop his Whitney condos redevelopment (the old Whitney Hotel) and operates the Epic and Karma night clubs along with several other properties — has been tracked by the feds for at least two years. An official investigation has now begun, says Jennifer Bjorhus’ story in the Strib. The first blush of stories sounds pretty flagrant … and familiar to everyone who kept up with the Denny Hecker-Tom Petters lifestyles. Writes Bjorhus, “The affidavit filed by Mary Agnew, an inspector for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, describes a web of deception. The two men skimmed cash from the various nightclubs for Abdul’s personal use and to pay subcontractors on their building projects in cash, according to the affidavit.” Particularly good is this bit: “In another alleged scheme, Abdul supposedly told subcontractors on the Whitney condo conversion project in Minneapolis that it was headed for foreclosure and they’d be left unpaid, but that if they agreed to do some free work on his top-floor penthouse, he would fight against foreclosure. The source estimated workers did more than $1 million of work on the penthouse.”

He was flying high until he crashed. Literally. A 46-year-old ultra-light pilot and his passenger took a dive into Elk Lake up in Sherburne County Monday. According to the AP story, “Sheriff Joel Brott said the pilot and his adult passenger were pulled from the water by a boater on the lake. The sheriff says while deputies were investigating, they found that the pilot was flying while under the influence of alcohol.” Now, OK, dumber things happen all the time. But it’s the passenger agreeing to fly in a flimsy ultra-light with the bombed buddy that gets me. What was that person’s blood alcohol level?

Oh, here’s really great news.
The St. Paul School Board has decided to lay off 117 teachers in order to close its $27.2 million budget gap. Gregory Paterson’s Strib story notes that the complete deletion of music instruction for grades four through six really has some parents up in arms. “About 50 students and supporters from Central High School attended the board meeting to protest the cuts. They played instruments outside the headquarters building and others involved in choral groups sang. Music proponents have consistently attended board meetings in recent weeks to press the district to reinstate the $750,000 it spends on teachers who give music lessons to students during the school day.” Those class sizes were way to small anyway.

Fifteen million dollars in one quarter is serious jing no matter who you are and what you’re buying. But Medtronic’s disclosure that it dropped that much … in three months … on “royalty and consulting fees” to 200 doctors around the country is kind of an eye-opener, especially in the context of the protracted health insurance debate. The Strib’s Steve Alexander reports, “The Fridley-based medical products giant has come under fire in recent years for hefty payments to doctors that creates at least an appearance of a conflict of interest. The industry defended the practice as crucial to product development, but Medtronic agreed last year to reveal the names of doctors to whom it made payments of more than $5,000. Tuesday’s list of recipients was the first such disclosure of what will be required of all medical product companies in 2012 under the recently passed federal health care reform law.” He notes, “The company paid a doctor in Germantown, Tenn., just under $4 million in product-related royalties. In addition, five doctors in Louisville, Ky, were collectively paid $2.4 million in royalties, and a doctor in Englewood, Colo., received $961,000 in royalties.”