Pagami Creek Fire blows up, bums out Brewers


When a major-league team 300 miles away closes its dome because of a fire, you know it’s a giant conflagration. The 160-square-mile Pagami Creek Fire now easily tops 2007’s Ham Lake blaze, with a “pretty much unprecedented” speed, according to the Strib. It could get much worse: The fire’s eastern edge has reached the 1999 blowdown. MPR has some excellent big pictures of the fire; a local editor happened to be camping there and notes the fire is moving underground. If you want some sense of scale, the fire is as big as Minneapolis and St. Paul put together — with another Minneapolis attached.

It’s a crazy world — Rush Limbaugh is criticizing Michele Bachmann and ex-City Pages reporter Nick Pinto is defending her. Limbaugh opined that Bachmann “jumped the shark” by onpassing a woman’s baseless claim that the HPV vaccine made her child retarded. (The vaccine was Monday’s GOP debate centerpiece.) The Strib editorial page and ex-Minnesota medical ethicist Art Caplan go further, saying Bachmann’s recklessness will harm women’s health. But in the Village Voice, Pinto gives Bachmann some health cred for her crusade against mercury-containing fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs. Pinto slices this fairly thin — there may be bigger household effects from a broken bulb than realized, even if fluorescents reduce societal mercury and the federal law only outlaws the piggiest incandescents (rather than mandating CFLs). It’ll be interesting to see if the Bachmann-bashing City Pages, owned by the same publisher, reprints “Michele Bachmann’s Bright Idea.”

Speaking of mercury, MPR’s Stephanie Hemphill notes the Minnesota Pollution Agency approved a U.S. Steel taconite plant air pollution permit. Taconite is the state’s second-biggest source of mercury emissions, and the permit doesn’t guarantee reductions. In what Hemphill calls “new territory,” the MPCA will “wait to see how well the company’s controls work before it sets a restriction.” U.S. Steel forecast an 80 percent drop. If you prefer mercury-free nuclear, well, there’s a little problem with sand clogging the Monticello nuke’s fire suppression system, the Strib’s David Shaffer reports.

Remember those Pace Picante ads that featured salsa eaters outraged that a competitor was from New York City? Well, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is sliding Minnesota bond work from Dorsey Whitney to a firm from Omaha, Neb. Strib pit bull Mike Kaszuba says Swanson stresses “ethical conflicts” — mostly Dorsey representing clients with competing interests. However, there’s also the juicy detail that Dorsey would only reduce its $423-$465 hourly fee by 11 bucks in the face of the state fiscal crisis. Dorsey received a measly seven days’ notice they were canned. Critics of the switch say a lot of institutional memory has been lost. You get the sense there’s more to this story. 

City Pages’ Mike Mullen highlights an angry missive from Anna Prasomphol, owner of the True Thai restaurant, ripping the local media for being too deferential to Amy Senser in the fatal hit-and-run of her employee, Anousone Phanthavong. Journalists may argue for a diligent investigation, but Prasomphol sees it as media pals circling the wagons. “I do not think the local news media cares about Ped’s side of the story,” she writes, noting no one contacted the family and the Star Tribune didn’t even reply to her op-ed submission. (It doesn’t appear Mullen checked that with the Strib.) Prasomphol names WCCO’s Esme Murphy, the Strib’s Gail Rosenblum and MPR’s Bob Collins. Collins (confession: a pal) responded: “My ‘arguments’ have nothing to do with defending Mrs. Senser nor failing to understand the position of the family of Mr. Phanthavong. My post and subsequent comments were strictly on behalf of the investigatory process and, ultimately, the judicial process.” Prasomphol’s story made me realize we really don’t have a tabloid type in this town who will bleed for the victim, systemic imperatives be damned.

MPR’s Tom Scheck reports that DFL-backed state Senate candidates Jeff Hayden (Minneapolis) and Chris Eaton (Brooklyn Center/Brooklyn Park) cruised to wins in their primaries and are favored to success Linda Berglin and Linda Scheid, respectively. Hayden got 61 percent of the six-way vote; Eaton 88 percent of the two-way.

Nort spews: The Twins were two-hit by Justin Verlander … make that, Bruce Chen, falling to the Royals 4-0. Minnesota must go 4-11 to avoid 100 losses, but at this point, they deserve that ignominy. Recalling a stat from earlier this year, the Twins would be the second team to have a $100 million-plus payroll and 100 losses. (The 2008 Mariners did it first.) In an example of not-so-great timing, City Pages’ Erin Carlyle asks, “Can Donovan McNabb Conquer the Past and Lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl?” He’ll have to pass for more than 50 yards a game first.

Glean creator David Brauer returns to fill in for vacationing Brian Lambert.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/14/2011 - 07:26 am.

    Just another day for Bachmann–making s*** up.

    If anyone one, anywhere, knew of a case where the HPV vaccine made a 12-16 year old child (that’s who the group that the vaccine is supposed to be administered to) “retarded” in a couple of days, it would be huge news and the vaccine would be banned.

    What does a little exaggeration and literary license matter?

    Let’s put it in terms of the presidential world–isn’t that just like the Tonkin Bay BS, or the WMD trailers of mass destruction?

    Do we really need another one of those? Especially in a president with a persecution complex and dreams of Armageddon?

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 09/14/2011 - 08:55 am.

    I concur with Ms. Prasomphol and have had some heated debates with friends over this. Since this story broke, I’ve seen little, if anything, about the victim, yet newsprint, TV and radio have all weighed in with sympathy for the Sensers. It’s as if they’ve lost all perspective as to who the true victim is in this case.

    For me, it started with the Senser family releasing a statement that they had “tremendous integrity” and this sentiment was repeated thru personal endorsements by media members in the next few days. My response is “No, someone with “tremendous” integrity doesn’t leave someone to die on the side of the road, then offer minimal cooperation with law enforcement”. Again, from a legal perspective, I understand their position and I’m not saying others (myself included) wouldn’t do the same thing. But these actions fly in the face of someone overflowing with “integrity”. If I were the victim, I’d be sick of hearing what quality people the Sensers are, especially in light of their behavior. We’re NOT judging their ultimate guilt or innocence of the alleged crime, we ARE judging the way they handled this in light of the Media canonizing this family. The victim and his family have plenty to be upset about here.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/14/2011 - 09:39 am.

    I see that Ms. Bachmann’s book now has a title: Core Conviction. Once again the cynic in me raises its head, to ask which came first, the title or her repeated and emphatic use of the phrase in the recent debate?

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/14/2011 - 09:44 am.

    In defense (in a way)of Ms. Bachmann: she doesn’t make this stuff up, she’s simply woefully ignorant.

    On another subject: It’s hard getting by on an hourly rate of less than $500 these days. Just ask the partners at Dorsey.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2011 - 10:11 am.

    I don’t see how journalists who wade into the Phanthavong hit and run story like Murphy, Rosenblum, and Collin’s did in there writings can fall back on professionalism. You don’t have to have years of experience to know that in a situation where you have a celebrity suspect and a crime like this favoritism frequently becomes an issue, especially with sports celebrities.

    Murphy isn’t exactly scaling the heights of civic courage calling for a fair trial since no one is demanding an unfair trial, and since a fair trial inevitable… when was the time you saw a lynching in Minneapolis? So yeah, boldly defending the Sensor’s right to a fair trial while ignoring the plight of the victim is gonna provoke a predictable response.

    Rosenblum meanwhile goes on to sympathize with Amy Sensor who’s life will never be the same. Can’t imagine why anyone would perceive that as favoritism. Yeah, killing a person will change your life.

    Then Collin’s jumps in with big reminder that we need to get the facts, as if twitter activity is on the verge of inciting a mob. Collins isn’t a dumb guy, but once things get beyond a certain level of complexity he seems to lose his way. Apparently he feels the need to defend the media’s handling of the hit and run as a case of journalistic ethics, as if the media, not the courts,declare guilt and innocence in such cases. His argument disintegrates when he apparently forgets that he’s a journalist and not a lawyer, arguing that even though Amy Sensor has admitted driving the car at the time it hit and killed Phanthavong, we still don’t have a open and shut case. Collin’s appears oblivious to the fact that he’s looking and sounding more like a defense lawyer than a journalist at that point. Oh, and it’s worth pointing out for some reason that the Sensor’s lawyer notified the State Police. Someone should tell Collin’s that the lawyer would be disbarred had he not done so… lawyers have ethics too. If you’re going to pretend to be a lawyer, you might look into that.

    So you have three attempts to slow down the “rush to judgement” against a local sports celebrity family, and you’re surprised by the response you get from friends and family of the guy who got killed?

    Since no lynch mob is marching down the street this is faux courage. When you go out of your way to defend someone who is obviously very well defended already, yeah it looks hinky.

    The ongoing love affair local media has with sports celebrities is beyond comment. When the guy who ran over those students at the U. was finally found, he AND his mother were arrested- period. Here you have another hit and run, and the person driving the car at the time hasn’t been arrested, weeks later. Now I’m not saying she should be arrested, but if you don’t understand why people are frustrated by the obvious contrast between the treatment of celebrities and ordinary people, I can’t help you. If you wade into this issue with “explanations” and sympathy for the celebrity, don’t be surprised by the response.

    No one is demanding an unfair trial, or a rush to judgement. The question that Collins, Rosenblum, and Murphy, raise is about attention. Why is the plight of the Sensor’s getting so much attention, or more attention then that of the victim?

  6. Submitted by Madeline Anderson on 09/14/2011 - 10:26 am.

    Good for Anna Prasamphol. Major media treatment of the Sensers, and the lack of any follow-up with Anousone Phanthavong, is simply ridiculous.

    The Sensers are literally and figuratively getting away with bloody murder.

    As I’ve written before, where is community outrage?

  7. Submitted by Tim Walker on 09/14/2011 - 11:36 am.

    Paul (#5):

    Yeah, but it seems to me that until the state does a thorough investigation to gather enough evidence that Amy Senser was the driver, they would be foolish to arrest her, even though she said she was the driver.

    The state’s goal is to gather enough evidence for a conviction. Suppose they arrest Amy Senser now, based primarily — or even solely — on her admission.

    What do prosecutors do when she changes her mind at the trial and says that she wasn’t behind the wheel at all? Maybe she’ll say that she lied, because she wanted to take the rap for a friend (or a relative, blood or otherwise), who was the real driver?

    Wouldn’t you think the state would want to have other evidence in hand in case she recanted on the stand?

    And THAT, my friends, is why Amy Senser has not yet been arrested, even though she has said through an attorney that she was the driver.

    Maybe the media have been too sympathetic to Amy Senser because of her status. I don’t know because I don’t read those stories.

    But she is still, after all, just a suspect, and has not been proven guilty in a court of law.

    So the media most certainly have to tread carefully in how they characterize her — to avoid being libelous.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/14/2011 - 12:43 pm.

    James ( #4)

    I stand by the the phase “making s*** up”

    No one told her that their daughter was “retarded” as a result of the HPV vaccine simply because there NEVER has been a case of that, ever. Sure, there is an argument about effects of early childhood vaccines, but vaccines give to adolescents? Give me a break. It’s nonsense.

  9. Submitted by Robert Langford on 09/14/2011 - 05:40 pm.

    I thought the Kutak Rock law firm the Attorney General has been using, has an office in Minnesota with resident attornies, and has had one for over 30 years. Could that item be checked?

  10. Submitted by Doug Gray on 09/14/2011 - 10:51 pm.

    The deal with the hit and run isn’t really racism, or even classism, it’s what Sinclair Lewis described in Babbitt, Main Street, etc. — the dark side of Minnesota Nice. One party in the controversy went to high school, University, and played sports with “us;” ate at the same restaurants, admired the same people and wore the same close as “us;” started a business in “our” town and joined “our” clubs and civic associations. The other party didn’t; the other party isn’t “one of us.” Things haven’t changed that much in Zenith, have they? Ask anyone who’s spent some time away.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/15/2011 - 10:08 am.

    Tim #7,

    I explicitly said I was not advocating Amy Sensor’s arrest. The legal issues will I trust be taken care of in due time and really doesn’t need any further clarification.

    You do understand the difference between the legal system and media? I was commenting on the media, not the courts.

    Since the media doesn’t determine criminal guilt or innocence I’m afraid your comments have entirely missed the mark. No one is questioning why the media haven’t declared Ms. Sensor’s guilt, the question is why she’s being treated like a victim and why the plight of the Sensors is getting as much if not more media attention than that of the actual victim?

    As for libel, I’m afraid 1st Amendment protections are a little more robust than you seem to think. The only way you can be libelous is to knowingly report falsehoods or private information that has no legitimate public interest. Everything being reported here is a matter of public record. Libel isn’t even a remote concern in this situation. Even if a writer declared Sensor’s guilt, it would be protected speech as long as they didn’t report that the courts had found her guilty when in fact they have not.

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