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Mystery surrounds wayward trip of $500K U of M telescope

Pastor’s congregation disappearing; spelling bee survivors; changes urged for sex offender program; Walker worried about vote fraud; and more.

 Jenna Ross at the Strib reports on the mysterious adventures of a wayward $500,000 U of M telescope that disappeared for two days while being shipped to Texas: “A high-tech telescope dropped off the map somewhere between the University of Minnesota and its Texas destination for two days before mysteriously resurfacing at a Texas truck wash Wednesday night. The missing research equipment, used in NASA-funded projects to measure the universe’s most minute fluctuations, was supposed to arrive at a scientific balloon facility in rural Texas by 8 a.m. Monday. … No truck. Hours later, the team [of researchers] was still waiting, said Asad Aboobaker, a post-doctoral researcher at the U. … After two frantic days of phone calls, Aboobaker got word Wednesday night that the trailer had been found, its seal unbroken and the precious cargo presumably undamaged. … Minneapolis-based company Copeland Trucking had tracked the driver’s cellphone to a truck stop just outside of Dallas before that signal stopped …. A phone was later found at a fast-food restaurant nearby, but no driver.”

Rose French of the Strib adds a bit more to the story of the predominantly black St.Paul church on the verge of collapse over the pastor’s support of gay marriage: “The church began faltering in 2005, when White attended a national UCC assembly in Atlanta and voted with a majority of delegates in favor of a resolution supporting gay marriage. His vote didn’t sit well with most of the 320 or so Grace Community Church members. ‘I was really in shock,’ said White, who’s been pastor at the church for 22 years. ‘I visited one member after another, who told me they weren’t coming back because of it. The membership evaporated right before my eyes. Their fundamental belief was it’s wrong for a man and a man to marry or a woman and a woman to marry. A lot of them said if I change, they’d come back. But I told them, it is what it is. I am who I am. And this is what I fight for.’ Now, the Grace Community membership hovers around 110, White says.”

Two Minnesota kids have reached the semi-finals of the National Spelling Bee. Jon Collins’ MPR story says: “Antony Joseph of North Mankato correctly spelled imaret in the third round to qualify. Roshini Asirvatham of Rochester correctly spelled psilosis. Three other Minnesotans spelled their words correctly in the third round, but hadn’t earned enough points in the preliminary rounds to advance to the semifinals.”

The outgoing executive director of the state’s Sex Offender Program has some suggestions for legislators. Amy Forliti of the AP writes: “[Dennis] Benson said lawmakers need to question why Minnesota has one of the largest number of civilly committed sex offenders per capita. He also said policymakers could create other options for offenders, so judges aren’t faced with the extremes of either civilly committing someone or turning an offender out on the streets. ‘For the most part, the people that are in our program are very, very difficult people,’ he said. ‘But I think it’s much more complicated than saying, ‘Well, let’s just not civilly commit somebody.’ One of the problems in Minnesota is you are either civilly committed or you are released to the streets.’ He said there have been discussions about possible changes in sentencing of sex offenders. In addition, he said, the state must not lose sight of the importance of prevention, to keep people from committing sexually violent acts in the first place.”

Messing with AARP might be a bridge too far. Tim Pugmire at MPR says: “Some supporters of Minnesota’s voter ID constitutional amendment are calling for a statewide boycott of the seniors’ group AARP for its formal stand against the ballot question. Representatives of Minnesota Majority and other groups held a news conference … to criticize AARP for opposing a voter ID requirement. A few participants cut up their own AARP membership cards. Minnesota Majority President Jeff Davis said he thinks AARP is out of touch with its members on the voter ID issue. ‘They have millions of dollars to spend on these types of campaigns. So certainly, I mean that’s why we’re basically calling attention to this,’ he said. ‘We think it’s disengenuous for them to take a position on this issue that is contrary to most of their members.’ ” Of course their members’ position on the issue depends on how you pose the question.

Speaking of … Gov. Scott Walker next door in Wisconsin is, of course, wary of rampant voter fraud … by his opponents. An editorial in the Tomah Journal says: “Walker has made a spectacular assertion in advance of next week’s gubernatorial recall election. I’ve always thought in this state, close elections, presidential elections, it means you probably have to win with at least 53 percent of the vote to account for fraud. One or two points, potentially … I mean there’s no question why they went to court and fought (to undo) voter ID.’ This is a monumental claim. Consider this: There were 2.2 million votes cast in the 2010 election for governor, and it’s reasonable to assume that turnout on June 5 will be close to 2.2 million again. Each percentage point represents 22,000 votes. Since Walker believes he needs 53 percent, he is alleging 66,000 fraudulent votes will be cast next week. Alright, governor, where’s your proof? … To toss this kind of rhetorical bomb on the eve of an election is reckless and ugly, even by today’s degraded standard of political rhetoric. Gov. Walker, either identify the specific source of fraudulent votes or recant and apologize. It’s the only honorable thing to do.” I hope the good people of Tomah aren’t holding their breath.

Trevor Cook — in person — might be called in the notorious/farcical Ponzi scheme trial of his former confederates. John Welbes of the PiPress writes: “One of the witnesses called by the defense could be Trevor Cook, who led the foreign-currency trading scheme that lured more than 750 investors before he pleaded guilty to fraud charges in 2010. Defense attorneys for Cook’s three colleagues — Jason “Bo” Beckman, Gerald Durand and Patrick Kiley — said they anticipate about a week’s worth of witnesses total. … Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis made exhibits in the case available to reporters on Wednesday. In a 2008 email that jurors haven’t seen, Cook responded to an email from Beckman that asked ‘what would happen if (Cook) got hit by a car’? ’It doesn’t matter,’ Cook wrote, ‘if I die today from a raging case of herpes,’ because his name wasn’t on any of the accounts.”

Speaking of our Ponzi kings … General Electric Capital Corp. will hand back $19 million it made off of Tom Petters. David Phelps of the Strib writes: “Giant financier General Electric Capital Corp. agreed on Wednesday to repay $19 million in interest and principal it received from the $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Tom Petters, the former Wayzata businessman. The GE settlement is the largest to date in a series of lawsuits seeking to recover false profits collected by investors and others who did business with Petters. So far, more than $284 million in assets have been collected, most of which will be repaid to victims. At one time, GE was one of the principal lenders to Petters and his business interests.” Excellent due diligence by the big firm, wouldn’t you say?

Further proof that they’re mainly a danger to themselves … Aaron Rupar of City Pages has a story of concealing and carrying gone wrong: “According to Minneapolis police, an adult male lawfully carrying a pistol was walking home near 31st St. E. and 3rd Ave. S. on May 21 when a man walking the other way down the street suddenly slammed the victim into a parked car. The victim’s arm was injured. As the suspect searched the incapacitated victim, he took the man’s gun and put it to his head, demanding all his valuables, and the victim forked over his wallet. In other words, he was robbed with his own gun.” At least he didn’t blow his own feet off.