John Kerry makes surprise visit to Somalia

REUTERS/Andrew Harnik/Pool
Secretary of State John Kerry giving a statement after meeting with Somalia's President Hassan Sheik Mohamud and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke on Tuesday.

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Somalia. The AP’s Bradley Klapper and Andrew Harnik repot (in the Star Tribune): “Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced trip to Somalia Tuesday in a show of solidarity with a government trying to defeat al-Qaida-allied militants and end decades of war in the African country. He is the first top U.S. diplomat ever to visit Somalia. … Top of the agenda was the fight against al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-allied group that has terrorized Somalia for the last eight years. African forces and U.S. drone strikes have crippled the organization’s leadership in recent years and left the extremists without much of the territory they once controlled or cash flows to reverse their losses.”

Beyond its financial toll, the ongoing avian flu epidemic is having a big effect on farmers’ mental health. In the St. Cloud Times, Kirsti Marohn looks at how the state is helping farmers cope:

With the outbreak now hitting 80 farms in 21 Minnesota counties, state and local health workers are turning their attention to another species: humans.

They are making sure mental health assistance is available for farmers struggling under enormous stress and emotional turmoil due to the outbreak.

For the first time since floods ravaged northeastern Minnesota in 2012, the state has activated a team of behavioral health specialists to offer mental health assistance to farmers in three counties hit hard by the avian flu: Stearns, Meeker and Kandiyohi.

The Behavioral Health Medical Reserve Corps has volunteers all over the state that can deploy where needed, said Nancy Carlson, behavioral health preparedness director for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Downtown property owners are one step closer to coughing up for a revitalized Nicollet Mall. In The Journal, Sarah McKenzie has the story: “A City Council committee approved the special assessments plan for the Nicollet Mall reconstruction project Tuesday. … In total, downtown properties will be assessed about $26 million for the $50 million project. The State of Minnesota is contributing $21.5 million through bonding and the City of Minneapolis $3.5 million. … Several property owners spoke against the assessment formula at a public hearing Tuesday, including the Basilica of St. Mary and the University of St. Thomas, which objected to the model on grounds that they believe nonprofits are exempt from paying for infrastructure projects that include spending on discretionary items like a bocce ball court and street furniture.”

We suppose it’s kind of in poor taste to have someone autograph your Bible. Via KARE, the AP reports: “A Duluth priest says Pope Francis signed a baseball for him during a recent trip to Rome. … The Rev. Richard Kunst tells WDIO-TV that he met with the pope last week, taking along a baseball for Francis to sign. Kunst says the meeting lasted a minute and that he was on ‘cloud nine.’ ”

Check out the strange story of a lawyer from Lake City, Minnesota, who pretended to work for the CIA in order to play hooky from his job at the EPA. Michael Gaynor in The Washingtonian tells the tale:

Wednesdays he was often a no-show at the EPA, marking the absence in the office calendar with a cryptic descriptor: “D.O. Oversight.” It was shorthand for his duties with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, the division that sent spies on clandestine missions. Sometimes Beale’s EPA managers didn’t see him for weeks or months — when he took off for Pakistan after getting word that a fellow CIA agent was being held captive by the Taliban, for example. He was a man apart to them, a Vietnam vet with a stunning intellect who jet-setted around the globe to protect America. They kept his secret safe and didn’t ask questions.

Beale announced his retirement from the EPA in 2011. More than a year later, an employee noticed something strange on the payroll: Beale, then 63 years old, was still drawing a salary.

In other news…

Snubbed again. “No James Beard award wins for Minnesota chefs and restaurants” [MPR]

Ask and you shall receive: 842 pages of new nicknames suggested for North Dakota State University. Here’s hoping for “Peace Gardeners.” [Star Tribune]

Spoiler alert: billboard content not controversial. “Controversial St. Paul billboard comes down” [Pioneer Press]

This is what Minneapolis is coming to: “10 Best Minneapolis Bars for Drinking with Your Dog [City Pages]

5 Eden Prairie math teachers injured when a tire came off their SUV and the vehicle rolled into the median. [KARE]

Harding High senior Alexander Roman got accepted to all eight Ivy League schools but told them all “No, thanks.” He’s going to MIT instead. [Business Insider]

Wind power the cheapest way for Minnesota to hit EPA’s new carbon rule [Midwest Energy News]

While there can be no doubt that Jesse’s dogged pursuit of the case was excruciating, this is a pretty poor choice of words, considering: “Ventura lawsuit over ‘American Sniper’ book was ‘torture,’ Taya Kyle writes” [Star Tribune]

State Fair grandstand lineup additions: Patti LaBelle, Garrison Keillor, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hope they play Flubird. [Star Tribune]

You can listen to the Minnesota Orchestra’s Cuba concerts live on MPR next week. [MPR]

May the High-Fructose Corn Syrup be with you: General Mills is going to make a Star Wars-themed cereal. [Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal]

This item has a theme song: “3 Snow Monkeys Born at Minnesota Zoo” 

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