Ex-Minnesota Somalis suspected of terrorism; Pawlenty goes for three-peat

"Come back here with those ballots!"

"Come back here with those ballots!"

FBI and counterterrorism officials suspect that young Somali men who have disappeared from the Twin Cities are part of a terrorism group, according to an article in the currrent issue of Newsweek.

As many as 20 young men have disappeared over the last year and a half, and some Somalis have said that Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, the largest mosque in the area, may be connected. The imam of that mosque, Sheikh Abdirahman Ahmed, has denied any role in the disappearances. Last fall, placement on the federal no-fly list prevented the imam from making a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The Newsweek article explores the disappearances and the rumors and the perspective of counterterrorism officials. Parents of the missing young men and the FBI believe the youth have joined Al-Shabaab, a group on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Formed in 2004, Al-Shabaab has been fighting to restore sharia law to war-torn Somalia.

Newsweek offers one perspective, but it doesn't explain why Twin Cities Somalis—especially youth who have been raised here—would want to join Al-Shabaab. Some local Somalis dispute that Al-Shabaab is a terrorist organization. Instead, they see it as an outlet for frustrated youth who believe Islamic law to be the only way to restore peace to their country. Such youth are vulnerable to calls to return to fight. —Erin Carlyle

Dumpster diving with ex-senators

Politico had another gem last week about our wannabe senator, Norm Coleman. It looks as though his chances of reelection are so slim his office staff is anxious to rid their space of its remaining office supplies.

Couldn't they hold on to some of this stuff somewhere in hopes of moving them back in? Or leave them as a "screw you" gift for Al Franken when he shows up?

Anyway, it turned into a day of dumpster diving for Senate staffers in the Hart building on Capitol Hill as other sad offices scrounged for free office supplies. Three-ring binders? Printer cartridges? For free? We must be in heaven.

You know you're in a recession when there is mass excitement for leftover office junk. —Emily Kaiser

T-Paw goes for threepeat

Tim Pawlenty got pretty close to announcing a third run for governor during a KSTP interview, but he still hasn't made it official.

Could Pawlenty be the first Minnesota governor to run for and win three four-year terms in office?

"We're in challenging times," T-Paw said. "I think I have a lot of energy and a lot of ideas for this position. I'm interested in continuing in this position.... I enjoy it and we're doing everything to get ready to prepare to run for 2010, but I haven't made a final decision on that."

More clues: His campaign committee announced $750,000 raised in 2008. A SurveyUSA poll this week puts his approval rating at 53 percent. That's pretty impressive for a Republican battling a terrible economy. —Emily Kaiser

Smoke this

A bill introduced last week in the state Legislature by Rep. Nora Slawik would outlaw smoking in cars with kids inside. (Yeah, we get it: "Think of the children!") The penalty would be a moving violation, subject to a $100 fine. To be fair, it would constitute a "secondary violation," meaning you would have to be pulled over for something else—like, say, talking on your cell phone or being African American—to get written up.

Okay, Nora, we'll bite. While clearly well intentioned (as nonsense typically is), your bill raises an obvious question, which is: If the problem is merely secondhand-smoke exposure to kids, why confine the ban exclusively to motorized vehicles? Why not—in one preposterous, self-righteous, overzealous sweep—outlaw tobacco-smoking in all situations in which someone under 18 is standing, let's say, within 20 feet of the smoker...whether it be in a car or home or bus stop or lynch mob.

Unfortunately, your desperate-for-pet-issues-of-their-own colleagues would probably read this, stroke their chins, and mutter, "Y'know, that's not a bad idea." —Matt Snyders

New bailout: Forgive student loan debt

A new idea in our country's desperate digging for economic stimulus: Wipe out student debt. That's the proposal of Wy Spano, director of the Masters of Advocacy and Political Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota Duluth. His opinion piece ran last week in the Star Tribune.

That would come at a hefty price tag of $70 billion. By comparison, it's a drop in the bucket next to the more than $800 billion stimulus package just passed by the U.S. House. —Emily Kaiser