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December 14, 2008

Blagojevich Only The Latest Chapter In Corrupt Illinois Politics

Illinoisans are used to politicians like Rod Blagojevich who was indicted on Tuesday for attempting to sell Barack Obama's vacant senate seat, among other political "prizes" at his disposal, according to The New York Times.

The Illinois governor is the current face of a political machine based on a "pay to play" political philosophy in which everything is for sale, reported the Chicago Tribune.

Because of the state's particularly lax rules regarding campaign donation limits--there are none--many politicians are enticed to sell their political favor to the highest bidder. Because some donors contribute considerably more than others, it is in most politician's best interest in Illinois to appease them with jobs, state contracts or, in Blagojevich's case, senate seats.

"When you look at the countless scandals that have plagued Illinois politics over the last several years, while they have differed in facts and scope, the one common denominator has been a drive to obtain an abundance of campaign contributions," said state Rep. John Fritchey (D- Chicago).

December 7, 2008

Channeling Eisenhower, Obama Proposes Major Public Works Projects

Inheriting a major economic crisis, President-elect Barack Obama unveiled plans Saturday for the largest public works construction program since Dwight D. Eisenhower's interstate highway system over 50 years ago, reported The New York Times.

To bolster a weak and shrinking job market, Obama's public works plan will include new jobs to make buildings more energy efficient, repair aging highways, implement electronic medical record systems in hospitals, and install new computers in schools, reported The Washington Post.

Adopting a "New Deal" attitude, Obama said more government intervention is necessary in order to reverse the economic downturn, create more jobs for middle- and low-income workers, and modernize the United States.

Conservatives, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), strongly oppose throwing the government's weight around, however, saying strong government presence in the economy is the wrong direction.

"Anyone who has talked to the American people knows that while they are hurting, they don't believe that more Washington spending is the answer," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner.

While conservatives support lowering taxes to promote consumer spending, Obama's plan reveals he is not afraid to spend money to fix the economy.

“I think he understands if you’re trying to reverse the economy and turn it around," Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governors Association, said in an interview Saturday, "this is not the time to do it on the cheap. This is not the time to do it in small doses.?

November 30, 2008

Space Shuttle Endeavour Forced To Land In California

Bad weather in Florida forced the space shuttle Endeavour to land at Edwards Air Force Base in California, wrapping up a 16-day mission at the International Space Station, reported the Star Tribune.

Low clouds and high crosswinds forced the flight director, Bryan Lunney, to direct Endeavour to land in California instead of at the Kennedy Space Center where friends and family members of the seven-member crew were waiting.

The 6.6 million-mile voyage lasting 16 days brought the space station over eight tons of equipment and supplies including a new water-recycling system, which the astronauts tested on board, reported the New York Times.

The water-recycling system is part of NASA's plan to increase the crew size aboard the space station from three to six next May.

Additionally, two astronauts carried out four spacewalks to repair the space station's exterior and lubricate rotary mechanisms.

November 23, 2008

From Opponent to Ally, Clinton Obama's Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama's opponent in the Democratic primaries, accepted the president-elect's offer on Friday to become his Secretary of State, giving up her Senate seat to do so, reported The New York Times.

After a particularly fierce battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama's choice of Clinton to such a powerful position in his cabinet is rather odd. Obama often criticized Clinton for her vote to send US troops into Iraq and yet appointed her the voice of his administration's foreign policy efforts, reported The Star Tribune.

With Hillary, comes Bill, who will no doubt insert his opinion into the debate. This also seems to run contrary to Obama's desire to avoid a sideshow, focusing instead on presenting the issues simply and clearly.

Obama, however, is sticking with Clinton, calling her on Thursday to discuss the logistics of her position. The phone call, Clinton aides said, helped Clinton make the decision to step down from her Senate seat into Obama's administration.

While many applaud Obama for putting aside the bitterness of the primary campaign, others are disappointed in his choice, saying Clinton is powerful enough in her own right to undermine Obama's authority.

While the decision will not be finalized until after Thanksgiving, both parties are working to frame Clinton's position in Obama's administration, given her status as a political heavyweight.

"Hillary Clinton is a demonstrably able, tough, brilliant person who can help ... advance the interests of this administration and this country," Obama strategist David Axelrod said Sunday in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

November 16, 2008

Firefighters Work to Contain California Forest Fires

Firefighters are working to contain forest fires in three California counties, but have shifted their focus to a new outbreak in northern Orange County, reported the Los Angeles Times.

More than 26,000 people were evacuated in the Triangle Complex fire and 3,500 structures remain in danger as firefighters focus in on the area.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the three affected counties--Los Angeles, Orange, and Santa Barbara--reported the New York Times.

High winds have exacerbated fires that have devoured homes in upscale neighborhoods like Anaheim Hills. Rapper Snoop Dogg was among the evacuees in Diamond Bar as homes in his gated community, The Country, were threatened.

Officials predict winds will die down on Sunday, which will aid over 2,200 firefighters working across the area. The Tea fire, which broke out on Thursday in Montecito near Santa Barbara, was 75 percent contained and northwest of San Fernando Valley in the Sylmar area the Sayre fire was 40 percent contained.

Officials report a myriad of injuries but only one casualty--a 98-year-old man died as he was being evacuated.

November 9, 2008

Old Cholesterol Drugs Help New Set Of Patients

Statin drugs, once reserved for patients with high cholesterol, can also benefit those with normal or low cholesterol levels revealed a new study released at an American Heart Association conference Sunday.

Nearly 18,000 men age 50 and older and women 60 and older with no history of high cholesterol or heart disease participated in the study, reported the New York Times. The participants did have elevated levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, a harbinger of inflammation.

The study revealed statin drugs can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with inflamed blood vessels in half, reported National Public Radio.

Additionally, 20 milligrams of the drug Crestor, taken daily, can reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular complications by 20 percent, according to data from the study, published in the online version of The New England Journal of Medicine.

“These are findings that are really going to impact the practice of cardiology in the country,? said Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which was not involved in the research. “It’s at a minimum an extremely important study and has the potential to be a landmark study.?

November 2, 2008

Judge Issues Order for Wiretapping Documents

A federal judge ordered the Justice Department to release memorandums citing the legality of the Bush Administration's post-9/11wiretapping policy, which included taps without warrants, reported the Washington Post.

Washington Federal District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. required the documents be released by Nov. 17, saying he will review the information and determine if any information can be legally released to the public, reported The New York Times.

The order stemmed from a lawsuit filed by civil liberties groups in 2005 questioning the legality of Bush's order to allow the National Security Agency to listen in on calls between terrorism suspects and U.S. civilians without first obtaining a permit.

The department argued the memorandums are protected because of an attorney-client privilege, an assertion Kennedy deemed "too vague."

"The attorney-client privilege is not necessarily the means for protecting this information," the order said. "Without more information, the court cannot conclude that the attorney-client privilege applies."

October 26, 2008

Boston Proposes Increased Tobacco Regulations

In an effort to increase overall public health and positively influence young people, Boston legislators are promoting one of the strictest tobacco laws in the country, a measure that would keep cigarettes out of drug stores and off college campuses, reported The New York Times.

The Boston Public Health Commission will vote Nov. 13, on the measure, which would also close the city's 10 hookah and cigar bars. The commission defends the strict measure by comparing tobacco to other dangerous substances like alcohol.

“Should tobacco be treated as any other consumer good? No,? said Barbara Ferrer, director of the Board of Health. “We don’t sell guns everywhere, we don’t sell alcohol everywhere and we don’t need to be selling tobacco everywhere. They’re all dangerous products, and they all require regulation.?

But some local business owners, particularly the 10 cigar and hookah bar owners said they think the measure is discriminatory, reported The Boston Globe.

“It’s tying the hands of sellers and consumers alike, and that isn’t what government should be about,? said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which represents small businesses, including pharmacies.

The courts disagree.

The city of San Francisco passed a similar ban this July banning the sale of cigarettes in drug stores. The courts upheld the ban, which is set to begin Oct. 1.

October 19, 2008

Powell Endorses Obama, Chides McCain

Bush's former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced his endorsement of Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president, on Sunday, reported The Star Tribune.

Calling Obama a "transformational figure," Powell said he believed both Obama and John McCain were well qualified, but only Obama can bring about a "generational change" in America.

"It isn't easy for me to disappoint Sen. McCain in the way that I have this morning, and I regret that," Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press. Powell went on to criticize the negative tone of John McCain's campaign, particularly the accusations that Obama was "palling around" with terrorists.

Additionally, Powell expressed concerns about John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin.

"She’s a very distinguished woman, and she’s to be admired, but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don’t believe she’s ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president,? he said.

Given his extensive foreign policy credentials, Powell's endorsement lends credibility to Obama's limited track record in diplomatic affairs.

Powell said he would not campaign for Obama but left the door open to a cabinet or advisory position in a potential Obama administration.

October 12, 2008

Wildfire Burns 300 Acres, 2 structures in Napa Valley

A hundred people were evacuated as firefighters worked to contain a wildfire responsible for destroying 300 acres and two structures on Saturday nearNapa Valley, Calif., reported The Star Tribune.

According to a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Nancy Carniglia, the fire threatened approximately 200 homes and two wineries in St. Helena near Napa Valley in northern California. About 100 residents voluntarily left their homes, reported The New York Times.

Investigators believe the fire started when a car struck a rock causing a spark. Strong winds exacerbated the fire, spreading embers.

More than 1,500 firefighters contained the blaze on Sunday and all evacuation orders have been lifted.

October 5, 2008

O.J. Simpson Guilty on Robbery, Kidnapping Charges

On the 13-year anniversary of his acquittal in his wife's murder case, a jury found O.J. Simpson guilty of armed robbery, kidnapping, and 10 other charges on Friday, reported The New York Times.

The incident, a confrontation in a Las Vegas hotel room in which Simpson and four other men stole hundreds of sports memorabilia items, yielded various charges which could send the 61-year-old Simpson to prison for the rest of his life.

The kidnapping charge alone is punishable by five years to life and because a weapon was present, the minimum sentence for the majority of the charges against Simpson will be increased.

Simpson's lawyer, Yale Galanter, said he believes the jury's biases played a role in Simpson's guilty verdict.

"I don’t like to use the word payback,? said Galanter. “I can tell you from the beginning my biggest concern was whether or not the jury would be able to separate their very strong feelings about Mr. Simpson and judge him fairly and honestly.?

Despite any possible "spillover effect," as Galanter called it, prosecutors presented the jury with hours of taped conversations in which Simpson and four other men planned the attack, and testimony from three of those men.

According to witnesses in the courtroom, Simpson seemed markedly more subdued as the jury read a guilty verdict on all 12 charges, reported The Star Tribune.

“There’s a loneliness, a sadness about O. J. that I never saw before,? said Dominick Dunne, a Vanity Fair columnist famous for his coverage of SImpson's 1995 murder trial. "I think he understands how wrecked his life is.?

September 28, 2008

Medevac Helicopter Crashes Killing 4

A medevac helicopter carrying five passengers, crashed in suburban Washington D.C., early Sunday, killing four, reported The Star Tribune.
Two police officers, including the pilot, died in the crash, as well as an Emergency Medical Services staffer and one of the victims of a traffic accident, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department. Brady reported the other traffic accident victim survived the crash.
On its way to Prince George's County Hospital, the aircraft was diverted to land at Andrews Air Force Base due to bad weather. The pilot radioed for additional landing instructions but was not heard from afterward.
The accident is one of the deadliest since Maryland State Police started using medevac helicopters 40 years ago, reported The New York Times.
Nationwide, it is the eighth fatal medical helicopter crash this year.
According to Debbie Hersman, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, 30 people have died in those crashes, prompting a public hearing on the issue.

September 21, 2008

Killer Of Forest Officer Was Wanted For Probation Violation

The Washington Department of Corrections was already looking for an Everett man before he shot and killed a US Forest Department officer and an unidentified man on Saturday, reported The Seattle Times.
Shawn M. Roe, 36, who was killed in a police shootout Saturday night, was wanted for failing to show up to a meeting with his probation officer on Aug. 29. Roe had at least two prior convictions for domestic-related incidents.
Roe shot Kristine Fairbanks, a 20-year veteran of the agency, after she pulled him over for driving a van without license plates, reported The New York Times.
After abandoning his van in a densely wooded area, authorities believe Roe traveled on foot to a nearby house and shot an unidentified man in his 60s. Roe then stole the man's white pickup truck.
With the help of various tipsters, local authorities tracked down Roe at the Longhouse Market and Deli and attempted to apprehend him. Roe opened fire on the officers who returned fire, ultimately shooting and killing the suspect.
Authorities say Roe had been staying at the Dungeness Forks Campground in the Olympia National Forest 10 days before the killings.

September 15, 2008

Train Crashes Near Los Angeles Killing 25

At least 25 people died Friday after their train ran a red signal, crashing head-on into a freight train, reported the New York Times.
According to a rail line spokeswoman, Denise Tyrrell, preliminary reports say an engineer failed to stop at a red signal, causing the wreck.
The accident is reportedly the nation's deadliest since 1993 when an Amtrak train crashed in Mobile, Ala., killing 47.
The Metrolink train was carrying 222 passengers as it made its way to Ventura County from Los Angeles, reports The Star Tribune.
Officials say 25 were killed, including the engineer, and 135 were injured. Officials expect the death toll to rise, however, because 40 passengers remain in critical condition.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the wreck. They said while human error may have been a factor in the crash, they cannot rule out equipment malfunction and track conditions as possible causes and will continue to investigate all scenarios.
A safety board member Kitty Higgins advised against snap judgments in assigning blame, citing a previous train crash in which similar accusations turned out to be false.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the scene, and responded, "the investigation, of course, continues on."