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April 30, 2008

U.S. population may hit 1 billion by 2100

Experts predict that the population of the United States could hit the 1 billion mark by 2100, USA Today reported Tuesday.

The U.S. currently has about 304 million residents, compared to 1.3 billion in China, which hit the 1 billion mark in the 1980s.

The prediction, made by Arthur Nelson, co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, at an urban planning meeting in Las Vegas, assumes that fertility rates will remain the same but that immigration rates will increase.

How will the U.S. absorb so many people? Nelson advoates turning parking lots into commercial and residential buildings, reducing the reliance on cars through improvements in mass transportation.

Not everyone agrees with the projection. Robert Lang, one of Nelson's colleagues, believes birthrates will decline, largely because birthrates across the world are declining. "I would rather focus on the near certainty that we will gain 100 million people by 2043. … No one plans for 100 years from now except to preserve a national park,' he said.

Population projections in most countries rarely extend beyond 2050.

April 16, 2008

Supreme Court: Lethal injections constitutional

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 on Wednesday to reject a claim that lethal executions do not offend the constitution, USA Today reported.

The decision ended a moratorium on injections that began last fall.

The two condemned Kentucky prisoners who brought the case before the court said that the common three-drug mix method of lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment, and thus violating the Eighth Amendment.

They claimed that the second drug used, pancuronium bromide, masks signs of distress and creates a risk that inmates may be suffering excruciating pain.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said that the prisoners failed to show that the improper injections of the drugs could cause sufficient pain.

The Court outlined a new test for determining whether a method of execution is constitutional. In that test, a petitioner would have to show that the method presented an "objectively intolerable" risk of pain.

In a concurring opinion, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia argued that a method of execution would be unconstitutional only if it were specifically designed to cause pain. An alternative would have to significantly reduce the risk of pain.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented, saying that Kentucky's lethal injection procedure lacked "basic safeguards" that would make sure the inmate were unconscious and unable to feel pain.

Minnesota is not one of the 36 states that has the death penalty.

April 15, 2008

Pope visits U.S.

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the United States on Tuesday, the beginning of a six-day trip that includes visits to Washington, D.C., the United Nations, Ground Zero and two baseball stadiums.

The Pope, who is clebrating his 81st birthday on Wednesday, was greeted by a group of schoolchildren singing "Happy Birthday."

Neither the Pope nor President Bush, who met the Pope as he disembarked his plane at Andrew Air Force Base, made any remarks.

USA Today reported that on the flight to America, Benedict said that he was "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex-abuse crisis.

Benedict is only the third pope to come to the United States. Paul VI stopped in New York for one day in 1965, and John Paul II made seven trips during his reign.

Benedict will visit the White House and address Catholic bishops on Wednesday, will celebrate Mass at the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium on Thursday, and will move on to New York on Friday morning.

April 10, 2008

Bush halts troop withdrawals

President Bush announced on Thursday that the senior commander in Iraq may have "all the time he needs" before reducing the number of troops serving there, the New York Times reported.

Bush said that reducing troops further would be "catastrophic" to national interests and that the number of troops in Iraq would remain the same at least through the end of his presidency.

Congress Democrats, however, sharply disagreed with Bush's plans. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) said the president "refuses to face reality."

Calling last year's "surge" a success, Bush highlighted the importance of staying in Iraq in order to continue the broader struggle against Muslim extremism.

Bush also noted that the Iraqi government is increasingly taking matters into its own hands, paying for reconstruction and security more and more with its own revenues.

In accordance with recommendations from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the length of a tour for American soldiers will be shortened from 15 months to 12 months.

Putting the war in a historical context, Bush said the war spending is 4 percent of the gross national product, as opposed to 13 percent under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower.

“And while this war is difficult,? he said, “it is not endless.?

Airline cancellations worsen

The chief executive of American Airlines accepted "full responsibility" on Thursday for the cancellation of 2,500 flights over the past three days, CNN reported.

American Airlines had to cancel an additional 952 flights on Thursday because of potential problems with the landing gear on its jets.

The airline has offered to compensate the 140,000 passengers whose flights have been cancelled by giving out vouchers.

The cancellations come during a campaign started by the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure that airlines actually perform their mandatory safety inspections.

Other airlines, including Southwest, United, Delta Air, and Alaska Airlines were also forced to cancel flights in order to check the safety of their airplanes.

Airports have been trying to assuage the frustrations of passengers by leaving their restaurants open 24 hours and handing out free coffee, pastries and even diapers.

April 3, 2008

Census Bureau to go low-tech in 2010

In the wake of a multi-billion dollar electronic census-taking snafu, the government is going back to old-fashioned, hand-counted paper ballots for the 2010 census, MSNBC reported Thursday.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutteriez told Congress on Thursday that the Census Bureau is shelving plans to use handheld computers to collect census information.

Consequently, the government will have to hire 600,000 more workers to count the ballots, driving up the cost of the 2010 census to more than $14 billion.

Workers will no longer use the devices, which MSNBC described as "fancy cell phones," to go door to door and collect information from the citizens who don't send in their census data via postal service.

Gutierrez blamed the problems on "a lack of effective communication with one of our key contractors."

Government reports show that the agency was unprepared to manage such a large contract for the handheld devices, reportedly $217 million.

The constitution requires a census to be taken every 10 years. It is used to apportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

March 30, 2008

Two cheetahs maul Fla. woman

The owner of a wildlife sanctuary in Wellington, Fla. was attacked Sunday by two cheetahs and hospitalized after sustaining 40 puncture wounds, the Associated Press reported.

Judy Berens was airlifted to a local hospital, but her injuries appear to be non-life threatening, police said.

She was conducting an exhibition with two male cheetahs when one became distracted by a bouncing ball ouside. The cheetah moved toward the ball and knocked Berens down, police said. The cheetah then attacked, clawing and biting her, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Widlife Conservation Commission said. At some point the other cheetah joined in the attack.

Several people entered the cheetah cage and rescued her.

An investigation is underway, but it appears no laws were violated.

March 25, 2008

Fox refuses to pay indecency fine

Fox Broadcasting refused Monday to pay a $91,000 levied by the FCC for indecency on a long-canceled television show, the Washington Post reported.

The FCC had previously tried to fine all 169 Fox television stations for a total of $2.1 million in 2004 for a 2003 episode of the reality show "Married in America" that featured digitally obscured nudity and strippers covered in whipped cream.

The FCC reduced the fine to $91,000 last month, deciding to fine only the 13 stations that received viewer complaints.

Fox refused to pay the fine, calling it "arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with precedent, and patently unconstitutional."

The Supreme Court decided last week to take up FCC vs. Fox Broadcasting Broadcasting, a separate case in which fines were levied against Fox in 2002 and 2003 because of vulgarities uttered during live broadcasts of awards shows.

The Court has not heard a broad indecency case since 1978 when it upheld the FCC's authority to fine broadcasters for indecent material.

FCC rules prohibit broadcasters from airing offensive sexual or excretory material between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are likely to be watching.

March 12, 2008

New York governor resigns amid sex scandal

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned Wednesday after it was revealed he had been involved with several prostitutes, the New York Times reported.

The resignation will be effective Monday and Lt. Gov. David Paterson will be sworn in as Spitzer's replacement.

“Over the course of my public life, I have insisted — I believe correctly — that people regardless of their position or power take responsibility for their conduct,? Sptizer, wife at his side, said during a 140 second press conference. “I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor.?

It was revealed two days ago that Spitzer was a frequent client at a high-end prostitution ring.

It is unclear whether Spitzer will faces any criminal charges.

Spitzer is the first New York governor to resign since 1973 and the first to be forced out since William Sulzer was impeached in 1913 because of campaign finance fraud.

March 11, 2008

1 in 4 teen girls has STD

At least one in every four American teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease, according to a major study released by the Centers for Disease Control, USA Today reported Tuesday.

A virus that causes cervical cancer is the most prevalent disease of the 3 million girls infected with an STD, the study found.

Nearly half of blacks and 20% of whites and Mexican-Americans have an STD.

About half of all girls ages 14-19 acknowledged having had sex, and of that half, nearly 40% had become infected.

A spokesperson for the CDC said this was the first study of its kind and will help doctors focus their research and educate girls who may be at risk.

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, the infection that can cause cervical cancer, can be prevented with a new vaccine.

Experts recommend that teenage girls receive the vaccine and get frequent examinations for other STDs.

March 9, 2008

Prescription drugs found in drinking water

An Associated Press report found a "vast array" of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, the AP reported Sunday.

The concentrations of these drugs, including anti-biotics, mood stabilizers and sexual hormones, are tiny, and utilities insist their water is safe, but the discovery has many doctors worrying about the effects of pharmaceuticals on long-term health.

The traces of drugs that are not absorbed by the body are flushed down the toilet and eventually find their way to the water supply. The water is cleaned at water treatment plants, but some of the pharmaceutical residue is cannot be removed.

The situation is "undoubetdly worse" than the AP report's findings.

The federal government has no regulations about perscription drugs in drinking water, even though the number of U.S. perscriptions is about 3.7 billion.

"People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that's not the case," scientist Christian Daughton, a scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, told the AP.

Recent research has shown that ingesting trace amounts of unprescribed drugs can have adverse affect on human health, causing cancer cells to proliferate too quickly, kidney cells to grow too slowly, and blood cells to show biological activity associated with inflammation.

Studies have also shown that the drugs are having negative effects on fish, worms and plankton.

March 8, 2008

All-you-can-eat baseball games

What's the latest trend at Major League Baseball stadiums across the country? All-you-can-eat seats, USA Today reported Friday.

For $30 to $55 you can sit in the upper-deck or bleacher sections at your local baseball park and wolf down as many hot dogs, peanuts, nachos and soda as you would like.

At least 13 of the major league teams are offering the all-you-can-eat seats for the 2008 season, more than double the amount last year.

Team officials say this new tactic is a way to sell tickets for parts of the stadiums that used to sit empty.

Health and diet specialists, however, have criticized the seats, saying they are symbols of a society in which 1 out of every 3 adults is obese.

"It's disgusting," a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association told USA Today. "Why can't people just enjoy the game and eat sensibly?"

Neither the Minnesota Twins nor the Milwaukee Brewers are offering the all-you-can-eat seats for the upcoming season.

So how much does a fan sitting in one of these seats usually eat? Ron Ranieri, general manager of concessions at Turner Field in Atlanta, calculates that a typical all-you-can-eat customer ate: 3.35 hot dogs; one 20-ounce soda; one 7.9-ounce bag of peanuts; one 3-ounce order of nachos and 32 ounces of popcorn.

Some teams offer fruit salads and garden burgers for fans who want to eat healthy.

March 1, 2008

Ricin found in Las Vegas hotel

A man who stayed in a Las Vegas hotel where ricin was found is in critical condition, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Investigators are still try to determine why the man, whose identity has not been released, would have come into contact with the deadly substance at the hotel one mile of the Strip.

The city's police chief said that the man was still checked into the hotel when the ricin was discovered by a friend who went to retrieve the sick man's belongings after he had been hospitalized.

Ricin is made from the waste produced by processing beans of the common weed castor. Just a pinprick of ricin can be lethal.

Police found guns and an "anarchist-type textbook" in a search of the man's room, but an F.B.I. spokesperson said the events did not appear to be related to terrorism.

February 24, 2008

Nader enters presidential race

Ralph Nader announced Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press that he is running for president in 2008, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Nader, 73, also ran in the 2000 and 2004 elections as an independent candidate.

Nader cites America's disenchantment with the Democratic and Republican Parties as one of the main reasons he is entering the race. He also wants to address some topics he believes the other candidates ignore: corporate crime, labor rights, and wasteful military spending.

“You take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut out, marginalized and disrespected," Nader told Meet the Press. “In that context, I have decided to run for president.’’

Nader earned 2.7% of the national popular vote in 2000. Many believe that he took votes away from Democratic candidate Al Gore, tipping the scales in favor of Republican candidate George W. Bush.

February 16, 2008

Eight die in street-racing accident

Eight people died in Maryland Saturday when a car plowed into a group of street-racing fans obscured by tire smoke, USA Today reports.

About 50 people were gathered to watch the street races on a remote highway 20 miles outside Washington. Two cars taking off at the start of the race left a huge cloud of smoke. Another car, unable to see the spectators in the smoke, plowed into the crowd.

"There were just bodies everywhere; it was horrible," Crystal Gaines, 27, told USA Today reporters.

Police have not yet charged the driver of the vehicle that hit the crowd.

The victims were in their 20s-60s. Seven people died at the scene and an eighth died in the hospital. At least six others were injured.

The remote highway has very little traffic in the early morning, making it a frequent spot for street-racing, police said.

February 13, 2008

Writers' strike ends

Hollywood writers, who had been on strike since November, returned to work on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

The 10,500 members of the Writers Guild of America accepted the studios' offer on a new contract which gave them a bigger portion of fees charged for media distributed on the internet.

Writers will now get a flat fee of $1,200 for the first two years their content is streamed online, plus 2% of the distributor's gross in the third year.

The strike is estimated to have cost the film and television industry $3 billion in lost revenue.

Walt Disney Co., which own ABC, and General Electric Co., which owns NBC, have already announced that they would scale back fall TV pilots or cancel them altogether.

Fewer new shows means less nead for writers. "What we're all finding is there's a certain amount of, `OK, what are we going to do now?'" Shane Brennan, writer and executive producer for the CBS drama "NCIS" told the Associated Press.

This months Academy Awards ceremony, which was in danger of being boycotted by actors supporing the writers' cause, can now proceed as planned.

February 8, 2008

Nebraska bans the electric chair

CNN reported Friday that the Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled the electric chair to be unconstitutional.

Of the 36 states that employ capital punishment, Nebraska was the only one to still use the electric chair. The other 35 use lethal injection as the preferred means of execution.

In its opinion, the court recognized the "intense pain and agonizing suffering" to be a violation of the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.

The judges also wrote that death by electrocution "has proven itself a dinosaur more befitting the laboratory of Baron Frankenstein than the death chamber."

Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, 154 people have been executed by means of electrocution.

A measure to abolish the death penalty altogether in Nebraska was narrowly defeated last year.

February 6, 2008

Super Tuesday results: McCain, Clinton emerge on top

The Super Tuesday results are in: Republican John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton are their respective parties' front-runners for the presidential nomination, USA Today reports.

The current delegate count: for the Democrats, 1000 for Clinton and 902 for Ill. Sen. Barack Obama; for the Republicans, 703 for McCain, 269 for Mitt Romney, and 190 for Mike Huckabee. It takes 2,025 delegates to win the Democratic nomination and 1,191 delegates to win the Republican nomination.

"We intended to be competitive and we were," Clinton said. "And I think the result last night proved the wisdom of my investment."

Although McCain and Clinton appear to be leading, the campaign is far from over. McCain announced he would return to the campaign trail Thursday with specific proposals for the economy.

Obama is far from bowing out. He will hold a major rally in New Orleans in order to gain support for the Lousiana caucus Saturday.

February 1, 2008

Microsoft bids on Yahoo

Micrsoft Corp made a $42 billion bid to acquire Yahoo Inc. Friday, Yahoo News reports. Microsoft hopes the move will help topple internet rival Google Inc.

Microsoft, known for its software programs, forsees trouble unless it diversify by giving people access to computer programs online. As more and more people get their news and entertainment from the internet, online advertising will become an $80 billion market by 2010.

Yahoo has not yet agreed to the acquisition, but analysts predict the company, whose stock sunk to a four-year low this week, will most likely acquiesce. Wall Street, however, is unsure about the proposal: Yahoo's stock is up 48% since the announcement, while Microsoft's is down nearly 7%.

If the companies do combine, their U.S. audience will be 142 million, about 18 million more than Google's.

Yahoo was once the internet's dominant search provider, but the dot-com burst left a gap in the internet that Google was more than willing to provide. Google now controls more than 60% of the U.S. search market, USA Today reports.

It is still unclear whether the acquisition would violate U.S. and EU antirust laws.

January 30, 2008

Edwards bows out

John Edwards, presidential hopeful for the Democratic Party, has officially ended his run for the White House today, USA Today reports.

Edwards has failed to win a primary thus far and has consistently scored low in national polls.

The former U.S. senator from North Carolina has decided not to endorse either of his rivals, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, just yet.

Edwards was the vice-presidential candidate when John Kerry ran for president in 2004. Edwards's campaign suffered a blow earlier this year when Kerry announced he would endorse Obama and not his former running mate.

Giving a statement earlier today in New Orleans, Edwards remained optimistic about his party's chances for winning the election, saying "We do not know who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but we do know that our Democratic Party will make history."