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Rick Perry and HPV vaccine-maker have deep financial ties September 14, 2011


September 14, 2011

by legitgov

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Rick Perry and HPV vaccine-maker have deep financial ties 13 Sep 2011 Rick Perry’s  gubernatorial campaigns have received nearly $30,000 from Merck since 2000, most of that before he issued his vaccine mandate, which was overturned by the Texas legislature. In 2007, Perry became the first governor in the country to attempt to make the HPV vaccine mandatory. One of Perry’s closest confidantes, his former chief of staff Mike Toomey, was then working as an Austin-based lobbyist for Merck, which was in the midst of a multimillion-dollar campaign to persuade states to make the vaccine mandatory. Toomey has since helped found Make Us Great Again, a pro-Perry super PAC that can accept unlimited donations from corporations and wealthy donors. The group plans to raise as much as $55 million to help Perry compete for the GOP nomination, according to media reports.

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To Catch A Predator host . . . caught June 30, 2011

The hidden camera ploy that has propelled television host Chris Hansen into an American pop culture phenomenon has pulled a fast one on the To Catch a Predator star.

The Daily Mail is reporting today that Hansen, the Dateline NBC personality that has hosted the popular To Catch a Predator series from 2004 through 2007, has been caught cheating on his wife Mary Joan Hansen, with whom he has fathered two sons.

It is being reported today that the National Enquirer was instrumental in arranging an undercover sting operation last weekend in which Hansen was caught on film going on a date with a blonde-haired reporter 20 years younger than him.

The Daily Mail claims that the hidden cameras reveal Hansen and Kristyn Caddell, a 30-year-old journalist from Florida, going out to dinner at the hoity-toity Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan and then heading off to Miss Cadddel’s Palm Beach apartment. The recording allegedly shows the couple then leaving her apartment the following morning with luggage in tow.

Undercover footage reportedly recorded the couple driving along the ocean, at a gas station, a liquor store and eventually Caddell’s apartment. The next day the tape continued to roll as Caddell took Hansen to the airport.

As host of NBC’s To Catch A Predator, Hansen and his crew have aired 12 investigations across the United States in which authorities carried out undercover stings to nab sexual predators seeking out children for elicit acts. After luring men to the homes of alleged underage prey, Hansen and a film crew question, document and humiliate criminals with the help of NBC videographers, hidden surveillance cams and law enforcement.

Former Texas District Attorney Louis Conradt committed suicide in 2006 after a SWAT team entered his house during a sting enacted in part by the television program. Authorities had created a fictional 13-year-old boy to whom Conradt engaged in explicit online chats with. When SWAT later stormed his Terrell, Texas home as the Dateline crew surrounded the premises, Conradt killed himself with a Browning .380 handgun bullet to the head.

Hansen has recently been investigating around Florida to try to find out how star athlete James ‘Jimmy T’ Trindade went missing in 2006. An anonymous source has told the Daily Mail that Hansen and Caddell met at a martini bar in Palm Beach earlier this year, and that “there was an immediate physical attraction between them.”

The source also claims that Caddell later boasted to friends that she spent the night with Hansen.

The Enquirer is alleging that the couple has been continuing recondite rendezvous along the East Coast, with the two spending weekends together in Miami, Palm Beach and even New York City. Previously Caddell worked as an intern in NBC’s New York City office.

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Texas town pulls the plug on police department

Attention gun-toting Texas natives: if you were looking to go a’looting, your time is now!

City Council members in Alto, Texas, a town of around 1,200, have voted to abolish the city’s police department for at least six months as the community considers if they will be able to afford the force into 2012.

As of June 15, Alto is being run by the Cherokee County sheriff’s office, whose headquarters are around 12 miles north of town. With only two dozen employees on the force there, overseeing security in the city of Alto will be a burden on the 1,000-square-mile stretch of land that the department is already in charge of.

“I’m going to try, but I can’t guarantee you there will always be an officer in the town,” says Sheriff James Campbell to the Wall Street Journal.

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department is also the sole enforcer in Wells, Texas, which has a population of around 800. Earlier this year they relieved their only police officer.

Alto Mayor Monty Collins was against the measure, and he says now that the town’s citizens are instructing others to “bolt your doors” and “buy a gun.”

City Council officials in Alto calculate a budget shortfall of around $185,000 for the fiscal year ending on September 30, but note that it costs about $230,000 to run the town’s PD.

“We had to do something drastic,” says Jerry Flowers to WSJ. Flowers is both a councilman and hay farmer in Alto. “The police department, being a non-money-making entity, was the easiest to get rid of while we catch our breath and build up some cash.”

Apparently the council was given the choice of funding the police department or repairing the city-owned natural gas distribution system. With the latter generating most of the city’s revenue, it was an easy decision for lawmakers.

Charles Barron, however, feels otherwise. As Alto police chief, Barron says that the per-capita crime rate in 2010 exceeded the statewide level. The city was subjected to 66 reported crimes that year, including two dozen burglaries and 39 larcenies.

An antiquated printing press used by an Alto newspaper has been moved to a nearby museum in the meantime to protect it from looters.

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2 House Members Want to End Federal Ban on Pot June 24, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two House members have introduced a bill that would remove marijuana from the list of federal controlled substances and cede to the states enforcement of laws governing pot.

The legislation would eliminate marijuana-specific penalties under federal law, but would maintain a ban on transporting marijuana across state lines. It would allow individuals to grow and sell marijuana in states that chose to make it legal.

The bill was introduced Thursday by Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Republican Ron Paul of Texas. Paul is running for the GOP presidential nomination.

Frank said he’s not advocating marijuana use, but believes that criminal prosecution is a waste of resources and an intrusion on personal freedom.

The bill has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled House.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bipartisan Bill Pushes for Pot Legalization June 23, 2011

 The unlikely duo of Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas are cosponsoring a bill to end the federal criminalization of marijuana, reports Reason.com.

A press release from the marijuana Policy Project describes it as “bi-partisan legislation … ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states legalize, regulate, tax, and control marijuana without federal interference.”

Morgan Fox, a representative of the Washington, D.C., group, told Reason that the bill has gained traction on the heels of the 40th anniversary of the start of the United States drug war, and should see real consideration in the House of Representatives.

“It’s definitely going to get a serious debate, probably more in the media than on the floor of the House,” said Fox. “Someone in the prohibitionist camp could hold it up as long as they wanted, but the slew of opinion pieces that came out last week calling for the end of the failed drug war will give this momentum.”

Frank and Paul are due to announce the bill on Thursday.

© Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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Census Shows Whites Lose US Majority Among Babies

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies.

Preliminary census estimates also show the share of African-American households headed by women — made up of mostly single mothers — now exceeds African-American households with married couples, a sign of declining U.S. marriages overall but also continuing challenges for black youths without involved fathers.

The findings, based on the latest government data, offer a preview of final 2010 census results being released this summer that provide detailed breakdowns by age, race, and householder relationships such as same-sex couples.

Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury.

“We’re moving toward an acknowledgment that we’re living in a different world than the 1950s, where married or two-parent heterosexual couples are now no longer the norm for a lot of kids, especially kids of color,” said Laura Speer, coordinator of the Kids Count project for the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“It’s clear the younger generation is very demographically different from the elderly, something to keep in mind as politics plays out on how programs for the elderly get supported,” she said. “It’s critical that children are able to grow to compete internationally and keep state economies rolling.”

Currently, non-Hispanic whites make up just under half of all children 3 years old, which is the youngest age group shown in the Census Bureau’s October 2009 annual survey, its most recent. In 1990, more than 60 percent of children in that age group were white.

William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the data, said figures in the 2009 survey can sometimes be inexact compared with the 2010 census, which queries the entire nation. But he said when factoring in the 2010 data released so far, minorities outnumber whites among babies under age 2.

The preliminary figures are based on an analysis of the Current Population Survey as well as the 2009 American Community Survey, which sampled 3 million U.S. households to determine that whites made up 51 percent of babies younger than 2. After taking into account a larger-than-expected jump in the minority child population in the 2010 census, the share of white babies falls below 50 percent.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia now have white populations below 50 percent among children under age 5 — Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and Mississippi. That’s up from six states and the District of Columbia in 2000.

At current growth rates, seven more states could flip to “minority-majority” status among small children in the next decade: Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Connecticut, South Carolina and Delaware.

By contrast, whites make up the vast majority of older Americans — 80 percent of seniors 65 and older and roughly 73 percent of people ages 45-64. Many states with high percentages of white seniors also have particularly large shares of minority children, including Arizona, Nevada, California, Texas and Florida.

“The recent emergence of this cultural generation gap in states with fast growth of young Hispanics has spurred heated discussions of immigration and the use of government services,” Frey said. “But the new census, which will show a minority majority of our youngest Americans, makes plain that our future labor force is absolutely dependent on our ability to integrate and educate a new diverse child population.”

Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor and senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire, noted that much of the race change is being driven by increases in younger Hispanic women having more children than do white women, who have lower birth rates and as a group are moving beyond their prime childbearing years.

Because minority births are driving the rapid changes in the population, “any institution that touches or is impacted by children will be the first to feel the impact,” Johnson said, citing as an example child and maternal health care that will have to be attentive to minorities’ needs.

The numbers come amid public debate over hotly contested federal and state issues, from immigration and gay marriage to the rising cost of government benefits such as Medicare and Medicaid, that are resonating in different ways by region and demographics.

Alabama became the latest state this month to pass a wide-ranging anti-immigration law, which in part requires schools to report students’ immigration status to state authorities. That follows tough immigration measures passed in similarly Republican-leaning states such as Georgia, Arizona and South Carolina.

But governors in Massachusetts, New York and Illinois, which long have been home to numerous immigrants, have opted out of the federal Secure Communities program that aims to deport dangerous criminals, saying it has made illegal immigrants afraid of reporting crimes to police. California may soon opt out as well.

States also are divided by region over old-age benefits and gay marriage, which is legal in five states and the District of Columbia.

Among African-Americans, U.S. households headed by women — mostly single mothers but also adult women living with siblings or elderly parents — represented roughly 30 percent of all African-American households, compared with the 28 percent share of married-couple African-American households. It was the first time the number of female-headed households surpassed those of married couples among any race group, according to census records reviewed by Frey dating back to 1950.

While the number of black single mothers has been gradually declining, overall marriages among blacks are decreasing faster. That reflects a broader U.S. trend of declining marriage rates as well as increases in non-family households made up of people living alone, or with unmarried partners or other non-relatives.

Female-headed households make up a 19 percent share among Hispanics and 9 percent each for whites and Asians.

Other findings:

—Multigenerational households composed of families with grandparents, parents and children were most common among Hispanics, particularly in California, Maryland, Illinois, Nevada and Texas, all states where they represented nearly 1 in 10 Latino households.

—Roughly 581,000, or a half percent, of U.S. households are composed of same-sex unmarried couples, representing nearly 1 in 10 households with unmarried partners. Unmarried gay couples made up the biggest shares in states in the Northeast and West, led by the District of Columbia, Oregon, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont. The largest numbers were in California and New York, which is now considering a gay marriage law.

—Minorities comprise a majority of renters in 10 states, plus the District of Columbia — Hawaii, Texas, California, Georgia, Maryland, New Mexico, Mississippi, New Jersey, Louisiana and New York.

Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, a conservative interest group, emphasized the economic impact of the decline of traditional families, noting that single-parent families are often the most dependent on government assistance.

“The decline of the traditional family will have to correct itself if we are to continue as a society,” Perkins said, citing a responsibility of individuals and churches. “We don’t need another dose of big government, but a new Hippocratic oath of ‘do no harm’ that doesn’t interfere with family formation or seek to redefine family.”

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Giffords Has Memoir Deal, Kelly Retires from NASA

NEW YORK — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, and her astronaut husband Mark Kelly are working on a memoir together. Kelly also announced on Tuesday his retirement from the Navy and NASA.

The book, currently untitled, will be an intimate chronicle of everything from their careers and courtship to the Jan. 8 tragedy when a gunman shot Giffords in the head during a political event in Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed in the attack and 12 others besides the congresswoman were wounded. Scribner will publish the book at a date to be determined.

“Since Jan. 8, it’s been really touching to us to see how much support there is for Gabby and her recovery, and how much interest there is in how she’s doing and her story,” Kelly, a Navy captain, told The Associated Press during a recent interview from Texas.

“After thinking about it, and talking about it, we decided it was the right thing to do to put our words and our voices on paper and tell our story from our point of view.”

The 47-year-old Kelly most recently was commander of the space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission, which ended June 1. His retirement is effective Oct. 1.

“As life takes unexpected turns we frequently come to a crossroads. I am at this point today,” Kelly said in a statement posted Tuesday on his Facebook page. “Gabrielle is working hard every day on her mission of recovery. I want to be by her side.”

Kelly’s announcement is not surprising. NASA is retiring its space shuttle fleet in just another month, and it will be years before the United States has another spacecraft for astronauts to fly.

Giffords, 41, was released from a Houston hospital last week and is set to start outpatient therapy. She had been in the rehab facility since late January, a few weeks after the shooting, and is now living with Kelly at his home in League City, a town 26 miles south of Houston. She will continue outpatient therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann, the same hospital where she underwent rehabilitation.

Kelly and Giffords are collaborating with author Jeffrey Zaslow, who worked on Randy Pausch’s million-selling “The Last Lecture” and Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s “Highest Duty.” Kelly praised Zaslow as a “good storyteller” and “the best writer” for the kind of book they wanted. Zaslow will interview friends, family members and colleagues of Kelly and Giffords.

“There are details of our personal lives together that I’d say I can count on one hand the people who know them. In some cases, it’s just Gabby and I (who know the details),” said Kelly, who met Giffords in 2003 and married her in 2007. Before the shooting, they had maintained independent lives, Kelly based in Houston and Giffords in Tucson.

Giffords will focus on her recovery, but Kelly said that the book will be part of that process and that Giffords will provide details of what “she remembers after Jan. 8 and her story before that.” While Kelly will be “the primary collaborator,” he said Giffords will be a “big part of this.” Giffords has been struggling to relearn how to speak and walk, and will be assisted by a 24-hour home health provider, according to the hospital.

Kelly, a former combat pilot, flew four times on space shuttles, more than many astronauts ever hope to do. The Endeavour’s final voyage was a high-profile mission that included four spacewalks and delivery of a $2 billion cosmic ray detector to the International Space Station. His identical twin, Scott, also part of NASA’s 1996 astronaut class, returned from a five-month stay at the International Space Station in March.

For the book deal, Kelly and Giffords were represented by Washington attorney Robert Barnett, whose clients include President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The memoir will be edited at Scribner by executive vice president and publisher Susan Moldow, and senior vice president and editor-in-chief Nan Graham.

“I really felt a connection with them and I knew Gabby would, too,” Kelly said. “Gabby is very pro-women and she always has been. And I knew after meeting Susan and Nan that they were definitely the right people to work with.”

Because of rules covering members of the House of Representatives, Giffords will receive no advance and the deal must be cleared by the House ethics committee. A portion of the authors’ net proceeds will be donated to charities that benefit Tucson and Arizona.

Scribner is an imprint of Simon Schuster Inc.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bank Deal May Give States Loan Writedown Options June 22, 2011

States may have options for how to use any money from a nationwide foreclosure settlement with U.S. banks, including applying funds toward principal reductions for borrowers, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said.

Including those choices may broaden support for any deal among the attorneys general who oppose requiring banks to fund principal writedowns, Olens said in an interview. He estimated that as many as 20 of his colleagues oppose the reductions.

“While one AG may want to use it for principal writedowns, other AGs may use it for different methodologies to assist their constituents,” Olens said today at meeting of state attorneys general in Chicago.

Attorneys general and federal official are negotiating with the five largest mortgage servicers in the U.S., including Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase Co., to set standards for the way the banks service loans and conduct foreclosures. Attorneys general from all 50 states began investigating banks’ procedures last year.

In March, state and federal officials proposed settlement terms that called for “a substantial portion” of monetary relief from the banks to fund loan modifications, including principal reductions.

Texas, Florida

At least eight attorneys general, including Olens, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, have publicly opposed principal writedowns as part of any deal. The March settlement proposal may discourage lending by banks and destroy the housing market, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt wrote to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat who is leading negotiations for the states. Olens, Abbott, Bondi and Pruitt are Republicans.

Geoff Greenwood, Miller’s spokesman, declined to comment about whether officials have discussed a structure that would give states the option of using money to fund principal writedowns.

“Principal reduction is on the table and what form it takes or what it will look like we don’t know because we’re still discussing it,” he said in a phone interview.

State and federal officials have proposed a national fund that would in part fund principal reductions, Greenwood said. Money would also be allocated to states, and they would have discretion for spending funds for “foreclosure-related purposes,” he said. The proposal doesn’t specifically allow states to use the funds for writedowns and doesn’t bar them from doing so either.

‘Work in Progress’

“It’s a work in progress,” Greenwood said.

In an interview at the Chicago meeting, Miller declined to comment about details of the negotiations with the banks. Besides Bank of America and JPMorgan, state and federal officials are also negotiating with Wells Fargo Co., Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc.

Miller said he hopes principal reduction will be part of any settlement.

“It’s important to take the time necessary to get the agreement right,” he said. “I think there’s a meaningful chance we will reach an agreement that’s good for the homeowner and good for the housing market.”

Olens said requiring banks to fund principal reductions will prompt some borrowers who are otherwise capable of meeting their loan obligations to stop making payments while waiting for “the panacea,” he said.

“It’s got to be done fairly,” Olens said, acknowledging that many borrowers have lost equity in their homes during the recession. “My house lost 20 percent. I’m not immune.”

© Copyright 2011 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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21-year-old Californian Wins Miss USA Crown June 21, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A 21-year-old auburn-haired California girl has won the Miss USA crown in Las Vegas and will represent the nation in this year’s Miss Universe pageant.

Alyssa Campanella of Los Angeles topped a field of 51 beauty queens to take the title Sunday night at the Planet Hollywood Resort Casino.

Campanella won after strutting across the stage in a blue bikini with white polka dots and a dark turquoise evening gown with beading on its top.

She also answered a question about legalizing marijuana by saying she didn’t think it should be fully legalized but it should be available to those who need it for medical purposes.

Miss Tennessee Ashley Durham was the first runner-up.

Contestants from Alabama and Texas placed third and fourth.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Texas Teachers May Get Student Criminal Histories June 14, 2011

DALLAS — Texas is close to enacting a law that would provide teachers with more detailed information about the criminal histories of students in their classrooms.

Texas already provides some background information about students but the new law would turn over details of crimes and arrests that most states keep confidential.

Juvenile experts complain the new law could make it harder for young offenders to lead a normal life after they are released. But educators insist teachers are in too much danger.

The legislation is adding to a national debate over whether teacher safety should outweigh the rights of young offenders.

The measure was spurred by the fatal stabbing of a teacher in Tyler in 2009. It was passed by the legislature last month, and awaits approval by Gov. Rick Perry.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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NRC Chief in Hot Seat for Scrapping Work on Dump June 12, 2011

Washington (AP) — In the two years that Gregory Jaczko has led the nation’s independent nuclear agency, his actions to delay, hide and kill work on a disputed dump for high-level radioactive waste have been called “bizarre,” ”unorthodox” and “illegal.”

These harsh critiques haven’t come just from politicians who have strong views in favor of the Yucca Mountain waste site in Nevada. They’ve come from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s own scientists and a former agency chairman.

An inspector general’s report released last week exposed the internal strife under Jaczko. The internal watchdog said he intimidated staff members who disagreed with him and withheld information from members of the commission to gain their support.

The tactics disclosed in the investigative report are just the latest in a saga unfolding since President Barack Obama put the former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who is Yucca’s leading opponent, at the helm of the agency in May 2009. Less than a year after Jaczko was named chairman, the Energy Department sought to pull back its application to construct the dump.

Since then, Jaczko has made a series of decisions that have aided the administration’s goal of shutting down Yucca Mountain. His purported reasons for doing so have come under attack by Congress, his fellow commissioners and in-house experts as being contrary to the 1982 law that requires the NRC to review the government’s plans for an underground repository in Nevada for the country’s spent nuclear fuel.

Emails and documents gathered by investigators on three House committees and reviewed by The Associated Press, along with interviews with NRC staff members, paint an even more damning portrait of the NRC leader. They also raise questions about whether the agency’s independence and scientific integrity have been compromised to advance a political agenda.

“He was put there to stop Yucca Mountain, and that is what he is doing,” said former NRC chairman and commissioner Dale E. Klein. Klein was appointed chairman in 2006 by President George W. Bush and left in March 2010.

The revelations come after the Japanese nuclear crisis exposed the risks associated with storing spent fuel in pools at a nuclear plant and after reports showing that $15 billion has been spent on Yucca Mountain even though it may never open.

“These actions not only violated the president’s own highly promoted principles and directives on scientific integrity, transparency, and openness, but they have increased taxpayer liabilities …, left nuclear waste sitting at reactor sites across the country with no plan for disposal and ultimately threatened the long-term potential of nuclear power,” said Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas. Hall is chairman of the House science committee, one of three panels conducting investigations.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., put it more bluntly: “Science, existing law, and the need for long-term nuclear waste storage seem to be missing from this discussion,” he said.

Both Jaczko and Obama have pledged to let public policy be shaped by science over politics. But last October, the NRC chief instructed his staff to stop work on one of the most critical questions surrounding Yucca Mountain: whether the stored radioactive waste would spoil groundwater in 10,000 years and would expose people to unsafe amounts of radiation for a million years.

After fighting Jaczko for its release, congressional aides who reviewed a draft of the analysis say it showed that NRC experts determined Yucca was safe. While Jaczko had not seen the document, his decision to halt the review meant the staff’s conclusions were stripped from the report.

Klein, the former NRC chairman, told the AP in an interview that “the decision on safety is the independent regulator’s job. They have not been given the opportunity to make the determination.”

Jaczko says his actions are consistent with commission policy, and he has never expressed any personal views on the Yucca Mountain project.

In an AP interview, Jaczko declined to answer detailed questions but said all his actions were aimed at nuclear safety. The inspector general’s report issued Friday found he had not broken the law.

Reid, his former boss, said in a statement that House Republicans should move on and help find “real solutions for safely managing nuclear waste.” ”Yucca Mountain is dead,” he added.

But that report did not examine another decision Jaczko made related to Yucca: a decision to delay a vote on whether the Energy Department could withdraw its application for the project. Nearly a year after a separate nuclear licensing board ruled the application couldn’t be withdrawn, the commission has yet to weigh in, even though a majority of commissioners have submitted their positions in writing.

Jaczko rejected the notion that politics is involved in the year-long delay. “Is the decision-making process taking a long time?” Jaczko said in the interview. “Yes. Is that unusual? Not entirely.”

These two decisions have caused longtime staff members to become suspicious of Jaczko’s motives. Before Jaczko shut down their efforts, agency experts were on track to deliver two of the safety reviews ahead of schedule. But in a memo issued June 11, 2010, Jaczko told the staff not to issue them early, a move that had employees asking if he had crossed a line. Four months later he shut down the work altogether.

Four of the most senior experts working on Yucca objected to Jaczko’s move, saying it was a policy matter the full five-member commission needed to consider. Two commissioners agreed, but when one of them filed a motion to reverse Jaczko’s decision, two other commissioners declined to participate. The two commissioners who declined to participate later told the inspector general that Jaczko did not fully disclose that his plans would terminate the work.

When commissioner William Magwood, a Democrat, confronted Jaczko about misleading him, the inspector general reported that Jaczko’s reply was: “You should have asked.”

Senior scientists with the high-level waste division also objected to a memo drafted by Christine Haney, a top NRC manager, on Feb. 4 providing the commission with an update on their work to close down the review. The memo, they argued, failed to mention that Jaczko was behind the decision to shut down the scientific evaluation.

“Every time I tried to find a different way to say chairman directed or the commission directed, I was told I could not say that,” said Janet Kotra, a senior project manager who has been with the NRC for 27 years and worked full time on Yucca Mountain since 1993. “I could not include a declarative sentence that the chairman directed staff to terminate the review.” She called it “a most unorthodox process.”

Kotra’s boss, King Stablein, supported her objection in correspondence to Haney and attached to the final memo. “Staff has struggled on a daily basis to figure out how to cope with this bizarre situation in a manner which would enable staff to maintain its integrity,” he wrote on Feb. 3, 2011.

Haney, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the matter, and referred to her written response to staffers. It said that the chairman’s decision fell outside the purpose of the memo and that the closure was “well vetted” by the commission.

Senior NRC officials played down the dispute over the memo in an interview with the AP, saying Jaczko has never shied away from his role in terminating the licensing review. The officials also said the objections of the staff were shared with the full commission.

Other staffers put their opinions in even stronger terms.

In an email dated Oct. 18, 2010, and marked “not for public disclosure”, Daniel Graser, a data administrator for the board reviewing the Yucca application asked a board member and chief counsel for clarification on what he could do if he perceived that an action was illegal. “If we believe that a senior official is violating a federal law, what obligation do we have to report that, and, who do we report it to?” he asked.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, chairman of a House spending panel that oversees the NRC’s budget, has called for Jackzo to step down and said his actions have damaged the NRC’s reputation.

“It’s supposed to be an apolitical organization that bases its decisions on science and facts and those kinds of things, and it has been that for many years,” Simpson said. “Jaczko has allowed politics to enter the picture, and with many members of Congress, the credibility of the NRC has gone downhill.”

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Dina Cappiello can be reached at http://twitter.com/dinacappiello

Matthew Daly can be reached at http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC

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Online:

NRC inspector general’s report: http://tinyurl.com/3dj4cxb

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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300 Rounds Exchanged During Texas Border Shootout June 11, 2011

WESLACO, Texas (AP) — Investigators say about 300 rounds were fired during a shootout across the Rio Grande between U.S. law enforcement and suspected drug runners.

But they say only about six came from the suspects.

Asked about the overwhelming response, U.S. authorities said Friday they have a “zero tolerance” policy when guns are pointed at them.

The Texas Department of Public Safety says it believes three suspects in Mexico were injured or killed in the shootout Thursday.

The shootout started when the U.S. agents spotted a Dodge Durango on U.S. soil. By the time they reached the scene, the suspected smugglers had moved marijuana from the vehicle onto rafts and returned to Mexico. They fired guns and threw rocks at U.S. authorities.

Mexican authorities recovered about 400 pounds of marijuana at the site.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Huge AZ Wildfire Spreads, Health Conditions Worsen

SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz. (AP) — Smoke from a massive wildfire in eastern Arizona that has claimed more than 30 homes and forced nearly 10,000 people to flee has officials worried about serious health impacts to residents and firefighters as tiny particles of soot in the air reached “astronomical” levels.

“It was off the charts,” Mark Shaffer of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality said Friday night.

Calmer winds helped firefighters gain some ground, but also concentrated the sooty air, keeping it stagnate and raising pollution to levels officials hadn’t seen yet since the blaze began several weeks ago.

“We’ve got a serious potential health problem on our hands,” Shaffer said. “When you get levels like this, it’s off the map.”

Officials planned to bring in additional air quality monitoring equipment over the weekend, but warned people to just stay away.

Meanwhile, the blaze was poised to move into New Mexico on Saturday pushed by stronger winds, threatening more towns and possibly endangering two major power lines that bring electricity from Arizona to West Texas.

The fire has burned 639 square miles of forest, an increase of 114 square miles from a day earlier, officials said.

“It’s getting very, very close to the New Mexico state line,” Jim Whittington, spokesman for the teams battling the fire, said Friday night. “This is really rugged country. There is a lot of potential” for the fire to grow.

He said after a good day with calm winds, Saturday was expected to get dicey.

“The atmosphere will be unstable and very conducive to fire growth,” Whittington said. “We’re very concerned about the winds.”

He said firefighters may eventually have to set ablaze 150,000 acres to burn off fuel in the forest in order to stamp out the flames.

“It’s going to be really difficult,” Whittington added.

Lighter winds Thursday and Friday helped the 4,400 firefighters make progress, but critical fire conditions remain.

Fire crews plan to try to strengthen what lines they’ve been able to establish and continue burning out forested areas in front of the main fire to try to stop its advance. It was officially just 6 percent contained Friday, but the actual numbers likely are higher, Whittington said.

The advances came on the fire’s north side, near the working-class towns of Springerville and Eagar on the edge of the forest. Nearly 10,000 people have been evacuated from the two towns and from several mountain communities in the forest.

On Friday, fire officials gave reporters the first look at two of the mountain communities — Alpine and Nutrioso — in nearly two weeks, driving them through the deserted resort towns and surrounding areas.

Some stands of trees in the forest were untouched while others looked like blackened matchsticks sticking up through lingering smoke. Firefighters were working in the area, using drip torches to light fires and burn out undergrowth.

Deer and elk grazed in unscorched areas, while wild turkeys walked through tall grass along the road. Two miles south of Alpine, whole hillsides of ponderosa were decimated.

The two Arizona-Texas power lines were still in the fire’s path, although Whittington said he was less concerned about them Friday. El Paso Electric has warned its 372,000 customers that they may see rolling blackouts if the lines are cut.

The fire is the second-largest in state history and could eclipse the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire in size, although only a fraction of the homes have burned.

The Chediski began as a signal fire and merged with the Rodeo, which was intentionally set by a firefighter who needed work. Together they burned 732 square miles (1,895 sq. kilometers) and destroyed 491 buildings.

The current Wallow Fire in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest has destroyed 31 homes or cabins, including 22 in the picturesque mountain community of Greer, Whittington said. Two dozen outbuildings and a truck also were lost and five homes damaged in Greer when the fire moved in Wednesday night.

Firefighters are battling another major wildfire in far southeastern Arizona, also near the New Mexico line. The so-called Horseshoe Two blaze burned through 211 square miles or 135,000 acres of brush and timber since it started in early May. The fire has destroyed 23 structures but caused no serious injuries. It was 45 percent contained late Friday and fire officials hope to have it fully contained by late June.

___

Susan Montoya Bryan can be reached at http://twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Florida’s Scott Still Spurns Fed Aid in Healthcare Fight June 9, 2011

Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida has rejected $19 million in federal aid so far as part of his challenge to the national healthcare overhaul. And he is holding off on creating a statewide insurance-coverage exchange the new law mandates, the St. Petersburg Times reports.

Scott’s approach differs sharply from that of other plaintiffs in the court challenge to the Affordable Care Act who are suing to overturn the law but are spending the grants, setting up the exchanges, and participating more fully in other federal health initiatives.

Texas, for example, has accepted $276 million to insure early retirees who don’t qualify for Medicare. Florida has taken $15 million under the same program, and it plans to accept a $37 million bequest approved by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, but it is eligible for more.

In Pennsylvania, 2,684 residents with pre-existing conditions have federally funded, state-administered health coverage. In Florida, 770 residents are enrolled in the same plan, which the state has declined to run.

Scott has said Florida doesn’t oppose individual programs but rather, objects to the national health law’s core requirement that people buy coverage or pay penalties, and therefore he won’t implement the law until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on whether it is constitutional.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta was hearing arguments today in the suit that 26 states have joined against the federal government.

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Episcopal Parish in Md. Converts to Catholicism June 8, 2011

An Episcopal parish in Maryland has become the first congregation in the United States to convert to Catholicism under new Vatican rules. The church and its pastor made the move under regulations that Pope Benedict XVI adopted to appeal to Protestants, The Washington Post reported.

St. Luke Church in Bladensburg has a majority of members from Africa and the Caribbean. Under the Vatican rules, the church will retain some of its Anglican traditions, including keeping its married pastor, the Rev. Mark Lewis, the Post reported.

Pope Benedict XVI approved the invitation to welcome Protestants into the fold. (Getty Images Photo)

Pope Benedict reached out to Anglicans in 2009, offering to let the parishes interested in Catholicism keep various traditions, including married pastors. Heading the outreach in the United States is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Washington’s archbishop. He is to give an update on the issue next month at a meeting of bishops, the Post reported.

“We welcome the St. Luke community warmly into our family of faith . . . [noting] our shared beliefs on matters of faith while also recognizing and respecting the liturgical heritage of the Anglican Church,” the Post quoted Wuerl as saying.

Catholic Church officials believe interest is high enough that a national diocese for Anglican converts may be necessary.

However, others say the movement is small, and most breakaway congregations are leaving because of the ordination of a gay bishop. Those breakaways generally end up joining more conservative parts of the Anglican Communion, the Post reported.

Although St. Luke parish is the first to convert under Pope Benedict’s rules, three Episcopal churches in Texas converted to Catholicism in the 1980s under a system that Pope John Paul II created. The churches were placed under the local Catholic diocese. An Anglican church in Baltimore is in the process of converting but has become bogged down on property issues, the Post reported.

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Texas Sheriff: Deputy’s Killer Looked for Lawman June 1, 2011

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A Texas sheriff says the killer of one of his deputies apparently was looking for a law enforcement officer to kill.

Bexar (BAYR) County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz says it appears someone simply killed a police officer on “the spur of the moment.”

He also said every theory was being considered in the killing of 48-year-old sheriff’s Sgt. Kenneth Vann at a San Antonio intersection early Saturday. A sheriff’s department statement Tuesday says a royal blue 2009 model or later crew-cab Fort F-150 is sought in the killing.

Meanwhile, the reward fund has swelled to $127,000 for information leading to those responsible for Vann’s death. Ortiz says the fund got a boost from donations of $50,000 by the FBI and $25,000 by a San Antonio lawyer.

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Former Texas Gov. Bill Clements Dead at 94 May 30, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Former Gov. Bill Clements, the first Republican governor in Texas since Reconstruction, has died at 94.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says he has been contacted by Clements’ family members, who confirmed the former governor died Sunday in a Dallas-area hospital.

Clements looked to completely change the face of Texas politics when he first took office in 1979. The Texas oilman believed state government should be operated as a big business.

Clements was governor from 1979-1983. He lost his re-election bid to Democrat Mark White in 1982.

Four years later, Clements came back to defeat White and served until 1991.

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Judge Rules Pastor Can Say ‘Jesus Christ’ at Memorial Day Ceremony at National Cemetery May 27, 2011

 

Veterans’ Affairs

A Houston judge ruled that a pastor can use “Jesus Christ” during a prayer at the Houston National Cemetery

A federal judge in Texas ruled Thursday that the government cannot prohibit a Houston preacher from saying “Jesus Christ” while delivering an invocation at an upcoming Memorial Day ceremony to be held at the national cemetery in the city.

The Rev. Scott Rainey, the pastor at Living Word Church of the Nazerene, has given the invocation at the Houston National Cemetery for the last two years, each time ended the prayer with a reference to Jesus.

But a month ago, Arleen Ocasio, the director of the cemetery, asked to review Rainey’s prayer before the ceremony this Monday, according to court papers. The pastor agreed, but four hours later, she responded with an email saying that “while it was very well written” she asked that it commemorate “veterans from all cultures and religious beliefs” — in other words, not just those who believe in Jesus.

Rainey called Ocasio, and she told him that if he didn’t change the prayer, he would not be allowed to deliver the Memorial Day remarks, Rainey said in his lawsuit against Ocasio. But it was a private event, and court papers pointed out that the department only objected to the parts of the speech deemed too religious.

Rainey then pleaded his case to the office of the secretary of Veteran Affairs, but the department told Rainey that the cemetery’s policy was “viewpoint-neutral” and “appropriate,” according to court papers.

The pastor also named the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department in the lawsuit to be allowed to refer to Jesus Christ at the invocation.

In a statement, Ocasio said the VA “cannot be exclusive at a ceremony meant to be inclusive for all our nation’s veterans,” the Associated Press reported. A phone message and email from FoxNews.com to Ocasio were not returned before this story was published.

But Judge Lynn N. Hughes sided with Rainey, ruling that censorship and religious discrimination violate the First Amendment.

“The government does not have the right to write its peoples’ prayers,” Kelly Shackelford, the CEO of the Liberty Institute, said. Liberty Institute defends First Amendment rights and defended the pastor in this case. “This is a great Memorial Day victory.”

 

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Study Flunks University of Texas Profs on Productivity

Most professors at the University of Texas at Austin aren’t pulling their weight, and their inactivity is contributing to skyrocketing tuition, a new study says in a finding that could have implications for campuses around the country.

Only 20 percent of professors at UT-Austin teach the majority of students, according to the Center for College Affordability and Productivity study. That same 20 percent also generate 18 percent of the campus’s research funding.

That means just one-fifth of faculty members are doing all the work, according to the study.

The findings also indicate that professors don’t have to sacrifice classroom time in order to conduct research.

If the least-productive 80 percent would start teaching as much as the top 20 percent, the flagship Texas public university could cut its tuition in half, the study’s authors said.

“States looking to find answers to the exponential growth in college costs should take a close look at the Texas study’s findings,” said Richard Vedder, director of Washington-based center and co-author of the study.

“It appears universities can significantly reduce college costs by having faculty teach more students or courses. This, along with other studies on the high cost of research and limited learning outcomes of students, suggests we need to re-examine how students and faculty use their time, and how incentives can be used to enhance the productivity of all members of the university community,” he said.

The study also found that the least productive 20 percent of faculty teach just 2 percent of all student credit hours and generate a disproportionately smaller percentage of external research funding.

Faculty who aren’t on the tenure track teach a majority of undergraduates and 31 percent of graduate students, the study said.

And almost all research grant funds, 99.8 percent, go to just 20 percent of the faculty, it found.

“The results are very compelling and eye-opening,” Vedder said. “Other states should follow Texas’s emphasis on university-cost transparency and release faculty compensation, teaching loads, external research grant information, student evaluation results, and other relevant data for closer inspection.”

UT President Bill Powers described the study as “inappropriate” and “not useful.”

“The faculty at a top-tier university like ours are productive and efficient, but more important, they engage in the top quality instruction and research that make an institution great. That quality should be part of any measurement,” he told the Texas Tribune.

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Powerful storms pound several central US states May 26, 2011

Powerful storms pound several central US states

Powerful storms roared through middle America again on Wednesday, with weak tornadoes touching down in isolated spots and severe thunderstorms threatening such strikes in several states.

The National Weather Service issued tornado watches and a series of warnings in a dozen states, stretching northwest from Texas though the Mississippi River valley to Ohio.

“Everybody’s working as fast and furious as possible,” said Beverly Poole, the chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s office in Paducah, Ky., which covers southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois. “This is just a wild ride.”

There were no immediate reports of deaths from the new round of storms, but authorities in southern Indiana reported several injuries when a tornado touched down along U.S. 50 east of Bedford.

Wednesday’s storms followed a deadly outbreak Tuesday in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas that killed at least 15 people. The nation’s single deadliest tornado since 1950 killed 125 on Sunday in the southwest Missouri city of Joplin.

Heavy rains, hail and lightning pounded Memphis on Wednesday night as a tornado warning sounded. Menacing clouds showed some rotation, but there were no confirmed reports of tornadoes touching down.

Law enforcement agencies reported one home destroyed late Wednesday afternoon in the rural Carter County town of Ellsinore, about 150 miles south of St. Louis. Earlier in the day, a tornado cut through the city of Sedalia about an hour later and damaged several homes and businesses, Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said.

“Considering the destruction that occurred in Joplin — being that we’re in tornado alley and Sedalia has historically been hit by tornadoes in the past — I think people headed that warning,” Bond said “And so, I think that helped tremendously.”

In Illinois, high winds, rain and at least four possible tornadoes knocked down power lines and damaged at least one home and a number of farm buildings across the central and eastern parts of the state.

“Mostly it was shingles off roofs and garages,” said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.

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