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Los Angeles Times loses another editor December 14, 2011

The Los Angeles Times has lost another editor. The resignation of Russ Stanton after four years was announced yesterday. He will leave on 23 December.

He is the fourth editor in a row – after John Carroll, Dean Baquet and James O’Shea – to leave amid demands for job cuts.

“It’s kind of a tradition – a sad tradition,” said one unidentified staffer quoted by Reuters.

During his tenure as editor, Stanton’s staff shrank from 900 to about 550. New cuts are on the horizon, with between 12 and 20 staff due to be laid off early in the new year.

Davan Maharaj, managing editor for news since May 2008, will replace Stanton.

The LA Times’s print circulation stood at 572,998 in September, a 21% drop from March 2009. It is the fifth-largest circulation in the US.

The paper is planning to charge for access to its website in the first quarter of 2012. It is also said to be launching its own tablet (not an app or tablet edition) but the physical object itself.

All the disruptions at the LA Times have to be seen in the context of its parent company, Tribune, being in bankruptcy.

Sources: Reuters/New York Times

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Air crash at US base ‘kills four’ December 13, 2011

Four soldiers were killed when two helicopters crashed on a training exercise, reports quoting a military spokesman said.

Lt Col Gary Dangerfield of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, told the Seattle Times the circumstances of Monday night’s crash remained unclear.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the deceased,” he said, promising a “thorough investigation”.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord is a joint US army and air force facility.

It supports more than 100,000 military and civilian personnel, contract employees and retirees, the Seattle Times reports.

Lt Col Dangerfield said two OH-58 Kiowa choppers had crashed in the aviation training area south-west of the base at around 20:00 local time (04:00 Tues GMT) in clear skies.

“We will conduct a thorough investigation,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to support the families of the brave soldiers who died this evening.”

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Occupy aims to shut down West Coast ports December 12, 2011

4.01pm: Longshoremen at the Longview port have gone home for the day after an Occupy demonstration at the port, according to AP.

The ongoing battle between Longview port terminal owners EGT and the International Longshore Workers Union is the main reason why Occupy protesters are bidding to close down the west coast ports.

AP said with workers having left the Longview port the terminal was “essentially shut”.

The International Longshore Warehouse Union sent home its workers out of concern for their “health and safety,” spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent said.

“Our people are willing and able to go to work,” Sargent said.

However, both the port and the union decided to shut down operations, said Port of Longview spokeswoman Ashley Helenberg. She said about 20 shifts would be affected. The port was handling one ship Monday.

Union workers would be paid for four hours of work, the union said.

The Longview rally, which numbered a few dozen people, was among a series of coordinated Occupy Wall Street protests at the West Coast’s busiest ports. Demonstrators hoped the rallies would cut into the profits of the corporations that run the docks.

3.19pm ET, 12.19pm PDT: The coalition for clean and safe ports website has an open letter “from America’s port truck drivers on Occupy the ports”. It’s written by five truck drivers in support of today’s action.

We are inspired that a non-violent democratic movement that insists on basic economic fairness is capturing the hearts and minds of so many working people. Thank you “99 Percenters” for hearing our call for justice. We are humbled and overwhelmed by recent attention. Normally we are invisible.

Today’s demonstrations will impact us. While we cannot officially speak for every worker who shares our occupation, we can use this opportunity to reveal what it’s like to walk a day in our shoes for the 110,000 of us in America whose job it is to be a port truck driver. It may be tempting for media to ask questions about whether we support a shutdown, but there are no easy answers. Instead, we ask you, are you willing to listen and learn why a one-word response is impossible?

We love being behind the wheel. We are proud of the work we do to keep America’s economy moving. But we feel humiliated when we receive paychecks that suggest we work part time at a fast-food counter. Especially when we work an average of 60 or more hours a week, away from our families.

2.45pm ET, 11.45am PDT: Occupy protesters largely retreated from the Port of Long Beach, California, on Monday morning after police forced them out of their blockade of one of the piers, writes Ed Carrasco.

Despite a couple of arrests, the demonstration was largely peaceful as occupiers blocked the entrance to Pier J, where SSA Marine, a shipping company partly owned by Goldman Sachs, has operations.

“We’re here to engage in tactics to bite the profits out of people who have been robbing us,” said Jason Ball, a PhD student and activist from UCLA as he and his friends gathered in front of Pier J. “They’re closing down our homes, messing with our healthcare and raising our tuition. Yet they expect us to sit back and let the profit machine run as normal. Not today.”

Although wet weather greeted the 250 or so demonstrators, it did not deter them from marching before 6am to the front of SSA Marine. The result was a backup of traffic of trucks and workers attempting to enter Pier J.

Toni Kukreja, an organizer from Occupy Los Angeles, said that blocking traffic from getting into SSA Marine was not part of the original plan of demonstrating against Goldman Sachs and the like.

“We were supposed to go into a designated area for protesters, but the Long Beach Police Department did not coordinate with Harbor Security,” she said. “[The police] have fed our cause and it’s a port shutdown, so no one can go in or out.”

However, a few dozen police officers pushed demonstrators away from SSA Marine in an attempt to return them to Harry Bridges Memorial Park, in close proximity to the Queen Mary. Many of the 250 resorted to blocking Harbor Scenic Drive, the road leading into Pier J after police arrested one of their members.

Police responded by dispatching more officers in riot helmets wielding batons into the area and surrounded the demonstrators, calling the gathering an “unlawful assembly” and ordering them out immediately.

Torrential downpours and the police deployment made protesters slowly retreat from the street and by 9.30am, Harbor Scenic Drive was largely cleared out.

While some protesters claimed victory in what they called a disruption of port activity, a port spokesman said the demonstrations did not affect trade at one of the nation at one of America’s largest container port complexes.

“There were some traffic disruptions in Pier J but as far as shipping goes, it had no impact,” said John Pope, media relations manager for the Port of Long Beach.

2pm ET, 11am PDT: Here’s a summary of events so far today:

Occupy protesters on have shut down at least two ports on the west coast of the US. Occupy Oakland and Occupy Portland picketed terminals at their ports, preventing workers from beginning their shifts. Protesters say the action is in support of the International Longshore Workers Union.

An attempt by Occupy LA and Occupy San Diego to shut down the Port of Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles, was less successful. Protesters blocked access to the port for around an hour, but were cleared from the area by police, with at least two arrests.

In New York Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested during a protest in support of the west coast action. The New York Times reported that 17 people were arrested after entering the World Financial Center – a Brookfield properties building. Brookfield owns Zuccotti Park where Occupy Wall Street was based until last month.

On the west coast many protesters are preparing to picket ports again this evening, to prevent longshore workers from beginning night shifts. Although protesters say they support the ILWU, the union has disowned the action, and AP reported that some workers were unhappy with being prevented from getting to work.

1.49pm ET, 10.49am PDT: While Occupy protesters on the west coast blocked ports, occupiers in New York staged their own demonstration, with about 200 people gathering at the World Financial Center, according to the New York Times.

Some 17 people were arrested during the protest, which apparently sought to portray Goldman Sachs as “a giant squid with tentacles that spread throughout the global financial system”, the Times said.

The World Financial Center is owned by Brookfield properties, which also owns Zuccotti Park – Occupy Wall Street’s base before they were cleared out by police last month.

1.42pm ET, 10.42am: Some of the workers prevented from accessing Oakland “weren’t thrilled at the demonstrations”, AP reports.

“This is a joke. What are they protesting?” said Christian Vega, who sat in his truck carrying a load of recycled paper from Pittsburgh, part of a long line of big rigs unable to drive into the port in Oakland, California. He said the delay was costing him $600.

“It only hurts me and the other drivers. We have jobs and families to support and feed. Most of them don’t,” Vega said.

1.25pm ET, 10.25am PDT: The Port of Portland has also been shut down by Occupy protesters. David Osborn from Occupy Portland says hundreds gathered at 5.30am this morning, before splitting into two groups and shutting two terminals at the port.

There was a picket of probably about three to four hundred people at each terminal, Osborn said.

Most workers chose to respect our community picket, and did so by not trying to cross it. A few did, and we let them through, as we would. All in all we feel that there’s a great amount of support for this action and we know that from talking to rank and file longshoremen and others. They understand that we are doing this in solidarity with them, in their struggle, as well as our collective struggle for economic justice.

Osborn said protesters will rally again at 4pm and set up picket lines at the terminals, to prevent workers from beginning their evening shifts.

1.04pm ET, 10.04pm PDT: Occupy Oakland says they have successfully shut down the Port of Oakland.

From the Occupy Oakland alert system (group text messages sent out by Oakland organisers):

Arbitration has confirmed! We shut down the morning shift at the port! Good job everyone! Please come back for the 4pm and 5pm march

12.55pm ET, 9.55am PDT: This video from ABC shows scenes at the Port of Oakland this morning.

The reporter says protesters shut down “two terminals at least”, which tallies with what Francois Hughef told the Guardian earlier.

12.32pm ET, 9.32am PDT: There have been arrests at the Port of Long Beach, south of LA, where protesters from Occupy LA and Occupy San Diego have been attempting to block the port.

Freelance journalist and Occupy LA protester Ruth Fowler is at the port – where it’s pouring with rain – and says that although the port was closed for an hour this morning, police cleared protesters and it is now open.

The protesters came in and police told them there was a designated protest area, they ignored that, they occupied the road into the port and tried to shut down the port. They were successful in that for about an hour until the California Highway Patrol moved in and pushed them back.

Ruth says there were a couple of arrests, and the legal team are attempting to trace those arrested at the moment.

People are wondering around in the rain looking very sorry for themselves, everybody’s talking about where to go next. Talk of a march somewhere, there’s talk of shutting down LAX, everybody’s got a different plan.

11.45am ET, 8.45am PDT : I’ve just been speaking with Francois Hughef, who is involved in the Occupy Oakland shutdown of the Port of Oakland.

Hughef said around a thousand protesters marched to the port at 6am, and are blocking two terminals at the port – Hanjin and Trapac. SSA Marine had been the target, Hughef said (see previous post for why) but SSA did not have a ship this morning.

“There was zero police presence at the beginning,” Hughef said. “Once we got to the terminal there were 20 or so cops, but they haven’t really bothered the picket line.”

Protesters at Oakland are waiting for an arbitrator to rule whether workers should turn up to work at not. If the arbitrator deems conditions unsafe, Longshore workers will not work today and Oakland’s part of the shutdown will have been achieved. Hughef said he was confident the ruling would go protesters’ way.

Hughef said he has not seen any workers this morning, so has been unable to gauge their reaction.

11.13am ET, 8.13am PDT: Lots of people on Twitter seem unsure why Occupy protesters are shutting down the ports.

The Occupy The Ports website addresses this, describing today as a “a coordinated effort is underway to disrupt the economic machine that benefits the wealthiest individuals and corporations at the expense of the vast majority of the people of this planet”.

The ports of the West Coast are a huge source of profits for these modern day robber barons, who have closed our factories and outsourced our jobs, who poison our oceans and rivers, who exploit our brothers and sisters in their insatiable quest for profit.

In solidarity with the Longshore Workers and truck drivers and their struggles against companies like Goldman Sachs and EGT, we call on the people of the 99% to join us in this historic day of action. From San Diego to Los Angeles to Portland to Anchorage, we will show the economic overlords and financial vultures the true scope of our combined power. Together we are unstoppable.

The struggle against EGT referred to above refers to an ongoing International Longshore Workers’ Union battle with EGT in Longview, Washington.

EGT Development built and operates a terminal at Longview port in Washington, however the ILWU says the company has reneged on a Port of Longview contract that specified only ILWU labour could be used at the site. On 8 September hundreds of ILWU members stormed the terminal, a day after blocking railroads so grain could not reach Longview.

The Goldman Sachs battle relates to SSA Marine, which is 51% owned by Goldman Sachs. Occupy The Ports says SSA Marine “exemplifies the rising corporate greed that sinks all boats and that is ruining our economy for its own selfish profits”.

“SSA Marine is a war profiteer, that got a contract under the occupation of Iraq to run the port there to off load US war materiel [sic],” Occupy’s website says, as well as accusing SSA of being “anti-union”.

Their Shippers container trans-shipment facility, located in Carson on Sepulveda, is jurisdictionally considered part of the port under the law, and therefore should fall under the ILWU contract with the Pacific Maritime Association, but its workers are not so represented. Goldman Sachs, the parent company, got billions in bail-out funds, particularly via insurance giant AIG, which nearly failed because of its “credit default swaps” that helped fuel the housing bubble and then deepen its collapse. They are currently in the process of trying to evict a group of mostly migrant residents from a property (built on public land with public funds) in Harbor City that they control.

A potential problem for Occupy The Ports, however, is that the ILWU does not support the action in anyway. In fact, they have called for Occupy not to shut the ports. From the Guardian’s story over the weekend:

Craig Merrilees, communications director at the ILWU, told the Guardian that the union was “not supporting that at all”.

“[Occupy organisers] have been very disrespectful of the democratic decision-making process in the union and deliberately went around that process to call their own action without consulting workers,” Merrilees said.

“It’s the second time they’ve done it. The first time they had very little support from workers in their so-called general strike [the Occupy Oakland action on 2 November].

“This is being promoted by a group of people who apparently think they can call general strikes and workplace shutdowns without talking to workers and without involving the unions.”

Merrilees’s comments come after the Port of Oakland took out a full-page advertisement in the Oakland Tribune to ask protesters not to shut down the ports, saying it would “hurt working people and our economy”.

10.47am ET, 7.47am PDT: The ever-present @OakFoSho is live streaming from the Port of Oakland, and reports the port has been closed.

10.15am ET, 7.15am PDT: Thousands of protesters are expected to join in a shutdown of America’s west coast ports, with some picket lines already in place in California.

Occupations from Oakland, LA, San Diego, Tacoma, Seattle and more have united in a bid to stop all port activity on America’s west coast, in support of the International Longshore Workers Union’s (ILWU) battle with EGT in Longview, Washington.

Protesters will march to port terminals and create picket lines in the same way Occupy Oakland did last month, when their general strike shut down the port of Oakland. With pickets in place, local ILWU arbitrators are then expected to rule that longshore workers should not cross the lines for safety reasons, closing the ports.

“The West Coast ports will be blockaded on December 12th in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers struggles against EGT and Goldman Sachs,” the west coast port shutdown website says.

The action has caused controversy, with the ILWU publicly disowning the protest last week – communications director Craig Merrilees telling the Guardian that the union was “not supporting that at all”.

“[Occupy organisers] have been very disrespectful of the democratic decision-making process in the union and deliberately went around that process to call their own action without consulting workers,” Merrilees said.

It’s the second time they’ve done it. The first time they had very little support from workers in their so-called general strike [the Occupy Oakland action on 2 November].

“This is being promoted by a group of people who apparently think they can call general strikes and workplace shutdowns without talking to workers and without involving the unions.

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US politics live: Herman Cain denies endorsement rumours December 6, 2011

Good morning: Herman Cain may have crashed out of the Republican presidential nomination contest but now the battle begins for his followers, donors and supporters, orphaned by Cain’s decision to drop out.

Cain is said to be holding a press conference at 2pm today – supposedly to announce who he is endorsing – although Cain’s chaotic campaign appears once again to be in two minds about what is actually happening, including whether Cain will endorse anyone and whether the press conference will actually take place at all. So no change there.

In other political news, soi-disant Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich will make a visit to Donald Trump in New York City, as controversy swirls over Trump’s plan to hold a Republican candidates debate in Iowa on 27 December.

And with exactly a month to go until the Iowa caucuses, Gingrich launches his first television ad in the Hawkeye State as a new poll shows him leading, and Mitt Romney suffers a backlash from his “Mittless protection programme” campaign strategy.

10.11am: Now Fox News is quoting “reports” that there will be no Herman Cain endorsement today. Why does that not surprise me?

Donald Trump. Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

10.26am: Earlier this morning serial self-publiscist Donald Trump got into a verbal tussle with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that was – how can we put this? – not the highest point in either man’s career.

Part of the issue was Trump’s vanity Republican presidential debate supposedly scheduled for 27 December – although criticism from within the Republican base may mean it never actually happens, which would be a loss to the gaity of the nation.

So far Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul have said they will not appear. Huntsman – who appears to be enjoying a mini-revival – appeared on Fox News just now, and said à propos of Trump’s debate:

I’m not going to kiss his ring, I’m not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy.

That’s not image we need on a Monday morning, Jon Huntsman.

10.34am: Cruel, cynical journalists are pointing out that Newt Gingrich’s meeting with Donald Trump at Trump Tower is conventiently next door to Tiffany’s. Which could be handy:

In 2005 and 2006, the former House speaker turned presidential candidate carried as much as $500,000 in debt to the premier jewelry company, according to financial disclosures filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives.

10.43am: Will the Trump debate happen? Karl Rove isn’t happy at the idea, and blasted the concept in a Fox News interview this morning, picked up by Mediaite:

It’s really odd. Here’s a guy [Trump] who is saying, I’m going to endorse one of you and that gives him leverage … more importantly, what the heck are Republicans candidates doing showing up to a debate with a guy who says, ‘I may run for president as an independent’? I think the Republican national chairman should step in and say, we strongly discourage every candidate from appearing….

And anyway, says Karl Rove, nobody will watch a political debate on 27 December.

11am: What is going on in Iowa? This is the most interesting news piece of the day – an excellent Roll Call piece explaining that the 2012 Iowa ground operations are a shadow of the frantic activity that marked 2008:

Presidential candidates have minimally organized their Iowa campaigns — if they’re organizing at all. One month before the Jan. 3 caucuses, Iowa veterans expect one of the most unpredictable, nontraditional caucuses in recent history.

“To be sitting here on Dec 1 with no campaign announcing a 99-county chair organization is mind-boggling,” said Tim Albrecht, a veteran of the caucuses and spokesman for Governor Terry Branstad, who has not endorsed a candidate. “That’s the first thing you check off on your organizational checklist. This is the clearest, most glaring indication of just how wide open the Iowa caucus is at this point.”

Not a single presidential candidate has opened more than one office in the Hawkeye State. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who polls show is a frontrunner in the race, just opened his first Iowa office, a headquarters based in Urbandale.

That is amazing. So here’s my prediction: Ron Paul will win the Iowa caucus on 3 January. You read it here first, or first-ish. The reason being: winning caucuses requires a huge administrative effort: lots of staff, lots of volunteers and lots of effort. From what I can tell, Ron Paul is the only one with all three in Iowa right now.

And also: hats off to Roll Call for doing some reporting on ground, rather than sucking their thumbs in their NYC or DC offices.

11.08am: Quote of the day from the Roll Call reporting on Iowa mentioned below. It comes from Chuck Laudner, said to be a Santorum supporter and “longtime Iowa operative”:

I would remind people that this is a caucus, not a primary. And the caucus is on January 3, after a three-day, federal, drunken holiday.

11.26am: So, Newt Gingrich to be the Republican nominee? Not according to those who know Newt well – such as Republicans who served in Congress under Gingrich’s leadership a million years ago in the 1990s.

Tom Coburn, now the Republican senator from Oklahoma, was first elected to Congress as part of the 1994 wave of “Contract With America” Republicans and served in the House under Speaker Gingrich. He’s unleashed this killer quote:

His life indicates he does not have a commitment to the character traits necessary to be a great president. I am not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich, having served under him for four years and experienced personally his leadership.


11.48am: The Daily Beast gets an interview with Ginger White, the former lady friend of Herman Cain. It’s a typically tasteful, restrained piece of Daily Beast reporting:

White said that over the years, her arrangement with Cain took an emotional toll. “One time we were having sex, and I was looking up at the ceiling, thinking about, ‘What am I going to buy at the grocery store tomorrow? What am I going to do with my kids tomorrow?’” she recalled.

12.03pm: Non-career politician (prior to 2001) Mitt Romney likes to boast of his success at Bain Capital as part of his resume as a private sector “job creator”. The Los Angeles Times takes a closer look at Romney’s record there:

Four of the 10 companies Bain acquired declared bankruptcy within a few years, shedding thousands of jobs. The prospectus shows that Bain investors profited in eight of the 10 deals, including three of the four that ended in bankruptcy.

Interesting sidenote, in light of the fact that Herman Cain’s CV highlight was as head of Godfather’s Pizza, is this:

The firm’s largest investment was its 1999 buyout of Domino’s Pizza, into which Bain put $188.8m, eventually reaping a fivefold return.

So after Cain was head of Godfather’s Pizza, Romney was de facto head of Domino’s Pizza? Basically the 2012 Republican nomination was a re-run of the late 1990s pizza wars.

12.21pm: No news on Herman Cain’s endorsement today. The New York Times’s Caucus blog talks to the lonely, orphaned supporters of Herman Cain in Iowa, now floating in political purgatory:

Jeff Jorgensen, the Republican chairman in Pottawattamie County, who endorsed Mr Cain, said the main priority was finding a viable candidate who can defeat Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination.

“We are definitely trying to stop the steamrolling Romney machine,” Mr Jorgensen said. “It’s not that we don’t like him – he’s a formidable candidate. But we don’t think he espouses the conservative values we’d like to see in our nominee.

12.42pm: Here’s that Donald Trump interview-cum-slagfest with dear old Chuck Todd on MSNBC today.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Donald Trump doesn’t take no for an answer. Or Yes. Or anything.

12.55pm: Roll the “breaking news” screen splash: President Obama – remember him? – is to make a statement at 1.30pm ET. We think it’s about a compromise deal with Republicans over the payroll tax. Or it could be to appoint Herman Cain as Secretary of State. Who knows? Actually we know and it’s the former.

1.25pm: While we are waiting on President Obama to do some actual presidenting, here’s Newt Gingrich’s new campaign ad now running in Iowa:

“Some people say the America we know and love is a thing of the past,” says cuddly Uncle Newt, adding: “I don’t believe that.” Who are these “some people” Newt?

Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner notes: “the one-minute spot includes a dreamy, vaguely upbeat flute-driven song that sounds identical to the one that plays when Sam returns to the Shire at the end of The Lord of the Rings.”

Insert your own geeky Lord of the Rings reference here comparing Newt to Saruman or something:

Once he was as great as his fame made him. His knowledge was deep, his thought was subtle, and his hands marvelously skilled; and he had a power over the minds of others. The wise he could persuade, and the smaller folk he could daunt.

There’s also a Gladiator reference in there. Anyway, Newt’s wasting his time with LOTR’s references. Everyone knows Ron Paul has got that fanbase sewn up.

1.36pm: Slate’s David Weigel follows up on Senator Tom Coburn’s attack on Newt Gingrich by reading Coburn’s book about the 1994 Republican revolution, Breach of Trust. He finds a few gems of Newtophobia:

Before the government shutdown we thought Newt Gingrich was invincible,” writes Coburn. “After the shutdown, however, he was like a whipped dog who still barked, yet cowered, in Clinton’s presence.

Get that quote into an attack ad, pronto.

1.45pm: Meanwhile, here’s a rocking ad from the Ron Paul campaign, which appears to be aimed at the crucial 15-year-old male demographic:

As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes: “The only thing missing from this Ron Paul ad as Denis Leary as narrator and more Ford trucks.” Indeed. Someone should sue.

2.01pm: So we had the two minute warning for Obama to appear … about 10 minutes ago.

2.08pm: Another two-minute warning for Obama to start speaking at the White House briefing room.

2.10pm: Obama appears, finally. CNN has lost the sound feed.

Obama says he wants to extend the payroll tax cut, to “provide security for middle class families” by adding around $1,000 for the average working family. His jobs package would extend and widen the payroll tax cut, taking the benefit to $1,500 a year – but Republicans won’t join him:

I know there are plenty of Republicans who have sworn never to raise taxes … How come the only time there’s a catch is when it comes to middle class families?

Obama says he is willing to work with Republicans for tax cuts “in a responsible way”. But in a surprise move, it appears the Republican proposals are “irresponsible”. Obama is also calling for extending unemployment insurance for long-term out of work

In what can only be pure coincidence, Obama’s delayed statement happened to coincide with the start of the Newt Gingrich-Donald Trump joint press conference. Fancy.

But even after Obama has finished, Fox News isn’t cutting over to Gingrich/Trump.

2.20pm: Sensible Republican operative Mike Murphy tweets his foreboding about the Donald Trump debate:

GOP candidates would be foolish to show up at Trump’s clown circus/debate. Walk away…

Obviously as a journalist I hope the Trump debate goes ahead. As a human being, not so much.

Herman Cain announcing the suspension of his presidential campaign. Photograph: John Adkisson/Reuters

2.42pm: So Herman Cain will be making no endorsement today, according to the man himself:

I am not endorsing anybody today or in the very immediate future. I can’t say I won’t endorse, but not in the immediate timeframe.

That’s from MSNBC, which listened into a conference call between Cain and his soon-to-be former staff members:

Cain’s plans for the next chapter of his career were quickly followed by an attempt to directly address accusations that he sought to promote his recently-published book while campaigning, or perhaps host a cable news television show in the future.

“That is not my motivation,” he said. “I did not choose to run for the president of the United States to advance my own self.

By the way, Cain sent out an appeal for donations from his supporters the day before “suspending” his campaign.

3.03pm: Currently trending on Twitter – #GOPMuppetHearings:

Mr Grover, who, exactly are the monsters at the end of this ‘book’ that you keep warning us about?

3.18pm: Exciting news for West Wing fans:

Exclusive: The upcoming HBO drama about cable news from The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin finally has a name. TVNewser has learned that HBO is expected to call the series Newsroom.

Sorkin’s series follows fictional cable news anchor Will McCallister (Jeff Daniels) and his “News Night” staff at the fictional cable news channel UBS.

Not sure that the Swiss investment bank UBS will be delighted. Or the BBC’s Newsnight, for that mater. But otherwise: high pressure TV environment … hmm, shades of Studio 60 anyone?

Newt Gingrich hearts Donald Trump. Photograph: Paul Sancya/AP

3.28pm: So Newt Gingrich met Donald Trump today, with Newt making industrial-grade sucking noises to attract Trump’s endorsement, as if that’s of any value.

The two held a press conference – well, they talked into some TV cameras – afterwards, according to AP, where Gingrich defended his decision to take part in Trump’s vanity-debate later this month:

This is a country that elected a peanut farmer to the presidency. This is a country that elected an actor who made two movies with a chimpanzee to the presidency. Donald Trump is a great showman; he’s also a great businessman. I think one of the differences between my party and the other party is we actually go to people who know how to create jobs. We need to be open to new ways of doing things.

For his part Trump defended Gingrich’s recent remarks that poor children should be working part-time cleaning toilets in schools:

I thought it was a great idea. We’re going to be picking 10 young wonderful children and make them ‘apprenti’. We’re going to have a little fun with it.

See, Newt Gingrich? You meet with Donald Trump and all he does is launch a new reality TV show.

3.38pm: Politics in Vermont is always slightly different to the rest of America:

The state of Vermont threw its support Monday behind a folk artist whose T-shirt business is being threatened by the nation’s second largest chicken restaurant chain because of his use of the phrase “eat more kale.”

Governor Peter Shumlin said that state would do all it could to help Bo Muller-Moore raise money to defend his small business, and by extension all Vermont small businesses and local agriculture, against what they both see as “corporate bullying” by the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A.

4.03pm: AP reports that the White House is backing its ambassador to Belgium, accused by some – including Mitt Romney – of downplaying anti-semitism in a recent speech. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said today that Howard Gutman would remain in his post in Brussels.

Here’s the transcript of Gutman’s remarks:

What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians and communities, is a different phenomena. … It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews. It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem.

It too is a serious problem. It too must be discussed and solutions explored. No Jewish student – and no Muslim student or student of any heritage or religion – should ever feel intimidated on a University campus for their heritage or religion leading to academic leaders quitting in protest. No high school or grammar school Jewish student – and no Muslim high school or grammar school student or student of any heritage or religion – should be beaten up over their heritage or religion.

4.13pm: The National Review also thunders against the Trump debate idea, calling it a “sideshow”:

We had hoped that after the brief and frivolous publicity stunt Trump branded as exploration of a presidential run, there would be no further occasion to rehearse the many ways in which his sometime association with the Republican party hurts the conservative cause. So we’ll keep it brief: Trump is a tax-hike-supporting, missile-defense-opposing, universal-health-care-advocating, eminent-domain abusing, Schumer-Weiner-Rangel-Reid-donating, long-time-pro-choice economic protectionist who in 2008 called George W. Bush “evil” and lauded president-elect Barack Obama as a potentially “great president” who would “lead by consensus.

4.20pm: Oh dear. It appears that former vice president Dan Quayle is endorsing Mitt Romney. Yes, that’ll do it.

Republican officials on Monday told The Associated Press that Quayle plans to announce his support for the former Massachusetts governor Tuesday afternoon.

Romney has an event scheduled Tuesday in Paradise Valley, Arizona, where Quayle has a home.

4.35pm: The National Journal breaks down the latest Gallup poll of the Republican candidates and concludes that only Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich pass the voters’ acceptability threshold, in effect making this a two-horse race from now on:

Romney and Gingrich are the only two candidates that Republican primary voters believe would be acceptable presidential nominees. Gingrich holds a narrow, but significant advantage over Romney on this front, with 61% viewing him as acceptable, with 54% viewing Romney acceptably.

Polling figures can change, as we have seen so far.

5pm: Time to wrap things for the evening – which means Herman Cain will probably endorse Donald Trump for president at 5.01pm ET. In which case, we’ll have to cover it tomorrow when Cain retracts the endorsement and instead backs Hillary Clinton.

And as for Donald Trump: an online Fox News poll found that 31% said a Trump endorsement would make them less likely to vote for that candidate.

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Alleged victims’ lawyers rip Sandusky interview as ‘disingenuous’ December 4, 2011

(CNN) — Attorneys for alleged victims of Jerry Sandusky lashed out Saturday at a new interview with the former Penn State football coach, with one calling it “another failed attempt to manipulate the public.”

Howard Janet, who represents the person identified as Victim 6 in the grand jury report that led to Sandusky’s indictment, said Sandusky also attempted — unsuccessfully — to “manipulate the future jury pool.”

“He’s not accomplishing … his desired goal,” Janet said. He called much of Sandusky’s interview with The New York Times, which published on Saturday, “uncomfortable to watch” and “disingenuous.”

“Every time he opens his mouth, virtually, he puts his foot in it,” Janet said.

Among other statements, Sandusky attempted to clarify his relationships with young people in the extensive interview with the newspaper.

“If I say, ‘No, I’m not attracted to young boys,’ that’s not the truth,” he said, according to a story published Saturday. “Because I’m attracted to young people — boys, girls — I …”

His lawyer, who was present at the interview, spoke up at that point to note that Sandusky is “not sexually” attracted to them.

“Right. I enjoy, that’s what I was trying to say, I enjoy spending time with young people. I enjoy spending time with people,” Sandusky continued. “I mean my two favorite groups are the elderly and the young.”

The grand jury report, made public last month, detailed 40 charges against Sandusky in a child sex abuse scandal involving at least eight alleged victims and spanning 15 years.

In a recent interview with NBC’s Bob Costas, Sandusky was asked directly: “Are you sexually attracted to underage boys?”

Sandusky repeated the question, paused, and responded, “No. I enjoy young people.”

The long-time Penn State defense coordinator has maintained his innocence throughout the investigation — saying he only “horsed around” with the disadvantaged boys in his care — and is currently free on $100,000 bail.

Andrew Shubin, another lawyer for an alleged victim named in the criminal probe, dismissed the interview as odd and unpersuasive.

“Once again, Jerry Sandusky has chosen to provide the national media with an entirely unconvincing denial and a series of bizarre explanations,” Shubin said in a statement.

In the New York Times story, Sandusky stressed that he and legendary head football coach Joe Paterno never discussed the allegations of sexual misconduct.

“I don’t know that he didn’t know,” he said. “I know that he never said anything to me.”

The Board of Trustees removed Paterno and President Graham Spanier on November 9, amid the allegations that also implicated high-level university officials.

Athletic Director Tim Curley, 57, and the school’s vice president for finance and business, Gary Schultz, 62, have since been charged in the scandal. Each faces one count of felony perjury and one count of failure to report abuse allegations.

Paterno, 84, has not been charged in the investigation, but has received criticism for not alerting authorities to the alleged misconduct. He has said he did his duty in referring the allegations to his superior; according to the grand jury report, Paterno called Curley to report allegations of Sandusky “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.”

Spanier also was informed of “a report of an incident involving Sandusky and a child in the showers on campus.”

The New York Times dove into an allegation made in 1998, a year before Sandusky retired from Penn State, that wasn’t then made public but was later detailed in the grand jury report.

The mother of Victim 6 — who is represented by Janet — had come forward, saying the coach had showered with her son and hugged her boy, naked from behind. Two campus police detectives eavesdropped on conversations in May 1998 when the mother confronted Sandusky. Police later monitored a second conversation that month, in which the mother told Sandusky to stay away from her son.

“I understand. I was wrong,” Sandusky said, according to the grand jury report. “I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”

Janet said the then-coach never directly answered her questions about whether he’d showered with her son and if his “private parts” had come into contact with the boy.

“I think the ultimate answer was maybe,” the lawyer said.

Four years later, the report said, graduate assistant Mike McQueary claimed to have seen Sandusky sodomizing a boy in a locker room shower.

Sandusky told The New York Times that Curley, Penn State’s athletic director at the time, then confronted him about the alleged misconduct.

“He was coming to me with a concern because, in his words, somebody had talked to him about inappropriate behavior in the shower,” Sandusky said, adding he responded by saying “it didn’t happen.”

“In my mind, there wasn’t inappropriate behavior,” he said.

The former coach said Curley then told him that “he didn’t want me to bring kids (into university facilities) and work them out anymore,” according to the interview.

But, he told the Times, Curley never commandeered his keys to the facility.

“And I still went in there and worked out,” the former coach said.

In the four-hour interview at his lawyer’s home, Sandusky insisted that his decades of work with troubled youths as part of his charity the Second Mile had been “twisted” by prosecutors.

“They’ve taken everything that I ever did for any young person and twisted it to say that my motives were sexual or whatever,” he said. “I had kid after kid after kid who might say I was a father figure.”

But an attorney for a 29-year-old alleged victim of Sandusky’s, who is not among the eight named in the grand jury report, said the interview is further evidence that the former coach “cannot resist center stage.”

CNN contributor Sara Ganim and CNN’s Susan Candiotti and Ross Levitt contributed to this report.

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Former top Israeli general says explosions that reportedly hit Iranian nuclear sites not accidents December 2, 2011

December 1, 2011

by legitgov


Former top Israeli general says explosions that reportedly hit Iranian nuclear sites not accidents 30 Nov 2011 Israeli officials said in a report Wednesday that a mysterious explosion at an Iranian nuclear facility two days ago was no accident. The remarks surfaced in a Times of London story reporting that satellite images show smoke billowing from the uranium enrichment facility in the city of Isfahan. “There aren’t many coincidences,” retired Major-General Giora Eiland told Israel’s army radio, noting that it was the second attack on an Iranian nuclear site in a month. “When there are so many events, there is probably some sort of guiding hand, though perhaps it’s the hand of God,” said Eiland, who is Israel’s former national security chief. ['Hand of God' or 'work of a sociopath.' I'm stickin' with the latter. --LRP]

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Tom Wicker, the journalist who reported Kennedy’s assassination November 26, 2011

One of the joys of being half asleep in the middle of the night is hearing interesting items on the BBC’s World Service. Last night’s gem was about the New York Times journalist Tom Wicker, who has just died aged 85.

On 22 November 1963, he was the paper’s lone reporter travelling in the motorcade in Dallas when President Kennedy was shot.

Amidst the mayhem, Wicker kept his head and went about his journalistic task with a diligence that won him admiration then – and ever since. He did not just rise to the occasion, he rose above it.

He later explained: “I would write two pages, run down the stairs, across the waiting room, grab a phone and dictate… Dictating each take, I would throw in items I hadn’t written, sometimes whole paragraphs.”

His series of reports were described in the NY Times’s obituary as “stark, detailed prose drawn from notes scribbled on a White House itinerary sheet.”

In fact, his articles totalled something like 3,000 words and filled two front-page columns plus the entire second page. His effort “vaulted [him] to journalistic prominence overnight.”

It led him to writing a column, In the nation, from “a hard-hitting Southern liberal/civil libertarian’s perspective”, which appeared two or three times a week from 1966 until his retirement in 1991.

He applauded President Johnson and congress for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but took the president to task for deepening the American involvement in Vietnam.

He denounced President Nixon for covertly bombing Cambodia, and in the Watergate scandal accused him of creating the “beginnings of a police state.” Nixon responded by putting Wicker on his “enemies list.”

The NY Times writes that “the Wicker judgments fell like a hard rain upon all the presidents.”

Wicker’s status as a columnist made him a fixture on television shows and as a college campus lecturer. Speaking at Harvard in 1971, he urged students to “engage in civil disobedience” to protest against the war in Vietnam.

Famously, and bravely, he acted as a mediator on behalf of 1,300 riotous inmates at Attica prison in 1971 after they had taken 38 guards as hostages. His efforts were in vain: troopers stormed the jail. Ten hostages and 29 inmates were killed by the authorities’ gunfire. Wicker later wrote a book about the uprising.

He also wrote nine more books of non-fiction and 10 novels. His 1978 book On Press was about the myth of objectivity, and the weakness of reliance on official and anonymous sources.

There is much more to appreciate about him. The full obituary is here. Other sources: Wall Street Journal and the BBC World Service of course

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Kennedy death reporter dies at 85

Tom Wicker was born in a small town in North Carolina and became a legend of US journalism

A New York Times journalist who witnessed and chronicled the death of US President John F Kennedy has died of a heart attack at the age of 85.

Tom Wicker was the only Times reporter in the Kennedy motorcade when the president was shot in the head in Dallas in November 1963.

His reporting won him wide acclaim and led to roles as Washington bureau chief and a long-serving political columnist.

Wicker died at home in Rochester, Vermont, on Friday, his wife said.

“He’d been ill with things that come from being 85,” Pamela Wicker said.

“He died in his bedroom looking out at the countryside that he loved.”

Detailed account

Tom Wicker was a well-regarded Washington reporter for the New York Times, but not a household name, before his journey shadowing President Kennedy in Dallas.

His lengthy report to Times readers the next day filled more than two pages of the newspaper.

He used precise, fact-heavy sentences to relay the news of the president’s death to a nation in shock

Despite television coverage of the events the previous night, Wicker’s reporting was the most detailed account many Americans were to receive of the events.

“President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin today,” he wrote.

“He died of a wound in the brain caused by a rifle bullet that was fired at him as he was riding through downtown Dallas in a motorcade.”

Changing society

Gay Telese, author of a history of the New York Times, told the Associated Press: “It was a remarkable achievement in reporting and writing, in collecting facts out of confusion, in reconstructing the most deranged day in his life, the despair and bitterness and disbelief, and then getting on a telephone to New York and dictating the story in a voice that only rarely cracked with emotion.”

In the years after the Kennedy assassination Wicker served as Washington bureau chief, succeeding the legendary James Reston in that post.

In 1966 he began writing a political column, In The Nation, which ran continuously until his retirement in 1991.

His move into the opinion pages coincided with major shifts in US society and upheaval in American foreign policy. He was regularly critical of US policy in Vietnam.

He also published 20 books, from novels about life in the South to reflections on the presidents he knew.

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Murdoch quits Sun and Times board November 24, 2011

James Murdoch will remain the head of News International

James Murdoch has resigned as director of the companies that publish The Times, The Sunday Times, and the Sun.

Records at Companies House show James Murdoch stepped down from the boards of News Group Newspapers Limited, publisher of The Sun, and Times Newspapers Limited in September.

The news comes ahead of a key BSkyB shareholder meeting amid calls that Mr Murdoch should resign from the company.

NGN ran the defunct News of the World, mired in phone-hacking allegations.

Mr Murdoch also quit a subsidiary, News International Holdings.

However, he remains chairman of News International and deputy chief operating officer of News Corp.

Tom Mockridge, former boss of Sky Italia who replaced Rebekah Brooks as NI chief executive in July, has taken over from him at NGN and TNL.

A spokesman for News International denied claims that James Murdoch was stepping back from News International, “as he remains chairman”.

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Teddy Forstmann obituary November 22, 2011

In May, the American financier and sports promoter Theodore Forstmann, in an interview with the New York Times, said he did not want his obituary to read: “He did this, he did that, and he died of brain cancer. No way.” Teddy, or Ted, Forstmann was indeed a colourful figure for a New York entrepreneur riding the hectic takeover boom that characterised the final quarter of the 20th century, and he has now died at the age of 71.

Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, Forstmann was second of the six children of Julius Forstmann, a wealthy textile merchant who had in turn inherited his wealth from his father. Teddy had a conventionally affluent east coast upbringing, emerging from his education with degrees from Yale and Columbia Universities.

Although from the outside his career as a successful financial entrepreneur, amassing wealth through a series of takeovers as diverse as Gulfstream Aerospace and the drinks company Dr Pepper, may appear to be a conventional success story, the methods he employed and the philosophy behind them was anything but conventional.

For a start, he was highly suspicious of “junk bonds”, high-yield financial borrowings rated below investment grade. While most of his competitors were greasing their deals with the bonds, his own company, Forstmann Little, founded in 1978, was perfecting the “leveraged buyout”, where deals are financed mainly by bank borrowings and by equity capital put up by the buyers themselves. The bank borrowings are then repaid by selling the acquired company’s assets or from cash flow generated from the business, allowing the equity value held by the buyers to multiply. In the case of Dr Pepper in the mid-1980s, for instance, the firm made 12 times its original investment in just two years.

In 1988, at the height of the takeover boom, Forstmann said publicly that business was going through a period of unbridled excess with risk soaring out of proportion to possible reward. It was around that time he coined the term “barbarians at the gate” to describe the assault on RJR Nabisco. Forstmann Little retired from that contest leaving it to the “barbarians”, the rival private equity firm KKR, to take the food firm over.

Forstmann correctly predicted the late 1980s total collapse of the junk bond market and later the credit crunch that hit the financial world in 2008. He told the New York Times earlier this year that he did not recognise modern Wall Street, describing the finance businesses as “a bunch of traders” driven by greed.

Alongside his talent for rethinking and making the most of financial engineering, Forstmann was a sports promoter, a gambler, a socialite and, above all, a philanthropist. In sports management and promotion, he was chairman and chief executive officer of IMG, a world leader in its business, which he acquired in 2004.

However his love of sport – he was a highly ranked junior amateur tennis player and played hockey for Yale – combined with his penchant for gambling landed him in some difficulty when, last year, a lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles alleging that he bet hundreds of thousands of dollars on college football while IMG represented some of the top college coaches. He also bet heavily on one IMG client Roger Federer to beat another, Rafael Nadal, in the 2007 French open. Nadal won.

Forstmann became known in Britain when the never-married financier’s name was romantically linked with that of Diana, Princess of Wales. Whether that blossomed into romance is not clear, except that, later, he said she was not “his kind of girl”. The stocky, immaculately coiffeured, billionaire was often to be found in the newspaper gossip columns, where his name was variously linked with glamorous women.

But his most lasting legacy will be the hundreds of millions of dollars donated to charitable causes. He was particularly interested in furthering the opportunities of disadvantaged children, both in Africa and in the US itself. He was a co-founder of and major donor to the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which helps low-income American families send their children to the school of their choice. Through the International Rescue Committee he established a fund for war-injured children, while he also served as the only non-African trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

Forstmann regarded charitable giving as a duty of the rich, and as something “you did but didn’t shout about”.

He backed the Giving Pledge, Warren Buffett’s and Bill and Melinda Gates’s movement to persuade wealthy Americans to commit the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

Forstmann had two sons, Siya and Everest, whom he adopted from South Africa, and who survive him, along with two brothers and two sisters.

• Theodore Joseph Forstmann, financier and sports promoter, born 13 February 1940; died 20 November 2011

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Marijuana deadline in California November 12, 2011

Protesters gathered after a raid in September on a 7,000-plant farm in northern California

Dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries in California have been ordered to close from Saturday, as a federal crackdown looms.

Distributors and their landlords were told in late September to shut down in 45 days or face prosecution.

Some marijuana distributors filed for a temporary restraining order earlier this month.

California legalised medical marijuana in 1996, but use of the drug remains illegal under federal law.

US attorneys have said they are targeting large dispensary operators and growers, instead of individuals. For-profit sales are in violation of California’s state law.

The BBC’s Peter Bowes, in Los Angeles, reports that some outlets appear to have been targeted because they are near schools and parks.

Federal prosecutors say they are focusing on towns and cities that have already banned marijuana shops.

‘Breaking point’

Matthew Kumin, a lawyer for the pro-marijuana group NORML, told reporters earlier this week that the federal government’s marijuana policies were not consistent.

“The government’s irrational policy has reached a breaking point,” he said. “The federal government said it will not prosecute patients, and yet they want to shut off their supply. This doesn’t make sense.”

The complaint, filed in four US district courts in California, says a federal crackdown contradicts an agreement from a previous court case.

In that case, the federal government said it would not use its own power against marijuana patients who were acting within the guidelines of state law.

Medical marijuana advocates also contend threatening to close down dispensaries is a violation of the 10th amendment to the US constitution,

But federal officials say they are well within the law.

“Unless and until ordered otherwise, we will continue to do our duty in enforcing federal narcotics laws,” the US attorney for the Eastern District of California told the New York Times in a statement.

While the NORML suit is the second such filing in California, Mr Kumin told the Los Angeles Times that only a few so-called pot collectives and landlords wanted to publicly fight.

“Everybody’s gone underground,” he said.

Medical marijuana advocates in California say the drug is a key element of palliative care for patients with a range of conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, glaucoma and arthritis.

Elsewhere in the US, the District of Columbia and 15 additional states allow patients to possess marijuana with a doctor’s prescription.

But many fear the prescriptions are misused and the drug is in effect being made legally available to healthy recreational users.

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Penn State’s Joe Paterno cancels press conference November 8, 2011

Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno, one of the most famous figures in American sport, has avoided his first chance to publicly address questions regarding a criminal investigation into allegations that a long-time assistant coach sexually abused boys.

In addition, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that Paterno’s tenure as coach at Penn State will soon be over, perhaps within days or weeks, citing two people briefed on conversations among the university’s top officials.

The New York Times reported that the board of trustees has yet to determine the precise timing of Paterno’s exit, but that discussions about how to manage his departure have begun.

The university cancelled Paterno’s scheduled news conference on Tuesday minutes before the 84-year-old coach was due to face a barrage of media.

“Due to the ongoing legal circumstances centered around the recent allegations and charges, we have determined that today’s press conference cannot be held and will not be rescheduled,” the athletics department said in a statement.

Paterno and the university are engulfed in a scandal over the charges against his longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, accused of sexually abusing at least eight boys over more than a decade. Paterno says he was informed of an incident involving Sandusky in 2002, and passed on the information to the school’s athletic director.

The alleged abuse was not reported to police even though it was known for years, authorities have said. Two former Penn State officials were charged on Monday with covering up alleged assaults.

Paterno is one of the most famous figures in the history of US college football, one of the most popular sports in the country.

The university had earlier said Paterno would respond to only questions regarding Penn State’s football game on Saturday against the University of Nebraska.

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News Corp to be challenged by Tom Watson over ‘surveillance’ October 21, 2011

Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has been a leading figure in parliament’s investigation into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, plans to make dramatic allegations about News Corporation‘s use of surveillance at the company’s annual shareholder meeting.

Watson, who sits on the Commons culture, media and sport committee which has investigated the scandal, said he would be giving News Corp’s shareholders details of previously undisclosed surveillance methods used by the firm that were technologically quite distinct from the phone hacking carried out by NoW staff. He refused to go into details about the allegations he would be making or to offer any evidence to corroborate them.

He said: “I want to leave investors in no doubt that News Corporation is not through the worst of this yet and there are more questions for the Murdochs to answer.”

Watson has flown to Los Angeles to attend the shareholders meeting, which he will gain access to having been given a proxy vote by the US trade union umbrella group, the AFL-CIO. News Corporation is bracing itself for independent shareholders to vote in considerable numbers at the meeting against the reappointment of Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

The scale of the protest outside the Murdoch family is expected to be substantially over 20% of independent shareholders, with several expected to raise questions at the meeting at Fox studios. But their protest will not be enough to topple the family, because Rupert Murdoch controls 40% of the voting shares.

Nevertheless, before the meeting there were clear signs of tension at the upper levels of News Corp, with particular emphasis on security at the event and worries about what sort of tone the 80-year-old media mogul will strike in front of those who, alongside him, have a stake in the empire he built.

Murdoch’s opening address is expected to show less of the contrition than in London in July, when he told MPs: “This the most humble day of my life.” Instead he is expected to strike a more combative tone, although there are worries that this will alienate some investors and outsiders.

The language is understood to reflect the sentiments expressed 10 days ago in a stock exchange filing in which News Corp, in response to the growing army of concerned shareholders, accused its critics of having a “disproportionate focus on the News of the World matter” which was in turn “misguided”.

That approach has unsettled some in the company who believe there is a risk that Murdoch’s rhetorical defiance will play badly.

Murdoch is frustrated that for all the considerable political and legal problems News Corp faces, the company continues to perform well, with operating profits up by 12% by almost $5bn (£3.2bn), after legal costs, helped by the box office success of the film Rio and the continued growth of US TV channels such as Fox News. Set against that is the £20m settlement fund promised to phone-hacking victims.

There was an unwelcome reminder of the difficulties in the print sector with a separate announcement that News Corp would cut 150 editorial posts at the loss-making Times and Sunday Times, through compulsory and voluntary redundancies and cuts to casual staff. A critical indicator in LA will be whether more than half of the non-family shareholders will vote against the reappointment of the Murdochs. The family is likely to receive support from the Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed – whose Kingdom Holdings has a further 7% of the voting shares and who is close to James Murdoch.

News Corp expects something of a circus at the event, with shareholders and press being bused into the venue – which the company says is aimed to “ease the security issues of getting onto a studio lot”.

Watson joins some of the most critical investors, such as Calpers, which manages money for California’s public employees. News Corp chose to hold the meeting in LA, rather than New York where the business has its headquarters, in the hope that it would reduce the attendance of critical fund managers.

Calpers is particularly unhappy with the two-tier voting structure, – which it calls a “corruption of the governance system” which means that about a third of News Corp shares have voting rights.

The Murdochs control 40% of the votes by owning about 12% of all shares..

In the runup to the meeting, News Corp has had to endure growing speculation about rifts at the top of the company. with the New York Times reporting several disputes between Rupert and his heir apparent James, and even talk that James, the deputy chief operating officer, had briefly considered stepping down. But despite Rupert’s advancing years, and the pressure mounting on James as the phone-hacking crisis continues, neither is prepared, nor will they be forced, to step aside as a result of tomorrow’s meeting.

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Joseph Garland obituary October 5, 2011

Joseph Garland, who has died aged 88, was a historian and journalist who chronicled Gloucester, Massachusetts – its fishermen, its boats and its life. His best-known book was Lone Voyager (1964), which told the story of Howard Blackburn, a Gloucester fisherman who, despite having lost his fingers to frostbite, in 1899 sailed single-handed across the Atlantic to Britain in 62 days. Joe was remarkably generous with his knowledge; the author Sebastian Junger spent afternoons with Joe discussing Gloucester before writing The Perfect Storm in 1997.

As a columnist for the Gloucester Times, Joe’s often cantankerous voice championed the working traditions of the town, finding endless wonder in everyday life. He was to his small port what Studs Terkel was to Chicago, with immense empathy for its people and respect for the way they struggled against adversity. His positions – in favour of trade unions and the rights of small fishermen, against development and particularly against wars – were not always popular, but he never pandered to his audience.

His championing of peace was rooted in his own experiences during the second world war. His wartime diaries, recovered by another soldier after he was wounded, formed the basis of the last, and perhaps best, of his 24 books, Unknown Soldiers (2009), a remarkable memoir written decades after he had tracked down his former comrades, then faced writer’s block when telling their stories.

Joe was born into a line of Joseph Garlands, doctors going back three generations. His father edited the New England Journal of Medicine. Drawn to journalism, Joe evaded family tradition by flunking organic chemistry at Harvard, and enlisted in the army. His university background saw him assigned to an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon during the invasions of Sicily and Italy.

After the war, he began his chosen career in Minneapolis, where he worked for the Associated Press, and on papers in Providence and Boston. He joined the Gloucester Times in 1961, when he moved into a house built by his great-great-grandfather, a former mayor of the town.

I met Joe there 10 years ago at the wedding of one of his stepdaughters. He was scheduled to give away the bride, then fire his small ship’s cannon on the minister’s cue. The cue came, but no shot, and as Joe checked the fuse, the cannon backfired, leaving him with gunpowder embedded in his face. He did not miss a beat; wedding and reception carried on. We began a correspondence; few people could so easily recapture the energy and excitement of their conversation in writing.

Joe left another book unfinished, about the many boats he had owned. They included a sloop built by Blackburn, which Joe lost in a storm in 1980. Soon after he had returned home from hospital after suffering a stroke and was lying in bed overlooking Gloucester harbour, the schooner Thomas E Lannon sailed past. Joe’s son-in-law fired the family cannon, and the Lannon returned the salute. A few minutes later, Joe died.

He is survived by his second wife, Helen Bryan, who had been his wartime pen pal; and by two daughters from his first marriage, three stepdaughters and a stepson. During the annual Gloucester schooner festival in September, which he helped to organise, the boats formed a semi-circle facing Joe’s house, and simultaneously lowered their flags to half-mast.

•Joseph Everett Garland, writer, born 30 September 1922; died 30 August 2011

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Onion-Like, Al Qaeda Protests 9/11 Conspiracy Theories September 30, 2011

Has al Qaeda’s leadership been so decimated that it’s reduced to taking cues from The Onion? That thought popped into my head this morning when a friend sent me a New York Times article headlined, “Al Qaeda tells Iran to stop 9/11 theories.”

According to the Times:

Al Qaeda has a message for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran: Enough with the conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11 attacks.

In an article in the current issue of its English-language magazine, Inspire, the terror network lashed out at Ahmadinejad for indulging in the claim that the U.S. government, and not al Qaeda, was responsible for the attacks.

The article, the Times reports, asks the question, “why would Iran ascribe to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence?”

[Check out editorial cartoons about Afghanistan.]

My friend sent me the article after I had sent him an old Onion video wherein an al Qaeda spokesman debates a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, blasting him for trying to deflect credit from the terrorist group. “How would you like it if you spent, you know, two months in a mountain cave sleeping on rocks planning something really special only to have someone take the credit away from you?” the “spokesman” asks with some irritation.

The whole video, embedded below, is worth watching. And as happens all too often we have to ask: Is it reality, or is it The Onion?

9/11 Conspiracy Theories ‘Ridiculous,’ Al Qaeda Says

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Mitt Romney and the Republican primary calendar | Ana Marie Cox September 29, 2011

Of course, Romney is the “eat your vegetables” candidate (as the New York Times has it today), he’s a Mormon. He’s also as boring as starch, and as guaranteed to linger around in your system. This is why his best hope for the nomination is to grind out the somewhat flashier competition, allowing Perry to dangle from his own blowzy rhetoric and the underdogs to suffocate from a lack of funding.

Changes to the Republican primary calendar make this scenario all the more the likely; for the first time, the GOP will awards delegates to candidates proportionally, making it more difficult for anyone to leap to an insurmountable lead. This could lead to a Romney-Perry slugfest akin to the Clinton-Obama fight. Conventional wisdom has, in the past, deemed such intra-party battles as good for the opposition, but look how well that worked out for McCain last time.

A prolonged Republican primary could, in fact, keep coverage focused Republican issues and candidates, an irritating (to Democrats) reminder of just how bad the economy is and just how badly voters want a solution. A long, hard road could also give the eventual nominee the kind of trial by fire that, right now, both frontrunners lack – polishing Perry’s rough edges even as it teaches Romney how to let loose.

A lengthy nomination battle also suggests that this election could be as expensive and hyperbolic as 2008, which, frankly, is great for the news business (ad money! controversy!), if not especially beneficial to democracy. For all the criticisms conservatives harbor for the lamestream media, they are practically ensuring a full-employment plan for many of us. So, you know, thanks, guys! (My contract runs through next spring.)

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With HPV Vaccine Rumors, Michele Bachmann Is the New Joe McCarthy September 24, 2011

Joe McCarthy knew how to rile up the base. He knew his political hot buttons. He knew how to stoke fear and create a movement. He knew how to build a following by ratcheting up the rhetoric, the facts be damned.

Sadly, Rep. Michele Bachmann has followed in his mold: questioning the patriotism of members of Congress, fanning the flames of hatred of gays and lesbians and, now, attacking the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.

This HPV political maneuver may be her last. This should be her “have you no sense of decency” moment, just as the Army-McCarthy hearing was in the 1950s.

[See photos of Michele Bachmann.]

Somehow, the anti-vaccine movement has gained steam in the United States. Rumors that traditional vaccines caused autism began to spread. They were disproved but not before many parents declined to vaccinate their children.

A Science Times article in the New York Times (“Remark on Vaccine Could Ripple for Years”) points to a three to four year drop in vaccination rates after such publicity. Diseases such as measles and whooping cough, supposedly under control, have seen outbreaks. According to the Times, “measles cases in the United States reached a 15-year high last spring. “

The HPV virus is, unfortunately, far too common. More than 25 percent of women 14 to 49 have been infected, 44 percent in the 20 to 24 age range. Not only can HPV cause cervical cancer but it can cause other cancers as well.

Last year only 32 percent of teenage girls had been given the vaccine.

[Vote: Was Rick Perry's HPV Vaccine Mandate Wrong?]

If Michele Bachmann’s scare tactics prove true to form, there will be a drop in the number of girls and women protected. By putting out false information, by repeating the statement of someone at the debate that the vaccine caused mental retardation, she set back the effort to save women’s lives. Hardly a pro-life position.

In fact, the vaccine can prevent unnecessary surgery for several hundred thousand women a year and even allow women to successfully carry a pregnancy to term.

Over 35 million doses have been distributed without any serious side effects. Thank goodness doctors and clinics and reputable research organizations moved quickly to take on Michele Bachmann.

But, make no mistake, she even stayed on the issue in Thursday’s debate. This woman won’t quit, no matter the facts or the implications of her actions.

[Ken Walsh's Washington: GOP Debate Annoys Google's Gchat Users]

She sees a political opening and she takes it, she sees a chance to rile the base and she seizes it, she sees a good sound bite and off she goes.

If, in fact, the experts are correct and this will set back vaccinations for years, Bachmann will need to do more than apologize for her McCarthy-like tactics. As he ruined innocent lives, she may responsible for doing the same. She will have to look herself in the mirror and know that her actions led to more women losing their lives.

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