Defending a VP Candidate Who is Under Investigation

September 2, 2008

Republican John McCain said Tuesday he’s satisfied that Sarah Palin’s background was properly checked out before the Alaska governor joined the Republican ticket. He predicted that public excitement about her candidacy will increase after her address to the GOP convention on Wednesday.

McCain visited fire houses in Ohio and Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and was due to arrive at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday.

Asked about whether Palin’s background was thoroughly checked out before he selected her, McCain told reporters in Philadelphia: “The vetting process was completely thorough and I’m grateful for the results.”

Later, after visiting a firehouse outside Cleveland in Brecksville, Ohio, McCain added: “I just want to repeat again how excited I am to have Sarah Palin, the great governor of Alaska, as my running mate.”

“America is excited and they’re going to be even more excited once they see her tomorrow night,” he said. “I’m very, very proud of the impression she’s made on all of America and I look forward to serving with her.”

Questions about the review of Palin came up after news surfaced that her unmarried teenage daughter, Bristol, is pregnant, and that the Alaska governor has retained a private attorney to represent her in an investigation into the firing of the state public safety commissioner.

The lawyer who conducted the background review said Palin voluntarily told McCain’s campaign about Bristol’s’ pregnancy, and about her husband’s 2-decade-old DUI arrest during questioning as part of the vice presidential search process.

The Alaska governor also greatly detailed the dismissal of the state’s public safety commissioner that has touched off a legislative investigation, Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. told The Associated Press in an interview Monday.

Palin underwent a “full and complete” background examination before McCain chose her as his running mate, Culvahouse said. Asked whether everything that came up as a possible red flag during the review already has been made public, he said: “I think so. Yeah, I think so. Correct.”

McCain’s campaign has been trying to tamp down questions about whether the Arizona senator’s team adequately researched his surprise vice presidential selection.

Since McCain publicly disclosed his running mate on Friday, the notion of a shoddy, rushed review has been stoked repeatedly.

First, a campaign-issued timeline said McCain initially met Palin in February, then held one phone conversation with her last week before inviting her to Arizona, where he met with her a second time and offered her the job Thursday.

Then came the campaign’s disclosure that 17-year-old Bristol Palin is pregnant. The father is Levi Johnston, who has been a hockey player at Bristol’s high school, The New York Post and The New York Daily News reported in their Tuesday editions.

In addition, the campaign also disclosed that Palin’s husband, Todd, then age 22, was arrested in 1986 in Alaska for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Shortly after Palin was named to the ticket, McCain’s campaign dispatched a team of a dozen communications operatives and lawyers to Alaska. That fueled speculation that a comprehensive examination of Palin’s record and past was incomplete and being done only after she was placed on the ticket.

Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser, said no matter who the nominee was, the campaign was ready to send a “jump team” to the No. 2’s home state to work with the nominee’s staff, work with the local media and help handle requests from the national media for information, and answer questions about documents that were part of the review.

At several points throughout the process, McCain’s team warned Palin that the scrutiny into her private life would be intense and that there was nothing she could do to prepare for it.

Culvahouse disclosed details of his examination in a half-hour interview with the AP.

First, a team of some 25 people working under Culvahouse culled information from public sources for Palin and other prospective candidates without their knowledge. For all, news reports, speeches, financial and tax return disclosures, litigation, investigations, ethical charges, marriages and divorces were reviewed.

For Palin specifically, the team studied online archives of the state’s largest newspapers, including the Anchorage Daily News, but didn’t request paper archives for Palin’s hometown newspaper. “I made the decision that we could not get it done and maintain secrecy,” Culvahouse said.

Article by Beth Fouhy and Liz Sidoti

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Woman Who Had Dogs Cloned Linked to Abduction Case in UK

August 15, 2008

A woman who made headlines by having five pups cloned and was linked to an abduction case in England is also wanted in Tennessee on charges she tried to plan a burglary in 2004, a defense attorney and prosecutors there said.

Joyce Bernann McKinney was charged in Carter County with criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and failure to appear in court, said attorney David Crockett, who represented her in the Tennessee case. Authorities there said she instructed a 15-year-old boy to break into a house, and Crockett said she needed the money to buy a false leg for a beloved horse.

Crockett said Thursday he hasn’t heard from her since she skipped a court date, but after seeing television coverage of the cloning case, he’s certain she’s the same person known to the world as dog lover Bernann McKinney.

Prosecutors are reviewing charges against the 58-year-old McKinney to decide whether to pursue the case, said Melanie Widener, an assistant district attorney for the county in the northeast part of the state near the North Carolina state line.

“It’ll depend on where she is now, how important the case is, how much it would cost the taxpayers and whether witnesses are still around,” she said.

McKinney declined comment when reached by phone Thursday.

McKinney was arrested in November 2004 in Tennessee in a van with the 15-year-old, according to a Carter County Sheriff’s Department arrest report.

McKinney, then living across the state line in Avery County, N.C., needed money to help her three-legged horse, Crockett said.

“She loved it dearly,” Crockett said. “She was a rather bizarre character, and seems to have a strange circumstance now.”

He recalled that McKinney had two or three dogs in her car when she conferred with him about her case.

“There was a strong aroma about her, and I told her this needed to be taken care of before I went to court with her,” Crockett said.

McKinney made news around the world this summer when she had five pups cloned in South Korea from her beloved pit bull Booger.

She later confirmed she was Joyce McKinney, who in 1977 became a British tabloid sensation over the kidnapping case. She faced charges of unlawful imprisonment after she was accused of abducting a Mormon missionary in England, handcuffing him to a bed and making him her sex slave. She jumped bail and was never brought to justice.

“She is bold to put herself on worldwide television,” Crockett said. “She must know she’s a fugitive in at least one state.”

Article by Joe Edwards

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Jackson Browne Suing John McCain for Using Lyrics in Campaign Ad

August 15, 2008


Jackson Browne doesn’t want John McCain running on anything fueled by his lyrics. The singer-songwriter sued McCain and the Ohio and national Republican committees in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday, accusing them of using his song “Running on Empty” without his permission.

The lawsuit claims the song’s use was an infringement of his copyright and will lead people to conclude he endorses McCain. The suit says Browne is a lifelong liberal who is as well-known for his music as for being “an advocate for social and environmental justice.”

The advertisement mocks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s contention that if U.S. drivers got regular tuneups and drove on properly inflated tires, they could save the same amount of oil that would be gained by offshore drilling. According to the suit, “Running on Empty” plays in the background of the ad criticizing the remarks.

Robert Bennett, chairman of the Ohio party, said the ad was pulled when Browne objected. He called the lawsuit a “big to-do about nothing.”

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers disavowed the ad, saying it wasn’t a product of the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign.

Browne’s lawsuit contends the Ohio Republican party released the ad on behalf of McCain and the RNC. The RNC did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The suit notes that other musicians, including ABBA and John Cougar Mellencamp, have asked McCain to stop using their work.

Browne’s attorney, Lawrence Iser, called the ad’s use of the song “reprehensible.”

The 59-year-old singer claims his reputation has already been damaged and is seeking more than $75,000 in damages.

Browne released “Running on Empty” – the song and an album by the same name – in 1977. According to the lawsuit, the album has sold more than 7 million copies.

Browne’s financial success has aided Democratic candidates over the years. Campaign finance records show he contributed $2,300 to Obama’s presidential campaign last year and $2,000 to the Illinois senator’s campaign coffers in 2004.

Article by Anthony McCartney

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White Americans Will Not Be Majority By 2042

August 14, 2008

White people will no longer make up a majority of Americans by 2042, according to new government projections. That’s eight years sooner than previous estimates, made in 2004.

The nation has been growing more diverse for decades, but the process has sped up through immigration and higher birth rates among minority residents, especially Hispanics.

It is also growing older.

“The white population is older and very much centered around the aging baby boomers who are well past their high fertility years,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “The future of America is epitomized by the young people today. They are basically the melting pot we are going to see in the future.”

The Census Bureau Thursday released population projections through 2050, based on rates for births, deaths and immigration. They are subject to big revisions, depending on immigration policy, cultural changes and natural or manmade disasters.

The U.S. has nearly 305 million people today. The population is projected to hit 400 million in 2039 and 439 million in 2050.

That’s like adding all the people from France and Britain, said Steve A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington group that advocates tighter immigration policies.

White non-Hispanics make up about two-thirds of the population, but only 55 percent of those younger than 5.

By 2050, whites will make up 46 percent of the population and blacks will make up 15 percent, a relatively small increase from today. Hispanics, who make up about 15 percent of the population today, will account for 30 percent in 2050, according to the new projections.

Asians, which make up about 5 percent of the population, are projected to increase to 9 percent by 2050.

The population 85 and older is projected to more than triple by 2050, to 19 million.

Article by Stephen Ohlemacher

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High Gas Prices Forcing People To Urinate in Bottles

August 8, 2008


Police say there’s been an alarming rise in urine-filled plastic containers found along a three-mile stretch of Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon.

A litter crew for the Oregon Department of Transportation picked up an estimated 200-300 urine filled plastic bottles, along the highway, about half of which were found in a short stretch dubbed “Three Mile Hill.”

Police say that drivers – particularly commercial trucks – are typically driving very slowly through the area.

Police think the price of fuel may be causing drivers to travel slower than normal to save fuel while at the same time passing rest areas or truck stops.

Under Oregon law, improperly disposing of human waste is a misdemeanor which can carry a fine of up to $250.

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Marine Ordered to Stand Trial For Killings in Fallujah

August 8, 2008

A Camp Pendleton Marine sergeant was ordered Friday to stand trial on charges of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty in the killing of an unarmed detainee in Fallujah, Iraq.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland ordered the court-martial of Sgt. Ryan Weemer after finding there was sufficient evidence to send him to trial.

Weemer is one of three current and former Marines accused of breaking rules of engagement and killing four men they had captured after a platoon commander radioed to ask whether the Iraqis were “dead yet.”

A telephone message left by for Weemer’s attorney, Paul Hackett, was not immediately returned.

The killings happened in November 2004 during the invasion of Fallujah, one of the fiercest ground battles of the Iraq war.

The case came to light in 2006, when Weemer volunteered details to a U.S. Secret Service job interviewer during a polygraph screening that included a question about the most serious crime he had ever committed.

Weemer, of Hindsboro, Ill., is charged with one count of murder and six counts of dereliction of duty encompassing failure to follow the rules of engagement in Fallujah and failing to follow standard operating procedures for apprehending or treating detainees or civilian prisoners of war.

Helland’s decision to order the court-martial follows an Article 32 hearing, similar to an evidentiary hearing, where prosecutors argued that Weemer, a burly 25-year-old honored with a Purple Heart, should be tried for unpremeditated murder because he knew the rules of engagement forbade harming anyone in his custody.

During the hearing last month, prosecutors played a tape recording of the Secret Service interview where Weemer recounted arguing with his squadmates about what to do with the detainees – all military-age males captured in a house where weapons were also found. The squad was under pressure from the platoon to get moving.

Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. David Griesmer said Weemer next faces arraignment on the charges at Camp Pendleton. A date has not been set.

Weemer’s attorney has put much of the blame on Weemer’s former squad leader, saying Jose Nazario Jr. escalated the situation inside the house by beating one detainee with the butt of a rifle after the weapons cache was found.

Nazario, 27, of Riverside, Calif., has been charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the killing of two captives. The former sergeant is scheduled to be tried Aug. 19 in federal court because he has already completed his military service.

Another Marine, Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, 26, of New York, is slated to be court-martialed in December on charges of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty for his role in the alleged killings.

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Obama Assassination Plan Mastermind Arrested

August 7, 2008

A man who authorities said was keeping weapons and military-style gear in his hotel room and car appeared in court Thursday on charges he threatened to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Raymond Hunter Geisel, 22, was arrested by the Secret Service on Saturday in Miami and was ordered held at Miami’s downtown detention center without bail Thursday by a federal magistrate.

A Secret Service affidavit charges that Geisel made the threat during a training class for bail bondsmen in Miami in late July. According to someone else in the 48-member class, Geisel allegedly referred to Obama with a racial epithet and continued, “If he gets elected, I’ll assassinate him myself.”

Obama was most recently in Florida on Aug. 1-2 but did not visit the South Florida area.

Another person in the class quoted Geisel as saying that “he hated George W. Bush and that he wanted to put a bullet in the president’s head,” according to the Secret Service.

Geisel denied in a written statement to a Secret Service agent that he ever made those threats, and the documents don’t indicate that he ever took steps to carry out any assassination. He was charged only with threatening Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, but not for any threat against President Bush.

Geisel’s court-appointed attorney declined comment. The charge of threatening a major candidate for president or vice president carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.

The Obama campaign declined comment Thursday on the alleged threat.

In the interview with a Secret Service agent, Geisel said “if he wanted to kill Senator Obama he simply would shoot him with a sniper rifle, but then he claimed that he was just joking,” according to court documents.

A search of Geisel’s 1998 Ford Explorer and hotel room in Miami uncovered a loaded 9mm handgun, knives, dozens of rounds of ammunition including armor-piercing types, body armor, military-style fatigues and a machete. The SUV, which has Maine license plates, was wired with flashing red and yellow emergency lights.

Geisel told the Secret Service he was originally from Bangor, Maine, and had been living recently in a houseboat in the Florida Keys town of Marathon, according to court documents. He said he used the handgun for training for the bail bondsman class, had the knives for protection and used the machete to cut brush in Maine.

In the affidavit, the Secret Service said Geisel told agents that he suffered from psychiatric problems including post-traumatic stress disorder, but he couldn’t provide the names of any facilities where he sought treatment.

Article by Curt Anderson

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KFC and Pizza Instead of Murder Plea

August 7, 2008


A New York man who pleaded guilty to murder in Oregon in exchange for buckets of fried chicken will get calzones and pizza to go with his life sentence.

Tremayne Durham, 33, of New York City, admitted last month that he fatally shot Adam Calbreath, 39, of Gresham, in June 2006. Durham wanted to sell ice cream and ordered an $18,000 truck from an Oregon company. He later changed his mind, but the company wouldn’t provide a refund.

The would-be ice cream man came to Oregon and killed Calbreath, a former employee of the company, while looking for its owner, authorities said.

Durham agreed to plead guilty to murder — but only if he could get a break from jail food. The judge agreed and granted Durham a feast of KFC chicken, Popeye’s chicken, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, carrot cake and ice cream.

After Wednesday’s sentencing, Durham was to get the rest of the deal — calzones, lasagna, pizza and ice cream, his defense attorney confirmed. They will pay the tab.

Durham also got married Wednesday in a civil ceremony at the Portland courthouse. The wedding to Vanessa Davis, 48, also of New York City, was not part of the plea deal that will give Durham a chance for parole after 30 years.

Deputy District Attorney Josh Lamborn said Multnomah County Judge Eric Bergstrom made the right call in allowing the unusual plea agreement because it saved the expense of a trial and possible appeals.

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1900 Year Old Chariot Discovered In Bulgaria

August 7, 2008


Archaeologists have unearthed a 1,900-year-old well-preserved chariot at an ancient Thracian tomb in southeastern Bulgaria, the head of the excavation said Thursday.

Daniela Agre said her team found the four-wheel chariot during excavations near the village of Borisovo, around 180 miles east of the capital, Sofia.

“This is the first time that we have found a completely preserved chariot in Bulgaria,” said Agre, a senior archaeologist at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

She said previous excavations had only unearthed single parts of chariots — often because ancients sites had been looted.

At the funerary mound, the team also discovered table pottery, glass vessels and other gifts for the funeral of a wealthy Thracian aristocrat.

In a separate pit, they unearthed skeletons of two riding horses apparently sacrificed during the funeral of the nobleman, along with well preserved bronze and leather objects, some believed to horse harnesses.

The Culture Ministry confirmed the find and announced $3,900 in financial assistance for Agre’s excavation.

Agre said an additional amount of $7,800 will be allocated by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences for an initial restoration and conservation of the chariot and the other Thracian finds.

The Thracians were an ancient people that inhabited the lands of present day Bulgaria and parts of modern Greece, Turkey, Macedonia and Romania between 4,000 B.C. and the 6th century, when they were assimilated by the invading Slavs.

Some 10,000 Thracian mounds — some of them covering monumental stone tombs — are scattered across Bulgaria.

Article by VESELIN TOSHKOV

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Researchers Discover 125000 Western Lowland Gorillas in Congo

August 5, 2008

Wildlife researchers said Tuesday that they’ve discovered 125,000 western lowland gorillas deep in the forests of the Republic of Congo, calling it a major increase in the animal’s estimated population.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, based at New York’s Bronx Zoo, and the Republic of Congo said their census counted the newly discovered gorillas in two areas of the northern part of the country covering 18,000 square miles.

Previous estimates, dating to the 1980s, put the number of western lowland gorillas at less than 100,000. But the animal’s numbers were believed to have fallen by at least 50 percent since then due to hunting and disease, researchers said. The newly discovered gorilla population now puts their estimated numbers at between 175,000 to 225,000.

“This is a very significant discovery because of the terrible decline in population of these magnificent creatures to Ebola and bush meat,” said Emma Stokes, one of the research team.

The researchers in the central African nation of Republic of Congo – neighbor of the much larger Congo – worked out the population figures by counting the sleeping “nests” gorillas make. The creatures are too reclusive and shy to count individually.

Craig Stanford, professor of anthropology and biology at the University of Southern California, said he is aware of the new study. “If these new census results are confirmed, they are incredibly important and exciting, the kind of good news we rarely find in the conservation of highly endangered animals.” He added that independent confirmation will be valuable because nest counts vary depending on the specific census method used.

Western lowland gorillas are one of four gorilla subspecies, which also include mountain gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas and Cross River gorillas. All are labeled either endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

While calling the new census important, Stokes said it does not mean gorilla numbers in the wild are now safe.

“Far from being safe, the gorillas are still under threat from Ebola and hunting for bush meat. We must not become complacent about this. Ebola can wipe out thousands in a short period of time,” she said.

The report was released as primatologists in Edinburgh, Scotland warned that nearly half of the world’s 634 types of primates are in danger of becoming extinct due to human activity. That figure, carried in a comprehensive review of the planet’s apes, monkeys, and lemurs, included primate species and subspecies.

Scientists meeting at the International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh said they hoped the report will help spur global action to defend mankind’s nearest relatives from deforestation and hunting.

Primatologists warned that species from the giant mountain gorillas of central Africa to the tiny mouse lemurs of Madagascar are on the “Red List” for threatened species maintained by the IUCN.

The review was funded by Conservation International, the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the IUCN. It is part of an examination of the state of the world’s mammals due to be released at the 4th IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in October.

“It is not too late for our close cousins the primates, and what we have now is a challenge to turn this around,” said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and the chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s primate specialist group.

“The review paints a bleak picture. Some primates are quite literally being eaten to extinction. But it is by no means a doomsday scenario. There is a lot of will here among these scientists in Edinburgh and in the countries where primates live.”

Article by Ben McConville

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