In the USA...
Originally published Tuesday, December 25, 2012 at 12:37 PM Lost, blind dog finds way back to Alaska owners
The Associated Press
FAIRBANKS, Alaska —
Blind and alone in Alaska winter temperatures that dipped 40 degrees below zero, a lost 8-year-old Fairbanks dog wasn't given much of a chance to make it home.
But after walking 10 miles to the edge of a local musher's dog yard, Abby the brown-and-white mixed breed was found and returned to her owners, a family that includes two boys and one girl under the age of 10.
The dog that the family raised from an animal-shelter puppy went missing during a snowstorm on Dec. 13, and the family never expected to see her again, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://bit.ly/VhceSZ
"It's a miracle, there's no other words to describe it," said McKenzie Grapengeter, emotion choking her voice and tears coming to her eyes. "We never expected to have her to be returned safe and alive."
Musher and veterinarian Mark May said he came across the dog while running his team on Dec. 19, but didn't stop to pick her up.
"It ran with us for about a mile on the way home before she fell off the pace, but I had a big dog team so I couldn't grab it," he said. "I said, `boy I hope it finds somebody's house.'"
The next day, the dog turned up at May's house.
"Everybody just assumed it was some kind of scaredy-cat, but there it was in front of the door in our dog lot and it was blind," May said. "It was sitting there, all the way from 14 mile on the winter trail down into this neighborhood, I guess by just sniffing, so I picked it up and brought it in."
To May's surprise, the dog had no signs of frostbite.
"No frozen ears, no frozen toes, she'll probably go back home and it'll (be) business as usual. She's no worse for wear but quite an adventure," he said.
The Grapengeter family hadn't tagged or put a microchip in the dog, but the community used social media to track down Abby's owners.
"We're so, so grateful for all (the community's) hard work," McKenzie Grapengeter said. "They've given us the most amazing Christmas gift we could ever ask for."
************Obama breaks off vacation in Hawaii to deal with fiscal cliff
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 2:34 EST
President Barack Obama was to cut his holiday short and head back to Washington on Wednesday to try to address the “fiscal cliff,” a set of tax hikes and spending cuts to take effect next year.
Despite weeks of negotiations, Obama has been unable to reach a budget deal with congressional Republicans to slash the deficit and avert the mandatory austerity measures, which could pitch the economy back into recession.
The White House said Tuesday that Obama would fly back from his native Hawaii on Wednesday, cutting short his Christmas break and raising the possibility of renewed negotiations in Washington as early as Thursday.
Democratic and Republican leaders traded blame last week over the failure to reach a deal before the holidays to prevent most Americans from seeing their taxes go up next year.
The so-called fiscal cliff is the result of a poison pill agreement reached earlier this year that would require major spending reductions as tax cuts passed under former president George W. Bush expire at the end of the year — should Democrats and Republicans fail to reach a deal to cut the deficit.
The White House has offered a deal with $1.2 trillion in revenues — by fulfilling an Obama campaign promise to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthy — and nearly $1 trillion in spending cuts.
Republicans are opposed to raising taxes in principle and have questioned whether the spending cuts proposed by the White House are real.
They have instead offered a deal that would raise $1 trillion in tax revenue — mainly by closing loopholes and ending deductions — and another $1 trillion in spending cuts, including cuts to Medicare and other social programs.
Venting frustration with Republicans, Obama on Friday urged lawmakers to pass scaled-down legislation that would at least prevent taxes from going up on the vast majority of Americans, those making $250,000 or less per year.
The move would satisfy Obama’s demand to raise taxes on the richest Americans, as all Bush-era taxes will go up on January 1, and Obama only envisions extending the lower rates for middle class earners.
House Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner have meanwhile punted to the Democratically-led Senate, asking Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to write up legislation that can pass both houses.
Obama’s suggestion would extend tax breaks to 98 percent of Americans — those earning below $250,000 a year. In talks on a larger compromise, the president had offered to raise that threshold to $400,000.
********************Suicide underscores grim conditions at Guantanamo
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, December 25, 2012 9:32 EST
The suicide of a Guantanamo inmate underscores the grim reality for detainees held there for nearly 11 years without charge or trial, with no end in sight to their imprisonment.
Three months after Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif was found dead in his cell, the US Army formally declared his death to be a suicide — the seventh at the prison.
US Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo, said the US Navy’s criminal investigation unit has opened a probe into Yemeni’s the death.
“Too many questions are open,” his attorney David Remes told AFP.
How, Remes would like to know, did the prisoner manage to die at the tightly-controlled facility of a self-administered drug overdose, as the autopsy report cites as the cause?
And how could an inmate suffering from acute pneumonia be languishing in a disciplinary cell without medical care?
“If it was suicide, it was assisted suicide,” the attorney quipped.
Remes said that his client “foresaw that the military was trying to kill him, but without their fingerprints.”
Other Guantanamo detainees have reported finding “scissors and sharp objects in their cells,” he said.
Remes recalled that Latif was known as a difficult inmate, and had been placed in a block of inmates being punished for throwing urine on his jailers.
“He was a pain in the neck for the authorities. No doubt that he expressed and tried to commit suicide,” Remes said.
“Nothing worse than spending 11 years of captivity. Nobody asked whether they are guilty or not. It’s a misery. They feel very depressed.”
Remes said the despair is especially acute among the 15 Yemenis that he represents at Guantanamo.
President Barack Obama’s re-election, after nearly four years of failing to fulfill his vow to shutter the controversial facility, has compounded the despondency felt by many detainees.
In one of his first acts in office, Obama declared that he would close the doors of the George W. Bush-era “war on terror” prison for good. But it remains open, housing 166 detainees on the eve of his inauguration next month to a second term.
Lieutenant Colonel Barry Wingard, an attorney who represents three of the detainees, said closing the prison would not necessary solve the inmates’ problems.
“If closing Guantanamo means relocating my clients to other prisons throughout the world without a chance to prove their innocence, then it represents a new beginning without end for the prisoners,” he said.
“What we really need is the beginning of the end, and that involves release after 11 years in animal cages.”
Among his clients is Fayiz Kandari, a Kuwaiti man who saw his war crime charges recently dropped.
“People always ask me ‘why are you so committed to your clients?’” Wingard told AFP.
“When I travel to Gitmo, I look into the eyes of evil and injustice. There can be nothing more obscene in a legal system than keeping innocent men in prison.”
Prison conditions and legal constraints have only gotten tougher, not easier, under the Democratic president, according to Wingard.
“Some of best examples involve the current regime insisting on reading my mail to my clients, deciding what mail he can receive and not allowing me to travel outside the US on behalf of my clients,” he said.
“Under the Bush administration, these were protections we took for granted,” Wingard said, adding that the prison conditions “haven’t gotten any better.”
Wingard said detention under Obama has been no less cruel than under Bush.
“Being punched in the face with a leather glove feels the same as being punched with a velvet glove,” he said.
Of the 166 detainees still held at Guantanamo, 55 have received the US military’s formal approval to be transferred, as had Latif. But there is no immediate prospect for their release.
And their status only became more uncertain after Congress gave its final nod last week to an annual defense bill with provisions barring detainees from being moved to the United States or to foreign countries — in effect forcing the controversial facility to remain open.
Various human rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have urged Obama to veto the bill.
“President Obama must also keep his promise to close Guantanamo,” Amnesty International’s Washington office chief Frank Jannuzi said after lawmakers approved the bill.
“President Obama must veto this legislation.”
*************Gunman Who Killed 2 Firefighters Left Chilling Note
WEBSTER, N.Y. — On Monday morning when darkness was still raw, William Spengler Jr. armed himself with a rifle, a revolver and a shotgun. He had killed before. Harboring a deep-seated hatred of his sister, who lived with him, and a desire to harm his neighbors on a beachfront strip off Lake Ontario, Mr. Spengler composed a rough, typewritten plan that foretold of the destruction to come.
Residents held a candlelight vigil outside the West Webster Fire Hall.
“I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and do what I like doing best — killing people,” Mr. Spengler, 62, wrote, in a note the police recovered.
It had been 32 years since he beat his grandmother to death with a hammer in the Lake Road house next to his.
As Christmas Eve dawned in this suburb of Rochester, local authorities say, Mr. Spengler set fire to a car, as a trap. When an engine company came roaring down the street, he started shooting at the first responders, most likely from his Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle. It was the same type of semiautomatic weapon used in the school shooting 10 days earlier in Newtown, Conn.
“He was equipped to go to war to kill innocent people,” the Webster police chief, Gerald L. Pickering, said of Mr. Spengler.
The authorities say Mr. Spengler fired shots that killed two volunteer firefighters from long range and seriously wounded two others, and set a “raging inferno.” The police found him dead on a berm about five hours after the siege started, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
On Tuesday, the authorities added another likely victim: Cheryl Spengler, 67, the gunman’s sister. Chief Pickering said “human remains” were found at the shooter’s house, 191 Lake Road, that they believed were of Ms. Spengler. The Monroe County medical examiner’s office declined to comment on the identification of the remains or the cause of death.
Mr. Spengler’s note, Chief Pickering said, contained no motive, just ramblings, and spoke only to a murderous intent. He said he was not at liberty to disclose it in full because of the investigation.
As investigators tried on Tuesday to determine reasons for the brutal acts that shattered the holiday peace of a close-knit town, details emerged about Mr. Spengler and his bitter relationship with his sister. A relative said it was possible the two were in a dispute over who would inherit the family home after their mother’s death in October.
The siblings had such antipathy for each other that they lived on separate sides of the house, a former neighbor, Roger D. Vercruysse, said Monday.
“He hated his sister, but he loved his mama,” Mr. Vercruysse said.
Mr. Spengler was 30 in the summer of 1980 when he killed his 92-year-old grandmother, Rose. According to newspaper accounts from the time, he lied to his mother, saying he had found her at the bottom of the stairs. He accepted a plea bargain for manslaughter and went to state prison for 17 years.
A 1997 transcript said Mr. Spengler abruptly cut a parole hearing short when he discovered that he did not need to be there, displaying an irascible, unrepentant attitude. He was released in 1998 and moved back home.
“If you kill a family member, I don’t know why you would ever be out of jail,” Shirley Ashwood, 63, a first cousin of Mr. Spengler, said in a telephone interview from Rochester. “It frightened me, and that’s why I and my family stayed away from him.”
She added: “If you’re going to kill your grandmother, you’re going to kill anybody.”
Mr. Spengler adored his mother, however. When Arline Spengler was in a nearby nursing home, Mr. Spengler would visit her each day, Mr. Vercruysse said.
Arline Spengler died on Oct. 7, at age 91. In the weeks to follow, Cheryl Spengler apparently told a relative that she had hired a lawyer because there could be issues about inheriting the house. “I could see a fight brewing, right after her mom passed,” the relative said.
An account from an unintentional first responder bolstered officials’ descriptions of the harrowing siege. John Ritter, a police officer from the nearby town of Greece, said in an interview in his home on Tuesday that he was driving to work around 5:35 a.m. on Monday when he suddenly came upon the scene. He had no scanner in his car, nor did he have a weapon.
“I came around the corner, and the fire truck is in the road backing up on the left,” said Officer Ritter, showing a deep bruise on his left breast area and cuts on his left arm. “I hear popping. Several pops. Suddenly my windshield explodes and there’s a hole right in front of my head. I was in shock. I leaned over into the passenger seat and slammed it in reverse around the corner, out of the line of sight.”
Chief Pickering said another officer from his department had returned fire from his own rifle. The chief did not reveal that officer’s name.
Funeral arrangements were being made for the volunteer firefighters who were killed: Michael Chiapperini, 43, and Tomasz Kaczowka, 19. The two firefighters who were severely wounded, Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hofstetter, remained in stable condition, in the intensive care unit at Strong Memorial Hospital.
In the chaos, seven houses burned and 33 residents were displaced.
Chief Pickering said all people were accounted for. Displaced residents were waiting Tuesday night to return to their homes along Lake Road.
John Kohut, 68, whose house burned down in Mr. Spengler’s attack, described him as quiet, socially awkward and “kind of rough” from his years spent in prison.
Last summer, Mr. Kohut had asked him if he wanted a beer because it was a hot day. “He said, ‘No, because I’m on meds,’ ” Mr. Kohut recalled Tuesday, while waiting to be let back onto Lake Road.
Liz Robbins reported from Webster, and Joseph Goldstein from New York. Reporting was contributed by Alain Delaquérière, Patrick McGeehan and Michael D. Regan.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 25, 2012
An earlier version of this article misstated the given name of Mr. Spengler’s sister. She is Cheryl Spengler, not Cherly.
December 25, 2012Pay in Oil Fields, Not College, Is Luring Youths in Montana
By JACK HEALY
SIDNEY, Mont. — For most high school seniors, a college degree is the surest path to a decent job and a stable future. But here in oil country, some teenagers are choosing the oil fields over universities, forgoing higher education for jobs with salaries that can start at $50,000 a year.
It is a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on his future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up. But with unemployment at more than 12 percent nationwide for young adults and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.
“I just figured, the oil field is here and I’d make the money while I could,” said Tegan Sivertson, 19, who monitors pipelines for a gas company, sometimes working 15-hour days. “I didn’t want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much.”
Less than a year after proms and homecoming games, teenagers like Mr. Sivertson now wake at 4 a.m. to make the three-hour trek to remote oil rigs. They fish busted machinery out of two-mile-deep hydraulic fracturing wells and repair safety devices that keep the wells from rupturing, often working alongside men old enough to be their fathers. Some live at home; others drive back on weekends to eat their mothers’ food, do loads of laundry and go to high school basketball games, still straddling the blurred border between childhood and adulthood.
Just as gold rushes and silver booms once brought opera houses and armies of prospectors to rugged corners of the West, today’s headlong race for oil and gas is reshaping staid communities in the northern Plains, bringing once untold floods of cash and job prospects, but also deep anxieties about crime, growth and a future newly vulnerable to cycles of boom and bust.
Even gas stations are enticing students away from college. Katorina Pippenger, a high school senior in the tiny town of Bainville, Mont., said she makes $24 an hour as a cashier in nearby Williston, N.D., the epicenter of the boom. Her plan is to work for a few years after she graduates this spring, save up and flee. She likes the look of Denver. “I just want to make money and get out,” she said.
The shift appears to be localized around centers of oil production like Sidney. School counselors in western Montana, far from the boom, said that few of their students were abandoning college for energy jobs. And even here, a majority of graduates are still choosing universities and community colleges.
But school officials in eastern Montana said more and more students were interested in working for at least a year after graduation and getting technical training instead of a four-year degree.
Last year, one-third of the graduating seniors at Sidney High School headed off to work instead of going to college or joining the military, a record percentage. Some found work making deliveries to oil rigs, doing construction and repairing machinery. Others decided to first seek training as welders or diesel mechanics, which pay more than entry-level jobs.
Meanwhile, enrollment at Dawson Community College in Glendive, about an hour from Sidney, has fallen to 225 students from 446 just a few years ago, as fewer local students pursue two-year degrees.
“It’s the allure of the money,” said Thom Barnhart, a guidance counselor at Sidney High.
As more families arrive from Florida and Michigan and throughout Montana, seeking a new start after bankruptcies and layoffs, schools in places like Sidney are buckling. School enrollment leapt to 863 students from 723 in three years. The district is scrambling to hire good teachers who can get by on a $32,000 yearly salary in a town where apartments can rent for $1,500 a month. Freshmen are sharing lockers, and the district reopened a school that had been shuttered for years.
But every year, hundreds of those new students depart within a few weeks, tugged along by parents heading off to another job in another town.
“It’s a revolving door,” said Daniel Farr, the district’s superintendent.
At the end of a gravel highway in northeastern Montana, graduating seniors in Bainville are asking similar questions about their future. Should they get an education and pursue their interests? Or should they stick close to home and surf a wave of cash and jobs that will only grow as companies begin to build a new industrial rail terminal and worker camps, forever transforming this quiet farm town where residents say the population has doubled since the 2010 census found 300.
Dmetri Ross, 17, said he would join his father and uncle at an outpost of Nabors Industries in western North Dakota, working in a lab running tests on water samples and cement related to drilling.
“I’d be happy to make a career out of it,” he said.
Renee Rasmussen, the Bainville school superintendent, said she worried about young people like these if oil prices plunged or the government passed new regulations limiting the fracking techniques that have driven this energy rush. If they go back to school, they could be hurt by the delay. A 2005 federal Department of Education report showed that students who delayed college were more likely to drop out.
School officials said that few teenagers were working directly for energy companies. Instead, they are working with the wide range of support companies that excavate, build and maintain the wells, or, in a race with the dizzying pace of growth, construct the hotels, apartments and camps for employees. Starved for workers, many companies offer $20 an hour to start, plus benefits.
“They’ve come here looking for dropouts in the past,” said Bruce Clausen, the principal of Dawson County High School in Glendive, who said that a few students had gone to work in the oil fields after dropping out. “I told them I appreciate them not coming out here.”
Nobody needed to recruit Shay Findlay. One day after he graduated from Sidney High School, he drove into town and started looking for work. He found a job on the first try, doing repair work on drilling pumps.
He is 19 and on his second job now, earning about $40,000 a year and still sleeping in a bedroom in his parents’ basement decorated with his high school graduation picture and diploma. He bought a dirt bike and a flat-screen television, and took out a loan on a hulking black Chevy Silverado truck with personalized license plates — FDLSTIX — for his childhood nickname, Fiddlesticks.
His mother, Stacy Gustafson, said she worried about exposing her son to the accidents, alcoholism and violence that haunt oil workers. She is glad he still comes home after each shift. Mr. Findlay said he had no complaints about the job. His family comes from the oil fields, and he said he liked the work and was good at it.
Now, his friends are filtering back to Sidney after their first semesters at college, and their stories of dorm-room dramas and drunken scuffles with campus police officers are like reports from another world. He said he misses them sometimes, but would not trade places with them.
“They’re going to have to come back and look for work,” he said. “And there’s nothing but oil fields over here.”
December 25, 2012Los Angeles Weighs Law Banning Elephant Shows
By IAN LOVETT
LOS ANGELES — The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus train has been bringing four-ton Asian elephants to this city since 1919.
But “The Greatest Show on Earth” might have made its last stop here.
Los Angeles is poised to ban elephants from performing in circuses within its city limits, after pressure from animal welfare advocates who have for decades condemned the methods used to train and transport elephants as abusive and cruel.
If the City Council adopts the ban early next year, Ringling Brothers, the oldest continuously operated circus in the country, will be barred from the nation’s second-largest city unless its owners agree to abandon one of the show’s signature acts.
“The treatment of elephants in traveling circuses is one of the crueler practices, and it’s time for us to stand up for them,” said Paul Koretz, the City Council member who sponsored the ban. He predicted that once Los Angeles outlawed circus elephants, other communities would follow. “At some point, this will be universally banned throughout the country,” he said.
The movement to ban elephant acts, which had until recently made little progress in this country, may now have found a foothold in Southern California, a region that has emerged as a hub of animal welfare legislation of all kinds. (It is illegal for pet owners to declaw their cats in this city, while in neighboring West Hollywood, the city government went so far as to officially deem pets “companion animals” and their owners “guardians.”)
Six Southern California cities already ban circus elephants, more than in any other state, according to animal welfare organizations. In addition, over the last year, the Santa Ana Zoo and the Orange County Fair both stopped offering elephant rides.
Ringling Brothers has fought back, arguing that its treatment of elephants, tigers and other animals is humane, and pointing to frequent inspections by the Department of Agriculture as proof that the animals are receiving exemplary care.
But the fight over whether elephants should be allowed to perform in traveling shows is only partly about how they are treated: an endangered species, Asian elephants are part of a broader debate over how, and whether, humans should interact with wild animals.
Trainers argue that letting people interact with elephants makes them more likely to support conservation efforts.
“Seeing animals up close is one of the main reasons people come to Ringling Brothers,” said Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, which bought Ringling Brothers in 1967. “Animal rights organizations want no human-animal interaction, period, regardless of how the animals are cared for.”
Elephants had been trained to work with humans for thousands of years before they became fixtures in circuses and roaming carnivals (just ask Hannibal). Intelligent and normally docile, they can learn tricks like headstands for wide-eyed children.
But pressure on circuses to drop wild animal acts has grown steadily, as activists have waged a campaign to convince the public that it is cruel to haul animals back and forth across the country to perform in front of crowds.
Animal rights organizations have criticized the conditions in which the animals are kept, offering what they say is evidence of mistreatment, including undercover videos of handlers hitting elephants over the head with bull hooks, rods with a curved, sharp end long used to train and control elephants.
Some organizations, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, want to remove animals not only from circuses but also from zoos, even though those animals are not made to travel in boxcars or perform tricks.
“For the circuses, profit is always the priority,” said Lindsay Rajt, a spokeswoman for PETA. “Any time animals are used for profit, you’re going to see corners cut on their welfare, because it’s not the top priority.”
Even people who are not actively involved in animal rights have grown more receptive to this argument.
Rebecca Goldstein, a Los Angeles resident, said it would be a shame if she could not take children of her own to see a circus with live animals, like the one she went to when she was young.
“But if the way they’re treating animals is inhumane,” Ms. Goldstein, 29, said, “I’ll take them to see people instead.”
More than a dozen countries have banned at least some wild animals from performing in public. Several major American circuses have voluntarily eliminated animals from their shows, instead focusing on human acrobatics, while zoos, including the Los Angeles Zoo, have moved away from use of the bull hook.
But the pull to see elephants up close has proved a difficult force to overcome. Lawsuits designed to force Ringling Brothers to abandon elephant acts have been dismissed. Only a scattering of relatively small cities have adopted bans of their own.
About 10 million people nationwide came to see Ringling Brothers circuses in 2012, according to Feld Entertainment, including 100,000 in Los Angeles.
Despite the continued popularity of elephant acts, though, some elephant trainers fear that their work may soon be outlawed.
Kari Johnson, a co-owner of Have Trunk Will Travel, a company that trains and rents elephants for shows, including Hollywood movies, said the end of elephant rides in Orange County had hurt her business. A ban in Los Angeles could be ruinous.
“I believe if something drastic doesn’t happen, then we will be the last generation that trains elephants,” said Ms. Johnson, whose stepfather was also an elephant trainer. “People love elephants because they get to be around them a little.”