Authorities in California are reporting a sizable increase in the number of marijuana plants seized this year in the state’s annual eradication effort. In 2009, 4.4 million plants have been seized. This is nearly double the 2.9 million plants seized last year, and 10 times the amount seized in 2003. A spokesperson for the State Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement attributed the increase to both better eradication strategies and larger marijuana gardens.
Source: Associated Press
On November 8, the Supreme Court heard appeals for two juvenile offenders serving life-in-prison terms in Florida. Neither involved homicide. Joe Sullivan burglarized and raped a 72-year-old woman when he was 13. Terrance Graham committed armed burglary at 16. Both were repeat offenders. Lawyers for the youthful offenders argued that life in prison for juveniles not convicted of homicide violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. There are 109 juvenile offenders serving life without parole for nonhomicide crimes. All are in the US, 77 are in Florida. Nineteen states, led by Louisiana, have filed a brief supporting life sentences without parole in nonhomicide cases citing that teenagers have a clear appreciation of right and wrong. The court is divided on the matter, as expressed by comments by Justice Stephen Breyer during the oral arguments. “As a general matter, human beings are uncertain about how much moral responsibility to assign to individuals in a particular category,” said Breyer. “Is it appropriate to sentence someone to life in prison without parole at the age of 10? No. Eleven? No. Seventeen? Yeah, maybe. We are in an area of ambiguity, what justifies taking a person’s whole life away.”
Sources: NPR, New York Times
The East Japan Railway Company has responded to an increase in the number of people jumping to their deaths in front of trains in Tokyo by installing special blue lights above station platforms. The blue LED lights are believed to have a calming effect on agitated people. Last year, nearly 2,000 people committed suicide by jumping in front of a train, accounting for 6 percent of suicides in Japan. The suicide rate has climbed this year due to the recession, and could surpass the record of 34,427 deaths in 2003.
Source: Associated Press
As battle raged over how abortion would play into any health care bill that would make it out of Congress, the Republican National Committee made a change to its own insurance plan. After Politico.com reported that the RNC’s insurance plan, which it had carried since 1991, offers elective abortion, RNC chairman Michael Steele said that directed that the policy be discontinued. There is no indication that any RNC employee used the abortion coverage.
More than 40 percent of President Obama’s top-level fundraisers have secured posts in his administration, from key executive branch jobs to diplomatic postings; as well, 20 of the 47 fundraisers that Obama’s campaign identified as collecting more than $500,000 have been named to government positions. While it’s common practice for incoming presidents to reward fundraisers with ambassadorships and other jobs, the American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats’ union, found that more than half of the ambassadors named by Obama so far are political appointees, not career diplomats, a rate higher than for any president in more than four decades. Traditionally, about 30 percent of top diplomatic jobs go to political appointees, and roughly 70 percent to veteran State Department employees. Ambassadors earn $153,200 to $162,900 annually.
Source: USA Today
On the evening of November 9, marine reservist Jasen Bruce was approached in the parking lot of his Tampa, Florida, condominium by a bearded man in sandals and a robe. Bruce claimed the man yelled “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” the same words some witnesses said the Fort Hood shooting suspect uttered before opening fire. “That’s what they tell you right before they blow you up,” Bruce told police. The robed man, whom Bruce chased for three blocks and beat with a tire iron, was a Greek Orthodox priest named Father Alexios Marakis, who speaks little English and was lost, police said. Marakis supposedly asked Bruce for directions. Marakis, who required stitches for his wounds, told police he did not want to press charges, citing the biblical call for forgiveness.
Source: St. Petersburg Times
In early September, 34-year-old computer programmer Isaac Eiland-Hall launched www.GlennBeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com. The website purported to “examine the vicious rumor” about the conservative talk show host alluded to in the site’s title. (The defamation is an homage to a Friar’s Club Roast where Gilbert Gottfried repeatedly denounced nonexistent rumors that Bob Saget “raped and killed a girl in 1990.”) The site had 120,000 hits in the first 24 hours since its launch. Shortly thereafter, lawyers for Beck filed a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization, insisting it was a trademark violation. This was widely reported on, causing traffic to spike at the site. In late October, WIPO denied Beck’s complaint, thus offering a victory to Eiland-Hall, who handed the site over to Beck a week after the decision. While Beck took the site down, the original contents can still be seen at www.gb1990.com.
Source: Daily Beast
The most common swap in the government’s $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program involved Ford F150 pickup owners who traded in their trucks for new F150s, which had marginally better fuel economy—1 to 3 mpg. Owners of thousands more large old Chevrolet and Dodge pickups bought new Silverado and Ram trucks, also with only barely improved mileage. The Ford F150 and Chevy Silverado were in the top 10 most-popular vehicles purchased with the government rebates, as were the more fuel-effiecient Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, and Ford Focus. The average fuel economy was 15.8 mpg for the old vehicles and 24.9 for the new ones.
Source: Associated Press
According to a recently release Nielsen report, the amount of television usage by children reached an eight-year high, with kids ages 2 to 5 watching the screen for more than 32 hours a week on average, and those ages 6 to 11 watching more than 28 hours. The analysis, based on the fourth quarter of 2008, measured children’s consumption of live and recorded TV, as well as VCR and game console usage. “They’re using all the technology available in their households,” said Patricia McDonough, Nielsen’s senior vice president of insights, analysis and policy. “They’re using the DVD, they’re on the Internet. They’re not giving up any media—they’re just picking up more.” The increase in consumption is in part the result of more programming targeted at kids, she said, including video on demand, which is particularly popular among young children, who like to watch their favorite shows over and over again.
Source: Los Angeles Times