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 Natasha Richardson autopsy confirms ski accident as cause of death

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PostSubject: Natasha Richardson autopsy confirms ski accident as cause of death   Fri Mar 20, 2009 3:07 am

An autopsy report released today reveals that Natasha Richardson died of a head injury after her fall on March 16 at a ski resort in Canada, the AP reports. The incident was ruled an accident. The 45-year-old film and stage star reportedly complained of a headache shortly after she left a ski lesson at the Mont Tremblant resort, where officials said this week that she "did not show any visible signs of injury."

A publicist for Richardson's husband, Liam Neeson, confirmed her death Wednesday.
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PostSubject: Wal-Mart Increases Employee Bonuses   Fri Mar 20, 2009 3:08 am

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. handed out $933.6 million in bonuses to its rank-and-file U.S. workers on Thursday, an increase of 46.7% compared to last year.

The company, the largest retailer in the nation, said it will pay bonuses to about one million of its hourly workers. Its U.S. work force last year grew by about 33,800, to 1.45 million, the company said.

The Bentonville, Ark.,-based company has been a strong performer throughout the recession, posting solid sales and earnings gains while many other retailers have been suffering double-digit percentage declines.

Mike Duke, who took over as chief executive six weeks ago, announced the bonuses in a memo to employees Thursday.


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Wal-Mart employee Carlos Silva, left, helps a customer in Greensboro, N.C.
Including profit-sharing payments, 401(k) contributions and merchandise discounts, Wal-Mart says it is giving workers a record $2 billion this year, an increase of about 11% over last year's $1.8 billion total.

The timing of the bonus announcement comes a little over a week after both houses of Congress introduced the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would make it easier for employees to unionize, something that Wal-Mart has long opposed and is lobbying hard against.

Wal-Mart said the bonuses announced yesterday are simply part of an annual program. "We have been rewarding our associates for their hard work with financial incentives like these for years," said a spokeswoman, Daphne Moore.

The bonus averages $933.60 for each qualified employee, ranging from cashiers to shelf stockers.

Last year, Wal-Mart paid out about $1.8 billion in awards, including more than $636.4 million in bonuses.

The 2009 awards are based on results at the 3,657 U.S. Wal-Marts and 602 Sam's Clubs.

Wal-Mart reported $401.2 billion in net sales for its most recent fiscal year, which ended on Jan. 31, a gain of 7.2% from the prior year. Income from continuing operations increased 3% to $13.3 billion, and earnings per share rose 6% to $3.35.

Shares of Wal-Mart fell 49 cents to $49.95 in 4 p.m. composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
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PostSubject: Best Man Wanted. Must Be Rush Fan   Fri Mar 20, 2009 3:10 am

A man without a woman is like a pistol without a hammer, wrote Victor Hugo. But a romantic comedy without a female lead, well, that’s just a fine bromance and now Hollywood business as usual, as most recently demonstrated by “I Love You, Man,” a fitfully funny comedy that owes much to Judd Apatow, the king of such sublimated man-on-man affairs. Though Mr. Apatow isn’t officially credited, his DNA is all over this bromance, which stars Paul Rudd as a wuss who mans up by befriending a guy’s guy (Jason Segel) whose masculinity is so secure he wears Ugg boots and shorts to walk his wee dog.



Though he shares the soft-body profile of the typical Apatow hero — a gentle belly swell, the suggestion of an A-cup — Mr. Segel has butched up somewhat to play Sydney Fife, a surprising object of platonic affection for Peter Klaven (Mr. Rudd). The last time Mr. Segel appeared on the big screen was in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” in which he played the feminized hero, a man who cries over his broken heart.



In that film he’s so coded female that his new (female) love interest jokes, “I can see your vagina” when he balks at jumping off a cliff into the ocean. Here, though, it’s Mr. Segel who plays gender police and deploys the requisite gyno-joke by affectionately telling Peter to take his tampon out, guy-speak for chill.



Peter’s problem, according to the strait-laced if gay-friendly people around him, is that he doesn’t have a dude to call his own, a best man who can stand by his side when he marries Zooey (Rashida Jones).



In the movie’s logic that makes Peter something less than a man and somewhat more of a woman: a semi-man or, if you prefer, a femi-man. He’s far more feminized than even his gay brother, Robbie (Andy Samberg), whom their father (J. K. Simmons) calls his best friend. And so, encouraged by fiancée and family, Peter goes looking for a soul brother, a search that first leads to some regrettable male bonding involving poker and puke and a little tongue (from Thomas Lennon) during a misconstrued man date.



Peter and Sydney finally meet during an open house. A junior realty agent one multimillion-dollar sale away from his own development dreams, Peter is trying to sell Lou Ferrigno’s mansion (the former Incredible Hulk puts in amusing nongreen face time in a small role) when Sydney starts chowing down on his gourmet sandwiches. A bachelor on the hunt for diamond-collared cougars, Sydney lives a low-impact Los Angeles life with a pooch and a romper room crammed with television sets, electric guitars, a drum kit and a designated masturbation chair. Interest blooms into camaraderie when the men discover a mutual love of the band Rush, which, between this and its appearance last year on “The Colbert Report,” is definitely riding a pop cultural wave.



The director John Hamburg, working from a story idea by Larry Levin, with whom he wrote the script, doesn’t do anything with the camera, but he sets a nice, easygoing tone for the actors.



That suits the talents of Mr. Rudd, a slack screen presence who owns the patent on male adorableness and is charming to watch, even if all he can do are variations on a theme: adorable embarrassment, adorable goofiness, adorable sexiness. He’s the ultimate in nonthreatening masculinity (Seth Rogen seems macho by comparison), the male equivalent of one of those plush animals girls and even some women like to keep piled high on their beds. Given that he’s more of a character actor than leading man, he’s perfectly cast in the “girl” role.



Mr. Segel, playing a less irritating character here than in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” manages to be almost as adorable if slightly less ingratiating than his co-star. More conceptual than believable, Sydney alternately recalls Dean Martin (after a few) and a far tamer version of the ultimate dude, a k a Jeff Lebowski. Unlike the Dude, however, the character played by Jeff Bridges in the Coen brothers comedy, Sydney isn’t struggling against the machine or spinning in circles to the sounds of Captain Beefheart. He’s just another would-be kid whose childhood friends have all moved on — to women, families and careers — but who wants to keep hanging out with the guys, which makes him a lot like the men who make these movies.



“I Love You, Man” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Dirty words.



I LOVE YOU, MAN



Opens on Friday nationwide.



Directed by John Hamburg; written by Mr. Hamburg and Larry Levin, based on a story by Mr. Levin; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by William Kerr; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Andrew Laws; produced by Donald De Line and Mr. Hamburg; released by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.
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PostSubject: Fighting in cage 'was the norm' at South Oak Cliff High School   Fri Mar 20, 2009 3:11 am

Angela Williamson said she can't forget the image of her son's swollen hand after he participated in a cage fight at South Oak Cliff High School. She said her son told her that students stood around clapping and screaming while watching the fight, as if they were in an arena.

Williamson took her son out of South Oak Cliff shortly after that day in 2004 and moved to Cedar Hill.

"I said enough is enough, and we just left," she said. "This was the norm. My son said this is what they do – let them fight in 'the cage.' "

Cage fights at the school between 2003 and 2005 have just come to light, months after the district completed an investigation. Documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News show that troubled students were sent to duke it out – with bare fists and no head protection – in a steel utility cage in an athletic locker room.

Donald Moten, who was principal at South Oak Cliff High at the time, and other employees who orchestrated the fights, or allowed them to go on, did not face any criminal charges because of the statute of limitations, district officials said. And several still were working at South Oak Cliff High or other DISD campuses at the beginning of this school year.

Moten, who has since resigned from the district, has denied any knowledge of cage fighting at the school.

DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said employees who were involved in the cage fights were disciplined. But none have faced criminal charges, and they probably never will.

DISD's Office of Professional Responsibility received information on the cage fighting in February 2008 while investigating allegations that faculty at the school were changing athletes' grades. Investigators found that security monitors routinely used "the cage" – a section of the boys basketball locker room barricaded by wire mesh and metal lockers – to force problem students to fight out their disputes.

Frank McCammon, an OPR inspector who wrote the report, said his office completed its investigation and submitted the report to district officials in March 2008. His office also immediately sent it to the Dallas County district attorney's office, he said. DISD's police department also sent its findings to the DA's office, he said.

McCammon said the district attorney's office declined to prosecute because the statute of limitations had run out by the time the cage fights were discovered in 2008. Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said she could neither confirm nor deny that the office received information about the case.

Trustee Lew Blackburn said he was relieved that DISD notified the district attorney about the incident. However, he said, he's "still not happy knowing that this went uninvestigated for so long."


'Let you settle it'

Williamson said she hopes her willingness to tell the story about her son's fight will prevent the same thing from happening to someone else's child.

Cortland Williamson, her son, who is now a 21-year-old college student in East Texas, ended up in the cage after he was hit in the face by a boy he didn't get along with, Angela Williamson said.

She said a football coach told the students, "I'm going to let you settle it – quash it" by fighting in the cage.

"It was the norm," Williamson said. "I think ... they fought five or 10 minutes – that's a long time to be hitting each other."

Williamson said she met with the coach and Moten – neither of whom still work at the school – about the incident. She said the coach admitted to allowing the fight. "He told me this is how they settled disputes in his day," she said.

Moten told the coach he shouldn't be allowing the fights, Williamson said, and the coach began pacing the room in a rage. She said the parent conference ended, but not before Moten tried to get her to forgive the coach.

Williamson said she wrote a letter to district administrators about the incident and made phone calls but was ignored.


Vague mention

At least one trustee had criticized district administrators Wednesday for not briefing the school board on the cage fighting. But district officials said Thursday that the information was included in a board package given to trustees.

Trustee Jerome Garza went through his records Thursday and found information on the issue. But it contained only a vague, one-paragraph mention of the cage fights under the heading "child abuse." The brief mention, tucked in a 31-page OPR annual report, didn't even name South Oak Cliff as the school, he said.

Board President Jack Lowe said he doesn't remember receiving the report. "But that doesn't mean that it didn't happen," he said.

The News was unable to reach South Oak Cliff principal Regina Jones on Thursday. She came to the school in 2006 and was recently named DISD's Principal of the Year for improvements she's made at the campus.

"I'm very satisfied with SOC today, and the direction they're heading," said Blackburn, the trustee who represents the South Oak Cliff High School area. "The students and teachers there tell me things are a lot better."
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PostSubject: House Panel Questions Industry on Food Safety   Fri Mar 20, 2009 3:12 am

WASHINGTON — When Nestlé USA sent an auditor to examine a Texas peanut plant that is part of a salmonella outbreak, he found dozens of dead mice. But an auditor hired by the plant reported no problems with rodents and pronounced the facility, a former hog slaughterhouse, “superior” for processing peanuts.

The Kellogg Company and dozens of other food manufacturers relied on the auditor hired by the plant, owned by the Peanut Corporation of America, to assure the safety of the peanut ingredients in hundreds of cookie and cracker products. Called before a House committee on Thursday to explain themselves, the manufacturers said they had done their best.

“I think we did everything we could do,” said A. D. David Mackay, the president and chief executive of Kellogg. “The third-party audit was a key part of it.”

But Mr. Mackay and two other executives from food companies agreed with legislators that fundamental changes to the oversight of food safety were needed. And after more than 20 hearings over two years, powerful members of the Energy and Commerce Committee said such reforms would pass soon.

“We’ve had hearing after hearing after hearing on this, and we’ve really done nothing about the problem,” said Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas. “It’s time we did something.”

Despite tests that showed its products were contaminated with salmonella, the Peanut Corporation shipped its peanut products to dozens of companies whose foods were eventually linked to illness in more than 600 people and nine deaths. Food and Drug Administration inspectors conducted few assessments of the plant, and those who did were unaware of laboratory tests that had detected salmonella. F.D.A. officials said they largely relied on the industry to ensure the safety of food.

But industry representatives said at the hearing Thursday that they relied on the F.D.A. to ensure that food was produced safely. Heather C. Isely, an owner of Vitamin Cottage Natural Food Markets, based in Lakewood, Colo., was asked why she did not send auditors to the Peanut Corporation’s plants.

“We rely on the government inspection system,” Ms. Isely said.

The committee focused particular ire at the American Institute of Baking, which conducts many of the independent audits of food plants for major manufacturers. The organization was the subject of an article in The New York Times two weeks ago that pointed out that third-party audits were being increasingly used by food makers, even though their rigor varied widely.

In some of the largest outbreaks of food poisoning in recent years, private auditors failed to detect problems.

“There is an obvious and inherent conflict of interest when an auditor works for the same supplier it is evaluating, and several documents show evidence of this cozy relationship,” said Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan.

Mr. Stupak released a Dec. 22 e-mail message from a baking institute auditor to the manager of a Peanut Corporation plant in Georgia.

“You lucky guy. I am your AIB auditor,” the e-mail said. “So we need to get your plant set up for any audit.”

In a statement, the organization said third-party auditors could not “uncover and address food safety issues if intentional deceit and unethical behavior deliberately undermine the system.”

Pictures of the Texas plant shown at the hearing depicted dead mice scattered about the facility. Despite the problems, the baking institute gave the plant a “certificate of achievement” that Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, waved in front of witnesses.

“How could a facility that was in such deplorable conditions receive such glowing reviews?” asked Mr. Waxman, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “And how is it possible that any of our witnesses could have relied on such flawed inspections?”

The committee contrasted the baking institute’s audit with one conducted by an inspector for Nestlé that found dozens of dead mice, a situation the auditor called “unacceptable.”

Mr. Mackay of Kellogg listed nine steps that Congress should take to improve the nation’s food safety system, including creating a single food safety agency, requiring that manufacturers have definitive plans to manufacture safely, providing federal authorities with mandatory recall authority and requiring annual government inspections of facilities making high-risk foods like peanut butter.

Many of those suggestions have broad support in Congress.
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PostSubject: Jury convicts Alabama dad of throwing 4 kids off bridge   Fri Mar 20, 2009 3:12 am

(CNN) -- After deliberating for only 45 minutes, a jury convicted an Alabama man Thursday of throwing his four children off a Gulf Coast bridge in January 2008, according to prosecutors.

Lam Luong, 38, admitted throwing the children, who ranged in age from 3 years to 4 months, off the Dauphin Island bridge south of Mobile, according to CNN affiliate WKRG.

Charged with five counts of capital murder, he changed his plea to guilty last week. However, Alabama law requires that all capital cases go before a judge and jury, WKRG said.

The sentencing phase of Luong's trial will begin Friday, the Mobile County District Attorney's office told CNN.

Jurors will decide whether he should receive the death penalty or life in prison without parole. A judge is not bound by the jury's decision, however, and Alabama law requires an automatic appeal in capital cases.

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Luong and his wife were having marital difficulties, prosecutors said.

WKRG reported that during opening arguments in the trial, prosecutors told jurors Luong threw the kids off the bridge so he could see the look on his wife's face.

Luong was on crack at the time, and he told investigators they could charge him if they found the children's bodies before breaking into laughter, jurors were told.

The defense called no witnesses, but told jurors Luong was intoxicated at the time and was incapable of forming the necessary intent to be convicted of a capital offense, asking them to convict him of manslaughter, WKRG said.

During the trial, jurors heard about the search for the children's bodies and saw graphic video of the bodies floating in the water, the station reported.

A commercial fisherman recording rough weather off the coast of Venice, Louisiana, found one body, while two duck hunters and a Mississippi marine officer found the other three, according to WKRG.

Luong looked down, away from the overhead screens, when the photographs of the children's bodies were shown.
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PostSubject: New Mexico governor repeals death penalty in state   Fri Mar 20, 2009 3:13 am

(CNN) -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill Wednesday repealing the death penalty in his state, his office confirmed.


New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation repealing the state's death penalty.

"Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime," Richardson said in a statement Wednesday.

He noted that more than 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in the past 10 years, including four in New Mexico.

"Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe," he said.

With the governor's decision, New Mexico joins 14 other states that don't impose the death penalty. Several other states, including Colorado, Kansas, Maryland and Montana, are considering changes to their capital punishment laws. See which states have bills to do away with capital punishment »

The bill replaces the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole.

New Mexico currently has two men on death row and has executed one person -- convicted child killer Terry Clark, in 2001 -- since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976. As the legislation is written, it will not affect current death row inmates.

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"Throughout my adult life, I have been a firm believer in the death penalty as a just punishment -- in very rare instances, and only for the most heinous crimes. I still believe that," Richardson, a Democrat, said.

"The issue became more real to me because I knew the day would come when one of two things might happen: I would either have to take action on legislation to repeal the death penalty, or more daunting, I might have to sign someone's death warrant."

Rep. Gail Chasey, who first introduced House Bill 285 in 1999, said the bill would relieve families of the burden of a lengthy death penalty trial and appellate phase and restore the focus to crime victims.

"Every time there is a court hearing, a conviction, an appeal, the focus is on the defendant, but the family still has to go through it all again and again. It's very, very hard for the families. It reopens the wounds each time," she said.

The legislation will also spare the state cost of mounting a death penalty trial, which Casey said typically costs more than a non-death penalty trial.

"We can put that money toward enhancing law enforcement, public works, you name it," she said.

Richardson also said he was troubled by the fact that minorities are "over-represented in the prison population and on death row."

Minorities make up more than half of the death row population nationwide, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group that opposes the death penalty.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Richardson's decision should "send a powerful message to other states" about the need to reevaluate "our error-prone, discriminatory and bankrupting system of capital punishment."

Local and state law enforcement associations opposed the bill. Richardson agreed the death penalty is a tool to deter crime, but said it was not the only tool.

"For some would-be criminals, the death penalty may be a deterrent," he said. "But it's not, and never will be, for many, many others."

The state legislature approved the measure last Friday. Prior to signing the legislation, Richardson received thousands of e-mails and phone calls weighing in on the matter.

As of noon Wednesday, the governor's office said it had received 10,847 phone calls, e-mails and walk-in comments from people who wanted to voice their opinions on the legislation.

Of those, 8,102 were for a repeal of the death penalty and 2,745 were against it, according to Richardson's office.
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PostSubject: Man may get death penalty in firefighters' deaths   Fri Mar 20, 2009 3:14 am

(CNN) -- A California jury Wednesday recommended the death penalty after convicting a man on murder and arson charges in the deaths of five U.S. Forest Service firefighters who died in a 2006 blaze outside Los Angeles.


Smoke rises over a flag flying at half-staff for fallen firefighters October 27, 2006, in Banning, California.

Raymond Lee Oyler of Beaumont, California, was convicted on five counts of first-degree murder, including two special circumstances -- that the murders were committed during an arson and that multiple murders were committed -- making him eligible for the death penalty.

Oyler was also convicted of 11 counts of arson and 10 counts of use of an incendiary device in those arsons.

Sentencing is set for June 5.

Firefighters Mark Loutzenhiser, 44; Jess McLean, 27; Jason McKay, 27; and Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, died October 26, 2006, during a blaze called the Esperanza fire when the wildfire, fueled by Santa Ana winds, enveloped their engine.

The fifth firefighter, Pablo Cerda, 23, died October 31, 2006, at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, where he had been taken after sustaining burns over 90 percent of his body.

Days before being charged in Esperanza Fire, Oyler had been arrested and charged with two counts of arson in a June 2006 fire in the Banning Pass area.

The 41,173-acre Esperanza fire outside Los Angeles destroyed 34 homes and 20 outbuildings, mainly in the Twin Pines and Poppet Flats areas, which had been under mandatory evacuations.

The firefighters died trying to protect a partially built house in Twin Pines, a rural mountain community.
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Natasha Richardson autopsy confirms ski accident as cause of death
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