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The week at a glance...United States

United States

Southern CaliforniaMystery stench identified: Southern Californians learned this week that the sulfurous odor that turned stomachs from Ventura to Orange counties came from the Salton Sea, a dying saline lake of 376 square miles on the San Andreas Fault. The lake, which was created by an irrigation accident in 1905 and fed by agricultural runoff, has been drying up for decades, and the salinity continues to rise. During heat waves, the water’s oxygen content drops suddenly, killing thousands of fish, whose decomposing bodies give off a stink of rotten eggs that escapes from the lake a few times a year, though it rarely travels great distances. “As shallow as the sea is, it got stirred up,” said Andrew Schlange, of the Salton Sea Authority. “With the wind blowing from the southeast, we probably got a very big blast of this odor.” 

Phoenix Immigration law upheld: A federal judge last week set the stage for the most controversial section of Arizona’s sweeping immigration legislation to take effect, requiring authorities to verify the status of people who they suspect are in the country illegally. Judge Susan Bolton of the U.S. District Court denied a request by civil rights groups to block the “show me your papers” provision of the law as a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause. Bolton dismissed the claims and ruled that the measure could be challenged “as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect,” which is essentially the same approach taken by the Supreme Court in June, when it refused to overturn the provision. Gov. Jan Brewer hailed the ruling, saying that it put the state “one step closer to implementing the core provision” of its immigration law.

New Orleans Fishing halted in Gulf: After thick mats of tar were found offshore along a 13-mile stretch of coastline and tar balls washed up on the state’s beaches, wildlife officials last week closed some coastal waters to commercial fishing. Two years after BP’s Macondo well spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the remnants of that spill have reappeared, churned up by Hurricane Isaac’s winds and storm surge. “It’s not unexpected to see this material where it’s been exposed,” said Mike Utsler, president of BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, which has engineered what it claims is a “robust recovery” of the Gulf’s ecosystems. “We’ve made tremendous progress, but we’re still working hard.” The company’s claims are “grossly misleading,” said the U.S. Justice Department. “BP is executing one of the worst oil responses in history,” added Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell.

Kansas City, Mo. Bishop guilty in cover-up: A Roman Catholic bishop was found guilty last week of one count of failing to report suspected child abuse—the first time an American bishop has been convicted of protecting a pedophile priest. Bishop Robert W. Finn, 59, was found guilty of failing to report the criminal acts of Father Shawn Ratigan, a priest under his authority who had taken hundreds of pornographic pictures of young girls. Finn was sentenced to two years of court-supervised probation with nine conditions, including requirements that his staff and clergy undergo mandatory training on their obligation to report abuse, along with training on what constitutes child pornography and how to recognize the predatory behavior known as grooming. Before his sentence was read, a chastened Finn, his jaw quivering, rose in court and said, “I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt that these events have caused.” 

New York City; Washington, D.C.; Shanksville, Pa.9/11 anniversary: Americans gathered this week at muted ceremonies to mourn the victims of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. At Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, politicians ceded center stage to the families of the deceased, as the reading of the nearly 3,000 names of the dead unfolded over three hours, interrupted only by moments of silence and the tolling of bells. A year after the 10th anniversary of the attacks, memorials were deliberately scaled back in some places and canceled in others. “It’s human nature, so people move on,” said Wanda Ortiz, of New York City, whose husband, Emilio, died in the north tower. At a subdued Pentagon ceremony, President Obama and the First Lady laid a white floral wreath at the site and told the gathered families, “Your loved ones will never be forgotten.” In Pennsylvania, Vice President Joe Biden remembered the 40 victims on the plane that crashed in a field south of Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, construction will begin again at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum after the museum and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey came to an agreement about funding, financing, and oversight this week. All work at the museum was halted last year over the disagreements. The federal government announced that it would add cancer to the list of illnesses linked to 9/11—making many former Ground Zero workers and first responders eligible for financial compensation.

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