The news at a glance...United States
OaklandMass arrests at protest: Occupy Oakland protesters stormed City Hall last week, vandalizing the historic building, smashing furniture, and burning an American flag. In a day of violent clashes with police, 409 people were swept up in mass arrests. Hundreds of officers in riot gear battled a surge of protesters who tried to enter the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center building, which the Occupy forces intended to turn into their local headquarters. Following the melee, police displayed evidence of the escalating nature of the conflict: an elaborate wooden shield, 6 feet by 4 feet, reinforced with corrugated metal. On the front was painted “Commune Move In.” Mayor Jean Quan called the group’s actions “a constant provocation of the police” that is draining scarce resources from this already strapped city.
Los AngelesEx-teacher charged: A former elementary school teacher was arraigned this week on charges that he blindfolded, tortured, and sexually molested 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, between 2008 and 2010. Mark Berndt, 61, who taught at Miramonte Elementary School for more than 30 years, faces 23 felony counts of committing lewd acts upon a child. He has made no statement to the police. An investigation began about a year ago when a film processor showed police 40 photographs of children in a classroom, their mouths and eyes covered with tape and large Madagascar cockroaches crawling on their faces. Hundreds of additional photos were discovered at Berndt’s home and at the film-processing establishment. A total of 26 children have been identified in the photos. “My children won’t be coming back here,” said Kimberly Kirklin, whose daughter was in Berndt’s class three years ago. “He preyed on our innocents.”
Gainesville, Fla. Mass pileup kills 10: A fiery, multicar pileup on Interstate 75 this week killed 11 people, injured 18, and left a mile-long trail of smoldering wreckage along the highway. Police said a combination of fog and smoke from a nearby brush fire forced cars, trucks, and motor homes to brake suddenly, causing a series of collisions in which vehicles burst into flames and trucks crushed smaller vehicles. “You could hear cars hitting each other,” said witness Steven R. Camps. “People were crying. People were screaming. It was crazy.” Camps said he had been driving with friends through the low-lying area when he found himself in the middle of the carnage. “It looked like the end of the world.” The highway had been closed earlier in the evening because of a crash and then reopened, according to police. Investigators later said that the smoke might have come from a deliberately set fire.
Dover, Del. Retaliation charged: Whistle-blowers who raised alarms about the mishandling of service members’ remains at Dover Air Force Base were fired, suspended, or placed on leave in retaliation, said the military’s Office of Special Counsel this week. The independent OSC, which investigates federal whistle-blower complaints, conducted an independent review of the affair and said it would seek “disciplinary action against the agency officials” involved in the retaliation. In November, officials found “gross mismanagement” at the Port Mortuary at Dover, where on two occasions body parts of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan were lost. Air Force Col. Robert Edmondson, who commanded the mortuary, and two civilian supervisors were disciplined but not terminated. “Reprisals against employees are unethical and illegal and counter to Air Force core values,” said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.
Washington, D.C.Iranian threat: Iran has the means to build a nuclear weapon, but has not yet decided to follow that course, said top U.S. intelligence officials this week. This assessment, delivered by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to the Senate Intelligence Committee, contrasts with recent Israeli warnings that Iran could have a nuclear weapon within a year. “There is dissension and debate in the political hierarchy of Iran” over the pursuit of nuclear weapons, Clapper said. Iranian officials are weighing the prestige of possessing nuclear arms against the cost of sanctions and the risk of retaliation. He warned, however, that Iran is more likely than ever to strike out at U.S. interests if it feels threatened. Last year’s suspected assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to Washington shows that Iranian officials, including perhaps Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States.”
Le Roy, N.Y.Mystery ailment hits teens: Fifteen high school students from this rural community in upstate New York have been stricken with a Tourette’s syndrome–like condition that continues to baffle parents, scientists, and doctors. Fourteen girls and one boy from Le Roy Junior/Senior High School have exhibited strange neurological symptoms: verbal outbursts, tics, and twitches so debilitating that one student had to be confined to a wheelchair. School officials insist there is no evidence linking the illnesses to infection or the environment. A doctor who has treated several of the victims has concluded that they are suffering from mass hysteria, in which unexplainable symptoms spread from victim to victim. Skeptical parents continue to look for answers. “Obviously all of us are not accepting that this is just a stress thing, and our kids didn’t all get sick by coincidence,” said one father.