New troubles for Ensign: Embattled Nevada Sen. John Ensign is now facing a federal criminal investigation for his efforts to steer money and a job to his former mistress’ husband, the Las Vegas Sun reported this week. Authorities are reportedly examining whether Ensign broke the law by offering to help struggling Nevada energy company P2SA Equity find a business partner, at the same time that he was pressing it to hire former aide Doug Hampton. The newspaper said prosecutors also may charge Ensign for failing to disclose a $96,000 payment his parents made to Hampton, allegedly to buy his silence about the affair. The Republican has admitted to a lengthy affair with Hampton’s wife, but denies breaking any laws.
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Cash crunch: With the city of Los Angeles facing a severe budget shortfall, Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa this week called for most city agencies to be shut down two days a week. “We have to act quickly, we are running out of cash,” Villaraigosa said. The partial shutdown would affect parks, libraries, and other services, though the police and fire departments would be exempt. The city, already struggling with a shortfall due to declining tax receipts, is facing a loss of funds thanks to a dispute with the city’s quasi-independent water and power department. After the City Council rejected the utility’s proposed rate hike, the agency refused to make a $73.5 million transfer to the city’s general fund, prompting the budget crisis.
Virginia is for Confederates: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell angered civil-rights leaders this week by declaring April Confederate History Month. The Republican governor’s proclamation pleased a group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but civil-rights leaders called it an insult to the state’s black citizens. McDonnell’s proclamation calls on Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers, and citizens during the period of the Civil War,” but makes no mention of slavery. Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, an African-American, called the proclamation’s omission of slavery “mind-boggling.” Virginia expects a tourist influx next year for the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
Mine blast kills 25: The worst U.S. mining disaster in a quarter-century claimed at least 25 lives and severely injured two miners this week, and rescue workers held out little hope for four others still trapped in the Upper Big Branch mine. A powerful explosion, possibly caused by a buildup of methane gas, ripped through the mine during a shift change, trapping 31 miners headed back to the surface. At the scene of the accident, relatives of the dead and missing held a somber vigil, and tempers flared. One miner threw a chair and a father and son stormed off, screaming that they were quitting mining. The mine, operated by Massey Energy, was cited more than 50 times in March for safety violations, including improper venting of methane. Massey CEO Don Blankenship said the spate of violations does not mean the mine was unsafe. “Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process,” he said.
Obama revises nuke policy: In a move aimed in part at increasing pressure on North Korea and Iran, the Obama administration announced this week that it was narrowing the circumstances under which the U.S. would use nuclear weapons—but only regarding countries in compliance with nuclear nonproliferation treaties. The White House said that the U.S. would not use nuclear weapons against treaty-complying countries that do not possess them, even if they launch a chemical or biological attack against the U.S. The Bush administration had reserved the right to use nukes “to deter a wide range of threats,” including biological and chemical attacks. “If you’re going to be a proliferator,” said Defense Secretary Robert Gates, referring to Korea’s and Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in defiance of the United Nations, “then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you.”
Pompano Beach, Fla.
Refugees released: U.S. immigration officials have released 30 Haitian earthquake survivors from a privately run prison, after detaining them for failing to obtain exit visas before they fled the chaos in Haiti. The Haitians were whisked out of the country on U.S. military transports after the Jan. 12 earthquake. They were jailed, pending deportation, upon their arrival in Florida, even though the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency suspended deportations to Haiti. U.S.-based relatives of those detained, along with legal-aid volunteers, had lobbied for their release for weeks. Some 35 other Haitian earthquake refugees are still being held in detention centers around the U.S.
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