Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
Trembling earth: More than 1,700 tiny earthquakes have rattled Yellowstone National Park since Jan. 17, the second-largest cluster of such rumblings ever recorded there. The quakes, which have ranged from magnitude 0.5 to 3.1, are concentrated about 10 miles northwest of the Old Faithful geyser. That seismically active region sits atop the caldera of a “supervolcano’’ that last erupted 640,000 years ago. If it exploded again, it would kill people for hundreds of miles around, and cover most of the U.S. with ash. Geophysicists say, though, that this swarm of tremors shows little sign of building toward a devastating event. “We’re not seeing a pattern that is really discernible yet,” said Henry Heasler of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.
No purity pledge: GOP candidates will not have to pass a conservative litmus test to win party approval and funding, the Republican National Committee decided at its winter meeting last week. The “purity pledge,” proposed by conservative activists, would have compelled candidates to agree to at least eight of 10 positions on such issues as immigration, abortion, and the war in Iraq. Under a compromise, the committee will now merely “urge” that financial support be withheld from candidates who don’t toe the party line. Many leading Republicans, including party Chairman Michael Steele, opposed the original resolution, arguing that it would damage the GOP’s image and drive away moderates.
Roeder guilty: It took just 37 minutes last week for jurors to find Scott Roeder guilty of murdering George Tiller, a prominent abortion doctor. Roeder, 51, had taken the stand as the only defense witness and admitted that he shot Tiller during a church service last May, but said he did so to save lives. “If I didn’t do it,” he said, “those babies would die the next day.” Though Roeder had hoped his confession might win him a lighter sentence, the judge instructed the jury that it would not be allowed to entertain the lesser charge of manslaughter. Roeder faces a mandatory life term when he is sentenced on March 9.
Obama’s successor: Illinois Republicans this week picked a moderate, five-term congressman as their candidate for the Senate seat that once belonged to President Obama, and analysts give him a good chance of winning. Republican Rep. Mark Steven Kirk will be facing off in November against Democratic Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Kirk is pro-choice on abortion and voted for cap-and-trade legislation to limit carbon emissions. “It takes a thoughtful, independent voter to earn the people’s trust,” he said. “The people of Illinois have seen the arrogance of a one-party state.” But Giannoulias called Kirk “a Washington insider” who had lost touch with voters. The seat is currently held by Roland Burris, who was appointed by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and decided not to run.
‘Underwear Bomber’ talking: The suspect in the failed Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253 is providing “useful, actionable” intelligence that could help prevent future attacks, Obama administration officials said this week. The revelation is part of an attempt by the White House to refute Republican charges that the administration mishandled the interrogation by advising Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of his right to remain silent, which reportedly prompted him to stop talking. But officials said this week that he began offering further details after two relatives who were brought to the U.S. from Nigeria in January persuaded him to cooperate. Critics were not convinced, though, saying the delay may have given other militants time to cover their tracks. “We will never know what lifesaving information we missed out on,” said Republican Sen. Christopher Bond.
Racist threat: Defying an anonymous threat that black students at an Ohio technical college would die on Feb. 2, the school remained open for classes this week and the college president moved into a dorm as a show of solidarity with students. The threat, scrawled in a dormitory men’s room at Hocking College, was discovered two weeks ago; a note reading “kill the n------” was also found. College president Ron Erickson and his wife moved into the dorm where the graffiti had been discovered. But about a dozen residents have moved out, and at least two black students have withdrawn from Hocking, which has a student body of 6,300, including about 400 African-Americans. The FBI is investigating the incident as a hate crime.