The world at a glance . . . United States
Long Beach, Calif.
Homeless targeted: Five people were shot to death this week in a homeless encampment by a freeway overpass near Los Angeles, three weeks after a homeless man in L.A. was doused with gasoline and burned to death. Residents near the intersection of Interstate 405 and I-710 reported hearing gunshots coming from the encampment, and police found the bullet-riddled bodies of two women and three men shortly afterward. “It sounded like fireworks,” said resident Leticia Walker. Locals were aware of the encampment and said that its inhabitants had not caused trouble in the neighborhood. Police had no suspects and few leads.
Anti-abortion measures fail: Voters in Colorado, South Dakota, and California this week handily rejected anti-abortion ballot measures. Nearly three-quarters of Colorado voters opposed a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have defined life as beginning at “the moment of fertilization.” In South Dakota, 55 percent of the electorate voted against a proposal to ban all abortions except in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life or health is at risk. A tougher version, without the rape and incest exceptions, lost in 2006 by a similar margin. California voters, by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin, rejected a measure that would have required doctors to notify parents before performing an abortion on a minor.
‘F-bomb’ lands on high court: The U.S. Supreme Court this week awkwardly debated constitutional limits on foul language, using euphemisms and circumlocutions to skirt the words in question. The court took up a case involving Fox Broadcasting, which was cited by the Federal Communications Commission for allowing Cher and Nicole Richie to utter two common profanities on the air. Fox argued that the FCC cannot punish broadcasters for “fleeting” obscenities that were not used in a blatantly sexual or “excretory” way. But the Bush administration says the FCC has a duty to protect children from inappropriate language. Solicitor General Gregory Garre urged the justices not to issue a ruling that could lead to “Big Bird dropping the F-bomb on Sesame Street.” A decision is expected next spring.
Election plotter convicted: A federal jury this week convicted Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran of trying to hide a plot to sway Argentina’s presidential election. The case began in 2007, when Guido Antonini, a Venezuelan-born businessman, was detained in the Buenos Aires airport with a suitcase stuffed with $800,000 in cash. Antonini subsequently fled to Miami. U.S. authorities say that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez authorized sending the cash to Argentina President Cristina Kirchner, who at the time was running for office. Duran, the U.S. alleged, was one of four people who met Antonini in Miami after his detention and pressured him to hide the source of the money—which prosecutors said amounted to obstruction of justice. Duran’s three companions pleaded guilty to participating in the plot. Chavez said the entire case was trumped up by the U.S. to smear him.
Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Rogue waves rattle Maine: Three gigantic waves swept through the Gulf of Maine this week, swamping boats, ripping apart docks, and leaving puzzled oceanographers searching for their cause. Witnesses in Boothbay Harbor, on Maine’s central coast, reported seeing three huge waves sweep into the harbor at 15-minute intervals, raising water levels by 12 feet before receding. “There were three large whirlpools in the inner harbor, up to within a foot of my neighbor’s wall,” said Janice Newell. “It was beautiful, but it was scary.” Scientists theorize that the waves were triggered by an ocean squall or by the sudden collapse of a large undersea mound of sediment. Had the waves occurred at high tide, they say, entire coastal towns could have been flooded.
Deregulation rush: The Bush administration raced last week to relax a wide array of regulations before its time in office expires. If enacted before President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in, the rule changes could be reversed only after a lengthy and cumbersome review. Among other things, the changes would lift restrictions on commercial ocean fishing, ease controls on power plants’ emissions, relax drinking-water standards, and loosen restrictions on dumping mining waste. Consumer and environmentalist groups protested, but the White House said the proposals were in “the best interests” of the nation. “And yes,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto, “we’d prefer our regulations stand for a very long time.”