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Associated Press/Photo by Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "New breed of homeless," Feb. 28, 2009

Ice woes

In her first trip as homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano toured damaged areas in Kentucky, Kansas, and Iowa following an ice storm that pummeled those states and Arkansas last month, killing 33 people. Since the storm struck, 101 counties and 75 cities have declared states of emergency, and President Barack Obama issued a major disaster declaration for Kentucky.

Kentucky resident Bill Allen said he'd weathered plenty of ice storms but had "never seen anything like this." On the night of the storm, as he and his family huddled in their living room in the town of Kuttawa, wind blasts coupled with freezing rain ravaged the countryside. "We could hear the trees snapping off and it sounded like shotgun blasts," said Allen, who is music minister at First Baptist Church of Kuttawa. Immediately after the storm, downed limbs and power poles blocked the roads like piles of jackstraw.

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"I've heard the word war zone used," Allen said.

Aid arrived in storm-damaged areas from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross, and local governments. In Kuttawa, local and out-of-state church groups like the Tennessee Baptist Convention teamed up to help clear debris while electrical workers from other states poured in to help restore power. As of Feb. 10, two weeks after the storm began, almost 50,000 Kentucky residents were still without electricity, down from 769,000. In Arkansas, the storm knocked out power to 25,000 homes and caused an estimated $77 million in damage. Heading into mid-February, 8,000 Arkansans remained without electricity as a new round of severe weather, including predicted long-track tornadoes, threatened the state.

Unemployment benefits?

Appearing on Meet the Press this month, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., argued for a bailout to state governments "to prevent this budget crunch from laying off public employees." But according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for January, government workers are doing better than nearly every other sector of the economy-with a 3 percent unemployment rate compared to a high of over 18 percent for the construction industry and 8 percent for retailers. A sampling:

Agriculture and related private wage and salary workers 18.7%

Construction 18.2%

Manufacturing 10.9%

Wholesale and retail trade 8.7%

Transportation and utilities 8.4%

Self-employed and unpaid family workers 6.5%

Financial activities 6.0%

Education and health services 3.8%

Government workers 3.0%

Israel's standoff

Both candidates raised arms in victory after perhaps the tightest election in Israeli history Feb. 10. Foreign minister Tzipi Livni won in the polls by the narrowest margin, but coalition partners of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party made large gains-suggesting he is the more likely candidate to form a coalition government. His party of the right has longer-standing alliances than Livni's centrist Kadima party, a recent offshoot of Likud, particularly after last month's tense fighting with Hamas in Gaza.

Sudan headed for court

Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for war crimes in Darfur-the first time the court has sought to detain a sitting head of state. The decision complicates negotiations to bring an end to fighting in Darfur and prompted Arab leaders, who lobbied the UN to defer charges against Bashir, to say they would consider granting him safe haven in an Arab country where he might be shielded from prosecution. ICC prosecutors, meanwhile, have little cause for leniency after the Sudanese government this month threatened 200 UN peacekeepers with attack if they did not withdraw from protecting displaced civilians in south Darfur.


New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez has confessed that reports of steroid use in his past are true. Sports Illustrated initially broke the story, citing four independent sources who named Rodriguez among the 104 players who tested positive for performance-enhancing substances in 2003, when Major League Baseball conducted what were meant to be anonymous tests.

Faced with that public charge, baseball's highest-paid player sought to explain his behavior in an interview with ESPN's Peter Gammons: "When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure," Rodriguez said. "I had just signed this enormous contract, [and] I felt like I needed something, a push, without over-investigating what I was taking, to get me to the next level."

Lost in that explanation is the manner in which Rodriguez procured his $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. He employed notorious agent Scott Boras in an aggressive contract negotiation strategy that pitted team against team in a bidding war that got A-Rod three years on a losing team and more pressure than he could handle. Rodriguez insists that he used illegal substances only during his two years in Texas. As the youngest player ever to reach 500 home runs, he is on pace to one day break the all-time career home run record of Barry Bonds, another player steeped in steroid controversy.


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