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A long line of buyers trails from a store selling marijuana in Pueblo West, Colo, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. The nation's first recreational pot industry opened in Colorado on Wednesday, kicking off a marijuana experiment that will be watched closely around the world. (John Wark/AP)

Colorado marijuana sales: Long lines for smooth rollout of legal business (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.02.14

As the first light of 2014 hit the Rocky Mountains, buyers formed long lines in blustery Colorado weather to participate in the first legal sales of recreational marijuana in the United States.

Accompanied by a swell of media coverage and law enforcement officials, sales began at 8 a.m. Wednesday, and "government officials marveled at the calm," according to a report in the Denver Post.

‘‘Everything’s gone pretty smoothly,’’ Barbara Brohl, head of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, told the Associated Press.

Thirty-seven licensed retailers opened for sales, most of them in Denver, according to the Post. Denver police issued two citations for public marijuana consumption during the day, but the department could not confirm that these were related to the day's sales.

Smoking pot in public remains illegal in Colorado, but the New York Times reports that some of the day's customers got around that problem by buying edible products like pot-laced chocolate truffles and baked goods.

Perhaps the only blip in the new industry's roll-out were inflated prices that customers worried could make the drug less affordable for medical users.  Colorado has not established a statewide pricing structure, the AP reports, and midafternoon Wednesday at least one dispensary was charging $70 for one-eighth of an ounce of high-quality marijuana. The day before, medical marijuana patients paid as little as $25 for the same amount.

‘‘We hope that the focus on recreational doesn’t take the focus away from patients who really need this medicine,’’ Laura Kriho of the patient advocacy group Cannabis Therapy Institute told AP.

Any Colorado resident who is at least 21 can now buy up to an ounce or marijuana legally, and out-of-state visitors can buy up to a quarter ounce, which they must consume in Colorado. To help keep the crop from migrating to states where it remains illegal, the Denver airport has posted signs warning travelers that they cannot take pot with them when they leave.

This was part of the state's effort to meet requirements laid out in August by the US Justice Department. Despite a conflict between federal marijuana law and the recent legalization by Washington State and Colorado, Justice said it would not interfere in the new industry as long as the two states effectively enforced eight regulatory points, which include the following:

• Prevent use by minors.

• Prevent pot that is grown for sale in the state from migrating out of state.

• Prevent the diversion of marijuana revenue to organized crime.

• Prevent state-authorized activity from being used as a cover for illegal activity.

• Prevent drugged driving and other adverse public-health effects.

Colorado has approved 136 licenses for retail sales, three-quarters in Denver County and all sites that were previously selling marijuana for medical purposes. State officials told the Post that recreational pot sales could add over $200 million to the state's economy.

“If Colorado is able to successfully legalize marijuana without causing a social backlash, the tourism, tax, and other considerations are likely to compel several other states to quickly follow suit,” writes the paper.

Supporters told the paper that enough signatures had been collected to let Alaskans vote on legalization this year, likely followed by Oregon. By 2016, ballot measures could be considered in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, and Nevada.

Colorado's is the only fully legal marijuana industry in the world; in the Netherlands, where it is famously tolerated and sold in cafés, it is not actually legal. Washington State and Uruguay in South America have both legalized pot, but neither government has yet hammered out a regulatory system. Washington's industry, regulated by the state's Liquor Control Board, is expected to open for business by the spring of this year.

Workers install a Waterford Crystal panel on the Times Square New Year's Eve ball in New York last week. (Darren Ornitz/Reuters)

New Year's Eve forecast: where revelers will have to bundle up

By Staff writer / 12.31.13

New Year’s Eve revelers will face radically different weather conditions depending on where they plan to party on the last evening of 2013 with conditions ranging from balmy to bone chilling.

Revelers in New York’s Times Square for the largest of the New Year’s Eve celebrations will encounter a temperature of 23 degrees F and clear skies, the Weather Channel predicts. AccuWeather forecaster Alex Sosnowski writes that party goers will feel like the temperatures are “in the teens” adding, “Nothing more than a flurry will drift across Manhattan in advance of the blizzard of confetti.”

One of the coldest celebrations in the lower 48 may be in Plymouth, Wis., a 50 minute drive from Milwaukee. According to compilation of unusual celebrations assembled by AccuWeather, after a masquerade ball dinner and dance, Plymouth will drop a large ball of cheese to mark the start of 2014. It will be the seventh time this dairy-centric celebration has been held. The expected weather conditions: a temperature of 0 degrees and snow showers.

It won’t be much warmer for those planning to gather at Chicago’s Navy Pier for a midnight fireworks show. Mike Caplan, a meteorologist with Chicago ABC television affiliate WLS, says that a substantial snowfall may hit the area this evening. “We’re forecasting 6" snowfall totals widespread across the area and, in some cases, it will be 10" or more from the looks of it,” he writes. The Weather Channel is predicting evening temperatures of 15 degrees and snow.

The warmest celebration may occur in Key West, Fla., where the New Year’s Eve temperature is expected to be 72 degrees and cloudy. There, for the 21st year, a six-foot queen conch shell will be dropped at midnight from the roof of a bar on Duval Street.

While the White House has not yet released details of how the first family will be celebrating on New Year’s Eve, we know conditions will be balmy in Kailua, Hawaii, where the Obamas have been vacationing on the windward side of Oahu. The weather conditions tonight in Honolulu, the largest nearby city, are slated to be 67 degrees and clear.  

It will be a bit cooler for party goers gathered in Los Angeles’s Grand Park for a New Year’s Eve countdown party. The Weather Channel is predicting a temperature of 48 degrees and clear conditions.

Those who want to start the new year with a dose of love and chocolate will have to brave an expected evening temperature of 24 degrees in Hershey, Pa. That is where a 300 pound, 12-foot-high Hershey’s kiss will be hoisted three stories into the air by the chocolate maker and dropped to celebrate the sweet prospects for 2014.

An American Robin searches for food on a frozen tree in Augusta, Maine, Dec. 22. More than a quarter inch of ice coated tree branches and wires in central Maine, while other parts of the country experienced record heat, flooding, and even a tornado. (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal/AP)

Bizarre holiday-week weather ending just in time for Christmas (+video)

By Staff writer / 12.23.13

Unpredictable holiday weather is never a welcome guest, but this Christmas week is being ushered in with an unusually bizarre streak of extreme weather, ranging from record-breaking heat to ice storms, floods, tornadoes, and extreme cold.

The torrential rains that hit much of the South over the weekend caused flooding that claimed at least five lives in Kentucky and two in Mississippi. And one woman was killed by a tornado in Arkansas. Tornadoes also hit in Mississippi.

Meanwhile, residents in the New York area enjoyed record-breaking warmth in the 70s Sunday – but should be prepared for those temperatures to fall to near freezing by Monday night. Northern New England was bracing for more snow, ice, and cold on Monday, and the Southeast was bracing for yet more rain, and possible flood warnings.

Frigid temperatures are moving into the Midwest, and parts of Michigan, as well as Ontario, have been dealing with power outages from ice storms.

More than 200,000 Toronto residents still had no power Monday, and the local power company says most likely will not have it restored until after Christmas.

Toronto Hydro says its crews are working around the clock, and its CEO told CBC news that the city hasn’t had a storm this bad in recent memory.

While the warm temperatures in New York and Philadelphia may have been a surprising summer-feeling interlude for residents there, those temperatures are also a big reason behind the damaging storms and extreme weather spreading across the East, including the massive rains to the south.

"This storm is bringing a little bit of everything, from rain, flooding and wind, to ice and snow in some areas," National Weather Service meteorologist Bruce Sullivan told Reuters. "What is really extraordinary about this system, though, is the warm air."

The high in New York City reached 71 degrees on Sunday – shattering the 1998 record of 63 degrees. Temperatures in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., were also much higher than normal, but farther north in New England, the combination of warm and cold air caused an ice storm.

But the most damaging storms were in the South, where weather-related car accidents claimed lives and caused injuries, and other deaths were caused by flooding in Kentucky and an overturned mobile home in Mississippi.

The wild weather has, predictably, snarled air traffic across the country during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

But, while the weather is likely to turn much colder across the East and Midwest in coming days, after Monday it may at least get drier.

Most of the snow and rain is supposed to end by Monday night. The National Weather Service predicts a “quiet weather pattern” to return by the middle of the week, but says “it will remain quite cold across the northern tier states.” 

Bristol Palin: Why she backs Duck Dynasty patriarch's views on homosexuality (+video)

By Staff writer / 12.21.13

Bristol Palin, one-time Dancing With the Stars competitor and daughter of former Gov. Sarah Palin, is now joining those backing Phil Robertson's right to speak out against homosexuality.

The patriarch of the Duck Dynasty TV show was put on "indefinite hiatus" by the A&E cable channel after he compared homosexuality with bestiality in an interview with GQ magazine.

"Everyone needs to leave Phil Robertson alone for expressing his beliefs," wrote Bristol Palin in a blog post. I think it’s so hypocritical how the LGBT community expects every single flippen person to agree with their life style.   This flies in the face of what makes America great – people can have their own beliefs and own opinions and their own ways of life.

Everyone needs to treat others like God would, with love. "

Palin went on to say that Phil Robertson should take the Duck Dynasty TV show to another cable channel.

"I do think we should elevate the conversation, stand for free speech, and let people hold beliefs that you might make you uncomfortable. It’s what freedom sometimes feels like," wrote Palin.

Bristol's mom, Sarah Palin, also weighed in, albeit more succinctly in a Facebook post: "Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us."

The Robertson family and cast members of the Duck Dynasty show live in Louisiana. On Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also issued a statement defending Phil Robertson's free speech rights.

“Phil Robertson and his family are great citizens of the State of Louisiana. The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV.  In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views.  In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended."

While Robertson has publicly spoken out before against abortion, and made no secret of his fundamentalist Christian views, the popular TV show has steered clear of politics and religion. "The show chronicles the Louisiana bayou existence of a duck-call entrepreneur and his bearded offspring, all of whom are supported by a cast of country-glam wives who can bake. It’s widely considered wholesome and kid-friendly, and each episode ends with a supper-table prayer," reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Some conservatives say this controversy goes beyond Robertson's condemnation of homosexuality and see it in a larger American culture war and class divide, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

The flap also has come to epitomize what some academics have identified as a cultural gulf separating America’s coastal urban power centers and a rural America that remains steeped in hunting, fishing, and churchgoing.

“This moment definitely says something about where we are as Americans,” says Rob Weiner, a pop culture expert at Texas Tech University. “For so long … the more traditional sort of down-home Christian good ol’ boy, living off the land, hasn’t been seen. Now that he has, he’s touched a nerve. A lot of people find the show entertaining, but equal numbers of people find it offensive – the killing of animals and things like that.”

The attempt by gay rights groups to have Phil Robertson kicked off the show “may be an attack on ‘unsophisticated’ country folks as much as it is an attack on orthodox Christianity,” writes Matt Lewis, a conservative columnist for the Daily Caller. “It has as much to do with class and geography and culture and attitude as it does with religion.”

Passengers walk through Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013. Rain will continue in the area through Friday with some light freezing drizzle, according to weather reports. (Nam Y. Huh/ AP Photo)

Holiday forecast: Storm clogs weekend travel, but Christmas looking calm (+video)

By Staff Writer / 12.20.13

A giant winter storm is threatening to clog holiday travel this weekend with a wide variety of hazardous weather across the country, ranging from flooding rains and possible tornadoes in the South to heavy snow to the north and ice in between.

On Friday, rain and snow were scattered from the southern Midwest and Illinois into northern New England. Although few flights had been canceled by midday, the weather was taking a toll on air travel: FlightStats.com reported more than 1,300 US delays, with the most at Chicago's O'Hare, Denver International, and the three big New York-area airports.

Over the weekend, the sprawling storm is expected to cause the bulk of travel interruptions, according to accuweather.com This storm is likely to affect major airport hubs from Dallas to St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, New York City, and Boston, the weather website reported.

It will scatter snow over the Texas Panhandle and Western Oklahoma before heading northeast over central Kansas, continuing in a diagonal path over the Midwest and into Canada. Meteorologists are predicting up to 1 foot of snow in parts of the Midwest this weekend.  

Downpours, gusty winds, and poor visibility are likely to delay flights along the East Coast, accuweather.com said

The National Weather Service reported the possibility of tornadoes along the central Gulf Coast – in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi – on Saturday night as unseasonably warm air from the Gulf collides with cold air traveling south from the northern United States.

"I think there's a high likelihood there will be severe storms with hail and damaging wind" in parts of the South, said Tom Kines, an AccuWeather meteorologist. "Whether or not there's tornadoes, that's tough to say, but I will say the conditions are right."

While tornadoes are far more common in the spring and summer, they have struck in winter before. A tornado outbreak on Christmas Day 2012 reached from northeastern Texas through central Alabama — one twister hit Mobile, Ala. A tornado on Dec. 16, 2000, killed 11 people in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

AAA projects 94.5 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during this holiday season.  

The bad weather is expected to give way to sunny skies and moderate temperatures over most of the United States by Christmas Eve on Tuesday, with some patches of snow and rain but mostly mild conditions, said meteorologist Chris Dolce of The Weather Channel in an interview with Reuters.

"The map really clears out," he told the news agency.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left at podium, addresses the media in Trenton, N.J., Dec. 19, 2013. He said he would sign a bill extending eligibility for in-state tuition rates to residents brought into the US illegally as children, if the legislature drops a provision allowing such students to apply for state-funded financial aid. (Mel Evans/ AP)

Chris Christie reaches deal on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants

By Staff writer / 12.20.13

In a compromise with Democrats, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) agreed to sign a bill into law that would give certain illegal immigrants access to in-state tuition at public universities in the state.

The governor's announcement came late Thursday, after a series of negotiations with the Democratic-controlled state Assembly, during which Democrats agreed to remove provisions from the bill that would have granted illegal immigrants access to state-funded financial aid.

"The most important thing is for these young men and women of our state, who we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in their K-12 education, we're now going to give them an opportunity in an affordable way to be able to continue their education," Governor Christie said in Trenton, N.J., on Thursday evening, according to Reuters.

The bill would apply to illegal immigrants who have attended high school in New Jersey for at least three years and who are enrolled, or who plan to enroll, in public higher educational institutions, including community colleges. Under the compromise, these students will not be eligible for state financial aid, even if they qualify economically. 

As a rumored 2016 presidential hopeful, Christie's move on immigration reform places him among the ranks of other likely Republican presidential contenders who have backed bipartisan solutions to the immigration issue, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) of Florida, and Gov. Rick Perry (R) of Texas, Politico reports

While immigration reform remains a polarizing issue in Republican circles, the GOP became more open to a moderate approach after it lost a significant portion of Hispanic voters in recent elections, Ray Sullivan, who served as Governor Perry's presidential campaign spokesman, told Politico. 

In 2012, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote by about 44 percentage points. Only 26 percent of Hispanic voters are Republicans or lean Republican, versus 58 percent who identify with Democrats, according to a recent Gallup survey.

“Republicans understand we got our tail kicked in part because we haven’t done a good job reaching out to Hispanics and other groups,” Republican strategist Tim Albrecht told Politico. “The 2012 election has changed attitudes and tone, and I think the candidates are going to do a better job of reaching out to those constituencies. I don’t think we’re going to see harsh rhetoric from candidates or caucus-goers.”

During Christie's gubernatorial reelection campaign this year, he supported tuition equality for illegal immigrants, though he did not elaborate then as to what that would entail. 

In November, Christie won reelection by 22 points, garnering 50 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Lawmakers were eager to get the bill passed before January so that students could pay lower in-state tuition rates starting next semester, the Newark-based Star-Ledger newspaper reported.

When Christie signs this bill into law, New Jersey will become the 16th state to allow students without legal immigration status to pay in-state rates at public universities, if the students have attended and graduated from primary or secondary schools there, Reuters said

According to the National Immigration Law Center, the other 15 states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

The Office of Legislative Services in New Jersey said it is "unable to project the potential reduction in tuition revenue if students were paying in-State tuition rather than out-of-State tuition," because there are no reliable data for the number of unauthorized immigrant students in New Jersey schools, the Star-Ledger reported.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

Jacob Ostreicher, a New York City businessman (l.) arrives at a court to attend a hearing in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The US State Department says Ostreicher, who was detained the past 2 1/2 years in Bolivia on suspicion of money laundering, has arrived in the United States. Bolivian government officials said Monday that they didn't know anything about him possibly leaving. (AP/File )

Escape from Bolivia: Mystery operation with Hollywood twist brings US man home

By Staff Writer / 12.19.13

The story has all of the ingredients of a Hollywood hit: a stealthy escape from house arrest in a foreign country, alleged money laundering and drug trafficking, and, of course, Sean Penn.  

For Jacob Ostreicher, who was mysteriously spirited out of Bolivia and back to the United States this week, these blockbuster elements were part of his reality for the 2-1/2 years.

Prior to his escape, the middle-aged American businessman had spent 18 months in a Bolivian prison and an additional year under house arrest in the country.

Bolivian authorities arrested Mr. Ostreicher in June 2011 for alleged money laundering, though prosecutors never formally charged him.

Mr. Penn, the actor-activist, told the Associated Press that Ostreicher had been extracted from Bolivia in a "humanitarian operation" that had been mounted to release him "from the corrupt prosecution and imprisonment he was suffering."

Little is known about how exactly the father of five managed to evade Bolivian authorities, but Penn said Ostreicher is in his care in the United States. The State Department has confirmed that Ostreicher is in the US. 

Penn offered no further details about how Ostreicher left Bolivia.

"You'll never find out," Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, said Tuesday. If the US was involved, "it was done through layers and layers of cover," he said.

On Wednesday, Washington denied having a hand in Ostreicher's flight to freedom.

"The US government was not involved in Mr. Ostreicher's departure from Bolivia," said a State Department spokeswoman who declined to be identified, Reuters reported. 

However, Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero told reporters his country "is certain that the US government participated," adding, "We think he must have had some help from the embassy" of the United States in La Paz.

Relations between Bolivia and the United States have been strained since President Evo Morales expelled the US ambassador in 2008.

US officials have attended all of Ostreicher's court hearings and have given him consular access since his arrest 2-1/2 years ago, according to White House Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf, Reuters reported.

Ostreicher, a flooring contractor from Brooklyn, went to Bolivia several years ago to manage a rice-farming enterprise into which he had entered, along with a group of Swiss investors. Bolivian authorities then arrested Ostreicher, accusing him of money laundering in connection with his rice business. 

The New York businessman alleged that a Colombian woman running the venture skimmed investors' money and was involved romantically with a Brazillian drug trafficker. All the while he was being held, prosecutors were trying to extort tens of thousands of dollars from him to let him go, he told the Associated Press.

Ostreicher was jailed in Palmasola prison, the only American being held in a facility notorious for being ruled internally by an inmates committee, The New York Times reported. Conflicts between rival factions at Palmasola resulted in 31 deaths there in August.

Authorities released Ostreicher from Palmasola in Dec. 2012 and moved him into house arrest after Penn urged President Morales to free the American. According to the Times, Penn was contacted by an organization that aids Jewish prisoners. Ostreicher is an Orthodox Jew.   

"If it weren't for Sean Penn I would be another statistic in Bolivia and I would die in prison," Ostreicher told the AP a year ago. Penn was a frequent guest of the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, and endeared himself to Latin American leaders by denouncing US foreign policy.

After Ostreicher was moved, Morales ordered a high-powered investigation that exposed an alleged extortion ring suspected of preying on people accused of drug-related crimes. It led to the arrests of 15 people, including several prosecutors and the top legal adviser at the Interior Ministry, who had repeatedly flown from the capital to the eastern city of Santa Cruz for court hearings to ensure Ostreicher was not freed from prison.

Ostreicher had denounced the high-level extortion ring from jail, but was still kept under arrest in Bolivia.

Under house arrest, Ostreicher was required to be in his house every day from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., though he was free to carry out his activities at other times. Every fifteen days, Ostreicher was supposed to report to authorities, said Justice Minister Cecilia Ayllón, the Times reported.

The first three or four months of Ostreicher's house arrest, there was round-the-clock police surveillance, but that was eventually lifted, said Jimmy Montano, a lawyer for Ostreicher in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, according to the Times.

Bolivian authorities believe that the escaped American prisoner traveled from Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia to La Paz. From there, Ostreicher apparently slipped across the border to Peru, and then flew from Peru's capital, Lima, to Los Angeles.

"The charges against him [Ostreicher] are still in effect and undoubtedly his escape shows us that this man took part in the crimes he is accused of,” said Ms. Allyón.

The Bolivian government will ask the United States to extradite Ostreicher, Allyón said.  The United States has an extradition treaty with Brazil.

This is the second high-profile flight from Bolivia in four months, Reuters reported. A Bolivian opposition senator, Roger Pinto, fled to Brazil in August after being accused of corruption and spending a year holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in La Paz.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.  

Cecil Williams pets his guide dog, Orlando, from his hospital bed after a fall onto subway tracks from the platform on Dec. 17, 2013, in New York. Mr. Williams says he fainted, and his seeing-eye dog tried to save him. Both escaped serious injury. (John Minchillo/ AP Photo)

After subway fall, Cecil Williams will keep his guide dog, thanks to donors (+video)

By Staff writer / 12.19.13

An online fundraising campaign has raised enough money to allow a New York City man and his soon-to-retire guide dog to stay together.

The pair came to public attention earlier this week in dramatic fashion, after a near-miss with a subway train. When Cecil Williams lost consciousness and fell off a subway platform and onto the tracks, his seeing-eye dog, Orlando, jumped after his owner, according to Associated Press reports. A northbound A-train rumbled toward the pair on the tracks of the 125th Street station, and both man and dog ducked, as the first two cars went over them before coming to a halt.

“The dog was sitting right in front of him [Mr. Williams], kind of like he was guarding him,” said Larmont Smith, a 15-year Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) veteran who was working at the station Tuesday morning and who saw the incident. “I give that dog a lot of credit,” Mr. Smith told the New York Daily News. “It was incredible. Normally an animal, or another human being, would run. That dog stayed right there.” 

As it turned out, Williams and Orlando were spending their last days together. Orlando, a black Labrador, is nearly 11 and is slated to retire as a service dog at the end of December, and Williams felt he could not responsibly afford to keep Orlando as a pet.

Enter a good Samaritan, Mark Jacobson of Washington, D.C., who saw news coverage of Williams' and Orlando's brush with the A-train. He started a donation page on the online fundraising site GoFundMe, The Daily Beast reported. The "Help Cecil Williams & Orlando the Lab" page has raised more than $38,000 for the pair.

Another online fundraising website, Indiegogo, raised at least $67,500 through a page called "Help Cecil Williams keep his seeing eye dog Orlando," created by another petitioner.

As a result, Williams will receive a new seeing-eye dog when Orlando retires, but he now will also be able to keep his four-legged companion of eight years as a pet. 

Especially after Orlando jumped down onto the tracks after him, Williams told The Daily Beast, it seemed unthinkable that they might part. “He stayed down there with me, he was licking my face,” Williams said. “He was there for me.”

Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the organization that trains service dogs and first gave Orlando to Williams, provides the dogs for free, but it cannot cover retired dogs' expenses. Williams will receive a new working dog early next year, spokeswoman Michelle Brier told the AP. 

Any extra money will go to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, according to the GoFundMe.com page.

"I'm not a crybaby or nothing. But my eyes are misty and I'm tearing right now because things like this here don't happen for everybody," Williams said at the hospital where he was being treated for minor injuries after the fall. "They should happen. We should care about one another. We should do for one another. But it's not always that way."

"The spirit of giving, Christmas ... exists in New York," he told the AP on Wednesday.

The fact that both man and dog escaped serious injury was hailed as a "miracle" by New York Fire Department Capt. Danny O'Sullivan. 

This year in New York City, 144 riders have been hit by subway trains, and 52 of them have died, according to the MTA. 

The MTA is about to start testing "intrusion detection" systems that alert train operators when someone is on the tracks, the Daily News reports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A police officer holds tape to keep people out from an area at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Monday. The bomb threat was a hoax, with the suspect, a Harvard student, now released on a $100,000 bond. (Josh Reynolds/AP)

Harvard bomb hoax: Are more students stuggling to cope with stress? (+video)

By Staff writer / 12.18.13

Harvard student Eldo Kim, who prosecutors claim is behind the bomb threats that disrupted Harvard exams Monday morning, was released to his sister and uncle on a $100,000 bond Wednesday with the stipulation that he must stay away from the university.

Four buildings on the campus in Cambridge, Mass., had to be evacuated because of the threats, sent via e-mail to the Harvard Crimson newspaper president, Harvard Police, and two other Harvard officials, the complaint says. Thorough sweeps of the buildings turned up no explosives.

An affidavit by an FBI agent states that Mr. Kim admitted to sending the e-mails because he wanted to avoid an exam. He went to Emerson Hall, one of the threatened buildings, Monday morning just before his exam was scheduled to take place, and evacuated with the other students, the affidavit says.

Unless more-serious mental health issues emerge, “this may be indicative of how very, very intelligent people are making very foolish choices” in society in general, says Michael Josephson, president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles. “In this case it was a false alarm. In another case it could be a banking executive who decides to cover up an error. It’s all cut from the same cloth – when you’re not fundamentally committed to playing by the rules, to integrity, to an idea of transparency.… Whenever you engage in conduct where the only way it works is if nobody finds out, already it’s dangerous and foolish.”

Alexander Ryjik, a junior from Alexandria, Va., was about to take a politics final in Emerson Hall when alarms went off. He recognized Kim from the class and said he was not surprised that authorities believe a student is responsible.

“At Harvard especially, people are scared to fail or do poorly, even a B,” he said. “It just kind of reflects just how high-stress it is here. If it is true that a student sent a bomb threat to prevent himself from taking a final, I think it's sad that somebody would have to go to that length.”

Kim was born in South Korea but renounced Korean citizenship to become a naturalized American citizen in fifth grade. The Harvard Crimson reports that he attended Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, Wash. The Crimson also quotes a student who is a friend of Kim’s and requested anonymity: He was a “great kid,” the student said. “I wouldn’t have expected [this].” Kim “probably studied a lot” for his exam on Monday, the student said, but may have gone into “panic mode.… He did have a stressful semester.”

Stress is the top factor affecting the academic performance of college students around the country – with 28.5 percent saying it has negatively impacted grades, influenced them to drop out of a course, or significantly disrupted thesis and project work, according to the National Health Assessment Survey last spring. However, calling in a bomb threat to a college is a rare occurrence, and not enough is known about Kim to assess what mental health issues he may have been facing, writes president-elect of the American College Counseling Association Tamara Grosz in an e-mail to the Monitor.

Others suggest that today's students are becoming less adept at coping with the stress of elite-level academics. 

"You frequently hear those who work in higher education talk about the perception that students are coming to campus with fewer coping resources. You couple the fewer coping resources with the increased pressures and expectations that are placed on students, and it's not all that surprising that the occasional student resorts to some form of extreme measure such as this," adds Josh Gunn, president of the American Counseling Association.

Just over a year ago, about 70 Harvard students were suspended for the school year for cheating on a take-home exam for a large course by discussing it with fellow students.

Kim is accused of using a service that disguises the source of e-mails. Harvard officials found that he had accessed a service that provides anonymous Internet Protocol (IP) addresses via the university’s wireless network in the hours before the threats were issued, the affidavit says.

The maximum penalties under the bomb hoax statute are five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.

Material from Associated Press was used in this report.

The Pioneer Oil derrick is ready to begin drilling for oil on the Indiana State University campus in Terre Haute. An increase in oil from fracking in the United States has contributed to lower gas prices, according to experts. (Jim Avelis/The Tribune-Star/AP)

Consumer Price Index: Are high gas prices a thing of the past? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 12.17.13

The Consumer Price Index remains unchanged for the month of November, held down by low gas prices. 

Gas prices have dropped almost every day for the past three weeks, and on Nov. 12, gas prices reached a multiyear low of $3.18 per gallon, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. The average national gas price this week is $3.22.  

Gasoline prices, adjusted for seasonal inflation, fell 1.6 percent in November, and 2.9 percent in October, according to the CPI report from the National Bureau of Labor Statistics

This winter will likely see the lowest gas prices since the winter of 2011-12, says Tom Kloza, the founder of Oil Price Information Service, a company in Gaithersburg, Md. “Four dollars and higher are going to be rare and represent more spikes for the rest of the decade,” he predicts. 

The reprieve in gasoline prices is, in part, thanks to the increased supply of oil and natural gas from the “shale revolution,” says Phil Flynn, a senior market analyst at the Price Futures Group in Chicago. Drilling into shale reserves, a controversial process commonly known as “fracking,” has insulated the United States from international spikes in energy prices, says Mr. Flynn. 

“The era of high energy prices, or at least high gasoline prices, has come to an end,” he adds.

In November, the United States produced more crude oil than it imported for the first time in nearly 20 years, according to the Energy Information Administration. However, the US still has a few years until it is energy independent: An estimate from the International Energy Agency predicts that the US will move steadily toward meeting all its energy needs from domestic resources by 2035.

Refineries have an incentive to produce more gasoline, because they can buy oil at a cheaper price in the US than almost anywhere else in the world, says Michael Green, a spokesman for AAA.

The US will feel occasional gasoline price spikes, since it is still importing oil, but the country is much better insulated from outside factors than in the past, Mr. Kloza says.

In May 2011, gas prices spiked to $3.97 a gallon after the price of gasoline rose 80 cents a gallon after February. The runup was caused after the civil war in Libya reduced oil supplies and then flooding on the Mississippi River resulted in unexpected refinery outages.

The dip in this year's oil prices reflects not only a move toward energy independence, but also factors a bit harder to anticipate: For example, this year there was no major hurricane and the refineries ran fairly smoothly, says AAA's Mr. Green. 

Moreover, a variety of seasonal factors are at play in the oil price dip as well, he adds.

In fall and spring, refineries usually do maintenance. With the onset of winter, the refinery maintenance season has ended, allowing more refineries to produce more gasoline.

Bad weather has also helped to keep gas prices low, says Green. The bad weather during the past few weeks has reduced the demand for gasoline – perhaps both good and bad news for holiday travelers.

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