News & Current Affairs

July 16, 2009

LA to foot Jackson memorial bill

LA to foot Jackson memorial bill

Michael Jackson memorial

More than 17,000 fans flocked to Los Angeles for the memorial

The city of Los Angeles will pay the costs of policing Michael Jackson’s memorial concert, its mayor has said.

“This is a world-class city and we provide fire and police protection,” said Antonio Villaraigosa.

City council officials have suggested Jackson’s family and promoter AEG Live should pay some of the $1.4m (¬£860,000) needed for police and traffic control.

But Mr Villaraigosa said that “the idea we would charge the family for a funeral is nonsensical”.

The mayor was on holiday in South Africa a week ago when more than 17,000 fans flocked to downtown Los Angeles to watch the public memorial.

In his absence a website was set up encouraging public donations to help cover the costs of last Tuesday’s event at the Staples Center.

‘Hard decisions’

Meanwhile, AEG Live’s chief executive has revealed he wants to stage a one-off London tribute concert featuring the Jacksons and other artists.

Speaking to 6 Music, Randy Phillips said “hard decisions” would need to be made if the event was to take place on what would have been Michael Jackson’s 51st birthday.

“What we’re thinking about is one massive tribute that’s broadcast around the globe,” he said.

However, he played down reports that a concert was already in the works featuring such artists as Leona Lewis and Justin Timberlake.

Mr Phillips also rejected calls for AEG to reimburse LA authorities for the costs incurred by last week’s memorial.

“I think the city should cover these costs,” he said. “[When] someone of this fame dies, do you not give them a proper funeral?”


June 20, 2009

Schwarzenegger in LA plane drama

Schwarzenegger in LA plane drama

Arnold Schwarzenegger, file image

The governor seemed unfazed by the landing

A plane carrying California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has made an emergency landing in Los Angeles because of smoke in the cockpit.

No-one was hurt after a “quick, steep, but safe” landing, his office said.

The former film star was so calm about the incident that he immediately logged on to social networking website Twitter to share his experience.

“A little adventure just now when my plane made an emergency landing. All’s ok, though,” his message said.

The pilot diverted the jet to the Van Nuys airport 10 minutes before it was due to land at Santa Monica, spokesman Aaron McLear said in a statement.

Fire crews met the jet on the runway.

“Upon landing the governor exited the jet and travelled to his house,” Mr McLear said.

He added that the crew had done an “outstanding job” and that “everyone aboard landed safely and unharmed”.

September 19, 2008

Small-town girl v big-city boy

Small-town girl v big-city boy

Virginia-based author Joe Bageant claimed Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin as a fellow “redneck”, in a recent essay for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.He meant it as a compliment. Here Jamie Stiehm, a city-dwelling political commentator, asks whether small-town values are all they are cracked up to be.

When an American refers to someone as “small-town”, it’s seldom clear whether it’s meant as praise or scorn.

Trump Tower in Chicago
Sarah Palin declared psychological war on Barack Obama by setting up a ‘small-town girl v big-city boy’ dichotomy

It all depends on the speaker, subject, listener and ZIP code where the conversation is taking place.

For some, small towns are where virtues live: near the diner, yarn shop and swimming hole. For others, “small-town” is a synonym for smug narrow-mindedness.

Governor Sarah Palin, the political hurricane that made landfall in early September as the surprise Republican vice-presidential nominee, hit upon the deepest contradiction in the American character. It’s as old as the fierce fight between two founding fathers – urbane Alexander Hamilton of New York and Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia slave-owning gentleman of the land.

We Americans still have a romantic notion about the simple small town, which goes hand in hand with Jefferson’s idealized “yeoman farmer”. But in real life, most of us live in the busy, peopled world Hamilton envisaged.

Ms Palin declared psychological war on Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, right away by setting up a “small-town girl versus big-city boy” dichotomy.

In her hello-to-the-country speech, Palin zeroed in on Obama’s work as a community organizer in Chicago before he went to Harvard Law School. That was in another metropolis known as Cambridge, a lively academic grove in Boston.

In a rare move for a political unknown, Palin made it personal between the man running for president, Obama, and herself. They are of the same generation: she is 44 to his 47, and represent bipolar extremes.

Jamie Stiehm
Jamie Stiehm is a political journalist based in Washington DC. Her essays on the 2008 presidential campaign have appeared in the liberal, pro-Obama Huffington Post.

“I have the privilege of living most of my life in a small town,” Palin told roaring Republicans at their convention.

“I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain… I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organiser, except you have actual responsibilities.”

Gopher Prairie

But, just a moment, what’s so great about being mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska? Whether Ms Palin ever made time to see the skylines and neighborhoods of Philadelphia, Boston or Baltimore is arguably more to the purpose of governing the United States.

For like it or not, we are a nation composed of mostly city dwellers.

Sarah Palin
We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity
Sarah Palin quotes the late Hearst journalist, Westbrook Pegler

The 1920 census was the point in our social history when the population changed from living in rural and small communities to living in cities.

That shift is mirrored beautifully in the literature of the period, known as “The Revolt from the Village,” as critic Carl van Doren put it in The Nation in 1921. This revolt was accompanied by a rush to breathe in the exhilarating big city by young men and women, as told in the autobiographical novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe.

The most famous work in the anti-small town movement was the 1920 novel Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis, who based fictional Gopher Prairie on his own Minnesota hometown.

The Nobel laureate author opened with a world-weary, ironical note: “This story would be the same in Ohio or Montana, in Kansas or Kentucky‚Ķ Main Street is the climax of civilization.”

Biographer Richard Lingeman, also the author of Small Town America, said Lewis’ masterpiece launched “a conscious, definitive attack on the stuffiness, provincialism, smugness, conformity and cruel gossip of small town life, intended to puncture the myth once and for all.”

World citizen

Yet here the heartland myth persists, in popular culture as well as partisan politics. Rock singer John Mellencamp’s song, Small Town, tells the other side of the story told by Lewis: “No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from/I cannot forget the people who love me/Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town/And people let me be just what I want to be.”

The lyrics are in an ode to his Indiana hometown.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama would have a hard time laying claim to small-town credentials

Mellencamp is a big Obama supporter, as it happens. Maybe the Democratic nominee would be well advised to take the singer on the road to help shore up his support in small towns in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania?

One of the strengths of Obama’s curriculum vitae, for some of his supporters, is its variety. Growing up, he lived in Hawaii and Indonesia. He studied in LA, New York and Boston and knows his way around Washington.

He’s a world citizen.

He’d have a hard time claiming small-town status, though Springfield, Illinois, where he served as a state legislator, is a fairly small town where another lanky lawyer who ran for President once lived. (That would be, of course, Abraham Lincoln.)

No doubt certain strengths come from living in a small town, especially for politicians.

Bill Clinton, who hails from Hope, Arkansas, embodies the easy social connectedness which a small town upbringing can produce.

Everyone tends to relate to everyone else, up and down the social scale. People know the person you were in high school.

You might even be married to someone you knew in high school, as Palin told the world she was. “My guy,” was how she introduced her husband, Todd Palin, to the cheering crowd that night.

You might even be pregnant in high school, as her daughter Bristol is – but somehow the redoubtable Palin has turned that into a small-town virtue, too.

Urban sophisticates

In her convention speech, she quoted anonymously Westbrook Pegler, the long-gone Hearst newspaper columnist and scourge of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.”

Was the subtext that urban sophisticates like Obama are somehow suspect?

Just what we need, a new culture war at home.

As if we Americans weren’t demoralized enough already by the economy and the war in Iraq.

But there is no obvious reason why the big city guy has to lose this ideological battle.

Maybe he should engage and ask Americans: hey, whose world would you rather live in? Jefferson’s or Hamilton’s? Mine or Palin’s? Wasilla or Chicago?

He’ll have to watch out though, or the small-town girl will have him for lunch at the diner.


September 14, 2008

Human error suspected in LA crash

Human error suspected in LA crash

Human error is being blamed for a train collision on the outskirts of Los Angeles, California, which has claimed the lives of at least 24 people.

The driver of a train with 222 passengers aboard apparently ignored a red signal, causing it to hit a freight train head on, the rail company says.

The passenger train hit the freight train with such force, its engine was shoved back inside the first carriage.

Officials say the chances of finding any further survivors are very remote.

Firefighters have cut through the roof of the train, which is a double-decker, removing chunks of metal piece by piece.

Sniffer dogs have been brought in to try to detect any signs of life.

A spokeswoman for the rail company Metrolink, Denise Tyrrell, told reporters:

“At this moment we must acknowledge that it was a Metrolink engineer that made the error that caused yesterday’s accident.”

It was not immediately clear whether the driver had survived.

The death toll is expected to rise as more bodies are uncovered. More than 80 people are in hospital.

Commuter train

The worst rail crash in the US for 15 years happened at 1632 local time (2332 GMT) on Friday, at a time when the passenger train was carrying 222 people, most of them commuters.

I heard a loud crash and I saw black smoke… some people were mangled pretty bad
Phil Thiele, Metrolink passenger

The passenger train was travelling from Los Angeles to Moorpark, north-west of the city.

It collided with a Union Pacific freight train on a curving stretch of track in Chatsworth, in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles county.

The front coach of the Metrolink passenger train derailed and was crushed by the engine after the collision. Two other coaches of the train remained upright.

Aerial images of the crash scene showed teams of rescuers using ladders to reach injured people inside the mangled front coach.

The Union Pacific freight train was badly damaged in the accident. Officials say two people – the driver and the conductor – were on board the train.

“I heard a loud crash and I saw black smoke… some people were mangled pretty bad,” Phil Thiele, one of the passengers in the front coach, told the Los Angeles Times.

He said he tried to help one man who was pinned between seats: “I tried my damnedest to get him out but I just couldn’t.”

Were you affected by the crash? You can share your experience

August 16, 2008

FBI identifies US kidnap accused

FBI identifies US kidnap accused

Clark Rockefeller

Christian Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller, faces a number of charges

The FBI has used fingerprint testing to confirm the identity of a father accused of kidnapping his London-based daughter in the US.

It believes Clark Rockefeller, 48 – accused of abducting Reigh Boss, seven – is Christian Gerhartsreiter.

LA police had earlier said he was thought to be the German national, also “of interest” to officers over the 1985 disappearance of a couple in the US.

Mr Rockefeller’s lawyer said his client had little memory of pre-1993 events.

The FBI said it had now matched fingerprints from old immigration papers of Mr Gerhartsreiter to the suspect who called himself Clark Rockefeller.

The prints were taken from papers dating back to the 1980s and matched with a wine glass touched in late July – around the time he is accused of abducting his daughter – as well as prints taken by Baltimore police after his arrest on 2 August.

Last week a spokesman for the LA County sheriff’s department said the accused had been a “person of interest” in the disappearance in San Marino, California, of Jonathan and Linda Sohus, from whom he had rented a guesthouse in the 1980s.

Skeletal remains believed to be those of Mr Sohus were unearthed at the couple’s property in 1994. No charges have ever been filed in the case.

The accused has said he now recalls living in the guesthouse at the time of the couple’s disappearance and also remembered using the name Christopher Chichester, while living in California.


Lawyer Stephen Hrones said his client had told him that he barely knew the couple and that they had left while he was still in California.

He had used the name of Chichester because “he was aspiring to be an actor out there”, Mr Hrones said.

Jonathan and Linda Sohus

Jonathan and Linda Sohus went missing in 1985

He added there was nothing wrong with using aliases “as long as you don’t use it to defraud”.

The FBI said he was born in the former West Germany in 1961 and spent 27 years in the US using various names.

Daniel Conley, district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, said that by matching recent fingerprints to those on the old papers, the FBI’s fingerprint technicians had “brought science to bear where mere suspicion had prevailed”.

Mr Hrones said earlier this week that his client still believed his real name was Clark Rockefeller and that he had no recollection of being Christian Gerhartsreiter, but has not commented on the fingerprint results.

His client was arrested in Baltimore earlier this month over the alleged kidnapping of his daughter after a tip-off from a member of the public.

He was taken to Boston and remanded in custody by the court there.

He is charged with felony custodial kidnapping, assault and battery, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on 27 July.

The girl was reunited with her mother, Sandra Boss, with whom she lives in London.


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