News & Current Affairs

September 12, 2008

Sarah Palin: 10 things we’ve learnt

Sarah Palin: 10 things we’ve learnt

It has been a week since Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was catapulted from relative obscurity to center stage as US Republican John McCain’s choice for running mate. Here are 10 things we now know about her.

Images of Sarah Palin, past and present

1. Her five children are named Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and, last but not least, Trig Paxson Van Palin. According to the Washington Post newspaper, Track was named after the course of the sockeye salmon the family fishes off the town of Dillingham, while her eldest daughter’s name comes from Bristol Bay, an area known for its salmon fisheries. The name Willow relates to the state bird, the willow ptarmigan, and a nearby town, the paper says, while daughter Piper shares her name with the family’s small plane. Trig is the Norse word for “brave victory”, the Post adds.

2. Her rimless glasses are now a style phenomenon. The titanium Kawasaki 704 frames – designed in Japan, where they sell for $300 – are apparently flying off the shelves. Her upswept hair-do is also reportedly spawning imitators. LA Times fashion writer Booth Moore writes: “The untidiness of her updo has a can-do spirit that says, ‘I have more important things to do than worry about my hair, so I just twirled it into this clip so I could get to the real business of governing and shooting caribou and having babies and taking them to hockey practice.'”

3. John McCain picked someone who not only appeals to “Wal-Mart Moms” but is one herself, shopping for the family in a local branch. Not only that, writes New York Times columnist William Kristol, but “he picked someone who, in 1999 as Wasilla mayor, presided over a wedding of two Wal-Mart associates at the local Wal-Mart”.

4. Mrs Palin enjoys moose-hunting and salmon-fishing – and has said her favorite dish is moose stew. Former Republican senator and one-time presidential hopeful Fred Thompson described her as “the only nominee in the history of either party who knows how to properly field-dress a moose”. Cindy McCain, in her speech to the party’s national convention, said her husband John had “picked a reform-minded, hockey-mommin’, basketball-shooting, moose-hunting, salmon-fishing, pistol-packing mother-of-five for vice-president”.

5. A month before her fifth child, Trig, was due, Mrs Palin’s waters broke while she was in Texas to address a conference. She delivered her speech nonetheless and embarked on the long flight back to Alaska – changing planes in Seattle – before traveling an hour by road to hospital to give birth. She says she was not in “active labor” and her doctor said it was fine. Alaska Airlines allows women to travel in the late stages of pregnancy. Husband Todd – a commercial fisherman – is quoted by the s Anchorage Daily Newas saying: “You can’t have a fish picker from Texas.” Three days later, Mrs Palin was back at work.

6. As governor of Alaska, Mrs Palin ditched plans for a “bridge to nowhere” – a federally-funded project to link a handful of Alaskans to an airport at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. In her speech to the Republican National Convention, she said she had told the US Congress “thanks, but no thanks”. But US media say she appeared to support the project while running for governor in 2006, though she said the proposed design was too “grandiose”. And when she announced the cancellation of the bridge a year ago – after it gained notoriety as an example of wasteful spending – she hardly seemed to be turning down federal funds out of thrift. She explained the decision by saying, “It’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island.” The federal funding was diverted to other projects in Alaska.

Sarah Palin with one of her daughters on a fishing trip (handout)

Mrs Palin enjoys hunting, shooting and fishing for salmon

7. In a line that has gone down well at the Republican National Convention and on the campaign trail, she boasts of putting the previous governor’s “luxury jet” on eBay as a measure to cut wasteful spending. That is true. But what she has not always explained to her audience is that the plane failed to sell on the internet auction site and so aides had to broker a deal with a buyer.

8. She was baptised a Catholic as an infant but attended a Pentecostal church in Wasilla – her hometown since her parents moved to Alaska from Idaho when she was three months old – for many years. She now attends Wasilla Bible Church, a non-denominational, evangelical church. The Associated Press reports that the church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer.

9. As hunters sometimes do, Mrs Palin has incurred the wrath of wildlife-lovers. It’s not just that she shoots moose and caribou, she has also backed legislation to encourage the aerial hunting of wolves, as a “predator control” measure. Plus, she has opposed the US government’s listing of a variety of animals as endangered, including the polar bear and the beluga whale. Unlike Mr McCain and to the horror of many environmentalists, she actively supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

10. She is a self-described “average hockey mom”; a biography published a few months ago was entitled Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska’s Political Establishment on Its Ear. The hockey mom branding could prove useful come November in the swing states of Michigan and Minnesota, where ice hockey is a big game. Her best-known joke so far? “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.”

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September 6, 2008

Police: Gunman kills self after standoff in bank

Police: Gunman kills self after standoff in bank

WHEATON, Illinois (AP) — A gunman who took a dozen hostages in a suburban Chicago bank after wresting a gun from a police officer Friday died after shooting himself in the head, police said.

Hostages were released Friday after a gunman killed himself in suburban Chicago, police say.

Hostages were released Friday after a gunman killed himself in suburban Chicago, police say.

The standoff began around 1:30 p.m., after a Wheaton police officer responded to a call of a hit-and-run accident near the bank.

When the officer arrived, the suspect grabbed the officer from behind, held a knife to his throat and demanded his gun, Deputy Chief Thomas Meloni said.

During an ensuing struggle, the officer was cut on a forearm and the suspect was able to take the gun and run the lobby of the Wheaton Bank & Trust, where he ordered everyone to the floor, Meloni said.

Police in Wheaton, about 20 miles west of Chicago, did not immediately release the gunman’s identity.

As officers evacuated nearby businesses and homes and shut down streets and rail service, hostage negotiators talked to the gunman by phone. They were able to persuade him to release 10 hostages, leaving two behind, Meloni said.

“At one point the suspect began to close the blinds from inside the bank and he disconnected the phone contact with the hostage negotiators,” Meloni said.

Shortly afterward, about 4:15 p.m., officers heard a single gunshot and they rushed in, Meloni said. He said the man was dead of a single gunshot wound to the head.

A spokeswoman for Central DuPage Hospital, Amy Steinbruecker, said the hospital treated and released the police officer who scuffled with the suspect for minor injuries.

Television footage showed dozens of people running from the four-story bank building, which includes other businesses, with their hands above their heads.

“We locked our office door, turned off the lights, drew the blinds,” said Donna Price, 52, of McHenry, who works in the office building. “Then we heard a knock on the door and it was a SWAT guy. He told us to get out right now.

“I said, ‘Let me get my purse.’ He said, ‘No, now.”‘

Price said police held people in a stairwell of the building before ordering them out.

“We all had to put our hands up on the back of our heads and run,” Price said from a convenience store across the street where more than 100 people were crowded.

September 3, 2008

Six dead in US shooting attacks

Six dead in US shooting attacks

Police cars and suspect's vehicle on Interstate 5 in Mount Vernon, Washington

The suspect was pursued by police vehicles along an Interstate highway

A US man has surrendered to police in Washington state, after a series of shootings left six people dead.

The shootings took place at various places in the north-west of the state.

A sheriff’s deputy who went to investigate an incident was one of those killed; two construction workers were found shot nearby.

Following a chase along an Interstate highway, during which a motorist was killed, a man gave himself up at a sheriff’s office in Mount Vernon.

Local police say the deputy sherrif went to investigate reports of a disturbance at a local residence in Skagit County, north of Seattle.

When he didn’t return and failed to answer radio calls the alarm was raised.

The deputy’s body was found at the scene alongside a second victim.

Then the construction workers were found and another body was discovered on a street a short distance away.

Law enforcement officials managed to track the gunman and a high speed car chase ensued during which the suspect is reported to have been shooting wildly.

The dramatic pursuit ended when the gunman, who was reportedly known to the local authorities, unexpectedly pulled into a police station and surrendered.

Neither the victims nor the suspect have been identified.

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