Spokane diocese to file for bankruptcy
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane, unable to settle sexual abuse lawsuits, will file for bankruptcy at the end of the month, the bishop said Wednesday.
In a recent letter to parishioners, Bishop William Skylstad said the total amount of sex abuse claims "is in the tens of millions of dollars and far exceeds the net worth of the diocese."
Spokane is one of three Catholic dioceses forced into bankruptcy stemming from an abuse scandal that rocked the church in 2002. The Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., and the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., have already filed for bankruptcy protection.
The Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Spokane will allow the diocese to continue functioning while protecting people who were sexually abused by priests in the past, Skylstad said. "Valid claims will be settled," he said.
Big Dig project full of leaks
The Big Dig -- Boston's newly opened $14.6 billion highway tunnel project -- has a seriously flawed wall that contractors knew about as early as 1999, and is riddled with hundreds of smaller leaks.
Repairing the wall alone could take months and will probably require the closing of some traffic lanes overnight, officials said Wednesday. They had no immediate estimate of how much the repairs might cost.
The problems were identified by a team of outside engineers hired by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to investigate a major breach that caused a flood in September.
Turnpike Authority Chairman Matthew Amorello said that the tunnels remained structurally sound, a certain amount of leakage was inevitable, and the drainage system was keeping water off the roadways. "There is no public safety issue," he said.
Little Rock 'meanest' city toward homeless
A national organization has named Little Rock the nation's "meanest" city toward the homeless -- ranking it above Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York.
Little Rock's mayor disputed the designation by the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless, calling it an effort to gain publicity from the opening this month of the Clinton Presidential Library.
"I think they've ignored the facts and the things we have worked on in the last several years, the money we've put into the homeless," said Mayor Jim Dailey, who attended a groundbreaking for a homeless shelter Tuesday.
Following Little Rock on this year's list of meanest cities were Atlanta, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Gainesville, Fla., New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu and Austin, Texas.
Construction of the Clinton Library displaced dozens of homeless who had camped in the vacant lot and its adjoining river bank.
Troopers suspended for helicopter shuttle
Two Georgia State Patrol troopers were suspended without pay for letting NASCAR driver Bill Elliott hop a ride in their helicopter when they were supposed to be reporting about marijuana fields.
The troopers spent two hours shuttling Elliott from his home in Dawsonville, where he had dropped off an airplane, back to Blairsville, where Elliott's car was parked.
During the June 29 flight over northern Georgia, Elliott, a licensed helicopter pilot, took the controls of the surplus military aircraft intended only for law enforcement.
Meanwhile, anti-drug officers on the ground waited for details about the location of the marijuana fields.
Smoking declines, but just barely
Utah has become the first and only state to meet the government's goal of reducing the smoking rate to about one in eight adults, federal health officials said Wednesday.
The overall smoking rate among U.S. adults continues to drop, falling to 22.1 percent in 2003, the according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was a decline of just 1 percentage point from the year before.
The U.S. smoking rate has dropped every year since 1998, when more than 24 percent of American adults lit up.
But the rate is falling too slowly to meet the government's goal of having a smoking rate of 12 percent or less by 2010, officials said.
New York City
Mayor turns to Europe for more flu vaccine
Scrambling to ease an unprecedented vaccine crunch before the winter flu season hits with full force, New York City joined Illinois and New Mexico on Wednesday in ordering hundreds of thousands of doses of vaccine from Europe, putting increased pressure on the Bush administration to authorize the shipments.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the city intends to spend $2 million to buy vaccine from manufacturers in Germany and France. When combined with 275,000 doses of vaccine coming from the federal government, the city would have enough to "protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers," he said.
Influenza claims about 36,000 lives annually and already this year four New York nursing home residents have died from the flu. When the federal government came up short on Bloomberg's request for 500,000 doses, he decided to pursue other sources.
The purchase requires approval by the Food and Drug Administration because the vaccines have not been licensed for sale in the United States.