June 30, 2009

By United Press International  |  June 30, 2009 at 9:10 AM
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Handover in Iraq:

U.S. forces in Iraq have withdrawn from urban areas, leaving security for those areas in the hands of local authorities.

Iraqi leaders, anticipating the move, declared Tuesday National Sovereignty Day. However, U.S. and Iraqi commanders say they expect militants to carry out sectarian attacks to keep the country on edge.

U.S. forces are still working with Iraqi troops patrolling the cities and the deadline Tuesday is a small step ahead of the full removal of U.S. combat troops next year. It was still greeted enthusiastically by the Iraqi populace.

U.S.-led coalition troops have occupied Iraq since the 2003 invasion to oust the government of Saddam Hussein. More than 4,300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, including four who were killed in combat Monday in Baghdad.

Perhaps just as significant four companies submitted bids to develop an oil field in southern Iraq. It would be the first private company oil deal since Saddam nationalized the industry in 1972.

Madoff gets maximum sentence:

Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison after pleading guilty to 11 felony counts, including mail fraud and perjury, related a Ponzi scheme that bilked customers out of billions of dollars. The sentence was the maximum that could have been imposed by U.S. District Judge Denny Chin.

Chin called the crimes "extraordinarily evil."

Madoff during the sentencing proceedings Monday apologized and said, "I live in a tormented state now, knowing of all the pain and suffering that I have created."

He also directly addressed the victims of his crimes who had gathered for the sentencing. "I am sorry," Madoff told them. "I know that doesn't help you."

Chin said no one submitted letters of support for Madoff ahead of sentencing.

Madoff, 71, has 10 days to decide whether to appeal the sentence.

Michael Jackson:

Michael Jackson's three children have been placed in temporary custody of Katherine Jackson, Michael's mother. Katherine Jackson also asked that she be named the administrator of Michael Jackson's estate.

Hearings on the request were scheduled for July 6 and Aug. 3. Thus begins the legal wrangling that is certain to continue for years.

A London newspaper says Michael Jackson left a will, drawn up in 2002, that should be filed this week. The Daily Telegraph said the document leaves the estate to his mother and children with some assets set aside for charity.

The Los Angeles Times reported several boxes of "medical evidence" (the newspaper's quote marks) were taken from the house where Jackson last lived. The newspaper also said police were talking with "an unknown number of doctors" involved with Jackson, either with treatment or prescribing medication.

Jackson died Thursday of apparent heart problems although final autopsy results haven't been released.

State budget deadlines:

Five states -- Arizona, California, Indiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania -- are facing budgetary crises as legislators try to put together budgets without deficits before their new fiscal years begin Wednesday.

States can't resort to deficit spending as the federal government can, so must live within their means. And the means during the economic downturn are decidedly leaner. California, for example, is looking at a $24 billion deficit next year. The National Conference of State Legislatures says the budget gap across the country is $121 billion for the next fiscal year.

Shutdowns and curtailment of some services can be expected. Some governors are looking at raising taxes -- not the most welcome of thoughts in a recession -- to help cover the shortages. Others have ordered furloughs to cut back on state payrolls.

Bad writing:

David McKenzie of Federal Way, Wash., won the 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a competition named for 19th-century novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton. The object is to come up with a bad opening sentence to an imaginary novel. Bulwer-Lytton, by the way, gave us the opening, "It was a dark and stormy night."

McKenzie's winning effort in 2009: "Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the "Ellie May," a sturdy whaler captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."

The contest, an institution since 1982, is coordinated by the English department at San Jose State University.

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