Editor's note: This post is part of theÂ Overheard on CNN.comÂ series, a regular featureÂ that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.
Here are five stories people were talking about today; this is far from an exhaustive list. College sports and other groups are under a lot of scrutiny right now, as evidenced by today's sex-abuse allegations roundup. But one of the biggest talkers today is at Florida A&M University, where the school's community is reeling from the unexplained death of a drum major.
Authorities said Wednesday their investigation has uncovered possible fraud at the school.Â The suspected fraud is not directly related to the death of Robert Champion, authorities say.
This ongoing story has shocked readers, who couldn't believe that a marching band would have hazing, or that any member could die as a result of being a member. Many commenters thought student rituals were going too far, and a few questioned what was going on in the administration.
Defense2: "One thing leads to another. If a university can 'look the other way' when beatings are taking place in the form of 'hazing', then expect far worse blindness in more sublime categories of abuse."
UncleT9: "President Ammons says: 'One of the things that we have found with hazing is that there is a veil of secrecy. This is a culture, not just here at Florida A&M University. It's on college and university campuses all across America.' Deconstruct this: 1) It was kept secret from me (so not my fault). 2) It not a FAMU problem, but a national problem (so I can't do anything about it). Does anyone think this is leadership?"
[Updated at 8 p.m. ET Thursday] Try to act like you havenât heard this before: The U.S. government is days away from a potential partial shutdown.
For the eighth time in calendar 2011, Congress must approve at least a stop-gap spending measure because it failed to authorize spending for a full fiscal year. The current temporary measure ends Friday, and if Congress fails to act, a partial shutdown akin to that of 1995/1996 would ensue.
Leaders of both parties say they intend to keep the government funded. But as of Wednesday, a spending plan was held up as lawmakers argued over other issues, including possible extensions of a payroll tax cut and federal unemployment benefits.
Congressional negotiators came to an agreement Thursday night that they believe will prevent a shutdown, according to several Democratic sources. Negotiators were signing off on a massive spending bill that funds the government through October 1, 2012, they told CNN.
Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on the conference report Friday.
Temporary spending measures arenât unusual. At least one was passed in 27 out of the last 30 years, so that Congress could have more time to develop a fuller spending plan. But this year the country averaged more than one every two months, with many of them featuring battles between House Republicans – believing 2010 elections gave them a mandate to bring budget deficits under control – and Senate Democrats over how to shrink deficits.
Hereâs a look at the eight times the federal government technically came within days of losing its spending authorization this year, plus the summer debt-ceiling debate that also brought talk of a potential shutdown.
The Democratic-controlled House and Senate of 2010 failed to pass a budget for fiscal 2011, which would start in October 2010. Republicans won control of the House in November 2010 elections, setting the stage for this year's fierce budget battles.
With no full-year spending plan, a lame-duck Congress in December passed three short-term resolutions, with the final one keeping government operating until March 3.
Taking official control of the House in January, Republicans declined to pass any further spending extension, or "continuing resolution," without securing cuts as part of the deal. Freshmen Republicans, keen on slashing deficits, initially pressured their leadership to cut $100 billion from then-current spending levels.
By mid-February, the House GOP was pushing for $61 billion in cuts, which would have been partly reached by blocking all federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the president's health care overhaul, limiting the Environmental Protection Agency and cutting millions of dollars for the arts, heating subsidies and financial services regulations.
Two former university officials are scheduled for a preliminary hearing Friday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in connection with the Penn State sex scandal.
Former Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz were charged with lying to the grand jury and failing to report to police what current assistant football coach Mike McQueary told them he saw.
Meanwhile former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is accused of sexually abusing boys, remains "totally prepared and committed to proving his innocence" after waiving his right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday, his attorney said.
"We're ready to defend. We've always been ready to defend," attorney Joe Amendola said outside the Centre County Courthouse after the hearing. "There have been no plea negotiations. There will be no plea negotiations. This is a fight to the death. This is the fight of Jerry Sandusky's life."
The number of married couples in the United StatesÂ is at a record low, according to the latest figures from the Pew Research Center.
Numbers released Wednesday show 51% of American adults are married, a 5% drop from the previous year in new nuptials. The median age that people get married has risen to 26.5 years for brides and 28.7 for grooms.
The numbers reflect an increase in other living arrangements that have taken hold for American adults, such as cohabitation, divorce, single parenting and the rise of grandfamilies.
It's the type of plot that defense hawks in the United States warn about: a potential cyberattack against the U.S. government orchestrated by none other than Venezuela, Iran and Cuba, with the help of a group of Mexican leftists.
The U.S.-based Spanish-language network Univision recently aired an investigative documentary alleging that Venezuelan and Iranian diplomats were interested in an offer from a group of Mexican hackers to infiltrate the websites of the White House, FBI, Pentagon and U.S. nuclear sites.
But the hackers were university students recruited to do the dirty work who decided instead to document the evidence to disrupt the plot, the documentary reported.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called the report "lies." And one of the Iranian diplomats told Univision he indeed was presented with a hacking plot by the Mexican group but turned it down in part because he thought they were CIA agents.
The evidence that the plot was real, according to Univision, are secret recordings with diplomats who ask questions about what the hackers can do and promise to send information to their governments.
The United States said it did not know about the alleged plot but that it found the Univision allegations "very disturbing."FULL STORY
"The Artist" and "The Help" lead with three Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations each as Hollywood's movie awards season revved up Wednesday.
"The Artist," a French movie about the silent film era, is competing for best movie, while Jean Dujardin was nominated for best actor and Berenice Bejo for best supporting actor.
The other best movie competitors include "The Descendants," "Bridesmaids" and "Midnight in Paris."
"The Descendants" also garnered a best actor nomination for George Clooney.
The 18th annual SAG Awards show will be televised live from Los Angeles January 29.FULL STORY
A group of elderly South Korean women, backed by hundreds of supporters, Wednesday held their 1000th rally in protest of the Japanese governmentâs treatment of them during World War II, according to news reports.
Ahn Seon-mi, leader of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, told CNN in an e-mail Tuesday that the group seeks several things from Japan. âNo. 1 is acknowledge the war crime,â she said.
âReveal the truth in its entirety about the crimes of military sexual slavery,â she said, including rewriting the history books to accurately reflect what happened.
An Afghan woman imprisoned for adultery after a relative raped her has been freed after President Hamid Karzai intervened on her behalf.
The woman, identified only as Gulnaz for her own protection, had been sentenced to prison for 12 years after she reported that her cousin's husband had raped her two years ago. Wednesday, she was free, at a women's shelter in Kabul, with her daughter.
Her plight gained international attention when the European Union blocked the broadcast of a documentary about her ordeal, saying it would further jeopardize her safety.
After the attack two years ago, Gulnaz hid what happened as long as she could. She was afraid of reprisals. But soon she began vomiting in the mornings and showing signs of pregnancy. It was her attacker's child.
In Afghanistan, this brought her not sympathy, but prosecution. She was found guilty by the courts of sex outside of marriage – adultery – and sentenced to 12 years in jail. She was only 19.FULL STORY
Prisoners in ice, more than 100 Beluga whales in far eastern Russia risk death unless rescued soon.
The flock of gentle, ghost-white whales were trapped in ice floes in the Sinyavinsky Strait off the Bering Sea near the village of Yanrakynnot, said a statement from the Chukotka Autonomous Region.
Fishermen reported that the whales were concentrated in two relatively small ice holes, where, for now, they can breathe freely. But the Belugas' chance of swimming back to water is slim due to the vast fields of ice over the strait.
The whales have little food and the ice flows are increasing, the statement said. They are at risk of rapid exhaustion, and ultimately, death by starvation or suffocation. Trapped whales are also susceptible to predators like polar bears and killer whales.FULL STORY
Three stories to watch today:
Obama at Fort Bragg to speak about Iraq war's end
With the withdrawal of virtually all U.S. troops from Iraq due to be completed just days from now, President Barack Obama is expected to speak about the warâs end to soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Wednesday.
The speech is scheduled to be delivered at about noon ET.
As of two weeks ago, more than 10,000 U.S. troops were deployed in Iraq, down from 170,000, and the number was dropping daily. Iraqi security forces, including army and police officers, are to assume full responsibility for the country's security by the end of the year under a deal agreed to by Iraq and the United States.
The withdrawal will bring to an end the war that began in 2003 with the toppling of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Only about 150 U.S. troops are expected to remain after the December 31 deadline, a U.S. official told CNN, though a large private security force will protect the thousands of State Department workers and contractors staying behind after the withdrawal deadline.
Obama announced the troop withdrawal in October, cutting some unitsâ deployments short. His announcement followed news that negotiations to extend the deadline broke down after Iraq's top political leaders refused to grant U.S. troops legal immunity, opening up the prospect of service members being tried in Iraqi courts and subjected to Iraqi punishment.
Payroll tax cut extension
Expect to hear more about a showdown Wednesday between congressional Democrats and Republicans regarding a possible extension of a Social Security payroll tax cut and a possible extension of federal jobless benefits.
On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House passed a GOP plan that would extend the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits, and also speed the process for government approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Congressional Democrats generally want to extend the tax cut and jobless benefits, but are opposed to this plan because of the pipeline and other provisions.Â The Senate is expected to defeat this particular plan.
Time is running out for the possible extensions, with Congress scheduled to leave Washington for its holiday recess at the end of the week.
The payroll tax break, which was enacted last year, cut workersâ Social Security payroll tax rate to 4.2% on the first $106,800 in wages this year, instead of the normal 6.2%. With that cut, people making $50,000 this year will take home an additional $1,000. Unless the break is extended, it will expire after December 31.
Award-season nominations continue Wednesday morning with the announcement of candidates for the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The 9 a.m. ET nomination announcement will be carried live on TNT and online at TNT.tv and TBS.com. The SAG show, which presents 13 awards for acting in film and television,Â will be heldÂ on January 29 in Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, the Critics' Choice awards had its turn for nominations. George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jean Dujardin, Michael Fassender, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt were nominated for best actor; Viola Davis, Elizabeth Olsen, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Charlize Theron and Michelle Williams were nominated for best actress.
Golden Globe nominations are set for Thursday.
A close ally of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is stepping down as the speaker of the lower house of Russia's parliament, he announced Wednesday, according to the Russian state news agency.
Boris Gryzlov will retain his executive position in Putin's United Russia party, RIA Novosti reported.
The resignation comes after allegations of fraud in parliamentary elections earlier this month led to the largest anti-government demonstrations Russia has seen in two decades.
Businesses in several Syrian cities remained shuttered Wednesday amid ongoing violence and bloodshed as pressure mounted for an international response to the government crackdown on protesters.
Five civilians were killed in the suburbs of Hama when their vehicle was targeted by military forces, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group. In retaliation, at least eight troops were killed when army defectors ambushed four military vehicles, the organization said.
In the city of Daraa, a civilian was killed and three defectors were wounded in clashes with security forces in the village of al-Lajat, the Observatory said. In al-Harak city, military and security forces stormed the city with heavy machine gun fire, tanks and an armored personnel carrier.
The presidential campaign remains at full swing, while Lindsay Lohan looks to make a positive step in her legal woes.Â CNN.com Live is your home for all the latest developments in politics and entertainment.
Today's programming highlights...
9:00 am ET - SAG Awards nominations announced - The best in TV and film will be honored at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.Â Find out which shows and movies made the cut!
Liege, Belgium (CNN) - A man who went on a grenade and gun attack in the Belgian city of Liege left no explanation about why he did it, authorities said Wednesday.
There were at least 127 victims of the attack, with five dead plus the gunman, according to prosecutor Danielle Reynders.
Nordine Amrani, the 33-year-old suspect, killed himself at the end of the shooting rampage Tuesday.
Authorities ruled out terrorism as a motive, saying he acted alone.
After the rampage, police found a dead woman in Amrani's home, a local police spokesman said Wednesday. The woman is a cleaner whom the suspect killed before the attack, police said.FULL STORY
Google Inc. announced Wednesday that it's providing $11.5 million in grants to 10 organizations working to end modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
Gary Haugen, president and CEO of International Justice Mission, one of the grant recipients, called the move a "game-changing investment." IJM is a Washington-based human rights agency that works to rescue victims of slavery and sexual exploitation in about a dozen countries.
"This is the largest corporate step up to the challenge that is beginning to apply direct resources to the fight against slavery," Haugen said.
According to estimates by grant recipients, Google's support will free an estimated 12,000 people from slavery and prevent millions more from being victimized.
(CNN) - A magnitude 7.1 earthquake rattled Papua New Guinea on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.
The quake was centered 221 kilometers (137 miles) north-northwest of the capital, Port Moresby.
It hit a remote mountainous region at a depth of 121 kilometers (75 miles), the USGS said.
Some shaking was felt in the capital, said Sgt. Lawson Sakala of Papua New Guinea police. There were no immediate reports of damage from the public, he said.
No tsunami warning was posted.FULL STORY