Overheard on CNN.com: Hurd's drug case, Barry Bonds' sentence, Penn State saga
Readers are talking about former Chicago Bears receiver Sam Hurd, shown here catching a pass during a game in September.
December 16th, 2011
08:34 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Hurd's drug case, Barry Bonds' sentence, Penn State saga

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

It's been an eventful week in the sports world. Readers saw all the headlines and wondered how and why such successful people could find themselves in such troublesome situations.

Ex-Bear Sam Hurd to be freed on $100,000 bond as drug case heads to Texas

This story is about how the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago said now-former Chicago Bears receiver Sam Hurd would likely be processed and released on a $100,000 cash bond Friday evening. Many readers reacted by blaming the incident on the sudden wealth bestowed upon young, successful athletes.

gary: "Money corrupts. Many pro athletes were poor, with little real education (despite the gift degrees from big colleges), and when these thug-types get the chance to have guns, dope, bling, women, and more cash, they jump for it. Pro sports are a joke. How silly to sit and watch others play a game ... and pay royally to do so."

For many commenters, the incident just didn't make any sense. FULL POST

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Filed under: Crime • Drugs • Justice • Overheard on CNN.com • Sports
Ex-Bear Sam Hurd freed on $100,000 bond as drug case heads to Texas
Sam Hurd, seen here making a play earlier this season, was arrested in Rosemont, Illinois, on drug charges this week.
December 16th, 2011
08:03 PM ET

Ex-Bear Sam Hurd freed on $100,000 bond as drug case heads to Texas

[Updated at 8:03 p.m. ET] Sam Hurd was released on a $100,000 cash bond late Friday afternoon.

His case will now be handled by the federal court for the Northern District of Texas. Hurd waived his probable cause hearing so his case will move to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict him, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Sean Jensen, an NFL Columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, told CNN that the Chicago Bears organization was blindsided by the arrest of one of the most "cordial, friendly and accountable" players in the clubhouse.

"Everybody throughout this building is shocked by this revelation the other day. The team didn't know anything of it until Thursday morning when Sam Hurd wasn't in the usual receiver meeting. That's when they started asking around and figuring out what happened," Jensen said.

[Posted at 3:49 p.m. ET] A judge granted Sam Hurd a $100,000 bail in a federal drug case that alleges the ex-Chicago Bears receiver conspired to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth or mairjuana and cocaine for distribution in the Chicago area, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Judge Young B. Kim set the bail amount Friday afternoon hearing in federal court, where Hurd appeared in an orange prison jumpsuit with his feet chained together, the paper reported.

Hurd looked to the gallery, where his father and wife, Stacee, sat, as he entered the courtroom, the paper said. He spoke only to say “Yes, sir” to Kim’s questions.

[Posted at 3:23 p.m. ET] Bears GM Jerry Angelo announces the team has cut player Sam Hurd.

FULL POST

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Filed under: Crime • Drugs • Football • Illinois • Marijuana • Pro football • Sports • Texas • U.S.
U.S. ports in race to be ready for increased Panama Canal traffic
Workers help to construct a new set of locks at Panama Canal on July 1.
December 16th, 2011
07:42 PM ET

U.S. ports in race to be ready for increased Panama Canal traffic

Ports along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts are racing to expand so that they can take on an anticipated growth in shipping once an expanded Panama Canal opens.

(Click the audio player to hear more on this story from CNN Radio's Steve Kastenbaum)

New locks are expected to be completed at the Panama Canal in 2014. They’ll enable much larger ships to pass through the canal, providing these ships to take direct routes between Asia and the U.S. East Coast.

“It will dramatically change the dynamics of shipping to the East Coast, or at least that’s the expectation of some in the industry,” said Manju Chandrasekhar, a vice president with the engineering firm Halcrow. He’s been working on port expansions and other infrastructure projects for the past 16 years.

“These ships are bigger. It also means that they sit deeper in the water. The industry term is the draft,” Chandrasekhar said. “They draw a deeper draft, which means that the navigation channels, or the access waterways, to these ports will need to be deepened in certain ports.”

FULL POST

December 16th, 2011
07:08 PM ET

'Tebowing' high school students suspended for blocking hallway

Two "Tebowing" high school students have been suspended for blocking the hallway while mimicking the quarterback's famous prayer pose.

The boys were two of four students to trigger a wave of some 40 students kneeling in between classes, Riverhead High School Principal David Wicks said. The students caused a safety hazard, he said. The incident was captured on a smartphone and posted to YouTube.

"It was basically just a tribute to Tim Tebow," The New York Post quoted one of the boys as saying. "It was more than a religious thing. There was some of that involved obviously, because he prays. I guess it was basically like a moment of silence."

The two students received in-school suspension because they had been warned before about pulling disruptive stunts in the middle of the hallway, Wick said. The others received a verbal warning.

"This is about students causing an unsafe situation by blocking the hallways," Wicks said. "This has nothing to do with Tim Tebow or punishing the students for their religion beliefs. If they'd been sitting in the hallway with their legs crossed they'd receive the same discipline."

Tebow mania is sweeping the nation, inspired by the Denver Broncos quarterback's overt religiosity and knack for winning despite less than stellar stats.

"I think it’s wonderful that our students look up to sports heroes such as Mr. Tebow, but we can’t allow students to create unsafe situations in school," Superintendent Nancy Carney said in a statement.

"The students stated that there was nothing religious about their actions and that they were just having fun. We hope that these students and all of our students continue to look up to the positive role models in public life; we just encourage them to do it in a responsible way."

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Filed under: Football • Pro football • Sports • Tim Tebow
December 16th, 2011
06:55 PM ET

Senate leaders propose 2-month extension of payroll tax cut

Senate negotiators were unable to work out a comprehensive deal on extending the payroll tax cut and instead are proposing a two-month extension, two sources told CNN on Friday.

The possible deal still needs approval from the full caucuses of both parties, which are meeting Friday evening.

FULL STORY
December 16th, 2011
04:32 PM ET

Florida A&M drum major's death ruled a homicide

The death of Robert Champion, the 26-year-old Florida A&M University student and drum major who died last month after a suspected hazing incident, has been ruled a homicide, according to a medical examiner.

FULL STORY
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Filed under: Crime • Florida
December 16th, 2011
02:46 PM ET

Bonds sentenced to 30 days of house arrest; appeal pending

[Updated at 3:21 p.m. ET] Baseball legend Barry Bonds was sentenced Friday to 30 days of house arrest for an obstruction of justice conviction in connection with his 2003 testimony to a federal grand jury investigating pro athletes' illegal steroids use.

But the sentence, which also includes two years of probation and a $4,000 fine, will be put on hold pending an appeal.

The sentencing came in a San Francisco federal courtroom near the ballpark where he broke Hank Aaron's major league home run record in 2007. Federal prosecutors had wanted Bonds, 47, to serve 15 months in prison, according to a sentencing memo filed in court earlier this month.

Jurors who found Bonds guilty in April said he was evasive in his December 2003 testimony, which was part of the BALCO investigation that targeted employees of a California drug testing laboratory and Bonds' personal trainer Greg Anderson.

The testimony that led to Bonds' conviction came when a grand jury prosecutor asked him whether Anderson ever gave him "anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with."

Bonds told the grand jury that only his personal doctors "ever touch me," and he then veered off the subject to say he never talked baseball with Anderson. In closing arguments two weeks ago, a federal prosecutor said Bonds lied to the grand jury because he knew the truth about his steroids use would "tinge his accomplishments" and hurt his baseball career. Defense lawyers had argued that Bond' thought the creams and ointments Anderson was giving him were made of flaxseed oils.

FULL STORY
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Filed under: Barry Bonds • Baseball • Sports
Overheard on CNN.com: Vanity Fair essayist's death sparks atheism debate
Christopher Hitchens was "a master of the stunning line and the biting quip," Vanity Fair said in a statement.
December 16th, 2011
02:43 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Vanity Fair essayist's death sparks atheism debate

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

"The world has lost an intellectual spark. May it have fired a million engines."
–mandarax

More than 1,000 comments poured in as tributes to Vanity Fair essayist Christopher Hitchens, 62, who died of esophageal cancer. Readers talked about his wit, his writing and his atheism, and Hitchens' outspoken beliefs ignited a vibrant discussion. We saw our community talking honestly about their own personal beliefs and trying to understand the views of others, which makes for a great set of comments.

Vanity Fair essayist Christopher Hitchens dead at 62

Many readers paid tribute to a man they admired. This reader vowed to carry on his legacy: FULL POST

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Filed under: Overheard on CNN.com • Religion
Giant cannibal shrimp worry Gulf Coast watchers
Black tiger shrimp may pose a huge problem for the Gulf Coast shrimp and oyster industry, an expert says.
December 16th, 2011
01:22 PM ET

Giant cannibal shrimp worry Gulf Coast watchers

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Gulf of Mexico, a new menace, this one striped like a big cat, is preying on aquatic life: The black tiger shrimp.

The biggest saltwater shrimp in the world, black tigers “are cannibalistic as are other shrimp but it’s larger so it can consume the others,” Tony Reisinger, country extension agent for the Texas Sea Grant Extension Service, told CNN on Friday.

Because of the threat of disease, the predatory intruder poses a problem for the native shrimp and oyster population of the Gulf, Reisinger said.

"Our oystermen right now are hurting because the oyster season is shut down due to a red tide. But this (black tiger) shrimp poses other concerns,” he said.

Appearing more than 25 years ago, the black tiger’s sudden reappearance is a mystery.

“The first time they started appearing was in the late 1980s on the East Coast,” he said. “Then they disappeared in 1991.”

FULL POST

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Filed under: Animals • Texas
December 16th, 2011
12:07 PM ET

N.C. soldier reportedly last to die in Iraq war

David Hickman was a star football player in McLeansville, North Carolina. He was a quiet man with a larger-than-life presence. He also holds the distinction of being the last soldier to die before the official announcement of the end of the Iraq war. That fact has made him a part of history, CNN affiliate WGHP reports.

Hickman, an Army specialist, was remembered Thursday by friends as the U.S. marked the official end of the war.

President Obama commemorated the milestone with an appearance at Fort Bragg, where Hickman was stationed before being deployed in September.

Obama, Panetta honor Iraq war troops

"As your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to finally say these two words, and I know your families agree - welcome home. Welcome home,” he told cheering troops.

The coincidence did not go unnoticed by Hickman’s friends, who spoke to WGHP.

"That is so like David. He wasn't going to go out quietly. He's going to go down with a place in history," said his friend Logan Trainum. "He wasn't the loudest one in the room, but he was the most noticed one in the room. He just had that presence about him."

Home and Away: Share your tributes to fallen troops

Even in death, Hickman was making his presence known, his friends said.

FULL POST

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Iraq • Military • U.S. Air Force • U.S. Army • War
Gotta Watch: Extreme kayakers plunge down waterfalls
A kayaker competes in the 15th annual Green River race.
December 16th, 2011
11:25 AM ET

Gotta Watch: Extreme kayakers plunge down waterfalls

This is kayaking like you’ve never seen it before. Some “extreme kayakers” are dropping down waterfalls and racing down rapids. You’ve Gotta Watch them perform death-defying stunts. We’ll let you decide whether they’re cool or crazy.

Free-falling feat – Extreme kayaker Isaac Levinson recently rode down Alabama's 90-foot Noccalula Falls, upsetting park officials. He says he decided to do this stunt “because it’s there.” Hear him tell about his wild ride and watch a helmet-cam video of the fall.

FULL POST

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Filed under: Gotta Watch • Sports • Washington state
December 16th, 2011
09:36 AM ET

Star witness describes Penn State shower scene

Former Penn State star quarterback turned star witness Mike McQueary testified Friday that he believes he saw Jerry Sandusky molesting a boy in a locker-room shower in 2002.

McQueary said he walked into a locker room and felt "embarrassed" as he heard someone in the shower.

"I looked in the mirror and shockingly and surprisingly saw Jerry with a boy in the shower," McQueary told the court.

McQueary said he heard rhythmic, slapping sounds, like that of skin on skin.

He said Sandusky was behind the boy and that the boy was up against a wall. He said he believes Sandusky was sexually molesting the boy but he did not see insertion and did not hear protests. He said he believes the two were engaged in intercourse but he cannot be sure.

McQueary was the first witness in a key hearing Friday for two university officials charged with lying after McQueary had described an alleged sexual assault he witnessed in a locker room.

FULL STORY
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Filed under: Jerry Sandusky • Joe Paterno • Penn State • Pennsylvania
December 16th, 2011
09:06 AM ET

Russia seizes radioactive objects from flight to Iran

Russian authorities seized radioactive material from the luggage of a passenger on a flight from Moscow to Tehran on Friday.

The luggage, belonging to an Iranian citizen, contained 18 metal objects packed in individual steel cases, Russia's Federal Customs Service said in a statement. The agency said the material, the radioactive isotope sodium-22, can be obtained in a nuclear reactor.

Initial tests showed that radiation levels of the objects were 20 times above normal, the customs service said.

The Russian atomic agency Rosatom, however, said sodium-22 is exclusively used for medical and scientific research and does not have a high radiation level. Rosatom contradicted the custom agency's claim that the material can only come from a nuclear reactor.

FULL STORY
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Filed under: Nuclear • Russia • World
December 16th, 2011
07:54 AM ET

Friday's live events

CNN.com Live is your home for all the latest news on the 2012 presidential election.

Today's programming highlights...

9:30 am ET - Euro crisis hearing - Will the current euro crisis affect the U.S. economy and taxpayers?  A House oversight subcommittee looks into the issue.

FULL POST


Filed under: Dollars & Sense • Economy • Elections • Politics
December 16th, 2011
03:51 AM ET

Truth Squad: Part of the CNN Republican debate fact-checking series

Truth Squad: Gingrich's claim on surplus off base

The statement: "I balanced the budget for four straight years, paid off $405 billion in debt, pretty conservative." Newt Gingrich, during Thursday night's Republican candidates' debate in Sioux City, Iowa.

The facts: Newt Gingrich served as speaker of the House from January 4, 1995 to January 3, 1999. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the nation ran a deficit in 1995 (-$164 billion), 1996 (-$107.4 billion) and 1997 (-$21.9 billion). It ran a surplus in 1998 ($69.3 billion) and 1999 ($125.6 billion).

If you don't count the deficit during his first year as speaker, when the budget was already set, and do count the surplus during the year after he stepped down, he can claim credit for a surplus in only two of four years. Those surpluses total $194.9 billion, which is less than half the $405 billion he says he paid off.

If you confine the view to the time he spent in office, Gingrich's assertion looks worse. The national debt on the day Gingrich was sworn in as speaker was $4.8 trillion. Four years later, it was $5.6 trillion, an increased debt of $800 billion, according to the U.S. Treasury website.

Also, Gingrich fails to acknowledge that the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton would take some credit for putting in place policies that resulted in the four consecutive years of surplus that occurred from 1998-2001.

Verdict: False.

Truth Squad: Is Iran "a few months" away from a nuclear weapon?

When Rep. Michele Bachmann said that a report by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency had described Iran as poised to join the world's elite club of nuclear powers, during Thursday's Republican candidates' debate in Sioux City, Iowa, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas responded immediately that she was mistaken.

The statements:

"We have an IAEA report that just recently came out that said, literally, Iran is within just months of being able to obtain that weapon." - Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota

"There is no U.N. report that said that. It's totally wrong what you just said. That is not true. They produced the information that led you to believe that, but they have no evidence." - Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas

The facts: The IAEA Board of Governors released a 14-page report on November 8 that concluded that it had "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program. After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicates that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured program, and that some activities may still be ongoing."

The verdict: False. The IAEA report does not say that Iran is within months of being able to obtain a nuclear weapon. So Bachmann is wrong. But the report does cite "credible" information that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons, so Paul's blanket denial that "they have no evidence" may also be wrong, depending on whether he is referring to evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon or evidence that such a weapon could be ready within months.

Truth Squad: Did Bachmann prove Gingrich lobbied for Freddie Mac?

During Thursday night's Republican candidates' debate in Sioux City, Iowa, a moderator asked U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann to produce hard evidence that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had peddled his influence with congressional Republicans on behalf of mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Bachmann, who is among conservatives who say Freddie Mac and fellow federally backed mortgage group Fannie Mae had a role in the collapse of the U.S. housing market, has criticized Gingrich for his post-Congress work as a consultant for Freddie Mac and accused him of lobbying senior Republicans on Freddie Mac's behalf.

Bachmann was asked: "Given (Gingrich's) denial over time ... that he's ever lobbied, what is your evidence - hard evidence - that he engaged in influence peddling?"

The statement: "It's the fact that we know that he cashed paychecks from Freddie Mac. That is the best evidence that you can have: over $1.6 million. ... The evidence is that Speaker Gingrich took $1.6 million. You don't need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence peddling with senior Republicans in Washington, D.C., to get them to do your bidding."

The facts:

CNN reported in November that the consulting company that Gingrich started after he left Congress, the Gingrich Group, was paid between $1.6 million and $1.8 million for work done with Freddie Mac.

Gingrich has repeatedly said he and his firm consulted Freddie Mac and other groups, but did not lobby for anyone.

"Gingrich made a decision after resigning (from the House) that he would never be lobbyist so that nobody would ever question the genuine nature of his advice and perspectives," the Gingrich campaign website says, adding that Freddie Mac was one of many Gingrich Group clients, and that its fees were comparable to that of many consulting firms.

Freddie Mac has backed Gingrich's assertion, telling CNN last month that he was a consultant, and not a lobbyist.

A former official who worked for Freddie Mac during Gingrich's two stints with the group - 1999-2002 and 2006-2008 - told CNN that Gingrich's work included consulting about Freddie's efforts to become more transparent about "risk and capital management" procedures, risk information disclosure, and how those efforts would be received in Congress, specifically by Republicans.

In Gingrich's first turn, Freddie Mac worked with him on the group's desire to "bond" with Bush administration officials on the idea of creating a "home ownership society" - getting more Latinos and other minorities into home ownership, the source said. It's not clear how Gingrich worked with Freddie Mac on this.

In the second stint, Freddie Mac officials tried to get Gingrich, known for intricate policy ideas, to write "white papers" on how good the "model" was for government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie because free-market Republicans didn't like that model, the official said. Freddie Mac officials were frustrated with Gingrich, the source said, because they had a hard time getting him to write anything.

The verdict: Misleading. While Freddie Mac was a Gingrich Group client, Bachmann did not offer hard evidence that Gingrich lobbied for Freddie Mac.

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Filed under: Politics • Republican Party • U.S.
December 16th, 2011
03:38 AM ET

Japan marks nuclear reactors milestone

Japan's Prime Minister said Friday that a "cold shutdown" has been achieved at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a symbolic milestone that means the plant's crippled reactors have stayed at temperatures below the boiling point for some time.

The announcement is a turning point in the crisis but experts say it will take years - perhaps decades - to fully clean up the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The plume of radioactive particles that spewed from Fukushima Daiichi - where reactor cooling systems failed in the aftermath of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in March - displaced about 80,000 people who lived within a 20-kilometer (12.5-mile) radius of the plant, as well as residents of one village as far as 40 kilometers to the northwest. The government has yet to determine when those evacuated can return to their homes.

FULL STORY

Filed under: World