Clint Eastwood: Super Bowl ad aimed at Americans, not politicians

Unless you were taking a Super Bowl beer break at the time, you saw the ad -- the only Super Bowl ad, it seems that mattered: Gravely voiced, squinty-eyed Clint Eastwood giving Americans the pep talk of their lives. Since then, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been howling or crowing about subliminal political messages they believe to be embedded in the Chrysler ad and what they might mean for the November election.

Well, Eastwood himself is now weighing in, telling both sides to give it a rest. There was "no spin" or selling intended in that ad, no politics, no subliminal message, no endorsements. It was simply meant to inspire Americans to do what they do best -- get back in the game, no excuses, just get back in the game.

"This country can't be knocked out with one punch," Eastwood says in the ad. "We get right back up again and, when we do, the world is gonna hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it's halftime America, and the second half is about to begin."

Eastwood, a well-known Republican, Fox TV watcher and acquaintance of Bill O'Reilly, issued an exclusive statement to Fox's "O’Reilly Factor" producer Ron Mitchell. Here is the statement:

"I just want to say that the spin stops with you guys, and there is no spin in that ad. On this I am certain. I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK. I am not supporting any politician at this time. Chrysler to their credit didn’t even have cars in the ad. Anything they gave me for it went for charity. If any Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it."

Now, far be it from us to argue with Dirty Harry. We'll take him at his word, especially since he seems to be inviting both sides to invoke the ad if it suits their political needs -- that's about as bipartisan as you can get in an election year.

Still, it's fascinating to see how both sides are parsing the imagery, the timing, the sponsor and, of course, Eastwood's language for hints of partisanship or even whether this is a big "Thank You" ad from Chrysler to American people, and, of course, President Obama, for the tax-funded bailout.

If you were indeed taking a beer break during the Super Bowl and missed the ad, watch it for yourself, above. And then watch the O'Reilly's segment, below, which includes interesting takes on why both sides are eager to dissect the ad's subliminal symbolism.


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-- Rene Lynch

Washington, D.C. -- not New York -- is 'most literate' city in U.S.


The nation's capital has scored top literacy honors for the second year in a row, ranking No. 1 as the "most literate" city in America.

(We'll pause here for snarky commentary, such as this one making the rounds: "Considering the fact that it appears that no one in Congress reads the laws they vote on, this is remarkable news.")

Perhaps even more remarkable? New York City didn't even make the Top 10, tying with Austin, Texas, for the No. 22 slot.

That's puzzling if you've ever been on a New York City subway: It seems as if half the riders spend their commute buried in a bestseller, an e-book, a tabloid newspaper, or a smartphone screen. (That's still reading, right?) That's gotta sting a city that prides itself as being the heart of the publishing world, not to mention home of the literary elite.

Rounding out the Top 5 on the list at Nos. 2 through 5 are Seattle, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Boston.

The list is put together by Central Connecticut State University, which ranks the literacy of the nation's largest communities based on several indicators including number of bookstores, e-book sales, library resources, newspaper circulation, other periodical publishing resources, Internet resources and education.

Los Angeles lands at No. 59 in the rankings. And at the end of the list? Three of the bottom five are in California: Fresno (No. 71), Stockton (No. 72) and Bakersfield (No. 75).

Dr. Jack Miller, university president and study author, said the 2011 edition of the annual survey also took a look at the relationship between wealth and literacy by using income data from the U.S. census. Perhaps surprisingly, he said in a statement: "I learned that wealthier cites are no more likely to rank highly in literacy than poorer cities."

He cited the following example: Cleveland ranks second-lowest for median family income according to the research, yet boasts a thriving library system, local newspaper and magazine, and as a result lands at No. 13 on the survey.

"This demonstrates that if cities are truly committed to literacy, they can find a way past poverty and other socio-cultural challenges to create and sustain rich resources for reading," he said.


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Credit: Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images

Private 'curbside' buses more likely to be in fatal accidents

Bus crash
This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

Privately operated "curbside" buses are seven times as likely to be in a fatal accident as other interstate buses, according to a report released Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board. 

The fatal accident rate for curbside operators between 2005 and March of this year was 1.4 per 100 vehicles, compared with just 0.2% for conventional bus operators, the report said.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) ordered the report in March after a bus returning passengers to New York’s Chinatown from a night of gambling ran off an elevated highway and hit a utility pole. The bus was split from end to end, killing 15 people and injuring 18.

Two months later, a bus from a company with at least 46 violations for driver fatigue in the last two years ran off Interstate 95 in Virginia on its way to New York’s Chinatown, killing four people and injuring 50. The bus operator, Sky Express Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., was ordered to shut down, but was operating its buses under two other company names less than a week later.

Part of the problem when policing private bus safety and regulations, according to the report, is that there are only 2,327 state and federal personnel available to inspect 53,097 buses, and they have responsibility for other inspections as well.

"Curbside" buses pick up and drop off at their own designated curb spots instead of main transportation terminals the way companies such as Greyhound and Peter Pan do, according to an NTSB spokesman.

Further, intercity motor coach service has been described as the fastest-growing mode of transportation during the past few years, the report says.

[5:25 p.m., Oct. 31: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that there are 878 federal and state inspectors for about 765,000 private bus companies.]


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-- Alexa Vaughn in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Emergency personnel investigate the scene of a bus crash on Interstate 95 in the Bronx borough of New York on March 12. The bus was returning to New York from a casino in Connecticut when it crashed, flipped onto its side and was sliced in half by the support pole for a large sign. Fifteen people died. Credit: David Karp / Associated Press


Turkish pine nuts linked to 43 salmonella infections nationwide

Wegmans Food Markets is recalling about 5,000 pounds of Turkish pine nuts sold in bulk after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the product to 43 salmonella infections since July. 

The Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether other suppliers and grocery chains across the country might also have the contaminated pine nuts. The illnesses have been reported in California, Washington, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but no deaths have been linked to the product.

Pesto, salad and other baked products that might have been made with the bulk pine nuts should also be thrown away, according to the FDA warning.

The nuts have been contaminated by Salmonella enteritidis, which causes abdominal cramps, diarrhea and fever, usually beginning 12 to 72 hours after exposure. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment.

But sometimes the diarrhea is so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. The infection can spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other parts of the body and in rare cases can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. Children, elderly people and those with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable.

The grocery chain received the pine nuts from Sunrise Commodities of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. The FDA is still tracking down where else the company has distributed the product.


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-- Alexa Vaughn in Washington, D.C.


Occupy DC protesters brace for the cold as best they can

Occupy DC
Snow could arrive at the Occupy DC demonstration a little sooner than protesters had expected, with forecasts warning of a 90% chance of precipitation Saturday that could include snow by the afternoon.

On Friday, protesters were scrambling to find more tents, tarps, sleeping bags, long johns and coats.

But the site’s resident handyman, who wanted to be identified only as Eric, knows it’s going to take a lot more than $1,200 worth of tarps -- bought with donations gathered throughout the month -- and extra layers to keep people occupied and healthy through the winter. 

PHOTOS: Occupy protests around the nation

The Occupy DC group of about 100 demonstrators camped in McPherson Square is part of a larger Occupy Wall Street movement that has led to similar encampments around the nation-- and now similar efforts to prepare for the cold. Another protest, known as Stop the Machine, is camped in D.C.'s Freedom Plaza.

“I’ve been going around tents today trying to weatherize them,” said Eric, 50, a carpenter who has been out of work since last year. “But we’ve been talking about maybe building a pavilion out of large tents with outdoor heaters in it so people can come in and get warm when they need to.”

If the Occupy DC group could scrounge the resources and build the shelter without police interruption, Eric said, it could be built in the next week or two. How likely that is remains to be seen; the current encampment -- sans pavilion and heaters -- is itself illegal.

On Thursday night, when the upcoming forecast was first widely reported, protesters held their first meeting to discuss plans for a winter occupation.

Eric said he's slept at the site -- already muddy from frequent rain this fall -- all but two nights since Oct. 8. Then, he said, he was running a high fever after one of the rains. He doesn’t have health insurance and, though determined to stay occupied, is concerned about his health as the barometer drops.

“This cold weather has already gotten in my joints and made me half-way arthritic,” Eric said.

In the meantime, there will be no bonfires with which to keep warm, says Brian Grimes, 34, who has been sleeping on site since Oct. 3; such fires are illegal. Grimes says the prohibition against them might strain the thus-far peaceful relationship with local law enforcement.

For now, he’s donned thick black winter boots, a few sweaters and a coat with “I am the 99%” stenciled on the back. He also sports a thick, red beard that he’ll let grow. But, he points out, he’s a Washington native -- and says the Northeastern cold front sweeping in this weekend won’t phase him.

“There are a lot of people out here saying, ‘It’s cold!’ And then I say, ‘Yeah, but what are you going to do when it’s cold?' " Grimes said.

Washington occupier Lacy MacAuley is confident the group's members will figure something out on the fly, just as they’ve been doing. The winter is when Occupy Wall Street protesters will get to prove just how much more stubborn they can get, she says.

“The 1% doesn’t stop when it gets cold, so I don’t think the 99% can afford to either.”


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Photo: At the Occupy DC encampment at McPherson Square in Washington on Friday, even the dog is braced for cold weather. Credit: Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images

No release for U.S. man accused of spying on Syrian dissidents

Mohamad Soueid
A federal judge ruled Friday that a Syrian-born U.S. citizen accused of monitoring Syrian dissidents in the U.S. for Syrian intelligence will continue being detained through a March 5 trial date. 

The ruling comes after prosecutors appealed U.S. Magistrate Judge T. Rawles Jones Jr.’s order last week that Mohamad “Alex” Soueid be released on bail because he was “at worst, a low-level operative.”

But this week, prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick pulled out more evidence and details suggesting that Soueid was a high-level operative intending to hurt U.S. residents who continued to protest the regime of Syria’s president, Bashar Assad. Fitzpatrick said he only “tread lightly” on evidence at last week’s detention hearing because much of it came from a confidential source whose life he did not want to endanger more than necessary.

In detailing conversations with the FBI-paid informant, Fitzpatrick’s brief describes Soueid as wanting to retaliate against two people who are suing him and other Syrian Embassy officials for tracking their personal life and harming their families in Syria. One of those suing is a woman from Alexandria, Va.; her father was killed in Syria and her 5-year-old daughter was kidnapped.

Fitzpatrick also said that five days after Soueid returned from a two-week trip to Syria this summer, where he met with Assad, Soueid took the confidential source to a shooting range in Lorton, Va. There, he was reportedly so impressed with the source’s shooting ability that he told an overseas intelligence contact about it on the phone later that night.

Further, Soueid allegedly asked the source if he had ever killed anyone. The two reportedly agreed to stick with Plan A, collecting and delivering information about Syrian dissidents in the United States, until they needed Plan B, taking hostile action.

Haytham Faraj, Soueid’s defense lawyer, called Fitzpatrick’s claims exaggerated and said they were overly assumptive of the defendant’s intentions.

Soueid -- owner of an AK-47, Beretta .40-caliber pistol and Ruger firearm -- is simply a long-time member of the National Rifle Assn. who often went to shooting ranges and hunted with his twin 15-year-old sons, Faraj said. The man Fitzpatrick is calling an overseas intelligence contact is a friend of Soueid’s, Faraj said.


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Photo: Syrian-born U.S. citizen Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, left, meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in this photograph that was used in federal court in Virginia earlier this month. A federal judge ruled to continue detaining Soueid through a March 5 trial date. Credit: Reuters / U.S. Justice Department 

Man accused of killing Vegas girl, 15, pleads not guilty

Las vegas slaying
Alyssa Otremba’s body was found last month in a vacant lot in Las Vegas. The 15-year-old had been robbed, raped, stabbed more than 80 times with a kitchen knife, doused with gasoline and set on fire.

The man accused of killing her, Javier Righetti, 19, pleaded not guilty Thursday to numerous charges, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. (He is also accused of sexually assaulting another teenage girl in March.)

Clark County Dist. Atty. David Roger has said he plans to seek the death penalty.

Alyssa’s slaying is considered among the most disturbing crimes here in recent memory, and not simply because of her age and her horrific final minutes. It has raised tough questions about whether the justice system mishandled a potentially dangerous teenager.

The Review-Journal reported that when Righetti was 17, he cornered a fellow high school student in a bathroom stall. The assault was brief --another student heard the girl’s screams and flagged down help. Righetti was eventually sentenced to one year in a juvenile facility for kidnapping and other offenses.

Righetti was never charged with a sex crime, however, and therefore not labeled as a sex offender. That might have changed how the juvenile justice system treated him, the Review-Journal said.

After Alyssa’s death, experts and law enforcement sources told the paper that Righetti’s alleged actions mirrored those of a budding serial killer.

A member of her high school band, Alyssa was walking home from school one night when Righetti allegedly approached her, the Review-Journal said. There’s no evidence that they’d met before.

After Alyssa was killed, prosecutors said Righetti called his friend Daniel Ortiz for a ride to a store, where Righetti bought gasoline and matches. Ortiz then dropped off Righetti at the vacant lot.

Later, when Ortiz’s girlfriend heard about Alyssa’s disappearance, she called police and said she suspected Righetti.

Prosecutors said Righetti confessed to Alyssa’s slaying, adding that he’d carved the initials “LV” into her thigh because “it made him seem more like a gangster or a thug,” the Associated Press reported

He also allegedly told authorities that he'd been committing rapes since he was 12.


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--Ashley Powers in Las Vegas 

Photo: Hundreds of people gather at a candlelight vigil for Alyssa Otremba, 15, at Arbor View High School in Las Vegas. Credit: John Locher / Las Vegas Review-Journal

Martin Luther King Jr. memorial to be dedicated -- finally

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
After 15 years of planning and sculpting, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial will be formally dedicated Sunday morning with a ceremony including a keynote address by President Obama and a musical performance by Aretha Franklin.

The West Potomac Park festivities are split into a dedication program at 9 a.m. EDT, hosted by PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill, and a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. that will include Franklin and Obama.

The first part will include speeches from members of the King family, former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, who covered the civil right movement early in his career, and civil rights leaders including CRep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Hurricane Irene delayed the original dedication date for the 30-foot stone relief of King on Aug. 28, the 48th anniversary of King’s  “I Have a Dream” speech.

Though crowds for this weekend are expected to be much smaller than the 250,000 visitors the National Park Service estimated would come in the summer, organizers are setting up Jumbotrons in West Potomac Park for the thousands still expected to come to the free and ticketless event.

“Although our plans have been scaled back, I am confident Sunday’s event will be momentous for all who join us in West Potomac Park and those who tune in from across the country and around the world to witness this long-awaited moment in our nation’s history,” Harry Johnson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, said in a statement.

In honor of King’s words “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” his memorial figure emerges from granite, flanked by taller mountains of granite, with his arms folded and eyes set on the horizon. A 450-foot-long wall behind it holds inscriptions of more quotations from King, none of which were taken from his well-known “I Have a Dream Speech.”

The $120-million memorial on the northwestern shore of the Tidal Basin, half a mile southeast of the Lincoln Memorial steps where King made his famous speech, has been open to the public since Aug. 22. Plans for its construction started in 1996 when Congress authorized the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity to coordinate the memorial, which was designed by San Francisco-based ROMA Design Group and sculpted by Lei Yixin of China.

Not everyone was an immediate fan of their work, including African American poet Maya Angelou.

She told the Washington Post that one of the quotations on the side of his sculpture, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” was reworded, taken out of context and makes King sound like an “arrogant twit.”

The exact words King used after being asked what he wanted said in his eulogy were, "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter."

Others have criticized the choice of master sculptor Yixin, most famous in China for his work on a statue of communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, and the unpaid Chinese workers who assembled it on site.

But, like it or not, King’s memorial and his words are now set in stone, and Washington is prepared to celebrate it.


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-- Alexa Vaughn

Photo: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial as seen in Washington, D.C., in this file photo. Credit: AP / Jacquelyn Martin

Washington, D.C., has its turn in the anti-Wall Street spotlight

 D.C. protestOn Thursday, more than 500 chanting people kicked off what became Washington, D.C.’s biggest  version to date of the Occupy Wall Street protests -- with many of the protesters seemingly willing to sleep overnight for days in sleeping bags, tents and cardboard boxes painted up as foreclosed homes.

Officially, the day was billed as an anti-corporate “Stop the Machine” rally that had been months in the making. But with the Occupy Wall Street protests gathering attention around the nation, the capital’s version -- Occupy D.C., which started last weekend –- merged into Thursday’s much larger protest.

The goals of the protests are similar, organizers have said, even “synergistic.”  Occupy Wall Street opposes corporate greed and various social ills; Stop the Machine wants a dramatic reduction in national corporate influence, plus “peace and social, economic and environmental justice.”

The day started with a review of non-violent resistance tactics, sign-making and a yoga session led from a stage with a replica of the U.S. Constitution as a backdrop. In the afternoon, protesters conducted a police-protected march around the White House shouting to the beat of drums: “Shame!”

Protesters then proceeded to the headquarters of the United States Chamber of Commerce, which organizer and Green Party activist Kevin Zeese had said they would try to shut down. The organization’s  policies support corporate, not democratic, power, he said.

But police kept the  200 or so protesters who marched to the chamber out of the building. (At the time, the chamber was hosting a conference on building partnerships between businesses and nonprofit organizations.) So protesters tied up a sign between two lamp posts in front of the building reading “Chamber of Corporate Horrors” and left resumes and job applications at its door.

They then lined lobbyist-dense K Street to demonstrate until heading back to Freedom Plaza late in the day.  The hard-core protesters plan to stay at the plaza,  at the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, after Sunday, when their permit to stay there expires.

The protesters included a wide range of ages, from seniors in wheelchairs to Jamie Davis Smith’s 13-month-old daughter, Sarah.

“I grew up in a healthy middle-class family and I’m growing increasingly concerned that my children aren’t going to have the advantages my husband and I grew up with,” said Davis Smith, 36, while her 3-year-old son painted a roof on one of the cardboard houses.

Members of the anti-war group Code Pink were  also in the plaza Thursday, leading marches and inviting protesters to the sign- and box-painting station. Ridgely Fuller of Waltham, Mass., was among them. She said she’s been to Occupy Wall Street protests in Portland, Maine, and Boston; one of her sons is stationed at the New York City protest and another at theLos Angeles City Hall protest.

“Every one of these protests takes on its own flavor, and it’s great,” Fuller said. “I never thought this nonviolent uprising would come to America. I think we’re a pretty passive country that isn’t as active in democracy as it is supposed to be.”

Earlier in the week, former White House advisor and environmental activist Van Jones said at a conference for progressives in Washington that the momentum behind Occupy Wall Street protests should be used to form a liberal answer to the tea party.

But Zeese says he’s fighting to keep the Occupy Wall Street protests unaffiliated with any political party.

“Van Jones is very much inside the Democratic Party and we want to stay outside the two-party system,” Zeese said. “If this movement is co-opted by a political party, it’s dead.”


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-- Alexa Vaugn in Washington, D.C.

Photo: A protester holds a "This is just the beginning" sign at a rally outside the Chamber of Commerce  in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

Occupy Wall Street has company in Washington, D.C.

Occupy DC 
Another fall day in Washington, D.C., another protest. First there was Occupy Wall Street. Beginning Thursday, there will also be Stop the Machine.

The capital's version of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration has been held in Washington’s McPherson Square since Oct. 1. Known as Occupy DC, the event has drawn about 10 to 50 people a day, with protesters attending a 6 p.m. meeting and waving signs at people as they leave their K Street offices.

Lacy MacAuley, who has been participating in the Occupy DC demonstration, said she thinks many of the protesters in that group will move to the Stop the Machine demonstration.

The goals of the protests are similar. Occupy Wall Street has been decrying corporate greed and various social ills; Stop the Machine will push for a drastic reduction in corporate influence in the nation and, according to the group’s website, support “peace and social, economic and environmental justice.”

The Stop the Machine event will take place at Washington’s Freedom Plaza, on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Congress. Planners hope to attract thousands of people.

The event, which will include speeches and concerts,  has been planned for months, said co-organizer Kevin Zeese.

“We see this as a synergistic thing,” Zeese said. Referring to Occupy Wall Street, he said: “We’re glad they broke the ground and got everyone interested in this movement.”

Zeese said he hoped the Stop the Machine protesters would emerge from the demonstration with a “foundation of areas to work on.” The goal, he said, is “the beginning of changing where power is concentrated in this country.” The organizers have permits to protest through Sunday, but they say they might try to stay much longer.

Meanwhile,  a coalition of liberal groups -- including -- demonstrated from Monday through Wednesday for “Jobs Not Cuts” at Capitol Hill.

Those protests featured environmental advocate and former Obama White House green-jobs advisor Van Jones, who called on liberals to create their own version of the tea party movement by making tough, clear demands on the government to return power to the people. 

A press release for the rally said the event was part of a wave of protests called the American Dream Movement. But Zeese  said his protest would resist affiliating with any political group. 


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-- Alexa Vaughn in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Protesters meet a few blocks from the White House in Washington at the beginning of the Occupy DC demonstration on Saturday. Credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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