Gay marriage poll: Most in New Jersey support it, but want vote

Gay marriage

Most voters in New Jersey support gay marriage, but a majority also say the issue should be put on the ballot for voters to make the final decision, a new poll finds. The poll was released as New Jersey lawmakers prepare to vote Thursday on a bill that would make the state the eighth in the nation to recognize same-sex unions.

The Rutgers-Eagleton poll, released Tuesday, surveyed 914 registered voters and found that 54% of them support gay marriage, which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie opposes. Thirty-five percent oppose gay marriage, the poll found.

At the same time, 53% support Christie's call for voters to decide on gay marriage in a November referendum. Critics of such a vote say that would be akin to letting voters decide on crucial civil rights matters.

Pollster David Redlawsk, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said it was "surprising" that the poll indicated majority support both for gay marriage and for the voters to decide on the question. "It may be that given several polls showing majority support among voters, supporters of same-sex marriage think it would win in November. But in the face of a likely intensive campaign from opponents, this could be wishful thinking," he said in a statement accompanying the poll results.

The survey was released a day after New Jersey's state Senate, by a vote of 24 to 16, approved a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, and as Washington state became the seventh to legalize same-sex marriage at a bill-signing ceremony. Conservatives and religious leaders there have vowed to collect signatures to give voters the chance to overturn the bill in a referendum.

In New Jersey, lawmakers in the Assembly are expected to vote on the gay marriage bill Thursday in the state capital, Trenton, but Christie has vowed to veto the bill if it passes and to let voters decide on it.

Despite the California appellate court decision last week that struck down just such a referendum -- Proposition 8, which had limited marriage to a union between a man and a woman -- other states are pursuing the referendum route in hopes of blocking lawmakers from making gay marriage legal. Referendums in Minnesota and North Carolina would limit the definition of marriage to male-female unions.

In Maine, meanwhile, supporters of gay marriage are planning a ballot measure that would expand the definition of marriage to a union involving same-sex couples. This came in response to a 2009 referendum approved by voters that limited marriage's definition to include male-female unions only -- a referendum that overturned lawmakers' earlier approval of gay marriage.

New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia are the only places in the United States so far where same-sex couples' marriages are legally recognized.

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: Spectators applaud as New Jersey's Senate on Monday approves a bill by a vote of 24-16 recognizing same-sex marriage. The Assembly takes up the measure Thursday, but Gov. Chris Christie has vows a veto. Credit: David Gard/Associated Press

Powerball jackpot mystery: Who won the $336.4-million prize?

The Powerball lottery jackpot hit $336.4 million Saturday, and one ticket -- bought in Rhode Island -- gets to claim the whole thing. But so far, no one has stepped forward to claim the prize, lottery officials said Monday.

The stereotypical reaction to winning the lottery -- Powerball or otherwise -- would involve lots of jumping up and down, not to mention hollering from the rooftops. In reality, winners -- especially of enormous jackpots -- often do the opposite. They hunker down. They lawyer up. They crunch numbers to decide whether it's better to cash out the ticket up front or take annual payments. And, presumably, they put the lottery ticket in a very, very safe place until they're ready to claim it.

"They are probably going to want to talk to a financial advisor and an attorney before they come forward," said Powerball lottery spokeswoman Melissa Juhnowski. She told The Times that the winner -- or winners, if the ticket was purchased by a group of players -- won't be able to remain anonymous forever; the names of lottery winners become a matter of public record in Rhode Island.

This much is known: The winning Powerball ticket was purchased at a Stop & Shop convenience store in Newport. The winning numbers were 1-10-37-52-57 with a Powerball number of 11. The chance of getting all those numbers to line up? About 1 in 175 million.

If the winner chooses the cash option, the lump sum payment will be a record $210 million, the highest cash jackpot ever for Powerball, Juhnowski said.

Saturday's jackpot was high for two reasons: 1) ticket prices for the lottery jumped from $1 to $2 last month; and 2) no ticket-holder matched all six Powerball numbers last Wednesday night. That meant the top prize of $250 million went unclaimed and rolled over to Saturday's drawing.

Powerball has been called America's game and America's lottery, but it can't actually be played everywhere in the United States. Tickets are sold in 42 states (California is not among them), plus Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands.

Although Powerball officials are accustomed to dealing with winners, both big and small, Juhnowski said it never gets old. There was an air of excitement in the office Monday she said, and lots of water cooler talk. "We're all wondering what the winner's going to be like," she said.

And like the rest of us, they're also wondering: What is the lucky Powerball winner going to do with that  $336.4-million jackpot?


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Funeral for Powell boys draws 1,000-plus in Tacoma

Whitney Houston memorials spring up at N.J. school, church

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

'Josh Powell was really, really evil,' social worker says

Josh Powell's murder-suicide plan -- which claimed the lives of his two young sons -- has unleashed a variety of investigations, inquiries and memorials

Josh Powell may have tried to end it all when he killed his two young sons and himself in a gasoline-fueled inferno Sunday in Washington state. But his actions have unleashed a new round of investigations, allegations and recriminations as authorities try to unravel a family saga that began long before Powell's wife, Susan, disappeared in Utah in 2009.

With law enforcement officials and the court system facing allegations that they failed to recognize the danger that Powell posed to his children, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, the case continues to unfold on several fronts:

--Disturbing new details have emerged about "incestuous" sexual drawings discovered on Powell's computer, dating back to when he still lived in Utah, before moving to Washington state, according to the Associated Press.

The images led a court-appointed psychologist to call for Powell to submit to a psycho-sexual evaluation and a polygraph test, tests that a judge approved last week when denying Powell's request to regain full custody of his children. Powell was said to be devastated by the judge's ruling, and it may have been the trigger for his deadly actions.

The discovery of the disturbing images, however, was not made known to all the parties in the case, including the attorney for the children's maternal grandparents, who could have used the images as grounds to bar Powell from having any access to the boys.

--The investigation into Susan Powell's disappearance is taking on new urgency and led authorities this week to rope off a portion of a recycling center in Graham, Wash. They were following up on a tip that Josh Powell had discarded some paper there shortly before he set his home on fire, the News Tribune of Tacoma reported.

Authorities in Utah have also reported a new flood of tips coming in about Susan Powell's disappearance.

--Washington state Sen. Pam Roach told the Salt Lake City Tribune it was "outrageous" for a judge to give Powell visitation with his sons, and wants to know precisely what the Washington agency in charge of child welfare knew and when officials knew it. She has sent a public records request to Washington's Department of Social and Health Services.

"This material should be made public," she told the newspaper. Her district includes the Graham, Wash., home where Powell killed the children.

--The case worker who was escorting the children for a court-mandated supervised visit with their father said that Powell coaxed the children into the house on Sunday by saying "I've got a big surprise for you!" and then slammed the door on her to keep her from entering.

The worker, Elizabeth Griffin-Hall, told ABC News about those final, frightening moments -- and her realization that Powell was setting the house on fire with all inside. "How this happened is that Josh Powell was really, really evil. I couldn't have stopped him," she said.

--In a bid to understand what may have been driving Josh Powell long before Sunday's inferno, the Salt Lake City Tribune unearthed Washington state records relating to the bitter divorce of Powell's parents. The documents portray a dysfunctional family ruled by father Stephen Powell, who allegedly abused his wife and children -- emotionally, physically and verbally -- and whose penchant for porn contributed to his divorce. The documents also portray Josh Powell as an emotionally disturbed teen who killed family pets, threatened his mother with a butcher knife and attempted suicide.

--Finally, Chuck and Judy Cox, the parents of Susan Powell and the grandparents of the boys killed in the fire, are pleading with protesters and counter-protesters to stay away from Saturday's scheduled funeral for the boys.

The Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, known for its extremist views, announced plans to protest at the funeral as a way of targeting Washington state's pending bill to allow same-sex marriages. Several other groups, including Occupy Seattle, said they plan to counter-protest. But a pastor speaking on behalf of the Coxes told the News Tribune that they want all protesters to stay away.

"They want this to be about the kids," Rev. Dean Curry said, and free of protests and counter-protests, "even if on the surface, the aims are more noble."


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Josh Powell inferno: Finger-pointing at dispatcher, social worker

Josh Powell inferno: After 911 call, it took 8 minutes before help was dispatched

-- Rene Lynch
twitter / renelynch

Photo: Alex Ramirez, 17, brings a balloon to a memorial to Charlie and Braden Powell, erected outside the Carson Elementary School in Puyallup, Wash., where Charlie attended school. Credit: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press



Occupy Pittsburgh goes quietly as D.C., Oakland resist

 Occupy PittsburghWith a Monday deadline to dismantle its camp, supporters of Occupy Pittsburgh began dismantling tents and removing other fixtures in place more than three months after the bank that owns the land sued to reclaim it. But protesters in Oakland and in Washington, D.C., remained defiant. 

At least 11 people were arrested in Washington's McPherson Square since police over the weekend began clearing tents from the site, Associated Press reported. One of those arrested had been charged with felony assault on a police officer after allegedly hitting the officer in the face with a brick Saturday night, police told the AP.

Occupy Oakland supporters planned a day of action Monday, and dozens marched in the city on Saturday. There was no repeat of the violence that erupted a week earlier, when some protesters clashed with police and hundreds were arrested.

Since the Occupy movement began in mid-September with the original Occupy Wall Street protesters camping in a small park in Lower Manhattan, police and mayors have faced the challenge of enforcing no-camping rules in most parks and city squares even as they proclaim their support of freedom of speech and assembly.

In instances in which the occupied parks are private, that challenge has fallen to the property owners. That was the case in Pittsburgh's Mellon Green park, which is owned by the Bank of New York Mellon Corp.

The bank posted an eviction notice in the park in December, two months after people began camping there round-the-clock on Oct. 15. The notice said that the use of generators, propane heaters and other equipment intended to keep campers warm as winter arrived created hazardous conditions in the park -- the same argument used by officials who have closed Occupy camps elsewhere, including in Manhattan and Philadelphia.

After protesters ignored the bank's Dec. 11 deadline to leave, officials sued to get the protesters out, and a judge on Thursday upheld the eviction order and gave campers three days to vacate. 

Jeff Cech of Occupy Pittsburgh said about half of the estimated 50 tents had been taken down by Sunday night and that no clashes were anticipated with police, AP reported. "I think that everyone here realizes that after [Monday] the encampment will not be here," Cech said, according to AP. "It's not going to be about trying to hold the ground."

But WTAE, the local NBC affiliate, said some people were not convinced that they should go quietly. "I do understand that there has been some talk by some members of Occupy Pittsburgh about doing some civil disobedience, but it's all up in the air, and it's all up to them personally," protester Carmon Elliot told WTAE. "We'll see what happens. Stay tuned, as they say."


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Explosion kills man suspected in wife's 2009 disappearance

-- Tina Susman in New York

Photo: Isaac Hill of Industry, Pa., helps break down the Occupy Pittsburgh encampment in Mellon Green park. Credit: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press


Groundhog Day confusion: More winter, says Phil; nope, say rivals

Groundhog Day 2012: Punxsutawney Phil says six more weeks of winter; other groundhogs beg to differ

Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog famous for making midwinter weather forecasts, had his moment in the spotlight early Thursday and declared that winter is far from over. But the competition begs to differ.

From Canada to Staten Island to the tiny town of Dunkirk, N.Y., on the shores of Lake Erie, other groundhogs competing for the title of grand prognosticator offered differing opinions on this Groundhog Day, which marks the midway point of winter. Perhaps they were confused by the unseasonably warm weather across much of the eastern half of the country. The temperature Wednesday at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport hit a record for the day: 64 degrees. That's more than 20 degrees above normal for this time of year.

Bob Will, who cares for Dunkirk Dave -- a groundhog in upstate New York -- along with many other sick and wounded marmots that he nurses back to health, calls the rivalry among groundhogs "a friendly competition." But he also pointed out that while Phil, the most famous of the woodchucks, is actually pulled from his hole and paraded in front of a crowd, Dunkirk Dave is allowed to slowly emerge on his own from a hibernation spot under the ground in Will's yard.

"That's what they do -- they pick them up by the neck and hold them up," Will said of the event at Gobbler's Knob, Pa., which was unfolding as Dunkirk Dave poked his head above ground and apparently didn't spot a shadow, promising early spring weather. "But ours is in the ground. We always kid them and say ours is more accurate."

Still, Punxsutawney Phil remains the big star in this competition, and as the sun slowly began creeping above the hills and trees of rural Pennsylvania on Thursday, thousands crowded Gobbler's Knob to await his annual prediction. Legend has it that if a groundhog sees his shadow, winter weather will last another six weeks. If no shadow appears, an early spring is on the way. 

After Phil was held aloft by a member of the elite Inner Circle of groundhog protectors and handlers, he was placed on a podium. Members of the Inner Circle, dressed in top hats, tuxedos and bow ties, leaned in close and stared intently at Phil, who stared out at the anxious crowd.

Finally, the marmot made his decision.

A handler held him aloft and declared: "After casting an appreciative glance to the thousands of faithful followers in attendance, Phil proclaimed, 'As I look at the crowd on Gobbler's Knob, many shadows do I see. Six more weeks of winter it must be.'"

A few boos emerged from the spectators.

A similar event at the Staten Island Zoo in New York City yielded a far happier outcome. There, Staten Island Chuck did not see his shadow, and springtime weather was declared just around the corner. Perhaps best of all for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had the task of holding Chuck up for all to see, there was no repeat of the 2009 performance during which the animal bit the mayor's finger.

Still, Bloomberg wasn't taking any chances. He wore protective gloves.

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: Handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil during the 126th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Credit: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press

East Haven, Conn., police chief resigns amid Latino-abuse scandal


The police chief of East Haven, Conn., where four officers were arrested last week and accused of violating the rights of Latinos, is resigning under pressure, as calls continued for the mayor who appointed him to step down as well.

Chief Len Gallo's resignation was announced Monday at a news conference, with Mayor Joseph Maturo saying he was putting together a search committee to find a replacement, the Hartford Courant reported.

Gallo's lawyer, Jonathan J. Einhorn, said Gallo decided to step down to avoid becoming a "distracting element" in East Haven's efforts to recover from the scandal. The issue has enveloped the city since the Department of Justice in 2009 began investigating allegations that the police force targeted Latinos for abuse.

That probe led last week to the arrests of four officers in connection with harassment and abuse of Latinos, federal officials said. Einhorn said Gallo also could be charged in the case. "He is not guilty of any wrongdoing. He should not be arrested; if arrested, he will be acquitted of any charges," the lawyer said.

Gallo and Maturo have been hammered by demands from the Latino community that they step down, and those calls reached a crescendo last week after Maturo cracked that he would show his support for the Latino community by going home and eating tacos. Maturo, who made the quip to a reporter, has since apologized for it -- but that hasn't lessened the cries for his resignation.

A Facebook page calling for his ouster has 1,106 "likes." A petition launched on calling for Gallo's ouster had more than 15,000 signers by Monday morning.

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: East Haven, Conn., Mayor Joseph Maturo appears at a news conference Monday to announce the departure of Police Chief Len Gallo. Credit: Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Uggs banned at Pennsylvania school to deter cellphone smugglers


Uggs may be ugly in some fashionistas' eyes, but should they be banned?

Yes, according to a Pennsylvania school principal who says the ubiquitous fur-lined, comfy boots and their imitators have become the hiding place of choice for cellphones and other gadgets that aren't supposed to be brought to class.

The ban takes effect Monday at Pottstown Middle School outside Philadelphia, where the principal, Gail M. Cooper, announced the rule last week in a letter to parents. The ban applies to boots that do not fit tightly around the calf or ankle, such as open-top Uggs. Boots with zippers or laces may still be worn, as long as they remain zipped and tied.

“We have been experiencing problems with some students wearing open top boots and carrying items in their boots that are prohibited in school,” Cooper's letter read, according to the Mercury newspaper. "Following several problems with these items, I have banned the outdoor, open top boots from our classrooms,” she wrote.

Under the school's policy, pupils who bring cellphones to school must leave them in their lockers and keep them turned off until the school day ends. But some boots fit in a way that allows kids to evade the rule, John Armato of the Pottstown School District told the Mercury. Fashion-conscious students may wear their Uggs to campus, but they'll have to change shoes before entering class.

The Mercury said the reaction to the ban had been overwhelmingly negative, and some of the comments on the newspaper's Facebook fan page reflected a mix of anger and amused incredulity. "Crazytown!!!" wrote one woman. "Ban their clothes and make them go to school naked," another said, pointing out that pants pockets also offer good hiding spots for gadgets.

But the school said it would not back down and noted that it had received support from some parents, such as Gail Beasley, who told the Mercury that "rude and ignorant" children got what they deserved. "Those kids ought to be glad that's all she's banning," Beasley said.


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-- Tina Susman in New York

Photo: Uggs have been banned by a suburban Philadelphia middle school principal after some kids smuggled cellphones into class with them. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

'Most hated' man in America gets death for home invasion horror

Two men are now on death row for a deadly 2007 home invasion robbery in suburban Connecticut that shocked the nation with its violence and cruelty, and claimed the lives of a mother and two daughters.

But the sole survivor of the attack said that the sentence handed down Friday provides scant justice -- his loss will forever be his "personal holocaust."

"I lost my family and my home," Dr. William Petit said during Friday's sentencing hearing for one of the killers. "They were three special people. Your children are your jewels."

A New Haven Superior Court judge sentenced Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, to death for his role in the home invasion robbery, even though Komisarjevsky tried again to shift blame to his accomplice.

"I know my responsibilities, but what I cannot do is carry the responsibilities of the actions of another," he said during the hearing, which was covered by the Associated Press. "I did not want those innocent women to die."

The sentence brings to a close a night of horror that began in July 2007 when he and his accomplice, Steven Hayes, 48 -- both on parole at the time for burglary -- burst through the Petits' front door and overpowered them.

Petit was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up in the basement of his Cheshire home. His wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, was forced to go to a bank and withdraw money before Hayes raped and strangled her.

The girls, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, were tied up in their bedrooms and Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted the younger girl. The children died of smoke inhalation after gasoline was used to set the house on fire in an apparent bid to destroy evidence.

Meanwhile, a bloodied and battered Petit managed to free himself and crawl out a window to run for help. But help arrived too late.

Continue reading »

Tacos to build bonds with Latinos? Connecticut mayor apologizes


Hours after four of his town’s police officers were arrested on federal charges of harassing and abusing Latinos, East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo in Connecticut said he could reach out to the Latino community by going home and eating a taco.

The remark, which was roundly condemned by Connecticut’s governor and others, prompted the mayor to issue an apology. Maturo also said he would stop giving interviews in the wake of the outcry caused by his answer to a reporter’s question Tuesday.

Federal officials announced the charges against the four officers Tuesday. They face up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for charges including conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the violation of the rights of Latinos. Prosecutors allege more than 30 violations, including falsifying reports, improperly detaining Latino suspects and harassing and intimidating members of the Latino community.

The charges are the latest response to years of complaints by Latinos and their supporters about the East Haven Police Department of about 50 officers. Those complaints led to a Department of Justice probe and a finding last month that there was a pattern of abuse by the department against the growing Latino community in the town of about 30,000.

Maturo spent much of Tuesday fielding reporters’ questions about the scandal. In general, he decried the charges and defended his department. At one point he was interviewed by WPIX-TV’s Mario Diaz, who asked the mayor, “What are you doing for the Latino community today?”

“I might have tacos when I go home. I'm not quite sure yet,” the mayor responded. On Wednesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy lashed out against Maturo.

“The comments by East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo are repugnant,” the governor said in a statement on his official website. “They represent either a horrible lack of judgment or worse, an underlying insensitivity to our Latino community that is unacceptable. Being tired is no excuse. He owes an apology to the community, and more importantly, he needs to show what he’s going to do to repair the damage he’s done. And he needs to do it today.”

Maturo took to the airwaves Wednesday to issue his apology.

“It was stupid, it was insensitive and I gave my detractors ... a reason to make matters worse with a 'gotcha' and an insensitive and stupid answer to something I should have never said,” Maturo said on WPLR-FM's Chaz and AJ morning show.

“Unfortunately, I let the stress of the situation get the best of me and inflamed what is already a serious and unfortunate situation,” Maturo said in a statement his office released later Wednesday. “I regret my insensitive comment and realize that it is my job to lead by example.”

Maturo said in the radio interview that it would be the first and only interview he would give. 

“I think I got myself in enough hot water yesterday,” he said.


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--Michael Muskal

Christian Louboutin to YSL: Step away from the red-soled shoes


Revered French shoemaker Christian Louboutin and a passel of fans wearing his red-soled sky-high shoes turned up in a lower Manhattan courtroom Tuesday to hear arguments that only Louboutin's label should be allowed to use the shade “Chinese red” to color the bottoms of shoes.

This summer, Manhattan Federal Judge Victor Marrero had overruled Louboutin’s preliminary injunction barring Yves St. Laurent — another iconic French brand — from selling a high-heel with both a red top and bottom. In his opinion, Marrero wrote, if Louboutin got his way, it would cast "a red cloud over the whole industry cramping what other designers could do while allowing Louboutin to paint with a full palette."

Louboutin trademarked that shade of red 20 years ago and has insisted it hasn't hurt competition in the shoe industry.

In front of a three-judge panel, lawyers for Louboutin and YSL made their arguments Tuesday.

Louboutin lawyer Harley Lewin said Louboutin needs to protect the color to keep “other copyists” from stealing his business, according to the New York Post. But YSL's lawyer David Bernstein said that in order to compete "we need red. We don't want to find out that we can make green, purple shoes ... but we are enjoined from making red."

Note to those following the case in the media and the courtroom: Brace yourselves for the use of a lot of puns and other hokey language.

A columnist for Thomson Reuters noted, for example, that a YSL red pump artfully placed on the courtroom table in front of Bernstein was intended “to add kick” to YSL’s argument that Louboutin shouldn’t be able to bar the sale of the red shoe.

Even Louboutin’s lawyer -- please forgive -- waltzed into the act when he was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, “Louboutin turned a pedestrian item into a thing of beauty.”


Then there was Fordham Law professor Susan Scafidi, who wore a pair of $745 black patent-leather Louboutin stilettos to court and told the Post, “I think Judge Marrero colored outside the lines.”


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'Headless body in topless bar' convict is denied parole

Mitt, Newt, meet Marvin the puppet, a rival and poseur

-- Geraldine Baum in New York

Photo: Christian Louboutin, the famous French shoe designer, wants to own the exclusive right to painting the bottoms of shoes "China red." This shoe was photographed on a woman who attended his star-studded 20th anniversary party in Beverly Hills in November. Credit: Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times


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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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