Oregon governor bans death penalty for rest of term

Posted Nov. 23, 2011, at 4:50 p.m.

SALEM, Ore. — Haunted by regret for allowing two men to be executed more than a decade ago, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber says it’ll never happen again on his watch.

Calling Oregon’s death penalty scheme “compromised and inequitable,” the Democratic governor said Tuesday he’ll issue a reprieve to a twice-convicted murderer who was scheduled to die by lethal injection in two weeks. He said he’d do the same for any other condemned inmates facing execution during his tenure in office.

Death penalty proponents quickly criticized the decision, saying the governor is usurping the will of voters who have supported capital punishment.

Kitzhaber’s decision halts the execution of 49-year-old Gary Haugen, who had disregarded advice from his lawyers and asked to waive his remaining appeals in protest of a justice system he views as unjust and vindictive. Haugen, who was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Dec. 6, is one of 37 inmates on Oregon’s death row.

Court: Removing grizzlies from Endangered list was a mistake

LOS ANGELES — Conservationists touted a major victory Tuesday in their battle to protect Yellowstone grizzly bears when a federal appeals court ruled that wildlife managers erred when they removed Endangered Species Act protection from “one of the American West’s most iconic wild animals.”

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2007 decision to remove the bears from the endangered species list. The court cited climate change as having accelerated a beetle infestation destroying the bears’ vital white-bark pine food source — making the grizzly only the second wildlife species, after the polar bear, to earn protection in recognition of harm caused by global warming.

Grizzlies have killed several tourists and hikers in recent years, forcing parks and wildlife officials to euthanize the bears in record numbers. About 75 grizzlies were killed or removed from the wild in 2010, according to a multi-agency study team.

Facing GOP opposition, Medicare chief will step down

WASHINGTON — Dr. Donald Berwick, the Harvard pediatrician whom President Barack Obama tapped to head the Medicare and Medicaid programs, will step down next week in the face of staunch Republican opposition to his permanent appointment to implement Obama’s health care law.

Berwick, a longtime advocate for patient safety, has been widely hailed by doctors, hospital officials and other health care leaders for his trailblazing work to improve the quality and efficiency of American health care.

But Republican lawmakers outraged at the new law immediately attacked Berwick when the president nominated him in 2010 to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees government health care programs that insure close to 100 million Americans.

In response, Obama circumvented the Senate confirmation process, appointing Berwick while Congress was in recess in July 2010.

Slow progress in East Africa famine

DOLO, Somalia — Four months after the U.N. declared famine in much of Somalia, some regions are beginning a slow recovery from the disaster that has killed tens of thousands of people.

The U.N. last week reduced the number of famine zones in Somalia from six to three and said the number of people at risk of starvation has dropped from 750,000 to 250,000.

Since the July 20 famine declaration, the U.N. has received $800 million in aid for Somalia, and the U.S. has provided $650 million to drought-stricken Horn of Africa nations, including Somalia. Officials say aid deliveries must continue or recovering regions will plunge back into famine.

Many Somalis living in a stick-hut camp in this border town say they won’t return home because they’re afraid of hard-line Islamist militants stalking the country, and of being unable to feed themselves and their children.

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