Local & VCU

Earthquake aftershocks hit 50 in Louisa

More than three months later, Louisa County continues to be rattled by aftershocks from the second-largest earthquake recorded in Virginia.

An aftershock measuring magnitude 2.1 early last Monday morning put the total number of temblors at 50 since the first – a magnitude-5.8 quake on Aug. 23.

The aftershock, recorded at 12:25 a.m. about 9 miles southwest of the town of Louisa, was the fifth in less than three days.

State officials say the aftershocks aren’t strong enough to cause extensive damage on their own, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t having an effect.

Continuing damage from aftershocks helped the state persuade the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reverse its initial decision to deny federal aid to individuals who had suffered damage from the Aug. 23 earthquake.

In addition to individual assistance to people in Louisa, FEMA has approved aid for public damage and costs in Louisa and Spotsylvania.

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch


Town Center’s monitoring policy creates backlash 

Short Pump Town Center’s decision to track customers’ movements using mobile phones this holiday shopping season has created a backlash among some consumers, including some who are saying they plan to shop elsewhere.

Short Pump’s parent company, Cleveland-based Forest City Commercial Management, has put into place a mobile tracking system at the local mall and a property it owns in Southern California.

The system, called Footpath Technology, tracks the unique identification numbers assigned to mobile – similar to IP addresses on the Internet – and does not identify individual shoppers. Instead, it shows customers as dots, according to Forest City.

That data can then be used to improve traffic patterns at the mall and make other tweaks based on customer behavior, Forest City said.

The tracking began Friday and will continue through Jan. 1.

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch


Va. death-row inmate challenging video visitation

A Virginia inmate who has killed two prisoners is challenging the state’s policy of denying him in-person visitation with his family, arguing that he’s no more dangerous than some of the other killers on death row who get to talk to their loved ones face to face.

A Circuit Court judge recently sided with death row inmate Robert Gleason Jr., ruling that the state Department of Corrections must grant him in-person visitation with his child and other family members rather than visitation through closed-circuit video. But the attorney general’s office challenged that decision in court papers filed last week, saying that requiring prison staff to move Gleason for in-person visitation would put them and other prisoners “at substantially greater risk.”

Gleason was serving a life sentence for murder when he killed his cellmate in 2009 then strangled another inmate while in separate cages on the prison recreation yard last year. The murders occurred at the state’s two highest-level security prisons.

Gleason was sentenced to death in September. He is forgoing his appeals, so an execution date could be set as soon as the Virginia Supreme Court reviews his sentence to make sure it was fair.

Brief by The Associated Press

National & International

Missing SD student turns up at NY Occupy protest

Aaron Schmidt seemed to have disappeared. The University of South Dakota freshman wasn’t responding to emails or cellphone messages, and his family hadn’t heard from him in days. It wasn’t until police were called that a clue turned up: a credit card purchase for a bus ticket to New York City.

Turns out, the 18-year-old had boarded a bus in eastern – a mere $40 in his – with plans to join Occupy Wall Street protesters in the city where the movement began. His father and uncle flew to New York from their homes in Wisconsin, and began handing out fliers with his photo to protesters.

Schmidt eventually responded to a relative’s text message, two days after his parents reported him missing to campus police, and he met up with his father and uncle in New York.

Schmidt said he didn’t think he needed to let anyone know about his plan to take the more than 1,200-mile trip, and he didn’t foresee it being such a big problem. He had taken part in small Occupy Wall Street protests in Omaha, Neb., and South Dakota, but he wanted to see what it was like in the heart of the movement.

“I wanted to learn more about it. It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on with something until you experience it yourself. It’s hard to judge something from afar from reading things simply online,” said Schmidt, who had never been to New York before the trip.

Brief by The Associated Press


Pakistan: 26 troops dead in NATO helicopter attack

Pakistan today accused NATO helicopters of firing on two army checkpoints in the country’s northwest and killing 26 soldiers, then retaliated by closing the border crossings used by the coalition to supply its troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The incident Friday night was a major blow to already strained relations between Islamabad and U.S.-led forces fighting in Afghanistan. It will add to perceptions in Pakistan that the American presence in the region is malevolent, and to resentment toward the weak government in Islamabad for its cooperation with Washington.

NATO said it was investigating an “incident” along the border.

Brief by The Associated Press


Environmental programs fall victim to budget cuts

When lightning ignited a wildfire near Idaho’s Sun Valley in 2007, environmental regulators used monitoring gear to gauge the health effects for those breathing in the Sawtooth Mountains’ smoky, mile-high air.

That equipment sits idle today after the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality was hit by $4 million in spending cuts, a quarter of its budget, since the recession began.

The cuts to environmental programs in Idaho provide a snapshot of a national trend. Conservation programs and environmental regulations have been pared back significantly in many states that have grappled with budget deficits in recent years.

Because environmental programs are just a sliver of most state budgets, the cuts often go without much public notice. More attention is focused on larger reductions in Medicaid, public education or prisons.

A 24-state survey by the Environmental Council of States, the national association of state environmental agency leaders, showed agency budgets decreasing by an average of $12 million in 2011. The Washington, D.C.-based group also says federal grants to help states administer new federal Environmental Protection Agency rules regarding air and water quality also have waned, falling by 5.1 percent since 2004.

Brief by The Associated Press

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