Nation digest 01/18/06

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Pluto mission scrubbed; NASA to try again today

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- High winds forced NASA to scrub the launch Tuesday of an unmanned spacecraft on a nine-year, 3-billion-mile voyage to Pluto, the solar system's last unexplored planet. NASA planned to try again today to launch the New Horizons probe, although the forecast held a greater chance of thunderstorms, clouds and gusty winds that could prevent a launch. A successful journey to Pluto would complete an exploration of the planets started by NASA in the early 1960s with unmanned missions to Mars, Mercury and Venus.

Gerald Ford may leave hospital Thursday

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Former president Gerald R. Ford was responding well to treatment for pneumonia that put him in the hospital over the weekend. Ford, 92, was admitted Saturday to Eisenhower Medical Center near his home in Rancho Mirage. Ford was expected to be released Thursday if his condition continues to improve, chief of staff Penny Circle said in a brief statement Tuesday.

California district ends 'intelligent design' course

FRESNO, Calif. -- In a legal settlement, a rural school district Tuesday canceled an elective philosophy course on "intelligent design." A group of parents had sued the El Tejon school system last week, accusing it of violating the constitutional separation of church and state with "Philosophy of Design," a high school course taught by a minister's wife that advanced the idea that life is so complex it must have been created by a higher intelligence. The parents were represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which blocked the Dover, Pa., school system last month from teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in high school biology classes. El Tejon superintendent John Wight said the subject was proper for a philosophy class. But Americans United argued the course relied almost exclusively on videos that presented religious theories as scientific ones.

Mine survivor moved out of ICU, still unconscious

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The sole survivor of the Sago mine disaster was moved out of the intensive care unit at Ruby Memorial Hospital on Tuesday as his condition continued to improve. Randal McCloy Jr., 26, was transferred because his condition, while still serious, has become more stable, said Dr. Larry Roberts. McCloy, the only miner on a crew of 13 to survive the Jan. 2 explosion and its aftermath, has not yet regained consciousness. Meanwhile, state and federal investigators began interviewing the first in a long string of witnesses Tuesday in Clarksburg.

Sen. Trent Lott running for re-election again

PASCAGOULA, Miss. -- Sen. Trent Lott announced Tuesday he is running for a fourth term this year, ending months of speculation. The 64-year-old former Senate majority leader also has hinted that he might seek another leadership position in Washington. He lost his position in December 2002 after saying at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party that Mississippi had proudly voted for Thurmond when the South Carolinian ran for president as a segregationist in 1948. Lott was first elected to the U.S. House in 1972 and to the Senate in 1988.

House GOP has plan to restrict lobbyist favors

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert urged new restrictions on gifts from lobbyists Tuesday, responding to a scandal that already has claimed two Republican leaders and raised GOP fears about this year's elections. Hastert, confronting a political crisis spawned by the Jack Abramoff scandal, promoted legislation that would end the practices of lobbyists footing the bill for lunches or arranging lavish "fact-finding" trips for members of Congress to warm-weather resorts. Lawmakers-turned-lobbyists would be banned from the House gym and from access to the House floor, where they have been known to make deals in hopes of changing votes. Democrats, who are unveiling their own lobbying ethics package today, chided Republicans for addressing the issue only after the Abramoff controversy.

SEC to require more details on executive pay

WASHINGTON -- Regulators moved Tuesday to require companies to provide far greater detail about executives' pay and perks in an effort to bring more openness to an area that has provoked investor anger. The five-member Securities and Exchange Commission voted unanimously to propose the biggest changes in rules governing disclosure of executives' compensation since 1992. The proposal could be adopted by the SEC sometime after a 60-day public comment period.

-- From wire reports

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