Nation digest 12/17/02

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Ex-New Jersey governor to head Sept. 11 panel

WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Monday named former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean to replace Henry Kissinger as chairman of the panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Kean, currently president of Drew University in Madison, N.J., was New Jersey governor from 1982 to 1990.

Bush announced his choice for the independent commission two days after Kissinger, a former secretary of state, resigned from the post of chairman because of conflict-of-interest concerns.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Sunday named former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson and lawyer Fred Fielding to the 10-member panel. Republicans and Democrats each get to appoint five committee members.

Jury acquits man in shooting of priest

BALTIMORE -- A jury on Monday acquitted a man of attempted murder and other charges in the shooting of a priest he says abused him a decade ago.

Dontee Stokes, 27, was convicted on three lesser handgun charges for the attack on the Rev. Maurice Blackwell, who was wounded in the hand and hip.

During the trial, defense attorney Warren Brown said Stokes was pushed over the edge by the abuse and Blackwell's refusal to apologize.

Prosecutor Sylvester Cox told jurors that Stokes' abuse allegation didn't justify the attack.

Stokes' abuse allegations are under investigation.

Man jumps while climbing skyscraper

HOUSTON -- A man who scaled halfway up one of Houston's best-known skyscrapers using only a small pick jumped about 30 stories to his death Monday morning, authorities said.

Ryan Hartley, 20, was about halfway up the 64-story Williams Tower when he leapt about 7:45 a.m., Houston Fire Department spokesman Jay Evans said.

Police recovered a driver's license and a note containing a message of a political nature.

Hartley had rosin to apply to his hands, and used the pick on the window molding as he moved higher, authorities said. But he apparently did not have a harness, belt or suction cup, which "you'd normally see on someone trying to climb a building," Evans said.

Enron exec joked about accounting in party video

HOUSTON -- Five years before Enron collapsed in an accounting scandal, an executive joked at a party about making "a kazillion dollars" through something he dubbed "hypothetical future value accounting," the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.

Videotaped jokes by some former Enron executives at a January 1997 party bear ironic parallels to events that helped bring down the energy conglomerate, the newspaper said.

The videotape, of a going-away party for former Enron president Rich Kinder, features nearly half an hour of absurd skits, songs and testimonials.

Enron declared bankruptcy on Dec. 2, 2001, haunted by shady accounting, hidden debt and inflated profits. Thousands of people were laid off.

Union says United seeks $2.4 billion in labor cuts

CHICAGO -- The lenders that are enabling United Airlines to keep flying during bankruptcy are requiring the carrier to slash its annual labor costs by $2.4 billion in the next two months, according to the flight attendants' union.

That would more than double the approximately $1 billion in yearly cuts that unions agreed to this fall as part of United's failed bid for a $1.8 billion government loan guarantee.

United spokesman Joe Hopkins said Monday the airline had no comment on the report.

-- From wire reports

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