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National Cathedral makes controversial decision to charge admission fee

Beginning in January, 2014, the Washington National Cathedral will start charging visitors an admission fee. Not everyone, however, is happy about it.

Struggling to pay for the cost of upkeep, the church needs to generate more revenue, the cathedral’s dean, Rev. Gary Hall, told the Associated Press. He said the decision to charge admission was made reluctantly, but noted that cathedrals in Europe charge admission fees to cover costs of upkeep.

“All we are charging for is tourism essentially,” Rev. Hall said. “We’re not charging for the essential services of the cathedral.”

Cathedral officials said Monday they would be charging $10 admission for adults and $6 for children, seniors, and members of the armed forces. Admission will be free on Sundays and on weekdays for worshippers. The church also will offer a $25 family discounted fee, which includes a one-year National Cathedral Association membership.

In addition to the regular costs of upkeep, the church needs to generate revenue to pay for the whopping $26 million repair bill for fixing damage from the August 2011 earthquake. So far, Hall said, the cathedral has collected only about $7 million.

Rev. Hall also told the AP that a hiring freeze, a salary freeze for the highest paid employees, and a change in vendors have cut $1.7 million from the cathedral’s budget. No staff members were laid off, he said.

“We need to grow in certain areas that we don’t have the resources to do so right now,” Hall said. “If we just keep cutting and cutting and cutting … we’ll just be a kind of shrinking institution.”

Mr. Sokol recognizes that some people might have a negative reaction to the decision to charge admission, but said the move was necessary to prevent a budget crisis.

“The change in entry policy has the potential to generate bad press,” he said, adding the church will need “a communication strategy to mitigate any voiced opposition.”

After the cathedral begins collecting admission fees in January, staff will conduct monthly reviews through June, when they will decide whether or not to continue the practice.

The historic Washington National Cathedral, a cathedral of the Episcopal Church, was built under a charter passed by the U.S. Congress in 1893. Construction began in 1907 when President Theodore Roosevelt presided over the laying of the foundation stone. It’s the sixth largest cathedral in the world.

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Trey Radel pleads guilty to cocaine possession

Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of possession of cocaine and was sentenced to one year of probation. He also must get treatment for substance abuse.

Radel was busted last month after buying the illegal drug in the Dupont Circle neighborhood on Oct. 29 in the presence of an undercover agent.

According to court documents, Radel “unlawfully, knowingly and intentionally possessed” 3-5 grams of cocaine. He was charged Tuesday after a Superior Court grand jury handed down an indictment.

The charge against Radel, who was elected last year with Tea Party support in the Fort Myers-Naples area district, sent shockwaves throughout his community.

“Your honor, I apologize for what I’ve done,” Radel told the judge. I hit a bottom and I realize I need help.”

Radel said he was sorry for violating the law. “I have let my constituents, my country, and my family down. I want to come out of this stronger and I intend to do that, to be a better man, a better husband, and continuing to serve this country,” he said.

In a statement issued after he was charged Tuesday, Radel attributed his actions in part to alcohol addiction.

“I struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice,” he said. “As the father of a young son and a husband to a loving wife, I need to get help so I can be a better man for both of them … I know I have a problem and will do whatever is necessary to overcome it.”

As for any possible repercussions in the House of Representatives, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the matter would be handled by the criminal justice system.

“Members of Congress should be held to the highest standards, and the alleged crime will be handled by the courts,” said Michael Steel. “Beyond that, this is between Representative Radel, his family, and his constituents.”

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Officials investigating Creigh Deeds attack

Creigh Deeds, a Democratic state senator from Virginia, lies in a hospital in critical condition after his son, Austin “Gus” Deeds, attacked him with a knife and then killed himself on Tuesday morning.

Now, as police are reviewing evidence about events that led to the attack, a Virginia health official said he would be opening an investigation into why Gus Deeds was released from emergency custody the day before he stabbed his father and then died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

According to the Associated Press, an emergency order to detain Gus Deeds was issued, but no one yet is saying why. Apparently, he was transported to the Rockbridge Area Community Services Center, which treats mental illness and substance abuse, but soon released because no psychiatric bed was available. However, following the stabbing, several hospitals told reporters that they had empty beds. The AP was not able independently to confirm the custody order.

The director of the inspector general program for behavioral health in Virginia, G. Douglas Bevelaqua, said his office is launching an investigation into what he said were conflicting reports about the incident. He did not reveal whether the investigation was based on information gathered by his office or if it was founded solely on news reports, the AP said.

“Suffice it to say, we had sufficient information to warrant opening an investigation,” Bevelaqua said.

State police said the local sheriff’s office responded to what they characterized as a non-emergency call at the legislator’s home on Monday, but declined to say why.

People acquainted with the senator and his son are at a loss to explain the violent attack. Most say the pair’s relationship was close and that Gus Deeds possessed not only a prodigious intellect but was an outstandingly talented musician as well.

“He was one of those people who could go and take a test and not have to study for it and he’d get 100 on it,” Casey Forbes, who went to elementary and high school with the senator’s son, told the AP. “It didn’t matter what class it was. He really didn’t have much of a challenge.”

Gus Deeds had studied music on and off at the College of William and Mary since 2007, but recently dropped out. One of his teachers, an associate professor of music theory and composition, said Deeds played many instruments, including banjo and piano, and performed with the college’s Appalachian Music Ensemble.

“He seemed to be really happy in the music department and that’s the only side of him I ever saw,” said Brian Hulse. “He was extremely unique in the most positive sense.”

The seriously injured Creigh Deeds reportedly suffered multiple stab wounds to his head and upper torso. After the attack, Gus Deeds shot himself with a gun. The son was alive, police say, when officers arrived on the scene but died despite efforts to save him.

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Senate passes ENDA, but likely stalled in House

On Thursday, the Senate passed an historic gay rights measure that would ban employer discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) cleared the chamber with 64 votes, including the support of ten Republicans.

ENDA has had a long and torturous legislative history, first failing in the Senate by one vote in 1996 and unable to move beyond the House in 2007. Despite the strong Senate vote in favor, the statements by House Speaker John Boehner and his staff make it sound unlikely that the bill will clear his chamber and become law.

“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous legislation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, told Politico last week.

But Boehner’s stance drew criticism from Democrats, who pushed back against a larger argument that the law is unnecessary because protections are already present for many Americans.

Saying that “the time has come…to pass a federal law,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also noted that many are under the impression something like ENDA is already in place. “Well it isn’t already the law…Let’s do what the American people think already exists.”

Despite being from the same party and state, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio did not agree with Boehner and supported the bill.

“People should be judged by their experience, their qualifications, and their job performance, and not by their sexual orientation,” Portman said. “Someone should not be able to be fired just because he or she is gay.”

But even with the strong showing in the Senate and pressure from Democrats, Politico has reported that “senior House Republican aides” say ENDA will almost certainly not even come up for a vote. Because of a prevailing sentiment that protections exist and the bill is therefore unnecessary, Boehner will probably not bring it to the floor. That would delay it yet again, but given the increased Republican support this time around, it may get another chance sooner rather than later.

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Pacific Navy bribery scandal spreads

Federal prosecutors in San Diego, California, have charged “Fat Leonard” Francis with bribery in connection with a series of fake contract bids submitted to the United States Navy.

Francis runs a Singapore-based company called Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd, also known as GDMA. The company has serviced US Navy warships throughout the Pacific region for the better part of 25 years. Francis is a celebrity in Navy circles, well known to ship captains and other navy officials in the area for his ostentatious ways and flaunting of his wealth. Since 2007, visitors have descended on his 70,000 square foot property in Singapore to see an elaborate display of Christmas decorations.

Rear Admiral Terry McKnight called Francis “… a larger-than-life figure, you talk to any captain on any ship that has sailed in the Pacific and they will know exactly who he is.”

That extravagance comes at a cost, however, and now prosecutors say that Francis has been bilking the navy for tens of millions of dollars in fake contracts for years. According to court documents, Francis bribed senior navy commanders such as Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz with tickets to shows like the Lion King and Lady Gaga, as well as prostitution services. In exchange for the favors, Misiewicz provided information and changed the itinerary for key vessels so that they would be steered to ports around Asia where GDMA overcharged the navy for food, fuel and maintenance.

Several other individuals have been charged as the size of the investigation widens. Senior navy officials say that more may be implicated but could not give specifics due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

The allegations have set off alarms as high as the Pentagon. McKnight said that the scope of the corruption was surprising to many familiar with the case: “It’s pretty big when you have one person who can dictate where ships are going to go and being influenced by a contractor… A lot of people are saying how could this happen?”

A spokesman for the Navy Criminal Investigative Service  said that the Francis probe began back in 2010. All of the defendants connected to the charges have pleaded not guilty at this time. If convicted, they could be sentenced to as many as five years in prison for conspiracy to commit bribery.

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Cartwright puts forward legislation to save paper savings bonds

Today, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright introduced the bipartisan Save Access to a Valuable Investment Needed to Generate Savings (SAVINGS) Act with the support of 25 colleagues. The SAVINGS Act would prohibit Treasury from discontinuing the Tax-Time Savings Bond Program for five years unless the Department implements a universally accessible non-electronic alternative.

At present, the only means of purchasing paper bonds is through the U.S. Treasury’s Tax-Time Savings Bond Program which allows individuals to use a portion of their federal tax refund to purchase savings bonds. Treasury has committed to maintaining the Tax-Time Savings Bond Program through the 2014 tax season only.

“Savings bonds represent a powerful and patriotic savings vehicle for millions of American families,” said Cartwright. “Treasury’s decision would severely restrict access to savings bonds for many low-income families. Every family deserves access to an affordable savings vehicle and an opportunity to attain financial security.”

The termination of the Tax-Time Savings Bond Program would restrict the purchase of savings bonds to online purchase only, which would cut off savings bond access to the approximately 20 percent of Americans who lack internet access, and the more than 10 million Americans who do not have a bank account.

“We’re delighted that Congress, through Congressman Cartwright’s leadership, shares the Administration’s goal to help millions of Americans save money at tax time,” said Tim Flacke, Executive Director of the D2D Fund.

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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford reportedly 'considering' entering rehab

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s lawyer said Friday the mayor is “considering” rehab, a day after saying he was embarrassed by a new video showing him in a rambling rage, threatening to “murder” someone.

Dennis Morris told The Associated Press on Friday that Ford is “considering his options,” including treatment. But he said “it’s best we hear from his lips.”

The news comes as the mayor was shown in a video making threatening comments.

Ford has admitted he was inebriated in a video clip obtained by The Toronto Star showing the mayor ranting incoherently, and making a number of questionable statements.

“I’ll rip his f—ing throat out. I’ll poke his eyes out,” Ford says in the video. “I’ll make sure that motherf—er’s dead.”

“I’m gonna kill that f—ing guy.”

This video comes after Ford on Tuesday admitted that he once smoked crack “probably in one of my drunken stupors.”

The news also follows reports that Ford is “prepared to take some downtime,” according to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly.

“We’re hearing that he’s prepared to take some downtime, not as much as people would like, but it’s a start. I’d rather have that than defiant rejection,” Kelly said Friday to CBC News.

Kelly’s remarks follow those from Ford’s brother, Doug Ford, who told a Toronto radio station earlier Friday that the mayor “needs to go away for a couple of weeks” in light of the mounting scandal at city hall and questions about the mayor’s health.

The admission by the 44-year-old came after repeated denials, and six months after another video surfaced that allegedly showed him consuming the illicit drug.

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Huckabee: Rand Paul plagiarism charge 'absurd'

On Tuesday, the Washington Times announced that it would be suspending all future weekly columns by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), in light of multiple reports of plagiarism.

Allegations of plagiarism were first brought against the senator on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” when Maddow showed that Paul had lifted entire sections of a stump speech for former Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli from the Wikipedia page for the movie Gattaca. It was later revealed that in addition to the speech, several pages from his book, as well as columns he had written for the Times, contained passages of uncredited text taken directly from other sources. Paul has since owned up to the accusations, saying that he had made mistakes with citing his sources, but that he “never had intentionally presented anyone’s ideas as [his] own.”

Paul’s senior adviser, Doug Stafford, echoed those sentiments in a statement. “In the thousands of speeches and op-eds Sen. Paul has produced, he has always presented his own ideas, opinions and conclusions. Sen. Paul also relies on a large number of staff…to provide supporting facts and anecdotes — some of which were not clearly sourced or vetted properly. Footnotes presenting supporting facts were not always used.”

“Going forward, footnotes will be available on request,” Stafford went on to say. “Adherence to a new approval process implemented by Sen. Paul will ensure proper citation and accountability in all collaborative works.”

Despite the claims of Paul and his staffers, the Times ended his column on Tuesday, which is not surprising given that it was discovered by BuzzFeed that Paul had plagiarized a portion of one of his Times columns from an another article written by Dan Stewart in The Week that had been published only days before.

“We expect our columnists to submit original work and to properly attribute material, and we appreciate that the senator and his staff have taken responsibility for an oversight in one column,” said Times Editor John Solomon. He went on to politely dismiss Paul from his weekly column. “We also appreciate the original insights he has shared with our readers over the last few months and look forward to future contributions from Sen. Paul and any other members of Congress who take the time to help educate our readers.”

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Bill de Blasio elected NYC mayor in stunning landslide victory

Big changes are coming to the Big Apple. After two decades of pro-business, hard-line governance, liberal Democrat Bill de Blasio overwhelmed Republican opponent Joe Lhota on Tuesday, winning the race for mayor of New York City by a stunning margin of some 49 percentage points. De Blasio will be the first Democrat in twenty years to serve as New York’s mayor.

De Blasio stands for virtually everything the two previous mayors, Republican-turned-Independent Michael Bloomberg and Republican Rudy Giuliani, did not. He has an unabashedly liberal agenda that includes putting a stop to wide-ranging police searches, known as “stop-and-frisk,” and a promise to narrow the growing gap between New York’s haves and have-nots.

“This election is a very stark contrast between two very different candidates. Mr. Lhota clearly want to maintain the status quo in the city. I’m calling for fundamental change,” de Blasio told reporters Tuesday, according to CBS News.

Lhota, who served as an advisor to Rudy Giuliani and was chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority during Hurricane Sandy, conceded the race at a Manhattan hotel before a crowd of disappointed supporters. “I wish the outcome had been different,” he said.

Lhota has warned New Yorkers that de Blasio is too inexperienced to run the giant metropolis and that his liberal policies will lead to an increase in crime rates. However, city dwellers are clearly fed up with the previous administrations’ conservative agendas, which they associate with overly aggressive and intrusive policing tactics, growing unavailability of affordable housing, and inattention to public education.

Given that leading up to the crowded Democratic primary, de Blasio was in fourth place behind former Rep. Andrew Weiner and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, his overwhelming victory on Tuesday is remarkable. To be sure, he was helped by Weiner’s ignominious withdrawal from the race after admitting to sending obscene images and messages to women he met online. But de Blasio’s astounding surge in the polls can be largely attributed to a brilliant campaign strategy.

By placing his own mixed-race family at the forefront of his campaign, de Blasio was able to connect with New York’s increasingly diverse electorate, who clearly liked what they saw. His very appealing 15-year-old son Dante, who has an imposing afro, was featured in a television ad where he championed his dad’s positions on stop-and-frisk and affordable housing.

At a victory celebration in Brooklyn, de Blasio greeted the crowd of jubilant supporters, saying, “Make no mistake: the people of the city have chosen a progressive path, and tonight we set forth on it, together.”