Friday, December 7, 2012

Second winning ticket for $587.5 million Powerball jackpot claimed in Arizona

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Arizona Lottery officials announce a winning Powerball ticket has been claimed for the record-breaking $587.5 million jackpot. The jackpot is being split with previously announced winners in Missouri. 

By NBC News staff and wire reports

Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET: The other winner of the $587.5 million Powerball jackpot has come forward with the winning ticket, The Arizona Lottery announced Friday.

At a press conference, the lottery said the winner was a male in his 30s who lives in Fountain Hills, Ariz., with his wife. The couple have lived there for about a year, having moved from Pennsylvania, the lottery said.

The lottery did not disclose the winner's name because he requested anonymity, but under the lottery rules in Arizona his name will eventually become public.

The jackpot was the largest in Powerball history, with a cash option of $384.7 million before taxes.

It is being shared with Mark and Cindy Hill, who claimed their prize on Nov. 30. The Missouri couple took the lump sum payment of $136.5 million after taxes.The Arizona winner also elected to take the cash option, the lottery stated. It did not have specifics on how the winner planned to invest or spend the money.

The jackpot was the second-largest in U.S. history and set off a nationwide buying frenzy. At one point, tickets were selling at nearly 130,000 a minute.

Before the Nov. 28 drawing, the jackpot had rolled over 16 consecutive times without anyone hitting the jackpot. In a Mega Millions drawing in March, three ticket buyers shared a $656 million jackpot, the largest lottery payout of all time.

NBC News
The Arizona Lottery held a press conference Friday in Phoenix to announce that an Arizonan had won half of the Powerball jackpot.

Earlier, some media speculated that a man in Maryland might have won the other half of the Powerball jackpot.

That's because a Virginia Department of Transportation worker told clerks at an Exxon station in Upper Marlboro, Md. that he'd bought the winning ticket on a trip to Arizona, reported. He was pictured in surveillance video excitedly showing something to people in the station, and store clerks claimed they saw what looked like a winning ticket, according to However, the man reportedly continued to show up at work and avoided news cameras.

Strong earthquake strikes Japan, triggers small tsunami

[Posted by Associated Press December 07, 2012, 9:10 AM]
Japan Earthquake_001.jpg 
People crowd at a Japanese railway station after trains were halted following a strong earthquake struck off the coast of northeastern Japan. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)  

TOKYO -- A strong earthquake Friday struck the same Japanese coast devastated by last year's massive quake and tsunami, generating small waves but no immediate reports of heavy damage. Several people along the northeastern coast were reportedly injured and buildings in Tokyo and elsewhere swayed for several minutes.
The earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.3 and struck in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Miyagi prefecture at 5:18 p.m. (0818 GMT), the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The epicenter was 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) beneath the seabed and 240 kilometers (150 miles) offshore.
The area was shaken by repeated, smaller aftershocks, the agency said.
After the quake, authorities issued a warning that a tsunami potentially as high as 2 meters (2.2 yards) could hit. Sirens whooped along the coast as people ran for higher ground.
Ishinomaki, a city in Miyagi, reported a tsunami 1 meter (1 yard) high and other towns reported smaller tsunamis.
About two hours after the quake struck, the tsunami warning was cancelled. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center earlier said there was no risk of a widespread tsunami.

U.S. economy adds 146K jobs, unemployment rate falls to 7. 7 percent

[Posted by Associated Press December 07, 2012, 9:36 AM]

p1 jobfair.jpg 
Applicants wait on line outside a job fair at the Michael J. Petrides Educational Complex in June. The U.S. economy added 146,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, the lowest since December 2008.  

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy added 146,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, the lowest since December 2008. The government said Hurricane Sandy had only a minimal effect on the figures.

The Labor Department's report on Friday offered a mixed picture for the economy.

Hiring remained steady during the storm and in the face of looming tax increases. But the government said employers added 49,000 fewer jobs in October and September than initially estimated.

And the unemployment rate fell to a four-year low in November from 7.9 percent in October mostly because more people stopped looking for work and weren't counted as unemployed.

There were signs that the storm disrupted economic activity. Construction employment dropped 20,000. And weather prevented 369,000 people from getting to work - the most in almost two years. They were still counted as employed.

Since July, the economy has added an average of 158,000 jobs a month. That's a modest pickup from 146,000 in the first six months of the year.

The increase suggests employers are not yet delaying hiring decisions because of the "fiscal cliff." That's the combination of sharp tax increases and spending cuts that are set to take effect next year without a budget deal.

Retailers added 53,000 positions while temporary help companies added 18,000 and education and health care also gained 18,000.

Auto manufacturers added nearly 10,000 jobs.

Still, overall manufacturing jobs fell 7,000. That was pushed down by a loss of 12,000 jobs in food manufacturing that likely reflects the layoff of workers at Hostess.

Sandy forced restaurants, retailers and other businesses to close in late October and early November in 24 states, particularly in the Northeast.

The storm held back consumer spending and income, which drive economic growth. Consumer spending declined in October and work interruptions caused by Sandy reduced wages and salaries that month by about $18 billion at an annual rate, the government said.

Still, many say economic growth could accelerate next year if the fiscal cliff is avoided. The economy is also expected to get a boost from efforts to rebuild in the Northeast after the storm.

Tree of Hope on Midland Beach


NOVEMBER 25, 2012

Remembering those in need

The Thanksgiving holiday is a time to give thanks for family, friends and loved ones and to remember those who are in need. A group of friends took matters in their own hands and raised a 16 foot Christmas tree in the Midland Beach area of Staten Island as a symbol of hope.

The male friends raised the tree Saturday morning and with it "they hope to buoy the spirits of their neighbors and friends who are digging out and rebuilding after the flood waters of Superstorm Sandy," added The Staten Island Advance. The Christmas tree now stands at the intersection of Midland Avenue and Capodanno Boulevard.

"People will drive down Midland Avenue and see that star. We're back. We're here. It's Christmas time, not disaster time," said 70-year-old Tom Killeen, a Grant City resident raised in the neighborhood rocked by Hurricane Sandy, added the report.

Killeen looks forward to folks driving down the devastated avenue to be greeted by a light of hope "at the end of the tunnel." He titled it "Our Tree of Hope in Midland Beach," adds The Advance.

Buddies remember childhood in wake of devastation

"The men, some of whom have been buddies for more than five decades, planted the tall evergreen and decorated it with white lights and a star. It rests in front of a row of American flags attached to the fence behind it and near the Midland Beach Veterans Memorial," according to The Advance.

Conrad Schweizer Nurseries of Grant City donated the tree; Ariemma's Garden Center, Dongan Hills, provided the lights and star.

12/03/2012 02:37 PM
Local Students Set Up Christmas Tree At Midland Beach Intersection

NY1 VIDEO: Local Catholic school students brought some holiday cheer to Midland Beach when they helped set up a Christmas tree at the intersection of Midland Ave and Father Capodanno Boulevard last weekend.

Obama shares Staten Island story as he lights National Christmas Tree

[Posted by Stephanie Slepian/Staten Island Advance December 07, 2012, 11:12 AM]
obama - killeen.jpg 
President Obama spoke of Tom Killeen as he lit the National Christmas Tree in Washington on Thursday. Killeen was among a group of neighbors who planted a Christmas tree in Midland Beach to lift the spirits of his neighbors.    

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- It was a symbol of hope raised simply to lift the spirits of neighbors struggling to rebuild in a close-knit Midland Beach neighborhood.

But on Thursday, the 16-foot spruce was given national attention by President Barack Obama.

As Obama flipped the switch to light the National Christmas Tree outside the White House, he noted the miracle planted at the intersection of Midland Avenue and Capdodanno Boulevard last month.

"A great big Christmas tree shines out of the darkness," Obama said in Washington during the star-studded televised ceremony.

The president -- who toured the borough's storm ravaged beachfront last month -- also made specific mention of Tom Killeen, a Grant City resident born and raised in the area.

"As Tom says, the tree has one message: "It's Christmas time, not disaster time," Obama recounted.

The borough tree -- dubbed "Our Tree of Hope in Midland Beach" -- was planted by a group of longtime friends, many who played football together at the former Semler's Park in Grant City in the 1950s.

Conrad Schweizer Nurseries, Grant City, donated the tree, and Ariemma's Garden Center, Dongan Hills, provided the lights and the star.

Killeen wasn't aware of Obama's comments until he was notified by an Advance reporter.

"That's very nice," he said. "I think everyone will appreciate that."

NY1 VIDEO: Local Catholic school students brought some holiday cheer to Midland Beach when they helped set up a Christmas tree at the intersection of Midland Ave and Father Capodanno Boulevard last weekend.
Pregnant Kate leaves hospital after treatment for acute morning sickness

CBS/AP/ December 6, 2012, 6:07 AM

The Duchess of Cambridge left a London hospital Thursday after being treated for acute morning sickness related to her pregnancy.

Clutching a small bouquet of yellow roses, the former Kate Middleton smiled and posed briefly for a photograph alongside her husband, Prince William, before leaving King Edward VII Hospital. She stepped delicately into a waiting car.

The couple's office said she would head to Kensington Palace in London for a period of rest. She had been in the hospital since Monday. Officials from St. James's Palace have said the duchess is not yet 12 weeks pregnant with the couple's first child.

Prince William visits Kate at the hospital

William visited his wife at the hospital every day, while media from around the world camped outside, seeking any news on the royal pregnancy.

Royal officials announced Monday that the Duchess was pregnant, their hand forced by her admission into the hospital.
But the stay of one of the world's most recognized women was complicated by a breach of her privacy.

Two Australian radio disc jockeys impersonating Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles placed a prank call to the hospital early Tuesday, and persuaded an unwitting nurse to tell them all about the Duchess' condition.

The duchess is married to the queen's grandson, Prince William.

Australian radio personalities Mel Greig and Michael Christian later apologized for the hoax, sheepishly noting that they were surprised that the call was put through and that their Australian accents were not detected.

But Christian has been promoting their stunt on Twitter, telling followers, "Still haven't heard the #RoyalPrank that has the world talking? Listen to it here."
The royals have been the target of hoax callers before.

Canadian disc jockey Pierre Brassard telephoned the queen in 1995, pretending to be Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

Can you spot Kate's baby bump?

In a conversation that lasted 15 minutes, Brassard managed to elicit a promise from the monarch that that she would try to influence Quebec's referendum on proposals to break away from Canada.

Nurse who was duped by prank call about Duchess Kate found dead

What began as a joke was eclipsed as an almost incomprehensible tragedy when the nurse who took a prank call from two Australian DJs, and transferred it to Kate Middleton's nurse, apparently took her own life. NBC's Michele Kosinski reports.

By Ian Johnston, NBC News

Updated at 2:33 p.m. ET: A nurse duped by a prank call made to the hospital where Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was treated for an extreme form of morning sickness was found dead Friday morning, the hospital said in a statement.

Two Australian DJs, Mel Greig and Michael Christian of Sydney station 2Day FM, called the hospital earlier this week and pretended to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles asking to be put through to the ward. They were then given an update on Kate’s health by a nurse.

The woman’s body was found at an address in Weymouth Street, London, which is around the corner from King Edward VII Hospital on Beaumont Street. Police described the circumstance of her death as "unexplained."

“It is with very deep sadness that we confirm the tragic death of a member of our nursing staff, Jacintha Saldanha,” said the statement, which was released by the hospital's public relations firm.

Radio DJs impersonate royals, get lowdown on Kate

“Jacintha has worked at the King Edward VII's Hospital for more than four years. She was an excellent nurse and well-respected and popular with all of her colleagues,” it said.

John Lofthouse, chief executive of King Edward VIII Hospital in London, read a statement to reporters expressing "deep sadness" on behalf of the hospital staff over the death of a nurse who had recently taken a prank phone call about Duchess Kate's pregnancy.
Jacintha Saldanha, who worked at the hospital for more than four years, was noted as an "excellent" colleague.

“We can confirm that Jacintha was recently the victim of a hoax call to the hospital. The hospital had been supporting her throughout this difficult time,” it added.

A statement released by Saldanha's family asks that the media respect their privacy at this difficult time.

Many took to the radio station’s Facebook page, posting strong-worded comments criticizing the DJs’ behavior.

“Wherever you sit, just beg forgiveness,” a commenter named Mel Lacey posted.

“They should be sacked for the awful way they are handling the results of this prank,” William Stead, another user, wrote on the page.

Media company Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) and 2Day FM released a statement saying they "are deeply saddened by the tragic news of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha from King Edward VII's Hospital and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family and all that have been affected by this situation around the world."

NBC's Keir Simmons has more on the situation surrounding the death of a nurse in Britain who recently received a prank call for Duchess Kate.

The statement went on to say that CEO Rhys Holleran had spoken with the two DJs, who are "deeply shocked and at this time we have agreed that they not comment about the circumstances. SCA and the hosts have decided that they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy."

Duke, Duchess 'deeply saddened'A spokesman for St. James's Palace said that William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Kate were “deeply saddened” by Saldanha's death.

King Edward VII Hospital in London is still reeling from being seriously punked by two radio DJs who called and spoke to Kate's nurse. Meanwhile, the two Australians DJs apologized for their hoax. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

“Their Royal Highnesses were looked after so wonderfully well at all times by everybody at King Edward VII Hospital, and their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha Saldanha's family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time,” the spokesman added.

John Lofthouse, chief executive at King Edward VII's Hospital, was quoted as saying in the statement that "our thoughts and deepest sympathies at this time are with her family and friends."

Duchess Kate discharged from the hospital

"Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much loved and valued colleague," he added.

Lord Glenarthur, chairman of King Edward VII's Hospital, said Saldanha was "a first-class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients during her time with us."

"She will be greatly missed," he said.

The police and ambulance services said the woman, who they did not name, was dead when they arrived.

“Police were called at approximately 9:35 [a.m. local time, 4:35 a.m. ET] Friday … to reports of a woman found unconscious at an address in Weymouth Street,” a spokeswoman for London’s Metropolitan Police told NBC News.

“London Ambulance Service attended and the woman was pronounced dead at the scene. Inquiries continue to establish the circumstances of the incident,” she added.

The police spokeswoman said the death was being treated as “unexplained” until an autopsy was carried out.

London Ambulance Service told NBC News that they were called to the scene 9:25 a.m. [4:25 a.m. ET].

Two ambulance crews and a duty officer crew went there, but the woman was found to be dead, the ambulance service said.

Olivia Harris/Reuters
Police officers walk outside King Edward VII hospital, central London, Friday.

President Obama Lights the National Christmas Tree

Published on Dec 7, 2012 

President Obama speaks before the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse. December 6, 2012.   

The Obama Family Flips the Switch on the National Christmas Tree

The lighting of the National Christmas Tree (December 6, 2012)
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Marian Robinson participate in the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Last night, President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, made their way to the Ellipse, just south of the White House, where they helped to light the National Christmas Tree.

"We’ve been lighting the National Christmas Tree for 90 years now," the President said. "In times of war and peace, triumph and tragedy, we’ve always come together to rejoice in the Christmas miracle."
The President used the occasion to describe another Christmas tree -- one he saw in a Staten Island neighborhood, devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

"This evening, in Midland Beach, New York, on a street lined with houses and businesses devastated by the storm, a great big Christmas tree shines out of the darkness," he said. "Just a couple of weeks ago, as impacted families were still seeking some sense of getting back to normal, one local nursery donated the tree, another chipped in for the lights and a star, and 70-year-old Tom Killeen and his longtime buddies from the area planted it at the end of the street, overlooking the town beach. As Tom says, the tree has one message: 'It’s Christmas time, not disaster time.' "

The President urged Americans to keep the communities affected by the storm, as well as all those less fortunate, in our hearts this holiday season.
First Lady Michelle Obama reads “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” with Rico Rodriguez to children onstage during the lighting of the National Christmas Tree event on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 6, 2012.(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

With the 28-foot blue spruce lit up in white lights and topped with a yellow star, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Washington.

President Obama sits with first lady Michelle Obama in the audience watching the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington

Additionally, the double-platinum band The Fray, multiple Grammy® winning singer/songwriter Jason Mraz, and Grammy®-nominated singer/songwriter/producer Ledisi will join singer James Taylor, ten-time Grammy winner singer/songwriter/producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, two-time Grammy® winner Colbie Caillat and American Idol Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips to perform a collection of holiday favorites along with a special guest appearance by Modern Family actor Rico Rodriguez.

Whitlock: My real take on gun control 
Updated Dec 7, 2012 3:56 AM ET
Well, he may not be who I thought would talk gun control, or so
meone you love to hate because he speaks the truth 
It wasn’t that long ago, in the aftermath of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor’s tragic death in 2007, that I was the toast of right-wing America. Before there were any arrests, before we knew the gruesome circumstances that precipitated his murder, I analogized Taylor’s assailants to the Black KKK in a column for
I’m fond of provocative analogies. That affinity bit me in the rear end Monday morning. In the aftermath of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide, during an interview with Roland Martin on the popular Tom Joyner morning radio show, I groggily and inarticulately popped off a provocative analogy that I had yet to explain in writing.

I analogized the National Rifle Association to the KKK. Big mistake. My views on the NRA and distaste for the organization cannot be explained at 4:30 a.m. (I live in LA) during a fast-paced interview on a morning radio show. My column is the foundation for all of my most provocative opinions. My podcast is my secondary foundation for those opinions. I prefer to control my message and not hand fragments of my thoughts over to others to exploit, recast and define. I like to be interviewed about what I wrote in my column and what I said during my podcast.

Through no fault of Roland Martin or Tom Joyner, I went off message early Monday morning and spewed a half-baked thought. And by doing so, I gave the right-wing entertainment media the out it needed to further bastardize the rather harmless column I wrote Saturday night about Belcher’s murder-suicide.

The column primarily focused on my belief that it was inappropriate for the Chiefs to play a game 28 hours after Belcher murdered his live-in girlfriend and then drove to the Chiefs practice facility and killed himself in front of the general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator. Kansas City’s victory over the Carolina Panthers, nor the KC players’ insistence on wanting to play, in no way invalidates my contention that the NFL was wrong for playing the game as scheduled.

The column whined that football is our God and not even murder-suicide will slow us from worshipping at its altar. The still-in-shock and desensitized-to-violence players and coaches turned Belcher’s locker into a game-day shrine. Jovan Belcher is a murderer. His suicide did not transform him into a fallen hero.

There was one primary reason my Saturday-night column focused on whether the game should be played. I didn’t know what else to write. At the time, there was little concrete information about the tragedy. I wrapped up my column with an ancillary point articulating my belief that America’s gun culture is out of control, dangerous and a threat to our liberty.

I further argued that our Second Amendment is outdated. The right to bear arms no longer protects us from a government armed with stealth bombers, predator drones, tanks, nuclear weapons and all the other knickknacks James Madison and Co. couldn’t envision when ratifying the Bill of Rights in 1791.

Bob Costas quoted and paraphrased my ancillary point during a courageous halftime commentary on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” He infuriated the right-wing entertainment media and gave Bill O’Reilly and his disciples the opening to pretend the Second Amendment is under some sort of serious attack. It is not. We just finished a hotly contested election cycle, and not one political candidate that I can think of uttered a single meaningful word about gun violence, gun control, gun culture and the outdatedness of the justification for the Second Amendment.

This issue is so dead in this country that the flag-waving, right-wing entertainment media have to drag up a non-political, non-voting sports columnist and a talented sports broadcaster as their straw men to justify their phony outrage. I don’t think I’ll be called before the Senate to speak on any toothless gun-control legislation the NRA lobby lets slip through a crack.

But it appears I was summoned to testify before Speaker of The Big House Bill O’Reilly, the FOX News entertainer. O’Reilly is fixated on the mistake I made on the Tom Joyner show. O’Reilly spent part of his Tuesday show telling his viewers that I was afraid to come on “The Factor” and discuss my views on the NRA, the Second Amendment and gun culture.

I’m a grown-ass man and it’s 2012. I don’t have to shuffle off to the Big House when summoned. O’Reilly is not Boehner, Pelosi or Obama. He’s a TV entertainer who has spent the weeks after the election crying about the end of “white establishment” America, the end of the days when an upstanding white man felt entitled to summon whomever he wanted whenever he wanted to the Big House to dance.
I don’t dance.

Every cable TV network requested that I consent to an interview this week. I declined all invitations. Only Speaker of the Big House O’Reilly attacked me for exercising my constitutional right of freedom. It’s been a tough week for me personally, and I chose to control my message by using my platforms — column and podcast.

Beginning with my defense of Don Imus during the Rutgers controversy, I’ve appeared on O’Reilly’s program several times. You typically sacrifice two hours of time for an eight-minute segment that accomplishes very little. It’s not the deep end of the pool. There’s no room for someone like me to splash around.

If O’Reilly wants to talk, he’s more than welcome at my little house. I’d love to tape a podcast with him discussing the Second Amendment, gun culture and his fears about the end of white establishment America.

For now, I’m going to stick to writing my sports column. And when given a chance to broaden sports issues into social issues I will take that opportunity. That’s what I do.

And I do it without giving much thought to which politically partisan group I’m pissing off. When Taylor was senselessly murdered, I lambasted the primarily black "gangsta" culture that preys on black people the way the KKK once did.

I’m not paid to state the obvious. I’m paid to provoke thought, be compelling and explore the bigger picture. It doesn’t require much intellectual heft to point out Belcher is responsible for his reprehensible tragedy.

Recognizing his culpability for his girlfriend’s murder and moving on to make a deeper, more nuanced point isn’t irresponsible or an effort to excuse Belcher’s gross criminality. It’s a bid to probe alternative remedies that might lessen the probability of another Belcher tragedy. History has taught us that human beings are flawed, volatile, irresponsible and violent. What can we do to safely manage these human characteristics beyond the obvious?

I believe we should re-examine our love affair with guns. They don’t protect us from tyranny. Guns are toys in America. Guns are a dangerous hobby. Guns are a macho accessory, no different from a shiny sports car.

We can’t see this or even have a discussion about it because the propaganda-political-lobby-machine, the NRA, has hoodwinked America into believing handguns make us safer. The NRA, like the KKK, has brainwashed us through fear and division.

I don’t believe individual NRA members and/or gun owners — and I’m quite aware the NRA has members of every race — are racist. I do believe the NRA capitalizes on and promotes racial fears and ignorance that swings all directions. People of every race are buying guns to “protect” themselves from their own race or other races. It’s an unhealthy arms race. The NRA is powering it by promoting unnecessary and harmful stand-your-ground laws. The message isn’t subtle: Strap up, the other guy is out to get you.

The NRA traffics in fear, division and the seductive power of guns — the same tools used by the KKK. Other than money, I don’t think the NRA has a dog in the race. It just wants all sides armed to the hilt and convinced the other side is ready to shoot. That’s the recipe that left a 17-year-old Jacksonville kid dead over loud music blaring from a car.

It’s a dangerous recipe that I believe is fracturing our imperfect union. Nations as big and powerful as ours die from internal — not external — wounds. We’ve been duped into believing handguns are our salvation, an expression of our American patriotism. They’re just the opposite. Their rising popularity pushes us closer and closer to the brink, closer to a war inspired by racial divisions.

To much fanfare and derision, I’ve written provocatively about black people’s adoption of KKK-like qualities. I’ve bitched rather loudly and passionately about gangsta, hip-hop culture. I don’t run my opinions or analogies through a political point of view before airing them. I’m not part of the right- or left-wing entertainment media. I’m just a sports writer spouting my opinions trying to get you to look at the world differently.

If you read me long enough, it’s inevitable I’m going write something you passionately disagree with. But the opinions expressed in this column don’t come from a dishonest or partisan place.

Whitlock, Costas talk gun control

Updated Dec 5, 2012 11:57 AM ET 

The Jovan Belcher murder-suicide story has rocked the sports world, with people attempting to make sense of this senseless tragedy.

Bob Costas of NBC touched off a firestorm of reaction from across the country at halftime of Sunday night's Eagles-Cowboys game to speak to the issue of gun culture in America, reading liberally from Jason Whitlock's column on the issue.

Tuesday morning, Costas told The Dan Patrick Radio Show that he made a "mistake" in trying to convey his intended points in a brief, 90-second segment on Sunday.

“My mistake is I left it open for too much miscommunication,” told Patrick. “Here’s where I stand: I do not want to see the Second Amendment repealed. ... People should be allowed to own guns for their own protection. Obviously, those who are hunters. ... Access to guns is too easy in some cases. I don’t see any reason a citizen should be able to arm himself in some states in ways only police or military should — to have a virtual militia [by] mail order or gun shows. Why do you need a semi-automatic weapon? What possible use is there? ... Whitlock wrote about a gun culture. That’s what I was focusing on.”

As the sports world continues to move forward in the wake of this horrible, yet somehow defining event, Whitlock and Costas have gotten together on this podcast to share their insights about the myriad issues related to this tragedy.

We invite you to listen, and learn.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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A 90-year tradition: Obama lights National Christmas Tree

Michael Reynolds / EPA
A choir sings during the 90th annual National Christmas Tree lighting Thursday in Washington, D.C.

By Eun Kyung Kim, TODAY contributor

President Barack Obama lit a new National Christmas Tree at a traditional ceremony Thursday outside the White House that officially kicks off the holiday season in the nation’s capital.

The president was joined by the first lady and their two daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, when he led a dramatic countdown before more than 17,000 guests and lit the tree.

Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, push the button to light the National Christmas Tree on Thursday.

Television and Broadway actor Neil Patrick Harris hosted the 90th annual tree-lighting ceremony, which featured musical performances by Colbie Caillat, James Taylor, Jason Mraz and The Fray. During the ceremony, first lady Michelle Obama read the story "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" with "Modern Family" actor Rico Rodriguez.

Jason Reed / ReutersFollowing a dramatic countdown, the Obama family turns to view the illuminated National Christmas Tree on Thursday.

The National Park Service planted the 28-foot Colorado blue spruce in late October after the previous tree died earlier in the year from “transplant shock.” That tree had been planted on the grounds of the White House in March 2011, one month after high winds toppled the former national tree that had been up since 1978.

Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty ImagesIt's a beauty! The National Christmas Tree is lit during a festive ceremony on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The tree-lighting ceremony marks the first event in a four-week holiday celebration presented by the National Park Service and its official charity, the National Park Foundation.

Archival photo from National Park Service
Awwww! It's the very first official National Christmas Tree! Back in 1923, President Calvin Coolidge began the tradition of lighting the tree in a formal ceremony.

The Capitol Christmas Tree, which attracts thousands of visitors each year, is part of a larger outdoor exhibit that features miniature train sets and dozens of smaller trees decorated with ornaments representing all 50 states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

Archival photo from National Park ServiceThis archival photo shows the National Christmas Tree in 1947.

The White House tree ceremony, considered a headache by area residents trying to navigate around event-related street closures, is an annual tradition started in 1923 by President Calvin Coolidge.

Archival photo from National Park ServiceThis National Christmas Tree, pictured here in 1978, remained standing on the grounds of the White House until 2011 when high winds toppled it.

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