Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Dies of Cancer
Following a long battle with cancer, former president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez died on March 5 at the age of 58. Coming to power as the winner of Venezuela’s 1999 election, Chavez began a long career marked by strong opposition to U.S. involvement in Latin America and socialist policies favored by the nation’s working poor. He was also a close ally with the Castro regime in Cuba and traveled to the island nation to receive chemotherapy. Chavez was re-elected on October 7 but could not take the oath of office due to his continued treatment. With Chavez’ death, it is unknown who will succeed him, though new elections may be called within thirty days to choose the next president.

Mississippi Child Born with HIV Cured of Infection
An announcement at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta on March 3 confirmed that a Mississippi child born to an HIV positive mother had been completely cured of the infection, with no traces of the virus remaining in the child’s body. According to researchers, the child began antiretroviral treatment with a cocktail of particularly strong drugs about thirty hours after birth. A month after the child’s birth, the HIV infection was undetectable in the infant and at the age of twenty three months tests confirmed the continued absence of the virus. The child is the second confirmed case of an individual cured of an HIV infection, the first being famed “Berlin Patient” Timothy Ray Brown. Brown’s HIV was eliminated using a stem cell transplant from an individual with a rare genetic mutation which provides resistance against the virus.

State Attorney General Announces Tax Evasion Lawsuit Against Cigarette Dealers
State Attorney General Eric Schneidermann will be filing suit against two companies for selling contraband cigarettes without paying required state excise taxes in the 2011 fiscal year. The lawsuit is the product of an ongoing statewide investigation into illegal cigarette sales which focused partly on Grand River Enterprises of Ohsweken, Ontario and its wholesaler Native Wholesale Supply, which is based in Perrysburg, New York. The suit charges that Grand River sold their products to Native Wholesale to skirt stamping agents, who would prepay the excise tax and provide a state-required tax stamp. Scneidermann stated in a press release that Grand River sold Native Wholesale $85 million in products and may have avoided paying a total of $13.2 million in excise taxes. If a verdict is returned in the state’s favor, penalties of up to two percent of gross total sales for 2011 sales may be levied against the companies.

New York Mental Health Directors Argue SAFE Act Provision Could Cost Millions
New York State’s Conference of Local Mental Health Hygiene Directors spoke out in opposition to a particular measure in the state’s new gun control package, arguing it could burden state mental health providers with extremely high mandates. The Conference pointed to a provision requiring mental health providers to report all individuals who may pose a risk to themselves or others to local mental health departments for evaluation and possible notification of state mental health authorities. Such a provision, they argued, would flood mental health departments with reports and require thousands of new hires statewide. Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo, responded by stating mental health providers would not be required to report each of their patients and stated the Conference’s position was overly broad in its scope.

Chinese “Ghost Cities” Suggest Possible Real Estate Bubble
With pictures reminiscent of post-apocalyptic fiction, 60 Minutes recently reported on massive residential building projects in China which had attracted no residents, leaving the large urban areas eerily vacant. Not only do the projects reflect massive waste of time and resources, but may also signal a dire situation where builders take out large loans to finance such projects but find few if any Chinese citizens who can afford the housing, driving the country into a housing bubble. Critics such as Yale University’s Stephen Roach disagreed, emphasizing that China was undergoing significant urbanization and the so-called “ghost cities” could soon see residential attention.

Florida High School Students Suspended for Stopping Gunman
Three Florida students who acted to neutralize a potentially deadly incident on a school bus was suspended from school for their act in accordance with increasingly strict zero tolerance policies on weapons and violence. The unnamed students were riding to Cypress Lake High School in Fort Myers when an argument erupted between Quadryle Davis and another student. Davis pulled out a handgun and pointed it at the other students’ head, prompting the three students to tackle and disarm him. The school justified its position by stating the students were involved in an “incident involving a weapon,” which allows Florida principals to suspend students without a hearing pending further investigation. Meanwhile, Davis has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill.

New City Man Arrested for DUI, Drug Possession After Accident in New Jersey
New City resident Joseph Bruno, 25, was arrested and charged with a DUI and possession of prescription drugs on Thursday after a crash in Washington Township, New Jersey. According to State Police Sgt. Adam Grossman, Bruno was reportedly driving his Jeep Grand Cherokee erratically on the southbound side of the Garden State Parkway when he swerved off-road into the center median and struck a tree. After being cut from the car by Hillsdale fire personnel Bruno was treated for a compound fracture in his left leg at the Hackensack University Medical Center. Upon searching the car, police found the prescription drugs and initiated the charges against Bruno.

Walkway Over Then Hudson Announces Plan to Break World Record
The nonprofit group Walkway over the Hudson announced plans to set a world record for the longest line of dancers doing the Hokey Pokey by gathering three thousand people May 4 for an organized dance across the Hudson River. The event, which will be held over I Love My Park Day, aims to be even bigger than last year’s event, which set the same record by drawing 2,569 participants. Walkway over the Hudson will hold the event as a fundraiser, using funds to expand park services and amenities, finance new building projects, and hire volunteer ambassadors to assist park employees and visitors. Participation costs $15 and those interested in attending can sign up at www.walkway.org. The walkway connects Poughkeepsie and Highland. It had previously been a railroad bridge, once the longest bridge in the world.

Man Dismembers Mother, Takes Gruesome Photo Holding Her Head
Bronx resident Bashid McLean, 23, has been arrested and charged with the murder and dismemberment of his mother Tanya Byrd, 45. The murder was revealed tall the more inhumane when police found pictures of McLean posing with his mother’s severed head. McLean was scheduled for court on March 4, but did not appear. Though he initially pled not guilty, he has since confessed to the crime and has been placed on suicide watch. McLean also had the help of his friend William Harris, 26, who was also arrested and charged for helping McLean with the dismemberment. According to his father, McLean, who had a history of schizophrenia and physical violence, was off medication at the time of the murder. Following an argument over McLean’s right to live in their Morrisania apartment, he stabbed her to death as she slept, cut up her body with a power saw, and scattered it around areas of Eagle Avenue and East 158th Street. Police and family expressed shock and disgust at Bashid’s acts, with his aunt Cassandra McClean-Smith questioning how a member of her family could be capable of such acts. “We don’t know where he comes from — if it is the same blood that runs through our veins runs through his veins,” McClean-Smith stated.

Candidate “Off the Street” Enters Race for Rockland County Executive
Vladimir Leon, a previous candidate for several local positions known and younger relative of Spring Valley Trustee Anthony Leon, has announced his candidacy for county executive, entering the race as a “man off the street.” His elder relative has endorsed David Fried. In a statement to the Rockland County Times, Leon explained he was running to provide a “new, bright, efficient, and sustainable vision that will completely eradicate the crisis and embrace the course for a promising and sustainable future.” He criticized what he perceived to be the current candidates’ lack of creativity in finding solutions to the county’s problems. Leon has never been elected to public office in Rockland County, but cites his certification with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Sustainability Management program and previous service as a county health inspector as credentials for the position.

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