Posted: Friday, November 25, 2005

Protesters march outside Wal-Mart

ANCHORAGE - Protesters trudged through piled snow, waving signs to passing motorists as they held a lunchtime demonstration against retail giant Wal-Mart.

About 60 people attended the protest, saying the company's labor and business practices are unacceptable.

Wednesday's demonstrators, like other detractors of the discount retailer across the country, said Wal-Mart pays low wages, has poor health benefits and fights efforts by workers to unionize.

They also believe Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, buys too much of its merchandise from China.

"A lot of people in this country are upset with Wal-Mart," said Alex Newhall, who works as a union-represented longshoreman at Anchorage's port.

"And forget about unions," Newhall said. "The only union they stand for is the Red Chinese union."

The signs sported messages such as, "If you can't afford to work here, don't shop here," and "Wal-Mart ChinaMart."

"We don't want to see them expand here," said Valerie Baffone, a labor specialist with the Alaska Nurse's Association who was carrying a picket sign showing a circle with a frowning face, a parody of Wal-Mart's bright-yellow, smiley-faced marketing icon.

Wal-Mart has two stores in Anchorage and another in Eagle River, and is planning two new "super centers" in Anchorage, and one in Juneau.

With roughly 2,725 employees and seven stores, Wal-Mart is Alaska's third-largest private employer, according to the state Labor Department. It's also the largest private employer in the United States, with 1.2 million domestic workers.

Microsoft: Xbox 360 glitches isolated

REDMOND - Microsoft Corp. said Wednesday it had received isolated reports of technical problems with its popular new Xbox 360 video game system.

"It's a few reports of consoles here and there not working properly," said Molly O'Donnell, a spokeswoman for Microsoft's Xbox division. "It's what you would expect with a consumer electronics instrument of this complexity .... Par for the course."

Some owners complained that their systems were crashing during game play, sometimes with error messages popping up. On, one member reported that he could not even finish the first lap of "Project Gotham Racing 3."

Gaming fanatics lined up for hours late Monday night to be among the first to purchase the next-generation system, which was in short supply despite its starting price tag of $299. Microsoft planned to sell 2.5 million to 3 million of the new systems in the first 90 days.

Officers fired, resign in wake of probe

PORT ANGELES, Wash. - Two Clallam County sheriff's officers are no longer with the department and a third has been reprimanded following an investigation into alleged misconduct.

In addition, the undersheriff resigned shortly before the results of the investigation were made public.

An investigation by a Portland, Ore., lawyer on behalf of the department focused on accusations against former officers Sgt. David Fontenot and Deputy Dwane Hayden.

Attorney Jill Dinse looked into accusations that Fontenot took a pair of antique aviator goggles seized during the search of a warehouse in January and then did not log the item into evidence. She also investigated allegations that he intentionally falsified a date on a legal document and sexually harassed female co-workers.

Fontenot was placed on paid administrative leave Sept. 16, and he resigned within days.

Hayden, 37, a six-year veteran of the department, was fired Tuesday following Dinse's investigation of reports that he conducted an extramarital affair while working, including using an agency cell phone for long conversations.

Dinse, who released her reports this week, found the accusations against the officers to be true.

On Monday, Undersheriff Steve Snover retired after only six months on the job. He'll use vacation time until official retirement Jan. 5.

Mall shooting victim's condition upgraded

TACOMA, Wash. - A man critically injured in a shooting at the Tacoma Mall has been removed from a respirator and has spoken to his family, a hospital spokesman said Thursday.

Brendan McKown, 38, was removed from the respirator Thursday morning and his condition was upgraded to serious, but stable. No other information was available.

"He remains very weak and medically fragile," but he is talking with staff and family members," said Todd Kelley, spokesman for Tacoma General Hospital.

McKown was the most seriously wounded of six people shot in the shooting rampage Sunday. He underwent two surgeries after being hit twice in the abdomen. Doctors worried that he may be left with permanent paralysis because of spinal damage.

"He will likely be in serious but stable (condition) for some time," Kelley said.

Rockslide could slow winery business

YAKIMA, Wash. - Yakima Valley wineries are worried that a rockslide that's backing up traffic on Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass could slow business over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Every year wineries hold a three-day Thanksgiving in Wine Country event that draws hundreds of Puget Sound-area travelers. But state transportation officials have urged drivers to avoid the state's main east-west artery through the Cascades this year due to rockslides and continued cleanup.

Paul Portteus, owner of Portteus Vineyards in Zillah, estimates about 80 percent of his 1,500 to 2,000 visitors during last year's event journeyed from west of the mountains.

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