Nation & World Briefs 04-01-14 Mich. firefighter rescues 6-foot python from fire


MUSKEGON, Mich. -- A firefighter put his reptile-handling experience to good use when he rescued a 6-foot-long python from a burning home in western Michigan.

Muskegon firefighter Scott Hemmelsbach told The Muskegon Chronicle ( ) that he reluctantly agreed to enter the two-story, smoke-filled house Sunday night to retrieve the snake. He says he cradled the "weighty" snake before carrying it to safety.

"It was trying to crawl up the side of his terrarium and get out," Hemmelsbach said. "His face was pushed up on the screen and trying to get out. There was a lot of smoke and he was trapped."

The firefighter said he learned how to handle snakes while he was at Grand Haven High School, where he helped showcase them.

"I'd take them around and show them to the kids in the elementary classes," he said. "That didn't bother me at all."

When Hemmelsbach reached the python inside the home, he gingerly handled him so not to scare the reptile.

"I removed the screen off the top and knew to approach it by coming up behind his head. He became very active, and I was glad because that meant that he was OK."

Two people in the home escaped without injury, fire officials said. The fire significantly damaged the home, and the cause is under investigation.

"I would do it for any creature," Hemmelsbach said. "I'm just glad it had a happy ending."

Gives docs temporary Medicare fix: Congress once again has given doctors temporary relief from a flawed Medicare payment formula that threatened them with a 24 percent cut in their fees. A 64-35 Senate vote Monday cleared the measure for President Barack Obama's signature, which was expected as early as today. The $21 billion bill would stave off a 24 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors for a year and extend dozens of other expiring health care provisions, such as higher payment rates for rural hospitals. The legislation is paid for by cuts to health care providers, but fully half of the cuts won't kick in for 10 years.

Senate test vote set for Wednesday: Legislation to renew an expired program of benefits for the long-term unemployed faces a test in the Senate on Wednesday. If it receives 60 votes, as expected, passage could come a day later. The legislation would restore the benefit program for five months, retroactive to when it expired Dec. 28. In general, it helps workers who have been off the job longer than 26 weeks. Democrats have been trying to restore the program since January, and have made concessions as they seek enough Republican support to amass the votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

Appears under debate: The Obama administration appears to have begun considering the early release of Jonathan Pollard, an American serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, as it tries to nudge the Middle East peace process forward. On Monday, U.S. officials conspicuously declined to comment on reports that Pollard's release might be under consideration. Just days earlier, the State Department had issued flat denials after Israeli press reports that the idea was under discussion.

Camp won't run for re-election: U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican who has in recent years chaired the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, will not seek re-election this year, adding to the growing number of Michigan members of Congress heading toward the exits. Camp, 60, made the announcement official Monday, saying the decision was "reached after much consideration and discussion with my family." He did not give a reason for the decision.

"Real work lies ahead:" R. Creigh Deeds, the Virginia state senator whose mentally ill adult son attacked him before killing himself, called mental health reform he helped push through the state's General Assembly in the wake of the tragedy "incremental change." "The real work lies ahead," Deeds told a National Press Club audience Monday. Last November, Deeds' 24-year-old son, Gus Deeds, stabbed his father multiple times at their rural homestead in Bath County and then shot himself. A few hours earlier, the younger Deeds had been released from an emergency custody order after the local community services board said it was unable to locate a bed in the area within the six hours allotted by law.

Corn acres down, bean acres up: The number of acres devoted to corn is expected to shrink about 4 percent this year as farmers devote more of their land to soybeans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual forecast Monday of what farmers plan to plant. The USDA says it expects 91.7 million acres of corn to be planted this year, down from 95.37 million acres last year. The number of acres devoted to soybeans is expected to grow about 6 percent to 81.5 million acres from last year's 76.5 million acres.

Olmert convicted in corruption trial: Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted Monday of accepting bribes in a case called one of the nation's largest corruption scandals, ending an intense two-year trial and most likely his political career. Tel Aviv District Court convicted Olmert and nine other defendants -- including real-estate developers, a former mayor, a former city engineer, a former bank chairman and former councilmen and aides -- of accepting or taking bribes. Three other people were acquitted. Olmert was acquitted of two counts of bribery but convicted of two others, one involving approximately $140,000 in a series of post-dated checks given to his financially distressed brother, Yossi Olmert, by a third person who turned state witness and later died during the trial.

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