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News Notes

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Alabama doctor confirmed as US surgeon general

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday confirmed Dr. Regina Benjamin to be the U.S. surgeon general, elevating a well-known Alabama family physician to be the nation’s top doctor.

Benjamin, 53, was approved by voice vote.

Benjamin was the first black woman to head a state medical society, received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights and just last fall received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”

But she made headlines in the wake of Hurricane Katrina with her determination to rebuild her rural health clinic in Bayou La Batre, Ala., which serves 4,400 patients who would be hard-pressed to find care elsewhere.

In nominating Benjamin, President Barack Obama cited her experience with patients at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum and her commitment to prevention and wellness programs as a way to head off diseases and complications that could be prevented.

“My hope … is to be America’s doctor, America’s family physician,” Benjamin said when Obama announced her nomination in July. As we work toward a solution to this health care crisis, I promise to communicate directly with the American people to help guide them through whatever changes may come with health care reform.”

Mexican president honored at gala in Miami

MIAMI, Fla. — Mexico’s ability to simultaneously handle the economic crisis, the drug war, a drought and the swine flu demonstrates the strength of the country and its institutions, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Friday night at a gala for Latin American leaders in Miami.

Calderon was honored by Latin Trade magazine, following a forum in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank.

Any one of those crises could have brought the country to its knees, but thanks to quick government intervention, “Mexico is stronger than ever,” he told the crowd of political and businesses leaders from across the Western Hemisphere.

Calderon said that despite the economic downturn, the government was able to rein in unemployment by acting swiftly to keep at least a sector of the country partially employed. The government’s response to the crisis has included temporary New Deal-style job programs, in which it has paid low-level workers to clean streets and archaeological sites; government-funded partial salaries for some in the private workforce and a streamlined credit process for small and medium-sized businesses.

Calderon, 47, said by far the biggest challenge has been the drug war.

“It’s not about the president of Mexico’s obsession with drugs in particular,” he said, but about the need for any developed country to be guided by the rule of law rather than being at the mercy of criminals.

“It has not been easy. It has been terribly complicated,” he said of the government’s efforts, which have netted more than 50,000 arms since he took office in 2006. Calderon did not say that his government was winning the war nor that it could even be won in his lifetime, but he said the fight must continue.

Finally, Calderon stressed the need for transparency in government.

He said some in his administration initially argued against releasing information about the swine flu epidemic. But the president went public, with updates every four hours. And while Mexico’s tourism and manufacturing temporarily took a hit, the country was able to stave off a greater crisis and won the trust of the people, he said.

Ga. Rep. Lewis and ex-segregationist to get award

WASHINGTON — Georgia Rep. John Lewis and the white man who attacked him during a civil rights protest in 1961 have been chosen to receive the Common Ground award.

Lewis, who is black, and Elwin Wilson will receive the award Thursday at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

The honor is given to those who’ve made significant contributions to bridging divides between people, finding solutions to seemly uncontrollable problems, and providing inspiration and hope.

Wilson was part of a mob that attacked Lewis and other Freedom Riders for entering the waiting area of a bus station in Rock Hill, S.C., marked “Whites Only” in May 1961. The men met again 48 years later when Wilson apologized to Lewis in January and the congressman accepted.

Whitney Houston’s NJ mansion for sale

MENDHAM TOWNSHIP, Nj. — Whitney Houston’s New Jersey estate, where she married Bobby Brown in 1992, is for sale.

The five-bedroom, 12,561-square-foot house in Mendham Township is listed for $2.5 million. That’s less than half its $5.6 million assessed value.

The Coldwell Banker Web site estimates a buyer would have monthly mortgage payments of $10,819 based on a down payment of $500,000 and a 5 percent interest rate on a 30-year, $2 million mortgage.

Houston and Brown divorced in 2007.

(Associated Press)