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March 5th, 2013
06:10 PM ET

Chavez leaves a revolutionary legacy

By Mariano Castillo, CNN

(CNN) - Charismatic and combative, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cultivated a larger-than-life appearance. But even after 13 years in office, his legacy may be more fleeting than his outsize personality suggested.

Chavez, 58, died Tuesday afternoon, according to the country's vice president. Chavez had battled cancer.

Supporters and opponents alike can name ways Venezuela has been transformed while Chavez was in office - poverty is down, crime is up, polarization has become the status quo - but the changes may not be as ingrained as they seem.

The cornerstone of Chavez's presidency was the Bolivarian Revolution, his ambitious plan to turn Venezuela into a socialist state. The most visible symbols of the revolution were the numerous social "missions" aimed at eradicating illiteracy, distributing staple foods and providing health care in all corners of the country.

Social programs were not new to Venezuela, but Chavez elevated them in scope and prominence.

"The most positive legacy that Chavez has is that he put his finger on a legitimate grievance that many Venezuelans have: social injustice," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a research and policy center in Washington. "Whoever succeeds him is going to have to deal with that question."

iReport: Send your thoughts on the death of the Venezuelan president.

Chavez was elected and re-elected in large part thanks to support from the country's poor, who felt marginalized by previous governments.

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March 5th, 2013
12:05 PM ET

Anti-government extremist groups increasing, say experts

By Callie Carmichael, CNN

(CNN) – The number of American "patriot" extremist groups has reached a record level, according to a new study, and experts are warning of a wave of anti-government violence.

A report released Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center counted 1,360 "patriot" extremist groups in 2012 - up by 7% from 2011. The study defines patriot groups as anti-government militias driven by their fear that authorities will strip them of their guns and liberties.

"They believe the Constitution is being raped. With hate groups, things are going to get worse because they feel like they're in battle," said David Gletty a former FBI informant who spent time undercover with various militia and extremist groups. "It's not surprising with their hatred of President (Barack) Obama that there are even more hate groups out there."

The study said California has the most patriot extremist groups, with 81.

The SPLC report also offers a bit of good news: The number of "immigrant-bashing" extremist groups - so-called nativism organizations - is way down from 2011, falling by 88%.

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Why America's middle class is losing ground
March 5th, 2013
10:29 AM ET

Why America's middle class is losing ground

By Tami Luhby @CNNMoney

(CNNMoney) - When Debbie Bruister buys a gallon of milk at her local Kroger supermarket, she pays $3.69, up 70 cents from what she paid last year.

Getting to the store costs more, too. Gas in Corinth, Miss., her hometown, costs $3.51 a gallon now, compared to less than three bucks in 2012. That really hurts, considering her husband's 112-mile daily round-trip commute to his job as a pharmacist.

Bruister, a mother of four, received a $1,160 raise this school year at her job as an eighth-grade computer teacher. The extra cash - about $97 a month, before taxes and other deductions - isn't enough for her and her husband to keep up with their rising costs, especially after the elimination of the payroll tax break. Its loss shrunk their paychecks by more than $270 a month.

"If you look at how much prices are going up, you get in the hole really quick," Bruister said. "It's a constant squeeze."

In the wake of the Great Recession, millions of middle-class people are being pinched by stagnating incomes and the increased cost of living. America's median household income has dropped by more than $4,000 since 2000, after adjusting for inflation, and the typical trappings of middle-class life are slipping out of financial reach for many families.

Families with young kids are struggling to afford childcare and save for the ever-climbing costs of college. Those nearing retirement are scrambling to sock away funds so they don't have to work forever. A weak labor market means that employed Americans aren't getting the pay raises they need to keep up - especially with big-ticket items such as health care eating away at their paychecks.

Economists say it boils down to two core problems: jobs and wages. The traditional "middle-class job" is disappearing.

 

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March 5th, 2013
12:00 AM ET

Oberlin College cancels classes to address racial incidents

By Laura Ly, CNN

(CNN) - Oberlin College in Ohio suspended classes Monday after a student reported seeing a person resembling a Ku Klux Klan member near the college's Afrikan Heritage House.

The sighting of the person wearing a white hood and robe was reported early Monday morning and follows a string of recent hate incidents on Oberlin's campus that have ignited shock and confusion among the student body.

"Since the beginning, there's been anger, frustration, sadness and fear, but we've been working toward a concentrated effort toward change," said Eliza Diop, 20, a politics and Africana Studies major who serves on the college student senate and is a resident of the Afrikan Heritage House, which offers programs focused on the African diaspora, according to the college's website.

Oberlin College is a small liberal arts college in Oberlin, Ohio, with almost 3,000 students. An emergency meeting among the college's officials was immediately called after the report.

In lieu of classes, college administrators asked students, faculty and staff to "gather for a series of discussions of the challenging issues that have faced our community in recent weeks," a statement on Oberlin's website said.

"We hope today will allow the entire community — students, faculty, and staff —to make a strong statement about the values that we cherish here at Oberlin: inclusion, respect for others, and a strong and abiding faith in the worth of every individual," the statement said.

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