Archive for July, 2009
CHICAGO (Reuters) –
Tiny synthetic particles carrying a payload of toxin worked as well as chemotherapy at killing ovarian cancer cells in mice, without the bad side effects, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.
They said the treatment, which relies on the use of nanotechnology to deliver genetic material into cells, could be ready for human clinical trials in as little as a year.
“What we did was deliver DNA that basically tells cells to die. But it is only turned on in ovarian cells,” said Dan Anderson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who worked on the study published in the journal Cancer Research.
If it works, the technology offers promise for a new treatment for ovarian cancer, which kills 15,000 women in the United States each year.
The study highlights the potential of nanotechnology — the design and manipulation of tiny synthetic particles — as a non-viral way of getting DNA into cells.
“People have had interesting success with viruses, but viruses have been fraught with certain safety problems,” Anderson said in a telephone interview.
His team's solution was to create an “artificial virus” — a biodegradable polymer that can get inside the cell and be absorbed by the body, in much the same way biodegradable sutures work.
“We think that has got a variety of advantages — in particular, safety,” said Anderson, who worked with a team at the Lankenau Institute in Pennsylvania. “In this case, we show they have potential as therapeutics for ovarian cancer.”
The team tested different compounds until they found a biodegradable polymer that would make a suitable delivery vehicle.
To form the nanoparticle, the polymers are mixed with a gene that produces a modified form of the diphtheria toxin that is only harmful to ovarian cancer cells.
“These particles are designed to be eaten by cells and DNA can get released into the nucleus, which is where it needs to be to work,” Anderson said.
When they injected the treatment into the abdominal cavity of animals with ovarian cancer, it worked as well or better than the traditional chemotherapy drug combination of cisplatin and paclitaxel, which can cause DNA damage and a variety of side effects.
“We've found these things are at least as efficacious, but are safer,” Anderson said.
His team will do several more tests and are fine tuning the manufacturing processes, and they are looking for the right partner to begin studying the treatment in people.
Anderson said the ovarian cancer study is just one demonstration of the potential uses for nanoparticles in non-viral gene therapy. The team plans to study nanoparticle-delivered toxin genes in brain, lung and liver cancers.
The lab also has teamed with biotech firm Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc to study the use of nanoparticles to carry treatments in the hot new field of genetic therapy known as RNA interference, which can shut down or silence gene activity.
And MIT is working on nanoparticles as a safer alternative to viruses in making powerful new embryonic-like cells called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, Anderson said.
(Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Walsh)
NEW YORK – The mid-movie dash to the restroom can turn us into calculating Usain Bolt wannabes: Ah, this looks like a lull — time to dash.
When we return to our seats, we pray the answer to “What did I miss?” isn’t “Darth Vader is really Luke’s father” or “the girlfriend is really a guy.”
The Web site RunPee.com can help with such anxious guess work.
The site provides recommended opportunities to race to the restroom. It tells you when the action or romance wanes, and gives you a cue (“Baby O.J. is taken from Bruno”) for your exit.
The site tells you how long you’ve got and even summarizes what you missed. Since early July, RunPee.com is available as an iPhone app, too.
Launched last August, RunPee took off earlier this summer. It’s been one of the season’s runaway hits — a clever idea that has spawned a lot of word-of-mouth from moviegoers.
“Helping your bladder enjoy going to the movies as much as you do,” the site boasts.
It was created by Dan Florio, a 42-year-old Flash developer who got the idea during the three-hour-plus “King Kong” remake in 2005.
Florio, who lives in Orlando, Fla., with his wife, does everything for the site, though he gets some help from his wife and his mother. He’s become a regular opening day attendee of movies, busily taking notes in the back row.
On Friday, he’s planning a double-feature of “Funny People” — which runs nearly 2 1/2 hours — and “Aliens in the Attic.”
“I never intended to refocus my energies on this,” says Florio. “And I never thought that I’d be seeing every single movie that comes out, either.”
The site averages 3,000-6,000 visitors a day, Florio says. The iPhone app is available on iTunes for 1. It’s not a huge moneymaker (Florio estimates he’ll make 800 this month) but is providing him a little extra cash.
He believes that not only do moviegoers benefit from the service, but theater owners do, too.
“Lots and lots of people comment: `Ah! I can get that 64-ounce drink now!’” Florio says.
Florio designed the site to be wiki-based with break times submitted by users, but it’s turned out that he’s done most of the work. Finding the right moments and recording the correct time is more work than it might sound — most moviegoers leave their stopwatches at home.
“It’s not fun,” says Florio. “I would literally have to pay someone to do this.”
Generally, the better the movie is, the harder it is to find a break. The 96-minute “Up,” for example, is one film where no bathroom break is advisable. But there are suggested options — after all, movies that children flock to are the kind where bathroom breaks are often unavoidable.
There are, of course, limits to the usefulness of RunPee. But it’s also found friends in cyberspace like WhereToWee.com, a site in the works that tells you where the nearest restroom is.
On the Net:
DENVER – The Denver Nuggets have acquired Malik Allen from the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Walter Sharpe and Sonny Weems.
The Nuggets announced the deal Friday.
Allen played in 49 games for Milwaukee last season, averaging 3.2 points and 2.1 rebounds.
In 409 games over an eight-year career, he has averaged 5.4 points and 3 rebounds. He also played for Miami, Charlotte, Chicago, New Jersey and Dallas.
Sharpe came to the Nuggets in a July 13 trade after spending his rookie season in Detroit, where he appeared in eight games and averaged 1 point.
Weems appeared in 12 games for the Nuggets last season, averaging 1.6 points.
Perhaps the biggest “teachable moment” from the Henry Louis Gates Jr. saga was for President Barack Obama: If you want to improve race relations, you have to enter the fray.
Even some of Obama’s fiercest opponents say that by bringing together the black professor and the white police officer who arrested him, the president had orchestrated an unlikely and unifying moment, a peaceable kingdom in the Rose Garden.
Symbolic? Yes. Made for TV? Certainly. But these things could not obscure the fact that a president who has tried to transcend racial matters was down in the arena, talking about race.
“The cynic in me wants to shoot holes in it, the critic in me wants to pick it apart,” said conservative radio host Mike Gallagher. “But I’m sorry, you have two sides, polar opposites in a racially tinged confrontation like this, sitting down with the president of the United States over a beer at the White House?
“This is a great step forward in showing how you can take a confrontation, a conflict, and make a positive out of it.”
This also is the kind of direct action Obama had sidestepped as he sought the support of white voters weary of racial dissonance.
In March, Obama was asked whether he agreed with Attorney General Eric Holder’s comments that many Americans have been “cowards” because “we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.”
“I’m not somebody who believes that constantly talking about race somehow solves racial tensions,” Obama told The New York Times. “I think what solves racial tensions is fixing the economy, putting people to work, making sure that people have health care.”
The standoff between Gates and Obama has the potential to exacerbate tensions. Many blacks supported Gates’ claim that he was racially profiled by Crowley, while many whites insisted Crowley displayed no bias in investigating a possible break-in at Gates’ home.
Gates demanded an apology from Crowley and called him a “rogue policeman.” After Obama said police had “acted stupidly” in arresting an angry Gates for disorderly conduct, Crowley said Obama was “way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts.”
The atmosphere was much different after Thursday’s conversation.
“No tension,” Crowley said.
Mostly, racial conflicts fade out without any consultation, let alone resolution. Imagine the widow of Sean Bell meeting with the New York police officers who shot her husband, or the black teens in Jena, La., talking to the white schoolmate they attacked.
That made the White House meeting even more remarkable — “revolutionary and potentially healing, a peace pipe for modern times,” wrote the right-leaning columnist Kathleen Parker.
“When future archaeologists excavate our history, they will doubtless marvel at the symbolism of that simple gesture,” she wrote.
It probably never would have happened had Obama not criticized Crowley, a mistake that demanded damage control.
“His advisers would have said, ‘No, it’s not about health care!’” said Rev. Jim Wallis, president of the progressive Christian group Sojourners and author of “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.”
It was political theater — but it sent a powerful message, Wallis said.
“It was a parable for what needs to happen off-camera all the time — that kind of conversation,” he said. “Obama was saying, ‘This now needs to happen.’”
Obama has rarely joined that conversation since his national debut at the 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, when he declared, “There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”
But as the first black president, son of a white mother and black father, many say he in uniquely suited — even obligated — to lead the discussion.
“As a white man, I would say the nation needs a president to be proactive on race,” Wallis said. “He has a power to be that, the capacity to be that, the identity and the history.”
Gallagher said no one besides Obama could have orchestrated this type of resolution.
“You had to almost have a black president who’s capable of saying to Gates, the man who feels aggrieved and insulted, ‘I need you at the White House.’”
“Obama said … ‘Let’s show the world that we’re trying to advance race relations rather than digress,’” he continued. “And you know what? As one of his fiercest critics, he gets an A-plus on this. I’m just blown away.”
Much has been made of the symbolism of a black president and how he provides an opportunity for people to talk about race. In some ways, race is always an element of any conversation Obama is involved in.
But “watercooler conversations aren’t enough any more,” Wallis said. “They don’t go deep enough, they are too short and they are very safe. You gotta sit at the table.”
That’s exactly what Crowley, Gates and Obama did on the White House lawn, along with Vice President Joe Biden, whose presence conveniently balanced out the image.
Earlier, Crowley and Gates talked after they crossed paths while separately touring the White House with their relatives.
They continued their tour as one large group.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. AP news researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.
(People.com)On her online model profile, Samantha Burke says she is passionate about fashion and photography, and has aspirations of becoming an actress.
Model Samantha Burke met Jude Law, above, while the actor was making “Sherlock Holmes” in New York.
But she’s now had to put those dreams on hold for a new project: Being mother to Jude Law’s fourth child. Burke, a Florida native from Pensacola, confirmed through her attorney Thursday that she is carrying Law’s baby. Burke and Law met last yearand had a brief relationshipwhile he filmed “Sherlock Holmes” in New York City. Burke was in the Big Apple taking acting classes at the New York Studio for Film & Television, according her online profile. “It was a commercial and soap opera based course,” she wrote. “I loved it! I wouldn’t mind modeling AND acting.” Her stay in New York, and apparently her time with Law, was short-lived. She returned home to Pensacolapregnant. She happily shared the news with friends (she’s having a girl), registered at Babies R Us and posted pictures of her baby bump on Facebook. A longtime neighbor in Pensacola describes Burke, now 24, as outgoing and friendlyan attractive young woman who likes to have a good time.
People.com: More than 100 photos of Jude Law
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People.com: Jude Law cleared of assault charges
“Samantha has never gone out of her way to be mean or snobby, she was nice to me all the time,” the 23-year-old male tells PEOPLE. “She was simply gorgeous and dated a lot of guys. She was a major-league party girl.” The Pensacola source says Burke left Florida to find more work as a model. She did swimsuit runway shows and other jobs. Burke noted in her profile that she had been modeling for about eight years and did “not want to give it up!” But her neighbor says Burke recently was having trouble finding work back home with a bulging belly. “Hardly anyone around here knew about her fling with Jude Law,” the neighbor says. “It was a well-kept secret.”
ISLAMABAD, PakistanThe Supreme Court of Pakistan on Friday declared that the 2007 emergency decree imposed on the country by former President Pervez Musharraf was unconstitutional, Pakistan’s attorney general said.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court says former President Pervez Musharraf’s moves were illegal.
Sardar Muhammad Latif Khan Khosa said the court also ruled illegal all judicial appointments by Musharraf, who dismissed about 60 judges when he declared the state of emergency. The fired judges included 14 of the 18 on the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The country’s top attorney, Ali Ahmed Kurd, who is president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, called the ruling a success, and urged that Musharraf be brought to trial. Under Pakistan’s constitution, only the federal government, of which Kurd is a part, can prosecute someone who has violated the constitution. Asked whether this would happen, Kurd said: “We will look into it later.” Musharraf declared a state of emergency on November 3, 2007, suspending the nation’s constitution. Chaudhry declared the action illegal, but shortly afterward Musharraf had him expelled from office. Other judges and thousands of protesting attorneys were either arrested or detained in their homes. Critics said Musharraf sacked the judge because he was preparing to nullify his election in October to a third term in office. Under increasing protests and threat of impeachment, Musharraf resigned in August 2008. According to the high court’s latest ruling, the removal of Chaudhry violated Article 209 of the Constitution and another rule of law passed by the court. “Hence, in view of the facts and reasons stated above, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is still the Chief Justice of Pakistan as per Constitution, and all appointments and reappointments made in the Supreme Court and High Courts without consultation of de jure chief justice of Pakistan are unlawful, illegal” and went beyond the Constitution. Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari, issued a statement saying: “This landmark decision is the victory of democracy.” “By terming [the] November 3 action unconstitutional and illegal, the Supreme Court has created history and has blocked future attempts of any adventurer to take any such steps that are devoid of constitutional path. “This decision is the last nail in the coffin of dictatorship and would be written with the golden words in our history,” she said. Musharraf’s dismissal of Chaudhry in November 2007 was the second time that year that Musharraf had taken that action. After the first dismissal, in March, Chaudhry was placed under house arrestoutraging many Pakistanis. Fourteen superior and civil court judges and two deputy attorney generals resigned over the matter, and thousands of attorneys marched to Islamabad demanding that he be reinstated. Protests later turned violent. In July, the Supreme Court ruled the dismissal of Chaudhry had been illegal and reinstated him.
The choices facing Burma’s military
By Kate McGeown
Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe faces a dilemma.He desperately wants to keep his most influential opponent away from the Burmese public, yet he fears the uproar that will ensue if he keeps her locked up. Than Shwe and his ruling generals have already procrastinated over Aung San Suu Kyi’s latest trial. Most court hearings in Burma last a few days at most, but this one has been going on for more than two months. Now they’ve stalled again, postponing the verdict until 11 August. Unlike the other 2,000 political prisoners – whom the Burmese military seem to keep in jail without much thought for public opinion – it is evident that Burma’s officials do not know what to do with this demure 64-year-old woman. Revered and respectedAung San Suu Kyi is not an ordinary prisoner. As the daughter of Burma’s independence hero General Aung San, she was always going to command people’s respect. But as the rightful winner of the country’s last democratic elections in 1990 – which the military refused to recognise – she gained credibility in her own right.
By imprisoning her for so long, the junta has unwittingly given her even more symbolic significance in the eyes of Burmese people. “An aura has built up around her,” said Maung Zarni, a research fellow at the London School of Economics. “The public view her as the conscience of Burmese society.” It is especially important for the military generals that Aung San Suu Kyi is out of the way ahead of the next elections, which they plan to hold in early 2010. The polls are widely seen as an attempt to legitimise the regime by increasing its democratic credentials. But in order for this to work to its favour, the generals need to make sure their allies win. In the 1990 elections, the military miscalculated in a big way – they were trounced by Ms Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy. This time they don’t want to take any chances. When an eccentric American swam to Ms Suu Kyi’s lakeside house in his homemade flippers in May, he gave the generals the excuse they were looking for. By accusing her of breaking the terms of her house arrest because she let her uninvited well-wisher stay the night, they finally had a reason to extend her detention and keep her safely locked away throughout the election process. Risky strategyBut even if the junta find some tenuous legal reason to jail Ms Suu Kyi, or extend the terms of her house arrest, they know they will stoke intense public outrage.
Keeping behind bars a woman who is not only a Nobel Peace Prize laureate but also the world’s most famous political detainee is a high-risk strategy. Burmese people will be angry and upset if she is found guilty, but according to Mung Pi, who runs a blog site for Burmese exiles, the government knows there is not much that people inside the country can actually do to change things. “A guilty verdict probably won’t lead to large street protests, because people are still suffering from 2007,” he said. In September 2007 large-scale demonstrations led by monks – the most revered sector of society – were brutally quashed by the military, and the opposition movement is still said to be recovering. The generals know that, right now, their opponents do not have the strength to fight back.
Than Shwe did not let Ban Ki-Moon meet Ms Suu Kyi on his trip to Burma
“The opposition movement has the moral backing of the people, but it’s whoever controls the streets, not the moral high ground, who matters,” said Maung Zarni. Coping with the indignation of the international community, though, is a different matter. On the surface, it seems that the Burmese generals are completely intransigent when it comes to the demands of the rest of the world. They have ignored recent incentives from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and refused to let UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon meet Aung San Suu Kyi on a recent visit. They also remain resolutely unswayed by the constant pleas from celebrities and protest marches. But there are times when the junta does listen to the outside world. It belatedly reacted to criticism of its handling of the devastating cyclone last year, letting in foreign aid after initially saying it could manage alone. And if the military really was oblivious to international reaction, it would surely not have bothered to plan elections – no matter how flawed those elections might be. Chinese influenceThe lengthy delays in Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial are another indication that the recalcitrant generals can sometimes be swayed by foreign influence. “The regime wants to take its time because of the mounting pressure it’s under,” a diplomat in Rangoon told reporters.
It is still doubtful the military will take much notice of the West, though. The long years of EU and US sanctions mean that Burma has been thrown into the arms of China and Russia, as well as neighbouring Asian nations. “When push comes to shove, they can afford to just ignore… what the West thinks. They’re backed by China,” said Justin Wintel, the author of a book on Aung San Suu Kyi. And as long as they can rely on China and Russia to veto any major action by the UN Security Council, and their neighbours at the Asean regional forum to do little more than voice occasional disapproval, the generals probably feel there will be no serious ramifications to keeping Aung San Suu Kyi behind bars. Which is ultimately why most analysts believe that Ms Suu Kyi will be found guilty; the negatives of having her free outweigh the positives. But even if he does send her to jail, Than Shwe already knows that she is likely to remain his most potent opponent. She may be out of sight, but someone as iconic as Aung San Suu Kyi will never be out of Burmese minds.
CLEVELAND – The Boston Red Sox got the big bat they were looking for, acquiring All-Star slugger Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians on Friday.
The rebuilding Indians received right-hander Justin Masterson and minor league pitchers Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price. Cleveland’s second major trade in 72 hours — they dealt reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to Philadelphia on Wednesday — came shortly before the 4 p.m. EDT deadline to complete deals without waivers.
The 30-year-old Martinez has split his time at catcher and first base this season. The switch-hitter is batting .284 with 15 home runs and 67 RBIs.
Martinez, who had spent his whole career with Cleveland, fought back tears after being told by general manager Mark Shapiro that been traded. He sat in front of his locker, hugging 4-year-old son Victor Jr. — earlier in the day, the young boy asked his dad, “Are we still an Indian?”
“It’s tough,” Martinez said, his voice choked with emotion. “It’s tough when you know you’re leaving your house and leaving the organization that gave you a chance to play in the big leagues. This organization made me a better ballplayer and a better person. It’s tough but life continues and I have to keep moving on.
“This was my home.”
Martinez leaves Cleveland a day before the Indians were to hold Victor Martinez Bobblehead Night at Progressive Field in their game against Detroit. Before Friday’s game, workers for a sign company removed banners outside the ballpark with Martinez’s picture on them.
Martinez will move right into a pennant race, joining a Red Sox team that is second in the AL East behind the New York Yankees, but leads the wild-card chase.
“Everybody knows I play to win,” said Martinez, a three-time All-Star, who entered the season with a .298 career average. “I love this game and I’ll go there and do the same thing. As soon as I cross the line, I’m all about winning.”
Martinez’s deal completed a rash of trades by the Indians, who have acquired 11 players — nine of them pitchers — in five trades since June 27.
Cleveland, which began the weekend 12 games out of first in the AL Central, has slashed nearly 25 million in payroll by trading Lee, Martinez, third baseman Mark DeRosa, reliever Rafael Betancourt and first baseman Ryan Garko.
“When you don’t perform or have good results, things are going to happen like this,” Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore said. “It’s start from scratch now.”
Martinez will likely share catching duties in Boston with Jason Varitek and can fill in at first base and designated hitter.
“What we’re getting in Victor is a middle of the order, switch-hitting batter, who can catch, play first, DH,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “It’s a very valuable piece, There are a lot of things to like about Victor. He can help take a little off Tek (Varitek) and we can do a lot to hopefully be able to attack a lot of the better pitching in the league.”
The Red Sox did not give up Clay Buchholz, one of their top pitching prospects, for Martinez. But they did part with three quality arms in order to bolster their lineup.
The versatile Masterson was Boston’s second-round pick in 2006. He went 3-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 31 appearances, including six starts for the Red Sox this season. The 6-foot-6 righty was a key part of the Red Sox’s run to the playoffs a year ago, going 6-5 with a 3.16 ERA in 36 games after being called up from the minors.
Shapiro said Masterson will be recalled on Saturday and will immediately join the starting rotation.
Masterson, who grew up in Ohio, had mixed emotions on changing teams.
“Bittersweet is the word,” he said in Baltimore before the Red Sox faced the Orioles. “I’ll be going home to where I grew up, but I will be leaving a great organization in the Red Sox. It was a great opportunity for me to be here, but I’ll still be getting a great opportunity.”
The 23-year-old Hagadone, a 6-foot-5 lefty, has pitched sparingly since being drafted No. 55 overall by the Red Sox in 2007. He missed much of the 2008 season after having Tommy John surgery and has worked only 25 innings this year, going 0-2 with a 2.52 ERA at Class A Greenville.
Price was drafted 45th overall in 2008. The 22-year-old righty has struggled in his first two years of pro ball, going just 5-11 record with a 4.42 ERA in 31 outings.
This marked the second straight year the Red Sox made a splash at the July 31 trade deadline. Last season, they dealt away Manny Ramirez and got Jason Bay.
In 2004, the Red Sox also made a last-minute deal, trading away popular Nomar Garciaparra and acquiring Orlando Cabrera to play shortstop. Boston went on to win the World Series that year.
The Red Sox held a three-game lead in the AL East at the All-Star break, but a five-game losing streak on the ensuing road trip dropped them into second place behind the rival Yankees.
Boston has won only four of its last 12 games, has a losing record on the road and five of the starting nine are batting .250 or below.
Boston general manager Theo Epstein has been active this month: He traded shortstop Julio Lugo to St. Louis for minor leaguer Chris Duncan, got outfielder Brian Anderson from the Chicago White Sox for infielder Mark Kotsay and acquired first baseman Adam LaRoche from Pittsburgh for prospects. LaRoche was traded Friday to Atlanta for first baseman Casey Kotchman.
But a bigger deal, for Toronto ace Roy Halladay, fell apart when Boston refused to part with both Buchholz and reliever Daniel Bard.
AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen in Boston and David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.
ROME (Reuters) –
The United States completed a relay double at the world championships on Friday when they retained their men's 4×200 meters freestyle title with a world record time.
The Olympic champions, led by Michael Phelps, shaved 0.01 off their record from Beijing to triumph in six minutes 58.55 seconds and grab another gold after winning the 4×100 freestyle on Sunday.
Russia took the silver medal and Australia won bronze.
Germany's Paul Biedermann, who took Phelps's individual 200 freestyle world title on Tuesday, once again frustrated the American and led at the end of the first leg.
While Phelps trailed by over a second, Ricky Berens put the Americans on top in the second leg and David Walters kept them there before Ryan Lochte held off a late surge from the Russians to steer them home.
Completing the relay double gives 24-year-old Phelps his third gold of the meet and his 20th overall in world championships after he also retained his 200 meters butterfly title on Wednesday.
He will seek to defend his 100 butterfly title in Saturday's final.
NEW YORK – This was one government stimulus plan that yielded quick results. Maybe too quick.
Far more drivers signed up for the “cash for clunkers” program than anyone thought, overwhelming showrooms, blowing through the initial 1 billion set aside by Congress and leaving dealers panicked over when or if the government would make good on the hefty rebates.
Confusion reigned, even as dollars flowed into dealerships starved for business for months.
The government Web site set up to process rebates of up to 4,500 per new car could not keep up with demand. Washington scrambled to come up with more cash and sent mixed signals about how the program would unfold.
“A borderline train wreck,” said Charlie Swenson, general manager at Walser Toyota in Bloomington, Minn. In Glen Burnie, Md., Bob Bell, who owns Ford, Kia and Hyundai dealerships, said his employees were overwhelmed filing for reimbursement from the government’s clunky system.
He compared the program to a military operation: “It is a disaster,” Bell said. “We met our objective, but the losses were terrible.”
The House voted Friday to replenish the program with 2 billion, setting up likely Senate action next week. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the administration assured lawmakers that “deals will be honored until otherwise noted by the White House.”
Like a car salesman beckoning from the lot, Levin said “people ought to get in and buy their cars” while the hot deals last. The White House joined in the pitch, telling consumers the program is solid through “this weekend.” That left unclear what happens after that, until more money is approved for it.
The Car Allowance Rebate System offers owners of old cars and trucks 3,500 or 4,500 toward a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle, in exchange for scrapping their old vehicle. Congress last month approved the plan to boost auto sales and remove some inefficient cars and trucks from the roads.
It was unclear how many cars had been sold under the program on Friday, but the number was far higher than anyone had expected. About 40,000 vehicle sales were done through the program but dealers estimated they were trying to complete transactions on an additional 200,000 vehicles, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
“I think the general public right now is looking for a bargain in any way to spend their money,” said Kitty Van Bortel, who owns Ford and Subaru dealerships in Victor, N.Y., “and this was perceived as an incredible bargain and people took advantage of it.”
The backlog had been building for weeks. Auto dealers could begin offering the rebate at the beginning of the month, and many began doing so over the July 4 weekend. But it was not until a week ago that dealers could begin filing for reimbursement, leaving them on the hook for as much as 4,500 per car until they get the federal money.
That’s when they ran into difficulties with a federal Web site ill equipped to handle the volume of claims and the multiple documents each submission requires. Some dealers said the process took upward of an hour for each transaction, caused repeated rejections and consumed many hours submitting and resubmitting data.
At Walser Toyota in Bloomington, customers began lining up on Monday before doors opened at 7:30 a.m.. Swenson said. By that afternoon, his dealership had done 150 trade-ins under the program. His salesmen worked overnight to scan and submit forms.
But of the 150, he said, only 30 received responses and all of those were rejections.
Dennis and Marcia Strom hurried into that dealership Friday, fearing the rebates might not last, and filled out paperwork for a new car.
“I might have waited until the truck died,” Dennis Strom said of his 14-year-old Dodge Dakota. “It’s a good vehicle that suits our needs. But it’s not worth 3,500.”
About 100 people were looking to sign deals there but were holding off because of uncertainty over the rebates.
It took three hours Thursday for employees at one of Sam Pack’s Dallas-area Ford dealerships to submit just eight documents. Pack said he feared that many deals made under the program wouldn’t be properly reimbursed.
“The details of processing this is beyond what anybody would think is reasonable,” he said.
Federal officials said they have increased the capacity of the submission system and added staff to work hot lines and process voucher applications.
In Victor, Van Bortel considered pulling the plug on rebates at the Ford and Subaru dealerships she owns, even though her ads promoting the rebates were locked in for the weekend.
“Honestly, in all my years in the car business, I have never seen such a mess,” she said.
Still, it was a mess created by too much action, instead of not enough.
Officials hoped that when the dust cleared from the confusion, the program would be a tonic for the beleaguered auto industry and a benefit for the environment, with many inefficient cars taken off the road.
President Barack Obama said the program has “succeeded well beyond our expectations” and praised the House for moving quickly to establish new financing.
“This is a test drive,” Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said of the program, “and people bought it big time.”
Bell, in Glen Burnie, said the rebates have “pulled forward a tremendous market.”
“It’s wonderful to sell them,” he said. “But if you have to pay off a vehicle immediately, you’re going to have a severe cash flow deficit.”
Dealers are used to working with similar incentive programs offered by auto manufacturers, said John McEleney, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association. But the rules are much less stringent under those programs, and automakers generally don’t require nearly as much documentation, he said.
His group surveyed dealer franchises using the program and realized the money for it might be getting short. One survey finding: Consumers were opting to use the higher 4,500 rebate over the 3,500 amount by a margin of 2-to-1, eating through the money faster.
“It has been very problematic,” McEleney said. “I don’t believe that anyone anticipated the volume would be this great.”
Associated Press writers Stephen Manning in Washington, Nomaan Merchant in Minneapolis, Ben Dobbin in Rochester, N.Y., and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.
‘Fake UK sites’ trick consumers
By Brian Milligan
Business reporter, BBC News
Trading Standards officers say that consumers are being tricked into buying fake goods on the internet by companies pretending to be based in the UK.The websites are often based in China, but use “co.uk” as part of their domain name, giving shoppers a false sense of security, they say. It is thought that there could be as many as 480,000 websites which carry “co.uk”, but which are not UK based. The sites sell a range of goods from trainers to hair straighteners. ‘Taken in’Matthew Brown was taken in by a website called trainers9.co.uk. “As soon as I opened the box I realised they were fake trainers,” he said.
But the fact that delivery was promised in less than three days, together with the apparently British address, convinced him that the site was genuine. “It also had the safe purchase certificates at the bottom. So I was taken in by all that really.” Open to abuseTrading standards officer believe the “co.uk” suffix is lulling consumers into a sense of false security. In fact it offers no protection whatsoever, and certainly does not mean the site is operated by a UK company. Anyone prepared to give their name and address, and pay 5, can buy a co.uk domain name for a two-year period. In total about 6% of registrations for “co.uk” domain names come from foreign companies, mostly based in China. “There doesn’t need to be a UK link,” says Paul Miloseski-Reid, a trading standards officer based in Richmond, Surrey. “So it’s really open to abuse by criminals who want to pretend they’re local, when they’re selling unsafe, counterfeit goods.” In a survey of 52 countries, trading standards found that most countries have far tougher rules than the UK. Usually they demand some sort of link with the country whose domain name they are adopting. VigilanceNominet, which is responsible for giving out domain names in the UK, is unrepentant. It is proud of the fact that eight million “co.uk” addresses are now in existence, and that the UK operates one of the most liberal internet regimes in the world. We ask Nick Wenban-Smith, the legal counsel for Nominet, whether consumers are being hood-winked by the “co.uk” name. “Maybe,” he replies tentatively. “People need to be vigilant.” If consumers are unsure about the origins of a website, the advice is to use the “Whois” tool, on
. OptionsUsing that tool, we traced Matthew Brown’s fake Nike trainers to Fuzhou, in Western China. When we contacted the company, trainers9.co.uk, they did promise to carry out an internal investigation. But practically speaking, Matthew has few options. Neither Paypal nor his credit card company are prepared to accept any responsibility. His only option is to post his trainers back to China, and ask for a refund. But he does not think that option is worth trying.
Safety fears spark Honda recall
Japanese carmaker Honda has announced it is recalling 440,000 vehicles in the US due to an airbag defect.One fatality and a number of injuries have been linked to the defect, Honda said. The carmaker had already recalled some models last November. The recall includes some of the company’s best-selling Accord and Civic models from 2001 and 2002. The carmaker said it would contact customers and arrange for the airbag to be replaced free of charge.
MANILA (Reuters) –
Former President Corazon Aquino, whose “people power” revolution swept dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power in the Philippines, died on Saturday after a 16-month battle against colon cancer, her family said. She was 76.
Aquino was diagnosed with the disease in March 2008 but kept up public appearances this year. A devout Catholic, she was a regular at weekend mass until shortly before being admitted to hospital in late June.
“Our mother peacefully passed away at 3:18 a.m. (1918 GMT Friday) of cardio-respiratory arrest,” her son, Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., told reporters in Manila.
Aquino, known as Cory to millions of Filipinos, was president from 1986 to 1992 and will be best remembered as the slim woman in yellow who deposed Marcos in 1986.
The tumultuous events of those weeks reached a crescendo when up to 1 million people waving rosaries and flowers stopped tanks advancing toward Aquino-backed army rebels.
When a bewildered Marcos and his wife Imelda fled the country, it set a precedent for dissidents from South Africa to South America and Pakistan. Aquino was hailed by many as a modern-day Joan of Arc.
“She would have wanted us to thank each and every one of you for all the prayers and your continuous love and support. It was her wish for all of us to pray for one another and for our country,” Aquino Jr said.
Cory was a reluctant leader. She shed the housewife's apron only after her politician husband, opposition leader Benigno, was assassinated at Manila's international airport in 1983 on his return from exile in the United States.
Accusing Marcos of ordering the murder, Aquino led protest marches but hesitated when an election was called in 1986.
“What on earth do I know about being president?,” she said before taking up the challenge to run against Marcos.
Inevitably, her presidency was less successful than the revolution, with a series of coup attempts by the military keeping the administration hamstrung.
Aquino was lauded for her courage but the spectre of army intervention haunted her entire rule. Natural disasters, including Mount Pinatubo's huge volcanic eruption in 1991, severely battered the economy.
TURNED TO FAITH
Aquino often turned to her faith to steer her through difficult times.
“There was never any moment that I doubted God would help … If it was time to die, so be it,” she said when rebel mortars pounded the presidential palace in 1987.
“I have not always won but … I never shirked a fight,” she said in 1992 before handing power over to her successor, former defence minister Fidel Ramos.
She oversaw the writing of a new constitution which limited a president's time in office to one six-year term.
Born on January 25, 1933, into one of the country's richest families, the Cojuangcos, Aquino grew up in a world of wealth and politics. The daughter of a congressman, she married Benigno, a politician with promise, and they had four daughters and a son before he was thrown into prison by Marcos and then forced into exile.
Aquino seemed frail in later years, but was still game for a fight when she thought it necessary. She brought half a million people on to the street in the 1990s when her Ramos flirted with the idea of trying to extend his term in office.
She was involved in the protests that brought an end to the presidency of Joseph Estrada in 2001, and had supported the campaign to remove current president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Last year, just before Christmas, she publicly apologized for helping bring down Estrada.
“We all make mistakes, please forgive me,” Aquino said.
Estrada, once an implacable foe, said of the apology: “It was the best Christmas gift I have ever received.”
It mattered to him because it came from “the most trusted person in the country.”
(Reporting by Manny Mogato and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Robert Woodward)
CHICAGO – Jake Peavy has finally agreed to pitch for the Chicago White Sox.
The San Diego Padres traded their ace to the White Sox on Friday, barely beating the deadline to make deals without waivers.
The Padres got four young pitchers for Peavy — Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Dexter Carter and Adam Russell.
In May, the Padres and White Sox agreed to a deal for Peavy, but the 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner turned it down. But this time, Peavy agreed to waive his no-trade clause and joined the AL Central contenders.
“He never said no, he just said ‘not yet,’” White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said.
The 28-year-old Peavy is 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA in 13 starts with the Padres this season but has been on the disabled list since June 13 with a strained tendon in his right ankle. Williams said the White Sox didn’t expect Peavy to pitch until the end of August.
Over eight major league seasons with the Padres, Peavy is 92-68 with a 3.29 ERA and 1,348 strikeouts in 212 starts. He was a unanimous selection for the Cy Young Award in 2007 when he went 19-6 with a 2.54 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 34 starts.
He will give the White Sox a top starter along with lefty Mark Buehrle, who pitched a perfect game in July. Peavy joins a rotation that includes Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Jose Contreras. The White Sox began play Friday in third place in the AL Central, two games behind first-place Detroit and a half-game back of the Twins.
Richard, who pitched well in his past two starts, was the scheduled starter Friday night against the Yankees before the trade was announced.
The 25-year-old lefty was 4-3 with a 4.65 ERA in 26 games, including 14 starts, with the White Sox this season.
PICHER, Okla. – Two years ago, Orval “Hoppy” Ray vowed it would take someone meaner than him to make him leave the town where he was born.
But now the crusty, 84-year-old former miner is moving out, leaving behind a blighted, ghostly landscape, its soil, water and air poisoned by generations of lead-ore extraction that produced bullets for both world wars.
After two heart attacks and a tornado that badly damaged his house, Ray lost whatever fight he had left and decided to accept a government buyout, as nearly all his neighbors in Picher have already done.
“You can’t fight City Hall,” said Ray, who worked Picher’s lead mines in the 1940s and, for now, runs a musty pool hall on the main drag. “They’ve got you squeezed seven ways from Sunday.”
Under the 60 million cleanup program, homeowners and businesses in and around Picher are being bought out, and the buildings will eventually be bulldozed. Some of the contaminated soil has already been hauled away; next to go are the 100-foot-high mountains of lead mining waste that loom over the town.
By early next year, Picher will be little more than a name on a map. From 20,000 people at its peak and about 1,700 when the buyouts started two or three years ago, about 80 are left.
Ray and a few dozen other people who had hoped to make a last stand here changed their minds after a tornado tore through Picher in May 2008, killing six people and leveling more than 100 homes.
“Dad had to say yes to a buyout,” said his 62-year-old son, Steven. “I had damage. Wallpaper’s buckling. I got to get the hell out of there.”
Some guess as few as four residents, a dozen at most, will stay, in many cases because they are too stubborn or fearful or sentimental to move, despite buyout offers of around 60,000 for a modest house.
The people who do try to stay, like Jean Henson, will have to survive in a near-wasteland without utilities, police or laws.
“I grew up in the country; we had to haul water,” said Henson, 58, who has asthma, emphysema and other ailments. “If I have to, I can do it again.”
These are scenes from a town marking its final days: A dust-coated General Electric wall clock sits in a store window, its hands stopped at 2:20. Dogs and cats roam Main Street, searching for scraps of food.
Hoppy’s pool hall is one of the last places still open. The thrift store is gone; so is the post office. The schools closed in July, and City Hall will be shuttered by September. Most of the traffic through Picher comes from the dump trucks hauling tons of lead waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently warned those who stay behind that the water will eventually be shut off.
“Some people still just don’t believe it,” said Larry Roberts, operations manager of the federal fund that helps families move out of lead-polluted communities. “I guess when the taps are shut off, they’ll realize the situation they’re in.”
Picher is probably among the bleakest, most contaminated spots in one of the biggest Superfund cleanup sites in the country, a 40-square-mile expanse of former lead- and zinc-mining towns that extends into Missouri and Kansas. Within that zone, the creek spews orange from pollution, mine cave-ins and sinkholes threaten, and lead dust has fouled nearly everything.
At the pool hall, Ray recalled the glory days in Picher before the mines closed nearly 40 years ago: The football game in which Picher’s broad-shouldered mining boys demolished a neighboring town’s team 115-0. The one-room houses on Fourth Street that made up the red-light district. The saloons with names like the Bloody Knuckle.
The pool hall doubles as a museum. Hardhats line the walls, and hunks of calcite, dolomite and galena hewn from the town’s mines are displayed in a glass case as if they were championship trophies.
“This is Dad’s life,” said his son, who is also waiting to be bought out. “This is the heart and soul of who he is.”
HAVANA – Cuba clicked into crisis mode Friday, postponing a key Communist Party congress aimed at charting a post-Castro future and announcing that its woeful economy is even worse than expected.
Cubans will have to make do with less, top communists suggested, as they insisted the armed forces are strong enough to deal with any unrest.
The island’s top two political bodies — the Council of Ministers and the Communist Party’s Central Committee — huddled in secret on how to guide Cuba through what President Raul Castro was quoted as calling a “very serious” crisis.
Such frank language is uncommon in a country where the state controls all news media, restricts free speech and assembly, and tolerates no organized political opposition. But it’s no secret that the global financial crisis has pounded the desperately poor nation — and people do not need to be told how tough times are.
“The congress? I don’t care about that. What I want is something concrete,” said high school student Silvia Medina, 17. “We young people want to know what’s going to happen. We want some light on the horizon. We want a better life, where we don’t have to work so hard for so little.”
Officials made clear there would be no tolerance for dissent, pointedly announcing the armed forces are as strong as ever.
“The Central Committee agreed yesterday to support all conclusions and working projects suggested by the National Defense Commission,” read an article in the Communist Party newspaper Granma.
Indefinitely postponing the much-anticipated congress, traditionally held every five years or so, came as central planners dropped 2009 growth projections from 2.5 percent to 1.7 percent. That’s down from a high of 12.5 percent in 2006 — and from projections as recently as December that Cuba would grow 6 percent this year.
By most forms of accounting, performance would be even lower, because Cuba counts as output all state spending on free health care and education, as well as the subsidized food it gives citizens in monthly ration books and other social programs.
Carmelo Mesa-Lago, an expert on the Cuban economy at the University of Pittsburgh, said the island could easily end the year with negative growth. He believes the cancellation of the congress indicates that Cuban leaders are retrenching to try to prevent debate about structural reforms that could improve the economy.
“In the current conditions the best thing in Cuba would be to have a congress and have a five-year plan,” he said. “But politically this is difficult, because of the pressures it could cause.”
Cuba has not faced truly dire straits since what it calls the “special period,” when the collapse of the Soviet Union brought the island’s economy to its knees in the early 1990s, making food and fuel scarce and prompting hours-long blackouts.
Amid the heat of summer 1994, Fidel Castro had to make a personal appearance to quell street protests. The government didn’t release full economic figures during those dark days, but what there is suggests the current situation isn’t nearly as dire.
Mesa-Lago said the country is more economically sound today because of aid from Venezuela and money sent home by Cubans in the United States.
Any serious economic crunch could increase pressure on officials to pursue closer relations with Washington, where the Obama administration has suggested it’s time for a new beginning after a half-century of enmity.
But Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who has been jailed for his criticism of the communist system, said Cuba is unlikely to take President Barack Obama up on his offer.
“It’s logical: The United States is the best option to help get out of this situation,” said Espinosa Chepe, currently paroled for health reasons. “But in Cuba, things are not logical.”
The sixth Communist Party congress was to have been the first since 1997, an unusually long stretch without a top-level meeting. Many had speculated that Fidel Castro, 82 and ailing, would use the congress to formally relinquish control of the party, which he still heads. Friday marked the third anniversary of his last public appearance.
Granma said the congress was postponed indefinitely “until this crucial phase … has been overcome.”
Retiree Reina Delgado said suspending the congress would only lead to more mystery about what the government has in store for Cubans.
“I think people are going to be disappointed since they were hoping to participate and talk about problems,” said Delgado, 72. “We want steps taken so we can have better lives.”
If that makes it sound as if Cubans are dependent on their government, they are. The state controls well over 90 percent of the economy and pays an average monthly salary of 20 to the 85 percent of Cubans who work for it.
The problems began last summer, when three hurricanes caused more than 10 billion in damage. The global economic crisis cut into export earnings and caused budget deficits to soar, leaving Cuba short on cash.
Some of the measures taken to remedy the crisis have backfired. To try to conserve energy and lower Cuba’s oil bill, the government has idled state factories during peak hours, stilled air conditioners at government offices, businesses and stores, and shortened work hours for some employees.
That has led to a drop in productivity, exacerbating scarcities of products including cooking oil, laundry detergent and yogurt — even though all are sold in government stores that cater to tourists and are too pricey for most Cubans.
SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq – The U.S. State Department said Friday it was investigating reports that three American tourists have been detained by Iranians while hiking near the border in the self-ruled Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Two Kurdish officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information, said the Americans apparently were arrested after entering Iranian territory without permission.
U.S. helicopters were buzzing overhead and many U.S. Humvees had moved into the Kurdish city of Halabja to search for the Americans, said a Kurdish border force official.
According to a security official, a fourth American who stayed behind at a hotel because he was sick said the missing Americans were tourists hiking near Halabja and the border town of Ahmed Awaa.
According to this account, the four had traveled to Turkey, then entered the Kurdish region Tuesday through the Ibrahim Al-Khalil border point in Zakho, the official said. They visited the Kurdish cities of Irbil and Sulaimaniyah on Wednesday. The next day, three of them took a taxi to Ahmed Awaa where they told their companion that they planned to stay at a nearby resort, the official said.
The three contacted their companion on Friday and told him “they had mistakenly entered Iranian territory and that troops surrounded them,” the official said, adding “that was the last contact with them.”
The mountainous border area is a popular hiking destination and well-known for its thick growth of pistachio trees.
The border force official said Iranian authorities apparently arrested the three Americans because they had entered the neighboring country without permission.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the U.S. Embassy “is aware of the report and is investigating. We are using all available means to determine the facts in this case.”
Iranian officials made no immediate comment.
The self-ruled Kurdish region has been relatively free of the violence that plagues the rest of Iraq. Foreigners often feel freer to move around without security guards in the area.
Halabja, 150 miles northeast of Baghdad, was the site of a chemical weapons attack ordered by Saddam Hussein in 1988 as part of a scorched-earth campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion. An estimated 5,600 were killed in the nerve and mustard gas attacks — the vast majority Kurds — and many still suffer the aftereffects.
Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
MANILA, Philippines – Former President Corazon Aquino, who swept away a dictator with a “people power” revolt and then sustained democracy by fighting off seven coup attempts in six years, died on Saturday, her son said. She was 76.
The uprising she led in 1986 ended the repressive 20-year regime of Ferdinand Marcos and inspired nonviolent protests across the globe, including those that ended Communist rule in eastern Europe.
But she struggled in office to meet high public expectations. Her land redistribution program fell short of ending economic domination by the landed elite, including her own family. Her leadership, especially in social and economic reform, was often indecisive, leaving many of her closest allies disillusioned by the end of her term.
Still, the bespectacled, smiling woman in her trademark yellow dress remained beloved in the Philippines, where she was affectionately referred to as “Tita (Auntie) Cory.”
“She was headstrong and single-minded in one goal, and that was to remove all vestiges of an entrenched dictatorship,” Raul C. Pangalangan, former dean of the Law School at the University of the Philippines, said in 2009. “We all owe her in a big way.”
Her son, Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, said his mother died at 3:18 a.m. Saturday (1918 GMT Friday).
Aquino was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer last year and confined to a Manila hospital for more than a month. Her son said the cancer had spread to other organs and she was too weak to continue her chemotherapy.
Supporters have been holding daily prayers for Aquino in churches in Manila and throughout the country for a month.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is on an official visit to the United States, said in a statement that “the entire nation is mourning” Aquino’s demise. Arroyo declared a period of national mourning and announced a state funeral would be held for the late president.
TV stations on Saturday were running footage of Aquino’s years together with prayers while her former aides and supporters offered condolences.
Aquino’s unlikely rise began in 1983 when her husband, opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., was assassinated on the tarmac of Manila’s international airport as he returned from exile in the United States to challenge Marcos, his longtime adversary.
The killing enraged many Filipinos and unleashed a broad-based opposition movement that thrust Aquino into the role of national leader.
“I don’t know anything about the presidency,” she declared in 1985, a year before she agreed to run against Marcos, uniting the fractious opposition, the business community, and later the armed forces to drive the dictator out.
Maria Corazon Cojuangco was born on Jan. 25, 1933, into a wealthy, politically powerful family in Paniqui, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Manila.
She attended private school in Manila and earned a degree in French from the College of Mount St. Vincent in New York. In 1954 she married Ninoy Aquino, the fiercely ambitious scion of another political family. He rose from provincial governor to senator and finally opposition leader.
Marcos, elected president in 1965, declared martial law in 1972 to avoid term limits. He abolished the Congress and jailed Aquino’s husband and thousands of opponents, journalists and activists without charges. Aquino became her husband’s political stand-in, confidant, message carrier and spokeswoman.
A military tribunal sentenced her husband to death for alleged links to communist rebels but, under pressure from U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Marcos allowed him to leave in May 1980 for heart surgery in the U.S.
It was the start of a three-year exile. With her husband at Harvard University holding court with fellow exiles, academics, journalists and visitors from Manila, Aquino was the quiet homemaker, raising their five children and serving tea. Away from the hurly-burly of Philippine politics, she described the period as the best of their marriage.
The halcyon days ended when her husband decided to return to regroup the opposition. While she and the children remained in Boston, he flew to Manila, where he was shot as he descended the stairs from the plane.
The government blamed a suspected communist rebel, but subsequent investigations pointed to a soldier who was escorting him from the plane on Aug. 21, 1983.
Aquino heard of the assassination in a phone call from a Japanese journalist. She recalled gathering the children and, as a deeply religious woman, praying for strength.
“During Ninoy’s incarceration and before my presidency, I used to ask why it had always to be us to make the sacrifice,” she said in a 2007 interview with The Philippine Star newspaper. “And then, when Ninoy died, I would say, ‘Why does it have to be me now?’ It seemed like we were always the sacrificial lamb.”
She returned to the Philippines three days later. One week after that, she led the largest funeral procession Manila had seen. Crowd estimates ranged as high as 2 million.
With public opposition mounting against Marcos, he stunned the nation in November 1985 by calling a snap election in a bid to shore up his mandate. The opposition, including then Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime L. Sin, urged Aquino to run.
After a fierce campaign, the vote was held on Feb. 7, 1986. The National Assembly declared Marcos the winner, but journalists, foreign observers and church leaders alleged massive fraud.
With the result in dispute, a group of military officers mutinied against Marcos on Feb. 22 and holed up with a small force in a military camp in Manila.
Over the following three days, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos responded to a call by the Roman Catholic Church to jam the broad highway in front of the camp to prevent an attack by Marcos forces.
On the third day, against the advice of her security detail, Aquino appeared at the rally alongside the mutineers, led by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, the military vice chief of staff and Marcos’ cousin.
From a makeshift platform, she declared: “For the first time in the history of the world, a civilian population has been called to defend the military.”
The military chiefs pledged their loyalty to Aquino and charged that Marcos had won the election by fraud.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a longtime supporter of Marcos, called on him to resign. “Attempts to prolong the life of the present regime by violence are futile,” the White House said. American officials offered to fly Marcos out of the Philippines.
On Feb. 25, Marcos and his family went to the U.S.-run Clark Air Base outside Manila and flew to Hawaii, where he died three years later.
The same day, Aquino was sworn in as the Philippines’ first female leader.
Over time, the euphoria fizzled as the public became impatient and Aquino more defensive as she struggled to navigate treacherous political waters and build alliances to push her agenda.
“People used to compare me to the ideal president, but he doesn’t exist and never existed. He has never lived,” she said in the 2007 Philippine Star interview.
The right attacked her for making overtures to communist rebels and the left, for protecting the interests of wealthy landowners.
Aquino signed an agrarian reform bill that virtually exempted large plantations like her family’s sugar plantation from being distributed to landless farmers.
When farmers protested outside the Malacanang Presidential Palace on Jan. 22, 1987, troops opened fire, killing 13 and wounding 100.
The bloodshed scuttled talks with communist rebels, who had galvanized opposition to Marcos but weren’t satisfied with Aquino either.
As recently as 2004, at least seven workers were killed in clashes with police and soldiers at the family’s plantation, Hacienda Luisita, over its refusal to distribute its land.
Aquino also attempted to negotiate with Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines, but made little progress.
Behind the public image of the frail, vulnerable widow, Aquino was an iron-willed woman who dismissed criticism as the carping of jealous rivals. She knew she had to act tough to earn respect in the Philippines’ macho culture.
“When I am just with a few close friends, I tell them, ‘OK, you don’t like me? Look at the alternatives,’ and that shuts them up,” she told America’s NBC television in a 1987 interview.
Her term was punctuated by repeated coup attempts — most staged by the same clique of officers who had risen up against Marcos and felt they had been denied their fair share of power. The most serious attempt came in December 1989 when only a flyover by U.S. jets prevented mutinous troops from toppling her.
Leery of damaging relations with the United States, Aquino tried in vain to block a historic Senate vote to force the U.S. out of its two major bases in the Philippines.
In the end, the U.S. Air Force pulled out of Clark Air Base in 1991 after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo forced its evacuation and left it heavily damaged. The last American vessel left Subic Bay Naval Base in November 1992.
After stepping down in 1992, Aquino remained active in social and political causes.
Until diagnosed with colon cancer in March 2008, she joined rallies calling for the resignation of President Arroyo over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption.
She kept her distance from another famous widow, flamboyant former first lady Imelda Marcos, who was allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991.
Marcos has called Aquino a usurper and dictator, though she later led prayers for Aquino in July 2009 when the latter was hospitalized. The two never made peace.
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Oliver Teves contributed to this report.
Some people will go to extreme lengths to avoid mosquito bites. They'll wear long sleeves and pants in the heat of summer, surround themselves with citronella candles and torches, and spray foul-smelling chemicals all over their bodies–or simply not set foot outside when they know the bugs are biting.
Stephen Hoffman isn't quite like those people. In fact, he has gone out of his way to get bitten. Years ago, he let 2,000 mosquitoes feast on his arm and inject perhaps 200,000 parasites into his bloodstream. Why? Well, for one thing, it made him immune to malaria.
He's also the CEO of Sanaria, a Rockville, Md.-based company that aims to develop and commercialize a malaria vaccine. But he doesn't plan on subjecting all of us to as many bites as he has suffered. Receiving the vaccine that Hoffman hopes to create, in fact, wouldn't involve any mosquito bites at all. “It would have to be delivered by needle and syringe,” he says. Creating the vaccine is another matter, however, and it calls for more brave volunteers willing to serve as mosquito fodder.
Progress toward a malaria vaccine, including a major new advance that European scientists reported this week, has already demanded a blood sacrifice from hundreds of people. Some, like Hoffman, have had scientific reasons for getting involved. Others have been regular citizens with good initial health, a tolerance for inconvenience and risk, and perhaps either a deep sense of altruism or an acute need for cash. The 15 volunteers in the new European study, most of whom were students at Radboud University in the Netherlands, got paid 1,500 euros (about 2,100) in compensation. Ten of them also gained immunity to malaria, through the infected mosquito bites they got. The other five, assigned to a control group that didn't develop immunity, came down with bad cases of the parasitic disease.
“The control group got full-blown malaria,” says study leader Robert Sauerwein, a medical microbiologist at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center. “They got grade 3, quite severe symptoms.”
While Hoffman didn't participate in that study, he too has developed malaria in the line of duty. It happened in the late 1980s when an early immunization effort he was testing on himself failed to work. Not knowing he was unprotected, he let five infected mosquitoes bite him–and came down with symptoms. In the subsequent trial, where he received bites from 2,000 mosquitoes, the bugs had first been zapped with radiation to weaken the parasites.
Hoffman's and Sauerwein's teams are now collaborating on malaria vaccine development, and they have the backing of some deep-pocketed sponsors, including two global health organizations supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But all the money in the world can't prove that a vaccine works unless a few folks are willing to play guinea pig. That's why volunteers are so important, the researchers say.
“Almost 1,400 volunteers have been exposed to malaria in the context of vaccine development,” Sauerwein says. (He adds that tens of thousands of other people willingly got malaria–as a therapy for syphilis–from the 1920s through the 1950s. But that's another story.) Sauerwein and his colleagues recruited their group of volunteers by publishing informational leaflets and advertising the trial around campus. They gave curious respondents a short interview, then sent them more details about the study and invited them to a series of “information evenings” that featured slide shows and additional explanations of the study.
After all that, Sauerwein says, “we had about…45 people who really wanted to participate.” A thorough medical checkup and psychological evaluation disqualified some of them, leaving about 25 qualified volunteers, from which they selected the 15. “You have to have an absolutely blank medical history,” he says. For scientific and ethical reasons, his team turned down people with asthma, for example, and those who had abnormal psychological profiles or seemed to have a financial neediness that might make them willing to take undue risks with their health.
During the study itself, the final squad of 15 took the antimalaria drug chloroquine while being exposed on three occasions to bites from a dozen or more mosquitoes. While 10 of the volunteers fed malaria-infected mosquitoes, the chloroquine protected them from getting sick. Meanwhile, the exposure trained their immune systems to kill the parasite. So when these volunteers were exposed to a fourth round of mosquito bites after they'd stopped taking chloroquine, they stayed healthy. The mosquitoes that bit the other volunteers weren't carrying malaria, which is why those five people didn't develop immunity. Sauerwein's team reported their findings in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Aside from the risk of getting sick, volunteering has several drawbacks, including inconvenience and the discomfort of being subjected to numerous medical tests. “Participation is quite time-consuming,” Sauerwein says. Over the course of the five-month study, each volunteer had to visit the medical research facility about 50 times. Toward the end of the study, when volunteers had to be closely monitored because they were most likely to come down with malaria, “they had to appear three times a day for two weeks or so,” he says.
So why did people step forward? Sauerwein says many of the selected volunteers expressed idealism, a sense that a malaria vaccine would represent an important achievement for human health worldwide. Some had personal or academic connections to countries where the disease is endemic, he adds. Malaria kills nearly 1 million people each year, most of them children in Africa.
Hoffman, the head of Sanaria, had additional reasons for stepping up to the plate. “It was most appropriate for me to volunteer,” he says. “We were studying the first vaccine…. If I wasn't willing to volunteer, how could I ask someone else to volunteer?”
“I suppose,” he adds, “I also wanted to be able to say I'm one of the handful of people in the entire world that is totally protected against malaria.”
‘Torture’ disclosure calls grow
The government has come under renewed pressure to disclose what it knew about a UK resident who says he was tortured.It has emerged that an MI5 officer visited Morocco three times while Binyam Mohammed says he was being tortured there as a terrorist suspect. The government insists it did not know he was held in Morocco and Afghanistan before being taken to Guantanamo Bay. Ex-shadow home secretary David Davis said the “likelihood” of UK complicity in torture had to be investigated. Mr Mohamed is bringing a test case claims against UK authorities which, he says, were complicit in his alleged torture. MI5 says its official did not know Mr Mohamed was in Morocco at the time. The details emerged in a High Court judgement on Friday, which was an update on a ruling on the secret evidence in Mr Mohamed’s case, originally made last year. The government has already asked the police to investigate Mr Mohamed’s claims – and denies categorically that the security services collude with torturers in any way Covert locationLord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones took the unusual step of reissuing the judgement to include new material about the security services dealings with the case. It emerged that “Witness B” – an MI5 official who had questioned Mr Mohamed previously when he was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 – had made three visits to Morocco, during the period Mr Mohamed said he was being held and tortured there.
The judgement says it was clear to the security service that by September 2002 he was being held in a covert location and they continued to supply information and questions. But the judges said they were “unable to determine the significance (if any) of the visits of the MI5 official, known only as “Witness B”. BBC home affairs correspondent Andy Tighe said MI5 maintained its official did not know Mr Mohamed was in Morocco at the time and the two men did not meet. But our correspondent added that MPs of all parties were now calling for the government to give a fuller account of Britain’s involvement in his detention. ‘Incredibly fishy’The chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, told Channel 4 News that the revelations “require an explanation from either the attorney general or the home secretary”. Mr Davis said: “Every single new piece of evidence that comes out shows more and more likelihood of UK complicity in torture. “Every single piece of evidence says more and more loudly we need to have a judicial inquiry. We cannot go on like this.” Shami Chakribarti, director of civil liberties pressure group Liberty, said she did not believe a police investigation would “get to the bottom” of the affair. She added: “I now think that the time has come for the government to say we accept the need for an independent judicial inquiry, with special counsel who can investigate and delve into the heart of the secret state.” But legal charity Reprieve described it as a “strange coincidence”. Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith said it was clear senior UK intelligence personnel had known about Mr Mohamed’s treatment, adding: “It’s clear that something incredibly fishy was going on down in Morocco.
“I would be immensely surprised if the British didn’t know what was going on to Binyam, that he was being tortured in Morocco at the time.” Mr Mohamed had been accused of attending terrorist training camps and being involved a plot to set off a radiological device but the US authorities eventually dropped the allegations and released him from Guantanamo Bay. The Ethiopian national, who moved to the UK when he was 15, returned in February and is among several former detainees taking legal action against the British authorities. He says he was tortured after being arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and being moved to Morocco and Afghanistan, before arriving in Guantanamo Bay in 2004. He accuses the UK authorities of being “complicit” in it and British intelligence of supplying some questions. But the government has said it did not know his whereabouts between his arrest in Pakistan and his arrival in Guantanamo Bay. ConfidentialityIn a statement, the Home Office said it would not comment on individual cases but “security service officers act within the law”. “The government unreservedly condemns the use of torture as a matter of fundamental principle and works hard with its international partners to eradicate this abhorrent practice worldwide,” it said. “The security and intelligence agencies do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or inhumane or degrading treatment. “For reasons both ethical and legal, their policy is not to carry out any action which they know would result in torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.” The High Court is also considering whether a summary of US reports on Mr Mohamed’s detention should be published. He believes it will prove the UK knew he was being tortured in Morocco before being flown to the US detention camp. But Foreign Secretary David Miliband argues confidentiality is key to intelligence sharing and as it was US information, it was for them to decide when to publish it. The US denies that evidence used against Mr Mohamed was obtained by torture while the UK government says it has never “condoned the use of torture”. In March, Attorney General Baroness Scotland confirmed the police would investigate whether an MI5 officer had been complicit in the alleged torture of Mr Mohamed.
NEW YORK – The stock market’s best July in 20 years is giving investors reason for hope about the economy.
Investors are placing big bets that the ability of companies to squeeze out surprise profits means the longest recession since World War II is finally easing its grip. But even as earnings and some economic reports suggest the economy is strengthening, the stock rally means investors will pay a bigger price if they are wrong.
The Dow surged 8.6 percent for the month, with most of the gains arriving in bursts in the final 15 days. The extraordinary run shaped July into the best month for the blue chips since October 2002 and the best July since 1989.
The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index, a benchmark for many mutual funds, also ran at a strong pace and July was its best performance since 1997. Even with the gains, the S&P is still down 37 percent from its peak in October 2007.
The companies that fared best in July were those that signaled they were patching up their businesses after a terrible winter and fall. Caterpillar Inc.’s earnings for the April-June quarter fell but the company raised its profit forecast for the year. Its stock surged 33.4 percent for the month.
Earnings reports that fueled the rally often contained a few dark spots. Many companies have been increasing their bottom line by taking a knife to costs. Eventually they will have to bring in more revenue because cost cuts can’t increase profits forever.
Most companies are still making far less money than they were before the recession intensified last fall. Investors hoping for a slice of future profits are looking to the latest reports as reason to get in now.
Stu Schweitzer, global markets strategist at J.P. Morgan’s Private Bank in New York, said the lower expenses means companies will be better positioned to reap big earnings when the economy does grow and revenue starts to tick higher.
Economic reports are starting to support traders’ bets. The government reported Friday that the economy shrank at a pace of just 1 percent in the second quarter, better than analysts anticipated and the latest evidence that the recession is ebbing. In the first three months of the year the economy shrank at a pace of 6.4 percent, the steepest slide in nearly 30 years.
Despite the improving outlook, the economy still faces significant hurdles. Schweitzer and other analysts worry that difficulty for consumers in borrowing, unemployment and a still-weak housing market will keep growth in check. Key reports next week on manufacturing, housing, employment and the service industry could also reshape the market’s view about where the economy is headed.
“I don’t think this is a one-way staircase back up to where we came from. I fully expect potholes along the way,” Schweitzer said.
On Friday, the Dow rose a modest 17.15, or 0.2 percent, to 9,171.61. The S&P 500 index rose 0.73, or 0.1 percent, to 987.48, while the Nasdaq composite slipped 5.80, or 0.3 percent, to 1,978.50.
For now, companies aren’t hemorrhaging money like they were last fall and early this year. Traders began the latest rally July 13 when they rushed to buy stocks ahead of a strong profit report from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Goldman’s profits turned out to be huge, and a flow of strong quarterly report cards since then from companies like AT&T Inc. and microchip producer Intel Corp. confirmed that a range of companies were finding their footing.
Three of four companies in the S&P 500 index have reported results that topped analysts’ expectations, according to Thomson Reuters. About 300 of the 500 companies have turned in their reports.
That unexpected bounty has pushed major market indexes to their best levels of the year. On July 23, the Dow rose above 9,000 for the first time since January. The Nasdaq topped 2,000 and the S&P 500 index neared the 1,000 mark, a level not seen since November.
“We’re on the edge between recovery and speculation,” said Rick Lake, portfolio manager of Aston/Lake Partners LASSO Alternatives Fund in Greenwich, Conn.
Lake said the market’s ability to bounce higher in July even after getting bad news signals that many investors are looking to get into the rally.
The major stock indexes surged off 12-year lows in early March to surge almost 40 percent by mid-June before stumbling until earnings reports restored hopes for a rebound in the economy.
Investors have been putting money into areas that are expected to do well in a recovery. Materials companies in the S&P 500 index rose an average 12 percent for the month. Aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. jumped 13.8 percent for the month.
By comparison, energy stocks rose only 3.6 percent. Oil posted its first monthly drop since January as stockpiles remain high. Exxon Mobil Corp. edged up only 0.7 percent for the month.
Analysts credit some of the buying to short-covering, in which investors have to buy stock after having earlier sold borrowed shares in a bet they would fall. That can make doubts into short-term buyers and give an artificial lift to stocks.
Even good economic news can reveal lingering strains in the system. The GDP report found that consumers cut spending by 1.2 percent in the second quarter, after a 0.6 percent increase in the first quarter.
Also, consumers are still worried about their paycheck. The unemployment rate is at a 26-year high of 9.5 percent, and the Federal Reserve predicts it will top 10 percent by the end of the year.
In downturns over the past 60 years, the S&P 500 index has hit bottom an average of four months before a recession ended and about nine months before unemployment hit its peak.
In other trading Friday, bond prices rose. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 3.48 percent from 3.61 percent late Thursday.
Crude rose 2.51 to settle at 69.45 a barrel.
Three stocks rose for every two that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.5 billion shares compared with 1.4 billion Thursday.
The Russell 2000 index slipped 1.09, or 0.2 percent, to 556.71.
REYKJAVIK, Iceland – The second richest man in Icelandic history has filed for bankruptcy, his spokesman said Friday.
Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, the brewer-turned-billionaire and former owner of the West Ham soccer club, applied for bankruptcy protection at Reykjavik district court, 96 billion Icelandic kronur (759 million) in debt, Asgeir Fridgeirsson said.
It is the largest bankruptcy filing in Icelandic history.
Gudmundsson was the elder half of a father-and-son pair of billionaires whose success was synonymous with the country’s debt-fueled economic miracle. But their fortunes faltered when the Icelandic economy imploded last year under the impact of the credit crunch.
Gudmundsson, 68, and his son, 42-year-old Bjorgolfur Thor Bjorgolfsson, still Iceland’s richest man, were major shareholders in Iceland’s second largest bank, Landsbanki, which failed in October. Gudmundsson’s holding company, Hansa, has since gone into liquidation and West Ham has been taken over by his creditors.
In December, Forbes magazine, which once rated his personal fortune at 1.4 billion, revised his net worth to zero.
Gudmundsson’s son remains a billionaire.
It is not the first time the Gudmundsson has gotten into trouble. Already a successful shipping executive in the 1980s, he was charged with fraud and embezzlement in the aftermath of the 1985 collapse of his firm Hafskip. He was eventually found guilty on five minor counts and escaped a jail sentence, serving 12 months’ probation.
An additional 440,000 Honda vehicles are being added to a recall initially announced in November to repair a potential defect in airbag inflation systems, American Honda Motor Co. said Friday.
The 2001 Honda Civic is among the vehicles covered by the recall.
The recall involves driver-side airbags in certain 2001-02 Honda Accords, 2001 Civics and 2002-03 Acura TLs, the company said in a news release. The affected vehicles will require the replacement of the steering-wheel-mounted airbag inflator. “In some vehicles, airbag inflators can produce over-pressurization of the driver’s [front] airbag inflator mechanism during airbag deployment,” the release said. “If an affected inflator deploys, the increased internal pressure may cause the inflator casing to rupture. Metal fragments could pass through the cloth airbag cushion material, possibly causing an injury or fatality to vehicle occupants.” Honda spokesman Chris Noughtan said the potential defect has resulted in six known injuries and one known death. The company will send a recall notice in the mail over the next few months, the release said. Owners may check their car’s recall status by visiting the Honda “Owner Link” Web site at www.owners.honda.com/recalls or the Acura “My Acura” Web site at www.owners.acura.com/recalls. “Only certain vehicles are affected, and concerned owners of 2001-2002 Accords, 2001 Civics and 2002-2003 Acura TLs are encouraged to wait to receive a recall notice in the mail before scheduling an appointment with their local dealer,” the company said.