Los Angeles (E! Online) –
The Snake is looking to slither out of the slammer.
Richard Hatch, the conniving winner of CBS' inaugural season of Survivor back in 2000, who nabbed himself a four year, three-month prison sentence in 2006 for failing to pay taxes on his 1 million winnings, is hoping another run on the reality show can reverse his misfortunes.
The Rhode Island native is asking a federal appeals court to let him out to participate in a 10th anniversary edition of Survivor in Samoa in order to help pay the 400,000 he still owes the IRS.
No doubt they'll find the 48-year-old roaming naked on a beach somewhere.
Hatch, who's spending the remaining three months of his term in home confinement in Newport, R.I., before he's a free man, said in his petition that allowing him an early release next month will enable him to make good on his debt to society.
Unfortunately given his penchant for cheating and scamming his fellow tribesmen, federal prosecutors weren't buying it. In a response filed with the court, government lawyers claim the reality TV star, who earned the nickname “The Snake” for all of his scheming, might not return to the U.S. if allowed out of the country and would fail to pay his bill.
In April, a federal judge already rejected Hatch's request to move to Buenos Aires after leaving the halfway house to live with an Argentine national whom he recently married.
Survivor is about to enter its 20th season, but in the early days of its ratings reign in the inaugural contest in Borneo, the former corporate trainer became the man fans loved to hate for masterminding some of the more shrewd alliances in the show's history. Hatch was so popular, in fact, producers brought him back for Survivor: All Stars in 2004, but due to his already devious rep, the Bearded One was voted off the island early.
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Archive for July 16th, 2009
Los Angeles (E! Online) –
NEW YORK (Reuters) –
“Angela's Ashes” author Frank McCourt is gravely ill with meningitis brought on by melanoma skin cancer, his brother said on Thursday.
Malachy McCourt said his brother, 78, is in a New York hospice and was diagnosed with meningitis about two weeks ago.
“We don't expect him to live very long,” Malachy McCourt told Reuters. “He got meningitis and that screwed up the whole thing. (Until then) he was doing okay, speaking and lecturing and appearing and signing and doing all the usual stuff.”
“He was one of the unfortunate ones. Only 3 to 5 percent of people who have melanoma get this form of meningitis,” he said. “He's still conscious, but his hearing has gone and his eyesight is going. He's speaking less.”
Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1996 memoir “Angela's Ashes” tells of the poverty, hunger and alcoholism endemic in the slums in Limerick, Ireland, where he grew up.
Millions of copies of the book sold around the world and it was adapted into a 1999 Hollywood movie.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Sandra Maler)
CHICAGO (AFP) –
Should Chicago's iconic Sears Tower — the tallest building in the United States — now go by the Big Willie?
Why not, says the head of the British insurance group which was granted naming rights to the building on Thursday.
“People should have fun,” said Joe Plumeri, chief executive officer of Willis Group Holdings.
“This is a town of neighbors, a town of ethnicities, a town of nicknames,” said Plumeri, who said embarrassing monikers were a sign of affection in the New Jersey town where he grew up.
“They can call it the Big Willie as far as I'm concerned,” he told AFP.
The official name — the Willis Tower — has not proven popular with residents of the Windy City since the name change was announced in March.
An online petition protesting the change has garnered more than 36,000 signatures and a Chicago Tribune columnist bemoaned “would New York let this happen to the Empire State and Chrysler buildings?”
Plumeri, who calls the naming rights “priceless,” said he understands the sensitivity and vows to win the city's affection by being a good corporate citizen.
Willis won the naming rights after negotiating to lease several floors of the 110-story black tower which dominates the city's skyline.
The naming right has been up for grabs for years after retailer Sears, Roebuck and Co. moved out in 1993.
First opened in 1973, the Sears Tower held the record for the world's tallest building for 25 years until the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia were built in 1998.
Designed with a series of stepbacks that allow a wide base to support the narrower upper tower, the tower's 4.56 million gross square feet (424,000 square meters) would cover 105 acres (42 hectares) if spread across one level.
The new name caps off a series of significant changes.
A series of glass bays that extend out from the building were added to the Skydeck — a major tourist attraction — offering visitors an unobstructed view of the city some 1,353 feet (412 meters) down.
Dubbed the “Ledge,” the bays reach out 4.3 feet (1.3 meters) from the 103th floor and are retractable so as not to interfere with the window washing equipment.
The building management has also recently announced a 350 million dollar sustainability plan to increase the building's energy efficiency and build and eco-friendly luxury hotel.
Los Angeles (E! Online) –
What's the matter with Mischa Barton?
The former O.C. starlet placed a nonemergency phone call Wednesday to L.A.'s Finest, who ended up assisting her with some “medical issues,” a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department tells E! News.
“Shortly after 3 p.m., a patrol car did respond to her home to assist her with medical issues,” officer Karen Rayner said. “No one was arrested and no one else was involved.”
Talk about sketchy.
The spokeswoman could not say whether deputies were still helping her on the scene or if the problem was serious enough to warrant Barton seeking medical attention at a nearby hospital. No word on what exactly ailed her.
Her rep confirmed the incident to E! News, adding that the 23-year-old actress was escorted to an undisclosed location, but declined to comment further.
Barton was expected to attend tonight's premiere of her new indie film, Homecoming, but producers now say she won't make it.
In December 2007, the thespian was dinged in West Hollywood for driving under the influence and marijuana possession following a traffic stop. She was subsequently rung up on misdemeanor charges of DUI and driving without a valid license, for which she received probation after cutting a deal with prosecutors and pleading no contest.
After taking full responsibility for her actions and telling E! News anchor Ryan Seacrest on his radio show that she doesn't “ever intend to do something this stupid again,” Barton checked into rehab.
—Reporting by Ken Baker
Don't let this latest celeb mystery stump you. Check out E! Online's gossip guru, Ted Casablanca, and his column The Awful Truth for all the inside scoop.
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MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Timberwolves cannot do much financially to help Ricky Rubio with a multimillion-dollar buyout of his contract with DKV Joventut in Spain.
So team president David Kahn is heading across the Atlantic to meet with the team personally in hopes of lowering the 6.6 million price tag that has threatened to keep the wunderkind point guard in Europe for at least next season.
Kahn confirmed his plans to travel to Spain in a text message to The Associated Press on Thursday, but declined further comment, including when the trip will take place. It was first reported by YahooSports.com.
Rubio, who was drafted fifth overall by the Timberwolves in June, is still under contract with Joventut for the next two seasons. After helping Spain to a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics and playing in the Spanish ACB since the tender age of 14, the 18-year-old is ready to test his skills in the NBA.
The one thing holding him back appears to be money. Rubio made less than 100,000 playing for Joventut last season, so it is no surprise that the prospect of being on the hook for millions of dollars before he even plays a game in the United States would give him pause.
Further complicating the matter is a rule in the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement that stipulates the Timberwolves can only pay 500,000 of that large sum to help offset the cost.
From the day Kahn drafted Rubio, to the delight of the Timberwolves fan base, the new president has taken a pragmatic approach to a sticky situation. He said the young and rebuilding team would be willing to wait year, or even two, if Rubio could not reach an agreeable buyout agreement with Joventut.
Before joining the NBA, Kahn was an attorney at the law firm Proskauer Rose, the same firm that produced NBA commissioner David Stern. That experience could help him as the Timberwolves try to navigate what he has called “a thorny” legal issue.
“We will be totally supportive of Ricky and his family and (agent Dan) Fegan in any way, shape or form,” Kahn said the day after Rubio was drafted. “If there’s anything we can do to be of assistance or of help, as long as it is within the rules, we will.”
Why judge drama failed to ignite
By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, Washington
This is the story of what happened when Barack Obama’s first nominee for the Supreme Court appeared before the judiciary committee of the United States Senate, but first an apology.You may have formed the impression from the media last week that we were poised for an extraordinary piece of political theatre in which Sonia Sotomayor would pit her wits against a succession of star Senators and that the sunlight of democracy would flood into the very recesses of her soul. Sorry. Rarely can a squib have been damper, a confrontation less confrontational or a piece of political theatre less theatrical. The full panoply of instant punditry, live blogging and gavel-to-gavel TV coverage was duly brought to bear on the hearings, of course. Shoo-inOne cable news station prepared a teaser advertisement for its coverage which asked: “What Surprises Will be Revealed?” Well now we know. The answer was none. Not a single one. The real question is why anyone ever thought the hearings might provide any drama or tension. Judge Sotomayor is, after all, the nominee of a Democratic president and the Democrats have comfortable majorities both in the Senate as a whole and therefore on the Judiciary Committee that has been conducting these hearings. There was never any serious doubt that, politically, she was something of a shoo-in. And separately from that, in the course of the last two decades a kind of precedent has been emerging in which judges nominated to the Supreme Court are allowed to avoid engaging with any questioning at their confirmation hearings that touches on the hot-button issues in American politics like abortion or gun control.
The convention is relatively recent – and goes back only to the confirmation hearings of Ruth Bader Ginsburg nominated to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton in 1993. She famously vowed to provide “no hints, no forecasts and no previews” of the sorts of verdicts she might return if she were to be confirmed (she was). And in her opening statement to the senators, she made it pretty clear that she would not be engaging with them on anything that actually mattered, with the words: “It would be wrong for me to say or preview in this legislative chamber how I would cast my vote on questions the Supreme Court may be called on to decide.” Lawyers and judges love precedents, of course, so subsequent nominees (including the current Chief Justice, John Roberts, a Bush nominee in 2005) have generally taken the same view, thus robbing the process of any drama or serious content. Justice Roberts was smooth and polished in his hearings, but like many things which are smooth and polished he was also rather slippery and elusive. GrotesqueIt is curious that the Ginsburg Rule has been so tamely accepted by senators, since it makes a nonsense of the idea that they are there to provide a final level of scrutiny for jurists who are about to be placed in a position where they can shape life in America for many years to come. (Justices on the Supreme Court are appointed for life.) The rule is based on a rather odd proposition, after all. If you were applying for a job as an airline pilot the people interviewing you would probably be a little taken aback if you declined to answer questions about the best way to fly a plane on the grounds that the information would be relevant to your daily work. Given that the Senators probably assumed that Judge Sotomayor would not engage with them on abortion or gun control in any depth, you can see why they kept returning over and over again to her most controversial and best-known public pronouncement. This – in case you have not seen the news from America in the last week – was a line that used to crop up in her speeches to the effect that because of the richness of her life experiences, a wise Latina would more often than not make better judgements than a white man. To those of us who are not lawyers, the meaning of that statement seems pretty unambiguous whether you agree with the sentiment or not.
But Mrs Sotomayor IS a lawyer, of course, and was able to argue that those words also sustain an interpretation other than their ordinary natural meaning and that she was merely trying to inspire law students from minority backgrounds and in doing so had reached for a rhetorical flourish that failed. Asked about it repeatedly, she merely said that she did not hold the view that those words would appear to imply that she does hold – and the senators, however hard they tried, were not able to lay a glove on her. Frustratingly, such proceedings were not always so anodyne. The confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas (nominated by George Bush Sr in 1991) produced some of the most grotesque and compelling political theatre seen in Washington for years when a former colleague of his emerged to testify that he had sexually harassed her when they worked together. (Justice Thomas denied it). Those hearings really were full of surprises – including claims that the judge engaged in graphic sexual conversations – but no other confirmation process since has matched it for drama. ‘Borked’And not everyone has declined to discuss their views with the judiciary. Ronald Reagan’s nominee Robert Bork talked legal philosophy with the senators – and even criticised the legal underpinning of Roe v Wade, the case which enshrines the right to abortion – and his reward, predictably, was to have his candidacy for the Supreme Court rejected. It should be pointed out, though, that Mr Bork’s failure was not entirely down to the proceedings of the judiciary committee. He was something of a hate figure on the left of American politics – Ted Kennedy accused him of wanting to create an America in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions and blacks would be forced to eat at segregated lunch counters – and a successful campaign was mounted to create an atmosphere in which his nomination would not be confirmed. It is probably not much consolation for him, but one side effect of this was that his name entered the language as a verb. To “bork” is to render impossible someone’s appointment to public office. Ms Sotomayor will not end up sharing Robert Bork’s fate in either sense. Even conservative Senators like John Cornyn and Lindsey Graham – who seemed uncomfortable with Judge Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” speeches – acknowledged that her record as a judge was mainstream rather than radical. She has been controlled, measured and articulate as well as reserved and there have been plenty of hints from Republicans that they will not try to block her progress (a few of them might even vote for her). So this process never produced the dramas we were promised or the intellectual clashes that the cable channels so looked forward to. But it will produce a new Supreme Court Justice – and it will do so in such a smooth manner that there is very little chance that the word “Sotomayor” will ever evolve into a verb. And that is just how the judge would want it.
Military doctor shortage warning
By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News
The military’s medical arm is under severe strain because of a huge shortage of doctors, unions say.A third of the 768 doctor posts in the armed forces are currently unfilled with the worst shortages in some of the most critical areas like anaesthetics. The British Medical Association said the problem meant doctors were risking burn-out because they were having to return to the front-line too quickly. The government said it was trying to rectify the shortfall. While the pressure on military doctors has been relieved slightly by the withdrawal from Iraq, the revelations still raise concerns amid the mounting death toll in Afghanistan.
Military doctors spend their time being shifted between NHS work and deployments with the armed forces. Normally they will only be deployed once every 12 to 18 months, but the BMA said some medics are being sent out every six months. This includes working in field hospitals and close to the front-line in places such as Afghanistan as well as being based on war ships. Overall, the Ministry of Defence had 528 trained doctors at last count. For anaesthetists, 53 were in place out of a requirement of 95, while none of the three neurosurgery posts were filled. The shortfall has also hit nurses with one in 10 posts unfilled, rising to four in 10 and five in 10 for emergency care and intensive therapy nurses respectively. The situation has got so bad that in recent months in the main field hospital in Helmand, Afghanistan, 70% of staff have been reservists, the BMA said. Reservists basically acts as emergency back-up and as such their skills and preparedness may not be as up-to-date as those employed full-time by the Ministry of Defence. DangerousDr Brendan McKeating, chairman of the BMA’s armed forces committee, who is now on the reservist list but served during the first Gulf War, said the shortfall was “a long-standing problem”. He said because of the new contracts NHS doctors have received in recent years, pay of military doctors lagged behind the health service by between 5% and 10% depending on speciality. “We believe military doctors should be getting more to reflect the dangerous and unpredictable nature of the job. “But it is not just about pay. We are also in the situation where doctors are being sent to the front-line more frequently to fill gaps. Morale is suffering.” However, he stopped short of saying lives were being put at risk as doctors were always willing to go that extra mile to ensure services were running properly. He also acknowledged the Ministry of Defence also used contractors to fill any gaps. The Ministry of Defence admitted there were problems, but said it was trying to improve recruitment and retention. A spokesman said: “The Defence Medical Services have met all the operational requirements placed on them. “We acknowledge that manpower shortages remain a problem, especially in some key specialties. “We are taking active steps to address the shortfalls through a range of measures including the payment of ‘golden hellos’ to direct entrants in specialist areas and ensuring pay remains in line with the NHS.”
Retailers miss plastic bag target
Efforts to reduce the number of plastic carrier bags given to supermarket customers by 50% have narrowly failed.In 2008 seven supermarkets signed up to the voluntary scheme which aimed for a 50% cut in bags given out compared to figures recorded for 2006. However figures suggest 346m fewer carrier bags are being used every month than they were in 2006. Plastic bags harm the environment because they take a long time to decompose and can endanger wildlife. In May 2006 718m bags were being given out but by May 2009 this had almost halved to 372m, which amounts to a reduction of 48%. Further reductionsEnvironment Secretary Hilary Benn said: “This is a great achievement by the seven supermarkets and their customers and it shows that by working together, we really can change our bag habits.” He praised retailers for putting a lot into the scheme and said he was looking forward to further reductions in the months ahead. Mr Benn added: “This means that several hundred million fewer carrier bags are going to landfill every month and we’re using less raw materials to make them, which is great news.” The British Retail Consortium believes consumer behaviour has now changed, helped by supermarkets giving out free re-usable bags and awarding loyalty points to customers who bring their own bags. As a result, some environmentalists are now calling for a charge of up to 15 pence for each disposable carrier bag.
Nasa restores moon landing film
The US space agency, Nasa, is marking the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, which took into space the first astronauts to walk on the moon.At a news conference, it revealed newly-restored footage of the moon landing, including Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface. The film was restored by a Hollywood company, which had already spruced up films such as “Citizen Kane”. Other Apollo 11 events include a concert and a free “Moonfest”. Former astronauts are at Cape Canaveral in Florida – from where Apollo 11 took off – and will visit an exhibition about the Apollo missions, which includes a rare collection of space suits.
The lunar footage, screened to journalists in Washington, is part of a 230,000 (140,000) restoration project. The four selected scenes showed Neil Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin stepping on to the lunar surface, the astronauts putting up a commemorative plaque and the raising of the American flag. The original footage was filmed by a video camera on the lunar module, in a non-standard format which US television channels could not use. It was beamed back to earth, and then converted into a TV-friendly system. But this badly degraded the images. The space agency says it probably deleted the original footage in the 1970s and 80s, when it had a tape shortage and needed to reuse them. So engineer Richard Nafzger and his research team spent three years searching for copies worldwide. He found footage in Australia and at the CBS television studios in Houston, as well as reels of tape in Nasa’s own huge archive vaults, which had not been viewed for 36 years. The Hollywood company, Lowry Digital, is restoring two-and-a-half hours of the material. Nasa expects to release the full version in September.
Fresh off winning the Cy Young Award as the American League’s top ace in 1994, David Cone found himself at the White House a few months later making another pitch: Trying to help end the players’ strike that had wiped out the World Series.
The baby-faced righty was part of a small group that met with President Bill Clinton and was a key player throughout the negotiations, representing major leaguers at the bargaining table. At one point, players and owners even agreed to shift talks from Washington to New York to accommodate his wedding.Cone testified today in support of Sotomayor, who ended the baseball strike in 1995.”A lot of people both inside and outside baseball tried to settle the dispute,” Cone said. Her key ruling forced owners and players back to the bargaining table and ultimately brought Major League Baseball back to the nation.”With one decision Judge Sotomayor changed the entire dispute,” he said. “I believe all of us who love the game — players, owners and fans — are in her debt.”Cone lost about 570,000 of his 2 million salary because of the walkout. It may have cost him a little more, too — two weeks after the strike was settled, his hometown Kansas City Royals saved money by trading him away.Cone retired in 2003, leaving with credentials that got him on the Hall of Fame ballot last year. He won 194 games, was a five-time All- Star and played on five World Series champions. He pitched one of only15 perfect games in modern baseball history, and once tied the then- National League record of 19 strikeouts in a game.Now 46, Cone remains popular with fans as a broadcaster for the New York Yankees.-Ben Walker, AP baseball writer, New York and Laurie Kellman, AP reporter, Congress
CHICAGO – The Pentagon’s chief said Thursday he could send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year than he’d initially expected and is considering increasing the number of soldiers in the Army.
Both issues reflect demands on increasingly stressed American forces tasked with fighting two wars.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ comments came during a short visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York — an Army post that that he said has deployed more soldiers to battle zones over the last 20 years than any other unit. Two Fort Drum brigades are headed to Iraq later this year, and a third is currently in Afghanistan.
Asked about Afghanistan by one soldier, Gates said: “I think there will not be a significant increase in troop levels in Afghanistan beyond the 68,000, at least probably through the end of the year. Maybe some increase, but not a lot.”
So far, the Obama administration has approved sending 68,000 troops to Afghanistan by the end of 2009, including 21,000 that were added this spring.
The White House has wanted to wait until the end of the year before deciding whether to deploy more, but Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that Gates does not want to discourage his new commander in Kabul, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, from taking a frank look at how many troops he needs.
McChrystal, who took over as commander for all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, is expected to advise Washington in the next few weeks on his views of how to win the 8-year-old war.
McChrystal is nearing the end of a 60-day review of troop requirements in Afghanistan, and will soon provide that report to Gates.
The former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, had told Obama that he needed an additional 10,000 troops, beyond the 68,000. The White House had put off that decision until the end of this year.
Gates and other military leaders have said they are reluctant to send many more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, because of concerns that a large American footprint there could appear to Afghans as an occupying force.
During a question-and-answer session with soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, Gates also said he is looking at beefing up the Army with more troops. He did not say by how many, or what the plan would cost, but predicted that he’ll decide as early as next week.
“We are very mindful of stress on the force,” he said.
Most of the 200 soldiers in the short town hall-style meeting are headed to Iraq later this fall. Their commander, Maj. Gen. Mike Oates, returned from his third tour in Iraq only 50 days ago and said he is working to easing stress on soldiers and their family members who have faced a seemingly revolving door of deployments since 2001.
“What we’re trying to do is help everybody receive this stress and deal with it better,” Oates told reporters. “And there’s a lot of room for growth there.”
Gates stopped at Fort Drum on his way to Chicago, where he gave a feisty speech hammering Congress for trying to tack on billions of dollars for additional F-22 fighter jets to the Pentagon’s 2010 spending plan.
The Senate is debating whether to add 1.75 billion to the half-trillion dollar budget to buy more jets that supporters say will better protect the United States and save jobs in the faltering economy. Meanwhile, the House has voted to spend 369 million more as a down payment on 12 additional jets.
Speaking to reporters aboard his plane to Chicago, Gates would not link the F-22 spending directly to the costs that will be needed to grow the Army. But he called Congress’ demands “a zero-sum game.”
“A dollar for something we don’t need is a dollar taken away from something we do need,” Gates said. “And we’ve got a lot we need.”
WASHINGTON – Democrats’ health care bills won’t meet President Barack Obama’s goal of slowing the ruinous rise of medical costs, Congress’ budget umpire warned on Thursday, giving weight to critics who say the legislation could break the bank.
The sobering assessment from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf came as House Democrats pushed to pass a partisan bill through committees, while in the Senate a small group of lawmakers continued to seek a deal that could win support from both political parties.
With the pressure mounting on all sides, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., dismissed as “a waste of money” a television ad campaign by Obama’s political organization aiming to nudge moderates of both parties off the fence. He called it “Democrats running ads against Democrats.” A spokesman later said Reid has no problem with the effort.
From the beginning of the health care debate, Obama has insisted that any overhaul must “bend the curve” of rapidly rising costs that threaten to swamp the budgets of government, businesses and families.
Asked by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., if the evolving legislation would bend the cost curve, the budget director responded that — as things stand now — “the curve is being raised.”
Explained Elmendorf: “In the legislation that has been reported, we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount. And on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health care costs.”
Even if the legislation doesn’t add to the federal deficit over the next years, Elmendorf said costs over the long run would keep rising at an unsustainable pace.
Part of the reason is that Obama and most Democrats have refused to accept a tax on high-cost health insurance plans as part of the overhaul. There’s wide agreement among economists that such a tax would give businesses and individuals an incentive to become thriftier consumers of health care. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Thursday that Obama’s position isn’t helping matters.
White House officials played down the significance of the budget director’s assessment, calling it premature. “At the end of the day, we’ll have significant cost controls,” presidential adviser David Axelrod told The Associated Press.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the budget director’s warning should be “a wake-up call,” adding, “instead of rushing through one expensive proposal after another, we should take the time we need to get things right.”
For the fourth straight day, Obama used a public forum — a political rally for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine — to argue for health care overhaul, saying, “It affects the stability of our entire economy.”
Despite the flashing yellow light from the budget office, Congress pushed ahead Thursday.
On the heels of the Senate health committee’s approval Wednesday of a plan to provide coverage to the uninsured, three House committees shifted into action on their version of the legislation. The Democratic bills also call for the creation of a government-sponsored insurance plan to compete with private coverage, although they differ on the details.
House Democrats won a coveted endorsement of their legislation from the American Medical Association, saying the bill “includes a broad range of provisions that are key to effective, comprehensive health system reform. The insurance industry said it opposes key elements of the bill, saying a government plan “will cause millions of patients to lose their current coverage.”
The House Education and Labor Committee passed an amendment to speed up access to health insurance for people with preexisting medical conditions. The bill as written would have stopped insurance companies from denying coverage because of such conditions, starting in 2013. The panel agreed Thursday to move up the date for group plans to six months after the bill takes effect.
The tax-writing Ways and Means Committee also was working on a piece of the legislation, which seeks to provide coverage to nearly all Americans by subsidizing the poor and penalizing individuals and employers who don’t purchase health insurance. It would boost taxes on high-income people and slow Medicare and Medicaid payments to providers.
Majority Democrats on both committees turned back GOP efforts to strip key provisions from the bill, rejecting Republican amendments to delete a new government-run benefits plan and eliminate requirements on employers to provide health coverage, among other things.
A third House committee, Energy and Commerce, also was considering the measure Thursday, but the road was expected to be rougher there. A group of fiscally conservative House Democrats called the Blue Dogs holds more than a half dozen seats on the committee — enough to block approval — and is opposing the bill over costs and other issues.
Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., chairman of the Blue Dogs’ health care task force, said the group would need to see significant changes to protect small businesses and rural providers and contain costs before it could sign on. “We cannot support the current bill,” he said.
Obama was doing all he could to encourage Congress to act. He met Thursday morning with two potential Senate swing votes, Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. On Wednesday, he met with a group of Senate Republicans in the White House in search of a bipartisan compromise and appeared in the Rose Garden for the latest in a series of public appeals to Congress to move legislation this summer.
In another ad campaign backing the president’s goal, Harry and Louise — the television couple who helped sink a health care overhaul in the 1990s — are returning to the small screen, this time in support of revamping the health system.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Charles Babington, Stephen Ohlemacher, Philip Elliott and Alan Fram contributed to this report.
Los Angeles (E! Online) –
Maria Sharapova, get on the dance floor. You are wanted for season nine of Dancing With the Stars.
“I want to see those outfits on her,” professional dancer Tony Dovolani told us yesterday at the ESPY Awards in downtown L.A. “I want to design every single one. I'm going to approach her about it tonight!”
Last season's disco-ball-winning champ Shawn Johnson echoed Tony's thoughts: “I think Maria Sharapova would be awesome for the show!”
Other superstar athletes had their names dropped for potential recruitment, as well…
“They need someone high profile like Kobe,” season seven's Misty May-Treanor said. “Mix it up a little bit. Don't wait until they're retired.”
Shawn also agreed the show needs greater star power. “I would really love to see a big name like Michael Phelps or Shaun White,” she said.
And while we have no idea what stars will really be cast for next season, we do know that some exciting changes for the show are in the works.
“They are going to mix things up a bit to make the show more interesting,” Tony said. “There are going to be more partners, there are going to be more types of dances, and I think they're going to allow some lifts and stuff. We'll see who lifts who.”
—Reporting by Dahvi Shira
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SAN DIEGO – Thousands of jumbo flying squid — aggressive 5-foot-long sea monsters with razor-sharp beaks and toothy tentacles — have invaded the shallow waters off San Diego, spooking scuba divers and washing up dead on tourist-packed beaches.
The carnivorous calamari, which can grow up to 100 pounds, came up from the depths last week and swarms of them roughed up unsuspecting divers. Some divers report tentacles enveloping their masks and yanking at their cameras and gear.
Stories of too-close encounters with the alien-like cephalopods have chased many veteran divers out of the water and created a whirlwind of excitement among the rest, who are torn between their personal safety and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim with the deep-sea giants.
The so-called Humboldt squid are native to the deep waters off Mexico, where they have been known to attack humans and are nicknamed “red devils” for their rust-red coloring and mean streak. Those who dive with them there chum the water with bait and sometimes get in a metal cage or wear chain mail to avoid being lashed by tentacles.
“I wouldn’t go into the water with them for the same reason I wouldn’t walk into a pride of lions on the Serengeti,” said Mike Bear, a local diver. “For all I know, I’m missing the experience of a lifetime.”
The squid are too deep to bother swimmers and surfers, but many longtime divers say they are staying out of the surf until the sea creatures clear out. Yet other divers, including Shandra Magill, couldn’t resist the chance to see the squid up close.
On a recent night, Magill watched in awe as a dozen squid with doleful, expressive eyes circled her group, tapping and patting the divers and gently bumping them before dashing away.
One especially large squid suspended itself motionless in the water about three feet away and peered at her closely, its eyes rolling, before it vanished into the black. A shimmering incandescence rippled along its body, almost as if it were communicating through its skin.
But the next night, things were different: A large squid surprised Magill by hitting her from behind and grabbing at her with its arms, pulling her sideways in the water. The powerful creature ripped her buoyancy hose away from her chest and knocked away her light.
When Magill recovered, she didn’t know which direction was up and at first couldn’t find the hose to help her rise to the surface. The squid was gone.
“I just kicked like crazy. The first thing you think of is, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I’m going to survive this. If that squid wanted to hurt me, it would have,” she said.
Other divers have reported squid pulling at their masks and gear and roughing them up.
Roger Uzun, a veteran scuba diver and amateur underwater videographer, swam with a swarm of the creatures for about 20 minutes and said they appeared more curious than aggressive. The animals taste with their tentacles, he said, and seemed to be touching him and his wet suit to determine if he was edible.
“As soon as we went underwater and turned on the video lights, there they were. They would ram into you, they kept hitting the back of my head,” he said.
“One got ahold of the video light head and yanked on it for two or three seconds and he was actually trying to take the video light with him,” said Uzun, who later posted a 3-minute video with his underwater footage on YouTube. “It almost knocked the video camera out of my hands.”
Scientists aren’t sure why the squid, which generally live in deep, tropical waters off Mexico and Central America, are swarming off the Southern California coast — but they are concerned.
In recent years, small numbers have been spotted from California to Sitka, Alaska — an alarming trend that scientists believe could be caused by anything from global warming to a shortage of food or a decline in the squid’s natural predators.
In 2005, a similar invasion off San Diego delighted fisherman and, in 2002, thousands of jumbo flying squid washed up on the beaches here. That year, workers removed 12 tons of dead and dying squid.
This summer, the wayward squid have also been hauled up by fisherman in waters off Orange County, just north of San Diego.
Research suggests the squid may have established a year-round population off California at depths of 300 to 650 feet, said Nigella Hillgarth, executive director of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Swarms off the coast — and the subsequent die-offs — may occur when their prey moves to shallow waters and the squid follow, and then get trapped and confused in the surf, said Hillgarth, who saw a dying squid on the beach last weekend.
“It was an amazing privilege to touch a creature like that and see how amazingly beautiful it was,” she said. “They have these wonderful eyes. … They look all-seeing, all-knowing.”
That’s the kind of description that pulls veteran divers such as Raleigh Moody back to the pitch-black water, despite the danger.
“My usual dive buddy, he didn’t want to come out,” said Moody, as he prepared for a night dive with another friend. “There are some divers (who) just don’t want to deal with it and there are some like me that, until they hear of something bad happening, I’m going to be an idiot and go back in the water.”
On the net:
Roger Uzun’s full video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?vlcKQt5hHDXg&fmt22
WASHINGTON – Relentlessly rising unemployment is triggering more home foreclosures, threatening the Obama administration’s efforts to end the housing crisis and diminishing hopes the economy will rebound with vigor.
In past recessions, the housing industry helped get the economy back on track. Home builders ramped up production, expecting buyers to take advantage of lower prices and jump into the market. But not this time.
These days, homeowners who got fixed-rate prime mortgages because they had good credit can’t make their payments because they’re out of work. That means even more foreclosures and further declines in home values.
The initial surge in foreclosures in 2007 and 2008 was tied to subprime mortgages issued during the housing boom to people with shaky credit. That crisis has ebbed, but it has been replaced by more traditional foreclosures tied to the recession.
Unemployment stood at 9.5 percent in June and is expected to rise past 10 percent and well into next year. The last time the U.S. economy was mired in a recession with such high unemployment was 1981 and 1982.
But the home foreclosure rate then was less than one-fourth what it is today. Housing wasn’t a drag on the economy, and when the recession ended, the boom was explosive.
No one is expecting a repeat. The real estate market is still saturated with unsold homes and homes that sell below market value because they are in or close to foreclosure.
“It just doesn’t have the makings of a recovery like we saw in the early 1980s,” says Wells Fargo Securities senior economist Mark Vitner, who predicts mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures won’t return to normal levels for three more years.
Almost 4 percent of homeowners with a mortgage are in foreclosure, and 8 percent on top of that are at least a month behind on payments — the highest levels since the Great Depression.
Because home values have declined so dramatically, many people can’t refinance. They owe far more to the bank than their properties are worth.
To combat the foreclosure crisis and help stabilize home prices, President Barack Obama launched an effort in March to help 9 million people avoid foreclosure by helping them refinance or modifying their loans to lower their payments.
But that’s of no help to people who can’t even afford the lower payments because they’re making much less money or have lost their jobs altogether.
As of early July, about 160,000 borrowers were enrolled in three-month trials of loan modifications under the plan, according to preliminary figures from the Treasury Department.
Meanwhile, more than 1.5 million American households were threatened with losing their homes in the first six months of this year, foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.
Last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan outlined their frustrations in a letter to 27 mortgage companies, saying the industry needs to “devote substantially more resources to this program for it to fully succeed.”
While high-level pressure on the mortgage industry could help, “There’s nothing there that’s going to help people who don’t have jobs,” said Jay Brinkmann, chief economist with the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Just ask anyone in Rockford, Ill. Over the last generation, the blue-collar city of about 157,000 northwest of Chicago has struggled to attract jobs as auto suppliers, aerospace companies and machine shops closed. Today, unemployment runs at more than 13 percent.
Robin and Thomas Lewis, who live there, once earned a combined 100,000. But he lost his job in shipping and receiving at a robotics company, and she had to close her at-home day care business. They are staring at an October deadline for foreclosure.
Their water service was cut off in February because they couldn’t afford to pay the bill. Since then, they and their two teenage sons have been showering at the homes of friends and family and filling up gallon jugs of water to drink at home.
Robin Lewis, 41, found a job as a cashier at Wal-Mart and is taking night classes in hopes of becoming an accountant. Her 43-year-old husband got a job through a temp agency working as a machine operator.
“At least now we have some income coming in,” Robin Lewis said.
She hopes it’s enough to persuade the mortgage company to modify their 30-year fixed-rate loan. They are meeting with a housing counselor next week to work on their application for a loan modification.
Around the country, the relationship between rising unemployment and foreclosures is growing. An Associated Press analysis of more than 3,100 U.S. counties found a much stronger link between foreclosure rates and unemployment this year than in 2007.
According to April figures, some of the highest unemployment rates in the country are in California cities like Merced, Modesto and Fresno that have been struck hardest by the foreclosure crisis. In those areas, home prices have been cut in half.
Even in areas where unemployment is lower, borrowers are struggling.
Claudia Escobar, a 44-year-old single mother in Clifton, Va., lives in a cozy three-story brick town house on a tree-lined suburban street about 25 miles west of the nation’s capital.
A combination of family health problems and the loss of her 50,000-a-year job at an accounting firm have made it impossible to make her 900 mortgage payment.
She has staved off foreclosure so far and hopes to land a job while her lender evaluates her application for a loan modification. Her 14-year-old son, Tommy, broke down in tears when he found out that his mother lost her job.
“That has to be the most devastating point since we lived here,” she said, sobbing. “He keeps asking me every now and then if we’re going to lose the house.”
Webber contributed to this report from Rockford, Ill. Associated Press Writer Mike Schneider in Orlando, Fla., contributed to this report.
SANTA ANA, Calif. – A Chinese-born engineer’s conviction in the United States’ first economic espionage trial could be an important step to stop the growing flow of critical trade secrets to China, experts say.
A federal judge on Thursday found former Boeing Co. engineer Dongfan “Greg” Chung guilty of six counts of economic espionage and other charges for hoarding 300,000 pages of sensitive documents in his home, including information about the U.S. space shuttle and a booster rocket.
“The trust Boeing placed in Mr. Chung to safeguard its proprietary and trade secret information obviously meant very little to Mr. Chung,” U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney wrote in his 31-page ruling. “He cast it aside to serve the PRC (People’s Republic of China), which he proudly proclaimed as his `motherland.’”
Federal prosecutors accused the 73-year-old stress analyst of using his 30-year career at Boeing and Rockwell International to steal the documents. They said investigators found papers stacked throughout Chung’s house that included sensitive information about a fueling system for a booster rocket — documents that employees were ordered to lock away at the end of each day. They said Boeing invested 50 million in the technology over a five-year period.
Rick Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the conviction — and potentially lengthy prison sentence — sends a message that U.S. officials won’t let Beijing try to tap into the Chinese diaspora to procure military and security secrets.
“The Chinese communist government is seeking to divide the loyalties of Chinese-Americans,” Fisher said. “By defending ourselves in this way, asserting our sovereignty, we are making clear to all those who would be turned by nationalist appeals from China’s communist government that there is price to pay.”
The judge convicted Chung of six counts of economic espionage, one count of acting as a foreign agent, one count of conspiracy and one count of lying to federal agents. He was acquitted of obstruction of justice.
Chung was taken into federal custody after the verdict. He could face more than 90 years in prison at his sentencing scheduled for Nov. 9, federal prosecutor Ivy Wang said.
“I hope that one of the messages that goes out is if someone is going to steal proprietary information and steal that information for the benefit of another country, they are going to be charged in this country and face very serious punishment for doing so,” Wang said after the verdict.
Chung opted for a non-jury trial that ended June 24. During 10 days of proceedings, defense attorneys said Chung was a “pack rat” who hoarded documents at his house, but they insisted he was not a spy.
Chung’s lawyers said he may have violated Boeing policy by bringing the papers home, but he didn’t break any laws and the U.S. government couldn’t prove he had given any of the information to China.
Defense attorney Thomas Bienert said he planned to appeal.
“A big feature (of this case) is not about what China wanted Mr. Chung to do, but about what Mr. Chung was willing to do,” Bienert said outside the courtroom. “There is no evidence that China used or benefited from anything in this case.”
Chung had been free on 250,000 bail before the verdict. His attorneys asked the judge to let him remain with his family in Orange until sentencing, but the government said a man facing such a long sentence with close ties to China could easily flee.
The Economic Espionage Act was passed in 1996 to help the government crack down on the theft of information from private companies that contract with the government to develop U.S. space and military technologies. The legislation became a priority in the mid-1990s when the U.S. realized China and other countries were targeting private businesses as part of their spy strategy.
Since then, six economic espionage cases have settled before trial. In some of the cases, defendants were sentenced to just a year or two in prison. Another is set for trial in U.S. District Court in San Jose this year.
Steven Fink, president of Lexicon Communications Corp., a corporate crisis management firm, said prosecutors previously have tried cases under a different part of the 1996 act involving theft of trade secrets. He questioned why it took so long for the government to try someone on the economic espionage charges levied in the Chung case, saying he believes officials were too worried about ruffling diplomatic feathers.
“In the past there had been times when diplomacy has trumped national security,” he said. “This (verdict) is a spit in the ocean unless it is a sign that the government is going to get aggressive in prosecuting these cases, because there are a lot of them out there.”
The government believes Chung began spying for the Chinese in the late 1970s, a few years after he became a naturalized U.S. citizen and was hired by Rockwell International.
Chung worked for Rockwell until it was bought by Boeing in 1996. He stayed with the Chicago-based company until he was laid off in 2002 but brought back a year later as a consultant. He was fired when the FBI began its investigation in 2006.
Prosecutors said they discovered Chung’s activities while investigating another suspected Chinese spy, Chi Mak. Mak was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to export U.S. defense technology to China and sentenced to more than 24 years in prison.
Mak was not charged under the Economic Espionage Act.
AP Technology Writer Jordan Robertson in San Francisco contributed to this report.
GEORGETOWN, South CarolinaIn many places across the South you can walk in the footsteps of slaves, and if you understand the history, it is not a happy journey. The same is true at Friendfield Plantation outside Georgetown, South Carolina.
This is a former slave house on Friendfield Plantation, where Michelle Obama’s family has roots.
It’s not exactly “Gone With the Wind,” but what makes this overgrown 3,300 acres of marsh and pine trees stand out is this: The family of first lady Michelle Obama believes her great-great grandfather was held as a slave here and labored in the mosquito-infested rice fields. It makes Friendfield Plantation a symbol of something more than servitude. It’s the symbol of something that’s never happened before: One important segment of an American family’s journey from the humiliation of slavery to the very top of the nation’s ruling class. CNN recently was the first television network allowed to visit the plantation and shoot video. It’s not a museum. It’s just private land, still with shadows of its past. Friendfield’s most distinctive historical feature, perhaps, is the dirt road known as Slave Street. Stroll across the plantation with CNN’s Joe Johns » Six white-washed little shacks are all that remain of the slave quarters, even though rows of these houses once stood on the property. About 350 slaves lived here during the 19th century. The houses are nothing specialno plumbing, of course. The wooden walls are paper thin in places. It would have been hot and humid in summer, and most certainly cold in winter, although the shacks had fireplaces. They would have been crowded: probably one or two families living in a space smaller than a modern-day garage.
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The White House is some 472 miles from Georgetown, South Carolina. But long before Michelle Obama was born, her great-great grandfather, Jim Robinson, likely toiled in the fields here six days a week, from sunup to sundown. The place he probably called home was a little white shack smaller thanby comparisona Secret Service security shed on the grounds of the executive mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. All told, hundreds of people lived like this, on this one plantation alone. “Anywhere between 200 to 500 at different times,” said Ed Carter, the property manager. “The older the plantation got, they kept adding on more cabins. [Some] cabins are 1847. “There was some on the other street that were about probably 1820s. And when they added on, got a bit more wealthy, they just kept adding on more slaves, more cabins.” Watch Obama’s recent comments on slavery » The shacks probably weren’t much refuge from the vicious clouds of mosquitoes, chiggers, fire ants, and other pests that still impinge on a person’s every move on the plantation. Then, consider the dangers of the alligators and snakes. There was also the oppressive heat and humidity of South Carolina. And on the day CNN visited, the skies opened up in a violent rainstorm. Add up all of these factors and you begin to get a picture of what life probably was, and was not, for the slaves on Friendfield Plantation. Workers on the rice plantationand Friendfield was one of the largest in these partsfaced all these elements, plus the threat of disease, including malaria and yellow fever. And unlike the CNN crew, the slaves were not free to leave. Even in death, the slaves stayed. Three cemeteries are on the Friendfield grounds. The one slave cemetery CNN visited had mostly unmarked graves, but Jim Robinsonwho was born into slavery and died a free manis believed to be buried there somewhere. The cemetery clearly has been segregated from the rest of the property. Slave cemeteries were typically situated on land unsuitable for any other use.
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Surrounded by trees, it might have been a beautiful place. Now, it is hard to tell that you are standing in a cemeteryexcept for half a dozen grave markers, some made of wood, bearing no names. All that’s known about Jim Robinson’s life comes from the few remaining records that mention him. Slaves weren’t documented as individuals in the census, nor in life and death certificates. They were property, not people. But Michelle Obama’s great-great grandfather was a teenager when slavery was abolished, so as a free man, he started to leave a paper trail. The 1880 census shows he was born about 1850, in South Carolina, and that his parents were born in South Carolina as well. He married a woman named Louiser, and in 1880 they already had three children, two boys and a girl, ages 1, 2, and 3. The son that would become Michelle Obama’s great grandfather was not born yet. The census lists Jim’s occupation as a farmer, and Louiser’s as “keeping house.” They are both recorded as unable to read or write. It’s good fortune to uncover even this much information; the original handwritten census got wet, the ink ran and it is nearly illegible. Proof of life, nearly washed away. There are a lot of unknowns concerning Michelle Obama’s ancestryhow many generations of slaves there were, or what route they took to this hemisphere. The Obama election campaign commissioned a study of Michelle’s genealogy by the research group Lowcountry Africana, but they couldn’t make the link back to Africa. As with so many African-Americans’ family histories, the paper trail runs dry. “I don’t think that that sort of information is available for anyone from Friendfield Plantation at this point,”historian Tori Carrier, of Lowcountry Africana, said. “Very, very few, if any, of the Friendfield records actually survived except in public records: wills and estate inventories. … “There’s not a real Friendfield Plantation records set, or plantation journals that have been preserved … and there’s certainly not a shred of documentary evidence right now which would even suggest to us what the African origins would be,” Carriersaid. Back in Georgetown, South Carolina, Margretta Knox remembers attending the Bethel AME church with the first lady’s grandparentsJim Robinson’s grandson and his wifewhen she was a girl. The couple spent many of their years in Chicago, but returned back South after they retired. “My father knew that Frasier Robinson’s father sold newspapers,” she recalled. “He made his kids read them. Mr. Robinson was very, very smart, he could recite poetry. … Their grandfather could recite poetry and that kind of thing. … Her grandfather and her grandmother, they were both very smart people.” But the family ties to the old plantation just got lost. “We let our parents die before we really thought about asking them questions,” Knox said. “We didn’t think about it until much later, and then it was too late. They were already gone. So there was no history after that. …
“Because we live here, we don’t think about it. It’s just like, you’ve been around it all of your life, it doesn’t cross your mind. You’re just living for today.” In that same way, it probably never crossed Jim Robinson’s mind, as a slave in a white-washed cabin, that one day his great-great granddaughter would be living in a white house so very, very different from his own.
WASHINGTON NASA released newly restored videos Thursday of two U.S. astronauts taking the world’s first steps on the moon.
NASA hired a digital restoration firm to improve video showing astronauts taking first steps on the moon.
The images were released just four days before the 40th anniversary of the historic event that captivated the world on July 20, 1969. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, now 78, was the first to venture onto the moon’s surface after the lunar module Eagle landed on the so-called Sea of Tranquility. Following him was Buzz Aldrin, now 79. The videos are far superior to the initial dark, fuzzy images people watched on their television sets at the time, although they are far from crisp. A NASA official has said that the original tapes of images sent back to Earth by Apollo 11 have been lost, and the camera that shot them was left on the moon. Watch a clearer view of “one small step for man” » Given that, NASA opted to look at all versions of the tapes that had been broadcast and enhance those images. NASA hired a digital restoration firm to make the improvements. The images on the NASA Web site include a two-minute video montage with highlights of the moonwalk and separate videos of Armstrong and Aldrin descending a ladder to the moon’s dusty surface, each of which compares existing footage with partially restored videos. Another comparison video shows Armstrong reading a commemorative plaque on the lunar module, which says in part: “Here men from the planet Earth first stepped upon the moon – July 1969.”
The montage video shows highlights from the Apollo 11 mission, from the launch in Florida to the spacecraft’s departure from the moon. The videos can be seen at www.nasa.gov/multimedia/hd/apollo11..
LOS ANGELES, CaliforniaA former engineer for Rockwell International and Boeing was convicted Thursday of economic espionage and acting as an agent of China, authorities said.
A Delta IV rocket launches on March 10, 2003 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Dongfan “Greg” Chung, 73, was accused of stealing restricted technology and Boeing trade secrets, including information related to the space shuttle program and the Delta IV rocket. U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney convicted him on charges of conspiracy to commit economic espionage; six counts of economic espionage to benefit a foreign country; one count of acting as an agent of the People’s Republic of China; and one count of making false statements to the FBI, according to a statement from federal prosecutors. Carney presided over Chung’s three-week bench trial last month. In a bench trial, there is no jury and the judge decides whether to convict a defendant after hearing testimony. Chung was free on bond after his arrest by FBI agents and NASA investigators in February 2008. He was taken into custody after Carney’s ruling was read. Chung, a native of China who is a naturalized United States citizen, was employed by Rockwell International from 1973 until Boeing acquired its defense and space unit in 1996, and by Boeing thereafter. He retired from Boeing in 2002, but returned as a contractor, a position he held until September 2006, prosecutors said. Chung held a “secret” security clearance, authorities said. “For years, Mr. Chung stole critical trade secrets from Boeing relating to the space shuttle and the Delta IV rocketall for the benefit of the government of China,” said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, in the prosecutors’ statement. “Today’s verdict should serve as a warning to others willing to compromise America’s economic and national security to assist foreign governments.” The case against Chung resulted from an investigation into another engineer who obtained information for China. That engineer, Chi Mak, and several of his relatives were convicted of providing defense articles to the PRC, authorities said. Mak was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison last year. According to evidence presented at trial, individuals in the Chinese aviation industry began sending tasks to Chung via letter as early as 1979, federal prosecutors said. Over the years, the letters directed Chung to collect data related to the space shuttle and various military and civilian aircraft. In his letters back to China, Chung referenced materials he had already sent, including 24 manuals relating to the B-1 bomber, which Rockwell had forbidden for distribution outside the company and federal agencies. In addition, between 1985 and 2003, Chung traveled to China several times and met with government officials. His contacts in China discussed these trips in letters and recommended methods of passing information, authorities said. In a 2006 search of Chung’s home, FBI and NASA agents found more than 250,000 pages of documents from Boeing, Rockwell and other defense contractors in the house and in its crawl space, prosecutors said. They included “scores of binders containing decades’ worth of stress analysis reports, test results and design information for the space shuttle.” Each economic espionage charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a 500,000 fine, authorities said. The charge of acting as an agent for a foreign government carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a 250,000 fine. The charges of conspiracy to commit economic espionage and making false statements to federal investigators each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a 250,000 fine. Chung is set for sentencing November 9.
US teen gains solo sailing record
An American teenager has become the youngest person to sail around the world alone.Zac Sunderland, 17, completed the 45,000km (28,000-mile) voyage in three months, facing storms, equipment breakdown and suspected pirates. Hundreds of people cheered as he sailed his 11m (36ft) yacht, the Intrepid, into Marina Del Rey, California. Zac Sunderland told the BBC that the experience had been tough but he had never thought of giving up. He told the crowds waiting in his home state: “It’s awesome to be back.”
He said he had learned a lot about the world during his travels. “In other countries, 13 people are living in a dirt hut and when you meet them, they’re the most kindest, generous people,” he said. The teenager set sail from Marina del Rey on 14 June last year. He was in constant contact with his family via satellite and met his father at several places en route. During his time at sea, he ate mostly freeze-dried food and suffered sleep deprivation when his yacht was damaged. He also had a close encounter with suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean, when they circled his boat before apparently being scared off. Rival attempt
Zac may only have a short time to enjoy his new world record. A younger sailor, Mike Perham from the UK, is expected to complete his own round-the-world trip in about three weeks time. The American said he was not too concerned by that. “Someone’s going to beat it some day,” he said. He added that he was already planning his next challenge. “I’m hoping to set off on my next adventure soon – Mount Everest or down to the Arctic Circle,” he said.
WASHINGTON – In their zeal to protect their members from politically hazardous votes on issues such as gay marriage and gun control, Democrats running the House of Representatives are taking extraordinary steps to muzzle Republicans in this summer’s debates on spending bills.
On Thursday, for example, Republicans had hoped to force debates on abortion, school vouchers and medical marijuana, as well as gay marriage and gun control, as part of House consideration of the federal government’s contribution to the District of Columbia’s city budget.
No way, Democrats said.
At issue are 12 bills totaling more than 1.2 trillion in annual appropriations bills for funding most government programs — usually low-profile legislation that typically dominates the work of the House in June and July. For decades, those bills have come to the floor under an open process that allows any member to try to amend them. Often those amendments are an effort to change government policy by adding or subtracting money for carrying it out.
The tradition has often meant laborious debates. But it has allowed lawmakers with little seniority to have their say on doling out the one-third of the federal budget passed by Congress each year. It was a right the Democrats zealously defended when they were the minority party from 1995 through 2006.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., insists the clampdown is to prevent debates from dragging on and on. Republicans, however, have agreed to limit the amount of time debating the bills.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., acknowledged in a brief interview that one reason for restricting amendments is to save members of his party from having to cast politically painful votes.
So instead of debating an attempt backed by House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio to allow more children living in Washington to receive school vouchers, the House will vote on a Quixotic attempt to eliminate the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.
“What they want to do is they want to avoid tough votes on appropriations bills,” said Rep. David Dreier of California, senior Republican on the Rules Committee.
Even some Democrats are chaffing at the heavy-handed clampdown on debate. Abortion opponent Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., on Thursday lashed out at his party’s leaders for denying him and others a chance to vote on restoring a long-standing directive by Congress blocking taxpayer-funded abortions in Washington, D.C.
Democrats effectively reversed that stance while the bill was still being considered by the Appropriations Committee. Stupak said the Democratic leadership’s new policy on floor debates “muzzles the voices of pro-life members.”
The process has become so relentlessly efficient that Democrats were actually forced to drag out action to Thursday on a 33 billion measure funding energy programs and water projects. The reason? They need to stretch the workweek into Friday to force lawmakers to remain in Washington for committee work on health care and other spending bills.
Republicans complain that unless a member of their party is one of the 60 members of the Appropriations Committee, he is essentially blocked from having any say in shaping the budget.
“That simply disenfranchises most of the members of this body,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Democrats say that months ago, they offered Republicans the chance for a more open process in return for a guarantee that Republicans wouldn’t drag things out. Republicans initially said no but recently have agreed to limit how long a bill can be debated. Too late, say Democrats.
“We offered Republicans the opportunity to work with us in a bipartisan way to offer amendments so we could complete the appropriations process in a timely manner,” said Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “They rejected that offer and have repeatedly used delaying tactics.”
LONDON – An ugly scramble is brewing over the swine flu vaccine — and when it becomes available, Britain, the United States and other nations could find that the contracts they signed with pharmaceutical companies are easily broken.
Experts warn that during a global epidemic, which the world is in now, governments may be under tremendous pressure to protect their own citizens first before allowing companies to ship doses of vaccine out of the country.
That does not bode well for many nations, including the United States, which makes only 20 percent of the regular flu vaccines it uses, or Britain, where all of its flu vaccines are produced abroad.
“This isn’t rocket science,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “If there is severe disease, countries will want to hang onto the vaccine for their own citizens.”
Experts say politicians would not be able to withstand the pressure.
“The consequences of shipping vaccine to another country when your own people don’t have it would be devastating,” added David Fedson, a retired vaccine industry executive.
About 70 percent of the world’s existing flu vaccines are made in Europe, and only a handful of countries are self-sufficient in vaccines. The U.S. has limited flu vaccine facilities, and because factories can’t be built overnight, there is no quick fix to boost vaccine supplies.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it was spending 884 million to buy extra supplies of two key ingredients for a swine flu vaccine. The U.S. has contracts to get swine flu vaccines from Sanofi Pasteur, MedImmune, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis. Sanofi Pasteur and MedImmune both have vaccine plants in the U.S., while GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis have plants in Europe.
Even if the U.S. held onto all the swine flu vaccine produced domestically, it would still not be enough for all Americans.
About 80 million Americans are vaccinated against the seasonal flu every year. In 2004, when problems with the U.S.’ flu vaccine supply at a British factory hit, there were less than 54 million shots available. Flu vaccines were saved for those in high-risk groups like the elderly and pregnant women, and officials asked other people to simply forgo their usual flu shot.
If there are limited swine flu shots during a pandemic that turns more serious, experts are not sure people will be as willing to skip getting a vaccine.
Last week, the World Health Organization reported nearly 95,000 cases of swine flu, including 429 deaths worldwide. If swine flu turns deadlier in the winter, the main flu season in the Northern Hemisphere, countries will likely be clamoring for any available vaccines.
“Pandemic vaccine will be a valuable and scarce resource, like oil or food during a famine,” said David Fidler, a professor of law at Indiana University who has consulted for WHO. “We’ve seen how countries behave in those situations, and it’s not encouraging.”
Britain claims it will start vaccinating people in August, Italy says it will begin by the end of the year, and many other countries have similar strategies. Those mass vaccination plans could be derailed by problems making the vaccine and by other countries’ refusal to ship it abroad.
If the virus remains mild, this could all be moot. Experts estimate swine flu to be about as dangerous as seasonal flu, and there usually isn’t a high demand for those vaccines. Still, regular flu kills up to 500,000 people a year.
In past pandemics, or global epidemics, vaccines were never exported before the country that produced them got enough for its own population first.
Unlike the last two pandemics in 1957 and 1968, however, many more countries this time around have struck deals with companies which they say guarantee them first access to vaccine. Yet in a global health emergency, those contracts may ultimately be meaningless.
Countries with flu vaccine plants might decide to seize all vaccines and ban their export, thus breaking the pharmaceutical contracts promising other countries vaccine supplies. These private contracts are not binding international law between two countries, according to Fidler.
He said most vaccine contracts include a clause allowing them to be broken under extraordinary circumstances, such as a health emergency. That would leave the countries who had brokered such deals not only without vaccine, but without legal recourse.
“There’s nothing in international law that helps you resolve this, it’s just a political nightmare happening in the midst of an epidemiological nightmare,” Fidler said.
Britain has ordered 60 million doses, enough to cover its entire population. But those doses are being manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Baxter International Inc., whose production plants are in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Neither Britain’s department of health or the vaccine manufacturers would comment on delivery plans.
On Thursday, Britain’s chief medical officer estimated that as many as 75,000 Britons could eventually be killed by the swine flu pandemic, if 1 in 3 people are infected.
Osterholm said about 80 percent of the United States’ pandemic vaccine supply will be coming from abroad and he is very concerned about when it might arrive. Timing could be everything to avoid a vaccine spat.
“It’s easy to move vaccine around if the disease is relatively mild. But if it is more severe, countries may not be willing to let it go,” he said.
So far, swine flu remains a relatively mild disease, and most people don’t need medical treatment to get better. But experts fear the virus could mutate into a more dangerous form. And during the flu season, when the virus spreads more easily, more people will probably fall sick and die.
Public health officials are aware that so-called “vaccine wars” might break out if the swine flu outbreak worsens, but are loathe to even discuss the topic.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, an agency of the European Union, said it had no mandate to advise countries in such circumstances. WHO said it was not aware of any nations planning to block the shipment of vaccines and said it would work to ensure all countries get enough doses to protect their health workers.
Questions also remain about when a swine flu vaccine will even be available, as WHO reported this week that a fully licensed vaccine might not be ready until the end of the year.
With little or no safety data about a swine flu vaccine, governments that are planning to roll out mass campaigns are taking a gamble, since any rare side effects won’t show up until millions of people start getting the shots.
Experts say government promises about when vaccines will arrive should be taken with a huge grain of salt.
“Many pieces of the puzzle are missing,” Osterholm said. “Anyone who pretends to have a well-defined schedule of vaccine delivery is obviously very poorly informed.”
Google sees quarterly profit up
Internet search engine Google has seen better-than-expected quarterly results even as revenue growth slowed following the economic downturn.The firm saw net income reach 1.48bn (900m) in the three months to 30 June, compared to 1.25bn a year before. Revenue rose 3% for the period at 5.52bn and just over half – 53% – came from outside the US. Analysts reacted broadly positively to the results, noting that the firm had performed well in containing costs. The firm was upbeat about the results “especially given the continued macro-economic downturn”. Chief executive Eric Schmidt said: “These results highlight the enduring strength of our business model and our responsible efforts to manage expenses.” Google earned 5.36 a share, excluding certain items, better than the 5.08 per share forecast by analysts. Sameet Sinha, an analyst with JMP Securities said: “The numbers are good. Revenue was in line with expectations, and strong operating efficiencies were brought about by the new chief executive.” “It definitely shows that Google is a best-of-breed company for online advertising, and it’s a must buy.” But Ross Sandler, an analyst at RBC Capital, described the results as mixed. “Overall, the focus is on what’s going to happen in the second half.” Shares in the firm Google gained 1% to 442.60 on but later dropped 2.4% in after-hours trade. Paid clicks – which include clicks related to ads served on Google sites and the sites of AdSense partners – were 15% higher year-on-year, but 2% less than in the first quarter.