GAZA CITYA large explosion late Tuesday at a wedding party for relatives of a Fatah leader injured at least 50 people in Gaza, Palestinian medical sources said.
A bomb Tuesday injured relatives of Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian Authority’s national security adviser.
Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, the uncle of the groom, did not attend the wedding, according to witnesses. The cause of the explosion, which occurred at 11:10 p.m.in Khan Younis, was not known. Dahlan is the Palestinian Authority’s national security adviser. Details of Tuesday’s explosion were not immediately clear. Dahlan’s associates in recent years have been targeted by Hamas as tensions between the militant group and rival Fatahthe Palestine Liberation Organization’s largest factionescalated. In January 2007, Hamas gunmen tried to kill Dahlan’s bodyguard. Dahlan was not present at the time of the attack. In that month alone, Fatah and Hamas militants abducted more than 50 members of their rival groupsmost of them in the West Bank town of Nablusaccording to Palestinian security sources.
Kids TV praises Gaza mom’s suicide bombing
Dahlan’s nephew was kidnapped the next month amid a fragile cease-fire between supporters of Hamas and Fatah. In late December 2006, Hamas accused Dahlan of orchestrating an assassination attempt on its leader Ismail Haniya. Haniya’s son was injured in the attack. Dahlan has described himself to CNN in the past as being involved in directing Fatah’s military response to Hamas’ military “provocation.” Dahlan is particularly disliked by Hamas because during his leadership of the Preventive Security Forces in the 1990s, Hamas members were apprehended and tortured. After a series of suicide bombings in Israel in 1996, Dahlan took a major part in the Palestinian Authority’s effort to crack down on Hamas.
Archive for July 21st, 2009
GAZA CITYA large explosion late Tuesday at a wedding party for relatives of a Fatah leader injured at least 50 people in Gaza, Palestinian medical sources said.
Deaths up during anti-knife drive
The number of knife deaths in areas targeted by an anti-knife crime scheme have risen, the Home Office has said.The government’s Tackling Knives Action Programme was launched last July by 10 police forces in England and Wales. In its first nine months, 126 people died after being attacked with a knife or other sharp object – seven more than in the same period the previous year. Overall knife-related violence fell by 10%, but the number of deaths among teenagers remains unchanged. ‘Crime hotspots’The Home Office-led programme, known as T-Kap, was triggered by a series of high-profile teenage stabbings. Police have stepped up searches and patrols in knife crime hotspots and are running courses to highlight the dangers of carrying the weapons. The families of some of those killed were invited to 10 Downing Street on Monday for a knife crime summit hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Home Secretary Alan Johnson. Meanwhile, a second phase of the scheme, focusing on all forms of serious violence among 13 to 24-year-olds, will now be rolled out. About 5m will be made available to the 10 original forces and six others.
Chief Constable Keith Bristow said “public angst” over knife crime was understandable, but added that there were some “promising signs” in the reduction of killings among youngsters. He said: “It’s a mixed picture in the sense that in some places there have been some increases but overall it’s going in the right direction. “This is a long journey. Success when you’re dealing with these sort of problems might be measured in generations, not weeks or months.” Despite a rise in stop and search measures in all 10 police force areas, the number of offenders aged 19 and under possessing an offensive weapon fell 13%, the figures also showed. Robberies with sharp instruments against those aged 19 and under also fell by 13% while knife-related hospital admissions fell 32%, compared to 18% in non T-Kap areas.
Meanwhile, the length of court sentences increased for people caught in possession of knives or offensive weapons in England and Wales. However, a significant number are still being cautioned. Mr Johnson said: “This is not a problem we can solve overnight but we remain totally committed to tackling youth violence. He added: “By working together – government, police, families and communities – we can make a difference and tackle the culture that can lead to violence.” Justice Secretary Jack Straw said: “We have introduced tougher penalties and have made it clear that anyone aged 16 or over should be prosecuted at their first offence. “This tough stance is already having a positive impact – latest figures show that more people are going to jail, and for longer, when caught carrying a knife.” BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said: “The T-Kap initiative was set up after a series of fatal stabbings and a rise in knife crime in urban areas, particularly in London. “Police stepped up searches and patrols in crime hotspots and ran courses to highlight the dangers of carrying knives. The results are mixed.”
Watergate Hotel attracts no bids
An attempted auction of the Watergate Hotel, part of a Washington landmark made famous by a presidential scandal, has failed to attract any bids.The opening price on the hotel was 25m (15.2m), but none of the 10 people registered to bid did so. The Watergate Hotel is part of the US capital’s Watergate Complex. It housed the Democratic National Committee headquarters, which were broken into in the scandal leading to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Four of the burglars stayed at the hotel before the 1972 break-in. A company called Monument Realty, which bought the Watergate in 2004, closed the hotel two years ago but ran out of funds while trying to renovate it. The firm had originally tried to convert the hotel into luxury flats. Joseph Cooper, president of Alex Cooper Auctioneers, said before the auction started that it was a chance to invest in “one of the city’s most famous landmarks”. The auction attracted dozens of spectators, including journalists and residents of the complex. PB Capital Corp, which had loaned 40m to Monument Realty, will take back the property and attempt to find a buyer.
Space centre officially launches
By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News
The European Space Agency (Esa) officially opens its new British research centre on Wednesday.The facility joins a group of hi-tech businesses and academic institutes that operate on the Harwell innovation campus near Oxford. The UK has been the only major Esa nation not to host one of the agency’s technical or administrative centres. The facility will focus on science and exploration, with particular emphasis aimed at robotics and climate change. Esa expects the new Harwell unit to become its hub for “industrial intelligence”, an outward-looking venture that seeks to pull new ideas into the agency from the private sector. “We at Esa are looking at the Harwell site to see how we can work differently on the techno front with industry – not just British industry, but European industry in general,” Professor David Southwood, Esa’s chief scientist, told BBC News.
The UK hopes to make the centre the key element of a “space park”, which it has dubbed the International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC) – a place where academia and industry can spark off each other. “One of the ambitions is to get a better flow of thinking and ideas across existing boundaries,” said David Williams, Britain’s most senior civil servant with responsibility for space. This fits with the existing ethos at Harwell. The campus is owned by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the Health Protection Agency (HPA). It has attracted a range of hi-tech companies, many already pursuing space-related activities. But its most visible occupant is the giant, publicly funded Diamond synchrotron light source. Diamond is the UK’s largest investment in science for 30 years and probes the structure of materials on the finest scales using X-rays. It is used both by university scientists and researchers working in the private sector. The Esa centre plans to follow this model as it works on:
The centre will use space data to better understand climate change
Climate change: The centre will use data from space satellites to improve the tools for forecasting climate change and its impacts. Robotics: Harwell will develop new robotics technologies and power sources for use in spacecraft that are sent to explore other planets. Applications: The centre will combine space data and images to create new applications for everyday life, such as automatic safety-of-life location services for use at sea. Archiving: Harwell will develop the expertise to handle rock samples brought back from other worlds for study in Earth labs. The other Esa centres are: • The European Space Research and Technology Centre (Estec) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, is the largest Esa centre. Spacecraft are tested at Estec before being launched. • The European Space Operations Centre (Esoc) in Darmstadt, Germany, is the location from where Esa spacecraft are controlled during their missions. • Esrin in Frascati, Italy, is the Esa Centre for Earth Observation. • The European Space Astronomy Centre (Esac) is Esa’s centre dedicated to space science and astronomy, and is based in Villanueva de la Canada, Spain. • The European Astronaut Centre (Eac) trains Europe’s astronauts and is situated in Cologne, Germany. France does not have a research centre, but it hosts the Esa HQ in Paris. The UK government announced on Monday that it would hold a 12-week consultation on the issue of whether Britain should have its own dedicated space agency. If set up, this organisation would lead the UK’s space policy and its relations at the European level. Britain currently spends upwards of 250m a year on civil space activity. Most of this money is channelled into programmes run by Esa. Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET
Guidance aims to spot child abuse
A watchdog has issued guidance to help healthcare workers spot early signs of child abuse to avoid another Baby P.Experts say the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence advice could mean more referrals of children who may not be at risk. But it will ensure more of the right children are referred early for protection from abuse and neglect. Last year’s 538,000 child referrals to social services is an underestimate of the numbers maltreated, they say. Up to one in 10 children will suffer some form of maltreatment during their childhood, which includes neglect and emotional abuse as well as physical and sexual abuse.
But it can be difficult to spot when a child is at risk and what constitutes abuse. The guidelines were in development long before the case of Baby Peter, who died in 2007 aged 17 months after suffering more than 50 separate injuries. They give a summary of some of the signs to look for that should alert a healthcare worker that abuse might be occurring. Warning signsUnusual injuries without a suitable explanation, or a child who is consistently dressed in clothes or shoes that are inappropriate, tells the GP or other health worker to consider maltreatment and to keep a close eye, for example. Some signs, such as bruising in the shape of a hand or a child who is persistently smelly and dirty or suffering persistent infestations such as scabies or head lice, are more suspect and should prompt referral to social care, says the guidance.
The authors say the advice is to protect children and not to punish parents. Dr Danya Glaser, chair of the guideline development group and a consultant and child and adolescent psychiatrist at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: “Parenting is difficult, parents often do not intend to harm their children and this guidance is also about identifying the parents who need more help to look after their children.” Dr Sheila Shribman, the national clinical director of children, young people and maternity services, said: “Spotting the signs of child maltreatment and protecting vulnerable children is an important but often difficult challenge for healthcare professionals.” For example, a GP may be concerned that action may lead to more harm to the child or the relationship with the family. Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said GPs played a crucial role, as they were often the first port of call for children and their families. He said: “Maltreatment of children is an important problem and this guidance is helpful because it can often be extremely difficult for the GP to make the necessary decisions. “We know that child maltreatment has been under-diagnosed in the past and all new GPs now routinely receive training in this area to recognise the possible presentations and understand how to deal with them. “Sometimes the action we take can be straightforward; sometimes it can be much more difficult.” Dr Ffion Davies of the College of Emergency of Medicine welcomed the evidence-based guidelines. “Spotting children ‘at risk’ is a crucial role of the emergency department, where several million children per year attend with injuries and other problems.”
US looks for progress in Afghanistan
By Adam Brookes
BBC News, Washington
The news from eastern Afghanistan is, on examination, mixed.In Gardez and Jalalabad, at least six Afghan security personnel were killed in a series of coordinated attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen on Tuesday. The bombers strapped explosives to their chests and then tried to run into government offices. One blew himself up, killing three members of the Afghan security forces. Two others were shot by police. One tried to get into the office of the provincial governor, but was shot. Another attacked a police station. He was shot, too. The attacks suggest a high degree of organisation and coordination, and a measure of fanatacism. But the police response suggests that the authorities are far from helpless when under attack. Stripped mountainsNews of these incidents in Gardez caught my eye. I remember reporting on heavy fighting between Afghan and US forces near Gardez. I remember the US gunships swooping low over the plains and rocketing the mountainsides. American bombing stripped the trees in mountain villages of all their leaves. I was reminded of those spectral images of denuded forests from World War I. The bodies of young Taleban fighters lay amid the rubble, stiffening in the dry, crisp air. That was seven years ago. Yet, here we are in 2009, and the same war is being fought in the same place by the same people.
In the course of those seven years, nothing conclusive has happened in Afghanistan. The Obama administration is now trying to act conclusively – or at least in a fashion which will tip this conflict towards a conclusion. By the end of this summer more than 90,000 US and Nato troops will be deployed. That is not as many as are in Iraq, but it is starting to be a military effort of comparable dimensions. The president’s strategy review – which he announced in March – reworked some of the war’s basic assumptions. We are now in the middle of another review – this time conducted by the new commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. ResignedWe expect that General McChrystal will find that without an even greater expansion in the number of Afghan security forces, the success of the overall military effort will remain in the balance. The current plan is to expand the Afghan from 85,000 to 134,000 in the next two years or so. General McChrystal may well seek more than that – with the funding to match. And that will prompt a further round of political soul-searching in Washington. The increase in coalition and troop numbers have a clearly stated purpose: to provide security for the Afghan people, and to open up a space in which development and governance can start to take root. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Afghanistan last week. He said his troops were “the finest counterinsurgency force in the world”.
“We know what we need to do,” he said. “I think we know how to do it. It’s now a matter of resourcing it and executing it.” Some officials, though, remain concerned that Afghan capacity in development and governance will never rise to American expectations, even reduced expectations. Even if US and Nato troops succeed in bringing a measure of security, “where is this Afghan official who will step in?”, asked one. American and British officials seem resigned to the idea that Hamid Karzai will retain the presidency in next month’s elections, and they will have to put up with what they often describe as his corrupt and ineffectual administration. One source close to Afghan policy-making says the hope is no longer for a “single writ of government country-wide”. Rather, he says, “local arrangements are the key”. In practice, that may mean shoring up local power structures based on tribes or mayors or governors, rather than hoping for a central government whose power flows through the entire country; a patchwork of politics, rather than a pattern. This intensification of the war by the Obama administration in part explains why the coalition casualties are rising. July has seen more US, British and Nato troops die than any other month since the invasion; 56 fatalities. Two-thirds of them were from roadside bombs. The number of attacks on coalition forces has risen precipitately. In the first five months of this year the number of attacks by “Improvised Explosive Devices” – mainly roadside bombs – were up 64% over the previous year. Attacks using ‘direct fire’ – that means mainly automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades – were up 61%. These are frightening numbers for a war-weary American public – though popular support for the Afghan war seems to remain relatively solid. In a recent Gallup poll, 54% of respondents said things were going well in Afghanistan. So is the Obama plan for Afghanistan working? It is too early to say. “Check back in a year. Or two,” said one military officer.
Darling defends Afghan response
Alistair Darling has insisted that the Treasury has never turned down requests from army commanders for more troops or equipment in Afghanistan.The Head of the Army, Sir Richard Dannatt, has drawn up a “shopping list” for ministers of resources he says are required for the Afghan mission. His call for more “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan has been interpreted as a veiled criticism of ministers. But the chancellor said he had funded all requests from the military. ‘Sufficient troops’”The Army has said this is what we want in terms of troops and equipment and we have provided that and financed it,” Mr Darling told the Tribune newspaper. “I am very clear that if you ask troops to go and do something especially in the face of acute danger, somewhere like Afghanistan, you have to make sure there are sufficient troops and those troops are sufficiently equipped to do what is asked of them.” The rising casualty rate in Afghanistan, in which 17 service personnel have been killed in the past month, has fuelled a political row over army budgets and resources. The Lib Dems have accused ministers of vetoing a request for 2,000 extra troops earlier this year while the Conservatives say the failure to supply troops with enough helicopters has accentuated casualty levels. The BBC’s political correspondent Jo Coburn said Mr Darling had decided to speak out after reports of tensions between senior ministers and army officers. TensionsThese tensions were heightened on Tuesday when ex-Labour minister Lord Foulkes said recent comments by Sir Richard Dannatt and Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Jock Stirrup about resources “threaten to undermine our effort in Afghanistan and give succour to the enemy”. He suggested to peers that the two should be reminded of the “importance of loyalty particularly when we are engaged in a very difficult war where victory is essential for the future safety of this country”. Sir Richard has said some of his comments about extra resources needed in Afghanistan had been misrepresented and he was involved in “an ongoing dialogue” with No 10 over the issue. Gordon Brown has said troop levels in Afghanistan will be reviewed after next month’s presidential elections while stressing there are enough troops there to do the job. He has insisted the armed forces are better equipped than ever while pointing out that the UK is fighting the Taliban as part of a 40-nation Nato coalition.
LOS ANGELES, California Kenny Morrison soaked in life from his beachfront home. A top chef at a trendy L.A. restaurant, he served dinner to the Hollywood stars, including A-listers.
Kenny Morrison got hooked on painkillers after getting dental work in 2003. “I lost everything,” he says.
But within a couple years, he lost it all. He got hooked on pain medication after some dental work. His fix was codeine, Vicodin and OxyContinall prescription medicationsto help him get through the day. At one point, he even had a tooth removed unnecessarily so he could get a prescription for pain medicines. “At the height, I was taking probably 20, 25 a day,” he says. “It got to the point where I lost the wife, the house, and I was living in a bad part of L.A. in my truck. And I went from taking a couple of codeine all the way to taking OxyContin.” Morrison didn’t buy his drugs on a street corner or get them from a dope dealer. He got them mostly from dentists he had never met. He says he’d scroll through the phone book calling dentist after dentist until one would prescribe him pain medication. “I kind of found out on my own that a dentist will prescribe you painkillers over the phone, instead of a doctor who you would most likely have to go in and see,” he says. Watch addicts turn to dentists » Dr. Jay Grossman, a dentist in the Los Angeles area, says he routinely gets calls from people seeking painkillers. “The moment somebody hangs up the phone on me, I know that they’re literally going down the book. They’re calling the next one in the Yellow Pages, hoping that someone will write them a prescription,” he says. “If you’re an addict, one of your resources would certainly be a dentist.” Grossman sits on a disciplinary committee for the California Dental Association. He says the calls typically come at the end of the day. The user describes pain in his mouth and insists on medication fast. Red flags go up and Grossman says he begins asking a series of questions to “put it back in their ballpark.”
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When he asks how many pills they need, sometimes the answer is: “Forty or 50 should do just fine,” Grossman says. He tries to set up an appointment for the next day, so he can see the patient in person. Most times, they hang up after he grills them. “I don’t think doctors of any sortwhether it’s a dental professional or one of my medical colleaguesshould be doling out prescriptions in that quantity, like M&Ms. That’s not what it’s there for,” he says. “I would like to think the vast majority of my colleagues are doing the honest, ethical and moral thing.” According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, nearly 7 million Americans are abusing prescription drugs, more than the number who are abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and ecstasy combined. The number of painkiller addicts has nearly doubled from 2000, when 3.8 million Americans were hooked, the DEA says. The misuse of painkillers represents three-fourths of the overall problem of prescription drug abuse. The DEA says addicts get the drugs from “doctor shopping,” online pharmacies and other Internet sources, theft from pharmacies and, yes, traditional drug dealers. “All DEA registered practitioners and dentists registered with DEA must adhere to state laws and regulations as well as federal laws and regulations when dispensing or prescribing a controlled substance,” says DEA special agent Gary Boggs. But the DEA says only one in every 10,000 doctors loses his or her controlled substance registration each year as a result of DEA investigations into improper prescribing. James Stillwell, the executive director of Impact Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Pasadena, California, says he believes it’s much more prevalent than authorities realize. He says dentists, doctors and veterinarians all become targets of addicts. “It’s an easy way to get your hands on an opiate-based drug, a painkiller, for recreational use,” Stillwell says. “If you have an addict that wants to get high, … he’s going to find ways and means to do that.” There’s another troubling aspect of addicts on painkillers prescribed by doctors, he says. These addicts don’t think they have a problem because they have prescriptions in their hands.
MayoClinic.com: Drug addiction
MayoClinic.com: Prescription drug abuse
MayoClinic.com: Intervention FAQ: Help loved ones overcome addiction and abuse
“It helps you legitimize itnot just in terms of family and loved ones, but what your head is saying to you,” Stillwell says. “It’s a way to elude the stigma of being a drug addict.” Grossman says the DEA has done a good job in the last 12-18 months of cracking down on dentists who may be over-prescribing pain medicines. According to the DEA, 38 states have enacted legislation to create a database for physicians and pharmacists to prevent abusers from obtaining multiple prescriptions. Grossman says the DEA notifies dentists and questions them when their prescriptions for painkillers reach high numbers. “They’re actually following up,” he says. But he says for a dentist to come before his local disciplinary board, the board first needs to be notified that a dentist may be acting out of lineand a drug abuser typically isn’t going to turn them in. Grossman believes the issue has come under scrutiny in the last year because “of the celebrities that have been passing away due to drug overdose.” Heath Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith had each taken a lethal combination of prescription drugs. He said dentists, doctors and pharmacies constantly need to be on alert for people trying to use medical professionals as their drug dealers. “Just writing a prescription for the pain is not the answer,” Grossman says. “There’s a moral and ethical code that we have to follow.” As for Morrison, he says he has been clean for a year after going through Impact’s program. He’s now the head chef at the treatment facility that saved his life.
It has been five years since his life fell apart. He’s trying to repair his relationship with his daughter and his ex-wife. He wants others to avoid the painful painkiller path he took. “My body craved it, and I lost everythingeverything,” Morrison says. “It’s hard to understand how big of a problem this is. My message is it’s a disease and it needs to be addressed.”
TAREGNA, India – Scientists, students and nature enthusiasts prepared Tuesday for the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century, while millions planned to shutter themselves indoors, giving in to superstitious myths about the phenomenon.
The eclipse will first be sighted at dawn Wednesday in India’s Gulf of Khambhat, just north of the metropolis of Mumbai, before being seen in a broad swath moving north and east to Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China.
The eclipse — visible only in Asia — will reach its peak in India at about 6:20 a.m. local time (8:50 p.m. EDT; 0050 GMT), and will last 6 minutes and 39 seconds at its maximum point.
It is the longest such eclipse since July 11, 1991, when a total eclipse lasting 6 minutes, 53 seconds was visible from Hawaii to South America. There will not be a longer eclipse than Wednesday’s until 2132.
Wednesday’s eclipse will be seen for 3 minutes and 48 seconds in the Indian village of Taregna, where scientists say residents will have the clearest view.
Over the past week, this village has been swamped by researchers who will study scientific phenomena ranging from the behavior of birds and other animals to atmospheric changes affected by the eclipse.
Hotels in Patna were fully booked while taxis raised their rates — sensing a brief opportunity in the sudden interest in the village.
Scientists set up telescopes and other equipment in Taregna a day in advance to make the most of the window of opportunity provided by the eclipse.
“We are hoping to make some valuable observations on the formation of asteroids around the sun,” Pankaj Bhama, a scientist with India’s Science Popularization Association of Communicators and Educators, said Tuesday.
A 10-member team of scientists from the premier Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bangalore and the Indian air force will be flying and filming the eclipse as it becomes visible in different parts of the country, an air force press release said.
Thousands of people lined up outside a planetarium in Patna on Tuesday to buy solar viewing goggles. The goggles, costing 20 rupees (40 cents), are supposed to act as filters and allow people to look at the sun without damaging their eyes.
But millions across India were shunning the sight and planned to stay indoors, gripped by fearful myths.
Across India, even in regions where the eclipse was not visible, pregnant women were advised to stay indoors in curtained rooms over a belief that the sun’s invisible rays would harm the fetus and the baby would be born with disfigurations, birthmarks or a congenital defect.
Krati Jain, a software professional in New Delhi, said she planned to take a day off from work Wednesday to avoid what she called “any ill effects of the eclipse on my baby.”
“My mother and aunts have called and told me stay in a darkened room with the curtains closed, lie in bed and chant prayers,” said Jain, 24, who is expecting her first child.
In the northern Indian state of Punjab, authorities ordered schools to begin an hour late to prevent children from venturing out and gazing at the sun.
Others saw a business opportunity: one travel agency in India scheduled a charter flight to watch the eclipse by air, with seats facing the sun selling at a premium.
Additional police and paramilitary troops were posted around Patna and Taregna after Maoist rebels called for a strike Wednesday to protest increases in the price of gas and other essentials.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, often target police and government workers.
“Adequate numbers of forces have been deployed at Taregna where top scientists and researchers are gathering to view the celestial wonder,” said R. Mallar Vizhi, a senior superintendent of police in Patna.
On the Net:
Eclipses Online: http://www.eclipse.org.uk/
Mr. Eclipse: http://mreclipse.com/
BOURG-SAINT-MAURICE, France – Lance Armstrong mustered one of his strongest showings yet at this Tour de France on Tuesday, a dazzling burst of acceleration from yesteryear that allowed him to keep second place.
The seven-time champion was so buoyed by the performance that he suggested to The Associated Press he could still contend for the yellow jersey if teammate and race leader Alberto Contador has a “bad day.”
Armstrong, speaking after the 16th stage in the Alps, stressed he doesn’t expect that to happen and only a “big shake-up” would allow for such a scenario.
Contador, the 2007 Tour winner, had to fight to retain the overall lead in the 99-mile stage from the Swiss town of Martigny to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, France, which was won by Mikel Astarloza of Spain.
As Contador tried to keep pace with two attackers on the final climb, the 37-year-old Texan lagged. But after dropping back at least 35 seconds, he popped out of his saddle and recovered lost ground.
“I had no choice. … So I waited until we had a steeper section and then I got away with an acceleration,” he said.
Contador was impressed, but not surprised.
“It’s easy to explain — he’s a very great rider,” said Contador, who leads his Astana teammate by 1:37. “He was in the past, and he showed it once again.”
Contador and Armstrong finished in a small group of race leaders behind Astarloza. The route featured the highest peak this year, the snowcapped Grand-Saint-Bernard pass on the Swiss-Italian border, at 8,113 feet, and its sister the Petit-Saint-Bernard pass, on the Italian-French border.
Armstrong says he’s feeling better on his bike than he did during Sunday’s entree into the Alps, when Contador dusted him and the entire pack on the ride up to the Swiss ski station of Verbier.
“I made some changes to my position yesterday — I raised the seat height,” he said. “So in general, I was pedaling better today.”
Armstrong, back at the Tour after 3 1/2 years of retirement, committed himself to help Contador win the three-week race after the Spaniard took the yellow jersey that day. Armstrong appeared to shut down his own ambitions then. But at cycling’s main event — which ends Sunday in Paris — anything can happen.
“If there was a massive shake-up and something happened, then I’d have to be strong — to represent the interests of the team,” Armstrong said. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
“If he were to have a bad day, I think I could cover the moves for the team,” he added. “But I don’t think he’s going to have a bad day.”
In the interview, Armstrong was coy about competing next year, saying only: “There’s a pretty good chance I’ll be there.”
But in an e-mail to the AP later in the day, Armstrong’s manager Mark Higgins said the Texan will “for sure” be part of the race next year.
Asked whether he plans to announce a new team, , as has been widely speculated, Armstrong told the AP: “Come on, man, you’re killing me … let’s talk about music or something.”
On his Twitter account Tuesday, he wrote that his team has a new American sponsor for next year, but he wouldn’t provide details until Thursday.
Armstrong already has shown his guile and guts at this Tour. He eclipsed Contador in the standings in Stage 3, by cleverly catching a ride in a wind-swept lead group. In the opening day time trial, he was 10th — 40 seconds behind Swiss winner Fabian Cancellara — and only 22 seconds slower than Contador.
But the Spaniard clearly has been the strongest man in the mountains. He outpaced Armstrong in both uphill finishes this year — in Andorra, in the seventh stage, and in Verbier.
Contador had a struggle on his hands in fending off brothers Andy and Frank Schleck of Luxembourg on the Petit-Saint-Bernard, the second of the day’s climbs.
“I gave my maximum, ” he said. “I could resist but not without difficulty. I’m happy after this difficult day.”
Astarloza, who rides for the Euskadi Euskaltel team, thrust his fists in the air and kissed his fingers as he crossed the line in 4 hours, 14 minutes, 20 seconds. He was six seconds ahead of French riders Sandy Casar and Pierrick Fedrigo.
With a little more than a mile to go, the Spaniard escaped three other breakaway riders with him and held on for his first stage win on the Tour.
“This is the biggest day of my career,” Astarloza said.
Contador, Armstrong, fourth-placed teammate Andreas Kloeden and third-placed Bradley Wiggins of Britain all finished 59 seconds after Astarloza.
Overall, Contador leads Wiggins, of the U.S. team Garmin, by 1:46. Kloeden is 2:17 back, and Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank is fifth, trailing by 2:26.
Two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans of Australia, who finished 3:55 back, was one of the big losers. He fell to 17th from 14th and trails Contador by 7:23.
The course ended with a 19-mile downhill run, and the final descent was perilous: Jens Voigt of Germany crashed either from a bicycle malfunction or a bump in the road. The Tour’s medical staff said he severely bruised his face and right elbow and was flown by helicopter to a hospital in the French city of Grenoble.
“He lost consciousness for a while, but he should be OK,” CSC team manager Bjarne Riis said. “For me, it’s a good sign.”
During the stage, Astana said one of its vehicles was stopped and searched by customs officials at the Swiss-French border, adding nothing of concern was found.
Pope Benedict XVI sent greetings to riders and organizers as the pack passed close to the Alpine retreat of Les Combes, overlooking Mont Blanc, where the pontiff is staying.
Wednesday’s stage features what some riders fear is the toughest Alpine route this year — a 105-mile ride from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Le Grand-Bornand marked by five tough climbs and another downhill finish.
PORTLAND, Maine – A turf war in the lobster-rich waters off Maine escalated into a dispute that left a lobsterman with a gunshot wound to the neck and another in jail, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.
Territorial feuds are not unusual among Maine’s lobstermen, but it is rare for them to end in gunplay. Monday’s shooting came as lobstermen struggle with prices so low that some are talking about tying up their boats until prices rebound.
“I think the whole lobster industry is in trouble with prices so low and the economy so bad,” said Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison. “It just added to the tension out there.”
Vance Bunker, 68, is accused of shooting Chris Young, 41, with a .22-caliber handgun Monday morning on Matinicus, a remote island with only a few dozen permanent residents. At the time of the shooting, officers from the Maine Marine Patrol and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office were already on the island to investigate an earlier altercation between Bunker and Young.
The shooting took place on the island’s granite pier and Marine Patrol Officer Wes Dean was on a nearby boat, officials said. Dean arrested Bunker, and Young was flown by plane to the mainland and then by helicopter to a hospital in Lewiston, where he underwent surgery. He was in good condition Tuesday afternoon.
Bunker is charged with elevated aggravated assault and was released from jail Tuesday after posting property worth 125,000.
In response to the shooting, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner George Lapointe signed an emergency rule prohibiting lobstering in the waters surrounding Matinicus for two weeks beginning Thursday. The Marine Patrol and Coast Guard stationed vessels at the island to keep a 24-hour presence.
The measures serve as a wake-up call for islanders and as a public safety precaution, said Marine Patrol Col. Joe Fessenden.
“It’s lucky people are still alive. It’s crazy what happened,” Fessenden said.
Nearly every summer, tensions flare among Maine’s lobster fishermen over who has the right to place traps in specified areas. The origins of the industry’s unofficial territorial system go back to about 1890, said University of Maine professor James Acheson, who has written two books on the subject.
Mostly, those territorial rights stay within local fishing families or among long-timers in the same harbors.
When fishermen feel their turf is being encroached upon, they send signals to the offending lobsterman by leaving a note in a bottle in the trap, by tying a knot in the buoy rope or by cutting out the door to the trap so lobsters can escape. Sometimes they resort to cutting trap lines — resulting in lost traps, which can cost 80 to 100 each.
Lobstermen have been known to ram their boats into each other and occasionally show a gun. Once in Portland Harbor, a boat crew jumped onto another boat and struggled with another crew before they were tossed overboard.
On occasion, lobstermen fire warning shots, and Acheson remembers a lobsterman once firing bullets through another boat’s windshield in Penobscot Bay. On Matinicus a few years ago, two fishermen were charged after one of them fired a shotgun at the other.
For the most part, Maine fishermen respect their established territories, Acheson said.
Matinicus has a reputation for lawlessness and as a place where locals take matters into their own hands. The island, which has only 40 or 50 year-round residents and is about 20 miles from Rockland, is so far-removed that Maine’s state ferry makes only four trips a month there in the summer and one a month in the winter.
“The island up and down the coast has a very bad reputation,” Acheson said. “I was talking to a man from Stonington who said fishermen on Matinicus think of themselves as being outside the United States. What he meant by that was the law simply doesn’t apply to them.”
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) –
Veteran spacewalker David Wolf had some advice on Tuesday for those wondering how to sneeze in a spacesuit.
“Aim low, off the windscreen, because it's going to mess up your view and there's no way to clear it,” said Wolf, who admitted being in just that predicament during Monday's spacewalk outside the International Space Station.
Wolf and his shuttle Endeavour crewmates took a break from their construction work at the space station to answer questions sent in by followers of commander Mark Polansky's Twitter feed, a web-based short messaging service.
The astronauts are four days into a planned 11-day stay at the orbital outpost, a $100 billion (60.8 billion pound) project by 16 countries.
On Tuesday, the astronauts transferred a locker of science experiments that will be mounted on a new platform on the station's Kibo laboratory.
Wolf and rookie astronaut Chris Cassidy are scheduled to make the third of five spacewalks planned during the Endeavour mission on Wednesday. Their job is to replace batteries in one of the station's solar power panels.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Peter Cooney)
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – An independent investigator has found evidence that Gov. Sarah Palin may have violated ethics laws by accepting private donations to pay her legal debts, in the latest legal distraction for the former vice presidential candidate as she prepares to leave office this week.
The report obtained by The Associated Press says Palin is securing unwarranted benefits and receiving improper gifts through the Alaska Fund Trust, set up by supporters.
An investigator for the state Personnel Board says in his July 14 report that there is probable cause to believe Palin used or attempted to use her official position for personal gain because she authorized the creation of the trust as the “official” legal defense fund.
The practical effect of the ruling on Palin will be more financial than anything else. The report recommends that Palin refuse to accept payment from the defense fund, and that the complaint be resolved without a formal hearing before the Alaska Personnel Board.
The fund aims to help Palin pay off debts stemming from multiple ethics complaints against her, most of which have been dismissed. Palin says she owes more than 500,000 in legal fees, and she cited the mounting toll of the ethics probes as one of the reasons she is leaving office.
A call seeking comment from her lawyer and an e-mail to her spokeswoman were not immediately returned.
Palin’s friends and supporters created the Alaska Fund Trust in April, limiting donations to 150 per person. Organizers declined to say how much it has raised, and had hoped to raise about 500,000. A Webathon last month brought in about 130,000 in pledges.
In his report, attorney Thomas Daniel said his interpretation of the ethics act is consistent with common sense.
An ordinary citizen facing legal charges is not likely to be able to generate donations to a legal defense fund, he wrote. “In contrast, Governor Palin is able to generate donations because of the fact that she is a public official and a public figure. Were it not for the fact that she is governor and a national political figure, it is unlikely that many citizens would donate money to her legal defense fund.”
The ethics complaint was filed by Eagle River resident Kim Chatman shortly after the fund was created, alleging Palin was misusing her official position and accepting improper gifts.
Palin was given a copy of the investigator’s report a week ago, Chatman said Tuesday.
“It’s an absolute shame that she would continue to keep the Alaska Fund Trust Web site up and running,” Chatman told the AP.
At least 19 ethics complaints have been filed against Palin, most of them after she was named the running mate for GOP presidential candidate John McCain. Most of those have been dismissed, and Palin’s office usually sends a news release with the announcement.
“She’s not acknowledging the fact that the ethics complaint was credible,” Chatman said. “When ethics complaints are dismissed, she’s quick to publicly respond but this one, she’s sitting on.”
WASHINGTON – Uranium mining near the Grand Canyon would court disaster, risking damage to critical water supplies, local officials and water experts told a House panel Tuesday.
A hyrdologist who has been conducting research on springs in the canyon for 25 years told the House Natural Resources Committee’s parks subcommittee that past mining polluted a stream that feeds the Colorado River, and that more pollution is likely should mining resume. A water utility manager said virtually all of Southern Nevada would be left without water supplies if a mining disaster should occur.
Two other scientists, however, said modern mining techniques have improved and development shouldn’t be prohibited because of past mistakes.
The committee is considering a bill by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., that would permanently bar the filing of new mining claims on 1.1 million acres of federal lands north and south of the canyon. Renewed interest in nuclear power has led to a surge in uranium mining claims in the area.
There are as many as 10,000 existing mining claims on nearby federal lands for all types of hard-rock exploration and some 1,100 uranium mining claims within five miles of the canyon.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Monday that he is barring the filing of new claims on nearly 1 million acres of U.S. Forest Service and other public lands for two years while the administration studies whether mining on those lands should be permanently prohibited.
Neither the legislation nor Salazar’s action would stop mining from going forward on claims already filed.
David Kreamer, a professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said his research found uranium levels three times greater than the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended limit for water supplies in a canyon creek. He said the pollution is the result of mining that ceased more than a decade ago.
“I believe that an assumption that uranium mining will have minimal impact on springs, people and ecosystems in the Grand Canyon is unreasonable, and is not supported by past investigations, research and data,” Kreamer said.
Kay Brothers, the deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said her customers are almost entirely dependent on the river for their water supplies.
“That’s why we’re so concerned,” Brothers said. “You have to look at the potential for contamination to reach the river.”
However, Madan Singh, director of the Arizona Department of Mines and Minerals, said most of the present uranium contamination is the result of natural erosion, not mining.
“It’s important to separate real contamination issues from perceived contamination,” Singh said.
Karen Wenrich, a former geologist for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the mining industry has “come a long way” and shouldn’t be punished for mistakes that took place when the risks of uranium were less well known.
Most of the claims for uranium are staked in the Arizona Strip, a sparsely populated area immediately north of the Grand Canyon National Park known for its high-grade uranium ore.
Operations in the area ceased some 20 years ago, when the price plummeted for uranium used for nuclear energy, weapons and medicine. With prices now around 55 a pound, the industry is eyeing restarting operations.
Toronto-based Denison Mines Corp. is about a year away from mining at a site about 20 miles from the canyon’s northern border if it secures an air permit with Arizona state officials.
On the Net: http://www.federalregister.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2009-17293(underscore)PI.p df http://www.doi.gov/documents/Petition(underscore)Application(underscore)for (underscore)Withdrawal.pdf
When Daniel Carter logged on to a shared computer at a hostel in Rome to check e-mail, he had no idea he was in a hacker’s sights. After his trip was over, he discovered someone had hijacked his e-mail account and sent a message to hundreds of his contacts asking for money.
“Sorry i did not get you informed about my short trip to london … i was attacked on my way to the hotel by some hoodlums and they took away all my belongings,” the e-mail said, ending with a plea for money “so i can sort out my hotel bills and fly back home” and a promise of repayment.
Most of Carter’s contacts recognized the scam from the poor grammar and lack of upper-case letters. Unfortunately, one older friend fell for it, sending some 2,000 to the scammers. Carter eventually regained control of his e-mail account and cleaned up the mess. But the money his friend sent was lost.
“This was a big wake-up call. I thought, ‘Who’s going to hack me, I’m not important or of large means,’” said Carter, a songwriter and composer who lives in Salt Lake City. But, as he found out, a hacker can make a quick profit off an ordinary traveler.
What happened to Carter is a relatively rare phenomenon. But travelers are especially vulnerable to hackers because they often use computers and Wi-Fi networks in hotel lobbies, cafes and airports.
“If you are using an open Wi-Fi network, you are extremely vulnerable,” says computer security consultant Kevin Mitnick. He should know: Mitnick served five years in prison for computer capers that gained him notoriety and prompted an FBI manhunt.
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
Create a strong password. Carter says his e-mail was easier to hack because he had a weak password. Password advice can be found at: http://www.microsoft.com/protect/yourself/password/checker.mspx
You might also create a dedicated e-mail account for use on the road, with a password that is different from passwords you use for bank and credit card information. Let your contacts know you’ll be using that account while on vacation. You can stay in touch, but if someone does hack into your account, they only get your vacation pictures.
If using a shared computer, try to cover your tracks. On Apple’s Safari browser, under the Safari menu, toggle “Private Browsing.” On Microsoft’s Explorer, when you log off, go to “Tools” and “Delete Browsing History” to remove traces of your passwords and the Web sites you’ve visited.
But experts say clearing the history offers weak protection at best. A shared computer, even one that’s hard-wired as opposed to one with a wireless network, can harbor keyloggers or other malware that grab passwords and other information. That’s why Mitnick says he’d only use a shared computer to check e-mail as a last resort — and then he’d immediately change all his passwords when he gets to a secure computer.
Wireless hotspots can also be dangerous — with the hackers monitoring communication from your laptop or other electronic device. And a wired hotel network can also be dangerous, since a hacker could be in the room next door and access your computer through the network.
“Sniffing a wireless network is really easy to do — any teen in junior high can do it.” Mitnick says of a strategy that amounts to eavesdropping on computer communications in an open network in, say, a cafe or airport. Such vulnerabilities can yield mayhem with attacks known as “Packet Sniffing,” “Man in the Middle” attacks and “MAC Spoofing.”
That’s not to say every hotspot is dangerous. But when using your laptop in a public place, you obviously want up-to-date security programs, says Dave Marcus, McAfee’s Director of Security Research and Communication.
You should also disable file-sharing on your laptop, Marcus says. It’s also a good idea to turn off Bluetooth, printer-sharing and disable ad hoc network connections. Each Windows and Mac operating system has a slightly different procedure to do this. Information for your computer can be found at: http://support.microsoft.com/ or http://www.apple.com/support/.
Many experts say you should not send any sensitive data while in a hotspot. That’s because many e-mail services and browser connections essentially broadcast in the clear, meaning someone can eavesdrop on information sent to and from your computer. If you want to be careful, that means avoiding banking, shopping and checking credit card accounts. Even though these sites usually encrypt your data, there are some workarounds a determined hacker could use. Even passwords for seemingly innocuous services could potentially lead to more sensitive personal data.
If you want to take your computer security a step up, consider a VPN, or Virtual Private Network.
“The best way to protect yourself is a VPN,” says Mitnick. “It’s a tunnel, where all your communication is encrypted. A passive attacker can’t intercept.”
Bill Bullock, co-founder of the VPN service WiTopia, calls such networks “the next weapon in the arsenal” after firewalls and antivirus software. His company offers plans starting at 39.99 a year, but there are plenty of competitors. And, if you are computer-savvy, you can even create your own VPN, connecting from the road to your secure computer at home and accessing the Internet through it. They can also work with iPhones and other personal data devices.
But Kelly Davis-Felner of the Wi-Fi Alliance, a group that promotes growth of Wi-Fi networks, says a VPN is probably overkill for travelers who are just checking the latest sports scores or e-mailing Mom from a cafe on the Champs-Elysees.
“It’s a statistical possibility that you’ll get hacked in a hotspot,” she acknowledged, advising against banking, trading stocks or doing business-related work at an open network without VPN.
But she added: “You are taking a much greater risk handing your credit card to a waiter than sitting in an airport sending e-mail.”
For Aaron Carter, a musician who was struggling to fit a drum set, a piano and three guitars into his 600-square-foot apartment in Phoenix, the math on owning a home finally began to work in his favor.
Rent for the apartment he shared with his wife: 615. Mortgage payment for a home with twice the space: 760. And the interest on a mortgage is tax-deductible. So they jumped at the chance to buy some elbow room.
“We figured that everything together, getting more space, getting out of the apartment life and also just the prices right now, it just was the perfect time for us as a couple” to buy, said Carter, 20.
For Americans debating whether to buy or rent their homes, the scales are tipping toward ownership. Because of the slide in home prices, low interest rates and tax incentives, renters are realizing they could handle a mortgage for a just little more money.
An Associated Press analysis of 45 metro areas finds the gap between the monthly mortgage payment on a median-priced home and the median rent has shrunk from 777 a month to just 221 in the past three years.
It could mean a quicker end to the housing-market doldrums, as renters buy up unsold homes languishing on the market.
In some metro areas, including Cleveland, Atlanta, Indianapolis and St. Louis, the gap was less than 100 a month. And home prices are expected to fall faster than rents this year, which means the gap should get even smaller.
In once-inflated markets like Phoenix, Las Vegas and inland swaths of California and Florida, where prices have tumbled more than 40 percent, sales are rising because first-time homebuyers are snapping up bargain-priced homes.
They are getting help from a federal tax credit that covers 10 percent of the home price or up to 8,000 for first-time buyers who earn up to 75,000 a year, or 150,000 for a couple. The credit expires in November.
Cheap foreclosures in some of those markets are now drawing multiple bids. As supply and demand even out, home prices will eventually begin to rise. But for now buyers are having little trouble finding bargains.
Jere Ross, an Air Force vehicle operator, and his wife recently bought a four-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath house in Zephyrhills, Fla., a Tampa suburb, for 86,500 rather than jump into another yearlong apartment lease.
Ross, 23, used a Veterans Administration loan, which doesn’t require a down payment, and got a 30-year mortgage at a fixed rate of 5.5 percent. His monthly payment comes to 700 a month, including property taxes and insurance — 110 less than he paid to rent an apartment nearly half the size.
“It just came to a point where we were just throwing our money away on rent,” Ross said. “When it came to find out that we could own this house for, less than what we’re paying in rent, it was a ‘no duh!’ kind of moment.”
The study, conducted for the AP by Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services, used prices for the first three months of this year.
It calculated mortgage payments by assuming a 10 percent down payment, a 30-year fixed loan at 5.15 percent, and taxes and insurance that added up to 1.5 percent of the purchase price. It assumed borrowers used private mortgage insurance.
While the analysis found the gap between what it costs to own and rent is shrinking, it’s still too wide for millions who live paycheck to paycheck.
Renters with jobs in the education, retail and transportation industries don’t earn enough to rent the average two-bedroom apartment in many of these major cities, let alone buy, according to a recent study of 200 metro areas by the Center for Housing Policy.
Renters who want to become homeowners also face the obstacles of scraping together a down payment and qualifying for the loan. And renters with a record of paying bills late will have a hard time getting a low interest rate.
“There’s still those buyers that are having trouble getting financed,” says Brad Snyder, an agent with ZipRealty in Las Vegas. “A lot of them are still just looking for that easy way in, and it’s just not there.”
Homeowners also have to shoulder many costs renters don’t face — association fees, insurance, some utilities. And there are still cities, among them San Francisco and Los Angeles, where it’s usually still more affordable to rent — even though home prices have fallen more than 30 percent.
Mike Sigal, a longtime renter in San Francisco, has looked at buying a home for the past couple of years. But buying one comparable to the two-bedroom, two-bath apartment he has now would cost more than 600,000, meaning the mortgage would far exceed his 1,800 rent.
“The math doesn’t come out,” said Sigal, 42, who runs an information services company. “I’ve got extreme value for my rent.”
Nevertheless, homes in some parts of country are more affordable than they’ve been in decades. Even Dean Baker, an economist who sounded early warnings about the housing bubble and sold his own condo in 2004, has come around.
Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, bought a five-bedroom house last month for 650,000, which he figures is about 20 percent below what it would have gone for at the peak of the market.
“We feel we got a pretty good deal,” Baker said.
By buying, he accepted the risk that he might lose money if home values keep dropping. “We’ll probably end up more or less even,” he said. “Depending how much further down they go.”
FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. – The man accused in a two-state rampage that left six dead was targeting his estranged wife and killed the others first so they couldn’t stop the attack on her, Tennessee authorities said Tuesday.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristin Helm said agents believe 38-year-old Traci Shaffer was the last person to die and that the couple had been having “marital difficulties.”
Her husband, 30-year-old Jacob Shaffer, was arrested Saturday in Fayetteville. He’s charged with stabbing five people to death in two Fayetteville homes and fatally beating a sixth person in Huntsville, Ala.
Helm said Shaffer “went out of his way” to kill Traci’s father Billy Hall, 57, and brother Chris Hall, 34, in their home on a rural street in Lincoln County.
“In this case, he wanted to make sure the father and the brother who were in close proximity wouldn’t interfere with him killing his main target,” Helm said.
Helm said investigators think Shaffer then crossed the street to a duplex and killed his stepson Devin Brooks and a neighbor, Robert Berber, both 16, before killing his wife.
The only person left unharmed inside the home was Jacob Shaffer’s 4-year-old daughter, Helm said.
“She was probably asleep,” Helm said. “As far as what she witnessed, I don’t know. But she was awake and there when police showed up and found him.”
Helm said investigators are still trying to figure out the motive in the beating death of a 50-year-old man found in a Huntsville business.
Huntsville police have said Sidney Wade Dempsey was the first victim. He was attacked at Hall Cultured Marble Granite, where he worked and was allowed to live. Unlike the stabbings in Tennessee, Hall died of blunt-force trauma, police said.
“I think the guy (Dempsey) was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think the guy (Shaffer) just decided to start there,” said Sgt. Mark Roberts of the Huntsville, Ala., police department.
Helm said Shaffer made a statement to police, but would not say if he confessed to the murders.
“It’s a pretty solid case for us,” Helm said. “We’ve got everything we need to prosecute him.”
Two assistant public defenders have been appointed to represent Shaffer. Officials from their office were not immediately available Tuesday for comment.
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration urged Congress Tuesday not to intervene in the closings of hundreds of General Motors and Chrysler dealerships, warning it could undermine the automakers’ ability to rebound.
Ron Bloom, the leader of the White House’s auto task force, told a House Judiciary subcommittee that a plan approved by the House to restore dealerships would set a “dangerous precedent” and could jeopardize the taxpayers’ recovery of billions in federal aid to GM and Chrysler as they emerge from bankruptcy.
“By all measures, these companies had far too many dealers relative to the number of cars they were selling,” said Bloom, who told skeptical lawmakers that the average Toyota dealer sells four times as many vehicles as an average Chevrolet dealer.
The administration’s position was met with sharp resistance from lawmakers, who complained that many dealerships received little warning of the closings in a process that was fueled by political calculations.
“Viable companies don’t ransack their dealerships based on a criteria that seems to range from arbitrary at best to overtly political at worst,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, accused the administration of trying to “bully businesses into government-run deals that benefit political allies.”
And Rep. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., told Bloom “the Congress and American people were left in the dark” during the auto industry restructuring. “We don’t want a bailout of the auto industry to become a wash out for the auto dealers,” Maffei said.
The House approved a measure last week that would force GM and Chrysler to restore about 3,000 dealerships expected to be closed through the bankruptcies. The Senate has not yet considered the plan.
GM and Chrysler have opposed the legislation because they contend the reductions are needed to create a profitable dealership network as they lose market share.
GM is reducing its 6,000-dealer network by more than 2,000 by not renewing franchise agreements next year and winding down stores with outgoing brands. Chrysler closed 789 of its dealers as part of its bankruptcy, reducing its dealer count to about 2,400.
Dealers have mobilized support for the bill, arguing that nearly 200,000 workers could lose their jobs through closings that won’t save the companies any money.
“The assumption that dealers somehow impair these companies is absurd,” said Maryland car dealer Jack Fitzgerald, who joined other auto dealers at the hearing.
Bloom, appearing stoic before his critics, acknowledged the cuts were “exceedingly difficult and painful.” But he said congressional involvement could make it more difficult for GM and Chrysler to access private capital markets amid all the uncertainty.
Under tough questioning, Bloom reiterated the administration would not be involved in day-to-day decisions at the companies and expressed hope the government could recoup much of the 65 billion in federal aid to GM and Chrysler.
But he said the dealership closings were part of the necessary sacrifices from union workers, retirees and bondholders.
“These companies would have been liquidated and all of their dealer franchise agreements would have been terminated and just about all of their dealers would have failed,” he said.
Asked why GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner was fired by the White House, Bloom said Wagoner “had worked very hard but he was not the best person to take the company forward.”
Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy in June and GM exited bankruptcy on July 10, helped by billions in federal aid. The government now owns nearly 61 percent of GM and 8 percent of Chrysler.
Bloom said it was too early to know whether the auto industry restructuring would work but expressed optimism. “We believe these companies are positioned for success,” he said.
President Barack Obama’s Justice Department is arguing that former Vice President Dick Cheney’s interview with prosecutors in the CIA leak case should remain secret for five to 10 years to persuade high-level government officials to cooperate in future investigations.
“In making public the Vice President’s interview, you will chill them,” Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Smith told Judge Emmet Sullivan during a two-hour hearing Tuesday on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking release of records about the Cheney interview, which took place in 2004.
Sullivan sounded highly skeptical of the government’s arguments, but he said he had not decided how he would rule in the case “Where do I draw the line? This happened five years ago,” the judge said. “Would there be impediments to putting this information in a time capsule?”
As the hearing concluded, Sullivan said he thought Congress had drawn a “bright line” with language in the Freedom of Information Act that generally exempts information about pending investigations from disclosure, but not closed probes, like the CIA leak case. He also said he would stay any ruling so the government could appeal before he released any documents.
Smith said the Justice Department’s view was that a delay of five to ten years was appropriate, marked from the time the official or his or her administration left office. “It’s a judgment call,” Smith acknowledged.
Smith suggested that such a delay would make it more likely that the information was used for historical purposes and not for political embarrassment. “The distinction is between releasing it for historical view and releasing it into the political fray,” Smith said.
At a court session last month, Smith said the government feared the material could end up being used to mock Cheney on the “Daily Show.”
“How do you distinguish the political fray from the public’s right to know what the government is up to?” Sullivan asked.
At another juncture, the judge said the Justice Department seemed to be urging him to create a new vice presidents’ exception to the Freedom of Information Act.
“What the government’s asking me to do is create another exemption…legislate—something courts can’t do,” Sullivan complained.
Smith said the danger was not only that officials might not cooperate with investigators, but that the officials would be less candid. “People speak differently when they’re speaking in public than when they’re speaking in private to an investigator,” he said.
An attorney for the liberal public-interest group seeking the documents, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the court that the government’s arguments amounted to rank speculation.
“It’s all about hypothetical posturing,” the lawyer, David Sobel, said. “Where does that rationale end?”
“There is no reason why the claims [the government] makes couldn’t be extended to members of Congress…What about the CEO of a publicly traded company?” Sobel argued. “The list of who might have apprehensions about their interview becoming public is endless.”
At the hearing last month, Sullivan said he was not satisfied with the Bush administration’s legal filings on the issue. In response, the attorney Obama appointed to head the criminal division, Lanny Breuer, filed a declaration saying disclosure of Cheney’s interview could lead to a lack of cooperation that would “hamper” future investigations.
While prosecutors could resort to grand jury subpoenas to gather information, that could “have the effect of injecting the law enforcement investigation itself into the political process,” Breuer warned.
“Presidents don’t really have to cooperate if they really don’t want to,” Smith noted, referring to President George H.W. Bush’s refusal to agree to an interview sought by Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh.
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Los Angeles (E! Online) –
If botany hasn't already been removed from the curriculum over at Hogwarts, now might be a good time.
Jamie Waylett, the Harry Potter bully turned small scale marijuana cultivator, was sentenced this morning to 120 hours of community service for his illicit green thumb. Draco Malfoy's wingman could have faced up to 14 years behind bars after pleading guilty last week to growing 10 cannabis plants in his mother's home.
Nancy Botwin he's not.
During the 15-minute hearing, the judge said he decided against sending the actor—who has appeared in all six Harry Potter flicks, including the reigning box-office champ—to jail, as the makeshift farm was done on a “small scale” and Waylett himself was quick to cop to the error of his ways.
“I give you credit for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity, your cooperation with police and the fact that you are, until now, a man of good character,” the judge tutted.
Outside the courthouse, Waylett, who celebrates his 20th birthday today, was quick to make amends with both his fans and employers. (Incidentally, how much you wanna bet he opts for a quiet night in?)
“I extend my sincere apologies to the producers, cast and crew and all at Warners and most especially to all Harry Potter fans,” he said.
The next time Vincent Crabbe wants to get high, he may want to stick with his magic broomstick.
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WASHINGTONThe Senate voted Tuesday to block expansion of one of the country’s most controversial and expensive defense programs, the F-22 fighter jet program.
The Senate voted Tuesday to cut 1.75 billion for an additional seven F-22s from the fiscal year 2010 budget.
The vote gave the White House and Pentagon a key victory over congressional supporters of the F-22, many of whom represent states and districts where jobs are tied to the production of the jet. The vote, which stripped 1.75 billion for an additional seven F-22s from the fiscal year 2010 budget, was a reversal of an earlier Senate committee decision to include money for the program. The change came in a response to strong pressure from President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and several key senators who argued that the additional planes are not needed or wanted by the military. The 58-40 vote, which did not break down along typical partisan lines, was the culmination of a classic confrontation between the president and Congress over who is the best judge of the country’s military needs. “At a time when we’re fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, (expanding the F-22) would have been an inexcusable waste of money,” Obama said shortly after the vote. Watch why Obama approves of the Senate vote » “Every dollar of waste in our defense budget is a dollar we can’t spend to support our troops or prepare for future threats or protect the American people.” Under the 2010 budget proposed by Gates, production of the F-22 would be halted at 187 planes. The Pentagon instead wants to produce 500 of the more modern F-35 planes over the next five years and 2,400 over time. The decision was met with strong opposition in Congress. With the F-22 being manufactured in or getting supplies from 44 different states, the plane gets broad support from congressmen and senators on both sides of the aisle. One of the leading proponents for keeping the F-22 program is Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, whose state is home to the factory that assembles the jet. On Tuesday, Chambliss defended his support, arguing that Congress should not just rubber stamp spending decisions by the Pentagon. “Our interest and involvement in these issues is appropriate and not just based on parochial issues,” Chambliss said. Underscoring the drama, Obama threatened to veto the entire defense budget if it included money for the F-22. Chambliss noted that there has been a “flurry” of lobbying by the White House and Defense Department. “I’ve never seen the White House lobby like they’ve lobbied on this issue,” Chambliss said. “It’s been unparalleled.” McCain also acknowledged the intensity of the dispute during the final Senate debate. “This amendment is probably the most impactful amendment that I have seen in this body on almost any issue, much less the issue of defense,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “It really boils down to whether we’re going to continue (the) business as usual of once a weapons system gets into full production it never dies, or whether we’re going to take the necessary steps to really reform the acquisition process in this country.” The Lockheed Martin jet has never been used in Afghanistan or Iraq, but supporters contend it is needed to fight more sophisticated enemies who might confront the United States in the future, such as China or Russia. They also note the thousands of jobs that will be lost if the F-22 program is halted. “We put that many jobs at risk, not because the industry is failing, not because it is a bad piece of aircraft, but because the secretary of defense and the administration have decided this program isn’t worthy of our support. So explain to those 90,000 people, once they lose their jobs and get laid off,” Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, said Tuesday The F-22 engine is made in Dodd’s home state of Connecticut. “Terminating production, like closing a base, involves economic loss for communities involved,” Levin said. “But we must do so from time to time, and make these difficult decisions based on what is best for the nation and what is best for the men and women of the armed forces.” Gates has maintained that more jobs will be created in F-35 production than will be lost in stopping the F-22. He said 11,000 jobs will be lost by halting the F-22, while it is anticipated that 82,000 jobs will be created by the F-35.
Gates said Monday he’d heard no “substantive” argument for keeping the jet for national security reasons, pointing out that China has no planes that can compete with the more than 1,000 advanced fighter jets the U.S. will have by 2020. Gates said that the gap between the two countries’ aerial arsenals will only widen.
(CNET) A significant redesign is finally coming to the Yahoo.com home page, one of the most well-traveled destinations on the Internet, and the company’s search page will follow suit starting next month.
Yahoo’s new home page permits applications from Yahoo or others like Facebook, seen here.
Yahoo plans to let people in the United States start selecting a new, more personalized version of the home page beginning Tuesday afternoon. The revamp lets people select basic applications to use not just Yahoo sites, but also others’ such as eBay, Facebook, and Twitter, said Tapan Bhat, Yahoo’s senior vice president for consumer experiences. These applications are available on the left side of the page under a customizable section called My Favorites; hovering over them with the mouse pointer makes each application and its accompanying advertising pop up. “We’re pulling together everything about the user they care about, be it on Yahoo or off, to create a personally relevant experience,” Bhat said. “In a world like this, Yahoo needs to make the user experience come first.” The effort is a centerpiece of Yahoo’s effort to revitalize its core business: showing content and accompanying advertisements to a large, general audience on the Net. Yahoo’s profitability for years has trailed that of its main rival, Google, which depends chiefly on search ads for revenue, and Yahoo faces increasing pressure from Microsoft’s online business and new arrivals such as Facebook as well. The company also hopes for more success with advertisers. “We’re creating great opportunities for advertisers to target content and context,” he said, demonstrating a movie application that showed a prominent ad along with movie showtimes locally tailored for a particular user.
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WASHINGTONThe United States military has been relatively mum on the recent capture of Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl. So has his family in Idaho.
Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl shown here in a video made by his captors, members of the Taliban.
And with good reason. “The family members just don’t want to do or risk doing anything to inflame the situation,” said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling. “And you can see how easily that can happen … We’re going to respect that.” Femling told CNN on Tuesday that it’s comforting to know right now that he’s all right. “But other than that, the rest of that is … difficult to watch.” Experts think his captors have a different purpose in releasing the video. Tom Fuentes, a former FBI associate director of international operations and a CNN contributor, said the 28-minute Web video released by the Taliban showing Berghdal is an effective method of humanizing and tugging at the hearts of Americansand the U.S. government. “Showing him in the video does make the soldier more valuable and makes the insurgents more difficult to deal with in trying to get him back,” Fuentes said. “The face of an unknown soldier, like in the past, is one thing but when they put the person on TV it definitely adds to the pressure [on the government].” Watch the video » Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday his reaction was different. “My personal reaction was one of disgust at the exploitation of this young soldier,” Gates said. Bergdahl, 23, was captured three weeks ago in the Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense. U.S. forces are doing everything possible to free Bergdahl, Gates. Chris Vossa former international kidnapping coordinator for the FBIsays the video could be part of a bigger strategy. Watch U.S. efforts to find Bergdahl » “The Taliban here is trying to legitimize themselves as a political entity by the way that they portrayed him in this video and the statements they have made about … They are trying to position themselves as more than the insurgency … more than a criminal gang.” Voss, who is now a managing director at Insite Security, adds that this is a well-orchestrated video aimed at showing they are not using violence against the soldier, but rather taking on a more humane approach. Watch an analyst weigh in on the capture »
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But the video could also damage the Taliban’s organization, Voss adds. “The Taliban is taking a chance of exposing portions of their infrastructure that they would be using against the U.S. military anyway,” Voss says. “This is not going to pull the military off its mission. It’s just another way for them to accomplish it.” In the video released Sunday, Bergdahl becomes emotional when he speaks of his family and his current situation, saying he was “scared I won’t be able to go home.” When asked if he had any message for Americans, Bergdahl says, “To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it’s like to miss them, you have the power to make our government bring them home. Please, please bring us home so we can be back where we belong and not over here.” Connecting through propaganda? Nonetheless, the probable goal by the Taliban is to open dialogue with the U.S. in ways other terrorist organizations have not, Voss says. “They are trying to engage U.S. government to open dialogue … the statements they had him make was clearly to try humanize him with his family and try to get public pressure on the U.S. government in regards to the decisions they’re making in Afghanistan. So it’s very calculated on their part.” Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark says while the video is powerful, it is unlikely to change opinion at home. “I don’t think it’s going to influence opinion here, nor is it going to in itself cause any diversion of [military] resources there,” said Clark, the former NATO supreme commander during the Kosovo conflict. “I think the Taliban strategy is going to fail. … The people who took him are going to regret having done so,” he adds. Clark said the latest video goes against the Geneva Conventions’ rules on prisoners of war. “This is totally in contradiction to the Geneva Conventions that says that captured soldiers cannot be photographed and cannot have propaganda made of them.” CNN Security Analyst Peter Bergen said Bergdahl has likely been moved from Afghanistan to Pakistana pattern he has seen before. “We’ve seen this pattern before with westerners being kidnapped in Afghanistan by lower-level Taliban then they’re either sold or given further up the food chain of the Taliban leadership, which is all based in Pakistan,” he told CNN’s American Morning. Three separate sources with access to the latest information say it’s believed Bergdahl is in Afghanistan. “We are working on that assumption,” one senior military official says. Another senior military official says it is also believed that Bergdahl was likely captured by low-level militants and then quickly “sold” to the clan and network led by warlord Siraj Haqqani. The Haqqani clan operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border and is well-known to the U.S. military. The Taliban has threatened to kill Bergdahl if foreign troops continue targeting civilians in the name of search operations in Ghazni and Paktika provinces, Taliban commander Mulvi Sangeen told CNN by telephone from an undisclosed location. The military, under the orders of President Obama, has stepped up its force in the war-torn country by adding thousands of new troops.
While there is some concern that the military may be distracted by this latest capture, Voss says that military resources will only aid the overall mission. “Locating this private is going to fall within their existing mission because the people who are holding him are clearly the elements of the Taliban they are engaged and the Taliban’s criminal activity in the area.”