brilliant midnight launch of NASA's space shuttle Discovery late Friday brought
a false dawn above Florida that was captured in spectacular images by photographers on Earth.
photographer Jim Grossman caught a snapshot of Discovery rising like a small
star over its Kennedy Space Center launch site, while another – photographer Ben
Cooper – took a stunning time-lapse photo of the liftoff as it painted a blazing
arc across the night sky.
into space under a black sky at 11:59 p.m. EDT (0359 Aug. 29 GMT) as one of
only seven shuttle flights currently remaining before NASA retires its orbiter
fleet in 2010 or 2011. As of now, it is also NASA's last scheduled mission to lift off in total
darkness, though that could change as the launch manifest is finalized, shuttle
officials have said.
of how many are left, Discovery's launch was definitely one to remember,
mission managers said.
“[It was] a
really clean launch countdown, a beautiful and spectacular launch,” said Pete
Nickolenko, NASA's launch director, after liftoff.
it looked like Discovery and its seven-astronaut crew would succumb to Mother
Nature, which had already prevented the launch once with thunderstorms and
lightning on Tuesday. A fuel valve glitch thwarted a second launch try.
head of Discovery's mission management team, said the outlook seemed bleak
earlier Friday as he drove to the NASA spaceport under rainy skies thick with
clouds before launch. Shuttle managers frequently checked in with NASA's launch
weather officer Kathy Winters every 15 minutes to see how things went, he said.
“I think all
the hot air from all the talking we did blew all the thick clouds away,” Moses joked
by veteran spaceflyer Rick Sturckow, Discovery's astronaut crew plans to fly a
13-day resupply flight to the International Space Station. The shuttle is
carrying a new member of the station's crew, as well as a cargo pod packed with
science gear and a space treadmill named after television
comedian Stephen Colbert.
is due to arrive at the space station late Sunday on the 25th anniversary of
its debut flight in 1984. The shuttle astronauts will join the outpost's
six-person crew and temporarily boost its population to 13 – the historical
maximum number of people in space. It will be the second time in as many months
that the space station more than doubles its crew size with visiting shuttle astronauts.
spacewalks are planned for Discovery's mission, which is NASA's fourth shuttle
of up to five missions this year.
Video – Discovery's Mission to Boost Station Science
Lights: Shuttle Endeavour's STS-126 Night Launch
Video – Stephen Colbert to NASA: 'No Chubby Astronauts'
is providing complete coverage of Discovery's STS-128 mission to the
International Space Station with Managing Editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for shuttle mission
updates and a link to NASA TV.
Original Story: Space Shuttle's Midnight Launch Dazzles in Photos
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Archive for August 2009
WASHINGTON – The alarm sounded with two sneezy children in California in April. Just five months later, the never-before-seen swine flu has become the world’s dominant strain of influenza, and it’s putting a shockingly younger face on flu.
So get ready. With flu’s favorite chilly weather fast approaching, we’re going to be a sick nation this fall. The big unknown is how sick. One in five people infected or a worst case — half the population? The usual 36,000 deaths from flu or tens of thousands more?
The World Health Organization predicts that within two years, nearly one-third of the world’s population will have caught it.
“What we know is, it’s brand new and no one really has an immunity to this disease,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says.
A lot depends on whether the swine flu that simmered all summer erupts immediately as students crowd back into schools and colleges — or holds off until millions of vaccine doses start arriving in mid-October.
Only this week do U.S. researchers start blood tests to answer a critical question: How many doses of swine flu vaccine does it take to protect? The answer will determine whether many people need to line up for two flu shots — one against swine flu and one against the regular flu — or three.
The hopeful news: Even with no vaccine, winter is ending in the Southern Hemisphere without as much havoc as doctors had feared, a heavy season that started early but not an overwhelming one. The strain that doctors call the 2009 H1N1 flu isn’t any deadlier than typical winter flu so far. Most people recover without treatment; many become only mildly ill.
Importantly, careful genetic tracking shows no sign yet that the virus is mutating into a harsher strain.
We’re used to regular flu that, sadly, kills mostly grandparents. But the real shock of swine flu is that infections are 20 times more common in the 5- to 24-year-old age group than in people over 65. That older generation appears to have some resistance, probably because of exposure decades ago to viruses similar to the new one.
Worldwide, swine flu is killing mostly people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, ages when influenza usually is shrugged off as a nuisance.
Especially at risk are pregnant women. So are people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and neuromuscular diseases including muscular dystrophy. Some countries report more deaths among the obese.
Still, some of the people who’ve died didn’t have obvious health risks.
“People who argue we’re seeing the same death rates miss the point — they’re in young adults. To me, that shouldn’t happen,” said one infectious disease specialist, Dr. Richard P. Wenzel of Virginia Commonwealth University. He spent the past few months visiting South American hospitals to help gauge what the Northern Hemisphere is about to face.
Children, however, are the flu’s prime spreaders. Already, elementary schools and colleges are reporting small clusters of sick students. For parents, the big fear is how many children will die.
Panicked crowds flooded India’s hospitals in August after a 14-year-old girl became that country’s first death. In the U.S., regular flu kills 80 to 100 children every winter, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reports of about three dozen child deaths from swine flu.
Even if the risk of death is no higher than in a normal year, the sheer volume of ill youngsters means “a greater than expected number of deaths in children is likely,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “As a society, that’s something that’s much harder for us.”
Swine flu quietly sickened hundreds in Mexico before U.S. researchers stumbled across two children in San Diego who had the same mystery illness. A world already spooked by the notorious Asian bird flu raced to stem the spread of this surprising new virus. Mexico closed schools and restaurants, and barred spectators from soccer games; China quarantined planeloads of tourists. But there was no stopping the novel H1N1 — named for its influenza family — from becoming the first pandemic in 41 years.
Well over 1 million Americans caught swine flu in spring and summer months when influenza hardly ever circulates; more than 500 have died.
In July, England was reporting more than 100,000 infections a week.
Argentina gave pregnant women 15 paid days off last month at the height of its flu season, hoping that staying home would prove protective.
In Saudi Arabia, people younger than 12 and older than 65 are being barred from this November’s hajj, the pilgrimage to holy cities that many Muslims save up their whole lives to make.
And in Australia — closely watched by the U.S. and Europe as a predictor for their own coming flu seasons — hospitals set up clinics outside the main doors to keep possible flu sufferers from entering and infecting other patients.
“While this disease is mild for most people, it does have that severe edge,” said Australia’s health minister Nicola Roxon, who counted over 30,000 cases in a country of nearly 22 million. That’s comparable to its last heavy flu season in 2007.
Cases are dropping fast as winter there ends. But Australia still plans to start the world’s first large-scale vaccinations next month in case of a rebound, inoculating about 4 million high-risk people.
Most amazing to longtime flu researchers, this new H1N1 strain seems to account for about 70 percent of all flu now circulating in the world. In Australia, eight of every 10 people who tested positive for flu had the pandemic strain.
That begs the question: Do people still need to bother with regular flu vaccine?
Definitely, stressed CDC’s Schuchat, who plans to get both kinds. There’s still enough regular flu circulating to endanger people, especially the 65-and-older generation.
Notably, South Africa is having a one-two punch of a flu season, hit first with a seasonal strain known as H3N2 and now seeing swine flu move in.
Wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow, stay home so you don’t spread illness when you’re sick. That’s the mantra until vaccine arrives.
This week brings a key milestone. Hundreds of U.S. adults who rolled up their sleeves for a first shot in studies of the swine flu vaccine return for a blood test to see if they seem protected. It will take government scientists a few weeks to analyze results, but the volunteers get a second vaccine dose right away, in case the first wasn’t enough.
The vaccine, merely a recipe change from the usual flu vaccine, seems safe. Federal authorities two weeks ago gave the go-ahead to start children’s vaccine trials.
“It’s been a piece of cake,” said Kate Houley of Annapolis, Md., who jumped at the chance to enroll her three sons, ensuring that if the vaccine really works, they’ll have some protection as school gets started. Eleven-year-old Ethan was among the first to be vaccinated by University of Maryland researchers and didn’t even report the main side effect — a sore arm.
In the U.S., Britain and parts of Europe, vaccinations are set to begin in mid-October, assuming those studies show they work. First in line:
_Pregnant women. Despite accounting for about 1 percent of the U.S. population, they’ve been accounting for 6 percent of the swine flu deaths.
_Children and young adults from 6 months to 24 years. Babies younger than 6 months can’t get flu vaccine, so their parents and other caregivers should be inoculated to protect the infant.
_Health care workers.
_Younger adults with risky health conditions.
Schools around the U.S. are preparing to inoculate children in what could be the largest campus vaccinations since the days of polio. The government has bought 195 million doses and will ship them a bit at a time, starting with 45 million doses or so in October, to state health departments to dispense.
The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials is negotiating with pharmacists to help perform those vaccinations. Massachusetts even is deputizing dentists to help give swine flu vaccine, and passed emergency regulations to encourage more health care workers to get either the shot or a nasal spray version.
What if people not on the priority list show up? The idea is for pharmacists to gently encourage them to come back a few weeks later, said the association’s executive director, Dr. Paul Jarris.
A concern is whether enough people are worried about swine flu to get vaccinated.
“Complacency is a big challenge,” said CDC’s Schuchat. “We are trying to strike a balance between complacency and alarm.”
Ten-year-old Isabella Nataro had a cousin sent home from summer camp because of an outbreak, and she readily agreed when her mother, a University of Maryland vaccine researcher, signed her and her brothers up for a study of the new shot. (The store gift card that participating kids receive after each blood test was a bonus.)
“I’m kind of worried about my friends if swine flu does come to our school,” the suburban Baltimore girl said. “I hope everybody else at my school gets a chance to get it.”
Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.
On the Net:
CDC background on swine flu: http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/
MOSCOW – Russia’s president defended Moscow’s role in World War II before the 70th anniversary of its outbreak, saying in an interview broadcast Sunday that anyone who lays equal blame on the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany is telling a “cynical lie.”
Dmitry Medvedev’s remarks were the latest salvo in Russia’s bitter dispute with its neighbors over the war and its aftermath. The Kremlin has launched a campaign for universal acceptance of its portrayal of the Soviet Union as Europe’s liberator.
In Eastern Europe, however, gratitude for the Nazi defeat is diluted by bitterness over the decades of postwar Soviet dominance.
Medvedev suggested in the interview with state-run Rossiya television that nobody can question “who started the war, who killed people and who saved millions of lives — who, in the final analysis, saved Europe.”
“You cannot label someone who defended himself an aggressor,” Medvedev said.
Tuesday marks 70 years since the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, shortly after Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union reached a nonaggression pact with Germany that included a secret protocol dividing eastern Europe into spheres of influence.
Weeks after the German invasion, the Soviet army entered Poland from the east. After claiming its part of Poland, the Soviet Union then annexed the Baltic states and parts of Finland and Romania.
Germany is widely considered the chief culprit in the war, but many Western historians believe Hitler was encouraged to invade by the treaty with Moscow, called the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The Kremlin recently has mounted a defense against suggestions that the Soviet Union shares responsibility for the outbreak of the war.
Russians contend that the Soviet leadership saw a deal with Nazi Germany as the only alternative after failing to reach a military agreement with Britain and France, and that the pact bought time to prepare for war.
Medvedev lashed out at the parliamentary assembly of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe over a July resolution equating the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, saying: “Excuse me, but this is a cynical lie.”
In the broadcast interview, Medvedev accused Western nations of turning a blind eye to what he said is the practice of Ukraine and the Baltic ex-Soviet republics of treating “former Nazi disciples” as “national heroes.”
He suggested there was greater agreement between Moscow and the West about the moral aspects of World War II during the Cold War than there is now.
Russian leaders accuse Western countries of rewriting history and understating the staggering sacrifices of the Soviet Union, which lost an estimated 27 million people in the war. In May, Medvedev created a commission to fight what he said were growing efforts to hurt Russia by falsifying history.
Kremlin critics have accused Russia of doing the falsifying, saying its leadership glosses over the Soviet government’s conduct at home and abroad.
In recent months, Poland has expressed dismay over a program on state-run Russian television and a research paper posted on the Russian Defense Ministry’s Web site that seemed to lay significant blame on Poland for the outbreak of WWII.
On the surface, it seems like a fine idea; reproductive rights groups certainly think so. In July, the Ugandan government announced that, using cash from the U.N. Population Fund, it would distribute 100,000 female condoms in a bid to stop a resurgence of HIV/AIDS. Advocates cheered the initiative, saying it would give women more control over their own bodies. But in the weeks since, major funders of anti-HIV/AIDS programs have shown far less enthusiasm, with many deciding not to back the plan. Instead of serving as a surefire weapon against the spread of HIV, Uganda’s female condoms initiative has become the latest example of the limitations faced by governments, advocacy groups and donors in the fight against the virus.
When Uganda announced its plan to hand out female condoms, it got plenty of support. “The number one issue for women is to be able to negotiate,” Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity in Washington, tells TIME. “The main issue was the desire for women to be able to say, ‘OK, you’re not going to use yours, then let’s use mine.’” In the fight against AIDS, say the advocates, any little bit helps. True, studies about the efficacy of female condoms are inconclusive. But, they insist, women, especially in Uganda, need as many choices as they can get. (See pictures of Africa’s AIDS crisis.)
Many experts, however, disagree. They fear that by offering yet another choice, the government’s move may only distract from other drug and condom programs. “You can’t just put 100,000 condoms out in district warehouses and expect something to happen,” says Mike Strong, coordinator for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Uganda. “Since we try to be an evidence-based operation, we’re waiting to see any evidence that this is a cost-effective method of protecting women against unwanted pregnancy and HIV transmission.”
With funding so limited, many donors argue, why invest in an expensive product that faces deep skepticism from the people who would use it? Female condoms, originally introduced in the early 1990s, have struggled to gain widespread acceptance because they are more expensive and less familiar than male condoms – they’re big and baggy, make rustling noises during sex, and you need instruction and practice to learn how to insert them properly. (Read: “The Pope’s Anti-Condom Remarks: Candor Over P.R.”)
But Uganda sees the female condom as one way to regain the success the nation had in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the 1990s. After slashing its AIDS rate from more than 20% in the late ’80s to about 6% in 2000, Uganda saw a leveling off of AIDS cases and then a slight rise. No one has been able to explain the reversal. Some say it’s related to failed distribution programs for the male condom in the past. Other experts suspect that it’s a result of foreign NGOs and governments pushing Uganda away from effective domestic programs that were aimed at keeping people from having more than one sexual partner, a relatively common practice in the country.
Stung by the failure of a female-condom initiative it tried 10 years ago, Uganda will start by distributing only the 100,000 female condoms it has in stock in two regions. The government says it has learned its lesson from the earlier program, and will put more effort into distribution and teaching people how to use the condoms. The government plan is partly a response to demand from civil society groups, who say Ugandan women are bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic. In a meeting on July 7, government officials agreed to start the program this year and extend it after a year if donors contribute more money. (See a video on new hope for kids with AIDS.)
But even supporters of the program must confront the possibility that female condoms are simply not be effective in a place like Uganda. People in long-term relationships – male or female – are often less likely to use condoms. Yet that is exactly the group being hit hardest by the epidemic. A recent government analysis found that 65% of new infections occur among married people who have more than one long-term relationship at the same time. “Since so much transmission is taking place in long-term relationships, especially in Uganda, [female condoms] are unlikely to have much impact,” Helen Epstein, author of the book The Invisible Cure: Why We Are Losing The Fight Against AIDS In Africa, tells TIME. “The problem is the same as with male condoms. They signify mistrust, they are awkward to use, and they inhibit conception, which many couples want.”
As an example, Epstein points to Zimbabwe, where donor groups tried to pass out female condoms and women simply removed the rings and used them as bracelets. “I am a skeptic about whether they will have even a minuscule effect on the epidemic in Africa,” she says.
Proponents say the female condom just needs time to gain acceptance. They compare it to the tampon, which took 30 years to be widely adopted after being introduced in the 1930s. Women must have choices, they say. “We’re getting to the point where people are saying, ‘For God’s sake, anything that will stop this has got to be [available],’” says Anna Forbes, Deputy Director of the Washington-based Global Campaign for Microbicides. “We’ve paid the price in lives.”
Even so, major donors including PEPFAR say they are not likely to back the female condom in Uganda. PEPFAR’s Strong says the female condom could occupy a niche market at best and the government is better off focusing on programs that already exist, not trying to start new ones. PEPFAR, for example, has distributed 133 million male condoms in Uganda in the last five years. (Read: “A Brief History of Safe Sex.”)
“We haven’t done a very good job on promoting existing family planning products,” says Strong. “Why should we divert attention from pills, IUDs, and male condoms to what’s really a niche market? It can be nice to go off on a new pilot when old things aren’t working very well, rather than sticking around and trying to make them work.”
Read: “An African Miracle.”
See pictures of China’s investments in Africa.
View this article on Time.comRelated articles on Time.com: Safe Sex
GAZA (Reuters) –
Israeli aircraft bombed a building in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Sunday which the military said had been used by Palestinians to access a tunnel intended for cross-border attacks in Israel.
The air strike, in which no one was hurt, took place in the early hours shortly after Hamas said unidentified Palestinians had set off explosive devices at two of its security compounds in Gaza City.
With an Egyptian-mediated truce mostly holding since its war with Israel early this year, Hamas has cracked down on perceived internal threats from the rival secular Fatah faction and breakaway Islamists aligned with al Qaeda.
Hamas described the target of the Israeli air strike as “open ground” but witnesses said it was a building with two rooms and a courtyard, which were ravaged by the attack.
The Israeli military said in a statement its air force carried out the strike in response to a rocket fired from Gaza into Israel on Saturday, which caused no damage. There was no claim of responsibility for the rocket attack from any Palestinian faction.
“The tunnel was intended to be used for an infiltration into Israeli territory in order to execute a terrorist attack,” the statement said. “It was dug from underneath a building located 1.5 kilometers away from the security fence.”
An Israeli security source said intelligence indicated the tunnel had been dug by several Palestinian factions other than Hamas.
Hamas shuns the Jewish state but has signaled a willingness to enter into a long-term truce. Egypt and Germany are trying to broker the release by the Islamist group of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier abducted in a cross-border tunnel raid in June 2006, in exchange for freeing hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
Earlier on Sunday, Hamas said unidentified individuals set off bombs at its Ansar-2 jail and the Gaza residence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has stayed away from the territory since his Fatah faction was forced out by Hamas in a 2007 civil war.
No one was hurt in the blasts, which residents described as sounding like hand-laid bombs or grenades. Israeli military sources denied involvement.
Hamas crushed Fatah in a 2006 vote only to find itself isolated by the West for refusing to make peace with Israel.
With Gaza sinking into poverty and disarray, the group is wary of domestic challengers. An al Qaeda-linked faction's August 14 declaration of secession in southern Gaza led to a Hamas police onslaught in which 28 people were killed.
(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Robin Pomeroy)
MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AFP) –
Hurricane Jimena surged to a Catergory Two storm Saturday as it churned northward off Mexico's central Pacific coast, after dumping heavy rains on the resort city of Acapulco, US forecasters said.
“Jimena is a category two hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale,” said the National Hurricane Center in Miami, adding that the tempest's maximum sustained winds of 105 miles per hour (165 kilometers per hour) are expected to strengthen further.
“Jimena could become a major hurricane by Sunday,” the center warned.
Earlier Mexican authorities assured that Jimena — currently moving west-northwest at nearly 12 mph (19 kph) — was not expected to make landfall.
At 2100 GMT Jimena's eye was churning 270 miles (435 km) south of the major Pacific port city of Manzanillo, central Mexico, and about 655 miles (1055 km) southeast of the southern tip of Baja California.
Jimena has already caused “intense heavy rain with flooding in the lowlands and landslides in mountains” in the states of Guerrero, Michoacan, Colima and Jalisco on the Pacific coast, a Mexican weather official said earlier Saturday.
“In the next 36 to 48 hours, Jimena may gather strength… but will stay away from the coast, no landfall,” the official told AFP.
A category two storm on the Saffir-Simpson one-to-five scale means it threatens to cause widespread damage, but does not carry the same potential to destroy infrastructure as a category three storm.
In the Atlantic, forecasters early Saturday downgraded Danny from a tropical storm to a depression as it made its way up the US east coast.
Even though the eye of Danny was forecast to bypass the outer banks of North Carolina, northeastern US states as well as the Canadian Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were warned to monitor the weather event as it churned northward.
LUKLA, Nepal (AFP) –
Over two decades, Funuru Sherpa has watched the lake above his native village of Dengboche in Nepal's Himalayas grow, as the glacier that feeds it melts.
The 29-year-old, who runs a busy Internet cafe for tourists visiting the Everest region, remembers his grandfather telling him that 50 years ago the lake did not exist.
“Before, it was all ice,” he told AFP in the eastern Himalayan town of Lukla, in the shadow of Mount Everest.
“This is proof that the glaciers in the high Himalayas are melting. And that must be because the temperatures have gone up.”
Scientists say the Imja Glacier above Dengboche is retreating by about 70 metres (230 feet) a year, and the melting ice has formed a huge lake that could devastate villages downstream if it bursts.
The trend is not new. Nepal's International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which has studied the Himalayas for three decades, says many of the country's glaciers have been retreating for centuries.
But ICIMOD glaciologist Samjwal Ratna Bajracharya said this was now happening at an alarming speed, with temperatures in the Himalayas rising at a much faster rate than the global average.
“Our studies of the past 30 years show that the temperatures (in the Himalayas) are rising up to eight times faster than the global average. Melting is taking place higher and faster,” Bajracharya told AFP.
“The melting of glaciers and formation of glacier lakes is a key indicator of the temperature rise. And lately, we have seen massive ice melt.”
Nepal has more than 2,300 glacial lakes and experts say at least 20 are in danger of bursting.
At almost one square kilometre (0.38 square miles), the Imja lake is the country's second biggest, estimated to hold 36 million cubic metres (47 million cubic yards) of water, and is considered the biggest flood threat.
It is a subject close to the heart of Nepalese mountaineer Apa Sherpa, who has climbed Everest a record 19 times.
In 1985 Apa Sherpa lost his house and farm when the Dig Tsho glacial lake burst, causing a giant wave to flow down the mountain.
Seven people were killed by the flood, which swept away bridges and houses and destroyed a new hydropower station.
“For me, climate change is personal,” said the climber, who dedicated his latest Everest expedition to raising awareness of the impact of climate change on mountain communities.
“There's probably no one who can relate to this issue in the way that I can.”
Information about how many people would be affected by a glacial lake bursting remains limited, but experts say the floodwaters could reach as far as Nepal's southern planes and beyond.
Environment secretary Uday Raj Sharma said last week the bursting of the Imja lake would be like a “Nepalese tsunami,” comparing it with the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster in which around 220,000 people died.
The government has asked international donors for help in tackling the hazardous glacial lakes, which will be discussed at regional talks here next week aimed at highlighting the dangers climate change poses to the Himalayas.
But experts say there are no easy solutions.
The mountain communities most at risk are often reluctant to leave their homes, while draining the lakes is expensive and dangerous and does not always work.
Ten years ago Nepal launched a three-million-dollar project funded by the Dutch government to lower the water level in the country's biggest glacial lake, Tsho Rolpa, in the eastern Himalayas.
The lake had grown from 0.23 square kilometres in 1957 to 1.65 square kilometres in 1997 and threatened villages and a major hydropower plant under construction downstream.
Engineers cut a channel 70 metres long and seven metres wide into the side of the lake and successfully lowered the water level, reducing the risk of it bursting its banks.
But ICIMOD's Bajracharya said the project was expensive and had only reduced rather than eliminated the risk of a flood.
“We spent three million dollars without actually solving the problem,” he said, calling on the government to focus instead on creating awareness programmes and early warning systems for communities at risk.
Pasang Omo is a father of three who lives in the village of Shomare in the eastern Himalayas, which experts say would likely be wiped out if the Imja lake burst.
He agrees that the government has not done enough to help the mountain communities most at risk.
“Everyone comes to us and tell us a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood will sweep through our villages. But it doesn't do us any good,” said Omo, 45, who works as a porter for trekkers.
“It?s like telling someone they are sick but not giving them a cure.”
BARCELONA, Spain – An experimental drug reduces the stroke risk in patients with irregular heartbeats by more than three times, compared with the popular drug warfarin — but possibly at a cost, according to new research released Sunday.
Patients taking the new drug dabigatran etexilate, made by German pharmaceutical Boehringer Ingelheim, also were slightly more likely to have heart attacks or stomach pain, according to the research presented at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Barcelona.
Patients with irregular heartbeats are up to five times more likely to have a stroke than healthy people.
About one-sixth of all strokes occur in patients with irregular heartbeats who also have other risk factors such as smoking or obesity. In the United States, there are about 2 million people with such a condition.
Until now most such patients have been given warfarin, which has been around since the 1950s and has side effects including bleeding risks and requires lifestyle changes such as dietary restrictions.
Doctors hope the new drug can help improve treatment for patients, who must be monitored continuously if they are put on warfarin and avoid alcohol and foods such as spinach and cranberries.
The new research on dabigatran — which has not yet been approved in the United States but is sold as Pradaxa in 40 countries to prevent blood clots — was compiled after doctors monitored more than 18,000 patients with irregular heartbeats, or atrial fibrillation, worldwide for about two years starting in 2005. The patients took either dabigatran or warfarin, at varying doses.
On warfarin a patient’s risk of stroke drops dramatically to about 0.38 percent per year, according to the study, also published online in the New England Journal of Medicine. Warfarin has invited complications, however, because it is difficult to dose and may be confusing for patients to take, doctors have said.
On dabigatran, that risk is slashed even further to about 0.10 percent per year, the study says.
“It is certainly a big step forward,” said Dr. Fausto Pinto, director of the Cardiovascular Institute at the University of Lisbon, Portugal, and program chairman of the European Society of Cardiology.
Dabigatran “probably will replace warfarin,” as it is easier for both doctors and patients to use, said Pinto, who was not involved in the study.
Last year, the market for anti-clotting drugs was about 13.6 billion globally.
Getting approval for dabigatran could take years after Boehringer Ingelheim submits data to regulatory agencies.
Dr. Clyde Yancy, medical director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute in Dallas and president of the American Heart Association, said more information was needed on why dabigatran appeared to slightly increase the number of heart attacks, but that overall the data were encouraging.
“Patients have wanted something easier to take for their atrial fibrillation for years, and this may be it,” Yancy said. “That’s why this may be a game-changer.”
On the Net:
SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) –
Questions are mounting about how a California man was able to hide for 18 years a girl he kidnapped and the two children she bore him, despite warnings from neighbors of something amiss.
As scores of police combed the home of suspects Phillip Garrido, 58, and his wife Nancy, 54, Americans were asking how police failed to act on tipoffs that something suspicious was going on at their house.
Jaycee Lee Dugard was discovered on Wednesday, nearly two decades after the blonde schoolgirl was snatched outside her home in 1991, when she was just 11.
She had been confined in a makeshift prison of sheds and tents in what police have described as a “backyard within a backyard” at Garrido's home in Antioch, around 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of San Francisco.
On Saturday, police were searching the house in relation to a series of prostitute killings in the 1990s, as other bodies had been found close to where Garrido worked, the San Francisco Chronicle said.
On Thursday, police revealed that Garrido, a convicted rapist and registered sex offender, had abused Dugard, now 29, and fathered her two daughters, now aged 15 and 11, who had also been kept in the compound.
The Garridos both pleaded not guilty on Friday to 29 alleged offenses including kidnapping, rape and false imprisonment.
But many are questioning how the case went unsolved for so long, even after neighbors alerted police that children appeared to be living in the complex of tents behind his home.
Police in Contra Costa County admitted Friday that they had received a tip in November 2006 and failed to follow it up properly.
Sheriff Warren Rupf issued an apology saying law enforcement officials were distraught over their failure to discover Garrido's crimes earlier.
“On November 30, 2006 we missed an opportunity to bring earlier closure to this situation,” he admitted.
“I can't change the course of events, but we are beating ourselves up over this and are the first to do so,” Rupf said.
But other neighbors said they had no idea that anything was wrong.
“It's kind of embarrassing to be here this long and not know what's going on. How could that go on under all of our noses?” one neighbor, who gave his name only as Steve, told AFP.
A man who once hired Garrido for a printing job told The New York Times on Saturday that he had met, exchanged emails and regularly spoken on the phone with a young woman who was introduced as Garrido's daughter Allissa.
Ben Daughdrill said the woman never suggested she was being held captive or tried to identify herself as Dugard, and she was the one who did the art work.
Dugard was reunited with her mother and half-sister on Friday, but was struggling to come to terms with her ordeal and experts say it could take years for her to recover.
Dugard was found after police reported Garrido acting suspiciously at the University of California, Berkeley, where with two young girls he was trying to hand out religious literature propounding claims he could channel the voice of God.
The pale, blond girls were wearing drab sun dresses, “like 'Little House on the Prairie' meets robots,” university security officer Allison Jacobs told a press conference Friday.
“The younger daughter was staring directly at me, as if she was looking into my soul, with this eerie smile on her face,” Jacobs said. “I just got a weird, uneasy feeling.”
Garrido apparently boasted to the campus officers: “I'm so proud of my girls. They don't know any curse words. They don't know anything bad about the world.”
Garrido was summoned to a meeting Wednesday with his parole officer who, having previously visited the home, found it strange that in addition to his wife Nancy he brought along two girls and a woman he called “Allissa.”
Dugard's real identity emerged during the meeting and Garrido and his wife Nancy were detained.
But parole officers Saturday defended their work, saying Garrido had taken pains to cover his tracks.
“This guy was definitely very elusive, very stealthy in what he was doing,” Gordon Hinkle, spokesman for the state parole agency, told the Chronicle.
News Of The Weird Japanese Men Battle Epic Loneliness By Fostering Intense Relationships And Romance With Stuffed Pillows Representing Teenage Girl
Japanese men battle epic loneliness by fostering intense relationships, and romance, with stuffed pillows representing teenage girls.
Japanese men battle epic loneliness by fostering intense relationships, and romance, with stuffed pillows representing teenage girls.
LEAD STORY: Japanese men battle epic loneliness by fostering intense relationships, and romance, with stuffed pillows representing teenage girls.
Lonely Japanese men (and a few women) with rich imaginations have created a thriving subculture (“otaku”) in which they have all-consuming relationships with figurines that are based on popular anime characters. “The less extreme,” reported a New York Times writer in July, obsessively collect the dolls. The hardcore otaku “actually believes that a lumpy pillow with a drawing of a (teenage character) is his girlfriend,” and takes her out in public on romantic dates. “She has really changed my life,” said “Nisan,” 37, referring to his gal, Nemutan. (The otaku dolls are not to be confused with the life-size, anatomically-correct dolls that other lonely men use for sex.) One forlorn “2-D” (so named for preferring relationships with two-dimensionals) said he would like to marry a real, 3-D woman, “(b)ut look at me. How can someone who carries this (doll) around get married?” [New York Times Magazine, 7-26-09]
Thousands of Koreans, and some tourists, uninhibitedly joined in the messy events of July's Byryeong City Mud Festival, which glorifies the joys of an activity usually limited to pigs. Mud wrestling, mud-sliding, a “mud prison” and colored mud baths dominated the week's activities, but so unfortunately did dermatological maladies, which hospitalized 200 celebrants. [Daily Mail (London), 7-12-09]
National Specialties: In May, Singapore's Olympic Council, finding no athlete good enough, declined to name a national Sportsman of the Year. [Reuters, 5-6-09]
A survey of industrialized nations by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development revealed that Japanese and Koreans sleep the least, while the French spend the most time at both sleeping and eating. [Reuters, 5-4-09]
A Tokyo rail passenger company, Keihin, installed a face-scanning machine recently so that employees, upon reporting for work, can tell whether they are smiling broadly enough to present a good impression. [Mainichi Daily News, 7-4-09]
Latest Religious Messages
The director of a child advocacy group told The Associated Press in June that, since 1975, at least 274 children have died following the withholding of medical treatment based on religious doctrine. In one high-profile case this year, the father of a girl said turning her over to doctors would violate God's word (she died), but in another, a Minnesota family that had trusted their son's cancer to prayer, based on advice from something called the Nemenhah Band, changed course and allowed chemotherapy, which so far appears to have prolonged the boy's life. [MSNBC-AP, 6-30-09]
The Shinto temple Kanda Shrine, near Tokyo's version of Silicon Valley, does a brisk business blessing electronic gadgets, according to a July dispatch in Wired magazine. Lucky charms go for the equivalent of about 8.50, but for a personal session, the temple expects an offering of the equivalent of at least 50. The Wired writer, carrying a potentially balky cell phone, approached the shrine with a tree branch as instructed, turned it 180 degrees clockwise, and laid it on the altar. After bowing twice and clapping his hands twice, he left, looking forward to a glitch-free phone. [Wired, July 2009]
They Took It Too Far: Maryland corrections officials, hoping to improve juvenile rehabilitation by a kinder, gentler approach to incarceration, opened its New Beginnings Youth Center in May. The lockdown facility had declined to use razor wire, instead merely landscaping its chain-link fences with thorny rose bushes. After one inmate easily escaped on the second day of operation, razor wire was installed. [WRC-TV (Washington, D.C.), 6-1-09]
Bride Lin Rong wed in August in China's eastern Jilin province, walking down the aisle in a dress that was more than 7,000 feet (1.3 miles) long (rolled up in a wagon behind her). [BBC News, 8-7-09]
Britain's National Health Service of Sheffield issued a “guidance” to schools this summer to encourage teaching students alternatives to premarital sex, including masturbation. According to the Daily Telegraph, the leaflet (titled “Pleasure”) contains the slogan “(A)n orgasm a day keeps the doctor away” and likens the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, and exercising, to the benefits of masturbating twice a week. [Daily Telegraph, 7-12-09]
Latest Questionable Grants: Welsh artist Sue Williams was awarded the equivalent of about 33,000 in June, from the Arts Council of Wales, to explore cultural attitudes toward women's buttocks, especially “racial fetishism” in African and European culture. Williams said she will create a series of plaster casts of buttocks to work with, beginning with her own. [The Times (London), 6-28-09]
In July, the National Institutes of Health awarded 3 million to the University of Illinois Chicago to identify the things that cause lesbians to drink alcohol. It will be very important, said research director Tonda Hughes, to compare why lesbians drink with why heterosexual women drink. (This is a different NIH grant from the ones reported in News of the Weird in June, to study why gay men in Argentina drink and why prostitutes in China drink.) [WBBM-Chicago Sun Times, 7-21-09]
Chicago police arrested motorist Daniel Phelan, 27, in August and charged him in connection with a three-week spree of drive-by rock-throwing at other cars. Officers discounted ordinary road rage as a cause, in that Phelan appeared to have been driving around during that time with an arsenal of rocks in the passenger seat. [WBBM-Chicago Sun-Times, 8-7-09]
A 22-year-old man was arrested in Kitsap, Wash., in August after tossing a barrage of rocks at people, leading some to chase him until police intervened. The man explained that he is preparing to enter Ultimate Fighting Championship contests but had never actually been in a fight and wanted experience at getting beaten up. [Kitsap Sun, 8-12-09]
Least Competent Cops
The Supreme Court of Spain tossed out assault charges against Henry Osagiede in August because of unfairness by Madrid police. Osagiede, a black man, was convicted after the victim identified him as her attacker, in a lineup in which he was the only black man. [Reuters, 8-5-09]
Six Ormond Beach, Fla., motorcycle officers, detailed to chaperone the body of prominent Harley-Davidson dealer Bruce Rossmeyer from the funeral home to the cemetery, accidentally collided with each other en route, sending all six riders and their bikes sprawling. [Miami Herald-AP, 8-5-09]
“Spitting Contests”: A man was almost killed in Rodgau, Germany, in July when, attempting to show friends he could spit a cherry pit the farthest off of a balcony, made a running start but accidentally toppled over the railing. He was hospitalized with hip injuries. [Spiegel Online (Hamburg), 7-28-09]
“Assistance Monkeys”: Evidence of the dexterity and usefulness of monkeys (for fetching objects for disabled people) came from the Plants & Planters store in Richardson, Texas, in July. The store owner, seeking to combat recent burglaries, installed a surveillance camera, which revealed a monkey scaling the fence, scooping up plants, flowers and accessories, and handing them to an accomplice waiting on the other side. [WFAA-TV (Dallas), 7-21-09]
Two 22-year-old men were accidentally killed in Mattoon, Ill., in May during an outing in which an open-top double-decker bus was used to transport guests. Several people were standing in the top tier, but investigators said only the two tallest men were accidentally hit when the bus passed under Interstate 57. [WGN-TV-AP (Chicago), 6-1-09]
A 23-year-old man drowned in Corpus Christi, Texas, in February, when he sought to back up his claim in front of “friends” that he could hold his breath underwater for a long period of time. [Caller-Times (Corpus Christi), 2-26-09]
A News of the Weird Classic (June 2003)
In early 2003, several news organizations profiled 70-year-old Charlotte Chambers, who was a reserve defensive back for the Orlando Starz of the Independent Women's (tackle) Football League. Said the Starz chief executive, “Last year, I thought I should tell the other teams to go easy and not hit her too hard. But now I'm afraid she's going to hurt somebody.” Said the 5-foot-4, 140-pound Chambers, “I say, 'You better hit me (first), because I'm laying you out.'” [New York Times-AP, 5-18-03]
Thanks This Week to Kathryn Wood, Pete Randall, Jason Kingston, and Heather Ross, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.
(And for the accomplished and joyous cynic, try News of the Weird Daily/Pro Edition, at http://NewsoftheWeird.blogspot.com.)
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BOSTON – Hundreds of mourners lined the sidewalks near Boston’s Mission Church where a funeral Mass was held Saturday for Sen. Edward Kennedy, with some holding signs urging lawmakers to approve health care legislation in his honor, and other saying they just wanted to witness a moment in history.
Lillian Bennett, 59, of the city’s Dorchester neighborhood said she was a longtime Kennedy supporter and was determined to get as close as she could to the invitation-only funeral, despite the driving rain.
“I said to myself this morning, ‘no matter what the weather, I’m going. I don’t care if I have to swim,” she said, calling Kennedy “irreplaceable.”
American flags, old campaign signs and photographs of Kennedy dotted the street and storefronts leading up to the church, formally named Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica. The church is located in one of Boston’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods, and serves a mix of lifelong residents, students from nearby colleges and the more than 20 medical facilities in the area. Kennedy often prayed at the church while his daughter, Kara, was being treated for cancer.
The public was not allowed close to the church, where Kennedy relatives and friends and dozens of former and current members of Congress gathered for a funeral Mass. Kennedy died late Tuesday night at age 77, after battling brain cancer for more than a year.
The invited included a broad mix, from foreign dignitaries to Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, singer Tony Bennett and actor Jack Nicholson. President Barack Obama and three of the four living presidents also attended — prompting what Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis described as the largest security event he’d ever seen in Boston.
“The closet thing we could compare this to is the Democratic National Convention … but that was 18 months of planning,” he said.
Still, there were few problems, and even residents who were restricted from coming and going from their home were without complaint, Davis said. One protester was arrested during the three days of motorcades and memorials, said Davis, who did not have details.
After the Mass, Kennedy’s body was whisked away in another motorcade including family and friends traveling in charter buses, to nearby Hanscom Air Force Base, to be flown for burial in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. A line of cars stretched more than a mile along the highway, as motorists pulled over to watch the motorcade. Others huddled under umbrellas and tightened hoods around their faces as they held American flags and waves from overpasses and near the entrance to the base.
Karen Spence, 45, also of Dorchester, came dressed in a bedazzled T-shirt with American flags and red flip-flops, and called her opportunity to be near the church for his funeral “the chance of a lifetime.”
As Kennedy friends, family and dignitaries arrived, the crowds were respectful and largely silent, in contrast to the applause and cheers that greeted the sun-soaked motorcade Thursday, when the hearse carried Kennedy’s body from his home on Cape Cod and then through the streets of Boston past sites significant to Kennedy’s family and career.
On Saturday, police motorcycles led a solemn procession of the hearse and limousines carrying the immediate family from where the body had been lying in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library to the church. A handful of people outside the church cheered and yelled “God Bless” and “Thank you, Teddy!” as the hearse approached.
A far-off trumpet could be heard playing a mournful melody.
Cinde Warmington, of Gilford, N.H., cradled an umbrella in the nook of her shoulder as she wrote on a fluorescent green poster, using her 19-year-old son’s back as a table.
“Health care, do it for Ted,” she wrote. “Keep the dream alive. Health care 4 all,” the reverse side read.
“I always said I’d be there for him,” Warmington said. “He spent his whole life fighting for people.”
BAGHDAD – An Iraqi journalist imprisoned for hurling his shoes at former President George W. Bush will be released next month after his sentence was reduced for good behavior, his lawyer said Saturday.
Muntadhar al-Zeidi’s act of protest during Bush’s last visit to Iraq as president turned the 30-year-old reporter into a folk hero across the Arab world, as his case became a rallying point for critics who resented the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation.
“Al-Zeidi’s shoes were a suitable farewell for Bush’s deeds in Iraq,” Sunni lawmaker Dhafir al-Ani said in welcoming the early release. “Al-Zeidi’s act expressed the real will and feelings of the Iraqi people. His anger against Bush was the result of the suffering of his countrymen.”
The journalist has been in custody since the Dec. 14 outburst, which occurred as Bush was holding a news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki, who was standing next to Bush at the time, was said to have been deeply offended by the act.
Al-Zeidi was initially sentenced to three years in prison after pleading not guilty to assaulting a foreign leader. The court reduced it to one year because the journalist had no prior criminal history.
Defense attorney Karim al-Shujairi said al-Zeidi will now be released on Sept. 14, three months early.
“We have been informed officially about the court decision,” al-Shujairi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “His release will be a victory for the free and honorable Iraqi media.”
Judicial spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar said he had no immediate information about the release because it was a weekend.
Followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who were among the leaders of many of the demonstrations demanding al-Zeidi’s release, welcomed the decision to free him early.
“We believe that al-Zeidi did not commit any crime but only expressed the will of the Iraqi people in rejecting the U.S. occupation,” Sadrist lawmaker Falah Shanshal said. “Al-Zeidi’s image will always be a heroic one.”
The bizarre act of defiance transformed the obscure reporter from a minor TV station into a national hero to many Iraqis fed up with the U.S. presence.
Thousands demonstrated for al-Zeidi’s release and hailed his gesture. A sofa-sized sculpture of a shoe was erected in his honor in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, but the Iraqi government later ordered it removed.
Neither leader was injured, but Bush was forced to duck for cover as the journalist shouted in Arabic: “This is your farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”
The case’s investigating judge has said the journalist was struck about the face and eyes, apparently by security agents who wrestled him to the ground and dragged him away.
Al-Zeidi’s family has said he was also mistreated while in custody, although the government has denied the allegation.
“We thank God that he will be released, although we still fear for his safety since he is still in the prison,” his brother Dargham said. “He will be released full of pride and strength from all the love he has received from the Iraqi people and international organizations and figures who advocate freedom.”
Associated Press Writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Sinan Saleheddin contributed to this report.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) was years ahead of the curve when it came to Take Your Dog to Work Day. The constant presence of his three Portuguese water dogs in his Russell building office helped humanize their owner and brought a sense of fun to a workplace known for rules and formalities.
Now, lobbyists, staffers and other Hill dwellers say they mourn not only the passing of Kennedy but also he end of a unique chapter in Capitol Hill’s canine history. With their black curly hair, floppy ears and bouncy gait, Kennedy’s dogs became a part of the lawmaker’s nearly 47-year Hill tenure.
Kennedy’s Senate office always had water bowls and tennis balls on hand. Major legislation was hammered out as White House officials patted fuzzy heads and threw balls during meetings. The dogs were known to snooze under committee room tables.
“It’s like the end of an era,” said Kennedy’s former judiciary committee general council David Sutphen. “I find it hard to believe you’ll have another senator with a dog who comes to meetings all over the Capitol. It’s kind of the closing of a chapter.”
With the exception of the Senate floor, there were few places Splash, Sunny and Cappy didn’t have access to, including committee hearings and, once, even the Oval Office. It was a rare day when the Massachusetts lawmaker wasn’t shadowed by at least one of the pooches, whether Kennedy’s schedule brought him an office full of visitors or a committee bill markup.
A powerful man with a booming voice and a formidable family legacy, Kennedy often used his dogs to break the ice with Republican lawmakers, to relax nervous visitors and to put political personalities to the sniff test.
“They were part of the landscape,” said former Bush senior education adviser Sandy Kress, who partnered with Kennedy’s office to develop the mammoth education bill No Child Left Behind.
“I had no problem patting the dog while talking about Section 10.32. … It just created a pleasant environment,” said Kress, who often watched the senator toss tennis balls to the dogs in the office. “At one point, we got it into our heads that the dogs reacted poorly to committee members who weren’t No Child supporters. We always joked that the dogs knew best.”
Studies have shown that pets in the workplace can boost productivity and raise employee morale and Kennedy was walking proof, animal experts say.
“Our pets humanize us. Immediately, there’s something to talk about,” said ASPCA executive vice president Stephen Zawistowski. “A dog provides easy common contact. It’s a neutral contact.”
Kennedy is far from the only lawmaker known for bringing furry friends to the Hill — a hobby he used to make friends on both sides of the aisle.
The Senator bonded with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer over their canine affinity, according to the Congressman. Hoyer’s English Springer Spaniel had her own bed in Hoyer’s office before she passed away in 2007.
“God invented dogs for us, to give us the kind of uncompromising love that human beings need, and we in turn give them the same kind of love,” Hoyer noted at the Congressional Canine Champions awards ceremony earlier this year.
President George W. Bush’s National Institutes of Health appointee Elias Zerhouni reportedly earned Kennedy’s support after one of the dogs stayed by Zerhouni’s side during a meeting about the Senate confirmation process.
But Kennedy's dogs weren’t saints either. Like a parent of spoiled children, the senator was loving but a poor disciplinarian.
Splash has been known to bark impatiently during long meetings. The dog once sent White House staffers into a frenzy when the pooch began barking in the Oval Office. Kennedy and his pets were at the White House waiting for the start of a religious freedom bill signing ceremony with President Clinton.
“Kennedy was working the room, and Splash starts barking incessantly. The president was off in a side room having a meeting and the White House staffers start freaking out,” said Sutphen, a former staffer who attended the ceremony with Kennedy.
After Splash was excused, Clinton walked in, asking why he’d heard barking.
“No one fessed up,” said Sutphen. “But it showed the light-hearted, jovial, jokester side of [Kennedy].” The dogs’ antics could turn Capitol Hill into a dysfunctional family scene.
While interning on Capitol Hill, then-Maryland University student Scott Shewfelt met Kennedy as he stumbled upon the Porties, unleashed and fresh from a haircut, digging in the shrubs outside the Russell Senate federal building where Kennedy kept his office.
“Teddy was yelling at them, but they weren’t listening at all,” Shewfelt said. “It was absolute chaos.” Whether the dogs were a distraction or not, Capitol Hill regulars say rarely was a complaint heard.
Boston Globe political reporter Susan Milligan, who covered Kennedy for almost a decade, was once dragged away from an interview with another Senator as Kennedy insisted she come visit the dogs.
“I was interviewing Sen. [Olympia] Snowe when Kennedy came around the corner and asked if I would come ‘say hi to the dogs,'” Mulligan recalled. “At that point, what was I going to say? He had me come in the car and greet the dogs. He really wanted me to say hello.”
Today, the Kennedy offices are quiet and the dogs are residing with the late senator’s wife, Vicki, at the family compound on Cape Cod.
Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, hopes the tradition of dog in Hill offices continues.
“He showed that animals are intimately involved in our lives, and there is an implicit reminder of our responsibility to them,” said Pacelle. “So many more people are treating their dogs like members of the family. You may see other members handle their dogs in a similar way.”
Read More Stories from POLITICONew GOP tactic: The counter-town hallSunday shows: Dodd says Obama needs to 'step up'Feinstein: Holder should have waitedAfter farewells, Kennedy laid to restRemembering Kennedy
NEW YORK – Authorities will need to conduct toxicology tests, expected to take weeks, to determine what killed celebrity disc jockey DJ AM, a medical examiner’s office spokeswoman said Saturday.
An autopsy Saturday of the 36-year-old was inconclusive, said the spokeswoman, Ellen Borakove.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that police found a crack pipe and prescription pills in the apartment where they discovered DJ AM’s body Friday evening. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
DJ AM, whose real name was Adam Goldstein, had openly discussed past addictions to crack cocaine, Ecstasy and other drugs. In October, MTV was to debut his reality show, “Gone Too Far,” in which he and concerned families staged interventions for drug abusers. MTV hasn’t said whether Goldstein’s show will air.
In an interview with the AP last month, he said the show provided a “terrifying” reminder of his own addiction.
“I have to constantly remind myself why I’m here and remember what it was like,” he said.
Goldstein rose to fame several years ago as a deejay known for his mashups — blends of at least two songs. He performed in clubs, on concert stages and at exclusive Hollywood parties. His personal life also garnered attention, as he dated actress-singer Mandy Moore and reality TV star Nicole Richie, the daughter of singer Lionel Richie.
Goldstein was critically hurt in a plane crash last September in Columbia, S.C., that killed four people. He was flying in a Learjet after a performance with Travis Barker, a drummer for the pop-punk band Blink-182 and Goldstein’s partner in the duo TRVSDJ-AM.
Barker and Goldstein were burned. Goldstein had to get skin graft surgery but resumed performing about a month later.
He told the AP he felt blessed to have survived but was still shaken by the crash.
“I guess I get why they call it ‘post-trauma,’ because it was very tough. I have really bad days, and I have really OK days,” he said.
His body was found after a friend called police to say he was unable to get into the home in New York City’s trendy SoHo neighborhood. Paramedics had to break down the door before they found him, shirtless and wearing sweatpants, in his bed around 5:20 p.m. on Friday, the law enforcement official said.
There was no evidence of foul play.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long in New York and Michael Cidoni in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON – When the CIA revived a plan to kill or capture terrorists in 2004, the agency turned to the well-connected security company then known as Blackwater USA.
With Blackwater’s lucrative government security work and contacts arrayed in hot spots around the world, company officials offered the services of foreigners supposedly skilled at tracking terrorists in lawless regions and countries where the CIA had no working relationships with the government.
Blackwater told the CIA that it “could put people on the ground to provide the surveillance and support — all of the things you need to conduct an operation,” a former senior CIA official familiar with the secret program told The Associated Press.
But the CIA’s use of the private contractor as part of its now-abandoned plan to dispatch death squads skirted concerns now re-emerging with recent disclosures about Blackwater’s role.
The former senior CIA official said he had doubts during his tenure about whether Blackwater’s foreign recruits had mastered the necessary skills to pull off such a high-stakes operation. Blackwater’s later hiring of several senior CIA officials who were involved in or aware of the secret program, including one of the men who ran the operation, showed the blurred lines of using a private contractor for such a highly classified and dangerous project.
While Blackwater won the government’s confidence by handling security and training operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2004 decision by CIA officials to entrust the North Carolina-based company with such a sensitive overseas operation struck some former agency officials as highly unusual.
“The question remains: Why do we need Blackwater?” said Charles Faddis, a former department chief at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center who retired in 2008 and was not involved in the secret program. “I remain mystified. This is quintessential CIA work. You wonder what it means that the CIA has to rely on Blackwater? Why are we still funding the CIA?”
The former senior CIA official who had knowledge of the program explained that “you wouldn’t want to have American fingerprints on it.”
The former official and several other current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information remains classified.
A message left with Xe spokeswoman Stacy DeLuke was not returned. Blackwater altered its corporate name to Xe Services after a series of use-of-force controversies, including a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad by five company security guards that left 17 civilians dead.
The former senior CIA official said that close to a dozen Blackwater “surrogates” were recruited to join the death squad program. The recruits, the former official said, were not told they were working for the CIA. The official did not know how Blackwater found them.
The program reportedly cost millions of dollars over an eight-year span. A precise figure is not available because of the agency’s classified budget.
The operation had several lives under four successive CIA directors: George Tenet started the program during the Bush administration, but canceled it, another former CIA official said, because there were too many risks involved.
The operation was revived under Tenet’s successor, Porter Goss, who ran the agency from 2004 to 2006. Michael Hayden, who served from 2006 to 2009, downgraded the program to intelligence-gathering only. Leon Panetta, the current director, killed the operation in June.
The former senior CIA official said that after the death squad project was revived under Goss in 2004, there were serious questions about whether Blackwater’s operatives had demonstrated the ability to conduct clandestine surveillance and maintain fictitious identities with credible-appearing faked documents.
Their need to provide rock-solid cover stories was essential, the former official said, adding that they had to have a “damn good reason to be there.”
A spokesman for Goss declined comment.
The former senior CIA official said that during his tenure it was unlikely that the Blackwater recruits would have been involved directly in the mechanics of the killings. Instead, they were learning how to spy on targets and operate discreetly.
The trainees never got a chance to prove themselves. They were never provided a target and no operation was ever approved. CIA spokesman George Little said the program yielded no successes.
The CIA started planning for its death squad project shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The agency wanted the ability to target terrorists at close range, providing an alternative to air strikes that ran the risk of accidentally killing civilians.
Another former senior intelligence official said the use of Blackwater was not the only plan considered to kill or capture terrorists.
Blackwater long has had a close and intertwined relationship with the CIA. Several senior agency leaders have taken up positions with the company. Among them were J. Cofer Black, once the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, who would have had operational involvement with the secret plan in the early 2000s. Others included Robert Richer, a former deputy director for operations, and Alvin B. Krongard, a former CIA executive director.
Another Blackwater hire was Enrique “Ric” Prado, a former operations chief at the Counterterrorism Center. Prado ran the death squad program when it was started up under Tenet, three former intelligence officials said.
According to one former official, Jose A. Rodriquez Jr., who ran the CIA’s clandestine service and was instrumental in reviving the program, reached out to Prado, then working at Blackwater. The two men had previously worked together in Latin America and then at the Counterterrorism Center, the former officials said.
After joining Blackwater, according to The New York Times, Prado was involved in the 2004 negotiations between Blackwater officials and the CIA over its involvement in the death squad operation. According to the Times report, Prado, who at one point was Blackwater’s vice president of special programs, worked with Erik Prince, Blackwater’s founder, to sign agreements with the CIA to participate in the program.
Prado did not return messages left at his home or with his business partner, Joseph E. Fluet. The pair recently formed The Constellation Consulting Group, an international intelligence and security firm based in northern Virginia.
At the time that Blackwater began working with the CIA on the death squad operation in 2004, the CIA had in place a long-standing policy mandating that senior officials leaving the agency could not go to work for private firms for a year after their departure. In 2007, Hayden toughened requirements for the entire agency, mandating an 18-month hold on security clearances for all departing employees who leave prior to retirement.
Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group in Washington, said “the revolving door is a very accepted practice” between government and private industry, but added that “to be able to bring people in from the CIA, there is a possibility that it gives you a competitive advantage in receiving awards from that agency.”
When Panetta terminated the CIA’s death squad program in June, he informed congressional intelligence committees about its existence in an emergency briefing.
The House Intelligence Committee is investigating whether the CIA broke the law by not quickly informing Congress about the secret program.
JERUSALEM – Israeli authorities indicted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on corruption charges Sunday, the first criminal indictment ever filed against a current or past Israeli prime minister.
Olmert, who stepped down earlier this year over the corruption issue, is accused of illegally accepting funds from an American backer, double-billing for trips abroad and concealing funds from a government watchdog.
He faces charges that include fraud and breach of trust.
The charges filed in a Jerusalem court on Sunday first surfaced when Olmert was still prime minister, although Olmert allegedly committed the offenses while serving as mayor of Jerusalem and later as a Cabinet minister, before being elected prime minister in 2006.
Olmert, who denies any wrongdoing, issued a statement through a spokesman saying he was confident his name would be cleared. “Olmert is convinced that in court he will be able to prove his innocence once and for all,” the statement said.
The Justice Ministry refused to detail the length of a potential sentence, but Moshe Negbi, an Israeli legal expert, said the maximum sentence on the fraud charge alone was five years.
Any political comeback by Olmert would be highly unlikely unless he is cleared. “In the immediate future it doesn’t seem possible, but it all depends on the court,” Negbi said.
Two former Cabinet ministers recently sentenced in separate corruption cases have received multiple-year prison sentences. Avraham Hirchson, a former finance minister and an Olmert confidant and appointee, was sentenced to five years for embezzlement in June, and another former Cabinet minister was sentenced to four years for taking bribes.
The case that did the most damage to Olmert when he was still in office involved funds he allegedly accepted from Moshe Talansky, an American businessman who allegedly funneled large amounts of money to Olmert in cash-stuffed envelopes. Talansky’s testimony last year helped turn public opinion against Olmert and played a large part in forcing him from office.
The indictment said Olmert used his connections to help Talansky’s business, but did not charge Olmert with accepting bribes.
In another case, Olmert was charged with double-billing nonprofit organizations and the government for trips he took abroad and then using the extra money to pay for private trips for his family.
Olmert was replaced as prime minister in March by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. He left politics and is currently a private citizen.
The charges against Olmert were part of a slew of allegations that drove down Israeli confidence in the political system during his time in office.
In addition to the charges against Olmert’s finance minister, another Cabinet minister was convicted of sexual misconduct and the country’s former ceremonial president, Moshe Katzav, was charged by several women with rape and sexual harassment and is currently on trial.
TOKYO – Japan’s ruling party conceded a crushing defeat Sunday after 54 years of nearly unbroken rule as voters were poised to hand the opposition a landslide victory in nationwide elections, driven by economic anxiety and a powerful desire for change.
The left-of-center Democratic Party of Japan was set to win 300 or more of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament, ousting the Liberal Democrats, who have governed Japan for all but 11 months since 1955, according to exit polls by all major Japanese TV networks.
“These results are very severe,” Prime Minister Taro Aso said in a news conference at party headquarters, conceding his party was headed for a big loss. “There has been a deep dissatisfaction with our party.”
Aso said he would have to accept responsibility for the results, suggesting that he would resign as party president. Other LDP leaders also said they would step down, though official results were not to be released until early Monday morning.
The loss by the Liberal Democrats — traditionally a pro-business, conservative party — would open the way for the Democratic Party, headed by Yukio Hatoyama, to replace Aso and establish a new Cabinet, possibly within the next few weeks.
The vote was seen as a barometer of frustrations over Japan’s worst economic slump since World War II and a loss of confidence in the ruling Liberal Democrats’ ability to tackle tough problems such as the rising national debt and rapidly aging population.
The Democrats have embraced a more populist platform, promising handouts for families with children and farmers, a higher minimum wage, and to rebuild the economy.
“The nation is very angry with the ruling party, and we are grateful for their deep support,” Hatoyama said after the polls closed. “We will not be arrogant and we will listen to the people.”
The Democrats have also said they will seek a more independent relationship with Washington, while forging closer ties with Japan’s Asian neighbors, including China. But Hatoyama, who holds a doctorate in engineering from Stanford University, insists he will not seek dramatic change in Japan’s foreign policy, saying the U.S.-Japan alliance would “continue to be the cornerstone of Japanese diplomatic policy.”
National broadcaster NHK, using projections based on exit polls of roughly 400,000 voters, said the Democratic Party was set to win 300 seats and the Liberal Democrats only about 100 — a third of its strength before the vote.
TV Asahi, another major network, said the Democratic Party would win 315 seats, up from the 112 seats it held before parliament was dissolved in July.
As voting closed Sunday night, officials said turnout was high, despite an approaching typhoon, indicating the intense level of public interest in the hotly contested campaigns.
Even before the vote was over, the Democrats pounded the ruling party for driving the country into a ditch.
Japan’s unemployment has spiked to record 5.7 percent while deflation has intensified and families have cut spending because they are insecure about the future.
Making the situation more dire is Japan’s aging demographic — which means more people are on pensions and there is a shrinking pool of taxpayers to support them and other government programs.
Many voters said that although the Democrats are largely untested in power and doubts remain about whether they will be able to deliver on their promises, the country needs a change.
“We don’t know if the Democrats can really make a difference, but we want to give them a chance,” Junko Shinoda, 59, a government employee, said after voting at a crowded polling center in downtown Tokyo.
The Democratic Party would only need to win a simple majority of 241 seats in the lower house to assure that it can name the next prime minister. The 300-plus level would allow it and its two smaller allies the two-thirds majority they need in the lower house to pass bills.
Having the Democrats in power would smooth policy debates in parliament, which has been deadlocked since the Democrats and their allies took over the less powerful upper house in 2007.
To ease parenting costs and encourage more women to have babies, the Democrats propose giving families 26,000 yen (275) a month per child through junior high. Japan’s population of 127.6 millionpeaked in 2006, and is expected to decline to 115 million in 2030 and fall below 100 million by the middle of the century.
The party is also proposing toll-free highways, free high schools, income support for farmers, monthly allowances for job seekers in training, a higher minimum wage and tax cuts. The estimated bill comes to 16.8 trillion yen (179 billion) if fully implemented starting in fiscal year 2013 — and critics say the plans would further bloat Japan’s massive public debt.
The Democrats will likely face resistance from Japan’s powerful bureaucrats, who favor the status quo and hold a great deal of influence in shaping policy.
Aso — whose own support ratings have sagged to a dismal 20 percent — repeatedly stressed his party led Japan’s rise from the ashes of World War II into one of the world’s biggest economic powers and are best equipped to get it out of its current morass.
In the end, voter worries about the economy and disenchantment with the LDP’s long grip on power proved too much to overcome.
“It’s revolutionary,” said Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Tokyo’s Nihon University. “It’s the first real change of government” Japan has had in six decades.
AP reporters Mari Yamaguchi, Kelly Olsen, Shino Yuasa and Tomoko Hosaka contributed to this report.
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Some knew her, others only knew of her. But they will never forget the day 18 years ago when the blonde, blue-eyed 11-year-old was snatched in broad daylight on her way to a bus stop.
Her scream. A frantic sprint on a mountain bike by her stepfather up the twisted mountain road as he tried to catch up to the Ford Granada and the unknown man and woman who had just ripped his family’s lives to shreds before his eyes.
A world renown tourist destination, South Lake Tahoe on the Nevada-California line is dominated in summer by gamblers, boaters and beach goers. In winter, by gamblers, skiers and snowboarders.
But beneath the facade of a tourist town, where workers come and go with each passing season, is a tight-knit community that never forgot Jaycee Lee Dugard, a little girl who loved the color pink.
Her mother, Terry Probyn, and stepfather, Carl, were relative newcomers to the Tahoe community.
“They were brand new to the district,” Sue Bush, Jaycee’s fifth grade teacher, said Friday. “I met them at parent-teacher conference twice.”
But the community shared their nightmare and embraced them, holding fundraisers, putting up fliers and adorning the town in pink ribbons to keep Jaycee in their hearts after she was kidnapped June 10, 1991.
In 2001, 10 years later, more than 100 people marched on U.S. 50, the main `highway through town, in a pink ribbon parade to remember the little girl and raise awareness of child safety and Jaycees’ unsolved kidnapping.
Terry Probyn, who left Tahoe in 1998 and moved to Southern California, returned for the anniversary.
“Someone out there knows what happened,” she said at the time. “We need peace. Give us that gift.”
It arrived, out of the blue, Wednesday night when she received a call from investigators, saying her daughter had been found alive. Nearly two decades of questions, what ifs, and suspicions against Dugard’s stepfather, Carl Probyn, were replaced by tears of joy.
Phillip Garrido, 58, and his 54-year-old wife, Nancy, were arrested last week on suspicion of abducting Dugard. They pleaded not guilty Friday to a total of 29 counts, including forcible abduction, rape and false imprisonment.
Investigators said Dugard was taken to a house in Antioch, 170 miles from home, where she was kept hidden from the world in a secret, leafy backyard, where she lived in a shed compound.
In South Lake Tahoe, the shy girl last seen in a pink jacket and pink stretch pants is in everyone’s hearts again, this time as a grown woman, now 29, and the mother of two children fathered by her alleged abductor.
Joy that she was alive was mixed with anxiety about her physical and emotional well-being, and sadness over the loss of youth and innocence.
“I used to drive by that bus stop all the time,” Sue Pritchett, a retired South Lake Tahoe middle school teacher, said while talking with a friend in Dugard’s old neighborhood.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic that she’s been found,” Pritchett said. “But I hope she’s OK.”
On Friday, Sue Bush, Jaycee’s fifth-grade teacher at Meyers Elementary School, recalled the nightmare that day when one of her students didn’t show up.
“We got the call just before class started,” she told The Associated Press. “Some of the kids already knew about it because they had witnessed it at the bus stop. The kids were very agitated and upset.
“We brought in counselors, and during the week we wrote letters to Jaycee and her mom. We kept her chair and desk set up.”
The school, now called Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School, has a memory garden out front, that started as Jaycee’s Garden, said former Principal Karen Gillis-Tinlin.
Butterflies painted on the walls symbolize students who have died. There are four; one was for Jaycee.
James Tarwater, school district superintendent, said news of Dugard’s reappearance was shocking and disturbing at the same time.
“I think about all the students I’ve had and watched grow during the last 18 years,” he said. “You think of their potential.”
Potential denied Jaycee.
Bush, her former teacher, agreed.
“We’re all happy she’s back. But it’s a life ruined,” she said sadly.
“I hope in a few weeks, months, whatever it takes, I’ll actually be able to talk to Jaycee and Terry,” she said. “Terry never gave up hope.”
Gillis-Tinlin said Dugard’s rescue “is a wonderful ending,” but more importantly, “a beginning of the next segment of her life.”
South Lake Tahoe, she said, will again bloom in pink bows and ribbons — this time in celebration of a life renewed.
BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The man who called 911 to report finding seven people slain in a dingy mobile home on a historic Georgia plantation was arrested on drug-related charges, though police refused to say Sunday whether he was a suspect in the killings.
Two people survived the attack, with brutal injuries.
Police have not detailed what they found at the mobile home nestled among centuries-old, moss-draped oak trees in coastal southeast Georgia. Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering has only said “it’s not a scene that I would want anybody to see.”
Guy Heinze Jr., 22, was arrested late Saturday and charged with illegal possession of prescription drugs and marijuana, tampering with evidence and making false statements to police, Doering said. Doering did not know whether he had an attorney.
“He was a family member who came home and discovered (the victims), at least that’s what he told us,” Doering told reporters. “He was the one who called 911.”
Asked if police believe Heinze was involved in the slayings, Doering said: “I’m not going to characterize him as a suspect.”
The chief also said police didn’t know whether more than one person was involved.
Police have released few details about the mass slaying in this coastal Georgia county. Seven people were found dead along with two critically injured survivors Saturday morning at the trailer park on the grounds of a historic plantation.
Autopsies were being conducted Sunday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The two surviving victims remained in critical condition at a hospital in Savannah, 60 miles north of the crime scene, Doering said.
Police have not released the victims’ names or said how they died, but Doering said neither the dead nor the injured committed the killings.
“We’re comfortable that none of those nine were involved with this assault,” he said.
Investigators were talking to neighbors about whether they saw or heard anything unusual at the home, where an old boat sat in the front yard. Police had not been able to speak with the survivors, who may be the only witnesses.
All seven bodies were tentatively identified and Doering said families of the victims had been notified, but he would not release names or ages before receiving the autopsy results. Earlier, he said some of the victims were in their teens.
The 1,100-acre mobile home park is all that remains of a Crown grant made in 1763 to Henry Laurens, who later succeeded John Hancock as president of the Continental Congress in 1777.
Laurens obtained control of the South Altamaha river lands and named it New Hope Plantation, according to the plantation’s Web site.
Lisa Vizcaino, who has lived at New Hope for three years, said the management works hard to keep troublemakers out of the mobile home park and that it tends to be quiet.
“New Hope isn’t rundown or trashy at all,” Vizcaino said Saturday. “It’s the kind of place where you can actually leave your keys in the car and not worry about anything.”
Vizcaino said she didn’t know the victims and heard nothing unusual when she woke up at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. After word of the slayings spread, she said, the park was quieter than usual.
“Everybody had pretty much stayed in their houses,” Vizcaino said. “Normally you would see kids outside, but everybody’s been pretty much on lockdown.”
LOS ANGELES – A wildfire in the mountains above Los Angeles has surged in every direction, going in a single day from a modest threat to a danger to some 10,000 homes.
The blaze nearly tripled in size in triple-digit heat Saturday, leaving three people burned, destroying at least three homes and forcing the evacuation of 1,000 homes and an untold number of people.
A slight drop in temperatures and an influx of fire crews from around the state were expected to bring some relief Sunday.
Mandatory evacuations were in effect for neighborhoods in Altadena, Glendale, Pasadena, La Crescenta and Big Tujunga Canyon.
The flames crept down the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains despite mild winds blowing predominantly in the other direction.
“Today what happened is what I call the perfect storm of fuels, weather, and topography coming together,” said Captain Mike Dietrich, the incident commander for the U.S. Forest Service. “Essentially the fire burned at will; it went where it wanted to when it wanted to.”
Dietrich said he had never seen a fire grow so quickly without powerful Santa Ana winds to push it.
At least three homes deep in the Angeles National Forest were destroyed, and firefighters were searching for others, Dietrich said.
Evacuation centers were set up at two high schools and an elementary school in the area.
The fire was the largest and most dangerous of several burning around southern and central California and in Yosemite National Park.
The fire especially grew to the north and west, bringing new concerns for the areas near Acton and Santa Clarita.
More than 31 square miles of dry forest was scorched by the fire. It was only 5 percent contained.
At least three people were burned in the evacuation areas and airlifted to local hospitals, Dietrich said. He had no further details on their injuries.
Air crews waged a fierce battle against the southeast corner of the fire, burning dangerously close to canyon homes. Spotter planes and tankers dove well below ridge then pulled up dramatically over neighborhoods.
The fire was burning in steep wooded hills next to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in northern Pasadena.
In La Vina, a gated community of luxury homes in the Altadena area, a small group of residents stood at the end of a cul-de-sac on the lip of a canyon and watched aircraft battle flames trying to cross the ridge on the far side.
At one point, the flying circus of relatively small propellor-driven tankers gave way to the sight of a giant DC-10 jumbo jet unleashing a rain of red retardant.
“We see a drop, we give a big cheer,” said Gary Blackwood, who works on telescope technology at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We’ve watched it now for two days hop one ridge at a time and now it’s like we’re the next ridge.”
A major goal was to keep the fire from spreading up Mount Wilson, where many of the region’s broadcast and communications antennas and the historic Mount Wilson Observatory are located, officials said.
A second fire in the Angeles National Forest was burning several miles to the east in a canyon above the city of Azusa. The 3.4-square-mile blaze, which started Tuesday afternoon, was 95 percent contained Saturday. No homes were threatened, and full containment was expected by Monday.
A wildfire on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on the south Los Angeles County coast was 100 percent contained Saturday afternoon, according to county fire officials.
Southeast of Los Angeles in Riverside County, a 3 1/2-square-mile fire in a rural area of the San Bernardino National Forest was 30 percent contained as it burned in steep, rocky terrain in Beeb Canyon. No structures were threatened.
To the north, in the state’s coastal midsection, a 9.4-square-mile fire threatening Pinnacles National Monument kept 100 homes under evacuation orders near the Monterey County town of Soledad. The blaze, 60 percent contained, was started by agricultural fireworks used to scare animals away from crops. The fire destroyed one home.
A state of emergency was declared Saturday for Mariposa County, where a nearly 5.5-square-mile fire burned in Yosemite National Park. The blaze was 30 percent contained, park officials said.
Park officials closed a campground and a portion of Highway 120, anticipating that the fire would spread north toward Tioga Road, the highest elevation route through the Sierra. The number of firefighters was expected to double over the weekend to 1,000.
About 100 residents from the town of El Portal were under evacuation orders, said Brad Aborn, chairman of Mariposa’s Board of Supervisors. He said the remainder of the town, an estimated 75 people, were evacuated Saturday morning.
Associated Press Writer Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
TOKYO, JapanThe recession’s latest victim in Japan may not be corporate earnings but the political careers of the ruling party in the country’s parliament.
Rubber mask maker staff display masks of Prime Minister Taro Aso, left, and DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama.
This Sunday in Japan, voters go to the ballot box in what poll after poll shows will be a historic shift in political power, booting out the ruling party. The Liberal Democratic Party, or the LDP, has been in nearly continuous control of Japan’s parliament for more than five decades. But the country’s worst recession since World War II has led a normally sedate electorate to head to the polls, disgruntled with how slowly the country is emerging from the downturn. Yoshio Hidaka is one of those disgruntled voters. Dressed in his cleanly pressed white shirt and navy tie, Hidaka is the sort of buttoned-up conservative that the LDP could count on for party loyalty. And for decades, it could. But Hidaka’s food importing company, the Robson Corporation, has seen business hit the skids this last year. It’s changed how Hidaka plans to vote. “Whoever the LDP produced as the prime minister, he wasn’t able to change the world. Especially the last three prime ministers. All of them resigned,” said Hidaka, referring to the revolving door of prime ministers in Japan, all in office about a year. “Unfortunately, the constant change of prime ministers then was met with this economic crisis. Therefore, I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks something has to change.” And he’s not. Watch what has led to a “voter revolt” » Polls show the opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan, will snag more than 300 of the 480 seats up for grabs in the lower house of Japan’s parliament. If the DPJ does win a majority, it will be the first time it will govern the world’s second-largest economy.
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Leading the DPJ is Yukio Hatoyama, who has been mobbed at street rallies by supporters, the kind of support the opposition has never seen. Hatoyama is touting an Obama-style message of change, pledging to raise the minimum wage and discourage hiring through agencies or on temporary contracts. That message is gathering traction in a country that’s witnessing historic highs in unemployment and experiencing ramifications like homelessness for the first time. Voters are looking for somebody to pay, and if the polls are right, that target is the current prime minister, Taro Aso. Aso’s approval ratings dwell in the teens, and his stimulus packages, while credited for lifting the economy slightly out of recession, is not being credited with helping households feel more secure about a lasting economic recovery. The LDP, in political ads and stump speeches across Japan, says the DPJ is making empty promises and can’t pay for its proposed programs.
But Yuichi Yazawa, who is unemployed and in a government-run computer training program to learn new skills, says he’s still ready to give the untested DPJ a chance at governing. “I can’t find a job,” Yazawa said. “I never expected this.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen claimed his fourth Belgian Formula One Grand Prix victory in five years at Spa to end an astonishing run of 26 races without a win for the 2007 world champion.
Kimi Raikkonen celebrates ending his victory drought after winning the Belgian Grand Prix.
Raikkonen was hounded all the way for the majority of the race by pole-sitter Giancarlo Fisichella, who gave Force India their first points in F1 after 30 races with a second-place finish. In was a chaos-filled race, British duo Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton crashed out on the opening lap in an accident that also accounted for the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari and Renault’s Romain Grosjean. Despite Button failing to score points for the first time this season, the 29-year-old still has a 16-point world championship cushion over Brawn GP team-mate Rubens Barrichello who was seventh, with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel 19 points down after he came home third. After his 18th career win, Raikkonen told reporters: “We haven’t brought new parts for the last few races as we are looking at next year. But my aim was always still to win a race because we are aiming for third in the (constructors’) championship.
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“We probably weren’t the fastest in terms of lap time, but we were able to keep everybody behind us. Hopefully we can now win more.” Fisichella was delighted and disappointed in equal measure as he said: “It’s a great result for us. “It’s a great day but I was quicker than Kimi and I’m a little bit sad because maybe I could have won the race as I was keeping pace with his car.” Vettel concedes anything is possible now over the remaining five races as he, Webber and Barrichello continue to reel in Button. “If you look at the championship it’s a good result,” remarked Vettel. “We lost too much ground in the first stint because of the guys ahead, but in the second and third the car was fantastic. It was a pleasure to drive. “We’ve managed to take points out of the Brawns, so overall a big thank you to the team and to Renault (engine providers) after all the trouble we’ve gone through recently. “It shows we are back.”
For a world first, the announcement came with remarkably little fanfare.
Sweden is entering subzero interest rates, the first country to do so.
But last month, the Swedish Riksbank entered uncharted territory when it became the world’s first central bank to introduce negative interest rates on bank deposits. Even at the deepest point of Japan’s financial crisis, the country’s central bank shied away from such a measure, which is designed to encourage commercial banks to boost lending. But, as they contemplate their exit strategies after the extraordinary measures of the past two years, central bankers will be monitoring the Swedish experiment closely. Mervyn King, the Bank of England governor, has hinted he may follow the Swedish example as the danger of a so-called liquidity trap, where cash remains stuck in the banking system and does not filter out to the wider economy, is an increasing concern for the UK. Hoarding is exactly what happened in Japan earlier this decade when the Bank of Japan implemented quantitative easing between 2001 and 2006. Japanese banks refused to lend, in spite of central bank stimulus, because of fears over the dire state of the economy. If this continues to happen in other economies, central bankers may be left with little choice but to follow the Swedish example. John Wraith, head of sterling rates product development at RBC Capital Markets, says: “The success of the UK’s quantitative easing experiment hinges a lot on whether the banks will use the extra money they are getting for lending to individuals and businesses.
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“If there is no sign of this over the next few months, then the Bank of England might consider a negative interest rate. In essence, it is a fine on banks that refuse to lend.” In the UK, for example, nearly 140bn has been injected into the economy through central bank purchases of government bonds and corporate assets, mainly from the commercial banks. However, since the QE project was launched on March 5, a lot of this money, which in theory should be used by the commercial banks for lending to businesses and individuals, has ended up at the Bank of England in reserves. Commercial bank deposits have risen from 31bn in early March to 152bn at the end of Julythe latest figure. This in itself is not a problem as the banks could be using this big increase in their reserves to step up their lending to the private sector. The more the banks have in reserves, the more they are allowed to lend. However, there is no sign yet that they are using their much bigger reserves to lend on. The latest money supply figures for lending are still fairly anemic. It is why Mr King did not rule the possibility of negative interest rates when asked about the Riksbank model this month following the unveiling of the quarterly inflation report. “It’s an idea we will certainly be looking at, whether the effectiveness of our asset purchases could be increased by reducing the rate at which we remunerate reserves,” he said. His comments are one reason why yields on short-dated UK government bonds have fallen to record lows and why sterling has been under pressure in the currency markets. Initially, Mr King gave QE six months before it would start taking effect. That time limit is up next week. If there are no signs in the money supply numbers, particularly in the key M4 lending excluding financial institutions, then the policy may start to look a distinct possibility. In Europe, the European Central Bank is considered less likely to introduce negative interest rates. This is because it has maintained higher official rates than other banks and used money market operations to act as a stimulant instead. For example, it offered commercial banks unlimited funds for one year at the end of June. But it does have the same problem as the Bank of England in assessing the success of its policy. Like the UK, commercial bank deposits at the ECB have shot up in the past few months. At this stage, the US also seems unlikely to introduce the policy as there has been little debate on the matter and no hints from policymakers about it being an option. At the Riksbank, which now has a deposit rate of minus 0.25 per cent, the most vocal advocate of the policy is deputy governor Lars Svensson, a world-renowned expert on monetary policy theory and a close associate of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, since they worked together at Princeton University. According to the minutes of the Riksbank’s July meeting, Mr Svensson dismissed the “zero interest rate mystique” that had “exaggerated the problems” associated with zero or sub-zero rates. “There is nothing strange about negative interest rates,” he said. Henrik Mitelman, chief fixed income strategist at SEB, the Swedish bank, said that the negative deposit rate, combined with a cut in the repo rate to an historic low of 0.25 per cent, sent a powerful signal to the market that the Riksbank intended to keep rates close to zero until economic recovery was well under way. “What the Riksbank did was very brave. They decided to see if markets could cope with it and the markets have.” Carl Milton, fixed income analyst at Danske Bank in Stockholm, cautions that the Riksbank decision was not as pioneering as some have portrayed. The Bank routinely keeps its deposit rate 50 basis points lower than the repo rate to regulate liquidity in the market, he says. When the repo rate was cut to 0.25 per cent, the deposit rate was automatically forced into negative territory. “It was not something put in place to punish banks or to force them to lend,” he says. Moreover, Swedish banks make relatively little use of the central bank deposit facility, limiting the impact of negative rates. But by breaking the taboo surrounding sub-zero rates, the Riksbank may have set an important precedent that others could use to greater effect. Don Smith, economist at Icap, says: “Sweden’s policy is certainly very interesting. We will have to wait and see what happens there. This is certainly a very unusual policy, but these are very unusual times.”
LOS ANGELES, CaliforniaFires in central and southern California raged Saturday as triple-digit temperatures mixed with dry conditions continued to fuel the flames, torching thousands of acres and threatening scores of homes.
Firefighters look on as fire rages near Ocean View Drive in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Authorities confirmed three civilian injuries from a growing blaze known as the Station fire burning through the Angeles National Forest-La Canada Flintridge. The blaze nearly quadrupled in size from 5,500 acres Friday to more than 20,000 acres, officials said. The blaze, which grew to more than 20,100 acres, was 5 percent contained early Sunday, officials said. It was upgraded to type 1 brush firethe most severe classification. “Today what happened is what I called a perfect storm of fuels, weather and topography coming together … essentially the fire burned at will,” Mike Dietrich of the U.S. Forest Service said Saturday. Authorities consider the Station fire an anomaly, as it is not driven by strong winds as most California wildfires. Watch close-up views of the fast-moving fire » “The fire has been very active on all fronts,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Randi Jorgensen said. The fire threatened about 10,000 homes in Los Angeles County and 900 homes were evacuated, she said. “Basically, all the homes that back up to the National Forest in the La Canada-Flintridge are in danger from the fire,” Jorgensen said, adding that fire officials have told residents to be prepared for possible evacuation orders. The Station fire disrupted power to 750 homes. More than 750 workers have been dispatched to control the blaze, which started Wednesday afternoon. Jorgensen confirmed one injury involving heat exhaustion.
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A wildfire also hit San Bernardino National Forest, burning 2,200 acres, fire officials said. The blaze, called the Cottonwood fire, started Thursday afternoon about 10 miles from the southern California city of Hemet, officials reported. That blaze was about 10 percent contained Friday evening. Hemet is about 85 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Firefighters fully contained another fire that torched 230 acres about 20 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles on Friday. The blaze, called the Palos Verdes fire, forced 1,200 people to evacuate and destroyed five homes and two other buildings. Another fire in the Angeles National Forest had burned more than 2,100 acres. The blaze, called the Morris fire, started Tuesday. That fire was about 85 percent contained Friday evening, officials said.