Archive for September 5th, 2009
WASHINGTON – The Senate’s chief Democratic negotiator on a health care bill is indicating it’s time to act and has told his colleagues he won’t wait much longer for a Republican compromise.
“I am committed to getting health care reform done — done soon and done right,” Montana Sen. Max Baucus said in a statement. He is considering making a formal proposal soon to the small group of Senate negotiators who call themselves the “Bipartisan Six.”
Baucus held a nearly two-hour teleconference on Friday with the other five negotiators from his committee. The group has struggled for months to come up with an acceptable bipartisan bill.
While careful to leave the door open to a long-sought deal, Baucus clearly signaled the time has come for him to move ahead.
President Barack Obama plans to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday to boost health care reform, a key element of his ambitious domestic agenda.
The president, meanwhile, is trying to placate some unhappy House members who fear he’s too eager to compromise with Republicans and conservative Democrats to get a bill.
In a call from Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Maryland, Obama spoke to leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other liberal-leaning House groups.
The caucus leader, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said the lawmakers expressed their commitment to creation of a government-run plan to compete with private health insurers. On Thursday, they sent Obama a letter saying they could not support a health bill that lacked such a public option.
Woolsey said Obama listened, asked questions and said discussions should continue. She said a follow-up meeting will occur next week at the White House. Another participant said the president was noncommittal about the government-run plan.
The Senate Finance Committee is the only one of five congressional committees with jurisdiction over health care that has yet to produce a bill.
On Friday, Baucus said the members of his group agree on several big-picture items, including the need to control costs, provide access to affordable coverage for all Americans and ensure that health care fixes don’t add to the deficit. The negotiators have been working on a pared-back bill that would cost under 1 trillion over 10 years and drop contentious components, such as the government-sponsored insurance plan that liberals insist must be in the legislation.
But with Republican leaders solidly opposed to Obama’s approach, the GOP negotiators are under tremendous pressure not to cooperate. In the last few weeks, two GOP negotiators — Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Enzi of Wyoming — have made harsh public statements about the Democrats’ approach.
The third Republican, Olympia Snowe of Maine, has been circumspect.
The other two members of the group are Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.
In the GOP’s weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee underscored his party’s resolve to fight an overhaul of the health care system.
“It’s time to press the ‘reset’ button,” said Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who wants Congress to toss out the Democrats’ health care plans in favor of more modest changes in medical coverage.
Kline said the Democratic legislative proposals amount to “a government takeover that threatens American jobs.”
On the Net:
GOP address: http://www.youtube.com/RepublicanConference
NEW YORK – “Sopranos” actor Michael Imperioli has taken on a new role: first-time film director.
“The Hungry Ghosts” — packed with the kind of gritty passions found in the hit HBO series — will premiere Sept. 15 in New York.
The evening will be something of a cast reunion for actors from “The Sopranos.” Steve Schirripa and Sharon Angela star in the film, and Vince Curatola, Lorraine Bracco and Vincent Pastore are expected as guests. The TV series ended in 2007.
“Ghosts” won’t have the usual red-carpet opening.
Ticket sales for what’s billed as “a private screening” at the Rubin Museum in downtown Manhattan will benefit Tibetan refugees and elderly Buddhist monks led by the Dalai Lama.
“Buddhism is an antidote to the characters in the film,” said the 43-year-old director, who studies Eastern philosophy and practices the tae kwon do martial art with his wife and children.
His movie’s characters float like ghosts through an intense 36 hours of New York life, wrestling with drugs, alcohol and sex in what Imperioli calls “the human struggle for completion.”
“They’re lost and searching for something, restless and desirous of something spiritual — and physical,” he said in a telephone interview Saturday, adding with a laugh, “It’s a common affliction, a universal one.”
In this ensemble psychodrama, a cocaine-fueled radio host drives away his teenage son, who ends up in a park at night. A couple offers him alcohol and drugs, and the woman has sex with the youth while the man watches. In another narrative, a man fresh out of detox searches for his ex-lover, a woman who once taught yoga.
The various linked lives are saved by “a sense of compassion for each other, a sense of going beyond yourself,” said Imperioli, noting that the yoga instructor tells the destructive radio host, “remember all the good that you’ve done.”
In January, “Ghosts” opened the International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Eighteen cast members, including Angela and Schirripa, have worked at the 67-seat Studio Dante theater that Imperioli and his wife, Victoria, run in Manhattan’s Garment District.
He wrote the screenplay for the film he calls “a family affair.”
With his wife co-producing and designing the sets, plus the actors’ modest fees, the 105-minute movie was shot on a mere 600,000 budget.
Imperioli is now aiming for distribution of his independent silver-screen debut.
On the Net:
“The Hungry Ghosts” tickets: http://www.studiodante.com
WASHINGTON (Reuters) –
U.S. President Barack Obama announced new measures on Saturday to encourage Americans to save more money for retirement, a move the White House said would put the economy on a stronger footing in the future.
Obama, in his weekly radio and Internet address, said the government would enact rules making it easier for small businesses to let workers automatically enroll in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and 401(k) retirement plans.
Payments for unused vacation time and sick leave could be converted into retirement savings under the new measures and Americans would be able to have tax refunds directly deposited into their retirement accounts or used to buy savings bonds.
The measures do not require congressional approval and most will take effect immediately.
“We have to revive this economy and rebuild it stronger than before,” Obama said in the address. “And making sure that folks have the opportunity and incentive to save — for a home or college, for retirement or a rainy day — is essential to that effort.”
As the Obama administration focuses on lifting the U.S. economy out of its worst crisis since the Great Depression, the president has often warned that recovery must be coupled with steps to prevent another financial fall.
Americans' widespread reliance on credit cards and failure to save are two things he has targeted as part of that effort.
“The fact is, even before this recession hit, the savings rate was essentially zero, while borrowing had risen and credit card debt had increased,” Obama said.
“We cannot continue on this course. And we certainly cannot go back to an economy based on inflated profits and maxed-out credit cards.”
Obama said a drop in housing prices and fall in financial markets had caused Americans to lose some $2 trillion in retirement savings over the last two years.
MAKE IT AUTOMATIC
John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, called on Obama to support a Republican initiative that he said would keep the government from hindering Americans' ability to restore their savings.
“Republicans are pleased President Obama has joined us in calling for action to help Americans rebuild their lost savings,” the House minority leader said in a statement.
“Millions of Americans have watched with anxiety in the past year as the value of their 401(k)s, college savings plans and other vital savings accounts have plummeted, and government should not be an impediment as they work to restore what they've lost,” he said.
The House Republican bill would raise contribution and catch-up limits for retirement accounts, reduced Social Security earnings penalties, suspend capital gains taxes on newly acquired assets for two years and suspend taxes on dividend income through 2011, among other measures.
An administration official said the Net National Savings rate — which groups personal, corporate and government savings — was -2.8 percent in the second quarter of 2009.
The U.S. personal savings rate came in at 5 percent in the same time period after falling as low as 0.8 percent in April of last year.
“Right now the situation in national savings is unsustainable,” said the official, calling the negative net national savings rate a “major macroeconomic challenge.”
U.S. officials hope making saving mechanisms more automatic will spur Americans to put more money away. Automatic enrollment programs in 401(k) savings plans by big corporations have increased employee participation significantly.
“Working Americans should be able to retire with dignity and security, but nearly half of the nation's workforce has little or nothing beyond Social Security benefits to get by on in old age,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a statement.
The initiatives announced on Saturday are meant to augment previous proposals that do require congressional approval, including a plan to automatically enroll workers in IRAs if they do not have workplace retirement plans.
Even as it urges Americans to save, the administration wants consumers to spend money to help spur economic growth. The legislative proposals on Individual Retirement Accounts would not go into effect for a few years — until 2011 — to account for that dual desire, the official said.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)
ATLANTA (Reuters) –
A man who made a distraught call to authorities last week to report he found his father and several other relatives killed was charged with their murders on Friday, police in the U.S. state of Georgia said.
Guy Heinze, 22, who was charged with eight counts of murder, told emergency services last Saturday he returned home and discovered family members beaten to death in a trailer in a mobile home park in Brunswick, Georgia.
Victims ranged in age from children to adults in their 40s. Seven were members of Heinze's family.
“Investigators with the Glynn County Police Department sought and received arrest warrants for Guy Heinze … in connection with the murders and criminal attempt to commit murder,” a police statement said.
“This arrest is the result of a compilation of physical as well as testimonial evidence.”
Heinze was arrested soon after the murders and charged with evidence tampering and drug offenses before being released on bail on Thursday.
At that time, police in Glynn County did not say he was a suspect in the murders and for days released few details of how the victims died or whether there was a suspect.
(Writing by Matthew Bigg; Editing by Peter Cooney)
LONDON – Two British teens accused of planning a massacre inspired by the Columbine school shootings in the United States filmed themselves making and detonating explosives, a prosecutor said Friday.
Cell phone footage shown to a jury at Manchester Crown Court in northern England appeared to show Matthew Swift, 18, and his 16-year-old friend Ross McKnight exploding a homemade pipe bomb. Other clips allegedly show the pair experimenting with a Molotov cocktail and a firework.
Both are charged with planning to bomb a shopping center before going on a rampage at their school on the 10th anniversary of the April 1999 massacre in Colorado. Prosecutor Peter Wright has said they modeled themselves on Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School before committing suicide.
The teens deny the allegation.
Police failed to find any explosives, although Wright said Friday that a search of Swift’s apartment turned up Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” and “The Turner Diaries,” a novel popular with white supremacists. Police also found two films about school shootings: “Elephant” and “Zero Day.”
Earlier Friday Swift’s friend Alice Adshead, 18, told the jury that the teen once told her he wanted to “torch” their school.
“He wanted to torch it. His words would be quite violent, he wanted to burn it down or break windows,” she said.
She also recalled that during an online conversation with Swift, some time in December, he told her: “If I ever text you not to come into college, don’t question it.”
She testified that, when she press him about what he meant, he told her: “I’m just in a bad mood, just leave it.”
But when cross-examined by defense attorney Stephen Riordan, Adshead said she thought Swift “was just winding me up or saying things to impress other people he was with.”
SATURDAY, Sept. 5 (HealthDay News) — Family stability —
regardless of whether it's a one- or two-parent household — may help a
child succeed in school and life, a new study shows.
The findings, by an Ohio State University professor, challenge the
conventional wisdom that two-parent households are always best for
children. A single parent marrying or moving in with a partner may be as
disruptive to a child as a divorce, the author suggests.
“Based on this study, we can't say for sure that marriage will be a
good thing for the children of single mothers, particularly if that
marriage is unhealthy and does not last,” Claire Kamp Dush, an assistant
professor of human development and family science at Ohio State, said in a
university news release.
Only in black families did Kamp Dush find a particular advantage in
children always living with two parents as opposed to growing up with only
one. Black children from stabled married families scored better on reading
and math tests than those from single-parent families. Otherwise,
regardless of race, the children of stable single-parent households did as
well academically and behaviorally as their counterparts in married
“Our results suggest that the key for many children is growing up in a
stable household, where they don't go through divorce or other changes in
the family, whether that is in a single-parent home or a married home,”
The findings appear in “Marriage and Family: Perspectives and
Complexities,” a recently published book that Kamp Dash co-edited. She
looked at information gathered from nearly 5,000 households nationwide
during two long-term periods over three decades. While many past studies
show an advantage for children growing up in married households, Kamp Dush
notes those did not distinguish between family structure and family
For example, in one breakdown of the data, Kamp Dush compared similar
households where the only difference was whether the mother was single or
married during the entire study and found little difference in how the
children did in school or otherwise.
“My message to single moms is to think carefully before they decide to
get married or live with a partner,” she said. “Both romantic
relationships and parenting are hard work. Unless you think that you and
your partner can make it for the long haul, I think it would be better for
single moms to avoid moving in with romantic partners. Family transitions
are hard for kids.”
The Nemours Foundation has more about raising happy and
BEIRUT – The interrogator politely apologized for grilling the prisoner about her role in the mass protests over Iran’s disputed presidential election.
Then the prisoner was made to sit facing a wall in the courtyard of Iran’s Evin Prison, blindfolded, handcuffed and covered in an all-enveloping chador for four and a half hours under the blazing sun.
“America is our enemy,” the interrogator told her. “Why are you so naive and can’t see this? It’s exploiting the situation here and wants to ransack the country. They don’t have your interest at heart.
The ordeal of Nazy, a 29-year-old university student who worked with the campaign of defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, gives a rare glimpse of what is happening to detained protesters. Nazy spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from Tehran after her release on the condition that only her first name be used, to protect herself and her family.
Thousands have been arrested since incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, despite cries of fraud. The opposition claims detainees were savagely raped by their jailers and at least 69 people were killed, including some from beatings in prison.
The account from Nazy, who is known in reformist circles, could not be independently backed up. But former prisoners and human rights groups have noted that such treatment of prisoners — a mix of intimidation and persuasion known as white torture — is widespread, and that ordinary people along with well-known opposition politicians have been subjected to it.
“This case is one of thousands that take place in Iran,” said Mohammad Javad Akbarein, an analyst who was himself jailed in 2001. “The majority of prisoners experience white torture. But it’s worrisome when people become complacent when prisoners are not subjected to black torture and forget that their rights, dignity and honor are trampled on.”
June 20 was a tense Saturday, the day after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared the presidential vote would stand and warned opposition leaders to end street protests or be responsible for bloodshed.
“We knew that from that day on anyone who comes into the street may have to pay a high price for it,” said Nazy.
Nazy was on her way to buy a book in Tehran’s downtown Enqelab Street and planned to attend a demonstration that afternoon at 4. Before leaving home, she stuffed a bunch of white wristbands that said “change” into her backpack along with a folded poster she had prepared for the afternoon demonstration. White is the color of Karroubi’s supporters.
At noon, Nazy had just climbed out of the car in front of the bookshop when a man in a white vest, blue shirt and white sneakers twisted her arm and slapped handcuffs on her. He pushed her forward and ordered her to walk a few yards in front of him in the busy street.
No sooner had she started walking that two clean-shaven young men in tight blue jeans and wearing green wristbands_ the color of the other defeated reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi — caught up with her. “Don’t make any noise; when you reach the narrow street we will help you escape,” one of them told her.
But when she reached the street that led to the “Protective Police,” the men pushed her inside the gate. They had duped her.
She walked into a huge courtyard packed with disciplinary police officers and with vans and jeeps. Nazy saw five or six men beaten as they were led into the detention center.
Nazy herself was hit a couple of times on her back, led into a basement and interrogated.
A female guard pulled out a poster from Nazy’s bag. “Ha, instead of saying ‘In the Name of God,’ she’s written ‘In the Name of Democracy’ on the poster,” the guard mocked Nazy. “I’ll show you what democracy really is.”
Another guard came in and challenged Nazy for being a member of the ‘One Million Signature’ campaign — a group pressing for changes in Iran’s laws on women.
“Why don’t you live your life quietly?” she said. “Do you really consider yourself a woman? We are women who work to bring bread to the table, just like normal people. You ought to do the same and work. You call collecting signatures work?”
She said Nazy’s family was looking all over town for her and added, “Why don’t you use your brain a little?”
Nazy said she was working for the woman’s rights.
“Can’t you find a better way to fight for our rights?” the officer asked her.
By 4 p.m. the number of detainees — mostly men picked up at the protest sites — had swelled to more than 100.
Nazy and two other women waited for several hours in a van while more female demonstrators were brought in. It was dark by the time the van, which seated 12, was filled with 19 women plus two female and one male officers. They sat three to a seat, blindfolded, their hands tied to the chairs.
Every time they said a word, they were smacked in the head. At one point, the male officer threw six heavy bottles full of water on their heads.
Nazy slightly lifted her blindfold and watched guards hit around 60 men — mostly young — in the head with batons. Blood streamed down their faces and soaked their shirts.
The women were driven to the Vozara Monkerat (Moral Police), a temporary jailhouse for prostitutes and drug addicts.
The officers dumped them inside the green metal gates of the building and left. No one at the Monkerat knew why the 19 women were there, who had brought them, what their offenses were. They shoved every five of them into a 3 by 2 meter (10 by 6 feet) carpeted room where they couldn’t even stretch their legs. The rooms were dark, with no windows.
By the time dawn broke, the women were screaming. A young mother was wailing. She had left her three-year-old child in the house alone to shop at the corner store when she was arrested.
After 15 hours, they were allowed to use the toilet, and only once.
Just before midnight, the women were escorted up the stairs into a room with a big library. They were given forms to fill: reason for their detention.
The middle-aged interrogator — in a short-sleeved white shirt and white pants and a golden chain around his neck — did not look like a typical officer of the regime. Nor did his assistant, a young man also clean-shaven and wearing chains.
A few minutes later, a young, thin man wearing a suit walked in.
“Do you realize your crime is much heavier than others?” the new man asked Nazy. “Because you are with the (“One Million Signature’) campaign.”
“I don’t even know why I have been arrested,” she replied.
He wrote at the bottom of the paper: “to be released on billion rial (about 100,000) bail.” He told her to sign the paper so she could go home that night.
Her charge was: disruption of law and order, action against national security, destruction of public property, participation in illegal gathering.
She said did not accept any of the charges.
“Then you will stay right here,” he said. “Put on her handcuffs and blindfold and take her downstairs,” he told the guard.
Nazy was terrified. She didn’t want to stay there alone, and was worried about her family.
“If I sign it means I accept the charges?” she asked the man.
He said the charges would remain whether she signed or not. She was afraid that if she accepted the charges, they would slap a prison sentence on her.
“Don’t sign. Stay here until you die,” the man threatened her.
The young assistant tried to persuade her to sign.
“Will I then go home tonight?” she asked him.
“Yes. Don’t you see you are signing bail?” he assured her.
The moment she signed, the interrogator said: “Put on her handcuffs and blindfold and take her to Evin.”
“But you said I will be going home tonight!” Nazy said.
“Who do you think you are that I have to answer to you? Take her to Evin!” the man snapped.
It was after 2 a.m. when she and 6 other prisoners arrived at Evin. No one was expecting them. Guards said they had no vacant rooms, the prison was overcrowded.
Meanwhile, six busloads of men tied to the windows arrived from the criminal detention center of Shahpour, one of the most notorious centers known for torturing inmates.
Finally, at 2.30 a.m. the new arrivals were allowed into the Women’s Section 2. They were searched and fingerprinted. Every six of them were put in a cell with a carpet, a toilet, a shower and a washbasin.
The inmates included a 30-year-old woman with breast cancer who was sexually molested while she was driven from Shahpour to Evin. The woman, who had undergone surgery a few months earlier, was bleeding when she arrived.
Among the others were a 15-year-old arrested with her mother and aunt; two 16-year-old girls riding bicycles near the protest site and, ironically, four supporters of Ahmadinejad, including a 40-year-old seamstress whose brother was a senior Revolutionary Guard official.
Most of the food was camphorated and numbed their lips. Water was undrinkable. Many prisoners felt nausea.
In the morning, Nazy wore a chador, was handcuffed and blindfolded and walked with a guard to an interrogation center known as the Evin School — so called perhaps because of the school desks used there.
The interrogator stood behind her asking questions and told her to write the answers at the bottom of the paper from underneath her blindfold. “He used foul language,” said Nazy.
For every question, he took the paper from Nazy, wrote it down and returned it to her to write the answer. He asked the same questions over and over again.
Why did you vote for Mehdi Karroubi? Why did you choose Karroubi over Mousavi? How much money did you get?
Where did your meetings take place? Did you wear the veil at the campaign headquarters? How did you know how many votes you got? Who said so?
Who was the decision-maker in your campaign? Who wrote the slogans? Before the elections, did you plan if the results were not in favor of your candidate that you would cause disturbances?
He grilled her for nearly three and a half hours.
Nazy’s last interrogation took 4 1/2 hours under the sun. All the female prisoners were brought to the courtyard and made to sit facing the wall. Interrogators sat behind them.
Some were very aggressive and even kicked and slapped the prisoners. But Nazy’s interrogator was polite.
“This is what happens when there’s a mass sweep. Some are innocent,” he told Nazy. “Why did you have to come into the street that day when you knew the situation was tense?”
Then he gave her a lecture about U.S. designs against the Islamic Republic and the attempts of opportunists to destabilize the country.
“You’ve done nothing here, but if we don’t find those responsible we will have to blame you, charge you for it. Why? Because you brought about a situation where they could exploit it,” he said.
Nazy was released on bail at 11.30 the following night, one week after being arrested.
She awaits a summons from court.
URUMQI, China – Chinese leaders bowed to public demands and sacked the head of a western city wracked by communal violence and a bizarre string of needle attacks, hoping to calm uneasy mobs and end protests that percolated for a third day Saturday.
The removal of Urumqi’s Communist Party Secretary Li Zhi came amid reports of police again dispersing crowds outside Urumqi’s government offices using tear gas, and more unconfirmed reports of needle attacks, including one on an 11-year-old boy in a downtown square.
The city’s chief prosecutor announced further details about four people arrested over the attacks, but offered little to back up the government’s claims that they were an organized campaign to spread terror.
Protesters marched by the thousands Thursday and Friday demanding the resignation of Li and his boss, Xinjiang party secretary Wang Lequan, for failing to provide adequate public safety in the city. Also sacked was the police chief of Xinjiang, China’s westernmost region that abuts Central Asia and whose capital is Urumqi.
An Urumqi government spokeswoman and the official Xinhua News Agency gave no reasons in announcing the changes. But July’s riot was the worst communal violence in more than a decade in Xinjiang — where Uighur separatists have waged a sporadically violent campaign for a homeland. The renewed protests this week underscored the difficulties authorities were having in reasserting control.
The firing may also help quash calls to dismiss Wang — a member of the country’s ruling Politburo and an ally of President Hu Jintao.
“I would say that this is the sacrificial lamb,” Russell Leigh Moses, an analyst of Chinese politics based in Beijing. “But it will be interesting to see what the reaction in the streets is and whether this satisfies people’s anger or not.”
Li, a 58-year-old career official in Xinjiang, played a visible role during the July violence and recent protests. In July he climbed atop a car with a megaphone and urged an angry crowd of Han Chinese to show their patriotism by fighting separatists but not ordinary Uighurs.
On Thursday, when more than 10,000 people protested through the city, Li and Wang separately waded into crowds to meet with protesters to defuse tensions, only to be greeted with shouts to “step down.”
“Do I not know that I should protect my brothers and sisters?” Li told them, according to footage aired on Urumqi’s TV station and recounted by a local newspaper editor.
It wasn’t clear whether protesters would be assuaged and two key demands — an end to the syringe attacks and the swift punishment of those responsible for the July rioting — have yet to be met.
Urumqi’s prosecutor said among the 21 suspects in custody, all of them Uighurs, two jabbed a taxi driver with a heroin-filled syringe to steal 710 yuan (105) to buy drugs.
Overall, a show of force by thousands of troops on patrols restored calm to much of the city. Paramilitary police manned checkpoints around government and party offices and put up barricades backed by tanks at entrances to a heavily Uighur neighborhood — a sign that officials were worried the mainly Han protesters might try to storm in.
More than 500 people have sought treatment for stabbings, though only about 100 showed signs of having been pricked, according to state media reports. Members of a visiting People’s Liberation Army medical team said they conducted checks on 22 patients who showed clear signs of having been stabbed and found no indication that radioactive or biochemical substances had been used in any of the attacks.
Tests were still being conducted for HIV, hepatitis, and sexually transmitted diseases, and the results would be made public at a time to be determined by the Xinjiang government, said Qian Jun, one of the team’s leaders.
Urumqi Prosecutor Udgar Abdulrahman said four of the detained suspects — three men aged 19, 34 and 47, and one woman, 22 — were charged with endangering public security. Aside from the two who stabbed the taxi driver for drug money, Abdulrahman said the others acted separately. One jabbed a fruit seller and the other a police officer. No motive was given for the other attacks.
Abdulrahman did not cite an obvious political link to the stabbings, but said he believed there was a degree of coordination. “At this point, we think there is a plot and it is organized,” he said.
Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu said Friday the same Muslim separatists that Beijing blames for the July 5 ethnic rioting also orchestrated the syringe attacks.
The government has not provided an ethnic breakdown of the five killed in Thursday’s protests. A report in Urumqi’s Morning Post on Saturday said a “small number of people became overexcited and lost control of themselves” during the demonstrations. It said casualties included police, paramilitary troops and innocent civilians, but gave no specifics.
By most accounts, the July 5 riot started after police confronted peaceful Uighur protesters, who then attacked Han Chinese. Days later, Han vigilantes tore through Uighur neighborhoods to retaliate.
DEL MAR, Calif. – Actor Tom Selleck has been awarded more than 187,000 after a California jury found the actor was duped into buying a lame horse.
Selleck accused Del Mar equestrian Dolores Cuenca of trying to pass off a show horse with a medical condition as fit to ride in competitions.
The defense had argued that Selleck didn’t check the veterinarian records of the 10-year-old Zorro.
The bulk of the San Diego County jury’s award is for the price of the horse. The rest is to cover boarding costs. A second trial next week will determine how much Selleck should be paid in punitive damages.
Selleck is best known for his role on TV’s “Magnum, P.I.” in the 1980s.
ST. LOUIS – A boy allegedly abducted in a custody dispute nearly two years ago has turned up alive, hiding with his mother in a small, specially built secret room at his grandmother’s Illinois home, investigators said.
Richard “Ricky” Chekevdia, who turns 7 on Sept. 14, was in good spirits and physically fit after being found Friday by investigators with a court order to search the two-story rural home in southern Illinois’ Franklin County, about 120 miles southeast of St. Louis.
The boy’s mother, 30-year-old Shannon Wilfong, is charged with felony child abduction. The grandmother, 51-year-old Diane Dobbs, is charged with aiding and abetting. Wilfong remained jailed Saturday on 42,500 bond in Benton, Ill., where Dobbs was being held on 1,000 bond. The women did not have attorneys listed Saturday in online court records.
The boy was staying Saturday with one of his father’s relatives while state child-welfare workers investigated claims the father abused the child before his disappearance — allegations rejected by the dad, who’s thrilled the agonizing search has ended.
“Two years? You have no idea,” Mike Chekevdia, a 48-year-old former police officer who’s a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois National Guard, told The Associated Press by telephone Saturday from his house in Royalton, Ill., some three miles from the home where his son turned up. “I’ve lost sleep. I’ve lost weight. I’ve gained weight. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”
After hearing his son had been found, Chekevdia said, “you could have knocked me over with a feather.”
Chekevdia won temporary custody of his son shortly before the boy and his mother — Chekevdia’s former girlfriend — disappeared in November 2007. Chekevdia said he long suspected his son was being stowed by Dobbs, although there were no signs of the boy at her home when it was searched with her consent after his disappearance. Wilfong was charged in December 2007 with abducting the boy but couldn’t be found.
For much of the time since, Chekevdia said, the windows of Dobbs’ home were blocked off by drawn shades or other items, presumably to prevent anyone from peeking inside.
“I had a firm belief he was in there, and yesterday it was confirmed,” Chekevdia said.
Investigators, during a news conference Friday, did not detail what led sheriff’s deputies and federal marshals with a search warrant to Dobbs’ house Friday, when they found the boy and his mother in a hideaway roughly 5 feet by 12 feet and about the height of a washing machine.
“We let him out of the (patrol) car and he ran around like he’d never seen outdoors. It was actually very sad,” Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Stan Diggs said. “He was very happy to be outside. He said he never goes outside.”
“Surprisingly,” Diggs added, “Ricky is in very good spirits. For someone who’s been isolated in that house with no other outside beings, he’s a very social, very polite, very talkative little boy.”
Dobbs, the grandmother, told the Southern Illinoisan newspaper of Carbondale, Ill., last year that her daughter had been forced into hiding to keep the child from his father. Dobbs called the custody dispute a “nightmare for all of us.”
Chekevdia, eager to get his son back in school and to a dentist, said waiting for Ricky to resurface required patience.
“It’s hard to sit back and watch things happen when you’re used to making things happen,” said Chekevdia, a gung-ho military officer who served in Iraq earlier this decade. “But I just bided my time and let the system work.”
LONDON – Top finance officials from rich and developing countries on Saturday pledged to maintain stimulus measures to boost the global economy, warning that the fledging recovery that provided the backdrop to their meeting is by no means assured.
Group of 20 finance ministers also promised a crackdown on bankers’ pay — while stopping short of a European push for a cap on bonuses — and agreed to giving developing countries a greater say in international financial institutions.
A joint communique said that fiscal and monetary policy will stay “expansionary” for as long as needed to reduce the chances of a double-dip recession after the worst financial crisis since World War II.
“Financial markets are stabilizing and the global economy is improving, but we do remain cautious about the outlook for growth and jobs,” British Treasury chief Alistair Darling, the host of the London meeting, said.
“We agreed that we would continue to implement our necessary support measures — inclusing monetary and fiscal policies — consistent with price stability and long-term fiscal sustainability until recovery is secured.”
The International Monetary Fund has said that the global economy is beginning a sluggish recovery from its worst recession since World War II, raising its estimate for global economic growth in 2010 to 2.5 percent, from an April projection of 1.9 percent.
But the IMF also downgraded its forecast for this year to a contraction of 1.4 percent, from 1.3 percent. Japan, Germany, France and Australia all recorded growth in the second quarter. Other countries like Britain, which is expected to move back into growth in the third quarter, have been slower to recover.
“The financial system is showing signs of repair,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. “Growth is now underway. However, we still face significant challenges ahead.”
There is a fear that withdrawing any time soon from the trillions of dollars worth of extraordinary stimulus packages that have been pumped into the ailing world economy in recent months could result in a double-dip recession.
Germany and France had previously pushed for more discussion of a so-called exit strategy from the massive stimulus measures, arguing that spending measures have taken government debt to dangerously high levels, but have backed away from the issue in London.
The G-20 also pledged restrictions on excessive bankers’ pay in a bid to address concerns about the risk-promoting bonus culture blamed for fueling the current crisis.
The communique said that work will continue on the possibility of introducing a cap mechanism for financial sector bonuses but did not commit to the measure after U.S. and British objections to the French-German proposal.
Instead, the G-20 proposed clawback mechanisms to ensure that bonuses are linked to the long-term success of deals and could be forfeited if they fail to deliver over a period of years.
Darling said the new measures would make sure that institutions “are focused on long-term sustainability and long-term strength.”
Darling said banks must realize that “they would not be here had it not been for the efforts of countries, underwritten by the taxpayer,” and there must be no more cases in which “people are being rewarded for reckless behavior.”
The Financial Stability Board, an international body established at the London Summit of G-20 leaders in April, was given the task of drawing up practical proposals for implementation at the Sept. 24-25 leaders meeting in Pittsburgh.
The United States had tried to put the focus of the London meeting, which is a preparatory gathering for the leaders summit, on its proposal for a new international accord to increase banks’ capital reserves. The U.S. wants to establish stronger international standards for the reserves banks are required to hold to cover potential loan losses.
Going into the meeting, U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner wanted to reach agreement on an accord by the end of 2010, with implementation by the end of 2012.
The communique did not directly address that plan, but called for rapid progress in developing stronger prudential regulation, including a requirement that banks hold more and better capital once recovery is assured.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown won support for his push to take tougher action against tax havens, with the G-20 agreeing to a March 2010 deadline to start sanctions against tax havens which refuse to comply with new transparency rules agreed at the April G-20 leaders’ summit in London.
The G-20 also reaffirmed its commitment to reform of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to give developing countries a great say on those bodies.
The BRIC proposed a quota shift of 7 percent in the IMF and 6 percent in the World Bank Group to reach an equitable distribution of voting power between advanced and developing countries.
The G-20 stopped short of that, but said it will complete World Bank reforms by spring 2010 and the next IMF quota review by January 2011.
The G-20 includes 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Britain and the United States. The European Union, represented by its rotating presidency and the European Central Bank, is the 20th member.
LOS ANGELES – After five grueling days in bush planes and on horseback, 74-year-old Lew Johnson was returning from the forests of British Columbia with his prize — a cooler full of meat from a 43 1/2-inch spread moose in the bed of his pickup.
For those blissful few days, he’d had no communication with civilization whatsoever. He’d no idea that his world was in flames.
Tuesday morning, when he finally got back into cell phone range, the retired real estate broker called his 94-year-old mother in Pasadena. He could sense immediately there was something she didn’t want to tell him.
“You might as well tell me now,” he said. “I’m going to find out sooner or later.”
He had left Big Tujunga Canyon for Canada on the evening of Aug. 28, the day before the so-called Station Fire struck. He had no idea that the blaze — the largest in Los Angeles County history — had destroyed more than six dozen homes and claimed the lives of two firefighters.
“Well,” she replied. “You know your ranch? It’s not there any more.”
It wasn’t until Friday morning around 11 that the rugged septuagenarian was able to reach the remote community of Vogel Flats, the place he’s called home for four decades. With its canopy of oak and pines, his late 19th century home sat on an island of private land surrounded by the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains.
It was what Johnson called his “little piece of heaven.” Only now, it looked like a suburb of hell.
As he walked up the driveway, he stepped over silvery rivulets of molten aluminum that had flowed like lava from his prized 1962 Porsche. Scattered about the yard were the charred skeletons of a half-dozen cars and trucks, a boat-shaped mass of melted fiberglass and the remains of a fully stocked motor home.
Six days after the fire, smoke still belched from the hollow of a white pine in what had been Johnson’s front yard. Nearby, deflated cacti drooped over walls like surrealist Salvador Dali’s famous clocks.
Though he had not been able to prove it, Johnson’s house was reputed to have been a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop when two-lane Stonyvale Road was the main thoroughfare to Palmdale. All that remained of his 3,000-square-foot home was the sturdy stone chimney.
Somewhere in the ruins were the remains of his many hunting trophies, including the mounted heads of a 7-by-8 elk and a 2,000-pound buffalo that had returned from the taxidermist just a few months ago. Mounting the buffalo alone had cost 3,500.
In the wreckage of his garage, Johnson found the barrel of the Browning 264 Magnum deer rifle he’d owned for about a quarter century. Its wooden stock had burned away, and Johnson held onto the breach end, using it like a walking stick as he picked his way through the rubble.
Besides the chimney, the tallest thing left standing was a nearly 6-foot-high gun safe that was supposed to be able to withstand three hours of intense heat. The door was buckled and blocked by ashen debris, leaving Johnson to wonder what had become of the two dozen guns inside.
“It can be fried inside,” he says, his face and its day’s growth of white stubble smudged with the ubiquitous ash. “But it’s one of the best safes you can buy. See? It held up, and it’s got insulation. But I won’t know until I get it open.”
Here and there, Johnson found little irregular pancakes of metal — coins that had melted and fused. Then his bleary blue eyes turned to a ledge behind the home where a concrete block shell stood.
The small structure had housed a tiled Jacuzzi with a faux cement waterfall in one corner.
When Johnson departed for Canada, he was not leaving the house unguarded. His housemate of six years, Jules Goff, and Peter Loretta, an employee who was living in a trailer on the property, were there keeping an eye on Johnson’s four dogs.
Despite having a motor home stocked with food, the two men had decided to stay and hope the fire would not reach this far. Besides, there was a Forest Service fire station less than a mile up the road.
But when the fire did come Aug. 29, it came with a speed and ferociousness that could not have been imagined.
As the flames bore down on the house, the two men decided their best bet was to jump into the Jacuzzi. As they opened the door, three of the dogs — Girl and Princess, miniature Doberman Pinschers, and Ammo, an abandoned chow mix Johnson had taken in — scattered.
Johnson’s favorite, a 4-year-old fox terrier named Rocky, went with the men. Although he “hates water with a passion,” the little dog jumped into the small pool with the men.
The three stayed in the tiny outbuilding until the roof began caving in on top of them. They could hear a truck coming down the road, and they decided to make a run for it.
Loretta scooped up Rocky. With the dog cradled in his arms, he tripped and was unable to catch himself — falling face first into some burning debris.
The three made it to the truck and drove out of the canyon. Goff and Loretta were later airlifted to a burns unit in Sherman Oaks, where Johnson says Loretta was undergoing skin grafts.
Johnson had been through two previous fires and a flood in this home. He had used water from the 3,500-gallon tank above the house and another 5,000-gallon container out front to douse hot spots.
But this fire was different.
“If I’d been here I’d have ordered them out,” Johnson says, clicking his tongue. “I would not have let them stay, not when I saw that coming on.”
Rocky is safe, but Johnson can find no trace of the other three. He can only hope that they made it to the creek and that their identifications chips will eventually bring them back to him.
With his friends in the hospital, Johnson is finding it difficult to care about what he’s lost. Most of it was insured, besides.
What worries him more is what he might yet lose.
Johnson has long feared that the Forest Service wants to push him out. Over the years, he and his neighbors have fought state and federal initiatives that would make life in the canyon more difficult.
If he stays, Johnson faces a 45,000 septic system upgrade required because of the endangered desert pupfish that lives in the creek below.
“I’m in favor of the environment,” he says. “Heck! I live in the environment. I like my environment. Animals have rights. But you know, don’t we have some rights, too?”
Johnson worries that the Forest Service will use the devastation as a pretext for taking the land by eminent domain. Neighbor Duncan Baird thinks his friend’s fears are unfounded.
Congress would have to appropriate money to offer landowners fair market value. And with the bank bailouts, the economic stimulus spending and the recently ended Cash for Clunkers program, Baird just doesn’t see it happening.
“The county’s getting tax money off of this, and there’s no particular benefit to the government just to say they own it,” the retired Pasadena fire battalion chief says as he screens ash for whatever trinkets he can salvage from his home of 26 years. “They (the federal government) certainly don’t have the money in this year’s budget — or next year’s budget.”
If it does come to that, Johnson says the government will have a fight on its hands.
“That’s an understatement,” the man in the American flag suspenders says, gritting his teeth and balling his hand into a fist. “I’m going to start a war.”
For now, Johnson is staying at one of his other properties. He will wait for the rains, to see how much of the steep, denuded hillside comes down, before starting to rebuild.
Standing in the ash, surrounded by doomed, bone-white trees, it’s hard to imagine how someone could see a future here, why he would want to stay.
Johnson raises a finger into the smoky air.
“Listen,” he says. “What do you hear? Nothing. That’s why I live here.”
The trees will come back, he says. They always do.
And so, he vows, will he.
NEW YORK – She sat there in shock. Then, the tears started falling.
Believe it or not, 17-year-old Melanie Oudin is the toast of the town at the U.S. Open.
Gritting her way through a shaky third set, the 70th-ranked player from Marietta, Ga., pulled off her second upset of the Open on Saturday, defeating a more-seasoned, more-famous, more-moneyed opponent 29th-seeded Maria Sharapova, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.
“I don’t even know what to say right now,” Oudin said, choking back tears in her postmatch interview in Arthur Ashe Stadium. “Thank you so much for cheering for me.”
Sharapova, who has won this tournament once, usually gets those cheers. But on this cloudless day in Queens, the fans were rooting for a new potential queen the one who stamped the word “Believe” on her shoes, but probably didn’t see this coming so soon.
“My goal was to make the top 50,” she said. “But if I keep playing like this, who knows? Hopefully, I can get as high as anything.”
She added this upset to one over No. 4 Elena Dementieva in the second round and a win over former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic earlier this year at Wimbledon.
Sharapova, though, was the biggest name in the bunch. Oudin’s confidence is growing as quickly as her resume, and suddenly, it does seem like anything is possible.
“Yeah, why not?” Sharapova said. “I think with experience and playing tournaments and being in situations where she’s playing these kind of matches, considering her age, she certainly has a great amount of potential.”
Oudin’s fourth-round match is against No. 13 Nadia Petrova of Russia, though there’s a sense she may have already knocked out the two toughest players on her side of the draw. No. 5 Jankovic is also gone, along with No. 11 Ana Ivanovic. No. 1 Dinara Safina is still there, but she has been playing poorly.
The Williams sisters are on the other side of the draw and it may not be too early to dream about the third-best American, Oudin, going against one of the two best for the U.S. title.
“I learned, once again, proved to myself that I can compete with these top girls,” Oudin said. “And if I believe in myself and my game, then I can beat them.”
In men’s play, No. 1 Roger Federer extended his winning streak to 37 at the U.S. Open, overcoming some shaky play for a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory over No. 31 Lleyton Hewitt.
It was Federer’s 14th straight victory over Hewitt, a former No. 1 who won the U.S. Open in 2001.
“I just had to believe that I could still turn this around,” Federer said. “And with the great streak I have against him, I knew that if I could get back into the match then I could get back on a roll, because I’ve done it so many times against him.”
Other winners on the men’s side included 15th-seeded Radek Stepanek, 10th-seeded Fernando Verdasco, eighth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, and fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic, who ended 276th-ranked American Jesse Witten’s surprising run. Also gone is 22nd-seeded Sam Querrey, a 6-2, 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 loser to No. 12 Robin Soderling.
Oudin and Sharapova followed Federer onto the show court but Sharapova did not put on a headliner’s performance.
She served 21 double-faults the equivalent of five-plus games committed 63 unforced errors and clearly hasn’t rounded fully into form after nearly 10 months off with a shoulder injury that forced her to miss the trip to Flushing Meadows last year.
Sharapova and Oudin traded three breaks each through the first eight games of the third set, then Oudin got a fourth break to go ahead 5-4. She responded by holding serve, closing the match with a cross-court winner off a short counterpunch from Sharapova.
Oudin dropped her racket and choked back tears, shook hands with Sharapova and walked to her chair, shaking, clearly having trouble believing what had taken place.
But, yes, that happened.
“Someone asked me this question at Wimbledon, ‘How I would describe the whole experience,’” she said. “There’s not really one word. Everything about it is just unbelievable. But basically I love to play tennis, and that’s why I’m here. I’m loving it.”
JERUSALEM – Madonna joined the Israeli prime minister and his family Friday in the traditional ritual welcoming the Jewish Sabbath
A statement from from the prime minister’s office says the singer spent two hours with Bejamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at their home lighting candles and reciting a blessing together.
Although not Jewish, the 51-year-old pop star claims a special bond with Israel and Jewish tradition.
She’s been exploring Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, for more than a decade and has taken the Hebrew name, Esther.
She arrived in Israel on Sunday and performed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday and Wednesday.
She was wearing a short-sleeved black dress as she left the heavily guarded Netanyahu home Friday.
LOS ANGELES – Christian Audigier will not transform Michael Jackson’s former home into a public space.
Michele Elyzabeth, a spokeswoman for the Ed Hardy clothing founder, said Audigier would move into the sprawling Holmby Hills mansion at the end of Jackson’s lease on Dec. 15.
He also said that Audigier had no plans to turn the rental property where the King of Pop collapsed and later died into a public space.
The estate is owned by Ed Hardy CEO Hubert Guez.
Jackson was entombed Thursday night at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif.
WASHINGTON – When Barack Obama was considering running for president in 2006, the political strategist who had engineered his Senate victory two years earlier bluntly stated a potentially fatal concern.
“I don’t know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch,” David Axelrod wrote Obama.
Then and now, that’s the question: When the going gets rough, as it did in the campaign and has many times over the first seven-plus months of his presidency, does Obama flinch or fight.
There’s a pattern to Obama’s responses to difficulty or intransigence, whether in foreign and domestic affairs: typically Mr. Nice Guy at first, combative only when forced, and ever-ready to deal in the margins. He flinches and then fights, or fights and then flinches.
Of course it depends on who is doing the judging. Many fellow Democrats think Obama is a wuss for not pushing hard for the boldest health care overhaul, for instance, while many Republicans are openly admiring of his aggressive stance on Afghanistan.
And it depends on the circumstances.
“He knows how to count,” said Stephen Wayne, a Georgetown University presidential scholar. “When you get down to the core of his ambitions, then he’ll fight. … But before he puts the gloves on, he’s going to take a pretty hard look at whether he has a chance to win.”
In that November 2006 memo, first revealed in “The Battle for America 2008″ by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson, Axelrod worried about Obama’s “ability to put up with something you have never experienced on a sustained basis: criticism.” What’s more, even if Obama could take the heat, Axelrod wondered whether Obama would have what it takes to fight back — to turn fiasco into opportunity.
As Wayne says now: “He’s very risk averse.”
But Obama demonstrated during the campaign that he was plenty tough. He survived long, brutal primaries, hard-to-defend statements by his pastor and a more difficult fall fight against Republican John McCain than his operation had planned for.
In fact, the Axelrod memo could have been more a psychological tactic — designed as a kick in the pants rather than as true concern. In an interview this past week, the adviser didn’t say, but he did insist the campaign helped Obama hone a style he now uses as president.
“His approach is to keep his eye on the ball and not get bogged down in the tempest of the moment,” he said. “He is ultimately a principled pragmatist. He knows where he wants to go, and he’s not dogmatic about how to get there.”
As president, Obama has dug in against persistent critics or stiff opposition in order to press for a broad, long-term goal.
For instance, the president came into office promising to stop rewarding North Korea’s provocations but also offering to talk with the country’s leaders about its nuclear weapons program. He got only belligerence in return.
So even though the North recently made conciliatory moves, such as freeing two American journalists, the Obama administration said “no way” to the North’s new offer to negotiate, because the reclusive communist government wants talks only with the U.S., not the entire group of nations involved in the established six-party negotiations.
With Iran, too, Obama started by offering a new tone and then took a tougher stance this summer, saying Tehran has until the middle of September to negotiate with international partners or face “further steps.”
On the domestic front, Obama faced an immediate standoff over his proposed economic stimulus package.
Obama had made a big play for bipartisanship but Republicans rebelled, defining his package as too costly. The president then switched to buck-stops-here talk — and he got a bill, fast. But his victory didn’t come without agreeing to scale back the plan’s scope by cutting its spending and deepening its tax cuts.
He won, but not without taking a few punches. Like boxer Ali. And Floyd Patterson, too, first-round knockouts by Sonny Liston to the contrary.
Now, health care overhaul is Obama’s biggest domestic goal and a do-or-die battle for his early presidency. The end of this story is unwritten, with Congress due back to Washington this coming week to take up a debate that has grown messy and ugly.
Obama is following a familiar arc.
He decided to leave the details of bill-writing to Congress and pursued bipartisan negotiations, hoping that would be more effective than trying to ram something down lawmakers’ throats. The debate then slipped from his grasp, with a conservative outcry that dominated town hall meetings and summer coverage.
The president intends to burst back on the scene. Aides say that in Wednesday night’s prime-time address to a joint session of Congress he plans to both jawbone Republicans and signal compromise.
In other words, he’ll fight and flinch.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Jennifer Loven has covered the White House since 2002.
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court appears poised to wipe away limits on campaign spending by corporations and labor unions in time for next year’s congressional elections in a case that began as a dispute over a movie about Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The justices return to the bench Wednesday — nearly a month early — to consider whether to overrule two earlier decisions that restrict how and when corporations and unions can take part in federal campaigns. Laws that impose similar limits in 24 states also are threatened.
The court first heard arguments in March in the case of whether “Hillary: The Movie,” a scathingly critical look at Clinton’s presidential ambitions, could be regulated as a campaign ad. The emphasis has shifted away from the 90-minute film.
Now the justices could decide whether corporations and unions should be treated differently from individuals when it comes to campaign spending. Restrictions on corporations have been around for more than 100 years; limits on unions date from the 1940s.
Deep corporate and labor pockets and the potential for corruption “amply justify treating corporate and union expenditures differently from those by individuals and ideological nonprofit groups,” argued Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and other sponsors of a major campaign finance law who don’t want any significant change to the restrictions.
But former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who six years ago defended the campaign finance provision he now is challenging, said the limits are strangling corporate and union freedom to speak out.
“Why is it easier to dance naked, burn a flag or wear a T-shirt profanely opposing the draft,” Olson said at a Federalist Society event in July, “than it is to advocate the election or defeat of a president? That cannot be right.”
Wednesday’s unusual session — the court only rarely orders a case to be reargued — also will be the first to include the newest justice, Sonia Sotomayor. In August, the 55-year-old New Yorker became the court’s first Hispanic and third female justice ever.
It also will be the first argument for Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a finalist for the high court seat that went to Sotomayor. Yet another former solicitor general, Seth Waxman, is representing McCain and Feingold in an effort to preserve the 2003 provision that tightened limits on ads paid for by corporations and unions and broadcast close to an election.
Kagan, defending the law on the government’s behalf, and Waxman will face skeptical conservative-leaning justices, who appear to hold the upper hand on this issue. The court’s liberals generally have voted to uphold campaign finance laws. Sotomayor’s ascension to the court did not change its ideological balance, giving opponents of the current campaign finance laws hope this court will strike them down.
The court could have decided the case narrowly following arguments on March 24. Instead, on the last day they met before their summer break, the justices said they would consider overruling part of their 2003 decision that upheld major portions of the McCain-Feingold law as well as a 1990 decision that upheld limits on corporate spending in elections.
Three justices on the court now — Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — already have signed minority opinions that advocated striking down both laws as unconstitutional restrictions on speech. Since the 2003 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have joined the court. Both have questioned the validity of campaign finance laws, but have not yet gone as far as their three conservative-leaning colleagues.
Roberts and Alito made clear during the original arguments how much they worried about the control the campaign finance laws give government over political speech.
“If Wal-Mart airs an advertisement that says, `We have candidate action figures for sale, come buy them,’ that counts as an electioneering communication?” Roberts asked government lawyer Malcolm Stewart.
“If it’s aired in the right place at the right time, that would be covered,” Stewart said.
Stewart later added that campaign finance laws could be applied to mediums such as books and e-books. “That’s pretty incredible,” Alito said. “You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?”
Olson picked up on Alito’s incredulity in his brief to the court. “Enough is enough. When the government of the United States of America claims the authority to ban books because of their political speech, something has gone terribly wrong and it is as sure a sign as any that a return to first principles is in order,” he said.
Olson is representing Citizens United, a conservative not-for-profit group that wanted to air ads for the anti-Clinton movie and distribute it through video-on-demand services on local cable systems during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign.
But federal courts said the movie looked and sounded like a long campaign ad, and therefore should be regulated like one.
The justices could have decided the case on narrow grounds this year, saying for example that movies aired on-demand are exempt from campaign finance laws.
The call for new arguments to address the broader limits on corporate and union spending makes supporters of those laws nervous.
“This has the potential to unleash massive corporate spending,” said Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer, a longtime proponent of limiting money in politics. “It would be a disaster for democracy.”
The case is Citizens United v. FEC, 08-205.
On the Net:
“Hillary: The Movie”: http://www.hillarythemovie.com
Federal Election Commission: http://www.fec.gov
Background on the case: http://tinyurl.com/cfltxp
Citizens United: http://www.citizensunited.org/
WASHINGTON – The recession has eaten into people’s nest eggs so the government is promoting ways to make it easier to save for retirement.
One initiative that President Barack Obama outlined in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday will allow people to have their federal tax refunds sent as savings bonds. Others are meant to require workers to take action to stay out of an employer-run savings program rather than having to take action to join it.
“We know that automatic enrollment has made a big difference in participation rates by making it simpler for workers to save,” Obama said. “That’s why we’re going to expand it to more people.”
The new federal steps, which do not require congressional action, include:
_Making it easier for small companies to set up 401(k) retirement savings plans in which all workers are automatically enrolled unless they ask to be omitted. Employers can set default amounts of each worker’s pay — perhaps 3 percent — to automatically be deposited into the accounts without being taxed. Workers can raise or lower the contribution levels, and they choose how to invest the money. They will pay taxes on the money only when they withdraw it as retirees, when their tax rates are likely to be lower than when they are working full-time. A similar process would apply to savings plans called SIMPLE-IRAs.
_Allowing such plans to automatically increase the amount that workers save over time unless the workers object.
_Allowing people to check a box on their federal tax returns asking that any refund be sent as a savings bond. More than 100 million U.S. households receive refund checks each year, and many are promptly cashed and spent.
_Allowing workers, when leaving a job, to direct unused vacation pay to a retirement savings account rather than taking it in cash.
“This recession has not only led to the loss of jobs, but also the loss of savings,” Obama said, citing declines in home values as well as sources of retirement income.
“If you work hard and meet your responsibilities, this country is going to honor our collective responsibility to you: to ensure that you can save and secure your retirement. That is why we are announcing several commonsense changes that will help families put away money for the future,” Obama said.
The administration earlier asked Congress to make it easier to set up retirement accounts for people whose workplaces do not offer them. No legislation has moved thus far.
“Tens of millions of families have been, for a variety of reasons, unable to put away enough money for a secure retirement,” Obama said. “Half of America’s work force doesn’t have access to a retirement plan at work. And fewer than 10 percent of those without workplace retirement plans have one of their own.”
Nearly half of the U.S. work force has little or nothing beyond Social Security benefits to get by on in old age, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said.
“Just as the administration is dedicated to reviving the economy and getting people back to work, so too it is dedicated to helping put retirement security within the reach of all Americans,” Geithner said in a statement.
While saving for retirement is universally seen as a good idea, any increase in savings rates could somewhat slow the nation’s rebound from the economic recession.
On the Net:
Obama address: http://www.whitehouse.gov
Treasury and IRS information on retirement savings: http://www.irs.gov/retirement.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Consumers and businesses may finally be seeing some relief from rising utility bills, thanks to the biggest decline in U.S. electricity demand in decades.
Prices on wholesale markets are expected to decline for the rest of 2009, according to the Energy Information Agency. While rates will probably begin edging up again in 2010, it will likely be less than half the 6.2 percent jump recorded last year.
For decades as Americans bought more electronics, more appliances, air conditioners and other gizmos, energy demand has only moved in one direction and prices have followed suit.
The decline in power usage over the past year is a rarity and also an indication of how badly the recession has jolted the economy and changed the way Americans spend.
The shift began last year, when power consumption fell 1.6 percent. Government forecasters see consumption falling another 2.7 percent this year. That would mark the first time since 1949 that the nation has seen energy demand fall in consecutive years.
Given the broad apprehension over the economy, any money consumers can keep in their pockets may help.
“You might see a decrease in your bill or, at the very least, less of an increase. And these days that’s not bad,” said Charlie Acquard, executive director of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates.
You can trace the shift from major industrial power users all the way back to individual consumers to see what has happened.
The number of unemployed Americans is nearing 15 million and prospects for the job market remain gloomy. Retailers just reported their 12th straight month of declining sales and many people are buying only what they must.
Power consumption by the industrial and manufacturing companies that make everything from cars to cotton swabs has fallen faster than anywhere else — 10 percent this year by government estimates. Industrial consumption fell about 20 percent in parts of the Midwest, Carolinas and the South during the second quarter, utilities say.
This pullback by some of the biggest energy users in the U.S. may provide a silver lining for millions of people and businesses in the form of declining or flattening utility bills.
The recession has suppressed demand for coal, natural gas and oil. This has sent a ripple through wholesale electric markets, where fossil fuels are turned into energy.
In the PJM wholesale market that coordinates prices in all or parts of 13 states in the eastern half of the country, prices are down about 40 percent from a year ago.
The weather is helping as well. After a very mild summer in which it made more sense to open the windows of your home rather than crank up the air conditioning, most meteorologists see a relatively warm winter on the way.
How much of a break you get in your bill, if any, and for how long comes down to where you live.
If you reside in the Northeast, West or in a central state like Texas where rates are based on spot prices, you stand a good chance of getting some relief.
Customers in more regulated markets or in spots where utilities calculate bills based on long-term contracts will not benefit so much. In those markets, rates tend to be more stable.
In Texas, about 250,000 of the 2.2 million customers of TXU Energy saw monthly rates fall 15 percent in August. In the Washington, D.C. area, prices for Pepco’s 750,000 customers are up this summer.
The difference is that TXU buys power based off spot natural gas prices, down about 80 percent in the past year; Pepco buys power on wholesale markets with a three-year time horizon that is designed to eliminate roller-coaster like swings in prices.
“Nobody wants that when you’re budgeting energy for home or business,” Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson said.
He expects prices to begin dropping gradually.
If you are getting a break from your power provider already, enjoy it while you can. There are many factors that affect your bill and most of them tend to drive it higher.
A rebounding economy will certainly give energy prices a boost.
What’s more, the U.S. power infrastructure is aging and new plants and transmission lines must be built or replaced. That is going to cost businesses and consumers in the years ahead.
The big wild card is the legislation pending in Congress that may require utilities to cut emissions of carbon dioxide to address global warming. Utilities, especially those that rely on coal, will spend tens of billions of dollars to come up with ways to remove carbon dioxide from emissions.
They are going to want to recoup some of those costs. Customers will feel it in their wallets when they do.
A group cited by U.S. officials as a domestic terrorism threat claimed responsibility Friday for knocking down two radio station towers in Snohomish County, Washington.
Much of the tower system, owned by radio station KRKO, was “flattened like a pancake,” the manager said.
The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) issued a statement saying opponents of the towers argue that “AM radio waves cause adverse health effects including a higher rate of cancer, harm to wildlife, and that the signals have been interfering with home phone and intercom lines.” “When all legal channels of opposition have been exhausted, concerned citizens have to take action into their own hands to protect life and the planet,” Jason Crawford, a spokesman for the group, said in a news release. Members of ELF have been sentenced for acts of domestic terrorism in the past. Though no one is known to have been killed in ELF attacks, the government defines domestic terrorism as use or threatened use of violence by a domestic group “against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives,” the FBI’s then-domestic terrorism chief, James F. Jarboe, explained in congressional testimony in 2002. The towers belong to radio station KRKO. “There’s quite a bit of destruction to the antenna system and it will probably take at least three months to get it back up and operational again,” station manager Andy Skotdal told CNN affiliate KIRO, adding that much of it was “flattened like a pancake.”
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The station remained on the air by using a backup transmitter site, he said. KRKO is working with authorities to find those responsible, Skotdal said, adding, “We’ll use our own airwaves to do it.” The perpetrators stole an excavating machine out of a yard in order to knock down the towers, Skotdal said. Watch the aftermath of the scene » The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said the Seattle office of the FBI is the lead investigative agency in the incident. Officials at the FBI office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Snohomish County is just north of Seattle. The attack took place in an unincorporated part of the county, officials said. In its news release, the ELF describes itself as “an international underground organization that uses direct action in the form of economic sabotage to stop the systematic exploitation and destruction of the planet. Since its inception in North America in 1996, the ELF has inflicted well over 150 million in damages to corporations and governmental agencies that are profiting from the destruction of the Earth.”
JERUSALEMAn archaeological dig in Jerusalem has turned up a 3,700-year-old wall that is the largest and oldest of its kind found in the region, experts say.
The wall is built of enormous boulders, confounding archaeologists as to how ancient peoples built it.
Standing 8 meters (26 feet) high, the wall of huge cut stones is a marvel to archaeologists. “To build straight walls up 8 meters … I don’t know how to do it today without mechanical equipment,” said the excavation’s director, Ronny Reich. “I don’t think that any engineer today without electrical power [could] do it.” Archaeologist Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority added, “You see all the big bouldersall the boulders are 4 to 5 tons.” The discovered section is 24 meters (79 feet) long. “However, it is thought the fortification is much longer because it continues west beyond the part that was exposed,” the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a news release. It was found inside the City of David, an archaeological excavation site outside the Old City of East Jerusalem on a slope of the Silwan Valley. The wall is believed to have been built by the Canaanites, an ancient pagan people who the Bible says inhabited Jerusalem and other parts of the Middle East before the advent of monotheism. Watch report on the discovery of the ancient wall » “This is the most massive wall that has ever been uncovered in the City of David,” Reich and Shukron said in a joint statement about the find. It marks the first time “that such massive construction that predates the Herodian period has been discovered in Jerusalem.” It appears to be part of a “protected, well-fortified passage that descends to the spring tower from some sort of fortress that stood at the top of the hill,” according to the joint statement. The spring “is located in the weakest and most vulnerable place in the area. The construction of a protected passage, even though it involves tremendous effort, is a solution for which there are several parallels in antiquity, albeit from periods that are later than the remains described here.” Such walls were used primarily to defend against marauding desert nomads looking to rob the city, said Reich, a professor at the University of Haifa. “We are dealing with a gigantic fortification, from the standpoint of the structure’s dimensions, the thickness of its walls and the size of the stones that were incorporated in its construction,” the joint statement said.
Water from the spring is used by modern inhabitants of Jerusalem. “The new discovery shows that the picture regarding Jerusalem’s eastern defenses and the ancient water system in the Middle Bronze Age 2 is still far from clear,” Reich said. “Despite the fact that so many have excavated on this hill, there is a very good chance that extremely large and well-preserved architectural elements are still hidden in it and waiting to be uncovered.”
The stereotypical library is dyingand it’s taking its shushing ladies, dank smell and endless shelves of books with it.
Libraries are trying to imagine their futures with or without books.
Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas. “Loud rooms” that promote public discourse and group projects are taking over the bookish quiet. Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians. And that’s just the surface. By some accounts, the library system is undergoing a complete transformation that goes far beyond these image changes. Authors, publishing houses, librarians and Web sites continue to fight Google’s efforts to digitize the world’s books and create the world’s largest library online. Meanwhile, many real-world libraries are moving forward with the assumption that physical books will play a much-diminished or potentially nonexistent role in their efforts to educate the public. Some books will still be around, they say, although many of those will be digital. But the goal of the library remains the same: To be a free place where people can access and share information. “The library building isn’t a warehouse for books,” said Helene Blowers, digital strategy director at the Columbus [Ohio] Metropolitan Library. “It’s a community gathering center.” Think of the change as a Library 2.0 revolutiona mirror of what’s happened on the Web. Library 2.0 People used to go online for the same information they could get from newspapers. Now they go to Facebook, Digg and Twitter to discuss their lives and the news of the day. Forward-looking librarians are trying to create that same conversational loop in public libraries. The one-way flow of information from book to patron isn’t good enough anymore.
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“We can pick up on all of these trends that are going on,” said Toby Greenwalt, virtual services coordinator at the Skokie Public Library in suburban Chicago. Greenwalt, for example, set up a Twitter feed and text-messaging services for his library. He monitors local conversations on online social networks and uses that information as inspiration for group discussions or programs at the real-world library. Other libraries are trying new things, too. The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, in North Carolina, has a multimedia space where kids shoot videos and record music. It also runs a blog dedicated to gaming and hosts video game tournaments regularly. Kelly Czarnecki, a technology education librarian at ImaginOn, a kids’ branch of that library, said kids learn by telling their own stories. “Our motto here is to bring stories to life, so by having the movie and music studio we can really tap into a different angle of what stories are,” she said. “They’re not just in books. They’re something kids can create themselves.” Czarnecki believes that doesn’t have to come at the expense of book-based learning. The Aarhus Public Library in Aarhus, Denmark, takes things a step further. The library features an “info column,” where people share digital news stories; an “info galleria” where patrons explore digital maps layered with factoids; a digital floor that lets people immerse themselves in information; and RFID-tagged book phones that kids point at specific books to hear a story. “The library has never been just about books,” said Rolf Hapel, director of the city’s public libraries. Community Centers Jason M. Schultz, director of the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley Law School, said libraries always have served two roles in society: They’re places where people can get free information; and they’re community centers for civic debate. As books become more available online, that community-center role will become increasingly important for libraries, he said. “It depends on whether we prioritize it as a funding matter, but I think there always will be a space for that even if all the resources are digital,” he said. Some libraries are trying to gain an edge by focusing on the “deeply local” materialthe stuff that only they have, said Blowers, the librarian in Ohio. “How do we help add that value to a format like the Internet, which is expansively global?” she said. “So we look at what do we have here that we could help people gain access to by digitizing it.” That material can be used to start community discussions, she said. Librarians This shift means the role of the librarianand their lookis also changing. In a world where information is more social and more online, librarians are becoming debate moderators, givers of technical support and community outreach coordinators. They’re also no longer bound to the physical library, said Greenwalt, of the library in Skokie, Illinois. Librarians must venture into the digital space, where their potential patrons exist, to show them why the physical library is still necessary, he said. A rise in a young, library-chic subculture on blogs and on Twitter is putting a new face on this changing role, said Linda C. Smith, president of the Association for Library and Information Science Education. Some wear tattoos, piercings and dress like they belong on the streets of Brooklyn instead of behind bookshelves. They’re also trying on new titles. Instead of librarians, they’re “information specialists” or “information scientists.” Libraries like the “Urban Media Space,” which is set to open in 2014 in Aarhus, Denmark, are taking on new names, too. And all of that experimentation is a good thing, Smith said, because it may help people separate the book-bound past of libraries from the liberated future. “It’s a source of tension in the field because, for some people, trying to re-brand can be perceived as a rejection of the [library] tradition and the values,” she said. “But for other people it’s a redefinition and an expansion.” Funding woes In the United States, libraries are largely funded by local governments, many of which have been hit hard by the recession. That means some libraries may not get to take part in technological advances. It also could mean some of the nation’s 16,000 public libraries could be shut down or privatized. Schultz, of the Berkeley Law School, said it would be easy for public officials to point to the growing amount of free information online as further reason to cut public funding for libraries. Use of U.S. public libraries is up over the past decade, though, and many people in the information and libraries field say they’re excited about opportunities the future brings. “I came into libraries and it wasn’t about books,” said Peter Norman, a graduate student in library and information science at Simmons College in Boston who says he’s most interested in music and technology. “Sure I love to read. I read all the time. I read physical books. But I don’t have the strange emotional attachment that some people possess.” “If the library is going to turn into a place without books, I’m going to evolve with that too,” he said.
LOS ANGELES, California A fire north of Los Angeles is 49 percent contained and is moving east in the San Gabriel Wilderness area, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said Saturday.
The U.S. Forest Service expects to have the fire fullycontained by September 15.
Bruce Quintelier told CNN that “per the incident commander, we’re turning a corner on this thing.” Weather conditionslow temperatures and higher humidityhave helped firefighters battling the blaze, he said. And CNN meteorologist Jaqui Jeras said weather conditions over Labor Day weekend will be a boon for firefighters battling the blaze. “We have been looking at moisture that’s been in the area earlier in the week,” Jeras said Saturday. “We are going to see the change over the next couple of days. It’s really going to help.” A cold front moving in from the Pacific Northwest will be favorable for fire-swept southern California, Jaris said. “You’ll see a return to the marine layer, a return to increased humidity and it’s really going to make the difference.” The low temperatures and higher humiditywhich began to have an effect earlier this weekhave helped firefighters, Quintelier said. “We’re looking at pretty mild weather for the next day or two,” he said, but added that gusty winds may occur, “so that’s still a point of concern.” The fire, which has scorched 154,655 acres and killed two firefighters, began on August 26 and has destroyed 76 homes.
Authorities said earlier this week that the fire was caused by arson. A homicide investigation has been initiated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department into the deaths of the two firefighters, who were killed Sunday. See where authorities believe the fire started » Authorities estimate that the fire will be fully contained on September 15.