WASHINGTON (Reuters) –
Political survival will be high on lawmakers' minds when the Democratic-led U.S. Congress returns to work on Tuesday amid widespread voter dissatisfaction with its performance.
While the debates over healthcare reform, global warming and banking legislation and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will dominate the airwaves, many incumbents, both Democrats and Republicans, are beginning to worry about holding on to their seats in November 2010 elections.
Polls show only about one-third of Americans approve of how lawmakers are doing, less than a year after President Barack Obama led Democrats to big gains in Congress.
Surveys find voters have a dim view of both parties, but history suggests Obama's Democrats face greater risks because they control Congress and the White House.
“There's a lot of discontent out there and when that's the case the party in power pretty inevitably gets the blame,” said Dean Debnam of Public Policy Polling, a private firm.
Democrats now are expected to lose seats in the House of Representatives in 2010, though not enough to surrender control, analysts say. Democrats currently have 256 seats in the House versus 178 for the Republicans with one independent.
Democrats had been expected to increase their majority in the U.S. Senate but may lose a few seats. Democrats reached 60 this year, giving them the number needed to override Republican procedural hurdles.
Their political fortunes next year are likely to hinge on whether the U.S. economy, in its longest and deepest recession since the Great Depression, improves and if Congress passes a significant healthcare reform bill.
Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean warned Democrats they must pass a major healthcare bill for the nation's good as well as their own.
“We have very big majorities in the House and the Senate. My experience in politics is if you don't use your majorities, you lose your majorities,” Dean said on “Fox News Sunday.”
BLUE DOG HEADACHES
A group of more than 50 fiscally conservative Democrats, known as Blue Dogs, have been particularly problematic for Obama on a number of issues, including healthcare reform.
They are generally from conservative districts that may frown upon a radical overhaul of the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system, especially if it includes a provision to set up a government-run insurance program.
Obama will seek to boost sinking support for the overhaul with a major speech to Congress on Wednesday, a day after the House and Senate reconvene after an August recess.
“We're going to get something substantial. (But there's) going to be an awful lot of screaming and hollering before we get there,” said Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator.
Besides healthcare, lawmakers also must deal with spending bills that are essential to keep the federal government functioning, all of which carry potential political pitfalls.
In addition, they will wrestle over legislation to stem global warming and increase oversight of the troubled U.S. regulatory system. An intensified debate on whether to increase U.S. troop levels for the war in Afghanistan, which has some liberal Democrats uneasy, also is expected.
“It's an unbelievable agenda and a lot of pressure to do it in a limited time,” said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar with the American Enterprise Institute.
“There is a lot of anger on the left, and there is a lot of anger on the right,” Ornstein said.
A recent survey Public Policy Polling underscored the anti-incumbent mood.
It found that only 47 percent of voters say they would vote to reelect their member of Congress. Incumbents have long received upward of 60 percent of the vote.
The poor poll figures frustrate Democrats who have touted the major legislation they passed with Obama's help.
Democrats have pushed through expansion of a health insurance program for children; a $787 billion economic stimulus package; a credit card bill of rights, and given the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
But Ethan Siegal of The Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks Congress for institutional investors, said financial matters, by far, top voters' concerns.
“Until the economy turns around, Congress's ratings are going to be in the dumpster,” Siegal said.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Andy Sullivan and Kevin Drawbaugh; editing by Alan Elsner)
Archive for September 7th, 2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) –
DEAR ABBY: I will be going into the seventh grade soon. I’ll be in all advanced classes, and I am also doing several sports. My problem is I’m very nervous.
I’m afraid of getting lost on my way to my classes, that I’ll have a hard time meeting new people and that I’ll be overwhelmed with work. One night I had a dream about all my fears coming true! Is there any way I can get past these feelings and enjoy my first few days at school? — NERVOUS IN CHEYENNE
DEAR NERVOUS: Absolutely. Just remind yourself that every single student who will be entering seventh grade with you is probably experiencing similar feelings. If you get lost looking for a classroom, a teacher or someone else will be glad to help you find your way. It won’t be difficult to meet new people because they’ll be all around you, and everyone in your grade will be in the same boat.
P.S. You wouldn’t have been assigned to advanced classes if you weren’t up to the workload. So, trust me, and relax.
DEAR ABBY: My husband is starting to seriously embarrass me. He has to relieve himself almost every time he walks outside. We have a truck sitting in our yard, and when we have company he walks behind it to do his business. He says it “saves water.” What? A nickel’s worth?
Our 14-year-old son is starting to do the same thing. He can be walking down the street and stop to pee by the side of the road. It’s impossible to correct him when his dad does it, too.
How do I fix this? I have tried talking to them, but it doesn’t work. — TEED OFF IN TENNESSEE
DEAR TEED OFF: Not knowing your husband, I can’t determine whether he’s “marking his turf” or has trouble controlling his bladder. If your husband’s behavior started recently, inform his doctor. He should be checked from stem to stern because he could have a medical problem.
As to your son, he is imitating his dad. Depending on the laws in your community regarding exposing oneself and public urination, he could get himself in trouble. So please impress upon him that what he’s doing is not only socially unacceptable but also could have a negative impact on his future, and you want it stopped immediately.
DEAR ABBY: After years of soul-searching I have finally realized that I’m an atheist. I am happy with that realization and at peace with myself.
One minor thing, though, has been baffling me. When expressing compassion, usually in letters or other written form, I see the phrase, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.” I like the phrase, but cannot in good conscience state an outright lie when I know I won’t pray.
Can you think of any non-religious alternative that I can use? I feel that using “My thoughts are with you” alone is missing something. — JILL IN MICHIGAN
DEAR JILL: I disagree. The phrase “My thoughts are with you” is direct and sincere. If you think you must add more, describe the emotions you are feeling, i.e., “I miss you,” “I hope you’re feeling better soon” or, “Please know you’re always in my heart.” In other words, tailor your words to the occasion and the person to whom they are directed.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order “How to Be Popular.” Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for 6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby — Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)
UNIONTOWN, Pa. – A Pennsylvania history buff who recreates firearms from old wars accidentally fired a 2-pound cannonball through the wall of his neighbor’s home. William Maser, 54, fired a cannonball Wednesday evening outside his home in Georges Township that ricocheted and hit a house 400 yards away. The cannonball, about two inches in diameter, smashed through a window and a wall before landing in a closet. Authorities said nobody was hurt.
State police charged Maser with reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
No one answered the phone Friday at Maser’s home. He told WPXI-TV recreating 19th century cannons is a longtime hobby. He said he is sorry and he will stop shooting them on his property, about 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
When President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser, Van Jones, submitted his resignation this weekend, he became the first casualty of the Obama administration not to go quietly.
Where other departing officials have given explanations about process or used predictable lines about spending more time with their families, Jones released a statement accusing his critics of using “lies and distortions” about him to divert attention from the White House's agenda.
“On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me,” Jones said.
Also breaking with this White House's custom, the administration offered no reason for Jones's resignation. There was no smoke screen of administrative excuses, just a thank-you statement from Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley — and Jones's own acknowledgment that he had become a liability after his name was found attached to petitions questioning the U.S. government's role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Jones's fiery exit presents an unusually clear picture of the political calculus that drives staffing decisions in the Obama White House. Starting in the transition period, when a host of nominees withdrew (sometimes with a push from the president-elect's team) rather than face daunting confirmation battles, Obama and his closest aides have shown limited willingness to take heat for advisers' mistakes — and no sentimental attachment to outsiders who fail to meet expectations.
Here's a look back at other officials who have lost their jobs in this administration and how they handled things differently from Jones.
It was just hours after Air Force One's April 27 flyover of lower Manhattan that White House Military Office Director Louis Caldera apologized for the first time.
“Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision,” Caldera, a former Army secretary, said in a statement on the now-infamous photo op. “It's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused.”
Rather than canning Caldera immediately, the White House initiated a review of the flyover incident, spearheaded by deputy chief of staff Jim Messina. Almost two weeks later, late on a Friday afternoon, the White House released Messina's report, along with a letter from Caldera explaining that the blowup had “made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office.”
“It has become a distraction to the important work you are doing as President,” Caldera wrote in a message addressed to Obama. “After much reflection, I believe it is incumbent on me to tender my resignation and step down as Director of the White House Military Office.”
When White House Communications Director Ellen Moran left the West Wing in late April, it wasn't presented as a firing. But however her departure unfolded, one thing was clear: Moving from the West Wing to the Department of Commerce wasn't a promotion.
On April 22, when she announced she was taking a job as chief of staff to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Moran told POLITICO: “This is a perfect fit for me professionally and personally. … When I had the opportunity, I jumped at it.”
Moran was one of the few high-profile women on Obama's political staff, and her departure revived questions about the insularity of a White House team forged in the 2008 presidential campaign. Beyond thanking her for her “leadership” and praising her “management and strategic skills,” however, Obama and his aides had little to say about the resignation of the former EMILY's List director.
“She had the opportunity to go work as the chief of staff for the … new Commerce Secretary. It's a position that greatly interests her, and it gives her a chance to spend more time with her husband and her children,” Gibbs told reporters in a gaggle on Air Force One.
“The team is incredibly grateful and thankful for the work that she's put in over the first part of this administration,” he added later. It was the Obama administration's 92nd day in office.
Gen. David McKiernan
Obama didn't choose Gen. David McKiernan to run the war in Afghanistan. And going by the White House's release announcing his removal from his post, you might not have known Obama was responsible for his departure, either.
When the president decided to pull his Afghan commander from the field and replace him with counterinsurgency expert Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the White House announced the move in a carefully worded statement distributing responsibility for McKiernan's dismissal across top national security brass.
“The President agreed with the recommendation of the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the implementation of a new strategy in Afghanistan called for new military leadership,” Gibbs said in a statement on May 11. “The President was grateful for and impressed by the leadership that General McKiernan demonstrated in calling for additional resources for the fight in Afghanistan. This change of direction in Afghanistan in no way diminishes the President’s deep respect for Gen. McKiernan and his decades of public service.”
McKiernan didn't sound so convinced of this when he spoke at his retirement ceremony a little over a month later.
“If you had asked me 30 days ago if I would be here today at my retirement ceremony, I probably would have said no, maybe in a bit stronger terms,” McKiernan said, according to CNN. “I was dismayed, disappointed and more than a little embarrassed.”
Only one Obama administration casualty, to date, has been able to take the most desirable path out of government: Declaring victory and going home.
When the Treasury Department announced on July 13 that Steve Rattner, the private equity executive who headed the president's Auto Task Force, would return to the private sector, Secretary Tim Geithner said Rattner's work in Washington was essentially done.
“With GM's restructuring complete, Steven Rattner, whose leadership and vision were invaluable to the Auto Task Force's efforts, has decided to transition back to private life and his family in New York City,” Geithner said in a statement. “We are extremely grateful to Steve for his efforts in helping to strengthen GM and Chrysler, recapitalize GMAC, and support the American auto industry. I hope that he takes another opportunity to bring his unique skills to government service in the future.”
But Rattner's departure wasn't the end of the Auto Task Force. Indeed, even as Geithner announced Rattner's job as done, he announced that Ron Bloom, a former banker and union official serving as an adviser to Treasury, would take over Rattner's responsibilities.
For months, Rattner's tenure had been plagued by stories of a New York-based investigation into Rattner's firm, Quadrangle Group, and allegations that it had illegally obtained a management role in New York's public pension fund.
Like Caldera, McKiernan and Jones — but not Moran — Rattner announced no future plans at the time of his resignation.
Read More Stories from POLITICOBeck up, left let down and Jones defiantGolfer-in-chiefBeck topples JonesOpen Mic WeekendGOP czar revolt scores its first win
MANILA, Philippines – Passengers leapt into the dark sea and parents dropped children into life rafts when a ferry carrying nearly 1,000 people capsized in the middle of the night in the southern Philippines.
Nine people died and more than 30 were missing though rescue efforts saved about 900 terrified victims on the Superferry 9 early Sunday after it turned on its side 9 miles (15 kilometers) off Zamboanga del Norte province.
The vessel’s violent rotation roused frightened passengers from their sleep and sent many jumping in the darkness into the water, coast guard chief Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said.
Many aboard panicked as the huge ferry listed, said passenger Reymark Belgira. He said he saw parents tossing children to people on life rafts below, but he could not immediately jump himself.
“I held on to the ferry for hours until daybreak. I couldn’t jump into the water in the dark,” Belgira said.
Rescuers transferred 926 of 968 passengers and crewmen to two nearby commercial ships, a navy gunboat and a fishing boat, Tamayo said. A search was under way for 33 missing people.
“We really hope they’re just unaccounted for due to the confusion,” Tamayo told The Associated Press.
A coast guard statement said rescue efforts were continued through the night.
Passenger Roger Cinciron said he felt the ferry tilting at about midnight but was assured by a crewman that all was well. About two hours later he was awoken by the sound of crashing cargo below his cabin, he told DZMM radio.
“People began to panic because the ship was really tilting,” he said as he waited for rescuers to save him and a group of more than 20 other passengers.
Navy ships were deployed and three military aircraft scoured the seas, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said. American troops providing counterterrorism training to Philippine soldiers in the region deployed a civilian helicopter and five boats, some carrying paramedics, to help, U.S. Col. William Coultrup said.
Teodoro said two men and a child drowned during the scramble to escape the ship. The bodies of two other passengers were later plucked from the sea by fishermen, the coast guard said, adding three people were injured.
A Canadian tourist, Jeffrey Predchuz, was among the survivors, officials said.
The cause of the listing was not clear. The ferry skipper initially ordered everyone on board to abandon ship as a precautionary step, said Jess Supan, vice president of Aboitiz Transport System, which owns the steel-hulled ferry.
There were reports the 7,268-ton vessel listed to the right because of a hole in the hull, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said.
Aerial photos from the navy showed survivors holding on to anything as the ferry tilted. Others climbed down a ladder on the side as a lone orange life raft waited below.
The ferry left the southern port city of General Santos on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive in Iloilo city in the central Philippines on Sunday but ran into problems midway, Tamayo said.
There were no signs of possible terrorism, he said.
Al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants bombed another Superferry in Manila Bay in 2004, setting off an inferno that killed 116 people in Southeast Asia’s second-worst terrorist attack.
The weather was generally fair in the Zamboanga peninsula region, about 530 miles (860 kilometers) south of Manila, although a tropical storm was battering the country’s mountainous north, the coast guard said.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of tropical storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.
Last year, a ferry overturned after sailing toward a powerful typhoon in the central Philippines, killing more than 800 people on board.
In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker in the Philippines, killing more than 4,341 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.
VENICE, Italy – Michael Moore says his film “Capitalism: A Love Story” is dedicated to “good people … who’ve had their lives ruined” by the quest for profit.
After much success at Cannes, Moore premieres the movie Sunday in his first appearance at the Venice Film Festival. It was warmly received at a press showing Saturday evening and won positive reviews. Variety called it one of Moore’s “best pics.”
“I am personally affected by good people who struggle, who work hard and who’ve had their lives ruined by decisions that are made by people who do not have their best interest at heart, but who have the best interest of the bottom line, of the company, at heart,” Moore told reporters Sunday.
The film features plenty of examples of lives shattered by corporate greed — but also some inspiring tales of workers who have rebelled.
According to Moore, “the revolt you think I am calling for has actually begun. It began Nov. 4,” when President Barack Obama was elected.
There is the Chicago glass and window company whose employees barricaded themselves to demand their pay after management laid off all 250 employees when the bank line of credit dried up.
On the side of greed, Moore tells the story of a privately-run juvenile detention center in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, that paid off judges to lock up juvenile offenders. One boy said he had done little more than throw a piece of meat at his mother’s boyfriend during a fight at the dinner table, and a teenage girl’s offense was making fun of her school’s vice principal on a Myspace page.
The film is filled with classic Moore gimmicks, like wrapping crime scene tape around landmark banks and Wall Street institutions. And there is the expected Moore grandstanding as he tries to make citizen arrests of bank CEOs, not getting past the sometimes amused security guards at the main entrance. By now, everyone sees him coming and knows who he is.
Moore said he considered himself a proxy for the “millions of Americans who would like to be placing crime scene tape around Wall Street.”
The filmmaker is optimistic that unimagined change can happen, citing the unexpected fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and Nelson Mandela’s election as the president of South Africa after 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activism.
“There are many things that have happened in the last 20 years that are just utterly surprising, so that I now believe anything can happen. People can revolt in good ways.”
Moore said his expose on the health care system, “Sicko,” helped trigger “a national debate about why we are the only Western industrialized country that does not have universal health care.”
While “Capitalism” has a strong political message, Moore said his main purpose is to entertain with a film that “makes you laugh a little, or cry, or think. I am happy with all those results.
But he acknowledges that his mass appeal allows him to reach even nonbelievers, a luxury enjoyed by few on the left.
“I am going to use that position to try to communicate not just to the church of the left but to the average, everyday American who wants to go see a good movie, and maybe gets something out of it at the same time.”
“Capitalism: A Love Story” is competing for the Golden Lion, which will be awarded Sept. 12.
KABUL – An airstrike by U.S. fighter jets that appears to have killed Afghan civilians could turn into a major dispute for NATO allies Germany and the United States, as tensions began rising between them Sunday over Germany’s role in ordering the attack.
Afghan officials say up to 70 people were killed in the early morning airstrike Friday in the northern province of Kunduz after Taliban militants stole two tanker trucks of fuel and villagers gathered to siphon off gas.
Afghan and NATO investigations are just beginning, but both German and U.S. officials already appeared to be trying to deflect blame.
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said the Taliban’s possession of the two tankers “posed an acute threat to our soldiers.” German officials have said the tankers might have been used as suicide bombs.
“If there were civilian casualties or injuries, of course we deeply regret that. At the same time, it was clear that our soldiers were in danger,” Jung said in comments to German broadcasters. “Consequently, I stand clearly behind our commander’s decision” to order the air strike.
Meanwhile, Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the top U.S. and NATO spokesman in the country, said German troops let too many hours pass before visiting the site of the bombing Friday.
He explained that it’s important to hold the ground after a strike and determine what happened before the enemy comes out with its own version of events.
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, visited the site Saturday where two charred trucks and yellow gas cans sat on a riverbed. He asked a top commander in Regional Command North about the response time.
“Why didn’t RC-North come here quicker?” McChrystal asked Col. Georg Klein, the commander of the German base in Kunduz.
“I can honestly say it was a mistake,” Klein answered, in a discussion witnessed by an Associated Press reporter.
On Sunday, Smith said that in McChrystal’s judgment the response time “was probably longer than it should have been.”
German troops in Afghanistan have long been criticized for avoiding combat operations, even as militants have increasingly infiltrated northern Afghanistan the last year, destabilizing the once-peaceful region.
Taliban militants stole two fuel tankers late Friday that became stuck on a riverbed outside Kunduz. Villagers — either forced by the militants or enticed by offers of free fuel — gathered near the trucks, even as U.S. jets patrolled overhead.
German commanders watching images from the U.S. aircraft could see about 120 people, McChrystal said Saturday. The commanders decided that the people were militants and ordered the airstrikes, Smith said, even though images provided by the U.S. aircraft would have been grainy and difficult to see.
Whether the German commanders or the U.S. pilot are at fault for any civilian casualties may turn into an inner-NATO tussle.
Smith said the ground force commander “is the decision maker for close air support. That’s doctrine.” But he also conceded that a pilot can refuse an order to drop a bomb.
Klein, in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, declined to say whether images provided by the U.S. jets had been clear enough for weapons to be seen among Afghans on the ground, citing the ongoing investigation.
A German Joint Terminal Air Controller, or JTAC, who spoke on condition that his name not be used because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said the rules for ordering an attack clearly state that the ultimate decision rests with the ground commander.
But rules also require that both the pilot and the JTAC get a good positive identification of the target before the commander can order a weapon deployed, the JTAC said.
“Only when both are sure that what we see is a target, only then will the pilot drop the bomb,” the JTAC said.
The German Defense Ministry, meanwhile, pushed back against a story published in the Washington Post that German officials said painted their commander in a poor light and played up the U.S. version of events. The ministry said the article “will definitely influence at least the preliminary investigation by the various bodies.”
“The Defense Ministry is very surprised about the unusual procedure of using a journalist as a source to reveal initial investigation results,” the ministry said.
Kris Coratti, director of communications for the Washington Post, said in an e-mail: “The story speaks for itself.”
Smith said a trip to Kunduz by military officials from Kabul was not an official investigation but a fact-finding trip.
“And I think it’s much, much better for people to understand the facts,” he said of the decision to allow a journalist to witness the discussion among military officials.
No NATO officials will yet say how many civilians they think may have died. Smith on Saturday said the preliminary overall death toll was believed to be 56. Afghan officials say it’s in the low 70s.
Smith said he hopes a U.S.-German rift does not develop over the strike. “I hope everyone allows the investigation to proceed and we’ll determine what we know more precisely and move on from there,” Smith said.
The director of an Afghan human rights group criticized NATO’s International Security Assistance Force for the deaths. “It was carelessness in terms of ISAF using force without doing enough to investigate whether this is a civilian location,” Ajmal Samadi of Afghan Rights Monitor said.
German troops have long been criticized for restrictions that limit the battle their troops see. A U.S. based military analyst, Anthony Cordesman, said German troops don’t have “the situational and combat experience” to confront Taliban on the ground.
“They’re as oriented toward staying in their armored vehicles as any group I’ve met,” Cordesman said. “They’re not active enough to present much of a threat to the Taliban most of the time.”
Klein rejected the claim that his troops lacked combat experience.
“Since I arrived here we have unfortunately seen many combat situations and my soldiers performed very well,” he said.
“But the thing that’s always given us a very good reputation in the civilian society here is that we tried as best as possible to exclude any civilian casualties, and I’ve got very good feedback on that from the Afghan people,” he said.
Associated Press reporters Douglas Birch and Kay Johnson in Kabul and Melissa Eddy in Berlin contributed to this report. Frank Jordans reported from Kunduz.
SEATTLE – A cougar that apparently had lived in Seattle for more than two weeks and forced the city’s largest park to close was captured early Sunday and returned to the wild, state wildlife officials said.
The cougar was immobilized with a tranquilizer in Discovery Park about 2:30 a.m. after hunting dogs treed it, Department of Fish and Wildlife Capt. Bill Hebner said.
An enforcement officer and the dogs tracked the animal after authorities were told it had been spotted Saturday night, the latest sighting in or near the 534-acre preserve, he said.
The cougar is a 2 1/2-year-old male, weighs 140 pounds and is in very good health, Capt. Bill Hebner said.
After examining the animal, wildlife agents drove it to be released in the Cascade foothills near Skykomish, about 45 miles northeast of Seattle.
“It’s a very good prospect for relocation,” Hebner said. “It wasn’t aggressive or stalking people, and it maintained its natural respect for the wild.”
The park reopened late Sunday morning, city parks spokeswoman Joelle Ligon said.
The animal likely preyed on house cats during its time in the park, Hebner said. Earlier, he noted the heavily forested park was a perfect urban retreat for the cougar because there’s no competition for the territorial animal. There’s also plenty of food in the form of rabbits and other small animals, along with neighborhood pets.
The mostly undeveloped park on the city’s northwest side includes miles of trails, beaches along Elliott Bay and spectacular views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Fish and Wildlife officers believe the cougar followed a wooded rail corridor running south into the city, then crossed the Lake Washington Ship Canal over a railroad bridge to reach the park.
“He came a long ways without being seen,” Hebner said, a good sign the elusive cat wants little to do with people.
Agents found a report of a cougar sighting near the park Aug. 21, so the animal probably was in the city for two weeks or more, he said.
Agents attached a GPS collar on the cougar that will automatically send updates on its location twice a day, Hebner said.
In an unrelated incident, a cougar was struck and killed by an automobile Saturday evening in Redmond, east of Seattle. The driver of the vehicle was unhurt, Hebner said.
WASHINGTON – Every day it’s a battle. The nearly 15 million unemployed Americans won’t enjoy Labor Day as a relaxing respite from work. Instead, they’ll once again need to prepare to get up, hit the pavement and keep hunting for a job.
As the jobless rate nears 10 percent, even those fortunate enough to be employed fret about keeping their jobs. But for those without them, it’s a daily struggle with emotional and economic distress.
“It’s hard to maintain your focus that you’re a valuable member of society when you go three months and nobody really wants to employ you,” says David O’Bryan, 59, of Barre, Vt.
To cope with the stress, O’Bryan jots down his thoughts in a journal he carries around. He’s seeking a new career in the education field. In one recent entry, he wrote:
“I’m finding the process of trying to get into schools both tedious and frustrating. I wish I could have some concrete feedback on why I’m not being hired. Overweight? No para-educator certificate in effect? No confidence in my ability to perform the job?”
The economy is showing signs of being on the mend. Yet that’s hardly reassuring to the unemployed this Labor Day weekend. The job market is in lousy shape and will stay that way for a while.
The nation’s jobless rate jumped to a 26-year high of 9.7 percent in August from 9.4 percent in July. It’s expected to top 10 percent this year and keep climbing into part of next year before falling back. The post-World War II high was 10.8 percent at the end of 1982.
And it could take four years or more for the unemployment rate to fall back down to a normal level of about 5 percent.
Gregory Przybylski, 46, of suburban Milwaukee has grown increasingly anxious since losing his job as a machine operator in March 2008.
“It’s getting scary,” said Przybylski, a bachelor who has spent the past several months studying for a high school equivalency degree. “I’m just hoping to be working by Christmas.”
Przybylski said he’s using his time to study and improve himself so he’ll be ready once the economy turns around. But he fears being thrust into a new career after spending so many years as a machinist.
“I’ve been doing this since 1980 — that’s what I know,” he said, slowly shaking his head.
“It’s stressful whether you have a job or not,” says Patricia Drentea, associate professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “If you are out of a job, it can be demoralizing to know that the tide has not yet turned. For those still in jobs, there is the constant worry that there is going to be more layoffs.”
The worst recession since World War II has claimed a net total of 6.9 million jobs — and more losses are expected, casting a pall over this year’s Labor Day.
The strains of rising unemployment are making people — those with jobs and those without — more frugal. And they’re likely to remain cautious spenders in coming months, crimping the budding economic recovery.
Ethan Fierro of Chicago has managed to survive a round of layoffs at his accounting firm. But he’s not taking his job for granted and is clamping down on the household budget, and cutting out the little extras.
“Now, movie nights have to be Netflix nights,” says Fierro, 33, who has a wife and a 1-year-old son.
Chrysantheum Dickens, 43, of Tampa, a church pastor who also works in sales at an information technology company, shops at a Salvation Army store for school clothes for her sons.
“It’s a different age now, and you never know what’s going to happen,” she says.
Jobseeker Ileen Goldberg of Tampa stopped scheduling doctor’s appointments and sold her car to save money and help make ends meet.
“It’s horrible out there,” says Goldberg, 48, who lost her job as an administrative assistant in June. “I have no prospects, so every day it’s a mental battle when you get up.”
Laid off eight months ago from her secretarial job at a health clinic, Mary Pat Didier, 60, is preparing her five grandchildren for the possibility she might have to move away from her home in Rockford, Ill., in hopes of finding employment.
Didier has begun applying for jobs in Chicago and in Milwaukee. So far, no luck. Her unemployment benefits are set to expire in January, but she hopes to qualify for extended aid. She’s burned through her retirement savings.
“There’s no place to go from here,” Didier said. “I’m too young for Medicare, but I ended up with no health (insurance). I get frustrated, but I can’t give up, so I try to not to dwell in it,” she adds. “I finally know what it’s like to live in the moment.”
An Associated Press-GfK poll last month found that 43 percent of Americans were worried “some” or “a lot” about losing their job, even though the pace of layoffs has slowed. And statistically, that wasn’t much changed from the results in February, when job losses were much heavier.
A growing number of people have grown so frustrated that they’ve stopped looking for work. The number of such “discouraged workers” totaled 758,000 in August — nearly twice as many as a year ago. Because they’ve abandoned their job searches, they aren’t included in the government’s count of the 14.9 million people who are unemployed.
If discouraged workers and people who have settled for part-time work are included, the unemployment rate would have been 16.8 percent in August, the highest on records dating to 1994.
“Right now, there are six people unemployed for each job opening,” says economist Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute. “If you are not successful in finding work, you are in a cruel game of musical chairs with six people circling around one chair.”
Earlier this week, Federal Reserve officials said they expected the pace of the recovery to pick up in 2010, but the likely strength of the upturn is uncertain because of concerns about how much consumers will borrow and spend.
A “poor” job market, evaporated wealth from home and stock values, hard-to-get credit and wages that aren’t likely to rise much anytime soon mean Americans face “considerable headwinds,” Fed officials said. How consumers behave is crucial to the recovery because their spending accounts for roughly 70 percent of economic activity.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’ advice to the unemployed: “I would tell those workers and families not to lose sight of hope.” She urges them to seek the skills, education and training needed for new jobs. But she acknowledges these are tough times.
“Americans are facing monumental challenges,” she says. “I know that every job lost, every hour cut from the workweek, means another family having to make difficult decisions.”
AP Writers Christine Armario in Tampa, John Curran in Montpelier, Vt., Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee and Tammy Webber in Chicago contributed to this report.
NEW YORK – A young production staffer at “The Dr. Oz Show” wasn’t buttering up her boss when she took a bite out of a carrot as he approached in an elevator lobby recently.
Vegetables were on the menu. So were fruit, yogurt, whole-grain breads and natural peanut butter. True to a mission of making Americans healthier one at a time, Dr. Mehmet Oz banned all junk food backstage at his new talk show.
“The Dr. Oz Show,” starring the heart surgeon and health evangelist, debuts Sept. 14. It’s perhaps the most eagerly anticipated syndicated talk show since another Oprah Winfrey associate, Dr. Phil McGraw, went solo in 2002, said Bill Carroll, a market expert for Katz Television.
Oz has a sleek new studio at New York’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza in the same room where Conan O’Brien worked before heading West. Its most fearsome element is the “truth tube,” a platform that can display a person’s weight, body fat and other health indicators, much like “The Biggest Loser” scale.
His goal is to make health information interesting and entertaining without trivializing it.
“There is no question we can save lives every day if we can motivate people to do what we’re talking about,” Oz said in a backstage conversation over lunch (salads, of course). “The challenge isn’t what to say — because we know that — the challenge is how to say it so people are motivated.”
He expects few celebrity guests, and no Winfrey visit is on the schedule. The show will typically open with a health “hot topic” like swine flu or immunization, and will end with audience questions. In between, Oz will try different ways to make health advice personal, recognizing that lectures don’t work as well as stories viewers can relate to.
In one pre-taped episode, a woman brings her beer-bellied husband for a surprise “intervention.” He listens to Oz describe how an unhealthy lifestyle was likely taking years off his life.
A woman who scrimps on sleep to take care of her family gets on a driving simulator while tired. She’s reduced to tears and recognizes how sleeplessness affects more than herself when she “kills” six people, including a family of three, in accidents caused by dulled senses.
Besides controlling what his own staff eats, Oz has been secretly monitoring the food brought in to Jimmy Fallon’s studio down the hall. Expect an unflattering public comparison.
“The crew is an experiment for us,” Oz said. “If all I offer you is healthy food, you’re either going to eat that stuff or you’re not going to eat. And most people will eat. After a while, it becomes what you’re used to eating. It’s a little bit every day that makes a difference.”
Oz envisions a “Let’s Make a Deal” type game with four contestants to illustrate ways of curing vitamin D deficiency. One contestant opens a box with a “prize” of cod liver oil. Another reveals a picture of the sun, and wins a tropical vacation.
That’s the tightrope Oz walks — fall off and he makes the serious seem silly. He’s convinced this is the best way for people to remember what they’ve learned.
Carroll suggested Oz has the personality to make it work. The new show faces competition from “The Doctors,” another health hour that premiered to modest success last season, but Carroll said there’s room for both.
“The audiences can tell when you are real, and he is real,” he said. “He’s very likable. He’s the person you wish was your doctor.”
Oz had a decent enough career before television beckoned. He’s a prominent surgeon with expertise is repairing heart valves. (Disclosure: His partner, Dr. Craig Smith, performed a quintuple bypass on this reporter two years ago.) He will continue to perform surgery one day a week.
Yet Oz noticed that he was getting more jazzed up persuading people they didn’t need surgery than operating on them.
He landed a show, “Second Opinion,” on the Discovery Channel and persuaded Winfrey to appear. “Before Oz went on Oprah, Oprah went on Oz,” he said. That opened the door to Winfrey’s media kingdom, resulting in 55 appearances on her talk show in five years, and eventually his own show. It’s co-produced by Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Sony Pictures Television. He’s contractually prohibited from airing in direct competition with her.
Oz likes to point out how real-life versions of Dr. Marcus Welby, the fictional doctor from a hit ABC series in the 1970s, are dying out — the ranks of general practitioners thinned by specialists, and the desire for high-tech solutions profound. The missing human touch is now often supplied by real-life TV doctors like ABC’s Tim Johnson and CNN’s Sanjay Gupta.
“I found myself going to work and taking care of people who wanted to get better who believed that their only path to salvation was through my scalpel,” he said. “I can heal with steel. I know how to do that. But it’s very disenfranchising when you realize the true solutions are outside the operating room.”
On the Net:
EDITOR’S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap.org
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AFP) –
Some 2,000 students at Washington State University have reported symptoms of swine flu, university officials said, in one of the largest reported outbreaks of the virus on a US college campus.
Washington state's Whitman County, where the school is located said that tests at a state laboratory late last week “confirmed that the influenza outbreak at Washington State University (WSU)… is indeed caused by the novel 2009 H1N1 Influenza A.”
The west-coast school last week instituted a blog to help provide information to students about the sudden and dramatic spread of the A(H1N1) virus on campus just days into the new school term.
“We estimate that we have been in contact with about 2,000 students with influenza-like illness in the first 10 days of our fall semester,” the latest online posting said.
“At this time of year, we would typically only see a handful of patients with influenza-like illness. Health care providers in the local community have also seen WSU students with influenza-like illness, but we have no way of knowing how many.
“We also have no way of estimating how many students are self-caring at home without contacting us,” school officials said.
University officials said they had been asked by the county health department “to track numbers in this way to give us a better idea of how many students at WSU actually have influenza-like illness.”
The university of about 19,000 students added that it is following guidelines issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in advising students how to avoid catching and spreading the virus.
CDC's director Thomas Frieden told CNN television Sunday that health officials are reporting an “unusual” number of flu cases so far this school year.
“What we do know is that with schools back in session, particularly in the southeast of the US, but also in many parts of the country, we're seeing a fair amount of influenza. And that's very unusual for this time of the year,” he said.
“This is really something we haven't seen before. It's very unusual to see flu continue to occur over the summer. It's very unusual to see it start to increase this rapidly in August and September.”
Frieden said efforts to contain the virus may be hampered by layoffs and furloughs of public health workers during the current economic crisis, as well as the inherent unpredictability of any infectious malady.
Swine flu is “the one that we're most concerned about,” Frieden said.
“Because if it does become more deadly, it could cause a very severe scenario. It could cause lots of problems for health for people going to school and learning, going to work and earning.”
WSU, meanwhile, said it has begun handing out flu self-care kits to students.
“Two hundred of these kits have already been distributed with 1,000 more in process,” university officials said, adding that none of the cases of swine flu so far has required hospitalization.
“The overwhelming majority of our patients have had mild symptoms and are usually better in three to five days,” the university said.
None of the WSU cases have been fatal. There have been 593 swine flu-related deaths in the United States, however, second only to Brazil which has recorded 657 deaths.
SALT LAKE CITY – The next time the sky darkens with a flock of noisy unwelcome starlings, blame Shakespeare — or, better yet, a few of his strangest fans.
Had the Bard not mentioned the starling in the third scene of “Henry IV,” arguably the most hated bird in North America might never have arrived. In the early 1890s, about 100 European starlings were released in New York City’s Central Park by a group dedicated to bringing to America every bird ever mentioned by Shakespeare.
Today, it’s more like Hitchcock.
Some 200 million shiny black European starlings crowd North America, from the cool climes of Alaska to the balmy reaches of Mexico’s Baja peninsula. The enormous flocks endanger air travel, mob cattle operations, chase off native songbirds, roost on city blocks, leaving behind corrosive, foul-smelling droppings and hundreds of millions of dollars of damage each year.
And getting rid of them is near impossible.
Last year U.S. government agents poisoned, shot and trapped 1.7 million starlings, more than any other nuisance species, according to new figures, only to see them roaring back again.
“It’s sort of like bailing the ocean with a thimble,” said Richard Dolbeer, a retired Wildlife Services researcher in Sandusky, Ohio who spent years trying to figure out ways to keep starlings — which he calls “flying bullets” — and other birds from causing problems at airports. Federal aviation officials say they have caused 4 million in damage since 1990.
After the starlings’ introduction, they quickly expanded west, taking advantage of vast tracts of forested land opening up to agriculture and human development, Dolbeer said. By the 1950s, starlings had reached California and nearly all parts in-between. Today, it’s one of the most common birds in the U.S.
Their prodigious presence is no mystery. Starlings breed like crazy, eat almost anything, are highly mobile and operate in overwhelming numbers. They’re also expert at nesting in protected nooks and making an intimidating statement as they swirl in vast clouds called “murmurations.”
“They’re great survivors and quite the biological machine,” said Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation at the National Audubon Society.
They’re also responsible for the most deadly bird strikes in aviation: a 1960 civilian crash in Boston that killed 62 and a 1996 military cargo plane crash that killed 34 in the Netherlands. Since then, there have been close calls, including a Boeing 747 that ran into a flock in Rome last fall. No one was killed but the badly damaged plane had a rough landing.
Those kinds of scenarios are why wildlife biologist Mike Smith has been tweaking a series of traps used at Salt Lake City International Airport, where there have been 19 reported starling strikes since 1990. The traps use dog food to attract a starling or two. Hundreds more soon follow, driven by their innate desire to flock with each other. He once caught 800 in a single day.
The most popular lethal tactic is a poison called DRC-1339, which is often sprinkled on french fries, a favorite starlings snack. Within a day or two, starlings keel over from organ failure.
No other state poisoned more starlings last year than Washington. Starlings there caused 9 million in damages to agricultural operations over five years. Nationwide, starlings cause 800 million in damage to agricultural operations each year, according to a Cornell University estimate.
At one feed lot, some 200,000 starlings gathered each day, lining fence tops, wires, water troughs and even perching on top of cows. They’ve learned to steal the most nutritious morsels from the cattle troughs and pose an ever-present threat of moving disease from one ranch to another, said Roger Woodruff, director of Wildlife Services in Washington.
Nearly 650,000 starlings were poisoned last year in the state, an all-time record, he said.
When killing’s not an option, agents often turn to harassment campaigns.
In downtown Indianapolis, flocks as large as 40,000 show up around dusk in the winter to hang out, find food and keep warm. They quickly wear out their welcome with their noise and their mess. Crews are deployed nearly every night to scare them off with lasers, pyrotechnic explosions and noise devices with names like “screamers” and “bangers.”
Like other urban areas, they’ve had some success shooing them out of downtown and onto undeveloped land, said Judy Loven, director of Wildlife Services in Indiana, but it’s likely going to be an ongoing battle.
“They’re pretty much wise to our ways and pass that information along,” said Jeff Homan, a wildlife researcher in Bismarck, N.D., who’s part of a team focusing on starlings and blackbirds.
It’s unlikely those who engineered the starlings’ release in Central Park — including its leader, New York drug manufacturer named Eugene Schieffelin — could have fully imagined the consequences of their experiment, said author Kim Todd, who wrote about the introduction in her 2001 book “Tinkering With Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America.”
“It’s sad but true that we often only see a creature’s beauty when it is out-of-reach or rare,” Todd said in an e-mail. “I can’t imagine that Schieffelin, who appreciated starlings on the page and in small groups, would have the same affection for them in their enormous, pesky flocks.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CaliforniaCrews are scrambling to repair a crack found on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge during a planned closure, but officials said Sunday they don’t know if the bridge will reopen Tuesday as scheduled.
The bridge was closed Thursday as part of a planned seismic retrofitting project.
“Right now, we don’t have an estimate on how long it’s going to take,” Bart Ney, spokesman for the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, told reporters. “And we can’t say for sure the Bay Bridge will be able to open on Tuesday morning.” The bridge was closed Thursday as part of a seismic retrofitting project that requires cutting out and replacing a double-deck portion of the east span. During an inspection of the east span of the bridge, workers found a crack in one of the eyebars on the side of the structure, Ney said Saturday. “It’s a significant crack,” he said, “significant enough to have closed the bridge on its own.” Officials said Sunday the crack was not detected during the last inspection of the bridge two years ago. However, the crack had rust in it, so apparently it has been there a while. “A lot of good work got done last night towards making this repair,” Ney said Sunday. Materials have already arrived on site, with others en route, he said. The crack is “far away” from the planned work taking place and unrelated to it, he said. About 280,000 vehicles cross the landmark bridge every day, according to Caltrans. A 50-foot section of the bridge collapsed in 1989 during the Loma Prieta earthquake, prompting efforts to make it quake-tolerant.
KABUL, AfghanistanAfghanistan’s Independent Election Commission said Sunday it was tossing ballots from 447 polling stations in figuring results of the August presidential election.
Afghan children stand in front of a billboard of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Sunday.
The number of votes thrown out was not immediately known, but it could be as many as tens of thousands. The IEC has sought to reassure voters of its impartiality and transparency in tallying the results of the election, mainly responding to accusations by Abdullah Abdullah. Abdullah is the main challenger to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is seeking a second term in office. Abdullah is Karzai’s former foreign minister. As of Sunday, 74.2 percent of the votes had been tallied, the IEC said. Karzai had 48.6 percent of the vote, with Abdullah at 31.7 percent. More than 153,000 votes had been declared invalid, but it was not known whether that number included votes from the 447 polling stations. “The IEC has been completely impartial and neutral in its activities and in fulfilling its duties throughout the process,” said IEC head Daoud Ali Najafi on Sunday.
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Karzai needs 50 percent of votes to avoid a runoff. Abdullah has called the alleged vote rigging “state-engineered fraud.” He is demanding that the IEC stop announcing vote tallies from the provinces, and that the Electoral Complaints Commission inform Afghans about the status of its investigations.
By September, Afghanistan election officials said they had received nearly 2,500 complaints, with about 560 of them deemed serious enough to potentially affect the outcome of the race. The grievances include polling irregularities, voter intimidation and ballot stuffing. The complaints commission said that in order for election results to be certified, it must resolve the complaints it has received.
MEXICO CITY, MexicoA legislative candidate was killed, along with his wife and two children, bringing campaigns for statewide offices in the southeastern state of Tabasco to a halt, the state-run news agency Notimex reported.
PRI candidate Jose Francisco Fuentes Esperon was killed, along with his wife and their two sons.
The bodies of Jose Francisco Fuentes Esperon, his wife and two young sons were found inside their home in the capital of Villahermosa on Saturday. According to local reports, Fuentes’ wife was shot in the head, and the boys, ages 10 and 13, had been asphyxiated. Less clear was the candidate’s fate. Some reports said that his body had signs of torture and had a wound on his neck, which may have been from a gunshot. As of Sunday, authorities had not released a motive for the crime, though speculation of a drug cartel hit or a robbery circulated in Tabasco. Fuentes’ party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, immediately announced a campaign moratorium for all of its candidates for the state’s October 18 elections. Other political parties followed suit. “The PRI cannot go out at this moment and ask citizens for their vote when it finds itself with a broken heart because of the homicide of its candidate,” Tabasco PRI director Adrian Hernandez Balboa said, according to Notimex.
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In response, the Tabasco state government offered all political candidates protection during their campaigns if they requested it, a statement from the office of Gov. Andres Granier Melo said. Mexican President Felipe Calderon called Granier to offer his condolences and show his support for the investigation, the statement said. The weekend slaying was not the first time an entire family has been killed in Tabasco. In February, a Tabasco police official who had arrested a drug trafficker a week earlier was killed together with his mother, wife, children and nieces and nephews. His brother, also a state police officer, was wounded, as were two others. The day before Fuentes and his family were killed, unknown gunmen fatally shot two state police officers in Villahermosa and injured two others.
Former women’s champion Kim Clijsters has claimed her biggest victory since her comeback from retirement after beating third-seed Venus Williams at the U.S. Open on Sunday.
Kim Clijsters now faces a quarter-final date on Tuesday against China’s Li Na.
Clijsters reached the quarter-finals with a 6-0 0-6 6-4 victory over Williams in one hour, 42 minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Press Association reports. She now faces a quarter-final date on Tuesday against China’s Li Na, the 18th seed, after she defeated Francesca Schiavone of Italy 6-2 6-3. Meanwhile, defending champion Serena Williams cruised into the quarterfinals with a crushing 6-2 6-0 win over Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova. The second seed will now play either Vera Zvonareva of Russia or in-form Italian Flavia Pennetta for a place in the last four. It was a routine win for the tournament favoritein stark contrast to the New York hopes of Russian trio Dinara Safina, Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva who have all crashed out of the tournament in the last couple of days. Williams, 27, broke serve in the sixth and eighth games of the first set and the second set was one-way traffic as the champion won 10 games in a row to march throughin just 64 minutes. In four matches, Williams has yet to drop a set and has lost just 17 games.
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“I played well and stayed focussed,” she told reporters. “I traditionally play really well in fourth round matches so I want to to keep this level and stay focussed for my next match. “Everyone is playing so well and some of the seeds have been struggling all summer and you can’t underestimate anyone. Daniela is such a good player and I knew I had to be serious as she always gives me trouble,” she added. Williams took her grand slam record for the year to 22-1, her only loss being to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the French Open quarterfinals. She won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon crowns taking her career Grand Slam total to 11.
San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman was arrested early Sunday on suspicion of choking and restraining MTV reality show star Tila Tequila, police said.
Shawne Merriman is accused of restraining reality TV star Tila Tequlia as she tried to leave his home, police say.
Authorities responded to a disturbance call about 3:45 a.m. Sunday from a woman who said she had been choked and restrained by a male, the sheriff’s department of San Diego County, California, said in a statement. When police arrived, “the reporting party identified herself as Tila Nguyen, aka Tila Tequila, and her alleged assailant as Shawne Merriman,” the statement said. “Nguyen told deputies she had been choked and physically restrained by Merriman when she attempted to leave his residence,” the statement said. Nguyen signed a citizen’s arrest at the scene, and Merriman was taken into custody on suspicion of battery and false imprisonment, according to the statement. Nguyen was transported to a local hospital. Her condition was not immediately known. As Tila Tequila, Nguyen starred on the MTV reality shows “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” in 2007 and “A Shot at Love 2 With Tila Tequila” in 2008. On her Twitter account, Nguyen did not mention the incident but tweeted about going to meet Merriman on Saturday. In a statement posted on the Chargers’ Web site Sunday, team General Manager A.J. Smith said it is “disappointing to hear about the issue involving Shawne Merriman.” “We’ll continue to monitor the situation and let the legal process run its course,” Smith said. Merriman, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, is entering his fifth year with the Chargers and the NFL. He recorded at least 10 sacks in each of his first three seasons, but he was limited to one game last season because of a knee injury that required surgery. The Chargers begin their 2009 NFL regular-season campaign on September 14 in Oakland, California, for a game against the Raiders.
The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has tagged two great white sharks off Cape Cod in an area where shark sightings have been reported, state officials said Sunday.
A great white shark is tagged Saturday off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Shark sightings closed nearby beaches.
The first tagging Saturday marked the first time a great white shark had been successfully tagged in the Atlantic Ocean, the division said in a statement. A second shark was tagged Saturday afternoon, officials said. The taggings took place in the waters near Chatham, Massachusetts, two days after Greg Skomal, shark expert for the Division of Marine Fisheries, reported as many as five large sharks were seen near Monomoy Island, a National Wildlife Refuge off the southern elbow of Cape Cod. The island is about a mile away from Chatham’s Lighthouse Beach, a public swimming area. Chatham’s beaches were closed to swimmers after the sightings, Skomal said. CNN affiliate WCVB reported that all of Chatham’s east-facing beaches were closed after three sharks came within 75 yards of the coastline. The beaches will be off-limits to swimmers until the middle of the week, officials told WCVB.
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After the sightings, Skomal and other biologists set out to identify the species, the division statement said. Skomal identified a great white shark on Friday, and then the two were tagged Saturday. “The tags, which use satellite-based technology to record where a shark travels, allow scientists to better understand migratory patterns,” the division statement said. Great white sharks are relatively rare in New England, the division statement said, but have been seen feeding near seal colonies. Massachusetts has recorded only four shark attacks since 1670, two of which were fatal. The last fatal shark attack in Massachusetts happened in 1936.
Expats boost Bangladesh economy
By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC World Service
The amount of money sent home by Bangladeshis living abroad has reached a new record high, according to the Central Bank of Bangladesh.In August, the total sum of money sent home reached a historic peak of 937m – up 30% from a year ago. The boost to the Bangladeshi economy comes despite the global recession hitting overseas jobs. Remittances are the country’s second-highest revenue earner after exports. Blue collarThere are an estimated 65 million Bangladeshis living and working abroad, mainly in the Middle East, Europe and the United States.
Millions at home are dependent on money sent by their expatriate relatives – money that has been credited for the decline in poverty in the country. “This is the highest monthly remittance we have received in our history,” said Ziaul Hasan Siddiqui, deputy governor of the Central Bank. “The figure also shows that the global recession had little impact on the flow of remittance to Bangladesh although job opportunities in the major markets have declined in recent months.” Many other countries have reported a sharp decline in remittances during the economic downturn. But analysts say many Bangladeshis are in low-end jobs and so the recession has not hit them as hard as it has affected blue collar workers. The increase in remittances could also be partly due to two upcoming religious occasions – the Muslim festival of Ramadan and the major Hindu religious celebration of Durga Puja. However, the upward trend may not continue for long, as overseas employment has fallen in past months due to declining demand. The flow of migrant workers returning home has also increased. The government of Bangladesh has identified seven new countries – including Lebanon, Sudan, Romania and Greece – to send workers to. The state will seek to open diplomatic missions in those countries, to look for job opportunities.
Samoa drivers brace for left turn
By Michael Dobie
A chorus of wailing sirens and ringing bells will signal Samoa’s attempt to do something no country has tried since the 1970s.
From Monday morning, drivers in the Pacific island nation will steer their cars to the left-hand side of roads, instead of the right-hand side they are currently driving on. The government has pitched the change as economically beneficial, but critics say it will lead to traffic mayhem. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has said the move will allow the tens of thousands of expatriate Samoans living in New Zealand and Australia to send used cars – with steering wheels on the right side of vehicles – to their families back home. It will also allow used cars to be imported from Japan, which also drives on the left. Cars will become cheaper and more people in rural areas will be able to obtain vehicles to help them develop their land, the government reasons, the government says.
“The switch in the side of the road for driving is a policy for the development and improvement of life for all the people of Samoa,” the prime minister said in August. Of fewer than 20,000 vehicles on Samoa’s roads, about 4,000 are right-hand drive, with half of those recently imported, says Keni Lesa, editor of the Samoa Observer. The rest are left-hand drive vehicles built to be driven on the right side of the road, imported from the US and neighbouring American Samoa. Signs removedThe proposed changeover has split opinion in Samoa, with opponents predicting traffic mayhem as confused drivers forget which lane to pull into and pedestrians look the wrong way before crossing roads. “Cars are going to crash, people are going to die – not to mention the huge expense to our country,” says lawyer Tole’afoa Solomona Toa’iloa, who has headed a legal challenge in the Supreme Court against the constitutionality of the plan for protest group People Against Switching Sides (Pass). Traffic analysts testifying in court agreed that more accidents were likely to occur.
New Zealand crash investigator Graham Williams said there would be more accidents on Samoa’s narrow, pot-holed rural roads, which are often obscured by vegetation. “Based on my experience and from what I’ve seen during my trips to Samoa, come 7 September, there will be a dramatic increase in the number of road crashes,” he told the court. Local bus owners are also furious about having to either buy new vehicles or convert their old ones – by cutting new doors on the left side behind the driver so passengers don’t have to step off into the middle of the road. One bus company owner has threatened to set his vehicles alight in protest.
Several villages have declared they will force cars to switch to the left to pass through and in some places new signs directing drivers to keep left have been removed and directional arrows on the road have been painted over to point the wrong way. Complaints have also been raised about the cost. Samoa’s Chamber of Commerce estimates that it will cost at least 300m (185m) in direct and indirect costs to the Samoan economy. The Chamber of Commerce also questioned the benefits to the agricultural sector, saying that most vehicles in Australia and New Zealand are sedans and wagons and not pick-up trucks or utility vehicles. Critics also say the government has failed to consult the public on the change or conduct any feasibility studies. Last-ditch appealOpposition to the changeover has lost some steam however, since April last year when an estimated 18,000 people – about 10% of Samoa’s population – demonstrated in the capital, Apia. Last week the Supreme Court rejected the legal challenge from Pass and another rally on Monday drew only 500 people. Pass president Lefau Waikaimoana So’onalolole said Samoa was not ready and necessary roadwork had not been finished. “The efforts to prepare for the road switch are nowhere near completed,” he said. “Not only that, but I believe there is much work to be done in educating everybody about the switch.”
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But Prime Minister Tuilaepa turned down a last-ditch appeal to delay the switch. “Many preparations have been carried out,” he said after a special cabinet meeting held to consider the appeal. “A repeated request to government from the wider public has been to start the switch on the scheduled date to make it quicker for the country to become familiar to the changes.” He has declared a special two-day holiday on 7 and 8 September to provide time for people to adjust to the change. “I would envisage at 0550 [on 7 September] we will have a kind speech through the television and then exactly at 0600 the call will go, sirens and church bells will ring,” he said.
Firework display closes festival
More than 200,000 people have gathered in Edinburgh to see the city’s annual arts festival come to an end with a spectacular fireworks display.More than 100,000 fireworks exploded over the city in a 45-minute display, to the sound of live orchestral music. Matthew Halls led the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of some of Handel’s most popular works. Festival director Jonathan Mills said 2009 had been a “wonderful” year for the festival. An estimated 220,000 people were gathered in Princes Street Gardens, Inverleith Park, Calton Hill, on Waverley Bridge and elsewhere in the city to watch the display.
Fireworks cascaded down the sides of Edinburgh Castle as excerpts from Music for the Royal Fireworks were played before the concert came to a climax with the Hallelujah Chorus as gold and silver fireworks spiralled above the castle. Mr Mills said: “What better way could there be to celebrate the festival? “The Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert was a masterful mix of choreographed fireworks and uplifting music performed with consummate skill by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus. “I would like to thank all our artists and audiences for a wonderful 2009 Edinburgh International Festival.” The festival season brings thousands of visitors to Scotland’s capital each August and September. Organisers have reported a drop in international visitors this year but said it had been offset by a marked increase in UK audiences. The Fringe, book and art festivals have all reported an increase in visitor numbers or ticket sales.
Vulnerable babies call rejected
The Government has dismissed calls from the charity Barnardos for at-risk children to be taken into care earlier.Barnardos chief Martin Narey said it was better to remove vulnerable babies soon after birth, than deal with their complex behavioural problems later. He was speaking after the trial of two young brothers found guilty of a vicious attack on two other boys. But Children’s Secretary Ed Balls said removing babies born to problem parents should not be a first resort. Charity chief executive Mr Narey told the BBC that more newborn children born into problem families needed to be taken into care to stop them from being damaged by bad parents.
He said the reduction in numbers of children in care has gone too far – and sometimes too much effort went into helping families which could not be fixed. He said: “Social workers will tell me that there are frequently occasions when, from a child being born, they know that child is most unlikely to succeed, most unlikely to be nourished and loved. “In those circumstances the very best possible option would be adoption.” Concern over the wider social problems generated by abusive families has grown following Thursday’s court case when the brothers, aged 10 and 12, admitted torturing their young victims with sticks and cigarettes. The boys, from Edlington in South Yorkshire, admitted charges of grievous bodily harm and will be sentenced in November. During the case, disturbing details of the brothers’ chaotic and abusive home life emerged, together with questions over why the authorities were not able to intervene earlier. Doncaster Social Services is now conducting a serious case review into the attacks.
Questioned on Sky News about the background to the attacks, Mr Balls said that “serious issues” of alcoholism and abuse had been at play in the family. He added: “In that kind of case, we need to intervene and engage, but I don’t think the right thing to do in these cases is immediately to put children into care.” Mr Balls added: “I don’t think it’s right to say that we can’t support these kinds of families. “The right thing to do in these cases is to say ‘Can we sort out the problems in that family?’” But he stressed attacks of this nature were not an everyday story. “That was a vile crime, it was a horrific crime,” he said. “It is good that these are rare cases, they don’t happen very often at all, but when they do we are all appalled.” Government figures indicate that comparatively fewer children are now taken into local authority care, compared to a few decades ago. However, there has been a surge in case applications made by local authorities since November 2008. Officials say this could be explained by local authorities lowering the amount of evidence needed to take a child into care, following the publicity surrounding the Baby P case.
School consultants ‘earned 170m’
Local authorities have spent 170 million on consultants in a government scheme to refurbish and rebuild schools in England, the Conservatives say.They say the 50 billion Building Schools for the Future programme has delivered “hardly any improvements”. The Schools Secretary Ed Balls defended the scheme and accused the Conservatives of planning to make cuts. Officials say 87 schools have been improved, with a further 33 due to open at the start of this term. But the Shadow Children’s Secretary Michael Gove questioned whether it was value for money. He said that since Building Schools for the Future (BSF) began in 2004 a new school had opened in just 15 local authorities.
He said consultants had been paid by local authorities bidding for the construction work and for giving advice about the work itself. The information was obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. ‘Mismanagement’He said: “In tough economic times it is vital that ministers get good value for taxpayers’ money. “But under the government’s bureaucratic school refurbishment scheme, millions has already been spent on consultants with hardly any improvements actually delivered.” Mr Gove predicts that consultants could go on to earn a total of 1.5 billion from the scheme. He added: “We need a government that is able to get more for less. Ministers have already increased their costing by 10bn due to their failure to deliver the scheme on time. “At a time when family budgets are more stretched than ever, we simply cannot afford this level of mismanagement in Ed Balls’s department.” ‘History books’Mr Balls hit back, accusing the Tories of planning to save money by allowing new schools to open in office blocks. He said: “Thanks to this government’s sustained investment in new school buildings, leaking roofs and freezing classrooms are now simply for the history books. “As we will show this week, we are ensuring that children have places to learn which are fit for the 21st century with state of the art classrooms, sport and music facilities – not consigning them to an office block as the Tories seem happy to do.” The government agency responsible for the building programme, Partnership for Schools, said spending on consultants was widely in line with its recommendations. A spokesman said: “We give an indicative steer that councils should expect to spend around 3% of the total value of their BSF scheme to ensure successful delivery locally. “Some local authorities spend more than this amount whilst others spend considerably less. “As recent independent industry research demonstrates, the average amount that local authorities spend is 3.2% of the value of their overall project. “We expect these costs to come down further over time as local authorities and the private sector build on their experience and knowledge to date.”