Saturday, August 9, 2008

Clinton on Obama: ‘We’re on one journey now’

LAS VEGAS - Hillary Rodham Clinton told an exuberant crowd Friday she wants Barack Obama to win the White House, even though he dashed her own presidential dreams — and she wants her supporters to vote that way, too.

“Anyone who voted for me or caucused for me has so much more in common with Sen. Obama than Sen. McCain,” Clinton told her cheering audience in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. “Remember who we were fighting for in my campaign.”

Though she has endorsed her former rival, the speech was Clinton’s first appearance at a rally for Obama since the two appeared together in Unity, N.H., in June.

Easing bad feelings?
In another sign of growing detente between the House of Clinton and the House of Obama, Democrats said Bill Clinton would speak on the third night of this month’s national convention in Denver.

The Clintons’ efforts on Obama’s behalf may ease worries within the party that bad feelings from the long primary battle might erupt at the convention.

She said Friday that “we may have started on two separate paths, but we are on one journey now.” She said her long primary campaign against the Illinois senator showed her “his passion, his determination, his grace and his grit.”

The crowd let her know they still held her in high regard. They cheered Obama’s name and waved his campaign signs, but no mention of him won as loud a roar as Clinton’s introduction.

'Sen. Obama needs all of us'
Still, she kept her focus on making his case, mentioning key Democratic issues where Obama and McCain would differ — U.S. Supreme Court nominations and health care reform, for example.

She noted Democrats have had difficulty reaching the White House recently and said Obama would need a surge in turnout — and registration — to win in November.

“Which is why Sen. Obama needs all of us, he needs us working for him,” she said.

Some of her backers have complained loudly about the way the only female candidate was treated during the primaries. And Clinton supporters have succeeded in getting language into the draft of the Democratic Party platform that says, “We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all.”

The platform committee will be reviewing the draft Saturday in Pittsburgh.

After weeks of private talks about exactly what the Clintons will do at the national convention, no decision has been reached on whether delegates will actually hold a roll call vote that includes her candidacy.

Such a move could disrupt or distract from the point of the convention — showing a unified party raring to return a Democrat to the White House.

Drug dealers buy Wash. vineyards to hide pot

WAPATO, Wash. - Across central Washington’s fruit bowl, farmers are buying vineyards, hoping to establish roots in the area and capitalize on the booming wine industry.

Authorities believe some of the buyers are living in Mexico and their vineyards are producing tens of thousands of illegal marijuana plants — a crop that could easily surpass grapes in value this year.

Law enforcement officials in the Yakima Valley already have converged on seven vineyards that had been converted to marijuana operations this summer. At least five had been recently purchased — the buyers are still being tracked — and one had been leased to pot growers by an unknowing owner.

Pot growers aren’t just hiding their crops in national forests and random cornfields any more, said Washington State Patrol Sgt. Richard A. Beghtol.

“They are able to amass a huge amount of money and using that money to go out and buy land to do their marijuana cultivation,” Beghtol said. “It’s their big moneymaker.”

The valley, home to acres of fruit orchards and hop fields, has long been recognized as an important pipeline in the drug trade with easy interstate access to Seattle, Portland and points east.

Dealers establish U.S. growing operations
Crackdowns at the Canadian and Mexican borders have made it more difficult to ship marijuana into the United States, prompting dealers to establish U.S. growing operations.

A bust of more than 60,000 plants on the Yakama Indian Reservation in 2004, one of the biggest nationwide at the time, was traced to organized crime in Mexico and valued at more than $35 million.

By 2006, authorities were seizing more than 144,000 marijuana plants across Washington state. That number more than doubled the following year to 296,611 plants, reflecting a rise in both drug activity and enforcement efforts, said Rene Rivera, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s agent in charge in Yakima.

“This year, we’re probably going to surpass 2007 easily, just given the way we’re starting,” Rivera said.

Following the water
Water use is often a vital clue. Beghtol has noted that grape vines require much less water than marijuana, which needs daily irrigation.

Drug enforcement teams have confiscated approximately 110,000 marijuana plants valued at more than $100 million this spring and summer in the Yakima Valley alone, and they haven’t even begun their annual aerial surveillance.

In 2006, grapes ranked No. 11 among Washington state crops with a value of $144.2 million. Vineyards cover about 31,000 acres.

Finding farmers willing to sell their property isn’t difficult. Fewer farmers have children who want to take over the family business, and rising costs have driven many farmers off the land despite increasing prices for their crops.

But dealers aren’t just limiting their property buys to older sellers, Beghtol said.

In one case, drug operatives approached a farmer who didn’t have his farm listed for sale. He resisted until, asked to name a price. He threw out a figure: $263,000 for 27 acres and no building. The buyer showed up a few days later and bought the property in cash, Beghtol said.

‘A huge player’
The seller had no idea the farm would become a marijuana operation.

“The Yakima Valley is a huge player. These are big operations that are difficult to track down,” Beghtol said. “They use fictitious names, they put property in daughters’, wives’ names to conceal identity and try to thwart law enforcement from going forward with civil forfeiture.”

There have been 22 arrests this year. Authorities expect that number to rise as aerial surveillance begins later this summer.

As arrests mount, vineyard purchases by marijuana growers will likely decline, predicts Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

“I suspect after you’ve had numerous busts, somebody’s future plan for growing pot in vineyards is going to be thwarted,” she said.

Nebraska Beef recalls 1.2 million pounds of beef

OMAHA, Neb. - Nebraska Beef Ltd. is recalling 1.2 million pounds of beef because the products may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria.

The recall comes a month after the Omaha-based company recalled 5.3 million pounds of meat that has been linked to at least 49 cases of E. coli.

Neither the company's spokesman nor Department of Agriculture officials immediately responded to calls about the recall after a news release was issued late Friday night.

Federal officials said at least 31 cases of E. coli poisoning in 12 states and Canada had been linked to the meat Nebraska Beef is now recalling, but officials did not name the states.

Some of Nebraska Beef's products were sold by Whole Foods Market, which also announced a recall Friday. Whole Foods is recalling fresh ground beef sold between June 2 through Aug. 6 because of worries about E. coli contamination.

A Whole Foods spokeswoman said it had received reports that seven people in Massachusetts and two people in Pennsylvania who shopped at Whole Foods Market became ill.

As in the earlier recall, all the beef being recalled now was sold to companies that planned to further process the meat. So product labels likely will not include the "EST 19336" code that identified Nebraska Beef.

Several lawsuits have already been filed against Nebraska Beef as a result of the earlier E. coli outbreak and recall.

Credit crisis triggers unprecedented response

Since the credit crisis erupted a year ago, the Bush administration has presided over one of the broadest expansions of the government into private lending in U.S. history, risking public money to prop up financial firms both large and small.

The administration has transformed federal agencies into dominant players in such diverse realms as student lending and mortgage finance while exposing itself to trillions of dollars in loans.

The scope of these commitments demonstrates the unprecedented nature of the challenge facing the nation. Not since the Great Depression have so many debt markets been in turmoil at the same time, financial historians say. During the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s, for example, the financial upheaval was largely contained to banks and thrifts, though the real estate market also felt the impact.

Now, the contagion has rapidly spread from mortgages to bonds and exotic securities, student and corporate lending, credit cards and home equity loans, and residential and commercial real estate. The disruption has buffeted investment and commercial banks, mortgage finance agencies, and insurance firms of different stripes.

"We have a banking crisis and an agency crisis and a mortgage crisis and a coming credit card crisis. We've never seen anything like that before. And it all seems to be coming home to roost at the same time. That's never happened either," said Charles Geisst, professor of finance at Manhattan College. He said the Great Depression was the last time financial markets were hammered by such a variety of factors. "But we did not even have credit cards in the 1930s; there were no such thing as student loans," he added.

The breadth and speed of events have sent federal officials scrambling to plug leaks in the financial system. In the process, the government has bound taxpayers to the fate of a wide variety of banks and borrowers and could ultimately be responsible for losses in the tens of billions of dollars or more, according to estimates by congressional reports and interviews with regulators.

But the government may also end up paying nothing at all, largely because it received collateral in return for backing much of these debts and could recoup some money if borrowers stop making their interest payments. No one knows for sure because much of the government's response involved novel programs designed to contain an unpredictable crisis.

As the credit crisis worsened, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., a strong proponent of free markets and the architect of much of the administration's response, began to push initiatives that enlarged the government's involvement on Wall Street and in the housing industry.

"What I've said is that I'm playing the hand that was dealt and that my responsibility is to protect the U.S. economy and the American people," Paulson said in an interview.

The pace of these interventions accelerated as the credit crisis spread across the capital markets.

At first, the administration avoided programs that exposed taxpayers to potentially large losses. The Federal Housing Administration, for instance, offered struggling mortgage holders a chance to refinance into low-cost loans backed by the government with any losses borne by the agency's insurance fund. Last summer, Paulson also pressed private mortgage lenders to form an alliance called Hope Now to rework mortgages. The initiative did not require public funds, except to set up a hotline, and it may have prevented lawmakers at that time from pursuing more expensive initiatives, he said.

Angels pummel Yankees pitching

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Los Angeles Angels show no signs of slowing down or pacing themselves for the playoffs — not even with a season-high 13-game lead in the AL West.

Torii Hunter was 4-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs, Howie Kendrick tied a career high with four hits and the Angels kept on trucking with a 10-5 victory over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

“There’s no way we’re going to get relaxed,” Hunter said. “We’re professional players. I mean, if you find somebody that says, ’Aw, we’re comfortable and these games right now don’t matter,’ I will slap them right now. Every day as a professional player, you try to win every day. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Vladimir Guerrero had three hits and scored three runs for the Angels. Everyone in the starting lineup contributed to the 17-hit attack except leadoff batter Chone Figgins, who was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.

“That team is so good. I mean, they can grind you to death,” Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon said. “They take pitches, they battle — and Figgins wasn’t even a part of this equation tonight. So we were fortunate that way.”

The Angels have 47 games remaining, 10 of them against second-place Texas. But no one in the organization is admitting that they have their fourth division title in five years wrapped up — least of all owner Arte Moreno.

“You’ve got to play them all out,” Moreno said. “We’re very comfortable with who we are and what we’re doing, but I think it was 1978 that Boston coughed up a 14-game lead to the Yankees and lost in a one-game playoff to a Bucky Dent home run. In ’95, the Angels spit up an 11-game lead in mid-August, and last year you saw what happened to the Mets down the stretch. So nothing’s a lock.”

Jered Weaver (10-9) allowed five runs and seven hits in six innings, including solo homers by Xavier Nady and Alex Rodriguez, who played in his 2,000th regular-season game.

The Yankees, who are trying to tie Atlanta’s major league record of 14 consecutive postseason appearances, remain three games behind Boston in the Wild Card race. They are 5-8 following their eight-game winning streak coming out of the All-Star break.

Trailing 6-3 entering the sixth, New York got a run closer on Nady’s 18th homer and fifth in 13 games since joining the Yankees in a trade with Pittsburgh. Robinson Cano followed with a triple off the right field wall and scored on Melky Cabrera’s groundout.

“No lead is safe with those guys. They could go off at any time,” Weaver said. “I left a couple of pitches out over the plate that I wish I could take back.”

But the Angels broke it open in the seventh. Hunter led off with his 19th homer, Jeff Mathis doubled home a run, pinch-runner Reggie Willits scored on Brian Bruney’s wild pitch and Mark Teixeira capped the rally with an RBI single. Willits left the game with a concussion following his collision at home plate with Jose Molina.

Ian Kennedy (0-4) retired only six of the 16 batters he faced, giving up five runs and nine hits in two-plus innings. The right-hander, beginning his third stint with the Yankees this season, was recalled from Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre on Thursday when right-hander Joba Chamberlain went on the disabled list with tendinitis in his rotator cuff.

First puff a pleasure for genetic smokers

CHICAGO - For most people, the first experimental drags on a cigarette bring on nausea, coughing and other signals from the brain that say, "Turn back. This is a bad idea." But for some, they bring a wave of pleasure.

Those in the second group likely bear a gene type that not only increases their addiction risk, but has been implicated in the development of lung cancer, researchers said on Friday.

"If you have this variant, you are going to like your earliest experiences with smoking," said Ovide Pomerleau of the University of Michigan Medical School, whose research appears in the journal Addiction.

Smoking a 'trap' for some
Pomerleau said the finding suggests that for some, smoking even one cigarette is a bad idea. "It's a trap," he said in a telephone interview.

"What they don't realize is if they have this kind of genetic make-up, they are on their way to dependency," he said, and that raises their risk for lung cancer.

The research is part of a growing understanding of genetic factors involved in nicotine addiction and lung cancer.

Teams of scientists reported earlier this year that smokers who had certain changes in three nicotine receptor genes — which control entry of nicotine into brain cells — were more likely to develop lung cancer than other smokers.

Holmes' early score too good for Garcia, Lefty

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - J.B. Holmes always knew he could hit the golf ball a long way.

He made his high school team in Kentucky when he was in the third grade. He was hitting 300-yard tee shots at age 13, and when he went to the Masters in 1998 as a senior in high school to watch Tiger Woods for the first time, it wasn’t the least bit overwhelming.

“I realized the pros don’t hit it any further than I do,” Holmes said.

His monster length proved to be more than enough for Oakland Hills on Friday.

With a black glove on his hand and a scowl on his face, Holmes hammered one tee shot after another — one of them he estimated at about 400 yards — and kept most of them in the short grass, leading to a 2-under 68 for a one-shot lead in the PGA Championship.

Holmes was at 1-under 139, the only player to break par over two rounds on a course known as “The Monster.” It was the first time since 1972 — at Oakland Hills, not so coincidentally — that only one player was under par through 36 holes of the PGA Championship.

“When I hit my driver like I did today, this is an easy sport,” Holmes said.

It sure didn’t feel easy to anyone else.

Sergio Garcia four-putted the 17th green late in the second round just as he was trying to catch Holmes, and instead dropped to a 73 and was three shots behind. Phil Mickelson struggled with a few bad drives, a few poor chips and not many putts, making three bogeys over the final five holes for a 73 that left him four shots behind.

Colin Montgomerie found nothing easy about Oakland Hills. He had to play his best golf over the closing holes to avoid his worst score as a professional, salvaging an 84 to match his worst score ever in a major.

The final major is so hard that Garcia predicted no one would be under par when it was time to hoist the trophy.

“I don’t think it’s going to be won by 1 under par,” Garcia said. “I just need to make sure that I stay around where I am and maybe a little closer to par. That’s going to have a chance on Sunday.”

Ben Curtis, who on Thursday said only one player would like Oakland Hills by the end of the week, got along just fine Friday with a 67, matching Justin Rose with the best score of the tournament and leaving both of them one shot behind at even-par 140.

“It’s the kind of round I’ve been looking for to get myself back on the leaderboard and feeling the good vibes,” Rose said.

They were joined by Charlie Wi, a 36-year-old who has played on just about every tour, but never in a major championship until this week. He made his debut with back-to-back 70s and will play in the final group Saturday with Holmes.

Former PGA champion David Toms (69) and Henrik Stenson of Sweden (70) were at 1-over 141. The group at 142 included Garcia, former U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera (72) and Sean O’Hair, who steadied himself after a double bogey on his opening hole and shot 73.

For the second straight day, only six players broke par.

“When I got here on Tuesday, I called home and I said, ’This is the hardest golf course I’ve ever played,”’ Wi said. “If I were to play here every day, I don’t know if I would enjoy it. It’s a very difficult golf course.”

Wi might see a different course while playing with Holmes.

The 26-year-old from Kentucky put his Paul Bunyan length on display during a morning of blue skies. It’s a wonder some of his tee shots didn’t leave contrails.

He leads the field in driving distance at 338 yards, and that doesn’t include a mammoth tee shot on the 501-yard 14th that left him only a wedge to the green, where he made a 25-foot putt for his third straight birdie.

Holmes reached the 529-yard second hole with a wedge for a two-putt birdie from 12 feet, and he got home in two on the 593-yard 12th with an 8-iron. A stiff breeze was at his back on that 217-yard shot.

He hit driver on all but four holes.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's Mickelson's time to shine at Oakland Hills

Its best player remains sidelined, that is true. But golf’s best source of storylines? He remains healthy, swinging, and very much a part of the game.

Phil Mickelson.

It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: What would those of us who like to write about this game do without the inimitable left-hander? We’d have to invent someone just like him, that’s what.

He’s the guy who won a Masters with two drivers in the bag and tried to win a U.S. Open without even one.

He’s the guy who once insisted in a lengthy pre-tournament interview that he would never change his style just to win a major, then when he won a major he gushed at how ecstatic he was that he had changed his style.

He’s the guy who employs a former NASA physicist to tell him the green speeds are fast, while other players are left to putt them in practice rounds to discover they are fast.

He’s the guy who once warmed up for the final round of a major championship by playing 18 holes at a nearby course.

He’s the guy who has been known to toss a football or drag out the ball and glove to pitch a few before heading into a round of golf.

He’s the guy who can carry four or five wedges and hit each of them with uncanny precision, while at the same time be clueless as to how to hit a 6-iron links shot beneath the wind from 135 yards.

But most of all, he’s the guy who remains the most fascinating golfer in the world not named Tiger Woods, as much for his personality as his talent. He is an enigma, pure and simple, and the sport would be so much less colorful without him, an assessment that takes us onto the doorstep of the 90th PGA Championship.

Never has the moment been more made for Mickelson to step up and shine. Woods, of course, is out for the season. But there’s another reality that is very much a part of the picture here: The obligatory trip to the British Open is over and done with.

No surprise, but Mickelson’s venture into the world of links golf was met with the usual indifferent result. He opened with a 79, settled for a share of 19th, and in 16 tries at the game’s grandest championship, Mickelson has but one top 10. Even the NASA physicist who looks like he’s headed on a safari couldn’t get Mickelson around Birkdale with much success.

Feds have dropped Heath Ledger death probe

NEW YORK - Federal prosecutors have decided not to pursue a criminal case into how Heath Ledger obtained the powerful painkillers that contributed to his overdose death this year, a law enforcement official said Wednesday.

Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan had been overseeing a Drug Enforcement Administration probe into whether the painkillers found in Ledger’s system were obtained illegally. But the prosecutors have bowed out “because they don’t believe there’s a viable target,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because no charges have been filed.

The decision comes after recent reports that actress Mary-Kate Olsen was demanding immunity before answering questions about the startling death of her close friend and his drug use. Authorities say she was the first person called by a masseuse who found the 28-year-old “Dark Knight” actor’s lifeless body in his Manhattan apartment.

The DEA had obtained a subpoena that could have forced Olsen if she continued to hold out. But the subpoena, issued in April, is no longer valid because it was contingent upon prosecutors pursuing the case, the official said Wednesday. The official added that the case could still be revived if evidence of a crime emerges.

Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said it’s the office’s policy to “neither confirm nor deny the existance of an investigation.” There was no immediate response to a message left for Olsen’s attorney, Michael C. Miller.

DEA investigators suspect the painkillers found in Ledger’s system, oxycodone and hydrocodone, were obtained with phony prescriptions or other illegal means. Oxycodone is sold as OxyContin and hydrocodone as Vicodin.

Israel mulls military option for Iran nukes

JERUSALEM - Israel is building up its strike capabilities amid growing anxiety over Iran's nuclear ambitions and appears confident that a military attack would cripple Tehran's atomic program, even if it can't destroy it.

Such talk could be more threat than reality. However, Iran's refusal to accept Western conditions is worrying Israel as is the perception that Washington now prefers diplomacy over confrontation with Tehran.

The Jewish state has purchased 90 F-16I fighter planes that can carry enough fuel to reach Iran, and will receive 11 more by the end of next year. It has bought two new Dolphin submarines from Germany reportedly capable of firing nuclear-armed warheads — in addition to the three it already has.

And this summer it carried out air maneuvers in the Mediterranean that touched off an international debate over whether they were a "dress rehearsal" for an imminent attack, a stern warning to Iran or a just a way to get allies to step up the pressure on Tehran to stop building nukes.

According to foreign media reports, Israeli intelligence is active inside Iranian territory. Israel's military censor, who can impose a range of legal sanctions against journalists operating in the country, does not permit publication of details of such information in news reports written from Israel.

The issue of Iran's nuclear program took on new urgency this week after U.S. officials rejected Tehran's response to an incentives package aimed at getting it to stop sensitive nuclear activity — setting the stage for a fourth round of international sanctions against the country.

Israel vows response to 'existential threat'
Israel, itself an undeclared nuclear power, sees an atomic bomb in Iranian hands as a direct threat to its existence.

Israel believes Tehran will have enriched enough uranium for a nuclear bomb by next year or 2010 at the latest. The United States has trimmed its estimate that Iran is several years or as much as a decade away from being able to field a bomb, but has not been precise about a timetable. In general U.S. officials think Iran isn't as close to a bomb as Israel claims, but are concerned that Iran is working faster than anticipated to add centrifuges, the workhorses of uranium enrichment.

"If Israeli, U.S., or European intelligence gets proof that Iran has succeeded in developing nuclear weapons technology, then Israel will respond in a manner reflecting the existential threat posed by such a weapon," said Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking at a policy forum in Washington last week.

"Israel takes (Iranian President) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements regarding its destruction seriously. Israel cannot risk another Holocaust," Mofaz said.

The Iranian leader has in the past called for Israel's elimination, though his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," while others say a better translation would be "vanish from the pages of time" — implying Israel would disappear on its own rather than be destroyed.

Iran insists its uranium enrichment is meant only for electricity generation, not a bomb — an assertion that most Western nations see as disingenuous.

Israeli policymakers and experts have been debating for quite some time whether it would even be possible for Israel to take out Iran's nuclear program. The mission would be far more complicated than a 1981 Israeli raid that destroyed Iraq's partially built Osirak nuclear reactor, or an Israeli raid last year on what U.S. intelligence officials said was another unfinished nuclear facility in Syria.

In Iran, multiple atomic installations are scattered throughout the country, some underground or bored into mountains — unlike the Iraqi and Syrian installations, which were single aboveground complexes.

Pre-emptive strike
Still, the Syria action seemed to indicate that Israel would also be willing to use force preemptively against Iran.

"For Israel this is not a target that cannot be achieved," said Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, former head of Israel's army intelligence.

However, it's unlikely Israel would carry out an attack without approval from the United States.

Recent signs that Washington may be moving away from a military option — including a proposal to open a low-level U.S. diplomatic office in Tehran and a recent decision to allow a senior U.S. diplomat to participate alongside Iran in international talks in Geneva — are not sitting very well with Israel.

Boston man investigated in California cold case

SAN MARINO, Calif. - He calls himself Clark Rockefeller, and police say for years he's been dining out on the illustrious name, pretending to be an heir to the oil tycoon.

But investigators want to know whether the man dubbed "Crockefeller" and "Rockephony" by the tabloids is more than an imposter. They want to know if he's linked to an unsolved killing.

The bespectacled 48-year-old has been jailed since being accused of abducting his daughter from Boston's high-society Back Bay neighborhood. Authorities are now trying to determine whether he's connected to a bag of human bones and a married couple who vanished nearly a quarter century ago in this wealthy Los Angeles suburb.

On Wednesday, two homicide detectives from Los Angeles were in Boston to question Rockefeller about Jonathan and Linda Sohus, who vanished without a trace in 1985.

After his arrest last weekend in Baltimore in the alleged kidnapping, it soon became clear the suspect was not a real Rockefeller. Descendants of the oil tycoon said he was not related. And the man's true identity remains a mystery because he claims he can't remember anything about his past.

But police soon realized Rockefeller's fingerprints matched those on an old license application submitted by Christopher Chichester — a man who lived in a guesthouse on the Sohus' property and was a target of the initial investigation.

The development was the latest in an intriguing case that has repeatedly frustrated investigators since Jonathan Sohus' mother filed a missing persons report 23 years ago.

Police explored various possibilities, including that Chichester had been in love with Linda Sohus and murdered her husband in a fit of jealousy.

But then Chichester disappeared, too, and Sohus' mother died in 1988 without any answers.

Lili Hadsell, a former San Marino police sergeant who took the initial missing persons report, said the mother later reported receiving postcards from Linda Sohus from Paris. She died believing her son and daughter-in-law had moved to Europe and forgotten about her.

Then in 1994, the new owners of the Sohus property on Lorain Road were digging a swimming pool when a backhoe uncovered human remains in three plastic bags. Investigators also found horse and chicken bones.

The badly damaged remains were believed to be those of Jonathan Sohus — but were never positively identified, Hadsell said. No sign of Linda Sohus was ever found.

The case eventually faded from the public eye, but investigators have searched for Chichester for years.

In 1994, homicide detectives circulated a news release that described Chichester as a con man who "surfaces in affluent neighborhoods and mingles in social circles before making friends with wealthy, influential people."

They never found him and never interviewed him, Hadsell said.

When Hadsell learned of the possible connection to the Rockefeller case, she was "absolutely shocked and very, very pleased. It was really thrilling to see that maybe we've got him and maybe we're going to come to some kind of resolution for John and Linda."

'No signs of foul play'
Authorities came close to Chichester in the late 1980s when he was pulled over in Greenwich, Conn., driving Sohus' truck. But by the time the Department of Motor Vehicles had confirmed it was Sohus' truck, Chichester and the vehicle had vanished.

"We were very diligent in trying to track down as many leads as we could, but they were adults, and there were no signs of foul play," Hadsell said of the initial investigation. "Adults can go ahead and disappear."

When the Los Angeles detectives came to the Boston jail where Rockefeller is being held without bail, Rockefeller refused to meet with them.

"He's not accepting any communications. He's not granting any interviews," said Peter Van Delft, a spokesman for the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department.

Rockefeller's attorney, Stephen Hrones, said he advised his client not to speak to the Los Angeles investigators. He said Rockefeller "denies absolutely" any connection between him and the California case.

The possible link to Boston, where Rockefeller allegedly orchestrated a complex kidnapping scheme to take his daughter during a supervised custody visit, was the talk of San Marino, a placid town of gated cul-de-sacs, well-manicured lawns and tree-lined boulevards.

Obama starts hitting back, too softly for some

Barack Obama released a television advertisement Wednesday that questions John McCain's claims to be a "maverick," and he charged in a campaign appearance that the Republican displays independence only when it suits him politically.

Obama aides said Democratic hand-wringing about polls showing that the presidential race remains tight had nothing to do with the volleys.

"We are not going to base our campaign on the concerns of so-called campaign strategists on cable TV," spokesman Bill Burton said.

But the ad and the Democrat's rhetoric in Indiana appeared to up the ante in a campaign that took a distinct turn toward the negative last week.

"The price [McCain] paid for his party's nomination has been to reverse himself on position after position," Obama told a crowd of more than 1,000 at a high school gym in Elkhart. "That doesn't meet my definition of a maverick. You can't be a maverick when politically it's important for you but not a maverick when it doesn't work for you."

The parries come more than a week after his Republican opponent launched a string of increasingly personal attacks on Obama. McCain has said that his rival would lose a war in order to win a campaign, accused him of going to a gym rather than visiting wounded troops, and, while aides asserted that he had "played the race card," hinted that Obama has a messiah complex and portrayed him as a celebrity comparable to Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. That final line of assault continued yesterday with a new McCain ad, again mocking Obama as "the biggest celebrity in the world."

‘Democrats are worried’
Such attacks have raised worries among Democratic strategists -- haunted by John F. Kerry's 2004 run and Al Gore's razor-thin loss in 2000 -- that Obama has not responded in kind with a parallel assault on McCain's character. Interviews with nearly a dozen Democratic strategists found those concerns to be widespread, although few wished to be quoted by name while Obama's campaign is demanding unity.

"Democrats are worried," said Tad Devine, a top strategist for Kerry who thinks Obama must stay on the high road. "We've been through two very tough elections at the national level, and it's very easy to lose confidence."

Obama's latest ad may be his toughest yet, using words and images to link McCain to President Bush and concluding: "The original maverick? Or just more of the same?"

But Democratic strategists said that it is nothing like the character attacks by McCain, and that the response could be far nastier, perhaps raising McCain's ethical scrape in the Keating Five savings and loan scandal, mocking his family wealth and designer shoes, or highlighting his age. After McCain economic adviser Phil Gramm suggested that the United States has become "a nation of whiners," Democratic strategists said Obama should have immediately started an ad blitz.

"If somebody attacks you, you have to frame the attack: 'This is the same old politics, or better yet, the Bush-Rove politics,' " something Obama has done well, said one Democratic strategist. "At the same time you do that, you have to counterattack. You don't want to look like a whiner. You want to look tough."

Obama's rules hurting him?
Said another Democratic consultant: "There needs to be a negative McCain track beyond the Bush policy stuff. One of the great strengths of the Obama campaign has been to not listen to the D.C. chattering class. They have a plan and they stick to it. But clearly, the D.C. chattering class are all wringing their hands."

Judge rejects 4 Sept. 11 settlements as excessive

NEW YORK - Lawyers for the families of four victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are urging a judge to reconsider his decision to reject $28.5 million in settlements that he now says are excessive compared with those other survivors received.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein had approved four settlements ranging from $5.5 million to $8 million weeks ago, but reversed himself July 24, saying the amounts were "disproportionately large" and that they "embarrass and prejudice" those who settled earlier. He referred to the four victims as "modest wage earners at the Pentagon."

Their families were among fewer than 100 who sued over deaths or injuries from the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 5,000 others received money from a special fund established by Congress that distributed more than $7 billion.

Hellerstein said individuals who went to court generally won larger awards than those who opted to file claims with the Victim Compensation Fund, but that those who filed lawsuits may have faced more expenses, as well as the added risks and challenges of litigation. The specifics of settlements that were not rejected have been kept secret.

Judge criticized lawyers' fee
Hellerstein harshly criticized the lawyers in the four rejected settlements, saying the 25 percent fee they requested was far above the 15 percent given most other lawyers handling the cases. He accused the lawyers of trying to get a "very large windfall" of more than $7 million of the total $28.5 million agreed to by insurance companies for airlines and airport-security companies.

Baltimore lawyer Jonathan Asrael, who represented the families, said in papers filed in federal court Monday that the settlements were fair and should be reinstated.

"Vacating settlements which were previously approved for these families has rubbed raw the wounds of September 11. It has caused severe upset, disappointment and for some, anger," he wrote.

Families who filed lawsuits have said they did so seeking answers rather than money, on matters such as how the terrorists made it through airport checkpoints.

Asrael said the plaintiffs were not available to comment on the judge's ruling, but in an affidavit unsealed Wednesday, one of the four plaintiffs, a 57-year-old woman whose husband worked for the Army at the Pentagon, supported the law firm's 25 percent fee.

She said she pursued the suit in part for "moral reasons of corporate responsibility and a desire that U.S. taxpayers not be required to pay for my family's loss," adding that she has been satisfied by the outcome.

'A deal is a deal'
Even with her lawyers' 25 percent fee, she wrote, she is still getting about $1.75 million more than she would have had she followed the mediator's recommendation.

"My attorneys' fees were agreed at 25 percent, were earned at 25 percent and I request that Your Honor please pay these attorneys' fees at 25 percent of my recovery," she wrote April 16. "Ultimately, I believe that 'a deal is a deal.' I received what I bargained for and our outstanding attorneys should receive what they bargained for as well."

Hellerstein said he was concerned that the hefty sums would not be fair to the plaintiffs who settled their lawsuits long ago.

"Although I approved the settlements, I did so without being aware of the considerations that now impel me to disapprove them," he wrote.

He also scolded the lawyers for "coasting" on the efforts of the attorneys who handled the previous settlements, essentially accusing them of playing a waiting game in order to get more money for their clients.

In response, Asrael said his law firm had done considerably more work than most other lawyers in the cases, including participating in depositions of airport workers who had screened the hijackers of the plane that struck the Pentagon.

Status report
With the seven-year anniversary of the attacks just weeks away, Hellerstein's ruling provided a status report on the more than 10,000 lawsuits slowly winding through the courts.

He said settlements had been reached in all but a dozen of the 95 wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits he oversees stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks. The judge also is responsible for thousands of lawsuits brought by workers involved in the search, rescue and clean-up efforts at the World Trade Center after the attacks.

Bin Laden driver to seek leniency from jury

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - Osama bin Laden's former driver is expected to ask the Pentagon jury that convicted him of a war crime to spare him from life in prison on Thursday, his defense lawyers said.

Salim Hamdan wiped tears from his face on Wednesday as the panel of six military officers delivered a split verdict at the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II, declaring him guilty of aiding terrorism but acquitting him of conspiracy.

The tribunals' chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said the failure to convict Hamdan of both charges will factor into the sentence his team recommends Thursday inside the hilltop courthouse on this U.S. Navy base. Hamdan is eligible for a maximum life sentence.

"We of course have to prepare our sentence recommendation consistent with what the jury found," Morris said.

Deputy White House spokesman Tony Fratto applauded what he called "a fair trial" and said prosecutors will now proceed with other war crimes trials at the isolated U.S. military base in southeast Cuba. Prosecutors intend to try about 80 Guantanamo detainees for war crimes, including 19 already charged.

Tainted trial?
But defense lawyers said Hamdan's rights were denied by an unfair process, hastily patched together after Supreme Court rulings that previous tribunal systems violated U.S. and international law.

"History and world opinion will judge whether the government proved the system to be fair," Hamdan's lawyers said in a statement.

Hamdan, a Yemeni, did not testify before the jury during his trial, but defense attorney Harry Schneider said the prisoner planned to ask for leniency at the sentencing hearing in either live testimony or a written statement to the jurors.

Hamdan has been held at Guantanamo since May 2002. The military has not said where he would serve a sentence, but the commander of the detention center, Navy Rear Adm. David Thomas, said last week that convicted prisoners will be held apart from the general detainee population.

Limited rights
Under the military commission, Hamdan did not have all the rights normally accorded either by U.S. civilian or military courts. The judge allowed secret testimony and hearsay evidence. Hamdan was not judged by a jury of his peers and he received no Miranda warning about his rights.

Hamdan's attorneys said interrogations at the center of the government's case were tainted by coercive tactics, including sleep deprivation and solitary confinement.

All that is in contrast to the courts-martial used to prosecute American troops in Iraq and Vietnam, which accorded defendants more rights.

The five-man, one-woman jury convicted Hamdan on five counts of supporting terrorism, accepting the prosecution argument that Hamdan aided terrorism by becoming a member of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and serving as bin Laden's armed bodyguard and driver while knowing that the al-Qaida leader was plotting attacks against the U.S.

But he was found not guilty on three other counts alleging he knew that his work would be used for terrorism and that he provided surface-to-air missiles to al-Qaida.

He also was cleared of two charges of conspiracy alleging he was part of the al-Qaida effort to attack the United States — the most serious charges, according to deputy chief defense counsel Michael Berrigan.

Conviction charges came later
Berrigan noted the conspiracy charges were the only ones Hamdan originally faced when his case prompted the Supreme Court to halt the tribunals. Prosecutors added the new charges after the Bush administration rewrote the rules.

"The problem is the law was specifically written after the fact to target Mr. Hamdan," said Charles Swift, one of Hamdan's civilian lawyers.

FBI: Hospital used homeless as 'human pawns'

LOS ANGELES - A hospital CEO was arrested Wednesday in what authorities said was a scheme to recruit homeless people as phony patients and bill government programs for millions of dollars in unnecessary health services.

Federal agents raided three medical centers and the city of Los Angeles sued the hospitals, saying they used homeless people as "human pawns."

Hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange counties submitted phony Medicare and Medi-Cal bills for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless patients — including drug addicts and the mentally ill — recruited from downtown's Skid Row, state and federal authorities allege.

While treating minor problems that did not require hospitalization, such as dehydration, exhaustion or yeast infections, the hospitals allegedly kept homeless patients in beds for as long as three days and charged the government for the stays.

Over four years, a mentally ill woman identified as "Recruit X" was admitted to all three hospitals for conditions she said she never had, such as shortness of breath and chest pains.

After her stays, she would be returned to Skid Row and use money she received for participating in the scheme to buy crack cocaine, authorities alleged. She was never treated for drug addiction.

Reports of homeless dumping prompted investigation
The investigation was sparked in 2006 by a Los Angeles police investigation of reports that hospitals were dumping homeless patients on the streets.

Search warrants were served at City of Angels Medical Center, Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center and Tustin Hospital and Medical Center, the FBI said.

FBI agents arrested Rudra Sabaratnam, CEO of City of Angels hospital, and Estill Mitts, operator of a Skid Row health assessment center, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. They were in federal custody and were expected to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.

A 21-count indictment unsealed Wednesday charged both men with conspiring to receive and take kickbacks for patient referrals and to commit health care fraud. Sabaratnam also was charged with paying kickbacks and Mitts was charged with money laundering and tax evasion.

If convicted, Sabaratnam could face 50 years in federal prison, and Mitts could face 140 years, authorities said.

U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien said he expects additional charges in the case.

"This is one of several major medical fraud investigations that are ongoing," he said. "There's too much money being illegally stripped from public health care programs and the potential impact to those with a legitimate need is too great to let such fraud escape federal prosecution."

There were no residential phone listings in Los Angeles for Sabaratnam or Mitts and it was not immediately known if they had attorneys.

Representatives of the hospitals did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment. Los Angeles Metropolitan and the Tustin hospital are owned by Pacific Health Corp. and Los Angeles-based Intercare Health Systems owns City of Angels.

The city attorney's office said it filed a lawsuit against the corporate owners of the three hospitals — along with Sabaratnam, several doctors and others — in connection with the alleged scheme.

Kickbacks of up to $20,000 a month
Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the city attorney's office, said Skid Row workers "were receiving kickbacks up to $20,000 a month from some of these hospitals and they were delivering between 30 and 50 patients a month."

Mitts ran the 7th Street Assessment Center, which screens people for health needs and takes them to hospitals if necessary.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Couple wed strapped to wings of two airplanes

It was Katie and Darren's wedding day and they were in the clouds — strapped to the top of biplanes reciting vows 1,000 feet above the earth.

Katie Hodgson, 23, took to the skies Tuesday in a full bridal gown on the top wing of red-and-white plane operated by Team Guinot, a group of stunt pilots. Groom Darren McWalters, 24, flew by her side on an identical plane, while Rev. George Bringham — flying ahead of the couple — married them over an airborne communications system.

Sky News television footage of the ceremony showed the bride's dressed fluttering wildly in foul weather as the three shouted to make themselves heard over the din of the aircraft.

"I ask you therefore, will you love her, honor and keep her and be faithful to her so long as you both shall live?" Bringham yelled.

"I will!" McWalters yelled back.

The airplanes sent out trails of white smoke as the couple belted out their vows about 1,000 feet above the ground. Special microphones relayed the ceremony to Rendcomb Airfield near the English city of Cirencester — 90 miles west of London — where the wedding guests were waiting. Wind and rain eventually cut the flight short, but the couple said they had a blast.

Hodgson said that as a girl she never would have imagined she would wed on the wing of an airplane.

"As I got older I became more adventurous," she said, before adding: "I bring the adventurous side out of Darren — he used to be scared of heights."

McWalters told Sky: "We are a bit crazy together... so we wanted something that suited."

Is ‘laziness gene’ to blame for couch potatoes?

If you always have a hard time motivating yourself to exercise, could a “laziness gene” be partly to blame?

That just might be the case, according to scientists from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. Their recent studies with mice could help explain the origins of a lack of desire to get up and get moving.

Researchers found a cluster of about 20 genes that appear to determine which mice tended to be active and which tended to be inactive. And boy, were the active mice active: They ran five to eight miles a day on their little exercise wheels — quite a feat, considering the size of a mouse’s tiny gait.

In contrast, the “inactive” mice ran just 0.3 miles a day. And that’s not all.

“The mice that were inactive put wood shavings in their treadmills and made them beds — or actually used them as potties, which tells you what they think of exercise,” Time Magazine Science Editor Jeffrey Kluger told TODAY co-host Natalie Morales on Tuesday. reported on the scientists’ findings, which were published in the Journal of Heredity. During his TODAY Show interview, Kluger stressed that mice are “good but imperfect templates for human beings.” The so-called laziness gene has not yet been found in humans, although the University of North Carolina researchers are preparing to conduct a similar study in men and women.

Doomed to inactivity?
Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Weight Management Center, told TODAY that even if some humans are found to have a genetic predisposition toward laziness, that’s not the end of the story for them.

“You’re not doomed to be a couch potato even if you do have a biological tendency,” Fernstrom said. “You just have to work a little harder.”

Fernstrom advised people who feel hard-wired toward sloth to increase their “activity of daily living.”

“Take more steps, walk up an escalator, park further away, lose the remote control, walk around while you’re talking on the phone,” she said.

She also recommended that exercise-avoiders should find forms of exercise they actually enjoy and work out with an exercise buddy in order to stay motivated.

“Don’t use an excuse saying, ‘Oh, it’s my genes (that) made me do it,’” Fernstrom said. “That is absolutely not true!”

Kluger noted that any inherent drive toward activity or inactivity likely is tied to levels of neurotransmitters in the brain — particularly serotonin and dopamine.

“The thinking is this probably triggers serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which are mood elevators or mood determinants,” Kluger said.

“Remember, people who are clinically depressed tend to be very inactive. People who aren’t clinically depressed tend to be more active. And when you are active, you actually do elevate your mood and you do actually change the level of serotonin and dopamine in your brain. So it’s clear that the brain system and a sense of activity and energy are linked.”

Connection to the ‘exercise pill’
What about another recent headline-grabbing study involving mice who seemed to benefit from taking a so-called “exercise pill”? Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that when the drug in question was given to sedentary mice, their cells’ ability to burn fat and retain muscle mass improved.

If humans are someday found to have a genetic predisposition toward physical inactivity, could such a drug be a possible answer for them?

In short, no, Kluger said.

“There are so many other benefits that come from exercise,” Kluger said. “There’s mood elevation, there’s reduction of osteoporosis, there’s reduction of diabetes, there’s cardiopulmonary benefits. You get none of this (with a pill). So we’d be slender, unhealthy people, as opposed to slender, healthy people.”

U.S. money contains highest traces of cocaine

Paper money contains high traces of cocaine, regardless of whether or not the paper money came into direct contact with the drug. And U.S. bills take the top spot, covered in the greatest amount of the illegal powder, while Spanish notes are the most highly contaminated in Europe, a new study finds.

The findings, detailed in the latest issue of the journal Trends in Analytical Chemistry, reflect the popularity of the illicit drug, the researchers say.

"These findings should not be surprising, because cocaine and other drugs are traded using cash, which is handled by the same fingers that directly touch the drugs or wrappings," chemists Sergio Armenta and Miguel de la Guardia from the University of Valencia in Spain write. "Moreover, many cocaine users use a wrapped banknote to sniff this drug, so inducing direct cocaine contamination of the banknotes."

Armenta and de la Guardia analyzed Spanish notes for cocaine traces, finding they contained an average of 155 micrograms of cocaine. (A gram of cocaine would fill about half a tea bag. A microgram is one-millionth of that amount.)

They also reviewed previous research focusing on cocaine concentrations found in different currencies around the world.

German Euros contained levels of cocaine that were five times lower than the Spanish ones.
For Irish bank notes, one statistic suggested that of 48 notes studied the highest concentration found was 0.5 micrograms.

The chemists found U.S. bills contained an average of between 2.9 and 28.8 micrograms of cocaine depending on the year and city, with a maximum of more than 1,300 micrograms found on some 1996 bills.

One study based on 356 notes showed just 6 percent of Swiss francs were contaminated with cocaine at levels above one nanogram per note, where a nanogram is one-thousandth of a microgram. Some data suggest, the researchers found, that between 40 percent and about 50 percent of British pounds were contaminated with cocaine at levels of about 0.0011 micrograms per note.

It turns out, money really is dirty, and not just with drug traces. One past study revealed 94 percent of $1 bills collected from a community in western Ohio contained disease-causing or potentially disease-causing bacteria. The study, published in 2002 in the Southern Medical Journal, was led by Peter Ender, chief of infectious diseases at Wright-Patterson Medical Center in Ohio.

Flu vaccines to protect against 3 strains

WASHINGTON - U.S. health regulators have approved six versions of the influenza vaccine to help combat the virus during the 2008-2009 flu season later this year.

The vaccines include GlaxoSmithKline Plc's Fluarix and FluLaval; Novartis AG's Fluvirin; Sanofi Aventis SA's Fluzone and CSL Ltd's Afluria, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday.

The FDA also cleared the FluMist nasal spray flu vaccine made by AstraZeneca Plc unit MedImmune.

Each vaccine contains the same three strains of the influenza virus, which experts choose every year after weighing which ones are most likely to break out. Experts include two strains from Type A, an H1N1 and an H3N2 version, and one for Type B.

Outbreaks of the influenza virus can start as early as October and last through May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Earlier this year, the FDA chose to update the vaccine with three new strains rather than only one or two as it usually does.

Vaccines for this past 2007-2008 flu season appeared largely ineffective in part because different strains than expected began circulating, experts have said. Still, a record 140 million doses were provided, the CDC has said.

Both Sanofi Aventis and MedImmune have already begun shipping their products.

MedImmune said earlier this week it plans to make 12 million doses of its nasal mist vaccine, which is approved for those ages 2 to 49.

Favre reportedly considering trade to Bucs

GREEN BAY, Wis. - The bond between Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers appears to be broken beyond repair.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday evening that after approximately six hours of what he called “brutally honest” conversations with Favre over the past two days, the three-time MVP just isn’t in the right mind-set to be part of the team.

Even with the chance to win his starting job back potentially on the table, McCarthy said Favre couldn’t seem to get past emotional wounds that were opened as tensions mounted in recent weeks.

“The football team’s moving forward,” McCarthy said. “The train has left the station, whatever analogy you want. He needs to jump on the train and let’s go. Or, if we can’t get past things that have happened, I have to keep the train moving.”

McCarthy said he and Favre made plans to speak later Tuesday evening, but McCarthy didn’t seem to allow for the possibility that anything significant would change.

A trade could be coming next, with Tampa Bay re-emerging as a potential destination after seemingly being eliminated from consideration in recent weeks.

Packers officials have believed throughout the past month that Favre’s preference is to play for the Minnesota Vikings, but Favre could reconsider a trade to Tampa Bay — or elsewhere — if Green Bay holds firm in its commitment not to trade him to a division rival.

McCarthy wouldn’t address trade talks, but did say a quick resolution to the situation is important to the rest of his players.

“Absolutely,” McCarthy said. “The players, they want it resolved. Even talk to Brett about it — he feels bad about it. It’s time for them to talk about somebody else.”

Favre left Lambeau Field just before Packers practice Tuesday afternoon, taking a right turn out of the stadium’s back gate and heading away from the field where the rest of his teammates were assembling for drills.

Favre emerged from the stadium’s loading dock exit at 2:34 p.m. EDT Tuesday, hugging Packers senior security advisor Jerry Parins before getting in his SUV and driving away. Shortly after, an SUV driven by Packers general manager Ted Thompson left the gate heading in the same direction.

“We’re at a stalemate,” Favre told ESPN Tuesday morning. “Mike and I both agreed last night that me being out there is a distraction and will continue to be a distraction. We all know the reason I’m here is because the commissioner reinstated me so we have a lot of things to figure out. It’s simple and complicated, both at the same time.”

McCarthy said Favre was excused from practice Tuesday, adding that he wouldn’t have practiced with the team anyway because of an abdominal strain found in his physical examination Monday. McCarthy did not say whether Favre would be fined if he stayed away from camp starting Wednesday.

Favre told ESPN he doesn’t have a problem with competing with Rodgers for the starting job, and can “truly understand” why McCarthy would make Rodgers the starter. But Favre also said a competition “probably isn’t going to work” and that “the problem is that there’s been a lot of damage done and I can’t forget it.”

Did Favre not feel wanted or welcome enough by the Packers?

“That’s part of the issue with him, quite frankly,” McCarthy said. “And listening to him talk about that, you respect his opinion. And frankly, I told him, I said, ’I’ll take responsibility because I have a voice in the building.’ I never thought he truly was going to play. I thought he was emotionally driven for other reasons.”

Study: TV shows sex, but not in marriage

LOS ANGELES - Marriage gets little respect on network TV shows that instead revel in the pleasures of extramarital and even kinky sex, according to a study released Tuesday.

The study by the Parents Television Council includes a strongly worded condemnation of prime-time TV, contending it “seems to be actively seeking to undermine marriage by consistently painting it in a negative light.”

Even more troubling, according to the watchdog group, is what it characterized as TV’s recent obsession with what it termed “outre” or bizarre behavior, including partner swapping and pedophilia.

As for references to pornography, sex toys and “kinky” behavior, those are now common on TV, the report said. Visual references to practices such as voyeurism and sadomasochistic sex outnumbered married-sex references by a ratio approaching 3 to 1.

The effect on young viewers is dire, the Parents Television Council contends.

Behavior that once was seen as “fringe, immoral or socially destructive have been given the imprimatur of acceptability by the television industry” and children are absorbing or even imitating it, the report contends.

Parents don’t necessarily have the tools to identify programs they may want to block via the V-chip, according to the study: It says designations such as “S,” signaling sexual content, were applied inconsistently and inaccurately.

ABC, CBS, CW, Fox and NBC, the networks in the study, all declined comment.

James Steyer, CEO of nonprofit Common Sense Media, which helps parents sift through media offerings to decide what’s right for their children, said he couldn’t vouch for the Parents Television Council’s research but lauded the effort.

While the council takes a very traditional view of society and pop culture, “I respect it,” Steyer said Tuesday. “There are millions of Americans that feel this way,” he said.

It’s legitimate to scrutinize TV’s take on marriage and sexuality given its influence on children, Steyer said.

But TV Watch, a nonpartisan group that says individuals and not government should decide what’s seen, fired a volley at the council.

“The Parents Television Council won’t be satisfied with television content until they convince the government to enforce their personal, selective judgments,” Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch, said in a statement.

The study analyzed four weeks of scripted shows on the major networks at the start of the 2007-08 season, noting content including depictions of sex; implied sex; discussions on the subject, and visual references to strippers, pornography and other aspects of sexuality.

Among the networks overall, references to adultery outnumbered references to marital sex by 2 to 1. The “family hour” — the first hour of prime-time TV, which draws the most young viewers — contained the highest ratio of references to non-married vs. married sex, the study found.

Shows held up as containing bad examples of TV behavior included “Grey’s Anatomy,” with the report citing a scene with singles Meredith and Derek in bed, and “Boston Legal,” for an exchange about prostitution.

Bush plays down dueling Asian demonstrations

SEOUL, South Korea - President Bush on Wednesday brushed off the raucous demonstrators who protested him as he opened a three-nation visit to Asia, saying it's a sign of citizens living in a country where they are free to speak their minds.

The dueling demonstrations by prayerful, flag-waving supporters and rowdy protesters doused by police water cannons reflected sharp political divisions in the U.S.-South Korean relationship, which has endured volatile moments this year, but is still reliable and vital for both sides.

"I enjoy coming to a free society where people are able to express their opinions — and your country is a free society," Bush told South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Lee sought to downplay the protests.

"The majority of the Korean people have been eagerly waiting for your visit," said Lee, who noted that thousands of people had gathered on Tuesday in Seoul to pray for Bush and the future of the U.S.-South Korea relationship.

"And of course behind these people there were those who were sort of opposed," Lee said in a wry reference to the thousands of anti-Bush protesters.

Bush laughed at the way Lee phrased that.

"I admire your forthrightness, your integrity and your deep love for the people of Korea," Bush said, sitting across from Lee at a large oval table at the presidential mansion.

People were waving American and South Korean flags as Bush's limousine neared the mansion where he met Lee, a pro-American leader who took office in February. Lee's approval ratings tumbled when he lifted a ban on U.S. beef despite public fears about its safety. The public outcry prompted street protests that drew attention worldwide earlier this year.

The two leaders walked down red-carpeted steps and on to a manicured lawn where they were greeted by South Korean troops and a military band. Behind the troops, Bush could gaze at the skyline of Seoul through the sunny morning haze.

As Bush arrived on Tuesday evening, 30,000 people held an outdoor Christian prayer service to support him. His motorcade sped by pockets of people smiling and waving U.S. flags his way.

Rioters hit with water cannon
Later, an estimated 20,000 anti-Bush protesters gathered downtown. Riot police blasted them with water cannons as they tried to march onto the main boulevard. Police warned the crowd that the liquid contained markers to tag them so they could be identified later.

The U.S.-South Korea bond has had other tests this year, too.

A trade deal Bush wants with South Korea has been buried by Congress. And a seemingly obscure change in how the U.S. classifies a set of islands drew widespread anger in South Korea, prompting Bush officials to abruptly reverse course.

Despite Tuesday's protests, the United States has a good standing with the Seoul government. The United States has quietly maintained a long-term troop presence in South Korea, now numbered at almost 30,000, since intervening in the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The countries are also at the heart of an international effort to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. Bush has indicated he will remove North Korea from the U.S. terror blacklist, but not unless Pyongyang allows its dismantlement effort to be verified. The White House is tamping down expectations about an Aug. 11 date by which North Korea is expected to agree to an inspection proposal.

Bush comes with thanks to South Korea for contributing help in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was expected to ask Lee for more troops in Afghanistan, where violence is back on the rise.

Mary-Kate to be subpoenaed in Ledger death

As the investigation surrounding Heath Ledger’s accidental overdose continues, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration office in New York has confirmed to “Access Hollywood” that they have issued a subpoena that would force Mary-Kate Olsen to testify in front of a grand jury.

Five medications were found in Ledger’s body at the time of his death, according to the DEA, three of which he’d obtained via doctors in Texas and Los Angeles. At the center of the investigation is how he acquired Oxycontin and Vicodin without a legal prescription.

Olsen was the first person called by the masseuse who discovered Ledger’s body after the “The Dark Knight” actor’s untimely death.

She broke her silence for the first time on Monday, when a rep for the actress told “Access” in a statement that she “had nothing whatsoever to do with the drugs found in Heath Ledger’s home or his body, and she does not know where he obtained them.”

However, despite the rep’s statement that they “have provided the government with relevant information,” the actress is reportedly refusing to speak to government officials without immunity.

According to Benjamin Brafman, a high-profile defense attorney not associated with the case, seeking immunity is not the same as admitting guilt.