Tuesday, July 29, 2008

House apologizes for slavery and Jim Crow

WASHINGTON - The House on Tuesday issued an unprecedented apology to black Americans for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws.

"Today represents a milestone in our nation's efforts to remedy the ills of our past," said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The resolution, passed by voice vote, was the work of Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, the only white lawmaker to represent a majority black district. Cohen faces a formidable black challenger in a primary face-off next week.

Congress has issued apologies before — to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II and to native Hawaiians for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893. In 2005, the Senate apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching laws.

Five states have issued apologies for slavery, but past proposals in Congress have stalled, partly over concerns that an apology would lead to demands for reparations — payment for damages.

No mention of reparations
The Cohen resolution does not mention reparations. It does commit the House to rectifying "the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow."

It says that Africans forced into slavery "were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage" and that black Americans today continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow laws that fostered discrimination and segregation.

The House "apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow."

"Slavery and Jim Crow are stains upon what is the greatest nation on the face of the earth," Cohen said. Part of forming a more perfect union, he said, "is such a resolution as we have before us today where we face up to our mistakes and apologize as anyone should apologize for things that were done in the past that were wrong."

White lawmaker reaches out
Cohen became the first white to represent the 60 percent black district in Memphis in more than three decades when he captured a 2006 primary in which a dozen black candidates split the vote. He has sought to reach out to his black constituents, and early in his term showed interest in joining the Congressional Black Caucus until learning that was against caucus rules.

Another of his first acts as a freshman congressman in early 2007 was to introduce the slavery apology resolution. His office said that the House resolution was brought to the floor only after learning that the Senate would be unable to join in a joint resolution.

More than a dozen of the 42 Congressional Black Caucus members in the House were original co-sponsors of the measure. The caucus has not endorsed either Cohen or his chief rival, attorney Nikki Tinker, in the Memphis primary, although Cohen is backed by several senior members, including Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. Tinker is the former campaign manager of Harold Ford, Jr., who held Cohen's seat until he stepped down in an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 2006.

$120 billion effort to rebuild Iraq still lags

WASHINGTON - Iraq's coffers are bulging with oil money, yet some Baghdad residents go without electricity for much of the day and others get drinking water tainted with sewage.

"They don't need more money," said Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. "But they are having a difficult time, apparently, spending the money that they have."

Bowen Wednesday is releasing his quarterly report to Congress on efforts to rebuild Iraq's shattered nation — a program now expected to spend $117.79 billion.

Aided by money from a postwar record in oil production, Iraq itself is now set to spend an amount almost equal to the U.S. share, the report says. As of the end of the quarter on June 30, the U.S. has appropriated $50.46 billion, the Iraqis are contributing $50.33 billion and international donors have pledged $17 billion.

Bowen said that on a number of fronts, Iraq made progress in the last quarter toward standing on its own — a key to bringing home U.S. troops.

Amid improved security, the Iraq economy has continued to expand and essential services to residents have improved somewhat.

"But they remain uneven and are not adequate to meet current demand," the 270-page report said. "Improved security across the country has helped reduce attacks on oil pipelines, and the electricity sector's expanded operations and maintenance programs have helped increase production."

Problems with water and sewer services
The government of Iraq still struggles to develop effective water and sewer services.

"Emblematic of this struggle is the fact that two-thirds of the raw sewage produced in Baghdad flows untreated into rivers and waterways," the report said. Sewage water is mixing with tap water in several areas of Baghdad, experts say.

The Iraqi government also is still far from its goal of achieving political reconciliation; and it lacks some skills to run the government, the report says.

"They obviously have made enormous economic progress by virtue of improving their oil sector and they've made significant security progress," Bowen said in an interview.

"However on the governance and political front, there are still hurdles," he said, naming the need to pass an oil law and hold provincial elections.

And they are still having trouble executing their budgets at the national level and particularly in the provinces.

"For progress to really occur across Iraq, they're going to have to remedy that," Bowen said.

There was no figure available for how much of the allocated Iraqi money had been spent. Of the $17 billion pledged internationally, only $2.5 billion had been disbursed. And at of the end of the quarter, the U.S. had spent $33.28 billion of the more than $50 billion Congress appropriated, Bowen said.

Taxpayers not getting money's worth
He said American taxpayers did not always get their money's worth.

One success story was a $34 million project that built a system of ditches, berms, fences and other security to protect pipelines from attacks.

"The success of the program is evident in the fact that there have been no successful attacks on northern oil lines this year," the report said, noting that contributed to the increased oil production.

U.S. AIDS policies neglect blacks, report says

WASHINGTON - U.S. policies and cash may be leading the fight against AIDS globally, but they have neglected the epidemic among black Americans, the Black AIDS Institute said in a report released on Tuesday.

While blacks account for one in eight people in the United States, half of all Americans infected with HIV are black, the report found.

“We are 30 percent of the new cases among gay men, 40 percent of the new cases among men in general, 60 percent of the cases among women and 70 percent of the new cases among youth,” Black AIDS Institute CEO Phill Wilson told reporters in a telephone briefing

“Yet ... the U.S. response to AIDS in black America stands in sharp contrast to the international response to the epidemic overseas,” he added.

Al Sharpton, a prominent activist and founder of the National Action Network, agreed.

“U.S. policy makers seem to be much more interested in the epidemic in Botswana than the epidemic in Louisiana. This is an unnecessary and deadly choice. Both need urgent attention,” Sharpton said.

Dr. Helene Gayle, former head of AIDS for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and now president of the poverty-fighting charity CARE, said many HIV infected blacks are not in traditional high-risk groups such as men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers.

“The federal government’s approach to the epidemic in black America is fundamentally flawed,” Gayle said. This includes both a lack of funding and poor targeting of the money, she said.

Empowerment and education
Approaches that would work among black Americans include policies to empower women.

“Black women often cannot insist on abstinence or the use of condoms for fear of violence or other emotional trauma,” Gayle said.

Black American women are 23 times more likely than white women to become infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, the report found.

A lack of education works against young people, who are often powerless and in sexual relationships with older people, who can infect them, Gayle said. Wider testing for HIV among blacks is also essential, the report stressed.

And better prevention messages that use language that will reach drug users, youths and men who have sex with men are key.

“We have focused on abstinence-only (methods) even though they don’t work in our community,” Wilson said.

Information about condom use is important, Wilson said. “We also need to look at needle exchange,” he said — noting that although needle exchange programs work to reduce HIV transmission while doing nothing to encourage drug use, they are frowned upon by the federal government.

Education campaigns can battle myths about disease transmission, as well as conspiracy theories that cause many blacks to mistrust the medical system, Wilson said.

Giant chunks break off Canadian ice shelf

OTTAWA - Giant sheets of ice totaling almost eight square miles broke off an ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic last week and more could follow later this year, scientists said on Tuesday.

In a development consistent with climate change theories, the enormous icy plain broke free sometime last week and began slowly drifting into the Arctic Ocean. The piece had been a part of the shelf for 3,000 years.

Temperatures in large parts of the Arctic have risen far faster than the global average in recent decades.

The ice broke away from the shelf on Ward Hunt Island, a small island just off giant Ellesmere Island in one of the northernmost parts of Canada.

It was the largest fracture of its kind since the nearby Ayles Ice Shelf — which measured 25 square miles — broke away in 2005.

Scientists had earlier identified deep cracks in the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, which measures around 155 square miles. The shelf is one of five along Ellesmere Island in the northern Arctic.

"Because the breakoff occurred between two large parallel cracks they're thinking more could go this summer before the freeze sets in," said Trudy Wohlleben of the Canadian Ice Service. "More could be a piece as large as the Ayles Ice Shelf."

Ellesmere Island was once home to a single enormous ice shelf totaling around 3,500 square miles. All that is left of that shelf today are five much smaller shelves that together cover just under 400 square miles.

Melting ice shelves don't raise sea levels because they are already in the water, but their demise can speed up retreating glaciers, which do raise sea levels.

Sea ice, glaciers also shrinking
"The breakoff is consistent with other changes we've seen in the area, such as the reduction in the amount of sea ice, the retreat of the glaciers and the breakup of other ice shelves," Wohlleben said.

She said a likely reason for the shelf breaking away was a strong wind from the south.

Warwick Vincent, director of the Centre for Northern Studies at Laval University in Quebec, said much of the remaining Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is now in a vulnerable state.

"It underscores the fact that each year we're now crossing new thresholds in environmental change in the High Arctic, and of course our concern in the longer term is that these may signal the onset of serious change at all latitudes, much further to the south, for example," he told Reuters.

Derek Mueller, an Arctic ice shelf specialist at Trent University in Ontario, said he was concerned by the rapidity of changes in the High Arctic over the last few years.

"It's a bit of a wake-up call for those people who aren't yet affected by climate change that there are places on Earth that are, and the same could be true for them (these people) if you fast-forward a decade or two or three," he said.

'No longer ... in balance'
Mueller initially estimated that 1.5 square miles of ice had broken off the shelf but increased that figure to eight square miles after studying the data more closely.

L.A. OKs moratorium on fast-food restaurants

LOS ANGELES - City officials are putting South Los Angeles on a diet.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to place a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in an impoverished swath of the city with a proliferation of such eateries and above average rates of obesity.

The yearlong moratorium is intended to give the city time to attract restaurants that serve healthier food. The action, which the mayor must still sign into law, is believed to be the first of its kind by a major city to protect public health.

“Our communities have an extreme shortage of quality foods,” City Councilman Bernard Parks said.

Representatives of fast-food chains said they support the goal of better diets but believe they are being unfairly targeted. They say they already offer healthier food items on their menus.

“It’s not where you eat, it’s what you eat,” said Andrew Pudzer, president and chief executive of CKE Restaurants, parent company of Carl’s Jr. “We were willing to work with the city on that, but they obviously weren’t interested.”

The California Restaurant Association and its members will consider a legal challenge to the ordinance, spokesman Andrew Casana said.

Thirty percent of adults in South Los Angeles area are obese, compared to 19.1 percent for the metropolitan area and 14.1 percent for the affluent Westside, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Research has shown that people will change eating habits when different foods are offered, but cost is a key factor in poor communities, said Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

“Cheap, unhealthy food and lack of access to healthy food is a recipe for obesity,” Brownell said. “Diets improve when healthy food establishments enter these neighborhoods.”

A report by the Community Health Councils found 73 percent of South Los Angeles restaurants were fast food, compared to 42 percent in West Los Angeles.

South Los Angeles resident Curtis English acknowledged that fast food is loaded with calories and cholesterol. But since he’s unemployed and does not have a car, it serves as a cheap, convenient staple for him.

On Monday, he ate breakfast and lunch — a sausage burrito and double cheeseburger, respectively — at a McDonald’s a few blocks from home for just $2.39.

“I don’t think there’s too many fast food places,” he said. “People like it.”

Others welcomed an opportunity to get different kinds of food into their neighborhood.

“They should open more healthy places,” Dorothy Meighan said outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. “There’s too much fried stuff.”

Councilwoman Jan Perry said that view repeatedly surfaced at the five community meetings she held during the past two years. Residents are tired of fast food, and many don’t have cars to drive to places with other choices, she said.

Los Angeles’ ban comes at a time when governments of all levels are increasingly viewing menus as a matter of public health. On Friday, California became the first state in the nation to bar trans fats, which lower levels of good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol.

The moratorium, which can be extended up to a year, only affects standalone restaurants, not eateries located in malls or strip shopping centers. It defines fast-food restaurants as those that do not offer table service and provide a limited menu of pre-prepared or quickly heated food in disposable wrapping.

The definition exempts “fast-food casual” restaurants such as El Pollo Loco, Subway and Pastagina, which do not have drive-through windows or heat lamps and prepare fresh food to order.

Fifth of U.S. TV viewers watching online

NEW YORK - A fifth of U.S. television viewers are putting down their remote controls and clicking on a mouse instead to watch primetime programs online — particularly professional women, according to a new survey.

It showed that 50 percent of people viewing TV on the Web are watching programs as they become available and "appear to be beginning to use the computer as a substitute for the television set," Integrated Media Measurement Inc. (IMMI), which conducted the poll, said.

The other half are using the Internet to watch programs they have missed, or to re-watch segments or episodes they have already seen, IMMI, a company which links media exposure to consumer action, added.

"This is the first study to show there are a significant amount of people watching primetime shows online who are not watching some portion of those shows on television," Amanda Welsh, head of research for IMMI, said in a statement.

The report showed that the largest group of online TV viewers are white, affluent, well educated, working women aged 25 to 44.

IMMI said women are busy with their work and personal lives and don't have time to be tied down to live television-viewing schedules. They may not have time to watch their shows live, so they may use the online episodes to fill in the shows that they missed live.

IMMI recruited 3,000 teens and adults in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Denver for the survey and gave them cell phones with special software that tracks their media viewing.

Brazil says body is that of ballooning priest

SAO PAULO, Brazil - Authorities said DNA from a body found earlier this month off Brazil's coast matches a priest who disappeared while flying over the Atlantic attached to hundreds of brightly colored party balloons.

Rev. Adelir Antonio de Carli set off from the Brazilian port city of Paranagua on April 20 strapped to 1,000 helium-filled balloons in an attempt to raise money to build a rest stop and worship center for truckers.

The 41-year-old Roman Catholic priest disappeared and the balloons were found in the water a day later. Tugboat workers found a body in early July that authorities believed belonged to the priest.

Tiny tree shrew can drink you under the table

The Malaysian pen-tailed tree shrew could drink the most annoying drunken fratboys under the table. A new study found that the tiny animal subsists on a diet roughly equivalent to 100 percent beer, drinking up the fermented nectar of the flower buds of the bertam palm plant.

The nectar can reach up to 3.8 percent alcohol content, one of the highest alcohol concentrations ever recorded in a natural food. Though some animals, such as bats and birds and of course, humans, are known to imbibe on occasion, the tree shrews could be nature's biggest lushes.

"There are other animals that do drink alcohol but not on a continuous basis," said researcher Marc-André Lachance, a microbiologist at the University of Western Ontario. "For bats and birds it would be just at the time that the plants are producing fruit. These animals are doing that around the clock and all year round. That's pretty unique."

Amazingly, though the tree shrews drink like fish, they don't seem to get drunk. The researchers, led by Frank Wiens of Germany's University of Bayreuth, videotaped regular nocturnal feeding sessions and followed the movements of radio-tagged tree shrews. Though they measured blood-alcohol concentrations in the animals higher than those in humans with similarly high alcohol intake, the tree shrews showed no signs of intoxication.

"They seem to have developed some type of mechanism to deal with that high level of alcohol and not get drunk," Lachance told LiveScience. "The amount of alcohol we're talking about is huge — it's several times the legal limit in most countries. So if we can figure out why these animals are able to cope with it perhaps it could be used to develop medicines to help people deal with alcohol poisoning."

The discovery is particularly intriguing because the tree shrew is believed to be very similar to the last common ancestor of all living primates. The researchers hypothesize that this ancestor may have consumed alcohol at moderate or high levels, which could explain why humans have some tolerance for alcohol.

In the case of the tree shrews, the animals could have developed the ability to handle high volumes of alcohol because the bertam palm was the best source of food available in their habitat.

"This plant in that part of Malaysia is quite widespread," Lachance said. "It's a very spiny, very uninviting plant. The lower buds from which the alcohol comes out are very sharp. You can easily hurt yourself on them. I speak from experience."

Man arrested in death of pregnant N.C. soldier

FAYETTVILLE, N.C. - A Fort Bragg soldier was charged with first-degree murder Tuesday in the death of a pregnant colleague whose partially decomposed body was found in a motel bathtub more than a month ago, police said.

Edgar Patino, 27, of nearby Hope Mills, was arrested at his home without incident just after 8 p.m. in the death of Army Spc. Megan L. Touma, said Fayetteville police watch commander Lt. Lars Paul. Paul said Patino was stationed at Fort Bragg but couldn't provide his rank or unit.

No further details were immediately available, but police have scheduled a 11 a.m. news conference Wednesday.

maintenance supervisor smelled a foul odor coming from a room with a "Do Not Disturb" sign. A dental specialist from Cold Spring, Ky., Touma was seven months pregnant and had recently arrived from a base in Germany.

She was temporarily assigned to Fort Bragg's 19th Replacement Company, and would have eventually been assigned to work at a base dental clinic.

Police have said a Fort Bragg soldier studying psychological operations was a person of interest in the case. They said the person was training at a school where special operations ranging from raids to reconstruction projects are taught. It wasn't immediately clear if police were referring to Patino.

Police also investigated a letter sent to The Fayetteville Observer from a person who claimed to be a serial killer responsible for Touma's death. The letter featured a circle-and-cross drawing that had also been drawn in lipstick on the motel room mirror and was the same as one used a generation ago by San Francisco's infamous Zodiac Killer.

Police have said they believed the letter was written to mislead investigators and the media.

Angels' Lackey loses no-hit bid, shutout in 9th

BOSTON - John Lackey nearly pitched baseball’s third straight no-hitter at Fenway Park. And that wasn’t the only exciting thing the Los Angeles Angels did Tuesday.

Hours after the AL West leaders acquired slugger Mark Teixeira in a trade, Lackey came within two outs of a no-hitter to lead Los Angeles past the Boston Red Sox 6-2.

The right-hander appeared headed for the history books until Dustin Pedroia grounded a sharp single through the left side with one out in the ninth inning.

Kevin Youkilis followed with a home run over the Green Monster to spoil the shutout bid, but Lackey finished the two-hitter to help the Angels improve the major leagues’ best record to 66-40.

“A no-hitter would have been nice,” Lackey said. “You know what’s going on, but it wasn’t affecting me. I just wanted to win the game.”

Pedroia said Lackey threw him a slider on the first pitch for a called strike, then tried another.

“Even the pitch he threw was a good pitch. I just got the barrel on it,” Pedroia said. “He was awesome. He put on a show. We hit some balls hard, but right at guys.”

Lackey (9-2) almost became the first visiting pitcher in 50 years to toss a no-hitter at Fenway, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Hall of Famer Jim Bunning did it for Detroit on July 20, 1958.

The AL leader in ERA last season, Lackey struck out four and walked two in his 12th career complete game and second this year. He missed the first six weeks of the season with a strained triceps.

As he left the field, he received polite applause from the remnants of a sold-out crowd.

Red Sox fans are growing accustomed to great pitching performances. The past two major league no-hitters were thrown by Boston pitchers at Fenway Park, immortalized by John Updike as a “lyric little bandbox.”

Jon Lester’s gem in May followed Clay Buchholz’s no-hitter last September in his second big league start. Buchholz was the losing pitcher Tuesday night.

“I was more aware actually of him throwing it than I was when I was out there,” Buchholz said. “It’s something special to watch. It’s a lot more fun when it’s one of us.”

Lackey showed no emotion following Pedroia’s single, but he barked for a new ball after Youkilis’ home run.

World's sexiest beaches 2008

You know the saying: Put two people together and let nature take its course. Well, put two people together in a locale with sunshine, sand, and turquoise waters ... and watch the clothes come flying off. Whether this summer finds you and your Pucci two-piece looking to break a few hearts, or whether it's a matter of you and your mate defrosting passions after a long, cruel winter, we've got the surefire solution. These beaches, quite simply, bring the heat. We're not responsible for what happens the morning after.

Bring the heat: Do you daydream of the old world Mediterranean? The ancient architecture, the sagas of wars over beautiful women, the ... togas? Look and you'll find it in southwest Turkey, rife with historic seaside towns and Roman ruins along the sea. Imagine the private recreations: "You, Venus; me, Adonis."

Select sand: A crumbling amphitheater, tombs, a Roman temple, and, yes, one helluva nice beach. Archeologists have made a rich historical find at Patara, not far from the town of Kas. The other upshot, other than being able to explore the ruins on your own, is that the beautiful, 10-mile-long Patara Beach is protected from development.

Hookup potential: Kas is like a much smaller version of Antalya, a former seaside village that draws crowds of Turkish tourists. And you'll soon find that this bunch loves to party.

Privacy rating: 3 out of 10. This part of the world has been well populated for many thousands of years.

Pillow talk: With a vista toward the Greek island of Meis, the hillside Villa Hotel Tamara has three terraced platforms, two of which have pools (one filled with saltwater). The third terrace is almost level with the sea, so you can dive right in. Suites have French doors that open onto glass-enclosed balconies and hot tubs.

Counselor: Donaghy bet $500 a hole in golf

NEW YORK - Disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy was a compulsive gambler whose road to professional and personal ruin began on the golf course, where he bet up to $500 a hole, according to an evaluation filed on the eve of his sentencing.

"In short, he could not stop himself from gambling,'' wrote Stephen Block, a longtime New York-based gambling treatment counselor.

Donaghy, 41, faces up to 33 months in prison at his sentencing Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn after pleading guilty last year to taking thousands of dollars in payoffs from a professional gambler for inside betting tips. The evaluation was filed by his defense attorney, John Lauro, in a bid for leniency.

"In my professional opinion, Mr. Donaghy would never have committed these offenses if he was not a pathological gambler,'' Block concluded.

Block, who interviewed Donaghy in January, traced his problem to 1994, when he started betting up to $500 a hole and playing card games at various golf clubs in his home state of Pennsylvania. He was introduced to the world of professional sports gambling, where he bet on football and baseball before becoming embroiled in the NBA scheme.

"His gambling history demonstrates the need to gamble to fulfill the underlying need for 'action,''' Block said. "He continued to gamble despite the consequences and the fear of disclosure of his activities.''

Donaghy, like many gambling addicts, successfully concealed his problem for years, Block wrote.

"Mr. Donaghy's ability to accurately referee games has no connection to his compulsive gambling condition,'' he said. "It is very common for the employers of pathological gamblers to never notice a decrease in job performance.''

The criminal case ended Donaghy's 13-year career with the NBA. Also, his wife of 12 years has filed for divorce.

"His gambling has caused devastation in many areas of his life,'' said the report, adding that "continued professional treatment would benefit Mr. Donaghy in his recovery.''

Prosecutors declined comment on Monday.

‘Extreme Makeover’ house faces foreclosure

LAKE CITY, Ga. - More than 1,800 people showed up to help ABC’s “Extreme Makeover” team demolish a family’s decrepit home and replace it with a sparkling, four-bedroom mini-mansion in 2005.

Three years later, the reality TV show’s most ambitious project at the time has become the latest victim of the foreclosure crisis.

After the Harper family used the two-story home as collateral for a $450,000 loan, it’s set to go to auction on the steps of the Clayton County Courthouse Aug. 5. The couple did not return phone calls Monday, but told WSB-TV they received the loan for a construction business that failed.

The house was built in January 2005, after Atlanta-based Beazer Homes USA and ABC’s “Extreme Makeover” demolished their old home and its faulty septic system. Within six days, construction crews and hoards of volunteers had completed work on the largest home that the television program had yet built.

The finished product was a four-bedroom house with decorative rock walls and a three-car garage that towered over ranch and split-level homes in their Clayton County neighborhood. The home’s door opened into a lobby that featured four fireplaces, a solarium, a music room and a plush new office.

Materials and labor were donated for the home, which would have cost about $450,000 to build. Beazer Homes’ employees and company partners also raised $250,000 in contributions for the family, including scholarships for the couple’s three children and a home maintenance fund.

Cubs open series with wild win over Brewers

MILWAUKEE - Derrek Lee gave Milwaukee all the momentum. Reed Johnson just made sure Lee got a second chance.

Lee doubled with one out in the ninth to score Alfonso Soriano and the Chicago Cubs rallied to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 6-4 on Monday night to take a two-game lead in the NL Central.

“The way we’ve been playing, we just needed a win. Period,” Lee said. “On the road, it makes it even better.”

In the opener of a four-game series between the NL’s top two teams, the Cubs prevailed in a back-and-forth contest to improve to 32-26 at Miller Park — also known by Cubs fans as “Wrigley North” — since it opened in 2001.

With the game tied at 4, Brewers closer Salomon Torres (5-3) struck out Kosuke Fukudome, but ran into trouble by walking Soriano and pinch hitter Mike Fontenot.

“I wasn’t able to execute, bottom line,” Torres said.

Lee, who finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs, then flared a double to right, scoring Soriano. After an intentional walk to Aramis Ramirez and a strike out of Geovany Soto, Mark DeRosa’s infield single scored Fontenot to make it 6-4.

“I just got two strikes and I was battling, I was just trying to get a sinker up and get the barrel on it,” Lee said. “It worked out. He left one up a little bit and I was able to stay inside it and hit it to right field.”

Johnson did his part with a hard slide.

He came through in the seventh after walking to load the bases with one out. Brewers starter CC Sabathia forced Lee to ground weakly to Hardy, the shortstop, but Johnson’s hard slide took out second baseman Rickie Weeks and Weeks’ errant throw allowed two to score to give the Cubs a 4-3 lead.

“You try to beat the middle infielder to a spot, and I was able to get in there and get a good piece of him,” Johnson said.

Said Weeks: “I never got a hold of the ball really good, so I just tried to turn it. It just got away from me.”

The Brewers tied the game at 4-4 with a solo homer by pinch hitter Russell Branyan with two outs in the seventh off Bob Howry. But they couldn’t mount another comeback in the ninth against reliever Carlos Marmol, who picked up his fifth save after working around a two-out walk. Soriano made a jumping catch near the wall on Gabe Kapler’s fly ball to deep left to end the game.

The Cubs took an early lead off Sabathia, the reigning AL Cy Young winner and the Brewers’ prized acquisition picked up in a trade with Cleveland before the All-Star break. Sabathia had started 4-0 in his first four starts with a 1.36 ERA in the NL, but the Cubs chipped away.

“They were patient and I wasn’t as pinpoint as I had been in my earlier starts,” Sabathia said. “It’s the Dave Burba approach, if you don’t got it, fake it. Do whatever I can to keep us in the game.”

Soriano doubled, stole a base and then scored on Lee’s single in the first. The Cubs made it 2-0 when Soriano, who came off the disabled list on Wednesday, homered in the third, his 17th of the season and second in two days.

“I swung the bat very good today, yesterday too. Hopefully it will continue tomorrow,” he said.

Down 2-0, J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun hit back-to-back homers off Cubs starter Ted Lilly. Milwaukee took the lead moments later when Prince Fielder singled and scored on Corey Hart’s double. Lilly had retired 13 of his previous 14 batters before the home runs.

The Brewers are trying to mimic what the Cubs did to them last season.

Chicago overcame an 8½-game deficit last June to win the division by two games over Milwaukee, and this year Chicago’s biggest lead has been 8½ games on June 16 only to have the Brewers catch the Cubs in the division Saturday before losing Sunday and again on Monday to fall two games back.

With the four-game series, both teams get to showcase their best pitchers, continuing Tuesday when NL All-Star starter Ben Sheets (10-3, 2.87 ERA) squares off against Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano (11-4, 2.96).

“We won the first game of an important series,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “And tomorrow we’ve got a nice pitching matchup between Sheets and Zambrano, two All-Star pitchers.”

Notes: Reliever Chad Gaudin (2-1) earned the win with a scoreless eighth. Gaudin came with starter Rich Harden in a trade with Oakland on July 8 as part of a six-player deal. ... Braun’s homer was his fifth in six days and team-leading 29th this season. ... It was Milwaukee’s eighth straight sellout, setting a Miller Park record, and 24th this season. The Brewers also are expected to sellout the three remaining games in the series. ... Chicago drew six walks against Milwaukee and lead the majors with 419 walks drawn this season.

Nike pulls shoe ad amid anti-gay concern

The world's largest sportswear and shoe company Nike Inc, pulled advertisements that some bloggers had dubbed anti-gay.

Controversy arose last week over poster and billboard ads for Nike's new Hyperdunk basketball shoes showing a basketball player's face in the groin of an opponent who is dunking a ball above him.

The print ads, accompanied by the slogan, "That ain't right," were dubbed homophobic, as well as offensive to African-Americans, by some bloggers and critics.

"The joke here ... is based on the implacable homophobia of straight jocks," the blog said in its post. "Nike should pull the ads. Or rework them to be friendlier to gay basketball fans, at least."

In a statement, Nike said the company would drop the ad campaign "to underline our ongoing commitment to supporting diversity in sport and the workplace."

But the ad in question, Nike said, is based "purely upon a common insight from within the game of basketball — the athletic feat of dunking on the opposition, and is not intended to be offensive."

Last week, privately-owned candy maker Mars Inc. pulled a television ad for its Snickers candy bar, according to civil rights group The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which had claimed the ad stereotyped gay men. Last February, Mars also pulled an ad that had run during the Super Bowl after complaints by gay advocacy groups.

Jurors at Gitmo terror trial see al-Qaida film

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - A Pentagon-produced movie about al-Qaida had its premiere Monday at the first Guantanamo war crimes trial — shown to an audience of military jurors hearing evidence against a former driver for Osama bin Laden.

"The Al-Qaida Plan," is a 90-minute documentary that traces the origins and goals of the terrorist group, highlighting such milestones as the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and the Sept. 11 attacks.

The star, if he could be called that, is bin Laden himself: He is shown firing rifles, giving news conferences from caves and rallying followers as the film traces his movements from Afghanistan, to Sudan and back

It quotes declarations such as his August 1996 statement that "it is a duty now upon every tribe" in the Arabian peninsula to kill American soldiers.

The title of the al-Qaida video is a tribute to "The Nazi Plan," a film the U.S. used to help convict German officers during the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II, said Evan Kohlmann, a consultant and terrorism expert hired to create the new video for use at the Guantanamo tribunals.

Video part of the evidence
Prosecutors said they are showing the video to underscore that Salim Hamdan was part of a broader plan to attack the U.S. and its allies, even if he played only a small role as bin Laden's driver in Afghanistan.

"He is part of an overarching conspiracy," said Clayton Trivett, a civilian prosecutor from the Defense Department. "Whether he knew the specifics of the attacks or not, he knew Americans were going to be killed."

Hamdan's attorneys criticized the video as an inflammatory appeal to jurors' emotions.

The deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantanamo tribunals, Michael Berrigan, said it will provide grounds for an appeal if Hamdan is convicted.

"You have planes repeatedly flying into buildings, you have explosions that are being cycled through again and again," Berrigan told reporters. "I think it's pretty obvious why a lot of that is prejudicial."

The film, which introduces some segments with Middle Eastern music, shows familiar footage of hooded fighters training on a jungle-gym-like apparatus at an al-Qaida camp and gruesome images of people killed in the East Africa embassy bombings.

Video will be shown at other trials
The tribunals' chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said he plans to show the film at war crimes trials of other detainees.

Military prosecutors have charged 21 prisoners at this U.S. base and plans trials for about 80. The latest charges were announced Monday against an Afghan detainee, Abdul Ghani, who is accused of firing rockets at a coalition military base in Afghanistan.

Also Monday, the Pentagon announced the transfer of three prisoners out of Guantanamo — one each to Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. It said roughly 265 inmates remain at the isolated military prison.

Hamdan is charged with conspiracy and aiding terrorism and faces up to life in prison if convicted in the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II.

His lawyers say he was just a minor employee with no significant role in any attacks and they asked the judge not to allow the al-Qaida video to be shown to the jury.

The judge initially refused to allow a video section on the Sept. 11 attacks that he said would be "prejudicial," but he later reversed the decision. The jurors watched as the hijacked planes crashed into the twin towers and the buildings crumbled amid the screaming of bystanders.

Report says 1 in 4 U.S. bridges needs repairs

PHILADELPHIA - At least $140 billion is needed to make major repairs or upgrades to one of every four U.S. bridges, transportation officials from states across the country said in a report released Monday.

State officials said bridge repairs are just one element of a pressing need for more federal funding to improve the country's deteriorating transportation infrastructure.

"We need federal intervention, and federal intervention at a big level," Gov. Ed Rendell said after details were released of the report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The report cited Federal Highway Administration statistics that 152,000 out of the nation's 600,000 bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The $140 billion price tag was derived by multiplying the total number of square meters of the problem bridges by the average cost per square meter — in 2006 dollars — to do the work.

"States are doing their best to improve them, but construction costs are skyrocketing ... forcing states to delay needed repairs," said Pete K. Rahn, head of the Missouri Department of Transportation and the group's president.

"Without a national commitment to increasing bridge investment, we will see a continuing spiral towards deterioration and, ultimately, bridge closures in order to protect the traveling public," he said

Bush OKs execution for Army death row inmate

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Monday approved the execution of an Army private, the first time in over a half-century that a president has affirmed a death sentence for a member of the U.S. military.

With his signature from the Oval Office, Bush said yes to the military's request to execute Ronald A. Gray, the White House confirmed. Gray had had been convicted in connection with a spree of four murders and eight rapes in the Fayetteville, N.C., area over eight months in the late 1980s while stationed at Fort Bragg.

"While approving a sentence of death for a member of our armed services is a serious and difficult decision for a commander in chief, the president believes the facts of this case leave no doubt that the sentence is just and warranted," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

In the military courts, "Private Gray was convicted of committing brutal crimes, including two murders, an attempted murder and three rapes. The victims included a civilian and two members of the Army. ... The president's thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these heinous crimes and their families and all others affected."

Unlike in the civilian courts, a member of the U.S. armed forces cannot be executed until the president approves the death sentence. Gray has been on death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., since April 1988.

Ten approved for execution since 1951
Members of the U.S. military have been executed throughout history, but just 10 have been executed by presidential approval since 1951 when the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military's modern-day legal system, was enacted into law.

President Kennedy was the last president to stare down this life-or-death decision. On Feb. 12, 1962, Kennedy commuted the death sentence of Jimmie Henderson, a Navy seaman, to confinement for life.

President Eisenhower was the last president to approve a military execution. In 1957, he approved the execution of John Bennett, an Army private convicted of raping and attempting to kill an 11-year-old Austrian girl. He was hanged in 1961.

The death penalty was outlawed between 1972 and 1984, when President Reagan reinstated it.

Gray was held responsible for the crimes committed between April 1986 and January 1987 in both the civilian and military justice systems.

In civilian courts in North Carolina, Gray pleaded guilty to two murders and five rapes and was sentenced to three consecutive and five concurrent life terms.

Unanimously sentenced to death
He then was tried by general court-martial at the Army's Fort Bragg. In April 1988, the court-martial convicted Gray of two murders, an attempted murder and three rapes. He was unanimously sentenced to death.

The court-martial panel convicted Gray of:

  • Raping and killing Army Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay of Fayetteville on Dec. 15, 1986. She was shot four times with a .22-caliber pistol that Gray confessed to stealing. She suffered blunt force trauma over much of her body.
  • Raping and killing Kimberly Ann Ruggles, a civilian cab driver in Fayetteville. She was bound, gagged, stabbed repeatedly, and had bruises and lacerations on her face. Her body was found on the base.
  • Raping, robbing and attempting to kill Army Pvt. Mary Ann Lang Nameth in her barracks at Fort Bragg on Jan. 3, 1987. She testified against Gray during the court-martial and identified him as her assailant. Gray raped her and stabbed her several times in the neck and side. Nameth suffered a laceration of the trachea and a collapsed or punctured lung.

The six-member court-martial panel returned its unanimous verdict after about two hours of deliberations. The panel also reduced Gray from Spec. 4 to private, forfeited all his pay and ordered him to be dishonorably discharged from the Army.

Gray has appealed his case through the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (then known as the U.S. Army Court of Military Review) and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Services. In 2001, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Under review by Bush administration
Bush got the secretary of the Army's recommendation to approve Gray's death sentence in late 2005. Since then, it's been under review by the Bush administration, including the White House legal counsel.

Complicating the administration's deliberation was a case under review this year by the Supreme Court.

The court ruled in April to uphold the most common method of capital punishment used across the United States. The justices said the three-drug mix of lethal-injection drugs used by Kentucky and most other states does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling in the case of Baze v. Rees cleared the way for a resumption of executions nationwide.

It was unclear where Gray would be executed. Military executions are handled by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Bush's decision, however, is not likely the end of Gray's legal battle. Further litigation is expected and these types of death sentence appeals often take years to resolve.

The military also has asked Bush to authorize the execution of Dwight J. Loving, who has been at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., since 1989 after being convicted of killing two taxicab drivers while he was an Army private at Fort Hood, Texas. But that request is not yet ripe for a presidential decision. The White House declined to discuss the case.

New Iraq offensive targets al-Qaida stronghold

BAGHDAD - A new U.S.-backed operation has begun in Iraq's volatile Diyala province, military officials said Tuesday.

Iraqi commander Gen. Ali Ghaidan said the offensive is aimed at clearing al-Qaida in Iraq militants from what's considered the last major insurgent stronghold near Baghdad.

The U.S. military in northern Iraq also confirmed that the offensive was under way.

The operation has been dubbed "Omens of Prosperity." It is the latest in a series of efforts to control the largely rural area.

But U.S. and Iraqi commanders have said they're more optimistic this one can work because more troops will be involved and Iraqi security forces are better prepared.

As Americans drive less, highway funds drop

NEW YORK - Soaring fuel prices and other economic strains have led Americans to cut back sharply on driving, which is changing where they go and how they get there and jeopardizing the federal fund for highway construction and repairs.

Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in May 2008 than in May 2007, according to federal data released Monday. The 3.7 percent decline was the third-largest monthly drop in the 66 years the Department of Transportation has been collecting the data.

The May decline also is the seventh monthly drop in a row. Since November 2007, Americans have driven 40.5 billion fewer miles compared to the same period a year earlier.

People are choosing to drive less in the ways that they can," said Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration.

They're cutting the number of car trips they take, and they're walking, taking carpools and, sometimes, simply staying home instead.

Bob Mckenzie, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation, said driving is down throughout the state, especially at the borders where tourists usually stream to destinations like Las Vegas.

Volume at the eastbound crossing on I-15, which Southern California residents travel to get to Las Vegas is down 6 percent, he said.

And May's drop came in a month when traffic usually rises due to the Memorial Day holiday and the start of the summer vacation season.

But routine driving accounts for much of the decline.

Drivers turn to mass transit
In New Jersey, for example, drivers who've gotten out of their cars seem to be showing up on mass transit, where ridership is up 3 percent to 5 percent this year, said state transportation commissioner Kris Kolluri, who also runs New Jersey Transit.

Kolluri, who expects that surge to continue the rest of the fiscal year, said the system plans to add more double-decker trains to cope with the increase because it can't send more trains through the single tunnel under the Hudson River into New York.

"We are at capacity," Kolluri said.

But it's not all bad news in metropolitan areas.

"At least people who can't drive have an option," Kolluri said.

Yet the biggest declines are occurring in parts of the country where people don't have easy alternatives to driving, such as the central states, Hecox said.

Americans in those regions might be taking a harder hit from a variety of economic woes, such as the slumping housing market and soaring cost of food, Hecox said.

As a result of the drop, the federal highway trust fund — which relies on per-gallon taxes that don't rise with the price of fuel — faces a multibillion dollar shortfall next year, down from a surplus of more than $10 billion just three years ago.

No one expects traffic volume to bounce back anytime soon, if ever.

Gas tax not enough
But the drop was not unforeseen. In February, the Bush administration forecast a $3.2 billion shortfall in the trust fund for fiscal year 2009.

On Monday, transportation officials revised that number to $3.1 billion, despite logging a $1.5 billion decline in receipts.

"We've been spending more slowly than we contemplated when we put the budget together," explained Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters.

Peters said in a statement Monday that the drop in driving miles demonstrates that the federal gas tax is no longer sufficient to finance the nation's transportation infrastructure.

She plans on Tuesday to propose policies that will include a "more focused federal role" and a movement away from the gas tax.

"We must embrace more sustainable funding sources for highways and bridges through more sustainable and effective ways such as congestion pricing and private activity bonds," Peters said.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Air pollution is still an issue in Beijing

BEIJING - The Chinese capital was shrouded in thick gray smog on Sunday, just 12 days before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games. One expert warned that drastic measures enacted to cut vehicle and factory emissions in the city were no guarantee skies would be clear during competitions.

The pollution was among the worst seen in Beijing in the past month, despite traffic restrictions enacted a week ago that removed half of the city's vehicles from roadways.

Visibility was a half mile in some places. During the opening ceremony of the Athletes' Village on Sunday, the housing complex was invisible from the nearby main Olympic Green

"No, it doesn't really look so good, but as I said, yesterday was better,'' said Gunilla Lindberg, an International Olympic Committee vice president from Sweden who is staying in the Athletes' Village. "The day I arrived, Tuesday, was awful.''

"We try to be hopeful. Hopefully we are lucky during the games as we were with Atlanta, Athens and Barcelona,'' she added.

A big question
The city's notoriously polluted air is one of the biggest questions hanging over the games, which begin on Aug. 8. On Sunday, temperatures of about 90 degrees, with 70 percent humidity and low winds, created a soupy mix of harmful chemicals, particulate matter and water vapor.

Athletes have been trickling into Beijing and were expected to begin arriving in large numbers this week - though some were headed to South Korea, Japan and other places to avoid Beijing's air for as long as possible. Some Olympic delegations, including the U.S. Olympic Committee, are making protective masks available to their athletes.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said Sunday's air was "unhealthy for sensitive groups.''

The Chinese leadership consider the Beijing Olympics a matter of national prestige, and efforts to clean up the environment were part of its meticulous preparations for an event it hopes will dazzle the world. Choking air pollution and visitors shocked at the environmental conditions would be an embarrassment for a government that wants to show itself is a modern nation.

"Hosting a successful Olympics and a Paralympics are now top priority of the country,'' Chinese President Hu Jintao said Saturday during a meeting with top Communist Party officials, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Italian officials defend immigration crackdown

ROME - Italy's center-right government defended itself Sunday from criticism of a so-called state of emergency enacted this week to crack down on illegal immigration.

The government extended measures already in place in the southern regions of Puglia, Sicily and Calabria to the whole country Friday. The measures give authorities the ability to more easily overcome bureaucracy, for example, to set up new immigrant detention centers.

Political opponents and human rights groups have criticized the government in recent months, saying some of the measures are xenophobic and anti-immigrant — including plans to fingerprint Roma, or Gypsies

Qantas orders planes inspected after blast

MANILA, Philippines - Qantas Airways rushed to inspect oxygen cylinders on its entire fleet Monday as investigators focused on a missing tank as the suspected cause of a mid-air blast that tore a hole in a jumbo jet carrying more than 350 people, forcing an emergency landing in the Philippines.

Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority said the Sydney-based airline was ordered to quickly inspect every oxygen bottle aboard its 30 Boeing 747s.

Civil authority spokesman Peter Gibson confirmed an oxygen cylinder was missing from the Boeing 747-400 that landed in Manila on Friday after a section of its metal skin was ripped away at 29,000 feet (8,800 meters) over the South China Sea. There were no injuries.

"If it turns out that is the cause of the accident, the cause of the hole in the side of the aircraft, obviously that will be a key part of the investigation working out why a bottle would suddenly give way," Gibson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday.

"As far as we can determine this has never happened before on a passenger aircraft," he said, adding the possibility was "very unusual and obviously understanding why that happened will be absolutely critical to making sure it can't occur again."

He said a possible cause of the blast could include metal fatigue in the cylinder, a failure of the regulator valve, something hitting it and puncturing it, or the cylinder becoming too hot.

No evidence of foul-play
A senior investigator from the Australian Transport and Safety Bureau, Neville Blyth, told reporters Sunday the incident was treated as a safety investigation.

"At this stage, there is no evidence whatsoever that this is a security-related event," he said. An official of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration also said initial reports indicated no link to terrorism.

McCain backs effort banning affirmative action

WASHINGTON - Presidential challenger John McCain said Sunday that he supports a proposed ballot initiative in his home state that would prohibit affirmative action policies from state and local governments. A decade ago, he called a similar effort "divisive."

Over the years, McCain has consistently voiced his opposition to hiring quotas based on race. He has supported affirmative action in limited cases. For example, he voted to maintain a program that encourages the awarding of 10 percent of spending on highway construction to women and minorities.

McCain was asked specifically Sunday whether he supported an effort to get a referendum on the ballot in Arizona that would "do away with affirmative action."

Yes, I do," said McCain in an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

The Republican senator quickly added that he had not seen the details of the proposal. "But I've always opposed quotas."

In 1998, a resolution pending in the state Legislature would ask Arizona voters to eliminate most preferences based on race, gender, color or ethnic origin. McCain warned against using ballot proposals to outlaw quotas or racial preferences.

"Rather than engage in divisive ballot initiatives, we must have a dialogue and cooperation and mutual efforts together to provide for every child in America to fulfill their expectations," McCain said.

The 1998 story by the Associated Press said McCain was speaking to a handful of Hispanic leaders in Washington. In his comments, he stopped short of directly criticizing the resolution pending in Arizona.

For the current effort in Arizona, supporters of the state constitutional amendment banning affirmative action programs have met the filing deadline to get the measure on the November ballot.

The Arizona Civil Rights Initiative filed 334,658 signatures with the Secretary of State's office Thursday, surpassing the necessary number by more than 100,000. State officials are trying to verify that enough signatures are valid to get the initiative on the ballot.

The application for the referendum petition said the proposal would amend the state constitution to prohibit preferential treatment or discrimination by state government, state universities, school districts, counties and local governments to any individual based on race, sex, ethnicity or national origin.

Hundreds protest immigration raid in Iowa

POSTVILLE, Iowa - About a thousand protesters descended on a small town in northeastern Iowa on Sunday, decrying the raid of a meatpacking plant that arrested nearly 400 residents and calling for a change in federal immigration policies.

Postville, a town with about 2,200 residents, was pushed to the forefront of a national debate when federal immigration officials raided Agriprocessors — the biggest U.S. kosher meatpacking plant — in May in the largest raid of its kind in the United States. Most of those arrested were Guatemalan and Mexican nationals who lived in the area.

Sunday's protesters — many arriving by bus from the Twin Cities and Chicago — circled the streets of Postville on a route about a mile long. Some clutched banners and signs such as one that read, "United for immigrant and worker rights."

Protests and counter-protests
Rabbi Harold Kravitz of the Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, Minnesota, spoke when the rally paused near the driveway of Agriprocessors, on the outskirts of town.

Shouting into a portable microphone, he said the protesters wanted to stop the criminalization of people who come to the U.S. simply to make a living.

"People have come here from Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Chicago, New York and New Jersey ... because we care," Kravitz said.

The rally also drew about 75 anti-immigration protesters.

Claire Jamison, who said she'd traveled from Minneapolis, wore a hat emblazoned with a U.S. Border Patrol logo and held a sign reading "What would Jesus do? Obey the law."

"I'm just so fed up as an American. We have laws. Why can't they obey our laws?" Jamison said. "I empathize with those people, but they are not victims. They should not have even been here."

About a half-dozen Agriprocessors workers stood watching the rally from just inside the company's gates.

Obama sees doctor to treat hip sore from hoops

CHICAGO - Barack Obama, back in his home town after a tour of Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe, saw a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical Center on Sunday night to deal with a sore hip.

"His hip has been sore from basketball for a few weeks, so he's going to see an orthopedic doctor," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

As he left the hospital, Obama told reporters: "I had small X-rays. Everything's OK. I think I'm going to be good in about a week."

Obama is a lifelong basketball player, and he squeezes in a game every now and then on the campaign trail. At one stop during his overseas trip, he shot baskets with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Fire roars toward 2,000 homes near Yosemite

MIDPINES, Calif. - A fast-spreading fire burning near an entrance to Yosemite National Park forced the evacuations of 170 homes and caused officials to cut power to the park.

The fire grew from about 1 1/2 square miles to 25 square miles on Saturday, and was threatening about 2,000 homes, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Officials told NBC News early Sunday that 18,000 acres had burned and that authorities were struggling to determine the extent of structural damage in the area because the fire was "out of control".

About 900 firefighters battled the blaze that burned on both sides of a steep, rugged canyon along the Merced River.

Most of the evacuated homes are in the town of Midpines, located along Highway 140, the thoroughfare that leads to the west entrance of Yosemite National Park.

Target shooting blamed
State fire spokeswoman Karen Guillemin said the cause of the fire, dubbed the Telegraph Fire, "is definitely target shooting," but would not elaborate.

Fire crews on Saturday were being flown into the hard-to-reach area. Crews had to hike several hours to get to the fire because smoke prohibited aircraft from flying in the area.

Temperatures over 100 degrees and low humidity hampered firefighting efforts. The weather, coupled with a dry wilderness area, has made for an extremely dangerous fire to fight.

"Dozers are trying to push dirt as fast as they can to get safety zones for our firefighters that are out there," Guillemin said. "Crews are cutting brush as fast as they can but it's an extremely dangerous situation at this point."

The California National Guard planned to send two Blackhawk helicopters, Capt. Al Bosco said.

Dozens arrested after blasts kill 45 in India

AHMADABAD, India - Authorities scoured a western Indian city Sunday for those responsible for a series of bomb explosions that killed at least 45 people, rounding up 30 people as a little-known group claimed responsibility for the attack.

State government spokesman Jaynarayan Vyas also said that 161 people had been wounded when at least 16 bombs went off Saturday evening in several crowded neighborhoods of Ahmadabad — a historic city that in 2002 was the scene of some of the worst rioting between India's Hindu majority and its Muslim minority. The attack came a day after seven smaller blasts killed two people in the southern technology hub of Bangalore.

Another unexploded bomb was found and defused early Sunday, the city's police commissioner, O.P. Mathur, said. He said police had detained 30 people in their investigation.

Cities around the country were put on alert and security was stepped up at markets, hospitals, airports and train stations.

A group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack but offered few details in e-mails sent to several television news stations, the CNN-IBN station reported. The group was unknown before May, when it said it was behind a series of bombings in Jaipur, also in western India, that killed 61 people.

Busy market targeted
In its e-mail Sunday, the group reportedly made no mention of the smaller bombings Friday in Bangalore and it was not clear if the two attacks were connected.

The bombs went off in two separate spates. The first, near a busy market, left some of the dead sprawled beside stands piled high with fruit, next to twisted bicycles. The second group of blasts went off near a hospital.

The side of a bus was blown off and its windows shattered, while another vehicle was engulfed in flames. Most of the blasts took place in the narrow lanes of the older part of Ahmadabad, which is tightly packed with homes and small businesses. Bomb-sniffing dogs scoured the areas.

'Crime against humanity'
Distraught relatives of the victims crowded the city's hospitals. One of the wounded was a 6-year-old boy whose father was killed in the blasts. He lay in a hospital bed with his arms covered in bandages and wounds on his face.

Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat state where Ahmadabad is located, called the blasts "a crime against humanity." He said the bombings appeared to have been masterminded by a group or groups who "are using a similar modus operandi all over the country."

"Anti-national elements have been trying to create panic among the people of our country. Today's blasts in Ahmadabad seem to be part of the same strategy," federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters in New Delhi

Dozens arrested after blasts kill 45 in India

AHMADABAD, India - Authorities scoured a western Indian city Sunday for those responsible for a series of bomb explosions that killed at least 45 people, rounding up 30 people as a little-known group claimed responsibility for the attack.

State government spokesman Jaynarayan Vyas also said that 161 people had been wounded when at least 16 bombs went off Saturday evening in several crowded neighborhoods of Ahmadabad — a historic city that in 2002 was the scene of some of the worst rioting between India's Hindu majority and its Muslim minority. The attack came a day after seven smaller blasts killed two people in the southern technology hub of Bangalore.

Another unexploded bomb was found and defused early Sunday, the city's police commissioner, O.P. Mathur, said. He said police had detained 30 people in their investigation.

Cities around the country were put on alert and security was stepped up at markets, hospitals, airports and train stations.

A group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack but offered few details in e-mails sent to several television news stations, the CNN-IBN station reported. The group was unknown before May, when it said it was behind a series of bombings in Jaipur, also in western India, that killed 61 people.

Busy market targeted
In its e-mail Sunday, the group reportedly made no mention of the smaller bombings Friday in Bangalore and it was not clear if the two attacks were connected.

The bombs went off in two separate spates. The first, near a busy market, left some of the dead sprawled beside stands piled high with fruit, next to twisted bicycles. The second group of blasts went off near a hospital.

The side of a bus was blown off and its windows shattered, while another vehicle was engulfed in flames. Most of the blasts took place in the narrow lanes of the older part of Ahmadabad, which is tightly packed with homes and small businesses. Bomb-sniffing dogs scoured the areas.

'Crime against humanity'
Distraught relatives of the victims crowded the city's hospitals. One of the wounded was a 6-year-old boy whose father was killed in the blasts. He lay in a hospital bed with his arms covered in bandages and wounds on his face.

Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat state where Ahmadabad is located, called the blasts "a crime against humanity." He said the bombings appeared to have been masterminded by a group or groups who "are using a similar modus operandi all over the country."

"Anti-national elements have been trying to create panic among the people of our country. Today's blasts in Ahmadabad seem to be part of the same strategy," federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters in New Delhi

GIs get apology over riot, lynching convictions

In addition, the soldiers' convictions were set aside, their dishonorable discharges were changed to honorable discharges and they and their survivors were awarded back pay for their time in the brig.

All but two of the soldiers are dead. One, Samuel Snow of Leesburg, Fla., planned to attend the ceremony but wound up in the hospital instead because of a problem with his pacemaker.

POW found hanged
The convictions were overturned in October at the prodding of Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, largely based on the book "On American Soil" published in 2005 by Jack Hamann, a CNN and PBS journalist, and his wife Leslie about the riot on the night of Aug. 14, 1944, and subsequent events at Fort Lawton.

Dozens were injured in the melee that started with a scuffle between an Italian prisoner of war and a black soldier from the segregated barracks near the POW housing. A POW, Guglielmo Olivotto, was found hanged at the bottom of a bluff the next day.

The Army prosecutor was Leon Jaworski, who went on to become special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s.

Forty-three black soldiers were charged with rioting and three also were charged with murder. Two defense lawyers were assigned to the case and given two weeks to prepare without ever being shown an Army investigation criticizing the way the riot was handled.

Hamann also wrote that at least two soldiers were threatened with lynching by Army detectives. When one witness said a "Booker T." was present at the riot but couldn't give any more detail, the Army charged two men by that name. Another was charged with rioting although white, black and Italian POW witnesses all said he tried to quell the disturbance.

In the ensuing trial 28 men were convicted.

One of those attending the ceremony Saturday, Arthur Prevost of Houston, said his father Willie, one of the convicted soldiers, never talked about what had happened.

"I think he was embarrassed," Prevost said. "I wished he had told us."

Snow's son, Ray Snow, told the gathering his father felt no animosity for the long-ago injustice.

"He was so honored" by the tribute, Ray Snow said. "We salute you for remembering a travesty that took place."

4 swimmers dead, 3 missing in ocean off N.Y.

NEW YORK - Four swimmers drowned and three were missing Saturday in two days of treacherous ocean currents at Long Island and New York City beaches, authorities said. At least three more had been rescued.

The missing included a 10-year-old girl who had been playing in the waters off Coney Island. A 10-year-old boy who was with her was rescued, police said.

Some authorities said the spate of swimmers being swept away seemed unprecedented. In the Long Island community of Long Beach, where two people drowned and another disappeared, Police Lt. Bruce Meyer said he "cannot recall there ever being back-to-back situations like this."

The rough seas were due to a strong storm system that brought 8-foot waves to the area earlier this week, National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Connolly said.

The risk of rip currents during the weekend was "moderate," meaning stronger and more frequent instances could be expected and "only experienced surf swimmers should enter the waters," Connolly said.

On Friday, the rip current risk was "moderate to strong."

In Long Beach, a swimmer or surfer died Saturday after he was spotted struggling about 150 yards from shore, Meyer said. Another man drowned at the same beach Friday while playing football in about 3 to 5 feet of water after lifeguard hours. A teenager playing with him was missing.

Also on Long Island, 42-year-old man died Saturday afternoon after swimming at a beach near the ocean in East Quogue, said Southampton Town police.

A fourth swimmer drowned Friday afternoon at Sandy Bar Beach on Long Island's East End.

Also missing was a 23-year-old man swept away off Jacob Riis Beach in Queens on Friday. Authorities called off the search after looking for him for 23 hours, the Coast Guard said.

A friend who had tried to save him was rescued by firefighters.

Authorities also rescued a man swimming off Coney Island.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Word From Our Sponsor

This week on "Mad Men": an American Airlines flight has crashed into Jamaica Bay just after takeoff. All 95 passengers are dead, but that doesn't stop the Sterling Cooper ad agency from engaging in a bit of gallows humor. One junior staffer says that because of the number of golfers onboard, the bay turned plaid. Another riffs on a new slogan for American: "Idlewild to Rockaway in less than eight minutes." And then (slight spoiler alert here) one young ad man learns that his own father was on the plane. He—we won't spoil it entirely by telling you which one—stumbles out of the office in a daze, only to find out when he returns the next day that the higher-ups now want to go after American for real—and they want him to lead the campaign to rehabilitate the airline's image after the crash. He says that would be inappropriate: "I haven't even cried yet." But viewers familiar with AMC's hit drama know that the normal constraints of decency rarely apply at Sterling Cooper. In the end, the young staffer not only shows up for the pitch to American, he uses his personal tragedy as a calling card.

The first season of "Mad Men" sought to simultaneously celebrate the creativity of advertising and reveal the underside of the American Dream. But this new season—with its stories of plane crashes and prostitution in the first two episodes alone —looks darker. "Mad Men" pointedly blurs the line between the way the characters sell their products and the way they sell themselves. The show is a period piece—at times self-consciously so—that traffics in our modern, dystopian view of America as a nation of sellouts. Balancing the vintage and the contemporary is all the more challenging given how different the world of advertising was in the "Mad Men" era from today. "Advertising back then was still largely visible as a blight on the landscape, a billboard or an annoying interruption of your favorite TV or radio programs," says Mark Crispin Miller, an NYU professor who is writing a history of the Marlboro Man campaign. "It's not that way anymore."

The notion of selling yourself hasn't always been linked to advertising. In the industry's early days, the focus was on logic. Earnestly worded, essay-length "reason why" ads carefully spelled out a product's benefits. By the era of "Mad Men," consumers had become sophisticated about marketers' methods—or so they thought. "Advertising doesn't work on me," a date boasts to Peggy in one episode. She snaps back that when advertising is good, people never think it works. In fact, advertisers have long exploited consumers' sense of themselves as insiders, says Miller. "People who work in advertising are smart enough to recognize that people like to think they are too clever to be taken in by commercials. So a lot of commercials goof on advertising," he says. "Mad Men" gives a nod to one of the most effective examples when the staff at Sterling Cooper passes around Volkswagen's celebrated "lemon" ads. The ads cheekily copped to producing the occasional bad product. "That campaign is famous for having an attitude that acknowledged consumers' skepticism," says Rob Walker, author of "Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between Who We Are and What We Buy." "It communicates that the audience is sophisticated enough to understand the language of advertising."