Now that she's sworn in, Sotomayor a rookie again

WASHINGTON — Sonia Sotomayor has gained admission to the Marble Palace. Now she has to figure out how the Supreme Court works.

When do you speak up? How do you find your way around a building torn apart by renovation? If someone knocks at the door while the justices are meeting in their private conference room, who answers? (Note to the newest justice: You do.)

After 17 years as a federal judge, Sotomayor knows her way around a courthouse. But her new workplace, filled with quirky customs and rituals, isn't any old court building and new justices, like new colleagues everywhere, want to fit in.

"You don't necessarily want to break the china when you start out," said Christopher Landau, who served as a law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas after his tumultuous confirmation in 1991.

Sotomayor, 55, became the court's first Hispanic and third woman after taking an oath of office Saturday from Chief Justice John Roberts. She pledged to "do equal right to the poor and to the rich" in a brief ceremony at the court beneath a portrait of legendary Chief Justice John Marshall.

Roberts welcomed his newest colleague to the court and said she could begin work "without delay."

For all the groundbreaking nature of her nomination, the most significant demographic fact about Sotomayor now is that she is the junior justice.

Other than opening the conference room door, Sotomayor will be responsible for taking notes on what the justices decide at those private meetings — including the late September conference where they dispose of a couple thousand appeals — and then reporting the decisions accurately to the court clerk.

It's not rocket science, but it is vital to the court.

"She'll be keeping track of what goes on at conference as she's trying to figure out what's going on at conference," said Margo Schlanger, a University of Michigan law professor who worked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Ginsburg's first term in 1993-94.

Sotomayor also will go last when the justices take initial votes on cases. Ginsburg once recalled "a certain impatience, a high premium on brevity when the vote came round to me and there was already a lopsided majority. But coming last does have its heady moments, times when the ninth vote breaks a tie."

The court renovation will force Sotomayor into temporary offices and delay getting her permanent location until the construction is done late next year. Justice Samuel Alito once told an interviewer he often got lost in his first months because of the construction. "I didn't know where anything was, how to get in or how to get out," Alito said.

Sotomayor will have plenty of help — a couple of secretaries, a messenger and four law clerks. If she followed past practice, those clerks already have been hired or have an understanding they will be.

Some new justices have hired at least one law clerk who previously worked at the Supreme Court because it is "easier to get up to speed more quickly," Justice Thomas wrote in his memoir, "My Grandfather's Son."

Deanne Maynard, a partner at the Morrison and Foerster law firm who worked for Justice Stephen Breyer, said an experienced clerk is useful in explaining the court's customs to new justices. "If you want to join an opinion, but you really wish perhaps they might modify part of it slightly, what's the norm in the court?" Maynard said.

The new justice also often reaches out to the others. Thomas wrote about meeting with his eight colleagues, as well as the man he replaced, Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Sometimes friendships develop across ideological lines, like Ginsburg's relationship with Antonin Scalia. They often diverge sharply on the bench, but regularly celebrate New Year's together with their spouses and once even appeared as extras in the same opera production. Their friendship began when both were appeals court judges in Washington.

Among the justices Sotomayor might naturally seek out for guidance are Ginsburg, the court's other woman, and perhaps even Alito, a member of the court's conservative wing. Like Sotomayor, Alito is a former prosecutor and longtime appeals court judge who also graduated from Princeton University and Yale Law School.

Sotomayor will be the second youngest justice, less than half a year older than Roberts. Born in the New York City borough of the Bronx, she'll be the third New Yorker on the court, along with Brooklynite Ginsburg and Scalia, who grew up in Queens.

Sotomayor is not just changing jobs. She also has to move to Washington from New York, where she has lived all her life, except when in college and law school. When Alito arrived in Washington, he stayed with a friend on Capitol Hill; his family remained in New Jersey until the end of the school year.

Other justices have reported that even the smoothest confirmations are exhausting. Alito and Thomas arrived at the court after the term had begun and had to dive right in. "What I needed was a vacation, not another marathon," Thomas said in his book.

It's unlikely Sotomayor will take a long break. The court typically is quiet in the summer, but this year the justices scheduled arguments in a key campaign finance case for Sept. 9. The new term doesn't formally kick off until Oct. 5.

Sotomayor has little more than a month to prepare for that first case, but while it may interrupt the summer break, it also could help her adjust to her new life.

"It allows her to ease into the process as opposed to preparing for two solid weeks of argument," said Landau, now a partner at Kirkland and Ellis in Washington.

That first case could get her thinking about the biggest change anyone faces in becoming a justice, the far-reaching impact of some Supreme Court decisions, said Meir Feder, a partner at the Jones Day firm in New York and former clerk to retired Justice David Souter, whom Sotomayor replaced.

There are few easy questions that come the court's way. "You're not applying settled law," Feder said, "because if it's settled, it shouldn't get there in the first place."

Judiciary Committee Approves Sotomayor for Supreme Court

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted to approve Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice over nearly solid Republican opposition, paving the way for a historic confirmation vote next week.

The panel voted 13-6 in favor of Sotomayor, with just one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, joining Democrats to support her. The nearly party-line tally masked deeper political divisions within GOP ranks about confirming President Barack Obama's first high court nominee.

"I'm deciding to vote for a woman I would not have chosen," Graham said. Obama's choice to nominate the first-ever Latina to the highest court is "a big deal," he added, declaring that, "America has changed for the better with her selection."

The solid Republican vote against Sotomayor on the Judiciary panel reflected the choice many GOP conservatives have made to side with their core supporters and oppose a judge they charge will bring liberal bias and racial and gender prejudices to her decisions. Others in the party, however, are concerned that doing so could hurt their efforts to broaden their base, and particularly alienate Hispanic voters, a fast-growing segment of the electorate.

Democrats, for their part, are lining up solidly in favor of the 55-year-old federal appeals court judge, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents who was raised in a South Bronx housing project and educated in the Ivy League.

"There's not one example -- let alone a pattern -- of her ruling based on bias or prejudice or sympathy," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman. "She has administered justice without favoring one group of persons over another."

The senior Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, countered that Sotomayor's speeches and a few of her rulings show she would let her opinions interfere in decisions.

"In speech after speech, year after year, Judge Sotomayor set forth a fully formed, I believe, judicial philosophy that conflicts with the great American tradition of blind justice and fidelity to the law as written," Sessions said.

But even Sessions acknowledged the landmark nature of Sotomayor's nomination, in a remark that revealed just how certain he is that he'll end up on the losing side of next week's vote.

"I think all of us feel that it's a good thing that we have a Hispanic on the Supreme Court," he said minutes after the Judiciary Committee vote.

Sotomayor is not expected to tip the court's ideological balance, since she's replacing Justice David Souter, a liberal nominated by a Republican president. "She can be no worse than Souter from our point of view," Graham remarked.

Still, Republicans pointed with particular concern to Sotomayor's record on gun and property rights, as well as a much-discussed rejection by her appeals court panel of the reverse discrimination claims of white firefighters denied promotions.

The National Rifle Association is opposing Sotomayor and took the extraordinary step last week of warning senators that it would include their votes on her confirmation in its annual candidate ratings, meaning a "yes" vote would hurt their standing.

"Some of her decisions demonstrated the kind of results-oriented decision-making, one that suggests perhaps a liberal judicial activism that has too often steered the court in the wrong direction over the last years," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

And every GOP senator alluded critically to the now-infamous remark Sotomayor made in 2001 that she hoped a "wise Latina woman" would often reach better conclusions than a white male without similar experiences.

Sotomayor dismissed the comments during her confirmation hearings as a rhetorical flourish gone awry, a defense that rang hollow with many of her critics.

"I regret that I cannot vote for her ... not she's a Latina woman (or) because she said all those things, (but) because she wouldn't defend what she said, and stand up and say, 'I really believe this, but I can still be a great judge anyway, because I will never let that interfere with my judging,' " said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

The debate over Sotomayor's fitness for the court is as much about Obama -- who will likely have at least one more chance to fill a Supreme Court vacancy -- as it is about the judge herself, and senators treated the committee's vote on her nomination as an opportunity to face off on competing visions of the role of a judge.

Democrats said Sotomayor's background and her willingness to acknowledge how it might influence how she sees cases was an asset.

"She knows the law, she knows the Constitution, but she knows America, too," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican recently turned Democrat, said Sotomayor's much-maligned comment reflected a woman standing up for women and someone exhibiting ethnic pride. "I didn't find fault with 'wise Latina woman,' I found it commendable," he said.

Republicans attacked Obama's stated view that a judge should have "empathy" -- an ability to understand the effects of his or her decisions on people's lives -- and presented Sotomayor as the personification of an unreasonable judicial standard.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who called Obama's standard "radical," said Sotomayor's record shows "a judicial philosophy that bestows a pivotal role to personal preferences and beliefs in her judicial method."

9 Killed as Airplane, Helicopter Collide

NEW YORK, Aug. 8 -- A small plane collided with a tourist helicopter over the Hudson River on Saturday on a crystal-clear summer afternoon, ripping the rotor blades from the helicopter and severing one of the plane's wings, sending both aircraft plunging into the murky water and killing all nine people on board.

Witnesses to the crash described how debris from the two aircraft disappeared within seconds beneath the water's surface, and rescue workers soon determined that there were no survivors, officials said.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) said the plane, which had just left Teterboro, N.J., was carrying a pilot and two passengers, including a child. The helicopter, which had just taken off from Manhattan's West 30th Street heliport, carried a pilot and five Italian tourists. The crash occurred about noon.

"It would appear that the airplane ran into the backside of the helicopter," Bloomberg said, saying the precise cause of the collision may not be known for days or weeks, pending an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

"It is a great tragedy," Bloomberg said, calling this one of "the largest accidents resulting in death in the New York area in modern days." The last large-scale deadly plane crash in New York was Nov. 12, 2001 -- two months after the Sept. 11 attacks -- when American Airlines Flight 587 taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport crashed into a residential area of Queens, killing 260 people on the plane and five on the ground.

The crash Saturday also recalled a mishap Jan. 15, when a US Airways jet lost power in both engines and the pilot safely ditched the plane in the same river, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.

"This is not going to have a happy ending, like when the Airbus went down on the river and everyone survived," Bloomberg said.

"This has changed from a rescue to a recovery mission," the mayor said. "Sadly, there's not a lot of rescue to be done."

The river in that area is about 30-feet deep, and visibility was said to be poor -- just two feet. About three hours after the crash, at 3 p.m., divers had found the wreckage of the helicopter. "There are some bodies in the wreckage that we found," Bloomberg said. "They're studying now how to get them out safely."

By the time conditions forced the search to be halted for the night, three bodies had been recovered and six remained missing, as did the wreckage of the plane. The search will resume at 7 a.m. Sunday, said Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the NTSB.

Hersman said investigators have one particularly good witness to the collision, a fellow pilot from the helicopter sightseeing company, Liberty Helicopters. He saw the plane approaching and tried to radio the pilot of the helicopter but got no response, Hersman said.

That corridor of the Hudson River is normally crowded, with tourist helicopters and planes sharing a narrow stretch. The helicopters have a common frequency used only for navigating the Hudson -- there is a separate frequency just for the East River on the opposite side of Manhattan -- and plane pilots are able, but are not required, to listen in to hear where other aircraft are located. Bloomberg said using that system is voluntary.

The Teterboro airport in New Jersey is popular with small private planes. Authorities could not immediately say who was aboard the plane that crashed.

New Yorkers out enjoying the clear, sunny day were horrified at the scene, which some said resembled something out of a Hollywood movie. Interviewed on NY1, the local cable television station, a parade of eyewitnesses, some from Hoboken, on the New Jersey side of the river, described how the plane seemed to hit the helicopter, which was beneath it, from behind.

Most said there was little sound -- a "pop" -- and no explosion. And several said they saw debris flying, including the rotor blades of the helicopter.

"The plane rolled into the side of the helicopter," said one young man interviewed, who said he happened to be looking up when he noticed that the two aircraft seemed to be too close. "The rotors of the helicopter just kind of splintered off in every direction."

Bloomberg said: "There is some evidence from eyewitnesses that one of the wings of the airplane was severed."

The plane would not have been allowed to fly over Manhattan but could have followed the river south.

Nine killed in mid-air crash over New York

Nine people were killed today after a sightseeing helicopter carrying Italian tourists collided in mid-air with a small plane near New York and crashed into the Hudson river.

Eyewitnesses saw a wing come off the plane during the collision just after noon US time and watched as the helicopter "fell like a stone" into the river.

Five Italian tourists and the pilot were aboard the helicopter; in the plane, along with the pilot, there were two passengers, one of whom was a child. Another pilot on the ground at the heliport saw the plane approaching and tried to radio an alert to the helicopter above. But the warning was either not heard, or failed to get through in time.

The collision took place just south of the stretch of river where a US Airways jet that had run into trouble after apparently hitting a flock of geese was ditched in January by its pilot, who was hailed as a hero for saving the lives of all 150 people on board.

Two bodies were recovered but there was no hope of finding survivors, said New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who described the incident as "not survivable".

He said that police had found one piece of wreckage in the murky waters of the Hudson and that the search would probably continue for a few days.

"This has changed from a rescue to a recovery mission. There's not going to be a happy ending," he added.

The plane, which was a single-engine Piper PA-32R-300, had taken off earlier from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and was flying south along the river when it appeared to lose control as it banked steeply and struck the helicopter close to the shore line of Hoboken, New Jersey.

The helicopter, operated by Liberty Helicopter, the largest sightseeing and charter helicopter operator in the north-east US, had taken off moments earlier from West 30th Street in Manhattan.

Hundreds of people on both sides of the mile-wide river watched as the two aircraft appeared to break apart, with the rotary blades detaching from the helicopter, opposite the west side of Manhattan.

On the waterfront at Hoboken, people scattered as pieces of the debris fell from the sky while a wheel from one of the aircraft lay on Hoboken's Sinatra Drive.

"I saw the plane coming down and the helicopter coming across," said Hilda Igartua, 53, of Union City, New Jersey, who added that the plane's trajectory did not change after the collision but the helicopter came apart and spun down in pieces.

"We saw the helicopter propellers fly all over," said Katie Tanski, of Hoboken.

Melissa Green, 33, and her husband were in a park along the river on the New York side and heard the crash. "We turned around and saw these two mushroom splashes," Green said.

"What was really weird is there was no wreckage, nothing. I hope they find the people, but I don't know. They just disappeared," she explained.

"First I saw a piece of something flying through the air. Then I saw the helicopter going down into the water," she said, adding that the crowd in the park seemed too stunned to react. "I thought it was my imagination."

The weather at the time of the collision was clear and mild. Vessels including water taxis diverted to the scene of the accident along with fire boats and Coast Guard rescue teams but both of the aircraft sank quickly under a strong current.

Police divers were carrying out a search of the river as an investigation was launched by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The accident happened in a busy general aviation corridor over the river that is often filled with sightseeing craft on sunny days.

Pilots have some freedom to pick their own route, as long as they stay under 300m and do not stray too close to Manhattan's skyscrapers.

Accidents are not frequent, but happen every few years. Cory Lidle, a pitcher for the New York Yankees baseball team, and his flight instructor died in 2006 when their plane hit a skyscraper while flying along a popular sightseeing route.

Two years ago, a Liberty helicopter fell 150m to the ground during another sightseeing trip. The pilot was credited with safely landing the aircraft in the Hudson and helping evacuate the seven passengers.

In 1997, a rotor on one of its sightseeing helicopters clipped a Manhattan building, forcing an emergency landing. No one was hurt.

Sabathia twirls gem against Red Sox Ace flirts with no-no, allows just two hits over 7 2/3 frames

NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia signed on for the big East Coast dollars expecting to loom large as the ace of the Yankees' rotation. Amid tantalizing glimpses of that potential, he expressed confidence that the best was still to come.

If Saturday provides any indication, the Yankees have plenty to be excited about down the stretch. Sabathia hurled 7 2/3 outstanding innings and Derek Jeter homered as the Bombers shut down the slumping Red Sox with a 5-0 decision at Yankee Stadium.

New York's sixth straight victory increased its advantage to 5 1/2 games over Boston in the American League East, with Sabathia successfully following A.J. Burnett's lead over 7 2/3 scoreless innings on Friday. That dominant 1-2 punch was just what the Yankees envisioned, and certainly no surprise.

"No question, because they did it against us," Jeter said. "Those guys are power pitchers and they're capable of shutting a team down. When they throw like this, I'd put them up there against an All-Star team."

Boston would have to suffice on this August afternoon, and Sabathia handled the assignment with aplomb, striking out a season-high nine and handcuffing the Red Sox to just two hits in what plays as his signature performance thus far in pinstripes.

"For me, every game is important, but these games in our division against Boston are big," Sabathia said. "I don't approach any start any different. I go out and try to help the team win. Today, it just so happened to be on a big stage."

Sabathia retired the first 13 Red Sox he faced before David Ortiz worked a one-out walk in the fourth inning. Still holding a no-hitter intact, the left-hander worked two outs into the sixth inning before Jacoby Ellsbury broke up the bid with a solid single to center.

"I think everyone knows when you're throwing a no-hitter," Sabathia said. "It would be crazy for me to say it wasn't on my mind, but I was just trying to get outs and get the team back in the dugout."

Striking out a season-high nine and walking two, Sabathia got the benefit of a big double play to end the seventh inning, as Jeter hung tough on Kevin Youkilis' hard slide, firing to first base in time to nail Mike Lowell.

No Boston runner advanced past second base and Sabathia left to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 48,796 following his 123-pitch effort.

"It was unbelievable. I had goose bumps walking off," Sabathia said. "To be in a big series, playing Boston here in New York, it was unbelievable to get that kind of ovation."

And it was deserved after Sabathia delivered just what the Yankees needed, having pieced eight innings of relief out of their bleary-eyed bullpen to beat Boston on Alex Rodriguez's 15th inning homer earlier in the morning.

The Yankees have now held the Red Sox scoreless for a remarkable 24-inning span -- the longest scoreless stretch for Bombers hurlers since a 24-inning stretch over four games from June 17-22, 2003. New York starters are 3-0 with a 1.77 ERA in this series.

"It's not an easy task," manager Joe Girardi said. "You have to make a lot of good pitches to be able to do that. Our pitchers have done a wonderful job. You just hope that you can continue to do it against a very tough club."

After Sabathia's exit, Phil Hughes struck out Nick Green swinging and Dave Robertson worked around two singles in the ninth to secure the game, which Jeter said he thought was the $161 million ace's finest performance thus far.

"Probably, considering who he was throwing against," Jeter said. "Boston has a good offensive team that can beat you and they've got a lot of different weapons. I would have to say, as good as he's been, I can't think of any time he's been better."

"That's what he got paid for," Yankees catcher Jose Molina said. "He's ready for that. He's not a quitter. He wants the ball every time."

New York got to Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz for two runs on six hits in six innings, as the right-hander walked five and struck out three. Mark Teixeira touched Buchholz for a RBI single in the third inning and Robinson Cano's double started the sixth inning, scoring on Molina's sacrifice fly.

Boston reliever Ramon Ramirez was ejected in the seventh inning after burying a 93-mph fastball in Alex Rodriguez's upper back. Home-plate umpire Jim Joyce warned both teams, serving as caution in a series after rookie Mark Melancon hit Pedroia on Thursday.

"I think it was probably a wise thing to do," Girardi said. "Not that we were going to do anything about it, but I think they just don't want anything to escalate."

Rodriguez scored New York's third run on Nick Swisher's bases-loaded walk against Enrique Gonzalez, and Jeter belted a two-run homer to right field in the eighth as the Yankees prepared for a possible four-game sweep of the Red Sox -- putting any thoughts of their earlier 0-8 showing well in the past.

"You can't change anything that happened earlier in the year," Jeter said. "We know it's a good team, but if you go out and play well, we feel as though we can beat anybody."

Pushed to the limit

NEW YORK - As the pitch roared off the bat, Junichi Tazawa turned to look. He stood there, staring out toward left field, where the ball was headed toward the bullpen just over the fence. He watched the ball settle, as the Yankees spilled out of their bullpen and as Alex Rodriguez followed Derek Jeter around the bases.
Photo gallery
Photos from the marathon Sox-Yankees game

* A marathon Sox-Yankees game


* Yankees 2, Red Sox 0 (15 innings) Pushed to the limit
* Dan Shaughnessy Coming out on the short end of a long night
* On Baseball Leading with conviction
* After getting clocked, Smoltz’s time has ended
* Red Sox notebook A day to remember for Tazawa
* Epstein in crisis control
* Gallery 10 things that have gone wrong for Red Sox
* City regulators say Red Sox must end open bar

The Yankees pooled at home plate, as the hour approached 1 a.m., and celebrated a win 5 hours 33 minutes in the making.

The night had deepened and the zeros had mounted and no one could do anything offensively. But with Tazawa on a major league mound for the first time, and Rodriguez at the plate, the void was simply too big. And then it happened, finally. Rodriguez smashed that pitch deep and far, way beyond left fielder Josh Reddick.

Jeter crossed the plate, then Rodriguez, the first time anyone had made it home in a game that ended in the 15th inning, a game ticketed for epic status on the YES Network and bound for the recycling bin at NESN. Those two runs sent the Yankees past the Sox, 2-0, bringing Boston’s American League East deficit to 4 1/2 games.

It was the fourth straight loss for the Sox, all to teams in their division, two coming in dispiriting fashion on home runs by power-hitting third basemen. Unlike the frustration Thursday night after the Sox were clobbered, the mood was slightly different in the postgame clubhouse. Chins were lifted, the attitude a touch defiant as the Sox season veers dangerously off course.

“We could have just as well [have won],’’ said Jason Varitek, who went 0 for 6 and caught all 267 pitches. “We lost two extra-inning games. Our season’s not over. We’ve got two months. Obviously we haven’t played our best baseball recently.

“A good thing is what I saw pitching-wise today. That’s what’s going to help us get over the hump.’’

Not that today will be easier. CC Sabathia takes on the slumping Clay Buchholz with a confident Yankees club behind him. The Sox will have to refill their bullpen coffers before today’s game and somehow end the losing.

“It’s a challenging time for this team, there’s no doubt about it,’’ GM Theo Epstein said before the game. “We’re not playing the type of baseball we want to play. We’re not getting consistent quality starts. We’re not hitting with runners in scoring position. It makes for a challenging time. Since the All-Star break we haven’t won as many games as we’d like.

“A lot of things are going wrong with health and performance and it’s times like these that you find out what you’re all about as a club, as an

Obama-speak in Cash for Clunkers

It seemed like a no-brainer.

Why doesn't the Obama administration want to pour even more federal stimulus money into the Cash for Clunkers program? It has been wildly successful, swallowing the first $1 billion chunk of federal money in one big, ravenous, consumer-driven gulp.

The program now is getting ready to chomp throw $2 billion more that passed into law this week to keep the popular program and the flagging auto industry afloat. But Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said it's not that simple.

Sure the program has been successful in luring recession wounded consumers back into auto show rooms. They've been more than eager to combine their precious dollars with the $3,500 to $4,500 rebate for trading in their gas guzzlers for new fuel efficient cars.

That no-brainer is easy money for cash-strapped and scared consumers. The program also gets petrified people to spend money again, which puts badly needed cash back into circulation in the near comatose U.S. economy.

But what's not so easy is the political calculus behind the seemingly simple move. The Cash for Clunkers program adds to the federal budget deficit, which is projected to be about $2 trillion this year.

People are dead set against government giveaways that they will have to pay for - especially when they see the benefits going to someone else.

But what's worse is the Cash for Clunkers program causes people who might buy cars later in the year to do it now. The federal stimulus acceleration now is likely to stall out car sales later. Car and other sales need to be able to start and accelerate on their own. Government intervention just muddles things.

So even though lawmakers and Obama are the heroes of the economy today, they could be the goats tomorrow if the fast start flops long before a good economic finish for the year can come into view. That's the caution flag that Jarrett and others are seeing that many people wanting more Cash for Clunkers cash are blowing through.

Iran trial hears 'apology' from UK embassy worker

A British embassy worker put on trial by the Iranian authorities was today reported to have admitted that information collected by the embassy on the unrest after the disputed presidential election was sent to Washington.

The Foreign Office expressed its "outrage" as Hossein Rassam, the embassy's chief political analyst, appeared in court alongside Iranian moderates and a French citizen.

The official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Rassam, who is charged with espionage, as saying that information was handed over to the Americans. "Because the American government lacks facilities to survey Iran events and because of the close relations between Washington and London, the British embassy in Tehran sent its collected vote unrest details to Washington," the Reuters news agency reported Rassam as telling the court.

Reuters reported him as apologising to the Iranian nation and that he "asked the court for forgiveness".

Clotilde Reiss, a French citizen, was charged with "acting against national security by taking part in unrest ... collecting news and information and sending pictures of the unrest abroad", Reuters reported. IRNA said she had confessed her "mistakes" and asked for clemency.

Espionage and acting against national security are punishable by death under Iran's Islamic law. Iran has accused the west of trying to overthrow the country's government and encouraging the widespread protests that followed the election in June.

The opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi says the vote was rigged in favour of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was re-elected.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said of Rassam's trial: "This is completely unacceptable and directly contradicts assurances we had been given repeatedly by senior Iranian officials.

"We deplore these trials and the so-called confessions of prisoners who have been denied their basic human rights.

"Our ambassador in Tehran has demanded early clarification of the position from the Iranian authorities. We will then decide on how to respond to this latest outrage."

Riot police had earlier broken up protests by relatives outside the courtroom.

Pakistan demands Taliban evidence

Pakistan's interior minister has challenged the Taliban to prove their leaders are still alive, after reports that two of them have been killed.

Rehman Malik told the BBC officials had non-physical evidence that the top commander, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a US missile attack on Wednesday.

He said intelligence suggested a shoot-out later broke out between Mehsud's potential successors in which one died.

The Taliban has accused the interior ministry of making up the incident.

However, the militant group's spokesmen were also unable to offer any physical evidence to disprove the government's claims.

'Credible information'

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Malik denied the allegation that the Pakistani security forces had no evidence proving that Mehsud was killed along with one of his wives in a strike on his father-in-law's house in the Zangarha area, north-east of Ladha, on Wednesday.

Taleban commander Hakimullah Mehsud
The news regarding our respected chief is propaganda by our enemies
Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud

"The day before yesterday, there was credible information coming from inside the area that Baitullah Mehsud had been killed," the minister said.

"This credible information had come right from sources based in South Waziristan, and particularly in Ladha."

But Mr Malik admitted that the government did not have "any material evidence so far confirming that Baitullah Mehsud is dead".

He said intelligence suggested that a "scuffle" had broken out between Mehsud's potential successors in Waziristan on Friday in which one of them, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed. Local media also said a shoot-out had happened.

"Obviously, it is not a story made up by us. This fight must have happened because of the succession," he added.

Mr Malik said Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, the other leader allegedly involved in the shootout, had long been hostile towards each other.

"They had been fighting in the past and we have information that there has been enmity between Waliur and Hakimullah since they were fighting together in Kurram valley," he said. "Hakimullah was replaced by Baitullah Mehsud with Waliur."

On Saturday morning, however, Hakimullah Mehsud told the BBC by telephone that reports of his and Mehsud's death were "ridiculous".

"The news regarding our respected chief is propaganda by our enemies," he said.

Baitullah Mehsud at a news conference in South Waziristan, 24 May 2008
Baitullah Mehsud has been blamed for a series of suicide attacks in Pakistan

"We know what our enemies want to achieve - it's the joint policy of the ISI [Pakistani intelligence service] and FBI - they want our chief to come out in the open so they can achieve their target."

He said the Pakistani leader had decided to adopt the tactics of Osama bin Laden and stay silent. He said he would issue a message in the next few days.

But Mr Malik challenged the Taliban to prove their version of events.

"If Baitullah Mehsud is alive, or Hakimullah is alive, why don't they bring out a video. Every telephone has a camera on it. They can just get one out and show people that they are alive. I challenge them."

Believed to command as many as 20,000 pro-Taliban militants, Mehsud came to worldwide attention in the aftermath of the 2007 Red Mosque siege in Islamabad - in which the security forces confronted and forcibly ejected militant students loyal to him.

He has been blamed by both Pakistan and the US for a series of suicide bomb attacks in the country, as well as suicide attacks on Western forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Indonesia police say they thwarted terrorist plan to assassinate president

B EJI, Indonesia | The police in Indonesia said Saturday that they had foiled plans by an Islamist group to assassinate the president. However, authorities declined to confirm news reports that they had killed Southeast Asia’s most-wanted terrorism suspect in a separate raid.

Police said that until DNA tests were complete, they could not confirm that the body recovered from a house in central Java was that of Noordin Mohammad Top.

Noordin is suspected of having planned Southeast Asia’s worst terror attacks, some with al-Qaida backing. If verified, his death would be a major victory in Indonesia’s fight against Islamist militants blamed for five major bombings that killed 250 people, including attacks on Bali island in 2002 and 2005. Noordin also is blamed for suicide bomb attacks last month on two hotels in Jakarta that killed seven people.

National Police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri said Noordin and other militants had been plotting to bomb the home of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Hendarso said an accomplice told the police that two would-be suicide bombers were planning to detonate a truck packed with explosives at the president’s home later this month. Hendarso said a truck with explosives was found, along with bomb-making material.

A leading expert on terrorism, Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, said she doubted reports that Noordin had been killed in a 16-hour raid on a militant hideout outside Jakarta.

As confused and contradictory reports emerged, it remained unclear whether Noordin had been in the house at the time of the raid, whether he had escaped or whether he had possibly been arrested beforehand.

“What we do know is that the police intercepted this (assassination attempt), and they get incredible kudos for that,” Jones said.

But as to the raid on the house outside Jakarta, she said: “What I’m pretty convinced of is that the person inside the house was not Noordin Top and the person who was killed was not Noordin Top.”

Hendarso tried to dampen the rumors.

“We could not yet disclose the identity of the killed man,” he said. “After the DNA test, we will announce it, based on facts, not based on speculation.”

The two suspects killed in the second raid, in the West Java town of Bekasi, were believed to be linked to Noordin.

Irwan Firdaus of The Associated Press and Seth Mydans of The New York Times contributed to this report.
Posted on Sat, Aug. 08, 2009 10:15 PM

Terror suspect 'killed in Java'

One of South-East Asia's most wanted terror suspects is reported to have been killed by Indonesian police.

An official in Jakarta and local TV say Noordin Mohamed Top died when police stormed his hideout in central Java after a 17-hour siege.

Bodies were seen being removed from the house but police have not confirmed Noordin was one of those killed.

Malaysian-born Noordin is suspected of orchestrating the Bali bombings of 2002 and other major attacks.

They include the bombings of two Jakarta hotels last month that killed nine people and injured scores of others.

Police said the anti-terror operation in the Temanggung district followed the arrest on Friday of several suspected militants loyal to Noordin.
Police outside the house raided in Bekasi (8 August 2009)
About 500kg of explosives were seized at a house in Bekasi, near Jakarta

In a separate incident, police said they had killed two suspected militants in a raid on a house in the Bekasi area, near the capital.

Five others were arrested and up to 500kg of explosives were seized.

Gen Bambang Hendarso Danuri said the two men had been shot because they were about to detonate hand-held bombs.

They were would-be suicide bombers from a cell loyal to Noordin who were preparing to attack "special targets" in two weeks, he added.

Workshop raid

Almost a day after surrounding it, members of Indonesia's elite anti-terrorism unit entered the remote house in a rice paddy field outside Temanggung at 0945 (0245 GMT) by blowing in one of the doors.

Several minutes later, after further explosions and exchanges of gunfire, officers were seen leaving with their helmets off and shaking hands with each other.

Noordin Top
Police efforts to find Noordin have been focused on Java

Police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said police believed Noordin and two or three of his followers were inside, but could not say whether they had been killed.

Authorities closed off the area, but ambulances were later seen arriving and two body bags were taken from inside the building.

On Friday evening, Mr Soekarna said two men had been arrested in a workshop in a market in Temanggung, and that they had led police to the house nearby, as well as the building in Bekasi.

Noordin was accused of being the key recruiter and financier for the regional Islamist militant group, Jemaah Islamiah.

He is thought to have been behind bomb attacks on the Jakarta Marriott in 2003 and the Australian embassy in 2004, and also on a series of restaurants in Bali in 2005 in which more than 20 died.

A lull in attacks since 2005 came to an end in July with the suicide bombings on two hotels in Jakarta that killed nine people and wounded 53, raising concerns that Noordin was becoming active again.

Correspondents say the search for Noordin has focused on central Java because he is believed to have a network of sympathisers there.

He is the Indonesian police's main target and there is a $100,000 (£59,000) reward for information leading to his capture.

Electric Car’s Connection to Goldman Sachs

You don’t need a Goldman Sachs connection to invest in Coda Automotive, an electric car start-up based in California, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Coda recently announced that it had raised $24 million, with an undisclosed portion coming from its new advisory board member, Henry M. Paulson, the former Treasury secretary, who, before that role, was the chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs.

Coda’s chief executive, Kevin Czinger, is a former Goldman Sachs executive director, leaving in 1995. Mr. Czinger said in an interview that he brought Mr. Paulson into the company because he had “an interest in the environment and in China, plus he saw the business opportunity.”

Coda’s co-chairman, Steven Heller, is also a Goldman Sachs man. Until his retirement in 2002, he had served as the head of global mergers and acquisitions at Goldman Sachs and reported to Mr. Paulson. “He was my boss for many years, and I’ve known him for 20 years,” Mr. Heller said in an interview. “He’s a tough, rational investor who understands our business model and our strategy and wants to be part of it.”

Mr. Paulson was not available for comment, but he said in a statement: “Coda’s noncapital intensive business model and globally collaborative partnership strategy persuaded me to join the advisory board.”

The Coda electric car is based on the Saibao sedan from the Hafei Automobile Group in China. Coda has a joint venture agreement with its Chinese battery supplier, Tianjin Lishen Battery, but in June Coda said it would also seek federal funding to establish an American battery factory with Yardney Technical Products (which developed batteries for the B-2 bomber and NASA’s Mars exploration vehicles). Coda plans to have its car on the market (initially only in California) next year.

Paulson, Goldman CEO spoke often in heat of crisis

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson talked often to the head of Goldman Sachs at the height of the credit crisis but did not actively seek to help the bank he once ran, a spokeswoman for Paulson said on Saturday. The New York Times on Saturday reported records of two dozen conversations between Paulson and Goldman chief executive Lloyd Blankfein the same week last September that rival bank Lehman Brothers collapsed and insurer American International Group -- closely connected to Goldman -- was rescued with public funds.WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson talked often to the head of Goldman Sachs at the height of the credit crisis but did not actively seek to help the bank he once ran, a spokeswoman for Paulson said on Saturday.

The New York Times on Saturday reported records of two dozen conversations between Paulson and Goldman chief executive Lloyd Blankfein the same week last September that rival bank Lehman Brothers collapsed and insurer American International Group -- closely connected to Goldman -- was rescued with public funds.

Goldman was the single biggest beneficiary of the AIG bailout, receiving nearly $13 billion (8 billion pounds) in counterparty payments that would have been lost had the insurer failed.

Paulson's spokeswoman Michele Davis confirmed the telephone conversations with Blankfein took place but denied Paulson had any intention of helping Goldman specifically.

"Suggesting that AIG was saved for the sake of one firm is as ridiculous as saying firemen put out a fire in a skyscraper to protect just one of the thousands of people in the building," Davis said in a statement.

Goldman has come under fire from some lawmakers and public interest groups for its government connections, seemingly sailing through a deep recession shortly after accepting $10 billion of taxpayer bailout money and benefiting from a host of other government programs, including access to the U.S. Federal Reserve's borrowing window.


Paulson asked Treasury and White House lawyers for a waiver from an ethics ban on contacting his former firm, as officials feared that Wall Street was facing a total collapse.

The Times said the waiver was granted on September 17, the day after the AIG bailout was announced and the day after he received a phone call from Blankfein.

"Following Lehman's failure and the acquisition of Merrill Lynch (by Bank of America) that prevented its failure, officials feared the same crisis of confidence might spread to the remaining investment banks, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs," Davis said.

"If Morgan Stanley were to fail, Secretary Paulson and the other regulators believed that Goldman Sachs, as the last remaining investment bank, might fail as well."

If the government needed to intervene on Goldman, Paulson "needed to be able to actively engage in finding a solution," she added.

The September 16-21 telephone records, which the Times said it obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that Paulson spoke much more frequently with Blankfein than he did other Wall Street executives during a week in which the world stood on the brink of financial collapse.

He spoke with John Mack, CEO of Morgan Stanley, which was in a more tenuous situation, 12 times over the same period.

Paulson and Blankfein spoke three times before the waivers were granted and five times on September 17, the New York Times said.

Paulson spent 32 years at Goldman Sachs and preceded Blankfein as CEO before becoming Treasury secretary in 2006.

The records also show frequent phone calls with Timothy Geithner, the current Treasury secretary who was head of the New York Federal Reserve, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, and congressional leaders.

A Treasury Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Davis said the volume of calls to Blankfein reflected in part the need to keep abreast of market developments such as frozen money market mutual funds and address a "crisis of confidence" in the remaining investment banks.

A Goldman spokesman told the New York Times that Blankfein spoke with the Paulson about Lehman Brothers' troubled London operations and "disarray in the money markets."

At a July 16 congressional hearing, lawmakers angrily asked Paulson to explain changes in U.S. policy during the crisis and said he had conflicts of interest in decisions involving Wall Street firms.

"I operated very consistently within the ethics guidelines I had," Paulson said.

(Additional reporting by Glenn Somerville; Editing by Eric Beech)

(c) Reuters 2009. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.

Last updated: 09 August 2009, 02:23

Sotomayor confirmed as first Hispanic Supreme Court justice

Sonia Sotomayor, who once suggested that a wise Latina would make a better judge than a white man, was confirmed yesterday as the first Hispanic justice on the US Supreme Court.

Judge Sotomayor won the vote in the US Senate by 68-31, with nine Republicans crossing the aisle to vote with the majority Democrats. The decision reflected the growing power of Hispanics in America and the commitment of Barack Obama to break down ethnic and gender barriers.

Ms Sotomayor, 55, will be only the third woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.

President Obama called the confirmation of his first Supreme Court nominee a “wonderful day for America”. He said that the Senate vote to confirm his first choice for a Supreme Court vacancy represented another step forward to a “more perfect union,” and said that she would do an outstanding job. Republicans said however that they feared she would be an activist judge. Her writings and speeches “reflect a belief not just that impartiality is not possible, but that it’s not even worth the effort,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, said.

Ms Sotomayor, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents, was brought up on a housing estate in the Bronx. Her father died when she was 9 and her mother, a nurse, was left to raise her alone.

She pursued a career in law, winning scholarships to Princeton University and then Yale Law School, where she edited the Law Review.

After graduating she worked as a New York prosecutor before joining a private business law practice. She was named a judge by the first President Bush in 1991.

Her nomination was seen as an attempt by Mr Obama, who is also an Ivy League-trained lawyer, to push the Supreme Court to the left on issues ranging from civil rights to gun control.

As a US senator Mr Obama voted against George W. Bush’s two successful Supreme Court nominees: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

During her confirmation hearings Judge Sotomayor faced criticism over a speech that she made in California in 2001. In it she said: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

She told senators that the remarks were intended as an attempt to inspire young Hispanics and insisted that she did not believe “any ethnic, gender or race group has an advantage in sound judging”.

She became embroiled in more controversy when her future colleagues on the Supreme Court overturned a decision by her appeals court disallowing a “reverse discrimination” claim by a group of predominantly white firefighters.

The firefighters had lost their chance at promotion when their examination results were thrown out because of fears of in-built bias against African-Americans in the test. The Supreme Court ruled that the city of New Haven, Connecticut, had been wrong to discard the results.

It is unlikely that Ms Sotomayor will shift the centre of gravity of the nine-member court immediately.

She replaces Justice David Souter, who aligned himself with the court’s liberal wing even though he was nominated by a Republican president.

In recent court decisions the liberal justices have often been outnumbered 5-4 by the conservatives.

Pakistani Taliban leader likely killed by U.S. drone attack

"The information I have is that Mehsud has been killed, but we are doing ground verification for 100 percent confirmation," said Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan's foreign minister.

Information from the region suggests Mehsud is dead, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told CNN. He said DNA evidence is still needed for confirmation.

The Taliban has yet to confirm or deny reports of the leader's death.

A Pakistani official with knowledge of intelligence matters told CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen that the strike in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal area was based on "solid intel." And following the attack, "the Mehsud network has gone quiet as if in shock," the official said.

The official cautioned that, "there is a high degree of confidence but certainty only comes after physical evidence and DNA is processed." After all, Mehsud "has shown up alive after previous near misses," he added.

Mehsud's second wife was killed early Wednesday in a suspected U.S. drone attack, according to intelligence sources and relatives.

The unmanned aerial vehicle targeted the home of Mehsud's father-in-law, Mulvi Ikram ud Din, and dropped two missiles on the residence in northwestern Pakistan, an intelligence official said.

Mehsud's second wife was one of two people killed in the strike, according to the sources. Four others were wounded, they said.
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Muhammad Jamal, a Taliban member in the area, told CNN that the attack caused injuries to children and women.

The U.S. military routinely offers no comment on reported drone attacks.

However, the United States is the only country operating in the region known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones, which are controlled remotely.

Mehsud and other key leaders of the Pakistani Taliban have been targeted by the ongoing Pakistani military operation in northwest Pakistan. Hideouts linked to Mehsud are regularly shelled by Pakistani aircraft and suspected U.S. drones.

Mehsud's close aide recently confirmed that the Pakistani Taliban chief was behind the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was gunned down at a political rally in December 2007. Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is the current president of Pakistan.

The Pakistani government and CIA officials have said in the past that Mehsud was responsible for Bhutto's death.

According to Bergen, the latest drone strike targeting Mehsud is part of two larger patterns. The first is that the Obama administration has ramped up the drone program aimed at militants based inside Pakistan beyond the policy it inherited from the Bush administration.

A count of drone attacks in Pakistan -- based on reliable media counts and discussions with Pakistani and American officials -- shows 34 such attacks in 2008 that killed at least 10 al Qaeda or Taliban leaders.

In 2009, the Obama administration has already authorized 28 strikes. The pace of the drone program has been dramatically scaled up.

But the Obama administration's ratcheted-up drone strikes have succeeded in killing mostly lower-level militants and civilians and few "high value targets" such as Abu Sulayman al Jazairi on April 29 and possibly Saad bin Laden, one of the Osama bin Laden's sons who had served as a lower level commander within al Qaeda. Bin Laden's death, however, has not been confirmed.

The second pattern is that the Obama administration has increasingly been working with the Pakistani government to attack the Pakistani Taliban. Of the 30 strikes this year, 19 have targeted Mehsud's home base of South Waziristan. Whether or not Mehsud is dead, the strikes have applied pressure on his militant network in Pakistan.

Two U.S. officials familiar with the drone program point out that the number of "spies" the Pakistani Taliban have killed has risen dramatically in the past year. That suggests that the militants are turning on themselves to root out possible sources of the often-pinpoint intelligence decimating their ranks.

Senate Adds Cash to ‘Clunkers’ Plan

WASHINGTON — The Senate approved providing another $2 billion for the “cash for clunkers” program on Thursday night, keeping it alive through the month of August.
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Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

A crane lifts a vehicle onto a junk heap in Medford, N.Y. Many scrapped vehicles are from the “cash for clunkers” program.
Roll Call: Senate Vote
Times Topics: Car Allowance Rebate System (Cash for Clunkers)

Senators voted 60 to 37 to continue the auto-purchase program, which quickly spent the previously allocated $1 billion. President Obama is expected to sign the bill as soon as possible.

The House approved an additional $2 billion last Friday, before its summer recess. That left the Senate with a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, because if it made any changes, the House would have to take up the Senate version in September.

The Senate spent much of the afternoon and evening slogging through seven proposed amendments, all of which were defeated.

“We all know that if we change the bill it will die,” said Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. The Senate is scheduled to begin its August recess on Friday. In the end, the bill passed largely along party lines, with 51 Democrats, 2 independents and 7 Republicans voting for it.

The “cash for clunkers” program offers rebates of $3,500 to $4,500 for trade-ins of vehicles with low fuel economy, if the buyer picks a more efficient replacement. The precise rules to qualify vary by category of vehicle.

The additional money is borrowed from another stimulus program, a loan program for green energy projects. But lawmakers want to replenish that, so the cash-for-clunkers extension spending will probably add to the federal deficit.

One amendment, offered by Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, would require that the program not place a burden on future generations.

The Obama administration has been arguing that the savings on gas spending would offset costs, and that the stimulus to the economy would be another benefit. Still, based on the popularity of the program, government officials expect that the additional $2 billion will be spent by Labor Day.

Dealers say they have made about a quarter-million new car sales incorporating the rebate, but entering the applications into the government computer system has been slowed by computer problems. The Transportation Department said Wednesday that more than 180,000 deals had been submitted, with a rebate value of $775.2 million.

About 45 percent of the cars bought under the program are from American manufacturers, about the same share as the overall car market. And many of the other new vehicles bought are made in America by foreign automakers, the department said.

A crucial question is how much Americans will actually save on gasoline. The Transportation Department said shoppers had been turning in the bigger vehicles and buying small sedans, with an average improvement of 9.6 miles a gallon.

But some industry experts pointed out that the “clunkers” being traded in tended to be the older vehicles kept as spare cars in multicar households, and driven very few miles every year.

“The new car doesn’t replace the clunker, it replaces the previous first car in the family,” said Lee Schipper, a transportation expert and researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Stanford University.

A question not addressed by the Senate was how long the clunkers would have been on the road anyway, absent the government payments.

Another question was how long the $2 billion would last and what would happen after that.

Even R. L. Polk, the auto market consulting firm, predicted in July that the program would handle only 200,000 cars in 2009, but it appears to have done 250,000 in July alone.

The program technically began on July 1, and some dealers began accepting trade-ins then. But the Transportation Department did not have the regulations written and the computers set up to accept applications until July 27, a Monday.

By that Thursday, although only a few thousand applications had been entered, the National Automobile Dealers Association told the Transportation Department that probably all the money had been committed.

The program caught public attention in a way that the Senate’s other recent concerns like health care legislation have not.

US concern over tensions

WASHINGTON - US PRESIDENT Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday expressed concerns about fresh tensions between Russia and Georgia in telephone calls with the leaders of the rival ex-Soviet states.

The White House said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Mr Obama to wish him a happy 48th birthday, and that the leaders discussed the need to ease rattled nerves in the region, a year on from a Russia-Georgia war.

Mr Biden called Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and expressed concern over the situation, as Georgia warned of the risk of a new war with Russia and Moscow raised the battle-readiness of its forces, ahead of the anniversary of their conflict over rebel South Ossetia.

Mr Saakashvili had earlier called on the United States and the European Union to send a 'clear message' to Moscow to help avert a new war, as both sides exchanged accusations of attacks and 'provocations' in the region.

The Russian foreign ministry meanwhile said its forces had heightened their state of battle-readiness in South Ossetia.

Mr Obama's administration is walking a tightrope between its desire to reset ties with Moscow and showing support for its ally Georgia, as tensions rise again between Moscow and Tbilisi.

Russia smashed a Georgian military offensive to recapture South Ossetia in a brief war in August last year, sending relations between Moscow and Washington during the final months of George W. Bush's administration to post-Cold War lows.

Mr Biden risked irking Russia last month when he said in a speech in the ex-Soviet republic that Obama backed Georgia's aspiration to join Nato. He also reiterated long-standing US policy on Georgia's territorial integrity, saying Washington sought a 'free, secure, democratic, united Georgia.'

The White House also said that Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev used Tuesday's conversation to discuss the need to 'move forward quickly' on agreements reached at their summit last month in Moscow.

'In particular, the presidents reaffirmed their commitment to complete negotiations on a follow-on agreement to START by December of this year.' Obama and Medvedev signed a declaration in Moscow pledging to reach a new nuclear arms pact to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. -- AFP

Yankees enjoy big payback in blowout win over the Red Sox

They didn't want a pitchers' duel Thursday night at the new Yankee Stadium, they didn't want to see Mo Rivera, didn't want any drama. They wanted a beatdown and they wanted payback and that is exactly what they got, first off a shell of a once-great pitcher named John Smoltz and then against Billy Traber, who was in the minors a few days ago. The Yankees didn't make 0-8 against the Red Sox completely go away Thursday night. It just seemed that way after they went into the bottom of the fourth trailing 3-1 and came out of it winning 9-3, after the Yanks hung an eight on them. The Yankees didn't just beat the Red Sox Thursday night, they threw them through a window.

That is the headline for the night, the night when the Yankees finally got a game off the Red Sox, taking until the first Thursday in August to do that, an all-time world's record for this rivalry. That is the headline even though six more home runs were hit at the $1.5 billion Homer Depot on the other side of 161st St., a place that sometimes seems to have the same exact home-run dimensions as the skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza, that makes even Fenway Park seem as big as Central Park.

Dustin Pedroia went deep for the Red Sox, and so did Casey Kotchman. Old John Damon hit his 20th for the Yankees, and his 13th at the Homer Depot. Jorge Posada hit one between the ambulance entrance and Monument Park. Melky Cabrera went deep, so did Mark Teixeira, who hit his 28th, and his 18th at the Homer Depot. It is supposed to be the grandest address in baseball and all of sports, 161st and River Ave. And balls fly out of this place the way they do at the Little League park in your town.

And you know something? Yankee fans, who showed up in big enough numbers to provide the second sellout of the season - it didn't take until the first Thursday in August to get the second sellout of the season across the street, just two home games the first week of the season - didn't care about any of that. Don't care. Won't care if the Yankees keep winning. Their team is in first, and getting better. Their team has gone 15-5 since the All-Star break. The Red Sox are 8-11. The Red Sox don't get to think about passing the Yankees right now, not the way they've been playing. They have to worry about getting passed by the Tampa Bay Rays.

All of a sudden, the Red Sox look as if they needed Roy Halladay more than the Yankees did, even more than they needed the extra stick Victor Martinez gives them. All of a sudden, the last three guys in their rotation are Clay Buchholz, who sometimes looks like the most over-evaluated pitching prospect Boston has, and Brad Penny, and Smoltz, whose earned-run average is now 8.32. Thursday night the lefthanded hitters in the Yankee batting order were 9-for-13 against Smoltz before Terry Francona came to get him. He looked old and he looked washed up, and you wonder how much longer Boston stays with him.

Aide says Pakistan Taliban leader Mehsud dead

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan -- Pakistan's Taliban chief Bailtullah Mehsud, who led a violent campaign of suicide attacks and assassinations against the Pakistani government, has been killed in a U.S. missile strike, a Taliban commander and aide to Mehsud said Friday.

"I confirm that Baitullah Mehsud and his wife died in the American missile attack in South Waziristan," Kafayat Ullah told The Associated Press by telephone. He would not give any further details.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad that intelligence showed Mehsud had been killed in Wednesday's missile strike on his father-in-law's house in Pakistan's lawless tribal area, but authorities would travel to the site to verify his death.

"To be 100 percent sure, we are going for ground verification," Qureshi said. "And once the ground verification reconfirms, which I think is almost confirmed, then we'll be 100 percent sure."

If confirmed, Mehsud's demise would be a major boost to Pakistani and U.S. efforts to eradicate the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Mehsud has al-Qaida connections and has been suspected in the killing of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Pakistan views him as its top internal threat and has been preparing an offensive against him.

Psychology is to blame for humans not acting on climate change, psychologists say

If you ever wondered what is to blame for the world's sluggish reaction to climate change, wonder no longer. The American Psychological Assn. has concluded in a 225-page report that the culprit is...

...human behavior.

That's right! Human behavior. Read all about it here. The panel of eight psychologists is slated to present its findings at a meeting of the American Psychological Assn. on Friday.

It may seem a tad ridiculous to have to even say that human behavior is responsible for the failure of humans to act, let alone take 225 pages to say it. I mean, what else would likely be responsible than people's minds and brains -- their big toes?

But the report gets into useful specifics. It draws on past studies on people's behavior in disaster situations. It examines what science knows about how you can get people to alter their behavior and what doesn't seem to work at all, no matter how fine and dandy an idea may sound. One example: People are more likely to use energy-efficient devices if they're given feedback, right then and there, about how much energy/money they're saving, rather than if they have to wait until they get their power bill.

Makes sense: Our species doesn't seem especially well-wired to act with long-term rewards in mind. We're much better at seeking gratification right this second, which is why I ate that bag of trail mix five minutes ago even though I'd like to drop some pounds and had only just had lunch.

The task force was convened because the APA wanted to involve psychologists in crafting a solution to climate change and in predicting how people are likely to react to it.

--Rosie Mestel

Caloric restriction: Living longer through fewer calories?

Eat less — a lot less — and live a lot longer. Or so the theory goes.

Proponents of caloric restriction argue that taking in the minimum number of calories your body needs — packed with enough nutrients to keep you firing on all cylinders — will delay the aging process and extend your lifespan beyond that of Jeanne Calment, who lived 122 years and 164 days.

In 1934, researchers discovered that laboratory rats that were fed far less than normal while still getting all the vitamins and minerals they needed, lived far longer than rats on a regular diet. Lifespan increased in proportion to the reduction in calories consumed. Some rats lived twice as long as expected when their caloric intake was cut by 30-40 per cent.

Cutting calories much beyond that level, however, led to starvation and death.

How caloric restriction works in the lab, and whether it works for people, has been the subject of dozens of studies ever since.

Researchers have looked at how caloric restriction affects rats, mice, monkeys, fruit flies and yeast. And they've found strong evidence of longer, healthier lives and delayed signs of aging.

In humans, it's been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It may improve your memory and lower your insulin levels.

In the 1980s, Dr. Roy Walford and a student, Richard Weindruch, conducted a series of caloric restriction experiments on mice. In 1988, they published their findings in a book, The Retardation of Aging and Disease by Dietary Restriction. They found that not only did mice on restricted diets live longer than mice on normal diets, but they looked younger, acted younger and fended off diseases of the elderly longer than mice on normal diets.

In September 1991, Walford got to put his theories to the test on people for two years. He was one of eight people sealed inside Biosphere 2, a 1.3-hectare self-sustaining ecological system. When the team found they could not grow as much food as they had expected to, Walford persuaded the others to try his calorie-restricted diet.

Walford published Beyond the 120-Year Diet: How to Double Your Vital Years in 2000, in which he brought together his 20 years of research into caloric restriction and life extension for a mass audience. It's seen as the definitive book on how to implement a calorie-restricted diet.

Walford died four years later of respiratory failure, a complication of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
When to implement a restricted calorie diet?

Some research suggests that the effects of caloric restriction are muted the older the animal is. Improvements in lifespan were far less significant when rats were older than 18 months.

A study released in January 2009, suggested that caloric restriction works — but only if you're an obese mouse. That study suggested that for lean mice, and possibly for lean humans, caloric restriction may be a "pointless, frustrating and even dangerous exercise."

"Your energy expenditure and your energy intake should be in balance," lead researcher Raj Sohal of the University of Southern California said. "It's as simple as that. And how do you know that? By gain or loss of weight.

"The whole thing is very commonsensical."

'Your energy expenditure and your energy intake should be in balance'—Raj Sohal

In an earlier study, Sohal reported that caloric restriction begun in older mice actually shortened life span.

Two studies released days apart in July 2009 came to different conclusions on the benefits of caloric restriction. The first, involving rhesus monkeys studied by a team at the University of Wisconsin, found that a nutritious but reduced-calorie diet blunts aging and significantly delays the onset of such age-related disorders as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and brain atrophy.

The lead researcher was Richard Weindruch, Dr. Roy Walford's former student and now a professor of medicine in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

At the end of a 20-year long study, half the rhesus monkeys that were allowed to eat what they wanted were still alive. Of the monkeys on calorie-restricted diets, 80 per cent were still living.

The second study, from the Stanford University School of Medicine, found that fruit flies on restricted calorie diets were less able to fend off some infections than flies on normal diets. The researchers concluded that "diet restriction can have complex effects on the realized immune response of a diet-restricted animal."

The findings echoed those of a study released in November 2008, which found that restricting calories may make it tougher to fend off illness, at least if you're a mouse.
But does it work with people?

Researchers have had difficulty trying to determine whether these studies will translate to gains for humans. They've debated over questions like:

* Do you study the effects of caloric restriction on lean or overweight people?
* Will the results vary depending on the age of people when they begin a restricted diet?
* Is caloric restriction expending more calories than eaten or eating fewer calories?

The Calorie Restriction Society was set up in 1994 by scientists involved in research into the goal of extending lifespans by reducing calories consumed.

The group warns that caloric restriction is not something that an adult can just jump into. It's not a diet. The society notes that early research has shown that caloric restriction doesn't extend lifespan when started in adult animals later in life, and may even shorten lifespan. It suggests implementing caloric restriction gradually over a year or two.

There's still no definitive evidence that drastically cutting caloric intake will allow people to live healthy lives for a longer period of time. The Calorie Restriction Society started collecting data from its members and other volunteers in 1997, as part of its effort to back up its claims with solid research.

While it's easy to control what an animal eats in a lab, it's a different matter when you're dealing with people who have a wide variety of easily available food.

It could take decades for today's research subjects to generate useful information.

Human tests of swine flu vaccine start

Human tests of a potential swine flu vaccine have begun, a spokesperson for Novartis said Wednesday, as other drug companies also prepared to start trials.

Novartis is testing a vaccine in a yearlong trial of 6,000 people of all ages in Britain, Germany and the United States, said Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff.

"We initiated clinical trials about 10 days ago," Althoff told The Associated Press.

A Briton received the first shot of H1N1 pandemic vaccine about 10 days ago, he said.

Novartis expects two doses will be required. The trial will also test this assumption.

Sanofi-Pasteur, which makes about 40 per cent of the world's flu vaccines, expects to start testing its swine flu vaccine within days in the U.S. and Europe, said spokesman Benoit Rungeard.

GlaxoSmithKline PLC, which has orders for 291 million doses of vaccine from countries including Britain and Canada, has not yet started testing its vaccine in humans.
Stretching supply

Last month, the Australian drug company CSL began human testing in Australia.

Manufacturers are comparing vaccines with and without adjuvants, the ingredients that are used to boost immune response so less vaccine is needed.

The World Health Organization recommends using adjuvants to maximize the global supply of swine flu vaccine.

Flu vaccines in Europe often contain adjuvants but Canada and the U.S. have not licensed flu vaccines with adjuvants before.

Last week, Dr. David Butler-Jones, the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, said Canada will likely use adjuvanted vaccine as requested by WHO.

Health Canada wants GSK to conduct a small study to offer "minimum data on initial immunogenicity and some safety data if we're going for the adjuvanted vaccine," Dr. Elwyn Griffiths, director general of Health Canada's biologics and genetic therapies directorate, told The Canadian Press last week.

If U.S. politicians decide adjuvants are required, the Food and Drug Administration could also allow it under an emergency use authorization.

WHO and drug makers have said swine flu viruses grown in eggs to make vaccines are producing 25 to 50 per cent as much yield as seasonal flu viruses. WHO's laboratory network is trying to generate new vaccine viruses with higher yields.

AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit makes flu vaccine that is sprayed into the nose instead of injected. The company uses a different process to make vaccines than the traditional approach, and expects to start clinical trials in the U.S. around Aug. 17, Reuters reported.

Senate Reaches Deal to Save 'Cash for Clunkers'

The Senate reached a deal on saving the dwindling "cash for clunkers" program late Wednesday, agreeing to vote on a plan that would add $2 billion to the popular rebate program and give car shoppers until Labor Day to trade in their gas-guzzlers for a new ride.

Following lengthy negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats and Republicans had agreed to vote on the plan Thursday, along with a series of potential changes to the bill, which was passed by the House last week. Reid has said Democrats have enough votes to approve the measure and reject any changes that would cause an interruption in the rebates of up to $4,500.

Reid said the agreement "accomplishes what we need to accomplish."

Late Wednesday, it was not clear that any of the proposed amendments stood a chance of passing. Some of them included placing an income limit on those benefiting from the vouchers and requiring the government to sell off its stakes in General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.

Any Senate changes to the bill would require another vote in the House, something that couldn't take place until the House returns in September from a monthlong recess.

The government said Wednesday that more than $775 million of the $1 billion fund had been spent, accounting for nearly 185,000 new vehicles sold. President Barack Obama has said the program would go broke by Friday if not replenished by Congress.

Administration officials have estimated the additional $2 billion could fund another 500,000 vehicle sales and last into Labor Day.

That's the same day the Senate was to follow the House into the August recess, a looming break that Senate leaders often use to prod their colleagues past standoffs.

"We all acknowledge there's a significant majority that want to move forward with this legislation," Reid, D-Nev., said earlier in the day, adding that he has the votes to approve the House-passed version as is.

More Polar Bears Going Hungry

Warmer temperatures and earlier melting of sea ice are causing polar bears to go hungry. The number of undernourished bears has tripled in a 20-year period.
Photo: More polar bears going hungry
This undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a sow polar bear resting... Expand
This undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a sow polar bear resting with her cubs on the pack ice in the Beaufort Sea in northern Alaska. Warmer temperatures and earlier melting of sea ice are causing polar bears to go hungry. The number of undernourished bears has tripled in a 20-year period. Collapse
(Steve Amstrup/U.S. Fish and Wild Life Service/AP Photo)

Seth Cherry of the University of Alberta, Canada, and colleagues monitored the health of polar bears in the ice-covered Beaufort Sea region of the Arctic during April and May in 1985, 1986, 2005 and 2006.

They immobilised the bears using tranquilliser darts and measured the ratio of urea to creatinine in their blood. A low ratio means that nitrogenous waste material is being recycled within the body and indicates the animal is fasting - a state which usually only occurs temporarily in males during the spring breeding season.

In 1985 and 1986 the proportion of bears fasting was 9.6 and 10.5 per cent respectively. By 2005 and 2006 this had risen to 21.4 and 29.3 per cent.

Last-Ditch Resort: Move Polar Bears to Antarctica?

If the most dire climate predictions come to pass, the Arctic ice cap will melt entirely, and polar bears could face extinction.
Polar Bears
On May 14, the U.S. Department of the Interior declared polar bears "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.
(Getty Images)

So why not pack a few off to Antarctica, where the sea ice will never run out?

It may seem like a preposterous question. But polar bears are just the tip of the "assisted colonization" iceberg. Other possibilities: moving African big game to the American Great Plains, or airlifting endangered species from one mountaintop to another as climate zones shrink.

"It's a showdown. The impacts of climate change on animals have become apparent. And it's time to decide whether we're going to do something," said Notre Dame ecologist Jessica Hellmann, co-author of an influential 2007 Conservation Biology paper (.pdf). "Reducing CO2 is vital, but we might have to step in and intervene."

Once dismissed as wrongheaded and dangerous, assisted colonization -- rescuing vanishing species by moving them someplace new -- is now being discussed by serious conservationists. And no wonder: Caught between climate change and human pressure, species are going extinct 100 times faster than at any point in human history.

The story behind Clinton's trip to North Korea

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two senior Obama administration officials described on background how former President Bill Clinton's mission to Pyongyang to secure the release of two U.S. journalists imprisoned by North Korea evolved:
Freed journalist Euna Lee is followed by Laura Ling as they step off their plane Wednesday in California.

Freed journalist Euna Lee is followed by Laura Ling as they step off their plane Wednesday in California.

# President Obama never spoke directly with former President Clinton about this issue, the officials said.

# During a phone call with their families in mid-July, the journalists told their relatives that they had been informed by the North Koreans that they would be willing to grant them amnesty if an envoy like former President Clinton would come to Pyongyang to secure their release.

# During the weekend of July 24 and 25, President Clinton spoke with National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones about his willingness to take on this mission.

# Clinton ultimately agreed to go on the mission but made it very clear in every communication that this was purely a humanitarian effort.

# Clinton also wanted to make sure, based on the due diligence of the national security team, that there was a high likelihood of success if he went. One official said: "We were convinced this would be the result and based on that we could advise President Clinton that his trip was going to be successful."

# It was always made clear by Clinton and the national security team that this would be a humanitarian mission. One of the officials said: "We had one goal in mind, which was in the U.S. interest, which was to seek the release of these two U.S. Americans. That's what it was, and we've been very clear about what it wasn't. It in no way indicates and that's why I also want to underscore the consultations that we have with allies before the mission to be absolutely clear here what it was and what it wasn't. and it wasn't in any way about our disagreements with the DPRK with respect to its conduct, or with respect to our intention to vigorously enforce resolutions and to vigorously seek the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

# President Clinton and his team did engage in an hour-and-15 minute meeting with President Kim Jong Il, and then had a dinner which lasted a little over two hours. "So the total amount of time that they were in meetings or agendas with each other was about a little over three hours and 15 minutes," one official said.

# Asked if the nuclear issue at least was discussed, the official said, "I don't have an answer to that question. I'm sure president Clinton gave President Kim his views on denuclearization and his views are well known with respect to denuclearization."

# Former Vice President Al Gore was actively involved in this effort from the start, speaking often with the families and the Obama administration. One official said: "Gore has been directly, constantly and vigorously involved in trying to seek the release of his colleagues at Current TV."

# President Obama called the parents of the two journalists between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to congratulate them.

# Both of the journalists are "enormously relieved and in good health."

# The jet carrying the freed journalists, Clinton and other officials touched down Wednesday morning in Burbank, California.

Pa. health club shooting gunman a 48-year-old man

Police officers stand at the front door of an LA Fitness location in Bridgeville, Pa. on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009. A Pittsburgh television station says a shooting at the suburban health club has left four people dead, including the shooter. (AP Photo/Tribune Review, Joe Appel)
By Genaro C. Armas
Associated Press Writer / August 5, 2009
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BRIDGEVILLE, Pa.—A gunman who fired dozens of shots into a fitness center exercise class was a 48-year-old man from suburban Pittsburgh.

A person close to the Allegheny County coroner's office says the gunman was George Sodini who lived in Carnegie, just a few miles from the health club. The person wasn't authorized to comment on the gunman's identity and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a Web site posted under his name, Sodini wrote rambling messages about his hatred of women and how he was tired of being rejected by them. He ended by writing, "Death Lives!"

Three women were killed and nine injured Tuesday night before the gunman shot himself to death.


Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti contributed to this report.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. (AP) -- A gunman who fired dozens of shots into a fitness center exercise class was a 48-year-old man from suburban Pittsburgh.

A person close to the Allegheny County coroner's office says the gunman was George Sodini who lived in Carnegie, just a few miles from the health club. The person wasn't authorized to comment on the gunman's identity and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a Web site posted under his name, Sodini wrote rambling messages about his hatred of women and how he was tired of being rejected by them. He ended by writing, "Death Lives!"

Three woman were killed and nine injured Tuesday night before the gunman turned the gun on himself.


Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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