Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Obama and GOP leaders again vow to ‘work together,’ but admit it won’t be easy

Emerging from their first sit-down since Election Day, President Obama and GOP leaders called their White House meeting "productive" and reiterated promises to "work together" on behalf of the American people.

But even as Obama heralded the get-together as a "good start," both sides acknowledged that the true test of bipartisanship lies ahead, as Democrats and Republicans remain strongly divided on issues like an extension of the so-called Bush tax cuts. Obama said that this would be the first of several meetings with him and leadership, including a Camp David retreat.

"None of this is going to be easy," Obama told reporters afterward. "Although the atmosphere in the meeting was extremely civil … there's always going to be political incentive to work against each other, particularly in the current hyper-partisan climate."

In a separate news conference on Capitol Hill after the meeting, incoming House Speaker John Boehner echoed Obama's comments. "We had a very nice meeting today. The question is: Can we find the common ground that the American people expect us to find?"

The meeting, planned to last an hour, ran for nearly two hours. GOP leaders said Obama privately acknowledged that in the most recent Congress he had not reached out to Republicans as much as he should have -- a point he has also made in public interviews. He pledged to work more closely with the opposing party, they said.

"I think spending more time [together] will help us find some common ground," Boehner said.

Both Boehner and Obama, pointing to vast political differences between Democrats and Republicans, said compromise won't be easy. But both sides agree that gridlock in Washington is not helpful to either party, they said.

"Americans did not vote for gridlock, and they will hold all of us — and I mean all of us — accountable for it," Obama said.

In perhaps the only real significant development of the meeting, Obama announced that he had assigned his budget director, Jack Lew, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to begin negotiating with Republicans on an extension of the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year. Yet Obama did not signal any change in his position on the issue: He wants to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, whereas Republicans want to make the tax cuts permanent even for the wealthiest Americans.

Even with all the nice talk, there were hints that relations between the GOP and the White House haven't completely lost their edge. Asked whether the GOP would dial down its rhetoric against Obama, the Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, dodged the question.
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Obama told reporters he believes the sit-down will "yield results."

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Inspired by tea party success, Latinos float ‘Tequila Party’ grass-roots movement

Latino leaders in Nevada and around the country are floating the idea of breaking traditional ties with the Democratic Party and creating a grass-roots independent movement tentatively called the Tequila Party. According to Delen Goldberg at the Las Vegas Sun, the leaders want to pressure the Democratic Party to deliver on Latinos' priorities much in the same way the tea party has done with the GOP over the past few years.

Robert de Posada, the former GOP operative behind this fall's controversial "Don't Vote" ads aimed at Latinos in Nevada and California, tells The Lookout that he has heard "rumblings" of this movement among national Latino leaders.

"The Tequila Party is a great concept to basically say, 'You know what? This blind support for you is coming to an end,'" De Posada says. "If you are perceived as someone who will never vote for a Republican, then you're screwed," because Democrats will take you for granted, he says.

[Video: President Clinton: We should all listen to the tea party movement]

In the midterm elections, 64 percent of Latinos voted Democratic, and in Nevada, analysts agree that Latinos' votes were responsible for Sen. Harry Reid's re-election.

Reid promised to bring the DREAM Act -- which would let youths who were brought into the country illegally gain legal status if they join the military or attend college -- to a vote in the current lame-duck session of Congress. But some Democrats, and the vast majority of Republicans, are shunning the legislation, which once garnered significant bipartisan support. Juan Hernandez, Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain's former volunteer director of Hispanic outreach, told reporters Monday that the White House and Democrats are not showing enough leadership on the issue.

Republicans are leading the charge against the legislation. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) claims some criminals will qualify for legalization (which immigration advocates dispute). A weeks-long hunger strike by dozens of University of Texas students has failed to convince Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) to renew her earlier support for the DREAM Act, her spokeswoman says.

The Tequila Party is still just talk for now, as no Latino leader has publicly backed the scheme. But De Posada says their silence makes sense, as they will want to be sure they have a fully formed plan before they risk angering allies in the Democratic Party. "They'd better be prepared when they come out swinging," he says. Frank Sharry of the pro-immigration reform group America's Voice, says he doubts the Tequila Party will ever actually get off the ground. "I do think Democrats should worry because the arguments for the Tequila party are persuasive to me...The frustration is understandable," he says.

It's curious that Latino leaders are looking to the tea party for organizational inspiration, since many tea party groups supported Arizona's tough immigration law and other enforcement measures. More than 85 percent of Hispanics back comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, according to a recent poll, and 80 percent disapprove of Arizona's immigration law.

As some Latinos ponder a symbolic break with the Democratic Party, the GOP is more aggressively trying to attract coveted Latino voters ahead of the presidential election. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is co-sponsoring a conservative Hispanic Forum, which he has publicized this week on his Hispanic issues news website The Americano. According to the forum's agenda, terrorism and national security are a major focus.

[Related: Did tea party have an effect on hit show's results?]

Meanwhile, the American Action Network and American Action Forum -- outside conservative political action committees led by former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) -- have formed the Hispanic Leadership Network, which is co-chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a proponent of comprehensive immigration reform. Coleman told The Lookout that the group will not take an official stand on immigration reform.

The trigger for the Tequila Party may be if Democrats again fail to deliver on comprehensive immigration reform

"It would definitely induce us," Fernando Romero, president of the nonpartisan Hispanics in Politics, told the Sun. "We would have to do something at that point to get ready for 2012."

(Photo of Chicago resident Magda Castaneda protesting the tea party: AP)

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Monday, November 29, 2010

The One Number That Spells Market Upside or Downside in 2011

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From 700 to 1,200. That's the stunning move made by the S&P 500 in just 20 months.

No one's expecting that index to tack on another +70% in the next 20 months, but more than a few market watchers are calling for moderate +10% to +15% gains next year. For that to happen, the economy must prove to be on a path to health, with 2011 GDP growth rates exceeding what we're getting in 2010. Indeed, third-quarter GDP has just been upwardly revised from +2.0% to +2.5%. But a just-released forecast from the National Association for Business Economics should give pause.
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The survey of economists anticipates GDP growth of +2.6% in 2011, down from +2.7% in 2010. And that just won't cut it. So many components of the economic picture are reliant on more robust growth to finally become healthy again. Let's look at what the difference would be between +2.0% to +2.5% growth and +3.5% to +4.0% growth in various parts of the economy. Based on the picture painted from these outcomes, you'll want to adjust your portfolio accordingly.

Employment and consumer spending. Economic growth below +3% is likely to keep the economy moving enough to avoid the need for any further layoffs. But it is also insufficient to get things moving, either. On the other hand, if GDP growth were closer to +3.5%, you could expect to see the beginning of a jobs boom as we saw in the mid-1990s as companies gain greater confidence in the 2012 and 2013 economic outlooks. And any material upturn in employment -- where the economy is creating more than 200,000 jobs a month -- would be a clear panacea for consumer spending.

Retailers and housing. If the NABE survey bears out and we see growth of around +2.6% in 2011, then brace yourself for another subpar year for retail and housing stocks. Housing in particular looks to be troubled for yet longer until and unless we get a really robust economic upturn, as there are simply too many empty houses creating a drag on the sector. Looking on the bright side, retailers are already geared for a tough environment and would become hugely profitable if the economy were on a higher plane.

Federal, state and local budget deficits. Politicians are loathe to raise tax rates, but all would welcome an increase in tax receipts that come from a more robust economy. Rising tax receipts helped us generate budget surpluses in the late 1990s after years of budget deficits. And the difference is hard to overstate: +2.5% GDP growth would leave many industries marginally profitable. Yet if you tack on another percentage point to GDP growth rates, then profit margins would quickly fatten, and so would the taxes that many firms pay. Without a material upturn in tax receipts, it's hard to see how Washington can finally chip away at the federal deficit, and it's also hard to see how state and local governments can avoid draconian measures to avoid default.

Trade and the dollar. Weak economic growth brings a small silver lining. Our level of imports would be restrained as demand and spending remains weak. And the weak economy could push the dollar yet lower, which would be a boon for our exporters. This is the long-term thesis of some economists. They believe that the United States has to endure an extended period of subpar economic growth relative to the rest of the world to get our trade deficit back into balance.

Watching the calendar. That's why the next two months are crucial for investors. You'll want to closely monitor the economic data as it is released for any signs that we're exiting 2010 on a robust note or a tepid note. By late winter, we'll have a clearer sense of how the 2011 economic picture will play out.

Here are key upcoming economic dates to watch ... .

The week after Thanksgiving will bring several important economic items, including the Case-Shiller Housing Price Index, the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index and the latest read on consumer confidence (all on Tuesday).

On the first Friday of December, we'll get the latest look at employment trends. Economists expect the unemployment rate to remain unchanged at 9.6%, and looking out during the next six months, forecasts.org anticipates the unemployment rate to fall to 9.1% by next June. If that happens, the markets are likely to react mildly positively, as it would set the stage for an anticipation of further employment gains into the future, possibly pushing unemployment below 8% sometime in 2012.

The following Friday, December 10th, is also an important day for economy watchers. That's when we'll get the latest looks at trends in international trade, import and export prices, consumer sentiment and the current state of the federal budget deficit.

Action to Take: It's a strange time. There are ample reasons for bullishness and bearishness, and with the economy right on the line between tepid growth and improving growth, investors need to stay sharply attuned to the economic tea leaves. The +70% gain from the March 2009 nadir is partially attributable to expectations that the economy will get better and better with each passing quarter. And right now, that's not sure thing. In this kind of market, it's wise to take profits when you can on any short-term moves while sitting tight on your long-term core holdings.

Stocks drop on European debt concerns; Dow off 110

Stocks fall as concerns about Irish bailout package overshadow strong retail sales 

 

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks fell sharply Monday afternoon as concerns about the European debt crisis overshadowed a strong weekend of holiday sales.

The euro fell to a two-month low and investors flocked to the safety of the dollar and Treasurys after the European Union agreed Sunday to provide nearly $90 billion in rescue loans for Ireland. The move is designed to shore up Ireland's cash-strapped banks, but it does little to relieve investors' concerns about other European countries, including Portugal and Spain.

"The good news is they're making progress with Ireland," said Alan Gayle, senior investment strategist for RidgeWorth Investments. "The concern is that there is more work left to do for the EU going forward."

As a result, traders largely ignored the upbeat news on holiday retail sales in the U.S. The National Retail Federation, a trade group, estimated that 212 million shoppers visited stores and websites during the first weekend of the holiday season, up from 195 million last year.

Online spending also rose more than 14 percent from Thanksgiving Day through Saturday, according to IBM's Coremetrics. Shares of online retailer Amazon.com rose $1.51, or 0.9 percent, to $178.73 in the afternoon of what's known as "Cyber Monday," a day when shoppers return to work and buy items online.

A fuller picture on spending will come Thursday when retailers report November sales. Investors have been hoping that consumers, who have generally been spending cautiously since the recession, would feel more comfortable about shopping during the holidays. Many economists believe that consumers will have to spend more freely for the economy to put together a stronger recovery. However it's too soon to tell if sales will remain strong through Christmas.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 110.35 points, or 1 percent, to 10,981.65 in late morning trading. It was the first time since last Tuesday that the Dow surrendered the 11,000 level in intraday trading. Twenty-five of the 30 stocks in the average fell.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 9.60, or 0.8 percent, to 1,179.59. All 10 industries in the S&P 500 fell. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index dropped 26.71, or 1.1 percent, to 2,507.82.

Bank stocks were some of the best performers. JPMorgan Chase & Co. rose 0.7 percent, while other banks, such as Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. and Regions Financial Corp. all rose more than 1 percent.

Dick Bove, a banking analyst at Rochdale Securities, said investors realized that some U.S. banks had little exposure to European debt issues. He added that U.S. companies could also benefit if European banks are subject to stringent new capital requirements, making it tougher for them to do business.

"When people sit down and think about the situation in Europe, it is clear that the American banks emerge in a much stronger position," he said.

Elsewhere, FedEx Corp. rose $3.06, or 3.5 percent, to $90.56 after a Credit Suisse analyst raised his investment rating on the shipper, predicting growth in global industrial production.

In corporate news, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fell 23 cents, or 0.4 percent, after the company said it is buying a 51 percent stake in South African retailer Massmart. The transaction, worth about $2 billion, will cost Wal-Mart $20.71 per share. It gives the retailer access to the growing South African economy.

European stocks traded sharply lower. In London, the FTSE 100 index was down 2.1 percent. Germany's DAX fell 2.2 percent. The CAC-40 index in France fell 2.5 percent.

Oil prices rose $1.83 to $85.61 a barrel. Gold for February delivery rose $2.70, or 0.2 percent, to $1,367 an ounce.

The dollar rose 0.7 percent against an index of six other currencies.

Bond prices rose as investors shifted money out of riskier assets like stocks and commodities and into defensive investments. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 2.83 percent Monday from 2.87 percent Friday.

Investors were also cautious as they awaited the week's economic reports, including the government's monthly employment report due out on Friday. Also due this week are the Conference Board's survey of consumer confidence on Tuesday, and the Institute for Supply Management's assessments of the manufacturing and services industries.

Markets doubtful as Germany, France say euro saved

By Erik Kirschbaum and Daniel Flynn

BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) - Germany and France said on Monday that Europe had acted decisively to save the euro by rescuing Ireland and agreeing the basis of a permanent debt resolution system, but financial markets were unconvinced.

The euro's respite rally was brief in the early hours of Monday's trading and European shares closed at a seven-week low, with banks among the losers as investor optimism over Ireland's debt bailout faded.

Yields on Irish government bonds were higher than Friday's close and off their lows seen in early trade after the agreement was sealed on Sunday. The spreads between Spanish and Italian bonds versus their German equivalent widened to euro-lifetime highs as optimism for the Irish deal waned.

Credit default swap costs on Portugal and Spain both hit record highs on Monday on fears they may be next in line to struggle with their debt.

"The benefits to Portugal and Ireland can be seen, but they're marginal. On the other hand, there is concern about the rest, with the spreads for Belgium, Italy and Spain all widening," Monument Securities strategist Marc Ostwald said.

"It just goes to reinforce the point that the market says 'when is the next problem going to occur?' And that is not going away," he added.

Under pressure to arrest the threat to the euro and prevent contagion engulfing Portugal and Spain, EU finance ministers on Sunday agreed an 85 billion-euro ($115 billion) package to help Dublin cover bad bank debts and bridge a huge budget deficit.

They also approved the outlines of a long-term European Stability Mechanism (ESM), based on a Franco-German proposal, that will create a permanent bailout facility and make the private sector gradually share the burden of any future default.

"ABSOLUTE DETERMINATION"

"This is a measure which is not simply a single shot taken in response to an important crisis, it forms part of the absolute determination of Europe -- of France and Germany -- to save the euro zone," French government spokesman Francois Baroin told Europe 1 radio.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said calm and reality should return to financial markets and French Economy Christine Lagarde said "irrational," "sheep-like" markets were not pricing sovereign debt risk in Europe correctly.

Markets were unmoved by their urgings.

"I think it is almost impossible now to stop the contagion," said Mark Grant, managing director of corporate syndicate and structured debt products at Southwest Securities in Florida.

"PREVENTATIVE BAILOUT"

Portugal is widely seen as the next euro zone "domino" at risk and business confidence data for November added to the gloom. It fell for the second straight month on poor prospects for the economy due to austerity measures designed to calm investor concerns about its creditworthiness.

Portugal's Labour Minister Helena Andre said the government was preparing to start talks with firms and unions on reforming the labor market to increase competitiveness.

Nouriel Roubini, the U.S. economist who warned of an impending credit crisis before 2007, told the Diario Economico business daily that Portugal would likely need a bailout.

"Like it or not, Portugal is reaching the critical point. Perhaps it could be a good idea to ask for a bailout in a preventative fashion," he said.

Troubles in Portugal could spread quickly to Spain because of their close economic ties, and the Spanish government is seen as having to pay more to lure investors to Thursday's three-year bond offering.

Roubini said that while Spain had better budget and debt positions than other euro periphery states, high unemployment and the collapse of a property bubble meant that, like Ireland, its banking sector could need emergency aid.

"The question is whether it could happen in Spain. The official funds are not sufficient for also bailing out Spain," he said, and the fiscal cost of cleaning up its financial system would be bigger than government estimates.

NEW SAFETY NET

Under its bailout, Ireland was given an extra year, until 2015, to get its budget deficit down below the EU limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product, an acknowledgment that austerity measures will hit growth in the next four years.

Greece has been given a six-year extension to 2021 on loan repayments linked to its rescue, said Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, at the price of a higher rate of interest.

The new European Stability Mechanism could make private bondholders share the cost of restructuring a euro zone country's debt issued after mid-2013 on a case-by-case basis.

Germany's Schaeuble, in comments aimed at calming markets, said it will take about five years from 2013 before a majority of outstanding euro zone bonds carry clauses to include private sector liability in future bailouts.

The lack of detail in an earlier Franco-German deal on a crisis mechanism, agreed last month, and talk of private investors having to take losses, or "haircuts," on the value of sovereign bonds, helped drive Ireland over the cliff.

Debt fears have driven the crisis for the past year, denting confidence in the 12-year-old euro currency and producing a showdown between European politicians and financial markets.

The proposed permanent crisis resolution mechanism, to be finalized in the coming weeks, is intended to prevent Europe having to rush like a fireman from one blaze to another.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North, South Korea exchange fire; 2 marines killed

INCHEON, South Korea – North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire Tuesday after the North shelled an island near their disputed sea border, killing at least two South Korean marines, setting dozens of buildings ablaze and sending civilians fleeing for shelter.
Smoke rises from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island ...

The clash, which put South Korea's military on high alert, was one of the rivals' most dramatic confrontations since the Korean War ended, and one of the few to put civilians at risk, though no nonmilitary deaths were immediately reported. Sixteen South Korean soldiers and three civilians were injured and the extent of casualties on the northern side was unknown.

The skirmish began when Pyongyang warned the South to halt military drills in the area, according to South Korean officials. When Seoul refused and began firing artillery into disputed waters, albeit away from the North Korean shore, the North retaliated by bombarding the small island of Yeonpyeong, which houses South Korean military installations and a small civilian population.

"I thought I would die," said Lee Chun-ok, 54, an islander who said she was watching TV in her home when the shelling began. Suddenly, a wall and door collapsed.

"I was really, really terrified," she told The Associated Press after being evacuated to the port city of Incheon, west of Seoul, "and I'm still terrified."

South Korea responded by firing K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzers and dispatching fighter jets. Officials in Seoul said there could be considerable North Korean casualties. The entire skirmish lasted about an hour.

Each side has threatened the other against another attack.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who convened an emergency security meeting shortly after the initial bombardment, said that an "indiscriminate attack on civilians can never be tolerated."

"Enormous retaliation should be made to the extent that (North Korea) cannot make provocations again," he said.

South Korea holds military exercises like Tuesday's off the west coast about every three months.

The supreme military command in Pyongyang threatened more strikes if the South crossed their maritime border by "even 0.001 millimeter," according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

A statement from the North said it was merely "reacting to the military provocation of the puppet group with a prompt powerful physical strike," and accused Seoul of starting the skirmish with its "reckless military provocation as firing dozens of shells inside the territorial waters of the" North.

Government officials in Seoul called the bombardments "inhumane atrocities" that violated the 1953 armistice halting the Korean War. The two sides technically remain at war because a peace treaty was never signed, and nearly 2 million troops — including tens of thousands from the U.S. — are positioned on both sides of the world's most heavily militarized border.

The clash, along with continuing worry about the fallout from Ireland's debt crisis, was a factor in pushing Asian and European stock markets sharply lower. Wall Street opened lower.

The exchange represents a sharp escalation of the skirmishes that flare up along the disputed border from time to time. It also comes amid high tensions over the North's apparent progress in its quest for nuclear weapons — Pyongyang claims it has a new uranium enrichment facility — and six weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il anointed his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, as the heir apparent.

"It brings us one step closer to the brink of war," said Peter Beck, a research fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, "because I don't think the North would seek war by intention, but war by accident, something spiraling out of control has always been my fear."

Columns of thick black smoke rose from homes on the island, video from YTN cable TV showed. Screams and shouts filled the air as shells rained down on the island just south of the disputed sea border.

Yeonpyeong lies a mere seven miles (11 kilometers) from — and within sight of — the North Korean mainland.

The United States, which has more than 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea, condemned the attack. In Washington, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called on North Korea to "halt its belligerent action," and said the U.S. is committed to South Korea's defense.

China, the North's economic and political benefactor, which also maintains close commercial ties to the South, appealed to both sides to remain calm and "to do more to contribute to peace and stability on the peninsula," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Stephen Bosworth, the Obama administration's special envoy to North Korea, said he discussed the clash with the Chinese foreign minister and that they agreed both sides should show restraint. He reiterated that the U.S. stands firmly with its ally, South Korea.

Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea and the U.S.-led U.N. Command, said in a Facebook posting that the U.S. military is "closely monitoring the situation and exchanging information with our (South Korean) allies as we always do."

Yeonpyeong, famous for its crabbing industry and home to about 1,700 civilians as well as South Korean military installations. There are about 30 other small islands nearby.

North Korea fired dozens of rounds of artillery in three separate barrages that began in midafternoon, while South Korea returned fire with about 80 rounds, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Naval operations had been reinforced in the area, the JCS said early Wednesday, declining to elaborate.

Two South Korean marines were killed and 16 injured, it said. Island residents fled to some 20 shelters on the island and sporadic shelling ended after about an hour, according to the military.

The Koreas' 1950s war ended in a truce, but North Korea does not recognize the western maritime border drawn unilaterally by the United Nations at the close of the conflict, and the Koreas have fought three bloody skirmishes there in recent years.

South Korea holds military exercises like Tuesday's off the west coast about every three months.

In March, a South Korean warship went down in the waters while on a routine patrolling mission. Forty-six sailors were killed in what South Korea calls the worst military attack on the country since the war.

Seoul blamed a North Korean torpedo, but Pyongyang denied responsibility.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Police eye death of boy who fell at Staples Center

LOS ANGELES – The family of a 2-year-old boy was posing for pictures in a luxury suite high inside Staples Center when he managed to scale a clear safety barrier and fell about 30 feet to his death, police said on Monday.


Lucas Anthony Tang suffered head injuries Sunday when he landed on rows of seats minutes after the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors 117-89, police said. The boy later died at a hospital.

"Somehow the child went over the edge of the section," Officer Julie Sohn said.

Police were releasing few details about the incident as they tried to determine what happened.

Sohn said the boy's family was taking photographs at the time of the fall.

The Los Angeles Times, citing unidentified police sources, said the toddler's family was looking at digital photographs and lost track of him. He somehow got over the top of the glass barrier, the newspaper reported.

Sohn, however, said she could not confirm those details.

The luxury boxes have tiers of seats, fronted by concrete walls. Atop the walls are glass barriers. The barrier varies in height but at its lowest point is about the height of an adult's waist, said Michael Roth, a spokesman for Staples and owner, AEG.

Roth said the toddler fell into a general seating area about 30 rows up from the court.

Initial estimates put the child's fall at about 50 feet, but Roth later said the third tier of boxes is three stories up, or about 30 feet.

Witnesses said the boy was moving his arms, legs and head when paramedics put him in an ambulance, Roth said.

The 950,000-square-foot stadium opened in 1999 and has 160 luxury suites on three levels.

"In 11 years, we've never had an incident like this," he said.

The building is in compliance with city codes, Department of Building and Safety spokesman David Lara said.

Building regulations require guardrails that are at least 26 inches high in front of seats, he said. Guardrails in front of stairs must be 42 inches high.

The police department's juvenile division, which has investigative responsibility when a victim is under age 11, was handling the probe. "It's procedural" and did not necessarily indicate that a crime was involved, Sohn said.

The arena was conducting its own investigation, Roth said.

Roth declined to release details about the boy's family but said the luxury box — as with most suites — probably was owned by a corporation.

"Our condolences and prayers go to the Tang family," Roth said a short prepared statement.

The Lakers organization issued a statement expressing shock and sadness at the tragedy.

"To go from a moment of happiness and enjoyment, to the loss of this boy's life, is tragic and heartbreaking. We would like to ask Lakers fans to join us in keeping Lucas and his family in our thoughts and prayers," the statement said.

Roth said Monday night's game between the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Hornets would go on as scheduled.

The arena is home to the NBA's Lakers and Clippers, the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.

Adjacent to the popular LA Live entertainment complex, Staples is also one of the city's major venues for concerts and special events such as the Grammy Awards.

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LA County coroner aims to revive gift shop sales

LOS ANGELES – The morgue is about the last place you would think of to go shopping, so it's perhaps unsurprising that sales at Los Angeles County's coroner gift store are next to dead.

Tucked as unobtrusively as possible in a closed-door room off the coroner's lobby, the store is jam-packed with mortality-mocking merchandise: Water bottles marked "bodily fluids," boxer shorts dubbed "undertakers," toe tags, crime-scene tape and beach towels bearing the county coroner's trademarked symbol of a body outline.

Trouble is, few people know about the tongue-in-cheek store and its related website, "Skeletons in a Closet." The shop's biggest customers? No shock here — homicide detectives.

"Most people know it through word-of-mouth," said Craig Harvey, the department's chief of operations. "But we are mentioned in guidebooks and we get tourists."

County auditors, however, say given the unique nature of the trinkets — the department is believed to be the nation's only coroner with a trademarked merchandise line — the 17-year-old business could be a robust moneymaker if infused with marketing lifeblood.

They recommend the coroner hire an outside firm with an eye to marketing the merchandise in high-traffic tourist areas, such as Hollywood Boulevard and Los Angeles International Airport.

Harvey is first to admit the merchandise has potential. It just hasn't been a priority for a department that prides itself as one of the top forensic science units in the country, as well as the busiest.

"There is a mystique about the LA County coroner, something people identify with. People want to know what we do and how we do it," Harvey said. "We can do government services very well, but business is another thing."

A management audit released earlier this year found the store's losses totaled $270,000 from 2003 to 2008, and was in effect being subsidized through surplus funds from a drunken driving educational program.

Noting that retailing is not part of a coroner's mission, Harvey said the department is open to expanding the operation but is awaiting a forthcoming fiscal review from the county controller-auditor to develop a plan.

At one point, the department contracted a company to market the items in Japan, but the project was dead soon after arrival — with little consumer interest, Harvey said. The department hasn't sought new ventures since.

Still, the marketing opportunity is clearly there, given the department's unrivaled profile in a largely unheralded field.

Over the decades, some of the world's most captivating morbid mysteries have played out under the prying scalpels of Los Angeles pathologists.

There are the deaths of the famous such as Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean; killings that led to charges against the famous such as O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Phil Spector; and the victims whose killers became famous such as the Menendez brothers, Charles Manson, and the victim herself, the Black Dahlia.

Numerous TV shows have added to the cachet, including the long-running 1976-83 drama "Quincy M.E.," in which Jack Klugman played a curmudgeonly crime-solving coroner, and the more recent documentary-style "North Mission Road," named for the department's street location.

"There's a definite interest in this," said Scott Michaels, who owns Dearly Departed Tours, which offers tours of LA's celebrated death landmarks. "Every other store along Hollywood Boulevard has LAPD and LAFD T-shirts. The LA coroner would be a natural."

The store has always been somewhat of a barebones operation. It evolved from a few coffee mugs and T-shirts the department had printed up to use as giveaways at conferences. Then people started requesting them and the department opened a small shop in a supply closet in 1993.

A following developed for the items that poke fun at death — there's nothing gory or bloody — and it landed in tourist guidebooks as a stop for unique souvenirs.

Tour buses stop there and tourists do seek it out. However, the shop's success has been limited by its location on the eastside of downtown Los Angeles amid a grimy strip of auto-glass businesses. The shop lacks a sign outside the coroner's office, a red-brick, century-old former hospital.

It makes for a lot of lonely hours for store manager Edna Pereyda, who had no customers during a recent visit.

The department has deliberately downplayed the store, mindful that most people who seek out the coroner's department are bereaved relatives. "They're really not in the mood for this stuff," Harvey said.

After a 2002 audit noted the store lost $100,000 in 2000-01, the department tightened up operations considerably with better inventory and cash controls, and limits on officials' using merchandise as gifts. The audit noted that officials gave away $2,600 worth of stuff over a four-month period.

In 2008, losses narrowed to about $55,000 on the $175,000 per year operation.

Marketing experts said the merchandise would likely be popular, although it could perhaps reinforce foreigners' perception of American cities as breeding-grounds for violence.

"It is part of the makeup of people's view of large cities in America," said Bill Baker, author of "Destination Branding for Small Cities." "But if this is more of a humorous thing, it could be a 'I survived it' sort of mentality. It'll possibly sell well."


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Searchers seek gunman in Utah ranger shooting

MOAB, Utah – Searchers combed the rugged red rock terrain near Moab for a third day Monday in their hunt for a possibly armed and dangerous man they believe was involved in the shooting of a Utah park ranger.

The target of their manhunt was Lance Leeroy Arellano, 40, who officials believe may be wounded and in need of medical help after the shootout late Friday. Authorities have recovered a rifle, backpack and a tattered, bloody T-shirt while searching for Arellano over the weekend in a canyon along the Colorado River.

The ranger, Brody Young, 34, suffered injuries to an arm, leg and his stomach area, and underwent surgery over the weekend, Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland said. A spokeswoman for St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., said Monday that Young is listed in serious condition.

The shootout occurred after Young stopped a vehicle near the Poison Spider Mesa Trail southwest of Moab near the Colorado River. The scenic trail, among Utah's best-known biking runs, rises more than 1,000 feet into the surrounding countryside.

Authorities have not yet been able to interview Young, and it remained unclear what sparked the violence.

More than 160 law enforcement officers spent the weekend searching a 15-square mile area near eastern Utah's Dead Horse State Park. Nyland has said the area's rugged terrain likely has given Arellano the "upper hand" in avoiding capture.

"He pretty much knows where we are at all times because of the number of people we have," Nyland said at a press conference.

Authorities have confiscated and searched Arellano's 1999 silver Pontiac Grand Am, which was found parked in the brush several miles south of the shooting site.

Nyland said he thinks Arellano is still in the contained search area and "there's not any possible way for him to leave the area without us knowing."

"We consider this individual armed and dangerous. As we're tracking him we have to keep that in mind — the security of the trackers — and we're having to move pretty slow," Nyland said. Arellano has a criminal history that includes assault and drug charges.

The shooting comes in the wake of the killing earlier this month of a 31-year-old game warden in Pennsylvania who was shot while trying to apprehending an armed poacher.


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Feds OK 2nd human study of embryonic stem cells

NEW YORK – For only the second time, the U.S. government has approved a test in people of a treatment using embryonic stem cells — this time for a rare disease that causes serious vision loss.

Advanced Cell Technology, a biotechnology company based in Santa Monica., Calif., said the research should begin early next year, following the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Just last month another biotech company, Geron Corp., said it had begun preliminary testing in people for treating spinal cord injuries by injecting cells derived from embryonic stem cells.

Scientists hope to use stem cells to create a variety of tissues for transplant. But human embryos have to be destroyed to harvest those cells, which has made their use controversial.

ACT's experiment will focus on Stargardt disease, which affects only about 30,000 Americans. But the company hopes the same approach will work for similar and more common eye disorders like age-related macular degeneration, which affects millions.

Stargardt is an inherited disorder that attacks central vision used for tasks like reading and recognizing faces. Some patients go totally blind, even losing peripheral vision, while others are severely impaired and can only perceive light or see their hands moving in front of their faces.

The disease typically starts in adolescence. The key problem is that impaired scavenger cells fail to remove toxic byproducts from the eye, allowing them to build up and kill other cells. There is no proven treatment.

In the new study, 12 patients will be treated with healthy scavenger cells, created in a laboratory from human embryonic stem cells. This early phase of the research is primarily to test the safety of various doses, injecting only one eye of each patient.

"We're also hoping to see some improvement in visual acuity, but that's a bonus," said Dr. Robert Lanza, ACT's chief scientific officer.

The research will be performed at medical centers in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon, ACT said.

Stephen Rose, chief research officer of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, said his group is "very, very glad" that ACT has permission to begin the study.

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TSA head sorry for pat-down causing urine spill

ROMULUS, Mich. – A bladder cancer survivor from Michigan says the head of the Transportation Security Administration called to apologize for an airport pat-down that caused a bag of the traveler's urine to soak his clothes.
Sixty-one-year-old retired special education teacher Tom Sawyer says the rough pat-down happened before he caught a flight to Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 7.
The Houghton Lake man tells MSNBC.com that the experience left him "absolutely humiliated."
Sawyer tells the Detroit Free Press that TSA chief John Pistole called him Monday and "apologized on behalf of the TSA."
Sawyer says he accepted Pistole's apology. The newspaper says it couldn't immediately reach the agency for comment.
Earlier, Pistole said on CBS' "The Early Show" that he's concerned about people such as Sawyer who've had uncomfortable experiences with agents.

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Security protest could disrupt Thanksgiving travel

CHICAGO – As if air travel over the Thanksgiving holiday isn't tough enough, it could be even worse this year: Airports could see even more disruptions because of a loosely organized Internet boycott of full-body scans.

Even if only a small percentage of passengers participate, experts say it could mean longer lines, bigger delays and hotter tempers.

The protest, National Opt-Out Day, is scheduled for Wednesday to coincide with the busiest travel day of the year.

"Just one or two recalcitrant passengers at an airport is all it takes to cause huge delays," said Paul Ruden, a spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents, which has warned its more than 8,000 members about delays resulting from the body-scanner boycott.

"It doesn't take much to mess things up anyway — especially if someone purposely tries to mess it up."

Body scans take as little as 10 seconds, but people who decline the process must submit to a full pat-down, which takes much longer. That could cause a cascade of delays at dozens of major airports, including those in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.

"I don't think it would take that much on the busiest day of the year to slow things down," said Gerry Berry, a Florida-based airport security expert. "If I was an airport guy, a screener, a traveler — I'd be concerned."

Not all airports have the machines, which resemble large refrigerators. And not all travelers are selected for scans. But Berry estimated that up to 20 percent of holiday fliers will be asked to use the full-body machines — meaning tens of thousands could be in a position to protest.

The full-body scanners show a traveler's physical contours on a computer in a private room removed from security checkpoints. But critics say they amount to virtual strip searches.

The protest was conceived in early November by Brian Sodergren of Ashburn, Va., who built a one-page website urging people to decline the scans.

Public interest in the protest boomed this week after an Oceanside, Calif., man named John Tyner famously resisted a scan and groin check at the San Diego airport with the words, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested." A cell-phone video of the incident went viral.

Other groups have since taken up Sodergren's cause.

"I had no idea what was being started and just how upset people were," said Sodergren, a health industry employee. "I'm just a guy who put a website up."

The Transportation Security Administration has a new pat-down procedure that includes a security worker running a hand up the inside of passengers' legs and along the cheek of the buttocks, as well as making direct contact with the groin area.

Pat-downs often take up to four minutes, according to the TSA's website, though that could be longer if someone requests it be done in a room out of public view or if an ill-at-ease traveler asks for a full explanation of the procedure beforehand.

Factoring in those time estimates, it would take a total of around 15 minutes to put 100 people through a body scan — but at least 6 hours to pat down the same number of travelers.

The TSA's Chicago spokesman, Jim Fotenos, would not disclose how many travelers are normally selected for scans. He said only "a relatively small percentage" normally need pat-downs.

Fotenos declined to say if the agency was taking precautionary steps ahead of the protest, saying only that passengers can make their experience better "by coming prepared and arriving early."

On Friday, TSA head John Pistole told CBS's "The Early Show" that the close-quarter body inspections are unavoidable in a time of terrorist threats.

Pistole acknowledged the public distaste for more intense security, particularly hand pat-downs, and called it a "challenge" for federal authorities and airport screeners.

Also Friday, the TSA agreed to allow airline pilots to skip security scanning and pat-downs. According to pilot groups, pilots in uniform on airline business would be allowed to pass security by presenting two photo IDs, one from their company and one from the government, to be checked against a secure flight crew database.

David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents the airline industry, declined to speculate whether the protest would trigger delays.

"It is impossible to assess how many people will take part, but we would be disappointed if many travelers did participate on one of the busiest days of the year," Castelveter said.

He said airlines always urge customers to show up early during peak holiday travel times and were not suggesting any changes specifically because of the protest.

Delta Air Lines planned to have extra staff in place as it normally does during a holiday travel period. Spokeswoman Susan Elliott said the company was not taking any extra precautions in case of widespread protests.

Southwest Airlines Paul Flaningan said only that his company was "aware of what is being talked about, and we are in constant communication with the TSA."

He said Southwest was not bringing in extra workers specifically because of the threatened protest.

Karen Pride, a spokeswoman for Chicago's Department of Aviation, which oversees O'Hare and Midway airports, would say only that the airports planned to bring in extra workers for the holiday, but she declined to address the potential effect of the protest.

Sodergren sounds much less strident than many critics of screening procedures. And he says he's not trying to cause disarray at airports.

"I have no idea what's going to happen," he said "I don't think it will be chaos. And I have no desire to slow the system down."

But some protesters are aiming to do just that.

Another participating organization called "We Won't Fly" features a blurb at the top of its website that says, "Jam TSA checkpoints by opting out until they remove the porno-scanners."

Organizer James Babb of Eagleville, Pa., agreed many travelers would see the pat-down as equally intrusive or more so. But he's still recommending the pat-down because, he says, it would create more disruption and send a stronger message.

"They won't have the manpower to reach into everyone's crotch," he said.

Passengers cannot opt out of both the scan and the pat-down once they have been selected for the enhanced searches, according to TSA rules. If they then try to evade the measures, they could face an $11,000 fine.

Even if someone in a security line becomes frustrated and decides not to fly, TSA rules require they submit to a scan or pat-down. If people were allowed to walk out, the agency says, would-be terrorists would have an easy escape.

At least some entrepreneurs are offering passengers other forms of protest.

One Las Vegas company is selling designer rubber patches to cover body parts that travelers do not want screeners to see. One patch for the crotch area includes text written in fonts associated with Las Vegas billboards that reads, "What Happens Under Here — Stays Here."

And for anyone who wants to express displeasure with pat-downs, Tyner's confrontation has spawned online sales of T-shirts, bumper stickers and even underwear emblazoned with the words, "Don't Touch My Junk!"

Ironically, one person who will not take part directly in Wednesday's protest is its instigator, Brian Sodergren. He said his wife is too uncomfortable with the prospect of either a body scan or a pat-down, so they are driving the several hundred miles to a relative's home.








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DeLay jurors weigh mostly circumstantial evidence

AUSTIN, Texas – Prosecutors in ex-U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay's money laundering trial made a final pitch to jurors Monday to connect the dots among the mounds of circumstantial evidence and find him guilty.
DeLay's attorneys said prosecutors needed jurors to infer DeLay's guilt because they'd presented no proof the ex-lawmaker committed a crime.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours after closing arguments without reaching a verdict. They will resume their deliberations Tuesday.
They sent several questions Monday to Senior Judge Pat Priest, including a request for clarification on the definition of money laundering. Priest told jurors he would answer their questions about money laundering on Tuesday.
Prosecutors had focused on summarizing the volumes of e-mails and other documents they presented during DeLay's three-week trial in an effort to prove DeLay used his political action committee to illegally channel $190,000 in corporate money into 2002 Texas legislative races through a money swap.
DeLay, a once powerful but polarizing Houston-area congressman, has denied wrongdoing. The Republican is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors Gary Cobb and Beverly Mathews said the circumstantial evidence in the case, when put together, showed DeLay took part in a scheme with two associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, to get corporate money to seven Texas House candidates. Under Texas law, corporate donations can't go directly to political campaigns.
"What was Tom DeLay's motive to do this? His motive was redistricting, pure and simple," Mathews said.
Prosecutors claim the corporate money helped Republicans elect candidates and take control of the Texas House. That enabled the GOP majority to push through a Delay-engineered congressional redistricting plan that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004 — and strengthened DeLay's political power.
Prosecutors say the corporate money was laundered through an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee, or RNC. The money was exchanged for the same amount in individual donations, which can be used in Texas campaigns.
"You can logically infer anything from the evidence. That is what circumstantial evidence is. You don't have to have an eyewitness to figure out what went on here," Mathews said.
But Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's lead attorney, restated what he had often said throughout the trial: that prosecutors had failed to prove the ex-lawmaker committed a crime and the money swap was legal.
Throughout his closing arguments, DeGuerin repeated one phrase in particular: no corporate money went to candidates in Texas. He even included the sentence — in bold, black letters — in a slide show he presented to jurors.
DeGuerin argued DeLay was being punished for his political views and that prosecutors tried to "make politics dirty." Trial testimony from prosecution witnesses often focused on how money is raised in political campaigns, particularly from corporations.
"I don't agree with tearing down someone because of what their beliefs are," DeGuerin said.
The case had been originally brought by a Democratic district attorney who is now retired.
The strongest evidence prosecutors presented was an audio interview in which DeLay said he knew beforehand about the money swap. DeLay says he misspoke in the interview with prosecutors in 2005, just before his indictment.
DeLay has said Ellis told him about the money swap on Oct. 2, 2002, after it had been approved. At trial, prosecutors focused on a Sept. 11, 2002, meeting Ellis had at DeLay's Washington office. Prosecutors told jurors that an hour before Ellis was in DeLay's office that day, he received a blank check from the PAC's accountant in Austin. That check was later sent to the RNC and filled out for $190,000. Two former DeLay staff members testified DeLay would have been too busy to be at the Sept. 11 meeting.
During closing arguments, both prosecutors and defense attorneys played excerpts from the audio interview. Prosecutors said it proved in DeLay's own words that he knew about the money swap before it happened. DeGuerin argued it proved DeLay didn't propose the transaction and had little if any involvement in how the PAC was run.
Prosecutors presented more than 30 witnesses during the trial that started Nov. 1. In contrast, only five witnesses took the stand in DeLay's defense.
At trial, prosecutors also presented records showing the seven Texas candidates got more donations from the RNC than all other state legislative candidates around the U.S.
The criminal charges in Texas, as well as a separate federal investigation of DeLay's ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ended his 22-year political career representing suburban Houston. The Justice Department probe into DeLay's ties to Abramoff ended without any charges filed against DeLay.
Ellis and Colyandro, who face lesser charges, will be tried later.
DeLay, whose nickname was "the Hammer" for his heavy-handed style, runs a consulting firm based in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land. In 2009, he appeared on ABC's hit television show "Dancing With the Stars."

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Feds are investigating drinking glasses with lead

LOS ANGELES – Federal regulators launched an investigation Monday into lead levels in themed drinking glasses depicting comic book and movie characters, declaring them children's products subject to stricter standards than those intended for adult collectors.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said it was collecting samples of all glasses cited in an ongoing Associated Press investigation into dangerous metals in children's merchandise, generally those containing the more-dangerous toxin cadmium.

The company that imported the Chinese-made glasses depicting the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman and characters from "The Wizard of Oz" such as Dorothy and the Tin Man announced it would voluntarily recall them, despite its insistence that they were marketed to adults.

In all, about 160,000 glasses were recalled by two companies since the AP disclosed Sunday that laboratory tests it commissioned showed that colored designs in a range of glasses contain high levels of lead or were made in such a way that lead or cadmium could escape and contaminate the hands of someone handling them.

The agency said its own inquiry would extend beyond the superhero and Oz glasses to include others cited by AP "that have decorations that children would be attracted to," said spokesman Scott Wolfson.

Federal regulators have worried that toxic metals rubbing onto children's hands can get into their mouths.

The concern is longtime, not immediate. While the superhero and Oz glasses had high levels of lead in their design colors, they did not release enough to hurt anyone. The issue is whether the glasses, made in China and purchased at the Warner Bros. Studios store in Burbank, Calif., comply with federal limits on lead in children's products.

The AP testing revealed that the Oz and superhero glasses contained lead up to 1,000 times the federal limit; the enamel used to color the Tin Man glass was more than 30 percent lead, compared with a federal limit of 0.03 percent. The items also contained lesser but still notable amounts of cadmium.

Soon after Wolfson said Monday that the CPSC considers the glasses children's products, Warner Bros. said it would stop selling them, and the importer, Utah-based Vandor LLC, said it would pull them from the broader market.

If regulators had concluded the glasses were not children's products, they wouldn't be subject to strict lead limits.

Both Vandor and Warner Bros. said in separate statements that their decisions were made in "an abundance of caution." Vandor said the "themed glassware falls within legal limits for lead and cadmium content," and insisted that adult collectors were their intended audience.

Last week, while commenting on AP's test results, Warner Bros. said, "It is generally understood that the primary consumer for these products is an adult, usually a collector."

However, on Warner Brothers' website, the superhero glasses were sold alongside a lunch box and children's T-shirts with superhero images. An online retailer, http://www.retroplanet.com, described the 10-ounce glasses as "a perfect way to serve cold drinks to your children or guests."

Vandor CEO Tom Russo said his company would "work with the CPSC to develop a recall plan." Details of the recall will be posted on http://www.vandorproducts.com when available, the company said.

The company said that about 18,000 total four-glass sets have been sold — split almost evenly between the Oz set and the superhero set.

In addition to the Vandor recall, the Coca-Cola Co. voluntarily recalled 88,000 glasses that shed cadmium during separate AP testing that recreated what could escape from decorations during regular handling. The glasses came in sets of four and were designed to look like cans of Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Sprite.

Coke said late Sunday that the all-red Coke glass prompted the recall "for quality reasons." The company said it saw no problem with the other three designs.

The company said the red glasses had been tested and passed; then, after AP brought its results to Coke, the company did a second round of tests that it said "indicated some cadmium in the decoration on the outside of the glass, (but) the low levels detected do not pose a safety hazard or health threat."

The manufacturer of the Coke glasses, French-owned Arc International, emphasized in a statement attributed to CEO Fred Dohn that the glasses "are safe for their intended use and meet all applicable regulatory standards for cadmium."

The latest AP testing was prompted by a recall this summer by McDonald's of 12 million glasses because cadmium escaped from designs depicting four characters in the latest "Shrek" movie.

Arc International officials said in June that the "Shrek" glasses, made at its New Jersey plant, were manufactured according to standard industry practices, which includes the routine use of cadmium to create red and similar colors.

To gauge how widespread the use of lead and cadmium has been — and whether their use poses potential health hazards — AP bought 13 new glasses, plus 22 old glasses dating from the late 1960s to 2007.

Those glasses were subjected to a battery of tests at ToyTestingLab of Rhode Island, which is accepted by the CPSC as an accredited laboratory for a range of procedures. The tests looked at whether glasses would shed lead or cadmium from their decorations during normal handling, as well as how much of the toxic metals those decorations contain.

AP's testing showed that while the Chinese manufacturer of the superhero and Oz glasses loaded the decorations with lead, very little came out of the decorations during testing. Overall, 25 of the 35 glasses tested safe — their decorations shed very low or no detectable amounts of lead or cadmium.

The other 10 glasses shed small but notable levels of lead, cadmium or, in two cases, both. The concern with these metals in glassware is routine exposure over weeks or months, even if any one dose that goes from a kid's hands to their mouth on food or by licking is small.

Lead has long been known to damage young brains; recent research suggests cadmium can do the same. Cadmium also can harm kidneys and bones, especially if it accumulates over time.

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Man in past jogger attacks guilty of Levy slaying

WASHINGTON – A man imprisoned for attacking two female joggers was found guilty Monday of murdering Washington intern Chandra Levy, wrapping up a murder mystery that took down a congressman and captured the nation's attention a decade ago.

Ingmar Guandique was convicted of first-degree murder for attacking Levy while she exercised in Washington's Rock Creek Park in May 2001. Her disappearance made headlines when she was romantically linked to then-Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif. Condit was once a suspect, but police no longer believe he was involved in her disappearance.

Speaking outside the courthouse, Levy's mother said she'll never be free from the pain of losing her daughter.

"I have a lifetime sentence of a lost limb missing from our family tree," Susan Levy said after the hearing. "It's a lifetime of a broken heart."

Investigators eventually focused on Guandique, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, and brought formal charges last year. Prosecutors acknowledged they had little direct evidence but said Levy's death fit a pattern of other crimes committed by Guandique in the park.

The defense argued that the 29-year-old Guandique (gwahn-DEE'-kay) became a scapegoat for a botched investigation. Levy's body was found about a year after she disappeared.

In a telephone interview, Condit's lawyer Bert Fields said the verdict represents a vindication that comes too late to repair the damage his client's career. Still, trial testimony that Condit's DNA was on underwear at Levy's apartment bolstered the idea that the married politician had an affair with the intern.

"At least Gary Condit can find some measure of closure to this nightmare," Fields said. "It's a complete vindication, but that comes a little late. Who gives him his career back?" Fields said his client, whose primary loss in 2002 was largely blamed on negative publicity from the case, wasn't going to speak to reporters.

The jury deliberated over parts of four days before returning with a verdict shortly before noon Monday. Guandique was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, one alleging death as part of a kidnapping and one alleging the death as part of an attempted robbery. Jurors had the option of convicting him on a lesser charge of second-degree murder.

Guandique could be sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of life in prison. Sentencing was set for Feb. 11.

Defense lawyer Santha Sonenberg declined comment on whether Guandique would appeal the verdict.

Guandique stared straight ahead as the verdict was read, and he shook his head as he left the courtroom. As he has throughout the trial, he wore a turtleneck that covered gang tattoos.

Levy's mother squinted and took notes during the hearing, then craned her neck to observe Guandique's reaction to the verdict.

Susan Levy had been outspoken in her suspicions of Condit during the investigation, even openly speculating about Condit's involvement in the weeks before the trial.

On Monday she indicated that she believed the jury's verdict was correct.

"It makes a difference to find the right person who is responsible for my daughter's death," she said.

While she was glad to have attended nearly every day of the trial, she added: "I can certainly tell you, it ain't closure."

Prosecutors Amanda Haines and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez obtained a conviction even though they had no eyewitnesses and no DNA evidence linking Guandique to Levy. And Guandique never confessed to police. Prosecutors hung their hopes in large part on a former cellmate of Guandique, Armando Morales, who testified that Guandique confided in him that he killed Levy.

Morales said Guandique was worried about being labeled a rapist by fellow inmates if word got out that he was a suspect in the Levy case. According to Morales, Guandique admitted killing Levy as part of an attempted robbery, but said he never raped her.

The government also presented testimony from two women who were attacked by Guandique in May and July of 2001 in Rock Creek Park. In both cases, Guandique attacked the women from behind while they jogged on isolated trails but ran off after each woman fought him off.

Defense lawyers argued that Morales concocted the confession story to curry favor with prosecutors. While Morales has not received any benefit for his testimony, prosecutors could seek to reduce his jail time in the future.

The defense also pointed to DNA from an unknown male that was found on Levy's black running tights. The DNA matched neither Guandique nor Condit, and the defense said it was powerful evidence that the wrong person was on trial. Prosecutors argued the DNA was the result of contamination during the testing process.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, whose department was criticized for overzealously pursuing Condit, told reporters Monday that "detectives ... can sometimes discover things that were not discoverable in the beginning. The lesson is: Never give up."

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said "today's verdict does send a message that it's never too late for justice to be done."

Juror Linda Norton said the panel went through all of the evidence "in a very deliberate manner" and discussed everything thoroughly. No single piece of evidence stood out in jurors' minds, she said. Those comments were echoed by fellow juror Susan Kelly, a journalist, who said "we were very careful to evaluate all the evidence, and it was a decision based on everything that we had."

The monthlong trial featured testimony from Condit himself, who denied any involvement in Levy's disappearance or death. But as he has for the past decade, he refused to answer whether he had an affair with Levy.

However, during the trial an FBI forensic expert testified that Condit's DNA was found on Levy's underwear recovered from her apartment, but was not found anywhere at the crime scene where her remains were discovered.

Condit's father, the Rev. Adrian B. Condit, said the family was relieved at the verdict.

"I'm sure that this will lighten the load for Gary and the entire family. He's been under all the pressure of this," Adrian Condit said in a telephone interview from his home in Modesto, Calif.

The elder Condit said he was frustrated that authorities took so long to zero in on Guandique, but he said he was confident they found the right man.

And Gary Condit's children, Cadee and Chad Condit, issued a statement Monday saying that "Chandra Levy and her family deserved justice. That it took this long is unforgivable. Our father will tell his story at the appropriate time."

___

Associated Press Writers Jessica Gresko in Washington and Ben Nuckols in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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Bangladeshi law has weakest role xin budgetary process in S Asia

The Bangladeshi legislature has the weakest role in the budgetary process among all South Asian countries, and its score in the Open Budget Index remained unchanged in 2010, though budgetary transparency has gradually increased over the last three years.
That is according to the Open Budget Index 2010 report released by Unnayan Shamannay, a civil society think-tank, at a press conference held at its conference room Monday.
The Open Budget Index, an initiative of the Washington-based International Budget Project, is produced by 94 civil society organisations and research institutions across 94 countries.
The main reasons behind the low legislative score are that the legislature does not have sufficient power to amend the executive’s budget proposals, legislators cannot bring any amendments to the budget over the course of the fiscal year, sufficient time is not given for budget deliberation, and that the legislature doesn’t allow the public to give testimony at public hearings on budget discussions, according to the findings.
The OBI scores for Bangladesh were 39, 42 and 48 in the year of 2006, 2008 and 2009, respectively. Bangladesh’s performance indicates that the government provides only some information to the public in its budget documents.
Bangladesh’s 2010 score of 48 is above the median score of 42 for the 94 countries that were surveyed. First place is occupied by South Africa, with 92.
Bangladesh would greatly strengthen public accountability by producing and publishing pre-budget statements, citizens’ budgets, mid-year reviews and year-end reports, and empowering the supreme audit institutions to publish summaries of audit reports.
All this can significantly boost public participation as well as the executive’s accountability in the budget process, says the report.
The government recently enacted a law titled ‘Public Money and Budget Management Act 2009’. As per clause 15(4) of the law, the finance minister shall place a quarterly report before the parliament explaining the budget status effective from FY 2009-2010.
Two quarterly reports have already been published before the parliament. This will increase Bangladesh’s score in the next Open Budget Survey, it is said.
In terms of adequacy and availability of eight key budget documents, Bangladesh now publishes only three documents — executive’s budget proposal, enacted budget and in-year reports.
The report observed that Bangladesh does not prepare pre-budget statement (though the finance ministry officials sit with businesspeople, economists and civil society to gain their inputs), citizens’ budgets, mid-year reviews and year-end reports.
M Abu Eusuf, associate professor, Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka, who conducted the study in Bangladesh addressed the press conference as a keynote speaker.
AHM Mustafa Kamal MP, chairman, parliamentary standing committee on ministry of finance was present as chief guest. Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled, Emeritus Fellow, Unnayan Shamannay and chairman, Bangladesh Krishi Bank, presided over the event.
The index rates countries on a scale of zero to 100, depending on whether their respective governments have provided ‘extensive information, significant information, some information, minimal information or scant/no information’ to their citizens on their national budget.
The International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Survey assesses the availability in each country of eight key budget documents, as well as the comprehensiveness of the data contained in these documents.
-New Age

Cold-related diseases rising with changing weather

The number of patients suffering from cold-related diseases has increased in the country due to the change in the weather, health experts said on Sunday.
People catch these diseases at this time of the year as the temperature varies a lot between day and night, they said, adding that common cold-related diseases like pneumonia, cough, running nose, fever, and diarrhoea had been spreading fast in the past few days.
‘We have received reports of pneumonia and diarrhoea cases from different parts of the country,’ Mahmudur Rahman, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told New Age.
He said mainly the hospitals in Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar had been taking in children suffering from pneumonia. But, there is nothing to be worried about as the flow of patients is quite normal for this season, he added.
‘Some common cold-related diseases like cough, running nose, and fever are spreading now,’ said Mohammad Shahidullah, a professor of neonatology at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
He also said that they also had received an increased number of patients suffering from typhoid and jaundice, especially those with hepatitis A, in the past few weeks both at BSMMU hospital and their private chambers.
Shahidullah, also the pro-vice-chancellor of the BSMMU, attributed the spread of the diseases in the city mainly to dry weather and polluted drinking water.
The number of blood dysentery cases is also on the rise, he added.
Shahidullah said people should drink pure and safe water and eat safe food for protection against the water-born diseases.
The physicians also advised the people to wear warm clothes, avoid dust, and be extra careful about personal hygiene. They recommended that parents should keep their babies covered with such warm clothes that did not produce sweat, bathe them in warm water regularly, and, if a baby caught cold, sponge its body with warm water.
-New Age

Govt won’t procure Aman paddy this year

The government has decided to not procure Aman paddy in the ongoing season with the view of keeping food prices stable in the domestic market.
“If we procure Aman paddy from the local market, the price of rice might increase. By importing rice, the government will control rice price,” Food and Disaster Management Minister Abdur Razzaque told reporters after a meeting of the Food Planning and Procurement Committee at his office on Monday afternoon.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, Commerce Minister Faruk Khan and Cabinet Secretary M Abdul Aziz, among others, attended the meeting.
Addressing the press briefing, Razzaque said if the government buys Aman paddy from local market, the price of rice may increase due to high production cost.
“The government is committed to keep the food prices at an affordable level for 40 percent of the population who live below the poverty line,” he said.
About the country’s food grain reserves, the Food Minister said there is no food crisis in the country. About six lakh tonnes of rice and two lakh tonnes of wheat are reserved at the government’s warehouses now while eight lakh tonnes of food grains were imported.
He said although the government has decided to not procure Aman from the local market, the farmers will not face any suffering.
Razzaque predicted that about 135 lakh tonnes of Aman paddy will be produced in the ongoing season.
-Daily star

WB commits $1.9b to cut recession impact

The World Bank (WB) pledged to lend out a total US$1.9 billion during 2008 and 2009 fiscal years to help Bangladesh ward off the impact of the global economic crisis, according to a new study.
The study by Independent Evaluation Group, an agency responsible for watching the bank, said in 2009, the Washington-based lender's commitment from its soft-lending arm amounted to $1.1 billion, while it was $0.8 billion in 2008 financial year.
The actual disbursement during the period totalled $1.1 billion, the IEG assessment estimated.
Bangladesh saw its growth rate wipe out by 0.68 per cent due to the global crisis as the economic growth pared back to 5.73 per cent in 2009 fiscal, down from 6.42 per cent in the pre-crisis fiscal year of 2007.
The bank estimated that the economic downturn left an estimated 50 million more people in extreme poverty last year and some 64 million more will fall into that category by the end of 2010 across the globe.
"Even in a financial crisis, the WB needs to support the crucial requisites for long-term results-fiscal and debt sustainability, structural reforms, environmental and social sustainability, and actions to reduce risks related to climate change," the IEG said in its report.
In 2009-10 fiscal, the bank also channelled $130 million in development policy loans to support Bangladesh's efforts to minimise the impact of food crisis and improve the social safety nets.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the bank's private sector lending arm, was also active in Bangladesh to help the nation cope with the global crisis.
The corporation's investment in six areas reached $164 million from fiscal 2009 through the third quarter of 2010.
Vinod Thomas, who heads the IEG, said: "The World Bank Group's response has fitted the nature of the crisis-which called for a fiscal expansion to compensate for sharply declining trade and private capital flows. The financing from the WB and other IFIs (international financial institutions) has helped in the worldwide effort to avert what might have been a harsher global downturn."
"The ensuing challenges are with emerging fiscal imbalances, higher debt levels and financial sector vulnerabilities-and with ensuring that the increase in spending produces sustainable results."
The World Bank disbursed a record US$80.6 billion during 2009 and 2010 fiscal years to respond to the global economic crisis-more than any other international financial institution.
The IEG's evaluation sought to achieve three objectives: support the most vulnerable, maintain long-term infrastructure investment and sustain the potential for private sector-led growth.
-FE