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Afghan Women Use Boxing to Fight Stereotypes December 3, 2011

During the Taliban’s oppressive rule in the 1990s, Afghan women were stripped of most of their rights. Women were not allowed to work or get an education, much less take part in sports. Now, more than a decade later, a group of young women in Kabul not only are learning to box, but doing it in the same Kabul stadium that was once used for Taliban executions. VOA’s Sean Maroney visited their practice and has this report.

These young women are pushing the limits of cultural acceptance in Afghanistan. They wear boxing gloves instead of burqas. They are members of Afghanistan’s national female boxing team, created in 2007 by their country’s Olympic Commission.

Nineteen-year-old Shabnam Rahimi has been with the team since the start.

“This sport is very exciting. I love its action,” she said.

Rahimi grew up surrounded by war, nearly constant violence. Here, she trains as a woman, free to fight back.

“I love that we can defend ourselves,” she said.

Studying the sweet science

This is the sound of women fighting against prejudice in Afghanistan. These young women say boxing gives them a sense of confidence that they want to share with future generations.

“I want to become a good trainer, and I want to teach other girls how to box. I will encourage other girls to learn boxing,” said Rahimi.

VOA

Wearing boxing gloves instead of burqas, these young women are members of Afghanistan’s national female boxing team, created in 2007 by their country’s Olympic Commission.

Each week, these women come here. Boxing is their sport, and their passion, their personal fight against years of oppression. But only inside this gym – where it is safe and sanctioned by the government. When they step outside these doors, they still face oppression and fear of Taliban retaliation.

Team trainer Mohammad Saber Sharifi said all Afghans take risks as they try to move out of decades of war.

“There are a lot of difficulties in Afghanistan, for example security and economic problems. But this is a big step for us, and also for the world,” said Sharifi.

Organizers hope to take the team to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. But for these boxers, this fight isn’t only for a championship, but for a new vision of Afghanistan.

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Penn State’s Joe Paterno cancels press conference November 8, 2011

Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno, one of the most famous figures in American sport, has avoided his first chance to publicly address questions regarding a criminal investigation into allegations that a long-time assistant coach sexually abused boys.

In addition, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that Paterno’s tenure as coach at Penn State will soon be over, perhaps within days or weeks, citing two people briefed on conversations among the university’s top officials.

The New York Times reported that the board of trustees has yet to determine the precise timing of Paterno’s exit, but that discussions about how to manage his departure have begun.

The university cancelled Paterno’s scheduled news conference on Tuesday minutes before the 84-year-old coach was due to face a barrage of media.

“Due to the ongoing legal circumstances centered around the recent allegations and charges, we have determined that today’s press conference cannot be held and will not be rescheduled,” the athletics department said in a statement.

Paterno and the university are engulfed in a scandal over the charges against his longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, accused of sexually abusing at least eight boys over more than a decade. Paterno says he was informed of an incident involving Sandusky in 2002, and passed on the information to the school’s athletic director.

The alleged abuse was not reported to police even though it was known for years, authorities have said. Two former Penn State officials were charged on Monday with covering up alleged assaults.

Paterno is one of the most famous figures in the history of US college football, one of the most popular sports in the country.

The university had earlier said Paterno would respond to only questions regarding Penn State’s football game on Saturday against the University of Nebraska.

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Double dose of F1 Americana thrills Bernie Ecclestone October 26, 2011

The Formula One map is set for more change with the confirmation of plans to host a street-circuit race in the state of New Jersey, with the Manhattan skyline as its backdrop.

Bernie Ecclestone has been trying to break into the Big Apple since before his Beatles haircut turned white and now, with Austin, Texas, scheduled to host a race next year and New Jersey set to join the calendar in 2013, the ringmaster will have two footholds in the US.

“I’m pleased that New Jersey will play host to Formula One beginning 2013, bringing one of the world’s most popular and exciting sports right to our backyard,” the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, said on Tuesday night.

“The race will be a 3.2-mile road race, run on existing roads through Port Imperial and at the top of the Palisades in Weehawken and West New York. Up to 100,000 people are expected to attend each race, starting with practice Friday, qualifying on Saturday and racing on Sunday.”

Ecclestone, Formula One’s commercial-rights holder, will be 81 on Monday and is not expected to be running affairs for too much longer, but changes to the calendar have been gathering pace. This week the inaugural Indian Grand Prix will take place on the outskirts of New Delhi, representing another conquering of a Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economy; Brazil and China have already been gathered in, while Russia waits in the wings for 2014.

But it is the US that still carries the most allure and the sport’s stakeholders, the FIA, the teams and their sponsors, have been putting pressure on Ecclestone. When Austin was still in the planning stage, Ecclestone showed interest in bringing a grand prix to New Jersey should the Texas race fall through.

Nonetheless, there are already 20 grands prix on the calendar for next year, and there will be resistance to racing any more than that the following season, with 20 the unofficial maximum. The addition of New Jersey would take that to 21, which could have implications for other grands prix if the teams do not agree to an increase to the calendar.

The future of some races is already in doubt. Turkey has dropped off next year’s roster and serious doubts remain about the viability of racing in Bahrain and South Korea.

While Formula One has deserted many of its traditional homes, such as Portugal, France and South Africa, it has moved into areas where some believe it is more concerned with the advertising platform provided than the sporting landscape.

The US, though, could prove a great success, even if some fans there think IndyCar is better because the cars are faster. It is not as if Formula One has not been here before, of course. It has, but much of the experience has been airbrushed from the memory, especially since the 2005 event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when only six cars took part after a row about tyre safety.

Tony Jardine, the Sky Sports News F1 expert and someone with vast experience of the sport in the US, says: “It was often successful over there, in places like Long Beach and Detroit. But the tracks couldn’t always meet the increasing budget demands.

“But I think New York could be very good for the sport. It has already got Texas on the way, which will take interest in F1 into Latin America. And now this move could really open up a lot of opportunities in North America.

“It’s not as if people over there haven’t heard of Ferrari and McLaren and Lewis Hamilton, because they have. Now I think they will really take to European chic.”

US racing could be, should be, a great success. But the trouble with Formula One is that it too often squeezes every last penny from “clients”, before asking for a little bit more each time they go back. If F1 and Ecclestone can curb that propensity then the move to the US – both in Austin and New York – should be a spectacular triumph.

The concerns about the Indian adventure have still not been entirely dispelled, with the race only four days away. As recently as two weeks ago, Ecclestone was pessimistic over the readiness of the track to host its inaugural grand prix. That is unlikely to be the case in New Jersey on a street circuit.

“It will provide a very challenging course,” the West New York, New Jersey, attorney Joe DeMarco said on Tuesday. “They compare it to Spa in Belgium but it will have the feel of Monaco.”

The West New York mayor, Felix Roque, said: “It’s incredible. This is going to be an economic boom for this whole region. While political and public servants talk about creating jobs, the governor has put the pedal to the metal and delivered.”

Roque and the mayor of Weehawken, Richard Turner, whose district is also involved in the race project, have stressed that no taxpayers’ money will be spent to host the grand prix and it will instead be dependent on private investment. The Wall Street Journal reported that talks had taken place with a consortium of investors.

But before everyone starts whooping and hollering it should be remembered that previous F1 adventures in the US have not ended well.

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Hawaii makes surfing official high school sport October 4, 2011

Hawaii will soon become the first state in the US to call surfing an official high school sport.

Governor Neil Abercrombie and state education officials said on Monday that riding the waves will join the likes of football, basketball, volleyball and swimming as a state-sanctioned prep sport in public schools, starting as early as spring 2013.

“It’s quite clear, when you think of Hawaii, you think of surfing,” Abercrombie said with a scenic backdrop of sunbathers and surfers along Waikiki beach behind him. The news conference was held near the statue of island icon Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic gold medal swimmer known as the father of modern surfing.

“Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing. From Duke Kahanamoku to the thousands of residents and visitors who surf both recreationally and competitively, the sport is rooted in our culture and way of life,” the governor said.

The Aloha State is known for its world-class surf breaks and competitions. It is home to many pro surfers and has produced several world champions including Hawaii’s Carissa Moore, who this summer became the youngest world champion at 18.

“I think it’s awesome, and it will open doors for kids,” said Moore, who welcomed the announcement. She said the sport taught her many life lessons growing up, such as hard work, perseverance, and time management.

“Surfing and riding a wave is so much like life. You fall down over and over again, but you keep picking yourself back up until you ride one all the way to the beach,” Moore said. “I know that’s kind of cheesy, but I think surfing is definitely a really good outlet for a lot of teens and young kids. It’s a way to channel a lot of energy into something positive. It’s just really awesome.”

Hawaii has the only statewide public school district in the US, which means surfing will be offered across the islands.

The state department of education is working with the newly appointed board of education on developing a plan to implement surfing. Judging will be done similar to pro surf meets and there will be an individual boys and girls champions, as well as team champions, similar to golfing, said BOE member Keith Amemiya, the former head of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association.

The board approved surfing in May 2004, but funding, safety concerns, liability and other challenges prevented the sport from becoming sanctioned.

With the addition of surfing, students in Hawaii public schools will have 19 different sports – believed to be the most in the nation – from air riflery to bowling, producing 44 state champions every year.

Amemiya said the estimated cost of surfing in the first year was about $150,000 (£97,210), with $50,000 (£32,410) already committed through private sources.

The financially-strapped state is confident it will receive the necessary funding gauging from the interest from the community and corporate sponsors.

“Regardless … we’re going to make this work,” Abercrombie said. “We’re not looking at this in terms of if we don’t have all the dollars, we’re not going to do anything. Quite the opposite.”

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John Lennon Was a Closet Republican, Claims Assistant July 1, 2011

The man who was an icon for peace and radicalism and full to the brim with songs in protest of American imperialism, the Cold War, and military violence was — in fact — not a liberal. John Lennon was a closet Republican in his final days, according to the former Beatle’s personal assistant.

John Lennon

Fred Seaman, who worked alongside Lennon from 1979 until his death at the end of 1980, also said that at the time of his death Lennon felt a little embarrassed by his radical past, reports the Toronto Sun.

“He was a very different person back in 1979 and ’80 than he’d been when he wrote ‘Imagine.’ By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy’s naiveté,” Seaman tells filmmaker Seth Swirsky in the new documentary series “Beatles Stories.”

Later in life, Lennon became a Ronald Reagan fan who found sport in arguing with left-wing radicals reflective of his younger self. Seaman recalls Lennon having “some really brutal arguments” with his uncle, who was a self-declared communist.

Seaman says, “John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on (Democrat) Jimmy Carter.

“He’d met Reagan back, I think, in the ’70s at some sporting event . . . Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young [peace] demonstrators in Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that . . . He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me.”

“Beatles Stories,” screening at film festivals across the nation, proclaims itself “a Beatle fan’s ultimate journey.” Indeed, Seaman’s comments reveal information about the pop legend even the ultimate fan doesn’t know.

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Los Alamos nuclear waste almost on fire June 30, 2011

The New Mexico wildfire that has turned America’s heads towards the Los Alamos nuke plant is inching closer and closer to the laboratory, where the Associate Press says it is now a few miles from a dumpsite.

If the fire extends another 3.5 miles, it could overtake an area where 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste are being stored above ground.

A spokesperson for Los Alamos previously denied that the drums existed, but the plant is now backtracking and admitting that the complex’s “Area G” is home to thousands of gallons of dangerous waste.

Lisa Rosendorf of the Los Alamos plant told the press that the drums contain cleanup from Cold War-era waste, but the Los Alamos Study Group is making claims that the waste is much newer than that. The plant, which is believed to have tested more nuclear weapons than any other facility in the world, is thought to be cranking out more nukes than ever, reports Washington’s Blog.

Though the lab says that the drums are on a paved area spare in greenery and certainly safe, a special team has been called in to test plutonium and uranium levels in the air as a precaution.

Watchdog group Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety said earlier this week that the drums were awaiting transport to a low-level radiation dump site elsewhere in the state, but Los Alamos County Fire Chief Douglas Tucker told Reuters on Tuesday that none of the drums would be moved.

“It is safer where it is,” he said.

By Tuesday the fire had already engulfed 61,000 acres of the Santa Fe National Forest, which surrounds the Los Alamos lab almost entirely. A day earlier the blaze began to encroach on the lab’s property, burning around an acre before fire crews extinguished the blaze in two hours’ time.

Offsite, radioactive material from nuclear tests are buried underneath canyons in rural New Mexico. Authorities say there is a chance that fire could end up engulfing that area, and New Mexico Environment Department’s Rita Bates tells the Wall Street Journal that the smoke released could potentially affect the health of the people in the region.

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NM Blaze Threatening Nuclear Lab, Sparking Fires June 29, 2011

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — Firefighters worked through the night hoping to put out spot fires erupting ahead of a wildfire in the mountains above the northern New Mexico town that is home to a government nuclear laboratory.

“That’s the biggest threat we have right now to homes in the community,” Deputy Los Alamos County Fire Chief Mike Thompson said late Monday of the fires that left hillsides above the town of Los Alamos glowing.

The ominous orange was visible at night from deserted Trinity Drive in Los Alamos, from which 12,500 residents were evacuated. The evacuation was so calm and orderly that there wasn’t even a traffic accident, Police Chief Wayne Torpy said.

A crew that had been working at the Arizona wildfires took over efforts at the New Mexico fire Monday, about 18 hours after the blaze started. It has quickly grown to 44,000 acres — or 68 square miles — and ignited a spot fire on lab property.

Another firefighting team was expected to arrive Tuesday because of the potential for the blaze to more than double in size.

The wildfire has destroyed 30 structures south and west of Los Alamos. It forced the closure of the lab and, for many, stirred memories of a devastating blaze in May 2000 that destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings in town.

Laboratory officials said the wildfire sparked a spot fire on its property that was soon contained Monday, and no contamination was released. They also assured that radioactive materials stored in spots on the sprawling lab were safe.

Flames were just across the road from the southern edge of the famed lab, where scientists developed the first atomic bomb during World War II. The facility cut natural gas to some areas overnight as a precaution.

Thompson said containment lines created by firefighters have held despite strong wind.

“We’re pretty confident on that front,” he said. “We’ll pre-treat with foam if necessary, but we really want the buildings to stand on their own for the most part. That is exactly how they’ve been designed. Especially the ones holding anything that is of high value or high risk, for the community, and really, for the rest New Mexico for that matter.”

The spot fire scorched a section known as Tech Area 49, which was used in the early 1960s for a series of underground tests with high explosives and radioactive materials.

The anti-nuclear watchdog group Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety said the fire appeared to be about 3.5 miles from a dumpsite where as many as 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste were stored in fabric tents above ground. The group said the drums were awaiting transport to a dump site in southern New Mexico.

Lab officials at first declined to confirm that such drums were on the property, but in a statement early Tuesday, lab spokeswoman Lisa Rosendorf said such drums are stored in a section of the complex known as Area G. She said the drums contain cleanup from Cold War-era waste that the lab sends away in weekly shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

She said the drums were on a paved area with few trees nearby and would be safe even if a fire reached the storage area. Officials have said it is miles from the flames.

“These drums are designed to a safety standard that would withstand a wildland fire worse than this one,” Rosendorf said.

Lab spokesman Kevin Roark said environmental specialists were monitoring air quality, but that the main concern was smoke.

The lab, which employs about 15,000 people, covers more than 36 square miles and includes about 2,000 buildings at nearly four dozen sites. They include research facilities, as well as waste disposal sites. Some facilities, including the administration building, are in the community of Los Alamos, while others are several miles away from the town.

Many in the area said the current blaze reminded them of the 2000 fire that blackened about 73 square miles and destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings in the western part of the town.

“It took out all the trees and all of the greenery, and it’s just now starting to come back,” said Terry Langham, a retired lab technician whose house survived the 2000 fire. “Now, it’s going to get burned again.”

He said that wildfire in 2000 left a “burn scar” that will likely push the current blaze “a little more rapidly through the area.”

The 2000 fire prompted the lab and residents to cut down trees and take other fire-prevention measures, and firefighters were hopeful that would help.

“Well, you never are safe when you have such a dry situation and you have fuel load and you have vicious winds like this,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who visited evacuees at the Santa Claran Hotel Casino in Espanola. “When you combine all of those together, (it’s) very explosive.”

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Drivers, Engineer Watched Nev. Amtrak Crash Unfold June 27, 2011

SPARKS, Nev. — Although officials reported throughout the day Saturday that two people died when a semitrailer smashed into an Amtrak train Friday, they updated that toll to at least six late Saturday, after combing through the debris from the fiery crash.

And 28 remain unaccounted for, although officials said that number may be misleading because some passengeers may have gotten off before the crash or walked away from the scene.

Two truck drivers and a train engineer watched helplessly as the semitrailer skidded the length of a football field before it smashed through crossing gates and into two double-decker cars of the Amtrak train at a highway crossing.

The drivers were part of a three-truck convoy that saw the gates come down and the warning lights go off as the California Zephyr approached, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said Saturday.

They stopped, but the driver of the big rig in the lead did not, he said. “They were waiting for it to come to a stop.”

The Churchill County Sheriff’s office updated the death toll late Saturday to six. Authorities earlier said the truck’s driver was among the dead, and a transportation union confirmed that number included one of its members, the train’s conductor.

The conductor, 68-year-old Laurette Lee of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., came from a railroad family. Her great-grandfather and grandfather worked for railroad companies, her brother is an Amtrak dispatcher and her nephew is an Amtrak conductor, Lee’s friends and family told the San Jose Mercury News.

Weener said 28 people were unaccounted for in the crash, but that the figure was “spongy” because some passengers may have gotten off the train before the crash or walked away from the scene without checking with officials.

“This is not quite like you are used to when you get on an airplane. They record exactly who gets on, and what seat they sit in,” he said. “On a train, you can get off without necessarily being tracked.”

About 20 people were injured, and the United Transportation Union said on its website that the train’s assistant conductor was among those seriously hurt. Weener said a passenger manifest counted 210 on board, but Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said 204 passengers and 14 crew members were on the train at the time.

“We are going to be working in the next several days to get more of that [unaccounted] number down the best we can,” Weener said.

At the time of the collision, Weener said visibility was excellent and that the crossing gates and warning lights were working.

The train’s engineer saw the truck approaching the crossing about 70 miles east of Reno and realized the collision was inevitable, he said.

The engineer slammed on the emergency brakes, but the train, which was going about 78 mph in an 80-mph zone, traveled a half mile more before it finally stopped, he said. The engineer watched the truck smash into two of the train’s 10 cars through the rearview mirror.

“He recalled the event clearly. He saw the truck approaching the train,” Weener said. “At some point, he knew the impact was imminent. He, in factm watched the collision in a rearview mirror. He was hoping the train was not going to derail.”

NTSB investigators were returning to the crash site on Sunday, partly to search for additional possible victims, as well as to try to rectify discrepancies in the passenger manifest.

The California Zephyr from Chicago was about 300 miles east of its destination in Emeryville, Calif., when the truck hit the two train cars, which burst into flames. Earlier witness accounts said the truck driver did not attempt to stop before it drove through the crossing, but Weener said the driver did try to stop because the truck skidded about 320 feet before it crashed.

The speed of the truck hasn’t been determined, but Weener said it was going “at a considerable speed” because the impact left the tractor embedded in one of the train cars.

Weener said the truck driver who died was a Nevada man in his mid-40s. Churchill County authorities said they were working to confirm other victims’ identities and notify family members.

Weener said a team of 18 NTSB investigators were at the scene and expected to remain there for at least a week. NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said they had not finished going through the wreckage yet, and Weener said they had yet to review video data taken from the train.

“We will not be determining a probable cause of this accident while we are here,” Weener said.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Car Manufacturers May Face Fuel Economy Rules of 56.2 MPG

Automakers that sell vehicles in the United States may have to boost car and light truck fuel economy to an average 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025 under a White House proposal presented this week.

In separate meetings with officials from Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., and Chrysler Group LLC on Wednesday, the Obama administration asked the three largest U.S. automakers to analyze the effects of a 56.2 mpg fuel-economy target, two people familiar with the talks said. The rules also would cover other manufacturers, such as Toyota Motor Corp.

That represents an improvement of about a 5 percent a year in each company’s fleetwide average fuel economy from 2016, when they are required to have a 35.5 mpg average for vehicles sold in the United States The Detroit News reported the administration’s plan today.

Republicans, including Environmental Protection Agency administrators for every Republican president since Richard Nixon, joined other Republicans this week in asking Obama to write “aggressive” fuel economy standards for 2017 to 2025, the years covered under the rule now being drafted.

Increasing fuel economy by the amount proposed could cost at least $2,100 per vehicle, according to a document prepared last year by the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who have said they will publish a proposed rule by Sept. 30. California’s Air Resources Board is also helping write the rule and was represented at this week’s meetings, according to the people familiar with the talks.

“We continue to work closely with a broad range of stakeholders to develop an important standard that will save families money and keep the jobs of the future here,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said in an email. “A final decision has not been made, and as we have made clear we plan to propose that standard in September.”

Any number being floated now is early in the process, Greg Martin, a spokesman for Detroit-based GM, said in an interview.

“There’s a way go to in this process,” said Martin, who said he doesn’t know what the White House said in the meeting. “Any number out there right now has the rigidity of Jello.”

Christin Baker, a spokeswoman for Ford, based in Dearborn, Mich., also declined to comment on this week’s talks.

“Our discussions with the administration are ongoing and productive,” she said in an email.

Spokeswomen for Chrysler, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents automakers from around the world, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment placed outside of regular business hours.

Environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council are pushing for a 62 mpg standard by 2025, saying increasing the fuel economy average will help U.S. automakers regain market share they lost to foreign competitors who sold more smaller cars in the U.S.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” council Transportation Program Director Roland Hwang said about the 56.2 mpg proposal in an interview. “That’s a good number as long as there aren’t any loopholes by the automakers” such as making most of the improvements in the later years of the rule.”

© Copyright 2011 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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US Hits Iran Air, Port Company with Sanctions June 24, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration hit two pillars of the Iranian economy with sanctions Thursday, targeting the Islamic republic’s national airline carrier and a major port company on charges that they facilitate illegal weapons trade and help the mighty Revolutionary Guard corps in destabilizing activity in Iran and nearby countries.

The Treasury Department’s action blocks any assets in the United States belonging to Iran Air, Tidewater Middle East Co. and three other firms. It also prevents Americans from doing business with them.

In a joint statement, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the hardline Revolutionary Guard’s use of Tidewater and Iran Air for proliferation activities was indicative of its increasing power in the Iranian economy. This displaces legitimate private Iranian companies in the commercial and energy sectors, which they called “deeply troubling.”

The Revolutionary Guard serves as the “enforcer” for the Iranian regime by suppressing peaceful protests, and imports and exports weapons for the government, the secretaries said. They also blamed it for supporting terrorism in the Middle East.

The other companies sanctioned were the Mehr-e Eqtesad-e Iranian Investment Company, Iran Air Tours and the Behnam Shahriyari Trading Company. Iranian businessman Behnam Shahriyari was personally targeted for his alleged role in providing weapons to the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Although the sanctions only apply to the United States, senior Treasury and State Department officials said they hoped other countries would take a closer look at business being conducted with the companies. The U.S. is hoping authorities will halt the refueling of Iran Air planes, though non-U.S. airports are not required to take any action against the company, the officials said.

The Treasury Department says Iran Air has helped the military obtain raw materials such as titanium sheets, which can be used in support of advancing nuclear weapons. It has also transported rockets on passenger planes and taken missile components to Syria, Treasury alleges.

The airline operates about 40 aircraft flying to 35 international destinations.

The statement from Geithner and Clinton said preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a top U.S. priority. They said they remain deeply concerned about Iran’s uranium enrichment program, even if the Iranian government insists it is solely designed for energy purposes.

“The international community must continue to increase and broaden the scope of pressures on Iran,” the two secretaries said. “We have made important progress in isolating Iran, but we cannot waver. Our efforts must be unrelenting to sharpen the choice for Iran’s leaders to abandon their dangerous course.”

Tidewater manages seven ports in Iran and serves as a key element in Iran’s infrastructure and transport network. Treasury says it has operations at terminals that have facilitated the Iranian government’s weapons trade.

The company has no relation to Tidewater Inc., an international shipping company based in the United States.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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2 House Members Want to End Federal Ban on Pot

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two House members have introduced a bill that would remove marijuana from the list of federal controlled substances and cede to the states enforcement of laws governing pot.

The legislation would eliminate marijuana-specific penalties under federal law, but would maintain a ban on transporting marijuana across state lines. It would allow individuals to grow and sell marijuana in states that chose to make it legal.

The bill was introduced Thursday by Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Republican Ron Paul of Texas. Paul is running for the GOP presidential nomination.

Frank said he’s not advocating marijuana use, but believes that criminal prosecution is a waste of resources and an intrusion on personal freedom.

The bill has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled House.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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TSA Changes Child Pat-Down Policy June 23, 2011

The Transportation Security Administration has changed its policy regarding child pat-downs to prevent airport security screeners from conducting invasive pat-downs on children, the head of TSA said Wednesday, reports USA Today.

TSA Administrator John Pistole announced the change in policy at a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing.

The policy amendment follows on the heels of the public’s horror over a video illustrating a pat-down of a 6-year-old girl at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

“As part of our ongoing effort to get smarter about security, Administrator Pistole has made a policy decision to give security officers more options for resolving screening anomalies with young children,” Nicholas Kimball, a TSA spokesman said.

TSA will instruct airport screeners on how to conduct multiple screenings on young children to avoid pat-downs.

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Feds Halt Private Funds to Study Pipeline Safety June 22, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the federal government will bar industry groups from funding safety studies of onshore pipelines, following an investigation by Hearst Newspapers that revealed the practice.

The investigation, published Sunday, found that that two-thirds of the 174 safety studies of onshore pipelines initiated by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration over the past decade received significant funding from pipeline operators or industry-controlled organizations.

LaHood’s announcement overturns a Bush-era rule that required at least half the funding for federal pipeline safety research to come from outside sources, in most cases.

Industry groups say the move will limit pipeline regulators’ ability to do critical research on the nation’s 2.3 million miles of pipeline carrying natural gas and hazardous liquids.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Analysis: Ethanol’s Clout in US Govt to Ensure Subsidy Deal

WASHINGTON — Big Ethanol has enough clout in Congress and in the Obama administration to keep growing with U.S. government support, even though decades of large tax credits may be winding down.

Amid pressure to cut yawning U.S. deficit and debt, the Senate voted overwhelmingly late last week to repeal subsidies for the ethanol industry, first won in 1978, that now cost tax payers about $6 billion a year.

With Capitol Hill’s focus on austerity and recent high prices for corn, the main feedstock for U.S. ethanol, being blamed by some for helping to boost food prices, the biofuel’s subsidies are now under the microscope like never before.

Calls to reduce the subsidies could increase, as lawmakers try to reach a debt-reduction deal by July 1. But, that does not mean the industry will be abandoned by government.

“We’re not going to go cold turkey,” predicted Dan Glickman, U.S. agriculture secretary during the Clinton era.

“The subsidies will be phased down, but not eliminated.”

Ethanol, which is produced in 28 states and provides 400,000 jobs, is too entrenched in the U.S. economy to be left without government help, he added.

The Senate’s vote was mostly symbolic, as it was attached to a bill that does not have companion legislation in the House.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, the California Democrat who sponsored the bill, is working with Sens. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, on a compromise measure that would phase down subsidies for ethanol, rather than cut them altogether.

“There’s sufficient interest and support in the Senate to prevent the complete repeal of ethanol subsidies,” said Byron Dorgan, a former senator from North Dakota and a co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project.

Senate Democrats up for reelection next year in ethanol producing states could feel pressure to work out some kind of legislative deal.

“The room for compromise is very much there,” said Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners in Washington.

Glickman pointed to the country’s failure to develop anything besides ethanol as oil’s prime alternative as another key reason why Congress and the Obama administration will work to ensure biofuels get some sort of subsidies. They could come in the shape of incentives for infrastructure to help ethanol get to market.

Biofuels have long been part of President Barack Obama’s plan to start weaning the country off imports of foreign oil. The White House issued a statement after the vote, saying it was against full repeal of the subsidies, indicating it could use veto power if the measure advances in Congress.

The industry has signaled it supports moving from an outright 45-cent tax credit that blenders get for mixing every gallon of ethanol into the country’s gasoline toward support for infrastructure to get the fuel to consumers.

Such support could come in the form of subsidies for advanced pumps at filling stations, loan aid for pipelines, or assistance for farmers to grow, store and transport advanced non-corn feedstocks. The so-called blender pumps could help push more ethanol to market after the government recently approved E15, gasoline with 15 percent ethanol, for newer vehicles.

“Market access is number one,” Jeff Broin, CEO of privately held POET, the largest ethanol maker in the world, told Reuters.

POET is a member of Growth Energy, which has pushed for trading blenders’ credits and for breaks on infrastructure.

Infrastructure improvements could also benefit large agriculture company Archer Daniels Midland , oil refiner Valero Energy Corp, and ethanol pure plays like Green Plains Renewables .

There are also moves to reduce the blenders’ credit and tie it to the price of crude oil. In a bill sponsored by Senator Charles Grassley, the blenders’ credit would be linked to the price of oil by 2013. It would be wiped out when crude oil trades above $90 a barrel, but blenders would get as much as 24 cents a gallon if it fell to $50 a barrel.

“These are serious ongoing negotiations,” said Klobuchar. “We know that there is support for phasing out the current ethanol tax credits, the question is when and how.”

© 2011 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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NJ Dem Calls for Limits on Christie’s Chopper Use June 15, 2011

TRENTON, N.J. — The head of a legislative homeland security panel in New Jersey is calling for restrictions on the governor’s use of state helicopters for transportation and a ban on air transit to personal and political events.

Democratic Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (kee-HAH’-noh) says she’ll introduce on Thursday legislation that would restrict the governor’s use of helicopters to official functions and emergencies.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his staff came under scrutiny after media reports said he used state police helicopters to catch his son’s high school baseball games and to meet with donors trying to persuade him to run for president.

Christie and the Republican State Committee later reimbursed taxpayers for the trips.

State police Col. Rick Fuentes says the governor is safer traveling by helicopter than by car.

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Some Gay-rights Foes Claim They Now Are Bullied June 12, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — As the gay-rights movement advances, there’s increasing evidence of an intriguing role reversal: Today, it’s the conservative opponents of that movement who seem eager to depict themselves as victims of intolerance.

To them, the gay-rights lobby has morphed into a relentless bully — pressuring companies and law firms into policy reversals, making it taboo in some circumstances to express opposition to same-sex marriage.

“They’re advocating for a lot of changes in the name of tolerance,” said Jim Campbell, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. “Yet ironically the tolerance is not returned, for people of faith who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Many gay activists, recalling their movement’s past struggles and mindful of remaining bias, consider such protestations by their foes to be hollow and hypocritical.

“They lost the argument on gay people and now they are losing the argument on marriage,” said lawyer Evan Wolfson, president of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry. “Diversions, scare tactics and this playing the victim are all they have left.”

He added: “There’s been a shift in the moral understanding of people — that exclusion from marriage and anti-gay prejudice is wrong. Positions that wouldn’t have been questioned in the past are now being held up to the light.”

Among the recent incidents prompting some conservatives to complain of intolerance or political bullying:

—Olympic gold medal gymnast Peter Vidmar stepped down as chief of mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in May following controversy over his opposition to gay marriage. Vidmar, a Mormon, had publicly supported Proposition 8, the voter-approved law passed in 2008 that restricted marriage in California to one man and one woman.

—After coming under fire from gay-rights groups in April, the Atlanta-based law firm King Spalding pulled out of an agreement with House Republicans to defend the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

—In New York, state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat from the Bronx, contends he’s received death threats because he opposes legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The alleged threats were cited last week by the New York State Catholic Conference, which also opposes gay marriage.

“We are unjustly called ‘haters’ and ‘bigots’ by those who have carefully framed their advocacy strategy,” wrote the conference’s executive director, Richard Barnes. “The entire campaign to enact same-sex marriage is conducted under a banner of acceptance … Yet behind that banner of tolerance is another campaign — of intimidation, threats and ugliness.”

—Apple Inc. recently withdrew two iPhone apps from its App Store after complaints and petition campaigns by gay-rights supporters.

One app was intended to publicize the Manhattan Declaration, a document signed in 2009 by scores of conservative Christian leaders. It condemns same-sex marriage as immoral and suggests that legalizing it could open the door to recognition of polygamy and sibling incest.

The other app was for Exodus International, a network of ministries which depict homosexuality as a destructive condition that can be overcome through Christian faith.

In both cases, gay activists celebrated the apps’ removals, while the apps’ creators contended their freedom of expression was being unjustly curtailed.

“The gay-rights groups have shown their fangs,” wrote Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure turned born-again Christian who helped launch the Manhattan Declaration. “They want to silence, yes, destroy those who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Exodus International president Alan Chambers, who says he changed his own sexual orientation through religious counseling, said he was alarmed by the aggressive tactics of “savvy gay activists.”

“We have seen individuals, ministries and even private corporations that dare to hold to a biblical worldview on sexuality bullied into a corner,” Chambers wrote in a blog.

However, Wolfson said the Exodus app deserved to be removed. “They were peddling something that’s been repudiated as crackpot quackery.”

The campaign that pressured King Spalding to withdraw from the Defense of Marriage Act case was criticized by a relatively wide range of commentators and legal experts, not just conservative foes of gay marriage.

“To think it’s a good idea to attack lawyers defending unpopular clients — I don’t have words for how stupid and wrong that is,” said Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and writer who formerly served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

However, the gay-rights activists involved in pressuring King Spalding were unapologetic.

“If we made it such that no law firm would defend the indefensible, then good for us,” said Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communication. “When you have people talking about the fact that it’s no longer politically correct to be anti-equality, it’s a show of progress.”

Sainz said it was important for activists to pick their targets carefully.

“We understand there are goodhearted Americans in the middle who are still struggling with these issues,” he said. “Different activists have different ways of getting to the same end, and some of those are bound to make certain people feel uncomfortable.”

Though same-sex marriage is legal in only five states, it has for the first time gained the support of a majority of Americans, according to a series of recent national opinion polls. For some gay activists, this trend has fueled efforts to make their opponents’ views seem shameful.

“Their beliefs on this issue are very quickly becoming socially disgraceful, much in the way white supremacy is socially disgraceful,” wrote Evan Hurst of the advocacy group Truth Wins Out. “They are certainly entitled to cling to backwoods, uneducated, reality-rejecting views … but their ‘religious freedom’ doesn’t call for the rest of us to somehow pretend their views aren’t disgusting and hateful.”

However, some gay-rights supporters see the public opinion shift as reason to be more magnanimous.

“The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia,” Jonathan Rauch, a writer and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, wrote recently in The Advocate, a gay-oriented news magazine.

“Incidents of rage against ‘haters,’ verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of anti-discrimination laws: Those and other ‘zero-tolerance’ tactics play into the ‘homosexual bullies’ narrative,” Rauch wrote. “The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.”

As ideological foes spar over these issues, the American Civil Liberties Union is confronted with a delicate balancing act. Its national gay rights project battles aggressively against anti-gay discrimination, but, as a longtime defender of free speech, the ACLU also is expected to intervene sometimes on behalf of anti-gay expression.

For example, the ACLU pressed a lawsuit on behalf of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, which has outraged mourning communities by picketing service members’ funerals with crudely worded signs condemning homosexuality. The ACLU said the Missouri state law banning such picketing infringes on religious freedom and free speech.

Some critics — such as Wendy Kaminer — have contended that the ACLU now tilts too much toward espousing gay rights, at the expense of a more vigorous defense of anti-gay free speech.

However, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s gay rights project, said the First Amendment protection of free speech only comes into play when a government entity is seen as curtailing speech rights — which did not occur in the Vidmar or King Spalding cases.

“What we have there is simply the push and pull in public policy discourse … which is sometimes rough and tumble,” Esseks said. “Being stigmatized for expressing unpopular views is part of being in a free society. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Robert George, a conservative professor of jurisprudence at Princeton and one of the co-authors of the Manhattan Declaration, shared Esseks’ view on the often sharp-elbowed nature of public debate in America.

“Democratic politics is a messy business and sometimes it’s a contact sport,” said George, a co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex marriage. He suggested that those who hold cultural power — in academia, the media and elsewhere — are inevitably going to try to impose their viewpoints.

“The power to intimidate people, to make them fear they’ll be called a bigot or denied opportunities for jobs, only works if people allow themselves to be bullied,” George said. “Conservatives who make themselves out to be victims run the risk of playing into the hands of their opponents, suggesting that their opponents’ cultural power is so vast that there’s no way it can be resisted.”

To professional free-speech advocates — such as Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship — the gay rights vs. free expression cases are fascinating and often difficult.

“It’s very volatile — it requires you to parse the issues very closely,” she said. “I’m of the school of thought that you should know your enemy. You need to know what people are thinking.”

___(equals)

David Crary can be reached at http://twitter.com/CraryAP

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Alabama Passes Tough Illegal-immigration Law June 10, 2011

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama vaulted past Arizona on Thursday with what is being called the most restrictive law in the nation against illegal immigration, requiring schools to find out if students are in the country lawfully and making it a crime to knowingly give an illegal immigrant a ride.

Advocacy groups promised to challenge the sweeping measure, which like Arizona’s law also allows police to arrest anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant if the person is stopped for some other reason. In addition, it requires all businesses to check the legal status of workers using a federal system called E-Verify.

“It is clearly unconstitutional. It’s mean-spirited, racist, and we think a court will enjoin it,” said Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It takes effect Sept. 1.

Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed it into law on Thursday, expressed confidence it would withstand any legal challenges.

“We have a real problem with illegal immigration in this country,” he said. “I campaigned for the toughest immigration laws, and I’m proud of the Legislature for working tirelessly to create the strongest immigration bill in the country.”

Alabama has an estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants, a nearly fivefold increase from a decade ago, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Many of them are believed to be working on farms, at chicken processing plants and in construction.

One of the legislation’s sponsors, GOP Sen. Scott Beason, said it would help the unemployed by preventing illegal immigrants from getting jobs in the state. Alabama’s unemployment rate stood at 9.3 percent in April, the most recent figures available.

“This will put thousands of Alabamians back in the work force,” Beason said.

The measure instantly puts Alabama at the forefront of the immigration debate. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center agreed that it is the nation’s toughest crackdown on illegal immigration.

Linton Joaquin, general counsel for the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles, said the Alabama law covers all aspects of an immigrant’s life.

“It is a sweeping attack on immigrants and people of color in general. It adds restrictions on education, housing and other areas. It is a very broad attack,” Joaquin said.

Among other things, the law makes it a crime for landlords to knowingly rent to an illegal immigrant.

Another provision makes it a crime to transport a known illegal immigrant. Arizona’s law appears narrower: It includes language against human smuggling and makes it illegal to pick up laborers for work if doing so impedes traffic.

Alabama’s law also goes further in requiring schools to check the immigration status of their students. The measure does not prohibit illegal immigrants from attending public schools; lawmakers said the purpose instead is to gather data on how many are enrolled and how the much the state is spending to educate them.

Jared Shepherd, an attorney for the ACLU, warned that because of that provision, some immigrant parents may not send their children to school for fear of arrest or deportation.

Activists such as Shay Farley, legal director of Alabama Appleseed, an immigrant advocacy group, said the bill invites racial profiling not only by law enforcement officers but by landlords and employers.

“It’s going to make us profile our neighbors and our church brothers and sisters,” Farley said.

Alabama’s Hispanic population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 to 186,000, or 3.9 percent of the state’s nearly 4.8 million people, according to the Census.

Some farmers and other small businesses had hoped to be exempted from having to verify the immigration status of employees, fearing the database would be too costly and add too much red tape. Georgia’s recently passed immigration law, for instance, exempts businesses with fewer than 10 employees from using the database.

Alabama’s measure was modeled on Arizona’s. A federal judge blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona’s law last year after the Justice Department sued.

That includes the provision that required police to check people’s immigration status while enforcing other laws if there was reason to believe the person was in the country illegally. The case appears headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

A less restrictive law in Utah also was blocked after a lawsuit was filed.

Civil liberties groups have also sued to try to block Georgia’s law cracking down on illegal immigration.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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2 Guilty in Murder of Journalist Checking Muslim Group

OAKLAND, Calif. — A jury on Thursday found the leader of a financially troubled community group and another man guilty of murder in the daytime shooting of the first American journalist killed on U.S. soil for reporting a story in more than a decade.

Yusuf Bey IV, former head of Your Black Muslim Bakery, also was convicted in the murders of two other men in a month-long spree of violence that culminated with the fatal August 2007 shooting of 57-year-old Chauncey Bailey while he walked to the newspaper where he was investigating the financial woes of Bey’s group.

Jurors also found co-defendant Antoine Mackey guilty in the murders of Bailey and 36-year-old Michael Wills, but deadlocked on a murder charge against him in the death of 31-year-old Odell Roberson Jr.

“Justice has finally been done,” Bailey’s cousin, Wendy Ashley-Johnson, said outside court. “Now Chauncey can rest. This chapter is over.”

Founded some 40 years ago by Bey’s father, the bakery, which promoted self-empowerment, became an institution in Oakland’s black community while running a security service, school and other businesses. In recent years, the organization was tainted by connections to criminal activity.

Prosecutors argued that Bey felt he was above the law and was so desperate to protect the legacy of his family’s once-influential bakery that he ordered Bailey murdered. The Oakland Post editor had been working on a story about the organization’s finances as it descended toward bankruptcy.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said the verdicts affirmed “our abiding conviction that violence against the free voice of the press will not be tolerated in our society.”

Bey and Mackey, both 25, appeared stoic during the reading of the verdicts, which prompted tears from the families of the victims and defendants.

Bey’s attorney, Gene Peretti, said he had thought the case would end in a mistrial because jury deliberations lasted more than two weeks.

“It’s a surprise and very disappointing frankly,” Peretti said, adding that his client was “a little bit stunned.” He and Mackey’s lawyer, Gary Sirbu, said they plan to appeal.

Both men could get life in prison without the possibility of parole when they are sentenced on July 8.

Bey was charged with ordering the killing of Bailey, as well as the slayings of Roberson and Wills in July 2007.

Mackey, a former bakery supervisor, was accused of acting as the getaway driver for Devaughndre Broussard, who confessed to killing Bailey on a busy city street with three shotgun blasts, including a final shot to the face to ensure his victim was dead.

Mackey was convicted of murder for shooting Wills. He had been accused of aiding Broussard in Roberson’s shooting, but jurors couldn’t decide whether he was guilty.

Prosecutors said Bey ordered Broussard to kill Roberson in retaliation for the murder of Bey’s brother by Roberson’s nephew.

Mackey was accused of killing Wills at random after Mackey and Bey had a conversation about the Zebra murders, a string of racially motivated black-on-white killings in San Francisco in the 1970s. Bey and Mackey are black, and Wills was white.

Broussard, the prosecution’s key witness, testified that Bey ordered him and Mackey to kill the three men in exchange for a line of credit.

The two-and-a-half-month trial, which included more than 60 witnesses, had been delayed several times before finally getting under way in March. Bey’s two original lawyers resigned after prosecutors accused one of smuggling a hit list out of jail to prevent potential witnesses from testifying.

Broussard struck a plea deal of 25 years in prison in exchange for serving as the prosecution’s key witness. The 23-year-old former bakery handyman inexplicably laughed several times while testifying for more than a week, including while describing Bailey’s shooting on Aug. 2, 2007.

Lawyers for Bey and Mackey questioned Broussard’s credibility, arguing he was “a cold-blooded killer” who killed for sport and had doctored his testimony in exchange for the plea deal.

Prosecutor Melissa Krum told jurors during closing arguments that while Broussard is a “sociopath,” his testimony was credible.

“Sometimes you have to make a deal with a demon to get to the devil,” she said.

Before the killing of Bailey, Cuban-American Manuel de Dios Unanue, an outspoken journalist, was shot in the head in a New York City restaurant in 1992. Police believe drug traffickers and businessmen plotted to murder him in retaliation for hard-hitting stories he had written about their operations, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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Fox Says it Will Bid for 4 Olympics through 2020 June 7, 2011

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Fox has made its pitch for the next set of U.S. Olympic television rights, saying it wants to bid on a four-games package through 2020.

Fox sports chairman David Hill led a six-man delegation that made a two-hour presentation Monday to IOC officials, seeking to secure the first games in the U.S. for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Fox is competing against incumbent NBC and ESPN/ABC, which will make their case to the IOC on Tuesday.

At stake are rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The networks can also bid on the 2018 and 2020 Games, whose sites have not been selected.

Hill confirmed for the first time that Fox will be seeking a four-games deal.

He says “if you advertise over four games rather than two, you’re financially in a much better place.”

“It’s eight years to the day when we made our last pitch, which is also D-Day,” Hill, looking relaxed in a pink open-neck shirt and dark blazer, said as he headed into the closed-door presentation at IOC headquarters.

Asked how he was approaching the meeting, Hill said, “We don’t really plan these things. They just happen. We just chat.”

Fox is competing against incumbent NBC and ESPN/ABC, which will make their case to the IOC on Tuesday.

The three companies will submit sealed bids on Tuesday afternoon, and the IOC could announce the winner by the end of the day or order another round of bidding. It wants a deal in place before the IOC general assembly starting July 4 in Durban, South Africa.

At stake are rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In a new twist, the networks can also bid on a four-games package including the 2018 and 2020 Games, whose sites have not yet been selected.

“We’ve got three very, very strong competitive bidders,” IOC marketing director Timo Lumme told The Associated Press. “Everyone has indicated they’re here to win. We look forward to an exciting and competitive process.”

It’s the first U.S. rights auction since 2003, when NBC secured the 2010 and 2012 Olympics in a deal worth $2.2 billion.

The IOC says it hopes to surpass that fee this time. If the IOC agrees to a four-games deal, the figure could potentially run between $4-5 billion.

“Yes, we’re expecting an increase,” Lumme said. “What that increase is we don’t know. There’s every indication to show that premium sports retains a very, very important position in the programming strategies of the networks.”

NBC has broadcast every Summer Olympics since 1988 and every Winter Games since 2002, and holds the rights through next year’s London Olympics. Eight years ago, NBC and parent company General Electric outbid the same two competitors, with Fox offering $1.3 billion.

The dynamics have changed sharply this time, with NBC now under the control of cable giant Comcast and with longtime sports and Olympics chief Dick Ebersol no longer at the helm.

Ebersol resigned last month following what was described as a contract dispute with Comcast.

Ebersol was a close partner of the IOC, negotiating several multi-games deals that kept the committee’s coffers bulging and ensured the stability of the games in the Olympics’ most important financial market.

Comcast executives have made clear they’re not interested in a repeat of the 2010 Vancouver Games, when NBC lost more than $200 million in a rough economy. NBC also stands to take a similar hit from the London Olympics.

“The ownership has indicated to us it is very interested in continuing its Olympic history of NBC,” Lumme said. “We think the Comcast/NBC combination will be a very strong bidder.”

All three contenders have brought top-level delegations to Lausanne. NBC’s team includes CEO Steve Burke and Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts, while ESPN has chief executive George Bodenheimer and Disney CEO Robert Iger.

IOC TV rights negotiator Richard Carrion told The Associated Press that the big uncertainty is whether the networks will bid for two or four games. He said each network had asked for the bid forms for both options, meaning the IOC could have to decide between one network bidding on two Olympics and another on four.

“It makes the decision a little more complex,” he said. “We may have to make a judgment whether we want to go long term.”

If the networks opt for a four-games package, they will do so without knowing where the last two will be held. The IOC will select the 2018 host city on July 6 in Durban. The candidates are Annecy, France; Munich; and Pyeongchang, South Korea. The host of the 2020 Olympics will be chosen in 2013, and Rome is the only official contender so far.

Both Fox and ESPN have said they would carry all Olympic events live, breaking from NBC’s longtime practice of airing most of the games on tape-delay in prime time. ESPN broadcast all the matches live from last year’s World Cup in South Africa.

“Live coverage, of course, is always interesting to us, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to look at the whole package and we’ve got an enormous amount of trust in our broadcast partner to decide what is exactly the right mix of coverage,” Lumme said.

ESPN also brings the powerful Disney brand to the table, which raises the prospect of a possible tie-in with the games. GE threw in a $200 million global sponsorship as part of NBC’s winning bid for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics.

Also present at the bidding are U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun.

The USOC currently gets a 12.75 percent share of U.S. TV rights deals and 20 percent of global sponsorship revenues, figures many international officials consider too high. Both sides are negotiating a new revenue-sharing deal to take effect in 2020.

The USOC and IOC will renew those talks Wednesday, and say they also hope to have an agreement in place by early July.

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Art Exhibit Offers ‘Urban Therapy’ for NYers June 3, 2011

NEW YORK  — Noise never sleeps in the city. Streets are choked with vehicles that produce a near constant din of rumbling engines. Parks are often full of chattering crowds on sunny days.

The clamor is enough to make even the hardiest New Yorkers brainsick, thirsting for a spot of tranquility in the swirl of urban chaos.

An exhibit by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes that opened in a downtown Brooklyn storefront on Thursday for eight days in June could be just the palliative for the over-worked, over-stimulated New Yorker.

Called the “Sanatorium,” it is a temporary clinic where visitors can participate in 15 different idiosyncratic and tongue-in-cheek therapies that aim to lighten the load of urban life. The therapies draw from Gestalt psychology, conflict resolution techniques, corporate coaching, psychodrama, art performance and hypnosis. Volunteers will be on hand to guide visitors through the activities.

“It’s like a series of self-discovery games,” said Reyes who was sporting a lab coat during a recent visit to the sprawling “Sanatorium,” which covers two floors of an approximately 25,000-square-foot space. The artist is known for enigmatic, participatory works that blend sculpture, architecture and performance. Among his best known works is “Floating Pyramid,” a 20-foot white pyramid cast off into a Puerto Rico bay in 2004, forcing people to swim out to reach it.

Crystal Butler, 42, is one of the volunteer “therapists.” She said she could relate to the concepts at work in Reyes’ clinic.

“New York has a level of human contact and activity and noise than I have ever come in contact with in any of the other cities I lived in,” said Butler, who has lived in Washington, D.C., and Dallas, and recently moved here from Los Angeles. “People need more of a respite.”

The exhibit is the first in a series of interdisciplinary works commissioned for a two-year project by the Guggenheim Museum exploring “stillness” that will include contributions from composer Arvo Part, architectural firms Snohetta and Solid Objectives and surprise performances throughout the city by the group Improv Everywhere.

An online component includes video and data studies of noise and stillness by graduate students, including an interactive map of about 270,000 noise complaints to the city’s 311 line between 2004 and 2005.

A glance at complaints on the map recorded between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. demonstrates how ubiquitous and constant noise is: One caller said the resident in a nearby apartment at Ninth Avenue and West 43rd Street was “creating a disturbance by dropping item on the floor, moving furniture and generally making a lot of noise.”

Up the street, another caller complained of “excessive noise coming from a delivery truck.” And a couple blocks away, a caller complained of a man in a hallway yelling for somebody named “Tony” for 30 minutes.

Curator David van der Leer, who is originally from Holland, said he was struck by the commotion when he moved to New York City five years ago. “It’s such a noisy city in comparison to other cities around the world,” he said. “I wanted to do a project that was related to finding these quiet moments.”

He said the “Sanatorium” could help visitors take a step back and reflect on their lives and the city around them.

“By doing so, I think we are creating a nice, quiet zone in downtown Brooklyn,” he said.

Much like an actual clinic, visitors are greeted by receptionists, who determine what kind of therapy is appropriate to their needs, and then are directed to sit in a “waiting room” before being able to proceed.

There is “The Museum of Hypothetical Lifetimes,” where visitors curate miniature exhibits of their lives with the help of a therapist by placing small objects — tarot cards, trinkets, toys — that represent different phases of their life inside a maze-like model of a museum.

Troy Turnwald, 24, wearing baby-blue tennis shoes, a tie and jeans, was among the first visitors to curate his own miniature museum show, and said it was “extremely enlightening” to be able to associate the objects with his life. He said he had come to the exhibit to find some tranquility.

“Everybody’s got stress in their lives, and I was curious to see what was being done here to alleviate that,” said Turnwald, a cashier at a Brooklyn supermarket who moved to the city about a year ago from Grand Rapids, Mich. “I just sometimes feel assaulted by the immensity of the city.”

Another therapy is “Goodoo,” where visitors are asked to direct their “healing energies” to other people by adorning voodoo dolls with ornaments like red silk flowers, light bulbs and toy guitars. The “goodoo” dolls can then be taken home.

Somewhat more seriously, or perhaps more gut-wrenching, is a piece called “The Vaccine against Violence,” in which each visitor is asked to express their urban frustrations by attacking a hooded dummy with a balloon for a head and sporting a drawing of whatever is causing the stress. (The idea was developed by Antana Mockus, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia).

Mel Bucholtz, of Boulder, Co., will be leading individuals and groups to relax and reflect on their lives through a short therapeutic hypnosis technique he refers to as “the tuning effect.”

“I think people can benefit a lot from getting a little bit of distance from noise and frenetic activity,” he said of the exhibit. “They can actually come to a place and play to do it.”

On the first day of the exhibit, in the dimly-lit basement of the building, about two dozen people were spread out in front of Bucholtz on a mat, lounging, sitting or lying down on pillows.

As Bucholtz’s soothing voice softly guided participants through the 20-minute exercise, the faintest of snores could be heard in the room, though sleep was not the intention — and Bucholtz would pleasantly ask for people to stay awake. The objective of the exercise, he explained, was to slow the conscious mind’s brainwaves and to bring people to a sense of stillness where they can “objectively observe highly charged issues.”

After the session, Dean Daderko said he was surprised by how much calmer he felt after the exercise.

“I feel like we get used to feeling perpetually overwhelmed,” said the 39-year-old who has lived in New York City since 1996. He said when he leaves the city for the countryside or beaches, he realizes how constant the stress is.

“I always describe the beach as having a pipe cleaner through my brain,” he said. “It’s like things get cleaned out there.”

Another volunteer therapist, Anna Konkle, 24, grew up in Vermont and in a small town in Massachusetts, but moved to New York City six years ago to go to acting school. She said she grew up with a mother who practiced meditation, surrounded by nature.

Though what attracted to her the city was the hubbub and lifestyle, she said it is a struggle to stay in the present and focused.

“Here, more than anywhere else, I want to go to therapy,” she said. “Here, you can easily be broken down. There is so much stimulation.”

 

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