Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Marines helicopter crashes in Calif.; 2 killed

A Marine Corps helicopter crashed in a remote area of Southern California, killing the only two people who were on board, authorities said Wednesday.

The Super Cobra helicopter from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing crashed shortly before midnight Tuesday, according to a statement from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, outside San Diego.

A Defense Department accident investigation team was on the scene in the Cleveland National Forest in eastern San Diego County, said Capt. Daryll Pina of the California Department of Forestry.

The crash started a one- to two-acre fire, Pina said.

Authorities received 911 calls reporting a wildfire with explosions, and during the long drive to the remote scene fire commanders received a report from the air station that a helicopter with live ordnance was missing, Pina said.

When they arrived about 45 minutes later, fire crews waited for the fire to burn itself out before approaching the scene for fear of explosions, Pina said.

He said the crash was in an old fire break with very little vegetation in the forest north of Interstate 8.

'Idol' virgin: The judges have rock(s) in their ears

Does Adam Lambert have the judges on his payroll or have they just never heard Led Zeppelin sung outside a karaoke bar?!

That was a horrible version of "Whole Lotta Love" Tuesday night on "American Idol."

Sure, he hit the notes a guy would go for if he'd learned Led Zeppelin from a book.

But where was the nuance?

Where were the blue notes?

Where was the sense that this guy even gets why Robert Plant is such a brilliant singer for this task at hand?

There were so many spots where I found myself missing the little details in that Plant performance - the bends, the slides, the way he phrased the line "Way down inside," which may, in fact, have been the weakest part of Adam's whole performance. And that second verse?! It felt like every cheesy second-generation metal band that ever tried to be Led Zeppelin and failed just as miserably.

For this, he gets a hot and bothered Kara shouting "Rock god" like she'd know the difference anyway?

I'm gonna say it, yeah. Go back to schoolin'.

This was Adam's worst performance - shrill and soulless - since he butchered "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

Or the one that left me most annoyed.

He did redeem himself a bit when he and Allison teamed up and let their inner Mick and Tina - or Tina and Tina - take the wheel on Foghat's "Slow Ride," proving he could maybe hold a candle to Lonesome Dave Peverett of Foghat if not Robert Plant.

As for Allison, she made the most of rock night, as expected, holding up much better to potentially unflattering comparisons with a heartbreaking version of "Cry Baby" as Janis Joplin did it. It was so close to Joplin, in fact, I can't believe she didn't have the judges shouting "Karaoke!" from the rooftops. But she wore it well, with an achingly soulful delivery and a vulnerability I doubt she could have managed, say, a month ago. And there was something truly magical about the way she phrased "Oh honey, welcome back home."

At the opposite end of the "built for rock night" spectrum stood the other two contestants - Kris and Danny, who were made to sing together and given unlimited access to the greatest rock songs ever, somehow decided on "Renegade" by Styx. It was awful, but Danny was better than Kris, for what's it worth, as Simon later noted.

At the time, I typed, "They should have done a Beatles song."

But that's before I heard Kris Allen's take on "Come Together."

Granted, Kris is no John Lennon, who remains the greatest singer rock and roll has ever known. But even by his own non-rocking standards, it was pretty bland and lifeless, draining every ounce of soul and edginess from one of Lennon's greatest rockers.

If he makes it through this week, he's cuter than I think.

As for his duet partner, Danny Gokey, well, you've got to give the guy a merit badge for courage. I'm not sure what made him think he'd sound good screeching out those high notes at the end of Aerosmith's "Dream On." Or what it was about that song that made him think, "I ought to scat here." But the only part that played to any of his strengths was the opening verse, on which his soulful rasp felt right at home.

I think he'll make it through, though, with Kris Allen getting voted off. And to his credit, he set up the biggest Kara blooper of the season (which is really saying something).

She told him she saw him more as "early Aerosmith," like "Cryin'" or "Crazy."

You know, songs that hit the streets a good two decades after "Dream On . . . ."

What a fool.

I'd rank this week's performances in the following order: Allison, Danny, Adam, Kris. But Allison was way out front. And I don't even like her, really.

Report: 24% of area homeowners upside down

For homeowners who bought a house with little or no money down, and who did it within the last couple of years, the equity is not there, and a report says negative equity in the Washington area is above the national average.

According to real estate data provider, 21.8 percent of U.S. homeowners owe the bank more than their home is worth. In the Washington region, it says 23.9 percent of homeowners have negative home equity.

In the Baltimore region, 13.7 percent of homeowners are underwater.

Home prices in the Washington market have declined 14.7 percent in the last year and are down nearly 28 percent from their peak, according to’s figures.

Those figures do not break out specific jurisdictions or neighborhoods, and do not include suburban Maryland.

Las Vegas led the number of homeowners with negative equity, at 67.2 percent. California, Nevada and Florida dominate the list of cities with the greatest number of homeowners with negative equity.

New Democrat Specter loses committee seniority

Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party has cost him his seniority on Senate committees.

The Senate passed a resolution Tuesday night that made him the most junior Democrat on the committees on which he serves. The resolution was passed after an agreement was reached between leadership in both parties and Specter, said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Manley said the seniority issue will be revisited after the 2010 elections.

Specter, 79, is seeking a sixth term next year in Pennsylvania. He has said he made the decision to end his four-decade relationship with the Republican Party because he was unlikely to win the nomination in a party that has grown increasingly conservative.

Specter serves on the Appropriations, Judiciary, Veterans Affairs, Environment and Public Works, and Special Aging committees.

Specter, a former Philadelphia prosecutor, had been the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which is preparing for hearings on a Supreme Court nominee to replace the retiring Justice David Souter. When Republicans were in the majority, Specter chaired the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. He now will have to wait in line to question the nominee.

Specter also was the top Republican on the subcommittee that funds the National Institutes of Health. The issue is a personal one for him because he has twice battled cancer.

A message left with Specter's office Wednesday was not immediately returned.

US raises pressure on Pakistan, Afghan leaders to halt extremism

The Obama administration raised the pressure Wednesday on the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan to crack down on resurgent extremism seen as threatening the stability of key US anti-terror allies.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed a "common cause" when she opened talks with Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, before the two leaders meet US President Barack Obama.

"We have made this common cause because we face a common threat. We have a common task, and a common challenge," Clinton told the two leaders heading high-level delegations to Washington.

"We know that each of your countries is struggling with the extremists who would destabilize and undermine democracy," she added.

Obama wants support for his new multi-billion-dollar strategy to crush the Taliban and Al-Qaeda; Zardari seeks US military aid and a political prop-up while Karzai hopes for a purge on Taliban havens in Pakistan.

The talks come amid fresh waves of deadly clashes in Pakistan's Swat valley.

The Pakistani military said it killed more than 60 militants in heavy bombardments in an upsurge of fighting Wednesday that caused tens of thousands to flee and threatened to torpedo a northwest peace deal.

Helicopter gunships and artillery swung into action against Taliban in Swat in the deadliest fighting reported in the northwest former ski resort since a February deal sought to end a nearly two-year Taliban insurgency.

Zardari, sitting to the left of Clinton at a rectangular table in an ornate State Department room, sounded a strong note of support for the common fight.

"We stand with our brother Karzai and the people of Afghanistan against this common threat, this menace, which I have called a cancer," Zardari said.

He said Pakistan bore a "huge burden" in fighting both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, but added "we are up to the challenge because we are the democracy and democracy is the only cure to this challenge."

He argued that even though his democratically elected civilian government had been in power only a few months, it had done better fighting terrorism than his predecessor Pervez Musharraf, a general who seized power in a coup.

Karzai, seated to Clinton's right, said Pakistan and Afghanistan "are conjoined twins," adding: "Our suffering is shared."

Clinton said the three-way talks on Wednesday were aimed at finding concrete initiatives that all three countries could develop to build their democracies, boost their economies and defeat terrorism.

The chief US diplomat hailed a good start when Karzai and Zardari signed a memorandum of understanding committing the two countries to a trade agreement by the end of the year.

"This is an historic event. This agreement has been under discussion for 43 years without resolution," she added.

In maybe his most challenging diplomatic gambit yet, Obama will hold one-on-one crisis talks with both Karzai and Zardari and convene a trilateral White House summit.

Obama has made Pakistan the epicenter of the US battle against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and has dispatched 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, in addition to an extra 17,000 already committed.

A congressional aid bill would triple US civilian help to Pakistan to 1.5 billion dollars a year over the next five years.

Obama argues the United States and its allies will never prevail in the post-September 11 struggle against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda without a fresh and coordinated bid to beat Islamic militancy.

But the meetings are taking place after public disagreements between the three nations.

Washington fears the survival of Pakistan's democracy is threatened by domestic insurgents and sees fractious border areas as teeming with militants who strike at US troops in Afghanistan.

There are also international fears over corruption in the Karzai government and its lack of influence outside Kabul.

Pakistan appears irritated by recent US critiques of a crumbling peace deal with the Taliban in the Swat valley and worries about the security of its nuclear arsenal.

Karzai meanwhile has frequently bemoaned Afghan civilian casualties in US military strikes against what Washington says are terror targets.

Clinton said the United States deeply regrets the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan and added her weight to investigations into police reports that US-led air strikes against insurgents had killed 100 people.

Clinton said the United States deeply regrets the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan and added her weight to investigations into police reports that US-led air strikes against insurgents had killed 100 people.

‘Pseudo-events’ Won’t Tell Us Who Should Be Governor

By Richard A. Lee

Late last month, the Star-Ledger ran a story indicating that Governor Corzine had yet to formally announce his plans to seek re-election.

While it is true that the Governor has not held a large major campaign kick-off event, it is clear that -- as the story noted -- he is in fact seeking re-election. He has submitted the required papers to the Division of Elections to be on the ballot in November; he has a campaign web site, staff and headquarters, and he has been keeping a public schedule that suggests he is in campaign mode.

And a few days after the Ledger story appeared, Corzine told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell – on live national television – that he plans to be in the race. “I am going to be running,” he said. “I think that's the first time I've said that on television, so you're breaking news. Although, everybody knows that we filed our papers in front of the primary deadline. We're actively pursuing building our organization and preparing to run.”

The truth is the large scale public announcements that candidates make rarely are announcements at all. By the time the formal announcements take place, we already know they are running. Regardless of political party or the office being sought, these announcements are what historian Daniel Boorstin labeled “pseudo-events” that are staged to garner media coverage and shape public opinion. Boorstin, in his 1962 book ''The Image: Or What Happened to the American Dream,” offered this description of a pseudo-event:

“It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it… It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported.”

This description easily could apply to many of the stories that make their way into newspapers, radio and television stations and the internet news sites today. Although today’s journalists continue to produce powerful investigative and enterprise pieces, there is a danger that cutbacks in the industry are making it increasingly easier for pseudo-events to bypass the gatekeepers and show up as real news.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I have been behind a pseudo-event or two over the course of my career. During the 10 years I worked for Jim McGreevey when he was Mayor of Woodbridge Township, we tried to conduct a press conference or issue a news release every day. I did the math once and it came out to more than 2,500 items. Many of them were legitimate, important news announcements, but we also had our share of pseudo-events, such as the time we brought a councilwoman’s dog to a Town Hall press conference to announce the start of a per census.

But the danger of pseudo-events is not that cats and dogs will get more headlines than they deserve. It is, as Boorstin warned, that “Pseudo-events thus lead to emphasis on pseudo-qualifications.”

Think about that as New Jersey’s 2009 gubernatorial election approaches. The campaign is still in its early stages, but already we have seen:

• A popular talk-radio station hire a former girlfriend of Governor as an on-air personality;
• Joe the Plumber come to New Jersey for a campaign event; and
• New Jersey comedian Uncle Floyd launch a write-in campaign for Governor.

Like most states in the nation, New Jersey is confronting a series of major issues, with the historic downtown in the economy at the top of the list.

Pseudo-events are fun and entertaining. We enjoy reading about them and watching them. But at the end of the day, they won’t tell us what we need to know most – and that who is best qualified to serve as Governor of the Garden State for the next four years.

# # #

Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. A former journalist and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies.

Concern grows for pregnant Briton facing possible death penalty in Laos

Samantha Orobator, 20, held on heroin charge, is denied meeting with British lawyer

Samantha Orobator: held in a jail that is said to have an abusive regime.

Concern for a pregnant British woman facing a possible death penalty in Laos grew today despite claims that the country's law forbids the execution of pregnant prisoners.

Samantha Orobator, who is five months pregnant, was arrested at Wattay airport, Vientiane, in August last year, allegedly in possession of 0.6kg (1.3lb) of heroin, but her detention only recently came to light.

A Laotian government spokesman told CNN that pregnant women cannot be sentenced to death in Laos.

A spokeswoman for the legal rights charity Reprieve said Orobator's trial could be put back until she has given birth, leaving the possibility of a death sentence open.

She said: "We are acting on the assumption anything is possible because we have been denied access to Samantha."

Orobator, 20, was allowed to see a British government official today but was refused a visit by Reprieve.

The Foreign Office said the vice-consul from Bangkok had been allowed into Phonthong prison to speak to Orobator ahead of her expected trial this week.

But Anna Morris, a lawyer who has flown to the south-east Asian country on behalf of Reprieve, said she was refused access although she had arranged to meet the Briton.

Reprieve said no explanation had been given by the Laotian authorities as to why the meeting was cancelled. Morris said: "I am deeply frustrated by the lack of access to this vulnerable young woman.

"I also do not have any news of a trial date, despite being told at incredibly short notice that it will take place this week.

"Reprieve is in Vientiane [the Laotian capital] to ensure that Samantha's basic human rights are respected and protected. We urge the Lao authorities to allow us access to speak to Samantha as promised, to appoint her a Laotian lawyer and to conduct a fair and open trial process."

The Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell is due to raise the case with the Laotian deputy prime minister when they meet in the UK on Thursday.

Officials in Laos insisted Orobator will get a fair trial.

Born in Nigeria in 1988, Orobator moved to the UK when she was eight and grew up in Peckham, south London. In July last year she went to the Netherlands for a holiday and from there to Thailand and Laos. The amount of heroin she was allegedly caught with exceeds the statutory minimum for the death penalty. If she receives a jail sentence there is no existing agreement between Laos and the United Kingdom for her to be allowed to serve her sentence in the UK.

Relatives grieve for Texas woman with flu who died

HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) — This week should have been a joyous time for Judy Trunnell, a 33-year-old schoolteacher who had just given birth to a healthy baby girl.

But the friends and relatives whose cars lined the quiet street in front of her home in a quiet subdivision Tuesday instead were mourning her, the first U.S. resident with swine flu to die.

"We're grieving now," said a woman with tear-streaked eyes who declined to give her name.

In Maryland, her cousin told WMAR-TV in Baltimore that Trunnell had died after spending two weeks in the hospital. She slipped into a coma, and her baby was delivered by Cesarean section, Mario Zamora said.

"She was just a beautiful person, warm at heart. She worked with disabled children as a teacher," Zamora said. "Those that knew her will always remember her."

Texas health officials stopped short of saying that swine flu caused Trunnell's death. State health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams said the schoolteacher had "chronic underlying health conditions" but wouldn't give any more details.

She died early Tuesday after being hospitalized since April 19, said Leonel Lopez, Cameron County epidemiologist.

The only other swine flu death in the U.S. was that of a Mexico City toddler who also had other health problems and had been visiting relatives in Brownsville, near Harlingen. He died last week at a Houston children's hospital.

There have been 29 other confirmed swine flu deaths, all in Mexico. Hundreds of cases of the disease have been confirmed in several countries, but mostly in Mexico and the U.S.

Trunnell was from Harlingen, a city of about 63,000 near the U.S.-Mexico border, and taught in the Mercedes Independent School District about 15 miles west of her hometown.

She was first seen by a physician April 14 and was hospitalized on the April 19. Zamora said she had complained of difficulty breathing and was put on life support.

Doctors knew she had a flu when she came in, but did not know what kind, Lopez said. The area is undergoing a Type A influenza epidemic right now, and swine flu is one variety of that, he said. She was confirmed to have swine flu shortly before she died, he said.

Dr. Joseph McCormick, regional dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health's Brownsville campus, said the woman was extremely ill when she was hospitalized.

Mercedes school district officials announced that it would close its schools for the rest of the week and reopen Monday.

U.S. health officials changed course on their advice to schools Tuesday, saying they are no longer recommending that schools close for the swine flu. Last week, the government had advised schools to shut down for about two weeks if there were suspected cases of swine flu.

Blair: New Mideast peace plan unveiled in weeks

The Obama administration and international negotiators are drafting a new strategy for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and expect to unveil it within six weeks, said international Mideast envoy Tony Blair.

The plan is being devised by the Obama administration, with input from others, the former British prime minister told Palestinian reporters.

"We're about to get a new framework," Blair said late Tuesday. "I can only speculate right now about what that framework is going to be. The reason I say people should be more hopeful, is that this is a framework that is being worked on at the highest level in the American administration, (and) in the rest of the international community."

The Obama administration has promised to work for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It has portrayed a two-state solution as the only way to solve the Mideast conflict and defined it as a U.S. national interest.

President Barack Obama is holding separate meetings at the White House this month with the Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders to hear their views.

Once those meetings are over, the Quartet is to convene in Washington to discuss and present the new strategy, Blair said. The Quartet includes the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. "I think that within the next five to six weeks, you will have a very clear picture of what the plan is," Blair said.

He gave no details on what changes might be in store.

The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which had aimed for an agreement on Palestinian independence in 2008, ended without tangible results last year.

Israel's new hardline leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has yet to commit to a two-state solution, and supports the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in areas the Palestinians seek for their state.

The Palestinians are plagued by crippling internal division, with Gaza run by Hamas militants and the West Bank by U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Repeated efforts to forge a Palestinian unity deal, seen as a prerequisite for meaningful peace talks, have failed.

In Gaza, the Hamas government appointed a hardline lawmaker as its new interior minister. The appointment of Fathi Hamad puts him in charge of Hamas' security forces. Hamad, in his mid-40s, is the founder of Hamas' TV, radio and satellite channels, which are known for their inflammatory broadcasts against Israel and Abbas.

He succeeds Said Siyam, a hardliner who was killed in Israel's military offensive in Gaza last January. "We will continue his path of development and construction," Hamad said late Tuesday.

The international community has refused to deal with the Islamic militant group, saying it must first renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. That policy, however, has failed to persuade the group to soften its anti-Israel stance or push the Palestinian rivals to reconcile.

Another celebrity dismissed from `Dancing'

Lil Kim was booted from "Dancing With the Stars."

The curvaceous, pint-sized rapper — known for her flamboyant, hip-wiggling performance style — consistently earned high scores throughout the competition, twice topping the judges' leaderboard. But she was eliminated from the hit ABC show Tuesday.

Lil Kim faltered Monday during her waltz with professional partner Derek Hough.

Judge Carrie Ann Inaba said she saw "a lot of missteps." But judges unanimously praised the rapper's salsa, with Bruno Tonioli proclaiming, "Your booty can do no wrong."

Lil Kim came into Tuesday's results show with the week's second-lowest score: 52 points out of 60. Rodeo champ Ty Murray was in last place with 46 points, but fans kept him afloat, sending him on to compete in next week's semifinal round.

Viewer votes are combined with judges' scores to determine which couple is eliminated each week.

Show host Tom Bergeron told Lil Kim "there was a real shock in this room" when he announced she would be leaving the competition. Head judge Len Goodman said the rapper "has been one of the best dancers" ever to appear on the show.

Lil Kim kept a smile on her face as she learned her fate.

"This is one of the greatest experiences I've ever experienced in my life," she said, adding that she expanded the hit show's viewership, "because I brought people who never watched the show."

Hough said his partner has been one of his favorites.

"She's an amazing person, an amazing soul, and amazing spirit and an amazing dancer," he said.

Tuesday's results show also featured a performance by piano man Jamie Cullum and the continuation of the new professional dance-off: Three pro dancers are vying for viewer votes and a spot on the next season of the hit ABC show.

Besides Murray, three other celebrities are set to face off during next week's semifinal round: Actor Gilles Marini, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and "The Bachelor" star Melissa Rycroft.

Calif pageant eyes Prejean for contract violations

The directors of the Miss California USA pageant are looking into whether title holder Carrie Prejean violated her contract by working with a national group opposed to same-sex marriage and by posing semi-nude when she was a teenage model.

Pageant spokesman Roger Neal said Tuesday it appears Prejean has run afoul of several sections of the 12-page contract that all prospective contestants were required to sign before competing in the November state contest.

The detailed document prohibits the titular Miss California from making personal appearances, giving interviews or making commercials without permission from pageant officials. In the last 10 days, Prejean has made televised appearances at her San Diego church and on behalf of the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposed to same-sex marriage.

The contract also contains a clause asking participants to say whether they have conducted themselves "in accordance with the highest ethical and moral standards." As an example, it asks if they have ever been photographed nude or partially nude.

"As you can see from the contract, she violated multiple items," Neal said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

A photo of Prejean wearing only pink panties with her back turned to the camera appeared Monday on the gossip blog She issued a statement early Tuesday saying she posed for the shot when she was a 17-year-old model and objected to its release as an attempt to belittle her religious faith: "I am a Christian, and I am a model. Models pose for pictures, including lingerie and swimwear photos."

Prejean spokeswoman Melany Ethridge said she could not comment on the contract because she was unfamiliar with its contents. Ethridge said she had not heard the pageant directors were reviewing it.

Prejean, a San Diego native who attends San Diego Christian College, was named the first runner-up to Miss North Carolina in the Miss USA pageant April 19. Her response to a question during the pageant that she opposed same-sex marriage made her a media sensation, darling of religious conservatives and the target of embarrassing disclosures.

Her post-pageant activities also have estranged her from the two directors of the state pageant, who under the terms of the contract have almost unlimited control over Miss California's activities, including the right to revoke her crown for breaching its provisions.

On the day last week that Prejean was in Washington with National Organization for Marriage leaders to announce her support for a new advertisement the group created based on her pageant experience, Keith Lewis, co-director of the California contest, expressed concern.

"There is a contract that all participants sign that is very involved and very intricate and limits a lot of their activities," said Lewis, a Los Angeles talent agent.

Meanwhile, the Miss Universe Organization, which also owns the Miss USA pageant, confirmed Tuesday that it had sent a letter demanding the National Organization for Marriage to remove the Prejean spot from the air and the group's Web site. It includes footage from the April 19 pageant.

The Miss Universe Organization "neither sanctions nor disapproves of the viewpoints expressed in the advertisement but cannot allow its copyrighted material to be used without permission to support the National Organization for Marriage's political agenda and fundraising efforts," organization President Paula Shugart said.

NOM executive director Brian Brown said the group did not plan to comply with the pageant's request.

"It is clearly fair use, and all they are attempting to do is silence us by using false legal claims," Brown said. "But they have another thing coming if they think these ads are coming down. None of us are relenting, least of all Carrie."

NOM President Maggie Gallagher also issued a statement Tuesday sympathizing with Prejean over the release of her modeling picture and saying it did not disqualify her as a traditional marriage advocate.

"Of course Carrie is not perfect," Gallagher said. "On a personal note, as a former unwed mother, I want to say to Americans: You don't have to be a perfect person to have the right to stand up for marriage."

Red Sox complete rainy sweep of Yankees

The Boston Red Sox are doing a lot better at the new Yankee Stadium than the home team.

Jason Bay hit a three-run homer in a four-run first inning against Joba Chamberlain, and the Red Sox beat New York 7-3 Tuesday night for a rainy two-game sweep in the first trip to their rivals' $1.5 billion ballpark.

Boston improved to 5-0 against New York for the first time since 1985 and has outscored the Yankees 38-23. In 1923, the Red Sox lost their first five games at the original Yankee Stadium. New York is 6-5 overall at its new home following three straight losses.

Chamberlain (1-1) allowed hits to his first five batters, then recovered to strike out a career-high 12 in 5 2-3 innings, including nine looking. But it was too late.

Josh Beckett (3-2) bounced back from a pair of poor outings and allowed his only runs on Johnny Damon's three-run homer in the third.

Before the game, the Yankees put All-Star catcher Jorge Posada on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Boston was without first baseman Kevin Youkilis (tight left side) and lost center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a tight right hamstring in the fourth inning.

Many of the most expensive seats again were empty. Just 54 of the 98 first-row Legends Suite seats costing $2,500 were occupied in the first inning, and three of the first nine rows behind the plate were mostly vacant. Later, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, wearing a Yankees jacket, sat just to the third-base side of the plate in one of those front-row seats.

Rain began falling when Jose Veras relieved Chamberlain in the sixth, and many of the fans in the Legends Suite cleared out into the three exclusive restaurants and lounges.

Pitching a day after his mother was arrested in Nebraska on suspicion of selling methamphetamine to an undercover police officer in February, Chamberlain allowed four runs and six hits, becoming the fifth pitcher since 1900 to strike out 12 in 5 2-3 innings or less. The previous one was Philadelphia's Cole Hamels in 5 1-3 innings against Atlanta on July 24, 2006, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Chamberlain also hit Bay on the side with a pitch in the fifth.

The right-hander earned a suspension after throwing consecutive 98-99 mph pitches over Youkilis' head in August 2007, then was warned by an umpire last July when threw a high, inside pitch that sent Youkilis to the ground as the ball ricocheted off his bat.

Beckett allowed 10 hits in six-plus innings, lowering his ERA from 7.22 to 6.75. Hideki Okajima followed with six straight outs.

Singles by Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz put Boston ahead, and Bay homered into the left-field seats, the 37th homer in 11 games at Yankee Stadium. Bay is 10-for-18 (.556) with three homers and 10 RBIs against the Yankees this season.

Mike Lowell singled before J.D. Drew flied out and Jeff Bailey grounded into a double play.

After Damon's sixth homer pulled the Yankees within a run, Melky Cabrera doubled to right in the fourth but was thrown out stretching at third by Pedroia on a relay from Drew. Cabrera's second double and third hit put runners on second and third in the sixth, but Beckett struck out Ramiro Pena and retired Jose Molina on a groundout.

Jason Varitek hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth off Jonathan Albaladejo, who gave up an RBI single to Nick Green. An error by Pena at third base made both runs unearned.

Notes:@ The record of 40 homers in the first 11 games at a big league park was set at Houston's Enron Field in 2000. ... In a rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket against Toledo, Red Sox RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka allowed two hits in 2 2-3 scoreless innings. He struck out five, walked two and threw 29 of 47 pitches for strikes. He has been on the 15-day DL since April 15 because of a mild right shoulder strain. ... Chamberlain struck out nine three times, including last July 25 at Fenway Park. He became the first Yankees pitcher to strike out 12 since Mike Mussina against Seattle on May 7, 2003.

(This version CORRECTS Red Sox 7, Yankees 3. SUBS 16th graf to correct to 8th inning sted 7th.)

Luongo, Canucks top Blackhawks for 2-1 series lead

It's a hockey tradition in Chicago. The crowd roars during the National Anthem, reaching ear-splitting decibels and creating a frenetic atmosphere to start the game.

For the Chicago Blackhawks, the boost didn't last long. Instead, they fell behind — as they have in all three games of the Western Conference semifinal series against the Vancouver Canucks. And this time, they couldn't catch up.

Roberto Luongo made the early lead stand Tuesday night and the Canucks forged a 3-1 victory to grab a 2-1 lead in the series.

"You can't do it in this league. We're not going to come back on one of the best goaltenders in the league," said defenseman Brian Campbell, who had Chicago's lone goal on a power play. "We've got to come out and be ready, not take penalties. We've got to learn pretty quick or we're not going to hang around too long."

Game 4 is back at the United Center on Thursday night before the series returns to Vancouver for Game 5 on Saturday night.

After surrendering eight goals in the first two games of the series at Vancouver, Luongo finished with 23 saves Tuesday, including a spectacular stop on Dave Bolland when the Blackhawks had a power play early in the third period.

Campbell's slapper from the high circle on a power play cut the lead to 3-1, and a crowd that had been quiet for most of the night quickly erupted, hoping that another comeback was on its way.

But Luongo didn't let it happen.

The Blackhawks had rallied from 3-0 and 2-0 deficits in Games 1 and 2 and earned a split. Luongo also made a nice stop on Jonathan Toews with about 10 minutes left when the Blackhawks captain tried to stuff the puck in from the side.

"When we did make a few mistakes in the third period, Roberto made the saves he had to make," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.

Even without versatile defenseman Sami Salo, sidelined by an injury, Vancouver kept the speedy Blackhawks from getting up and down the ice like they did in Game 2 when they pulled out a 6-3 victory.

"That was our game plan, not to feed their transition," Luongo said. "The had a lot of scoring chances the last couple of games because of it. Our defensemen did a good job in front of the net."

Vancouver also got a lift from left wing Taylor Pyatt, who played for the first time since the death of his fiancee in a car crash in early April.

"Without a doubt it was a very emotional moment for us as a group," Vigneault said. "He played a really good game for somebody who has been out for some time. He really helped us."

Pyatt said he was glad to get back on the ice.

"I was a little nervous before the game. I wasn't even sure I was going to play," he said. "I felt OK. There was a lot of adrenaline flowing."

Mason Raymond scored for the Canucks late in the first and Steve Bernier's goal during a power play early in the second put Vancouver up by two. Henrik Sedin's fourth goal of the playoffs made it 3-0 in the second.

"I just think we came out flat," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. "They had the jump on us. It's frustrating that way to let them get the first goal. You can't come back every game."

The Blackhawks will try to figure out how to manufacture a quicker start when they regroups for practice Wednesday.

"We weren't crisp with the puck. We didn't get it deep or get it to the net," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I didn't like anything about our game."

Ducks 2, Red Wings 1

At Anaheim, Calif., Teemu Selanne scored in the first period, Scott Niedermayer added a goal in the second, and Jonas Hiller made 18 of his 45 saves in the third for the Ducks, who grabbed a 2-1 lead over Detroit in the Western Conference semifinal series.

After building the first multiple-goal lead of the series, Hiller and the Ducks survived a third-period barrage by the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.

Detroit nearly tied the game with 1:09 remaining when Marian Hossa dived to knock in a loose puck in front of Hiller, but referee Brad Watson lost sight of the puck and whistled the play dead before the purported goal.

The Red Wings got a goal from Henrik Zetterberg in the second period and had a pair of power plays in the final 9:35, but couldn't tie it.

Game 4 is in Anaheim on Thursday before the series returns to Detroit for Game 5 on Sunday.

Source: No charges seen over interrogation memos

Justice Department investigators say Bush administration lawyers who approved harsh interrogation techniques of terror suspects should not face criminal charges, according to a draft report that also recommends two of the three attorneys face possible professional sanctions.

The Obama administration decided last month to make public legal memos authorizing the use of harsh interrogation methods but not to prosecute CIA interrogators who followed the advice outlined in the memos.

That decision angered conservatives who accused President Barack Obama of selling out the CIA, and from liberals who thought he was being too forgiving of practices they — and Obama — call torture. The president's rhetoric, if not actual policy, shifted on the matter as the political fallout intensified.

Officials conducting the internal Justice Department inquiry into the lawyers who wrote those memos have recommended referring two of the three lawyers — John Yoo and Jay Bybee — to state bar associations for possible disciplinary action, according to a person familiar with the inquiry. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was not authorized to discuss the inquiry.

The person noted that the investigative report was still in draft form and subject to revisions. Attorney General Eric Holder also may make his own determination about what steps to take once the report has been finalized.

The inquiry has become a politically loaded guessing game, with some advocating criminal charges against the lawyers and others urging that the matter be dropped.

In a letter to two senators, the Justice Department said a key deadline in the inquiry expired Monday, signaling that most of the work on the matter was completed. The letter does not mention the possibility of criminal charges, nor does it name the lawyers under scrutiny.

The letter did not indicate what the findings of the final report would be. Bybee, Yoo and Steven Bradbury worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and played key roles in crafting the legal justification for techniques critics call torture.

The memos were written as the Bush administration grappled with the fear and uncertainty following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Over the years that followed, lawyers re-examined and rewrote much of the legal advice.

In the memos released by the Obama administration, the Bush lawyers authorized methods including waterboarding, throwing subjects against walls and forced nudity.

In releasing the documents, Obama declared that CIA interrogators who followed the memos would not be prosecuted. The president left it to Holder to decide whether those who authorized or approved the methods should face charges.

When that inquiry neared completion last year, investigators recommended seeking professional sanctions against Bybee and Yoo, but not Bradbury, according to the person familiar with the matter. Those would come in the form of recommendations to state bar associations, where the most severe possible punishment is disbarment.

Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, called the decision not to seek criminal charges "inconceivable, given all that we know about the twisted logic of these memos."

Warren argued the only reason for such a decision "is to provide political cover for people inside the Obama White House so they don't have to pursue what needs to be done."

Bybee is now a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Yoo is a professor at the University of California-Berkeley. Bradbury returned to private practice when he left the government at the end of President George W. Bush's term in the White House.

Asked for comment, Yoo's lawyer, Miguel Estrada, said he signed an agreement with the Justice Department not to discuss the draft report. Lawyer Maureen Mahoney, who is representing Bybee, also declined to comment.

"The former employees have until May 4, 2009 to provide their comments on the draft report," states the letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Whitehouse has scheduled a hearing on the issue next week.

Now that the deadline has passed, there is little more for officials to do but make revisions to it based on the responses they've received, and decide how much, if any, of the findings should be made public.

Both Whitehouse and Durbin have pressed the Justice Department for more information about the progress of the investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility.

The office examines possible ethics violations by Justice Department employees. On rare occasions, those inquiries become full-blown criminal investigations.

The language of the letter, dated Monday, indicates the inquiry will result in a final report.

The letter notes that Holder and his top deputy will have access to any information they need "to evaluate the final report and make determinations about appropriate next steps."

The results of the investigation were delayed late last year, when then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy asked investigators to allow the lawyers a chance to respond to their findings, as is typically done for those who still work for the Justice Department.

Investigators also shared a draft copy with the CIA to review whether the findings contained any classified information. According to the letter, the CIA then requested to comment on the report.

US journalist jailed in Iran ends hunger strike

— The father of American journalist jailed in Iran for allegedly spying for the U.S. says his daughter has ended her hunger strike for health reasons.

Roxana Saberi, a dual Iranian-American national was convicted of spying for the U.S. last month and sentenced to eight years in prison after a one-day trial behind closed doors.

Reza Saberi, the journalist's father, told The Associated Press Wednesday that his daughter ended her hunger strike Monday evening to prevent further deterioration of her health.

Iran's judiciary, however, has denied that Saberi was ever on a hunger strike. An appeals court will hear her case next week.

Schwarzenegger says Calif. should have pot debate

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says it's time for a debate on whether to legalize marijuana, though he says he's not supporting the idea.

Schwarzenegger spoke Tuesday in Davis during an event to promote wildfire safety. He warns against making potentially harmful decisions just to raise money and says some countries that have decriminalized pot have had negative experiences.

Democratic state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano says legalizing marijuana for adults over age 21 and taxing it at $50 per ounce would bring the state more than $1 billion a year. He has a bill in the Legislature but has delayed seeking approval until next year.

California became the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana in 1996. A dozen other states now have similar laws.

Face transplant recipient: 'I'm not a monster'

When Connie Culp heard a little kid call her a monster because of the shotgun blast that left her face horribly disfigured, she pulled out her driver's license to show the child what she used to look like. Years later, sporting the nation's first surgically attached face, she's stepped forward to show the rest of the world what she looks like now.

Her expressions are still a bit wooden, but she can talk, smile, smell and taste her food again. Her speech is at times a little tough to understood. Her face is bloated and squarish. Her skin droops in big folds that doctors plan to pare away as her circulation improves and her nerves grow, animating her new muscles.

But Culp had nothing but praise for those who made her new face possible.

"I guess I'm the one you came to see today," the 46-year-old Ohio woman said at a news conference at the Cleveland Clinic, where the groundbreaking operation was performed. But "I think it's more important that you focus on the donor family that made it so I could have this person's face."

Until Tuesday, Culp's identity and how she came to be disfigured were a secret.

Culp's husband, Thomas, shot her in 2004, then turned the gun on himself. He went to prison for seven years. His wife was left clinging to life. The blast shattered her nose, cheeks, the roof of her mouth and an eye. Hundreds of fragments of shotgun pellet and bone splinters were embedded in her face. She needed a tube into her windpipe to breathe. Only her upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip and chin were left.

A plastic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Risal Djohan, got a look at her injuries two months later. "He told me he didn't think, he wasn't sure, if he could fix me, but he'd try," Culp recalled.

She endured 30 operations to try to fix her face. Doctors took parts of her ribs to make cheekbones and fashioned an upper jaw from one of her leg bones. She had countless skin grafts from her thighs. Still, she was left unable to eat solid food, breathe on her own, or smell.

Then, on Dec. 10, in a 22-hour operation, Dr. Maria Siemionow led a team of doctors who replaced 80 percent of Culp's face with bone, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels from another woman who had just died. It was the fourth face transplant in the world, though the others were not as extensive.

"Here I am, five years later. He did what he said — I got me my nose," Culp said of Djohan, laughing.

In January, she was able to eat pizza, chicken and hamburgers for the first time in years. She loves to have cookies with a cup of coffee, Siemionow said.

No information has been released about the donor or how she died, but her family members were moved when they saw before-and-after pictures of Culp, Siemionow said.

Culp said she wants to help foster acceptance of those who have suffered burns and other disfiguring injuries.

"When somebody has a disfigurement and don't look as pretty as you do, don't judge them, because you never know what happened to them," she said. "Don't judge people who don't look the same as you do. Because you never know. One day it might be all taken away."

It's a role she has already practiced, said clinic psychiatrist Dr. Kathy Coffman.

Once while shopping, she heard a little kid say, `You said there were no real monsters, Mommy, and there's one right there,'" Coffman said. Culp stopped and said, "I'm not a monster. I'm a person who was shot," and pulled out her driver's license to show the child what she used to look like, the psychiatrist said.

Culp, who is from the small town of Unionport, near the Pennsylvania line, told her doctors she just wants to blend back into society. She has a son and a daughter who live near her, and two preschooler grandsons. Before she was shot, she and her husband ran a painting and contracting business, and she did everything from hanging drywall to a little plumbing, Coffman said.

Culp left the hospital Feb. 5 and has returned for periodic follow-up care. She has suffered only one mild rejection episode that was controlled with a single dose of steroid medicines, her doctors said. She must take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of her life, but her dosage has been greatly reduced and she needs only a few pills a day.

The clinic expects to absorb the cost of the transplant because it was experimental, doctors said. Siemionow estimated it at $250,000 to $300,000. That is less than the $1 million that other surgeons estimate it costs them to treat other severely disfigured people through dozens of separate operations, she said.

Also at the Cleveland Clinic is Charla Nash of Stamford, Conn., who was attacked by a friend's chimpanzee in February. She lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids, and will be blind, doctors said. Clinic officials said it is premature to discuss the possibility of a face transplant for her.

In April, doctors at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston performed the nation's second face transplant, on a man disfigured in a freak accident. It was the world's seventh such operation. The first, in 2005, was performed in France on Isabelle Dinoire, a woman who had been mauled by her dog.

Dollar higher after ISM, Bernanke point to better economy

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- The U.S. dollar rose versus the euro and recovered against other major currencies after the Institute of Supply Management's survey of service businesses showed that sector of the economy contracted at a slower pace last month.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke added support, telling Congress that the economy is bottoming out.
The euro fell to $1.3319, down from above $1.3400 in late North American trading
DXY 84.07, -0.08, -0.1%) , a measure of the greenback against a trade-weighted basket of currencies, rose above 84.129, from 83.753 from Monday.

"Optimistic comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and a slower pace of contraction in the service sector have helped to drive the U.S. dollar higher," said Kathy Lien, director of currency research at Global Forex Trading.
The ISM's non-manufacturing index rose more than analysts expected to 43.7 in April, from 40.8 the previous month. That's the highest reading since October. Readings below 50 indicate the industry is contracting. See more on ISM report.
The economy likely to improve later this year if the banking system recovery remains on track, Bernanke said. See more on Bernanke.

The dollar bought 98.93 Japanese yen, from 98.77 yen Monday.
The dollar had been under some pressure earlier, amid reports that more banks may need to raise capital.
U.S. stock markets slid. The dollar and the Japanese yen have tended to lose ground during periods of increased risk appetite, while rallying when investors flee riskier assets amid financial turmoil and rising economic fears.
The Wall Street Journal on Monday said U.S. officials are expected to direct 10 of the 19 banks undergoing stress tests to boost their capital. See more on banks.
The release of the stress test results, expected Thursday, is "an event risk and may be constraining US dollar gains," said Marc Chandler global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman.

The European single currency lost, retreating slightly off of a monthly high versus the dollar ahead of a meeting later this week of European Central Bank policy makers.
The statistics agency Eurostat said annual producer-price inflation fell 3.1% in March, the steepest drop in 22 years. That puts additional focus on Thursday's meeting of the European Central Bank, where policy makers are widely expected to cut the key lending rate by a quarter point to 1%.

The Australian dollar jumped to a seven-month high versus the U.S. unit and rallied sharply versus other currencies after the Reserve Bank of Australia said it would leave its policy rate unchanged at 3%, citing further signs of stabilization in the global economy. See full story.
The Aussie dollar gained 0.7% versus the U.S. unit to buy 74.49 U.S. cents in recent action.

The decision was widely expected, but analysts said strong gains by commodities and an upbeat assessment of Australia's domestic economic outlook helped fuel the rally. End of Story
Deborah Levine is a MarketWatch reporter, based in New York. William L. Watts in London contributed to this report.

Netanyahu, listen to Obama

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares for his meeting in Washington with U.S. President Barack Obama, the White House is sending tough messages to Israel about its expectations. In his speech at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said this was a moment of truth for Israel. The United States is committed to the principle of two states for two peoples, he said, and this is the only solution, so all the parties must meet their obligations, no matter how difficult. Other administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones - who said the Palestinian issue was a high priority - conveyed similar messages.

The U.S. administration is signaling to Netanyahu that he needs to present Obama with a serious plan for a peace agreement centered around the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel - and that there is no point in wasting Obama's valuable time with futile attempts to bypass the internationally accepted two-state solution, set preconditions for negotiations or place any other obstacles in the way. Netanyahu has put Iran at the top of his agenda, but the administration is making it clear that combating the Iranian threat depends on progress on the Palestinian track.

Netanyahu must heed Obama's message and see it as an opportunity to advance the peace process with the help of an active and involved American president who is politically powerful and enjoys international prestige. Instead of going to Washington as someone who refuses to make peace and is attempting to thwart United States policy in the Middle East, Netanyahu needs to seek paths for cooperation and understanding with Obama.

This week marks a full decade since the deadline set by the Oslo Accords for an Israeli-Palestinian final-status agreement. Netanyahu, who was prime minister at that time, would do well to learn a lesson from the opportunity he missed and take advantage of the second chance he has been given to lead the country to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. He will thereby be able to fulfill his dream of making history, as President Shimon Peres said about him.

Netanyahu will have to take political risks. But if he continues his evasions and excuses in an effort to keep his right-wing political partners by his side, he will be remembered by history as a prime minister who wasted his time in power.