The Morning News is an Open Thread
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1 Jakarta hotel bombs kill 9, wound 42: police
By Telly Nathalia and Olivia Rondonuwu, Reuters
53 mins ago
|JAKARTA (Reuters) – Near-simultaneous bomb blasts ripped through the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta’s business district on Friday, killing nine people and wounding 42 others including foreign businessmen, police said.
A car bomb had also exploded along a toll road in North Jakarta, police said. Indonesia’s Metro TV said two people had been killed. No further details on that blast were available.
The bomb attacks, the first in several years, could badly dent investor confidence in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. The Indonesian government has made considerable progress in tackling security threats from militant Islamic groups in recent years, bringing a sense of greater political stability to the country.
2 Obama looks for Republican healthcare backing
By Kim Dixon, Reuters
Thu Jul 16, 8:10 pm ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama sought on Thursday to persuade Republicans to support overhaul of the U.S. healthcare industry, his signature domestic policy goal, as the measures moved on a fast track through congressional committees with only Democratic support.
A handful of Democrats on one of the three House of Representatives committees trying to speed the legislation said they also could not back the Democratic bill, but this was not seen as a major obstacle to its passage before both the House and Senate recess in the next two to three weeks.
The focus in Congress remained on finding ways to pay for the estimated $1 trillion cost of the reforms over 10 years, either through higher taxes or savings in the costly federal Medicare and Medicaid programs.
3 Obama Supreme Court pick on track for quick vote
By Andrew Quinn, Reuters
Thu Jul 16, 6:42 pm ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, appeared headed for confirmation as the first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court after Senate hearings ended on Thursday with Republicans promising a speedy vote.
But Sotomayor’s conservative critics used the last day of her hearing to make a final dramatic point on her record on race issues, hearing testimony from two firefighters who said she ruled to deny them promotions because they were not black.
Through four days before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sotomayor has calmly parried Republican attempts to depict her as unfit for a lifetime appointment to the United States’ top court and rife with liberal bias.
4 Keep Guantanamo open, September 11 families say
By Jim Loney, Reuters
Thu Jul 16, 8:59 pm ET
|GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) – Nine relatives of September 11 victims witnessed the controversial Guantanamo war court in action on Thursday and called on U.S. President Barack Obama to keep the remote detention camp and war crimes trials open.
The family members, brought to the U.S. military base in Cuba by the Pentagon, saw three of the five men accused of plotting the 2001 hijacked airliner attacks face the court set up by former President George W. Bush to try suspects in his war on terrorism.
But they did not see the alleged mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who boycotted the session.
5 NASA probes new space shuttle fuel tank problem
By Irene Klotz, Reuters
Thu Jul 16, 9:44 pm ET
|CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – NASA will hold off launching any more space shuttles until it understands why strips of insulating foam peeled off the fuel tank used by shuttle Endeavour, the U.S. space agency shuttle program manager said on Thursday.
Endeavour arrived safely in orbit after Wednesday’s liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida though video and images of the launch showed about a dozen pieces of debris flying off the fuel tank during the 8.5-minute climb to orbit.
Some smashed into the ship’s heat shield, though NASA does not believe they caused any serious damage.
6 Foreclosures at record high in first half 2009 despite aid
By Lynn Adler, Reuters
Thu Jul 16, 8:36 am ET
|NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. home foreclosure activity galloped to a record in the first half of the year, overwhelming broad efforts to remedy failing loans while job losses escalated.
Foreclosure filings jumped to a record 1.9 million on more than 1.5 million properties in the first six months of the year, RealtyTrac said on Thursday.
The number of properties drawing filings, which include notices of default and auctions, jumped 9.0 percent from the second half of 2008 and almost 15 percent from the first half of last year.
7 Chechnya activist’s murder sparks international outrage
By Aydar Buribayev and Amie Ferris-Rotman, Reuters
Thu Jul 16, 10:38 am ET
|MOSCOW (Reuters) – The abduction and murder of a prominent human rights activist from Chechnya sparked international outrage on Thursday and her grieving supporters asked “Who is next?.”
While relatives and friends returned Natalia Estimirova’s body from neighboring Ingushetia where it had been dumped in woodland, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russia to clarify the circumstances surrounding her killing.
“I expressed my shock at the death,” Merkel said after meeting Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in Germany.
8 Budget umpire: Health care bills would raise costs
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press Writer
11 mins ago
|WASHINGTON – Democrats’ health care bills won’t meet President Barack Obama’s goal of slowing the ruinous rise of medical costs, Congress’ budget umpire warned on Thursday, giving weight to critics who say the legislation could break the bank.
The sobering assessment from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf came as House Democrats pushed to pass a partisan bill through committees, while in the Senate a small group of lawmakers continued to seek a deal that could win support from both political parties.
Senators involved in the bipartisan talks said Thursday evening they are making solid progress toward a compromise they claimed would hold down costs, addressing the budgetary concerns. But it could take more time to work out difficult issues. And that means that Obama’s timetable for floor votes in the House and Senate before August would slip.
9 CIT still fighting to stay out of Chapter 11
By STEVENSON JACOBS and DANIEL WAGNER, AP Business Writers
1 hr 41 mins ago
|NEW YORK – CIT Group Inc. is continuing talks with potential lenders to secure billions in much-needed financing and stay out of bankruptcy court after the federal government declined to extend emergency aid to the troubled commercial lender.
CIT shares lost three-quarters of their value Thursday as bondholders made a last-ditch effort to prevent a Chapter 11 filing. CIT is trying to line up $2 billion to $4 billion in rescue financing from its debtholders within the next 24 hours, two sources familiar with the talks told The Associated Press. They requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
But there is no guarantee bondholders will be able to save the ailing company, which teeters on the brink after rescue talks with regulators broke off late Wednesday after days of round-the-clock negotations. The New York-based bank, one of the nation’s largest lenders to small and mid-sized businesses, faces $7.4 billion in debt that’s due in the first quarter of next year.
10 NASA lost moon footage, but Hollywood restores it
By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
Thu Jul 16, 8:26 pm ET
|WASHINGTON – NASA could put a man on the moon but didn’t have the sense to keep the original video of the live TV transmission.
In an embarrassing acknowledgment, the space agency said Thursday that it must have erased the Apollo 11 moon footage years ago so that it could reuse the videotape.
But now Hollywood is coming to the rescue.
11 Toony ‘Family Guy’ vies with live-action sitcoms
By FRAZIER MOORE, AP Television Writer
1 hr 23 mins ago
|NEW YORK – More than most other Emmy categories, the nominations for best comedy series emerge as a clash of disparate contenders.
With the announcement of the 61st annual Primetime Emmy Awards Thursday, a familiar, knotty question rears its head again: Just what kind of comedy is fit to be honored above the rest when Emmy time rolls around?
Maybe it should be a multi-camera sitcom such as CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother,” whose format takes its cue from “I Love Lucy” more than half-a-century ago. Or what about more cinematic, edgier half-hours such as HBO’s “Entourage” and Showtime’s “Weeds,” where a sexy, middle-class widow tries to maintain her family’s lifestyle by dealing drugs?
12 Wife of ex-GOP Rep. Pickering claims he had affair
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 9:49 pm ET
|JACKSON, Miss. – The estranged wife of former U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering claims in a lawsuit that the Mississippi Republican had an affair that ruined their marriage and derailed his political career.
Leisha Pickering said in the lawsuit filed this week that her husband and the woman dated in college, reconnected and began having an affair while he was in Congress and living in a building where several Christian lawmakers reside on C Street near the U.S. Capitol. Chip Pickering is the third Republican with ties to the building at 133 C Street SE to find his personal life making headlines in recent weeks, after Nevada U.S. Sen. John Ensign and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.
Leisha Pickering is seeking unspecified damages in the alienation of affection lawsuit she filed this week against Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd of Jackson. The Pickerings filed for divorce in June 2008, but it is not complete.
13 House Democrats muzzle GOP on sensitive issues
By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 9:40 pm ET
|WASHINGTON – In their zeal to protect their members from politically hazardous votes on issues such as gay marriage and gun control, Democrats running the House of Representatives are taking extraordinary steps to muzzle Republicans in this summer’s debates on spending bills.
On Thursday, for example, Republicans had hoped to force debates on abortion, school vouchers and medical marijuana, as well as gay marriage and gun control, as part of House consideration of the federal government’s contribution to the District of Columbia’s city budget.
No way, Democrats said.
14 Jumbo squid invade San Diego shores, spook divers
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 9:31 pm ET
|SAN DIEGO – Jumbo flying squid – aggressive 5-foot-long sea monsters with razor-sharp beaks and toothy tentacles – have invaded the shallow waters off San Diego, spooking scuba divers and washing up dead on tourist-packed beaches.
The carnivorous calamari, which can grow up to 100 pounds, came up from the depths last week and swarms of them roughed up unsuspecting divers. Some divers report tentacles enveloping their masks and yanking at their cameras and gear.
Stories of too-close encounters with the alien-like cephalopods have chased many veteran divers out of the water and created a whirlwind of excitement among the rest, who are torn between their personal safety and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim with the deep-sea giants.
15 Girl ‘married’ at 8 says Alamo found her ‘cute’
By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 7:26 pm ET
|TEXARKANA, Ark. – A woman who said evangelist Tony Alamo “married” her when she was 8 years old told federal jurors Thursday that he sexually assaulted her repeatedly until she dodged security cameras and roving guards to escape from his compound in 2006.
Her testimony came after another former underage bride of Alamo said she “married” the pastor at 14 through hurried whispers during visiting hours at a federal prison. That woman later noted inside a Bible the date Alamo first forced her to have sex, but left the name blank out of fear Alamo would beat her.
Alamo, 74, is named in a 10-count indictment alleging he took young girls across state lines for sex. His lawyers said the girls were moved so they could do legitimate work for the ministry, and claim the government has targeted him. He has pleaded not guilty and could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
16 Gates: More US troops could head to Afghanistan
By LARA JAKES, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 6:53 pm ET
|CHICAGO – The Pentagon’s chief said Thursday he could send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year than he’d initially expected and is considering increasing the number of soldiers in the Army.
Both issues reflect demands on increasingly stressed American forces tasked with fighting two wars.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ comments came during a short visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York – an Army post that that he said has deployed more soldiers to battle zones over the last 20 years than any other unit. Two Fort Drum brigades are headed to Iraq later this year, and a third is currently in Afghanistan.
17 Rising unemployment accelerates foreclosure crisis
By ALAN ZIBEL and TAMMY WEBBER, Associated Press Writers
Thu Jul 16, 5:10 pm ET
|WASHINGTON – Relentlessly rising unemployment is triggering more home foreclosures, threatening the Obama administration’s efforts to end the housing crisis and diminishing hopes the economy will rebound with vigor.
In past recessions, the housing industry helped get the economy back on track. Home builders ramped up production, expecting buyers to take advantage of lower prices and jump into the market. But not this time.
These days, homeowners who got fixed-rate prime mortgages because they had good credit can’t make their payments because they’re out of work. That means even more foreclosures and further declines in home values.
18 Taliban threaten to kill captured US soldier
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 5:09 pm ET
|KABUL – Local Taliban commanders threatened Thursday to kill a captured American soldier unless the U.S. military stops operations in two districts of southeastern Afghanistan.
Also Thursday, Canadian authorities announced that a Canadian soldier was killed southwest of Kandahar, bringing to 47 the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this month. That makes July the deadliest month of the war for foreign troops – with nearly half the month to go.
The Taliban claimed last week to be holding the American soldier, whom the U.S. military earlier described as possibly being in enemy hands.
19 JPMorgan profit surges on investment banking gains
By IEVA M. AUGSTUMS, AP Business Writer
Thu Jul 16, 4:53 pm ET
|CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The banking industry has another winner.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. reported a 36 percent jump in second quarter profits Thursday, easily surpassing analysts’ forecasts as huge gains in its investment banking business outweighed higher losses from bad loans.
The results came two days after rival Goldman Sachs Group Inc. also posted surprisingly good results, solidifying the companies’ position as the strongest players in the industry. Many other banks are still struggling to emerge from the worst of a credit crisis that peaked last fall as well as a recession that has sent loan defaults higher.
20 Treasurer: Budget impasse threatens Calif finances
By JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 9:23 pm ET
|SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and top lawmakers found themselves back at an impasse Thursday after they appeared to be edging toward a deal to close California’s $26.3 billion budget deficit.
The latest dispute arose over education funding and prompted state Treasurer Bill Lockyer to issue a stern warning. He said further delays will threaten the state’s ability to build schools, highways and levees.
Lockyer said the state’s recent credit-rating downgrade could jeopardize its ability to secure financing for infrastructure projects, which would hurt businesses, local governments and ultimately, taxpayers.
21 Navajos mark 30th anniversary of uranium spill
By SUE MAJOR HOLMES, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 8:05 pm ET
|CHURCH ROCK, N.M. – The leader of the Navajo Nation marked the 30th anniversary of a massive uranium tailings spill by reaffirming the tribe’s ban on future uranium mining.
Speaking in Navajo and English, President Joe Shirley Jr. addressed about 100 people who made a seven-mile walk Thursday to the site of the July 16, 1979 spill and to the land of Navajo ranchers who live near another contaminated site.
What Shirley called “the largest peacetime accidental release of radioactive contaminated materials in the history of the United States” occurred when 94 million gallons of acidic water poured into the north fork of the Rio Puerco after an earthen uranium tailings dam failed.
22 Recession billboards ask Americans to lighten up
By KELSEY ABBRUZZESE, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 5:32 pm ET
|PROVIDENCE, R.I. – “Interesting fact about recessions … they end.”
“Self worth is greater than net worth.”
“This will end long before those who caused it are paroled.”
Those are a few of the messages drivers in Rhode Island and across the country are seeing as part of a billboard campaign dubbed “Recession 101” and funded by an anonymous East Coast donor who was depressed about how the country was reacting to the economy’s tailspin.
23 Economy means more help needed to flee hurricanes
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 5:08 pm ET
|NEW ORLEANS – Extra evacuation buses. More storm shelters. A guide to doing hurricane preparation on a budget.
Because of the recession, the nation’s coastal communities are preparing to help more people evacuate if a hurricane approaches, especially residents who cannot afford to escape on their own.
“The way the economy is, nobody is able to just pick up and leave,” said Bryant St. Amant, a 39-year-old oysterman in Bayou La Batre on the Alabama coast. “You’ve got to put gas in the car and stock up on supplies.”
24 Sears Tower renamed Willis Tower in ceremony
By CARYN ROUSSEAU, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 3:47 pm ET
|CHICAGO – The Sears Tower, one of the world’s iconic skyscrapers and the tallest building in the U.S., was renamed the Willis Tower on Thursday in a downtown ceremony, marking a new chapter in the history of the giant edifice that has dominated the Chicago skyline for nearly four decades.
Mayor Richard Daley unveiled the tower’s new name on a large black sign in the lobby with the help of Joseph Plumeri, the Chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings, the London-based insurance broker that secured the naming rights as part of its agreement to lease 140,000 square feet of space in the building.
“We believe in Chicago,” Plumeri said. “You will find over time that Willis is not going to just have its name on the building, it’s going to have an impact in society, in the community.”
25 Wal-Mart exec foresees eco-ratings for all
By TOM PARSONS, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 3:02 pm ET
|LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Wal-Mart has big hopes for a new effort to develop eco-ratings for products it sells – one that goes far beyond its own stores.
“We see this as a universal – this is not a U.S. standard,” Wal-Mart Stores Inc. President and CEO Mike Duke told a gathering of more than 1,500 suppliers, nonprofit groups and company staffers at the giant retailer’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. “Across the world, this standard would work across all retailers, all suppliers.”
The meeting was intended to provide some details of Wal-Mart’s sustainability efforts, starting with the ratings that company officials hope to develop in the next few years.
26 Bones lead to mystery Miami graveyard from 1900s
By TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 16, 10:17 am ET
|MIAMI – When Enid Pinkney was a girl in the 1940s, her grandmother would tell her stories about a black cemetery nestled in the northwest corner of Miami in an area once called Lemon City.
Pinkney never saw any headstones or tombs on the former farm land, which gradually became surrounded by small homes, car lots and industrial warehouses starting in the 1950s and 1960s. Interstate 95 rumbles past a few blocks away.
But Pinkney’s grandmother was apparently right. The bones of at least 11 people – and possibly dozens more – were recently discovered during construction of an affordable housing project. A local historian says the site was probably a cemetery for settlers from the Bahamas who came to South Florida in the early 1900s to tend to wealthy whites and to help build Florida’s most cosmopolitan city.
27 Honduras protesters call for president’s return
2 hrs 22 mins ago
|TEGUCIGALPA (AFP) – Protesters calling for the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya blocked key roads around the Honduran capital, intensifying a three-week leadership crisis in this Central American state.
Demonstrations were set to continue until representatives of Zelaya and the de facto government that kicked him out of the country at gunpoint on June 28 meet for weekend talks in Costa Rica.
A first round of talks last week mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias failed to reach a breakthrough.
28 Australia presses China on Rio Tinto ‘spy’
by Talek Harris, AFP
2 hrs 3 mins ago
|SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia has urged China to deal with an alleged spy as quickly as possible as his company, mining giant Rio Tinto, rejected claims against him as “wholly without foundation.”
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said he had pressed China “politely but firmly” to push through the case, a day after Beijing angrily told Australia not to interfere.
Smith met China’s Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei during a multinational summit in Egypt as tensions rose over the arrests of Australian mining executive Stern Hu and three of his Chinese colleagues.
29 Activist murder overshadows Germany-Russia talks
by Richard Carter, AFP
Thu Jul 16, 12:59 pm ET
|MUNICH, Germany (AFP) – Talks between the German and Russian leaders on Thursday that sought to concentrate on their growing economic ties, were overshadowed by the murder of a top rights campaigner in the Caucasus.
Following the meeting at a picturesque castle in the southern city of Munich, the governments of Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Dmitry Medvedev signed a raft of agreements, including the foundation of a new joint energy agency.
The pair inked a 500-million-euro (706-million-dollar) export guarantee scheme to “go towards financing German and European exports to Russia over the next two years,” according to a statement from Germany’s KfW bank.
30 Spike in British swine flu deaths as race for vaccines begins
Thu Jul 16, 4:04 pm ET
|LONDON (AFP) – Britain announced a spike in deaths related to swine flu on Thursday, but as health experts began grappling with worst-case scenarios, difficult questions over the availability of vaccines emerged.
France and Portugal announced major orders for vaccines against the A(H1N1) virus, soon after Latin American countries expressed concern that their poorer region could miss out, despite being worst-hit by the pandemic.
In London the Health Protection Agency said 29 people with the A(H1N1) virus in Britain had so far died, a sharp increase in the death toll, which earlier this week stood at 17.