Archive for October 2008

Qantas plane had glitch before altitude plunge

October 8, 2008

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — Instruments aboard a Qantas airliner warned of a glitch in its stabilization system when it suddenly rose and plunged, tossing unbelted passengers to the ceiling and injuring more than 70 people, Australian investigators said Wednesday.

File image of a Qantas airliner

The Australian carrier has been plagued by a series of other safety issues recently.

The A330-300 was carrying 303 passengers and 10 crew from Singapore to the Western Australian city of Perth, and was nearing its destination Tuesday when it experienced the sudden altitude changes while flying at 37,000 feet.

The plane made an emergency landing in Learmonth, Western Australia.

Passenger Jim Ford, of Perth, said he thought he was about to die as he watched people being flung around the cabin.

“It was horrendous, absolutely gruesome, terrible, the worst experience of my life,” he said after being transferred to Perth airport following the incident.

Air Transport Safety Bureau investigators quarantined the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder and planned to interview crew and passengers. Video Watch more about the incident »

Julian Walsh, director of the bureau’s aviation safety investigation, told reporters that the pilots received electronic messages “relating to some irregularity with the aircraft’s elevator control system.”

That system helps keep the plane stable and level in flight.

The aircraft then “departed level flight,” and climbed approximately 300 feet, he said.

“The crew had initiated the non-normal checklist response actions. The aircraft is then reported to have abruptly pitched nose down,” Walsh said.

It was unclear how far in altitude the aircraft dropped during the incident.

Passengers who were not wearing seatbelts flew into the air, some hitting the ceiling of the plane.

Walsh said 14 people had serious, but not life-threatening, injuries such as concussions and broken bones. Thirty other passengers were treated in hospitals for concussions, minor lacerations and fractures. Another 30 people with minor bruises and stiff necks did not require hospital treatment.

Walsh said it was too soon to draw any conclusions about the specific cause of the accident, but that a preliminary report would be released within 30 days.

The ATSB investigation will examine the flight data recorders, on-board computer systems, air traffic control and radar warnings and weather conditions, he said.

A Qantas spokesman said the airline had no immediate response and no update on the incident.

It was the latest in a string of issues to plague the Australian airline since one of its flights was forced to make an emergency landing in the Philippines in July after an oxygen tank exploded on board, ripping a gaping hole in the fuselage

Missing beauty queen was mending broken heart

October 8, 2008

NEW YORK (CNN) — Tara Grinstead, a 30-year-old schoolteacher and former beauty queen, attended a Saturday night beauty pageant and then left a dinner party, telling friends she was going straight home. She has not been seen since that night — October 22, 2005.

Tara Grinstead, a former beauty queen who taught at a Georgia high school, was last seen on October 22, 2005.

Tara Grinstead, a former beauty queen who taught at a Georgia high school, was last seen on October 22, 2005.

 Friends and family called Grinstead the next day, but couldn’t reach her.

The following Monday, when she did not show up for work at Irwin County High School, co-workers called police and reported her missing.

When police arrived at her home in Ocilla, Georgia, they found the clothes she wore Saturday night piled on her bedroom floor. Her cell phone was charging in the wall outlet, and her car was parked in the driveway. Video Watch how Grinstead’s home looked »

Her purse and keys were missing.

A latex glove found in Grinstead’s front lawn was sent to a laboratory for DNA testing. The results were inconclusive.

Grinstead’s family says she was a very tidy person and would never leave her clothes on the floor. They said she never went anywhere without her cell phone.

They found it strange that her car doors were unlocked and that her car seat was pushed back way too far for someone her size. She was petite — 5 feet, 3 inches tall — and typically kept the seat much closer to the steering wheel.

Also strange: An envelope full of cash was found on her dashboard, and her dog and cat were abandoned. Neither police nor family could say where the money came from or whether it belonged to Grinstead, and her sister and friends say Grinstead was an animal lover who wouldn’t leave her pets without making arrangements for them.

The house showed no signs of a break-in or struggle, but Grinstead’s bedside clock was found under her bed, and the time it displayed was six hours off. A lamp that was broken into two pieces was propped against the wall on her nightstand.

Co-workers and students at Irwin County High say the 11th-grade teacher was well-liked. She always seemed to be happy and appeared to lead a charmed life. She was beautiful, popular, dedicated and determined.

She was applying for a doctoral program in history and making plans for a very bright future, said her sister Anita Gattis.

But there were hints of trouble in her personal life. Grinstead’s boyfriend of six years left her broken-hearted a year before, but had returned to town just a few weeks before she disappeared.

He was dating a much younger woman but continued to call Grinstead. The former couple had argued a week before her disappearance, Grinstead’s sister said.

Then there was Grinstead’s young former student, who claimed to have had an affair with her. Police records show that she had him arrested for coming to her house and harassing her. Later, those charges were dropped.

And Grinstead had lodged a complaint with the police department against one of its officers. The officer was friendly with her former boyfriend, and on the night Grinstead disappeared, the two men were seen together in his patrol car, on what is known in police circles as a “ride-along.”

Police characterize their investigation as a missing-person case. Investigators are not ruling out the possibility of foul play, but without more evidence, they say it is also quite possible that Grinstead may have just walked away from all the drama in her personal life.

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Grinstead’s family and friends insist she is not the kind of person to go off on her own without being in touch with her family. They emphasize that the circumstances surrounding her disappearance are highly of out of character for her. They are certain she was abducted.

Police have not named any suspects but continue to hope for tips that could help their investigation. The total reward offered is $200,000 — $100,000 for Grinstead’s safe return and $100,000 for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for abducting her. To report a tip, call 229-468-TIPS.

Battleground states

October 8, 2008

Do you live in a hotly contested state? Are you getting tons of phone calls from presidential campaigns? Show us candidates’ efforts in your community.

What issues could sway your state one way or the other? Tell us which states are burning hot for Election 2008 and let us in on the talk of the town.

Send photos and video of campaigning in your area, and share your views on the election from your battleground state.

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Viacom targets venture capitalists behind YouTube

October 8, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — As part of its effort to prove that the business model behind Google Inc.’s YouTube unit depends on copyright infringement, Viacom Inc. has targeted early investors who seeded the video-sharing service and cashed in when they sold it roughly two years ago.
   


4:00pm 10/07/2008
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in their early days, first invested in YouTube in 2005. As a result of the start-up’s sale to Google in late 2006 for $1.65 billion, Sequoia received Google shares valued at $504 million, according to court filings.

Artis Capital Management received shares worth $83 million as a result of the sale, and TriplePoint received shares worth $6.4 million, according to court filings.
Viacom is seeking documents related to ‘proposed indemnification for copyright infringement’ relating to the Google-YouTube merger.
In court filings, Viacom said that it’s specifically seeking documents related to the firms’ “actual and potential” investment in YouTube, Google’s acquisition of the start-up and a “proposed indemnification for copyright infringement relating to this merger.”
Viacom’s effort to obtain the documents is part of an ongoing legal fight with Google that began last year.
The media conglomerate alleges that YouTube’s financial viability depends on making copyrighted works available without proper permission. Google has countered that it respects copyright, and it is developing technology to help copyright owners manage how and when their property appears on services such as YouTube.
Catherine Lacavera, Google’s senior litigation counsel, said that Viacom’s effort to obtain documents from YouTube’s early investors is “not out of the ordinary” for such litigation.
Viacom spokesman Jeremy Zweig declined to comment. Sequoia Capital spokesman Mark Dempster did not respond to a request for comment.
Viacom’s lawsuit, filed in March 2007 in New York, has proven to be a nagging headache for Google. In July of this year, Viacom won a ruling that ordered the search giant to hand over data reflecting the video-watching habits of YouTube users, igniting privacy concerns. See related story.
Now the traditionally secretive venture-capital firms that seed startups like YouTube are being pressed into divulging internal information. Viacom said in court filings that it cannot rely on YouTube to produce the documents, which date from an early, “transient” period when it was housed in a garage and at its investors’ offices. End of Story

Obama and McCain Clash Over Economy

October 8, 2008

The gravity of the moment and the somber setting — a town-hall-style meeting in front of 80 selected voters who, when not asking questions, watched in silence, not applauding or laughing — produced an often stifled encounter, largely absent of dramatic confrontations or the personal exchanges that dominated the campaign over the past 24 hours.

Mr. McCain chose not to use the evening — the second of three scheduled debates — to attack Mr. Obama’s background or character. But in a moment that caught the attention of people in both parties, he appeared agitated at one point as he dismissively criticized Mr. Obama’s record in the Senate and referred to his opponent only as “that one.”

Mr. Obama placed the blame for the financial crisis on deregulation and the lack of fiscal discipline under President Bush, whom he repeatedly linked to Mr. McCain. Mr. McCain, at every opportunity, presented his opponent as an advocate of spending and higher taxes, while presenting himself as pragmatic, willing to reach across the aisle and sometimes at odds with Mr. Bush.

Mr. McCain sought to break through by highlighting a proposal under which the Treasury Department would buy up homeowners’ mortgages that had gone bad, and in effect refinance them at prices they could afford. Still, arriving in Nashville for the debate, it was Mr. McCain who was feeling the pressure to do something to break out, with polls suggesting that Mr. Obama was gaining ground and with just one more debate left. There were no obvious dramatic breakthrough moments by Mr. McCain; indeed, although the two men pummeled back and forth, it was Mr. Obama who more consistently sought to draw sharp contrasts between the voting records and campaign promises of the two.

Mr. McCain kept his distance from the types of attacks on Mr. Obama’s background and character launched in recent days by his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. Not only did he not mention Bill Ayers, the 1960s radical that the McCain campaign — and Ms. Palin in particular– has sought to link to Mr. Obama, he did not mention Ms. Palin once.

Instead, standing in what he has long described as his favorite campaign setting – a town hall meeting, albeit one set up under extraordinary strict restrictions that limited any interaction between candidates and voter – he seemed more the McCain of an earlier campaign, repeatedly presenting himself as the agent who could end partisan division in Washington. Again and again, he criticized Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, invoking the names of such Democratic senators as Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold, as well as his friend, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who ran for vice president as a Democrat in 200 but has endorsed Mr. McCain,.

“I have a clear record of bipartisanship,” he said “The situation today cries out

for bipartisanship. Senator Obama has never taken on his leaders of his party on a single issue. And we need to reform.”

In a moment that suggested Mr. McCain’s impatience with his opponent, he described the differences between the two candidates on energy policy.

“By the way, my friends, I know you grow a little weary of this back and forth: there was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate, loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney he said. “You who voted for it? You might never know.”

He cast his arm at Mr. Obama. “That one,” he said. “You know who voted against it? Me.”

By contrast, it was Mr. Obama who at every opportunity draw aggressive contrasts between the candidates views on domestic and foreign policy.

“Senator McCain and I actually agree on something,” Mr. Obama said “He said a while back that the big problem with energy is that for the last 30 years politicians in Washington haven’t done anything. What McCain mention is he’s been there 26 of them and during that time he voted 23 times against alternative fuels.”

At another point, Mr. McCain criticized Mr. Obama for saying he would speak, without preconditions, to the leaders of countries like Pakistan, quoting Teddy Roosevelt – at first incorrectly — explaining the way he would deal with leaders of foes.

“You know, my hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt,” he said. “Teddy Roosevelt used

to say walk softly — talk softly, but carry a big stick. Senator Obama likes to talk loudly.”

Mr. Obama raised his hand to respond as the moderator, Tom Brokaw – in one of many times he struggled to keep the two men to comport to highly restrictive rules that they had agreed to – sought to move on to the next question

“Senator McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I’m green behind the ears and, you know, I’m just spouting off, and he’s somber and responsible,” he said. “Senator McCain, this is the guy who sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That I don’t think is an example of “speaking softly.”

With Outlook Dim, Bernanke Says Fed May Act on Rates

October 8, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, said on Tuesday that the turmoil in the financial markets had increased the risk to overall growth and that federal regulators would have to be vigilant to halt the slide.

 

 “Over all, the combination of the incoming data and recent financial developments suggests that the outlook for economic growth has worsened and that the downside risks to growth have increased,” Mr. Bernanke told members of the National Association for Business Economics.

In an address that was at once sobering but hopeful, at least for the long term, Mr. Bernanke hinted strongly that the Fed’s Board of Governors would probably lower interest rates at its next meeting, on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29.

And he said that, however reluctantly, the Fed would continue to aggressively use all the tools it had to help ease the financial turmoil. “These are momentous steps,” he said, “but they are being taken to address a problem of historic dimensions.”

Only a few weeks ago, the Fed’s official posture was that inflation was a serious concern. But now, even though the outlook remains uncertain, inflation has eased somewhat. “In light of these developments, the Federal Reserve will need to consider whether the current stance of policy remains appropriate,” Mr. Bernanke said.

In effect, he was preparing the markets, and perhaps the country and even the world, to expect a lowering of the benchmark interest rate that applies to bank-to-bank lending, now at 2 percent.

Moreover, Mr. Bernanke, while expressing faith in the just-enacted recovery program under which the government will buy troubled mortgage-backed securities and then resell them, seemed to counsel against counting on an overnight recovery.

“With time,” Mr. Bernanke said, “strengthening our financial institutions and markets will allow credit to begin flowing again, supporting economic growth.”

The chairman emphasized that freeing the credit markets might be the most immediate need, not just for businesses that need the money to finance day-to-day operations but for ordinary households. “By potentially restricting future flows of credit,” he said, “the developments in financial markets post a significant threat to economic growth.”

President Bush also warned Tuesday against expecting a quick fix.

“It’s going to take time for these actions that I’ve described to you in the bill to have full effect,” he told a business gathering in Chantilly, Va. “You want to make sure that when we move, we move effectively. You want to make sure that the plan is well thought-out and well-delivered. Thawing the freeze in the financial system is not going to overnight, but it will be a process that unfolds over several stages.”

Mr. Bernanke spoke hours after the Fed announced a new program to buy up companies’ unsecured debt, a plan that pushes the agency closer than ever to the role of direct lender to business.

Mr. Bernanke said at the outset that the deep involvement of the Fed and other Washington agencies in trying to right the economy was not a development that he gladly embraced — but that dire circumstances required it.

“Government assistance should be provided with the greatest reluctance and only when the stability of the financial system, and thus the health of the broader economy, is at risk,” he said.

Mr. Bernanke virtually predicted an economy that would be sluggish, at best, in the near term. “All told, economic activity is likely to be subdued during the remainder of this year and into next year,” he said.

His comments were not entirely pessimistic. He predicted, for instance, that the recovery program’s cost to taxpayers “will certainly be far less than $700 billion,” the amount called for to purchase the troubled mortgage-backed securities. By extension, he was predicting that the securities might be worth something to investors, and perhaps much more than their opaque nature would indicate right now.

Finally, Mr. Bernanke, who is an authority on the Great Depression, said that the country and its federal officials had learned from history that inaction or delayed reaction to financial calamity could be disastrous.

“This is not the situation we face today,” he said, predicting that official Washington’s fast response “together with the natural recuperative powers of the financial markets” will pave the way toward recovery.

Hundreds Injured in Thai Protests

October 8, 2008

BANGKOK — Thailand’s political crisis worsened Tuesday when antigovernment protesters trapped lawmakers inside the Parliament building and fought running battles with the police that left one person dead and nearly 400 injured.

Chumsak Kanoknan/Getty Images

Riot police officers beat an antigovernment protester outside Parliament in Bangkok on Tuesday. At least one person was killed during a series of street battles.

The violence on Tuesday included attacks on the Thai police by protesters armed with sticks. Lawmakers were trapped inside Parliament for several hours before they were able to escape.

The army was deployed on the streets of Bangkok after the worst political violence since 1992 as protesters continued a six-week sit-in outside the prime minister’s office, forcing the government to conduct its business from a former international airport.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat asserted that he would not step down, and the military repeated a promise not to stage a coup, while the protesters said they would continue their actions until they brought down the government.

They accuse the ruling party of being an extension of the rule of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was elected on a populist program in 2001 and ousted in a coup in September 2006. He now lives in London but continues to exert influence among his allies here.

The protesters surrounded Parliament throughout the day Tuesday, and Mr. Somchai left by escaping over a back fence in the morning after delivering a policy address. But other members of Parliament were unable to leave for more than five hours, until the police dispersed the protesters with volleys of tear gas.

The Thai military announced that it would deploy unarmed troops to help the police keep peace in the days to come.

“We ran, ran, ran,” said one Parliament member, Niyom Vejkarma, who had stripped off his jacket and tie and fled from the building in his patent leather shoes.

“My eyes are sore,” he said, referring to the tear gas that lingered in the air as he and fellow lawmakers stood at a street corner with their cellphones and called their drivers.

The assault on Parliament was the culmination of an escalating feud between an urban elite trying to reclaim traditional hierarchical authority and a democratically elected government backed by a rising rural underclass.

The protesters were led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, a patchwork coalition of businessmen, academics and activists who have held street demonstrations against the government since May, and occupied the grounds on Aug. 26.

Their protests have remained mostly peaceful, but they have set the country on edge with memories of a military crackdown in 1992 when the army killed dozens of pro-democracy protesters demanding the ouster of a military-backed government.

Speaking to reporters after the violence subsided late Tuesday, Cmdr. Gen. Anupong Paochinda of the army asserted: “We will not stage a coup. A coup would not do any good to the country. It won’t accomplish anything. It is not hard to stage a coup. But making a country function after staging one is.”

The civilian government installed by the military after its coup in 2006 was widely seen as incompetent and ineffective. When Mr. Thaksin’s allies regained power in a parliamentary election last December, the country returned to the political standoff that had led to the coup.

Mr. Somchai is a brother-in-law of Mr. Thaksin. He has sought to find a compromise with the protesters since taking office last month, but the protest at the Parliament building appears to have derailed the early stages of talks.

The alliance says it wants to modify the country’s democratic system to weaken the electoral power of the rural poor, who formed the base of support for Mr. Thaksin and now for the governing People Power Party.

The protesters’ assault on the Parliament building and the street battles appeared to have been well planned and well supplied — demonstrators distributed food, water and masks to protect against tear gas.

The protesters made barricades of tires and razor wire and secured the entrance to the Parliament building. Reinforcements arrived during the afternoon, some carrying banners.

The police attacked repeatedly, firing tear gas canisters and chasing protesters down alleys.

The protesters, some wearing motorcycle helmets and masks, some armed with metal rods, machetes and slingshots, threw back the tear gas canisters and used rocks and firecrackers as missiles.

Genzyme CEO Interview

October 8, 2008

Cramer spoke with Henry Termeer, chairman and CEO of Genzyme (GENZ). Termeer explained to Cramer that Genzyme focuses primarily on “orphan” drugs, or drugs for rare diseases (five out of every 10,000 people) that don’t have many available treatments. He said the market for orphan drugs is small but once a patient is on the treatments they often or on them for life and it creates a stable stream of income for GENZ. The company can make as much as $300,000 per pear per patient with some orphan drugs. He pointed out that insurance companies don’t complain about paying for these treatments because they work and are some of the only options available for the rare diseases. Cramer mentioned he likes GENZ for its drugs developments in bigger markets like cholesterol, MS and renal failure. The company also has three drugs up for FDA approval by the end of the year. “If you want to speculate like a pro, you speculate with fabulous companies that have been around that have really exciting drugs in the pipeline,” Cramer said. “Genzyme fits that bill.”

Redskins quickly shake early setback

October 8, 2008

Even as their first-year coach attacked the exhibition schedule as though it were a five-game referendum on his personal worth, the Redskins had a miserable end to their preseason. After three consecutive faux victories, Washington got blown out by the Panthers (47-3) and Jaguars (24-3), making a very unhappy rookie mentor out of Jim Zorn.

“He’s not viewing these games as learning tools, or as a chance to evaluate young players,” Redskins executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said at the time. “Jim is competitive. He’s trying to win.”

It turns out the summer of Zorn’s discontent incongruously paved the way for what could be an amazing autumn in the nation’s capitol, though it took an extra week to get going. Looking back on the team’s dead-fish performance during a 16-7 defeat to the Giants in the Thursday-night season opener, Washington tight end Chris Cooley says it was as if the Redskins were still locked in their disjointed late-preseason mindset.

 

Photo Clinton Portis, left, and Antwaan Randle El celebrate a TD vs. the Eagles Sunday.

(US Presswire/Howard Smith)

 

 

“It felt like a preseason game,” Cooley recalls. “It was a Thursday, it was at night, and we never got in anything close to an offense rhythm. It’s like our season started after Week 1.”

Since then the Redskins have won four consecutive games, including a home victory over NFC West-leading Arizona and back-to-back road triumphs over NFC East rivals Dallas and Philadelphia. They have yet to turn the ball over on offense, and there’s no sense that an October Surprise is lurking to derail them.

It sounds strange, but this is a team that has a very legitimate chance to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Washington’s next three opponents – the Rams, Browns and Lions – have a combined 1-11 record. If the Redskins don’t falter, they’ll be 7-1 at the midpoint of the season. After that comes a tough Monday-night test against the Steelers at home, followed by a bye week.

It’s true that the Redskins play in football’s toughest division, but they’ll host all three NFC East foes at FedEx Field in the second half. Could their Nov. 30 rematch against the Giants turn out to be the conference’s pivotal regular-season game?

Qantas flyers injured in sudden altitude plunge

October 8, 2008

SYDNEY, Australia – Australia’s air safety bureau is investigating the sudden altitude plunge of a Qantas airplane that left as many as 40 people injured, 20 of them seriously, during a flight from Singapore to the Western Australian city of Perth.

The A330-300, carrying 303 passengers and 10 crew, was forced to make an emergency landing Tuesday in Learmonth, Western Australia.

Two Air Transport Safety Bureau investigators were in Learmonth and five more were expected to arrive later Wednesday, the ATSB said. The investigators have quarantined the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder and will interview crew and passengers.

The bureau was expected to give more details in a news conference later Wednesday.

Western Australia police said at least 20 passengers and crew were seriously injured _ some with spinal trauma and others with broken bones and lacerations. Up to 20 others were treated for minor injuries.

Passenger Ben Cave, of Perth, said he had not been wearing a seat belt and had slammed into the cabin roof when the plane plummeted.

“We had a major fall and another fall shortly after,” Cave said. “I hit the ceiling but I was OK, I only got a few bruises and strains.”

Jim Ford, also of Perth, said he thought he was about to die as he watched people being flung around the cabin.

“It was horrendous, absolutely gruesome, terrible, the worst experience of my life,” he said.

Qantas said in a statement Tuesday that it had no details as to what caused the altitude change. Calls to Qantas on Wednesday morning were unanswered.

The incident is the latest in a string of issues to plague the Australian airline since one of its flights was forced to make an emergency landing in the Philippines in July after an oxygen tank exploded on board, ripping a gaping hole in the fuselage.