Thursday, May 07, 2009

AP News in Brief

Government's long-awaited 'stress-test' results find 10 of nation's largest 19 banks need $75B

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government's long-awaited ''stress-test'' results have found that 10 of the nation's 19 largest banks need a total of about $75 billion in new capital to withstand losses if the recession worsened.

The Federal Reserve's findings, released Thursday, show the financial system, like the overall economy, is healing but not yet healed.

Some of the largest banks are stable, the tests found. But others need billions more in capital -- a signal by regulators that the industry is vulnerable but viable. Government officials have said a stronger banking system is needed for an economic rebound.

Officials hope the tests will restore investors' confidence that not all banks are weak, and that even those that are can be strengthened. They have said none of the banks will be allowed to fail.

The banks that need more capital will have until June 8 to develop a plan and have it approved by their regulators.


Obama declares $17 billion in budget cuts is 'lot of money' -- but total is dwarfed by red ink

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama sent Congress a detailed budget Thursday boasting of cutting or killing 121 federal programs in a belt-tightening he likened to that of most Americans in difficult times. But the trims amounted to a tiny fraction of the new spending he wants, and some have already been nixed by allies on Capitol Hill.

Obama said his cuts would amount to $17 billion -- in a budget totaling well over $3 trillion for the fiscal year that begins in October. He's estimating the government's red ink will still be about $1.2 trillion, down only slightly from this year's all-time record.

Republicans scoffed that Obama's cuts were not nearly enough. ''They appear to be a diversionary tactic -- an effort to change the subject away from the unprecedented debt this budget heaps on future generations,'' said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio.

On the other hand, some of Obama's proposed trims are recycled from George W. Bush's hit list and won't be popular with some Democrats. For instance, he proposed ending a $400 million-a-year program that pays states and counties for keeping illegal immigrants in their jails -- a Bush idea rejected previously by the Democratic-controlled Congress.

The president defended proposed cuts that he portrayed as a mix of some ''more painful than others.''


Manny Ramirez suspended 50 games for drug violation; Dodger star says he did not take steroids

NEW YORK (AP) -- Manny Ramirez joined a growing lineup of All-Stars linked to drugs Thursday, with the dreadlocked slugger banished by a sport that cannot shake free from scandal.

The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball after failing a drug test in spring training, adding a further stamp to what will forever be known as the Steroids Era.

Ramirez said he did not take steroids and was given medication by a doctor that contained a banned substance. A person familiar with the details of the suspension said Ramirez used the female fertility drug HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the banned substance wasn't announced.

HCG is popular among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs. The body may stop producing testosterone when users go off steroids, which can cause sperm counts to decrease and testicles to shrink.

Ranked 17th on the career home run list with 533, Ramirez became the most prominent baseball player to be penalized for drugs. His ban came three months after Alex Rodriguez admitted using steroids, and at a time when Barry Bonds is under federal indictment and Roger Clemens is accused of lying to Congress about his own alleged steroid use.

No matter which way baseball turns, the legitimacy of many of its recent home run and pitching records are being questioned. Sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have been tainted by steroid allegations, Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for a banned drug and Jose Canseco said he used them.


Defense Secretary Gates says US troops in Afghanistan arriving faster than equipment

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan (AP) -- Thousands of U.S. troops are being rushed to Afghanistan without the equipment they will need to fight an emboldened Taliban, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and military officials said Thursday.

The equipment delay is ''a considerable concern,'' Gates said as he toured a dusty forward base in south Afghanistan where some 200 newly deployed Marines and sailors are arriving each day as part of the buildup of 21,000 new U.S. troops.

Marines who arrived in southern Afghanistan this week mark the vanguard of the expansion Obama has ordered to reverse a war his commanders say they are not winning. Pentagon officials said the initial Marine units are small advance parties, to be followed by much larger waves of forces in the coming weeks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe troop movements.

''I heard this on several occasions today, that the equipment is coming in behind the troops and is not here and available for them when they arrive,'' Gates said at a news conference Thursday night in Kabul before a fly-around through bases in Afghanistan.

Gates attributed the delays to ''the amount of equipment that has to be brought in and, frankly, the relatively limited infrastructure in terms of airfields and so on of how to get it in here.''


Alleged Nazi guard Demjanjuk loses Supreme Court bid to stop deportation

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Alleged Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk lost his bid Thursday to get the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his deportation to Germany, where an arrest warrant accuses him of 29,000 counts of accessory to murder during World War II.

Justice John Paul Stevens denied, without comment, Demjanjuk's plea to step into his case. The 89-year-old retired autoworker lives in suburban Cleveland, and he, his family and his lawyers say he's in poor health and too frail to be sent overseas.

Demjanjuk maintains he was held by the Germans as a Soviet prisoner of war and was never a camp guard.

With his U.S. options dwindling, Demjanjuk's attorney in Germany made a separate appeal Thursday to a German court to block the deportation.

There was no immediate indication from Immigration and Customs Enforcement whether the agency would move promptly to deport Demjanjuk.

Messages seeking comment were left with an agency spokesman.


Conn. students warned to stay indoors after shooting; Gunman may be bent on killing Jews

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (AP) -- Wesleyan University students were told to stay in their dorms and the city's only synagogue closed Thursday as police warned that the man wanted in the shooting death of a woman at a bookstore may be bent on killing other students and Jews.

Apparently applying the lessons of Virginia Tech, police and administrators locked down the 3,000-student campus and stepped up patrols as authorities hunted for the killer.

Johanna Justin-Jinich, a 21-year-old Wesleyan student, was shot several times Wednesday inside a bookstore cafe just off campus by a gunman wearing a wig. Two years ago, she complained to police in New York that the suspect, 29-year-old Stephen P. Morgan, had stalked and threatened her.

University officials said police told them the suspect expressed threats in his personal journals toward Wesleyan and its Jewish students. No details were disclosed.

The Hartford Courant, citing anonymous law enforcement sources, said police confiscated Morgan's car and found a journal in which he spelled out a plan to rape and then kill Justin-Jinich before going on a campus shooting spree. It also reported that police stopped Morgan shortly after the shooting, spoke to him and then him let go, only to later learn from Justin-Jinich's family that they suspected him.


Dems give Specter Judiciary subcommittee chair after failing to honor 28 years seniority

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter gained a Judiciary subcommittee chairmanship but also a potential primary challenger Thursday, the latest twists in a turbulent episode of party switching.

The good news-bad news day for Specter didn't stop there.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge announced he would not challenge Specter next year. Ridge, a moderate Republican and the first homeland security chief, had been running about even against Specter in a hypothetical general election race, according to a recent poll.

''My desire and intention is to help my party craft solutions that both sides of the aisle can embrace,'' said Ridge, whose decision eliminates one major challenge to Specter.

In the primary, however, Specter may face Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, a former Navy vice admiral from the Philadelphia suburbs. In an interview with The Associated Press, Sestak said he's seriously considering taking on the 79-year-old Specter, who will be seeking a sixth term.


Was alarm on swine flu overblown? Some Americans say health officials 'cried swine'

CHICAGO (AP) -- Did government health officials ''cry swine'' when they sounded the alarm on what looked like a threatening new flu?

The so-far mild swine flu outbreak has many people saying all the talk about a devastating global epidemic was just fear-mongering hype. But that's not how public health officials see it, calling complacency the thing that keeps them up at night.

The World Health Organization added a scary-sounding warning Thursday, predicting up to 2 billion people could catch the new flu if the outbreak turns into a global epidemic.

Many blame such alarms and the breathless media coverage for creating an overreaction that disrupted many people's lives.

Schools shut down, idling even healthy kids and forcing parents to stay home from work; colleges scaled back or even canceled graduation ceremonies; a big Cinco de Mayo celebration in Chicago was canned; face masks and hand sanitizers sold out -- all because of an outbreak that seems no worse than a mild flu season.

''I don't know anyone who has it. I haven't met anyone who knows anyone who contracted it,'' said Carl Shepherd, a suburban Chicago video producer and father of two. ''It's really frightening more people than it should have. It's like crying wolf.''


'24' star Kiefer Sutherland charged for allegedly head-butting fashion designer at NYC club

NEW YORK (AP) -- Kiefer Sutherland has been charged with assault for allegedly head-butting a fashion designer at a Manhattan nightclub.

New York police said the charges were filed after Sutherland spoke to investigators at a police station in lower Manhattan on Thursday.

The star of Fox television's ''24'' reported to the precinct house in a Lincoln Town Car alongside his lawyers, but he did not speak to reporters.

The designer, Jack McCollough, claims Sutherland attacked him after an argument, leaving him with a cut on his face.

It's unclear whether the charges will affect his probation status for a drunken-driving conviction in Los Angeles that sent him to jail for 48 days last year.


Udder chaos: Cow has beef with NYC slaughterhouse, bolts to freedom but is captured by police

NEW YORK (AP) -- A cow has escaped from a New York City slaughterhouse and may have a new lease on life.

Police say the black heifer bolted Wednesday afternoon from Musa Hala Inc., which butchers animals according to religious restrictions.

It wandered in Queens for nearly a mile before police captured it an hour later and took it to an Animal Care and Control center, where it was nicknamed Molly.

Officials there are looking into whether Molly can be placed at a farm sanctuary or must be returned for slaughter. It depends on whether anyone claims her.

In 2002, an Ohio cow jumped a 6-foot fence to escape from a Cincinnati meatpacking plant and ran free in a park for 10 days. She was nicknamed Cinci Freedom.

17 percent of US children under 5 may face hunger

Associated Press

An estimated 3.5 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of hunger in the United States, according to a look at government numbers by an anti-hunger group.

That's more than 17 percent of children who could suffer cognitive and developmental damage if they are not properly fed.

The not-for-profit advocacy group Feeding America based its findings on 2005-2007 data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Agriculture Department. The study, released Thursday, is the first to look at these numbers for children under the age of 5, according to the group.

The study also shows that in 11 states, more than 20 percent of children under 5 are at risk of going hungry. Louisiana has the highest rate, with just under a quarter of children at risk, followed by North Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Idaho and Arkansas.

According to the Agriculture Department, 11 percent of households lacked enough food for an active, healthy life, before the economy worsened late last year.

The study looks at a range of children who are at risk, from those who have low quality or variety of food to those who regularly experience hunger.

A lack of nutritious food, especially in the earliest formative years, can have a lasting impact on physical and behavioral health, along with development and academic achievement.

"These children without the availability of nutrition don't have the chance to spring back," said Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive of Feeding America.

Escarra said the group is lobbying Congress and the White House for more federal funding for food bank programs that target young children. President Barack Obama has pledged to expand food aid and end childhood hunger by 2015.

Dr. John Cook, the lead researcher on the report and an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, says hunger varies by state based on two main factors — the level of employment and poverty, and the extent of food and income assistance programs in the region.

Anne Goodman, executive director of the Cleveland Foodbank in Ohio, says there are several successful programs to feed school-age children, but beyond government nutrition programs infants and toddlers can be harder to help.

"We have all these places to touch older children, but with the younger children what we are doing is serving their families," she said.

The study was paid for by The ConAgra Foods Foundation, a charity arm of the large food company.