Wednesday November 21, 2012

Storm damage to thousands of vehicles has created shortage of rental cars at Thanksgiving

NEW YORK (AP) -- Thanksgiving travelers who have yet to rent a car in the Northeast are out of luck: Superstorm Sandy has created a shortage.

The storm has damaged thousands of cars -- including those owned by rental companies. The loss of vehicles has been compounded by rising demand. Thanksgiving and Christmas are normally busy rental periods. And lingering mass transit problems caused by Sandy have added to demand.

Existing reservations are mostly being honored, but people who still want to book for Thanksgiving are finding almost no cars left. The few cars available carry a hefty premium.

Tadd Rosenfeld is flying into New York’s LaGuardia airport Wednesday. He couldn’t find a car with any major rental company. U-Save was the only one with a car and it wanted nearly $350 a day -- more than his plane ticket from Florida. Now, he is considering renting a moving truck.

"Showing up to Thanksgiving in a U-Haul is worse than showing up with an escort. But at $19 a day, it’s tempting," says Rosenfeld, CEO of TeamLauncher.com, an outsourcing company based in Miami.

With capture of regime base, Syrian rebels net a weapons trove

BASE OF THE 46TH REGIMENT, Syria (AP) -- After a nearly two-month siege, Syrian rebels overwhelmed a large military base in the north of the country and made off with tanks, armored vehicles and truckloads of munitions that rebel leaders say will give them a boost in the fight against President Bashar Assad’s army.


Advertisement

The rebel capture of the base of the Syrian army’s 46th Regiment is a sharp blow to the government’s efforts to roll back rebels gains and shows a rising level of organization among opposition forces.

More important than the base’s fall, however, are the weapons the rebels found inside.

At a rebel base where the much of the haul was taken after the weekend victory, rebel fighters unloaded half a dozen large trucks piled high with green boxes full of mortars, artillery shells, rockets and rifles taken from the base. Parked nearby were five tanks, two armored vehicles, two rocket launchers and two heavy-caliber artillery cannons.

Around 20 Syrian soldiers captured in the battle were put to work carrying munitions boxes, barefoot and stripped to the waist. Rebels refused to let reporters talk to them or see where they were being held.

Petraeus scandal puts attention on U.S.command revolving door in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- For former CIA director David Petraeus, it was a one-year stint as top U.S.commander in Afghanistan. His replacement is scheduled to leave next year after 18 months in the job.

And now the sex scandal that draws them together -- Petraeus’ career toppled and Marine Gen. John Allen’s possibly on hold -- also has placed greater attention to the quick turnover of American battlefield chiefs in the 11-year war.

Nearly two dozen generals have commanded troops from the United States and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, since the American invasion in late 2001 -- with five U.S. generals running both commands in the past five years alone.

There is no firm evidence the Pentagon’s revolving door in Afghanistan has posed any significant obstacles for U.S. troops, but some military analysts suggest the frequent changes at the top create potential breaks in continuity in the critical cooperation with the Afghan political leadership and security officials.

"The learning curve is pretty steep," said retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004. "One of the critical coins of the realm in being effective in this kind of environment is relationships among your allies, relationships with the host nation, and with the Afghans."

Courting Asia, Obama
finds that home problems and the rest of the world’s ills still intrude

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- For all the attention wrenched elsewhere in recent days -- on new violence in the Middle East, the "fiscal cliff" back home -- President Barack Obama’s speedy trip to Southeast Asia achieved a major goal: It was clearly seen in the region as a validation of Asia’s strategic importance as the U.S. refocuses its foreign policy to counter China’s clout.

It wasn’t easy. Even in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, Obama could not escape the budget woes waiting for him back home. And his historic visit to Myanmar was all but drowned out by the rocket fire and missile strikes between Israel and Gaza. He went half a world away to promote U.S.-style democracy but couldn’t leave his troubles behind.

Even as Obama traipsed in stocking feet through a temple in the heart of Bangkok, a monk wished him luck negotiating the deficit-reduction challenge awaiting him in Washington. And the bloodshed in the Middle East, exploding as he toured Southeast Asia for three days, illustrated the limits of U.S. foreign policy even as he tried to display its influence and reach.

But he came away from his trip to this corner of the world -- a place once defined by a cloistered and shunned nation like Myanmar or by Khmer Rouge "killing fields" or by Chinese power --with at least the hope that the example of U.S. democracy can effect change and strengthen America’s hand.

He made his case clearly during a Bangkok news conference:

Former hedge fund manager charged with insider trading in case that may be most lucrative ever

NEW YORK (AP) -- A former hedge fund portfolio manager was arrested Tuesday in what prosecutors called perhaps the most lucrative insider trading scheme of all time -- an arrangement to obtain secret, advance results of tests on an experimental Alzheimer’s drug that netted more than $276 million for his fund and others.

The case also led authorities to investigate the activities of one of the nation’s wealthiest hedge fund managers, billionaire Steven A. Cohen.

The portfolio manager, Mathew Martoma, was accused in U.S. District Court in Manhattan of using the information to advise other investment professionals to buy shares in the companies developing the drug, then later to dump those investments and place financial bets against the companies when the tests returned disappointing results.

"The charges unsealed today describe cheating coming and going," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a news conference. The scheme unfolded "on a scale that has no historical precedent."

Martoma’s trades helped reap a hefty profit from 2006 through July 2008, while he worked for CR Intrinsic Investors LLC of Stamford, Conn., an affiliate of SAC Capital Advisors, a firm owned by Cohen.

Hostess unable to reach
a deal with one of its unions; company continues plans to liquidate

Hostess Brands Inc. lived to die another day.

The maker of Twinkies and Ding Dongs said late Tuesday that it failed to reach an agreement with its second biggest union. As a result, Hostess plans to continue with a hearing on Wednesday in which a bankruptcy court judge will decide if the company can shutter its operations.

The renewed talks between Hostess and The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union came after the company declared last week that it would move to wind down its business and start selling off its assets in bankruptcy court. The company cited a crippling strike that was started on Nov. 9 by the union, which represents 30 percent of Hostess workers.

After making its case to liquidate on Monday, the bankruptcy judge hearing the case noted that the two sides hadn’t yet tried resolving their differences through private mediation. The judge noted that 18,000 jobs were on the line and urged the company and union to try to resolve their differences. Both sides agreed to hold mediation proceedings on Tuesday.

In a statement late Tuesday, Hostess said it would not comment on the breakdown in talks other than to say that mediation "was unsuccessful."

Attorney: Army veteran who drove truck in deadly collision with train in Texas ‘in shock’

MIDLAND, Texas (AP) -- The driver of a parade float filled with wounded veterans and their spouses that was struck by a freight train in West Texas is an Army veteran himself who is "in shock" over the accident that killed four people, an attorney said Tuesday.

Dale Andrew Hayden was driving a flatbed truck that investigators say edged across a railroad crossing despite warning signals of a fast approaching train, Hayden’s attorney, Hal Brockett said.

"Words can’t express the sorrow and remorse for the people who got hurt and killed," Brockett said in an interview.

The revelation of who the driver was came as the National Transportation Safety Board conducted a sight distance test at the crash site. A train and a truck similar to those involved in the accident were driven across the site at various intervals, and the railroad crossing was activated.

Four veterans were killed in the collision in Midland on Thursday. Sixteen people were injured.

Rwanda-Congo deja vu? History repeats itself, again, in latest fighting
in Congo

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- History is repeating itself yet again in eastern Congo. Rebels supported by Rwanda are on the march. Civilians are fleeing. And higher powers appear to be taking sides.

Congo and Rwanda have been at this stage before. First in 1996, then in 1998. Also in 2004 and 2008. The first two conflicts had their roots in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, but now the fighting is mostly over mineral wealth -- including minerals used in the world’s smart phones and laptops.

Congo is rich in diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt and tungsten. The provincial capital of Goma, which lies on the Rwandan border and which fell to the M23 rebel group on Tuesday, is a major processing point for minerals coming out of eastern Congo.

Rwanda insists it is not aiding the M23 rebels, though a U.N. group of experts report written this year said Rwanda and Uganda were doing exactly that.

Many M23 commanders were formerly with the rebel group known as CNDP, which carried out the same military tactics, with Rwanda’s backing, in 2007-08, experts say.

Woman sentenced to 80 years for felony murder conviction in deadly Houston home day care fire

HOUSTON (AP) -- It had been Jessica Tata’s dream to run a day care.

She was soon in over her head, caring for too many kids and taking chances by leaving them alone to run errands. The young woman’s actions ultimately proved fatal: Four children died and three others were injured when a fire broke out at her home day care after she had left them alone to go shopping at a nearby Target.

On Tuesday, jurors sentenced the 24-year-old woman to 80 years in prison for the death of one of the children, 16-month-old Elias Castillo. She still faces charges related to the rest of the children.

"Nobody wins in this situation," Elias’ great-grandmother, Patty Sparks, said after the sentence was announced. "My heart goes out to the Tata family and those precious mothers and fathers who lost their babies."

Tata, who was only a few years removed from her teens when she started her day care, worked alone most of the time. Investigators said the February 2011 blaze happened when a pan of oil she had left cooking on the stove ignited while she was out shopping.

U.S., Mexico sign pact on new rules for sharing Colorado River water in fight against drought

CORONADO, Calif. (AP) -- The United States and Mexico agreed Tuesday to new rules on sharing water from the Colorado River, capping a five-year effort on how to spread the pain of drought and reap the benefits of wet years.

The far-reaching agreement gives Mexico badly needed water storage capacity in Lake Mead, which stretches across Nevada and Arizona.

Mexico will forfeit some of its share of the river during shortages, bringing itself in line with western U.S. states that already have agreed how much they will surrender when waters recede. Mexico also will capture some surpluses when waters rise.

Also under the plan, water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada will buy water from Mexico, which will use some of the money to upgrade its canals and other infrastructure.

The agreement, coming in the final days of the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, is a major amendment to a 1944 treaty considered sacred by many south of the border. The treaty grants Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet of river water each year -- enough to supply about 3 million homes -- making it the lifeblood of Tijuana and other cities in northwest Mexico.

Elmo puppeteer resigns amid underage-sex allegations; ‘Cannot allow it to go on any longer’

NEW YORK (AP) -- Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash resigned from "Sesame Street" on Tuesday amid allegations he sexually abused underage boys, bringing an end to a 28-year career in which he turned the furry red monster into one of the most beloved -- and lucrative -- characters on TV and in toy stores.

"Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work ‘Sesame Street’ is doing and I cannot allow it to go on any longer," the 52-year-old performer said in a statement. "I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately."

His departure came as a 24-year-old college student, Cecil Singleton, sued Clash for more than $5 million Tuesday, accusing the actor of engaging in sexual behavior with him when he was 15. Singleton charged that Clash made a habit of trolling gay chat lines for underage boys and meeting them for sex.

It was the second such allegation in just over a week. On Nov. 12, a man in his 20s said he had sex with Clash at age 16. A day later, though, the young man recanted, saying their relationship was adult and consensual.

Clash was a young puppeteer at "Sesame Street" in the mid-1980s when was assigned a little-used puppet now known as Elmo and turned him into a star, creating his high-pitched voice and child-like personality. Clash also served as the show’s senior Muppet coordinator and Muppet captain, winning 23 daytime Emmy awards and one prime-time Emmy.