Thursday July 11, 2013

Railway CEO says engineer failed to properly apply brakes before Quebec oil train crash

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (AP) -- The head of the U.S. railway company whose runaway oil train crashed into a Quebec town blamed the engineer Wednesday for failing to set the brakes properly before the train hurtled down a seven-mile (11-kilometer) incline, derailed and ignited a fire that killed at least 15 people and left dozens missing.

He said the engineer has been suspended without pay and was under police supervision.

The startling disclosures from Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of the railway’s parent company, Rail World Inc., came as he encountered sharp criticism from Quebec politicians and jeers from Lac-Megantic residents while making his first visit to the lakeside town where some 60 people remain missing following Saturday’s disaster.

Until Wednesday, the railway had defended its employees’ actions, but that changed abruptly as Burkhardt singled out the engineer as culpable.

"We think he applied some hand brakes, but the question is, did he apply enough of them?" Burkhardt said. "He said he applied 11 hand brakes. We think that’s not true. Initially we believed him, but now we don’t."

Investigators look into pairing of instructor and trainee pilot on flight that crash-landed

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- As Flight 214 descended over San Francisco Bay, both Asiana Airlines pilots were in new roles.


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In the left seat of the cockpit sat Lee Gang-kuk, a 46-year-old pilot with just 35 hours of experience flying a Boeing 777 who was landing the big jet for his first time at San Francisco International Airport. At his right was Lee Jeong-Min, a trainer making his first trip as an instructor pilot.

While the two men had years of aviation experience, this mission involved unfamiliar duties, and it was the first time they had flown together. The flight came to a tragic end when the airliner crash-landed Saturday, killing two passengers and injuring many others.

Experts say investigators trying to piece together what went wrong will consider, among other factors, the pairing of the pilots, who were assigned to work together through a tightly regulated system developed after several deadly crashes in the 1980s that were blamed in part on inexperience in the cockpit.

The National Transportation Safety Board "is definitely going to focus on what type of policy Asiana had in terms of crew pairing," former NTSB Chairman James Hall said. "That’s what the airline needs to do, be responsible so that in the cockpit you’re matching the best people, especially when you’re introducing someone to a new aircraft."

His arm in cast and his face swollen, Boston bombing suspect pleads not guilty

BOSTON (AP) -- His arm in a cast and his face swollen, a blase-looking Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the Boston Marathon bombing in a seven-minute proceeding that marked his first appearance in public since his capture in mid-April.

As survivors of the bombing looked on, Tsarnaev, 19, gave a small, lopsided smile to his sisters upon arriving in the courtroom. He appeared to have a jaw injury and there was swelling around his left eye and cheek.

Then, after he leaned in toward a microphone and said, "Not guilty" over and over in his Russian accent, he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, making a kissing gesture toward his family with his lips. His sister sobbed loudly, resting her head on a woman seated next to her.

Tsarnaev faces 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, in connection with the April 15 attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260. He could get the death penalty if prosecutors choose to pursue it.

The proceedings took place in a heavily guarded courtroom packed not only with victims but with their families, police officers, and members of the public and the media.

House Republicans seek way forward on immigration as Bush nudges them from the Texas sidelines

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As House Republicans weighed their next steps on immigration Wednesday, former President George W. Bush nudged them ever so gently from the Texas sidelines to carry a "benevolent spirit" into a debate that includes a possible path to citizenship for millions living in the country illegally.

The former president’s ability to sway a new generation of House conservatives was a matter of considerable doubt, especially because many of the tea party-backed lawmakers have risen to power since he left the White House and are strongly on record in opposition to any citizenship provision.

"We care what people back home say, not what some former president says," declared Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a second-term Kansas Republican who has clashed with the party leadership in the House.

Still, the timing and substance of Bush’s remarks were reminders of the imperative that many national party leaders feel that Republicans must broaden their appeal among Hispanic voters to compete successfully in future presidential elections. President Barack Obama took more than 70 percent of their votes in winning a second term last fall.

"America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time," Bush said at a naturalization ceremony at his presidential library in Dallas.

Defense rests case in George Zimmerman trial, closing arguments set for Thursday

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- After taking less than a week to call 18 witnesses, George Zimmerman’s defense attorneys rested their case Wednesday in the neighborhood watch volunteer’s second-degree murder trial.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys planned to work out the jury instructions before presenting closing arguments on Thursday. Judge Debra Nelson said the case could be sent to six jurors either late that day or the next.

Zimmerman never testified. But jurors saw repeated video recordings of Zimmerman telling his side of the story to investigators. He claims that he shot Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, in self-defense while the teen straddled and punched him.

The defense started its case last Friday, and it presented half as many witnesses in half of the time that prosecutors did. Zimmerman’s friends, parents and uncle testified that it’s him screaming for help on a 911 call that captured sounds of the fatal fight. Martin’s mother and brother had testified for the prosecution that it’s Martin yelling for help.

Convincing the jury of who was screaming for help on the 911 tape became the primary goal of prosecutors and defense attorneys because it would help jurors evaluate Zimmerman’s self-defense claim.

Egypt’s new rulers escalate crackdown on Brotherhood, ordering arrest of its leaders

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s military-backed government tightened a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday, ordering the arrest of its revered leader in a bid to choke off the group’s campaign to reinstate President Mohammed Morsi one week after an army-led coup.

The Brotherhood denounced the warrants for the arrest of Mohammed Badie and nine other leading Islamists for inciting violence Monday that left dozens dead, saying "dictatorship is back" and vowing it will never work with the interim rulers.

Leaders of the Brotherhood are believed to be taking refuge somewhere near a continuing sit-in by its supporters at the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in eastern Cairo, but it is not clear if Badie also is there.

The Brotherhood is outraged by the overthrow of Morsi, one of its own, and demands nothing less than his release from detention and his reinstatement as president.

Security agencies have already jailed five leaders of the Brotherhood, including Badie’s powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shaiter, and shut down its media outlets.

Judge at N.Y. civil trial: Apple conspired with publishers to raise e-book prices in 2010

NEW YORK (AP) -- Apple Inc. broke antitrust laws and conspired with publishers to raise electronic book prices significantly in spring 2010, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, citing "compelling evidence" from the words of the late Steve Jobs.

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said Apple knew that no publisher could risk acting alone to try to eliminate Amazon.com’s $9.99 price for the most popular e-books so it "created a mechanism and environment that enabled them to act together in a matter of weeks to eliminate all retail price competition for their e-books."

"Apple seized the moment and brilliantly played its hand," Cote said. She wrote that Apple’s deals with publishers caused some e-book prices to rise 50 percent or more virtually overnight.

The Manhattan jurist, who did not determine damages, said the evidence was "overwhelming that Apple knew of the unlawful aims of the conspiracy and joined the conspiracy with the specific intent to help it succeed."

Her decision was not surprising, since she had urged Apple to settle before trial and said the company had only a slim chance of winning. Government officials and industry experts have said e-book prices have declined and stabilized since rising after Apple entered the market.

Navy completes 1st unmanned aircraft landing aboard USS George H.W. Bush in Atlantic Ocean

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- The Navy successfully landed a drone the size of a fighter jet aboard an aircraft carrier for the first time Wednesday, showcasing the military’s capability to have a computer program perform one of the most difficult tasks a pilot is asked to do.

The landing of the X-47B experimental aircraft means the Navy can move forward with its plans to develop another unmanned aircraft that will join the fleet alongside traditional airplanes to provide around-the-clock surveillance while also possessing a strike capability. It also would pave the way for the U.S. to launch unmanned aircraft without the need to obtain permission from other countries to use their bases.

The X-47B experimental aircraft took off from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland before approaching the USS George H.W. Bush, which is operating off the coast of Virginia. The drone landed by deploying a tailhook that caught a wire aboard the ship and brought it to a quick stop, just like normal fighter jets do. The maneuver is known as an arrested landing and has previously only been done by the drone on land at Patuxent River. Landing on a ship that is constantly moving while navigating through turbulent air behind the aircraft carrier is seen as a more difficult maneuver.

"Your grandchildren and great grandchildren and mine will be reading about this historic event in their history books. This is not trivial, nor is it something that came lightly," said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the Navy’s program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons.

The X-47B will never be put into operational use, but it will help Navy officials develop future carrier-based drones. Those drones could begin operating by 2020, according to Winter. Four companies are expected to compete for a contract to design the future unmanned aircraft, which will be awarded in Fiscal Year 2014.

Syrians struggle to find festive mood this Ramadan as prices soar and war drags on

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began Wednesday, many Syrians who observe the daily dawn-to-dusk fast that is broken with lavish family meals are struggling to find the usually festive mood and holiday warmth as the country’s bloody conflict rages for a third year.

In one rebel-held city, residents have resorted to begging for crumbs at a local soup kitchen, while in a refugee camp on the Jordanian border, Syrians hounded by the desert heat and dust break their fast separated from relatives back home.

Reflecting the deprivation brought on by the war, the U.N food agency said that 7 million people were now reliant on food aid simply to eat. The fighting that has destroyed much of the country, combined with prices that have soared in recent months, have left many Syrians struggling to get by.

"People come by the kitchen just begging for scraps, it tears the heart," said an activist in the rebel-held northern Syrian city of Maarat al-Numan.

He said activists were using a communal kitchen to distribute a simple Ramadan evening meal of rice, vegetable stew and soup to some 400 of the city’s neediest families. He identified himself only by his nickname, Abu Anas, fearing for his safety.

Pet insurance one of hottest employee benefits in U.S., offered by 1-in-3 Fortune 500 companies

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Melissa Yoakam jokingly calls her dog Shadow her "car payment" because she pays $250 a month for the 12-year-old’s cancer treatments.

She’d pay far less if she had pet insurance, but she didn’t take advantage of it when Shadow was younger and when he got cancer it was too late. She uses her experience to convince colleagues not to make the same mistake.

"I should have it but I don’t," she lamented.

Yoakam is well-versed in the subject as benefits manager at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is one of a growing number of companies that discount and subsidize pet insurance as a perk to workers.

The nation’s oldest and largest pet insurer, Veterinary Pet Insurance, offers policies at one in three Fortune 500 companies, as well as 3,400 other companies and associations across the nation, said company president Scott Liles.