Nation & World briefly |

Nation & World briefly

Actors ratify 2-year movie, TV contract

LOS ANGELES (AP) – After a year of nasty infighting, members of the Screen Actors Guild decided by a large margin that the show must go on.

The Guild said Tuesday that 78 percent of voting members decided to ratify a two-year contract covering movies and prime-time TV shows made by the major Hollywood studios.

It was a show of unity after dragged-out negotiations left the Guild further behind than when it started talks in April last year. And it repudiated the strategy of replaced union leaders who had once called for a strike.

The new contract immediately raises actors’ minimum pay by 3 percent and grants another 3.5 percent raise in the second year of the deal, which along with better pension benefits and some Internet compensation gives them $105 million in overall gains, the union said.

Chrysler poised to close sale

NEW YORK (AP) – With opponents of Chrysler’s planned partnership with Italy’s Fiat having exhausted their appeals, the Obama administration-backed sale could close early today – putting the automaker close to its goal of a speedy exit from bankruptcy protection.

Late Tuesday, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the sale of the bulk of Chrysler LLC’s assets to Fiat Group SpA, rejecting an appeal by a trio of Indiana pension and construction funds, consumer groups and others to block the transaction.

The deal will likely close early today, according to a person briefed on the company’s plans who declined to be named ahead of an official announcement by the automaker.

The high court’s action came on the heels of statements by Chrysler and Fiat that their deal would automatically expire if the sale didn’t close by June 15 and a White House warning that there was no guarantee a new agreement could be brokered in time.

Touting fiscal responsibility, Obama wants Congress to require itself to pay for new spending

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama on Tuesday challenged Congress to pay for new increases in federal benefit programs as it goes rather than sink the nation deeper into a debt, calling it a matter of public responsibility.

Republicans lashed back that Obama is no voice of fiscal restraint as the deficit soars.

The president’s plan would require Congress to pay for new entitlement spending, such as health care, by raising taxes or coming up with budget cuts – a “pay-as-you-go” system that would have the force of law. Under the proposal, if new spending or tax reductions are not offset, there would be automatic cuts in so-called mandatory programs – although Social Security payments and some other programs would be exempt.

Not noted by the president: Tuesday’s plan is a watered-down version of the so-called “PAYGO” rules proposed just last month in his own budget plan.

That version would have required, on average, all affected legislation to be paid for in the very first year. The new plan only requires such legislation to be financed over the coming decade. That mirrors congressional rules and reflects the likelihood that health care reform will add to the deficit in the early years.

Obama said the principle is simple: Congress can only spend a dollar if it saves a dollar somewhere else.

Suicide attackers detonate truck bomb outside luxury hotel in Pakistan, killing at least 11

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) – Suicide attackers shot their way past guards and set off a massive blast Tuesday outside a luxury hotel where foreigners and well-to-do Pakistanis mixed, killing at least 11 people and wounding 70, officials said.

The bombers struck the Pearl Continental Hotel at about 10 p.m., when nightlife was still in swing. The attack reduced a section of the hotel to concrete rubble and twisted steel and left a huge crater in a parking lot.

The blast came a week after Taliban leaders warned they would carry out major attacks in large cities in retaliation for an army offensive to reclaim the nearby Swat Valley region from the militants. No claim surfaced immediately for the bombing in Peshawar, the northwest’s largest city with about 2.2 million people.

Earlier in the day, officials said Pakistan’s military engaged militants on two fronts elsewhere in the northwest. The army dispatched helicopter gunships in support of citizens fighting the Taliban in one district and used artillery fire against militants in another after sympathetic tribal elders refused to hand them over.

Neither operation was anywhere near the size of the military’s offensive in the Swat Valley, where 15,000 troops have battled up to 7,000 Taliban fighters.

But the battles Monday and Tuesday in the Upper Dir and Bannu districts suggest that pockets of pro-Taliban sentiment remain strong in some areas, while the militants’ form of hardline Islam is unpalatable in others – particularly because of the violence the militants have used to enforce it.

Brazil flies bodies to mainland as Air France rushes to replace speed monitors

RECIFE, Brazil (AP) – Air France and other airlines moved Tuesday to replace speed monitors suspected of feeding false information to the computers of Flight 447 and leading to a series of failures that broke the plane apart over the Atlantic Ocean. Four more bodies were pulled from the sea, and helicopters began ferrying other remains to shore.

A total of 28 bodies have been recovered; 200 others have yet to be found. Soldiers and medical personnel in surgical gowns carried off the remains in body bags on the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, to be flown to the coastal city of Recife, where experts will try to identify them using DNA and photos.

Identifying the bodies, looking at where they were seated on the plane and studying their injuries could provide clues to causes of the May 31 disaster, according to Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Interpol, meanwhile, sent an agent to Paris to coordinate the identification work by a French team, which is using forensic evidence including fingerprints, tattoos and dental records.

“Since the victims from this tragedy came from all parts of the globe, international collaboration will be essential,” Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said.

Democrats advance proposals to spread health coverage, but say little on how to pay for them

WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats at both ends of the Capitol accelerated their drive to enact health care legislation on Tuesday, outlining proposals to extend coverage to uninsured millions but omitting most details on plans for raising more than $1 trillion needed to cover costs.

“We are going to be deficit-neutral – even – over five or 10 years,” White House budget director Peter Orszag said, and President Barack Obama told Democratic lawmakers he would soon outline as much as $300 billion in additional savings from Medicare and Medicaid.

A first-ever tax on employer-provided health benefits also figures prominently among options under consideration in Congress, but Obama campaigned against that last year and its inclusion in the bill would require him to reverse course.

Given the uncertainty as well as the political sensitivity over raising taxes or cutting Medicare, Senate Republicans prodded Democrats to fill in the blanks before the scheduled beginning of committee work next week.

At their core, a partial draft bill released by Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and an outline circulated by senior House Democrats were largely identical.

Captain of plane downed in the Hudson says warnings about birds provide little help to pilots

WASHINGTON (AP) – Shortly after takeoff, the pilot of Flight 1549 remarked on two things almost immediately: a breathtaking view of the Hudson River and the sickening thump of birds hitting his engines. Warnings about the birds probably would not have helped, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger told federal safety officials Tuesday as they looked for ways to prevent a recurrence that could prove deadly.

“In my experience, the warnings we get are general in nature and not specific and therefore have limited usefulness,” Sullenberger said during a hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The board began three days of hearings into safety issues arising from the Jan. 15 accident, including efforts to prevent bird strikes and the ability of aircraft engines to withstand collisions with large birds. Other issues include whether the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft certification standards are adequate to protect passengers in event of a forced water landing.

In the case of US Airways Flight 1549, the Airbus A320 suffered a rupture near the tailcone that sent water gushing into the cabin after its forced landing on the Hudson River. All 155 aboard managed to escape the sinking craft.

A cockpit voice recorder transcript released by the board showed Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles were admiring their surroundings less than a minute before their plane struck a flock of Canada geese and lost thrust in both engines.

Coroner says Vegas entertainer Danny Gans died accidentally after toxic reaction to painkiller

LAS VEGAS (AP) – Las Vegas entertainer Danny Gans’ death was accidental, caused by a prescription painkiller, a coroner said Tuesday.

Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said an autopsy, toxicology and microscopic samples showed the 52-year-old Gans died from toxic levels of hydromorphone. The opiate drug is used to treat chronic pain, which Gans suffered from, Murphy said.

Murphy said Gans had heart disease caused by high blood pressure – which makes the heart work overtime and left him more susceptible to heart irregularities. Gans also had a condition (polycythemia) that results in too many red blood cells, Murphy said.

“Mr. Gans’ health conditions placed him at greater risk for heart irregularities, and the hydromorphone was a factor in exacerbating those risks,” Murphy said.

Gans was found dead in bed at home in Henderson early May 1 after his wife, Julie, reported she couldn’t rouse him.

Upon Gans’ death, his manager Chip Lightman described Gans as someone who watched his diet, loved to perform and relished his involvement in Las Vegas area fundraisers and philanthropic causes.

Some bright spots emerge in tough job market as hiring picks up in restaurants, health centers

WASHINGTON (AP) – Signs of stabilization in the job market are emerging, according to several private surveys, as restaurants, mortgage servicers and health centers step up hiring.

About a quarter of manufacturing companies and more than 40 percent of service-sector employers plan to hire workers in June, the highest totals in six months, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Still, the figures are substantially lower than they were a year ago.

And the Conference Board said last week that online job ads rose by 250,000 in May to 3.37 million, the first increase since October and the largest jump since October 2006.

Still, economists caution that jobs overall will remain scarce for months because most employers are likely to wait until the economy grows at a healthy pace before they feel confident enough to add workers. That might not happen until well into 2010, many economists say.

AccuWeather: Home runs surge at Yankee Stadium caused by shorter dimensions

NEW YORK (AP) – The barrage of home runs at new Yankee Stadium is being caused by shorter dimensions, not weather, according to

The meteorology company said Tuesday that 20 of the 105 home runs hit at the $1.5 billion ballpark would not have gone out of the old Yankee Stadium.

“For someone attending a game at the new Yankee Stadium or watching on TV, the size of the playing field appears to be the same,” AccuWeather meteorologist Tim Buckley said in a statement Tuesday. “The dimensions at select corners of the field are identical – and the posted numbers on the walls reflect that. However, detailed schematics of the park reveal some nuances that have significant implications.”

Speculation has centered on whether there is a wind tunnel in right field caused by either the open concourses or the slope of the stands, which is less steep that the original Yankee Stadium.

AccuWeather agreed with the conclusions of Greg Rybarczyk of, who said in April that right field in the new ballpark was shorter. The Yankees insist that the dimensions are exactly the same.

“The wall structure is slightly different than the old park,” AccuWeather said. “The main difference involves curvature. The gentle curve from right field to center field seen in original Yankee Stadium has largely been eliminated at the new stadium. This is due in large part to the presence of a manual scoreboard embedded within the wall. Losing this curvature has resulted in a right field that is shorter by four-to-five feet on average, but up to nine feet in spots.