Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Notes From All Over

Jobless Aid Measure Passes Senate Hurdle

Legislation to give additional months of unemployment benefits to people who have been out of a job for more than half a year cleared a key hurdle Tuesday that guarantees it will soon pass the Senate.

The sweeping bill also would prevent doctors from absorbing a crippling cut in Medicare payments and extends health insurance subsidies for the unemployed through December. It would add $132 billion to the budget deficit over the next year and a half.

The measure illustrates the great extent to which direct help for the jobless and the poor makes up a large portion of Democrats' election-year agenda on jobs - and that it threatens to squeeze out other items on that agenda amid concerns about a budget deficit projected at a record $1.6 trillion this year.

The bill also provides the annual extension of $26 billion worth of tax breaks for businesses and individuals that are popular with senators in both parties.

Feds To Probe Cause Of Runaway Prius

Federal officials are sending two investigators to California to determine what caused a Toyota Prius to race out of control on a San Diego-area freeway.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Transportation said Tuesday that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will try to determine what caused the incident.

Driver James Sikes sped along Interstate 8 for 20 minutes Monday before a Highway Patrol officer helped slow down the car.

Sikes called 911 about 1:30 p.m. after accelerating to pass another vehicle on I-8 near La Posta and finding that he could not control his car, the CHP said.

Toyota owners have complained of their vehicles speeding out of control despite efforts to slow down, sometimes resulting in deadly crashes. The government has received complaints of 34 deaths linked to sudden acceleration of Toyota vehicles since 2000.

The incident took place the same day that Toyota held a demonstration to challenge claims that car electronics could cause the gas pedal to stick. Toyota has recalled millions of cars but claims the problems are simply mechanical.

Continental CEO Will Cancel Flights Before Fines

Continental Airlines plans to cancel flights rather than risk stiff fines under new federal rules designed to punish carriers for delaying passengers.

CEO Jeff Smisek said today the result will be that passengers will have more trouble getting to their destinations.

A spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Department said airlines can avoid fines by doing a better job of scheduling flights and crews.

Under a Transportation Department rule taking effect next month, airlines can be fined up to $27,500 per passenger if planes are delayed three hours and passengers can't get off.

Smisek said at an investor conference in New York that long delays are rare, and mostly caused by an outdated air traffic control system that the government has failed to upgrade.

Airline industry officials say they should decide whether to wait out delays, even if the delays go past three hours.

Because airlines have cut flights, leaving the remaining ones more crowded, passengers will have fewer chances to rebook on another flight. Passengers, according to the CEO, won't get to their destinations "for maybe days."

Transportation Department spokesman Bill Mosley said the new rules will help consumers pick airlines that don't have tarmac delays or that routinely cancel their flights.

The new rules grew out of passenger frustration over incidents in which planes were stuck on the tarmac for hours before takeoff. With Congress considering legislation to crack down on delays, the Transportation Department imposed its own 3-hour rule, including fines of up to $27,500 per passenger.

That means that for a fully packed medium-sized plane such as a Boeing 737, fines could top $3.5 million per flight, and go much higher on bigger planes used for international flights.

Continental recently raised its fees to $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second, although elite frequent fliers and some other customers don't have to pay.

Houston-based Continental, the nation's No. 4 airline, is still thinking about growing by combining with another airline. Continental cut off merger talks with United Airlines a couple years ago, but both are now smaller in comparison to Delta, which acquired Northwest to become the world's largest airline.

Man Accused Of Stuffing Body In Freezer

A man accused of stuffing a woman's body in a chest freezer faced a judge on Tuesday, WFSB-TV in Hartford, Conn., reported.

Luis Otero was being held on a $2 million bond after the body was discovered in a home on Sunday night. Otero was charged with murder in connection with the woman's death on Monday. Sources told the station that Otero originally confessed to the woman's death but later reneged.

Police said they were waiting for the medical examiner to positively confirm the body is that of Otero's girlfriend, Madeleine Brisson, who lives with Otero in the home. The landlord of the property runs an auto garage business behind the home and said he knocked on the home's door on Friday to get rent and no one answered.

The landlord, Dominic Ceravolo, said he thought it was strange that no one answered and that he went back on Saturday to try again.

Ceravolo said a man he believed to be a new boyfriend of Brisson answered the door. Neighbors said Brisson had lived at the Groton home for about a year and ran a laundromat that recently closed in Mystic. They said she often kept to herself.

"She was a very nice person, kind and congenial," said Deborah Bates, who works for Ceravolo. "Never had a bad word to say about anybody."

Police said they were withholding the victim's identity until her family had been notified. An autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow.

Otero did not enter a plea during Tuesday's court appearance. Otero's public defender asked unsuccessfully for a lower bond, saying Otero has ties in the community. He returns to New London Superior Court on March 24.

Female Drinkers Less Likely To Gain Weight

Women who are light or moderate alcohol drinkers gain less weight and are less likely to become overweight than non-drinkers, a new study said.

Dr. Liz Wang of Brigham and Women's Hospital studied more than 19,000 women over age 39 who had a normal BMI at the start of a the program. Thirty-eight percent did not drink at all, and the others were classified based on how much they drank. They were followed for an average of 13 years.

The researchers found that those who did not drink alcohol at all gained the most weight. As alcohol consumption rose, the amount of weight gained dropped. Women who had a moderate amount each day were 30 percent less likely to become overweight or obese than those who do not drink.

The authors said that the results were similar whether a woman drank red wine, white wine, beer or liquor. But red wine had the strongest effect.

The study appears in the March 8 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Conan Picks Michigan Woman To Follow On Twitter

Former "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien has randomly picked a Michigan woman to follow on Twitter, and she says it has changed her life, WDIV-TV in Detroit reported.

O'Brien, who at last check had more than 580,000 followers on his Twitter page, announced Friday he had chosen to follow 19-year-old Sarah Killen.

"I had three people that I didn't know following me. Now, I have 17,112 people that I don't know following me," Killen said.

She said her sudden propulsion into the spotlight has made her a small celebrity, which comes with perks. Killen said a computer dealer in Florida gave her a $3,000 iMac computer in exchange for a mention on her Twitter page.

Killen said she and her fiance John had been considering postponing their September wedding because they couldn't afford it -- but not anymore.

"A Detroit company gave us a limo, a woman from New York is making me a handmade dress and a vineyard in California is sending us three cases of wine," Killen said.

But she also said all the attention hasn't been positive.

"People have been bashing me. Like, I said I like cantaloupe and people were saying how stupid I was," Killen said.

Killen said the most rewarding perk of getting national attention is drumming up support for her cause, the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure.

"I went and I signed up for the walk and I had zero dollars donated. No one would donate any money," she said. "And then I got on here and I have $2,500 donated right now."

Killen's Twitter user name is LovelyButton.

Florida Island Renamed 'Google Island'

An island off the Florida Gulf Coast is going through a bit of an identity crisis. A competition has the city of Sarasota temporally changing the name of a nearby island.

City Island has now been changed to Google Island. That's because Google is launching an experimental ultra high-speed network in the U.S. and Sarasota is trying to get the Internet giant's attention.

On the Web: Read the story and see the video on the WFTV website

AP; USDOT; WFSB-TV Hartford; Archives of Internal Medicine; WDIV-TV Detroit; WFTV-TV Sarasota.

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