Probe Cites Safety In 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

HOUSTON (UPI) — A U.S. investigation into the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico suggested worker safety and performance trumped disaster prevention for BP and Transocean.

In 2010, sea water, oil and natural gas was ejected up to the platform, struck an ignition source and an explosion on caused BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig. Eleven rig workers died in the accident that led to one of the worst offshore oil disasters.

An audit by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board found that companies such as BP and rig-owner Transocean focused more on issues that could lead to a work slowdown more than on the factors that may have contributed to the spill.

“BP and Transocean had multiple safety management system deficiencies that contributed to the Macondo incident,” the Houston Chronicle quoted the report as stating.

The board took note of worker safety issues when it reviewed the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2007. A report from U.S. regulators determined that the blowout that led to the explosion that sunk the Deepwater Horizon platform came from the failure of a cement barrier at the underwater well.

BP and Transocean officials were cited by the Houston newspaper as saying there were committed to enhancing operational safety measures.

Report Lays Out Illegal Wildlife Trade

LONDON (UPI) — The World Wildlife Fund says Vietnam, Laos and Mozambique rank lowest in their report focusing on the illegal rhino horn, ivory and tiger-part trade.

Vietnam was the “top destination for rhino horn,” creating a poaching crisis in South Africa, said the report, which identified 23 countries “facing high levels of poach and trafficking” in horns, ivory and animal parts.

Laos and Mozambique were cited as having failed on ivory trade compliance and enforcement, the BBC reported.

Vietnam, the report found, failed on “key aspects of compliance and enforcement” for the rhino and the tiger-part trades.

“It is time for Vietnam to face the fact that its illegal consumption of rhino horn is driving the widespread poaching of endangered rhinos in Africa, and that it must crack down on the illegal rhino horn trade,” Elisabeth McLellan, WWF Global Species Program manager, said in a statement.

The wildlife group commended progress made in some countries.

“There were important advances in compliance in 2010-2012, with introduction of stricter legislation, wildlife trade controls and penalties in a number of countries, including China, India, Laos, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa and Zimbabwe,” it said.

However, it noted, “major prosecutions for wildlife crime are still rare.”

'Red Tide' Organism Deadlier Than Thought

STORRS, Conn. (UPI) — A tiny aquatic organism in algal blooms known as “red tides” is even deadlier than thought and could affect entire marine food chains, U.S. scientists say.

A University of Connecticut researcher and his team have discovered the plankton species Alexandrium tamarense contains not one but two types of toxins. One is deadly to large organisms and one kills small predators.

“If it’s killing multicellular animals with one toxin and small [single cell] protists with another, it could be the killer of the ocean world,” marine scientist Hans Dam said in a university release.

This ability to harm both large and small oceanic predators could lead to disruptions in the marine food web during large blooms such as the red tide that occurred along the Northeast coast in 2005, severely affecting the Cape Cod area, Dam said.

While Alexandrium are normally harmless to humans in small numbers, Dam said, when they’re eaten by other clams, mussels or other microorganisms — which are then eaten by small crustaceans that in turn are consumed by larger crustaceans or fish — the toxins can build up in large amounts.

In some parts of the world, eating contaminated shellfish, such as lobsters, clams and fish, has led to illness or death, he said.

“The amazing thing is, when you look at these algae under a microscope, they’re so beautiful — but they’re so deadly,” Dam said. “We call them the beautiful assassins.”

NASA Tests Inflatable Space Heat Shield

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (UPI) — NASA says it has tested a large inflatable heat shield that survived a trip through Earth’s atmosphere travelling at hypersonic speeds up to 7,600 mph.

The Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment, or IRVE-3, was launched by sounding rocket Monday from its Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., the space agency reported.

The test was intended to show a space capsule could use an inflatable outer shell to slow and protect itself as it enters an atmosphere at hypersonic speed during planetary entry and descent, such as in missions to Mars, or in returns to Earth with cargo from the International Space Station, NASA said.

“It’s great to see the initial results indicate we had a successful test of the hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator,” James Reuther, deputy director of NASA’s Space Technology Program, said.

“This demonstration flight goes a long way toward showing the value of these technologies to serve as atmospheric entry heat shields for future space.”

IRVE-3 is a cone of uninflated high-tech rings covered by a thermal blanket of layers of heat resistant materials.

About 6 minutes into its suborbital flight, the 680-pound inflatable aeroshell, or heat shield, and its payload separated from the launch vehicle, then an inflation system pumped nitrogen into the shell until it expanded to a mushroom shape almost 10 feet in diameter.

Ground controller monitors video from four onboard cameras that confirmed the inflatable shield held its shape despite the force and high heat of reentry.

Self-Esteem Irresistible To Opposite Sex

NEW YORK (UPI) — A sense of humor and self-confidence are the most irresistible traits in a potential love interest, not physical traits, a U.S. survey indicates.

A survey by Tango.com, a Web-based source for love and relationships, indicated 89 percent of respondents agreed that when one or both partners in a couple has poor self-confidence, relationship problems ensue.

“Conventional wisdom holds that attraction typically begins with physical appearances,” Andrea Miller, chief executive officer of YourTango, said in a statement. “We were thrilled to learn that what’s on the inside is what matters most to both men and women.”

Perfume/fragrance was the beauty product that made women feel the most irresistible, followed by mascara then eyeliner/eye shadow, the survey found.

“Sixty-six percent of respondents said compliments/affirmations and giving him/her your undivided attention are the best ways to instill confidence in one’s partner,” Miller said.

Both men and women said the top way to avoid complacency in a relationship was to try new things together, followed by, for men, having sex regularly, and for women, small gestures such as writing love notes or doing the other’s chores.

Elderly Drinking May Up Dementia Risk

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (UPI) — U.S. researchers say their analysis of alcohol use over a long period of time found when and how much a person drinks affects alcohol’s impact.

Tina Hoang of The Veterans Health Research Institute, San Francisco, and the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues tracked more than 1,300 women age 65 and older for 20 years.

They measured frequency of current and past alcohol use at the beginning, midpoint — years six and eight — and late phases — years 10 and 16 — of the study.

Hoang said previous research had found light to moderate alcohol consumption — seven to 14 drinks/week — has generally been considered to have some health benefits, including possibly reducing risk of cognitive decline later in life.

The study found moderate drinkers at baseline or at midpoint had similar risk of cognitive impairment to non-drinkers; but moderate drinkers in the late phase of the study were roughly 60 percent more likely to develop cognitive impairment.

Women who changed from non-drinking to drinking during the course of the study had a 200 percent increased risk of cognitive impairment, the study said.

“In this group of older women, moderate alcohol consumption was not protective,” Hoang said. “We found that heavier use earlier in life, moderate use in late-life, and transitioning to drinking in late-life were associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment. These findings suggest that alcohol use in late-life may not be beneficial for cognitive function in older women.”

The findings were published in the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver.

Parents Key To Teen's Alcohol, Drug Use

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (UPI) — Some parents assume whatever they say about drugs and alcohol may be drowned out by peer pressure, but U.S. researchers say parents are key.

Michael Cleveland of the Prevention Research Center at Pennsylvania State University said influences on what teens do often come from their friends, but parents have big roles.

Cleveland and colleagues interviewed high school freshmen and sophomores, asking them about their substance use, their friends — and their parents’ discipline behaviors and knowledge of their social lives.

They also grouped students based on their friends.

“Substance abuse was lowest for those teens whose parents were knowledgeable and consistent, and who also had friends whose parents were knowledgeable and consistent,” Cleveland said in a statement. “Parents should be aware of their teens’ whereabouts. They also can keep track of who their teens are friends with, and get to know the parents of those other kids.”

Many Focus On Personal Health On Vacation

NEWTON, Mass. (UPI) — Most people who try to eat healthy and exercise try to keep to their healthy regime even when on vacation, a U.S. survey indicates.

TripAdvisor, a travel Web site, surveyed more than 1,400 U.S. travelers and found 69 percent said healthy eating was important to them when traveling for leisure, while 53 percent always or often exercised when on the road.

The survey found the travelers’ top physical activities on vacation were:

— 87 percent said walking.

— 46 percent said swimming.

— 23 percent said using cardio machines.

— 16 percent said biking.

The travelers’ favored spots for vacation workouts included:

— 52 percent said hotel gym.

— 42 percent said the hotel pool.

— 38 percent said beach.

— 27 percent said the hotel room.

— 9 percent exercised while on a flight.

Among those who said they exercised on vacation, 31 percent said their primary motivation was to maintain their fitness regimen, while a further 28 percent exercise in vacation to avoid gaining weight, while 14 percent said they wanted to capitalize on having more free time to work out.

“While most Americans will spend at least some of their vacation relaxing, many now balance their fun with fitness and a significant number of travelers also prioritize personal health on their trips,” Brooke Ferencsik, director of communications at TripAdvisor, said in a statement.

No further survey details were provided.

Raisins Provide Workout Boost

FRESNO, Calif. (UPI) — Raisins may provide the same workout boost as sports chews, a study funded by the California Raisin Marketing Board suggests.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis evaluated the effects of natural and commercial carbohydrate supplements have on endurance running performance.

Runners depleted their glycogen stores in an 80-minute run followed by a 5K time trial. Runners completed three randomized trials — raisins, chews and water only — separated by seven days.

The study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found those who ingested raisins or sports chews ran their 5K on average 1 minute faster than those who ingested only water.

Eating raisins and sports chews promoted higher carbohydrate oxidation compared to water only, the study said.

“Raisins are a great alternative to sport chews as they also provide fiber and micronutrients, such as potassium and iron, and they do not have any added sugar, artificial flavor or colors,” James Painter, nutrition research adviser for the California Raisin Marketing Board, said in a statement.

 

Book Industry Decries Loss Of Agency Sales

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Booksellers are criticizing a proposed settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and Apple and six publishers meant to end a collusive pricing agreement.

In a report detailing the public response to the proposed agreement, the Justice Department said firms like Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, the American Booksellers Association and the Authors Guild are unhappy because the proposal would prohibit the agency sales model the Justice Department argued raised the price of e-books for customers.

Apple and six publishers switched to the agency sales model, allowing publishers to set the price of books on the retail level and pay retailers a commission on their sales. The pact between the publishers and Apple was put in place to combat retail giant Amazon’s tactic of undercutting the price of e-books — selling them for $9.99 — as a loss leader so it could sell more Kindle digital readers.

B&N argued “government should not regulate legal agreements that are independently negotiated by industry participants who are in the best position to determine if the agreements are in their interests.”

Canceling the agreement will allow the price of e-books to fall. That may be good for customers in the short run, but bookstores, authors, literary agents and publishers will be hurt by the low prices, which will contribute to lower quality for consumers, industry comments argued.

The agency model prevented bookstores from offering discounts. Supporters of the plan, in turn, welcomed “a reduction in e-book prices for consumers and dismiss any lost benefits to industry participants as undeserved, speculative or irrelevant,” the report said.

Airlines Making More Money From Fees

LOS ANGELES (UPI) — Fifty airlines that report revenue from fees for checked bags, more legroom and changed reservations made more than $22 billion last year, a U.S. study found.

The review was done by IdeaWorks Company, based in Wisconsin, along with Amadeus, a travel company based in Madrid, the Los Angeles Times reported. Analysts said the 50 airlines reported a total of $22.6 billion in ancillary revenue in 2011.

In 2009, 47 airlines reported $13.47 billion in ancillary revenue, which increased to $21.46 billion in 2010.

Extra charges for items from food to checking baggage have become a feature of airline travel in recent years, especially on discount airlines. Two airlines even charge for carry-on bags.

Spirit Airlines, a discount carrier based in Florida that charges for carry-ons, received one-third of its revenue from fees in 2011.

The carriers with the highest totals from ancillary revenue were the merged Continental and United, totaling $5.2 billion, followed by Delta at $2.5 billion.

Manufacturing Expansion Slowed In July

NEW YORK (UPI) — A flash estimate of U.S. business activity in the manufacturing sector showed growth at its weakest level in 19 months in July, Markit Research said.

The research firm’s purchasing managers’ index, based on 85 percent of the month’s survey results, showed the headline index falling from 52.5 in June to 51.8, as production and new orders fell to the lowest point in a year.

Numbers above 50 in the index indicate growth, but growth has slowed. The production index dropped from 53.4 in June to 52.2. The new orders index slid from 53.7 to 51.9.

The job creation index showed nominally faster gains with the index for employment rising from 52.8 to 52.9.

“The U.S. manufacturing sector is clearly struggling under the pressure from falling exports, which showed the first back-to-back monthly decline for almost three years in July,” said Markit Chief Economist Chris Williamson.

“Reassuringly, domestic demand appears to be showing ongoing signs of resilience, encouraging firms to take on more staff,” he said.

U.S. Home Price Index Rose In May

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S. home prices rose 0.8 percent April to May, but rose only 0.7 percent March to April, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Tuesday.

The agency previously reported the March to April gain as 0.8 percent. That estimate has been revised 0.1 percentage points lower, the agency said.

Although the U.S. home price index is 17 percent below the peak hit in April 2007, for the past 12 months, home prices in the survey have risen 3.7 percent.

Home prices are now at roughly the same level as May 2004, the report said.

The agency’s House Price Index tracks prices for homes with mortgages backed by either the Federal National Mortgage Association or the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., better known as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Back-To-School Shopping Begins

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S. retail receipts rose modestly in the week, as back-to-school sales began in earnest, a trade group said Tuesday.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said sales rose 1 percent in the week and climbed 3.3 percent compared to the same week of 2011.

Sales were helped by a slight break from a harsh heat wave, the trade group said.

Weather Trends International said the U.S. average temperature was 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the same week last year — although it was 2.9 degrees warmer than the long-term average.

Cooler temperatures arrived later in the week. By Friday, the heat wave had broken in the Northeast, just in time for weekend shopping.

Retailers have been encouraged by lower gasoline prices, which increases discretionary spending. Gas prices, however, have turned higher, posting a third consecutive week of increases, the group said.

The Energy Information Administration said a gallon of gasoline averaged $3.494 per gallon on July 23, up 6.7 cents from the previous week.

22-Year-Old Woman Running For N.Y. Senate

NEW YORK, (UPI) — A 22-year-old New York woman running for the state Senate said the film “Legally Blonde” taught her to “take pink and make it sophisticated.”

Mindy Meyer, who is running as a Republican and Conservative against Democratic incumbent Kevin Parker, said Rudy Giuliani is her political idol and Reese Witherspoon’s character in “Legally Blonde” is her style idol for showing “you can take pink and make it sophisticated,” the New York Post reported Tuesday.

Her Web site, MindyMeyer4Senate.com, features pictures of the candidate superimposed over the U.S. Capitol, instead of the state Capitol in Albany, and dressed as Katniss from “The Hunger Games” with a caption reading, “No more ‘Hunger Games’ in our district!”

The Web site reads “I’m a Senator and I know it” while a instrumental version of the LMFAO hit “Sexy and I Know It” plays in the background.

Meyer, who obtained a political science degree from Touro College, said she “fell asleep” looking at other political Web sites.

Parker told Web site City & State he is taking Meyer’s campaign seriously.

New York Conservative Party Chairman Jerry Kassar said he is glad to have Meyer on the ticket.

“She’s a law-school student, she’s extremely intelligent, she is very focused on this race, and I’m excited to have a candidate who’s getting all this attention!” he said.

Man Attacked With Toilet Cover, Guitar

LAS VEGAS, (UPI) — Las Vegas police said they arrested a man accused of breaking into a neighbor’s home and attacking him with a guitar and a toilet bowl lid.

Police said Ronald Hetzel, 41, allegedly broke into a neighbor’s home in the Southern Highlands neighborhood by opening a window and struck the owner over the head with a wooden guitar and a porcelain toilet bowl lid during a confrontation, the Las Vegas Sun reported Tuesday.

Investigators said Hetzel, who was displaying “symptoms of excited delirium,” also repeatedly tried to strangle the homeowner.

Police responded to a report of a man throwing objects out of the home and arrived to find Hetzel sitting on the curb. They said the suspect was not wearing a shirt and was “very hostile” toward an officer.

Hetzel, who attempted to flee but was tracked down and caught by a K9 officer, was arrested and charged with home invasion, burglary, attempted murder, battery with a deadly weapon and battery with substantial harm.

The homeowner was treated for his injuries at St. Rose Domincan Hospital’s Siena campus.

Proposal-Towing Plane Goes Down

WESTERLY, R.I., (UPI) — The U.S. Coast Guard credited an 8-year-old boy and a boater with the rescue of a pilot who crashed in Rhode Island while towing a marriage proposal banner.

James Warcup, an aeronautics inspector at Rhode Island Airport Corp., said the Piper Pawnee plane, which is registered to the owner of a banner towing company and was pulling a banner reading, “Will you marry me,” took off from Westerly Airport around 3 p.m., headed for Block Island, The (New London, Conn.) Day reported Tuesday.

“Within 10 minutes the pilot reported a loss of power,” Warcup said. “He elected to ditch the plane in the Block Island Sound. When he did, the landing gear broke.”

Lt. Bryan Swintek, a Coast Guard spokesman at the Southeastern New England Sector at Woods Hole, Mass., said officials received a report around 3:21 p.m. of a radio transmission between a pilot and a young child, later identified as the pilot’s 8-year-old son.

The Coast Guard got in touch with the boy, who told rescuers his father had gone down shortly after takeoff.

“He was incredibly calm,” Swintek said. “He played a key role in helping his dad.”

The pilot was picked up by a civilian boater before being turned over to the Coast Guard. The rescuers took him to Point Judith, where doctors determined he was not seriously injured.

Swintek said the Coast Guard is now trying to locate and recover the plane.

Air Force Plane Lands In Wrong Place

TAMPA, Fla., (UPI) — The U.S. Air Force said it is investigating after a C-17 cargo plane that landed at an airport about 10 miles from its intended destination.

The Air Force said the plane landed Friday at Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa, about 10 miles from MacDill Air Force Base, where it was supposed to land, the Tampa Bay Times reported Tuesday.

“I’m quite sure the crew was embarrassed,” said Deric Dymerski, president of Atlas Aviation, which runs ground operations at Peter O. Knight Airport.

“They weren’t on our frequency. They just showed up,” he said. “They obviously, well, I’m speculating, mistook it — all appearances are they mistook the airport for MacDill Air Force Base.”

The Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois said the aircraft was en route to the base following Central Command operations in southwest Asia.

Maj. James Bressendorff, AMC public affairs executive officer, said he could not provide details of the mission or the mistaken landing because the investigation is ongoing.

City Drops Dance Marathon Ban

OAKLAND, Calif., (UPI) — A California city council has done away with an 82-year-old ban on dance marathons that carried a six month jail sentence for violations.

The Oakland City Council voted Tuesday to do away with the ban, which was passed in 1930 by then-Mayor John Davie and his colleagues, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday.

The effort to do away with the ban was led by Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan and was supported by city attorneys.

“We do not need to keep so-called morality laws from several generations ago on the books,” City Attorney Barbara Parker said.

Suspect's Booby-Traps Were Sophisticated

AURORA, Colo., (UPI) — The booby-trapped apartment of the suspect in the massacre at a Colorado movieplex was set with more than 30 grenades and 10 gallons of gasoline, police said.

Police said the complicated setup at the Aurora home of James E. Holmes was meant to harm or kill anyone who entered, CNN reported Tuesday.

“Imagine that fireball … you would have an explosion that would knock down the wall of [nearby] apartments,” the official said. “That flame would have consumed the entire third floor” of the apartment complex.

Firefighters would have arrived at a building “that would have been completely consumed in flames,” the official said.

Holmes made his first court appearance Monday. He is accused in the deaths of 12 people and the wounding of 58 others Friday when he allegedly opened fire on theater-goers at a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”

He will be formally charged next Monday.

The official, who was not identified, told CNN the grenades were wired to a control box in the kitchen that bomb technicians disabled aided by a remote-control robot that put water on it.

“It looked like spaghetti,” said the official, adding that the control box was sent to the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., for forensic analysis.

The Century 16 Movie multiplex will be closed until at least Wednesday so police can complete their investigation and Holmes’ defense team can access the scene Tuesday.

Four of those killed were members of the U.S. military. As of late Monday, at least 15 people remained hospitalized, five in critical condition.

Lisa Damiani, an attorney representing the Holmes family but not the suspect, said family members were not revealing their location, CNN reported.

“They’re doing as well as they can, under the circumstances,” Damiani told reporters at her office in San Diego, Calif., where the family lives. “I think everyone can imagine how they’re feeling — anyone who’s ever been a parent.”

However, she said, the family “has elected not to discuss James or their relationship with James at this time.”

Meanwhile authorities elsewhere in the United States said they’ve had several incidents tied to screenings of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

In Maine, police said a man stopped for speeding during the weekend with a number of guns, including an assault rifle, and boxes of ammunition in his vehicle, told authorities he took a loaded gun into a showing of the Batman movie.

State Police said Timothy Courtois, 49, of Biddeford also had news clippings of the recent Aurora, Colo., movie slayings in his car, The Boston Globe reported Monday. Courtois told troopers he was traveling to shoot his former employer.

A Department of Public Safety spokesman said Courtois didn’t indicate he had a plan to use the weapon inside the theater.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it arrested a man at a Norwalk, Calif., theater showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” after the man allegedly made threats about a gun, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

The suspect, Clark Tabor, was arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats.

Tabor allegedly grabbed his cellphone Sunday evening in the cineplex, shouting, “Does anyone have a gun?” and “I should go off like in Colorado,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

A confrontation with an intoxicated man at a Sierra Vista, Ariz., theater prompted movie patrons to flee a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” the same day a gunman killed 12 people in Aurora, the Tuscon Arizona Daily Star reported.

Police said witnesses reported Michael William Borboa, 23, appeared to be intoxicated and was acting strangely during the screening.

Some patrons confronted the man, causing “mass hysteria” and prompting about 50 people to flee, police said. Police said he brought to the theater a backpack that held an empty alcohol bottle and a half-filled bottle of alcohol.

U.S. Ready To Support Iraq If Requested

WASHINGTON, (UPI) — The United States is ready to provide Iraq with any type of support it may request to address national security needs, an official said.

A series of coordinated attacks Monday in Iraq left more than 100 people dead and hundreds of others injured. Authorities in Baghdad said insurgents detonated car bombs, stormed military bases and attacked checkpoints in the bloodiest attacks of the year.

Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said the attacks were the work of al-Qaida in Iraq, an organization making “desperate efforts” to incite sectarian unrest in the country.

A string of al-Qaida attacks in Iraq four years after U.S. forces invaded in 2003 sparked sectarian conflict that pushed the country to the brink of civil war. Infighting between political leaders from the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities, meanwhile, are hampering overall development.

Nuland said Washington was “concerned” about the string of attacks in Iraq and was ready to provide any support that Baghdad might request.

“They fought long and hard to get to this stage where they are taking responsibility for their own security,” she said. “But as necessary, we provide support.”

U.S. military forces withdrew from Iraq in December.

Obama: Americans Want 'Decency' In Leaders

PIEDMONT, Calif., (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday voters “recognize that there is dysfunction in Washington,” and want leaders to show “decency and common sense.”

During a fundraiser at a private home in Piedmont, Calif., the president spoke of his visit Sunday to Aurora, Colo., where 12 people were killed and 58 were wounded at a midnight screening of the new Batman movie early Friday.

“Sometimes when bad things happen, horrible things happen, I think it’s easy for us to slip into despair,” he said. “And yet if you had spent some time like I did with those people who had faced own just unimaginable pain with strength and grace, it would make you extraordinarily optimistic about America.”

Obama said it sometimes seems as if “the country is constantly arguing, everybody is down and out.”

“But when you travel the country and meet people, Americans are strong and they are resilient and they are optimistic and they are confident about their futures and their kids’ futures,” he said. “They recognize that there’s dysfunction in Washington and they’d like to see change, and they recognize that the economy is not working for everybody the way it should, and they’d like to see that change.

“But they understand as well as anybody that we are incredibly blessed with a country that is the closest thing to a form of government that allows all of us to achieve and live out our dreams,” the president said. “And they are thankful for it every day and all they want to see is that their leadership reflect the same decency and common sense that they try to apply every single day in their lives.”

Obama said the presidential election will be a close race because the U.S. economy is still recovering from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

“The challenges we’ve seen in Europe are blowing back onto our shores,” he said. “And most people analyze the economy not through some macroeconomic analysis, they evaluate in terms of, do I have a job, do my kids have a job, how’s my home value doing. And in that environment people are still having a tough time.”

Newspaper Uncovers Olympics Visa Plot

LONDON, (UPI) — A plot offering false passports and visas to illegally enter England with the Pakistani Olympic team was exposed Monday by a London newspaper.

An undercover investigation by the British newspaper The Sun, secretly videotaped, claimed to demonstrate how Pakistani politician Abid Chodhary could bypass stringent security and provide a two-month visa to stay in Britain, a false spot on Pakistan’s Olympic team and even participation in the opening ceremonies for the London Summer Games, for 7,000 British pounds, or $10,850.

The newspaper said it alerted British government security offices, and quoted an unnamed “intelligence operative” as saying: “The idea of unknown agents being flown into the U.K. to be put up in the Olympic Village beggars belief. Terrorists would have the biggest platform to perform their atrocities. This staggering loophole needs closing fast.”