Montana Breathes Easier After Oil Spill

HELENA, Mont., Aug. 5 (UPI) — Most of the more toxic components of oil from a July oil spill in the Yellowstone River have evaporated already, Montana’s governor said.

Around 1,200 barrels of oil were released from Exxon Mobil’s Silvertip pipeline into the Yellowstone River near Billings, Mont., in early July. Flood waters slowed cleanup efforts and teams were later sent in to remove debris piles soaked with oil after the water levels declined.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said there weren’t any surprises in samples taken in and around the site of the spill.

“The analysis shows that the petroleum components are consistent with what you would expect to find in crude oil,” he said. “One piece of good news is that the crude oil did not contain a lot of heavy metals or toxic additives that persist for long periods in the environment.”

The state sampled more than a dozen drinking water wells, six irrigation wells and also took samples from the river.

Schweitzer and state environmental officials said none of the tests came back with levels of petroleum chemicals that exceeded safe drinking water standards.

A spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil told United Press International in response to e-mail questions that Silvertip had carried oil from tar sands in Canada since the 1980s. But “crude in the portion of the pipeline that failed was a mix of Wyoming Asphaltic (80 percent) and Elk Basin crude (20 percent),” the spokeswoman said.

Teen Buried In Sand More Than 30 Minutes

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., Aug. 5 (UPI) — Emergency responders in California said a teenager who spent more than 30 minutes trapped in a collapsed sand hole was rescued uninjured.

The Newport Beach Fire Department said the boy and a group of friends were attempting to dig a tunnel in the sand at the beach Wednesday when the walls of the tunnel collapsed, trapping him 5 to 7 feet below the surface, CNN reported Thursday.

The teenager, Matt Mina, 17, told NBC’s “Today” show Thursday he feared he was “going to die.”

“I was just really scared. I didn’t know if anyone could hear me when I was screaming for help,” he said.

Mina told NBC he was able to breathe while underground.

“I threw my head around, trying to make some room because my arms were kind of behind me,” the teenager said. “I pretty much made some wiggle room — I had a little pocket of air.”

Video taken of the incident depicts some 40 people, including firefighters, beach-goers and three search-and-rescue teams, digging to reach Mina, MSNBC.com reported.

The fire department said the rescue took more than 30 minutes. Mina was checked out at a hospital and found to be uninjured.

“The Newport Beach Fire Department would like to remind beach-goers that large holes dug in the sand can be very unstable and have in the past caused severe injuries and deaths,” the fire department said in a release.

Protesters Snub Assad Decree; Scores Dead

HAMA, Syria, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Syria’s resistance rejected President Bashar Assad’s decree permitting opposition parties and dozens more civilians were reported killed by security forces.

Assad’s decree grants citizens the right to establish political parties with the aim of contributing to political life “through peaceful and democratic means,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Thursday.

The embattled opposition movement dismissed the decree, alleging it was simply for show and would produce no real change.

The U.S. State Department dismissed the announcement as “empty rhetoric” while French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe scorned it as “almost a provocation,” given the scale and duration of the repression.

The announcement of the law came as Syrian forces once again shelled Hama and plainclothes gunmen shot people in the streets in the fifth day of a tank, armored vehicle and sniper assault on the rebellious city, residents and activists said.

Footage on YouTube showed the bloodied corpses of four men said to have been killed by tank or cannon fire. Traditional news media are not allowed in much of Syria.

The city suffered from a critical food shortage, activists said.

Hama, a city of 700,000 north of Damascus whose name means “fortress,” has emerged as a linchpin of the nearly five-month uprising.

The international civic organization Avaaz cited medical sources as saying 109 people were killed in Hama Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday U.S. officials believed more than 2,000 people had been killed in the five-month crackdown on dissent.

She spoke after the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against Syria it said were the latest in a series seeking to isolate Assad and his close aides.

The Thursday sanctions targeted Assad confidante and Syrian Parliament member Mohammed Hamsho and his Hamsho International Group for their alleged role in propping up the Assad regime.

The sanctions freeze Hamsho’s assets in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with the company, whose 20 lines of business range from construction and telecommunications to ice cream making and horse trading.

Sanctions to be announced in a few days are expected to target Syria’s state owned and affiliated oil and gas companies, a key government revenue source, the Treasury Department said.

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford was to return to Damascus Friday after a week in Washington for his Senate confirmation hearing and other meetings.

Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour planned to travel to Syria Sunday to meet with Assad, An-Nahar, Lebanon’s leading Arabic-language newspaper reported Friday.

Mansour planned to meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem, the newspaper said.

The Lebanese daily A-Jumhuriya said Mansour had accepted a Syrian invitation.

Lebanon disassociated itself from a U.N. Security Council statement Wednesday condemning violence in Syria.

Two days earlier former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on the Arab world to end its “silence” on Syria’s crackdown by refusing to condemn Syria’s “bloody” onslaught.

The Syrian people deserve “to define their choices freely and within their humanitarian rights,” Hariri said in a statement.

Syria, which borders Lebanon to the north and east, occupied Lebanon from 1976 through April 2005.

Senate Poised To Restore All FAA Services

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) — A short-term deal to end a 14-day partial U.S. Federal Aviation Administration shutdown puts 74,000 people back to work, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

The agreement, which the Senate was to approve at 10 a.m. EDT Friday, “does not resolve the important differences that still remain,” Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement. “But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that.”

The two-week standoff cost the federal government more than $400 million in lost taxes on airline tickets.

Congressional officials said the deal, worked out late Thursday, arranges rubber-stamp Senate passage of a bill approved by the House last month, extending the aviation agency’s operations through Sept. 16, when both chambers will be back in session.

Only a few senators would need to be present for the so-called unanimous consent procedure, used when lawmakers are away.

Most lawmakers left Washington this week on a five-week vacation without resolving the FAA issue.

During the procedure, Reid or someone else deemed the chairman would say, “If there is no objection, the motion will be adopted.” The chairman would then pause a moment, followed by, “Since there is no objection, the motion is adopted.”

President Barack Obama said he was “pleased that leaders in Congress are working together” to put tens of thousands of Americans back to work.

“We can’t afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery, so this is an important step forward,” he said.

Senate Democrats had refused to pass the House bill because it cut $16.5 million a year in the Essential Air Service, a subsidy program that ensures that small rural airports that had commercial air service before airline deregulation maintained commercial service.

The breakthrough came Thursday when Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told congressional leaders he could issue waivers for the 16 communities affected by the House bill’s cuts.

The White House had been coordinating discussions with LaHood, Reid, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and others, The New York Times reported.

Reid had said Republicans were using the rural-airport issue as cover for an effort to change a recently instituted federal labor regulation that made it easier for unions to organize at airline companies.

The new regulation by the National Mediation Board — an independent government agency that coordinates labor-management relations within the railroad and airline industries — says union-organizing elections should be decided by a simple majority of those who vote.

Republicans want to go back to a 76-year-old rule that says in airline union-organizing elections, votes of eligible voters that are not cast should be counted as “no” votes.

Another standoff issue involved the number of flights to be added at Reagan Washington National Airport, The Washington Post reported.

The House bill would add 10 daily round-trip flights and the Senate bill would add 24. The chambers also disagreed on how airlines would be chosen to receive the slots, the Post said.

Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, vice chairman of the transportation subcommittee of the House appropriations committee, said Thursday he was “pissed off” at LaHood, a former Illinois Republican congressman, because LaHood blamed Republicans for holding up the agreement, Aviation Week reported.

BBC Reporter Spots UFO Over England

COTTERED, England, Aug. 5 (UPI) — A BBC journalist said he spotted a UFO hovering over a field in the English countryside while driving to an airport in the early morning.

Mike Sewell, a sports journalist for the BBC, said he was driving through Cottered, England, to the Stansted Airport at 4:15 a.m. Wednesday when he “saw this big bright light in the sky descending towards the road and as it got closer it banked to the left,” The Sun reported Thursday.

“As it banked to the left it went cross-country, I could see underneath and it wasn’t an airplane and it wasn’t a helicopter,” Sewell said. “I dread saying this, disc-shaped. It had several lights flashing all around it and underneath there were at least two large panel lights, soft white lights underneath.”

Sewell said he “eventually lost sight of it after two or three minutes.”

“It was weird. I was totally freaked out,” he said.

Hertfordshire police said they did not receive any reports of a UFO Wednesday morning.

European Markets Plunge After Asian Rout

FRANKFURT, Germany, Aug. 5 (UPI) — European stocks plunged a second day Friday and Asian shares nosedived as deep economic-growth fears reached fever pitch ahead of a key U.S. jobs report.

British, German and French stock-market indexes fell more than 1 percent in early morning trading after closing down 3.5 percent to 4 percent Thursday in the worst rout in more than two years that also saw the U.S. Dow Jones industrial average plunge 5 percent and nearly 11 percent in two weeks.

In Britain alone Thursday, more than $80 billion was wiped off the value of the country’s 100 biggest companies.

The euro fell against other currencies Friday after losing nearly 1.5 cents against the U.S. dollar Thursday.

Asian markets tumbled in late afternoon trading, with Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index down 4 percent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index and Taiwan’s Taiex were both down nearly 5 percent and Australia’s Standard & Poor’s/ASX 200 index down more than 4 percent.

Oil dropped from below $87 a barrel Friday, which The New York Times pointed out could mean lower U.S. gasoline prices by the Labor Day weekend next month.

Other commodities also fell after being hammered Thursday. Gold, considered the safest of safe havens, regained part of the $7.30 an ounce it lost Thursday in the global tumult.

“It was an absolute bloodbath,” John Richards, head of strategy at RBS Global Banking & Markets, told The Wall Street Journal.

In Europe, leaders grappled Friday with an increasingly continent-wide debt crisis that started in Greece, spread through Ireland and Portugal and now was poised to swallow Italy and Spain, the eurozone’s third- and fourth-largest economies and the world’s seventh- and 10th-largest.

Concerns grew that the crisis was becoming too big for governments and banks to contain.

“Markets remain to be convinced that we are taking the appropriate steps to resolve the crisis,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in words many investors saw as confirming their fears.

Barroso also called for an emergency strengthening of Europe’s bailout mechanism and said he had “deep concerns” about the faltering Spanish and Italian economies.

The European Central Bank sought to shore up confidence Thursday by buying Irish and Portuguese bonds, but it didn’t buy bonds from Italy or Spain — countries seen as most at risk from the spreading crisis.

The crisis is increasingly viewed as a disease spreading to countries whose economies may appear superficially healthy but whose immune systems were weak.

Worries that no longer existed about a U.S. default led to broader fears about the national economy’s failing health.

The U.S. Labor Department was to release its July jobs report at 8:30 a.m. EDT Friday.

Many economists forecast the unemployment rate would remain at 9.2 percent, as it was in June, with 75,000 to 120,000 in net new jobs created. The job growth would come from the private sector, with a government job loss of 30,000, the economists forecast.

U.S. unemployment was 7.6 percent in January 2009, when President Barack Obama took office.

Obama To Offer Tax Credit For Hiring Vets

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Spurring U.S. companies to hire veterans can help men and women returning from war zones move into routine civilian jobs, a senior White House adviser said.

“The president feels that our veterans … deserve all the support that we as a country can give them to find new careers,” a White House economic adviser told The Washington Examiner as President Barack Obama was to unveil a plan that offers tax credits to companies that hire veterans.

The proposal, which Obama was to make at the Washington Navy Yard at 11 a.m. EDT Friday, will call for a $4,800 “Returning Heroes” tax credit to companies that hire veterans unemployed for six months or more and a $2,400 tax credit if they hire one without a job for less than six months, the adviser told the Examiner.

Companies would get a $9,600 “Wounded Warriors” tax credit — an extension of an existing program — if they hired a disabled vet who was unemployed for six months or more or $4,800 if the vet was without a job for less than six months, the adviser said.

The administration estimates the cost of the tax credits will be $120 million over two years and will be funded from the existing budget.

Obama was expected to order the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to head up a task force on reforms, including a “reverse boot camp” to help veterans make the transition to civilian careers.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management would be directed to publish a manual showing business managers how they can locate veterans with skills and training that match open positions, CNN reported. And the U.S. Labor Department would unroll an “enhanced career development and job search service package.”

Obama planned to challenge private-sector businesses to hire or train 100,000 unemployed veterans or their spouses during the next two years.

He planned to make the announcement 2 1/2 hours after the Labor Department released its July jobs report.

Many economists forecast the civilian unemployment rate would remain at 9.2 percent, as it was in June, with 75,000 to 120,000 in net new jobs created.

The job growth would largely come from the private sector, with government losing about 30,000 jobs, the economists forecast.

The unemployment rate among recent veterans was not included in the forecast, but it was 13.3 percent in June and was expected to increase in the coming months as an expected 10,000 troops return from Afghanistan and 46,000 return from Iraq.

An additional 23,000 troops from Afghanistan are set to return by September 2012.

The unemployment rate among veterans who served since Sept. 11, 2001, was 11.5 percent a year ago, the Labor Department said. In 2008 the rate was 7.3 percent.

Obama’s proposal would require congressional approval. The credits would be made available in 2012 and 2013, the adviser said.

The military’s existing training program for soldiers re-entering civilian life hasn’t succeeded, senior administration officials acknowledged.

One jobless veteran told CBS News it was probably easier fighting in Iraq than searching for a job in the United States.

The White House plans to meet with House and Senate finance committee leaders to craft the tax-credit legislation when lawmakers return to Washington the second week of September.

The program, which would be considered government spending through the tax code, would be proposed at a time when heated debate is expected on finding $1.5 trillion in budget cuts.

Military Cooperation Discussed

MOSCOW, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Visiting Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of the general staff of the Chinese military, discussed advancing military cooperation with Russia, state media said.

Chen held discussions with Russian Defense Minister Anatoli Serdyukov in Moscow, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

Chen said military relations between the two countries were in good shape and there has been dramatic progress in recent years, the report said. He was quoted as saying his country was ready to work with Russia to advance their military ties further, which would help promote the China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership. Such efforts would be conducive to peace and stability in the region and the world, Chen said.

Serdyukov lauded the relationship between the two countries and their militaries.

Chen will also visit Ukraine and Israel, the report said.

Teens Get Prison For Gang Killing

LONDON, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Three teenagers were given life sentences Thursday for leading a gang attack on a schoolboy who was stabbed and killed in South London.

A judge at the Old Bailey said Dale Green must serve at least 15 years for killing Nicholas Pearton, while Lamarr Gordon was ordered to serve 14 years and Joseph Appiah, 16, was given a 12-year minimum sentence, The Independent reported. Four other teens were given sentences of up to 10 years for manslaughter.

Nicholas, 16, was attacked as he walked home from school in May 2010. He bled to death on the floor of a takeout restaurant.

The attack allegedly stemmed from a feud between rival gangs that led to a fight in school.

Prosecutors said the teens were in the Shanks and Guns Gang, The Sun reported. The attackers chanted “SG boys” and a security camera captured Gordon and Green shaking hands on a bus after the stabbing.

The group behaved “like a pack of wild animals,” a prosecutor said.

Gordon got into a fight with prison officers escorting him from the courtroom and ended up being carried out.

Body Appearance Important For Older Adults

WACO, Texas, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Body appearance satisfaction may be more important for younger people, especially women, but it is still important among older adults, U.S. researchers say.

Study author Dr. Renee Umstattd, assistant professor of health education at Baylor University, and colleagues found that as men and women age, there is a shift in body satisfaction away from appearance and toward body functionality.

However, when comparing concerns across genders, satisfaction with body functionality was more important for men than women. Another finding showed by increasing body satisfaction in both appearance and function, depressive symptoms of older adults were reduced, Umstattd says.

The research found programs that are successful at increasing participation in physical activity among older adults not only decrease the risk of a multitude of chronic diseases, but also increase one’s satisfaction with body function and satisfaction with body appearance.

The study, published online in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, showed that white older adults have lower overall body satisfaction and place a stronger relationship between physical activity and body satisfaction than African-American older adults.

However, researchers found that improvements in satisfaction with body function and body appearance were more likely among white participants.