AP News in Brief
Christmas travelers stranded across West as storms force cancellations, diversions and delays
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Colleen Stone and her family left their Illinois home Saturday hoping to fly to Seattle and spend Christmas with her parents. But two days, two canceled flights, a car ride and $600 later, they weren’t even close. They were at Los Angeles International Airport, desperately trying to get out by plane, bus, train or rental car.
The Stones were among hundreds of frustrated travelers Monday across the West stuck at airports, bus stations and along roadways due to stormy, winter weather.
“I work for the Red Cross back home and we’re trained to be prepared for when disasters strike,” said Stone, 51. “This is a disaster and the airlines are not prepared for it.”
There were long, snaking lines at virtually every western airport customer service counter. Some travelers said they spent three hours waiting to rebook flights to the snowy Pacific Northwest.
The Greyhound terminals in Portland, Ore., and Seattle remained shut down due to the weather Monday — no buses in, no buses out.
More dismal housing, economic data expected as companies line up for bailout funds
WASHINGTON (AP) — A trio of reports due out Tuesday are expected to paint a bleak picture of the nation’s housing market and the broader economy, as the deepening recession sends more companies lining up for a piece of the government’s $700 billion bailout fund.
Wall Street expects the gross domestic product, the country’s total output of goods and services, fell at an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the July-September quarter. That would match the estimate for GDP made a month ago, but economists believe that small drop will be followed by a much larger plunge in the current October-December quarter.
The National Association of Realtors is expected to report that sales of existing homes in the U.S. for November fell 1.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.9 million units, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.
And new home sales data from the Commerce Department are expected to dip 3 percent to 420,000 units in November. October’s new home sales were the lowest in nearly 18 years.
Builders such as Centex Corp., Pulte Homes Inc. and Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. have been caught with a glut of unsold properties over the past year as mortgages became harder to get and sales slowed. Developers have slashed prices, but many buyers remain on the sidelines, waiting and watching for bigger discounts.
Obama transition office releasing internal review of contacts with Blagojevich staff
WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama’s transition office is ready to release an internal review of all contacts his staff had with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office over the Senate seat that Obama has vacated and that the governor is accused of putting up for sale.
The report’s release, expected Tuesday, comes as Obama is vacationing in Hawaii. Obama said last week he wants to answer questions about conversations his aides had over filling his Senate seat because nothing inappropriate took place. But he kept the details private while the federal investigation continues.
“We have a report,” Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Monday. “It’s been ready for release for a week. We’ve held off at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s office and that continues to be the case, though we expect to be able to release the report shortly.”
Aides said Obama had no plans to make a public statement on his internal report while in Hawaii. Last week Obama described the findings of the review as “thorough and comprehensive” and promised they would be made public this week.
Incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel contacted Blagojevich’s office about the appointment, according to a source close to the governor who requested anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak on the matter. Blagojevich believed Emanuel was advocating Obama friend Valerie Jarrett for the Senate seat so he would not have to compete with her for Obama’s attention in the White House, the source said.
Odd bumping and rattling noise heard on recording from plane that veered off Denver runway
DENVER (AP) — Investigators trying to determine why a Continental Airlines plane veered off a runway and skidded into a ravine heard an odd bumping and rattling noise on the flight’s recorders shortly before it tried to take off.
The noise was detected 41 seconds after the jet started speeding down a runway at Denver International Airport on Saturday. Four seconds later, one of the crew members called for the takeoff to be aborted, said Robert Sumwalt, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
The recording ends six seconds after that, probably because the plane slammed to the ground after hurtling off an embankment, he said.
Sumwalt revealed the findings late Monday after an initial review of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders. Experts planned to begin a more in-depth analysis of the contents of the recorders in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday while investigators return to the plane’s wreckage in a snowy field at the airport.
All 115 passengers and crew members escaped the jet, which caught fire on the right side. Thirty-eight people were injured, including the plane’s captain.
Military-led group announces coup in Guinea after death of President Lansana Conte
CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — A military-led group declared a coup in the West African nation of Guinea on Tuesday, announcing it had dissolved the government and constitution hours after the death of the country’s longtime dictator.
The mineral-rich but impoverished nation of 10 million has been ruled by only two men since it gained independence from France half a century ago, and it had long been predicted that a military coup would follow the death of President Lansana Conte.
Conte, who took power in a military coup after the death of his predecessor in 1984, died Monday night, the country’s National Assembly president announced at about 2 a.m.
At around 7:30 a.m., a uniformed spokesman for a group calling itself the National Council for Democracy began broadcasting its announcement of the takeover on state-run radio and TV. A TV reporter identified the man as Capt. Moussa Camara. It was not clear if he was a leader of the coup or only a spokesman.
Southern, western states to gain seats in Congress after 2010 count, despite slower migration
WASHINGTON (AP) — Southern and western states are poised to snatch more congressional seats from the rest of the country as Americans pursue open spaces and warmer climates.
The nation’s migration west and south has slowed, according to new government population estimates. But states in the Northeast and Midwest are still projected to lose political clout in Washington after the 2010 census, when the nation apportions the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, based on population.
Texas stands to be the biggest winner, picking up as many as four seats, while Ohio could be the big loser, giving up as many as two seats, according to projections by two firms that specialize in political apportionment. California is in danger of losing a seat for the first time since it became a state, though experts disagree on the likelihood of that happening.
The Census Bureau released state population estimates as of July 1, 2008. The data show annual changes through births, deaths and domestic and foreign migration.
Southern and western states are not growing as quickly as they were at the start of the decade, thanks to a housing crisis that is making it hard to buy and sell homes.
US, Russian crewmen conduct 6-hour spacewalk to track problem with Russian module
MOSCOW (AP) — American and Russian crewmen installed a probe Tuesday aimed at tracking down problems with a Russian module attached to the international space station and conducted an array of other maintenance and scientific work during a six-hour spacewalk.
But in a setback toward the end of the Russian-controlled mission, American Michael Fincke, the station’s commander, and Russian Yury Lonchakov had to remove a device they had just installed because of data transmission problems.
A NASA video feed showed Fincke and Lonchakov in their Russian-built space suits leaving the station from a hatch on its docking compartment 200 miles above the Earth.
“OK, going out into space again,” Fincke said in Russian. “It’s good to be here again.” The comments were audible on the NASA feed carried on the Internet.
Russian scientists hope data from the probe installed by Fincke will help explain malfunctions that have repeatedly occurred as the Russian module has attempted to separate from the space station.
Asia stocks fall as China rate cut disappoints,Toyota stirs demand fears; Europe markets rise
HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stock markets fell Tuesday as an interest rate cut in China disappointed investors and a profit warning from Toyota Motor Corp. raised concerns the global slump would only worsen. European markets were modestly higher.
There was little cheer before the year-end holidays. Resource firms tumbled along with oil prices and carmakers dropped sharply on news Toyota expects to post its first annual operating loss in 70 years.
South Korea’s Kospi retreated 35.3 points, or 3 percent ,to 1,144.31, Singapore’s benchmark lost 1.2 percent and Australia’s key index fell 0.7 percent. Japan’s market was closed for a national holiday.
In China, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 2.8 percent to 14,220.79 while Shanghai’s main index plummeted 4.6 percent to 1,897.22 as both markets came under pressure after Beijing lowered a key interest rate late Monday.
Investors were unimpressed by 0.27 percentage point cut on the benchmark one-year lending rate to 2.25 percent, its lowest level since February 2004. Many had expected a half-point cut, analysts said. It was the fifth cut in four months as Beijing rushes to revive economic growth.
Former ‘Sopranos’ actor Lillo Brancato cleared of murder in shooting of NYC police officer
NEW YORK (AP) — Lillo Brancato, who played a bumbling aspiring mobster on “The Sopranos,” was cleared Monday of second-degree murder in the shooting death of an off-duty policeman during a drunken, late-night search for drugs.
The jury convicted Brancato of a lesser charge of attempted burglary. He faces from three to 15 years in prison; the former actor could get credit for time served because he has been behind bars nearly three years.
Brancato showed no reaction as the verdict was read — his face impassive, his fingers pressed together. His mother, seated a couple rows back in the gallery, began sobbing.
Prosecutors say Brancato and accomplice Steven Armento broke into a basement apartment to steal prescription drugs after a night of drinking at a strip club. Officer Daniel Enchautegui, who lived next door, came out to investigate.
Armento blasted the 28-year-old officer with his .357 Magnum, hitting him in the heart. The dying officer fired back, wounding both men. Armento was convicted earlier this year of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Robbie Gould kicks game-winning FG as Bears keep playoffs alive with 20-17 OT win over Packers
CHICAGO (AP) — Robbie Gould kicked a 38-yard field goal with 11:28 left in overtime and the Chicago Bears overcame frigid conditions and the Green Bay Packers for a 20-17 victory Monday night to stay in the running for the playoffs.
Chicago’s Alex Brown blocked Mason Crosby’s 38-yard field-goal attempt with 18 seconds left in regulation to preserve a 17-17 tie and send the game into overtime.
“Our season was on the line. There was a timeout, so we had a little time to really get the guys one more time and say, ‘Hey, we really have to block this kick,”’ Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “And Alex Brown came through like he’s come through many times in the five years I’ve been here. That’s what the team needed.”
The temperature at Soldier Field was announced at 2 degrees, making it the coldest home game in Bears’ history since records started being kept in 1963. The wind chill was 13 below, the second lowest in recorded team annals, so the longtime rivals known for their ability to play in cold weather were tested by the elements.
Kyle Orton hit a 17-yard pass to Greg Olsen and a 15-yard penalty on Green Bay’s Aaron Rouse for a horse collar tackle gave the Bears the ball at the Green Bay 35 in overtime. A third-down pass of 14 yards to Matt Forte got it to the Green Bay 20 to set up the winning kick — Gould’s second straight game-winner in overtime.