- - Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Feds sued over blocked loans

SACRAMENTO — State Attorney General Jerry Brown sued the federal government Wednesday, asking a judge to stop government-sponsored mortgage buyers from blocking a program that lets homeowners pay for energy-efficient improvements through increased property taxes.

Mr. Brown’s lawsuit argues that Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s opposition is forcing California counties to back off plans to provide the incentives. He sued the buyers and their regulatory agency, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, in U.S. District Court in Oakland.

The voluntary Property Assessed Clean Energy program would encourage homeowners to install solar panels, better insulate their homes and take other steps to improve energy efficiency, Mr. Brown said. Homeowners pay for the improvements through their property tax assessments over a decade or more.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac say the programs could give counties top priority to be repaid if homeowners default on their mortgages. As a result, they said they could not buy or guarantee mortgages on properties that participate.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency affirmed that legal interpretation July 6.


‘Barefoot Bandit’ waits for attorney

MIAMI — The teenager dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit” by authorities will cool his heels in a Miami jail at least two more days while he sorts out which attorney will represent him.

Wednesday, at his first U.S. court appearance since his arrest in the Bahamas, Colton Harris-Moore, 19, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Dube he thought his mother had hired a lawyer but he didn’t know the attorney’s name.

“I’d like to speak with my mom first,” said Mr. Harris-Moore, dressed in a standard tan prison jumpsuit, sandals and white socks. He added that he last spoke to his mother, Pam Kohler, “about a week ago.”

“She said that she hired one,” he said. “I have not met with him yet.”

Judge Dube set another hearing for Friday morning to determine Mr. Harris-Moore’s legal representation, whether he should be released on bail and when he should return to Seattle to face charges on a purported two-year string of crimes. He is suspected in about 70 burglaries, thefts and other property crimes in eight states and British Columbia, including thefts of aircraft - one of which he reportedly flew from Indiana to the Bahamas.


Visa fixes sought to protect crab pickers

BALTIMORE — Eastern Shore crab-picking houses are relying increasingly on immigrant women who are often forced to pay foreign recruiters for low-paying jobs in isolated rural areas with poor housing, according to a report by American University and an immigrant rights group.

The report calls for changes in the visa program used by the workers.

The visa program ties the women to the job for which they were recruited and doesn’t allow them to work elsewhere, giving them little time to leave the country if they lose their job. That arrangement puts them in a compromised position and leaves them reluctant to speak out about working conditions or other issues, the authors conclude.

The report, adding to the debate over demands for national immigration reform, is based on interviews with more than 40 migrant workers in the U.S. and Mexico since 2008. It was produced by the International Human Rights Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law and the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante Inc., a migrant-worker advocacy group.


Illegal immigrants hold ‘teach-in’

BOSTON — Advocates for immigrants have set up a makeshift school in the nation’s capital reminiscent of 1960s “teach-ins” to encourage a path to citizenship through college enrollment.

The first class at “Dream University” was held Wednesday outside the White House. Among the most vocal activists have been those in Massachusetts, who say they’ll also attend the classes.

Washington-based Carlos Saavedra said students nationwide have signed up for the classes, also to be held outside the Capitol. Boston activist Renato Teodoro said she is working with undocumented students to help raise money to sustain the effort.

The students are pushing a federal bill that could grant legal status to some immigrants who attend college or serve in the military.


8-year warranty offered on Volt battery

DETROIT — General Motors Co. will offer an eight-year warranty on the battery that powers its Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle, planned to reach dealers by the end of the year, the automaker said Wednesday.

Chevrolet will offer an eight-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty on the Volt, which has an expected 40-mile range when running on electricity stored in its lithium-ion battery, after which a gasoline engine kicks in to power the electric drive.

The warranty will be transferable at no cost to other vehicle owners and cover all 161 battery components, GM said.


12 horses dead from roundup

CARSON CITY — Twelve wild horses have died in a Nevada roundup directed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, half of them colts and mares.

The BLM on its website Wednesday said four more animals died or were put down because of dehydration or water intoxication.

A federal judge has scheduled an emergency hearing on a temporary restraining order sought by animal rights advocates to halt the roundup in northern Elko County.

U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks will hear arguments Thursday in Reno.

The BLM suspended the gather over the weekend when seven horses died of dehydration and water intoxication after being herded by helicopter on the first day of the roundup. Another horse broke a leg and was put down.


First charging station for electric cars opens

NEW YORK — New York City has installed its first car-charging station for electric cars and said it plans to buy about 40 of the clean-energy vehicles.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the installation of the public car-charging station. It opened at a parking facility on Manhattan’s far West side.

Mr. Bloomberg said more than 100 similar stations will open around the city by September 2011. The city currently uses 10 electric cars that were donated and plans to buy about 40 during the next year.

Coulumb Technologies Chief Executive Richard Lowenthal, whose company is installing the chargers, said it could take less than four hours to charge a car.

The company received $15 million from the Obama administration to make the chargers.


Nestle, supplement maker settle ad cases

PORTLAND — A Nestle subsidiary has agreed to stop advertising that its children’s drink Boost Kid Essentials can prevent illness, boost immunity and reduce school absences, the Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday in announcing two settlements.

The FTC said it reached the settlement with Nestle HealthCare Nutrition Inc. and a separate one with a major dietary supplement maker as part of a larger effort to crackdown on “bogus health claims” on consumer products.

The regulatory agency said Nestle has agreed to stop asserting its Boost drink, with probiotics, can enhance children’s‘ immune systems, prevent certain illnesses or speed recovery unless the statements are approved by regulators.

This is the FTC’s first case challenging advertising for probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria found naturally in many foods and are touted as aiding digestion and fighting harmful bacteria


15 hurt in plant blast

CLAIRTON — An oven at a U.S. Steel plant near Pittsburgh exploded Wednesday, injuring 15 workers, at least two critically, and causing a fire that burned for hours afterward, emergency officials said.

The blast in the coke oven at United States Steel Corp.’s Clairton Coke Works happened around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Allegheny County spokesman Kevin Evanto said. Fourteen workers suffered burns and another suffered chest pains.

Everyone had been accounted for, and the cause was being investigated, union and company officials said. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had a team of investigators on site, spokeswoman Leni Fortson said.

About 1,500 people work at the plant, said Michael Wright, head of the health, safety and environment department for the United Steelworkers union.


Dorm may drop Klansman’s name

AUSTIN — Tucked under towering oaks and nestled against a shady creek, Simkins Hall was the first air-conditioned dormitory at the University of Texas. These days, it has become notable for another reason.

It was named after William Simkins, a popular former law school professor, but he served as an early organizer of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida, promoting the Klan and bragging about efforts to terrorize and harass “darkey” in campus speeches and publications.

On Thursday, Texas President William Powers Jr. will ask university regents to remove Mr. Simkins’ name from the two-story brick dorm built in the 1950s. The regents are expected to bring the issue to a vote. The move comes after weeks of deliberations by an advisory panel and two public hearings.

The issue was sparked in May when former Texas law professor Tom Russell published an online article detailing resistance by the university to integration in the 1950s and ‘60s. Texas named the dorm after Mr. Simkins in 1954, the same year the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision ended legal segregation.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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