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World Briefly for Aug. 22

FCC opens investigation of wireless microphone industry, proposes ban on some models

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission is proposing a ban on certain types of wireless microphones and has begun an investigation into how the industry markets its products.

Consumer groups alleged in a complaint last month that users of the ubiquitous microphones, including Broadway actors, mega-church pastors and karaoke DJs, are unwittingly violating FCC rules that require licenses for the devices.

The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition accused manufacturers of deceptive advertising in how they market and sell the microphones, which largely operate in the same radio spectrum as broadcast television stations.

The agency, in a notice released Thursday, said its enforcement bureau had opened an investigation. The FCC also is proposing that the sale and manufacture of some of the devices be banned.

“These actions would ensure that low power auxiliary operations do not cause harmful interference to new public safety and commercial wireless services in the band,” the agency said Thursday.

Most owners of the microphones are unaware that FCC rules require them to obtain a license.

Wireless microphones that operate in the same frequency bands as broadcast TV stations are intended for use in the production of TV or cable programming or the motion picture industry, according to FCC rules — not karaoke.

The FCC rarely enforces the licensing requirements on the microphones because there have been so few complaints. The microphones are programmed to avoid television channels.

But the looming transition to digital broadcasting, which takes place Feb. 17, has forced the FCC to act.

Channels 52 through 69 in the UHF television band, currently used by broadcasters, will be vacated as they convert to digital broadcasting. The government sold that section of airwaves for $19 billion in the FCC’s most successful auction in history. Other parts of that spectrum will be used by paramedics, police and firefighters.

The concern is that microphones that operate in that range may cause interference for the new licensees. It’s not known how many wireless microphones operate there, but Harold Feld, a lawyer for the consumer groups, says the total is likely more than 1 million, based on a trade journal estimate.

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US, Iraq close in on deal that could remove US troops from Iraqi cities by next June

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq and the U.S. pushed close to a deal Thursday setting a course for American combat troops to pull out of Iraqi cities by next June on the way to broader withdrawal from the long and costly war by 2011.

Subject to final approval by the top Iraqi leadership, the exit date for U.S. troops would be December 2011, although the Americans insist on linking that target to additional security and political progress.

President Bush has long resisted a timetable for pulling out, even under heavy pressure from a nation distressed by American deaths and discouraged by the length of the war that began in 2003. But that has softened in recent weeks.

The timing has major political importance in both Iraq and the United States.

The two contenders to replace Bush as commander in chief, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, spar almost daily over the future course of the war.

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Obama says he’s decided on a running mate, but he won’t say who it is

EMPORIA, Va (AP) — Barack Obama says he’s decided on a running mate, but he won’t say who. “I’ve made the selection, that’s all you’re gonna get,” Obama said told reporters while campaigning in Virginia Thursday. Obama didn’t say whether he’s informed his pick yet.

Obama is planning to announce his choice in a text message to supporters sometime before Saturday afternoon, when he’s scheduled to appear with his pick in Illinois.

Asked by an Associated Press reporter when the text would be sent, Obama just grinned and said, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

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Obama pounces on McCain for not knowing how many houses he and multimillionaire wife own

WASHINGTON (AP) — John McCain may have created his own housing crisis.

Hours after a report that the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting didn’t know how many homes he and his multimillionaire wife own, Democratic rival Barack Obama launched a national TV ad and a series of campaign stops aimed at portraying McCain as wealthy and out of touch.

With the economy ranking as the top issue in the race, Obama sought to turn McCain’s gaffe into one of those symbolic moments that stick in voters’ minds.

Think John Kerry sailboarding or the first President Bush wowed by a grocery store checkout scanner, Michael Dukakis riding in a tank or Gerald Ford eating a tamale with the husk still on.

“I think — I’ll have my staff get to you,” McCain told Politico when asked Wednesday how many houses he owns. “It’s condominiums where — I’ll have them get to you.”

Later, the McCain campaign told Politico that McCain and his wife, Cindy, have at least four in three states — Arizona, California and Virginia. Newsweek recently estimated the two owned at least seven properties.

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Tropical Storm Fay poses new problem for Floridians: gators, snakes and other critters

MELBOURNE, Fla. (AP) — As if a fourth straight day of rain from Tropical Storm Fay wasn’t enough, weary residents are now dealing with quintessentially Floridian fallout: alligators, snakes and other critters driven from their swampy lairs into flooded streets, backyards and doorsteps.

National Guardsman Steve Johnson was wading through hip-deep water Wednesday night when his flashlight revealed an alligator drifting through a neighborhood of flooded mobile homes.

“I said, ‘The heck is that?’ and there was an alligator floating by,” Johnson said. “I took my flashlight and was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, a big old alligator swimming around here.'”

The erratic and stubborn storm has dumped more than 2 feet of rain along parts of Florida’s low-lying central Atlantic coast this week. The system continued its slow, wet march Thursday by curving back from the ocean to hit the state for a third time.

Alligators live in all 67 Florida counties, and state officials say they receive more than 18,000 alligator-related complaints each year. But the floodwaters heighten the risk of an encounter with people because the creatures search for a safe place to wait out the storm.

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Over and out: US softball team denied fourth straight Olympic gold, loses 3-1 to Japan

BEIJING (AP) — With silver medals swinging from their necks, their eyes filled with tears, five members of the U.S. Olympic softball team walked to home plate and placed their cleats in the dirt.

Their games were over, and so were their international playing careers.

With that they said goodbye to softball, the sport they played better than anyone else save for one game.

Losing for the first time since 2000, the Americans were denied a chance for a fourth straight gold medal Thursday, beaten 3-1 by Japan in softball’s last appearance in the Olympics for at least eight years. Maybe forever.

Yukiko Ueno, Japan’s remarkably resilient right-hander, shut down the Americans and handed them their first loss since Sept. 21, 2000 at the Sydney Games. The U.S. had won 22 straight since then, most with outrageously lopsided scores.

Another gold was certainly within reach. Instead, they walked off Fengtai Field with their heads bowed.

“It hurts a lot,” slugger Crystl Bustos said. “You train your whole life and you want to win. You don’t expect to lose.”

The U.S. team never led and made two uncharacteristic errors in the seventh inning to help the Japanese add an important insurance run — one they didn’t even need.

When Caitlin Lowe grounded to third for the final out, Vicky Galindo, who led off the U.S. team’s seventh inning with a pinch-hit single, wrapped her hands over her helmet and cringed.

Moments later, U.S. coach Mike Candrea huddled with his stunned players, many of whom couldn’t even look up. Lowe choked back tears as Bustos tried to console her overwhelmed teammates.

Bustos, who homered in the fourth for the Americans’ only run, was first in line to congratulate the Japanese players. As she shook hands with the U.S. team, Japan catcher Yukiyo Mine teared up.

“You don’t want it to end this way, but it’s all we could do,” said Bustos, who attended the medal ceremony wearing sunglasses.

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US measles cases highest in decade, health officials cite unfounded fears of vaccine risks

ATLANTA (AP) — Measles cases in the U.S. are at the highest level in more than a decade, with nearly half of those involving children whose parents rejected vaccination, health officials reported Thursday.

Worried doctors are troubled by the trend fueled by unfounded fears that vaccines may cause autism. The number of cases is still small, just 131, but that’s only for the first seven months of the year. There were only 42 cases for all of last year.

“We’re seeing a lot more spread. That is concerning to us,” said Dr. Jane Seward, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pediatricians are frustrated, saying they are having to spend more time convincing parents the shot is safe.

“This year, we certainly have had parents asking more questions,” said Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin, Texas, physician who is a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Northern Greenland glaciers showing fractures, large break; Is it global warming or natural?

WASHINGTON (AP) — In northern Greenland, a part of the Arctic that had seemed immune from global warming, new satellite images show a growing giant crack and an 11-square-mile chunk of ice hemorrhaging off a major glacier, scientists said Thursday.

And that’s led the university professor who spotted the wounds in the massive Petermann glacier to predict disintegration of a major portion of the Northern Hemisphere’s largest floating glacier within the year.

If it does worsen and other northern Greenland glaciers melt faster, then it could speed up sea level rise, already increasing because of melt in sourthern Greenland.

The crack is 7 miles long and about half a mile wide. It is about half the width of the 500 square mile floating part of the glacier. Other smaller fractures can be seen in images of the ice tongue, a long narrow sliver of the glacier.

“The pictures speak for themselves,” said Jason Box, a glacier expert at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University who spotted the changes while studying new satellite images. “This crack is moving, and moving closer and closer to the front. It’s just a matter of time till a much larger piece is going to break off…. It is imminent.”

The chunk that came off the glacier between July 10 and July 24 is about half the size of Manhattan and doesn’t worry Box as much as the cracks. The Petermann glacier had a larger breakaway ice chunk in 2000. But the overall picture worries some scientists.

“As we see this phenomenon occurring further and further north — and Petermann is as far north as you can get — it certainly adds to the concern,” said Waleed Abdalati, director of the Center for the Study of Earth from Space at the University of Colorado.

The question that now faces scientists is: Are the fractures part of normal glacier stress or are they the beginning of the effects of global warming?

“It certainly is a major event,” said NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally in a telephone interview from a conference on glaciers in Ireland. “It’s a signal but we don’t know what it means.”

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NFLPA head Gene Upshaw dead at 63 of pancreatic cancer; led union for a quarter-century

NEW YORK (AP) — Gene Upshaw, a towering lineman on the football field who went on to win untold millions of dollars for NFL players as their union leader, has died at age 63.

Upshaw had a Hall of Fame career as a guard for the Oakland Raiders — a team that won two of the three Super Bowls it reached during his 15 years in a black and silver jersey. But his work as executive director of the NFL Players Association over a quarter-century was even more important. It changed the business side of the league.

Upshaw died Wednesday night at his home near California’s Lake Tahoe, of pancreatic cancer, the NFL Players Association said Thursday. His wife Terri and sons Eugene Jr., Justin and Daniel were by his side. NFLPA president and Tennesse Titans center Kevin Mawae said Upshaw only learned Sunday that he had the disease, after he fell ill and his wife took him to the hospital.

“Gene was a great player. He was an All-Pro. He was a Hall of Famer. If you look at the history of the NFL you’re going to find out that he was one of the most influential people that the league has known. He did so much, not only for the players, but also for the owners, the teams, and the game of pro football,” John Madden, who coached Upshaw when Oakland won its first Super Bowl, said in a statement.

“This is deeper than head of the union passing away, and it’s deeper than an ex-player. This is missing someone that is and was like family. It’s a tough day for all of us.”