Nation roundup for January 4


Auto industry cruises in 2012

DETROIT (AP) — A steadily improving economy and strong December sales lifted the American auto industry to its best performance in five years in 2012, especially for Volkswagen and Japanese-brand vehicles, and experts say the next year should be even better.

Manufacturers on Thursday announced their final figures, which were expected to total 14.5 million — 13 percent better than 2011.

More than three years after the federal government’s $62 billion auto-industry bailout, Americans had plenty of incentive to buy new cars and trucks in the year just ended.

Unemployment eased. Home sales and prices rose. And the average age of a car topped 11 years in the U.S., a record that spurred people to trade in old vehicles. Banks made that easier by offering low interest rates and greater access to loans, even for buyers with lousy credit.

“The U.S. light vehicle sales market continues to be a bright spot in the tremulous global environment,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, a Detroit-area industry forecasting firm.

Sales were far better than the bleak days after the U.S. economy tanked and GM and Chrysler sought bankruptcy protection. Back then, sales fell to a 30-year low of 10.4 million, and they are still far short of the recent peak of around 17 million set in 2005.

Martian rock excites scientists

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Scientists are abuzz about a coal-colored rock from Mars that landed in the Sahara desert: A yearlong analysis revealed it’s quite different from other Martian meteorites.

Not only is it older than most, it also contains more water, tests showed. The baseball-size meteorite, estimated to be 2 billion years old, is strikingly similar to the volcanic rocks examined on the Martian surface by the NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which found water-bearing minerals.

“Here we have a piece of Mars that I can hold in my hands. That’s really exciting,” said Carl Agee, director of the Institute of Meteoritics and curator at the University of New Mexico who led the study published online Thursday in the journal Science.

Most space rocks that fall to Earth as meteorites come from the asteroid belt, but a number can be traced to the moon and Mars.

Scientists believe an asteroid or some other large object struck Mars, dislodging rocks and sending them into space. Occasionally, some plummet through Earth’s atmosphere.

Short of sending a spacecraft or astronaut to the red planet to haul back rocks, Martian meteorites are the next best thing for scientists seeking to better understand how Earth’s neighbor transformed from a tropical environment to a frigid desert.

About 65 Martian rocks have been recovered on Earth, mostly in Antarctica or the Sahara. The oldest dates back 4.5 billion years to a time when Mars was warmer and wetter. About half a dozen Martian meteorites are 1.3 billion years old and the rest are 600 million years or younger.

Bieber seeks new paparazzi rules

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The 29-year-old photographer had just snapped shots of Justin Bieber’s exotic white Ferrari when he was struck and killed by a passing car — a death that has spurred renewed debate over dangers paparazzi can bring on themselves and the celebrities they chase.

The accident prompted some stars including the teen heartthrob himself on Wednesday to renew their calls for tougher laws to rein in their pursuers, though previous urgings have been stymied by First Amendment protections.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office confirmed Thursday that the photographer was Christopher James Guerra. Officials did not know his hometown, coroner’s Lt. Larry Dietz said.

In a statement, Bieber said his prayers were with the photographer’s family. Ironically, the singer wasn’t even in the Ferrari on Tuesday.

“Hopefully this tragedy will finally inspire meaningful legislation and whatever other necessary steps to protect the lives and safety of celebrities, police officers, innocent public bystanders, and the photographers themselves,” Bieber said. in the statement released by Island Def Jam Music Group.

Much of Hollywood was abuzz about the death, including Miley Cyrus, who sent several tweets critical of some of the actions of paparazzi and lamenting that the unfortunate accident was “bound to happen.”

“Hope this paparazzi/JB accident brings on some changes in ‘13,” Cyrus said on her Twitter page. “Paparazzi are dangerous! Wasn’t Princess Di enough of a wake-up call?!”

Paparazzi roaming the streets of Southern California have been commonplace for more than a decade as the shutterbugs looked to land exclusive shots that can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Industry veterans recalled incidents where paparazzi chasing celebrities have been injured, but they couldn’t remember a photographer being killed while working.

“Here in the state of California, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before,” said Giles Harrison, a celebrity photographer and owner of London Entertainment Group.

Harrison is familiar with the backlash against paparazzi. He and another photographer were convicted of misdemeanor false imprisonment and sentenced to jail for boxing in Arnold Schwarzenegger and his family as they sat in their Hummer in 1998.

Citing that incident and the death of Princess Diana, the state Legislature passed its first anti-paparazzi measure a year later. It created hefty civil penalties that could be paid to stars whose privacy was invaded.

Six months ago, a paparazzo was charged with reckless driving in a high-speed pursuit of Bieber and with violating a separate, 2010 state law that toughened punishment for those who drive dangerously in pursuit of photos for commercial gain.

However, a judge last month dismissed the paparazzi law charges, saying the law was overly broad.

The judge cited problems with the statute, saying it was aimed at newsgathering activities protected by the First Amendment, and lawmakers should have increased penalties for reckless driving rather than target those who photograph celebrities.

City prosecutors said they would appeal the judge’s ruling.

The law was prompted by the experiences of Jennifer Aniston, who provided details to a lawmaker about being unable to drive away after she was surrounded by paparazzi on Pacific Coast Highway.

On Tuesday, a friend of Bieber’s was behind the wheel of the Ferrari when a California Highway Patrol officer pulled it over for speeding along Interstate 405, authorities said.

The driver, whose name was not released, was given a verbal warning and wasn’t ticketed, CHP Officer Vince Ramirez said Thursday.

“This photographer evidently had been following the white Ferrari” and when it was pulled over after sundown he stopped, parked and crossed the street to snap photos, Los Angeles police Detective Charles Walton said.

The photographer stood on a low freeway railing to shoot photographs of the traffic stop over a chain-link fence, authorities said.

“The CHP officer told him numerous times that it wasn’t safe for him to be there and to return to his vehicle,” Walton said.

There were no sidewalks or pedestrian crossings along the street where the photographer had parked, so the driver of the car that struck him had no reason to expect a pedestrian, Walton said of the accident.

“It would have been very difficult for her to see him,” the detective said.

It wasn’t immediately clear how fast the motorist, a 69-year-old woman, was traveling, but she was not believe to be at fault and was unlikely to be cited, police said.

Harrison said he routinely tells his photographers to be safe when they are working.

“In any job you have to exercise a degree of common sense and caution,” he said.

Harrison hopes celebrities and paparazzi examine their actions to ensure a similar event doesn’t happen again. No photo is worth someone’s life, he said.

“Everybody wants to be the first one to get that shot, get that scoop,” Harrison said. “But at the end of the day, you can’t spend money if you are dead.”

 

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