Nation roundup for October 8


BP trial to focus on spill estimates

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge was set to begin hearing three weeks of testimony Monday about how much oil made it into the ocean during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Experts for BP and the federal government will provide U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier with very different estimates when the second phase of a trial resumes for litigation spawned by the spill.

The amount of oil that spewed into the Gulf is a key factor in determining how much more money BP and its contractors owe for their roles in the deadly disaster. Justice Department attorneys will try to persuade Barbier that the best set of data on oil flow comes from a pressure gauge on the capping stack used to seal the blown-out well.

“The pressure data, collection rates, and geometry of the capping stack are by far the most accurate and reliable sources of information on flow rate, and were recognized as such by all parties at the time,” they wrote in a pretrial filing.

BP, however, says the government’s experts ignored other important data. Company lawyers say its experts used a “proven methodology” that doesn’t require “simplistic and unverified assumptions about flow conditions.”

“In contrast, the United States’ experts employ unproven methods that require significant assumptions and extrapolations in lieu of, and even directly inconsistent with, the available data and other evidence,” company attorneys wrote.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was working at the site of BP’s Macondo well off the Louisiana coast when the well blew out April 20, 2010. The explosion on the rig killed 11 workers and set off a massive fire. The rig sank less than two days later to the bottom.

NY probes rights sale of WTC name

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York is expanding its probe nationwide into the 1980s sale of the rights to the World Trade Center name to a nonprofit for $10, resulting in millions of dollars in fees for use of the name in 28 states, according to an official familiar with the investigation.

The official told The Associated Press that letters seeking information on the deals should arrive Monday at 45 World Trade Center complexes, from Alaska to Florida. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the probe and talked on the condition of anonymity.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating a 1986 deal in which the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey sold the naming rights to one of its outgoing executives for use by a nonprofit organization called The World Trade Centers Association. The Port Authority owns the World Trade Center site but is among hundreds of entities worldwide that pay to use the World Trade Center name.

“The attorney general is looking to find out how the WTCA got such a sweetheart deal on the naming rights, how much revenue the WTCA makes selling the name and how that price is set,” the official said.

A spokesman for the WTCA said the organization has “a long history of creating value” and acquired the naming rights legally.

“The WTCA lawfully obtained all rights to the World Trade Center trademark in 1986 in an agreement reached between the WTCA and the Port Authority,” spokesman Eric Dahl said. “This agreement has been honored by both parties for nearly three decades with the knowledge and participation of the governing bodies of both organizations and was re-approved by the Port Authority as recently as 2006.”

Federal shutdown drags down stocks

NEW YORK (AP) — Investors sent the Standard & Poor’s 500 index to its lowest close in a month Monday as few signs emerged of a deal to end the U.S. government shutdown and raise the nation’s borrowing limit.

Senate Democrats moved to introduce legislation to raise the nation’s debt limit without the unrelated conditions Republicans have said they are seeking. The White House signaled it would accept even a brief extension in borrowing authority to prevent an unprecedented default by the United States.

On Sunday, speaker John Boehner had ruled out a vote in the House of Representatives on a straightforward bill to increase the government’s borrowing without concessions from President Barack Obama.

Lawmakers have until Oct. 17 to reach a deal on increasing the nation’s debt ceiling. Failure to strike a deal could cause the United States to miss payments on its debt. The Treasury warned last week that a default could push the economy into a downturn even worse than the Great Recession.

“Everything now is predicated on Washington,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist for Prudential. “That is what the market is focused on completely, getting a deal done to avoid a default.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 14.38 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,676.12. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 136.34 points, or 0.9 percent, to 14,936.24. The Nasdaq composite fell 37.38 points, or 1 percent, to 3,770.38. The losses were broad. Nine of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 dropped.

Court won’t hear sodomy appeal

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down Virginia’s anti-sodomy law.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office appealed a March ruling by the a three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared Virginia’s law unconstitutional.

The appeals court’s ruling came in the case of 47-year-old William Scott MacDonald, who was convicted of criminal solicitation for allegedly demanding oral sex from a 17-year-old girl. His conviction came two years after the landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision effectively struck down anti-sodomy laws in that state and several others. The appeals court cited that 2003 ruling in its 2-1 decision.

The attorney general argued that the Texas ruling did not apply to sex acts between adults and minors. The appeals court rejected that interpretation, saying the justices implied in Lawrence that a state could criminalize sodomy between an adult and a minor but that such decisions rest with legislatures, not the judiciary.

Virginia does have such a law, but it applies to minors under the age of 15.

“As we’ve said from the beginning, this case was never about sexual orientation or private acts between consenting adults,” Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said in an email Monday. “Virginia’s law couldn’t be used against consenting adults acting in private. It only applied to offenses committed against minors, against non-consenting or incapacitated adults, or in public.”

Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor, has said Virginia prosecutors have used to law to prosecute child molesters. He said nearly 90 people convicted of sex crimes involving minors may be eligible to have their names removed from Virginia’s sex offender registry because of the appeals court’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court made it perfectly clear in 2003 that laws that broadly prohibit certain kinds of sexual acts are unconstitutional,” said Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the MacDonald case. “Clearly sexual acts with children are not constitutionally protected and should be punished, but the General Assembly should enact laws specifically targeted to that behavior and not rely on an out-of-date, overly broad, unconstitutional law to prosecute those very serious crimes.”

MacDonald’s attorney, Benjamin E. Rosenberg, did not immediately return a telephone message.

 

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