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Consumer Prices Tick Higher, Energy Costs Fall

U.S. consumer prices rose marginally in September, painting a weak inflation picture that should give the Federal Reserve ample room to keep interest rates low for a while.

The Labor Department said on Wednesday its Consumer Price Index edged up 0.1 percent last month as a rise in food and shelter costs offset a broad decline in energy prices.

The CPI had dropped 0.2 percent in August and economists had expected a flat reading in September.

U.S. Treasury debt prices fell on the slightly firmer reading, while the dollar rose modestly.

"This persistently weak inflation backdrop should continue to provide the key justification for the Fed to keep its policy stance accommodative, " said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

In the 12 months through September, the CPI increased 1.7 percent after a similar rise in August. A separate index that tracks price changes for urban wage earners and clerical workers and is used to make cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security payments rose 1.7 percent in the third quarter from the year earlier.

Inflation has waned in recent months after quickening in the second quarter, in part as a strengthening dollar and slower economic growth in China and the euro zone dampen imported price pressures.

The weak inflation reading could revive concerns at the Fed that price pressures are running too low. That and a recent global equities market sell-off has led investors to push back their expectations for when the U.S. central bank will raise interest rates to late next year. The Fed has kept benchmark overnight rates near zero since December 2008.

Underlying inflation pressures were also muted in September despite increases in shelter and medical care costs.

The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy prices, ticked up 0.1 percent last month after being unchanged in August. In the 12 months through September, the core CPI rose 1.7 percent after advancing by the same margin in August.

The Fed targets 2 percent inflation and it tracks an index that is running even lower than the CPI.

In September, energy prices fell for a third straight month, with gasoline prices slipping 1.0 percent after dropping 4.1 percent in August. Food prices gained 0.3 percent after rising 0.2 percent in August.

Within the core CPI, shelter costs increased 0.3 percent in September after rising 0.2 percent in August. The shelter index was up 3.0 percent in the 12 months through September, the largest gain since January 2008.

The medical care index increased 0.2 percent, with prices for nonprescription drugs increasing 1.5 percent and hospital services gaining 0.3 percent.

Airline fares declined for a third straight month, while prices for new motor vehicles and apparel were unchanged. Prices for used cars and trucks fell for the fifth straight month.

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'Cadaver dog' work more accepted by cops, courts

BENTON, Calif. (AP) — Increasingly, police investigators and courts are putting their faith in four-legged tools — canines that can detect even small particles of human remains.

But proving what these dogs know isn't easy.

"If only Buster could talk," quips Paul Dostie, as he works his black Labrador through a wide patch of scraggly brush, about 50 miles east of Yosemite National Park.

In his younger days, Buster would lie down on a spot like this to indicate an "alert," and bark. But having lost a leg to cancer, the 12-year-old canine now prefers to poke his nose in the direction of a particular spot in the dirt, or at a rock, or whatever has set off his nose. In all, Dostie says that Buster's alerts have aided in the recovery of the remains of about 200 people

As a reward, Dostie tosses Buster a toy. "Good boy," he says.

To the untrained eye, it might seem that Buster is simply barking for that toy.

But Dostie and others who've seen Buster work say they have little doubt that the dog's nose is to be trusted.

"Seeing is believing," says Mark Noah, the founder of History Flight, a nonprofit foundation whose mission includes finding the tens of thousands of fallen American veterans whose bodies were never recovered.

Buster and Dostie, working with a team of volunteers who also use ground-penetrating radar and historic records, have helped the organization unearth the remains of missing Americans lost in World War II battles in Europe and on the south Pacific island of Tarawa.

Among others, Buster helped find Lt. Robert Fenstermacher, an Army Air Corps pilot whose plane crashed in Belgium after being shot down in 1944. Last year, his family gathered as he was laid to rest, nearly 70 years later, in Arlington National Cemetery.

History Flight searches have led to the recovery of 13,000 bones on Tarawa alone, most of them not yet identified, Noah says.

Other searches are often much simpler — just the handlers and dogs, walking on foot, mile after mile. That's how Deborah Palman, now a retired specialist with the Maine Warden Service and her German shepherd, Alex, found the body of a Canadian woman named Maria Tanasichuk in 2003. Police later determined she'd been shot in the head execution-style by her husband.

"My pulse must have shot up over 200," she says of the moment she realized Alex had found the body, leading to David Tanasichuk's conviction.

Local police departments have been reluctant to use the cadaver dogs for searches because their trainers are volunteers, but that's changing, with these successes and as the dogs' training has become more standardized.

When more than one dog has alerted independently in the same spot, some judges have been persuaded to allow cadaver dog evidence.

In February, for instance, cadaver dog evidence helped convict a suburban Chicago man, Aurelio Montano, of killing his wife. She disappeared in 1990, and although her body was never found, investigators got a tip, years later, and dug up a rug at a horse farm on which more than one cadaver dog alerted. They contended that Montano had wrapped the body in the rug.

Evidence tied to cadaver dogs hasn't worked in some other cases, though.

In the high-profile 2011 Florida trial of Casey Anthony — accused of killing her young daughter — more than one cadaver dog alerted on the trunk of Anthony's car. Arpad Vass, then a senior research scientist with the Oak Ridge National Lab, testified that using air samples from the trunk, he'd found high levels of chloroform, which can be found when a body breaks down. However, his science was questioned by other witnesses, and Anthony was freed.

Cadaver dogs "are an incredible investigatory tool — no question about it," says Lawrence Kobilinsky, professor and chairman of the department of sciences at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

But in order to present the dogs' alerts as court evidence, he believes forensic experts first need to "strengthen the science" to prove what they've found.

Even in investigations, dogs alerting is often just the first step in what can be a lengthy, sometimes fruitless endeavor.

"Everybody thinks, you just dig a hole, but it's not always that obvious," says Vass, who's still developing technology to evaluate chemical markers associated with human decomposition. Often, he says, buried bodies create a "chemical plume" that runs downhill from a clandestine grave, making it difficult to find.

"Dogs," Vass says, "are just one tool in the toolbox."

Cost also is a factor.

In Plumas County, California, Buster and two other dogs have alerted on an outdoor well on separate occasions. The well is near the home where 13-year-old Mark Wilson was living when he disappeared in 1967.

Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood can't be sure the boy's body is in that well. But he thinks it's worth investigating, so much so that he asked for assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has offered a forensics team. Having been turned down by the county board, he's also trying to find a way to raise the $96,474 to excavate and restore the site.

"How can I justify not pursuing this?" Hagwood asks. "Well, you can't."

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‘She would have died’: Bystanders form human chain to rescue swimmer (video)

 

By GOSIA WOZNIACKA and ALINA HARTOUNIAN

First Published Oct 15 2014 12:45 pm • Last Updated Oct 15 2014 02:04 pm

Portland, Ore. • Beachgoers in Oregon pulled a struggling swimmer to shore by forming a human chain after she and seven others were stranded on a rocky outcropping during high tide.

Five people in the group remained on the rocks at Fogarty Creek State Park near Depoe Bay and were rescued one-by-one by a Coast Guard helicopter Saturday, but three opted to take their chances in the surf, according to witness Ray Felle.

 

Felle, of Portland, who recorded the drama on his phone, said the girl was separated from the two others in the water and struggling when the people on the beach stepped in.

"They worked together as a team, it was more like they were a rescue crew and they weren’t, they were just kids," said Felle, 67.

"These people handled themselves very well in doing what they needed to do to save this girl. She would have died if they had not put their heads together and responded like they did," he added.

The group had been running between high ground and the rock when high tide came in and trapped them, Felle said.

Felle said he had gone to the beach that day to teach his two young godchildren about ocean safety.

"That’s the only message that I think should get out there: Pay attention to the tides," he said.

The five who were rescued by the helicopter ranged in age from 18 to 30 years old, officials said.

Depoe Bay Fire Chief Joshua Williams said the struggling swimmer regained consciousness when rescuers arrived and was transported to a local hospital. Williams said the incoming tide would have swept the people off the rocks within a half hour.

The dramatic rescue comes just days after the Coast Guard announced it would close the helicopter station in Newport — the same station where the rescue helicopter came from. The station is about 15 miles north of the Fogarty Creek rocks.

It would have taken a helicopter an hour to get from North Bend, another Coast Guard station, to the stranded beach goers.

A local group said it has collected 10,000 signatures on a petition to keep the Newport station open.

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Facebook creates ‘Safety Check’ tool for disasters

NEW YORK — Facebook Inc. is launching a tool that lets users notify friends and family that they are safe during or after natural disasters.

The tool, called “Safety Check,” will be available worldwide to the social network’s 1.32 billion users on computers and mobile devices. This includes the basic “feature” phones many people still use to access Facebook, especially in developing countries.

People already use Facebook to tell people they are OK after earthquakes and other disasters but Facebook says the Safety Check tool will make it easier. It grew out of a disaster message board that Facebook engineers created in 2011 following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Once users activate the tool, it will determine their location using the city they have listed in their profile, the last location they’ve shared or the city where they are using the Internet. If they are in an area affected by a natural disaster, Safety Check will send them a notification asking if they’re safe.

If they say yes, their Facebook friends will be notified. There’s no option to say no. Users can also mark their friends as safe, but the friends have to approve it.

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Skype Takes on Snapchat With Qik App

Services like Snapchat and WhatsApp are popular ways to send quick photo and video messages, but Skype is now getting in on that action with its new Qik app.

Essentially Skype Lite, Qik users can share short videos as a one-off message or part of a conversation. It's available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone today, though not all features are available on all platforms at launch.

"We know you love your weekly Skype calls with family or friends [but] Qik keeps you connected in between," Skype program managers Piero Sierra and Dan Chastney wrote in a blog post. "Dinner with friends? Bored at work? Having a great day in the park? Go on, share it right from your phone."

The Snapchat-meets-Skype service stores videos for only two weeks, and makes it easy for Android and Windows Phone users to delete a message from the chat, even if it's already been viewed. You can also block contacts on Android and Windows Phone, a feature that will be available on iPhone in the coming months.

Switch between your phone's front and back cameras to say hello, share your view, and even record Qik Fliks—five-second GIFs that can be sent immediately or saved for later. Android and iOS users have initial access to Fliks; Windows Phone owners will have to wait a couple of months.

 

VIEW ALL PHOTOS IN GALLERY

 

"Skype Qik makes video conversations more spontaneous and fun so you don't have to wait until your next call to connect with your favorite people," Chastney and Sierra said.

Once you've downloaded the application, start sharing videos with anyone in your contacts list. Those folks who haven't yet installed Qik will receive a notification with details on how to get the app. The Skype team promised new features "inspired by your feedback" in the future.

The release comes several years after Skype acquired real-time video broadcasting service Qik, though Qik wasn't officially shut down until April. In the months since, a team of Skype designers and developers rebuilt the app to fit the modern mobile user's lifestyle.

Check out Skype Qik in action in the video below.

The Redmond-owned chat service last week gave desktop users a boost with Skype 7.0 for Mac and a new preview version for Windows, both redesigned to make virtual conversations even easier.

 

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