Nation digest 05/11/02

Saturday, May 11, 2002

Suspected mailbox bomber appears in court

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Luke Helder appeared in an Iowa court Friday night to face the first of several charges that could send him to prison for life for allegedly blowing up mailboxes across the Midwest with pipe bombs.

The 21-year-old college student did not speak during the 10-minute hearing, but nodded as U.S. Magistrate John Jarvey read the criminal complaint against him.

Helder is charged in Iowa with using a pipe bomb in a crime of violence and destroying property used in interstate commerce -- a mailbox. Six pipe bombs exploded in Iowa and Illinois last week, injuring four letter carriers and two residents.

Helder was ordered held in the Linn County Jail without bail.

The judge scheduled a preliminary hearing for May 22.

Food costs help drive wholesale prices down

WASHINGTON -- The biggest drop in food costs in nearly three decades helped to drive down wholesale prices by 0.2 percent in April.

The decline in the Producer Price Index, which measures prices paid to factories, farms and other producers, marked a big turnaround from the sharp 1 percent increase registered in March, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The index is an important gauge of inflation at the wholesale level -- before goods reach store shelves.

Excluding volatile food and energy prices, the "core" rate of wholesale inflation nudged up by just 0.1 percent for the second straight month.

For the 12 months ending April, wholesale prices fell 2 percent.

Copies of 'Star Wars' sequel appearing online

LOS ANGELES -- A week before its scheduled release, illegal copies of "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" are already appearing on the Internet.

One copy of the movie making the rounds online appears to have been recorded at a private showing, using a tripod-mounted digital camcorder pointed at the screen, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday. Another copy apparently used a more sophisticated version of the same technique.

Both were distributed via Internet Relay Chat, a computer protocol that allows users to copy files at high speed from other computers on different networks.

The poor quality of the bootlegged footage makes it unlikely there will be any impact on the movie's ticket sales when "Clones" debuts Thursday.

Lucasfilm Ltd., which produced the movie, said it was submitting the piracy report to the Motion Picture Association of America for an investigation.

US Airways warns of bankruptcy possible

ARLINGTON, Va. -- US Airways warned on Friday that it might have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy if it cannot obtain federally backed loans that will probably require concessions from employees and suppliers.

The airline's stock plunged more than 20 percent on the news.

US Airways, which lost $2 billion last year, is the second major airline to announce intentions to apply for loans that were approved by Congress as part of an industry bailout after Sept. 11.

The loans have proved unattractive to many airlines because of the conditions placed on them. In most cases, it is anticipated that the airline would have to give the government the option to buy a large share of the company, possibly at a bargain price.

-- From wire reports

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