Archive for the ‘AP’ Category

An Adventure in Space and Time

Monday, August 13th, 2012

The beginning of Doctor Who

(more…)

a post-Assad Syria

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Challenges for Israel

(more…)

Burgas – London – Burgas

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Turning Back!

(more…)

London Olympics

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

2012

(more…)

Meet Georgia’s Newest Democrat Leader

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Ku’Wonna Ingram

(more…)

Steve Rattner: Mitt Romney Used

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Every Trick in the Book’ to Dodge Taxes

(more…)

The Need for Nervousness

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

 
I never thought I’d do improvisational comedy. It was one of those things in life that I felt I couldn’t do; I closed the door on that one. (more…)

UN to help DRC troops protect Goma

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

UN and Democratic Republic of Congo troops are reinforcing a key city in the east of the country to guard against attack by rebels who have seized ground in recent days.

DR Congo authorities and the United Nations fear that the M23 movement, which took one town on the Uganda border last week and forced 600 government troops to flee, may target the provincial capital of Goma, UN officials said.

“It would be disastrous if Goma was taken,” said a UN official who gave details of the reinforcements on Tuesday.

The UN Security Council is to discuss the new strife on Tuesday while international leaders will use an African Union summit in Addis Ababa this week to try to defuse tensions between DR Congo and Rwanda over the fighting.

M23, a group of mutineers led by accused war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, has already briefly taken other towns near its new stronghold in Bunagana.

The DR Congo government is moving a US-trained battalion from the north of the country to eastern Goma, the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The battalion, previously used in the hunt for Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters, will join about 7,000 troops already in Nord Kivu province, of which Goma is the capital.

The UN mission in DR Congo, known by the acronym MONUSCO, is moving Ghanaian troops and Guatemalan, Jordanian and Egyptian special forces from its 18,000-strong peacekeeping force to the city, said the UN official.

MONUSCO’s deputy forces commander, General Adrian Foster of Britain, has moved to Goma to run the UN operation, as UN troops will help with planning, logistics, fuel, transport and other support.

They have already gone into battle to protect civilians, and one Indian peacekeeper was killed last Friday.

“This is all to ensure that we can strengthen our support to ensure that Goma does not fall and also to provide wider protection of civilians in the area affected by the M23,” said the UN official.

Soldier mutiny

M23 broke away from the government army in April complaining about conditions. In the past two weeks its numbers have grown from about 1,000 to 2,000 fighters.

ICC jails DRC warlord over child soldiers

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The International Criminal Court handed down a 14-year jail term to Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga in its first-ever sentence, after Lubanga’s conviction for using child soldiers in a brutal conflict in the central African country.

“Taking into account all the factors… the court sentences Mr Lubanga to 14 years in prison,” presiding Judge Adrian Fulford told The Hague-based court, set up in 2002, on Tuesday.

Lubanga, who has been detained in The Hague since March 2006, will however effectively only spend eight years in prison. Fulford said the court had taken into account the time Lubanga has already spent behind bars.

Lubanga, 51, was convicted in March of war crimes, specifically for using child soldiers in his rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-03. Criticised for its slow progress, Lubanga’s sentence marks the ICC’s first since it started work a decade ago. 

Alpha Sesay, the legal officer for International Justice at the Open Society Justice Initiative, a foundation that promotes human rights and accountability for international crimes spoke to Al Jazeera.

He said that the judge considered a range of issues, but they also considered mitigating circumstances, as Lubanga had cooperated with the proceedings.

“So the prosecution did not get what they asked for,” said Sesay. “There was dissenting opinion though with one of the judges saying that the sentence disregards the arms so far during the conflict in the Ituri region.”

The Hague-based court’s former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who has since handed over this position to Gambia’s Fatou Bensouda, earlier this month called for a 30-year sentence against Lubanga, saying his crimes were “of the most serious concern for the international community”.

“These children were told to kill and rape. That was the education [Lubanga] gave these children,” said Moreno-Ocampo.

During the trial, prosecutors told how young girls served as sex-slaves, while boys were trained to fight.

Significant ruling

Lubanga was found guilty of abducting children as young as 11 and forcing them to fight and commit atrocities in the DRC’s northeastern gold-rich Ituri region. NGOs site some 60,000 people killed in the war since 1999. 

Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Goma in the DRC said that Lubanga was a Hema and was seen by the Hema as a protector of their community, but it was “not necessarily a war over ethnicity, this was a conflict over the vast gold reserves in the Ituri region, from which a lot of people suffered.”

“Certainly people particularly the Ituri region recognise that this is the very first time that we have ever seen anybody held to account because of the crimes committed in Eastern Congo.”

At the time of Lubanga’s conviction in March, Moreno-Ocampo said he would be ready to accept a lesser sentence of 20 years should Lubanga “sincerely apologise” and actively engage in helping “to prevent further crimes”.

He pleaded not guilty and has maintained his innocence, adding at a June 13 hearing to discuss his sentence that the court’s decision to find him guilty of war crimes hit him “like a bullet in the face”.

“I am being presented as a warlord… but I never accepted or tolerated such enlistments taking place”.

Lubanga, who has been detained in The Hague since 2006 is the founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots and commander of its military wing – the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo.

India Singhs the Blues – By Sadanand Dhume

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Why the country will pay the price for its wildly overrated prime minister.

BY SADANAND DHUME | JULY 9, 2012

Is India’s economic juggernaut in danger of turning into a train wreck? Not so long ago, it seemed that the country’s rise couldn’t be stopped: the economy was expanding at nearly double-digit rates, and everyone from global shampoo manufacturers to Western think tanks was racing to put an India strategy in place.

But by the first three months of 2012, GDP growth had slowed to a nine-year low of 5.3 percent, its eighth straight quarterly decline. Now, scarcely a week passes without news of the rupee nose-diving to a new historic low against the dollar. In a report last month, credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s warned that India risks losing its investment grade rating and becoming the first “fallen angel” among the four BRIC economies. This comes on the heels of a slew of warnings by pundits that India can no longer take economic success for granted. And it’s not simply a question of riding out the current global slowdown. Flawed government priorities, poor fiscal management, and rampant corruption all threaten the inevitability of India’s rise.

It may be too early to fundamentally reassess India’s prospects. A young population, relatively high savings rate, and the lowest per capita income among the BRICs give the country the potential to return to the nearly double-digit growth rates it enjoyed until 2010. But if India’s economic future remains uncertain, one thing is clear: along with the fate of 1.2 billion Indians, one man’s reputation hangs in the balance. Will 79-year-old Prime Minister Manmohan Singh go down in history as the bold economic reformer who lifted India out of poverty? Or will he instead be remembered as a pithless technocrat whose government was, to borrow the assessment of historian Ramachandra Guha, “inept and incompetent beyond words.”

For now, it looks like history will not judge Singh kindly. Over the course of his prime ministership, he has gone from being admired for being self-effacing and honest to being derided for his lack of courage andleadership skills. But now he’s got a chance to prove what he’s made of: On June 27, a day after taking direct charge of the economy following the finance minister’s resignation to run for India’s largely ceremonial presidency, Singh’s office tweeted his intention to “revive the animal spirit in the country’s economy.” He has his work cut out for him, to put it mildly.

Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes in Divorce Settlement Talks (TMZ.com)

Saturday, July 7th, 2012


TMZ.com:

Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes in Divorce Settlement Talks  —  TOM CRUISE/KATIE HOLMES  —  SETTLEMENT  —  Talks Underway  —  EXCLUSIVE  —  Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have called a temporary truce while their lawyers try to negotiate a full divorce settlement … TMZ has learned.

Libyans hold historic vote amid tensions

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Tripoli, Libya – Libyans are voting in the country’s first free national elections in over four decades amid violence by federalist protesters who disrupted the vote in several districts.

Polls opened at 8am local time on Saturday and will close at 8pm (1800 GMT) as the interim government, represented by the National Transitional Council (NTC), declared election day and Sunday national public holidays for voters to exercise their civic duty.

Acts of sabotage, mostly in the east of the country, prevented 101 polling stations from opening on Saturday, the electoral commission’s chairman said.

“Ninety-four percent of polling stations opened,” Nuri al-Abbar told reporters in Tripoli, with voting underway in 1,453 out of 1,554 centres.

“Some of the polling stations were not opened. Because of security reasons, logistical materials haven’t reached them,” he said.

On Friday, a helicopter carrying election material from Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi was shot at in mid-flight, fatally wounding a member of Libya’s High National Election Committee (HNEC) logistics team onboard.

The 2.8 million registered voters will elect a 200-seat General National Conference (GNC) that will replace the unelected interim government that has ruled the country after the revolution against Libya’s ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.

At a press conference on Saturday night, Ian Martin, UN special envoy to Libya, said that he did not think the minor clashes and glitches weren’t enough to damage the credibility of the poll.

“I think we can see already that the problems are in a small enough proportion of the polling centres, that it is not going to undermine the overall credibility of the election,” said Martin.

Voters undecided

The 3,700 candidates – 2,500 of whom are independent, the rest belongs to political parties – had until Thursday evening to reach out to voters, as the HNEC declared Friday a “cool-off day” ahead of the vote.

On Friday, many Libyans in Tripoli had been undecided about which candidates to support. Some told Al Jazeera they would use the weekend’s family gatherings to make a final decision.

In-depth coverage during the vote for General National Congress

“I have it down to two political parties. I will either vote for Hizb al Watan [National Party] or the Tahalof al Qiwa Al Wataniya [Alliance of National Forces] of [former prime minister Mahmoud] Jibril,” Manal El Miladi, a 23-year-old medical student from Tripoli, told Al Jazeera.

Syrian forces bombard Aleppo

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Syrian forces bombarded towns in the northern province of Aleppo on Saturday, as the conflict spilled into neighbouring Lebanon and opposition representatives in France welcomed the defection of a general who was close to President Bashar al-Assad.

“Regime forces are attempting to regain control over [the Aleppo] region, where they suffered heavy casualties over the past months to rebels,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based activist group, said. The group claimed 19 people had died across the country. 

In Lebanon, rocket fire from Syria and gunbattles across the border left two women dead and nine people injured. A local official said clashes had broken out at dawn between the Syrian army and fighters on the Lebanese side of the border.

Syrian rebels and opposition politicians inside the country and abroad also continued to gather information about the defection of Brigadier General Manaf Tlas, a commander in the Republican Guard and close friend of Assad who reportedly fled the country last week.

In France, where Tlas was said to be headed, members of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition bloc which is based outside Syria, welcomed the defection.

Clinton’s remarks ‘totally unacceptable’

China and Russia separately rebuffed accusations by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, that they are hindering the resolution of the crisis in Syria.

Liu Weiman, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said Clinton’s comments, made at the “Friends of Syria” meeting in France on Friday, were “totally unacceptable”, adding that any attempt to “slander” his country was doomed to fail.

At the meeting, CIinton said the two countries should “pay a price” for helping Bashar al-Assad keep power in Damascus, remarks that were among Washington’s toughest yet in 16 months of revolt in Syria.

Liu said China’s efforts at resolving the crisis had won international support.

“On the Syria problem, China’s fair and constructive stance and its contributions toward diplomatic efforts have attained the wide understanding and support of relevant parties in the international community,” he said in a statement on the ministry’s website.

“Any words and deeds that slander China and sow discord between China and other countries will be in vain.”

Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, “categorically” rejected “the formulation that Russia supports Assad’s regime in the situation that has developed in Syria”.

Clinton said at the meeting the only way matters would change “is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price because they are holding up progress, blockading it”.

Bain Capital Scandal: Will it be the Downfall of the Romney Campaign?

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

 
Bain Capital is quickly becoming the bane of Mitt Romney’s existence. (more…)

Update: Kim Kardashian Sex Tape!

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

 
What is Kim Kardashian famous for? (more…)

Immigration Reform: Obama Administration Takes Steps to Make Dream Act Dreams into Realities

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

 
Immigration reform is certainly a hot- and hugely divisive- topic in the heated debates running up to the 2012 election. (more…)

Dharun Ravi Free After 20 Days: Justice Was Not Served

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

 
Dharun Ravi, the 20 year old former student from Rutger’s University who was convicted of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and witness tampering, is free after just 20 days behind bars. (more…)

Meek Mill — I Saw GIRLS Throwing Bottles … Not Drake or Chris Brown

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Meek Mill
I Saw GIRLS Hurling Bottles
… Not Drake or Chris

Breaking News

Meek Mill
Meek Mill says he didn’t throw a single bottle during the W.i.P. nightclub brawl … neither did Drake nor Chris Brown. Instead, Meek says the real culprits are FEMALE.

Meek finally broke his silence with XXL.com … saying, “Chris and Drake, them two was there, but it’s other people that be around that take sh*t to the next level.”

Meek continued, “Things just happen in the club. I seen girls in there throwing bottles, all types of sh*t. All types of people. I never seen Chris Brown or Drake throw a bottle and I was there.”

When asked if he threw a bottle, Meek replied, “F*ck no.”

ATF sued for Fast and Furious docs

Monday, June 18th, 2012

The conservative organization Judicial Watch announced Monday that it was suing the ATF for Fast and Furious records of communications between the agency and the White House.

Specifically, the group said that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, seeking Fast and Furious records showing conversations between ATF officials and Kevin O’Reilly, the former White House Director of North American Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council.

Continue Reading

In previous congressional testimony, ATF special agent in charge of the Phoenix office Bill Newell – who played a leading role in the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation – said he had shared information about the operation with O’Reilly, but did not go into further detail about their interactions.

“The Obama administration has clammed up on Fast and Furious. We’re having trouble getting almost anything out of them. No wonder, as the Fast and Furious lies and killings makes it one of the worst scandals in recent American history. The American people deserve to know what White House officials knew and when they knew it,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, in a press release Monday detailing the lawsuit, which was filed June 6

Political uncertainty deepens in Egypt

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Egypt has plunged deeper into political uncertainty as both presidential candidates claim victory following a runoff election and the country’s ruling generals move to further assert their power.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) repeated on Monday its pledge to hand over authority to a civilian government by the end of the month.

Mohammed al-Assar, one of the generals, said during a lengthy press conference in Cairo that there would be a “grand ceremony” to mark the transition.

“We’ll never tire or be bored from assuring everyone that we will hand over power before the end of June,” he said.

Yet the council has moved in the last 24 hours to sharply curtail the powers of the incoming president. SCAF will retain authority over the budget and the legislative process until a new parliament is elected, according to a decree issued on Sunday night.

The decree even limits the new president’s powers as commander-in-chief, stating that he can only declare war “with the approval of the military council.”

Sameh Ashour, the head of SCAF’s advisory council, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the incoming president would likely have a short term, and would be replaced after a new constitution was drafted.

“The upcoming president will occupy the office for a short period of time, whether or not he agrees,” Ashour said. “His office term will be short despite the huge efforts exerted in the election campaigns.”

Both sides claim victory

It still was not clear, nearly 24 hours after polls closed, who that next president will be.

Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, claimed victory in the early hours of Monday morning.

The Brotherhood’s unofficial tally had Morsi leading with about 12.7 million votes, or 52.5 per cent of the total. Several other counts from media organisations, including Al Jazeera, also showed Morsi with a narrow lead.

Pro-bailout party set to lead Greek coalition

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Greece’s victorious conservative leader sought a new coalition government after elections, pledging on Monday to soften the debt-laden country’s punishing austerity programe despite opposition from Germany.

A brief relief rally on international financial markets after Sunday’s Greek vote quickly fizzled out as it became clear that Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy had failed to win a convincing popular mandate to implement the deep spending cuts and tax increases demanded by the European Union and the IMF.

Radical left-wing bloc Syriza and a host of smaller parties opposed to the punishing conditions attached to the $164.12 bn bailout won around half the votes cast, though fewer seats because the electoral system rewards the
first placed party disproportionately.

Samaras received a mandate to form a coalition government from the president on Monday, and said the country would meet its bailout commitments.

But he added: “We will simultaneously have to make some necessary amendments to the bailout agreement, in order to relieve the people of crippling unemployment and huge hardships.”

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons reported from Athens, where he compared the atmosphere to that of a “tinderbox”, and that any new government would have to contend with deep-seated political and demographic divisions.

“The real worry is that if there’s a weak government, Syriza is going to weigh in and bring it down,” he said.
He said that a government would likely be formed and that there was unlikely to be a repeat of the standoff that followed the May elections.

Stacy Keibler — I’m NOT Pregnant with Handsome Baby

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Stacy Keibler
I’m NOT Pregnant
with Handsome Baby

Stacy Keibler pregnant? Nope.
The world will continue to wait for a baby Clooney … because Stacy Keibler is NOT with child.

The rumor mill began to churn after photos surfaced showing Stacy on a boat in Lake Como this weekend … sporting what people have interpreted as a baby bump.

But sources connected to The Keib tell us … the rumors are “100% FALSE.”

Cancer genetics: Gene therapy

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

THE International Cancer Genome Consortium, an alliance of laboratories that is trying to produce a definitive list of the genetic mutations that cause cancer, is accumulating data at an astonishing rate. About 3,000 individual breast tumours, for example, have now had their genotypes published. But these data will not, by themselves, help patients. For that, they have to be collected in the context of a drug trial. And this is just what Matthew Ellis and his colleagues at Washington University in St Louis have done for women suffering from breast cancer. Their methods, if they prove to work for other cancers too, may revolutionise treatment.

Dr Ellis and his team sequenced the whole genomes of both cancerous and normal tissue from 46 women with tumours of a type called oestrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer. They also sequenced just the gene-containing regions of the genome—about 1% of total DNA—from an additional 31 women, and parts of the sequences of 240 more. They then compared the healthy and tumorous genomes of each patient, in order to discover which genes had mutated in the cancer.

In this, they were following the normal protocol of the cancer genome consortium. The novelty of their approach was that the women in question had each been involved in one of two clinical trials of a drug called letrozole. These trials established letrozole as a standard treatment for people with this type of breast cancer, but not all patients benefit equally from the drug. Dr Ellis hoped to find out why.

As they report in Nature, he and his team discovered 18 genes that were often mutated. Some were the usual suspects of cancer genetics. These included p53, a gene that, when working properly, suppresses cancer by regulating DNA repair, cell division and cellular suicide, and MAP3K1 and MAP2K4, which both promote cell growth. Others, though, were a surprise. At the top of that list were five which had previously been linked to leukaemia, but were not thought to affect solid tumours.

The global environment: Boundary conditions

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

PULL a spring, let it go, and it will snap back into shape. Pull it further and yet further and it will go on springing back until, quite suddenly, it won’t. What was once a spring has become a useless piece of curly wire. And that, in a nutshell, is what many scientists worry may happen to the Earth if its systems are overstretched like those of an abused spring.

One result of this worry, in the autumn of 2009, was the idea of planetary boundaries. In the run-up to that year’s climate conference in Copenhagen a group of concerned scientists working under the auspices of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, in Sweden, defined, in a paper in Nature, what they thought of as a safe operating space for human development—a set of nine limits beyond which people should not push their planet.

The nine areas of concern were: climate change; ocean acidification; the thinning of the ozone layer; intervention in the nitrogen and phosphate cycles (crucial to plant growth); the conversion of wilderness to farms and cities; extinctions; the build up of chemical pollutants; and the level of particulate pollutants in the atmosphere. For seven of these areas the paper’s authors felt confident enough to put numbers on where the boundaries actually lay. For chemicals and particulates, they deferred judgment.

Since then, the idea of planetary boundaries has taken root. It crops up repeatedly in GEO-5, the United Nations Environment Programme’s new assessment of the world. The High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, which reported recently to Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s secretary-general, gave the idea pride of place. And Planet Under Pressure, a big scientific conference held recently in London, made boundaries central to the message it sent to Rio+20, the UN environmental summit that opens in Brazil on June 20th.

Don’t fence me in

Planetary boundaries provide a useful way of thinking about environmental change, because in many cases they give scope for further change that has not already happened. That has brought the concept friends who are not normally persuaded by environmental thinking, as well as green enemies who will brook no compromise. But the concept has numerous drawbacks. The actual location of the boundaries is, as their proponents acknowledge, somewhat arbitrary. That is partly because of the incomplete state of current knowledge, but it may remain so however much anyone knows. Some boundaries might be transgressed without irreversible harm occurring. Some may have been drawn around the wrong things altogether. And some academic opinion holds that spectacular global change could come about without breaking through any of them.

The latest criticism comes from the Breakthrough Institute, a determinedly heterodox American think-tank that focuses on energy and the environment. Among the points made in a report it published on June 11th, two stand out. The first is that the idea of boundaries does not focus enough on the distinction between things with truly global effects and those that matter primarily at a local or regional level. The second is that the planetary-boundaries group derives most of its limits by looking at conditions during the Holocene—the epoch since the end of the most recent ice age, in which human civilisations have grown up. Both of these criticisms have merit.

For things that clearly do have the springlike quality of shifting irreversibly if pulled (or pushed) too far, like the collapse of ice sheets or the melting of permafrost, a boundary system that seeks to stop you getting too close to the threshold seems as sensible as a safety rail is on a parapet. There is good reason to believe that parts of the climate do behave this way, and thus need railing off. But of the nine boundaries, only three apply to systems where the boundary setters really believe there is a global threshold: the climate; the acidity of the oceans; and the ozone layer. Some of the other six may have local thresholds, but for the most part their global effects are simply the aggregate of the local ones.

Confusing the two might, in the Breakthrough Institute’s view, result in poor policy. Concern over a planet-wide nitrogen limit, for example, could lead to people forgoing the benefits that fertilisers offer the poor soils of Africa on account of harm done by their over-application in China.

The institute’s other criticism is the implicit assumption that because mankind came of age in the Holocene, therefore Holocene conditions are optimal for the species now. There are indeed reasons to believe some aspects of the Holocene were optimal. It was a time of climatic stability and, in the temperate regions of the Earth, clemency. The Breakthrough criticism agrees that climate stability is a good thing. It points out, though, that there is little evidence things like the behaviour of the nitrogen cycle or the phosphate cycle in the Holocene were particularly well-suited to humans. The fact that people have used industrial chemistry to short-circuit the nitrogen cycle, by making fertilisers out of nitrogen in the air at a rate which greatly exceeds what natural systems can manage, has real environmental effects. Nitrate-rich run-off, for example, can wreck the ecology of lakes. But if these effects could be managed, then it is not clear that the amount of nitrogen being drawn out of the air would, of itself, be a problem.

How is Syria now like Afghanistan then?

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

 
Recently, I’ve been reading Stephen Coll’s  insightful and terrifying book Ghost Wars, about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the creation of Al Qaeda (more…)

Don’t Mistake “Bath Salts” for bath salts

Friday, June 8th, 2012

 
The term “bath salts” no longer refers to something that will keep you clean. Apparently, a new street drug dons the same term as the relaxing salts one might bathe in. (more…)

Egypt prosecutor to appeal Mubarak verdict

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Egypt’s general prosecutor will be appealing against the sentences handed down in the trials of several police officials who served under Hosni Mubarak, state media and sources say.

Mubarak, the former president who was ousted by a popular uprising last year, and his former interior minister were sentenced to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of more than 800 people during a police crackdown on the protests.

Gamal and Alaa, the former leader’s sons, however, were acquitted on corruption charges, as were six police commanders on charges related to the killing of protesters. Mubarak was also acquitted on corruption charges.

“The state prosecutor has ordered the start of the appeals procedure,” a source in his office told the AFP news agency.

The Nile News channel also carried the prosecutor’s decision in a short screen caption, but did not provide further details.

Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, confirmed that travel bans on the six officials, in place since the trial first began last February, have been renewed.

Protests across country

The verdicts sparked protests across the country, with several thousand angry demonstrators gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Alexandria, Suez and other cities.

Tahrir Square finally fell quiet after a night of protests, but crowds were expected to return later to express frustration amid fears for Egypt’s stalling revolution.

A few hundred protesters continued to demonstrate on Sunday, after up to 10,000 people had converged on the birthplace of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak’s regime the night before.

Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said most of the protesters started clearing out shortly after midnight.

“There are more protests and demonstrations planned for Sunday, starting around sunset when the weather gets a bit cooler,” said Tadros.

Who will Flame burn?

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

 
It’s a scenario familiar from thousands of science fiction movies: a glitch in a highly destructive secret weapon causes it to turn on its creators and destroy them.  (more…)

Assad: Syria faces ‘real war’ from outside

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that the country is engaged in a “real war” with outside forces and defended political reforms implemented by his government in an address to the parliament in Damascus.

Speaking on Sunday for the first time since last month’s parliamentary elections , Assad said that he would not be lenient on those he blamed for violence in the country.

“We have to fight terrorism for the country to heal,” Assad said. “We will not be lenient. We will be forgiving only for those who renounce terrorism.”

 

Assad’s remarks defied mounting international condemnation of his regime’s crackdown on the opposition. He blamed the crisis on outside forces and said the country was passing through its most critical stage since the end of colonialism.

“The masks have fallen and the international role in the Syrian events is now obvious,” Assad said, adding that the elections had been the perfect response “to the criminal killers and those who finance them”.

Assad admitted the country’s unrest had taken a “bloody toll” and exhausted assets, but said outside forces were responsible.

“Terrorism has undermined us all,” he said. “It is a real war waged from outside and dealing with a war is different to dealing with the grievances of Syrian citizens.”

He added that there would be “no dialogue” with opposition factions “seeking foreign intervention”.

‘Monsters’

In the speech, Assad blamed terrorists for the recent massacre in the Syrian town of Houla, which opposition activists said was committed by pro-government forces.

Survivor describes Syria’s Houla massacre

At least 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, were slaughtered in killings that began on May 25 and continued the next day, triggering international outrage.

Lebanon sends troops to quell deadly clashes

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Lebanon has deployed troops to the northern city of Tripoli after at least 12 people were killed in fierce clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, local medics and security sources said.

Residents said relative peace had returned to the city since the soldiers deployed at around 7am local time (04:00 GMT) on Sunday, after gunmen exchanged heavy fire and rocket propelled grenades. 

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Tripoli, said an “uneasy calm” had set in after the fighting.

“The Lebanese army has been deployed, but if you talk to anyone, they will say this is just a temporary truce,” Khodr said on Sunday.

“The clashes really have become more and more frequent over the last few months. This conflict really is far from over,” our correspondent added.

The latest clashes began after midnight on Friday and continued throughout Saturday until the army deployment.

Residents of the neighbouring districts have clashed repeatedly in recent weeks, but Saturday’s death toll is the highest in a single day in Tripoli, raising fears that Syria’s unrest was spilling over into its smaller neighbour.

Among the dead were a woman and her son, killed by a rocket in the Bab al-Tabanneh district, a mostly Sunni Muslim community which supports Syria’s opposition, a security official said.

At least five were wounded in Jabal Mohsen, an area mainly populated by Alawites who support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Panetta visiting Vietnam

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

CAM RANH BAY, VIETNAM – From the flight deck of the USNS Richard E. Byrd, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta could look out across Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay towards the South China Sea.

A day after laying out details of the Pentagon’s new focus on the Asia-Pacific region, Panetta pn Sunday used a visit to Vietnam to restate the United States’ intent to help allies in the region develop and enforce maritime rights in the sea, a waterway largely claimed by China. And he reflected on the significance of the harbor, which represents both a painful past for the American military, and a challenging but hopeful future.

Continue Reading

“The new defense strategy that we have put in place for the United States represents a number of key elements that will be tested in the Asia-Pacific region,” Panetta told reporters gathered Sunday under a blazing sun on the deck of the cargo vessel. He said the U.S. would “work with our partners like Vietnam to be able to use harbors like this as we move our ships from our ports on the West Coast towards our stations here in the Pacific.”

Panetta never mentioned China as he spoke to crew members on the Byrd and later to reporters. But with the South China Sea as a backdrop, he made it clear that the U.S. will maintain a strong presence in the region and wants to help allies protect themselves and their maritime rights.

His visit here, however, is likely to irritate Chinese leaders who are unhappy with any U.S. buildup in the region and view it as a possible threat. Panetta, in remarks Saturday to a defense conference in Singapore, rejected such claims. But U.S. officials are clearly wary of China’s increased military buildup and expanding trade relations with other countries in the region.

“Access for United States naval ships into this facility is a key component of this relationship [with Vietnam] and we see a tremendous potential here for the future,” he said.

This is Panetta’s first visit to Vietnam, and his stop at the harbor made him the most senior U.S. official to go to Cam Ranh Bay since the Vietnam War ended in the 1970s.

Right now U.S. warships do not go into the harbor, but other Navy ships, like the Byrd do. The Byrd is a cargo ship operated by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command and it has a largely civilian crew. It is used to move military supplies to U.S. forces around the world. Navy warships go to other Vietnam ports, such as Danang.

While Panetta suggested the United States may want to send more ships to Cam Ranh Bay in the future, he and other defense officials did not detail what requests he may make in meetings with Vietnamese leaders.

Good Foreigner, Bad Foreigner – By Anne Henochowicz

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

China’s love-hate relationship with expats.

BY ANNE HENOCHOWICZ | JUNE 1, 2012

The more than half a million foreigners living in China exist in a legal and ethical gray area. Over the past 60 years, the Communist Party has often attempted to keep foreigners at a distance. In the 1980s foreigners shopped at special supermarkets in Beijing, buying goods that were forbidden to most locals. Today, expats can live in the same apartment buildings, shop in the same stores, and even get cozy with Communist Party officials, as the murder of former Bo Xilai confidant Neil Heywood revealed. Chinese police tend to be more lenient to (non-African) foreigners than to locals, wary of provoking international incidents; foreign journalists receive far more leeway to write and report than their domestic counterparts. Chinese companies will even hire white expats to pose as company executives, simply for the business a Caucasian face brings. This gap, however, might be closing.

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

On May 8, Chinese Internet user “Ajian” uploaded a video to Youku, China’s largest video sharing site, of a British man sexually assaulting a Chinese woman on the streets of Beijing. A man in a black jacket leads him away from the woman. In the next scene, the same man beats him senseless in the middle of the street. You can hear Ajian breathing heavily and cursing the Briton behind the camera. Viewed more than 11 million times, the video seems to have inspired a city-wide campaign to catch and prevent foreigners from behaving badly.

Ajian’s Beautiful Workshop’s YouKuvideo

The Communist Party likes numbered slogans. Mao led the “Three-Anti” and “Five-Anti” campaigns in the early years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to root out enemies of the state, then attempted to destroy the “four olds” during Cultural Revolution; then-President Jiang Zemin introduced the socio-political ideology the “three represents” in 2000.

A week after the Briton’s assault, Beijing announced a three-month campaign to “clamp down” on foreigners. The cartoon above, which the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau (PSB) posted on its Weibo account @PeacefulBeijing, shows a fist slamming down on those engaged in the “three illegals”: entering the country illegally, residing illegally, and working illegally. Under the new directive, police may ask foreigners to present their passports and papers, targeting “communities believed to have large numbers of such aliens.” The cartoon contains a phone number that citizens can call to report suspicious foreigners.

Beijing PSB Weibo

Anti-foreigner sentiment exists throughout China. Some netizens voiced their support for bringing the campaign to Shanghai, which has more than 200,000 foreigners as of 2010, nearly double that of Beijing. Surprisingly, the Yanbian PSB in the northeast province of Jilin announced its own drive to track down unwelcome foreigners on May 23, according to the magazine ‘s Weibo account.

Yanbian shares a border with North Korea, and thousands of North Koreans live and work in Yanbian; others who defect pass through Yanbian on their way to Thailand, Mongolia, and South Korea. A few weeks ago, North Koreans captured 29 Chinese fishermen and held them for the un-princely ransom of 1.2 million yuan (about $189,000) in a rare public spat between the two allies.

“Our comrade-in-arms has stabbed us in the back,” wrote blogger Wang Sixiang, reacting to the news. The cartoon above, drawn by cartoonist Rebel Pepper, shows China holding the blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng hostage; in the next panel, North Korea is holding a Chinese citizen hostage. The website See China gives the cartoon the title “Little Brother, You Learn Quick!” Although the fishermen were eventually released, Beijing has tried to manage the resulting public anger: notably, not a single comment has been left on ‘s post, likely because of deletion.

A Failure to Communicate – By Fulton T. Armstrong

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

Why is the Obama administration using its radio station to attack the Cuban Catholic Church?        

BY FULTON T. ARMSTRONG | JUNE 1, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Cuba in March was, by most accounts, a successful pastoral visit — a show of support for the Cuban Catholic Church as the Vatican wanted. But it did little to assuage the White House’s discomfort with the church’s approach to change on the island.

The next month, in Colombia, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of his hope for improved human rights, democracy, and economic reform in Cuba. “I assure you that I and the American people will welcome the time when the Cuban people have the freedom to live their lives, choose their leaders, and fully participate in this global economy and international institutions,” he declared.

If that’s Obama’s goal, he doesn’t appear to have a lot of faith in the Catholic Church in Cuba helping to achieve it. In fact, the administration has supported repeated attacks on the church and its leader, Cardinal Jaime Ortega — the man who has done more to promote human rights and democracy in Cuba than anyone, anywhere. The cardinal has created political space for millions of Cubans to live their faith, personally negotiated the release of more than 100 political prisoners in the past two years, and directly carried to Cuban President Raúl Castro the appeals — subsequently granted — of human rights groups, including the female relatives of political prisoners known as the Ladies in White.

Nevertheless, administration-supported harangues against the church and cardinal have become routine. The most recent was an editorial by Radio/TV Martí, the U.S. government’s radio and television service to Cuba. The station’s director, Carlos García-Pérez, personally penned a commentary accusing the cardinal of “political collusion” with the Castro regime and having a “lackey attitude” toward it. This senior Obama political appointee offered patronizing advice: “Cardinal Ortega, please be faithful to the Gospel you preach.”

At issue was the cardinal’s criticism of a group of dissidents with no established record of political activity who took over a Havana church in March, demanding that Pope Benedict meet with them when he visited Cuba several days later. The Obama administration provides $20 million a year to groups that profess to promote democracy in Cuba — including many small, unknown groups like the one that occupied the church — through USAID and the State Department. Although neither agency is authorized to run covert operations, these are conducted with such extraordinary secrecy that the U.S. Congress and the American people will never know how much taxpayer money is spent on activities like this and through which groups.

When the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) investigated the Martí broadcast servicesin 2009-2010, a pattern of news items and commentaries challenging the cardinal and church emerged. The station has chronically dismal ratings in Cuba and therefore little direct impact, but the broadcasts are significant in that they are indicators of U.S. policy or, at the very least, the U.S. government’s willingness to hand its megaphone over to the Miami conservatives who have long dominated Martí. Rather than flagging this antagonism toward the church in the report, however, committee staff privately asked for reassurances that the attacks would stop, and García-Pérez, then the station’s new director, promised they would.

Stocks slide as global growth fears mount

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Friday 21.30 BST. Global stocks started the month on a weak note, led by declines on Wall Street, as signs the world’s largest economy is stalling added to worries over the outlook for the eurozone.

Investors sold most “growth-related” assets and favoured US government bonds after news of a surprisingly soft US non-farm payrolls report.

“The weakness in the US data is overlapping with an intensifying crisis in Europe, which means the risk-off trade continues,” said Michelle Meyer, senior economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The broad S&P 500 suffered a loss of 2.5 per cent, retrenching below the 1300 points mark. The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average also fell more than 2 per cent and erased this year’s gains.

More

On this story

Global Market Overview

Such was the disappointment at the job numbers that the dollar index, which usually sports an inverse correlation to investor risk appetite, also lost all its early advance and fell 0.2 per cent.

This retreat for the buck reflected an increasing belief among some traders that further monetary easing by the Federal Reserve is now more likely – a view that is being expressed in gold, which rose 4 per cent to $1,623 an ounce.

The prospect of more QE has helped some “risk” assets come off their session extremes, but still many traders are scrambling for “safety”, pushing US 10-year benchmark yields down 10 basis points to 1.45 per cent, a record low.

The extent of investor caution could be seen in the German debt market, where yields on two-year Schatz briefly turned negative by two-tenths of a basis point, meaning fund managers are so desperate for a “safe” place to park their money that they would pay Berlin for the privilege. Ten-year Bunds have touched a record low of 1.13 per cent, but are now down 4bp to 1.18 per cent.

The FTSE All-World equity index shed 1.9 per cent after the Asia-Pacific region fell 1.1 per cent and as the FTSE Eurofirst 300 relinquished early gains to drop 2.1 per cent.

The pullback in the dollar helped the euro rise 0.4 per cent to $1.2415, having earlier touched a two-year low of $1.2290. Stresses remain in the eurozone, however, where Italian and Spanish yields fell several basis points a piece but remain elevated when compared with Bunds.

The protective walls of Fortress America

Friday, June 1st, 2012

For a world where US bond yields trade at a level which predates the founding of the UN, there is a new use for what is an old label: Fortress America.

It helps to explain the pessimism that appears to have driven many investors yet again to seek shelter in the safety of the country’s debt, but it also captures the resilient optimism which means that even after Friday’s sharp one-day fall in the S&P 500, it remains one of the few stock indices left in positive territory for the year so far.

More

On this story

On this topic

On Wall Street

Indeed, while the US economy may not be growing rapidly, the poor employment report released on Friday was still positive, with a net 69,000 jobs added. When interest rates first started to test multi-decade lows during the crisis, more than 400,000 jobs were disappearing every month.

Meanwhile, US banks have been forced to raise capital and are now quite capable of funding themselves. The Federal Reserve remains a credible guardian of the monetary system and the chances of another deep recession seem remote.

This is not to be blithely optimistic, rather it is to view the wooden walls of the North American economy as a more sturdy home for investment than the papier-mâché turrets elsewhere. And it is to realise that, for all the advance of globalisation, the US remains a relatively closed economy.

Exports of $2.1tn last year were only 14 per cent of national output, according to the Commerce Department. The largest trading partners are its neighbours to the north and south, and all the countries that use the euro combined bought only $200bn worth of US goods and services last year, as much as Mexico.

Meanwhile China, which bought only $104bn from the US while sending consumers four times as much back in return, is another reason for reassessing the assumption that the greatest opportunity lies outside the US.

Even from 12,000 miles away the topic is hard to avoid. There are persistent bears, such as short seller Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates, who has been betting on a sharp slowdown for the past two years.

And there are the mega bulls, with renowned value investor Jeremy Grantham of GMO embracing the Malthusian idea that emerging market growth in consumption has put commodity prices on a permanent upward track.

سلام שלום (Salam Shalom)

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

 
سلام שלום (more…)

Israel skeptical of Iranian nuke deal with UN

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Ronald Zak

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s defense minister voiced skepticism on Tuesday over an agreement by Iran to open up its nuclear facilities to U.N. inspectors, saying the Iranians are trying to create a “deception of progress” to save off international pressure.

The cool reception from Defense Minister Ehud Barak signaled that Israel will not ease up pressure on the international community to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Israel has repeatedly hinted it is ready to use force if it concludes international diplomacy has failed to stop the Iranians.

Barak spoke shortly after the U.N.’s nuclear chief announced he had reached a preliminary deal to allow his inspectors to restart a long-stalled probe into suspicions that Iran is secretly developing nuclear arms. The announcement came a day before Iran and six world powers were to meet in Baghdad for another round of negotiations.

“It looks like the Iranians are trying to reach a technical agreement that will create a deception of progress in talks in order to reduce the pressure ahead of talks tomorrow in Baghdad and postpone harshening of sanctions,” Barak said during a discussion at the Defense Ministry, according to a statement from his office.

“Israel believes that a clear bar should be set for Iran that won’t leave room for any window or crack for Iran to proceed toward military nuclear capability,” Barak said. “It’s forbidden to make any concessions to Iran. World powers demands must be clear and unequivocal.”

Barak held out the possibility that Iran be allowed to keep a “symbolic amount” of low-enriched uranium for medical or research purposes, but only if it is under “strict” international supervision.

Israel wants Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium – a key step toward building a nuclear bomb – and agree to ship most of its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country and open its nuclear facilities to inspection.

‘Idol’ judge Tyler charmed by ‘sexy beast’ J-Lo

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

NEW YORK (AP) — Steven Tyler is mum on whether he or Jennifer Lopez will return to the judging panel on “American Idol” next year, but the rocker says he has loved the experience of sitting next to her.

“She’s a sexy beast,” Tyler said in a phone interview Monday. “I feed off that female energy with her.”

He added: “I’m always flirting with her. It’s not a bad thing. It’s really a good thing. The best part of it all is that we been able to pick some good talent. Just look at this year.”

Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez are the final two contestants. The winner will be crowned Wednesday night. If the 16-year old Sanchez wins, she’ll be first girl to win the competition since Jordin Sparks took home the crown five years ago.

Tyler gives her the edge: “She sings so good you can’t deny, but America votes for it, so we’ll see.”

While Tyler deflected a question as to whether he or Lopez would return to the show next season, the 64-year old rocker said he has loved the experience. He said he was always comfortable judging the talent competition and feels he’s the same guy as an “American Idol” judge that he has been as a vocalist that has rocked audiences for 40 years.

Brad Pitt brings ‘Killing Them Softly’ to Cannes

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau

CANNES, France (AP) — The Cannes Film Festival got its biggest shot of celebrity adrenaline yet on Tuesday, even if it was only half the dose some were expecting.

Brad Pitt arrived at the festival with the stylish, hardboiled film “Killing Them Softly,” which he produced and stars in. The film, an adaptation of a George V. Higgins crime novel directed by Andrew Dominik, was screened Tuesday in competition for the Palme d’Or.

While many were wrangling with the film’s audacious juxtaposing of a story of violent back-stabbing criminals with an overt political subtext, others were being gently let down by Pitt: No, Angelina Jolie wasn’t with him, as she’s preparing for a role, he said. And their highly anticipated wedding has no date set, he said in a press conference.

But “Killing Them Softly” left much for discussion. Pitt stars as a kind of fixer who organizes the necessary retribution of two thieves (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn) who rob a poker game of gangsters. Woven throughout are billboards, radio broadcast and televised speeches of U.S. President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush.

Though the book (“Cogan’s Trade”) takes place in the 1970s, the film is set in 2008, during the presidential election and the financial crisis. At one point, Pitt’s character pronounces: “America’s not a country, it’s a business.”

Powell not ready to endorse Obama for re-election

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Secretary of State Colin Powell declined Tuesday to renew the presidential endorsement he gave Barack Obama four years ago, saying he wasn’t ready “to throw my weight behind someone” at this time.

The former chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cabinet member under President George W. Bush demurred when asked if he was backing Obama again this time around. Four years ago, Powell caused a stir in Republican political circles when the longtime GOP figure endorsed Obama over war hero Sen. John McCain, calling Obama a “transformational figure.”

Not so this time, Powell said in an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. At least, not yet.

US Embassy in Kabul says US ambassador to leave

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Veteran U.S. diplomat Ryan Crocker will be leaving his post as ambassador to Afghanistan this summer, an embassy spokesman said Tuesday.

Crocker, 62, came out of retirement last July to take over the post after a request from President Barack Obama. Crocker was widely known for his role as U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009.

It is unclear why he is leaving the post a year ahead of schedule or who will replace him. The most likely candidate would be James Cunningham, one of four other ambassadors serving under Crocker in Kabul.

There have been persistent rumors that Crocker wanted to leave for personal reasons. The U.S. Embassy last denied such a rumor two weeks ago.

“Ambassador Crocker has confirmed, with regret, that he will be leaving Kabul this summer,” acting embassy spokesman Mark Thornburg said.

Houston museum unveils $85 million dinosaur hall

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/MICHAEL STRAVATO

HOUSTON (AP) — Pups in her womb, a large eye visible behind the rib cage, one baby stuck in the birth canal: all fossilized evidence that this ancient marine beast, the Ichthyosaur, died in childbirth.

Jurassic Mom’s almost certainly painful death is perfectly preserved in a rare fossil skeleton, one of the many unique items that will go on display in the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s $85 million dinosaur hall when it opens to the public June 2. The Associated Press got a first peek at the exhibit as the finishing touches were put in place.

Paleontologists and scientists at the museum and the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, S.D. have worked tirelessly for three years to collect, clean and preserve artifacts designed to give visitors a look at how life evolved beginning 25 billion years ago.

“You’ll actually be able to touch a fossil that’s 3.5 billion years old,” Robert Bakker, the museum’s curator of paleontology, says in a conspiratorial whisper. “A microbe, simpler than bacteria, which had in its DNA the kernel that would flower later on into dinosaurs, mammals, then us. That’s the beginning of the safari.”

His long white beard and locks bobbing with all-too-obvious excitement, Bakker raises his brows below his cowboy hat as he continues to describe the journey visitors will experience when they enter “The Prehistoric Safari,” expected to be among the top six dinosaur exhibits in the United States.

Jack Horner, curator of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., who acted, along with Bakker, as an adviser on the Jurassic Park movie series, agreed there will be some unique and exclusive items on display in Houston, including Triceratops skin. But he said that to him, an object’s value is determined by science and should always be peer-reviewed before being displayed.

“Anybody can have stuff,” Horner said, adding that he is curious to see the scientific findings on the items displayed in Houston. “Opinions are cheap.”

Does Greece deserve what they are going through?

Monday, May 21st, 2012

 
I would start with making clear that I have decided I would have driven a Porsche 911 Carrera when I was 7, (more…)

Deal undone? Activist now wants to leave China

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo

BEIJING (AP) — A cloud hung over annual talks between the United States and China on Thursday as a blind Chinese dissident who took refuge in the U.S. Embassy appealed to Washington for more help, saying from his hospital room in Beijing that he now fears for his family’s safety unless they are all spirited abroad.

China already demanded an apology from the U.S. even before Chen Guangcheng balked at a deal in which he would remain in his homeland. Now that he wants to leave, the case could overshadow talks in which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are to discuss foreign policy and economic issues with their Chinese counterparts.

After six days holed up in the U.S. Embassy, as senior officials in Beijing and Washington tussled over his fate, Chen left the compound’s protective confines Wednesday for a nearby hospital for treatment of a leg injury suffered in his escape. A shaken Chen told The Associated Press from his hospital room that Chinese authorities had warned he would lose his opportunity to be reunited with his family if he stayed longer in the embassy.

U.S. officials verified that account. But they adamantly denied his contention that one American diplomat had warned him of a threat from the Chinese that his wife would be beaten to death if he did not get out of the embassy.

“I think we’d like to rest in a place outside of China,” Chen told the AP, appealing again for help from Washington. “Help my family and me leave safely.”

Only hours earlier, U.S. officials said they had extracted from the Chinese government a promise that Chen would join his family and be allowed to start a new life in a university town in China, safe from the rural authorities who had abusively held him in prison and house arrest for nearly seven years.

Clinton spoke to Chen on the phone when he left the embassy and, in a statement, welcomed the resettlement agreement as one that “reflected his choices and our values.”

But the murky circumstances of Chen’s departure from the embassy, and his sudden appeal to leave China after declaring he wanted to stay, again threatened to overshadow talks that were to focus on the global economic crisis and hotspots such as North Korea, Iran, Syria and Sudan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry signaled its unhappiness with the entire affair, demanding that the U.S. apologize for giving Chen sanctuary at the embassy.

“What the U.S. side should do now is neither to continue misleading the public and making every excuse to shift responsibility and conceal its wrongdoing, nor to interfere in the domestic affairs of China,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said late Wednesday in a statement that was a response to comments from Clinton praising the deal on Chen.

Chen, 40, became an international human rights figure and inspiration to many ordinary Chinese after running afoul of local government officials for exposing forced abortions carried out as part of China’s one-child policy. He served four years in prison on what supporters said were fabricated charges, then was kept under house arrest with his wife, daughter and mother, with the adults often being roughed up by officials and his daughter searched and harassed.

Blinded by childhood fever but intimately familiar with the terrain of his village, Chen slipped from his guarded farmhouse in eastern China’s Shandong province at night on April 22. He made his way through fields and forest, along roads and across a narrow river to meet the first of several supporters who helped bring him to Beijing and the embassy. It took three days for his guards to realize he was gone.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner disputed Chen’s claim that he was left alone by the Americans at the hospital.

“There were U.S. officials in the building,” the spokesman told reporters. “I believe some of his medical team was in fact with him at the hospital.” He said U.S. officials would continue visiting Chen while he was there.

Chen’s supporters in the U.S. called on Clinton to meet him directly, and one of them, Republican Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, said it appeared the resettlement agreement “seems to have been done under significant duress.”

“If ever there was a test of the U.S. commitment to human rights, it should have been at that moment, potentially sending him back to a very real threat,” he said.

But no one appeared to know precisely what to make of Chen’s change of heart. He had welcomed a deal that let him stay in China and work for change, telling his lawyer Li Jinsong on the way to the hospital, “I’m free, I’ve received clear assurances,” according to Li.

Toner said three U.S. officials heard Chen tell Clinton in broken English on the phone that he wanted to kiss her in gratitude. Chen told the AP that he actually told Clinton, “I want to see you now.”

Nor is it clear how the U.S. could be party to an agreement on Chen’s safety inside China when it has no power to enforce the conditions of his life there.

Hollande stands firm in French presidential debate

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Thibault Camus

PARIS (AP) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy failed to deliver a knockout blow against leftist front-runner Francois Hollande in their only head-to-head debate in France’s presidential campaign, the last major hurdle just four days before Sunday’s election finale.

Hollande – an understated man whom many expected to wither under Sarkozy’s sharp attacks – stood his ground, surprising some observers and even himself. But Wednesday’s much-awaited TV debate produced no outright winner, and appears unlikely to shake up the campaign.

The debate had shaped up as Sarkozy’s last stand and last chance to draw blood against Hollande, and it quickly turned into a verbal slugfest that broke little new ground on substance but exposed big differences in style.

Sarkozy, an America-friendly conservative who has linked up with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to try to revive Europe’s finances and economic prospects, came out slugging and sought to cast himself as the best man to keep France both decisive and competitive.

The incumbent president assailed Hollande’s plans to raise taxes and boost spending – repeatedly accusing him of lying.

“The job of president isn’t a normal job and the situation we’re in isn’t normal,” snapped Sarkozy, riffing off of the Socialist Hollande’s promise to bring a “normal” presidency compared to the incumbent’s high-energy tenure. “Your normalcy isn’t up to the stakes.”

But for Hollande, the stakes boiled down to depicting presidential demeanor, and showing that he could hold his own against Sarkozy – a longtime political nemesis whom he has faced in TV debates dating to the 1990s.

“Hollande held up well,” political scientist and former pollster Stephane Rozes told France-3 TV, adding that he doesn’t think the debate will “shake things up” ahead of Sunday’s vote.

Hollande said on France-3 television afterward that he showed voters “what I was capable of.” But he acknowledged, “I don’t think this is a debate … that could bring out new voters.”

The campaign has largely focused on domestic issues such as the weak economy, immigration, and integration of French Muslims. Yet the outcome is considered crucial to the rest of Europe as well because France is a major economic engine at a time when the eurozone is trying to climb out of a debt crisis.

Sarkozy says France needs to do more to cut spending and high state debt, while Hollande backs government-funded stimulus programs. Both have pushed for similar approaches for the rest of the continent, too.

The two debaters quibbled over statistics; they scoffed sarcastically or spoke over each other, pointed fingers and raised their voices. Their debates came across at times as wonkish, esoteric or nitpicky.

“It’s a lie! It’s a lie!” Sarkozy insisted in one heated exchange on economic policies. The Socialist contender, meanwhile, forcefully denied some of Sarkozy’s claims about his intentions, insisting, “I never said that.”

Hollande accused Sarkozy of appointing cronies to government posts, and the president shot back, calling his rival “a little slanderer” and noting he had named some ministers from the political left in his first Cabinet.

A high point came as Hollande teed off on a presenter’s question about what kind of president he’d be. He tipped back in his chair, folded his arms, and launched into a litany of points starting with the phrase: “As president of the Republic, I …” on issues like the independence of judges, his plan to defer much policy-making to the prime minister or energy policy.

“You’ve just gave us a nice speech – we got teary-eyed,” retorted Sarkozy, trying to break down some of Hollande’s points. “Your bit about independence of judges is a joke.”

Hollande repeatedly using one of his campaign catchwords: like “unity” and “change” to stress the contrast between him and the divisive Sarkozy. Pollsters say the incumbent turned off a lot of voters early in his five-year term with his brash personal style. A stagnant economy made those troubles worse.

Sarkozy said he’s being unfairly blamed for France’s economic problems after years of crisis, and insisted he’s not “the only guilty one.”

Battle begins between Obama, Republican super PACs

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

NEW YORK (AP) — It’s on.

Independent groups favoring Mitt Romney already are launching TV advertisements in competitive states for the November general election, providing political cover against President Barack Obama’s well-financed campaign while the Republican candidate works to rebound from a bruising and expensive nomination fight. Some conservative organizations also are planning big get-out-the-vote efforts, and Romney backers are courting wealthy patrons of his former GOP rivals.

Taken together, the developments underscore how dramatically the political landscape has changed since a trio of federal court cases – most notably the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling – paved the way for a flood of campaign cash from corporations and tycoons looking to help their favored candidates.

“Citizens United has made an already aggressive anti-Obama movement even more empowered,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. “There’s now a regular Republican line of attack on Obama, even when the Romney campaign is taking a breather, raising money and preparing for the general election.”

The general election spending – and advertising – has only just begun. Voters in roughly a dozen hard-fought states will be inundated with TV ads, direct mail, automated phone calls and other forms of outreach by campaign staff members and volunteers pleading for their votes. While Obama and Romney both will spend huge amounts of money in the coming months, an untold additional amount will come from outside organizations called super PACs that can collect unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals.

Already, Obama’s campaign has spent $3.6 million on commercials in key battlegrounds in the weeks since Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee.

Its latest ad depicts Romney, a wealthy former private equity executive, as a corporate raider who once maintained a Swiss bank account. The president had $104 million on hand at the end of March, giving his campaign a 10-1 advantage over Romney who had just $10 million his campaign bank at the same time.

But Obama is unlikely to receive anywhere near the kind of financial backup Romney is already getting from outside groups. The pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action has raised just $10 million since its inception, and few other Democratic-leaning groups have signaled they plan to compete with the pro-Romney efforts.

The latest of these comes from Restore Our Future, a super PAC run by former Romney advisers.

The group announced Wednesday it will go up with $4.3 million in ads this week in nine states that will be key to winning the White House. The ad, “Saved,” describes Romney’s efforts that helped lead to the rescue of the teenage daughter of a colleague after she disappeared in New York for three days.

ROF was by far the biggest advertiser during the Republican nominating contest, spending $36 million on ads attacking Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. The group has raised more than $51 million since its inception.

Its initial general election push follows a $1.7 million, three-state ad buy from Crossroads GPS. That group’s spot attacks Obama’s energy policies. And it is an arm of American Crossroads, a super PAC with ties to President George W. Bush’s longtime political director Karl Rove and one of the most prolific spenders in the 2010 cycle that put the House in Republican hands. The two Crossroads groups have already raised $100 million collectively for 2012 and plan to spend as much as $300 million to defeat Obama and other Democrats.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative-leaning independent group backed by the billionaire energy tycoons Charles and David Koch, dropped $6.1 million on ads in eight general election swing states last week hitting Obama for allowing millions in federal stimulus money to be directed to green energy companies overseas. The group spent $6.5 million earlier this year on ads criticizing Obama over Solyndra, a California-based solar energy company that went bankrupt despite a $535 million federal loan guarantee.

AFP president Tim Phillips said the group planned to raise $100 million and that slightly less than half would go to advertising. Much of the remaining amount, he said, would be used for field operations like rallies, bus tours, canvassing, phone banks and micro-targeting.

Analysis: Obama as war candidate

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

WASHINGTON (AP) — As slogans go, President Barack Obama’s promise of the “light of a new day” in Afghanistan isn’t nearly as catchy as the “Mission Accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln the day President George W. Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq in 2003.

One was jubilant, conveying triumph – prematurely so, as more than 4,000 U.S. combat deaths over the next several years demonstrated. The other, more restrained, optimistically cites progress toward an ultimate victory over the terrorists who attacked the United States more than a decade ago.

Yet the take-away messages fit the political circumstances of the president in office at the time. Then it was Bush prosecuting an Iraq war that was intensely controversial from the outset.

Now it’s Obama seeking re-election in a campaign against Mitt Romney that is anything but certain, polishing his credentials as commander in chief.

The polls all say the economy will be the overarching issue this fall, but Obama can hardly be blamed for wanting the singular triumph of his term – Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. special operations forces – to gain plenty of attention.

After all, the death of the terrorist leader got equal billing with the slowly recovering economy in Vice President Joe Biden’s own suggested campaign slogan: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”

As a political strategy after three years in office, blaming Bush for the war in Afghanistan is probably not any better than trying to saddle him with responsibility for the economy.

Still, Obama chose to reprise his 2008 campaign criticism of Bush’s war policy in his brief 10-minute address from Bagram Air Field on Tuesday night.

“Despite initial success, for a number of reasons, this war has taken longer than most anticipated,” he said, beginning his account neutrally before pivoting.

“In 2002, (Osama) bin Laden and his lieutenants escaped across the border and established safe haven in Pakistan,” this president said, referring to the battle at Tora Bora. “America spent nearly eight years fighting a different war in Iraq.”

But over the past three years, he said, referring to his own time in office: “The tide has turned. We broke the Taliban’s momentum. We’ve built a strong Afghan security force. We devastated al-Qaida’s leadership, taking out 20 of their top 30 leaders. And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.”

Romney decided he wanted no part of it.

In a written statement issued as Air Force One carried Obama homeward, he said he was pleased the president had returned to Afghanistan, and that the troops and the American people deserved to hear from him what is at stake in the war. “Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation’s security,” he said.

It was a different Romney earlier in the week, struggling to outmaneuver Obama in the run-up to the anniversary of the bin Laden’s death.

In fact, Obama and Biden had set him up over the course of a week.

“We know what President Obama did,” Biden said in New York last week, referring to the decision to send Navy SEALs to bin Laden’s lair in Pakistan. “We can’t say for certain what Gov. Romney would have done.”

An Obama campaign web video soon followed, including a quote from a 2007 Romney interview in which he said it was not worth “moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”

1st private cargo run to space station delayed

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The first commercial cargo run to the International Space Station has been delayed again for more software testing.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, was aiming for a Monday liftoff of its Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule. But on Wednesday, the California-based company announced its latest postponement and said a new launch date had not been set.

The test flight already is three months late.

The earliest possible launch date would be next Thursday. Otherwise, SpaceX will need to wait until the Russians send a new crew to the space station on May 15.

It will be the first time a private entity launches a supply ship to the space station. Only government space agencies currently do that.

First of 2 papers on lab-made bird flu published

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati

NEW YORK (AP) — Four months ago the U.S. government sought to block publication of two studies about how scientists created an easily spread form of bird flu. Now a revised version of one paper is seeing the light of day with the government’s blessing.

The revision appears online Wednesday in the journal Nature.

It’s the near-conclusion to a drama that pit efforts to learn how to thwart a global flu epidemic against concerns about helping terrorists create bioweapons. The second paper, which is more controversial because it involves what appears to be a more dangerous virus, is expected to be published later in the journal Science.

For some experts, the affair underscores a more basic question about whether creating potentially risky versions of bird flu is a good idea.

“Clearly, research like this can be beneficial” for dealing with the bird-flu threat, said Dr. Eric Toner of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s biosecurity center.

But there’s the question of calculating risk versus benefit, he said. “If we’re taking a highly lethal virus and making it more transmissible, it’s a tough judgment… These sorts of decisions should be made in advance of the research being done, not when the papers are ready for publication.”

The bird flu that has spread among poultry in Asia for several years now can be deadly, but it rarely sickens people. And people generally catch it from chickens and ducks, not from other people. Scientists have worried that as virus strains mix in nature, they could produce a deadly bird flu that transmits easily from one person to another. That could set the stage for a flu pandemic.

The new studies come from two teams of scientists, one in a U.S. lab and another in the Netherlands. They created virus strains that spread easily among ferrets, which were used as a stand-in for people. The researchers wanted to study what genetic mutations helped the virus spread. That way scientists could identify such red flags in wild viruses and act quickly to avoid potential pandemic, as well as test vaccine and drugs.

The journals Nature and Science each planned to publish one of the studies.

But the federal government, which funded the research, asked the scientists not to publish details of their work. Officials were worried that the full papers would give bioterrorists a blueprint for creating weapons. That led to a wide-ranging debate among scientists, many of whom argued that sharing details of such work is essential in fighting the threat of dangerous viruses.

Both teams eventually submitted revised versions of their research to a U.S. biosecurity panel. That group and, later, federal health officials agreed to support publication. For one thing, the panel said, it would be difficult for others to do harm using the data provided, and for another, scientists had good reasons for publishing the results.

Mike Wallace, ’60 Minutes’ star interviewer, dies

Sunday, April 8th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Evan Agostini

CBS newsman Mike Wallace, the dogged, merciless reporter and interviewer who took on politicians, celebrities and other public figures in a 60-year career highlighted by the on-air confrontations that helped make “60 Minutes” the most successful primetime television news program ever, has died. He was 93.

Wallace died Saturday night at a care facility in New Canaan, Connecticut, where he had lived in recent years, CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco said.

Until he was slowed by heart surgery as he neared his 90th birthday in 2008, Wallace continued making news, doing “60 Minutes” interviews with such subjects as Jack Kevorkian and Roger Clemens. He had promised to still do occasional reports when he announced his retirement as a regular correspondent in March 2006.

Wallace said then that he had long vowed to retire “when my toes turn up” and “they’re just beginning to curl a trifle. … It’s become apparent to me that my eyes and ears, among other appurtenances, aren’t quite what they used to be.”

Among his later contributions, after bowing out as a regular on “60 Minutes,” was a May 2007 profile of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and an interview with Kevorkian, the assisted suicide doctor released from prison in June 2007 who died June 3, 2011, at age 83.

In December 2007, Wallace landed the first interview with Clemens after the star pitcher was implicated in the report by former Sen. George Mitchell on performance enhancing drugs in baseball. The interview, in which Clemens maintained his innocence, was broadcast in early January 2008.

Wallace’s “extraordinary contribution as a broadcaster is immeasurable and he has been a force within the television industry throughout its existence,” Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO, said in a statement Sunday. Wallace didn’t just interview people. He interrogated them. He cross-examined them. Sometimes he eviscerated them. His weapons were many: thorough research, a cocked eyebrow, a skeptical “Come on” and a question so direct sometimes it took your breath away.

He was well aware that his reputation arrived at an interview before he did, said Jeff Fager, CBS News chairman and Wallace’s long-time producer at “60 Minutes.”

“He loved it,” Fager said Sunday. “He loved that part of Mike Wallace. He loved being Mike Wallace. He loved the fact that if he showed up for an interview, it made people nervous. … He knew, and he knew that everybody else knew, that he was going to get to the truth. And that’s what motivated him.”

Lindsay Lohan — Allegedly Involved in Nightclub Altercation

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Lindsay Lohan Allegedly Involved in Nightclub Altercation

Exclusive

0408_lilo_tmz_V2
Lindsay Lohan has been off formal probation for less than two weeks and she’s already being accused of getting into an altercation with a woman in a nightclub earlier this week … TMZ has learned. 

According to our sources, a woman filed an incident report with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department last night. We’re told the woman claims Lindsay got into it with her at a nightclub on Thursday night. She claims Lindsay did not like the fact she was talking to a male friend of LiLo’s.

Law enforcement sources say they will investigate the woman’s claims — like they would any other incident like this — to determine their validity.

New Jersey man survives 4-inch nail in heart

Friday, April 6th, 2012
A nail is shown in the chest of of Dennis Hennis before undergoing life saving cardiac surgery at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey April 6, 2012. Hennis, 52, who was revived from cardiac arrest before being airlifted for surgery, shot a 4-inch nail into his heart while trying to clear his jammed nail gun. REUTERS/Cooper University Hospital/Handout

A nail is shown in the chest of of Dennis Hennis before undergoing life saving cardiac surgery at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey April 6, 2012. Hennis, 52, who was revived from cardiac arrest before being airlifted for surgery, shot a 4-inch nail into his heart while trying to clear his jammed nail gun.

Credit: Reuters/Cooper University Hospital/Handout


Fri Apr 6, 2012 4:27pm EDT

(Reuters) – A New Jersey man who survived accidentally shooting a 4-inch ( 10-cm) nail into his heart while trying to clear a jammed nail gun said on Friday he feels like he won the lottery.

Dennis Hennis, 52, who was revived from cardiac arrest before being airlifted for surgery to Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, laughed off Dr. Michael Rosenbloom’s suggestion that he buy a lottery ticket.

“I’ve already won the lottery,” said Hennis of Vineland, New Jersey, in an interview.

“I got a new grandson on my birthday on March 23 and a week later I’m almost dead. Now we can celebrate birthdays together,” he said.

Hennis, a self-employed builder, was working with his son, age 28, on a neighbor’s roof on Saturday when his nail gun jammed and he tried to clear it, mistakenly pointing it toward him.

The powerful tool was built to fire 4-inch nails at 120 pounds per square inch (8.4 kg per square cm), said hospital spokeswoman Lori Shaffer.

“It was about a foot away and it went right into my chest, right into my heart,” Hennis recalled.

The nail pierced his right ventricle, which supplies blood to the lungs, and Hennis soon went into cardiac arrest.

UN Security Council backs Syria peace plan

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan calls for a ceasefire and for political dialogue to take place [AFP]

The United Nations Security Council has adopted a statement backing joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s plan for ending the violence in Syria, as a government crackdown on opposition strongholds has continued.

Mark Lyall Grant, the UK’s ambassador to the UN and the current president of the council, read out the statement during a UNSC session on Wednesday.

The statement expressed the council’s “full support” for Annan’s efforts, and called upon both the government and the opposition “to work in good faith with the envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis” and to fully implement his six-point proposal.

 

The statement threatened “further steps” if the government failed to comply with the proposal.

The plan calls for a ceasefire to be established, as well as for both sides to engage in political dialogue and to allow humanitarian aid agencies access to areas where citizens have been caught up in an increasingly militarised conflict.

The statement specifically calls for a “daily two hour humanitarian pause” in hostilities to be established by both sides to allow agencies to provide humanitarian assistance.

It also calls for those detained during a government crackdown on protests to be released, and for restrictions on the freedom of movement of foreign journalists to be removed.

 

Soldiers mutiny at military base in Mali

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Soldiers on Wednesday stormed the state TV and radio station in Mali, as fears of a possible coup gripped the country in the wake of a military mutiny which spread from a garrison in the capital to one thousands of miles away.

The sound of heavy weapons rang out and trucks carrying soldiers were seen fanning out around the building housing the state broadcaster. Television screens went black across the landlocked nation for roughly 7 hours, coming back a little before midnight to announce that a government statement would soon be issued.

Throughout Africa, coups usually begin with the seizing of national television, and the population was on edge. The presidential palace rushed to deny that a coup was in progress, issuing a Tweet, saying: “There is no coup in Mali. There’s just a mutiny.”

The mutiny began Wednesday morning at a military camp in the capital, during a visit by Defense Minister Gen. Sadio Gassama. In his speech to the troops, the minister failed to address the grievances of the rank-and-file soldiers, who are angry over what they say is the government’s mismanagement of a rebellion in the north of the country by Tuareg separatists. The rebellion has claimed the lives of numerous soldiers, and those sent to fight are not given sufficient supplies, including arms and food.

Recruits started firing into the air, according to a soldier who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press. By afternoon, soldiers had surrounded the state television station in central Bamako, and by evening, troops had started rioting at a military garrison located in the northern town of Gao.

A freelance journalist from Sweden who was driving to her hotel near the TV station at around 4 p.m. local time, said that trucks full of soldiers surrounded the building.

2 US men arrested on gay cruise in Caribbean

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

ROSEAU, Dominica (AP) — Two California men on a gay cruise of the Caribbean were arrested Wednesday in Dominica, where sex between two men is illegal.

Police Constable John George said police boarded the cruise ship and arrested the two men on suspicion of indecent exposure and “buggery,” a term equivalent to sodomy on the island. He identified the men as John Robert Hart, 41, and Dennis Jay Mayer, 43, but did not provide their hometowns.

George said the men were seen having sex on the Celebrity Summit cruise ship by someone on the dock.

The two were later charged with indecent exposure and are scheduled to appear before a magistrate Thursday morning. If found guilty, they could be fined $370 each and face up to six months in jail.

The ship carrying about 2,000 passengers departed Puerto Rico on Saturday and arrived in Dominica on Wednesday. It departed for St. Barts without the men, who are being held in a cell at police headquarters in the capital of Roseau.

The cruise was organized by Atlantis Events, a Southern California company that specializes in gay travel.

President Rich Campbell, who is aboard the cruise, said in a phone interview earlier that he thought the two men would be released. He later said in an email that the company has organized many trips to Dominica and would “happily return.”

“Many countries and municipalities that gay men visit and live in have antiquated laws on their books,” he said. “These statutes don’t pose a concern to us in planning a tourist visit.”

Romney says he’s no Etch A Sketch, is conservative

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Bill Haber

ARBUTUS, Md. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried Wednesday to shake accusations that he’s an inconsistent conservative after a top adviser compared the campaign’s shift from primary fight to general election to an Etch A Sketch.

When Romney should have been enjoying the spoils of his convincing win in the Illinois primary and a coveted endorsement from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the off-handed comment about the draw, shake and draw again toy put him on the defensive instead.

His Republican rivals and Democrats were positively giddy over the remark, which gave them an opening to resurrect a familiar story line that the former Massachusetts governor will take any position on an issue to get elected.

The episode, likely to dog Romney in the coming days, began when adviser Eric Fehrnstrom was asked on CNN if the extended primary fight might force Romney so far to the right that it would hurt him with moderate voters in the fall.

Fehrnstrom responded: “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

Fehrnstrom did not try to take back his words when he was asked to clarify them. He said only that the general election is “a different race, with different candidates, and the main issue now becomes” exclusively President Barack Obama.

Romney has long battled the perception of being a flip-flopper, and to hear one of his most trusted advisers compare the campaign’s shift from primary fight to general election to a toy that, when shaken, clears its screen for another image was too good for his critics to pass up.

NASA’s Dawn craft captures new images of asteroid

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Scientists analyzing the surface of a giant asteroid are puzzling over bright spots that represent some of the purest materials seen so far by a NASA spacecraft.

NASA on Wednesday released new images of the asteroid Vesta taken by the orbiting Dawn spacecraft that show some places on the surface twice as bright as others.

NASA considering space station for Mars dry run

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Paolo Nespoli

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The International Space Station may provide the setting for a 500-day pretend trip to Mars in another few years.

NASA said Tuesday that consideration is under way to use the space station as a dry run for a simulated trip to and from Mars.

It would be patterned after Russia’s mock flight to Mars that lasted 520 days at a Moscow research center. Six men were involved in that study, which ended late last year. They were locked in a steel capsule.

NASA’s space station program manager Mike Suffredini said before astronauts can fly beyond low-Earth orbit, they’ll have to spend more than six months aloft at a time. That’s the typical stint for space station crews. Five hundred days is more than 16 months.

The human endurance record of 14 months was set by a Russian cosmonaut aboard the Mir space station in the mid-1990s. Only two others – both Russians – have spent as long as a full year in space.

No NASA astronaut has spent more than seven months in space on a single mission.

Suffredini doesn’t expect any such Mars simulation aboard the space station to occur any sooner than two to three years. Physical as well as psychological questions will have to be addressed before anything of that sort is attempted, he said.

Branson says Kutcher is space line’s 500th client

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Jason Redmond

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — British billionaire Richard Branson said Monday his venture to launch paying tourists into space has netted its 500th customer, and it’s none other than Ashton Kutcher.

Branson made the announcement on his blog, saying he gave the actor a quick call to congratulate him.

“He is as thrilled as we are at the prospect of being among the first to cross the final frontier (and back!) with us and to experience the magic of space for himself,” Branson wrote.

A representative for Kutcher did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Kutcher is among dozens of Hollywood types, international entrepreneurs, scientists, space buffs and others who have made deposits to be among the first to reach the edge of the Earth on Branson’s Virgin Galactic space line.

Branson has said the aim is to one day make traveling to space safe and affordable for the masses, not just those who can afford the current $200,000 ticket price.

Virgin Galactic is in the final stages of its test flight program. The company will launch its spacecraft from Spaceport America, a specially designed terminal and runway built in a remote stretch of desert in southern New Mexico.

The company plans to begin commercial operations next year. Branson said he and his children plan to be on the first commercial flight.

Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, congratulated Virgin Galactic on Monday for selling its 500th ticket. She said she’s looking forward to “the beginning of the commercial passenger space line industry.”

Instrument on Cassini craft working again

Monday, March 19th, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — An instrument aboard the international Cassini spacecraft is making measurements again after nine months offline.

NASA said Monday the plasma spectrometer, which measures the energy of electrons and protons, is back in business after engineers spent months troubleshooting the problem.

The instrument was turned off as a precaution last June after Cassini experienced fluctuating voltage. The spacecraft used its other instruments to study Saturn and its many moons even with the spectrometer out of service.

1st commercial cargo run to space station April 30

Monday, March 19th, 2012

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The International Space Station should be getting its first commercial cargo shipment in early May.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, plans to launch its Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral on April 30. The Dragon will take a few days to get to the space station.

The launch was delayed from February for additional testing.

It will be the first time a private company launches space station supplies. It will also be the first U.S. delivery since NASA’s space shuttles stopped flying last year. Unmanned cargo ships from Russia, Europe and Japan are filling the void.

Gender Equality is a Must for the Welfare of the State

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

 
In 415 AD Roman Egypt “Peter the Reader” a Christian radical led a mob that accosted the educational leader Hypatia while returning home. (more…)

Children’s publisher developing app for e-reading

Monday, March 5th, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — A leading publisher of children’s books is taking a big step into the electronic market.

Scholastic Inc. is developing an app called Storia, which includes around 1,300 e-books and multimedia e-books that can be bought directly from the publisher or from retailers. Such favorite picture series as “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Ready, Freddy!” will be in digital format for the first time. The app also will feature games, quizzes, interactive stories, an e-dictionary and a virtual book shelf kids can organize.

`Lorax’ rakes in the green with $70.2M debut

Monday, March 5th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Adam Berry

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The environmental fable “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” grew mightily during its opening weekend, taking in $70.2 million for the biggest debut of the year by far, according to final studio figures Monday. The 3-D animated comedy from Universal Pictures is based on the beloved children’s book and features the voices of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift.

The top 20 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by Hollywood.com are:

1. “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” Universal, $70,217,070, 3729 locations, $18,830 average, $70,217,070, one week.

2. “Project X,” Warner Bros., $21,051,363, 3055 locations, $6,891 average, $21,051,363, one week.

3. “Act of Valor,” Relativity Media, $13,572,578, 3053 locations, $4,446 average, $45,111,924, two weeks.

4. “Safe House,” Universal, $7,390,935, 2553 locations, $2,895 average, $108,355,425, four weeks.

5. “Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds,” Lionsgate, $7,047,061, 2132 locations, $3,305 average, $25,791,693, two weeks.

6. “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” Warner Bros., $6,547,374, 3060 locations, $2,140, $85,233,873, four weeks.

7. “The Vow,” Sony/Screen Gems, $6,011,147, 2826 locations, $111,623,496, four weeks.

8. “This Means War,” Fox, $5,561,323, 2342 locations, $2,375, $41,399,962, three weeks.

9. “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” Sony/Columbia, $4,645,637, 2487 locations, $1,868 average, $44,826,376, three weeks.

Ohio emerging as microcosm of GOP race

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio (AP) — This state’s Super Tuesday primary is proving to be the perfect microcosm of the nation’s unruly race for the Republican presidential nomination: Mitt Romney is spending lots of money, Rick Santorum is aggressively courting conservatives and Newt Gingrich is counting on big ideas to swing votes his way.

Of the 10 states weighing in on Tuesday, Ohio offers the hottest contest. And with its diverse population, reputation as a presidential battleground and preoccupation with the same economic worries that nag the nation at large, Ohio seems destined to foreshadow the shape of the campaign as it heads toward November.

“You seem to always be the center of the political universe in America,” Santorum declared Friday night during a packed campaign stop in this northeastern Ohio town set along Lake Erie.

And despite the vast territory in play across the country, from Alaska and Idaho to Vermont, Virginia and Georgia, Romney will sleep in Ohio every night until Tuesday. It’s that important to him.

Even so, the race was playing out in similar fashion in the other states with contests Tuesday. The former Massachusetts governor and his allies were flooding the airwaves, outpacing his rivals in every Super Tuesday state except in North Dakota, where Santorum was alone on the air but spending less than $8,000. Romney campaigned in Washington on Friday, the day before the state’s caucuses, as he closed a Western swing.

Romney has much of Ohio’s Republican establishment behind him after years of courting the party’s county chairmen and donors.

“When a party chairman gets a call early on from someone perceived as the front-runner and they ask you to sign on as a county chairman, it’s easy to say yes and it’s hard to say no,” said Mark Munroe, the Mahoning County GOP chief who is leading Romney’s efforts in the northeastern Ohio county. “We’ve seen the Romney campaign in action since late last year. He was able to start early and that makes such a huge difference.”

Romney’s camp insists he does not need to win Ohio to get the presidential nomination or even to keep alive the expectation that he eventually will. Losing here, however, would drive persistent doubts about the strength of Romney’s candidacy after a closer-than-expected race in Michigan and a string of comments that have drawn attention to his personal wealth.

Campaigning Friday night in Cleveland, Romney delivered his standard speech and kept his focus on the economy, though he cited trade – a critical issue in a manufacturing state that’s been hurt by foreign competition

“When we have trade with other nations it’s good for us … we do better as a society. We’re able to have more stuff and have a more prosperous life,” he said. “But that’s only the case as long as the people we trade with don’t cheat. And in the case of China, they’re cheating.” The crowd cheered, with many nodding their heads.

Full Ohio delegate slate out of reach for Santorum

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Eric Gay

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A wrinkle in his early campaign filings could leave Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum without almost a third of the available Ohio delegates even if he wins Super Tuesday’s primary election.

Santorum, who took a campaign swing through the state Friday, has already forsaken nine delegates by not being on ballots in three Ohio congressional districts. Each district merits three delegates.

Party officials said Friday the problem goes deeper.

Santorum failed to file a full complement of delegates in six additional districts, said central committee member Bob Bennett. The holes add up to another nine delegates, for a total of 18 out of the 63 up for grabs. Santorum also did not file all 18 of his at-large delegates.

“He may very well leave delegates on the sidelines,” Bennett said. “Say he would win 70 percent of the state. He doesn’t have that many delegates.”

Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Maloney says party rules call for appointing a three-member Committee on Contest to decide what to do with the unallocated delegates. That panel’s recommendation would go back to the GOP’s state central committee for a final ruling.

“The leftover delegates will be considered unallocated, and the presidential campaigns will be able to file a contest with the GOP to claim them,” Maloney said.

An email was not immediately answered seeking comment from the Santorum campaign.

Julie Taymor claims there was a ‘Spider-Man’ plot

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Charles Sykes

NEW YORK (AP) — Director Julie Taymor has hit back at her former creative partners in “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark,” arguing in court papers that she was the victim of a conspiracy to unfairly push her out of the production and that her one-time collaborators were secretly working on a rival script behind her back.

Taymor’s legal team on Friday defended the Tony Award winner against claims in an earlier countersuit from producers, the latest installment in their bitter legal battle over financial rewards for Broadway’s most expensive show.

“While secretly conspiring to oust Taymor and use and change her work without pay, the producers also fraudulently induced Taymor to continue working and to diligently make improvements,” her team alleges.

Taymor, who was the original “Spider-Man” director and co-book writer, was fired in March after years of delays, accidents and critical backlash. The show, which features music by U2’s Bono and The Edge, opened in November 2010 but spent months in previews before officially opening a few days after the Tony Awards in June. It has become a financial hit at the box office.

Producers shot back late Friday. “It’s very disheartening for the former director of the show to take no responsibility for the consequences of her actions while, at the same time, trying to claim credit for the show’s success,” Dale Cendali, an attorney for the producers, said in a statement.

In November, Taymor slapped the producers – led by Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris – as well as Glen Berger, her former co-book writer, with a federal copyright infringement lawsuit, alleging they violated her creative rights and haven’t compensated her for the work she put into the $75 million show. In January, the producers’ filed a counterclaim asserting the copyright claims are baseless. The latest salvo is Taymor’s team responding to that counterclaim.

Two-thirds of China’s cities fail on air standards

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

BEIJING (AP) — Two-thirds of China’s cities currently fail to meet stricter air quality standards that the government wants to phase in over four years to combat notoriously smoggy skies, a senior Chinese environmental official said Friday.

The State Council, China’s Cabinet, on Wednesday issued new limits on pollutants to go into effect nationwide by 2016. It also said major cities must launch programs this year to regularly monitor additional kinds of pollutants for the first time, including fine particles associated with health problems.

Vice Minister of Environmental Protection Wu Xiaoqing said Friday that the government estimates that two-thirds of Chinese cities currently do not meet the new standards, saying efforts to improve urban air quality will be “very hard work.”

Analysis: Mich. win won’t end Romney’s challenge

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney’s come-from-behind win in his native Michigan, and his easy victory in Arizona, are obviously good news for the former Massachusetts governor. But they won’t resolve the knottiest problems vexing the Republican Party’s presidential race, which has become angrier in recent weeks.

Romney landed no knock-out punch on Rick Santorum, the fiery social conservative who loves to remind everyone how difficult Romney finds it to excite and unify the party’s base. Nor is it likely the GOP contest will ease its emphasis on social issues, such as Catholic birth-control doctrine, which gives President Barack Obama a clearer lane to highlight the slightly improving economy.

Romney’s victories Tuesday avert a huge embarrassment and offer some comfort to Republicans who think he has the best chance to attract independent voters and disaffected Democrats this fall. Romney, however, is far from able to start saving his campaign money and focusing fully on Obama.

Santorum has made high-profile visits to Ohio, Tennessee and other states voting in next week’s Super Tuesday primaries. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich didn’t compete in Michigan, but he also remains in the race, appealing to his own slice of Republicans who crave more conservative red meat than Romney dishes out.

Gingrich, bolstered by another big contribution from Las Vega casino owner Sheldon Adelson, hopes to do well in Tennessee and Oklahoma, and to win Georgia, which he represented in Congress for 20 years. Like Santorum, he routinely denigrates Romney’s Massachusetts record.

Gingrich this week called Romney a “pro-choice, pro-gun-control, pro-tax-increase governor.”

“I don’t believe a moderate can beat President Obama,” Gingrich said.

Libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is still running, too.

Romney remains the strongest, best-organized and best-financed Republican in the race. Many GOP insiders find it hard to envision anyone else winning the nomination. But he continues to underwhelm, and campaign reporters can search for days without finding a voter truly passionate about Romney.

Romney’s landslide Arizona victory handed him 29 delegates in that winner-take-all state. He was expected all along to win Arizona, however, where a sizeable Mormon electorate helped him, and Santorum made only modest efforts.

Romney’s Michigan win, meanwhile, prevented a likely panic among his backers. Partisans will argue whether his margin was impressive, with fans noting that he trailed Santorum in early polls. Still, Romney was born and raised in Michigan, where his father was a top auto executive and three-term governor.

As he did against Gingrich in Iowa and Florida, Romney undercut his toughest challenger – this time, Santorum – with brutal TV attack ads financed by a super PAC that raises millions of dollars. The ads aren’t exceptional by modern campaign standards. But they indulge in the sort of fact-fudging hyperbole that infuriates the target’s supporters and makes the entire campaign sometimes seem petty and joyless.

2 officers in New Zealand ship crash plead guilty

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The captain and the navigating officer of a cargo ship that ran aground on a New Zealand reef last year pleaded guilty Wednesday to mishandling the vessel and altering ship documents.

The men, both Filipino, were responsible for the sailing path of the vessel Rena on Oct. 5 when it ran aground on the well-charted Astrolabe reef near the port of Tauranga. In the days after the crash, the ship spilled about 400 tons of fuel oil, fouling pristine beaches and killing thousands of seabirds in what has been labeled New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster.

In a Tauranga court Wednesday, both men pleaded guilty to operating a ship in a dangerous manner and trying to pervert the course of justice by changing the ship’s documents after the crash. The captain also pleaded guilty to discharging harmful substances from the ship.

The perverting the course of justice offense is the most serious, carrying a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

The 774-foot (236-meter) Liberia-flagged vessel split in two in January after foundering on the reef for three months. Both halves remain perched on the reef, with the stern section largely submerged. Salvage crews, who removed more than 1,000 tons of oil from the ship after the crash, are continuing the painstaking task of removing shipping containers.

New Zealand’s government this month estimated the costs of the cleanup at 130 million New Zealand dollars ($108 million). Most of the costs have been met by insurers, although taxpayers have paid for some costs. The ship is owned by Greek-based Costamare and was chartered by the Swiss-based Mediterranean Shipping Company.

Japan tsunami debris spreading across Pacific

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/MC3 Dylan McCord

HONOLULU (AP) — Lumber, boats and other debris ripped from Japanese coastal towns by tsunamis last year have spread across some 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) of the northern Pacific, where they could wash ashore on the U.S. west coast as early as a year from now.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated the first bits of tsunami debris will make landfall soon on small atolls northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands. Other pieces were expected to reach the coasts of Oregon, Washington state, Alaska and Canada between March 2013 and March 2014.

NOAA’s tsunami marine debris coordinator, Ruth Yender, told an online news conference Tuesday that agency workers were boarding Coast Guard flights that patrol the Hawaiian archipelago. NOAA also asked scientists stationed at Midway and other atolls to look for the debris.

Debris initially collected in a thick mass in the ocean after tsunamis dragged homes, boats, cars and other parts of daily life from coastal towns out to sea. Most likely sank not far from Japan’s eastern coast.

In September, a Russian training ship spotted a refrigerator, a television set and other appliances west of Hawaii. By now, the debris has likely drifted so far apart that only one object can be seen at a time, said Nikolai Maximenko, a University of Hawaii researcher and ocean currents expert.

One to 2 million tons of debris remain in the ocean, but only 1 to 5 percent of that could reach Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Washington state and Canada’s British Columbia, Maximenko said. The tsunamis generated a total of 20 million to 25 million tons of debris, including what was left on land.

Interpol says suspected Anonymous hackers arrested

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

PARIS (AP) — Interpol said Tuesday that 25 suspected members of the loose-knit Anonymous hacker movement have been arrested in a sweep across Europe and South America.

The international police agency said in a statement that the arrests in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Spain were carried out by national law enforcement officers working under the support of Interpol’s Latin American Working Group of Experts on Information Technology Crime.

The suspects, aged between 17 and 40, are suspected of planning coordinated cyberattacks against institutions including Colombia’s defense ministry and presidential websites, Chile’s Endesa electricity company and national library, as well as other targets.

The arrests followed an ongoing investigation begun in mid-February which also led to the seizure of 250 items of IT equipment and mobile phones in searches of 40 premises in 15 cities, Interpol said.

In Chile’s capital, Subprefect Jamie Jara said at a news conference that authorities arrested five Chileans and a Colombian. Two of the Chileans are 17-year-old minors.

The case was being handled by prosecutor Marcos Mercado, who specializes in computer crime. He said the suspects were charged with altering websites, including that of Chile’s National Library, and engaging in denial-of-service attacks on websites of the electricity companies Endesa and Hidroaysen. The charges carry a penalty of 541 days to five years in prison, he said.

Jara said the arrests resulted from a recently begun investigation and officials do not yet know if those arrested are tied to any “illicit group.”

“For now, we have not established that they have had any special communications among themselves,” he said.

Jara said authorities were continuing to investigate other avenues, but gave no details.

Earlier on Tuesday, police in Spain announced the arrest of four suspected Anonymous hackers in connection with attacks on Spanish political party websites. These four were among the 25 announced by Interpol.

Obama plan for spotted owl targets rival bird

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Don Ryan

WASHINGTON (AP) — To save the imperiled spotted owl, the Obama administration is moving forward with a controversial plan to shoot barred owls, a rival bird that has shoved its smaller cousin aside.

The plan is the latest federal attempt to protect the northern spotted owl, the passive, one-pound bird that sparked an epic battle over logging in the Pacific Northwest two decades ago.

The government set aside millions of acres of forest to protect the owl, but the bird’s population continues to decline – a 40 percent slide in 25 years.

A plan announced Tuesday would designate habitat considered critical for the bird’s survival, while allowing logging to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and to create jobs. Habitat loss and competition from barred owls are the biggest threats to the spotted owl.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the draft plan “a science-based approach to forestry that restores the health of our lands and wildlife and supports jobs and revenue for local communities.”

By removing selected barred owls and better managing forests, officials can give communities, foresters and land managers in three states important tools to promote healthier and more productive forests, Salazar said.

The new plan, which replaces a 2008 Bush administration plan that was tossed out in federal court, affects millions of acres of national, state and private forest land in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

The plan to kill barred owls would not be the first time the federal government has authorized killing of one species to help another. California sea lions that feast on threatened salmon in the Columbia River have been killed in recent years after efforts to chase them away or scare them failed.

The U.S. Agriculture Department kills thousands of wild animals each year – mostly predators such as coyotes – to protect livestock. Other animals, including bears, wolves and raccoons also are killed through the program.

The latest plan for spotted owls was accompanied by a presidential memorandum directing Interior to take a number of steps before the plan is finalized, including providing clear direction for how logging can be conducted within areas designated as critical habitat and conducting an economic analysis at the same time critical habitat areas are proposed.

Officials acknowledge that the plan to kill barred owls creates an ethical dilemma, but say an experiment on private land in northern California has shown promising results. Spotted owls have returned to historic territories after barred owls were removed.

Salazar and other officials stressed the new plan’s job-creation component, noting that for the first time logging would be allowed in areas designated as critical habitat for the owl. Previous plans had prohibited logging in areas designated as critical habitat.

“Appropriate timber harvests consistent with ecological forestry principles (should) be encouraged,” the Interior Department said in a statement.

Dion cancels more Vegas shows on doctor’s orders

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Singer Celine Dion has canceled more shows at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace, citing a virus causing an inflammation of her vocal cords.

Christi Nelson, an official with show producer AEG Live, said Tuesday that the French-Canadian pop superstar has been ordered to rest her voice for six to eight weeks and will resume performances June 9.

“I tried to sing at my sound check last week, and I had no control of my voice whatsoever,” Dion said in a statement. “We thought that after a few days’ rest I would improve, but it wasn’t getting any better.”

Officials announced last weekend that Dion was canceling shows through March 3. On Monday, she was diagnosed with a viral illness and weakness in her right vocal cord by Dr. Gerald Burke, an authority in laryngeal physiology at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The singer of romantic odes including “My Heart Will Go On” and “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” returned to Caesars Palace a year ago for a three-year engagement.

The Las Vegas Strip casino spent $95 million building the Colosseum for Dion in 2003, complete with a humidifier to protect her voice. After a five-year run at the casino, she embarked on a world tour and took time off for her family, giving birth to twin boys in 2010.

Poll: US belief in warming rises with thermometer

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans’ belief in global warming is on the rise, along with temperatures and surprising weather changes, according to a new university poll.

The survey by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College says 62 percent of those asked last December think the Earth is getting warmer. That’s up from 55 percent in the spring of that year and 58 percent in December 2010. It’s the highest proportion in two years.

Nearly half the people who say they believe in global warming base that on personal observations of the weather. Climate researchers say that’s reaching the correct conclusion for reasons that aren’t quite right.

When asked an open-ended question about why they thought the Earth was warming, one-quarter of those surveyed pointed to temperatures they experience and another quarter cited other weather changes. One in 7 mentioned melting glaciers and polar sea ice, and 1 in 8 noted media coverage. Only 8 percent mentioned scientific research.

“It seems to be driven by an increased connection that the public is making between what they see in terms of weather conditions and climate change,” said Chris Borick, the director Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

The poll was conducted from Dec. 4 to Dec. 21, after the U.S. experienced a record 14 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2011, including killer tornadoes, an unusual northeastern hurricane, a devastating southwestern drought and floods along major rivers.

At the same time, this poll was done before the official start of winter, so people were not yet affected by what has been a mild season for many regions.

Borick said that after the previous two winters, which were quite snowy, belief in global warming dropped dramatically. So he says the findings from a fresh poll to be done in upcoming weeks may again reflect views based on the latest weather trend.

Climate scientists say daily local weather isn’t evidence of climate change. But they also say long-term climate change is so dramatic that people recognize and experience it.

Oscarcast rewards ABC with week’s top-rated show

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Chris Carlson

NEW YORK (AP) — Billed as Hollywood’s biggest night, the Academy Awards telecast was also TV’s biggest show last week, helping crown ABC as overall prime-time winner.

Sunday’s Oscarcast was easily top-ranked, with an audience of nearly 40 million viewers.

Adding to the luster was the 90-minute preview, which ABC shrewdly logged as three distinct half-hours. The final segment of “Oscar’s Red Carpet” (airing just before the Oscarcast began) drew 24 million viewers, ranking second for the week, while the middle half-hour, seen by nearly 17 million viewers, ranked fourth. The first half-hour claimed a healthy 14th place with nearly 13 million viewers, the Nielsen Co. said Tuesday.

For the week in prime time, ABC averaged 10.68 million viewers (6.5 household rating, 11 share), edging out CBS, with 10.06 million (6.3 rating, 10 share). Far behind were Fox with 6.84 million (4.1 rating, 6 share), NBC with 5.42 million (3.4 rating, 5 share), CW with 1.14 million (0.8 rating, 1 share) and ION Television with 1.11 million (0.7 rating, 1 share).

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led with a 3.51 million viewer average (1.8 rating, 3 share), Telemundo had 1.17 million (0.6 rating, 1 share), Telefutura had 750,000 (0.4 rating, 1 share), Estrella had 260,000 and Azteca 110,000 (both 0.1 rating, 0 share).

NBC’s “Nightly News” topped the evening newscasts with an average of 9.1 million viewers (6.0 household rating, 11 share). ABC’s “World News” was second with 7.7 million (5.1 rating, 10 share), while the “CBS Evening News” had 6.5 million viewers (4.3 rating, 8 share).

Senegalese president booed on election day

Sunday, February 26th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Voters booed Senegal’s president so loudly when he went to cast his ballot Sunday that his bodyguards whisked him away, another sign of how much his popularity has dipped ahead of an election that has sparked weeks of riots.

This normally unflappable republic on Africa’s western coast has been rocked by back-to-back protests following President Abdoulaye Wade’s decision to seek a third term.

In choosing to run again, the 85-year-old leader is violating the term limits he himself introduced into the constitution, threatening Senegal’s reputation as one of the most mature democracies in Africa.

Wade argues that those restrictions should not apply to him since he was elected before they went into effect, and has predicted that he will win Sunday’s poll with a crushing majority.

But in a scene that longtime country watchers say they have never witnessed before in Senegal – where respect for the elderly is deeply ingrained – Wade was jeered and insulted when he arrived to vote. He didn’t give his customary press conference, as his security quickly got him to safety.

“I feel sad because our democracy doesn’t deserve this,” said the president’s daughter Syndiely Wade, who stayed back in the polling station in the neighborhood of Point E to talk to reporters. “My father doesn’t deserve this.”

The deadly riots began last month when the country’s highest court ruled that the term limits in the new constitution did not apply to Wade, paving the way for him to run again. The country’s opposition has vowed to render the country ungovernable should he win.

Moussa Signate, a security guard, sat against the cement wall of an elementary school that had been transformed into a polling station downtown, watching others line up to vote. Lines snaked outside the doors of the classrooms, but Signate said he was so discouraged that he was considering not voting at all.

“I’m thinking about the future of my country,” said the 47-year-old. “People have had enough. If you earn, like me, 80,000 francs ($160) a month, and a bag of rice costs 25,000 ($50), how are you supposed to live? We’re a peaceful people, but you can’t push us and expect nothing. If Wade wins, it will be chaos.”

Voting throughout the capital got off to an orderly start and turnout appeared to be high, said Thijs Berman, head of the European Union observation mission. However, in the southern region of Casamance that has been plagued for years by a low-level rebellion, rebels attacked two convoys carrying voting materials, according to military spokesman Saliou Ngom.

In a volatile part of the world, Senegal has long been seen as the exception.

Mauritania located to the north held its first democratic election in 2007, only for the president to be overthrown in a coup a year later. To the south, Guinea-Bissau’s president was assassinated two years ago. And further south in Ivory Coast, mass graves are still being unearthed containing the victims of last year’s postelection violence.

“For many years we all wrote and spoke about Senegal as being different,” said Africa expert Chris Fomunyoh at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington. “Senegal has been viewed as the anchor in the sub-region. And today, the metal on that anchor is melting before our very eyes.”

First elected 12 years ago, Wade was once hailed as a hope for Africa. He spent 25 years as the opposition leader of this nation of more than 12 million, fighting the excesses of the former socialist regime which ruled Senegal from 1960 until 2000 when he was first elected.

Growing unrest is being fueled by a sense that the country’s institutions are being violated, starting with the constitution. The anger is combined with the fact that one in two people in Senegal still live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Turks mark anniversary of attack in Karabakh war

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Tens of thousands of Turks, vawing Azeri flags, rallied Sunday to mark the anniversary of a notorious attack that Azerbaijanis say killed hundreds of people during the 6-year war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.

Turkey’s Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin made an impassioned nationalist speech at the rally in Istanbul, estimated at between 20,000 and 50,000 participants, which underlined the deep tensions with neighboring Armenia, even though fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh ended in 1994.

Ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia drove Azerbaijani troops out of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s during the war that killed some 30,000 people and sent 1 million fleeing from their homes. A cease-fire was reached in 1994, but the final status of the enclave, whose self-proclaimed sovereignty is not recognized internationally, is unresolved. The dispute continues to damage both nations’ economies and the threat of renewed war hangs over the region.

The protesters, including members of labor unions and nationalist groups, filled Istanbul’s Taksim square Sunday to denounce Armenia and express solidarity with close Muslim ally Azerbaijan. Thousands of Turks also staged similar protests in Ankara and several other cities across Turkey.

Azerbaijani authorities say 613 Azerbaijanis were killed when Armenian troops rushed into the village of Khodzhaly on Feb. 26, 1992. The attack appalled Azerbaijanis and contributed to the resignation two weeks later of President Ayaz Mutalibov, whom the opposition said had not acted decisively against the Armenians. The attack is observed every year with rallies and speeches in Baku.

Armenian forces do not deny the attack, but say the death toll is exaggerated. Turkey and Azerbaijan has called for world recognition of the killings as a crime against “humanity.”

“Murderers, cowards spilled the blood of 613 people in Khodzhaly, including innocent women and children,” Sahin said in an address to the protesters in Istanbul. “This bloodshed will not remain unpunished.”

Some protesters in Istanbul shouted “Nagorno-Karabakh will be a grave for Armenians.”

Turkey and Armenia have been locked in a bitter dispute for decades over the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Efforts to normalize relations have been dealt a setback by the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

A 2009 agreement between Turkey and Armenia, meant to open the way to diplomatic ties and the reopening of their border, foundered over Turkey’s demand that Armenian troops withdraw from the Armenian-occupied enclave Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to protest Armenia’s war with Azerbajian.

Hopes for Western-backed rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia now seem ever more distant ahead of 2015 – the 100th anniversary of the Armenian killings.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, which they call the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey disputes this, saying the death toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

Egypt opens trial that has strained ties with US

Sunday, February 26th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Amr Nabil

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt went forward with a trial Sunday that has plunged relations with the U.S. into the deepest crisis in decades, prosecuting 16 Americans and 27 other employees of pro-democracy groups on charges they used foreign funds to foment unrest.

Behind the scenes, U.S. and Egyptian officials were said to be in intense discussions in an attempt to resolve the case. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has raised the matter twice in person with Egypt’s foreign minister – once in London and once in Tunisia – in recent days, according to a senior U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity due to the delicacy of the discussions.

Speaking to reporters in Morocco on Sunday, Clinton said American officials are evaluating the latest developments, adding that it’s “a fluid situation and there are a lot of moving parts.”

Sunday’s opening session in Cairo quickly descended into chaos as lawyers and journalists crammed into a small courtroom. After a brief hearing, presiding judge Mahmoud Mohammed Shoukry, who had to step out of the session at one point because of the crush of frantic lawyers and observers, adjourned the proceedings until April 26. The time will allow defense attorneys to familiarize themselves with the case and the details of behind the charges.

The investigation into the four U.S.-based nonprofits, which began in December with a raid by Egyptian security forces on the groups’ offices, has put a severe strain on Washington’s relationship with Egypt – one of its most pivotal in the Middle East. U.S. officials have threatened to cut off a $1.5 billion annual aid package if the dispute is not resolved.

President Barack Obama has urged Egypt’s military rulers to drop the investigation, and high-level officials, including Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey and Republican Sen. John McCain, have flown in to Cairo to seek a solution.

However, the U.S. cannot be seen as pushing too hard against Egypt’s ruling military council, which is viewed as the best hope for a stable transition for a nation that is not just a regional heavyweight, but also the most populous in the Arab world and a lynchpin in Washington’s Middle East policy.

There are 43 defendants in the case – 16 Americans, 16 Egyptians, as well as Germans, Palestinians, Serbs and Jordanians.

At least thirteen of the Egyptians appeared in court for Saturday’s hearing, standing in a metal cage, as is customary in Egyptian trials.

Santorum: no apology needed for Quran burning

Sunday, February 26th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/John Amis

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says President Barack Obama’s apology for the burning of Qurans in Afghanistan was a mistake that demonstrates the president’s “weakness.”

Santorum says that rather than saying he was sorry, Obama should have only acknowledged it was wrong.

The former senator from Pennsylvania says to apologize for something that was not an intentional act “is something the president of the United States should not have done.”

Obama has come under fierce criticism from Republicans for apologizing for the burning of Qurans at a military base in Afghanistan. Military officials say the incident was a mistake. It has sparked days of violent riots in Afghanistan, was a mistake.

Santorum was interviewed Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Madonna: Not happy about M.I.A.’s gesture

Friday, February 10th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

NEW YORK (AP) — The British hip-hop artist M.I.A. has apologized to Madonna for making an obscene gesture during the Super Bowl halftime show.

Madonna said in radio interviews on Friday that she had no idea M.I.A. would extend her middle finger during the performance in front of 114 million people, according to Madonna’s spokeswoman, Liz Rosenberg. The singer didn’t find out about it until after the show.

“I wasn’t happy about it,” Madonna told Ryan Seacrest in one interview. “I understand it’s kind of punk rock and everything, but to me there was such a feeling of love and good energy and positivity, it seemed negative.”

She said it was like something a teenager would do.

First lady’s trips boost health _ and her husband

Friday, February 10th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

DALLAS (AP) — In just the past few days, she’s danced with cheering school kids, chatted with troops, swapped ideas with busy parents and engaged in a friendly cooking competition with stars from “Top Chef.”

Michelle Obama is on a national tour to promote the second anniversary of her campaign against childhood obesity. The images have been disarming, intriguing and non-political – just the type of thing her husband’s re-election campaign can’t get enough of.

Five years to the day after Sen. Barack Obama announced he was running for president, Mrs. Obama’s travels this week offer fresh evidence of what an out-sized role she’s assumed in the public eye and how powerful a political asset a first lady can be.

And, make no mistake, Mrs. Obama says she’s “incredibly enthusiastic” about making the case for her husband’s re-election.

Simply put, “I want him to be my president for another four years,” she said in a 40-minute interview Friday with a handful of reporters.

In recent weeks Mrs. Obama has seemingly been everywhere: Doing pushups with Ellen DeGeneres. Serving veggie pizza to Jay Leno. Playing tug-of-war with Jimmy Fallon in the White House. And now making a rare four-state tour – Arkansas, Florida, Iowa and Texas – to mark the two-year-point for her “Let’s Move” initiative.

The first lady draws a line between her policy efforts on childhood obesity and her political activities. But such distinctions often are lost on the public.

In an election year, it’s all to the good for Barack Obama that his popular wife is traveling the country promoting can’t-miss issues like healthy living.

“This is a bit of a two-fer,” Mrs. Obama acknowledged in her interview on Friday, “because it’s an issue that I care about, and it’s an issue that’s important to the country. … I want to make sure that what I do enhances him.”

The first lady added that she knew from the beginning of her husband’s presidency that she had to choose issues that were important to her personally because “if you’re just doing it for political reasons or there’s some ulterior, people smell that out so easily and it’s hard to sustain.”

To a more limited extent, Mrs. Obama also fills a more overtly political role by headlining private fundraisers that raise millions for her husband’s campaign, reaching out to supporters through conference calls to various states and shooting out periodic emails to campaign backers around the country.

That part of her labors will increase considerably in the months to come.

Rio police strike exposes marred institution

Friday, February 10th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A strike by Rio police a week ahead of Carnival celebrations is drawing attention to a deeply troubled force in which low wages help fuel corruption, extortion and lethal violence, experts said Friday.

Recent efforts by Rio de Janeiro state to increase wages and change police culture will help root out some of these long-standing problems, but the change won’t happen suddenly, said Guaracy Mingardi, a crime and public safety expert and researcher at Brazil’s top think tank Fundacao Getulio Vargas.

And this is worrying because part of Brazil’s successful pitch to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 relied on its ability to keep the peace during the events.

“Authorities are now more concerned with the short-term problem of the effects the strike may have on Carnival and are not paying attention to the longer term problem these strikes could represent for the World Cup and Olympics,” said Mingardi.

At the heart of the recent unrest among Brazil’s police forces are low salaries. Rio’s security forces decided to walk out on Friday to demand a pay raise, not content with a last-minute legislative approval of a 39 percent hike staggered over this year and the next.

“The main thing wrong with police forces in Rio, Bahia, and in the rest of the country is the poor wages paid,” said Mingardi. “This is the driving force of the strikes and of the problems affecting the forces.”

Fashion’s newness coming from old-school Hollywood

Friday, February 10th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Richard Drew

NEW YORK (AP) — Marlene Dietrich is having a moment. The runways of New York Fashion Week are paying homage to the late star’s sultry, glamorous but sometimes slightly mannish style.

On the second of eight days of previews for next season, Friday’s newness largely came from this old-school Hollywood star.

Dietrich’s “balance of smoldering femininity and masculine garb was the starting point for the mood,” explained Peter Som in his notes for editors, stylists and retailers. His collection was filled with modest-yet body-conscious silhouettes. A top look was the peek-a-boo effect of slim sheaths and pencil skirts covered with a glossy organza that often extended the hemline or covered the arms.

“She, like Katharine Hepburn, wore pants but still looked like a woman. She wore menswear and androgynous style with a sexiness,” said Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of The Tobe Report, a trend-tracking service.

Jason Wu said in a pre-show interview that he aimed to interpret different elements of historical Chinese fashion through the lens of Dietrich’s 1932 film “Shanghai Express.”

“I don’t need to say any more about Marlene Dietrich, or that time and place. It all has such strong features,” Wu said.

Dietrich also was an inspiration for Tadashi Shoji, who previewed his looks Thursday.

Here are some of the looks shown Friday.

JASON WU

Jason Wu has been considered a strong up-and-comer since Michelle Obama wore a gown by the then-barely known designer to the presidential inaugural balls in 2008. A Target deal put a limited collection in stores earlier this month, and Wu’s confidence was evident in a dramatic show that was also highly personal, with Chinese-influenced styles inspired partly by a trip 18 months ago to Taiwan, where he grew up.

The runway show had studded fortress doors, billowing smoke and a theatrical finale. The clothes tapped into Chinese military uniforms with Mao jackets, grommets, strong shoulders and capes, with the best look in the show opener: a green coat with attached cape and black lace. Tassels, embroideries and brocades drew on ornate costumes worn by empresses, with references to 1930s and `40s Hollywood, where traditional Chinese dress was reinterpreted in movies like Marlene Dietrich’s “Shanghai Express.”

The result? Puffy jackets in glitzy brocade.

The lingering look from this collection, though, is likely the finale: a black wool jacket with epaulets and mink trim covered in crystal embroidery paired with a black skirt etched with fabric through a process known as devore.

Researchers probe 200-year-old shipwreck off RI

Thursday, February 9th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/David Klepper

WESTERLY, R.I. (AP) — For two centuries it rested a mile from shore, shrouded by a treacherous reef from the pleasure boaters and beachgoers who haunt New England’s southern coast.

Now, researchers from the U.S. Navy are hoping to confirm what the men who discovered the wreck believe: that the sunken ship off the coast of Rhode Island is the USS Revenge, commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry and lost on a stormy January day in 1811.

“The Revenge was forgotten, it became a footnote,” said Charlie Buffum, a brewery owner from Stonington, Conn., who found the shipwreck while diving with friend Craig Harger. “We are very confident this is it.”

On Wednesday, Buffum and Harger braved the raw weather of Block Island Sound to accompany the researchers as they surveyed the wreck site. The Navy – along with help from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution – is using high-tech sensor equipment to map the site, a first step toward retrieving possible artifacts.

If they’re successful, they will illuminate a critical episode in the life of one of the nation’s greatest naval officers. Perry is remembered as the Hero of Lake Erie for defeating the British navy in the War of 1812. He was famous for reporting simply “we have met the enemy and they are ours” after the decisive Battle of Lake Erie in 1813.

Two years earlier, the Revenge and its 25-year-old commander were en route from Newport, R.I. to New London, Conn., when the ship hit a reef in heavy fog. The area is infamous for its rocky, tide-swept reefs that lurk just beneath shallow waters.

When the Revenge struck the reef, Perry ordered the crew to dump some of the ship’s cannons to lighten the load. The mast was cut. But it wasn’t enough to free the ship.

The crew abandoned the Revenge, and not a single man died. But Perry’s career was almost scuttled along with his ship.

The South Kingstown, R.I., native was court-martialed, and though he was exonerated, his career languished. Until he was posted to the Great Lakes.

“He was a rising star,” said David Skaggs, a professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University who has written a book on Perry. “But then his ship runs aground. Running a ship aground is not a helpful thing for your career.”

Harger and Buffum found the shipwreck six years ago after beer-fueled bull sessions in Buffum’s brewery. Both men were experienced recreational divers. Buffum was fascinated by Perry and by shipwrecks off the Rhode Island coast.

They obtained an underwater metal detector and calculated the Revenge’s likely resting place by analyzing currents and the location of the reef.

“We knew where he was going, we knew the area,” said Harger, of Colchester, Conn. “We sat around in Charlie’s brewery talking about where it might have gone.”

Gingrich reiterates Palestinians ‘invented’ people

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Newt Gingrich is defending himself after a questioner at the GOP presidential debate criticized him for calling Palestinians an invented people.

A questioner of Palestinian descent asked Gingrich how he could say Palestinians are “invented.”

Robert Hegyes, played Epstein on ‘Kotter,’ dies

Thursday, January 26th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo

METUCHEN, N.J. (AP) — Robert Hegyes, the actor best known for playing Jewish Puerto Rican student Juan Epstein on the 1970s TV show “Welcome Back Kotter” has died. He was 60.

The Flynn & Son Funeral Home in Fords, N.J., said it was informed of Hegyes’ death Thursday by the actor’s family.

A spokesman at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J., told the Star-Ledger newspaper that Hegyes, of Metuchen, arrived at the hospital Thursday morning in full cardiac arrest and died.

Hegyes was appearing on Broadway in 1975 when he auditioned for “Kotter,” a TV series about a teacher who returns to the inner-city New York school of his youth to teach a group of irreverent remedial students nicknamed the “Sweathogs.” They included the character Vinnie Barbarino, played by John Travolta.

The show’s theme song, performed by John Sebastian, became a pop hit.

Hegyes also appeared on many other TV series, including “Cagney & Lacey.”

He was born in Perth Amboy and grew up in Metuchen, the eldest child of a Hungarian father and Italian mother.

Groups sue over Navy sonar use off Northwest coast

Thursday, January 26th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Anonymous

SEATTLE (AP) — Conservationists and Native American tribes are suing over the Navy’s expanded use of sonar in training exercises off the Washington, Oregon and California coasts, saying the noise can harass and kill whales and other marine life.

The environmental law firm Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups filed the lawsuit Thursday against the National Marine Fisheries Service, saying it was wrong to approve the Navy’s plan for the expanded training.

They said the regulators should have considered the effects repeated sonar use can have on those species over many years and also required certain restrictions on where the Navy could conduct sonar and other loud activities to protect orcas, humpbacks and other whales, as well as seals, sea lions and dolphins.

Instead, the Navy is required to look around and see if sea mammals are present before they conduct the training.

Kristen Boyles, a Seattle-based attorney with Earthjustice, said it’s the job of the fisheries service to balance the needs of the Navy with measures to protect marine life.

“Nobody’s saying they shouldn’t train,” she said. “But it can’t be possible that it’s no-holds-barred, that there’s no place where this can’t happen.”

In 2010, the fisheries service approved the Navy’s five-year plan for operations in the Northwest Training Range Complex, an area roughly the size of California, about 126,000 nautical square miles, that stretches from the waters off Mendocino County in California to the Canadian border. The Navy has conducted exercises in the training range for 60 years, but in recent years proposed increased weapons testing and submarine training.

The groups want the permit granted to the Navy to be invalidated. They are asking the court to order the fisheries service to study the long-term effects of sonar on marine mammals, in accordance with the Endangered Species Act and other laws.

Sundance fest embraces hip-hop on stage and screen

Thursday, January 26th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Victoria Will

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Hip-hop is making itself heard – and seen – at the Sundance Film Festival.

In addition to performances by rappers Drake, Common, Nas, Lil Jon and Chuck D, the festival includes documentary and narrative films about hip-hop culture.

Ice-T’s documentary, “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” premiered at the festival. It stars artists such as Run-DMC, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Mos Def and Eminem.

Deion Sanders — Pilar’s Trying to EXTORT Me

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Deion Sanders Pilar’s Trying to EXTORT Me

0118_pilar_deion_sanders_getty_dimewars_ex_2
Deion Sanders
is firing back at his estranged wife Pilar, claiming her recent accusations — that he’s a narcissistic serial cheater — are just a “shady” attempt to extort more money from the NFL star.

Deion’s attorney, Jody Johnson, tells TMZ — “The actions of Ms. Sanders and her attorney are nothing more than an attempt to avoid a legally binding contract that she no longer likes, by falsely assassinating the character of Mr. Sanders in an effort to extort additional money from Mr. Sanders.”

Deion’s lawyer is referring to new docs Pilar filed this week in the couple’s divorce proceedings — in which Pilar asks the judge to toss out the couple’s prenup … and award her the lion’s share of Deion’s estate.

Pilar claims she was forced to sign the prenup under duress, but Deion says that’s BS — according to his lawyer, “Mr. Sanders committed to a generous financial agreement with his wife when they both voluntarily signed a premarital agreement that they presented to the judge for approval.”

Deion claims it didn’t end there either, he also showered her with money and gifts before and during their marriage.

Enough Already – By Stephen Hadley and John Podesta

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

It’s time to talk to the Taliban.

BY STEPHEN HADLEY AND JOHN PODESTA | JANUARY 18, 2012

Over the past two years, the United States has made enormous strides in Afghanistan. The U.S. military has undertaken a devastating campaign against al Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as members of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This military pressure has made Americans safer — Osama bin Laden and dozens of other top al Qaeda leaders are dead, U.S. and NATO troops casualties are down in Afghanistan, and the Afghan government has been given the breathing room it needs to bolster its security forces and its governing institutions.

U.S. policy is now entering a new and complex phase of this conflict, where diplomatic efforts in support of a robust political strategy for Afghanistan and the region will become even more essential. This effort should not become a political football in the coming election season — it needs strong bipartisan support here at home.

U.S. political leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, and our military commanders, have consistently argued that the conflict in Afghanistan will not end by military means alone. The elimination of al Qaeda’s safe havens and the establishment of long-term peace and security in Afghanistan and the region — the key U.S. national security objectives — is best assured by a sustainable political settlement that strengthens the Afghan state so that it can assume greater responsibility for addressing the country’s security and economic challenges.

This broad political settlement must include all elements of Afghan society — opposition groups, non-Taliban Pashtuns, ethnic and religious minorities, women, and civil society. Many of these groups are currently excluded by a government in Kabul that they rightly view as corrupt, closed, and unaccountable.

Efforts to reach a settlement should  include an approach to Taliban elements that are ready to give up the fight and become part of the political process. Such an approach would not — as some have suggested — constitute “surrender” to America’s enemies. Rather, convincing combatants to leave the insurgency and enter into the political process is the hallmark of a successful counterinsurgency effort.

The decision by Taliban representatives to open a political office in Qatar presents an important opening for such diplomatic efforts. Afghan President Hamid Karzai initially opposed this new political office and recalled Afghanistan’s ambassador to Qatar last month, but he has since thought better of the idea. Karzai’s decision to gain support for talks with the Taliban from a traditional loya jirga was another step in the right direction.

We are not blind to the potential pitfalls of the diplomatic path. First, the Taliban is a decentralized movement with many different voices and wings — some of which may be open to talks, and others that may be irreconcilable. An early stage of diplomacy involves testing which Taliban representatives have the authority to speak for which parts of the movement.

Weather key to resuming search of capsized Italy liner

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

A view of the Costa Concordia cruise ship that ran aground off the west coast of Italy, at Giglio island, January 18, 2012. REUTERS/ Max Rossi




GIGLIO, Italy |
Wed Jan 18, 2012 7:08pm EST


(Reuters) – Divers searching a capsized Italian cruiseliner were hoping for calm seas on Thursday after the ship shifted precariously on a rocky ledge, delaying plans to remove oil from the vessel to prevent a possible environmental disaster.

Five days after the Costa Concordia struck a rock and capsized off the picturesque Tuscan island of Giglio, hopes of finding anyone alive have faded and salvage experts are preparing to pump 2,300 tons of fuel from the hulk.

Weather conditions, which have been largely good since the 114,500 ton vessel ran aground, are forecast to worsen over coming days, making the ship even more unstable and complicating the search for survivors and bodies.

Eleven people are confirmed dead and 22 are still missing from more than 4,200 passengers and crew who were onboard when the Concordia foundered on Friday evening, two hours into a week-long cruise of the western Mediterranean.

The search was suspended all day on Wednesday after the ship slipped by some 1.5 meters, the second such suspension since rescue attempts began. As darkness fell, a spokesman said the Concordia had stabilized but it was unclear if the search would resume before daylight on Thursday.

Environment Minister Corrado Clini told parliament there was a risk that with sea conditions expected to worsen, the ship could slip down 50 to 90 meters from the reef it is resting on, further damaging the vessel and creating a major hazard to the environment in one of Europe’s largest natural marine parks.

The Slow Death of ‘Asian Values’ – by Christian Caryl

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Why the latest news from Malaysia helps to undermine authoritarianism throughout the region.

BY CHRISTIAN CARYL | JANUARY 18, 2012

Something remarkable is happening in Malaysia, and the rest of the world should take note.

Malaysia, you ask? Really? It’s only 28 million people, and it’s just one part of Southeast Asia, a region fragmented into a variety of cultures and systems — and largely off the radar  of people in the West, except when it comes to planning honeymoons on the beach. So why should non-Malaysians care?

Last week, a Malaysian court acquitted Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the country’s main opposition movement, of sodomy charges. (Sodomy is a crime in Malaysia.) Anwar’s supporters have long maintained that the case against him was actually political, cooked up by the government to prevent him from mounting a credible challenge to the system that has ruled the country for decades. Anwar was arrested on similar charges back in 1998 and spent six years in jail before a court finally overturned his conviction. Many understandably expected the same thing to happen again this time around.

But it didn’t. To general astonishment, the court dismissed the accusations, saying that the DNA evidence cited by prosecutors didn’t hold up to scrutiny. The judges, it seemed, had actually assessed the case on its own value. And with that ruling, Anwar can now continue his campaign against the government, one that is likely to culminate in a general election within the next year or so.

So why should we regard this story as worth our attention? Well, it’s certainly true that the verdict could help Anwar lead the opposition to victory, thus overturning decades of control by the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO). But this is by no means a given. Just because Anwar has been pronounced innocent doesn’t mean that he’ll win. Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, notes that the opposition movement headed by Anwar is a fairly volatile coalition of different groups pulled apart by sometimes competing interests: “Anwar has a real challenge ahead,” Bower noted in a recent email to me. “As he and his supporters anticipated a guilty verdict, they had planned to rally around political martyrdom. Now they need to go back to basics and compete in an election based on an economic and policy platform and ensure their very diverse coalition gets unified around those ideas.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been pledging to clean up corruption and reform the system from within, can now argue that efforts are bearing fruit. The verdict works in his favor as well.

Michelle Obama ‘random dances’ at US appearance

Friday, January 13th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (AP) — They called it “random dancing” but First Lady Michelle Obama broke out some moves that resembled subdued variations of “the Monkey” or “the Jerk” Friday during an appearance at a northern Virginia high school.

A screaming, raucous auditorium filled with elementary and middle school students greeted Obama and the cast of the Nickelodeon TV show “iCarly” at Hayfield Secondary School in Fairfax County.

The appearance promoted an upcoming episode featuring Obama in which she thanks military families for their sacrifices. On the show, star Miranda Cosgrove plays the daughter of an Air Force colonel deployed overseas.

A staple of the show is a segment of random dancing, which Obama performed both in the episode that premieres Monday and on stage Friday.

Obama’s dance moves drew plaudits from the “iCarly” cast.

“I think she showed everybody up in the dance department,” said Jennette McCurdy, who plays Samantha on the show.

The onstage dance session Friday lasted only a minute or so, far less than the extended dance session Obama did last year when visiting Deal Middle School in the District, when she joined students doing “the Dougie” and “The Running Man” in a clip that has been viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube.

Her acting skills also drew praise. The cast was impressed with Obama’s ability to deliver her lines in the compressed time they had to shoot the scenes.

LA deputy accused in drug case once failed academy

Friday, January 13th, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A deputy charged with smuggling heroin inside a burrito into a courthouse jail was initially kicked out of the Sheriff’s Department training academy after a bumbling performance that was captured by Fox TV cameras for a reality show, a newspaper reported Friday.

Henry Marin later returned to the academy and became a deputy. But during his first attempt in 2007, he was quickly tagged as the class slacker on the show “The Academy” after supervisors caught him sleeping during orientation, the Los Angeles Times said (http://lat.ms/w95Lfl ).

“If he doesn’t have the discipline to come here on Day 1 and show some respect, he’s certainly not gonna have the discipline to work in the field of law enforcement,” a drill sergeant said on the show.

“What is wrong with you recruit?” another drill sergeant said when Marin showed up with a backward tie.

Marin’s arrest on Wednesday was the latest of many misconduct allegations against the Los Angeles County department, including brutality against inmates and contraband smuggling. The department, the FBI and others are investigating.

During a training exercise filmed by Fox, Marin failed to call for help and forgot the radio code for an emergency after a suicidal woman pulled a gun. A similar mishap led to his dismissal.

“You seem to have no knowledge or understanding of the laws that guide you and allow you to do certain things,” a sergeant on the show told Marin after his ouster.

He was later allowed to enroll again and graduated, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

Anti-Bain hits on Romney may take root in SC race

Friday, January 13th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

BLUFFTON, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina may be fertile ground for attacks on Mitt Romney’s corporate takeover record.

The state has suffered a long string of shuttered textile plants and other workplaces. At 9.9 percent, it has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. And like its fellow Deep South states, its Republican electorate has a disproportionate number of blue-collar workers and noncollege graduates.

That combination could make South Carolina a good test of efforts by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry to paint the GOP presidential front-runner as a heartless venture capitalist who fired workers while reaping big profits during his time at Bain Capital in the 1980s and `90s. Those attacks may be starting to resonate.

“I don’t like it,” said Rhonda Jones, 50, a Republican who showed up here Friday to see Perry at the Squat ‘n ‘Gobble cafe. The stay-at-home mom talked about how Romney’s record at Bain “is what concerns me” and said she will vote for either Perry or Gingrich. Romney is a nonstarter.

“He was money-hungry himself,” Jones said, adding that she knows several unemployed people. “He wasn’t looking out for people.”

South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary may mark the last real chance for his rivals to stop Romney’s drive to the nomination.

President Barack Obama’s aides have made it clear they will hammer Romney on Bain if he becomes the nominee. Obama won’t try to win GOP-heavy South Carolina in November. But independent voters’ reaction to the Bain-related attacks may give his campaign some hints of the issue’s potency nationwide.

An array of conservative leaders and party officials are denouncing Gingrich and Perry for the Bain attacks, saying they sound like Democrats attacking free enterprise. Stung, the two candidates softened their criticisms in campaign stops throughout South Carolina this week.

But they didn’t drop them altogether. And a well-financed group backing Gingrich is airing a foreboding TV ad here that shows displaced workers blaming Romney and Bain Capital for their job losses.

If enough GOP voters like Jones see it, Romney may face rougher sledding here than he did in Iowa and New Hampshire, says Merle Black of Emory University, who has written extensively on Southern politics.

“This is really going to be a challenge for him,” Black said. When low-income and low-education Republicans hear the criticisms of Bain’s record, he said, “it might repel them from Romney.”

Generally speaking, Republicans are far more inclined than Democrats to accept capitalism’s rough edges. These can include the so-called “creative destruction” of plant closings and fired workers in the drive for greater efficiency, which can lead to long-term growth and eventual hiring.

“Capitalism without failure isn’t capitalism,” said former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, another presidential hopeful, as he defended Romney’s record at Bain this week.

Mexico City fights trash pileup after closing dump

Friday, January 13th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Christian Palma

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mounds of debris piled up at illegal dumping sites around the city in recent weeks as the metropolis grappled with an avalanche of refuse after closing one of the world’s largest landfills.

Garbage trucks queued up for more than six hours to dump loads at transfer stations, while overstuffed bags and other trash piled up even on the toniest streets over the holidays, when dumps in surrounding Mexico state refused to take the city’s trash.

This week, city officials were caught in a front-page photograph dumping tons of trash at the same landfill they claimed to have closed in December, promising a better, greener waste management system for the city of 8.8 million.

“We’re seeing a confusion obviously now in the handling of garbage,” said Pierre Terras, who coordinates the toxins campaign for Greenpeace Mexico. “You can see it in the streets.”

Like other mega-cities around the world, Mexico City is struggling to move from the informal garbage collection systems of the past to modern waste management designed to drastically cut the volume of material that ends up in landfills.

Mexico City officials count some 1,000 illegal dumping sites in a metropolis that generates more than 12,000 tons of trash a day. That includes some trash that is trucked in from neighboring towns in this sprawling metro area of more than 21 million – one of the world’s largest.

The Latin American capitals of Bogota and Buenos Aires, which face similar problems, have committed to Zero Trash, a campaign supported by environmental groups to manufacture reusable goods and materials, recycle and ideally cut the amount of unusable trash to zero. Greenpeace is pushing such a plan for Mexico City.

Everyone agreed that the Bordo Poniente landfill had to close as scheduled on Dec. 31, a move that could mean a drop in greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Built on a dry lake bed partly to handle the rubble from the devastating 1985 earthquake, it had taken in more than 76 million tons of garbage.

Critics say the city was unprepared, and it wasn’t clear why there wasn’t a solid alternative waste system in place after earlier plans to build four new garbage processing plants were abandoned.

Meanwhile an interim plan to take refuse to smaller dumps outside the city fell apart almost immediately.

Last week residents of Ixtapaluca in Mexico state blocked a federal highway to prevent Mexico City garbage trucks from unloading at a dump in their neighborhood, while other communities staged similar revolts.

Mexico City has required its residents to separate trash since 2003, but without enforcement or the necessary recycling equipment. Despite public service campaigns, there is no culture for recycling.

Residents still rely on an old collection system in which trucks roam the streets daily, with a garbage man ringing a bell to alert neighbors who come running with their trash cans and bags.

The small amount of recycling is done at the trucks, as garbage workers open bags to separate out glass, plastic and cardboard.

Dumping on the street brings heavy fines. But trash routinely piles up on Mexico City street corners under the cover of night from households where people can’t wait around during the day for the trash bell.

With time, money running out, SC often turns nasty

Friday, January 13th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/MICHAEL JUSTUS

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — In mailboxes across South Carolina in 2007, likely Republican voters received a Christmas card signed by “The Romney Family” with a quotation from a 19th century Mormon leader suggesting God had several wives.

Mitt Romney’s campaign, just a few weeks away from the 2008 presidential primary in a state where evangelicals look skeptically on the former Massachusetts governor’s Mormon faith, condemned the bogus card as politics at its worst. The sender never took credit. And it was just another anonymous shot in the endless volleys of nasty campaigning in South Carolina.

While attack politics happen in every state, South Carolina’s reputation for electoral mudslinging and bare-knuckled brawling is well-earned.

Why there? Largely because of the high stakes. South Carolina has always picked the GOP’s eventual nominee since the primary’s inception in 1980. And money, nerves and time are usually running out for almost everyone but the front-runner after Iowa and New Hampshire, often leading challengers to go for the jugular.

“The ghost of Lee Atwater hangs over South Carolina like a morning fog and permeates every part of the state’s politics,” says Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political science professor. Atwater, who died 20 years ago, was South Carolina’s most famous political operative and a master of slash-and-burn politics.

Given the dynamics of this year’s Republican presidential race, it’s safe to expect under-the-radar attacks over the next week as challengers work to derail front-runner Romney before the Jan. 21 primary. The rise of super PACs – outside groups aligned with but independent from the candidates – means some of the attacks could be more public this time, but still nasty.

“You’ve got four guys that are make or break,’ said Warren Tompkins, a veteran South Carolina political consultant advising Romney. “Desperate men do desperate things.”

Romney says he’s ready for whatever comes his way.

“Politics ain’t beanbags, and I know it’s going to get tough,” the GOP front-runner said as he headed south after his New Hampshire victory. “But I know that is sometimes part of the underbelly of politics.”

The lore of negative attacks here includes a whisper campaign against Republican John McCain in 2000 that included rumors that the daughter his family adopted from Bangladesh was the Arizona senator’s illegitimate black child.

Those were desperate times for George W. Bush’s campaign. McCain had just stunned the establishment’s choice with a blowout win in New Hampshire, and Bush had just 18 days to turn the momentum around in South Carolina. Publicly, Bush took a few shots at McCain, but mostly stressed he was the true conservative. But plenty of ugliness was happening behind the scenes.

People who attended rallies or debates found flyers on their car windshields with the accusations about McCain’s daughter and raising questions about his mental stability. Callers, pretending to be pollsters, would ask loaded questions of voters about whether they could support a man who had homosexual experiences or a Vietnam hero who was really was a traitor. The sponsors of the false attacks were careful to leave no trail.

Russia says its spacecraft may crash into Atlantic

Friday, January 13th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/STR

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s space agency has adjusted its forecast for the crash of a failed spacecraft, saying it may shower its fragments into the south Atlantic.

Roscosmos said the unmanned Phobos-Ground probe could plummet to Earth Sunday or Monday anywhere along a broad swath between 51.4 degrees north and 51.4 degrees south.

It said Friday that the mid-point in the two-day window would have the craft crashing into the ocean about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of the coast of Chubut province in southern Argentina. It said the precise time and place of the uncontrolled plunge can only be clarified later as the probe draws closer to Earth.

Scientists say cut soot, methane to curb warming

Thursday, January 12th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Toby Talbot

WASHINGTON (AP) — An international team of scientists says it’s figured out how to slow global warming in the short run and prevent millions of deaths from dirty air: Stop focusing so much on carbon dioxide.

They say the key is to reduce emissions of two powerful and fast-acting causes of global warming – methane and soot.

Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and the one world leaders have spent the most time talking about controlling. Scientists say carbon dioxide from fossil fuels like coal and oil is a bigger overall cause of global warming, but reducing methane and soot offers quicker fixes.

Soot also is a big health problem, so dramatically cutting it with existing technology would save between 700,000 and 4.7 million lives each year, according to the team’s research published online Thursday in the journal Science. Since soot causes rainfall patterns to shift, reducing it would cut down on droughts in southern Europe and parts of Africa and ease monsoon problems in Asia, the study says.

Two dozen scientists from around the world ran computer models of 400 different existing pollution control measures and came up with 14 methods that attack methane and soot. The idea has been around for more than a decade and the same authors worked on a United Nations report last year, but this new study is far more comprehensive.

All 14 methods – capturing methane from landfills and coal mines, cleaning up cook stoves and diesel engines, and changing agriculture techniques for rice paddies and manure collection – are being used efficiently in many places, but aren’t universally adopted, said the study’s lead author, Drew Shindell of NASA.

If adopted more widely, the scientists calculate that would reduce projected global warming by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) by the year 2050. Without the measures, global average temperature is projected to rise nearly 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius) in the next four decades. But controlling methane and soot, the increase is projected to be only 1.3 degrees (0.7 degrees Celsius). It also would increase annual yield of key crops worldwide by almost 150 million tons (135 million metric tons).

Methane comes from landfills, farms, drilling for natural gas, and coal mining. Soot, called black carbon by scientists, is a byproduct of burning and is a big problem with cook stoves using wood, dung and coal in developing countries and in some diesel fuels worldwide.

Reducing methane and black carbon isn’t the very best way to attack climate change, air pollution, or hunger, but reducing those chemicals are among the better ways and work simultaneously on all three problems, Shindell said.

And shifting the pollution focus doesn’t mean ignoring carbon dioxide. Shindell said: “The science says you really have to start on carbon dioxide even now to get the benefit in the distant future.”

It all comes down to basic chemistry. There’s far more carbon dioxide pollution than methane and soot pollution, but the last two are way more potent. Carbon dioxide also lasts in the atmosphere longer.

A 2007 Stanford University study calculated that carbon dioxide was the No. 1 cause of man-made global warming, accounting for 48 percent of the problem. Soot was second with 16 percent of the warming and methane was right behind at 14 percent.

But over a 20-year period, a molecule of methane or soot causes substantially more warming then a carbon dioxide molecule.

Copyright © 2009 All Rights Reserved