Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Why Activists

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

are Failing in the UAE

(more…)

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”.

Natalie Wood Death Certificate Changed – Cause of Death Now "Undetermined" (TMZ.com)

Saturday, July 7th, 2012


TMZ.com:

Natalie Wood Death Certificate Changed — Cause of Death Now “Undetermined”  —  Death Certificate Changed  —  “UNDETERMINED”  —  EXCLUSIVE  —  Natalie Wood’s death certificate has been changed from “Accident” to “Undetermined” … TMZ has learned.  —  Law enforcement sources tell TMZ …

America the Absent – By Kati Suominen

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Why is the U.S. afraid to lead the global economic recovery?

BY KATI SUOMINEN | JULY 6, 2012

The release of another weak U.S. jobs report this Friday, July 6 — which showed the economy adding only 80,000 jobs in June and the unemployment rate holding steady at 8.2 percent — raises some serious red flags. It’s just one of many signs these days that the world economy is once again on the brink of an abyss. Nearly four years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, U.S. growth is flailing, central banks are racing to cut interest rates, and several European nations have plunged back into recession. Instead of powering the 21st-century world economy, export-dependent emerging markets remain hostage to the transatlantic economic morass. We should be out of this by now. The missing ingredient? U.S. leadership.

In the 20th century, beginning with the creation of the Bretton Woods system in 1944, America’s great contribution was to champion an economic paradigm and set of institutions that promoted open markets and economic stability around the world. The successive Groups of Five, Seven, and Eight, first formed in the early 1970s, helped coordinate macroeconomic policies among the world’s leading economies and combat global financial imbalances that burdened U.S. trade politics. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) spread the Washington Consensus across Asia and Latin America, and shepherded economies in transition toward capitalism. Eight multilateral trade rounds brought down barriers to global commerce, culminating in the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.

Meanwhile, a wave of bank deregulation and financial liberalization began in the United States and proliferated around the world, making credit more available and affordable while propelling consumption and entrepreneurship the world over. The U.S. dollar, the world’s venerable reserve currency, economized global transactions and fueled international trade. Central bank independence spread from Washington to the world and helped usher in the Great Moderation, which has produced a quarter-century of low and steady inflation around the world.

Globalization was not wished into being: It was the U.S.-led order that generated prosperity unimaginable only a few decades ago. Since 1980, global GDP has quadrupled, world trade has grown more than sixfold, the stock of foreign direct investment has shot up by 20 times, and portfolio capital flows have surged to almost $200 trillion annually, roughly four times the size of the global economy. Economic reforms and global economic integration helped vibrant emerging markets emerge: The “Asian Tigers” (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) that boomed in the 1980s were joined in the 1990s by the awakening giants of Brazil, China, and India.

It was the United States that quarterbacked the play, brokering differences among nations and providing the right mix of global public goods: a universal reserve currency, an open-trade regime, deep financial markets, and vigorous economic growth. Trade liberalization alone paid off handsomely, adding $1 trillion annually to the postwar U.S. economy.

Talk about American decline notwithstanding, the economic order created by the United States persists. In fact, at first blush, it appears to have only been reinforced in the past few years. New institutions such as the G-20, a forum for the world’s leading economies, and the Financial Stability Board, a watchdog for the international financial system, are but sequels to U.S.-created entities: the Group of Five and the Financial Stability Forum. Investors still view America as a financial safe haven, and the dollar remains the world’s lead currency. Open markets have survived, and 1930s-style protectionism has not materialized. The WTO continues to resolve trade disputes and recently welcomed Russia as its 154th member, while the mission and resources of the Bretton Woods twins — the World Bank and IMF — have only expanded. No country has pulled out of these institutions; instead, emerging nations such as China and India are demanding greater power at the table. Countries have opted in, not out, of the American-led order, reflecting a reality of global governance: There are no rival orders that can yet match this one’s promise of mutual economic gains.

Rihanna on Chris Brown relationship: ‘I never thought I’d feel that pain in my life’ (Cristina Everett/NY Daily News)

Saturday, July 7th, 2012


Cristina Everett / NY Daily News:

Rihanna on Chris Brown relationship: ‘I never thought I’d feel that pain in my life’  —  The singer doesn’t name anyone in particular, but says she fell ‘so hard’ for an ex she was ‘really, really, really’ in love with  —  Rihanna admits in the August issue of Harper’s Bazaar that she’s …

A Current of Faith – By Mary Fitzgerald

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

As a divided Libya heads toward a historic vote, an Islamic “frame of reference” unites the country’s political neophytes.

BY MARY FITZGERALD | JULY 6, 2012

BENGHAZI, Libya – On a recent evening in Benghazi, as the sun dipped low over the Mediterranean, a stout, bespectacled man in a suit stepped, to wild applause, onto a stage erected on the city’s Kish Square. The man was Mohammed Sawan, a long-standing member of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, who is from Misrata, and who, after spending years in Muammar al-Qaddafi’s jails, is now leader of its affiliated Justice and Construction Party (JCP). JCP is fielding the largest number of candidates in Libya’s national assembly elections to be held on July 7. “Our revolution started from here,” Sawan began, going on to pay tribute to the martyrs of Benghazi.

Sarkozy’s Houdini Act – By Eric Pape

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Is France’s embittered former president trying to hide from prosecution or quietly laying the groundwork for a big comeback?

BY ERIC PAPE | JULY 6, 2012

PARIS – When Nicolas Sarkozy was battling his way toward the presidency in 2007, he often seemed like the Energizer Bunny of French politics: frenetic, relentless, and troublingly ubiquitous. Like that deranged, effervescent, pink rabbit, he broke through barriers and intruded into the darnedest places.

Long before he took office in the Élysée Palace, he had manufactured an image based on tough talk and hard-charging actions that could fill kiosks full of newsweekly covers and thus inspire the relentless dedication of legions of newspaper correspondents. (When he was a government minister under President Jacques Chirac, he would actually brag about his impact on magazine sales and television ratings.) The Sarko Show devolved into a national soap opera: His wife was his chief of staff, then left him for another man, but came back in time for his election to the presidency. Soon after, he gave France its first presidential divorce, speed-wooed former supermodel Carla Bruni, and provided the country with a rare presidential wedding and, better yet, its first presidential birth. In the end, it was hard to tell whether they were France’s Camelot, with Bruni as Jackie Kennedy, or its political Brangelina. Sarkozy’s jumpy voice seemed to play in a loop for years, accompanying people’s café and croissants over the morning radio, or barging in on family dinners during prime-time news broadcasts.

The country was so overwhelmed by his omnipresence (the media actually dubbed him the “omni-president”) that it began to suffer from what might be called Sarkozia — a mental disorder defined by the fraught disorientation of spending so much time around a politician who relishes destabilizing others.

And then, in little more than the time that it took for the electorate to reject him in May, Sarkozy was gone. The man who drove the French media insane for much of the last decade has tried to disappear like Houdini.

George Clooney & Stacy Keibler – Food Poisoned in Italy (TMZ.com)

Friday, July 6th, 2012


TMZ.com:

George Clooney & Stacy Keibler — Food Poisoned in Italy  —  FOOD POISONED  —  EXCLUSIVE  —  George Clooney and his girlfriend Stacy Keibler got to enjoy a meal they ate in Italy this week … twice — because hours after eating it … they both got a bad case of food poisoning.

FIRST PHOTOS – JUSTIN BIEBER PULLED OVER FOR SPEEDING (Jane/X17 Online)

Friday, July 6th, 2012


Jane / X17 Online:

FIRST PHOTOS – JUSTIN BIEBER PULLED OVER FOR SPEEDING  —  Justin Bieber was just pulled over for speeding in his $110,000 chrome-plated Fisker Karma, X17Online has learned.  —  The pop star was traveling south on the 101 freeway from Calabasas when cops stopped him for exceeding the speed limit by a significant amount.

Justin Bieber & Selena Gomez — On the Rocks

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Justin & Selena
ON THE ROCKS

Exclusive

0705_justin_bieber_selena_gomez_tmz_1
He loves her … he loves her not — TMZ has learned, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez have broken up multiple times in the last few months.

Sources in a position to know tell us, Biebs and Selena most recently ended things last week — but have since decided to give their relationship another try … kinda.

A Belated Apology Reopens NATO’s Supply lines in Pakistan

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

 
An apology by Secretary of State Clinton ended the months’ long impasse between the U.S. in Pakistan over an air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers (more…)

’16 & Pregnant’ Baby Daddy Arrested for DUI — Mug Shot’s a SNOOZE

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

’16 & Pregnant’ Baby Daddy
Popped for DUI
Mug Shot’s a SNOOZE

Exclusive

Weston Gosa and the sleepy mug shot.16 & Pregnant” baby daddy Weston Gosa — father of Whitney Purvis‘ kid — was arrested for DUI in Georgia yesterday … after allegedly crashing his car … but the real reason we’re posting this story … dude’s mug shot is legendary.

According to the Floyd County Police Department, 23-year-old Gosa smashed his car, and was placed under arrest when cops decided he had been driving under the influence. Police say Gosa was under the influence of prescription drugs at the time of his arrest.

0705_Whitney_Purvis_Weston_GosaPolice also say Gosa was in possession of Xanax and Lorcet without a prescription, as well as a pipe with some kind of residue in it.

Tim Tebow — Hardcore MMA Training with Fighting LEGENDS

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Tim Tebow
Hardcore MMA Training
with Fighting LEGENDS

Breaking News

Tim Tebow training with the Gracie family
Tim Tebow has begun training with some of the baddest men on the planet … men who revolutionized the art of hand-to-hand combat … the legendary Gracie family.

In case you’re unaware, the Gracie family basically built the UFC — and badasses like Royce Gracie have destroyed countless opponents by using a special form of Brazilian jiu-jitsu created by his  father, Helio Gracie.

Dark matter: Material answers

Thursday, July 5th, 2012
Abell was I

THE Higgs boson (see article) is not the only curious form of matter whose nature has been probed this week. A paper by Jörg Dietrich, of the University of Michigan, and his colleagues, just published by Nature, illuminates—if that is the appropriate word—a substance known as dark matter.

Dark matter, the theory goes, is composed of particles that cannot interact with the electromagnetic force, and thus have no dealings with light. But they do interact gravitationally. In fact, it is the gravitational pull of dark matter that stops galaxies flying apart as they rotate. Moreover, calculations suggest there is five times as much dark matter in the universe as there is ordinary matter. But what is rarely observed is dark matter by itself. Since both the dark and the visible forms of matter are affected by gravity, they tend to cluster together.

Models of the evolution of the universe suggest, though, that this clustering is secondary. The young universe was first filled with a lattice of threads of dark matter, then the visible stuff gathered around these threads and formed the galaxies familiar today.

WikiLeaks releases Syrian emails

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Wikileaks is at it again, this time releasing more than 2 million “embarrassing” emails from Syrian government and business officials.

The emails, which date from August 2006 to March 2012, are coming to light as Syria remains embroiled in 16-month violent rebellion.

“The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents. It helps us not merely to criticize one group or another, but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts. It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it,” Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement on the group’s website.

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.”

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.

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.

Psychology: A question of judgment

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

A NEVER-ENDING flow of information is the lot of most professionals. Whether it comes in the form of lawyers’ cases, doctors’ patients or even journalists’ stories, this information naturally gets broken up into pieces that can be tackled one at a time during the course of a given day. In theory, a decision made when handling one of these pieces should not have much, if any, impact on similar but unrelated subsequent decisions. Yet Uri Simonsohn of the University of Pennsylvania and Francesca Gino at Harvard report in Psychological Science that this is not how things work out in practice.

Dr Simonsohn and Dr Gino knew from studies done in other laboratories that people are, on the whole, poor at considering background information when making individual decisions. At first glance this might seem like a strength that grants the ability to make judgments which are unbiased by external factors. But in a world of quotas and limits—in other words, the world in which most professional people operate—the two researchers suspected that it was actually a weakness. They speculated that an inability to consider the big picture was leading decision-makers to be biased by the daily samples of information they were working with. For example, they theorised that a judge fearful of appearing too soft on crime might be more likely to send someone to prison if he had already sentenced five or six other defendants only to probation on that day.

Syria’s violence Spills over borders

Friday, June 8th, 2012

 
For more than a year, and particularly in recent months, the “Syrian crisis” has dominated Middle East news.  (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.

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

US sales of previously occupied homes up in April

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans bought more previously owned homes in April, a hopeful sign that the weak housing market is gradually improving.

The National Association of Realtors says home sales rose 3.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million.

That brings home sales back near the pace in January and February – which was the best winter for sales in five years. Still, sales are well below the nearly 6 million per year that economists equate with healthy markets.

A mild winter encouraged some people to buy homes earlier. That drove up sales in January and February, while making March weaker.

The median price for homes sold in April rose to $177,400, up 10.1 percent from a year ago.

Modest increases in home sales are the latest sign that the market could be starting to turn around nearly five years after the housing bubble burst.

The sales pace in January was the highest since May 2010 – when a popular home-buying tax credit expired. Builders are more confident and are starting to builder more homes. Mortgage rates have never been cheaper. And the job market is improving, which has made more people open to buying a home.

Employers have added 1 million jobs in the past five months. And unemployment has dropped a full percentage point since August, from 9.1 percent to 8.1 percent in April.

Still, many would-be buyers are having difficulty qualifying for home loans or can’t afford the larger down payments being required by banks.

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.

EU summit hopes boost stocks

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Tuesday 14:30 BST. Stocks are rallying for a second day as some investors perceive value after three weeks of declines took many benchmarks to 2012 lows.

But early gains for commodities have faded and the euro is softer as sentiment remains fragile.

The FTSE All-World equity index is up 0.7 per cent following a strong showing in Asia and as the FTSE Eurofirst 300 adds 1.3 per cent. Wall Street’s S&P 500 is gaining 0.2 per cent, adding to the previous session’s 1.6 per cent surge.

The eurozone bond sector is less tense, with Spanish 10-year yields easing 17 basis points to 6.10 per cent.

There has been some chatter in the market that this week’s rally is founded on hopes Wednesday’s EU summit will deliver proposals that combine growth promotion with fiscal discipline, while also ensuring Greece can remain in the eurozone and sovereign debt contagion can be contained.

A pledge by Beijing over the weekend that it will focus on boosting activity in the world’s second-biggest economy is also cited as a positive development.

But sceptics note that such optimism regarding Europe has regularly been dashed since the bloc’s crisis began. They argue that growth-focused assets were due a bounce anyway given the swiftness and depth of the relapse.

Since the start of May, equities, industrial commodities and currencies sporting a high correlation to broader bullish sentiment have faced heavy selling, with many benchmarks sliding to their lows for the year.

Intensifying worries regarding the eurozone – after the Greek electorate in effect rebuffed the EU bailout and austerity deal – were joined by heightened concerns about the strength of the US and Chinese economies to shatter investor risk appetite.

The ending of the US corporate earnings season – generally well received – removed an important support. It is also possible that Facebook’s poor debut did not help market confidence either.

That left the FTSE All-World index down 9.3 per cent in the three weeks to last Friday, while US crude typified the battering for commodities by losing 12.8 per cent over the same period.

But in some traders’ eyes the severity of the slide – regardless of the cause – was too much. The All-World’s 10-day relative strength index (RSI), a measure of market momentum, on Friday dropped to just 13, its most “oversold” mark since August last year.

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.

Euro crisis ‘threat’ to global economy

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

The eurozone financial crisis could threaten the global economy, according to Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation.

The 17-nation eurozone will see its economies shrink by 0.1 per cent, before rebounding to 0.9 per cent next year, the Paris-based organisation said in its latest report released on Tuesday.

Pier Carlo Padoan, the OECD chief economist, said “the crisis in the euro area has become more serious recently, and it remains the most important source of risk to the global economy”.

Padoan told Al Jazeera: “There is a risk of serious recession which could be sparked off by events like Greece, if that happens it could affect the global economy”.

Growth across the organisation’s 34 members, generally the wealthiest in the world, would ease this year to 1.6 per cent from 1.8 per cent in 2011 and then reach 2.2 per cent in 2013, the report said.

The OECD revised its forecast for US economic growth this year to 2.4 per cent from 2.0 per cent, and sees 2.6 per cent growth in 2013.

It forecast eurozone unemployment to rise to 10.8 per cent this year and 11.1 per cent next year.

Recession, “rising unemployment and social pain may spark political contagion and adverse market reaction” with countries outside the eurozone also at risk of being hit, he said.

While the eurozone gained some breathing space at the beginning of the year from the European Central Bank pumping over a trillion euros into banks, tensions have soared in recent weeks after inconclusive elections raised the spectre of a Greek exit from the euro.

“The risk is increasing of a vicious circle, involving high and rising sovereign indebtedness, weak banking systems, excessive fiscal consolidation and lower growth,” OECD’s Padoan said.

This comes as EU leaders meet in Brussels on Wednesday to contemplate measures to boost growth.

Offshore renminbi market targets UK

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Standard Chartered has issued Rmb1bn worth of commercial paper out of London in the past four weeks, as it tries to encourage the development of an offshore renminbi market in the UK.

The bank revealed the details on Tuesday as the UK Treasury met with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and a working group of seven banks in Hong Kong to discuss the standards and products that will promote the market’s development.

StanChart said its three-to-six month commercial paper programme filled the gap between longer term bonds and short term deposits in the offshore renminbi funding market, and was another small step in the creation of a pool of renminbi liquidity in London.

StanChart said it sold the commercial paper to Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds and European pension funds.

Commercial paper is typically used to finance trade and receivables. Ben Hung, chief executive of StanChart in Hong Kong, said the bank was encouraging its European customers to use the renminbi rather than the dollar for their trade with China.

StanChart estimates that by the first quarter of this year about 11 per cent of all trade with China was being settled in renminbi. However, only about a tenth of that was accounted for by trade between China and Europe, Mr Hung said. The vast majority was still trade between China and Hong Kong.

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.”

Devaluation – last option to save the euro

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

As debate about a Greek exit from the euro grows, the European crisis is reaching boiling point. There are three sources for the problems of Greece and other peripheral European nations.

The first and most immediate is the fear that Greek banks will convert euro deposits into a new Greek currency. This has prompted withdrawals from not only Greek, but also Spanish and Portuguese banks and sent money flowing to German banks and German government bonds. The second is the unsustainable budget and current account deficits of many of the peripheral countries.

The third, and ultimately most important and intractable source of the crisis, is that labour costs in the peripheral countries are too high and uncompetitive with the northern European countries, particularly Germany. Historically, overpriced labour markets have been cured, albeit painfully, by currency devaluation – an option which is not open to euro-based economies.

If Greece does exit the euro and establish a new currency, investors fear that Greek deposits and Greek debt will be converted into a new currency which will sell at a steep discount to the euro. If Greece took this action, it would cause bank runs in Portugal, Spain, and even Italy as depositors fear their governments will do the same.

Yemen marks National Day after deadly bombing

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

A planned military parade to mark Yemen’s National Day is set to go ahead in Yemen, despite a suicide attack during rehearsals for the celebration that left nearly 100 people dead.

Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in the centre of the Yemeni capital on Monday, saying that it was revenge for increased US drone strikes.

Al Jazeera’s Jane Ferguson, reporting from Sanaa, says that Tuesday’s march will be largely scaled down and held in a “secret” location.

“This was supposed to be a national celebration, with the public and international diplomats there, but will now be a shadow of what it was meant to be,” Ferguson said.

Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is scheduled to still attend the parade, said after the attack that he will fight “terrorism regardless of the sacrifices”.

Officials said a bomber dressed in military uniform targeted soldiers rehearsing for a parade in Sanaa to mark National Day.

Yemen’s defence minister and chief of staff were both present at the event, but neither man was hurt.

The huge explosion left scenes of carnage at Sabaeen Square, with bloodied victims strewn across the 10-lane road where the rehearsal was held on Monday morning not far from the presidential palace.

“We had just finished the parade. We were saluting our commander when a huge explosion went off,” said Amr Habib, a soldier.

“It was a gruesome attack. Many soldiers were killed and others had their arms and legs blown off.”

Russia’s Surprisingly Liberal New Cabinet – By Anders Åslund

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Vladimir Putin may have reclaimed the presidency, but his sidekick Dmitry Medvedev is winning the appointments game. Are liberal reforms finally possible?

BY ANDERS ÅSLUND | MAY 21, 2012

Russia’s recently returned President Vladimir Putin generally likes to surprise, but the reports leading up to this week’s cabinet appointments were uncannily accurate. As expected, three-quarters of the ministers are new — 20 out of 28 — and the cabinet will be dominated by middle-aged liberal technocrats with high qualifications.

The old cabinet was stacked with ministers considered highly corrupt, including former KGB officers and Putin cronies from his days in the St. Petersburg city government. With a couple of exceptions, they are all gone. Despite some suggestions that the new cabinet represents Putin’s attempt to solidify his control over the new government, the group is in fact dominated by liberal technocrats.

The big question for observers, of course, is whether this cabinet will be Putin’s or Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s. Surprisingly, given his diminished standing, this looks almost entirely like a Medvedev cabinet. Almost all of Medvedev’s liberal economic team is still in place, including First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, his aide Arkady Dvorkovich, who is now Deputy Prime Minister, and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov. They have worked hard for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization and balanced budgets. Dvorkovich, Medvedev’s closest confidant, was the real litmus test for Medvedev’s sway, and he did become deputy prime minister. There can be no doubt about it: This is Medvedev’s cabinet.

The Chinese Diva Who is a Global Banker

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Have you ever wondered about who runs that company that makes that status bag? You know the bag that wears the LV Logo. He is the richest man in Paris. (more…)

The Woman Who Would be King

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

 
The great kingdom that lies along the banks of the river Niger is Nigeria. A woman controls the wealth of this natural resource rich nation. (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.”

EU ministers close to deal on new bank rules

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

BRUSSELS (AP) — Denmark’s finance minister says she and her European Union counterparts are close to a deal to force banks to build up bigger capital cushions against financial shocks.

Early Thursday, after more than 15 hours of debate, Margrethe Vestager said only a few “technical issues” needed to be ironed out before the ministers’ next meeting in two weeks.

The EU is in the process of writing an international agreement on capital defenses for banks into European law that regulators hope will prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

The so-called Basel III deal would force lenders to increase their highest-quality capital gradually from 2 percent of the risky assets they hold to 7 percent by 2019. An additional 2.5 percent would have to be built up during good times.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BRUSSELS (AP) – European finance ministers were divided Wednesday on how the region’s banks can protect themselves from future financial shocks.

The European Union is in the process to writing an international agreement on capital defences for banks into European law. This would determine the level of risk Europe’s banks can take and what regulators can do to ensure that financial crises like the one brought on by the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008 do not happen again.

The so-called Basel III deal would force banks gradually to increase their highest-quality capital – such as equity and reserves – from 2 percent of the risky assets they hold to 7 percent by 2019. An additional 2.5 percent would have to be built up during good times.

But several countries, including the U.K. and Sweden, want to require their banks to build up even higher defenses without having to go to the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm in Brussels, for approval. There was also some disagreement over what should count as capital. Some countries are warning that Europe could be seen as softening banking rules at a time when it is already under close scrutiny from international investors.

“If we duck the challenge of implementing Basel we could face very important challenges to confidence in Europe this year,” warned George Osborne, the U.K.’s Treasury chief.

Basel III was agreed by the world’s leading economies after the 2008 financial crisis demonstrated that many banks did not have enough of a capital cushion to absorb sudden losses on loans and other risky activities. Once agreed, the new rules would apply to more than 8,300 banks in Europe, forcing them to build up billions in extra capital by selling shares or assets or reining in bonuses and dividends.

The 2008 financial panic that followed Lehman’s collapse hit Europe hard. Between 2008 and 2010, governments across the 27-country-bloc spent (EURO)4.6 trillion ($6.1 trillion) propping up struggling banks.

What complicated efforts even more was that the open borders in the EU allow banks to operate freely across the bloc, but when lenders ran into trouble it was national governments – and taxpayers – who had to foot the bill. While the EU is now striving for a single set of banking rules, there is still no pan-European bank resolution fund that could relieve national governments.

The U.K., which had to save three major banks, has seen its debt load almost double since 2007. Meanwhile much smaller Ireland had to seek an international bailout to help stem the losses of its domestic lenders. And many economists fear that the economic recession in Spain may soon reveal massive bank losses there.

Now, the U.K. is leading a group of countries that want to be able to force their own banks to have bigger defenses than the ones prescribed by the pan-European rules without first getting approval from Brussels.

“We should make it clear that the crisis did not originate exclusively from weak fiscal policy. It originated also from insufficiently strong banks,” said Polish Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski. “So therefore a group of countries including Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden and the United Kingdom are very determined to see that banking systems in the future should be as healthy as we expect the fiscal side, the budgetary side, to be kept.”

That demand is opposed by France and the Commission, which fear that jacking up capital requirements in one country could force banks based there to cut down lending by their foreign subsidiaries. That, they argue, could hurt small states that don’t have a big domestic banking system.

To bridge the divide between the two camps, Denmark, which currently holds the EU presidency, has proposed a compromise that would allow national regulators to require an extra capital buffer of 3 percent. Anything beyond that would have to be approved by the Commission in Brussels, which would examine not only the level of risk in the home state but also the potential impact in neighboring countries.

After several hours of public discussion, finance ministers retreated into bilateral talks. A possible compromise could include requiring not the Commission, but another European supervisor – the European Systemic Risk Board, which is led by the European Central Bank President Mario Draghi – to approve higher national buffers.

If they cannot find agreement Wednesday, several ministers said they hoped a deal could be struck at their next meeting in two weeks. Once finance ministers have struck a deal, they have to negotiate a final agreement with the European Parliament.

Don Melvin contributed to this story.

Sarkozy and Hollande lock horns in TV debate

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

French President Nicolas Sarkozy locked horns with his Socialist rival Francois Hollande in a testy television duel that was billed as Sarkozy’s last chance to save his re-election bid on Sunday.

Sarkozy went into the gruelling 2.5-hour television debate on Wednesday evening as the rank outsider.

Polls show Hollande, who led the first round of the election on April 22, winning Sunday’s runoff with between 53-54 per cent of the vote.

The air crackled with tension as the two men, both dressed in black suits and black ties, squared off across a table.

Sarkozy and Hollande clashed repeatedly in their only televised debate as the president said he wanted the prime-time debate to be a “moment of truth”.

In the early part of the debate, Hollande said he aimed to be “the president of justice”, “the president of revival” and “the president of unity”.

He said Sarkozy, in office for the last five years, had divided the French people for too long and was using the global economic crisis as an excuse for broken promises.

“With you it’s very simple: it’s never your fault,” Hollande said.

Sarkozy repeatedly accused his opponent of lying about economic figures and reeled off reams of statistics in an attempt to unbalance his rival.

Insults

“Mr Hollande. When you lie so shamelessly, do I have to accept it?” he asked when his opponent said the president was always happy with his record.

“It’s a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a lie,” Sarkozy said.

“The example I want to follow is Germany and not Spain or Greece,” the president said, declaring that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had saved Greece from an economic wipeout and avoided the collapse of the euro currency.
 
“Europe has got over it,” Sarkozy said of the crisis.

Hollande shot back: “Europe has not got over it. Europe is today facing a possible resurgence of the crisis with generalised austerity, and that’s what I don’t want.”

He said people around Europe were watching the French election in hope that it would change the continent’s direction towards growth.

The duel was carried live on channels that reach roughly half France’s 44.5 million voters. The streets of Paris were unusually deserted with many people staying home to watch.

Sarkozy needed to win a decisive victory in the debate to have any chance of catching up in the last four days but neither candidate landed a knockout blow.

Twenty TV cameras scrutinised the two rivals from every angle as they sat 2.5 metres apart across a table, twin digital clocks ticking to ensure each had equal speaking time.

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.”

Discouraging jobs news leaves stock prices mixed

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Richard Drew

NEW YORK (AP) — When hiring slumps, so do stock prices.

That was at least the message investors sent Wednesday, when they ignored flashes of positive news about the economy and instead homed in on troubling reports about jobs in the U.S. and Europe.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell as much as 87 points after a company that tracks payrolls said the U.S. added far fewer jobs in April than in March. The Dow ended the day down 10.75 points, at 13,268.57.

It was a turn from the day before, when investors chose to focus on a couple of positive reports on U.S. manufacturing and sent the Dow up 66 points to its highest close in more than four years.

While the market’s day-to-day fluctuations may be difficult to predict, some investors say they’re certain that stocks will generally climb for the rest of the year. As justification, they cite strong first-quarter earnings.

Of the 330 companies on the S&P 500 that have reported first-quarter earnings, 77 percent have beaten the estimates of stock analysts, said John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet, a provider of financial data.

“The market has room to run,” said Karyn Cavanaugh, market strategist with ING Investment Management in New York. “It doesn’t always go up in a straight line.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 3.51 points to 1,402.31. The Nasdaq composite index was the outlier. It fell throughout the morning, then finished up 9.41 points at 3,059.85.

The report on private sector hiring weighed on investors, who see jobs as the key ingredient to an economic recovery.

The payroll processor, ADP, said U.S. businesses added 119,000 jobs in April, down from 201,000 in March. The government releases its monthly figures, which include the public sector, on Friday. The two reports can vary sharply.

Another jobs report from Europe underscored the gravity of the continuing debt crisis there. The 17 countries that use the euro reported that unemployment rose to 10.9 percent in March, the highest since the euro launched in 1999.

Markets fell across most of Europe, including Germany and Greece.

There was also good news out of Europe, even if it didn’t seem to sway investors. Standard & Poor’s lifted Greece’s credit rating out of default, noting how the country had recently secured a massive writedown on its debt to private investors.

Germany also reported that the number of people seeking work in April slipped below 3 million, a psychologically important barrier that it hasn’t broken in that month for two decades.

Eurozone unemployment hits record high

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos

LONDON (AP) — The 17 countries that use the euro are facing the highest unemployment rates in the history of the currency as recession once again spreads across Europe, pressuring leaders to focus less on austerity and more on stimulating growth.

Unemployment in the eurozone rose by 169,000 in March, official figures showed Wednesday, taking the rate up to 10.9 percent – its highest level since the euro was launched in 1999. The seasonally adjusted rate was up from 10.8 percent in February and 9.9 percent a year ago and contrasts sharply with the picture in the U.S., where unemployment has fallen from 9.1 percent in August to 8.2 percent in March. Spain had the highest rate in the eurozone, 24.1 percent – and an alarming 51.1 percent for people under 25.

Austerity has been the main prescription across Europe for dealing with a debt crisis that’s afflicted the continent for nearly three years and has raised the specter of the breakup of the single currency. Three countries – Greece, Ireland and Portugal – have already required bailouts because of unsustainable levels of debt.

Eight eurozone countries, including Greece, Spain and the Netherlands, have seen their economies shrink for two straight quarters or more, the common definition of a recession.

Economies are contracting across the eurozone as governments cut spending and raise taxes to reduce deficits. That has prompted economists to urge European Union policymakers to dial back on short-term budget-cutting and focus on stimulating long-term growth.

“The question is how long EU leaders will continue to pursue a deeply flawed strategy in the face of mounting evidence that this is leading us to social, economic and political disaster,” said Sony Kapoor, managing director of Re-Define, an economic think-tank and policy advisory company.

In a nod to shifting attitudes about austerity, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi recently called for a “growth pact” in Europe to work alongside the “fiscal pact” that has placed so much importance on controlling government spending.

Bailout fears have intensified in recent months as Spain, Italy and other governments face rising borrowing costs on bond markets, a sign that investors are nervous about the size of their debts relative to their economic output. Austerity is intended to address this nervousness by reducing a government’s borrowing needs, but there has been a negative side effect: As economic output shrinks, the debt burden actually looks worse.

Economists recommend pro-growth measures including reducing red tape for small businesses, making it easier for workers to find jobs across the eurozone and breaking down barriers that countries have created to protect their own industries. Some economists go a step further and say governments should actually increase spending while economies are so weak – and make reining in deficits a longer-term goal.

The central bank has tried to reinvigorate Europe’s financial system by lowering interest rates and extending $1.3 trillion in cheap, three-year loans to banks. Banks have used some of the money to purchase government bonds, which briefly eased pressure on countries’ borrowing costs. But interest rates on Spanish and Italian bonds have crept even higher in recent weeks.

Across Europe, austerity has come in the form of layoffs and pay cuts for state workers, scaled-back expenditures on welfare and social programs, and higher taxes and fees to boost government revenue.

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.

 

HP combines printer, PC units in turnaround effort

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

NEW YORK (AP) — Hewlett-Packard Co. is combining its printer and PC divisions as it tries to overcome dragging profits, growing competition and the lack of clear identity.

The move announced Wednesday will help the company streamline its business and save money to invest in growing areas. HP, a Silicon Valley pioneer, is hoping a renewed focus on innovation will re-establish the 73-year-old company as a technology trailblazer

“We have got to place a few bets where we can fundamentally change the name of the game,” HP CEO Meg Whitman told shareholders Wednesday at the company’s annual meeting in Santa Clara, Calif. The Associated Press monitored a webcast of the meeting.

Whitman said printing remains one of the areas where HP can still make its mark. First, though, she said the company needs to trim its expenses, describing the combination of the PC and printing division as a “perfect example” of her streamlining plans.

“We are going to have to save to get growth going again at HP,” Whitman told shareholders.

Wednesday’s restructuring is one of the first major steps that Whitman, formerly eBay Inc.’s chief, has taken since she took the top job at HP in September. Her predecessor, Leo Apotheker, had wanted to sell or spin off the PC business, a plan that contributed to his ouster after 11 months on the job. Under Whitman, HP decided to keep the unit after all.

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.

Syrian forces assault opposition strongholds

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
Opposition fighters fled the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor in the face of a fierce army assault [AFP]

Syrian government forces have launched military assaults in different parts of the country, activists say, as key ally Russia has said that Damascus is making “a lot of mistakes” in handling the unrest sweeping the country.

Opposition activists on Wednesday said army troops shelled three neighbourhoods in central city of Homs, a day after at least 14 people were killed in heavy bombardment.
The districts under attack, al-Qosour, al-Khalidiya and al-Bayada, are located adjacent to one another in northern Homs.
Hadi al-Abdallah of the Syrian Revolution General Commission activist network told Al Jazeera that the neighbourhoods are crowded with people who fled Bab Amr, the area that government troops took over from opposition fighters after a fierce offensive last month.
“Four or five families are crammed into each house. People are also sheltering in mosques and unfinished buildings,” he told the AFP news agency in a separate interview.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based rights group, reported that at least five people had been killed and dozens more wounded during Wednesday’s shelling in al-Khalidiya. 
The Observatory said four soldiers were also killed on Wednesday in the Sultaniyeh district of the city, while four civilians had been also killed in the town of Talbisseh, in the province of Homs.
It said that at least 40 people, 32 of them civilians, had been killed in army operations and clashes with deserters across the country on Wednesday.
Artillery was also reported to have targeted the rebel town of Rastan, north of Homs city, and shelling at the ancient Apamea castle at Qalat Mudiq, near Hama.
Also on Wednesday, two large suburbs of Damascus came under heavy tank bombardment following renewed attacks by opposition fighters on forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
 

 

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.

Coptic Pope laid to rest in desert monastery

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

The body of Pope Shenouda III has been buried at a desert monastery following a day of funeral ceremonies for the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Church, who died on Saturday at the age of 88.

Thousands of Coptic Christians earlier on Tuesday paid their final respects to the pope at a funeral service at St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo.

Shenouda was then flown by military plane for interment  at Wadi al-Natroun, a fourth-century monastery located in Beheira province in the northwest Nile Delta.

Chaotic scenes preceded the burial as thousands of people swarmed around the convoy carrying Shenouda’s body, forcing the vehicle to a halt and overwhelming lines of police who tried in vain to push the crowds back.  

In Cairo, clerics, dignitaries and religious leaders looked on as black-clad priests and monks recited prayers and dispensed incense smoke. Shenouda’s body lay in a white casket in the elaborate regalia he traditionally wore to oversee services, complete with an ornate golden crown.

Tens of thousands more who could not get in followed the mass outside the cathedral, carrying portraits of Shenouda and crosses. Many wept, wiping tears off their faces as the melancholic tunes of the hymns reached them through loudspeakers.

Flags were flown at half mast and an “unprecedented” security plan was put in place as crowds mourned the man who had led the Coptic church for four decades.

Scores dead in string of Iraq blasts

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

A wave of car bombings and roadside blasts across several cities in Iraq have killed at least 46 people and wounded more than 180 people, police and hospital sources say. 

The attacks on Tuesday came just days before Baghdad is due to host an Arab League summit, the first meeting of the 22-nation body to be held in the Iraqi capital since Saddam Hussain’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

One of the deadliest attacks targeted the city of Karbala, where at least 13 people were killed, including five Iranian pilgrims, according to Hussein Shadhan al-Aboudi, a local provincial council member.

Follow in-depth coverage of the nation in flux

In the northern city of Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded near a police headquarters, killing 13 and wounding 30.

“We have also received parts of bodies, but we do not know who they belong to,” said Mohammed Abdullah, a doctor at Kirkuk hospital.

While a bomb in a parked car detonated inside the garage of Kirkuk police department, another bomb went off in the same street.

Sources told Al Jazeera there had also been a suicide car bombing in the Allawi district of central Baghdad, killing three people. A group affiliated to al-Qaeda said it had targeted an office that will oversee security when the Iraqi capital hosts the Arab League summit next week.

“Death is approaching you, when you least expect it,” the Islamic State of Iraq said in a statement.

France falls silent for shooting victims

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Pupils across the country filled the courtyards of their schools to pay their respects to the victims of the attack [AFP]

Schools across France have held a minute of silence to remember the four victims at a Jewish school in Toulouse killed by a gunman in what investigators suspect may be the latest in a spate of racially motivated killings.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy led the mourning at a central Paris school before addressing the small group of children in its courtyard on Tuesday.

“These children were three, six and eight years old. The murderer hounded a little girl. It’s a serious matter. So serious that the whole republic is concerned. Your teachers, your families and you,” Sarkozy said.

In Toulouse, families and friends wept as the bodies of the three children and a rabbi began their journey from the Jewish school to their burial in Israel. The three children were Franco-Israeli citizens.

Two black hearses carried the bodies out of Ozar Hatorah school and left for a nearby airport where they were to be flown on a military plane to Paris and then by commercial flight to Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Relatives and friends had gathered at the school in the southwestern city for the departure of the bodies of 30-year-old Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh and Gabriel, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego.

Manhunt

French police on Monday started a huge manhunt after the shooting and the region was put on its highest level of security alert.

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.

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.

States finding tough climate for gas tax proposals

Monday, March 5th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Brian Witte

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — As if gas prices weren’t high enough, several states across the U.S. are looking to raise fuel taxes they say are needed to pay for roads and bridges that are outdated, congested and in some cases, dangerous.

Maryland’s governor is proposing a phased-in 6 percent sales tax by 2 percent a year, which would raise about $613 million annually when fully implemented. Iowa is considering raising its current 21-cent-per-gallon tax by either 8 cents or 10 cents.

Such proposals were hard to even contemplate during the recession and its immediate aftermath. Now, states forced to grapple with the problem are running into record-high gas prices for this time of year and lingering effects of the recession.

In Maryland, lawmakers are questioning whether the time is right for such an increase, which is never popular even in good fiscal times.

“They understand that it’s needed,” Delegate Tawanna Gaines, a Democrat, said when asked about the proposal last month, on a day when the national average price of gasoline hit $3.65 a gallon. The average price of gas on Monday pushed toward $3.80 a gallon. “They get that, but they basically believe that you can’t get blood out of a turnip. It’s going to be a very, very tough sell.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is quick to point out that the state hasn’t raised its gas tax since 1992 – and the flat tax doesn’t buy nearly as much as it once did. But some lawmakers say they are getting significant pushback from residents who are calling their offices to express opposition at a time when Maryland, like most other states, is still trying to bounce back from the recession.

O’Malley’s plan would delay a 2 percent annual increase if gas prices rise by more than 15 percent in a fiscal year. Lawmakers also say Maryland’s $1.1 billion deficit is creating another obstacle, because his challenging budget plan includes a variety of other tax increases that legislators will be considering.

Other states also are looking at increasing revenue streams for transportation projects after years of neglect.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, is calling on lawmakers in his state to raise $1.4 billion more for transportation needs. In Arkansas, voters may be asked to consider raising two taxes to help pay for the state’s roads. In Iowa, a commission named by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad recommended late last year that the fuel tax be increased.

In Michigan, state lawmakers in both parties are considering higher fuel-related taxes and vehicle registration fees to raise more than $1 billion of the $1.4 billion the governor is seeking. Rep. Rick Olson, a Republican who supports the revenue increases, contends it’s a matter of trying to avoid larger expenses later, if maintenance is deferred.

“It’s certainly going to be difficult, and no one argues that we need $1.4 billion,” Olson said. “The longer we wait, the more it is going to cost us.”

In both Maryland and Michigan, business groups have been supportive of raising revenue for transportation.

Rich Studley, president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said Michigan’s transportation system is crucial to three top industries in the state, including manufacturing, agribusiness and tourism.

EPA heightens scrutiny over Pa. gas drilling

Monday, March 5th, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

DIMOCK, Pa. (AP) — Tugging on rubber gloves, a laboratory worker kneels before a gushing spigot behind Kim Grosso’s house and positions an empty bottle under the clear, cold stream. The process is repeated dozens of times as bottles are filled, marked and packed into coolers.

After extensive testing, Grosso and dozens of her neighbors will know this week what may be lurking in their well water as federal regulators investigate claims of contamination in the midst of one of the nation’s most productive natural gas fields.

More than three years into the gas-drilling boom that’s produced thousands of new wells, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Pennsylvania are tussling over regulation of the Marcellus Shale, the vast underground rock formation that holds trillions of cubic feet of gas.

The state says EPA is meddling. EPA says it is doing its job.

Grosso, who lives near a pair of gas wells drilled in 2008, told federal officials her water became discolored a few months ago, with an intermittent foul odor and taste. Her dog and cats refused to drink it. While there’s no indication the problems are related to drilling, she hopes the testing will provide answers.

“If there is something wrong with the water, who is responsible?” she asked. “Who’s going to fix it, and what does it do to the value of the property?”

Federal regulators are ramping up their oversight of the Marcellus with dual investigations in the northeastern and southwestern corners of Pennsylvania. EPA is also sampling water around Pennsylvania for its national study of the potential environmental and public health impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the technique that blasts a cocktail of sand, water and chemicals deep underground to stimulate oil and gas production in shale formations like the Marcellus. Fracking allows drillers to reach previously inaccessible gas reserves, but it produces huge volumes of polluted wastewater and environmentalists say it can taint groundwater. Energy companies deny it.

The heightened federal scrutiny rankles the industry and politicians in the state capital, where the administration of pro-drilling Gov. Tom Corbett insists that Pennsylvania regulators are best suited to oversee the gas industry. The complaints echo those in Texas and in Wyoming, where EPA’s preliminary finding that fracking chemicals contaminated water supplies is forcefully disputed by state officials and energy executives.

Caught in the middle of the state-federal regulatory dispute are residents who don’t know if their water is safe to drink.

EPA is charged by law with protecting and ensuring the safety of the nation’s drinking water, but it has largely allowed the states to take the lead on rules and enforcement as energy companies drilled and fracked tens of thousands of new wells in recent years.

In Pennsylvania, that began to change last spring after The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that huge volumes of partially treated wastewater were being discharged into rivers and streams that supply drinking water. EPA asked the state to boost its monitoring of fracking wastewater from gas wells, and the state declared a voluntary moratorium for drillers that led to significant reductions of Marcellus waste. Yet a loophole in the policy allows operators of many older oil and gas wells to continue discharging significant amounts of wastewater into treatment plants, and thus, into rivers.

The state’s top environmental regulator, Michael Krancer, says Pennsylvania doesn’t need federal intervention to help it protect the environment. He told Congress last fall that Pennsylvania has taken the lead on regulations for the burgeoning gas industry.

“There’s no question that EPA is overstepping,” Katherine Gresh, Krancer’s spokeswoman, told the AP. “DEP regulates these facilities and always has, and EPA has never before shown this degree of involvement.”

The American Petroleum Institute urged the Obama administration last week to rein in the 10 agencies it says are either reviewing, studying or proposing regulation of fracking.

“The fact is that there is a strong state regulatory system in place, and adding potentially redundant and duplicative federal regulation would be unnecessary, costly, and could stifle investment,” API Vice President Kyle Isakower said in a statement.

EPA says public health is its key focus and insists it is guided by sound science and the law.

BP, plaintiffs reach $7.8B Gulf spill settlement

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Anonymous

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — BP agreed late Friday to settle lawsuits brought by more than 100,000 fishermen who lost work, cleanup workers who got sick and others who claimed harm from the oil giant’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, the worst offshore oil spill in the nation’s history.

The momentous settlement will have no cap to compensate the plaintiffs, though BP PLC estimated it would have to pay out about $7.8 billion, making it one of the largest class-action settlements ever. After the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, the company ultimately settled with the U.S. government for $1 billion, which would be about $1.8 billion today.

BP still has to resolve claims by the U.S. government, Gulf states and its partners in the doomed Deepwater Horizon project, in which pressure from a well a mile below the ocean’s surface blew up a massive drilling rig, killing 11 men and spewing oil into the sea for nearly three months. That could add billions of more to its tab.

BP said it expects the money to come from the $20 billion compensation fund that it previously set out. According to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust, current total trust assets are approximately $9.5 billion.

The spill exposed oil industry failings, forced BP chief executive Tony Hayward to step down after his repeated gaffes and led to new lexicon in American vocabulary as crews used innovative attempts to plug the spewing well, such as the top kill and the junk shot.

The spill soiled sensitive tidal estuaries and beaches, killing wildlife and shutting vast areas of the Gulf to commercial fishing. After several attempts to cap the well failed, engineers finally were successful on July 15, halting the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico after more than 85 days.

The main targets of litigation resulting from the explosion and spill were BP, Transocean, Halliburton and Cameron International, maker of the well’s failed blowout preventer. BP, the majority owner of the well that blew out, was leasing the rig from Transocean.

The Justice Department sued some of the companies involved in the ill-fated drilling project, seeking to recover billions of dollars for economic and environmental damage. The department opened a separate criminal investigation, but that probe hasn’t resulted in any charges.

Fierce storms leave 20 dead in US

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
Overturned bus

Jenn Helvering, Indiana: “The damage was unbelievable, truly surreal”

A series of powerful storms and tornadoes have killed at least 20 people in the US states of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, officials say.

Local police confirmed that 13 people died as tornadoes swept across three counties in Indiana.

Five others died in Kentucky, with two fatalities in Ohio. Earlier, tornadoes hit Alabama, causing widespread damage.

“We are no match for Mother Nature at her worst,” said Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

He is due to vist affected areas on Saturday.

The storms – stretched across a vast part of the US Midwest – came days after another system killed 13 people.

The first deaths on Friday were reported in Indiana, where the small town of Henryville was badly damaged.

Reports of extreme damage included a roof torn off a high school.

An official from Clark County sheriff’s department described the nearby town of Marysville, Indiana – located close to Henryville – as “completely gone”.

Jenn Helvering, 24, told the BBC she saw a storm cell cross the highway as she drove towards Henryville. She then came across wreckage, including an overturned tractor-trailer, alongside the road near the town.

Ms Helvering, who posted a series of images online said she saw “what seemed to be a funnel”, when driving between two storm cells.

“The weather was terrible. I suddenly saw a tornado coming towards me, I could see it swirling, then I saw one behind me. I was stuck in between two tornadoes – my dad directed me while I was driving between the two tornadoes. It was truly terrifying.”

‘Take cover!’

In Salem, Indiana, a toddler was found injured in a field after tornadoes passed through, reports said before being take to a children’s hospital, where she was later identified.

A family of four were found dead in Washington County, Indiana, Sheriff Claude Combs told the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Meanwhile, in Henryville, authorities found a man dead inside his vehicle. It was the first confirmed death in Clark County.

“We’ve got total devastation in the north-central part of the county [and] widespread damage from the west to the east,” Clark County Sheriff Clark Adam told CNN.

Neighbouring Marysville was totally destroyed.

“Marysville is completely gone,” said Chuck Adams of Clark County Sheriff’s Department.

As Friday’s storms grew in intensity, the National Weather Service issued severe tornado warnings for a host of states.

Tornado in Indiana (courtesy of Chad Hinton)

‘Deal reached’ over BP oil spill

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off LouisianaPresident Obama called the spill “the worst environmental disaster” the US had ever seen

A group representing plaintiffs suing BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill has reached a settlement with the company, a US judge says.

A trial, due to begin on Monday, will now be delayed – for a second time – as a result of the deal, Judge Carl Barbier said.

The settlement will “likely result in a realignment of the parties,” he said.

The rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, killing 11 workers and leaking four million barrels of oil.

The trial is now being adjourned “in order to allow the parties to reassess their respective positions,” Judge Barbier said.

There has been no confirmation of any agreement from either BP or representatives of the plaintiffs.

The trial was due to resolve claims for damages and civil penalties arising from the spill. BP and its partners face the threat of tens of billions of dollars in fines and penalties if found grossly negligent in the case.

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.

Wynn details casino envisioned near Patriots’ home

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

BOSTON (AP) — Las Vegas casino owner Steve Wynn unveiled details Friday of a proposed Massachusetts resort casino he hopes to develop near the home of the New England Patriots.

Wynn mailed a brochure and 20-minute DVD to thousands of Foxborough households explaining the proposal, which has met resistance from many residents who are worried that it will add to traffic congestion and crime in the town about 25 miles south of Boston.

An artist’s rendering depicts a sprawling, six-story building that resembles a rustic lodge, rather than a high-rise Las Vegas-style casino. It would be built on vacant land across from Gillette Stadium that would be leased from Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Wynn, the billionaire CEO of Wynn Resorts Ltd, had earlier pledged that the proposed casino would fit the character of the town and would not be as large or flashy as the typical Las Vegas casino.

In a letter accompanying the brochure and DVD, Wynn said the casino would benefit the town “both socially and economically.” He said the plans included a luxury hotel, convention space, more than 5,000 covered parking spaces, a public skating rink, high-end shops, a spa, fine dining and casual restaurants, and a performance theater.

The casino would create more than 4,000 permanent jobs and about 10,000 construction jobs, Wynn wrote, and it would generate between $10 million and $15 million for Foxborough that could be used to lower property taxes or invest in other town services. He also said an agreement could be reached with the town to cover public safety and other costs associated with the casino and that a study would be done to determine the traffic impact.

“We’re excited by the design and the unique opportunity the Wynn Resorts project presents for long-term economic growth in Foxborough,” Kraft Group spokesman Dan Krantz said.

“Since bringing forth the idea in December of last year, Wynn Resorts has followed through on a commitment to generate renderings and estimate the resort’s direct tax benefits. As we anticipated, the design and decor assimilates to its surroundings, and is likely in stark contrast to the Las Vegas-style high-rise that some may have envisioned,” he said.

Stephanie Crimmins, a spokeswoman for the group No Foxboro Casino, said casino opponents had anticipated that Wynn would launch a public relations blitz aimed at the hearts and minds of residents.

“We fully expected all along that they were going to send out some really fancy brochures,” Crimmins said.” It is certainly not going to change my mind or the minds of most people in the community.”

Moscow’s Merry Pranksters – By Alexis Zimberg

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Big public demonstrations may be a new development in Russia, but protests in the streets have been around for a while. Just ask the artists.

BY ALEXIS ZIMBERG | MARCH 3, 2012

Street art as political protest is nothing new to Kirill Kto. For the past fifteen years the boyish, bespectacled Kto has been roaming Moscow’s streets armed with spray cans and paintbrushes. He lifts slogans from Kremlin-friendly youth organizations and paints them on luxury cars as a way of spotlighting the connection between money and power. He writes mini-manifestoes on the walls of Moscow that assail political apathy and institutionalized crime. When the powers-that-be abruptly decided to replace the long-time Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov with a Kremlin insider named Sergei Sobyanin in 2010, Kto used the city’s walls to send the new mayor a message: “Sobyanin, you’re just a baby,” Kto wrote. “Don’t disappoint me.”

Kto may do most of his work alone, but he isn’t exactly working in a vacuum. An extraordinary upswell of public protest in recent months has flooded the Russian streets, shaking assumptions about the stability of a political culture dominated for the past 12 years by Vladimir Putin, the former president and current prime minister. The overwhelming majority of these protestors — young, educated, and self-aware — are newcomers to politics, recently galvanized into action. But while their appearance on the scene may have caught political analysts off guard, the style and symbols of their protest have been many years in the making — forged by street artists like Kto and his ilk, often operating in plain sight of the authorities.

A sarcastic appreciation of the absurd has marked this new generation of protest ever since it reached critical mass last year. While demonstrators braced for a subzero protest in December, journalist Anastasia Karimova, adorned in nothing but a blue bikini and high heels, posed for a now-iconic photo in the snow, holding a sign urging her fellow Muscovites to turn out in defiance of the freezing temperatures. (They obliged.) Recently activists in the Siberian city of Barnaul filled public squares with demonstrations attended by Lego protesters — a sly commentary on the mayor’s ban on public protests. (The mayor thereupon issued a decree prohibiting the use of toys in political demonstrations.) And when Putin declared that the white ribbons serving as the opposition’s emblem allegedly reminded him of condoms, protestors responded by pinning actual condoms to their jackets in a wry display of unity.

It’s not hard to understand why politics and performance seem to be joined at the hip in modern-day Russia. Putin’s reign has gone along with a steady tightening of state control over the media. The Kremlin re-asserted its supremacy over national television and radio, as well as most of the country’s newspapers, and cracked down on business tycoons who attempted to use their billions to promote their own political agendas. The authorities were quick to suppress anything remotely resembling an unsanctioned political demonstration, clamping down on even the most minuscule protest marches in Moscow.

But Putin and his entourage have never believed in the wholesale Soviet approach to censorship, so they were happy to leave a few choice niches of relatively free expression. Some activists, like the anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, carved out spaces for themselves on the Internet. This is not to say, though, that the Web is a haven of free speech. Political institutions and hacker-for-hire groups easily navigate locked portals and IP addresses to threaten the security and privacy of these basement activists.

Undeterred, counterculture radicals have still found plenty of places to indulge in provocation. Recently, for example, it’s the alternative music scene that has proven fertile ground for protest. The feminist punk band “Pussy Riot” has taken a public stand for free elections and Putin’s hasty expulsion. In December, wearing miniskirts, balaclavas, and wool tights, the band serenaded Navalny outside the prison where he was jailed after leading a series of well-attended rallies against rigged parliamentary elections. Another performance by the group in Red Square skyrocketed the group to viral fame (and earned some of the band members brief stints in jail). A few weeks later they invaded Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow’s flagship Orthodox church, for a loud, impromptu, and stridently sacrilegious rock show.

Meanwhile, another band, “Lyapis Trubetskoi,” released a satirical music video entitled “Putinofthepeople.” The phantasmagorical footage mocks Russia – in both its Soviet and Putin-era manifestations – for its crime, corruption, and predictable failure to achieve promised utopias.

But if you really want to explore the antecedents of today’s culture of protest, the best place to start is with Russia’s graffiti artists. Some of the most notorious recent examples of shocking public art are credited to a collective called Voina (“War”). In 2011 they won a prestigious contemporary art award for defiling the Neva’s raising bridge with an immense spray-painted phallus. Though the group has kept to the streets for most of their work, last year they sneaked into Saint Petersburg’s Russian Museum to conduct an elaborately staged public orgy, which they promptly dedicated to President Medvedev. They’ve been known to throw cats at McDonald’s employees and light police vans on fire.

Ratings agency Moody’s downgrades Greece

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
AP Photo
AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Greece to the lowest rating on its bond scale late Friday, following a deal with private investors that would see them ultimately lose an estimated 70 percent of their holdings in Greek debt.

Moody’s lowered Greece’s sovereign rating to C from Ca, arguing that the risk of default remains high even a bond-swap deal with banks and other private investors, due to be completed this month, is successful.

It said it would “re-assess the credit risk profile” after Greece issues the new bonds.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s took similar action on Feb. 27.

The swap deal aims to cut euro107 billion ($144 billion) from the country’s debt, and would see private investors lose more than half the face value of their Greek bonds in exchange for new ones issued with more favorable repayment terms for the crisis-hit country.

The exchange is an integral part of a second bailout package for Greece by other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

“Looking ahead, the EU program and proposed debt exchanges will reduce Greece’s debt burden, but the risk of a default even after the debt exchange has been completed remains high,” Moody’s said.

“Moody’s believes that Greece will still face medium-term solvency challenges: its stock of debt will still be well in excess of 100 percent of gross domestic product for many years, the country is unlikely to be able to access the private market once the second assistance package runs out, and its planned fiscal and economic reforms will still face very significant implementation risks.”

U.N. chief speaks of "grisly reports" from Syria

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
Men wait to buy bread in front of a bakery shop during winter in Al Qusayr, a city in western Syria about 4.8km (3 miles) southwest of Homs, March 1, 2012. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic


BEIRUT/UNITED NATIONS |
Fri Mar 2, 2012 7:15pm EST

(Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had received “grisly reports” that Syrian government forces were arbitrarily executing, imprisoning and torturing people in the battle-scarred city of Homs after rebel fighters had fled.

Ban’s comments came as a wounded British photographer, who escaped Homs earlier this week, said he had witnessed Syrian troops carrying out a massacre in the city’s Baba Amro district, which had become a symbol of a year-long uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Opposition activists told Reuters Syrian troops, who had bombarded the district for weeks, had started hunting down and killing insurgents who had stayed to cover a rebel retreat on Thursday.

The rebel withdrawal was seen as a major setback for the armed revolt, that began with largely peaceful protests inspired by the “Arab Spring,” but escalated after a bloody government crackdown.

“A major assault on Homs took place yesterday,” Ban told the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Friday. “Civilian losses have clearly been heavy. We continue to received grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture.”

In some of his toughest criticism of Damascus to date, Ban added that “this atrocious assault is all the more appalling for having been waged by the government itself, systematically attacking its own people.”

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, said Ban’s remarks included “extremely virulent rhetoric which confines itself to slandering a government based on reports, opinions or hearsay.”

“The secretary-general is not duly informed,” he said, reiterating that the Syrian opposition consisted of “armed terrorist groups.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said an aid convoy had reached Baba Amro, but was not allowed to enter.

“It is unacceptable that people who have been in need of emergency assistance for weeks have still not received any help,” ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement.

“We are staying in Homs tonight in the hope of entering Baba Amro in the very near future.”

One activist in Homs told Reuters: “The Syrian army was holding the convoy up because they want to clean up after what they have done in Baba Amro.” As with other activist reports from Homs, this could not be independently confirmed.

“All men who remained in the neighborhood aged between 14 and 50 were arrested. We fear they will be massacred. Where is the world?” said one activist.

“The massacres are continuing. They are torturing them and killing (detainees) one by one. They are executing them in batches,” another activist, who left Baba Amro on Friday, told Reuters via Skype.

Iran parliament vote seen bolstering Supreme Leader

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on leaving the office to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.  An election official checks documents during Iran's parliamentary election, at a mosque in southern of Tehran March 2, 2012. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

EDITORS’ NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on leaving the office to report, film or take pictures in Tehran. An election official checks documents during Iran’s parliamentary election, at a mosque in southern of Tehran March 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Raheb Homavandi


TEHRAN |
Fri Mar 2, 2012 7:05pm EST

(Reuters) – Iranians wrapped up a parliamentary election likely to reinforce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s power over rival hardliners led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian leaders were looking for a high turnout at Friday’s poll to ease a crisis of legitimacy caused by Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009, when widespread accusations of fraud plunged the Islamic Republic into the worst unrest of its 33-year history.

Iran also faces economic turmoil compounded by Western sanctions over a nuclear program that has prompted threats of military action by Israel, whose leader meets U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House on Monday.

The vote in Iran is only a limited test of political opinion since leading reformist groups stayed out of what became a contest between the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad camps.

“Whenever there has been more enmity towards Iran, the importance of the elections has been greater,” Khamenei, 72, said after casting his vote before television cameras.

“The arrogant powers are bullying us to maintain their prestige. A high turnout will be better for our nation … and for preserving security.”

His hopes for wide participation received a boost when Iranian authorities had to delay the end of voting by five hours to let more people cast their ballot, closing polling stations at 11 p.m. (1930 GMT) on Friday.

Ballots are counted manually and Iranians may have to wait three days for full results.

The vote will have scant impact on Iran’s foreign or nuclear policies, in which Khamenei already has the final say, but could strengthen the Supreme Leader’s hand before the presidential vote next year. Ahmadinejad, 56, cannot run for a third term.

Iranians may be preoccupied with sharply rising prices and jobs, but it is Iran’s supposed nuclear ambitions that worry the outside world. Western sanctions over the nuclear program have hit imports, driving prices up and squeezing ordinary Iranians.

OBAMA-NETANYAHU TALKS

Just days away from the talks between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their aides were scrambling to bridge differences over what Washington fears could be a premature Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Left lashes out at Bob Kerrey

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Bob Kerrey took a lonely position against banning gay marriage in the 1990s. He opposed a ban on flag desecration, voted against welfare reform and ran up high Americans for Democratic Action scores while serving as the senator from one of the most conservative states in the nation.

But when he announced his plans to run for his old Senate seat earlier this week, it was greeted with boos, hisses and expletives from the left.

Continue Reading

Welcome back to Washington, senator.

While the Democratic establishment in D.C. is thrilled by his prospective return — the former two-term senator, after all, gives the party a shot at winning a Nebraska seat that was considered all but lost to the party — progressives responded to the news by sharpening their knives.

In the liberal blogosphere, the most energetic quarter of the party, Kerrey’s comeback bid was lambasted as the return of yet another mushy moderate. The online left says it won’t lift a finger for him — and in some cases, it’s even rooting against Kerrey.

It’s a reaction that’s emblematic of the new normal in Washington, a place where there’s no room for committed centrists like Maine GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe, who announced Tuesday she’ll retire after three terms — and perhaps even for members with a record of orbiting the center, such as Kerrey.

“I hope he gets carpet bombed. The more Republicans spend in Nebraska, the less they’ll have to go after Democratic Senate candidates who actually act like Democrats,” said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the influential blog Daily Kos. “And if it turns out he needs the help, then too bad. F—- him.”

The political world Kerrey is returning to after a decade out of politics looks nothing like the one he left in 2001, when he declined to run for a third term.

Volt production temporarily stopped

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Just days after President Barack Obama announced he would buy a Chevrolet Volt once he left office, General Motors has announced it will temporarily lay off 1,300 employees as the company stops production of the electric car for five weeks.

Production at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant will be shut down from March 19-April 23 due to poor sales of the electric car, The Associated Press reported on Friday.

Continue Reading

“We’re taking a temporary shutdown,” GM spokesman Chris Lee said. “We’re doing it to maintain our proper inventory levels as we align production with demand.”

Obama told a crowd of United Auto Workers activists on Feb. 28 that he would buy the electric car in “five years.”

“I got to get inside a brand-new Chevy Volt fresh off the line,” Obama said, referring to a recent visit to a Detroit Chevy factory. “Even though Secret Service wouldn’t let me drive it. But I liked sitting in it. It was nice. I’ll bet it drives real good. And five years from now when I’m not president anymore, I’ll buy one and drive it myself.”

GM had hoped to sell 10,000 Volts last year, but ended up selling just 7,671. It sold 1,023 in February and 603 in January, the AP reported. The company tweeted later on Friday that “the @ChevyVolt had a great Feb (1k+ sales). We stand behind the vehicle & tech. We’re adjusting for market demand and see great potential.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) slammed the suspension and layoffs in a statement, saying that the Obama administration’s promotion of electric vehicles “has failed.”

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.

Syrian ‘crimes’ against civilians

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
Crowd stand around words saying 'ARMING FREE ARMY'

The UN secretary general has described the assault on the Syrian city of Homs as “atrocious”, accusing the government of systematically attacking its own people

The Syrian authorities have committed clear and widespread crimes against the country’s civilian population, the UN secretary general has said.

In an address to the General Assembly, Ban Ki-moon said the international community had failed in its duty, and inaction had encouraged Syria’s leaders in their repression of civilians.

But he said further militarisation of the opposition was not the answer.

He spoke as the Red Cross waited to get access to a bombed-out part of Homs.

The ICRC said it had been refused permission to deliver aid to the Baba Amr district, which has suffered heavy bombardment by government forces in recent weeks, despite getting the go-ahead from the authorities on Friday morning.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said the hold-up was “unacceptable”.

The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said on Thursday it was leaving the district in a “tactical withdrawal”.

On Friday the UN human rights office said it had received reports of a “particularly grisly set of summary executions” of 17 people in Homs.

Meanwhile Paul Conroy, a Sunday Times photographer who fled Syria after being wounded in Homs, told the BBC that what was happening in Baba Amr was “systematic slaughter”.

Two French journalists caught up in the shelling and smuggled out of Homs into Lebanon have been flown back to a military airport outside Paris.

Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon: “We continue to receive grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture”

Edith Bouvier and William Daniels were met on arrival by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ms Bouvier was badly injured in the bombardment of a makeshift media centre last week, in which two other journalists were killed.

She was stretchered off the plane and is set to undergo surgery on Friday evening for multiple leg fractures.

The bodies of the two dead journalists, Marie Colvin of Britain’s Sunday Times and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, have arrived in Damascus and are expected to be returned home.

‘Virulent rhetoric’

Mr Ban said it was time for the international community to speak with one voice.

“Continued division emboldens the Syrian authorities in their violent path,” he said.

ICRC says taking journalists’ bodies to Damascus

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
Undated picture of French photographer Remi Ochlik, covering the Tunisian revolution in Ben Guerdane, Tunisia.  REUTERS/Yoan Valat/Handout


GENEVA |
Fri Mar 2, 2012 12:12pm EST

(Reuters) – Syrian authorities on Friday handed over the bodies of two journalists killed on February 22, American Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, to the ICRC, which is taking them by ambulance from Homs to Damascus, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

“We have the bodies of 2 journalists, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. They are being taken by ambulance of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, accompanied by the ICRC, and are heading to Damascus,” chief ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad told Reuters in Geneva.

“They were handed over in Homs by the Syrian authorities.”

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.”

Romney scores double US primary win

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
Rick Santorum has emerged as the standard bearer for many socially conservative Republicans [Reuters]

Mitt Romney has scored a double victory in the latest US presidential Republican primaries, but only after a tight race with main rival Rick Santorum in Michigan.

Romney’s narrow in his native Michigan, however, will do little to dispel the doubts about his ability to rally the party’s conservative base and take the US presidency from incumbent Barack Obama.

“Wow! What a night,” an obviously relieved Romney told cheering supporters at his state campaign headquarters in Novi, Michigan late on Tuesday night. “We didn’t win by a lot but we won by enough and that’s all that counts.”

Santorum, who is still riding high on momentum gained from primary wins in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado on February 7, also highlighted the closeness of the race.

“A month ago they didn’t know who we are but they do now,” Santorum told supporters after the results were announced. “We came into the backyard of one of my opponents in a race that everyone said, well, just ignore it, you have really no chance here,” Santorum said.

With 87 percent of Michigan’s precincts reporting, Romney had 41 per cent to Santorum’s 38 per cent. Ron Paul, the Texas congressman, was in third place with 12 per cent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was bringing up the rear with seven per cent.

Comfortable Arizona win

Judges in Egypt’s NGO trial pull out

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
Lead judge Mohammed Shoukry said Tuesday that “the court felt uneasiness” in handling the case [AFP]

All three judges in Egypt’s trial of 43 NGO workers have pulled out of the case, according to a court official.

The defendants, including 16 US citizens, are charged with using illegal foreign funds to foment unrest that has roiled Egypt over the past year.

The non-governmental organisations flatly deny the charges, and US officials have hinted foreign aid to Egypt could be in jeopardy because of the case.

Mohammed Shoukry, the lead judge in the case, said on Tuesday that “the court felt uneasiness” in handling the case, according to a court official. He did not elaborate.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said new judges would be assigned to the case.

The trial has so far only made it as far as its opening session, and would need to be restarted with a new panel of judges.
Combined with indications that the two countries are trying to find an acceptable resolution to the crisis, there is speculation that the case could be dropped.

The trial was expected to reconvene on April 26

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, told two senate panels on Tuesday that the US and Egypt, which has long been considered a close ally of Washington, were “in very intensive discussions about finding a solution”.

“We’ve had a lot of very tough conversations,” she said. “We’re moving toward a resolution.”

“It’s important that they know that we are continuing to push them,” Clinton said.

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.

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