BBC.CNN WORLD NEWS
Showing posts with label us news and world. Show all posts
Showing posts with label us news and world. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Romney eyes New Hampshire win despite late attacks

romney
Romney in talking
(Reuters) - Mitt Romney was poised to take a big step toward the Republican U.S. presidential nomination on Tuesday by capturing New Hampshire, hoping to ride out last-minute attacks labeling him a corporate raider who enjoyed firing workers.

The former governor of neighboring Massachusetts carried a sizeable lead in polls into voting day, a sufficient cushion that should force rivals Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum into a battle for second place.

Romney, 63, would be the first Republican who is not an incumbent president to win the first two early voting states, after his slim eight-vote victory over former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum a week ago in the Iowa caucuses.

A more resounding win would provide momentum going into South Carolina on January 21 and Florida on January 31. He leads in polls of both states and victories there could all but sew up his nomination to face Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 general election.

A Suffolk University/7 News tracking poll on Tuesday showed Romney with 37 percent support among New Hampshire voters, versus 18 percent for Paul, 16 percent for Huntsman, 11 percent for Santorum, 9 percent for Gingrich and 1 percent for Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Seven percent of voters were undecided in the telephone survey on Sunday and Monday, which had an error margin of 4.4 percentage points.

The same poll on Monday had Romney at 33 percent, Paul at 20 percent, Huntsman with 13 percent, Gingrich at 11, Santorum 10 and undecided at 12 percent.

"You're going to make a big statement tomorrow, let's take it to the next step, give me the boost I need, I hope," said Romney in Bedford on Monday night at his final rally of the day.

It was unclear how much damage had been done by a mess of his own making in which Romney declared "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," in discussing the need for greater competition between health insurance companies.

Romney's opponents seized on the comment as evidence that the former venture capitalist is an out-of-touch politician and coupled it with attacks over his record at Bain Capital, a firm that bought companies and restructured them.

"Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs," Huntsman said.

In a sharp departure for a party known as friendly to business, Republicans seeking to slow Romney sounded more like populists as they bashed his work as a venture capitalist.

Former House Speaker Gingrich, brooding over negative attacks from Romney and his backers that knocked him out of the front-runner position, has launched the toughest onslaught.

"Mitt Romney was not a capitalist during his reign at Bain. He was a predatory corporate raider," a video produced by a pro-Gingrich group said.

New Hampshire voting stations close at 7 p.m. EST (midnight GMT). About 250,000 people are expected to vote in the Republican primary while 75,000 are likely to vote to endorse Obama's re-election.

In Dixville Notch, the tiny village that traditionally votes at midnight to kick off New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary, the nine voters were split at two votes each for Romney and Huntsman.

WHO CAN DEFEAT OBAMA?

Some voters expressed strong support for Romney.

"I saw him work as a businessman, he sees what needs to be done and gets it done," said nurse Dennis Hamson, 58, who was voting in Londonderry early on Tuesday.

But not everyone was happy about voting for him.

Eli Haykinson of Bedford said he did not want to vote for Romney but might have to because he could have the best chance to defeat Obama. "I personally don't like his huge campaign style. You don't really get to feel him at all," Haykinson said.

Romney's rivals were mostly waging a fierce battle to sway undecided voters their way and win second place. "He's a homeboy. He's been here for a whole lot of years... you serve in the neighboring state as governor, you've got a lot of advantages in terms of name recognition," Huntsman said on MSNBC.

Both libertarian U.S. Representative Paul and Huntsman, a former Utah governor who was the U.S. ambassador to China, have been on the rise in recent days.

Santorum, who nearly won Iowa by appealing to social conservatives, has not seen that message resonate in New Hampshire.

Voter Luke Breen, 52, a financial analyst voting in Londonderry, where many residents commute to Boston, said he would not support a candidate who seemed intolerant and had backed Huntsman.

"He seemed to be more worldly," he said. "I know gay people and everyone has to have gay rights under our constitution."

Santorum and Perry, along with Gingrich, are looking ahead to South Carolina to challenge Romney.

Romney leads there for now but Gingrich backers have launched $3.4 million worth of ads in South Carolina to try to slow him down in the more conservative southern state.




Monday, January 09, 2012

Iran Sentences American, 28, to Death

Iran sentences American
Amir Mirzaei Hekmati

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian court has convicted an American man of working for the CIA and sentenced him to death, state radio reported Monday, in a case adding to the accelerating tension between the United States and Iran.

Iran charges that as a former U.S. Marine, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission. The radio report did not say when the verdict was issued.

The 28-year-old former military translator was born in Arizona and graduated from high school in Michigan. His family is of Iranian origin. His father, a professor at a community college in Flint, Michigan, has said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.

Behnaz Hekmati, his mother, said in an email to The Associated Press that she and her husband, Ali, are "shocked and terrified" that their son has been sentenced to death. She said the verdict is "the result of a process that was neither transparent nor fair."

Under Iranian law, he has 20 days to appeal. Hekmati has a court-appointed lawyer who was identified only by his surname, Samadi, and there was no word about an appeal.

Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei, spokesman for Iran's judiciary said if the verdict is appealed, it would go to Iran's Supreme Court, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Hekmati's trial took place as the U.S. announced new, tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which Washington believes Tehran is using to develop a possible atomic weapons capability.

Iran, which says it only seeks nuclear reactors for energy and research, has sharply increased its threats and military posturing against stronger pressures, including the U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's Central Bank in attempts to complicate its ability to sell oil.

The U.S. State Department has demanded Hekmati's release.

The court convicted him of working with a hostile country, belonging to the CIA and trying to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism, Monday's report said.

In its ruling, a branch of Tehran Revolutionary Court described Hekmati as a mohareb, an Islamic term that means a fighter against God, and a mofsed, or one who spreads corruption on earth. Both terms appear frequently in Iranian court rulings.

In a closed court hearing in late December, the prosecution asked for the death penalty for Hekmati.

The U.S. government has called on Iranian authorities to grant Swiss diplomats access to him in prison. The Swiss government represents U.S. interests in Iran because the two countries don't have diplomatic relations.

Hekmati is a dual U.S.-Iranian national. Iran considers him an Iranian since the country's law does not recognize dual citizenship.

Similar cases against Americans accused of spying have heightened tensions throughout the years-long standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

Iran arrested three Americans in July 2009 along the border with Iraq and accused them of espionage, though the Americans said they were just hiking in the scenic and relatively peaceful Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

One of them was released after a year in prison, and the other two were freed in September in deals involving bail payments that were brokered by the Gulf sultanate of Oman, which has good relations with Iran and the U.S.

On Dec. 18, Iran's state TV broadcast video of Hekmati delivering a purported confession in which he said he was part of a plot to infiltrate Iran's Intelligence Ministry.

In a statement released the same day, the Intelligence Ministry said its agents identified Hekmati before his arrival in Iran, at Bagram Air Field in neighboring Afghanistan. Bagram is the main base for American and other international forces outside Kabul, the Afghan capital.

It is not clear exactly when he was arrested. News reports have said he was detained in late August or early September.

Hekmati's father said in a December interview with The Associated Press, that his son was a former Arabic translator in the U.S. Marines who entered Iran about four months earlier to visit his grandmothers.

At the time, he was working in Qatar as a contractor for a company "that served the Marines," his father said, without providing more specific details.

News by Huffingtonpost



Wednesday, January 04, 2012

U.S. to unveil "more realistic" plan for military

obama
Barack Obama, US President
(Reuters) - The Obama administration will unveil a "more realistic" vision for the military on Thursday, with plans to cut tens of thousands of ground troops and invest more in air and sea power at a time of fiscal restraint, officials familiar with the plans said on Wednesday.

The strategic review of U.S. security interests will also emphasize an American presence in Asia, with less attention overall to Europe, Africa and Latin America alongside slower growth in the Pentagon's budget, the officials said.

Though specific budget cut and troop reduction figures are not set to be announced on Thursday, officials confirmed to Reuters they would amount to a 10-15 percent decline in Army and Marine Corps numbers over the next decade, translating to tens of thousands of troops.

The most profound shift in the strategic review is an acceptance that the United States, even with the world's largest military budget, cannot afford to maintain the ground troops to fight more than one major war at once. That is a move away from the "win-win" strategy that has dominated Pentagon funding decisions for decades.

The move to a "win-spoil" plan, allowing U.S. forces to fight one campaign and stop or block another conflict, includes a recognition that the White House would need to ramp up public support for further engagement and draw more heavily on reserve and national guard troops when required.

"As Libya showed, you don't necessarily have to have boots on the ground all the time," an official said, explaining the White House view.

"We are refining our strategy to something that is more realistic," the official added.

President Barack Obama will help launch the U.S. review at the Pentagon on Thursday, and is expected to emphasize that the size of the U.S. military budget has been growing and will continue to grow, but at a slower pace.

Obama has moved to curtail U.S. ground commitments overseas, ending the war in Iraq, drawing down troops in Afghanistan and ruling out anything but air power and intelligence support for rebels who overthrew Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The number of U.S. military personnel formally assigned to bases in Europe - including many now deployed in Afghanistan - is also set to decline sharply, administration sources said, while stressing that the final numbers have not been set.

'BASICALLY DISAPPEAR'


"When some army brigades start coming out of Afghanistan, they will basically disappear," one official said.

Many of the key U.S. military partners in the NATO alliance are also facing tough defense budget cuts as a result of fiscal strains gripping the European Union.

The president may face criticism from defense hawks in Congress, many of them opposition Republicans, who question his commitment to U.S. military strength.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, are set to hold a news conference to flesh out the contents of the review after Obama's remarks, which are also expected to stress the need to rein in spending at a time when U.S. budgets are tight.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the defense cuts stemming from an August debt ceiling deal - worth about $489 billion over 10 years - need to be enacted carefully.

"The president made clear to his team that we need to take a hard look at all of our defense spending to ensure that spending cuts are surgical and that our top priorities are met," Carney told reporters this week.

The military could be forced to cut another $600 billion in defense spending over 10 years unless Congress takes action to stop a second round of cuts mandated in the August accord.

Panetta spent much of Wednesday afternoon briefing key congressional leaders about the strategic review. Representative Adam Smith, the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said after speaking to Panetta that the review was an attempt to evaluate U.S. strategic priorities for the future rather than identify specific budget reductions.

Maintaining a significant presence in the Middle East and Asia, especially to counter Iran and North Korea, was a leading priority in the review, Smith said. So was making sure that military personnel are sufficiently cared for to guarantee the effectiveness of the all-volunteer force. Reductions in the size of U.S. forces in Europe and elsewhere are a real possibility, he said.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby said with the military winding down a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is appropriate to re-evaluate the role of U.S. forces abroad.

"From an operational perspective it's ... an opportune time to take a look at what the U.S. military is doing and what it should be doing or should be preparing itself to do over the next 10 to 15 years," he said on Wednesday.

"So, yes, the budget cuts are certainly a driver here, but so quite frankly are current events," Kirby said.




Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Iran threatens U.S. Navy as sanctions hit economy

iranian submarine
Iranian Submarine
(Reuters) - Iran threatened Tuesday to take action if the U.S. Navy moves an aircraft carrier into the Gulf, Tehran's most aggressive statement yet after weeks of saber-rattling as new U.S. and EU financial sanctions take a toll on its economy.

The prospect of sanctions targeting the oil sector in a serious way for the first time has hit Iran's rial currency, which reached a record low Tuesday and has fallen by 40 percent against the dollar in the past month.

Queues formed at banks and some currency exchange offices shut their doors as Iranians scrambled to buy dollars to protect their savings from the currency's fall.

Army chief Ataollah Salehi said the United States had moved an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf because of Iran's naval exercises, and Iran would take action if the ship returned.

"Iran will not repeat its warning ... the enemy's carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf," army chief Salehi said.

"I advise, recommend and warn them over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once."

The aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis leads a U.S. Navy task force in the region. It is now in the Arabian Sea providing air support for the war in Afghanistan, said Lieutenant Rebecca Rebarich, spokeswoman for the U.S. 5th Fleet.

The carrier left the Gulf on December 27 on a "preplanned, routine transit" through the Straight of Hormuz, she said.

Forty percent of the world's traded oil flows through that narrow straight - which Iran threatened last month to shut if sanctions halted its oil exports.

Brent crude futures were up more than $4 Tuesday afternoon in London, pushing above $111 a barrel on the news of potential threats to supply in the Gulf, as well as strong Chinese economic data.

Tehran's latest threat comes at a time when sanctions are having an unprecedented impact on its economy, and the country faces political uncertainty with an election in March, its first since a 2009 vote that triggered countrywide demonstrations.

The West has imposed the increasingly tight sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is strictly peaceful but Western countries believe aims to build an atomic bomb. After years of measures that had little impact, the new sanctions are the first that could have a serious effect on Iran's oil trade, 60 percent of its economy.

Sanctions signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve would cut off financial institutions that work with Iran's central bank from the U.S. financial system, blocking the main path for payments for Iranian oil.

The EU is expected to impose new sanctions by the end of this month, possibly including a ban on oil imports and a freeze of central bank assets.

Even Iran's top trading partner China - which has refused to back new global sanctions against Iran - is demanding discounts to buy Iranian oil as Tehran's options narrow. Beijing has cut its imports of Iranian crude by more than half for January, paying premiums for oil from Russia and Vietnam to replace it.

THREATS


Iran has responded to the tighter measures with belligerent rhetoric, spooking oil markets briefly when it announced last month it could prevent shipping through the Straight of Hormuz.

It then held 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf, test firing missiles that could hit U.S. bases in the Middle East. Tuesday's apparent threat to take action against the U.S. military for sailing in international waters takes the aggressive rhetoric to a new level.

Experts still say they do not expect Tehran to charge headlong into an act of war - the U.S. Navy is overwhelmingly more powerful than Iran's sea forces - but Iran is running out of diplomatic wiggle room to avert a confrontation.

"I think we should be very worried because the diplomacy that should accompany this rise in tension seems to be lacking on both sides," said Richard Dalton, former British ambassador to Iran and now an associate fellow at Chatham House think tank.

"I don't believe either side wants a war to start. I think the Iranians will be aware that if they block the Strait or attack a U.S. ship, they will be the losers. Nor do I think that the U.S. wants to use its military might other than as a means of pressure. However, in a state of heightened emotion on both sides, we are in a dangerous situation."

Henry Wilkinson at Janusian Risk Advisory consultants said the threats might be a bid by Iran to remind countries contemplating sanctions of the cost of havoc on oil markets.

"Such threats can cause market confidence in the global oil supply to wobble and can push up oil prices and shipping insurance prices. For the EU powers debating new sanctions, this could be quite a pinch in the current economic climate."

The new U.S. sanctions law, if implemented fully, would make it impossible for many refineries to pay Iran for crude. It takes effect gradually and lets Obama grant waivers to prevent an oil price shock, so its precise impact is hard to gauge.

The European Union is expected to consider new measures by the end of this month. A blockade would halt purchase of Iranian oil by EU members such as such as crisis-hit Greece, which has taken advantage of the discounted price of Iranian crude.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris wants new measures taken by January 30, when EU foreign ministers meet. President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed freezing Iranian central bank assets and an oil embargo, Juppe said.

A German foreign ministry spokesman said Berlin was in discussions with other EU states on "qualitatively new sanctions against Iran" to "ensure the sources of funding for the Iranian nuclear program dry up."

Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said member states would discuss the issue this week in the hope of reaching an agreement on new steps before the January 30 meeting.

"The ball is still in the Iranians' court," he said.

Iran has written to Ashton asking to restart talks over its nuclear program that collapsed a year ago. The EU says it does not want talks unless Iran is prepared to discuss serious steps, such as halting its enrichment of uranium.

CHINA CUTS IRAN OIL IMPORTS


Although China, India and other countries are unlikely to sign up to any oil embargo, tighter Western sanctions mean such customers will be able to insist on deeper discounts for Iranian oil, reducing Tehran's income.

Beijing has already been driving a hard bargain. China, which bought 11 percent of its oil from Iran during the first 11 months of last year, has cut its January purchase by about 285,000 barrels per day, more than half of the close to 550,000 bpd that it bought through a 2011 contract.

The impact of falling government income from oil sales can be felt on the streets in Iran in soaring prices for state subsidized goods and a falling rial currency.

Some currency exchange offices in Tehran, when contacted by Reuters, said there was no trading until further notice.

"The rate is changing every second ... We are not taking in any rials to change to dollars or any other foreign currency," said Hamid Bakshi in central Tehran.

Housewife Zohreh Ghobadi, in a long line at a bank, said she was trying to withdraw her savings and change it into dollars.

Iranian authorities played down any link between the souring exchange rate and the imposition of the new sanctions.

"The new American sanctions have not materialized yet," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

The economic impact is being felt ahead of a nationwide parliamentary election on March 2, the first vote since a disputed 2009 presidential election that brought tens of thousands of Iranian demonstrators into the streets.

Iran's rulers put those protests down by force, but since then the "Arab Spring" revolts have show that authoritarian governments in the region are vulnerable to street unrest.

In a sign of political tension among Iran's elite ahead of the vote, a court jailed the daughter of powerful former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani Tuesday and banned her from politics for "anti-state propaganda."

Rafsanjani sided with reformists during the demonstrations following the 2009 vote. Daughter Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani went on trial last month on charges of "campaigning against the Islamic establishment," news agency ISNA said.




Sunday, January 01, 2012

Americans buy record numbers of guns for Christmas

gun
Guns
According to the FBI, over 1.5 million background checks on customers were requested by gun dealers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in December. Nearly 500,000 of those were in the six days before Christmas.

It was the highest number ever in a single month, surpassing the previous record set in November.

On Dec 23 alone there were 102,222 background checks, making it the second busiest single day for buying guns in history.

The actual number of guns bought may have been even higher if individual customers took home more than one each.

Explanations for America's surge in gun buying include that it is a response to the stalled economy with people fearing crime waves. Another theory is that buyers are rushing to gun shops because they believe tighter firearms laws will be introduced in the future.

The National Rifle Association said people were concerned about self defence because police officer numbers were declining.

A spokesman said: "I think there's an increased realisation that when something bad occurs it's going to be between them and the criminal."

But anti-gun campaigners said those who already owned weapons were simply hoarding more of them due to "fear-mongering" by the NRA.

A spokeswoman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said: "The research we've seen indicates fewer and fewer people are owning more and more guns."

Dave LaRue, of Legendary Guns in Phoenix, Arizona, said Christmas sales were up 25 per cent on the previous year and ammunition sales were also "brisk".

He said: "There are a lot of people concerned about pending gun legislation and the sense about the current administration. People think future availability will be limited and there's a feeling of get it while you can."

The record for gun sales in a single day was set in November, on the day after Thanksgiving, when 129,166 background searches were carried out on customers buying weapons.

Since the near-fatal shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by a deranged gunman in Tucson, Arizona last January there have been increasing calls for tighter gun control. Miss Giffords survived being shot in the head with a semi-automatic handgun, and six other people were killed.


News by Telegraph


Read current news at http://bbc-cnn-worldnews.blogspot.com

The 75 Things New Yorkers Talked About in 2011

newyork
New Yorkers
IT was a year in which the words “till death do us part” took on new, life-changing meaning for thousands of gay New Yorkers and significantly less for one overexposed Kardashian.

It was a year in which smart, talented women ruled the music scene (Adele), the best-seller lists (Tina Fey) and the box office (“Bridesmaids”), and starred in the best new show on television (Claire Danes in “Homeland”).

It was a year in which America’s pastime reasserted its power over sports fans in one compelling night, even if the Yankees came out on the losing end.

It was a year in which protests toppled dictators in the Middle East and turned an otherwise obscure park in downtown Manhattan into a weekend tourist attraction for many New Yorkers and a handy photo opp for celebrities (Kanye West, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Penn Badgley) eager to show their solidarity with the “99 percent.”

It was a year in which Mormons sang, Chaz Bono danced and Anderson Cooper talked.

It was, as always, a year of memorable moments — some awe-inspiring, some laughable, some just head-shaking. (Charlie Sheen? Winning? Really?) Here are some of the most compelling topics of conversation of 2011.

1. The G.O.P. debates. The best reality TV show not on Bravo.

2. The best moment of the debates: “Oops.”

3. The second-best moment of the debates: Ron Paul’s errant eyebrow.

4. Regis Philbin calls it quits after 28 years.

5. Kim Kardashian calls it quits after 72 days.

6. Adele.

7. Kate Middleton’s wedding dress (by Sarah Burton): Grace Kelly reborn.

8. Princess Beatrice’s fascinator (by Philip Treacy). Laugh if you will, but it raised $131,000 for charity.

9. Pippa Middleton’s derrière (by nature). The backside that launched a thousand paparazzi shots.

10. The D.S.K. whiplash. He’s guilty! No, he’s innocent! Hey, maybe he’s guilty after all.

11. The Alexander McQueen show at the Met. A tortured British designer proves almost as popular as King Tut.

12. Steve Jobs. Fittingly, many people learned the news of his death on their iPhones.

13. Occupy Wall Street. Brought the phrase “the other 99 percent” to a zillion T-shirts and bestowed unexpected, late-in-life fame to a former Ed Koch aide, John Zuccotti.

14. Chaz Bono on “Dancing With the Stars”: a transgender star is born.

15. Ellen Barkin on Twitter. Never has unbridled profanity been so entertaining.

16. Sept. 28 and the most thrilling three hours in baseball history. Final scores: Philadelphia 3, Atlanta 2; Baltimore 4, Boston 3; Tampa Bay 8, New York Yankees 7.

17. “9-9-9.”

18. “Homeland.” Angela Chase grows up into a pill-popping, bipolar, line-crossing C.I.A. operative. The most compelling character on television in 2011.

19. You’re never too young to be a cougar. Selena Gomez (19) snares Justin Bieber (17).

20. Splits: Arnold and Maria, Ashton and Demi, Scarlett and Ryan, Candace Bushnell and Charles Askegard.

21. Funny women: Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Chelsea Handler, “Bridesmaids,” the showstopping moment at the Emmys when all the nominees for best actress in a comedy series came up onstage together.

22. Serena Williams has another meltdown at the United States Open.

23. Al Sharpton gets a TV show on MSNBC. We’re waiting to see if Tawana Brawley will ever be one of his guests.

24. Keith Olbermann leaves MSNBC to go to Current TV, is never heard from again.

25. Zooey Deschanel: adorable or irritating? Discuss.

26. The Uniqlo phenomenon. Its ads were inescapable (especially for anyone who rode the subway).

27. Anderson Cooper’s disappointing talk show. Sigh. He should have waited for Regis to retire.

28. A hearty farewell to bin Laden, Qadaffi and Kim Jong-il.

29. Anthony Weiner resigns after reports surface that he has tweeted pictures of his naked torso to young women across the country. Insert joke here.

30. Same-sex marriage comes to New York State.

31. Cathie Black’s short, shockingly inept stint as New York schools chancellor.

32. O.K., she was a terrible chancellor, but no one deserved that unpitying photo of her that New York magazine ran on its cover.

33. Nascar fans boo Michelle Obama and Jill Biden when they show up at a race — to promote a charity.

34. Here, there and everywhere. The ubiquitous Nicki Minaj.

35. The Murdoch phone-hacking scandal. Has there ever been a better example of schadenfreude?

36. Mia Farrow’s and Woody Allen’s son, Ronan (né Satchel) is named a Rhodes scholar.

37. The Netflix debacle.

38. Waiting for “Downton Abbey” to return.

39. The end of Elaine’s.

40. In August, Mayor Bloomberg announces a deputy mayor has resigned to pursue “private-sector opportunities in infrastructure finance.” Left out of the announcement: The official had been arrested days earlier after allegations of a domestic dispute with his wife.

41. Brian Williams: the next Walter Cronkite or the next Johnny Carson?

42. Blake Lively and Leo DiCaprio

43. Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds.

44. Ryan Gosling’s abs.

45. The heat wave in July. The hurricane in August. The blizzard in October. Mother Nature must be awfully angry about something.

46. The terrifying Tiger Mother.

47. Elizabeth Taylor goes out with a bang. The auction of her jewelry, gowns and other belongings at Christie’s raises $156 million, much of which will go to her AIDS foundation.

48. The maddeningly catchy (or maybe just maddening) “Moves Like Jagger.”

49. Getting lost at “Sleep No More.”

50. Getting a lap dance from Hugh Jackman.

51. Planking.

52. “Twilight.” Isn’t it over yet?

53. The body count at “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”

54. The guessing game at Dior.

55. Andy Rooney signs off for the last time

56. Lady Gaga, yes. Jo Calderone, no.

57. Michael Fassbender. And not just because of the frontal nudity in “Shame.”

58. Meryl Streep. And not just because she nails the accent (again) in “The Iron Lady.”

59. R.I.P., R.E.M.

60. The two Emmas (Stone and Watson) rocked the red carpet in 2011.

61. “The Book of Mormon.” Never has blasphemy been so hilarious.

62. Oprah takes a year — and three finale shows — to say goodbye.

63. The 10th anniversary of 9/11.

64. Gospel brunch at Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem.

65. “I simply do not know where the money is.”

66. The seatmates from hell. Gérard Depardieu is escorted off an Air France flight after he urinates in the middle of the cabin. Alec Baldwin gets into a fight with flight attendants over his refusal to stop playing “Words With Friends” on his iPhone.

67. The scandal at Penn State: What did JoePa know, and when did he know it?

68. Mothers of reinvention: Tina Brown and Arianna Huffington.

69. The end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

70. The nearly two-day waits to buy a new iPad 2. (One woman spends 41 hours in line at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue, then sells her spot for $900.)

71. Tebow Time.

72. Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied.

73. A fond farewell to Erica Kane and the rest of Pine Valley.

74. The now officially annoying James Franco.

75. The revival of Larry Kramer’s 1985 play, “The Normal Heart.” An eloquent reminder that Silence = Death.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 29, 2011

In a previous version of this article, listing No. 69 referred to an event that occurred in 2010, the Marina Abramovic retrospective at MoMA. And while some models in the exhibition were nude, Ms. Abramovic herself was not.

News by NYtimes


Read current news at http://bbc-cnn-worldnews.blogspot.com

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Man with explosives stopped at Texas airport

explosive
Exclusive stopped in Texas
SAN ANTONIO Dec 31 (Reuters) - A man found to be carrying explosives in "military grade wrapping" was detained at a western Texas airport on Saturday, forcing the evacuation of the area, officials said.

The explosives were found during a routine inspection at a security checkpoint inside Midland International Airport, Midland city spokeswoman Tasa Watts said. The Transportation Security Administration evacuated the terminal and conducted a security sweep, she said.

The incident at the airport in Midland, which is about 280 miles northwest of San Antonio, came as many Americans set out on airplane trips for the New Year's Day holiday.

No details were immediately available about the man or why he had the explosives, which Watts said were "wrapped in military grade wrapping."

TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the "suspicious item" was found in a carry-on bag.

"The checkpoint was closed for approximately one hour while officials investigated and removed the item from the checkpoint area," Farbstein said.

News by Reuters


Read current news at http://bbc-cnn-worldnews.blogspot.com

Romney leads Paul in Iowa poll, Santorum surges

united states
Romney
(Reuters) - Republican Mitt Romney narrowly leads rival Ron Paul in Iowa three days before the state kicks off the party's presidential nominating race, according to a Des Moines Register poll released on Saturday.

The closely watched poll, which has a strong track record in Iowa races, showed Rick Santorum surging past Newt Gingrich into third place in a fluid race where 41 percent of likely caucus-goers said they could still change their minds.

The newspaper's poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday, showed Romney with 24 percent support, Paul with 22 percent, Santorum with 15 percent and Gingrich 12 percent. In fifth place was Rick Perry with 11 percent while Michele Bachmann was sixth with 7 percent.

The poll was released as candidates launched the final stretch run for Tuesday's contest in Iowa, the first in the state-by-state battle to choose a Republican challenger to Obama, a Democrat, in the November election.

The results were a huge boost to Romney, who has resumed his front-runner's role in the Republican presidential race in the last few weeks after the slide of Gingrich.

A victory for Romney in Iowa, combined with a win in the next contest on January 10 in New Hampshire could put the former Massachusetts governor on a path to clinching the Republican nomination early.

But Santorum was the candidate with the momentum. The Register poll was taken over a four-day period and the newspaper said that in the final two days of that period, Santorum was in second place with 21 percent. Romney stayed the same at 24 percent.

The poll was more bad news for Gingrich, the former House speaker who led the race a few weeks ago but has faded under an onslaught of attack ads from Paul and an outside group that backs Romney.

At a stop in Iowa earlier on Saturday, Gingrich said he would adjust his campaign strategy to respond more forcefully to the attacks.

'NASTIER AND DISHONEST'

"We're learning a lot about what our opponents will do. They are nastier and more dishonest than I expected. So we'll have to make some adjustments," Gingrich said in Atlantic, Iowa.

But Gingrich said he would not respond directly to negative ads run by the group that supports Romney.

"We may go to a much more clearer contrast but we're not going to respond in kind," Gingrich said. "Those ads are dishonest and he knows it. They are factually false and he knows it. And we're not doing anything like that."

The candidates rolled across Iowa in buses on Saturday, stopping at coffee shops, restaurants and even a car museum to try to win over doubters and energize supporters to turn out to the caucuses.

In Iowa's quirky caucus system, voters gather to cast ballots in public meetings after listening to pitches on behalf of the candidates.

Paul, known for his libertarian views, is taking the holiday weekend off in Texas before returning to Iowa on Monday.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania with a strong social conservative message, is trying to unite Iowa's influential evangelical Christian voters behind him and score an upset with a surge in the final days.

"If you really want to transform America, it has to be about values, faith and freedom," he told a crowd in Knoxville, Iowa.

Gingrich, along with Santorum, Bachmann and Jon Huntsman, also joined a lawsuit already filed by Perry against Virginia's Board of Elections to qualify for the state's 2012 primary election.

Romney and Paul were the only candidates who managed to submit the required 10,000 verifiable signatures collected by registered voters in the state in order to get on Virginia's ballot for its March 6 primary.


News by Reuters


Read current news at http://bbc-cnn-worldnews.blogspot.com

Monday, December 26, 2011

Missing 9-Year-Old Indiana Girl's Body Discovered; Family Friend Charged With Murder

Aliahna Lemmon
Aliahna Lemmon
 FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- A missing 9-year-old Indiana girl has been found dead, and the family friend who was watching her before she disappeared was charged Monday night with murder, authorities said.

Allen County sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Jeremy Tinkel said investigators found the body of Aliahna Lemmon in the county, but he wouldn't say where. He also said 39-year-old Mike Plumadore was "interviewed by police and taken into custody at 9 p.m. and charged with murder."

Plumadore, who had been watching Aliahna and her sisters before she was reported missing late Friday, is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.

Earlier Monday, FBI agents descended on the rundown mobile home park in Fort Wayne where Aliahna lived. It's a known haven for registered sex offenders, though Plumadore isn't on Indiana's registered sex offenders list. He has a criminal record in Florida and North Carolina that includes convictions for trespassing and assault.

More than 100 emergency workers searched Saturday for Aliahna around the mobile home park, where she was last seen. No active search was done Sunday for the girl, but search dogs and FBI agents were at the park and the girl's home on Monday.

According to a state website, 15 registered sex offenders live at the mobile home park that numbers about two dozen homes.

Aliahna's mother, Tarah Souders, 28, told The Journal Gazette earlier Monday that her daughter had vision and hearing problems and suffered from attention deficit disorder and emotional problems. Aliahna and her sisters were staying at a family friend's nearby home because their mother had been sick with the flu and Aliahna's stepfather works at night and sleeps during the day.

Plumadore told the newspaper Sunday that he left the three girls in his mobile home about 6 a.m. Friday and went to a gas station about a mile away to buy a cigar. Authorities have said the store's surveillance video shows him there about that time.

"I had dead-bolted the door," he said. "When I got back, all the girls was here."

He said he smoked his cigar and went back to sleep, then woke up about 10 a.m. when Aliahna's mother called. After that call, he realized the door to the home was unlocked and that Aliahna was gone. He said Aliahna's 6-year-old sisters told him Aliahna had left with her mom.

Plumadore said it wasn't until he talked with Aliahna's mom about 8:30 p.m. that they realized she was missing and police were notified.

Tarah Souders said miscommunication between the two of them caused the delay in determining that Aliahna had vanished.

"She's never wandered off," Souders said. "She's never done anything like this before."

News by Huffingtonpost

Read current news at http://bbc-cnn-worldnews.blogspot.com

Friday, December 23, 2011

Congress punts hard payroll tax work to 2012

barack obama
Barack Obama
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama signed into law a two-month payroll tax cut extension on Friday, capping a year of fierce partisan combat over taxes and spending that will resume in January and play heavily in the 2012 elections.

The Senate and the House of Representatives, by voice votes in chambers nearly emptied for the holidays, passed a $33 billion (21 billion pounds) bill to keep the payroll tax rate at 4.2 percent through February. It had been scheduled to increase on January 1 to 6.2 percent. Obama swiftly signed the bill.

"We have a lot more work to do," the president said at the White House. "This continues to be a make-or-break moment for the middle class ... There are going to be some important debates next year."

Obama heads to vacation in Hawaii with an important political win in his portfolio after he and fellow Democrats prevailed in the message war by backing lower taxes for middle-class Americans in the midst of a fragile economic recovery.

The battle took a toll on House Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner, who were forced to make an embarrassing retreat and agree to a short-term deal Thursday after getting hit by critics on all sides, include their colleagues in the Senate.

The temporary fix lets lawmakers lower the curtain, for now, on a year of political deadlock that in the end produced only a series of inconclusive truces. The fiscal policy debate is set to rage straight through the 2012 election season and beyond.

While Congress is on a long winter break now and does not return to full swing until late January, newly appointed negotiators are expected to begin work soon on figuring out how to pay for extending the payroll tax cut through 2012.

Republicans have sought a continued freeze on federal worker pay and cuts in Medicare benefits for the wealthy. Democrats have rejected both ideas while proposing a surtax on the wealthy to cover the extension's cost. Republicans reject this.

Both sides have been open to cutting federal workers' pension benefits. There also were last-minute Senate negotiations last week on possibly ending some tax breaks for the wealthy, such as a small one involving corporate jets.

Minutes after the bipartisan deal was passed by Congress, the bickering that has come to dominate Capitol Hill resumed.

Republican Representative Tom Price, a leader of House conservatives, immediately criticized the short-term extension, calling it a "two-month punt" and saying it would not have been needed if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, and Obama had "been willing to do their job today."

'NOTHING OFF THE TABLE'

In a sign that the battle is far from over, Reid signaled that Democrats could renew their push for a surtax on wealthier Americans. Democrats had dropped that demand during the year-end negotiations that produced the two-month deal.

"There is nothing off the table," he said.

Obama scored a victory in the payroll tax struggle over Tea Party conservatives in the House who tried to block the two-month extension. They backed down on Thursday in the face of bipartisan criticism, but they are not going away.

Representative Tim Huelskamp, a first-term Republican, said on CNN that he was disappointed with Republican leadership caving in to pressure and accepting the two-month deal.

Next year could be a rough one for Boehner, the top House Republican, said Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Boehner spent 2011 having to negotiate with many of his own party members on just about every major piece of legislation.

Now that House Republicans have had to go along with Democrats in the payroll tax debate, "the idea that this group of angry Tea Party Republicans, who feel betrayed, now will go along or that Boehner will be more capable of defying them is a little bit wrong-headed," Ornstein said.

Meanwhile, Democrats might be emboldened, believing "they've learned to play poker," he added.

Patrick Griffin, associate director Of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, said House Republicans "overplayed their hand. How they interpret that lesson will be very interesting."

Any edge conferred on Democrats might be short-lived, however. The 2012 election cycle is just set to kick off with the Iowa Republican presidential caucus on January 3 and a long road lies ahead until voters go to the polls in November.

The payroll tax funds the Social Security retirement pension system. If it had been allowed to rise, the increase would have hit the wallets of 160 million working Americans.

The $33 billion needed to pay for the two-month extension will be raised by increasing fees charged by housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for guaranteeing mortgages.

Analysts said the fee hike, which investors will likely pass along to borrowers, could raise financing costs for mortgages, but probably not enough to slow a housing market recovery.

Unemployment benefits set to expire soon were extended as well, while cuts in payments to doctors who treat patients in the government-backed Medicare health insurance program for the elderly were postponed, under the bill signed by Obama.

Also included in it was a Republican initiative aiming to force the administration into fast approval of an oil pipeline opposed by environmentalists and many Democrats. The provision gives Obama 60 days to either approve TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Gulf of Mexico facilities in Texas, or declare it not in the national interest.

Obama wants more time to evaluate the environmental impact of routing the pipeline through sensitive areas of Nebraska. The White House has said that if pushed for a decision within 60 days, the administration would be forced to reject the project.

Not extending the payroll tax cut, analysts warned, could have jeopardized the recovery, even risking another recession.

The modest two-month fix drew fire from some businesses that said it will complicate payroll processing and tax planning.

The payroll situation "could get more confusing," said Robert Gard, an accountant with Gard and LaFreniere LLC in Alpharetta, Georgia. If the tax is not extended at the end of February, businesses will need to reprogram software, he said.



Read current news at http://bbc-cnn-worldnews.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This Horrifying Spider Is The Only One That Carries Her Babies Like a Human Mother Would

spider
Spider
If there's an image that summarizes my idea of complete horror, this is it: a wolf spider carrying dozens of babies on her back. It's the only spider in the world that does this.

It's also the only spider that carriers her eggs in a round silken globe attached to her abdomen, like a human would carry a growing baby. After a gestation of 9 to 27 days—it varies depending on the temperature—the eggs hatch and the infant spiders move onto the mother's back until they are old enough to hunt on their own.

These spiders are all around the world, billions of individuals living in gardens everywhere. They are voracious predators, roaming the soil under the ground looking for other insects to eat. Sometimes, they wander into houses.

When I was living in Miami I had an encounter with one of these wolf spiders, one that was burned into my retina. I remember the hairy bastard walking down the rug of my bedroom, my girlfriend screaming, me using a shoe to kill it and then what I remember being two hundred thousand little spiders running everywhere. Then I screamed more than my girlfriend because I hate spiders like that.

News by Gizmodo

Read current news at http://bbc-cnn-worldnews.blogspot.com

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Last U.S. troops leave Iraq, ending war

us army
Last U.S. convoy leaves Iraq
(Reuters) - The last convoy of U.S. soldiers pulled out of Iraq on Sunday, ending nearly nine years of war that cost almost 4,500 American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives and left a country grappling with political uncertainty.

The war launched in March 2003 with missiles striking Baghdad to oust President Saddam Hussein closes with a fragile democracy still facing insurgents, sectarian tensions and the challenge of defining its place in an Arab region in turmoil.

The final column of around 100 mostly U.S. military MRAP armored vehicles carrying 500 U.S. troops trundled across the southern Iraq desert from their last base through the night and daybreak along an empty highway to the Kuwaiti border.

Honking their horns, the last batch of around 25 American military trucks and tractor trailers carrying Bradley fighting vehicles crossed the border early Sunday morning, their crews waving at fellow troops along the route.

"I just can't wait to call my wife and kids and let them know I am safe," Sgt. First Class Rodolfo Ruiz said as the border came into sight. Soon afterwards, he told his men the mission was over, "Hey guys, you made it."

For U.S. President Barack Obama, the military pullout is the fulfillment of an election promise to bring troops home from a conflict inherited from his predecessor, the most unpopular war since Vietnam and one that tainted America's standing worldwide.

For Iraqis, though, the U.S. departure brings a sense of sovereignty tempered by nagging fears their country may slide once again into the kind of sectarian violence that killed many thousands of people at its peak in 2006-2007.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government still struggles with a delicate power-sharing arrangement between Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni parties, leaving Iraq vulnerable to meddling by Sunni Arab nations and Shi'ite Iran.

The intensity of violence and suicide bombings has subsided. But a stubborn Sunni Islamist insurgency and rival Shi'ite militias remain a threat, carrying out almost daily attacks, often on Iraqi government and security officials.

Iraq says its forces can contain the violence but they lack capabilities in areas such as air defense and intelligence gathering. A deal for several thousand U.S. troops to stay on as trainers fell apart over the sensitive issue of legal immunity.

For many Iraqis, security remains a worry - but no more than jobs and getting access to power in a country whose national grid provides only a few hours of electricity a day despite the OPEC country's vast oil potential.

U.S. and foreign companies are already helping Iraq develop the world's fourth-largest oil reserves, but its economy needs investment in all sectors, from hospitals to infrastructure.

"We don't think about America... We think about electricity, jobs, our oil, our daily problems," said Abbas Jaber, a government employee in Baghdad. "They (Americans) left chaos."

GOING HOME

After Obama announced in October that troops would come home by the end of the year as scheduled, the number of U.S. military bases was whittled down quickly as hundreds of troops and trucks carrying equipment headed south to Kuwait.

U.S. forces, which had ended combat missions in 2010, paid $100,000 a month to tribal sheikhs to secure stretches of the highways leading south to reduce the risk of roadside bombings and attacks on the last convoys.

Only around 150 U.S. troops will remain in the country attached to a training and cooperation mission at the huge U.S. embassy on the banks of the Tigris river.

At the height of the war, more than 170,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq at more than 500 bases. By Saturday, there were fewer than 3,000 troops, and one base - Contingency Operating Base Adder, 300 km (185 miles) south of Baghdad.

At COB Adder, as dusk fell before the departure of the last convoy, soldiers slapped barbecue sauce on slabs of ribs brought from Kuwait and laid them on grills beside hotdogs and sausages.

Earlier, 25 soldiers sat on folding chairs in front of two armored vehicles watching a five-minute ceremony as their brigade's flags were packed up for the last time before loading up their possessions and lining up their trucks.

The last troops flicked on the lights studding their MRAP vehicles and stacked flak jackets and helmets in neat piles, ready for the final departure for Kuwait and then home.

"A good chunk of me is happy to leave. I spent 31 months in this country," said Sgt. Steven Schirmer, 25, after three tours of Iraq since 2007. "It almost seems I can have a life now, though I know I am probably going to Afghanistan in 2013. Once these wars end I wonder what I will end up doing."

NEIGHBOURS KEEP WATCH

Iran and Turkey, major investors in Iraq, will be watching with Gulf nations to see how their neighbor handles its sectarian and ethnic tensions, as the crisis in Syria threatens to spill over its borders.

The fall of Saddam allowed the long-suppressed Shi'ite majority to rise to power. The Shi'ite-led government has drawn the country closer to Iran and Syria's Bashar al-Assad, who is struggling to put down a nine-month-old uprising.

Iraq's Sunni minority is chafing under what it sees as the increasingly authoritarian control of Maliki's Shi'ite coalition. Some local leaders are already pushing mainly Sunni provinces to demand more autonomy from Baghdad.

The main Sunni political bloc Iraqiya said on Saturday that it was temporarily suspending its participation in the parliament to protest against what it said was Maliki's unwillingness to deliver on power-sharing.

A dispute between the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and Maliki's central government over oil and territory is also brewing, and is a potential flashpoint after the buffer of the American military presence is gone.

"There is little to suggest that Iraq's government will manage, or be willing, to get itself out of the current stalemate," said Gala Riani, an analyst at IHS Global Insight.

"The perennial divisive issues that have become part of the fabric of Iraqi politics, such as divisions with Kurdistan and Sunni suspicions of the government, are also likely to persist."




Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eve Carson, UNC Student, Asked Her Alleged Killer To Pray With Her, Witness Says

sexy girl
Eve Carson
A witness testifying in the murder trial of Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. has made a startling claim about the victim's last moments.

Raleigh local station WRAL reports that Jayson McNeil testified Lovette told him that University of North Carolina student Eve Carson asked him to pray with her before she was murdered.

"Before (Lovette) even shot her, he explained, she was saying, 'Let's pray,'" McNeil said, according to WRAL. "She wanted them to pray together."

In March 2008, prosecutors say that Lovette and Demario Atwater kidnapped Carson, drove her to various ATMs to withdraw money and then shot her five times, killing the former student body president, according to WRAL.

Atwater pleaded guilty last year to crimes connected to the killing and is currently serving two life sentences.

ABC reports that Carson's body was found in the middle of a Chapel Hill street the same day she was murdered.

Lovette is also accused of killing Abhijit Mahato, a Duke University student whose body was found in his apartment, according to CBS News. A judge has ruled that evidence from that case can be used in the Carson trial, according to the Herald Sun.

News by Huffingtonpost

Obama Family Photo 2011: All Smiles!

barack obama with family
Barack Obama with family
A brand new family portrait was released on the White House's Flickr feed today (yes, the White House has a Flickr -- how awesome is that?) It seems the president carved out some time to sit, relax and embrace the lovely Obama ladies for the family's second official portrait.

Like the first one, shot by Anne Leibovitz in 2009, Malia and Michelle sat together on one side and Sasha and Barack together on the other. Unlike 2009, however, this picture is all about bright color: Malia in blue, Sasha in purple and Barack in navy and pink (and this time, the president looks a tad more formal in a jacket).

While we don't (yet) know where Michelle got her black cap-sleeve dress, we're loving Malia's navy and black frock from Anthropologie (we know it must fit the tall teen perfectly, considering we tried it on last weekend and it hung well below our knees).

The whole family looks lovely and happy, leaving us with only one little objection...
News by Huffingtonpost




Monday, December 12, 2011

U.S. wants drone back from Iran, Obama says

obama
Barack Obama, US President
President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States has asked Iran to return a U.S. drone aircraft that Iran claims it recently brought down in Iranian territory.

"We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," Obama said in a news conference.

The president's comments come one day after it was reported that an Iranian official said the country would not return the drone.

"No nation welcomes other countries' spy drones in its territory, and no one sends back the spying equipment and its information back to the country of origin," said Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Armed Forces, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

"It makes no difference where this drone originated and which group or country sent it to invade our air space," Salami said. "This was an act of invasion and belligerence."


News by CNN

Read current news at http://bbc-cnn-worldnews.blogspot.com

Saturday, December 10, 2011

U.S. Postal Service Plans Dramatic Service Cuts

united states postal service
United States, Post Office

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The U.S. Postal Service's plan to close 252 mail processing facilities and cut 28,000 jobs by the end of next year may help the agency curb its mounting financial problems, but it faces big practical obstacles.

Deciding which plants to close will be difficult and face opposition from community leaders. Actually closing all of them could take a few years, and most workers will stay employed under union rules. The bulk of the job cuts will actually come from attrition and retirements, not layoffs, while the remaining work force is shuffled into new locations and positions.

What's about to unfold in cities from Reno, Nev., to Chicago will illustrate the complexity of cutting a work force protected by strong union contracts and shrinking operations dependent on intricate logistics.

"The downsizing or the demise of the postal service, it's going to be a mess and it's going to be a mess for a long time," said John Zodrow, a retired Denver attorney and former Postal Service arbitrator who wrote a book about its labor relations. "It's a huge undertaking."

The proposed closures are among several moves aimed at helping the agency avert bankruptcy and adjust to declining mail volume as customers migrate to the Internet to communicate and pay bills. Delivery changes announced Monday would virtually eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive the next day for the first time in 40 years and pave the way for closing more than half of the 461 plants where the mail gets processed and sorted.

Postal officials say they can save up to $3 billion by 2015 by following through with the cuts – getting rid of buildings, running equipment more efficiently, operating fewer mail trucks and cutting employees.

The postal service's manager of collective bargaining said Monday that the agency foresaw the "potential for significant attrition" given that more than 20 percent of postal workers were eligible for early retirement. Managers and non-career employees could be laid off while no decisions have been made on how any early retirement incentives will be offered, said the official, Kevin Rachel.

For most workers and communities, the uncertainty is terrible but the economic impact might not be as catastrophic as feared. Most workers in the facilities are represented by the American Postal Workers Union, which reached a four-year contract in May guaranteeing that its 220,000 clerks and maintenance employees cannot be laid off or transferred more than 50 miles away.

Employees in plants that are closed will have to decide whether to relocate to the places where work is consolidated, which will need to rapidly expand in size. If they stay behind, they will fight for remaining jobs in the area and will likely have to switch duties. Many post offices, for instance, have deliberately left open retail clerk and letter-carrying jobs.

"It's, `grab a job before there are no more jobs left to be grabbed.' It's the proverbial musical chairs," Zodrow said.

Zodrow said the turbulence could motivate more workers to take early retirement, which he warned would be a mistake for some. Postal workers do not have skills that transfer well to the private sector and are making more than they would elsewhere, he said.

The outcome of negotiations between the postal service and unions representing mail handlers and letter carriers, which both have deadlines of next week, could be crucial in determining how cost-cutting plans are carried out. Mail handlers, who are represented by a union of 47,000 members, are bargaining about job protections and reassignment rules.

Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, said she wonders whether the postal service will get as many retirements as it is counting on. "Nobody in this economy is retiring unless they are really ready. There has to be some incentive," she said.

The agency first has to decide which plants to close.

While they have had a list of 252 prospective targets since September, postal officials say final decisions will not be made until they assess the potential savings, the impact on mail delivery and whether other plants in the area could handle the volume.

There will be intense local opposition. The city council in Reno, Nev., passed a resolution Wednesday protesting any plans to close its processing facility and move 177 jobs to West Sacramento, Calif., one of the proposals under review. Members of Congress in Iowa, Illinois and elsewhere are already going to bat for local plants. Businesses that rely on speedy mail delivery are fighting, too.

Once a closing decision is made, it could take a year or longer to wind down operations and transition work elsewhere, postal service spokesman Richard Watkins said in a phone interview from Kansas City.

The closing of the mail processing center in Sioux, City, Iowa, in October illustrates what may be awaiting other postal workers.

Some mail handlers and clerks moved 90 miles north to the facility in Sioux Falls, S.D., where their operations were transferred. Some union employees filled vacant positions for letter carriers in Sioux City and are now walking routes. Others have been performing temporary assignments while they wait for permanent jobs.

"I can't imagine what the hell they are going to do with all these employees," said Scott Tott, the president of the American Postal Workers Union chapter in Sioux City, who lost his job sorting pallets of magazines but still shows up to work every day. "This is a nightmare."

News by Huffingtonpost



Thursday, December 08, 2011

MF Global's Corzine: I did not intend to break rules

Jon Corzine
Jon Corzine
(Reuters) - A contrite Jon Corzine, in his first public defense of his leadership of now-bankrupt futures brokerage MF Global, told U.S. lawmakers he "never intended" to break rules and had no clue what happened to hundreds of millions of dollars in missing customer money.

The former U.S. senator and Goldman Sachs chief executive freely answered lawmakers' questions during a fairly friendly House Agriculture Committee on Thursday.

But he tried to duck responsibility by repeatedly claiming a lack of intent and lack of recollection about key events that led to the firm's downfall and its scrambled books.

Legal experts said it was a clear tactic to try to avoid criminal charges.

"I never intended to break any rules, whether it dealt with the segregation rules or any of the other rules that are applicable," said Corzine, wearing a somber dark suit and armed with an accordion file folder of documents and a highlighter pen.

Thursday's hearing was a stunning reversal for a political and financial power broker who endured three hours of pointed questions behind a placard that bore the title "Honorable" in front of his name. Corzine had once been the lawmaker who made witnesses squirm.

The testimony came six weeks after MF Global collapsed into bankruptcy once the market lost confidence in the firm following a revelation it had made a $6.3 billion bet on European sovereign debt.

The search for hundreds of millions of dollars in missing customer funds has sent reverberations through the farm belt and trading floors, and has attracted the attention of the FBI and federal prosecutors.

When pressed by lawmakers about whether he authorized a transfer of customer funds to firm accounts - a major violation of industry rules - Corzine said: "If I did, it was a misunderstanding."

Michael Weinstein, a white-collar lawyer with Cole Schotz law firm in New Jersey, said Corzine's persistent claim of lack of intent "was essentially code for 'Prosecutor, you bring these charges, you are going to have a hard time proving intent, and that's what you need to convict me'."

Neither MF Global nor any of its executives has been charged with wrongdoing.

Lawmakers thanked Corzine for not invoking his right to avoid self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But he was criticized for not giving a straight answer on whether he directed the transfer of customer funds to firm accounts.

"Throughout this hearing I can count the times you used the words 'never intend,' 'not to my knowledge,' 'not to my recollection,' 'never intended to.' And I understand the position that you're in, but Mr. Corzine, we've got to find that money," said Democratic Representative David Scott.

THE 'PLIGHT' OF FARMERS

Corzine apologized for the collapse of the firm, and said his "sadness" pales in comparison to MF Global's customers, employees and investors.

Thousands of customers, including many farmers who use futures to hedge risks, have had their money frozen.

"Their plight weighs on my mind every day - every hour," Corzine told the panel after being sworn in by committee Chairman Frank Lucas.

Corzine said, "My father was one of those folks who'd go to a grain elevator to hedge out future crops."

The hearing stretched over eight and a half hours, and was the first to bring together a full cast of characters, including Corzine, regulators and the legal counsel for the trustee liquidating MF Global.

In its strongest accusation yet against the firm, CME Group Inc, MF Global's on-the-ground regulator, said the firm misused hundreds of millions of dollars of customer funds by moving the money to its own accounts.

"Transfers of customer funds for the benefit of the firm constitute serious violations of our rules and of the Commodity Exchange Act," CME Executive Chairman Terrence Duffy said.

The court-appointed trustee has estimated the shortfall of customer money at $1.2 billion, but CME has disputed that figure as being too high. In his prepared testimony, Duffy indicated the shortfall was roughly half that amount.

Corzine was flanked by his bow-tied lawyer, Andrew Levander, and said he was aware that he had the right to counsel. He pleaded ignorance on how customer money might have made its way into the firm's own coffers.

"I simply do not know where the money is, or why the accounts have not been reconciled to date," he said.

Lawmakers asked Corzine to lay out how he may have "unintentionally" contributed to the mixing of customer and firm money. He pointed to the chaos of the hours leading up to MF Global's bankruptcy filing on October 31.

"Someone could misinterpret 'You gotta fix it,' which I said the evening of October 30th,'" Corzine said.

'DIFFERENT JUDGMENTS'

Corzine defended his time at the top of the firm, which he joined in March 2010, saying MF Global reduced leverage during his tenure. He said he accepts responsibility for the repo-to-maturity trades that related to the firm's $6.3 billion bet on European sovereign debt.

"At the time that MF Global entered into the transactions, I believed that its investments in short-term European debt securities were prudent," he said.

Corzine said there was some dissent within MF Global about the European debt strategy but that "generally we arrived at a consensus."

He tried to drive home that the European debt bets have held up and said the market confidence crisis had more to do with MF Global executives' "inability" to explain that the firm's losses were not tied to the sovereign debt exposure.

"Your answers sound so nice, but you riskily invested people's money without their knowledge in a market I wouldn't invest in," said Republican Representative Jean Schmidt.

Corzine conceded the business strategy he championed may have been flawed.

"Sitting here today, with the knowledge that the market has drawn the conclusion it has drawn, and the facts are what they are, it would have been better to have taken different judgments," he said.



Iran releases video of downed U.S. spy drone–looking intact

us spy plane
Downed U.S. spy plane
Iran's Press TV on Thursday broadcast an extended video tour of the U.S. spy drone that went down in the country--and it indeed appeared to look mostly intact.

American officials have acknowledged that an unmanned U.S. reconnaissance plane was lost on a mission late last week, but have insisted that there is no evidence the drone was downed by hostile acts by Iran. Rather, they said, the drone likely went down because of a malfunction, and they implied the advanced stealth reconnaissance plane would likely have fallen from such a high altitude--the RQ-170 Sentinel can fly as high as 50,000 feet--that it wouldn't be in good shape.

But Iranian military officials have claimed since Sunday that they brought down an American spy drone that was little damaged. And now they have provided the first visual images of what looks to be a drone that at least outwardly appears to be in decent condition, in what is surely another humiliating poke in the eye for U.S. national security agencies.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the released images Thursday, a Defense Department spokesman told Yahoo News. But military analysts said it appeared to them to be the American drone in question.

"I have been doing this for thirty years, and it sure looks like" a stealthy U.S. drone to me," Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute and consultant to the RQ-170's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, told Yahoo News in a telephone interview Thursday. "I think we are going to face the high likelihood that Iran has an intact version of one of our most important intelligence gathering tools."

Still, Thompson went on, the intelligence "windfall" to Iran from obtaining the advanced U.S. stealthy drone may be mitigated.

"I don't think the Iranians get as much out of it as they might hope," he said. "It probably came into their hands as a result of a technical malfunction. What that means is they still don't have a real defense against the U.S. flying other vehicles that have similar capabilities, without much fear of interception."

Analysts also noted that the video of the drone released by Iran did not show the drone's underside. "Pretty intact," the Center for Strategic and International Studies' James Lewis said by email. "Interesting that they covered the underside."

The New York Times reported Thursday that--unsurprisingly--the RQ-170 was lost while making the latest foray over Iran during an extended CIA surveillance effort of Iran's nuclear and ballistic weapons program.

"The overflights by the bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel, built by Lockheed Martin and first glimpsed on an airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2009, are part of an increasingly aggressive intelligence collection program aimed at Iran, current and former officials say," the Times' Scott Shane and David Sanger wrote. "The urgency of the effort has been underscored by a recent public debate in Israel about whether time is running out for a military strike to slow Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapon."

Iran in turn has complained that the drone overflights represent an act of aggression and violation of its sovereignty, and summoned the Swiss envoy--who represents U.S. interests in Iran--on Thursday to lodge a protest.

However, while the images of the U.S. drone surely allowed Iran to score another public relations blow against Washington, Iran may find it tough to generate much in the way of international sympathy for being the target of U.S. surveillance.

Last week, Iranian hardliners ransacked the British embassy in Tehran, prompting the United Kingdom to recall its diplomatic staff from Tehran and order Iran's embassy in London closed. Last month, the UN atomic watchdog agency issued a report raising concerns about research Iran is suspected by some nations to have conducted before 2003 on military aspects of its nuclear program. Iran has insisted its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes. In October, the United States accused elements of Iran's Qods force of plotting to assassinate the Saudi envoy to the United States. The United Nations General Assembly voted last month in favor of a resolution condemning the Iranian plot.

Amid its growing international isolation, Iran, unsurprisingly, seemed intent to play up the drone incident for all it could.

"China, Russia want to inspect downed U.S. drone," proclaimed a headline from Iran's Mehr news agency Thursday.

The RQ-170 Sentinel, however, reportedly did not use the latest U.S. surveillance technology on board, in part because as a single-engine aircraft, it was thought more likely to occasionally go down.

"The basic principles of stealthy aircraft are fairly well known," Thompson said. "In terms of [the drone's] on-board electronics and information systems, it is fairly routine in combat to require authentication codes to make them hard to unlock."

News by Yahoo



Monday, December 05, 2011

Dead Friend Buried Beneath Christmas Presents: Patty White Accused Of Murder

alt=
Patty White
Police arrested a woman they said killed her friend and hid her body under a pile of Christmas presents in Florida, TV station WBTV reports.

Then, the suspect, Patty White, hightailed it back to her home in South Carolina, making withdrawals with the dead woman's ATM cards along the way, according to TV station WJXT.

Police accuse White, 40, of beating and strangling Michele O'Dowd, 67, in the older woman's apartment. O'Dowd was found dead by her twin brother on Friday, who looked for her when she didn't show up for work according to FirstCoastNews.com.

The debit card transaction enabled Jacksonville police to easily track White. Surveillance cameras at the ATMs supposedly recorded White getting cash, The Charlotte Observer says.

O'Dowd was described as a family friend of White. She invited White to move in with her a few months ago, but the the relationship soured and White returned to live in York, S.C. But White made another trip to O'Dowd's home last week in what authorities describe as a robbery attempt gone wrong, according to WBTV.

The deceased woman's apartment was ransacked.

York City Police, teaming up with Jacksonville cops, pulled over a car on Friday where White was the passenger, TV station WBTV says. York City police say they brought White to a station house where they say she confessed the murder and robbery to Jacksonville detectives.

New by Huffingtonpost