Weekend News Digest is an Open Thread
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1 R.I.P. to Court TV, hello to truTV
By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television Writer
1 hour, 1 minute ago
|NEW YORK – Court TV, R.I.P. The network that burst into public consciousness with the O.J. Simpson trial and other big-name courtroom dramas in the 1990s becomes part of television history Tuesday, renamed truTV to emphasize its prime-time action programming.
Besides the name, there won’t be many immediate changes to what Court TV has become. The six remaining hours of legal-oriented material during the day will remain, labeled “In Session.”
The Tuesday premiere of “Ocean Force Huntington Beach O.C.” typifies the network’s direction. The series follows lifeguards on a busy California beach, emphasizing heart-pounding rescues rather than hours spent ogling hot bodies.
That’s about as far from swearing in a witness as you can get, but Court TV’s viewers are used to the disconnect.
Cynical? Moi? I welcome our new insect overlords.
You might think the news below the fold is more tru.
2 Iraq on alert for Saddam anniversary
By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writers
10 minutes ago
|BAGHDAD – Hundreds of people, including many children, chanted slogans praising Saddam Hussein on Sunday as they tossed flowers onto his tomb one year after he was executed.
The muted anniversary of Saddam’s death saw little violence, a far cry from the blood that was spilt on the day the former Iraqi leader was executed and the horrific wave of killing that ensued until the surge of U.S. troops six months later.
But there were a number of operations carried out by American and Iraqi forces. The U.S. military said coalition forces killed six insurgents and detained another 14 on Saturday and Sunday during operations targeting al-Qaida in Iraq in central and northern parts of the country.
“We realize that security in Iraq is very fragile and tenuous,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Smith. He added that although much progress had been made since thousands of extra U.S. troops deployed in June, “there is no place in Iraq today that is safe from terrorism.”
3 World outsources pregnancies to India
By SAM DOLNICK, Associated Press Writer
36 minutes ago
|ANAND, India – Every night in this quiet western Indian city, 15 pregnant women prepare for sleep in the spacious house they share, ascending the stairs in a procession of ballooned bellies, to bedrooms that become a landscape of soft hills.
A team of maids, cooks and doctors looks after the women, whose pregnancies would be unusual anywhere else but are common here. The young mothers of Anand, a place famous for its milk, are pregnant with the children of infertile couples from around the world.
The small clinic at Kaival Hospital matches infertile couples with local women, cares for the women during pregnancy and delivery, and counsels them afterward. Anand’s surrogate mothers, pioneers in the growing field of outsourced pregnancies, have given birth to roughly 40 babies.
More than 50 women in this city are now pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Taiwan, Britain and beyond. The women earn more than many would make in 15 years. But the program raises a host of uncomfortable questions that touch on morals and modern science, exploitation and globalization, and that most natural of desires: to have a family.
4 Bhutto’s son and husband named as successors
By Faisal Aziz, Reuters
11 minutes ago
|NAUDERO, Pakistan (Reuters) – Benazir Bhutto’s party named her son and husband on Sunday to succeed the slain opposition leader but doubts grew about whether a January 8 poll aiming to transform Pakistan from military rule would go ahead.
A former ruling party official said the election in nuclear-armed Pakistan, a key U.S. ally against terrorism, was likely to be delayed for up to two months but Bhutto’s party vowed to take part and another party said it probably would too.
Bhutto’s assassination in a bloody suicide attack on Thursday stoked sporadic violence across the country and deep anger against President Pervez Musharraf casting doubt about Pakistan’s stability and its transition to civilian rule.
5 Protests erupt as Kenyan leader wins vote
By Daniel Wallis and Wangui Kanina, Reuters
1 hour, 29 minutes ago
|NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki won a second five-year term on Sunday in a disputed election victory that triggered deadly riots by tens of thousands of opposition supporters.
Pushing the stakes still higher, his opposition rival Raila Odinga rejected the results as rigged and announced an alternative inauguration for Monday in a Nairobi park.
To curb spreading chaos in a nation usually known as a haven of stability in volatile east Africa, the government sent trucks of police onto the streets and banned live TV transmissions.
As smoke billowed from protests in Nairobi slums, Kibaki was sworn in on the lawn of State House just an hour after the final vote tally was announced, his hand on a Bible.
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6 No place in Iraq is safe, says US military
Sun Dec 30, 9:20 AM ET
|BAGHDAD (AFP) – Despite a drop in violence across Iraq, there is still no place in the country that is safe from attack by extremists, the US military warned on Sunday.
“We have made no projections of peace at hand. We realise that security is very fragile and that at any moment any attack could occur at any place in Iraq,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told a news conference in Baghdad.
“There is no place in Iraq today that is safe from terrorism,” Smith added.
7 Pakistani TV shows pictures of Bhutto "attackers"
Sun Dec 30, 3:10 AM ET
|ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistani television channel broadcast on Sunday grainy still pictures of what it said appeared to be two men who attacked and killed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
Former prime minister Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack on Thursday as she stood up through the sun-roof of her bullet-proof vehicle to wave to supporter as she left an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi.
8 Election a democracy test for Georgian president
By Margarita Antidze, Reuters
Sun Dec 30, 4:17 AM ET
|TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili is likely to win a new term in a snap election on January 5, but the vote will have to be squeaky clean if he is to regain his tattered reputation as a champion of democracy.
Saakashvili, who swept to power in a 2003 “Rose Revolution,” dismayed his Western allies in November when he responded to massive opposition protests by sending in police with teargas and by closing down the biggest opposition television station.
He called the election months earlier than the scheduled date as part of a package of concessions to ease the stand-off with the opposition, which accuses him of ruling in an autocratic style and failing to ease poverty and unemployment.
“Saakashvili is the president who used force against his own people. He has no moral right to stay in power,” Tina Khidasheli, a leader of the main opposition coalition, said at an election rally in the centre of Tbilisi on Saturday.
There are no reliable polls in Georgia, but analysts predict Saakashvili, a 40-year-old U.S.-educated lawyer with a Dutch wife, will win about 60 percent of the vote.
9 South Africa prosecutor denies Mbeki behind Zuma charges
Sun Dec 30, 7:03 AM ET
|JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s chief prosecutor has denied accusations that President Thabo Mbeki is behind new corruption charges laid against ruling ANC leader Jacob Zuma, local media reported on Sunday.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Friday charged Zuma, who less than two weeks ago beat Mbeki in a divisive race for the African National Congress leadership, with corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering.
The timing of the indictment prompted claims by Zuma’s supporters that the state president was trying to undermine the new ANC leader.
But the Sunday Independent reported that NPA head Moketedi Mpshe had denied his agency had been improperly influenced.
“It’s absolute nonsense. (Mbeki) does not even know we were going to charge (Zuma) or what we were going to charge him with. It’s got nothing to do with the president,” it quoted him as saying.
10 Petraeus sees gradual drawdown of troops in 2008
By Jamie Gumbrecht, McClatchy Newspapers
Sat Dec 29, 1:54 PM ET
|BAGHDAD – Nearly five years into the war in Iraq , the top commanding general here said Saturday that security gains and a gradual hand-off to Iraqis will allow a drawdown of U.S. forces in 2008.
But the security improvements that brought violence down to 2005 levels are fragile and reversible, Gen. David Petraeus said during a press briefing. They depend on a complicated equation of troop concentrations, citizen security forces, cooperation from Iraq’s neighboring countries and relative quiet from militias such as the Shiite Mahdi Army.
U.S. forces will thin out through the year, rather than abruptly handing control to Iraqis. First Iraqi politicians must work out “fundamental” governance issues, Petraeus said, and continue expanding the Iraqi security forces. The country’s police and army added about 100,000 members this year and benefited from a 70,000-member, Sunni-majority U.S.-funded Concerned Local Citizens groups. Before the movement spread nationally, it helped to stabilize Anbar province, known as an al Qaida hotbed until recently.
It’s unrealistic for U.S. forces to wait for car bombs and suicide vests to disappear before beginning to wind down, he said.
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11 Republicans puzzle over road map to White House
by Stephen Collinson, AFP
2 hours, 30 minutes ago
|OTTUMWA, Iowa (AFP) – Four days before Iowa’s curtain-raising caucuses open the US presidential season, the Republican Party is painfully splintered, with no front-runner to unite conservative power bases.
The only certainty of the puzzling 2008 race, in a party which usually closes ranks quickly around a favorite son, is that it will, eventually, produce a nominee.
At least four major Republican hopefuls can claim plausible paths through the thicket of nominating contests — Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani.
But even candidates are loath to forecast the outcome.
“I’m asked how’s it going to come out?” said Romney, the former Massachusettes governor in Pella, Iowa on Saturday. “I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen.”
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12 4 days to Iowa, Huckabee assails rival
By RON FOURNIER, Associated Press
36 minutes ago
|DES MOINES, Iowa – Mike Huckabee called Mitt Romney a dishonest politician who couldn’t be trusted with the presidency, turning up the heat Sunday in a close-and-getting-closer Republican race in Iowa. Romney’s camp accused hard-charging Huckabee of “testiness and irritability,” a description that could apply to almost any candidate in the tumultous Iowa showdown.
As six candidates took their closing messages to morning talk shows, Democrat Barack Obama acknowledged that the criticism directed at him might be taking a toll.
“That may have some effect but ultimately I’m putting my faith in the people of Iowa that they want something better,” Obama said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
13 Wealthy candidates face money questions
By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 25 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON – Two multimillionaires in the presidential race – two ways to spend their money. Republican Mitt Romney has pumped more than $17 million of his own into his race; Democrat John Edwards, by law, can tap his fortune for no more than $50,000.
What a difference public financing makes.
Romney has chosen to bypass the taxpayer-financed presidential campaign fund, a move that lets him use his wealth without limitation. If he has put more of his money in during the past three months, his campaign isn’t saying. The public won’t find out until Jan. 31, when Romney must submit campaign finance reports to the Federal Election Commission.
Edwards has been certified to get $8.8 million in public funds, and he plans to collect. The step not only restricts his spending, it also prohibits him from dipping into his personal wealth. Meanwhile, his campaign is getting more than $2 million in help from labor-backed independent groups.
14 Analysis: Romney and the candor gap
By GLEN JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer
Sun Dec 30, 9:52 AM ET
|BOSTON – As a presidential contender, Mitt Romney has the looks, the money and the campaign machine. He also has something of a candor gap.
When confronted with questions that might conflict with his message of the day or political record, the Republican candidate has shown a tendency to bob and weave or simply dismiss history. He has done so all year, providing an easy target for his opponents.
“If a person is dishonest in his approach to get the job, do you believe he will be honest in telling you the truth when he does get the job?” former minister and Romney opponent Mike Huckabee said Saturday.
This past week, Romney did it again over questions about whether he was planning to air negative ads – in particular on the subject of illegal immigration – against John McCain. The Arizona senator has been surging in New Hampshire, where Romney is angling for back-to-back victories after a hoped-for win in this week’s Iowa caucuses.
15 Interview: Giuliani says he’s no novice
By RON FOURNIER, Associated Press Writer
Sat Dec 29, 6:43 PM ET
|CLIVE, Iowa – Rudy Giuliani contested charges that he’s a national security novice whose experience started and ended on Sept. 11, insisting Saturday that unlike any other presidential candidate he has had “the safety and security of people on my shoulders.”
In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, the former New York mayor touted his crime-fighting record even as he acknowledged taking too much credit for it at times. Giuliani also dismissed suggestions that his Republican presidential campaign is stalled.
“I think we are very relevant,” he said during a 15-minute interview
Giuliani’s rare and brief visit to Iowa came as he refocused his campaign message on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – a shift brought by a slippage in national polls and an attempt to capitalize on turmoil in Pakistan. While he still leads in many states that hold primaries in late January and February, Giuliani is struggling for attention and support in early voting states that matter now, starting with Iowa on Thursday.
16 Pelosi questions Pakistan’s Bhutto probe
Sat Dec 29, 9:56 PM ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington should address “troubling questions” about Pakistan’s probe of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and its cooperation in fighting terrorism before extending any more aid, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday.
Pelosi called for an international investigation into the December 27 assassination of Bhutto, which Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s government has blamed on al Qaeda.
Bhutto’s party dismissed the government account, saying Musharraf’s administration, a close ally in President George W. Bush’s war against terrorism, was trying to cover up its failure to protect her.
17 US stuck with Musharraf: White House runners
by Jitendra Joshi, AFP
31 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – Top presidential candidates said Sunday the United States was stuck for now with Pakistan’s unpopular President Pervez Musharraf at a time of boiling unrest in the nuclear-armed US ally.
But Democratic and Republican runners said the US administration should still be pressing Musharraf for tougher anti-terror action, and free elections, following last week’s assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
“I’m not calling for him to step down,” Democrat Hillary Clinton told ABC television, as Bhutto’s murder revived debate about candidates’ foreign-policy credentials just before Iowa kicks off the 2008 White House race on Thursday.
18 US congratulates Kenyan president on re-election
2 hours, 15 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US State Department Sunday congratulated Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki on his re-election, and called on all sides to accept the results despite opposition allegations of ballot fraud.
“We obviously congratulate the president on his election,” department spokesman Rob McInturff told AFP.
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19 Sales of new homes worse than expected
By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
Sat Dec 29, 7:28 PM ET
|WASHINGTON – The housing market plunged deeper into despair last month, with sales of new homes plummeting to their lowest level in more than 12 years.
The slump worsened even more than most analysts expected, heightening fears that the country might be thrust into a recession.
New-home sales tumbled 9 percent in November from October to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 647,000, the Commerce Department reported Friday. That was the worst sales pace since April 1995.
“It was ugly,” declared Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research. “It is the one sector of the economy that doesn’t show any signs of life. It doesn’t look like there is any resuscitation in store for housing over the next year,” he said.
20 Recession question to mark 2008
By Jennifer Coogan, Reuters
Sun Dec 30, 11:08 AM ET
|NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wall Street is set to end 2007 with modest gains this week and kick off the new year with all eyes trained on jobs data for signs of recession that could make 2008 a hostile environment for stocks.
Volume will probably be thin on Monday, when New Year’s Eve coincides with the final trading day of 2007. The market will be shut for New Year’s Day on Tuesday. But Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be closely watched because the first five trading days tend to mirror the market’s performance over the course of the year.
“There will be cash flows that come in right at the beginning of the year that portfolio managers try to get deployed early,” said Fred Dickson, market strategist and director of retail research at D.A. Davidson & Co, in Lake Oswego, Oregon. “That may give us a lift, unless they decide to take their time and survey the overall economic landscape.”
21 GSK, AstraZeneca confirm in British Iraq ‘bribes’ probe
Sat Dec 29, 7:11 PM ET
|LONDON (AFP) – British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and Anglo-Swedish peer AstraZeneca are being investigated over bribes allegedly paid to Saddam Hussein’s deposed Iraqi regime, they confirmed Saturday.
Both companies have been asked to hand over documents by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which is probing possible breaches of the United Nations’ oil-for-food sanctions against dictator Saddam’s regime.
GSK and AstraZeneca denied any wrongdoing and said they were co-operating fully with the investigation.
“GSK does not believe that its employees or its agents in Iraq knowingly engaged in wrongdoing regarding the oil-for-food programme,” said a spokesman for the firm.
22 India’s Tata group set to launch world’s cheapest car
by Penny MacRae, AFP
Sun Dec 30, 4:07 AM ET
|NEW DELHI (AFP) – India’s giant Tata Group plans to launch the world’s cheapest car early in January while also looking set to drive off with two of the poshest marques — Ford’s iconic Jaguar and Land Rover brands.
Ratan Tata, head of the tea-to-steel Tata conglomerate, will unveil the “People’s Car” January 10 at a New Delhi auto show that will carry a sticker price of 100,000 rupees, or 2,500 dollars, which some analysts say could revolutionise automobile costs worldwide.
And Tata, which has been on an aggressive overseas expansion drive, is also expected to win its reported two-billion-dollar bid for the British Land Rover and Jaguar brands in January — putting it in the unusual position of making two prestige cars as well as the world’s lowest-cost automobile.
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23 Global warming to alter Calif. landscape
By NOAKI SCHWARTZ, Associated Press Writer
Sat Dec 29, 3:04 PM ET
|LOS ANGELES – California is defined by its scenery, from the mountains that enchanted John Muir to the wine country and beaches that define its culture around the world.
But as scientists try to forecast how global warming might affect the nation’s most geographically diverse state, they envision a landscape that could look quite different by the end of this century, if not sooner.
Where celebrities, surfers and wannabes mingle on Malibu’s world-famous beaches, there may be only sea walls defending fading mansions from the encroaching Pacific. In Northern California, tourists could have to drive farther north or to the cool edge of the Pacific to find what is left of the region’s signature wine country.
Abandoned ski lifts might dangle above snowless trails more suitable for mountain biking even during much of the winter. In the deserts, Joshua trees that once extended their tangled, shaggy arms into the sky by the thousands may have all but disappeared.
24 Egyptian woman dies of bird flu, 2nd in week
1 hour, 43 minutes ago
|CAIRO (Reuters) – A 25-year-old Egyptian woman died of bird flu on Sunday, the second fatality among humans in Egypt in less than one week, the Health Ministry said.
Fatma Fathi Mohamed died in hospital in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, three days after she was admitted to a smaller local hospital with a high temperature and difficulty breathing, it said in a statement carried by the state news agency MENA.
Her death was the 17th in Egypt since the deadly virus arrived in February 2006 and it was the 42nd case of bird flu reported among humans in the Arab world’s most populous country.