Weekend News Digest is an Open Thread
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1 Indonesia’s ex-dictator Suharto dies
By ANTHONY DEUTSCH, Associated Press Writer
22 minutes ago
|JAKARTA, Indonesia – Former Indonesian President Suharto, a Cold War ally of the United States whose brutal military regime killed hundreds of thousands of left-wing political opponents, died Sunday. He was 86.
Although he oversaw some of the worst bloodshed of the 20th century, Suharto is credited with developing the economy and will be buried with the highest state honors Monday at the family mausoleum.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and others from the country’s political elite prayed over his body. Yudhoyono declared a week of national mourning and called on Indonesians “to pay their last respects to one of Indonesia’s best sons.”
2 Iraqi army reinforcements reach Mosul
By HAMID AHMED, Associated Press Writer
1 minute ago
|BAGHDAD – Iraqi soldiers reached the northern city of Mosul on Sunday for an operation against al-Qaida in Iraq, days after some 40 people were killed in a house explosion followed by a suicide attack against a senior police official.
The American military, meanwhile, reported two soldiers killed in separate bombings in Baghdad – one on a foot patrol Saturday near the northwestern area of Kazimiyah and another whose vehicle was struck Sunday by a roadside bomb in the city’s northeast.
The United States has said Iraqi security forces will take the lead in Mosul as a major test of Washington’s long-range plans, which seek to keep a smaller American force in Iraq as backup for local soldiers and police.
3 Paulson pushes Senate for stimulus deal
By BEN FELLER, Associated Press Writer
15 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON – President Bush’s chief negotiator on an economic aid deal said Sunday the Senate should quickly get behind a plan or risk drawing the resentment of a frustrated public.
The president and House leaders have agreed on a proposal to provide tax rebate checks to 117 million families and give businesses $50 billion in incentives to invest in new plants and equipment. The goal is to help head off a recession and boost consumer confidence.
“I don’t think the Senate is going to want to derail that deal,” Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said. “And I don’t think the American people are going to have much patience for anything that would slow down the process.”
4 Kenya clashes kill at least 19
By Tim Cocks and Antony Gitonga, Reuters
45 minutes ago
|NAIVASHA, Kenya (Reuters) – Ethnic clashes killed at least 19 people in Kenya’s Rift Valley on Sunday, overshadowing a meeting between former U.N. chief Kofi Annan and opposition leader Raila Odinga to try to resolve a month-long crisis.
Naivasha District Commissioner Katee Mwanza told Reuters eight people were burnt and 11 others hacked to death, the latest victims of violence which has killed 750 people since a disputed election on December 27.
The running battles between members of President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe and Luos and Kalenjins who back his rival Odinga threatened to undermine mediation by Annan, who called on both parties on Sunday to name four officials for further talks.
5 Romney climbs into Florida tie with McCain: poll
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent, Reuters
Sun Jan 27, 1:07 AM ET
|COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Reuters) – Republican Mitt Romney climbed into a tie with John McCain three days before a critical presidential primary in Florida, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Sunday.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, wiped out a 3-point McCain advantage overnight to pull into a deadlock with the Arizona senator at 30 percent. The margin of error in the poll is 3.4 percentage points.
Romney enjoys big leads among Republican voters who describe themselves as conservative or very conservative, while McCain has an edge among Florida moderates ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
6 French police extend trader’s detention as bank reveals $73 bln gamble
by Eve Sveftel, AFP
Sun Jan 27, 11:31 AM ET
|PARIS (AFP) – French investigators on Sunday extended the detention of accused rogue trader Jerome Kerviel over a seven billion dollar fraud as Societe Generale revealed he had been gambling with more than 73 billion dollars in deals when caught.
Kerviel, 31, turned himself in to police on Saturday, two days after Societe Generale said it had lost a staggering 4.9 billion euros (7.15 billion dollars), the biggest in investment banking history.
Prosecutors extended his detention for questioning for another 24 hours. They must now decide on Monday whether to release Kerviel or place him under formal investigation.
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7 Iran says break with U.S. won’t last forever
By Dominic Evans, Reuters
Sat Jan 26, 4:10 PM ET
|DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister said on Saturday he could envisage the Islamic Republic resuming diplomatic ties with the United States one day but that many hurdles remained to normal relations.
Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran was not committed to “cutting relations with the United States forever,” despite tensions with Washington over its nuclear program and U.S. accusations that Iran has fomented violence in neighboring Iraq.
Iran regularly calls for a change in behavior from the United States, which cut diplomatic ties in 1980 after radical students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took diplomats hostage during the 1979 Islamic revolution.
8 Lebanon Shiite cleric calls for Bush trial over Iraq
Sun Jan 27, 6:28 AM ET
|BEIRUT (AFP) – US President George W. Bush should go on trial for lying to the world about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the 2003 invasion, a leading Lebanese Shiite cleric said on Sunday.
“President Bush… should be seen by the world as an apostle of lies and a preacher of destruction and terrorism,” said a statement from Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who has followers throughout the Shiite Muslim world.
Bush “should be tried as the number one liar in the world,” Fadlallah said, reacting to a US study that said the American president lied 260 times about Iraq’s weapons capacity ahead of the war.
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9 Kenya death toll near 800 in a month
By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer
52 minutes ago
|NAIVASHA, Kenya – Gangs of youths armed with machetes and clubs fought running battles with police on Sunday and burned tribal rivals alive in their homes in western Kenya, pushing the death toll from a month of escalating ethnic violence to nearly 800.
Sunday marked exactly one month since the Dec. 27 disputed president election which sparked the violence that has transformed this once-stable African country, pitting longtime neighbors against each other and turning towns where tourists used to gather for luxury holidays into no-go zones.
It also complicated the task of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the latest international mediator trying to promote talks between President Mwai Kibaki and his chief rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga. The two met Thursday for the first time since the election.
10 Kremlin foe barred from Russian election
By Conor Sweeney, Reuters
Sun Jan 27, 10:34 AM ET
|MOSCOW (Reuters) – Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was barred on Sunday from running for president in a March election, a move he said was taken to block any real challenge to Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin’s chosen candidate.
The Election Commission’s decision seemed certain to stir fresh criticism by Kremlin opponents that the March 2 vote has been slanted in favor of Dmitry Medvedev, 42, the first deputy prime minister who Putin has backed to be his successor.
Kasyanov, who had little chance of winning the election, said Russia under Putin was now on “the slippery slope towards thievish totalitarianism” and urged a boycott of the vote.
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11 NY’s 16-mile car tunnel would be longest
By FRANK ELTMAN, Associated Press Writer
Sun Jan 27, 10:33 AM ET
|OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – It would be the world’s longest highway tunnel, running more than 16 miles under the west end of Long Island Sound.
The cost is estimated at $10 billion – and it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. A developer wants to build the tunnel with private money, recouping his costs by charging drivers $25 each way and by selling advertising.
Developer Vincent Polimeni says the tunnel between Oyster Bay and Rye on the New York mainland would let travelers going between Long Island and New England avoid crowded New York City highways and help alleviate traffic congestion.
12 Disabled spy satellite threatens Earth
By EILEEN SULLIVAN, Associated Press Writer
Sun Jan 27, 7:26 AM ET
|WASHINGTON – A large U.S. spy satellite has lost power and could hit the Earth in late February or early March, government officials said Saturday.
The satellite, which no longer can be controlled, could contain hazardous materials, and it is unknown where on the planet it might come down, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is classified as secret. It was not clear how long ago the satellite lost power, or under what circumstances.
“Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation,” said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, when asked about the situation after it was disclosed by other officials. “Numerous satellites over the years have come out of orbit and fallen harmlessly. We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause.”
13 Auto companies press states on California emissions
By John Crawley, Reuters
1 hour, 13 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Automakers and their allies have stepped up lobbying to convince states that a proposal by California to cut tailpipe emissions sharply to fight global warming could further depress the struggling U.S. industry.
There is concern among General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co, Chrysler LLC — and supporters in Congress and at state level — that the California initiative may survive court challenges and possibly be adopted by New York, Pennsylvania, and more than a dozen other states.
Adding pressure is a fresh U.S. Senate proposal that would force the administration of George W. Bush to let California enforce its plan, which has been in federal legal limbo since 2002.
14 New wrinkle for Botox as activists press for tougher warnings
by Frederic Garlan, AFP
Sun Jan 27, 1:13 AM ET
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – A consumer rights group has petitioned US regulators to bolster health warnings on Botox, the toxin used by millions around the world to smooth wrinkles.
Advocacy group Public Citizen, founded by former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday to “immediately increase its warnings … about the use of botulinum toxin” because of “serious adverse reactions, including deaths, linked to the drug.”
However neither Allergen Inc, the company that produces and sells Botox, nor the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, which groups surgeons that use the product, believe further warnings are necessary.
15 The struggle to hang onto ‘American Dream’ in mortgage crisis
by Luc Olinga, AFP
Sun Jan 27, 2:03 AM ET
|CLEVELAND, Ohio (AFP) – The desperation of scores of Americans evicted from their homes and denied standard credit lines has given birth to a new market: developers who make a hefty profit reselling foreclosed homes to the poor.
Retiree Georgina Wilborn, 70, and her daughter Ola, a 45-year-old homemaker, agreed to pay 400 dollars a month for the next 15 years to buy their home back from the developer who snapped it up at auction.
Their modest two-bedroom house in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio was seized in 2006 because the women could no longer keep up with mortgage payments.
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16 Analysis: Romney, McCain turn up rancor
By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer
4 minutes ago
|ORLANDO, Fla. – Mitt Romney and John McCain are in an increasingly bitter and personal struggle to control the campaign conversation before Florida’s primary on Tuesday – and the Republican presidential nomination itself may go to the one who succeeds.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist, casts himself as a business-savvy economic turnaround artist amid recession anxiety, while McCain, the Arizona senator and former Vietnam veteran, portrays himself as a courageous wartime commander in chief in a dangerous world.
“He has an enormous disadvantage when it comes to the topics of changing Washington or fixing our economy,” Romney said Sunday, arguing that he is far stronger than McCain on both issues.
17 Bush faces final State of the Union
by Olivier Knox
2 hours, 40 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President George W. Bush delivers his final State of the Union speech Monday, its agenda-setting powers diluted by pressing, unfinished business abroad and the fight to succeed him at home.
With not quite 12 months left in his term, the deeply unpopular president is slated to revive a few bold ideas — like his May 2007 call to double US funding to battle AIDS — and argue that US-led forces are winning in Iraq.
But he faces a US economy in crisis; the uncertain fate of his suddenly personal, late-game Middle East peace drive; a struggle over ending North Korea’s nuclear programs; and tensions with Iran over its atomic ambitions.
18 After two years at helm, Bernanke mettle tested by crisis
by Claire Gallen, AFP
2 hours, 14 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – Just two years on the job at the helm of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke faces a test of his mettle with the threat of recession and wildly volatile financial markets complicating his task.
Bernanke, 54, who took over as Fed chairman from Alan Greenspan in February 2006, confronts what some say is the nation’s worst economic crisis in decades, possibly since the Great Depression.
Bernanke “has done a great job given the cards he has been dealt,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates.
19 Bush team tries to keep lid on frustration over NKorea: experts
by Lachlan Carmichael, AFP
Sat Jan 26, 8:56 PM ET
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Bush administration is trying to keep a lid on growing frustration over faltering talks to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons as criticism surfaces from hardliners in the wings, experts say.
Though President George W. Bush’s six-country diplomatic strategy still had broad support, the public criticism exposed doubts over where it was leading, according to non-proliferation experts who favor US engagement with Pyongyang.
Some speculate that the secretive Stalinist state may be hedging its bets as it sizes up the US presidential election campaign to succeed Bush and a new South Korean president who takes office in February.
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20 Wall Street braces for more volatility
By MADLEN READ, AP Business Writer
1 hour, 4 minutes ago
|NEW YORK – Investors are exhausted after their whipsaw week, but they’re not ruling out another one. All the assumptions Wall Street made when it recovered from steep losses last week – that the Federal Reserve will cut rates again, that President Bush’s stimulus plan will proceed, and that any recession that occurs might actually be shallow and quick – are going to be tested.
On Monday night, Bush will make his State of the Union address. If it looks like the proposed $150 billion tax rebate for Americans could hit a snag in Congress, the markets’ fears about consumer spending could balloon again.
Then on Wednesday, the Fed – which helped put a floor under the market last week by making an emergency, three-quarter-point rate cut – will finish its two-day meeting and release its rate decision. A failure to deliver the quarter-point reduction traders are betting on, or signs that the Fed is hesitant to loosen its policy further, could send stocks sliding.
21 Shipyards fight shortage of workers
By DANIEL LOVERING, AP Business Writer
54 minutes ago
|ERIE, Pa. – Dirk VanEnkevort wanted to take advantage of a shipbuilding boom when his family’s company leased one of the largest dry docks in the Great Lakes region in 2005. But now he is so short-handed he has turned to robots to help keep up.
His company, Erie Shipbuilding LLC, has since hired about 150 workers and equipped the facility on Lake Erie with sophisticated metalworking tools – including robots. It now has orders to build eight oceangoing barges and plans to hire additional workers as needed.
But as his order book fills, VanEnkevort faces a problem hampering dozens of other midsize commercial shipyards across the country: a shortage of skilled, experienced workers capable of assembling and welding freight ships.
22 Report: Cuomo gets cooperation in probe
Sun Jan 27, 6:12 AM ET
|ALBANY, N.Y. – A company that analyzed the quality of subprime mortgages for investment banks has agreed to provide the New York attorney general with information for an investigation, a newspaper reported Saturday.
The agreement involves Clayton Holdings, of Shelton, Conn., a publicly held company that is a major provider of mortgage due diligence services to investment banks, The New York Times reported. Clayton was provided immunity from civil and criminal prosecution although there was no evidence of its wrongdoing, according to the newspaper.
Calls to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office and Clayton by The Associated Press were not immediately returned Saturday.
23 Emergency rate cut revives talk of “Bernanke put”
By Alister Bull, Reuters
Sun Jan 27, 11:44 AM ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An emergency U.S. interest rate cut last week rekindled perceptions the Federal Reserve has a bias to protect the stock market, and a French bank trading scandal has made matters worse.
Deep losses in stock markets around the world last Monday spurred the U.S. central bank into making its biggest rate cut in more than 23 years on Tuesday, but the stocks drop came as 144-year-old Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) unwound positions taken by a rogue trader.
“Disclosures that unwinding of rogue trades also contributed to the weekend meltdown have nurtured perceptions that a new ‘Bernanke put’ has appeared,” Morgan Stanley economists Richard Berner and David Greenlaw wrote on Friday, referring to Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the central bank.
24 U.S. antitrust officials seen swallowing beer deal
By Diane Bartz, Reuters
Sun Jan 27, 9:02 AM ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – No. 2 U.S. beermaker SABMiller’s (SAB.L) move to combine American operations with No. 3 Molson Coors (TAP.N) will likely be approved even though it will increase market concentration, antitrust experts said.
The approval may be a reflection of how much easier it has become for companies to merge under the Bush administration, antitrust lawyers said.
“I would frankly expect that they will (get approval), in part because it’s the Department of Justice,” said Ben Sharp of Perkins Coie LLP, reflecting a view among some experts that the department challenges few mergers.
25 NY subpoenas Merck and Schering-Plough over Vytorin
Sat Jan 26, 9:02 PM ET
|CHICAGO (Reuters) – New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has subpoenaed Merck & Co (MRK.N) and Schering-Plough Corp (SGP.N) for documents and information to see whether the companies hid the results of a study on their cholesterol drug Vytorin.
The move, announced on Saturday, came one day after U.S. regulators said they would review the study, called Enhance, which showed Vytorin worked no better than a generic in preventing the build-up of arterial plaque.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was not advising doctors to stop prescribing Vytorin, but shares of the two companies fell on Friday as news of the review unnerved investors.
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26 Humans Force Earth into New Geologic Epoch
Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience Managing Editor
1 hour, 41 minutes ago
|Humans have altered Earth so much that scientists say a new epoch in the planet’s geologic history has begun.
Say goodbye to the 10,000-year-old Holocene Epoch and hello to the Anthropocene.
Among the major changes heralding this two-century-old man-made epoch:
27 Flying robot to track whales off Australia: report
7 minutes ago
|SYDNEY (AFP) – A flying robot is to join the fight to save the world’s whales by taking part in an aerial survey to count humpbacks off Australia, a report said Sunday.
The remote-controlled drone will patrol waters off Australia’s North Stradbroke Island, taking pictures scientists hope will enable them to count the migrating whales, Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper said.
Scientists hope using the five-metre (16-foot) wingspan drone will result in a more accurate estimate of the animals’ numbers and help convince Japan to stop its annual whale hunt.