The Morning News

The Morning News is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Warren’s inauguration prayer could draw more ire

By RACHEL ZOLL, AP Religion Writer

26 mins ago

President-elect Barack Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation drew one kind of protest. Whether the evangelical pastor offers the prayer in the name of Jesus may draw another. At George W. Bush’s 2001 swearing-in, the Revs. Franklin Graham and Kirbyjon Caldwell were criticized for invoking Christ. The distinctly Christian reference at a national civic event offended some, and even prompted a lawsuit.

Warren did not answer directly when asked whether he would dedicate his prayer to Jesus. In a statement Tuesday to The Associated Press, Warren would say only that, “I’m a Christian pastor so I will pray the only kind of prayer I know how to pray.”

“Prayers are not to be sermons, speeches, position statements nor political posturing. They are humble, personal appeals to God,” Warren wrote. His spokesman would not elaborate.

2 Kennedy’s ‘you knows’ become political fodder

By JENNIFER PELTZ, Associated Press Writer

32 mins ago

NEW YORK – If Caroline Kennedy had, you know, only known. Tracking the would-be New York senator’s verbal tics has become a political parlor game in the days since she gave her first round of in-depth interviews, even spawning a hip-hop-style mash-up online blending her “you knows” with President-elect Barack Obama’s “uhs.”

Such conversational fillers are, of course, as common as, like, speech itself. But the buzz about Kennedy’s “you knows” illustrates how problematic a few extraneous syllables can be for a public figure, especially in an era when today’s verbal foible is tomorrow’s viral video.

“It really did a huge disservice to her,” said communications training coach Matt Eventoff, a partner in Princeton Public Speaking in Princeton, N.J. Rather than focusing on Kennedy’s views, he said, “people are going to spend time deconstructing the ‘you knows.'”

3 Pakistan closes US supply route to hit militants

By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer

1 hr 38 mins ago

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistan suspended truck shipments of U.S. military supplies through the famed Khyber Pass on Tuesday after launching an offensive against militants who are trying to cripple Washington’s war on a resurgent Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

The U.S. military said a temporary closure of the key supply line was not a problem, and praised the campaign in the rugged hills of northwestern Pakistan where al-Qaida leaders – including Osama bin Laden – are believed hiding.

The operation came amid tensions between Pakistan and its eastern neighbor, India, triggered by last month’s terror attack in Mumbai, which the Indian government and Washington have blamed on Islamic extremists based in Pakistan.

4 Obama’s online backers key to pushing his agenda

By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 2:59 pm ET

HONOLULU – President-elect Barack Obama’s top asset in pushing his agenda will not be his Cabinet secretaries or aides, but rather his online network. Obama’s political e-mail list tops 13 million names, a digital force that the incoming White House can tap to push for his legislation, tamp down critics or bolster popular support. It’s also a way for Obama to reach into every state, every city, and every neighborhood.

A study released Tuesday found that a quarter of Obama voters said they would continue to work online to support the new administration. The nonpartisan Pew Internet and American Life Project also found 62 percent of Obama’s voters say they would ask others to support Obama’s policies.

Welcome to the Democrats’ new permanent campaign, one planned online and executed on Main Street.

5 ACLU of Arkansas sues over adoption restrictions

By ANDREW DeMILLO, Associated Press Writer

2 hrs 37 mins ago

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – More than a dozen families sued Tuesday to challenge a new Arkansas law banning unmarried couples living together from becoming foster or adoptive parents.

The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the families in Pulaski County Circuit Court seeking to overturn Act 1, which was approved by voters in last month’s general election.

“Act 1 violates the state’s legal duty to place the best interest of children above all else,” said Marie-Bernarde Miller, a Little Rock attorney in the lawsuit.

6 Dick Clark, 79, is still rockin’ New Year’s Eve

By JEFF WILSON, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 3:45 pm ET

LOS ANGELES – Four years after a stroke, Dick Clark is relishing the prospect of another New Year’s Eve, determined to help host his 36th celebration from Times Square. And he’s hardly surprised by the current state of the music industry he helped build – he predicted this, after all.

Clark, who turned 79 last month and has been in front of the cameras for 61 years, said in a recent interview by e-mail that his appearance on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2009,” diminished though it may be, is a labor of love and “not really a job.”

“Obviously, I’m not able to be as actively involved as I used to be out on the street, up on a platform and interacting with the crowds in Times Square” in New York, Clark wrote. “Thank goodness my friend Ryan Seacrest is able to handle that end of the activity on the show these days.

7 Children’s book based on Holocaust story is pulled

By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer

Tue Dec 30, 12:48 pm ET

NEW YORK – The fallout continues from Herman Rosenblat’s discredited Holocaust story.

Laurie Friedman’s “Angel Girl,” a children’s book inspired by Rosenblat, was pulled Tuesday by the Lerner Publishing Group. President and publisher Adam Lerner said in a statement that the Minneapolis-based company had been misled by Rosenblat and his wife, Roma.

“We are dismayed to learn about Herman and Roma Rosenblat’s recantation of part of their Holocaust survival story,” Lerner said. “While this tragic event in world history needs to be taught to children, it is imperative that it is done so in a factual way that doesn’t sacrifice veracity for emotional impact.”

8 Families in China’s milk scandal denounce payout

By GILLIAN WONG, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 11:36 am ET

BEIJING – Chinese families whose babies suffered painful kidney stones from drinking tainted infant formula said Tuesday that a planned payout by dairies is too low and their lawyers pledged to continue attempts to sue for more compensation.

The release of details of the 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) compensation plan and the opening of trials for those blamed for the contamination signal that authorities hope to end what was widely seen as a national disgrace, highlighting widespread food safety problems and corporate and official malfeasance.

Contaminated milk powder has been blamed for the deaths of at least six children and the sickening of nearly 300,000 others.

9 Home prices post 18 percent annual drop in October

By J.W ELPHINSTONE, AP Real Estate Writer

Tue Dec 30, 11:24 am ET

NEW YORK – Home prices dropped by the sharpest annual rate on record in October and there are no signs the housing pain is over, according to a closely watched index released Tuesday.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city housing index fell by a record 18 percent from October last year, the largest drop since its inception in 2000. The 10-city index tumbled 19.1 percent, its biggest decline in its 21-year history.

Both indices have recorded year-over-year declines for 22 straight months. Prices are at levels not seen since March 2004.

10 December consumer confidence drops to all-time low

By ELLEN SIMON, AP Business Writer

1 hr 51 mins ago

NEW YORK – Consumer confidence hit an all-time low in December, dropping further in the face of rising layoffs, in yet another sign that consumer spending is unlikely to pull the U.S. out of a yearlong recession any time soon.

Consumers have been nervous about spending for months – putting off big-ticket purchases, forgoing new clothes and choosing store brands at the grocery store – all of which may make this the worst holiday season for retailers in decades.

The Consumer Confidence Index measured by the Conference Board, a private research group, fell to 38 in December from a revised 44.7 in November. That is its lowest point since the group began compiling the index in 1967, and below the previous low of 38.8 in October. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected the index to rise incrementally to 45.

11 GMAC receives $5B in bailout funds


Tue Dec 30, 11:07 am ET

WASHINGTON – The Treasury Department said that it will provide $5 billion to GMAC Financial Services LLC, the ailing financing arm of General Motors Corp., in a move that’s expected to stave off a bankruptcy protection filing at the company but also severely limit GM’s control over it.

In exchange for the slice of the $700 billion bank rescue package, the government will receive preferred shares that pay an 8 percent dividend and warrants to purchase additional shares in return for the money, the department said.

Treasury also said it will lend up to $1 billion to General Motors so that the company can purchase additional equity that GMAC is planning to offer as part of its effort to raise more capital.

12 GM, GMAC ease lending rules to entice car buyers

By Jonathan Stempel and Kevin Krolicki, Reuters

Tue Dec 30, 4:20 pm ET

NEW YORK/DETROIT (Reuters) – General Motors Corp and its GMAC funding affiliate launched programs on Tuesday to lure U.S. car and truck buyers back into showrooms, as the nation’s largest automaker tries to revive its sagging fortunes.

GMAC modified its credit criteria so that it could lend to a wider range of potential customers, two-and-a-half months after significantly curbing lending.

Meanwhile, GM is offering zero-percent financing on several vehicles, and rates no higher than 5.9 percent on more than three dozen 2008 and 2009 models. The offer expires on January 5. Many eligible vehicles also carry cash discounts of $500 to $4,250.

13 World faces slowdown in 2009

By Claudia Parsons, Reuters

2 hrs 43 mins ago

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Another day, another batch of warning signs indicating the world will enter 2009 in the throes of a sharp economic slowdown, with governments scrambling to find ways to boost lending and spur growth.

Oil and gold prices dipped on Tuesday, pressured by the gloomy global economic outlook which outweighed tensions in the Middle East due to Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip.

Tuesday brought more dismal economic news in the United States, with single-family home prices down 18 percent in October from a year earlier and consumer confidence plunging to a record low due to severe job cuts.

14 Madoff expected to disclose worth to regulators

By Grant McCool, Reuters

Tue Dec 30, 4:32 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Confessed swindler Bernard Madoff faces a Wednesday deadline to tell regulators how much he is worth and where his money and other assets are, but it will likely be a longer wait before his investors, seeking to recover billions of dollars, learn the tallies.

Investigators from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission — which is under fire for missing a purported decades-long $50 billion Ponzi scheme to fleece wealthy individuals and charities alike — will take weeks to pore over the assets, liabilities and property declared by Madoff, 70.

A spokesman for the SEC declined comment. In general, the regulator is not required to immediately publicly file such disclosures with the courts.

15 Holiday weakest since 1970, more retail cuts seen

By Nicole Maestri, Reuters

Tue Dec 30, 3:15 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Not since at least 1970 has holiday shopping in the United States posted such dismal numbers, according to data released on Tuesday that was likely to prompt retailers to curtail their business even more in 2009.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said sales fell even in the week that included Christmas Day. It expects November and December sales to be down 1.5 percent to 2 percent, which would be the first decline since the ICSC began tracking holiday sales in 1969.

While there is still some time for retailers to capture holiday sales, “I don’t have a lot of hope that it gives you a surprise lift,” said ICSC Chief Economist Michael Niemira. “The discounts are so great and demand is so uncertain and uneven.”

16 On Saddam anniversary, Iraq readies macabre museum

By Waleed Ibrahim and Missy Ryan, Reuters

Tue Dec 30, 10:54 am ET

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The man putting together Iraq’s newest museum doesn’t like to be alone in his office, where he keeps bloodied nooses, a medieval-looking torture device and boxes of documents chronicling atrocities under Saddam Hussein.

“It’s uncomfortable. You feel as if there’s someone there with you,” said the soft-spoken court official, who asked to go unnamed. To escape the eeriness, he works alongside colleagues next door.

On the two-year anniversary of Saddam’s death by hanging, Iraq is preparing to open a new museum that will allow Iraqis to see up close such macabre mementos of mass executions, torture, and other atrocities committed in Saddam’s decades-long rule.

17 Congress to examine Madoff case next week

By Rachelle Younglai, Reuters

Tue Dec 30, 3:58 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lawmakers will take their first close look next Monday at financier Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion fraud and why the Securities and Exchange Commission failed to discover the scandal.

Information gleaned from the hearing will help guide Congress as it attempts to reform laws regulating the U.S. financial system, said Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat and chairman of the House capital markets subcommittee.

“Madoff’s actions have further weakened the already battered investor confidence in our securities markets,” Kanjorski said in a statement on Monday.

18 Pakistan urges India to stand down troops

By Kamran Haider, Reuters

Tue Dec 30, 8:26 am ET

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan urged India on Tuesday to reduce tension by deactivating its forward air bases and standing down troops, but New Delhi angrily rejected suggestions it was aggravating tension with its nuclear-armed rival.

A near-daily, frenzied exchange of words has added to bilateral tensions that touched the boiling point after last month’s attacks in Mumbai in which 179 people were killed. India says the attackers were trained in Pakistan.

“I believe if India deactivates its forward air bases and similarly, relocates its troops to peacetime positions, that will be a positive step,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in a televised address.

19 Landslide win for ex-PM Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh poll

by Shafiq Alam, AFP

Tue Dec 30, 2:48 pm ET

DHAKA (AFP) – Bangladesh’s former premier Sheikh Hasina Wajed won the country’s first election since 2001 in a landslide Tuesday, but her bitter rival rejected the result saying the polls had been “stage-managed”.

Khaleda Zia’s rejection of the outcome early Wednesday threatened to throw the impoverished South Asian nation into fresh political uncertainty after two years of rule by an army-backed caretaker government.

The election commission said Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party had won 231 of the 297 seats in parliament counted so far, giving her an overwhelming win in Monday’s vote with just a few results still to be tallied.

20 ECB chief Trichet does not exclude January rate cut: report


Tue Dec 30, 3:02 pm ET

FRANKFURT (AFP) – European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet appeared on Tuesday to allow for a January interest rate cut by stressing that inflation should not fall much below two percent.

But as usual, the ECB chief responded prudently to questions in an interview with the German financial daily Boersen Zeitung, saying: “We are concentrating at present on the impact of our previous decisions.”

His comments were to appear on Wednesday but were released in advance.

21 Somali president quits as fighting rages between rival Islamists

by Yasin Mohamed, AFP

Mon Dec 29, 11:17 am ET

BAIDOA, Somalia (AFP) – Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed quit Monday, plunging the war-torn country deeper into chaos as hardline Islamist fighters recaptured two central towns.

Former warlord Yusuf’s exit marks a new nadir for a lawless land where thousands have died in fighting over the last two years, millions have been left homeless or in dire need of aid and a security black hole has created a global problem with piracy off its shores.

The 74-year-old former warlord stepped down following a bitter power struggle, two weeks after his attempt to sack and replace the prime minister in defiance of lawmakers failed, and days from a planned Ethiopian troop pullout.

22 Lawyers charge Mugabe’s Zimbabwe with contempt


Mon Dec 29, 3:20 pm ET

HARARE (AFP) – Lawyers for detained rights activists called Monday for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s government to be charged with contempt, as the country’s cholera death toll rose above 1,500.

The defence team for 18 activists was in court either to press for transfer to hospital in line with a Zimbabwe high court order, or to fight charges of plotting to overthrow the 84-year-old ruler for nearly three decades.

“The state is approaching this court with dirty hands. The state did not comply with the order of (high court ) justice Yunus Omerjee,” one of the lawyers, Charlel Kwaramba, told a magistrates’ court.

23 US-Japanese study finds genes for 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic


Mon Dec 29, 6:20 pm ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A US-Japanese research team announced Monday it had isolated three genes that explain why the 1918 Spanish flu, believed to be the deadliest infectious disease in history, was so lethal.

The pandemic killed between 20 and 50 million people, more than all of World War I, which ended in November 1918, and spread around the world.

The genes allowed the virus to reproduce in lung tissue, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

24 Bailout may cost trillions … or not

By Mark Trumbull, The Christian Science Monitor

Tue Dec 30, 3:00 am ET

A trillion dollars here and there, and soon the US government’s financial rescue programs start adding up to big money.

But how high is the cost, really?

One tally, which puts the Great Bailout somewhere north of $8 trillion, has been making the rounds in news reports, on websites, and on Capitol Hill. At that rate, some people ask if we could just use the money to cut every American a $26,000 check and kiss the recession goodbye.

25 China projects naval power in pirate fight

By Jonathan Adams, The Christian Science Monitor

Tue Dec 30, 3:00 am ET

BEIJING – China’s dispatch of two warships to help battle Somalian pirates has drawn an ambivalent global reaction – a sign of the decidedly mixed feelings toward its bid for big-power status.

Two destroyers and a supply ship steamed out of a southern Chinese port Friday, on China’s first patrol and potential combat mission beyond Chinese waters. The ships are due to reach the Gulf of Aden by Jan. 6 and carry 870 crew members, including 70 elite Navy special forces trained in close combat and helicopter-borne raids, according to the China Daily newspaper.

Two days earlier, a Chinese defense official, at a rare press conference, gave one of the clearest indications yet that China plans to build an aircraft carrier.

26 Israeli strikes in Gaza risk political win for Hamas

By Joshua Mitnick, The Christian Science Monitor

Tue Dec 30, 3:00 am ET

Ashkelon, Israel – After Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shiite militants emerged claiming victory and exalted across the Arab world. Even its harshest critics praised the group’s endurance against overwhelming Israeli force. Today Hezbollah is more powerful – politically and militarily – than ever before.

As its assault on Gaza militants continues, Israel runs the risk of seeing Hamas emerge in much the same way as Hezbollah did two years ago. Already the deadly strikes have led to a burst of criticism aimed at pro-Western Middle East governments and sparked rallies supporting Hamas in the region and in Europe.

“Although very costly in terms of material and human damage, politically speaking it is strengthening Hamas because of the huge sympathy from it being targeted,” says Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Authority labor minister. “This is being used by political Islamic parties all over the region.”

27 At overcrowded Florida prisons, some inmates may just camp out

By Richard Luscombe, The Christian Science Monitor

Tue Dec 30, 3:00 am ET

Miami – Florida’s balmy winter temperatures have long been a draw for visitors eager to spend some time under canvas, sleeping on cots and enjoying the great outdoors. But a new plan to expose some of the state’s inmates to the delights of year-round ‘camping’ has failed to evoke the same enthusiasm.

Faced with a budget deficit of $2.3 billion, Florida is saving money by buying giant tents to house prisoners at nine of its 137 facilities. With its prison population having passed 100,000 for the first time this month, corrections officials say that the hundreds of extra beds will also help address potential overcrowding problems.

The state isn’t the first to try the idea. Michigan, Colorado, Arizona, and Hawaii are among those that have considered or used tents to better manage prison populations.

From Yahoo News World

28 Thrice-built house embodies Haiti aid shortfalls

By JONATHAN M. KATZ, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 11:57 am ET

GONAIVES, Haiti – The farmer camps in a crude tent of broken sandbags as he guards the foundation of his destroyed home and his last possessions: a pickax, a hoe and some charcoal.

This is the third time Olisten Elerius is preparing to build his tiny cinderblock house. Four years ago, Tropical Storm Jeanne flooded it and drowned his father, sister and nephew. Then, late this summer, Tropical Storm Hanna swallowed it along with his daughter and another sister. It could happen again.

After Jeanne struck in 2004, more than $70 million in aid went to immediate relief such as food, medical aid and jobs, but little went to flood control, according to an Associated Press review of relief spending. Despite pledges to prevent such devastation in the future, few projects to build drains, fix roads and stop erosion were even attempted.

29 Trial of Iraqi shoe thrower is postponed

By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 1:16 pm ET

BAGHDAD – A court Tuesday postponed the trial of a journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush in anger over the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, an act of protest that made him an international celebrity.

The court’s decision to review the charges against Muntadhar al-Zeidi comes as Iraq prepares after nearly six years to end America’s costly grip over the country and give U.S. troops three years to pack up and leave.

Thursday will also see the official handover of the most potent symbol of U.S. occupation, when Iraq takes formal control of the Green Zone – a heavily fortified enclave surrounded by cement walls that extends over 4 square miles of downtown Baghdad and encompasses the U.S. Embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government.

30 Thai PM dodges protesters for first key speech

By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 1:12 pm ET

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s new prime minister evaded thousands of protesters blocking Parliament on Tuesday and delivered his first key policy speech in the Foreign Ministry instead, promising to heal the turmoil that has ripped at the country and its tourism-based economy.

“The government has come into office at a time of conflict. This conflict has become the weakness of the country,” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand’s third prime minister in four months, told lawmakers that included only his coalition members. Opposition members boycotted the session, but enough lawmakers showed up for a quorum.

Abhisit was forced to move and delay the speech by a day because of the anti-government protesters outside Parliament – the same street-swamping demonstration tactics that his own supporters had used just before he came to power two weeks ago.

31 Guinea coup leader names civilian prime minister

By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 10:49 am ET

CONAKRY, Guinea – Coup leaders in Guinea named a civilian banker as prime minister Tuesday, making good on a key promise a week after seizing power upon the death of the country’s long-time dictator.

Their choice, Kabine Komara, is a director of the African Export-Import Bank in Cairo, a 14-year-old institution that promotes trade between African states. His selection raises hopes the military junta may also honor other commitments, including holding elections and cracking down on corruption.

This West African nation has an abundance of gold, diamonds, iron, timber and half the world’s reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum. But for the past 24 years, Guinea’s treasury has been pillaged by officials loyal to the late President Lansana Conte and its people have fallen deeper and deeper into poverty.

32 Loser rejects results in Bangladesh’s election

By FARID HOSSAIN, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 4:11 pm ET

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladesh’s first election in seven years was called largely free, fair and the most peaceful in decades Tuesday, but the bitter feelings between the two women who have dominated politics re-emerged as the loser rejected her archrival’s win.

The vote returned former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to power in a landslide. But her rival’s accusation of vote fraud indicated Hasina will find it difficult to escape paralyzing power struggles in a country long plagued by corruption and misrule. Both women faced recent corruption charges.

“It is a farcical election,” Khaleda Zia, also a former prime minister, said in a televised news conference early Wednesday, claiming the results did not reflect the people’s opinion.

33 Pro-India parties to take power in Indian Kashmir

By ASHOK SHARMA, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 7:11 am ET

NEW DELHI – A pro-India coalition will head the Kashmir state government, ending nearly six months of federal administration that saw deadly protests against New Delhi’s rule, leaving more than 50 people dead.

No single party managed to win a majority in the election, which took place in several phases and ended last week, and so the major parties scrambled to form an alliance to take power.

The National Conference, which with 28 seats won more than any other party, and the Congress party, which won 17, struck an agreement Tuesday to form a new coalition, giving them a majority in the state parliament, officials said.

34 Iraq and UK agree to let troops stay until July


Tue Dec 30, 4:49 pm ET

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq signed agreements with Britain and Australia on Tuesday for their troops to stay in Iraq for seven months after a U.N. mandate authorizing their presence expires on January 1, Iraq’s Defense Ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said the agreements would take effect on New Year’s Day and would require the two countries’ combat troops to leave Iraq by the end of July.

Britain has 4,100 troops stationed in Iraq, near the southern oil center of Basra. Australia has 300 troops.

35 U.S. backs plan for engaging Afghan tribes

By Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters

Tue Dec 30, 7:50 am ET

KABUL (Reuters) – The United States backs a proposed Afghan government plan to engage tribal elders in the war against the resurgent Taliban, a move seen by critics as reviving militias, its top envoy said on Tuesday.

Although, seven years on from the Taliban’s ouster, there are nearly 70,000 NATO-led troops in Afghanistan — to be boosted by up to 30,000 extra U.S. soldiers by the summer — alongside tens of thousands of Afghan forces, William Wood said this was not enough to protect all Afghan villages from the militants.

Called the “Community Guard Programme,” the pilot project will cover southern and eastern areas where the al Qaeda-backed Taliban are most active, said Wood.

36 Builders unearth 18th century galleon in Argentina


Tue Dec 30, 5:10 pm ET

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentine builders stumbled across the wreck of an 18th century Spanish galleon while digging the foundations for a riverside high-rise building in Buenos Aires, archeologists said on Tuesday.

Experts combing the remains of the ship said they did not expect it to contain treasure, but so far they have discovered several canons and well-preserved earthenware jars that were probably used to store olive oil.

The remains of the galleon were found on a building site close to the shores of the River Plate and archeologists from Buenos Aires city government think the boat was probably shipwrecked some 300 years ago.

37 Sudan opposition leader questioned over ICC: media


Tue Dec 30, 10:03 am ET

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese security forces questioned a veteran opposition leader over comments he made supporting a war crimes case against the country’s president, but then released him, state media reported Tuesday.

The incident was part of a crackdown on Sudanese seen as backing the International Criminal Court and its chief prosecutor, who has asked for an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, accusing him of orchestrating genocide in Darfur.

The vice president of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ali Mahmoud Hassanein, was questioned about “negative remarks he made supporting the ICC allegations against the president of the republic,” said the Sudanese Media Center, a news outlet with links to Sudan’s security service.

38 Czechs take EU helm from fringe as crises rage

By Jan Lopatka, Reuters

Tue Dec 30, 9:16 am ET

PRAGUE (Reuters) -The Czechs have a tough act to follow when they take the helm of the European Union on January 1 after French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s energetic stint.

Facing the worst economic crisis in generations, a stalled process to streamline decision-making, thorny ties with Russia, and June European Parliament elections, many EU leaders say strong leadership now is not a luxury but a necessity.

But unlike France, which under Sarkozy launched a string of initiatives, albeit with mixed results, on issues such as the economic crisis and climate change, the Czechs have been far from the forefront of the drive for deeper integration.

39 Belgium’s Van Rompuy named PM after coalition deal

By Anne Jolis, Reuters

Tue Dec 30, 12:37 pm ET

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – King Albert named Flemish Christian Democrat Herman Van Rompuy as Belgian prime minister on Tuesday to head a revived five-party coalition in a country facing recession and a bank crisis.

Van Rompuy replaces his party colleague Yves Leterme, who resigned on December 19 over allegations of political meddling in the bailout of stricken bank Fortis.

“The king received Mr. Herman Van Rompuy this afternoon at the Chateau de Laeken and named him prime minister,” the palace said in a statement.

40 U.S. pull-back from Iraq will hit private contractors

By Missy Ryan, Reuters

Tue Dec 30, 7:28 am ET

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – In Iraq, tens of thousands of private contractors from poor countries like Nepal, Pakistan or Peru keep the U.S. military on its feet, driving trucks, scrubbing floors, and ladling out food at sprawling U.S. bases.

But the role of Iraq’s multi-billion-dollar contracting business will change next year as Washington draws down troop levels and Iraq assumes control for maintaining a fragile calm.

Change may mean fewer jobs for workers from the developing world who have been willing to risk their lives to join the 200,000 private contractors who outnumber U.S. troops in Iraq.

41 China now probes melamine tableware scare


1 hr 13 mins ago

BEIJING (Reuters) – China, fighting a health scandal over melamine found in milk and other food products, now says it is investigating melamine tableware, following reports it might be harmful to health when hot.

Quality inspectors told Xinhua news agency they were organizing tests of melamine tableware “following reports that some products contained poisonous ingredients.”

Melamine is an industrial compound used in making plastic chairs, countertops, tableware, flame retardants and even concrete. It was added by unscrupulous manufacturers to food to cheat nutrition tests due to its high in nitrogen content.

42 No Ghana election result until at least Friday: electoral body


Tue Dec 30, 3:32 pm ET

ACCRA (AFP) – Election officials on Tuesday told Ghana’s opposition, which has claimed victory in a presidential run-off poll, it will have to wait until at least Friday for definitive results to be announced.

The country’s election commission said the result of the ballot could be affected by voting on Friday in the country’s 230th constituency Tain which was unable to complete polling on Sunday.

“As of now Professor (John) Atta-Mills is in the lead,” commission head Kwado Afari-Gyan told reporters, referring to the opposition party candidate.

43 Ugandan rebels kill 400 in DR Congo: charity


2 hrs 44 mins ago

KINSHASA (AFP) – Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebels killed more than 400 people in Christmas massacres in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Caritas aid charity said Tuesday.

The rebels denied any responsibility and accused troops from DR Congo, Uganda and South Sudan of “bombing” the victims, but a statement from the United Nations Secretary General condemned the alleged LRA atrocities Tuesday.

The LRA targeted a town where a Christmas Day concert was being held and a Roman Catholic church, and attacks were going on along the Sudanese border, the Catholic charity said in a statement.

44 Russian leader signs presidential term extension: Kremlin


Tue Dec 30, 3:07 pm ET

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday signed into law constitutional amendments extending presidential terms from four years to six, the Kremlin said, following a high-speed approval process.

A Kremlin spokeswoman confirmed to AFP that Medvedev had approved the amendments, after they were announced in early November and pushed through the national parliament and all 83 regional assemblies in less than two months.

Analysts have speculated the changes could be designed to pave the way for a return to the presidency by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who left the Kremlin in May but is often viewed as continuing to wield true power in Russia.

45 500,000 New Citizens for Spain?

By LISA ABEND, Time Magazine

Tue Dec 30, 2:30 am ET

Ludivina GarcÍa’s father fought on the side of the Republic in the Spanish Civil War, and was imprisoned in one of Franco’s concentration camps before he escaped to Mexico. Now, thanks to a change in Spanish law, the Mexican-born GarcÍa, 63, is busy compiling the paperwork to obtain the citizenship she feels she has been unfairly denied all these years. GarcÍa is already recognized as a Spanish citizen through marriage. But having her nationality acknowledged as her birthright is a matter of honor. “It’s not redundant,” she says. “I’ve always had an identity conflict, and now I have the chance to resolve it.”

46 ‘Old Europe’ Wary as Czechs Take Over E.U. Presidency


Tue Dec 30, 5:10 am ET

The flag spat underlines the anxiety surrounding the Czech presidency. Many of Europe’s leaders question how Prague can helm the E.U. over the next six months when the Czech president is so unenthusiastic about the group. Klaus has been an outspoken critic of the E.U. for years and says the Czech presidency is an insignificant event. He regularly criticizes major E.U. policies, has refused to sign the Lisbon Treaty and dismisses E.U. climate change legislation as “a silly luxury” that will exacerbate the international financial crisis. A 67-year-old economist who helped build the Czechs’ post-communist democracy, Klaus likens bank bailouts to “old socialism.”

47 Australia Loses, a Cricket Era Passes


Tue Dec 30, 2:40 pm ET

In Australia, it is being mourned as the passing of an era of global dominance: On Dec. 30, the South African national cricket team beat the Aussies in a five-day “test match” at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three game contest, and handing Australia its first series defeat on home ground in 16 years. During that time, the Australian team had redefined the five-day version of the game – the only one that purists believe merits the devotion that they bestow on it – incorporating the sort of devil-may-care style of play that had hitherto been confined to the one-day game (in which each side has one, restricted innings, and therefore has to score more rapidly). The Australians made test cricket (which even its lovers will concede can be deadly dull) thrilling.

48 A Secular Victory in Bangladesh Election


1 hr 47 mins ago

A few months ago, Bangladeshis were worried that their fragile democracy was heading the way of Pakistan, where much of the political power resides with the military or the mullahs. By turning out in massive numbers on Dec. 29 to hand a decisive victory to the Awami League, which campaigned on its secular, reformist credentials, Bangladeshis hope they have steered their nation past those twin shoals.

49 In Somalia, a Transitional President Is Out


1 hr 50 mins ago

The U.N. refugee agency released a small news item last week that went largely unnoticed: Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, destination for tens of thousands of fleeing Somalis since 1991, was full. “All [newly arriving] refugees have to find a place with relatives or friends, we no longer have any land to provide them,” a UNHCR field officer said. The three camps that comprise Dadaab were built with 60,000 refugees in mind. They now house 230,000, and tens of thousands more are expected in the coming months.
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50 Landowners sue TVA for $165M over coal ash spill

By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 5:53 pm ET

KINGSTON, Tenn. – A group of land owners sued the Tennessee Valley Authority for $165 million on Tuesday over a dike burst that spilled more than a billion gallons of coal ash sludge.

The six-page lawsuit was filed in state court by Jot and Brenda Raymond, owners and developers of North Lake Estates in eastern Tennessee’s Roane County.

It claims a creek running through the development has been damaged and is backed up as a result of the Dec. 22 spill from a power plant.

51 Ex-Army engineer pleads guilty in NY to spy charge

By LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press Writer

57 mins ago

NEW YORK – An 85-year-old former Army mechanical engineer pleaded guilty to conspiracy Tuesday and admitted he passed classified documents to the Israelis in the 1970s and ’80s.

Ben-ami Kadish told U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz he believed the government promised it would not seek a prison term when he is sentenced Feb. 13. Assistant U.S. Attorney Iris Lan said prosecutors promised only that they would not oppose or challenge a sentence that included no prison time.

Kadish was accused of taking home classified documents from 1979 to 1985 when he worked at the Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, N.J. The government said he let an Israeli agent photograph documents, including information about nuclear weapons, a modified version of an F-15 fighter jet and the U.S. Patriot missile air defense system.

52 Influx of black renters raises tension in Bay Area

By PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press Writer

1 hr 50 mins ago

ANTIOCH, Calif. – As more and more black renters began moving into this mostly white San Francisco Bay Area suburb a few years ago, neighbors started complaining about loud parties, mean pit bulls, blaring car radios, prostitution, drug dealing and muggings of schoolchildren.

In 2006, as the influx reached its peak, the police department formed a special crime-fighting unit to deal with the complaints, and authorities began cracking down on tenants in federally subsidized housing.

Now that police unit is the focus of lawsuits by black families who allege the city of 100,000 is orchestrating a campaign to drive them out.

53 Lawyer in Alamo case: Bible no defense for abuse

By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press Writer

1 hr 41 mins ago

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Jailed evangelist Tony Alamo’s right to religious freedom doesn’t allow him to beat children, a lawyer suing the preacher over alleged abuse says.

In federal court filings this week, W. David Carter wrote that protecting the public trumps constitutional protections afforded to religion. Alamo’s lawyer said in a court filing last week that the Bible requires spanking unruly children, and he suggested that Alamo had permission from church parents to discipline their children.

“Alamo’s religious ‘belief’ that he can beat, sexually abuse and otherwise mistreat children is guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Carter wrote. “Acting on that belief, however, is not.”

54 Judge halts closure of 11 Philadelphia libraries

By KATHY MATHESON, Associated Press Writer

2 hrs 12 mins ago

PHILADELPHIA – A judge ruled Tuesday that Philadelphia’s mayor cannot close 11 public library branches to save money because an ordinance requires City Council approve such actions.

Common Pleas Judge Idee Fox heard more than a day of testimony before finding that the mayor is bound by a 1988 ordinance that prohibits him from closing any city-owned building without City Council’s approval.

“If they tried to pull a fast one on us, they got caught,” said Councilman Frank Rizzo.

55 Banned words list offers no ‘bailout’ to offenders

By JEFF KAROUB, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 4:14 pm ET

DETROIT – A movie about a “maverick,” his journey “from Wall Street to Main Street,” his “desperate search” for a “monkey” and a “game-changing” revelation about his “carbon footprint” probably would make the nation’s word-watchers physically ill.

Especially if it were the “winner of five nominations.”

All those words and phrases are on Lake Superior State University’s annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness. The 34th version of the list was released Tuesday, which means, “It’s that time of year again.”

56 Ohio anti-bias worker sent racist, sexist e-mails

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, Associated Press Writer

Tue Dec 30, 5:54 pm ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio – An Ohio state employee whose job is to prevent discrimination repeatedly sent racist and sexist e-mails from his government account, an investigation found, but kept his job.

The same man was reprimanded a year ago for sending an e-mail joking about giving jobs to women with large breasts.

Jokes about men kissing and a woman’s genitalia, as well as a racial joke and a caricature of President-elect Barack Obama, were in the latest e-mails sent by the Transportation Department worker, according to an agency report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

57 Judge rejects release of two Guantanamo inmates

By Randall Mikkelsen, Reuters

1 hr 24 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge refused to release two Guantanamo terrorism suspects on Tuesday and upheld the government’s authority to keep them, after ordering freedom last month for five prisoners whose case led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling.

Federal District Court Judge Richard Leon said in two separate rulings the government had shown enough evidence to justify holding Yemeni citizen Moath Hamza Amhed Al Alwi and Tunisian Hisham Sliti as “enemy combatants” linked to al Qaeda or Taliban forces.

The Bush administration welcomed the rulings, but the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern over potential precedents. “This decision raises serious concerns given the reliance on classified evidence and the very broad definition of detention authority that it contains,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jonathan Hafetz said.

58 Bratz dolls to get reprieve: manufacturer

By Gina Keating, Reuters

1 hr 23 mins ago

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Bratz dolls and products, which had been ordered off the shelves for infringing on patents held by Barbie maker Mattel Inc, will receive an 11th-hour reprieve, their manufacturer said on Tuesday.

A judge indicated at a hearing that he will modify an injunction to allow stores to sell Bratz products through the end of 2009, MGA Entertainment Inc officials said.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson “indicated he will be modifying his December 3 stay … to allow purchases and sales (of Bratz items)” beyond a previously set deadline of February 11, MGA attorney Tom Nolan said.

59 Two potential bidders shun Boston Globe, Red Sox

By Robert MacMillan and Ben Klayman, Reuters

Mon Dec 29, 7:21 pm ET

NEW YORK/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Two Boston businessmen have denied they were interested in buying The Boston Globe newspaper and a stake in the Red Sox baseball team, which are owned by the New York Times Co.

Monday’s denials came from two of a handful of names mentioned in media reports as likely bidders for the properties, whose sale would be important for the Times to pay off looming debt that threatens its financial health.

Shares, which were already down Monday morning, fell 8 percent in after hours trade to $6.47 from their close on the New York Stock Exchange at $7.02.

60 Facebook facing protest over removal of nursing photos (AFP)


Posted on Tue Dec 30, 2008 2:11PM EST

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Facebook is facing an online protest after removing pictures of breastfeeding mothers found to be overly revealing from the pages of members of the social network.

A Facebook group entitled “Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” has attracted nearly 85,000 members as of Tuesday and a handful of activists held a rally outside its California headquarters over the weekend.

The organizers of the page, which is hosting a lively debate, receiving more than 10,000 comments, said they launched their “Official Petition to Facebook” after Facebook pulled profile pictures showing women nursing their babies.


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  1. From Yahoo News Politics

    61 Judge awards $65M to men taken from USS Pueblo

    By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer

    7 mins ago

    WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Tuesday awarded more than $65 million to several men who were captured and tortured by North Korea after the communist country seized the U.S. spy ship USS Pueblo during the Cold War. North Korea never responded to the lawsuit filed by William Thomas Massie, Donald Raymond McClarren, Dunnie Richard Tuck and the estate of Lloyd Bucher. U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. entered the judgment against the country.

    The USS Pueblo was seized off North Korea while it was on an intelligence-gathering mission on Jan. 23, 1968. The North claimed the ship was inside its coastal zone while the U.S. Navy contended it was in international waters.

    One of the U.S. ship’s 83 crew members was killed and 10 others were wounded. The crew members, led by Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, were released after 11 months of captivity and sometimes torture.

    62 Court: Religious objection won’t stop DNA sampling

    By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer

    Tue Dec 30, 6:23 pm ET

    WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court on Tuesday refused to stop the government from taking DNA from a prisoner who claims the process would violate his religious beliefs.

    Russell Kaemmerling, who is in the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, Texas on a felony wire fraud conviction, sued in 2006 to stop the Federal Bureau of Prisons from taking a DNA sample from him.

    Federal law requires felons give a DNA sample to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to be kept in a national law enforcement database. Officers then use the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, to try and solve crimes by matching evidence from crime scenes to known offenders.

    63 Seniors give Daschle health reform ideas

    By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press Writer

    Tue Dec 30, 5:32 pm ET

    WASHINGTON – Note to President-elect Barack Obama: Health reform doesn’t have to be all about expanding health insurance. It can be about the little things too, such as shorter waits in the doctor’s office and putting in place incentives such as free checkups that catch little problems before they became big ones.

    That was the message Tuesday from two-dozen seniors who gave their views about what ails America’s health care system to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Obama’s choice for secretary of health and human services. They listed a broad range of concerns, from four-hour waits to see a doctor, to the high cost of prescription drugs, to lack of Medicare coverage for certain treatments and medical devices.

    Daschle said conversations like Tuesday’s will put the new administration “on the right track” for overhauling the nation’s health care system next year.

    64 US eyes alternate supply lines into Afghanistan: official


    Tue Dec 30, 1:05 pm ET

    WASHINGTON (AFP) – Alternate routes are being studied to supply international troops in Afghanistan, after Pakistan temporarily shut down the traditional supply line, a US military official said Tuesday.

    With NATO reinforcements expected soon, potential alternatives could include “neighboring countries in the north,” according to the official who asked not to be named.

    “Not only because of the attacks (at the Khyber Pass) but also because we are expecting an increase of troop numbers and equipment” in the coming months which means there will be a greater need for supplies, the official said.

    65 Fed to ramp up purchases of mortgage securities in January


    Tue Dec 30, 5:08 pm ET

    WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Federal Reserve said Tuesday it would begin buying mortgage-backed securities in early January under a previously announced plan to purchase up to 600 billion dollars of these assets.

    The program was announced in late November as another step in fighting a credit crunch stemming from the collapse in housing that has now engulfed the financial sector and is choking economic activity.

    “The program is being established to support the mortgage and housing markets and to foster improved conditions in financial markets more generally,” the Fed said in a statement.

    66 ‘Magic Negro’ song embarrasses struggling Republicans

    by Sebastian Smith, AFP

    Tue Dec 30, 5:00 pm ET

    NEW YORK (AFP) – A senior Republican’s distribution of a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro” has triggered a nasty battle for the soul of the struggling party.

    Furious debates filled political blogs Tuesday, deepening Republican splits as the party tries to chart a course out of the political wilderness.

    Chip Saltsman, campaigning to become chairman of the Republican National Committee, says he sent CDs of the song about president-elect Barack Obama, the first African American to win the White House, as a joke.

  2. From Yahoo News Business

    67 Judge rules against WaMu confidentiality request

    By RANDALL CHASE, AP Business Writer

    Tue Dec 30, 1:50 pm ET

    WILMINGTON, Del. – A federal bankruptcy judge on Tuesday denied a request by Washington Mutual Inc. to keep details of certain asset sales secret.

    WaMu, which filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in September, wants to sell certain equity holdings and interests in venture capital funds to generate value for the company and its creditors. The Seattle-based thrift was the biggest bank to collapse in U.S. history, with about $307 billion in assets.

    Washington Mutual Co.’s attorneys have sought permission to redact details of asset purchase prices from sale notices that would be sent to interested parties.

    68 SEC’s enforcement accountant to leave next month

    By ALAN ZIBEL, AP Business Writer

    Tue Dec 30, 3:59 pm ET

    WASHINGTON – The top accountant in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement branch is leaving for a private sector job next month, in what could herald a wave of departures from the embattled agency.

    The SEC said Tuesday that Susan Markel, chief accountant in the agency’s division of enforcement, is taking a job in the corporate investigations practice of AlixPartners LLP, a turnaround consulting firm.

    Her departure comes as President-elect Barack Obama’s SEC chairman-designate, Mary Schapiro, is likely to face tremendous pressure to bring sweeping changes to the agency, said James Cox, a Duke University law professor and securities law expert.

    69 Dow Chem. heads into 2009 trying to salvage deal

    By ERNEST SCHEYDER, AP Energy Writer

    Tue Dec 30, 4:05 pm ET

    NEW YORK – A year-end surprise has left the nation’s largest chemical company scrambling to salvage a deal it had hoped would make riding out a recession a little easier.

    Following the collapse of a $17.4 billion joint venture with a state-owned Kuwaiti company, Dow Chemical must weigh taking on more debt than it wanted, entering intense negotiations to restructure a buyout of rival Rohm & Haas, or both.

    Shares of Rohm & Haas soared by the greatest amount in two months Tuesday, signifying pressure on Dow to complete the deal.

    70 Companies force workers to take unpaid vacation

    By ELLEN SIMON, AP Business Writer

    2 hrs 58 mins ago

    NEW YORK – Here’s the vacation no one wants, courtesy of the recession: Forced time off without pay.

    Financially struggling universities, factories and even hospitals are requiring employees to take unpaid “furloughs” – temporary layoffs that amount to one-time pay cuts for workers and a cost savings for employers. This year, the number of temporarily laid off workers hit a 17-year high.

    “If they do it once, I think it’s easier for them to try to do it again,” said Carrie Swartout, who researches traumatic brain injuries at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Maryland is requiring unpaid time off for 67,000 of its 80,000 employees as it struggles with a budget crisis. The state says the furloughs will save an estimated $34 million during the fiscal year.

    71 Japan auto sales plunge as young lose interest

    By YURI KAGEYAMA, AP Business Writer

    Tue Dec 30, 8:44 am ET

    TOKYO – To get around the city, Yutaka Makino hops on his skateboard or rides commuter trains. Does he dream of the day when he has his own car? Not a chance.

    Like many Japanese of his generation, the 28-year-old musician and part-time maintenance worker says owning a car is more trouble than it’s worth, especially in a congested city where monthly parking runs as much as 30,000 yen ($330), and gas costs $3.50 a gallon (about 100 yen a liter).

    That kind of thinking – which automakers here have dubbed “kuruma banare,” or “demotorization” – is a U-turn from earlier generations of Japanese who viewed car ownership as a status symbol. The trend is worrying Japan’s auto executives, who fear the nation’s love affair with the auto may be coming to an end.

    72 3 private investors seek to purchase IndyMac

    By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer

    Tue Dec 30, 7:19 am ET

    WASHINGTON – A trio of private investors – J.C. Flowers & Co., Dune Capital Management and Paulson & Co. – have teamed up in an effort to buy failed thrift IndyMac, a person familiar with the deal said Monday.

    The two private-equity firms and hedge-fund Paulson have applied for a federal holding company charter, according to the person, who asked not to be named because the deal has not been completed.

    The investors want to convert IndyMac Federal Bank, which was seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in July in the second-largest bank failure of the year, to a stock-held institution.

    73 Fallout begins after dismal holiday season

    By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO, AP Retail Writer

    Mon Dec 29, 8:29 pm ET

    NEW YORK – The fallout from the horrific holiday season for retailers has begun, with the operator of an online toy seller filing for bankruptcy protection and more stores expected to do the same – meaning more empty storefronts and fewer brands on store shelves.

    A rash of store closings, which some experts predict will be the most in 35 years, is likely to cut across areas from electronics to apparel, shrinking the industry and leading to fewer niche players and suppliers.

    The most dramatic pullback in consumer spending in decades could transform the retail landscape, as thousands of stores and whole malls close down. And analysts expect prolonged woes in the industry as the dramatic changes in shopping behavior could linger for another two or three years amid worries about the deteriorating economy and rising layoffs.

    74 Chinese dairies to compensate sickened babies

    By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press Writer

    Tue Dec 30, 9:34 am ET

    BEIJING – The companies whose tainted milk products sickened nearly 300,000 children and were blamed in the deaths of six will likely pay 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) in compensation to victims’ families, a state-run newspaper said Tuesday.

    Details of the compensation plan came shortly after trials began for 15 people on charges related to the production and sale of melamine, an industrial chemical added to milk to falsely boost protein readings in quality tests.

    According to the China Daily, the 22 companies blamed in the scandal will make a one-time 900 million yuan ($131 million) cash payment to victims.

    75 Paulson says U.S. lacked tools to tackle crisis: report


    1 hr 51 mins ago

    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Outgoing U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the U.S. government had to battle the financial crisis without the tools needed to do the job effectively, the Financial Times newspaper reported on Wednesday. Paulson also said any future regulatory overhaul needed to ensure that financial system infrastructure could allow for the failure of large institutions.

    In one of his last interviews before leaving office, Paulson said, “We’ve done all this without all of the authorities that a major nation like the U.S. needs.”

    He said even after Congress in October approved the $700 billion troubled asset relief program, the U.S. still lacked tools such as an adequate special bankruptcy regime for non-bank financial firms.

    76 Poor results signal trouble for Legg’s Miller

    By Muralikumar Anantharaman, Reuters

    Tue Dec 30, 4:33 pm ET

    BOSTON (Reuters) – Legg Mason Inc’s (LM.N) once-celebrated Value Trust fund is set for its worst-ever annual returns in 2008, and some investors grumble that time is running out for its manager, Bill Miller.

    The flagship stock mutual fund lost 57 percent in the year to December 29, the worst in its class and underperforming the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index for the third straight year following the S&P 500’s 39.4 percent loss.

    The losses are so big, the fund now trails the benchmark S&P 500 Index over not just one year but over three, five and 10 years. It is barely ahead over 15 years.

    77 2008 loan issuance falls 55 percent


    Tue Dec 30, 1:13 pm ET

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. loan issuance in 2008 tumbled 55 percent to $764 billion, the lowest volume since 1994, as the global credit crunch choked off lending to American businesses, according to data from Reuters Loan Pricing Corp.

    Loan issuance was down from $1.69 trillion in 2007 as banks focused on repairing balance sheets damaged by mortgage losses and had little interest in underwriting riskier deals, RLPC reported on Tuesday.

    Investment-grade loans fell to $319 billion, down 52 percent from 2007’s 658 billion, while leveraged loan issuance slid to $294 billion, down 57 percent from $689 billion in 2007, RLPC said.

    78 Judge OKs Pilgrim’s Pride DIP financing


    Tue Dec 30, 3:46 pm ET

    CHICAGO (Reuters) – Pilgrim’s Pride Corp’s (PGPDQ.PK) final debtor in possession financing was approved on Tuesday, though it may be amended to address some concerns.

    Pilgrim’s Pride, the largest U.S. chicken company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early December after struggling with high feed costs and low meat prices.

    It already received interim court approval to access $365 million of $450 million in DIP financing on December 3. The Bank of Montreal is the lead DIP agent.

    79 Billionaires’ luster dims as crisis grips

    By Douwe Miedema, Reuters

    Tue Dec 30, 11:59 am ET

    LONDON (Reuters) – The financial crisis caught up with Kirk Kerkorian, Robert Tchenguiz and Adolf Merckle in the last days of 2008, denting their reputations for being among the world’s savviest, not merely richest, investors.

    Ultra-wealthy people such as the three men — a 91-year old U.S. billionaire, a jet-setting London property tycoon and a media-shy German industrialist — are often thought to be at the vanguard of financial innovation, private bankers say.

    “They’re losing big money and their wealth is disappearing quickly,” said David Giampaolo, Chief Executive of Pi Capital, a London-based private equity investment boutique.

    80 Apparel makers to ask retailers for concessions: report


    Tue Dec 30, 12:06 pm ET

    (Reuters) – Clothing manufacturers, irked by the deep holiday discounts offered by retailers, may force department stores to absorb a larger chunk of the markdowns, Bloomberg reported.

    Fashion company Liz Claiborne Inc, HMS Productions Inc and other apparel companies plan to push back at the retailers who slashed prices as much as 70 percent this holiday season, the agency said.

    The agency cited Lou Breuning, president of New York-based HMS, saying the company was asking department stores for concessions. HMS sells Spence blouses at Dillard’s Inc and Cable & Gauge knits through Macy’s Inc.

    81 Ukraine makes gas payment to Russia to avert New Year cut-off

    by Anya Tsukanova, AFP

    Tue Dec 30, 6:58 pm ET

    KIEV (AFP) – Ukraine said Tuesday it had settled its 1.5 billion-dollar debt for gas delivered in November and December in a bid to resolve a showdown with Russia.

    “The money is on the accounts of RosUkrEnergo,” an intermediary company in which Russia’s Gazprom has a 50 percent stake, said Valentin Zemlyansky, a spokesman for Ukraine’s state energy firm Naftogaz.

    “We have transferred 1.522 billion dollars,” he added.

    82 Gulf ministers reach accord on monetary union


    Tue Dec 30, 2:58 pm ET

    MUSCAT (AFP) – Oil-rich Gulf monarchies agreed on Tuesday on the final draft of an accord on a monetary union which they intend to launch next year, an official statement said.

    Five members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council have “adopted the monetary union accord, which includes the legal and organisational framework,” said the statement issued at the end of the annual GCC leaders summit in Muscat.

    “It also adopted a system governing the monetary council,” the statement said.

    83 Iraq, Air France-KLM sign cooperation deal


    Tue Dec 30, 1:23 pm ET

    BAGHDAD (AFP) – Air France-KLM and Iraq’s transport ministry have signed a preliminary accord which will see Iraqi Airways taking off for European destinations and Baghdad’s airport being renovated, an official statement said Tuesday.

    “The memorandum of understanding has three points: first, technical, which covers technically enabling Iraqi Airways to code-share flights with Air France-KLM,” said ministry spokesman Samir al-Showaili.

    Air France-KLM will, secondly, assist “Iraqi Airways to enable it to fly international flights, including to Europe,” he said.

    84 German finance minister warns against ‘growth bubble’


    Tue Dec 30, 11:01 am ET

    BERLIN (AFP) – Germany’s finance minister told AFP in an interview that cutting interest rates too low in an effort to counter the global recession could create what he called a dangerous “growth bubble.”

    Speaking earlier this month, and fresh from his recent broadside against the British government’s response to the economic crisis, Peer Steinbrueck said there was a danger of repeating the dangers of the past.

    “On the one hand we need to boost the economy, on the other hand we must make sure that a policy of cheap money does not lead to a new growth bubble founded on credit, as happened after September 11, 2001,” Steinbrueck said.

    85 Germany to decide on second stimulus plan ‘in mid-January’


    Mon Dec 29, 10:07 am ET

    BERLIN (AFP) – The German government will decide by mid-January on a second stimulus plan aimed at providing another shot in the arm for Germany’s ailing economy, Europe’s largest, a spokesman said Monday.

    “You can assume that the decision will be made in January, you can assume it will be made by mid-January,” government spokesman Thomas Steg told a regular press conference.

    Angela Merkel’s government unveiled measures in November to boost growth but with Germany entering what economists are predicting will be its worst slowdown since 1945 the chancellor has been under pressure from all sides to do more.

    86 Britain faces 600,000 job cuts in 2009: study


    Mon Dec 29, 10:15 am ET

    LONDON (AFP) – Some 600,000 British workers will lose their jobs in 2009 and a million could go before the worst is over, according to a study Monday giving the latest gloomy forecast on a deepening recession.

    Around a million jobs may be lost in all before the economy starts to recover and the next three months will be the worst for job losses since 1991, warned the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

    “This time last year, in the face of some scepticism, the CIPD warned that 2008 would be the UK’s worst year for jobs in a decade,” said John Philpott, chief economist for the CIPD which represents managers and personnel staff.

    87 Changes to trading rules will go ahead: HK stock exchange


    Tue Dec 30, 1:38 pm ET

    HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong stock exchange said Tuesday it would push ahead with a new measure designed to make insider trading more difficult, despite massive opposition from listed companies and tycoons.

    However, in a bid to allay concerns, the exchange decided to defer the implementation of the rule from January 1 to April 1 next year.

    The controversial measure will effectively extend the period banning directors from trading shares in their companies from the present four weeks before the company’s earning announcements to up to nine months.

    88 German inflation easing after 14-year high for 2008: official data


    Tue Dec 30, 10:03 am ET

    FRANKFURT (AFP) – German inflation slowed in December but Europe’s biggest economy still registered its highest annual inflation rate in 14 years, provisional official figures released on Tuesday showed.

    The inflation rate eased to 1.1 percent in December compared with the same month last year, down from 1.4 percent in November, according to the figures from the national statistics office Destatis.

    But for all of 2008, an inflation rate of 2.6 percent exceeded last year’s level of 2.2 percent and was the highest since 1994, when it reached 2.8 percent.

    89 International air traffic slumps in Nov: IATA


    Tue Dec 30, 8:02 am ET

    GENEVA (AFP) – Struggling airlines hit more trouble in November, with passenger numbers down and freight plunging by a “shocking” 13.5 percent, the worst drop since the September 11 terror attacks, IATA said Tuesday.

    Profits at Asia-Pacific carriers, which saw the sharpest downturn in demand as the global economic crisis deepened, are expected to be “disproportionately” affected by the plunge in cargo traffic, the aviation industry group added.

    “The 13.5 percent drop in international cargo is shocking … By comparison, this is the largest drop since 2001, in the aftermath of September 11,” IATA chief Giovanni Bisignani said.

  3. From Yahoo News Science

    90 Scientists eye unusual swarm of Yellowstone quakes

    By MEAD GRUVER, Associated Press Writer

    Mon Dec 29, 9:17 pm ET

    CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Yellowstone National Park was jostled by a host of small earthquakes for a third straight day Monday, and scientists watched closely to see whether the more than 250 tremors were a sign of something bigger to come. Swarms of small earthquakes happen frequently in Yellowstone, but it’s very unusual for so many earthquakes to happen over several days, said Robert Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah.

    “They’re certainly not normal,” Smith said. “We haven’t had earthquakes in this energy or extent in many years.”

    Smith directs the Yellowstone Seismic Network, which operates seismic stations around the park. He said the quakes have ranged in strength from barely detectable to one of magnitude 3.8 that happened Saturday. A magnitude 4 quake is capable of producing moderate damage.

    91 Hard to hear at holiday parties? Blame your brain

    By MALCOLM RITTER, AP Science Writer

    Mon Dec 29, 6:07 pm ET

    NEW YORK – It’s almost New Year’s Eve, a time for plunging into boisterous crowds bathed in loud music. And for some of us, that means turning to an old friend and hearing things like this: “Did you know (BOOM-da-da-BOOM) went over (Bob! You look wonder-) so she said (clink-clink) and then I (Here, have another one) what would you do?” Huh? Too noisy to hear! But wait – how come these younger people understood what she said? What’s wrong with your ears? Actually, part of the problem may be your brain.

    In fact, it may lie in your brain’s dimmer switch for controlling the input from your ears. That bit of brain circuitry appears to falter with age, and scientists are getting some clues about why.

    If you have trouble understanding conversation in a noisy room, you’re experiencing what’s sometimes called the cocktail party problem.

    92 Sharks have wimpy bites, study finds


    Tue Dec 30, 4:57 pm ET

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sharks have wimpy bites for their size and can crunch through their prey only because they have very sharp teeth — and because they can grow to be so big, researchers reported on Tuesday.

    Their studies of shark jaws show that lions or tigers win hands down when it comes to jaw strength — but sharks prevail in the water because of their wide jaw size.

    “Pound for pound, sharks don’t bite all that hard,” Daniel Huber of the University of Tampa in Florida, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

    93 Genetics help Argentine police beat cattle rustlers

    By Maximiliano Rizzi, Reuters

    Tue Dec 30, 11:24 am ET

    LA PLATA, Argentina (Reuters) – Cattle-rustling is an age-old problem on Argentina’s legendary Pampas plains, but genetic testing is helping police crack down on thieves.

    Argentina, one of the world’s top beef exporters, is famous for its free-range beef from grass-fed cattle. Experts say lax controls and the sheer scale of some landholdings make it easy for rustlers.

    However, plans are under way to expand a pioneering database of samples of genetic material from 10,000 cattle that has helped police solve 270 cases of cattle-rustling since it was established in Buenos Aires province seven years ago.

    94 Quake experiment tests shake-proof metal

    By Rob Muir, Reuters

    Mon Dec 29, 3:08 pm ET

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A 10-second experiment using an “elastic” alloy made of nickel and titanium may point to a way help save bridges in earthquakes.

    The new alloy greatly reduced damage to a 100-foot-long (30-m-long) model concrete bridge in the experiment, designed to replicate the 1994 Northridge quake that killed 57 people and caused widespread damage near Los Angeles in California.

    The team at the University of Nevada, Reno, shook the bridge for 10 seconds in a simulation of a magnitude 8 quake. In Northridge, that was long enough to flatten bridges and overpasses.

    95 Chile says Chaiten volcano still poses danger


    Mon Dec 29, 6:19 am ET

    SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s government said on Friday the area surrounding the Chaiten Volcano, which erupted in May for the first time in thousands of years, was still not safe and that a decision regarding the future of the town of Chaiten would be made in coming days.

    The Volcano, only six miles from the town, started spewing ash, gas and molten rock on May 2, forcing the evacuation of about 7,000 residents.

    A cloud of debris that soared as high as 20 miles into the air was kept aloft by the pressure of constant eruptions for weeks, and even covered towns in neighboring Argentina with volcanic ash.

    96 Japanese whalers disrupted by high seas pursuit: activists


    Mon Dec 29, 2:07 am ET

    SYDNEY (AFP) – Militant environmental campaigners said Monday they had prevented Japanese whalers harpooning any of the giant sea mammals for nine days by engaging them in a 1,000 nautical mile high seas pursuit.

    Paul Watson, captain of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel “Steve Irwin”, said his crew chased the Japanese fleet through ice, rough seas and fog off Antarctica.

    “I don’t understand where they are running to, they are still going east. We’ve chased them over 1,000 (nautical) miles (1,852 kilometres) now,” Watson told AFP.

    97 Astronomers Aim to Grasp Mysterious Dark Matter

    Clara Moskowitz, Special to

    Mon Dec 29, 9:07 am ET

    For the past quarter century, dark matter has been a mystery we’ve just had to live with. But the time may be getting close when science can finally unveil what this befuddling stuff is that makes up most of the matter in the universe.

    Dark matter can’t be seen. Nobody even knows what it is. But it must be there, because without it galaxies would fly apart.

    Upcoming experiments on Earth such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator in Switzerland, and a new spacecraft called Gaia set to launch in 2011, could be the key to closing the case on one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in science.

    98 How to Recycle Your Christmas Tree

    Lori Brown, Earth911,

    Tue Dec 30, 12:50 pm ET

    Now that the presents have all been handed out from under the tree and New Year’s resolutions are looming around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about recycling your Christmas tree. Treecycling can be a simple and great way to start off your new year with an eco-friendly act of kindness.

    Between 30 million and 35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year. Luckily, about 93 percent of those trees are currently being recycled through more than 4,000 available recycling programs.

    Treecycling is a simple way to bring a renewable and natural source back to the environment – and not the landfill, where decomposition rates are slowed due to lack of oxygen.

    99 Ancient Fossil Suggests Origin of Cheetahs

    Jeanna Bryner, Senior Writer

    Tue Dec 30, 10:59 am ET

    A nearly complete skull of a primitive cheetah that sprinted about in China more than 2 million years ago suggests the agile cats originated in the Old World rather than in the Americas.

    The skull was discovered in Gansu Province, China, and represents a new cheetah species, now dubbed Acinonyx kurteni. The animal probably lived some time between 2.2 million and 2.5 million years ago, the researchers estimate, making the specimen one of the oldest cheetah fossils identified to date.

    “This is extremely exciting stuff,” said Luke Hunter, executive director of Panthera, an organization that aims to conserve the world’s wild cats. “We know amazingly little about the evolutionary history of most of the large cats, with the cheetah being a prime example: The existing fossils we have are largely similar to the modern cheetah,” said Hunter, who was not involved in the current discovery.

    100 Researchers’ vision: restoring sight through artificial retinas

    By Robert S. Boyd, McClatchy Newspapers

    Mon Dec 29, 2:54 pm ET

    WASHINGTON – Scientists are testing artificial retinas that they hope can restore partial sight to people who’ve lost their vision to the most common causes of blindness.

    Retinitis pigmentosa, which ruins peripheral vision, and macular degeneration, which causes a blurred or blind spot in central vision, affect millions of people, especially the elderly.

    Both diseases irreparably damage the retina, the light-sensitive patch at the back of the eye that converts images into signals and relays them the brain.

  4. Happy New Year!

  5. Two thousand and strange: offbeat stories of the year


    Mon Dec 29, 1:29 pm ET

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