Weekend News Digest is an Open Thread
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1 Super Bowl ads promise glitz, guffaws, groans
By DEBORAH YAO, AP Business Writer
Sat Jan 31, 9:24 am ET
|It’s time for that annual winter ritual where people gather before their TV screens to whoop and holler as they gobble down unhealthy treats. Yes, it’s Super Bowl time. And Sunday’s NFL championship wouldn’t be complete without a look at its uber-expensive advertising, which is priced at an all-time high.
On Friday, NBC, a unit of General Electric Co., said it was in talks to sell the last two of the 67 spots for the game, which have gone for between $2.4 million and $3 million per 30-second slot.
“Considering the state of the economy in the United States, we couldn’t be any more thrilled,” said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics.
2 Gov’t launches criminal probe in peanut recall
By SHARON THEIMER and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press Writers
Sat Jan 31, 8:04 am ET
|WASHINGTON – Responding to reports of shoddy sanitation practices and inspections, federal health officials have opened a criminal investigation into the Georgia peanut-processing plant at the center of the national salmonella outbreak.
The Obama administration on Friday pledged stricter oversight of food safety to prevent breakdowns in inspections.
Officials say Peanut Corp. of America sold tainted peanut products to food makers. At least 529 people have been sickened as a result of the outbreak, and at least eight may have died because of it. More than 430 products have been recalled.
3 Michael Steele becomes first black RNC chairman
By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer
Sat Jan 31, 12:30 am ET
|WASHINGTON – The Republican Party chose the first black national chairman in its history Friday, just shy of three months after the nation elected a Democrat as the first African-American president. The choice marked no less than “the dawn of a new party,” declared the new GOP chairman, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Republicans chose Steele over four other candidates, including former President George W. Bush’s hand-picked GOP chief, who bowed out declaring, “Obviously the winds of change are blowing.”
Steele takes the helm of a beleaguered Republican Party that is trying to recover after crushing defeats in November’s national elections that gave Democrats control of Congress put Barack Obama in the White House.
GOP delegates erupted in cheers and applause when his victory was announced, but it took six ballots to get there. He’ll serve a two-year term.
4 Alaska lawmakers question Sarah Palin’s focus
By ANNE SUTTON, Associated Press Writer
Sat Jan 31, 8:03 am ET
|JUNEAU, Alaska – Driving home at night from her Capitol office, the leader of Alaska’s House Democrats often passes the governor’s white-columned mansion and wonders why more lights aren’t on.
Rep. Beth Kerttula assumes Gov. Sarah Palin is out of town, though Palin’s staffers say so far their boss has been there for most of the legislative session that began Jan. 20.
It’s a small matter, but it’s part of the buzz around the Capitol among lawmakers who are seeing less of their governor than in years past and wondering what it means in the wake of a Republican vice presidential run that brought Palin global fame and notoriety.
5 Tax troubles arise for 2nd Obama Cabinet nominee
By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press Writer
Sat Jan 31, 11:32 am ET
|WASHINGTON – Former Sen. Tom Daschle’s failure to pay his taxes on time isn’t expected to derail his confirmation as health secretary for the Obama administration, Republicans and Democrats say.
Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat chosen to lead President Obama’s health reform efforts, recently filed amended tax returns to report $128,203 in back taxes and $11,964 in interest, according to a Senate document obtained by The Associated Press.
Daschle’s spokeswoman said Saturday that Daschle told senators about the tax problems when he met individually with his former colleagues, who asked him to let the committee disclose the tax returns.
6 Geithner, Bernanke work on $700B bailout overhaul
By MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer
Sat Jan 31, 12:17 am ET
|WASHINGTON – Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other top banking officials met Friday to hammer out details of a major overhaul of the government’s financial rescue program. One official said the Obama administration was close to unveiling the new plan.
This senior administration official, who spoke to The Associated Press, said the administration was on track to announce its overhaul of the $700 billion bailout program soon, possibly as early as next week.
This official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not yet been unveiled, said that it would employ a full range of tools to get credit flowing again to families and businesses.
7 Obama facing dilemma over protectionism
By DESMOND BUTLER, Associated Press Writer
2 hrs 2 mins ago
|WASHINGTON – Protection language in the stimulus bill presents President Barack Obama with a dilemma: Backing the provisions could set off a trade war, but opposing them could mean a backlash from his supporters.
The “buy American” provisions would require major public works projects to favor U.S. steel, iron and manufacturing over imports.
U.S. allies and trading partners warn that favoring U.S. companies would breach Washington’s trade commitments and could set off tit-for-tat countermeasures around the world.
8 Obama seems unlikely to widen war in Afghanistan
By ANNE GEARAN, AP Military Writer
2 hrs 55 mins ago
|WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, who pledged during his campaign to shift U.S. troops and resources from Iraq to Afghanistan, has done little since taking office to suggest he will significantly widen the grinding war against a resurgent Taliban.
On the contrary, Obama appears likely to streamline the U.S. focus with an eye to the worsening economy and the cautionary example of the Iraq war that sapped political support for President George W. Bush.
“There’s not simply a military solution to that problem,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said last week, adding that Obama believes “that only through long-term and sustainable development can we ever hope to turn around what’s going on there.”
9 Bonuses no luxury for some Wall Street workers
By MADLEN READ and MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writers
Sat Jan 31, 12:40 am ET
|NEW YORK – To President Barack Obama, Wall Street’s $18.4 billion in bonuses is “shameful.” To thousands of bank employees who don’t sit in corner offices, that money helps pay the bills. Outrage over the bonuses reached as high as the White House this week following news that financial firms were rewarding employees even as they were being bailed out with billions of taxpayer dollars. The feelings are understandable: The average Wall Street bonus of $112,000 was about twice the average American’s income.
“What are you supposed to pay them?” Weisberg asked. “Or are you not supposed to pay them? And if you don’t pay them, how do you expect that employee to stay employed at that company?”
Many argue that anyone who works at a bank right now should feel lucky to be employed – after all, hundreds of thousands of their colleagues have been shown the door over the past year.
10 Goodell says NFL union profit claims are ‘fiction’
By BARRY WILNER, AP Football Writer
Sat Jan 31, 3:45 am ET
|TAMPA, Fla. – Despite fears of a worsening economy and potential labor problems, commissioner Roger Goodell tried to be upbeat Friday, saying the game was showing signs of being safer and that the league wasn’t done tinkering with overtime. In his state of the NFL address at the Super Bowl, Goodell said he was hopeful there would be a new agreement with the union before the 2010 season.
Still, there was no getting around the fact the NFL was hardly immune from the world’s ongoing financial chaos.
“We’re not part of the economic crisis in the sense that we have any specific steps that we can take for the broader economy,” he said. “As it relates to the NFL, we have announced, very aggressively, that we are going to look at all of our season ticket prices. … I believe about three-quarters of the league will hold their ticket prices flat.
11 Iraqi PM and U.N. hail peaceful Iraq election
By Aseel Kami and Missy Ryan, Reuters
2 hrs 38 mins ago
|BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqis held their most peaceful election since the fall of Saddam Hussein on Saturday, voting for provincial councils without a single major attack reported anywhere in the country.
“The purple fingers have returned to build Iraq,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a televised address after the polls closed, referring to the indelible ink stains on index fingers that show voters have cast their ballots.
The 2005 election took place amid an al Qaeda-inspired Sunni insurgency and was followed by a surge in sectarian slaughter between once dominant Sunni Arabs and majority Shi’ite Muslims.
12 Trade ministers to strive for Doha deal this year
By Jonathan Lynn, Reuters
1 hr 1 min ago
|DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Key trade ministers agreed on Saturday to step up efforts to reach a new global trade deal and guard against protectionism to help pull the world out of economic crisis.
With the world economy in its worst state since World War Two, ministers met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos and agreed keeping trade open was a central element in any solution to the crisis.
“It is very clear that we have to be better at communicating the message to all the people across the world that in order to come out of the economic downturn we need to keep trade open,” European Union Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton said.
13 Protesters rally against World Economic Forum
Sat Jan 31, 10:48 am ET
|GENEVA/DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Hundreds of people rallied in Geneva and Davos Saturday to protest against the World Economic Forum, saying the elite gathered for it annual meeting are not qualified to fix the world’s problems.
Carrying banners reading ‘You are the Crisis’ and throwing snowballs, several hundred protesters marched to fences surrounding the heavily guarded Hotel Seehof in the Davos ski resort, where many world leaders and business people stay during the forum.
Protester Alex Heideger, a member of the Davos Green Party, said these were the people to blame for the economic mess.
14 Refinery workers set for strike, talks continue
By Erwin Seba, Reuters
35 mins ago
|HOUSTON (Reuters) – Some 24,000 workers at U.S. refineries, chemical plants and oil pipelines were poised on Saturday to start a strike that could affect half the nation’s oil refining capacity and boost pump prices.
Nearly 10 percent of U.S. refining capacity could be idled within days if negotiators for the United Steelworkers union and Shell Oil Co fail to reach a deal by 12:01 a.m. CST on Sunday, when the existing three-year contract expires.
Top U.S. refiner Valero Energy Corp and BP Plc say they plan to idle some of their refineries if there is a strike.
15 New Afghan security unit to police dangerous areas
1 hr 51 mins ago
|KABUL (Reuters) – Plans are being drawn up to form a new Afghan security unit to patrol dangerous areas where the Taliban insurgency is most acute, government officials said on Saturday.
The unit, to be funded by the United States, will have its own uniform and work alongside the Afghan National Police (ANP), using the same weapons as the ANP who have AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar told a news conference.
He did not say how the unit would be recruited, how large it would be or exactly where it would be deployed.
16 CIA Algeria case may hurt Obama initiative: reports
Sat Jan 31, 7:17 am ET
|ALGIERS (Reuters) – Allegations that the CIA station chief in Algiers drugged and raped Muslim women may hurt efforts by President Barack Obama to improve U.S. relations with the Muslim world, Algerian dailies said Saturday.
“Sex, rape and video at the U.S. embassy in Algiers,” wrote Algeria’s most influential French-language newspaper El Watan in a front page headline.
The U.S. government has said the CIA chief in Algiers had returned to Washington and the Justice Department was probing the officer’s alleged misconduct.
17 Russia arrests dozens at anti-Putin protests
by Bertrand de Saisset, AFP
2 hrs 58 mins ago
|MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian security forces on Saturday arrested dozens of activists as the authorities forcefully broke up protests against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s handling of the economic crisis.
Eduard Limonov, head of the banned National Bolshevik Party, was among those arrested by security forces when he was about to address an unauthorized protest meeting in central Moscow, an AFP correspondent reported.
Police said a total 41 people had been arrested in a series of protests in Moscow which noisily called for Putin’s resignation but at most could only muster a couple of hundred demonstrators.
18 Thousands march to Gov’t House in fresh Thai protests
by Thanaporn Promyamyai, AFP
1 hr 21 mins ago
|BANGKOK (AFP) – Thousands of supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra rallied outside Thailand’s main government offices in Bangkok Saturday, vowing to fight on until the new administration left office.
The protesters spent nearly two hours marching towards Government House, arriving just before midnight (1700GMT) after making their way past four steel barricades across their route, manned by unarmed riot police.
Rally leaders read a list of demands to the cheering crowd, vowing to return and stage a permanent protest in 15 days’ time if these were not met.
19 Islamist cleric elected Somali president
by Ali Musa Abdi, AFP
1 hr 29 mins ago
|DJIBOUTI (AFP) – Moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was elected Somalia’s president Saturday, a development welcomed by many as a chance to break the political deadlock and curb raging civil violence.
Hundreds of Mogadishu residents took to the streets to express their support for the young cleric, who vowed to build an inclusive government, reach out to hardline groups and bring Somalia back into the regional fold.
“My government will come up with an adequate plan to overcome the difficulties the nation is facing,” Sheikh Sharif said after taking the oath on the Koran during a ceremony at the Kempinski hotel in neighbouring Djibouti.
20 Japan pledges $17 billion Asia aid package
Sat Jan 31, 7:14 am ET
|DAVOS, Switzerland (AFP) – Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso pledged 1.5 trillion yen (17 billion dollars) in development aid to other Asian countries on Saturday for infrastructure projects that will help boost growth.
The prime minister highlighted Japan’s involvement in projects in the Mekong region and the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor and said overseas development assistance (ODA) would increase by 20 percent this year.
“Japan is ready to provide ODA not less than 1.5 trillion yen or about 17 billion dollars in total,” he told the World Economic Forum here.
21 World Social Forum tells Davos to fix crisis — or else
by Marc Burleigh, AFP
Sat Jan 31, 2:09 am ET
|BELEM, Brazil (AFP) – Leftwing leaders and groups attending the World Social Forum in Brazil have dealt an ultimatum to political and corporate chiefs meeting at the same time in the Swiss resort of Davos: fix this crisis — or else.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said at the event in Belem that it was urgent for the rich nations “to resolve this crisis so the poor countries can develop.”
But he warned against worrying signs of protectionism, saying: “It’s not fair that, now that the rich countries are in crisis, they forget their talk about free trade.”
22 Europe, US pressured to lift sanctions, support Zimbabwe
by Fanuel Jongwe, AFP
1 hr 46 mins ago
|HARARE (AFP) – South Africa called Saturday for the United States and Europe to lift sanctions against the government of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as he prepares to share power with his rival.
Pretoria said Western nations should take these steps to help its stricken neighbour rebuild almost a year after disputed elections which left Zimbabwe in tatters.
Months of deadlock over the details of a power-sharing deal ended Friday when opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed to be sworn in as prime minister, and parties took the first steps to forming an inclusive government.
23 Global court starts with a fumble. Warlord grins.
By Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor
Fri Jan 30, 3:00 am ET
|The Hague – The script was set for the first trial of the world’s first permanent war crimes court this week:
Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo went after warlord Thomas Lubanga, charged with recruiting 30,000 child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying Mr. Lubanga’s acts would “haunt a generation.”
But 48 hours later, the prosecution’s first witness, a child soldier, caused the entire court to gasp.
24 A momentous vote in Iraq after years of war
By Jane Arraf, The Christian Science Monitor
Fri Jan 30, 3:00 am ET
|Mosul, Iraq – In a country undergoing a grand reinvention, voters Saturday will choose not just who represents them in provincial governments but define the shape of Iraq in the tumultuous year ahead.
It’s a national election full of firsts: The first held by a fully sovereign Iraq; the first in which Iraq’s vital Sunni Arab minority is playing a large role; and the first in which Iraqis can vote for a flood of individual candidates – 14,467 of them vying for 440 seats – as well as parties.
“Those whom they elect – provincial council directors or governors – eventually are the ones who actually control the resources … who can or cannot deliver water, electricity, sanitation, and provide employment,” says United Nations special representative Stefan de Mistura in Baghdad.
25 House stimulus bill widens healthcare
By Alexandra Marks, The Christian Science Monitor
Fri Jan 30, 3:00 am ET
|New York – For the first time ever, newly unemployed workers and their families will be eligible for Medicaid coverage and healthcare subsidies if the economic stimulus package passed by the House Wednesday becomes the law of the land.
Those are just two of the healthcare initiatives included in the omnibus $819 billion stimulus bill. They’re aimed at pumping cash into the ailing economy at the same time they shore up the nation’s unravelling healthcare system.
The stimulus package, which still must be approved by the Senate, allots $117 billion for healthcare spending.
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26 At Davos, fear of retrenchment from free trade
By BRADLEY S. KLAPPER and MATT MOORE, Associated Press Writers
1 hr 52 mins ago
|DAVOS, Switzerland – Global leaders had a simple message for the world on Saturday: Keep trading.
If nations instead choose to barricade their economies behind new commercial barriers, they risk making the global economic crisis even worse, leaders said.
“Trade is the best economic stimulus,” said Doris Leuthard, the Swiss economics minister who hosted trade chiefs from the world’s most powerful countries on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.
27 Russian newspaper mourns another murdered reporter
By MIKE ECKEL, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 41 mins ago
|MOSCOW – The dead loom over the morning editorial meeting at Russia’s leading investigative newspaper. Novaya Gazeta’s staff is trying to plan the next issue and editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov is in an understandably foul mood.
In a corner hang photos of four reporters he has lost in the past eight years – one beaten to death, one allegedly poisoned, two shot – the most recent on Jan. 19.
It’s not easy to put a paper out these days, Muratov says.
28 Priest uncovering beginnings of Final Solution
By MARIA DANILOVA and RANDY HERSCHAFT, Associated Press Writers
1 hr 59 mins ago
|KIEV, Ukraine – The Holocaust has a landscape engraved in the mind’s eye: barbed-wire fences, gas chambers, furnaces.
Less known is the “Holocaust by Bullets,” in which over 2 million Jews were gunned down in towns and villages across Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Their part in the Nazis’ Final Solution has been under-researched, their bodies left unidentified in unmarked mass graves.
“Shoah,” French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann’s documentary, stands as the 20th century’s epic visual record of the Holocaust. Now another Frenchman, a Catholic priest named Patrick Desbois, is filling in a different part of the picture.
29 Bishop who denied Holocaust apologizes to pope
By FRANCES D’EMILIO, Associated Press Writer
Fri Jan 30, 5:07 pm ET
|VATICAN CITY – A bishop recently rehabilitated by Pope Benedict XVI expressed regret Friday to the pontiff for the “distress and problems” he caused by denying the Holocaust.
In a letter to the Vatican, Bishop Richard Williamson, who recently denied in a TV interview that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, called his remarks “imprudent.”
The letter was posted on Williamson’s personal blog and addressed to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who has been dealing with the rehabilitation of Williamson and other renegade bishops who had been excommunicated.
30 US says 2 Iraqi police killed in shooting
2 hrs 16 mins ago
|BAGHDAD – U.S. soldiers killed two Iraqi policemen Saturday after coming under fire during an operation against al-Qaida in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said.
An Iraqi officer confirmed the incident, which occurred near the northern city of Mosul, but said the policemen were manning a checkpoint when they were gunned down.
A U.S. statement said the incident began when U.S. soldiers entered a neighborhood looking for a suspected al-Qaida operative who was believed to be in a building.
31 Its a catastrophe for the apostrophe in Britain
By MEERA SELVA, Associated Press Writer
Fri Jan 30, 4:08 pm ET
|LONDON – On the streets of Birmingham, the queen’s English is now the queens English.
England’s second-largest city has decided to drop apostrophes from all its street signs, saying they’re confusing and old-fashioned.
But some purists are downright possessive about the punctuation mark.
32 China’s Wen in Britain as world seeks crisis fix
By Daisy Ku, Reuters
Sat Jan 31, 9:29 am ET
|LONDON (Reuters) – Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in London on Saturday in the latest leg of a European tour aimed at tackling the global financial and economic crisis and improving relations between the trading partners.
Wen will hold talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown during the three-day visit as global policymakers seek to build a consensus ahead of the G20 crisis summit of leading developed and developing nations in London on April 2.
“I hope this message will serve as a new opportunity to deepen friendships between our two peoples and promote vibrant growth of our relations,” Wen said on his arrival.
33 New Iceland govt eyes Sunday handover
By Patrick Lannin and Kristin Arna Bragadottir, Reuters
28 mins ago
|REYKJAVIK (Reuters) – A new center-left government for crisis-hit Iceland expects to take office on Sunday after securing key political support and aims to lead the country to an election in April, parties said on Saturday.
Reminding politicians of the discontent that helped topple the previous center-right prime minister, Geir Haarde, the first leader to fall as a direct result of the global crisis, some 2,000 people again demonstrated outside parliament.
The crisis, sparked after Iceland’s fast expanding banks collapsed under a weight of debt, forced Iceland to take a $10 billion International Monetary Fund-led rescue package and caused widespread anger.
34 Rwandan, Ugandan troops to quit Congo by end Feb
By Yves Boussen, Reuters
1 hr 36 mins ago
|KINSHASA, Jan 31 – Rwandan and Ugandan troops deployed in Democratic Republic of Congo to fight rebels will return home by the end of February, Congolese President Joseph Kabila told journalists in the capital Kinshasa on Saturday.
Thousands of soldiers from Congo’s eastern Great Lakes neighbors, which attacked the giant central African country in a 1998-2003 war, launched joint operations with the Congolese army in December and early January.
“It was a difficult decision, but a decision was needed… The deadline must certainly not go beyond the month of February,” Kabila said.
35 Maoists offer peace talks in central Indian state
By Sujeet Kumar, Reuters
Sat Jan 31, 4:00 am ET
|RAIPUR, India (Reuters) – Maoist rebels in India’s central state of Chhattisgarh said Saturday they were ready to hold peace talks, an offer welcomed by the state government.
The Maoists’ peace offer is the first since negotiations collapsed in a southern state in 2004 where too they are active.
“our party is ready to talk to the government in the interest of the people, in the interest of the working, downtrodden masses, provided the government creates a conducive atmosphere,” the Communist Party of India-Maoist’s arm in Chhattisgarh and neighboring Orissa state said in a statement.
36 U.N. envoy arrives in Myanmar, reform hopes slim
Sat Jan 31, 1:38 am ET
|YANGON (Reuters) – United Nations envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari arrived in the army-ruled former Burma on Saturday in another bid to coax the junta and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi toward talks on political reform.
Hopes of success are slim after six previous visits that yielded no results.
It is not known who he will meet, especially since on his last visit in August last year he was snubbed by Suu Kyi, who refused to see him despite being held incommunicado under house arrest since May 2003.
37 Madagascar mayor proclaims himself in charge of country
by Francois Ausseill, AFP
1 hr 58 mins ago
|ANTANANARIVO (AFP) – Madagascar’s opposition leader Andry Rajoelina proclaimed himself head of the island’s affairs during a rally Saturday, escalating a battle against the president that has claimed 68 lives.
“Since the president and the government have not taken their responsibilities, I therefore proclaim that I will run all national affairs as of today,” he said.
“A request for the immediate resignation of the president will soon be filed with parliament in order to comply with the legal procedure,” the Antananarivo mayor told thousands of supporters.
38 British protests against foreign energy workers spread
by Andrew Yates, AFP
Sat Jan 31, 12:31 am ET
|IMMINGHAM, England (AFP) – Wildcat strikes against foreign workers spread through oil refineries and other energy facilities in Britain, fuelled by fears of rising job cuts.
The protest started at Britain’s third-largest oil refinery, Lindsey in Lincolnshire, eastern England, where workers first walked out Wednesday over the use of Italian and Portuguese contractors on a 200-million-pound (222 million euros, 286 million dollars) building project.
But it had spread by Friday to other refineries and plants across Britain, where unemployment is currently at its highest rate for 10 years as the credit crunch hits hard.
39 Nigeria armed group ends ceasefire in oil-rich delta
Fri Jan 30, 1:58 pm ET
|LAGOS (AFP) – Nigeria’s main armed group the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said Friday it was calling off a four-month-old truce after an army attack and warned of “hurricane” attacks.
The ceasefire announced on September 21, will end at midnight GMT Friday, the group said in an emailed statement.
“Because the Nigerian government and military continues to act in bad faith, MEND is compelled to call off its unilateral ceasefire effective 0100 hours (0000 GMT),” the group said.
40 Georgian finance minister named new premier
by Irakli Metreveli
Fri Jan 30, 1:47 pm ET
|TBILISI (AFP) – Georgian Finance Minister Nika Gilauri was named the ex-Soviet republic’s new prime minister on Friday after his predecessor abruptly resigned due to poor health.
Former prime minister Grigol Mgaloblishvili announced his resignation only three months after taking the job in a government shake-up following Georgia’s war with Russia in August.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili quickly announced that he would be replaced by Gilauri, who also served as first deputy prime minister.
41 Female candidate runs to make change in her life, in Iraq
By Sahar Issa, McClatchy Newspapers
Fri Jan 30, 1:07 pm ET
|BAGHDAD – The face of Islam Abbas Faraj, 36, isn’t among those on the campaign posters that blanket the walls of Iraq’s Diyala province, a stew of Sunni and Shiite Muslim Arabs and Sunni Kurds north of Baghdad .
She’s a woman on a mission, but some things are just too risky.
Last August, Iraq’s Shiite-dominated security forces raided the government compound where her husband, Hussein al Zubaidi , a member of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party and the head of the provincial council’s security committee, was sleeping. They killed the governor and hauled her husband away. They accused Zubaidi of connections to terrorism, and Faraj hasn’t seen him since.
42 Lithium deposits could power long-exploited Bolivia’s future
By Tyler Bridges, McClatchy Newspapers
Fri Jan 30, 2:47 pm ET
|RIO GRANDE , Bolivia – On a remote Andean plain here, a short drive on unpaved roads from the world’s largest salt flat, 120 government workers are constructing a facility to help power the fuel-efficient electric cars of the future.
The plant, in a sparsely populated region, is supposed to begin producing basic compounds of lithium, which is used to make batteries for cell phones, power tools, computers and other electronic devices, by year’s end.
Government officials think that Bolivia possesses the world’s biggest lithium reserves, and they also think that the country is poised to profit big-time from the automakers’ push to develop electric cars that will run on lithium ion batteries.
43 Moderate Islamist sworn in as Somalia’s new president
By Shashank Bengali, McClatchy Newspapers
1 hr 30 mins ago
|NAIROBI, Kenya – A moderate Islamist cleric was sworn in Saturday as Somalia’s new president, a widely popular choice that could mark a turning point for the troubled Horn of Africa nation.
Sheik Sharif Ahmed , who led a federation of Islamic courts that briefly ruled southern Somalia in 2006, is a former schoolteacher who’s respected by Western officials and ordinary Somalis alike. Analysts say he might be the leader best equipped to unite Somalia’s fractious mix of clans, warlords and Islamist insurgents.
The boyish-looking Ahmed, who’s in his 40s, takes over a country where the United Nations says more than 3 million people – half the population – need urgent humanitarian aid. The interim government also is under threat from a powerful Islamist group known as al Shabaab, which is on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist groups and controls much of southern Somalia , including the parliamentary seat of Baidoa and chunks of the capital, Mogadishu .
44 Mitchell is Ready to Listen, But is Israel?
Sat Jan 31, 12:50 am ET
|The Middle East may be in a mess, but the Obama Administration’s new envoy, George Mitchell, has several things going for him. He arrived in a hurry after the Inauguration, he knows the region from his past days as a fact-finder, and perhaps most importantly, as he told Israeli and Arab leaders, for now he’s “just here to listen”. That’s already a departure from the style of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. According to a senior Palestinian official, “It seemed like Condi would listen to the Israelis and lecture everybody else.”|
45 In Healing One Schism, Pope Benedict Creates More
Sat Jan 31, 12:50 am ET
|Controversy burns on a week after Pope Benedict XVI reversed the excommunication of the four bishops of the breakaway Lefebvrite movement, including a vocal Holocaust denier. Developments over just two days include: an Italian priest of the same arch-traditionalist group added his own doubts about Nazi gas chambers to those expressed last week by British-born Bishop Richard Williamson; another cleric from the splinter faction publicly criticized the Pope and condemned his 2006 visit to Istanbul’s Blue Mosque; Israel’s chief Rabbinic council said inter-faith talks with the Vatican should be put on hold, while others have questioned whether a slated papal Holy Land trip in May should be called off over the episode. Meanwhile, Catholic progressives around the world have taken the Pope’s actions as a deliberate slap because the followers of French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre reject the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.|
46 A Zimbabwe Unity Pact – For Real This Time?
Sat Jan 31, 12:35 am ET
|In what it said was an attempt to force the regime to release its members from jail, Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on Friday announced that it will join Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party in a unity government. “Aware of the suffering people of Zimbabwe, the MDC national council has resolved that we go into the government,” party leader Morgan Tsvangirai told reporters. Tsvangirai stressed, however, that despite agreement on a unity government, his party’s struggle with Mugabe was far from over. “Political detainees must be released and some of the appointments made by President Mugabe must be reversed,” he said. “Make no mistake, we are not saying that this is a solution to the Zimbabwe crisis. Our participation signifies that we have chosen to continue the struggle for a democratic Zimbabwe in a new arena… regardless of how long that struggle takes us.”|
47 Behind the Turkish Prime Minister’s Outburst at Davos
Sat Jan 31, 12:25 am ET
|When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dubs himself a “Kasimpasa man,” he is not referring simply to the drab, otherwise unremarkable middle-class Istanbul neighborhood in which he grew up, but instead to the macho code of honor for which it is famous. Kasimpasa men are notoriously quick to anger, painfully proud and blunt in word; they’re often called local cowboys. Erdogan’s blustery Kasimpasa bravado accounts for much of his popularity among Turkey’s conservative, male-dominated society, whose electorate last year returned him to power with 47% of the vote.|
48 France’s First Lady Carla Bruni: A Traitor to Italy?
Fri Jan 30, 5:40 am ET
|The British tabloids gave rave reviews for her good manners at Buckingham Palace. She charmed David Letterman and swung by the Today show to sing a love ballad penned for her husband, “Le President.” Most importantly, Carla Bruni, a.k.a. Madame Nicolas Sarkozy, has won over the skeptical French public with a well-calibrated Gallic mix of dynamism and demure. Still, the First Lady of France has a major public relations problem on her hands, in the last place you might have guessed: her native Italy.|
49 Will the U.S. Stick by Karzai in Afghanistan?
Fri Jan 30, 5:40 am ET
|President Hamid Karzai may have been installed and maintained in power by the U.S. and its NATO allies, but the relationship between them continues to sour – and that could have significant consequences for the Obama Administration’s plans to win the war in Afghanistan. Thursday’s announcement postponing Afghanistan’s presidential election from April to August means that Karzai will remain in office even as a new U.S. plan for Afghanistan goes into effect. But U.S. and NATO commanders have long warned that the rampant corruption and inefficiency of the Karzai government is undermining the war effort. NATO’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently wrote in the Washington Post that “the problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban; it’s too little good governance,” and warned bluntly that the Aliance expects Karzai to do a better job. Vice President Joe Biden visited Kabul shortly before the inauguration, and reportedly warned Karzai that the new Administration would hold his feet to the fire over governance complaints.|
|From Yahoo News U.S. News|
50 Televangelism empire in chaos over family split
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press Writer
Sat Jan 31, 12:49 pm ET
|GARDEN GROVE, Calif. – Once one of the nation’s most popular televangelists, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller is watching his life’s work crumble.
His son and recent successor, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, has abruptly resigned as senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral. The shimmering, glass-walled megachurch is home to the “Hour of Power” broadcast, an evangelism staple that’s been on the air for more than three decades.
The church is in financial turmoil: It plans to sell more than $65 million worth of its Orange County property to pay off debt. Revenue dropped by nearly $5 million last year, according to a recent letter from the elder Schuller to elite donors. In the letter, Schuller Sr. implored the Eagle’s Club members – who supply 30 percent of the church’s revenue – for donations and hinted that the show might go off the air without their support.
51 Will family’s 4th generation at GM be its last?
By SHARON COHEN, AP National Writer
Sat Jan 31, 12:32 pm ET
|LANSING, Mich. – As a 10-year-old, Rollin Green was awestruck when he saw the line of hulking orange-and-silver robotic arms swinging with rhythmic precision during his first visit to an auto plant. But something impressed him even more:
His dad worked there.
As a fifth grader, Rollin didn’t daydream about becoming a baseball player or an astronaut. He wanted to be an autoworker. Just like his father, Mike.
52 Feds rarely file charges in tainted food cases
By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Jan 31, 12:13 pm ET
|ATLANTA – As federal officials launch a criminal investigation into a Georgia peanut processor at the center of a deadly salmonella outbreak, food safety experts say they hope it’s a signal that the government plans to be more aggressive in prosecuting other cases in the future.
Food safety watchdogs and legal experts say criminal charges have only been brought against a handful of companies involved in high-profile outbreaks though federal law allows cases to be prosecuted without proof the company knew it was distributing contaminated food. They say the law is not used often because there has been little will to pursue criminal charges in all but the most noteworthy and outrageous cases, and that has put the public at risk.
“Part of that system is the ability to penalize the people that fail,” said Michael Taylor, a food safety scientist at George Washington University. “And there’s been a real failure to do so at the federal and state level.”
53 FDA joins criminal investigation on salmonella
By Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters
Fri Jan 30, 5:44 pm ET
|CHICAGO (Reuters) – The Food and Drug Administration is joining with the Justice Department in a criminal investigation of Peanut Corp of America, whose plant caused an outbreak of salmonella that has sickened 529 people and may have killed eight.
The FDA’s Dr. Stephen Sundlof said the agency would help investigate criminal allegations in the outbreak, traced to a single Blakely, Georgia, peanut plant that has been closed.
“The FDA’s office of criminal investigation is involved in a justice department investigation of PCA,” Sundlof told reporters in a telephone briefing, declining to elaborate on the probe.
54 Fannie, Freddie expand efforts to curb evictions
By Al Yoon and Patrick Rucker, Reuters
Fri Jan 30, 6:41 pm ET
|NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Under plans announced on Friday, the two largest U.S. housing finance companies expect to help tens of thousands of homeowners and renters stay in their properties even after the underlying mortgages have gone into default.
Since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were nationalized in September, the government-controlled companies have been retooled as housing-aid agencies. Both put a moratorium on foreclosures late last year and both are pioneering programs to let borrowers rent their homes after default.
Over the last two years of a housing downturn, many renters in good standing have been forced out because their landlord went into default.
55 U.S. business group opposes "Buy American" plan
By Doug Palmer, Reuters
Fri Jan 30, 3:40 pm ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top U.S. business group stepped up efforts on Friday to kill a “Buy American” provision that has angered U.S. trading partners, and the White House said it was reviewing its position on the measure.
“Some have slammed the U.S. Chamber for opposing ‘Buy American’ provisions, calling our position ‘economic treason,'” Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a statement. “Try ‘economic patriotism’,” he said.
“Such provisions would cost American jobs, trigger retaliation from our trading partners, slow economic recovery by delaying shovel-ready infrastructure projects and cede our leadership role as a long-standing proponent of free and fair trade and global engagement.”
56 No bail for jailed Florida fund manager Nadel
By Robert Green, Reuters
Fri Jan 30, 6:00 pm ET
|TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) – A U.S. court denied bail on Friday for Florida hedge fund manager Arthur Nadel, who surrendered to authorities this week to face securities and wire fraud charges.
Nadel, 76, went missing on January 14 as investors in his Sarasota, Florida-based funds learned that their investments were nearly worthless. He turned himself in to the FBI in Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday.
U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo said he would try to issue a warrant of removal by Monday to send Nadel to New York, where he was charged. He rejected arguments by Nadel’s lawyers that their client would not run and said he was not sure if Nadel might have money stashed away.
57 GDP sees biggest drop in 27 years
By Lucia Mutikani, Reuters
Fri Jan 30, 5:11 pm ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy shrank at its fastest pace in nearly 27 years in the fourth quarter, government data showed on Friday, sinking deeper into a recession that the White House said demands urgent action.
In a report that showed a broad-based contraction across nearly all sectors, the Commerce Department said gross domestic product shrank at a 3.8 percent annual rate, the biggest contraction since the first three months of 1982.
President Barack Obama, who is pushing Congress to approve a package of spending and tax cut measures that could cost close to $900 billion, said the report highlighted the need for quick government action.
58 No chance for leisure in current recession: SF Fed
By Ros Krasny, Reuters
Fri Jan 30, 4:00 pm ET
|CHICAGO (Reuters) – Americans staggered by a massive drop in household wealth are not using the current recession to return to school or just enjoy a temporary break from the work grind, as many did in previous downturns, according to the San Francisco Federal Reserve.
“The decline in housing wealth and credit availability is nearly unprecedented,” said economists Mary Daly, Bart Hobijn and Joyce Kwok in the bank’s latest economic newsletter.
As a result, with less income sources to fall back on — from home equity loans to credit cards — labor market participation rates have held up, and even risen for some groups, relative to recessions in the early 1990s and in 2001, the economists said.
59 New Orleans pension files class action against UBS
Fri Jan 30, 8:19 pm ET
|NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New Orleans Employees’ Retirement System, a public pension fund, on Friday filed a class action lawsuit against UBS AG, alleging the Swiss bank encouraged wealthy clients to evade U.S. taxes by opening Swiss bank accounts.
The pension, represented by Labaton Sucharow LLP, filed the suit in Manhattan Federal Court and seeks a recovery “in the billions of dollars” on behalf of UBS shareholders.
The suit contends that New Orleans Employees and other UBS shareholders lost about 60 percent of their investment after U.S. prosecutors alleged UBS actively solicited wealthy individuals to open “undeclared” Swiss bank accounts, a violation of U.S. laws. No charges have been filed. UBS is in talks with the Department of Justice.
60 American Express loses an appeal on class-actions
By Jonathan Stempel, Reuters
Fri Jan 30, 5:53 pm ET
|NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal appeals court in Manhattan struck down a clause drafted by American Express Co that barred merchants accepting its cards from bringing class-action antitrust claims against the company.
Friday’s ruling by a panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals was a victory for smaller merchants who had accused American Express of charging them excessive fees. It means the merchants may band together on litigation that they could not otherwise afford to pursue individually.
In a 36-page ruling for a three-judge panel, Judge Rosemary Pooler reversed a lower court decision upholding a “mandatory arbitration clause” that blocked merchants from bringing claims as a group, either in court or before an arbitrator.
61 Earth-hunter telescope prepared for launch
By Irene Klotz, Reuters
Fri Jan 30, 5:48 pm ET
|TITUSVILLE, Florida (Reuters) – NASA unveiled a modest telescope on Friday with a sweeping mission — to discover if there are any Earth-type planets orbiting distant stars.
Though astronomers have found more than 330 planets circling stars in other solar systems, none has the size and location that is believed to be key to supporting life.
“A null result is as important as finding planets,” Michael Bicay, director of science at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, told reporters in Titusville, Florida, where the Kepler telescope is being prepared for launch.
62 Ex-Fannie Mae programmer says not guilty of virus
Fri Jan 30, 7:14 pm ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A 35-year-old computer programer pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges that he planted a computer virus designed to destroy all the data on 4,000 Fannie Mae computer servers the day he was fired from the company.
Rajendrasinh Babubhai Makwana, an Indian citizen who had been working as a contractor employee at Fannie Mae’s facility in Urbana, Maryland, was indicted on Tuesday by a federal grand jury for computer intrusion.
The indictment alleges that Makwana entered a malicious code on October 24, 2008, the day he was terminated and told to turn in his Fannie Mae laptop and other equipment, and it was set to propagate throughout the Fannie Mae network on January 31.
63 Google ‘error’ labels websites as harmful (AFP)
Posted on Sat Jan 31, 2009 2:43PM EST
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – The search engine Google sparked online confusion Saturday when a glitch in its security program temporarily warned users that websites from all search results were potentially harmful.
Between 1430 and 1525 GMT, sites turned up in search results were marked as harmful and users received the message: “Warning! This site may harm your computer.”
“What happened? Very simply, human error,” Goggle vice president for search products and user experience Marissa Mayer said on the company’s official blog.
64 Super Bowl ads reflect tough times in US
by Karin Zeitvogel, AFP
49 mins ago
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – On Sunday when Americans settle down in front of their televisions to watch American football’s Super Bowl, many will be hoping to put their worries about the fumbling US economy on hold.
But it’s going to be hard.
The reminders are everywhere, including on the screen in the form of the Super Bowl ads, which rival the game for entertainment value.