Thursday, December 31, 2009

Initial jobless claims decline 22,000 to 432,000

The number of people filing initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped unexpectedly last week, perhaps further evidence that the frozen U.S. job market might be starting to thaw.

The Labor Department reported on Thursday that initial jobless claims fell 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 432,000 in the week ended Dec. 26 - the lowest level since July 2008. Just nine months ago, claims peaked at 674,000.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected initial claims to rise slightly to 455,000. The level of initial claims in the week ended Dec. 19 was revised up by 2,000 to 454,000. See Economic Calendar.

The four-week average of initial claims dropped 5,500 to 460,250, the lowest since September 2008. The four-week average smoothes out seasonal quirks.

Although the end of the year is especially volatile because of one-time factors such as holidays and bad weather, a Labor official said the latest data did not reflect any unusual events.

The number of continuing claims, which reflects people who have been collecting state benefits for an extended period, dipped 57,000 to 4.98 million in the week ended Dec. 19. The four-week average of continuing claims dropped 122,000 to 5.22 million, the lowest rate since late February.

The steady decline in continuing claims over the past few months suggests companies are no longer getting rid of workers and may even be hiring. Yet the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 10%, and few economists expect it to decline quickly even if a recovery gains steam in early 2010.

Companies typically ask employees to work longer hours before they start filling new positions. Until demand for goods and services accelerates, firms are likely to remain cautious about hiring.

Another gauge of employment trends will become available on Jan 8 when the federal government releases payroll data for December. The U.S. unemployment rate hit 10.2% in October, the highest rate since the winter of 1982. It fell to 10% in November.

In the week ended Dec. 12, meanwhile, the number of people claiming benefits of any kind -- state or federal -- totaled 10.2 million, not seasonally adjusted. That was up from 10 million in the previous week.

Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid Dies

Better known as Gus Dur to his constituents, the late Muslim cleric was Indonesia's first democratically elected president. He came to power in 1999 following the fall of military strongman Suharto in 1998.

Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, known as a champion of democracy and moderate Islam, died Wednesday at the age of 69.

Former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid died in a hospital on Wednesday at the age of 69, , after a long struggle with strokes, diabetes and near blindness.

Better known as Gus Dur to his constituents, the late Muslim cleric was Indonesia's first democratically elected president. He came to power in 1999 following the fall of military strongman Suharto in 1998.

He was preceded by former Vice President Baharudin Jusuf Habibie, who became president for little more than a year after Suharto resigned. Habibie says President Wahid was a key figure in Indonesia's transition to democracy.

He says Wahid promoted pluralism as the key to peace and prosperity in Indonesia.

Political analyst Sunny Tanuwidjaja with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta says Wahid was a strong advocate for religious freedom and diversity.

"I think his liberal thinking, his progressive thinking in regards to religious freedom and religious life in Indonesia is something that we are going to miss very much," he said.

But President Wahid political skills were not as highly regarded. He was criticized for his erratic leadership style and was removed from office by the national assembly in 2001 amid unproven allegations of corruption and incompetence.

The exact cause of death was not immediately released.

Americans killed in Afghanistan mostly CIA: official

The eight Americans killed in a suicide attack at a US military base in eastern Afghanistan were mostly CIA employees, a US official told AFP on Thursday.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack on Wednesday, in which a bomber managed to penetrate the defenses of a base in the province of Khost, detonating an explosives belt in a room described as a gym.

The base had been used by the CIA and one of the many provincial reconstruction teams that dot the country. The teams were designed to deliver humanitarian assistance and stabilizing difficult areas.

The Pentagon said the base was close to the border with Pakistan.

The attack appeared to have killed more US intelligence personnel than have died since the start of the US-led invasion in 2001. The Central Intelligence Agency has acknowledged the deaths of four CIA officers in Afghanistan since then.

Jackson "Thriller" film picked for U.S. registry

Michael Jackson's 1983 short movie "Thriller," the song-and-dance horror flick that helped popularize television music videos, will live on in the U.S. National Film Registry.

The 14-minute "Thriller" is among 25 films the Library of Congress on Wednesday named to the registry, and it became the first music video included in the 2009 list of cultural treasures that will be preserved for all time.

"The Muppet Movie" of 1979, featuring Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, 1975 bank robbery drama "Dog Day Afternoon" starring Al Pacino, the 1957 science fiction movie "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and Sergio Leone's 1968 spaghetti western "Once Upon a Time in the West" also made the list.

Jackson, who died at age 50 on June 25 from an overdose of powerful medications, worked on the "Thriller" video with director John Landis.

The Library of Congress described the video as a lavish production that "revolutionized the music industry." It played on TV, and was released theatrically on 35mm film.

In "Thriller," which was set to Jackson's single of the same name, the singer is out with a girl when zombies start to crawl out of a graveyard. Jackson joins the zombies in a dance, and himself becomes a zombie for a time.

In 2007, hundreds of prison inmates in the Philippines performed the "Thriller" dance, in a video that went viral on the Web and has been seen by millions.

Los Angeles police are still probing Jackson's death, in an investigation that appears focused on his personal doctor.

With the addition of "Thriller" and the other 25 films, the U.S. National Film Registry now lists 525 movies.

Woman Survives Attempt to Cut Baby Out of Stomach

Teka Adams now cuddles her infant daughter, Miracle Sky. The little girl, swaddled in pink, sleeps peacefully. But after what they've already been through, it's a wonder they're alive today.

For more than four days, Adams was held hostage at a Prince George's County, Md., apartment, where she said a woman tied her up, gagged her and used several knives to try to cut out her unborn baby girl.

"She hit me over the head about three times with a cast iron fireplace poker," Adams said. "She told me what she was getting ready to do and I bust out crying."

Adams described how the woman, Veronica Deramous, allegedly proceeded to cut her belly. "I was shaking and sweating because the pain was so excruciating that it got to a point where I just couldn't feel it anymore."

Adams' ordeal started in early December when she was down on her luck and staying at a D.C. homeless shelter. She said Deramous lured her away with the promise of baby supplies and clothes. She ended up at the woman's Suitland, Md., apartment where Adams said Deramous gave her lunch and then started beating her with a fireplace poker. Adams said she was left bloodied on the kitchen floor.

"She started cleaning the walls in her apartment, and she kept pacing the floor talking about how she couldn't have the blood in her house because her son was coming home and she didn't know how to explain it to her son," Adams said. "And I am hearing all this, but I'm like just laying there because I don't want her to kill me. Simple as that."

Adams eventually escaped from the apartment and gave birth to her daughter by Cesarean section. Deramous was arrested and charged with attempted first-degree murder, false imprisonment and other counts.

After being asked what Adams would say to her attacker today, she replied, "I would just ask her why she did it."

"I don't hate her," she said. "I hate what she did."

New Postage Stamps Will Salute the Negro Leagues

The Negro Leagues will be featured on upcoming 44-cent stamps as part of the postal service's 2010 postage program, joining the likes of Nobel Prize winner Mother Teresa, Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Mauldin and Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn.

In June, stamps will be released honoring Negro Leagues baseball, which operated from 1920 to about 1960, drawing some of the most remarkable athletes ever to play the sport.

Other new stamps will honor singing cowboy Gene Autry, artist Winslow Homer and Adm. Arleigh Burke.

The post office releases a series of commemorative stamps every year, honoring people, places and institutions. These stamps remain on sale for a limited period and are widely collected.

Teddy Riley Responds to Daughters' Allegations

Teddy Riley is responding to accusations by his adult daughters that he violently attacked them with a guitar from the video game, Rock Band. reported that 18-year-old Taja Riley was granted a temporary restraining order against her father, claiming the 43-year-old abused her and her older sister by "stomping, punching and bashing them" in his L.A. home on Dec. 23.

In the documents, filed in L.A. County Superior Court, Taja Riley claims at one point, her father "lifted a Rock Band guitar and threatened to kill person(s) w/ it."

Taja Riley claims she suffered several injuries in the alleged altercation, including "bashes to temple, contusion on face" and "pain in knee."

Teddy Riley, creator of the "New Jack Swing" sound of the late 80s, has been ordered to stay 100 yards away from Taja. The next hearing is set for January.

In a statement to TMZ, Riley is strongly denying the allegations - and insists the entire situation happened because as a parent he allowed his kids to have "an inflated sense of entitlement and expectation."

Here's his statement in its entirety:

Due to recent events, I am compelled to respond in detail to accusations made against me, by my daughters.

I love my daughters, but I will not allow my children to disrespect me in my home. Contrary to what I have been accused of, I would never beat my children.

Perhaps, I should have been a stronger disciplinarian as they were growing up. I worked very hard so that my children would want for nothing.

In hindsight, I see that it was a mistake to give them everything they wanted so that they could have the childhood I never had. Unfortunately, they have taken me, and the privileged life I have given them, completely for granted.

Instead of being appreciative and realizing how fortunate they are, my children have an inflated sense of entitlement and expectation without having to work or earn their way.

However, my 'children' are no longer children; they are adults, and I am trying to instill in them values and a work ethic of their own. My mother always told me "too many grown people can't live in one house," so I encourage them to have their own homes if they cannot abide by the rules of mine. I am not an uptight Dad; I am as hip as they come, but I will not tolerate being taken advantage of or disrespected, especially in my home.

I've been working since the age of 14. I bought my first car by myself. Nobody gave me a car. My kids don't even remember their first car. I grew up with six of us in an apartment fighting over one bathroom. My kids have never had to share a bathroom, let alone a bedroom.

I'm asking everyone to let this one go ... I'm only being a good parent. I'm a great father, and everyone who knows me, knows this is true.

Thank you so much,

With all my love,
Teddy Riley

Finnish Mall Gunman Kills Four

Finnish Mall Gunman Kills Four, then disappears before police can capture him.

A gunman clad in black went on a shooting rampage early Thursday The Sello mall in Finland’s largest city, Helsinki, was attacked by a black clad gunman who killed four people.

There were hundreds of people in the mall for after Christmas shopping and it was a miracle that more shoppers and shop keeper were not killed as the gunman began randomly shooting at people on the second floor.
Authorities have identified the shooter as Ibrahim Shkupolli, 43, (well known by the authorities) and have stated that, he was still on the loose.

Finnish Mall Gunman Kills Four, three which were men and one woman at the Sello shopping mall in the city of Espoo.

During the disturbance and shooting, the trains to the mall were halted as police and authorities searched for the gunman, who has evaded arrest.

Santeria Ritual May Be Responsible for 500 Animal Deaths in Philadelphia Home

Animal Bones Strewn Throughout the Home May Have Been Part of a Santeria Animal Sacrifice

The gruesome discovery of the carcasses of over 500 animals by SPCA enforcement officials began as a complaint about two emaciated and neglected dogs. The SPCA officers executed a warrant on December 30, according to CNN, and found the remains of chickens, goats, sheep,
Santeria Ritual May Be Responsible for 500 Animal Deaths in Philadelphia Home and possibly two monkeys. Bones were scattered throughout almost every room of the house. Also found were the remains of an altar, leading officials to suspect that the animals were sacrificed in a Santeria ritual.

Most people's familiarity with Santeria ends with the 1996 Sublime song by the same name. Santeria, or Lukumi, is a religion forged in the Americas. African slaves from Nigeria, Senegal, and surrounding areas imported to the Caribbean and the United States brought their Yoruba religion with them and merged it with Native American and Catholic traditions over time. Santeria developed mainly in Cuba and has spread to the United States with Cuban immigrants and refugees. There are over 22,000 reported Santeria practitioners in the United States but it is believed that the actual number is much higher.

Santeria is often practiced in tandem with Catholicism, especially in Cuba. Although the religion is practiced differently in different parts of the Americas, Santeria most often incorporates trance-like states for communicating with spirits and departed loved ones and animal sacrifice. Animals, especially chickens, are sacrificed for their blood which is offered up to the Santerian deities to bring good fortune, blessings and the forgiveness of past sins.

Santeria is protected by U.S. law and its animal sacrifices have had little legal challenge since they have been found to be protected under the Constitution. However, if animal sacrifices are being done in an inhumane manner, law enforcement and the SPCA has the right to step in and bring charges against practitioners.

AT&T cuts ties with Tiger Woods

Another corporate giant has decided to ditch Tiger Woods in the rough.

AT&T announced today that it would no longer sponsor Woods following weeks of allegations that the 14-time major winner cheated on his wife. The telecommunications giant is the third major company to cut its ties to Woods, joining Gillette and Accenture.

Woods was the host of an AT&T-sponsored PGA event in July and the AT&T logo appeared on Woods' golf bag.

Woods earlier this month apologized for his "transgressions" against his family and later announced that he would be taking an indefinite leave from golf.

Israeli jails holding 7,500 Palestinians: ministry

Palestinian women call for the release of jailed relatives from Israeli prisons

RAMALLAH, West Bank — At least 7,500 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails and detention facilities at the end of 2009, the Palestinian Authority said on Thursday.

The detainees include 34 women, 310 children and 304 people being held under administrative detention without trial, according to a report published by the prisoners affairs ministry.

The detainees also include 17 MPs, most of them from the Islamist Hamas movement, two former ministers, and a number of political leaders.

The vast majority of the prisoners, 6,330, are from the occupied West Bank. Another 750 detainees hail from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and some 420 are from annexed Arab east Jerusalem and Israel, the ministry said.

The longest serving prisoners are two brothers, Fakhri and Nail Barghuti, and Akram Mansur, all of whom have been in prison for 32 years.

They are among 317 prisoners jailed before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 following the Oslo autonomy accords.

The ministry said 197 prisoners have died in Israeli custody since 1967.

More than 5,000 people were detained at some point in 2009, an average of 14 per day, but most were later released.

Israel and Hamas have been struggling for months to reach a prisoner exchange deal that would see hundreds of Palestinians released in a swap for for an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants in June 2006.

Both sides have been tight-lipped about the discussions, which have been carried out through Egyptian and German mediators.

Nadja Green, Rikers Island Correction Officer, Caught Sleeping on the Job

Nadja Green, a correction officer at New York City's Rikers Island prison infirmary was caught sleeping on the job and to make matters worse, an inmate, who was obviously amused, was seen hovering around her, inches from a set of keys that hangs from her belt. She has been disciplined for dozing on the job after a colleague took the picture. The picture was circulated around the department and emailed to the New York Post. Ms. Green shouldn't show her face at the Rikers Island prison again. She should have been terminated. What if the inmate had taken the keys and tried to escape?

According to the New York Post, Ms. Green has been transferred at Rikers Island and has been placed on modified duty watching female inmates. She will face charges of sleeping on the job and other security and performance-related charges.

Chris Henry 911 Calls Don’t Look Good For Loleini Tonga

North Carolina police have released the Chris Henry 911 calls, and there’s a notable absence: there’s not one call from Henry’s fiance Loleini Tonga.

There were two Chris Henry related 911 calls made, one from a woman who witnessed Henry on the back of a pickup truck, and the second from a man asking for an ambulance after he found Chris Henry lying injured at the side of the road.

The first 911 call sheds some more light on the “domestic dispute” that lead to Chris Henry’s death. Caller One tells 911 “I need a police officer
, I’m on Oak Road, I’m behind a yellow truck. It’s a F-150 the tag says. It’s got a black male on it with no shirt on and he’s got his arm in the cab he’s got some black pants on. He’s beating on the back of this truck window. I don’t know if he’s trying to break in it or something, it just looks crazy. It’s a girl driving it now they turning onto Oakdale road.”

After confirming with 911 that there was a “black female” driving the car, the call ends after the woman states that she is no longer following the vehicle.

The second call details Henry at the side of the road. “I need an ambulance now, there’s somebody laying in the road” the caller tells 911. Suggesting that there was another person on the scene (possibly Loleini Tonger), the caller goes on: “I’m on Oakdale Road I just pulled up and there’s lady trying – there’s a man in the road, he looks dead, there’s no movement.”

Indicating that there may be more witnesses, the man also states when asked by the dispatcher whether he was comfortable approaching Henry: “Yeah, there’s a crowd of people around him right now.”

We don’t know Loleini Tonga’s side of the story yet, although we do know that police are investigating Henry’s death as a homicide. She may well argue that Henry was trying to attack her, but that doesn’t explain why she didn’t call 911 while in the pickup truck. There are also separate eyewitness reports that she was swerving the vehicle, indicating that she may have been attempting to get Henry to fall off.

No doubt we’ll be hearing more from local authorities in the coming days.

Man calls 911 for a lift to the bar

A Florida man has been arrested after authorities say he concocted a tale about being beaten and shot at in hopes of scoring a ride to another bar.

Gregory J. Oras, 37, is being charged with misusing the emergency response system and battery of an officer following the incident. Police say Oras called dispatchers in Oldsmar, Florida three times early Tuesday morning, claiming to have a broken nose and to be bleeding from the ears, and that people were shooting at him. In actuality, police say, Oras was seeking a lift to another bar and lied about the beating and shooting.

Oras reportedly became belligerent, kicking a Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy in the knees, and officers used a Taser to stun him. He is being held on $5,150 bail.

Rick Warren's Saddleback Church In Desperate Fundraising Appeal After Collection Plates Run Dry

Rick Warren is the conservative evangelical minister who somehow has become a trusted friend to both Republicans and Democrats. Obama came to his Saddleback Church during the campaign, and then Warren spoke at his inauguration.

But the bad economy is taking its toll on his empire, and yesterday he sent out an emergency fundraising appeal to the church's members.

Here's part of what he posted it on the Saddleback Church blog:

Dear Saddleback Family,

THIS IS AN URGENT LETTER unlike any I've written in 30 years. Please read all of it and get back to me in the next 48 hours.I have thrilling news to share with you below but first some seriously bad news:

With 10% of our church family out of work due to the recession, our expenses in caring for our community in 2009 rose dramatically while our income stagnated. Still, with wise management, we've stayed close to our budget all year. Then... this last weekend the bottom dropped out.
On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive - leaving us $900,000 in the red for the year, unless you help make up the difference today and tomorrow.

It sounds like the church will be fine either way. We suspect they'll come up with the money and it's probably not the end of the world if they end 2009 in the red, like so many other organizations did.

What is interesting is that the bottom fell out "this last weekend," which is somewhat ominous sounding. Presumably it means some kind of unprecedented tension between buying Christmas gifts and donating to the church.

Talk show host Rush Limbaugh in hospital in Hawaii

The right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been taken to hospital in Hawaii after experiencing chest pains, say reports.

Hawaiian media said he was taken from the hotel, where he was staying while on holiday, in a serious condition.

But a statement posted on Mr Limbaugh's website said he was now "resting comfortably" in hospital in Honolulu.

Mr Limbaugh, 58, is highly influential in the US and his radio show is one of the most popular in the country.

It is broadcast on some 600 radio stations across the country and heard by more than 14 million people every week.

Mr Limbaugh, who is seen by some as as the unofficial voice of the US Republican party, has been a vocal critic of US President Barack Obama and is known for his fiery lambasting of Democratic politicians and policies.

Six dead after Finland shootings

A gunman has shot dead four people in a crowded Finnish shopping mall after killing his ex-girlfriend, then turned the gun on himself.

Ibrahim Shkupolli, dressed all in black, stormed into the mall near Helsinki, killing one woman and three men at the supermarket where his girlfriend had worked.

The body of 43-year-old Shkupolli was later found at his home nearby and his ex-girlfriend was found dead in her apartment.

The woman, a 42-year-old Finn, had taken out a restraining order against Shkupolli, police said.

Witnesses said panic erupted at the Sello mall, one of the country's largest, when the shots rang out. Hundreds of workers were evacuated, trains were halted and helicopters brought in as police launched a manhunt for the heavily armed killer.

Police refused to discuss Shkupolli's nationality, but he is believed to be an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo.

The attack shocked hundreds of people who had gone shopping early on New Year's Eve.

One witness told the state broadcaster YLE that the gunman began shooting at people on the second floor of the mall.

"There were loads of people who were crying, and many vendors who were completely panicked," he said.

Another woman said she saw the suspect carrying a long-barrelled pistol and rushing past the check-out at the Prisma supermarket.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Teddy Riley's Daughter Files Restraining Order

Teddy Riley, of R&B group Blackstreet, has been accused of attacking his daughters with a guitar from the Wii "Rock Band" video game, according to TMZ.

Riley's 18-year-old daughter Taja received a temporary restraining order against Teddy, which claimed that her father attacked her and her older sister, "stomping, punching and bashing them" in his house in LA on December 23, TMZ reported.

Documents filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court state Taja's claim that her dad, "lifted a Rock Band guitar and threatened to kill person(s) with it." Taja also claims she suffered "bashes to the temple, contusions to the face" and "pain in [the] knee."

According to TMZ, Teddy must stay 100 yards away from his daughter. A hearing has been scheduled for January.

Artur Davis finds opposition coming from older black leadership

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, has found that his strongest opposition comes from black leaders who were on the front lines of the civil rights movement.
The man vying to become Alabama's first black governor is battling some unlikely critics -- black Democratic leaders who were on the front lines of the civil rights movement.

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, 42, wasted little time launching his campaign after Barack Obama's presidential victory last year. The prospects seemed promising for the Harvard-educated lawyer, a moderate with proven appeal to white voters who will be running in a June Democratic primary where black voters could account for as much as half the turnout.

But a year in, Davis is finding that racial prejudice is not the biggest obstacle to presiding at the Capitol where Gov. George C. Wallace once proclaimed "segregation forever."

Among those criticizing him are Joe Reed, founder and longtime chairman of the black wing of the state Democratic Party, and former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, who was that city's first black mayor.

Across the South, a legitimate black candidate for governor is a rarity, but finding old-fashioned political opposition within black political ranks is not.

Ferrel Guillory, an expert in Southern politics at the University of North Carolina, says there is a "generational cleavage" caused by the emergence of black leaders like Obama and Davis who are too young to have been part of the civil rights era. Those who were on the front lines of that movement want to maintain their influence.

Davis, a three-term congressman who was Obama's campaign chairman in Alabama, is no stranger to the phenomenon. Reed and Arrington opposed him in 2002 when he recruited strong white support to beat an incumbent black congressman with a long civil rights resume, and again in 2008 when many black leaders at first supported Hillary Clinton over Obama, warning that America wasn't ready to elect a black president.

"There is a group of insiders in this state who benefit from protecting the status quo," Davis said.

D'Linell Finley, an expert in minority politics at Auburn University Montgomery, says some Democrats are also concerned that if Davis tops the ticket in November, some white voters will cast straight Republican tickets and doom other Democrats.

"They may have some merit," Finley said.

After all, Obama received only about 10 percent of the white vote in Alabama, according to some exit polls, and did worse among white Alabama voters than John Kerry four years earlier. In modern times, no black candidate has won any statewide office in the executive branch of Alabama's government. Only about 25 percent of the state's registered voters are black.

Davis and Obama got to know each other at Harvard law school, but Davis' political record is much more moderate -- and on health care legislation, a sensitive issue for black voters, he has veered to the conservative side. Criticism from Reed was fast and pointed when Davis was the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against the health care overhaul bill.

Reed said Davis voted "no" to help himself in the governor's race by appealing to more conservative voters, not to help constituents in his mostly black, low-income district that stretches across the civil rights battlegrounds of Birmingham and Selma.

"He is not likely to get a 'profiles in courage' award when any political issue makes him uncomfortable," Reed said.

For many black leaders from the civil rights generation, health care legislation "is a litmus test," Guillory said.

But Davis said he rejects Reed's "insinuation that there is a uniquely 'black' way of understanding an issue, and I strongly suspect that most Alabamians will as well."

Reed, 72, didn't take kindly to criticism from someone 30 years his junior.

"My record is second to none, and I was doing this when Congressman Davis was making mud cakes under the shade tree," he said.

Reed has been a power broker in Alabama politics since about the time Davis was born. He is chairman of the party's black wing, the Alabama Democratic Conference. He's also the No. 2 official at the state teachers' organization, which has more than 100,000 members and has contributed to Davis' white opponent in the Democratic primary, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks.

Sparks is running with the support of Arrington, 75, the first black mayor of Birmingham.

"As good a man as Artur Davis is, I'm not sure he can win and, frankly, I'm concerned that with him at the top of the ticket I'm not sure what that might mean for Democratic control of the House and state Senate," Arrington said.

Even if Davis wins the primary, he could face an uphill battle. Republicans have won every Alabama governor's race but one since 1986. Republican incumbent Bob Riley has served two terms and can't run again, but the GOP has a big field of contenders.

Davis is focusing his campaign on rewriting Alabama's heavily amended constitution and enacting tougher government ethics standards, reforms that appeal to middle-class voters. It's his opponent, Sparks, who is stressing issues that traditionally appeal to black Alabama voters -- creating a state lottery and expanding gambling to provide money for education and Medicaid. Sparks has also endorsed the federal health care legislation.

Still, Sparks is trying to win a June primary where nearly half the vote is traditionally black. His chances of winning go up if Davis alienates significant numbers of black voters and can't manage to appeal to white voters.

Byrdie Larkin, a political scientist at historically black Alabama State University, said Davis has positioned himself as more conservative than Sparks, but that might not be enough for him to capture the white votes needed to win.

"They might see Davis as an answer to their concerns, but for a majority of Alabamians, race is still a factor," she said.

Citywide Jobless Map Reveals Blacks Worst Hit by Recession

Courtesy NY Times
The overall unemployment rate in NYC was 10.1 percent in the third quarter of 2009, but the jobless numbers vary greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood, according to a distressing, if unsurprising, new study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal research group. For example, overall unemployment was 5.1% on Manhattan's Upper East and West Sides, compared to 15.7% in Central Bronx and 19.2% in East New York. FPI also broke down the data by race, finding that blacks rank #1 in the jobless category in almost every part of NYC (except areas of Staten Island and Whitestone, Queens, where info on blacks was "not applicable.")

Both The Wall Street Journal and City Room have great interactive maps of the damage; by scrolling over City Room's map, you can see how individual racial and ethnic groups fared in different parts of town. "Wall Street might be recovering, but the recession rages on in New York City's Main Street neighborhoods," said FPI's Chief Economist James Parrott in a statement. "In some cases, great disparities exist within neighborhoods. For example, in the West Brooklyn neighborhood stretching from Brooklyn Heights to Red Hook and Park Slope, white male unemployment was 3 percent, while in the same neighborhood, 46 percent of black men were jobless."

Of course, it's important and depressing to bear in mind that these numbers don't account for those unemployed souls who've given up and stopped seeking employment. Though the city's unemployment rate in November fell to 10.0 percent (seasonally adjusted) from 10.3 percent in October, FPI does not believe this signals an improvement in the local job market. Instead, the report attributes the decline entirely to people leaving the labor force, rather than an increase in the number of jobs. Here's a pdf of the full report; enjoy it with a warm bath and a nice bottle of pills.

US sharply steps up military, economic aid to Yemen

WASHINGTON — The United States is sharply increasing both military and economic aid to Yemen, as it has been doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to fight a growing threat from Al-Qaeda, officials said Wednesday.

The threat has been highlighted by the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who reportedly confessed to being trained by an Al-Qaeda bomb maker in Yemen for his mission to blow up a US-bound jet.

"To a certain extent you can argue that the airline incident on Christmas day brought attention, public attention to Yemen," a senior State Department official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

But "certainly within this government and certainly other governments around the world... we have been quite sensitive to what's happening in Yemen," the official said.

"Over the last year or so, there has been a renewed focus on what can we do, how can we really speed up the process and have... quick impact programs that will allow people to see changes in their life," the official said.

In the 2010 fiscal year, US development and security assistance to Yemen is expected to rise to 63 million dollars from a total of 40.3 million dollars in the 2009 fiscal year, another State Department official said.

The Full Story

Eight Americans killed in Afghan attack: US embassy

KABUL — Eight Americans have been killed in an attack in eastern Afghanistan, an embassy official and NATO said on Wednesday.

The attack in Khost province was believed to be a suicide bombing, a Western military official told AFP.

A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said: "No US and no ISAF military personnel were killed or injured" in the incident.

The US embassy in Kabul confirmed that eight Americans had been killed.

"Eight Americans have been killed in an attack on RC-East," the official said, referring to the military region of eastern Afghanistan that includes 14 provinces.

No other information was immediately available, she said.

Suicide attacks are a hallmark of the Taliban, waging a virulent insurgency to topple the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The number of foreign civilians in Afghanistan is mushrooming as the war takes a turn away from concentrating on battlefield fighting amid a growing emphasis on development and aid.

As civilian teams arrive, they are being sent to provincial military bases, where many they are billeted to work alongside military reconstruction teams.

The attack on the Americans comes as the international forces in Afghanistan -- numbering 113,000 and set to grow to 150,000 next year -- are embroiled in controversy over the deaths of Afghan civilians in an operation on Saturday.

President Hamid Karzai has accused international forces of shooting dead ten unarmed civilians, including eight teenagers, though ISAF has disputed the findings of an Afghan government investigation.

Mary J Blige Album Stronger Debuts At #2; Susan Boyle Still Killing Them

The last two years America has seen a British invasion like no other when it comes to music, and now Susan Boyle is proving the UK is nothing to mess with. She has managed to keep Alicia Keys and Mary J Blige from the #1 spot, by outselling all Americans for the past 5 weeks. She’s even beat Taylor Swift.

Mary J Blige managed to sell about 330,000 units which isn’t bad considering she hit her husband during her debut week. Young Money debuted at #9, selling only 142,000 units. Last but not least Alicia Keys album dropped to the #4 spot, which is really great, considering Chris Brown and Rihanna fell off the top ten, and the top 20 for that matter during their second weeks.

You can read more about this week in sales, here, but let’s just say it hasn’t been the best year for Hip-Hop and R&B.

Director Harold Ramis Says ‘Ghostbusters 3′ Shoots This Summer

The 20 year awaited sequel Ghostbusters 3 looks like it will finally begin shooting this summer for a release in 2011 according to director Harold Ramis.

“Something’s going to happen. Dan [Aykroyd] did write a spec GB3 screenplay a few years ago, but no one was motivated to pursue it. Now, 25 years after the original, there seems to be some willingness to proceed and apparently a substantial public appetite for a sequel. We’ll introduce some new young Ghostbusters, and all the old guys will be in it, too. Think Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future … GB3 is progressing with plans to shoot next summer and release in 2011 … Oh, and I have two one-of-a-kind Ghostbuster yarmulkessent by fans.”

I’m looking forward to this movie, but I can’t say my hopes are extremely high. I mean look at Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It’s hard to make a sequel to something that was a hit 20 years ago, regardless of your fond youthful memories.

Lakers 124, Warriors 118

The lone new addition to the Lakers this season was leaning forward in his Staples Center skybox seat next to Lakers owner Jerry Buss on Tuesday night. Ron Artest’s dizziness from his Christmas night concussion forced him to sit out his third consecutive game.

So it was an almost forgotten corner of the Lakers’ roster that used to help win a lot of games - young guards Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic - who helped the Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors.

Oh, and the longest-tenured Laker, Kobe Bryant, did his thing, too: 44 points, 11 assists. Despite playing with his fractured right index finger and sore right elbow, Bryant made all 16 of his attempts from the free-throw line.

Sidekick Pau Gasol’s push for another All-Star berth continued with a season-high 27 points, plus 12 rebounds.

It was the Lakers’ fourth game in five days. The physical and mental fatigue was such that after a sloppy entry pass from Derek Fisher to Bryant midway through the second quarter, neither Bryant nor Fisher moved for it, each expecting the other to go.

The ball bounced untouched … then out of bounds. Warriors ball.

The Warriors led by 15 points in the second and nine in the third before the Lakers rallied. Farmar gave the Lakers some higher-octane fuel in the second half and played more and later than Fisher for a change, creating more good than bad with his activity and finishing with 12 points and five assists in 25 minutes.

Vujacic played a season-high 22 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter in the backcourt while Phil Jackson played Bryant at small forward.

Surprise! Fannie & Freddie Get Blank Checks, Executive Bonuses Skyrocket

The Obama Administration is under fire this week over their decision to remove the caps that limited the amount of available capital to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to $200 billion each. The Administration is being skewered for their sneaky timing, announcing this move quietly on Christmas Eve when consumers were distracted and federal offices were closed for the remainder of the week making contact for comment impossible.

From the WSJ, “unlimited access to bailout funds through 2012 was ‘necessary for preserving the continued strength and stability of the mortgage market,’ the Treasury said.”

Okay, that sounds great, but it’s all too convenient that this announcement came immediately before Fannie & Freddie disclosed their executive pay packages which include millions of dollars in bonuses and why wouldn’t it? Give a crackhead a blank check and see how long it takes him/her to be the proud new owner of all of the crack in a five mile radius. Give your teen daughter a blank check and tell her she can have anything she wants because she needs it and see if you don’t hear tires peeling out as she skyrockets to the mall.

The argument with any golden package given to executives is essentially that you get what you pay for, meaning large corporations (government or otherwise) must compensate qualified and talented leadership.

Okay, BUT unemployment is at a heartbreaking 10% and Texas Representative Jeb Hensarling said, “to be handing out $6 million bonuses to essentially federal employees is unconscionable,” and further criticized the Obama Administration for approving the compensation without settling on a plan to remove taxpayer supports- “to be doing that with no plan in place is just unconscionable.”

What do you think- is the timing to remove the cap too conveniently timed with disclosure of executive pay giving millions to each executive OR was the cap removal crucial for keeping Freddie and Fannie in the position our economy needs them to be? What do you think about this?

Yemen details 'jet bomber' moves, say he was over there studying Arabic

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is seen in this screen grab taken from an Islamist website December 28, 2009.

You wonder why Yemen doesn't shut these radical preachers down ~ is it because of 'respect' for Islam.

The Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a jet over the US on Christmas Day was living in Yemen until earlier this month, Yemeni officials have said.

The foreign ministry said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, was in Yemen from August until the beginning of December, the official Saba news agency reported.

He had a visa to study Arabic at an institute in the capital Sanaa. [..]

A web posting by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which included a photograph purportedly of Mr Abdulmutallab in front of its banner, said it had been a response to US attacks against its operatives. [..]


On Tuesday, an official at the Yemeni foreign ministry told Saba that the Migration and Passport Authority had confirmed that Mr Abdulmutallab arrived in Yemen at the beginning of August to study Arabic and left for Ethiopia four months later.

"The entry visa was granted to the Nigerian after authorities found he could get visas from other friendly countries and saw his US visa was still valid," he said.

The security services were now trying to find out who Mr Abdulmutallab had contact with while in Yemen and would co-operate with the US, he added.

"Yemen condemns such terrorist acts targeting the innocent and it reiterates its full support for the fight against terror anywhere."

US officials are said to be concerned there may be more al-Qaeda-trained young men in the country planning to bring down US planes.

Online posts

ABC News earlier reported that among the group who planned the alleged attack were two men who were released by the US from its Guantanamo Bay detention centre in November 2007.


•Son of a wealthy Nigerian businessman
•Attended a British school in Togo
•Studied mechanical engineering at University College London
•Spent time in Dubai, Yemen and Egypt
Mohammed Attik al-Harbi, also known as Mohammed al-Awfi, and Said Ali Shari were sent home to Saudi Arabia, where they were admitted to an "art therapy rehabilitation program" and later set free, US and Saudi officials said.

Both men appeared in a video in January along with the man described as the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser Abdul Karim al-Wahishi.

She also demanded to know why officials had not revoked Mr Abdulmutallab's two-year multiple-entry visa - which was issued in June 2008 - after his father voiced fears to the US embassy in Abuja that his son was becoming radicalised.

Mr Abdulmutallab's name was added to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) watch list, but was not put on a no-fly list.

Online postings apparently written by the young Nigerian between 2005 and 2007 meanwhile suggest the young Nigerian was "lonely" and had "never found a true Muslim friend", according to the Washington Post.

"I have no one to speak too," read one entry by a user named farouk1986 in January 2005, when Mr Abdulmutallab was attending boarding school in Togo.

"No one to consult, no one to support me and I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do. And then I think this loneliness leads me to other problems."


Groundhog Day

We were wondering when Dick would crawl out from under his secure & undisclosed rock:

[W]e are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe,” Cheney said in a statement to POLITICO. “Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society.”

But we have to give the prize to “former Romney spokesman Kevin Madden”, who despite being completely unknown, managed to get onto CNN this morning to drop this whopper:

You have to also remember the fact that the president being on vacation in Hawaii, it’s much different than being in Texas. Hawaii to many Americans seems like a foreign place.

Actually, Texas seems quite foreign to us. But if you’re keeping score, the Sarah Palin Hawaiian Yellow Peril meme is taking hold.

Texas Tech fires football coach Mike Leach, two days after suspension

Texas Tech fired coach Mike Leach on Wednesday, just two days after he was suspended by the school as it investigated his treatment of a player with a concussion.

The school handed a termination letter to Leach's lawyer Ted Liggett, just minutes before the two sides were to appear in a Lubbock, Texas, courtroom for a hearing on the coach's suspension.

Liggett said the letter said Leach was "terminated with cause effective immediately."

In February, Leach and the school agreed to a US$12.7 million, five-year contract. According to terms of the deal, Leach was due a $800,000 bonus on Dec. 31 if he were still the head coach at Texas Tech.

Leach was suspended by the university on Monday after receiver Adam James alleged the coach twice confined him to small, dark spaces while the practised.

James is the son of former NFL player and ESPN analyst Craig James.

Texas Tech plays Michigan State on Saturday in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

Tech is the second Big 12 school to launch an internal investigation into a coach's treatment of his players.

On Nov. 16, Kansas investigated Mark Mangino, who got a big raise after he was national coach of the year and went 12-1 in 2007. Some players said he was insensitive, though others defended him.

Mangino resigned Dec. 3 after reaching a settlement with the school that was later disclosed as a $3 million buyout.

In an affidavit included in Tuesday's court filing, Leach said he "would never intentionally harm or endanger a player" and that he has been "forced into this situation without being afforded any process." He also said "absolutely" no evidence had been given to him that showed he had violated any university rules or standards.

Russia's Armageddon plan to save Earth from collision with asteroid

Moscow, Russia (AHN) - Russia's space agency expects an asteroid to hit Earth in 2036 and has created an international project to prevent the collision by disrupting its trajectory.

Roscosmos chief Anatoly Perminov said Wednesday the project may involve the building and deployment of a spacecraft that will break the path of Apophis without using a nuclear explosive.

Roscosmos will invite other space agencies to join the project,

Discovered in 2004, Apophis is thrice larger than the Tunguska Meteorite and is predicted to pass near Earth from 2029 to 2036. NASA initially has a similar forecast but has changed its reading.

Iran holds pro-government rallies

Tehran's crackdown on opposition protests has earned it condemnation from international powers
Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Iran for a series of state-sponsored rallies designed as a show of strength following days of pro-opposition demonstrations.

State television footage showed crowds in areas including Tehran's Enghelab Square, chanting slogans and waving pro-regime placards.

The government gave all civil servants and employees a day off to attend the rallies and organised buses to transport groups of schoolchildren and supporters from outlying rural areas to the protests.

Demonstrators at a rally in Tehran chanted "Death to Mousavi," a reference to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Some shouted "Rioter hypocrites must be executed" and held up a banner that read: "We sacrifice our blood for the supreme leader."

Conflicting reports

The state news agency IRNA said that the two senior leaders of the opposition, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, had fled Tehran on Wednesday, while a website said they were in custody for their own protection.

"Two of the chiefs of the sedition left Tehran for the north of Iran after learning that the population was increasingly angry and demanding their punishment," IRNA said.

Opposition website Rahesabz said "members of the Revolutionary Guards and the intelligence ministry picked up Mousavi and Karroubi in the city of Kelar-Abad to protect them from the anger of the people."

A top aid to Mousavi, however, denied the reports, telling Al Jazeera that "Mousavi is in Tehran."

'No mercy'
Full Story

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Before the Bell: Futures Advance Ahead of Housing, Confidence Data

U.S. stock futures markets advanced yet again Tuesday morning, indicating Wall Street's holiday cheer hadn't abated as 2009 draws to an end. While data on housing and consumer confidence could still change sentiment this morning, if current trend continues to the close, markets could extend the winning streak to a seventh session.

Stocks rallied Monday, with all three major indices -- Dow industrials, S&P 500 and Nasdaq -- closing at fresh 2009 highs on some optimism about a recovery in retail sales and gains several other sectors. However, volumes continue to be thin as so many have taken this week off.

Two economic reports are due out:
The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index for October will be released at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Economists are expecting the home price index of 20 major cities fell 7.2% compared to last October, according to Thomson Reuters. These annual declines, however, have been shrinking. Compared to the previous month, economists expect a rise of 0.2%, after gaining 0.3% in the previous month, according to Reuters data.

At 10:00 a.m. Eastern, December consumer confidence will be reported and is expected to rise to 53 from 49.5, according to The index hit a historic low of 25.3 in February. It has since climbed, albeit not always smoothly as rising unemployment has taken a toll on consumers.

Overseas, Asian stock markets moved mostly higher Tuesday in dwindling holiday trade. European stock markets also moved higher Tuesday as investors continued to book modest gains amid thin volume.

Fredette scores 49 against Arizona

Jimmer Fredette scored a school-record 49 points as BYU routed host Arizona 99-69 on Monday. Bob Skousen had set the school mark of 47 against UCLA in 1961. Fredette also broke the McKale Center record of 45 points by Providence’s Eric Murdock on Dec. 23, 1990. The Cougars (13-1) swept the Pac-10’s Arizona schools by a combined 43 points.
Derrick Williams scored 17 points for Arizona (6-6), which has dropped two December home games for the first time since 1983, when the Wildcats opened 1-6 under first-year coach Lute Olson. After Fredette broke the school record with a 3-pointer with 2:55 to play, coach Dave Rose called time and removed him from the game. He shot 16-of-23 from the floor, including 9-of-13 from 3-point range. The 6-foot-2 guard also had nine assists and seven rebounds.

“It’s an amazing feeling, unlike any other,” he said.

Burying Arizona in a hail of 3-pointers, the Cougars took command with a 16-0 run and led 39-16 with 9:25 left in the first half. At one point, BYU had more 3-pointers (eight) than Arizona had field goals (seven).

San Jose State 78, UC Irvine 68: Adrian Oliver had 29 points and seven rebounds, leading the host Spartans (7-5) over the Anteaters (6-6). San Jose State opened the second half with an 8-1 run to build a 49-36 lead and pushed its advantage to 59-44 on Robert Owens’ 3-pointer with 12:47 left. Irvine later put together a 7-0 run to pull within.

Durant Ties Season High With 40! Thunder Storm Past Nets 105-89

The longer this season progresses the more it appears that we are witnessing history in the making in the Association. At the pace the New Jersey Nets are now playing at they will end up with a 6-76 record when the NBA regular season concludes in April. If that were to happen the Nets would absolutely blow the 1972-1973 Philadelphia 76ers out of the water as the “Worst Team In NBA History.”

There have been other teams that looked like they would be an actual contender at the start of a season only to eventually hit a hot streak and fall out of the running. But the Sixers record of 9-73 may fall by the wayside this season as New Jersey keeps up their historic pace.

The Nets are now 2-29 so far in the campaign as they fell Monday night to a team that is starting to get a lot of positive attention the Oklahoma City Thunder. Thunder forward Kevin Durant scored 40 points which matched his previous best this season and New Jersey has now lost ten straight games as the fell to Oklahoma City by a 105-89 margin. New Jersey forward Yi Jianlian led all five Nets starters with 29 points however it was not nearly enough as his team fell behind early and never seemed to regain their composure.

How tough do you imagine playing for New Jersey this season has been for anyone on the team? They must go out onto the court every game asking themselves how they will blow it in that game. There is no way you can ever win with that kind of attitude so it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. They have fired their head coach they have gotten their injured players back on the hardwood but the song remains the same.

OKC jumped on top at the end of the first by a 32-27 margin. The Thunder would get their lead up to six points by the time the contest reached the half as they led 61-55. The Nets would only see their deficit increase in the third as Oklahoma City would be on top at the end of the period 84-76. New Jersey completely fell apart down the stretch scoring just 13 points in the final 12 minutes and the Thunder had a pretty easy win.

Kevin Durant knocked down a game high 40 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists while Nenad Krstic had 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal. Russell Westbrook had a double-double with 16 points, 10 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals while Nick Collison came and also recorded a double-double with 11 points, 10 boards and 1 block.

Yi Jianlian had a strong game for the Nets as he scored 29 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals while Courtney Lee added 17 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 1 steal. Trenton Hassell had 14 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals while Brook Lopez knocked down 10 points in the loss. Oklahoma City now has a 16-14 record and will play in Washington Tuesday night against the Wizards while New Jersey is 2-29 and will host the Knicks Wednesday.


Even some more 4th quarter Brett Favre heroics couldn’t lock up a first-round bye for the Minnesota Vikings. Favre rallied the purple troops from a 17-point deficit to tie the Chicago Bears, 30-30, only to watch his stud running back Adrian Peterson cough up a fumble in OT, allowing Jay Cutler to throw his fourth TD pass of the game for an improbable 36-30 win. It was the Vikes’ third loss in four games.

“I know we’re fortunate to be in the playoffs but we have to play better than we did the last few weeks or we’ll be home fairly quickly,” Favre said. “I’m just being honest as I can be.” –FOX Sports.

The loss from the Vikes reduces them to a 3-seed in the NFC playoffs, meaning that Favre could be stuck playing in another outdoor game in the playoffs. Everyone seemed to be making a big deal about Favre’s aversion to cold weather and not the fact that the Vikings’ pass rush and cornerback coverage seemed to be non-existent last night. It’s a wonder that Antoine Winfield didn’t need a skin graft after being burned so many times last night.

While wrapping up a season of Monday night stinkers, this game actually delivered some excitement and watchability, highlighted by Favre’s 4th-down jump-ball toss to Sidney Rice in the last minute of regulation. Also, the commentary in the booth was, I have to admit, not terrible last night. Jon Gruden brought solid analyses bookended with groan-worthy coaching cliches, perhaps epitomizing that folksy/nerdy balance that ESPN had been looking to strike all season. Much like the Bears, the Monday Night booth are going out on a high note.

Russia needs new arms to counter US shield: Putin

MOSCOW — Russia must develop new offensive weapons to counter US missile defences and prevent US policymakers from feeling they can "do whatever they want," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.

"To preserve the balance, we must develop offensive weapons systems, not missile defence systems as the United States is doing," Putin said during a visit to the Russian Pacific port city of Vladivostok.

"The problems of missile defence and offensive arms are very closely linked," the powerful Russian prime minister said in comments broadcast on state television.

"By building such an umbrella over themselves our partners could feel themselves fully secure and will do whatever they want, which upsets the balance.

"Aggressiveness immediately increases in real politics and economics" in this situation, he added.

Putin's comments -- coming on the heels of a similar statement by President Dmitry Medvedev -- marked a toughening of Moscow's stance on strategic security ties with the United States.

The former Cold War foes are in talks on a successor to the now-expired START nuclear disarmament treaty.

They had hoped to complete a new pact by year's end, but the talks are still in progress and no new agreement is expected before next month at the earliest.

President Barack Obama announced last July plans to "reset" troubled US ties with Russia. Two months later, he cancelled plans to deploy elements of a new US missile shield in eastern Europe, near Russia's borders.

Moscow had fiercely opposed those plans, pushed by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, and at first cautiously welcomed Washington's decision.

Obama however made clear US intentions to continue work on a new missile defence system elsewhere, and Putin's comments Tuesday marked the sharpest language heard from Moscow in some time on US missile defence plans.

Putin said Washington should share its missile defence plans with Moscow if it wanted to ease Russian alarm on the issue.

"Let the Americans hand over all their information on missile defence and we are ready to hand over all the information on offensive weapons systems," he said.

Medvedev earlier this month said Russia would continue to develop a new generation of nuclear missiles even as the START successor talks continued.

Moscow is asserting a right to build new strategic missiles and seeking concessions on this issue from US negotiators in disarmament talks in Geneva, defence analyst Alexander Konovalov said.

The Russian military wants to roll out new long-range missiles to compensate for terms in the old START treaty which it viewed as asymmetrical, favorable to the United States and still impacting the strategic balance today, he added.

Putin however said START negotiations were "developing positively."

His remarks bolster a view that Putin, who preceded Medvedev as president, still has considerable sway in shaping Russian foreign policy, a prerogative which under the constitution should be the purview of Medvedev.

"This is not his sphere, but Putin is showing he is not weaker than Medvedev," Konovalov added.

START, signed in 1991 just before the collapse of the USSR, led to deep cuts in the Russian and US nuclear arsenals but expired without a replacement on December 5.

Russia has long pushed for a link between offensive and defensive weapons in a new START treaty, and such language was part of a joint declaration on disarmament by Medvedev and Obama after their Moscow summit July.

Oil prices advance toward $79

World oil prices rose toward 79 dollars on Tuesday as traders expected that freezing weather in the United States would further strengthen demand for heating fuel.

New York's main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, rose 13 cents to 78.90 dollars a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for February delivery gained 23 cents to 77.55 dollars per barrel.

The market should also win support from geopolitical tensions sparked by the crackdown on protests by major oil producer Iran and renewed terrorism fears after last week's failed attempt to set off an explosive device aboard a US airliner, analysts said.

"Colder weather in North America, geopolitical concerns over Iran, the latest chapter in the Russo-Ukrainian dispute, as well as expectations of further crude stockdraws in the US may have provided support," said analysts at the JBC Energy consultancy in Vienna.

Oil prices had jumped last week as a larger-than-expected drop in US energy stockpiles had sparked hopes of rising demand, traders said.

Data released by the US Department of Energy last Wednesday had showed US crude stockpiles dropping 4.9 million barrels to 327.5 million in the week ending December 18.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine signed a new agreement on Russian oil transits via Ukraine to Europe for next year, a spokesman for Ukrainian energy company Naftogaz said.

A spokeswoman for the Russian energy ministry in Moscow confirmed that a new agreement had been settled.

"Yesterday night everything fell into place. An additional agreement has been signed," Naftogaz spokesman Valentyn Zemlyansky told AFP.

Naftogaz owns Ukraine's state pipeline operator UkrTransNafta, which said on Monday it was seeking to change the terms of a 2004 transit contract with Russia for oil shipments to the European Union.

The announcement came hours after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of abusing its position as a transit country.

In January 2009, Russia had halted gas supplies transiting through Ukraine over a price dispute for several days, leaving swathes of the EU without heating amid a severe winter.

More like me, warns bomb suspect

The alleged terrorist behind the Christmas Day airliner plot is said to have told US agents there are more people "just like him" ready to carry out future attacks.

An al Qaida group based in Yemen claimed responsibility for the failed attempt to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit as US president Barack Obama pledged to hunt down the plotters.

Meanwhile, photographs apparently showing the underpants filled with explosives worn by alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab were broadcast by ABC News.

The American government pictures show the singed underwear with a six-inch packet of a high explosive called PETN sewn into the crotch, the US network reported.

ABC News said Abdulmutallab was carrying about 80g of PETN, more than one-and-a-half times the amount carried by "shoe bomber" Richard Reid in 2001 and enough to blow a hole in the side of an aircraft.

Abdulmutallab, 23, a former engineering student at University College London, has reportedly told FBI agents he is one of many would-be terrorists in Yemen ready to carry out attacks in the near future.

Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an alliance of militants based in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, said the action was retaliation for a US operation against the group in Yemen.

The group said in an internet statement that the failed attack exposed the "large myth" of American and international security services and claimed only a "technical error" had prevented the bomb from detonating.

Mr Obama broke off his family holiday in Hawaii on Monday to announce he had launched reviews into airport security and the monitoring of suspected terrorists.

In his first public comments on the incident, he said: "A full investigation has been launched into this attempted act of terrorism and we will not rest until we have found all those responsible."

Family 'stunned' by Briton's execution

The family of a man from north London executed by lethal injection for drug smuggling have spoken of their shock at his death as China came under attack from the UK Government.

Brothers Soohail and Nasir Shaikh, speaking on behalf of the family of their cousin Akmal Shaikh, said they were "deeply saddened, stunned and disappointed" by the execution of their "beloved cousin".

Both men had travelled to China to visit their cousin in prison and to make a last-minute plea for clemency from the authorities.

Shaikh, 53, from Kentish Town, north London, who was arrested in Urumqi, north west China, in September 2007, was convicted of smuggling 4kg (8.8lb) of heroin into the country.

But it is widely believed by his family and supporters that he was seriously mentally ill and was duped into carrying the drugs unknowingly by a gang.

Campaigners said the courts in China failed to commission an assessment of his medical condition in spite of his obvious mental illness, believed to be bipolar disorder.

In a statement issued through the human rights group Reprieve, Soohail and Nasir Shaikh said the execution was carried out despite repeated requests for clemency and a proper appraisal of their cousin's mental state.

They said: "We are astonished at suggestions that Akmal himself should have provided evidence of his own fragile state of mind.

"We find it ludicrous that any mentally ill person should be expected to provide this, especially when this was apparently bipolar disorder, in which we understand the sufferer has a distorted view of the world, including his own condition.

"That this was regarded as sufficient grounds for refusal by the judicial authorities to order any mental health assessment is shocking to us. Despite our own and other pleas, the Chinese authorities have maintained their refusal to investigate Akmal's mental health."

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Video: Michael Jackson, 'This Is It,' Directed By Spike Lee

During his amazing, chart-topping, record-breaking, phenomenon-creating, totally Bad life, Michael Jackson created iconic music videos with some of the most acclaimed names in modern filmmaking.

Directors like John Landis ("Thriller"), Martin Scorsese ("Bad") and Francis Ford Coppola (Captain Eo) all helped create a vision to Jackson's one-of-a-kind sound.

So, it's only fitting that this tradition of collaboration continues even after Jackson's tragic passing with this Spike Lee-directed clip for Michael Jackson's "This Is It."

The single (and new song) from Jackson's posthumous performance/concert film of the same name scores this Spike Lee-helmed montage of clips and rare photos spanning Jackson's life, including scenes from his hometown of Gary, Indiana, and shots of his fans throughout the world. "This Is It" shows flashes of Spike's formidable documentary chops (see When The Levees Broke), as well as his nearly unparalleled ability to match images with music to gorgeous effect.

Watch Michael Jackson's "This Is It" video, directed by Spike Lee. The This Is It soundtrack is available now.

Michael Jackson - This Is It - Directed by Spike Lee from 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks on Vimeo.

Homeland Security Secretary Napolitanon now admits the system failed

Yesterday, DHS Secretary Napolitano was either arrogant or tone deaf when she said the airline security system worked. That same line was coming out of the White House, so we can't just blame this on Napolitano "mis-speaking." Some guy got on a plane and tried to blow it up. He had to be stopped by another passenger. The system most definitely did NOT work.

At least Napolitano admitted the failure today:

The Obama administration admitted on Monday that air travel security failed when a Nigerian man with suspected ties to Islamic militants allegedly was able to smuggle explosives onto a U.S.-bound flight in an attempt to blow it up.

Asked on NBC's "Today Show" on Monday if the security system "failed miserably," U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano replied: "It did."
Yes, it did. And, almost everybody seemed to understand that yesterday.

Nelly offers reward in break-in of his home

The rapper Nelly is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the man who broke into his suburban St. Louis home earlier this month.

CrimeStoppers announced the reward on Monday.

Someone forced his way through a locked window at Nelly’s Wildwood home in the early hours of Dec. 11 and got away with a duffel bag full of items that included electronics and other goods.

Nelly, whose real name is Cornell Haynes Jr., was not home at the time. Police say one of three occupants saw and confronted the intruder, a male in his 20s or 30s.

No one was injured.

Lieberman: Even Wronger On Yemen

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has been taking heat for his comments on Fox News yesterday about how we need to “act preemptively” against extremist networks in Yemen. While it’s almost always safe to assume that Lieberman, like his comrade-in-tinny-bravado Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), is in favor of new wars, in this case I think treating Lieberman’s comments as advocating a preemptive U.S. invasion of Yemen actually obscures how wrong Lieberman really is. Here’s the offending passage:

LIEBERMAN: Yemen now becomes one of the centers of that fight [against Islamic extremism]. I was in Yemen in August. And we have a growing presence there, and we have to, of Special Operations, Green Berets, intelligence. We’re working well with the government of President Saleh there.

I leave you with this thought that somebody in our government said to me in the Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Iraq was yesterday’s war. Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war. That’s the danger we face.

Iraq, Afghanistan… Yemen. That’s a really careless formulation, but I think it’s fairly clear that he’s not calling for an invasion of Yemen, but something more along the lines of what we’ve got going in Pakistan. But, as Gregg Carlstrom writes, that’s a huge problem:

The U.S. spent most of this decade propping up the Musharraf government: He received a lot of military aid, a lesser amount of civilian aid, and a great deal of support on the world stage. And it was a totally counterproductive strategy: Pakistan is more unstable than ever, and America’s public image is tarnished, perhaps irreparably, in the eyes of a whole generation of Pakistanis.

Supporting the Saleh government will produce the same outcome. The U.S. has very little leverage over Saleh; it cannot impel him to approve political reforms and focus on economic development. So Yemen’s government will go on being violent and oppressive, and the U.S. — in exchange for a massive aid package — will get a limited amount of counterterrorism assistance.

This is the kind of crudely transactional international relations that infuriates people in the Muslim world. And it’s ultimately counterproductive, because it leaves in place the root causes that allow countries to become “breeding grounds” for terrorism.

As in Pakistan, last week’s U.S.-assisted air strikes in Yemen killed a number of civilians (while failing to kill their main target), which in turn fuels hatred of the government, and of the government’s U.S. sponsor, and resulting in sympathy, if not outright support, for extremists and insurgents. These bad effects will fast outweigh and overshadow any of the good effects of U.S. aid, especially if that aid is not accompanied by more responsible, less corrupt and oppressive governance.

It’s also very much worth noting that the ranks of Yemen’s Islamic extremist insurgency have been fed by fighters returning from Iraq, bringing with them tactics and experience gained in one of the previous wars that Joe Lieberman supported. Unfortunately, the nature of our national security debate is such that militaristic voices like Lieberman’s will always be treated as “serious,” even when the problems they’re proposing to solve have only been made worse by their previous harebrained militarism.

Government Expands Fannie and Freddie Bailout and Lavishes Money on their CEOs

On Christmas Eve, when it hoped no one would notice, the Obama administration lifted the $400-billion limit on bailouts for government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and showered their executives with $42 million at taxpayer expense. (Earlier, Freddie Mac’s CFO received $5.5 million).

Under the Bush administration, federal regulators took over Fannie and Freddie in the name of stopping their risky practices. But the Obama administration has increased their purchases of risky mortgages in a vain attempt to inflate the economy. Worse, it forced them to run up to tens of billions in losses to bail out deadbeat and at-risk mortgage borrowers, and then tried to conceal those losses, in conduct reminiscent of Enron.

Fannie and Freddie helped spawn the mortgage crisis by acting as loan toilets, buying up risky mortgages that were issued by banks and mortgage companies, and thus creating an artificial market for junk. They put up with Clinton-era affordable housing regulations that required them to buy up lots of risky loans, in order to curry favor on Capitol Hill and thus retain their annual $10 billion in tax and other special privileges (which they possessed owing to their status as “Government-Sponsored Enterprises” or GSEs). They paid their CEOs millions in the process, and engaged in massive accounting fraud — $6.3 billion at Fannie Mae alone – to increase the size of their managers’ bonuses. As GSEs, they were exempt from the capital requirements that apply to private banks, so they did not have enough reserves to cover their losses when their mortgages started defaulting.

The federal government has a double standard when it comes to huge executive pay. It has no problem paying exorbitant sums of money to people who head failed government agencies like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. (At the direction of the Obama administration, Freddie Mac is now running up $30 billion in losses to bail out mortgage borrowers, some of whom have high incomes. Federal regulators sought to make Freddie Mac hide the resulting losses from the SEC and the public).

The federal government does, however, have a problem with big compensation packages at private banks like Bank of America and Citibank, even for talented new executives. Obama’s pay czar, Ken Feinberg, a major donor to liberal politicians like Senator Chris Dodd (who recommended Feinberg for the job after he gave Dodd more than $9000), is now chopping compensation more at basically self-supporting institutions like Bank of America than at completely-bailed out entities like Chrysler. (Many expect Chrysler to go under despite a $70-billion bailout. Chrysler is owned mostly by the United Auto Workers union, which received majority ownership from the Obama administration at taxpayer expense, through a politicized bankruptcy process).

Feinberg’s actions have already left taxpayers worse off by forcing Citigroup to get rid of a profitable subsidiary. As finance professor Roy C. Smith noted in The Washington Post:

Feinberg’s actions . . . are not going to improve either the government’s chances of getting its money back or the prospects of repairing these damaged companies. Because of his recommendations, Citigroup agreed to sell its profitable Phibro unit at an extremely low price of only one or two times earnings in order to avoid having to pay a talented trader a $100 million contractual share of the profits he had earned. The most successful of the remaining employees of Citigroup, AIG and Bank of America have been given an incentive to leave their posts, and the firms will be constrained in hiring replacements.
Many competent executives whose pay is threatened by the pay czar are now leaving for other firms. (The pay czar’s political patron, Senator Dodd, received sweetheart loans from the reckless, bankrupt subprime lender Countrywide, and a massive gift from Edward Downe, in the form of a luxurious “cottage” in Ireland he received in a “cut rate real estate deal” for hundreds of thousands of dollars less than fair market value.)

Banks will now be pressured to make even more risky, low-income loans. Obama has sent to Congress his proposal to create a politically correct entity called the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, tasked with enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act. Government pressure on banks to make low-income loans was a key reason for the mortgage meltdown and the financial crisis. Yet Obama’s proposals would empower the new agency to enforce the Community Reinvestment Act, which was a key contributor to the financial crisis, without regard for banks’ financial safety and soundness.

The mortgage crisis was also caused by the reckless government-sponsored mortgage giants (”GSEs”) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and by federal affordable-housing mandates. But Obama’s proposed financial rules overhaul does absolutely nothing about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, admits Obama’s Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, even though he admits that “Fannie and Freddie were a core part of what went wrong in our system.”

Worse, Obama’s plan is “largely the product of extensive conversations” with two lawmakers responsible for the corrupt status quo, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, and it expands the reach of regulations that have been used by left-wing groups to extort payoffs from banks.

'Israel resembles a failed state'

More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Operation Cast Lead, but author says the war damaged Israel's standing in international public opinion [EPA]

One year has passed since the savage Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, but for the people there time might as well have stood still.

Since Palestinians in Gaza buried their loved ones - more than 1,400 people, almost 400 of them children - there has been little healing and virtually no reconstruction.

According to international aid agencies, only 41 trucks of building supplies have been allowed into Gaza during the year.

Promises of billions made at a donors' conference in Egypt last March attended by luminaries of the so-called "international community" and the Middle East peace process industry are unfulfilled, and the Israeli siege, supported by the US, the European Union, Arab states, and tacitly by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah, continues.

Policy of destruction

Amid the endless, horrifying statistics a few stand out: Of Gaza's 640 schools, 18 were completely destroyed and 280 damaged in Israeli attacks. Two-hundred-and-fifty students and 15 teachers were killed.

Of 122 health facilities assessed by the World Health Organization, 48 per cent were damaged or destroyed.

Ninety per cent of households in Gaza still experience power cuts for 4 to 8 hours per day due to Israeli attacks on the power grid and degradation caused by the blockade.

Forty-six per cent of Gaza's once productive agricultural land is out of use due to Israeli damage to farms and Israeli-declared free fire zones. Gaza's exports of more than 130,000 tonnes per year of tomatoes, flowers, strawberries and other fruit have fallen to zero.

That "much of Gaza still lies in ruins," a coalition of international aid agencies stated recently, "is not an accident; it is a matter of policy".

This policy has been clear all along and it has nothing to do with Israeli "security".

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