Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Legitimate Concerns for the Boston Celtics?

First, let’s forget the fact of Boston winning their 17th NBA championship a little more than a year ago. This post is dedicated to the common irrational NBA fan who expects nothing less than a repeat of what the Celtics accomplished in last year’s June classic.

My message is simple, and I hope it’s clear enough. Should the Celtics be expected to even make it out of their own conference, let alone the first or second round?

Celtics fans, don’t get your hopes up.

If you’re watching the same games I’m watching and seeing the key pieces rotating in and out of the line up, then you probably have a good idea of where I’m going on this one.

Let’s tackle the issue of Kevin Garnett, the guy who is the glue on and off the court for Boston, who right now is a enormous concern with a strained knee. Doc Rivers may disagree with that statement, but I don’t think my thoughts should be considered outlandish. Why? The Celtics only have seven regular season games remaining, and although I agree on resting your stud big man, you also have to worry about the timing of the injury. If KG loses confidence in his knee, will he have enough time to get back into a rhythm with the playoffs right around the corner?

I call that a legitimate concern. Argue all you want.

Next I think about the potential lack of home court advantage. If the Celtics stay in the 3 seed then they may have a problem. Currently, they are percentage points behind Orlando, but the Magic are playing great basketball, and are as healthy as they are going to get.

If Boston stays with the 3 seed, they would most likely have home court advantage for only the first round. And for the most exciting playoff possibility, a Cavaliers-Celtics series, the Cavs would obviously have the home court, and are an incredible 35-1 at home.

A Boston-Cleveland series heavily depends on the home court. The Celtics had their struggles in the earlier rounds last year, and to think of their chances this year should they meet up with LeBron’s team, it’s a series you can’t honestly put in Boston’s favor.

Could I be selling Boston short? Sure, go quote Kevin Garnett by saying “Anything Is Possible”. After all, this is a team with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. Glen Davis has stepped up with the absence of KG. Rajon Rondo has proven he holds a legitimate diploma for running a top-tier NBA team.

But if KG (a key component defensively and in pick-and-rolls) is hurt, you will see a noticeable drop off. He’s the engine that gives the Celtics their edge. His fearlessness on the court is what makes him such a good basketball player, and if he’s not 100 percent and laboring, then one would worry about his teammates feeling a bit of panic.

Doc Rivers is a good coach, and maybe KG will be healthy enough to compete. The Celtics do have something to rely upon, which is KG’s message to the rest of his guys: “Nobody is giving us respect; we’re the world champs”. Admittedly, that could go a long way. We’ll see in a few weeks.

Madonna defends second adoption from Malawi

Madonna has defended her decision to adopt a second child from Malawi, despite renewed controversy.

The star has been called a “bully” and been accused of “stealing” children from the country after observers claimed she’s side-stepped normal adoption procedures because of her wealth.

After her court hearing on Monday was postponed until Friday, Madonna and her children - 12 year old Lourdes, eight year old Rocco and three year old David, who she adopted from the country in 2006 - visited villages around the country’s capital Lilongwe and yesterday visited the Home of Hope orphanage, where David lived before his adoption.

The orphanage’s director Lucy Chipeta is quoted as saying the family visited David’s old room and saw his crib: “It was an emotional moment. I am happy she brought her other children to see his roots.”

The older children have also been introduced to Chifundo James, whose name translates into English as Mercy, the four year old girl who Madonna is hoping to adopt.

An onlooker told the Sun that they met each other at a dinner party at Madonna’s luxury lodge: “Madonna looked incredibly proud and happy, and David was so funny - he couldn’t leave Mercy alone and pulled her around all the guests, [telling them] ‘This is my new sister’.”

The adoption case will be heard in court on Friday but Madonna is said to have been told that her application will succeed and she has told staff at her London home to “prepare for the arrival of my new little girl”.

Her publicist released a statement last night, explaining: “Madonna is committed to maintaining an ongoing relationship with David’s Malawian roots.

“The adoption process for Mercy began over a year ago when Madonna met her on one of her visits to Malawi. The connection was instant and profound. Madonna’s desire to adopt Mercy is totally heartfelt.

“She is not skirting any legal issues in her application to adopt this child and is looking to provide a loving family environment and the best education and health care possible for a child who has been in an orphanage since her birth.

“Madonna is currently awaiting a judge’s ruling regarding the adoption of Mercy James. She is following all standard procedures that are required and is waiting for the judge to hopefully grant adoption by Friday.”

Mercy was orphaned after her mum died in childbirth but her surviving family members are opposed to the adoption, saying they will only agree if they can keep in touch with the little girl and if Mercy returns to the country as an adult.

Earlier this month, Madonna said she would not adopt a second child from the country unless the nation’s people and government were behind it.

Considering The Leaked ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ Movie? Here’s What You Should Know

Sure, it’s April Fool’s Day, but the early arrival of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” on the ‘Net is no joke, folks.

News broke yesterday evening that an early version of the much-anticipated 20th Century Fox film had been making the rounds online, and while that much of the story is true, there are a few aspects of the news that you should keep in mind before reconsidering your May 1 cinema plans.

According to various sources in and around Hollywood, the version of “Wolverine” currently available online isn’t the final cut of the film. In fact, the most notable story elements likely to be missing from the leaked “Wolverine” movie are the scenes filmed last — specifically, those that were re-shot back in January. That footage is rumored to focus heavily on Ryan Reynolds‘ character, Deadpool, who remains one of the project’s biggest mysteries — and it could be a mystery that the leaked film might not solve entirely.

Also, since all indications seem to point to the leaked version of “Wolverine” coming from an early test-screening cut of the film, there could be significant differences in plot points between the bootleg film and its theater-ready counterpart. Story elements that were considered too moody or upbeat might have been changed since the bootleg version was cut, while certain scenes that either said too much or too little about a character or story point could have been re-edited to present a dramatically different take on the subject matter.

Finally, the special effects are often the last element of a film to be polished up and receive their final “tweak” by the film’s creators. It’s no secret that the people behind “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” have been talking up the “bad-ass” vibe of Logan’s solo debut — and special effects are likely to play a big part in that bad-assery. (Case in point: that scene where Logan crashes his motorcycle into a truck in order to generate the upward momentum to launch himself at a helicopter. That’s a scene worthy of a final cut, in my humble opinion.)

In the end, I’m not trying to convince you one way or the other with regard to viewing the leaked version of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Simply put, it’s irresponsible to decide whether to support the film based on the bootleg cut without considering how different the leaked version could be from the final cut of “Wolverine.”

As comics fans, we’re the deciding factor when it comes to the “Wolverine” movie being “the best there is at what it does” — so even if you do opt to watch the leaked version of “Wolverine,” keep in mind that the money you put down for that ticket is power, and if you’ll pardon the mixed Marvel message, with great power comes great responsibility.

Do Some Black Churches Help Or Hurt the Community?

It would be extremely naive to believe that the ongoing battles in our communities are solely the result of dysfunctional families, lack of quality schools, systemic racial injustices, and low-paying jobs. These are all factors that contribute to a variety of societal issues, but we as a people have neglected to hold the church responsible for the role it plays, or fails to play, in Black society.

At one point, the Black church experienced a downward trend where it was observed that men no longer attended services, and the only men in attendance were deacons, bishops, elders, and pastoral staff. Later, there was another time period when it seemed that no one was attending services. But overall attendance has picked up in recent years, and other problems have emerged.

The church has always been an influential stronghold in the Black community and has long been the soul of many families. As the children of church-going mothers, most of us had no choice in whether or not we wanted to get up early Sunday mornings and attend services. We had to.

We sat quietly on hard pews while ushers passed out programs and wooden-handle fans. We listened to a harmonious choir’s rendition of “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms”, as the preacher’s booming voice echoed throughout the building.

But whether we were forced to attend church or not, the church family helped contribute to our overall development as people. It provided us with the Biblical principles needed for prayer and guidance. It also spawned a style of gospel music and inspiration unlike any other spiritual institution. As we matured over the years, the gifts from our churches became more visible in the way we lived our lives. Still today — our history with the Black church keeps us grounded in our spiritual upbringing.

It is difficult to say the same for today’s churches and their impact in the community. Our future, as a society in need of change — will be strongly influenced by our faith and the ability to overcome obstacles both inside and outside of the church. Eventually, we need to ask ourselves: “Is the Black church helping or hindering progress?”

The church, at its fundamental core, is a microcosm of our own society. Both positive and negative elements that lurk within the community, also reside in the church. There are bad business-people in the corporate world, and there are churches often being led by those who have no business running a business.

Similarly, other community issues such as infidelity, greed, elitism, hypocrisy, gossiping, rumoring, selfishness, and lack of education — find their way into our churches. So much so, in fact, that we are being overly exposed to drama and entertainment — rather than being washed in spiritual leadership and worshipping as God intends. Too often, the size of ones pocketbook, or their status in the community gathers attention, while true character goes unnoticed. We cannot continue to use the word church to “dress up” those things that do not belong in God’s house.

In a perfect world, our churches would offer us a place of worship where we collected valuable information and the spiritual guidance needed to live in accordance with the Word. The church would be a shelter where egos and attitudes took a backseat to God-given wisdom. It would be a place where our youth could reach out to elder members and receive constructive mentoring on a variety of topics.

Of course we know the world isn’t perfect, and neither is the church. When we visit a church, all in attendance should be treated equally without regard to background or image. Our youth need to be given the education and information necessary to sustain their spiritual growth for decades to come — and right now, this isn’t happening in many Black churches.

A part of the problem in some church organizations can be seen in how followers handle adversity within the church. Too many of us allow a church, or its leaders, to escape the same ridicules we openly distribute to other institutions. In actuality, we should hold churches and their leadership to the same Biblical standards and not allow one to cancel out the other. This “practice what you preach” mentality has been sorely lacking in many churches.

Some of our churches need to be rebuilt internally. Others seek positive recognition for their contributions to the community. The overall focus of the church, at times, seems poorly targeted. But we cannot continue to observe church attendance as a parade of stylish clothes and expensive cars - when we preach the opposite to our children. Our attendance should center around learning and worship — keeping in mind that we should reach out to others once the Word has been properly received.

We are in the days of the megachurch — with flamboyant pastors, multimillion dollar buildings, and unprecedented numbers in attendance. Now, more than ever, the church plays a critical role in deciding how it will effectively influence our communities. With so many people filling the congregations — our churches possess the power and hold the obligation to present a certain image to its people — God’s image.

London - Riot Cops Go In As Thousands Of Protesters At G20 Storm Bank

London - Riot police have been sent in after G20 demonstrators attacked a uniformed officer and stormed a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland in central London.

Protesters smashed windows at the RBS building and clambered inside.

Sky News crime correspondent Martin Brunt said he had seen police CCTV pictures of the demonstrators removing equipment and starting a small fire.

Police on foot backed up by a line of mounted officers lined up outside the branch as smoke bombs were thrown by a baying crowd.

Earlier, a protester hit an officer with a large pole during large-scale protests ahead of the G20 summit of world leaders.

Anger at bankers' role in the global economic downturn and frustration at slow progress in tackling climate change prompted thousands to take to the streets in the capital.

Four protest marches converged on the Bank of England after setting off along separate routes as helicopters circled overhead.

A group of officers was forced to retreat behind metal crowd barriers outside the Bank, apparently because of the crush of the crowd in front of them.

Missiles - including fruit - were thrown towards police as red smoke rose above the crowd.

One protester, who was bleeding from a wound to his head, was seen shouting at police officers who had formed a line in front of them.

Another demonstrator dressed in black then ran forward and hit an officer with a pole.

Sky News Online's Alex Watts, at the scene, said police cordoned off the area where the attack took place.

He said some 50 officers ran in and made arrests.

Scuffles also broke out between police and demonstrators near the Corn Exchange.

Earlier, City workers leaned out of windows and waved £10 notes at demonstrators on the streets below, who responded with jeers and shouts.

Elsewhere, however, the mood has remained largely good-natured.

Protesters set up tents outside the European Climate Exchange for a camp aimed at demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the global approach to tackling climate change.

One of them told Sky News he and his friend had travelled from opposite ends of the country, and hoped to use "peaceful resistance" to stay there for 24 hours.

nother protester, unemployed Adam Lambert, 25, of Finsbury Park, north London, said: "I'm here with the Stop the War Coalition because we think the G20 are not representing the ordinary people in the world.

"We think they are representing the rich.

"Every day we hear of billions being given to bankers and billions are being spent on wars.

"We want to demonstrate today to say we are not going to put up with this and the G20 should represent us.

"I think people are angry and they want to show their anger."

Sykes inked a deal with Fox for own late-night show airing Saturdays, 11 PM

Wanda Sykes may be returning to her old stomping grounds: the Fox Network.

The comedienne, who came out of the closet at a Proposition 8 protest last year, inked a deal to host her own late-night talk show, Broadcasting & Cable reports. The program, described as being similar to HBO’s "Real Time with Bill Maher," will be an hour long.

Sykes’s show will air Saturdays at 11 PM and the first episode will launch either this Fall or January.

Last time the actress appeared on a Fox sitcom was in 2003 in "Wanda at Large." She currently appears on CBS’s "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

Watch FRONTLINE Ten Trillion and Counting | PBS

With a national debt of more than $10 trillion, can America afford more government spending? Watch on Today's News NJ Documentry of the week.

All of the federal government's efforts to stem the tide in the financial meltdown that began with the subprime mortgage crisis have added hundreds of billions of dollars to our national debt. FRONTLINE reports on how this debt will constrain and challenge the new Obama administration, and on the growing chorus on both sides of the aisle that without fiscal reform, the United States government may face a debt crisis of its own which makes the current financial situation pale in comparison. Through interviews with leading experts and insiders in government finance, the film investigates the causes and potential outcomes of -- and possible solutions to -- America's $10 trillion debt

Photo's of Gov. Jon S. Corzine in protest of his proposed budget

A large crowd stands near two coffins filled with empty wallets during a rally Tuesday, March 31, 2009, outside the Statehouse, in Trenton, N.J., to deliver empty wallets to Gov. Jon S. Corzine in protest of his proposed budget.

'No More Sagging' Pants Campaign Hopes Obama Style Will Catch On

Communities all across America have been on a mission to change the casual style sagging pants and foul language – of some young men and teens since President Barack Obama made an adverse national plea for “brothers” to “pull up their pants” during a televised Q&A in November. Just before Election Day, Mr. Obama appeared on MTV and took a question about laws in some cities that ban the popular street look. “Those ordinances,” the president said, are “a waste of time. Brothers should pull up their pants. You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. What’s wrong with that? Come on,” he said adding “Some people might not want to see your underwear,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m one of them.” The style was popularized by Hip Hop artists and originated in penal institutions, where inmates are denied belts and string to prevent strangulations.

In support of the President’s plea, community, business, education, and faith based leaders have launched the ‘No More Sagging’ campaign led by bestselling author activist and television talk show host JL King.

“The mission of the ‘No More Sagging’ campaign is to promote progression rather than prison and individuality with integrity.” The campaign encourages young men to dress with a positive purpose and put forth an image of self respect and decency. Riverside ‘No More Sagging’ advocates Jamal Dodson, Ed Motley, and Carol Sharp think Mr. Obama’s public condemnation of sagging pants as well as his stylish mode of dress will influence urban fashion across America.

During the presidential campaign when Ebony Magazine ran a cover photo of Mr. Obama wearing ‘cool’ sunshades, it touched off a run on the publication and created a nationwide bump in sunshade sales. Framed reproductions of the cover appeared in art galleries, sold during the inauguration and were hocked at swap meets across the country.

“At the moment the president is one of the most recognized and admired persons on the planet,” said Sharp. “He’s got impeccable style, finesse and brains. How he dresses and how he conducts himself casts a long shadow.” Social worker Jamal Dodson who wore sagging pants as a college student, says expecting a young man to change his behavior because the president wants him to hitch up is missing the point.

Many of these young men grow up fatherless and poor. They are angry at their fathers they are angry at the world. They want human attention. The message here is under the sagging pants there is ‘rage – hard core - indecency’. But the issue isn’t merely about indecency.

And it’s not as simple as telling someone to cover themselves as several municipalities have learned. When Birmingham considered joining other cities – among them Dallas, Atlanta and Baltimore that has either passed ordinances banning sagginess or discouraged its practice, lawmakers faced a barrage of criticism and the threat of lawsuits over civil rights violations.

Normally, saggy pants are worn by young men and teens, most though not all are Black. It’s a fashion associated with hip-hop music and urban lifestyles that holds a deep importance to some in the Black community. “Trying to separate those facts from the simple argument of public decency is impossible,” explained civil rights attorney Tony Coleman.

Coleman says most of the cities with bans or ordinances discouraging sagging have extremely high murder rates and are struggling with rising Black-on-Black crime.

Others argue the issue is a Pandora’s Box that raises First Amendment questions of racial profiling and accusations of racism and the unfair targeting of a city’s low income, inner city youth.

Dodson hopes the ‘No More Sagging’ campaign will reignite the national call for more parental guidance and discipline in the homes of young men.

The campaign mirrors the lifestyle and elegant portrayal of Mr. Obama through a series of full color 18 x 24 artwork reproductions. A series of interactive workshops teaches the fundamentals of fashion trends of the hip-hop era, clothing messaging and education. King created the ‘No More Sagging’ campaign to serve as a catalyst to change the fad. The idea was hatched the result of a focus group of 10 young men 17 to 25 years old, being a father with two sons, a uncle to nephew(s) and a mentor.

King said the ($10.00 USD) ‘No More Sagging’ posters are a must for community outreach groups, schools, churches, detention centers, employment offices and associations.

US Stock Futures Fall On Auto Woes, Job Worries

US stock futures tumbled on Wednesday amid uncertainty about the fate of ailing automaker General Motors. A worse than expected ADP report also pressurized stocks before the opening bell.

At 8:19 am ET, Standard & Poor's 500 Index futures fell 9.30 points to 785.50. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures declined 71 points to 7491. Nasdaq Composite Index futures plunged 15 points to 1222.50.

According to Bloomberg report, President Barack Obama believes that a quick bankruptcy is the most likely way to restructure ailing automaker General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM) into a competitive company.

ADP survey on Wednesday reported that a total of 742,000 private-sector jobs were lost in March, worse than the forecast of 663,000.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the volume of mortgage applications filed last week rose by a seasonally adjusted 3% from the week before.

Biopharmaceutical company Celgene Corp. (NASDAQ: CELG) indicated that first-quarter and full-year profit and sales would miss Wall Street expectations. The company said it expects first-quarter earnings per share for 2009, adjusted for items, to increase about 20% from the year-ago period.

Late on Tuesday, Apollo Group Inc. (NASDAQ: APOL) announced that it swung to second quarter net income of $125.3 million, or 77 cents a share, compared to a net loss of $32 million, or 19 cents a share, in the year ago period. Revenue jumped to $876.1 million from $693.6 million.

Borders Group Inc. (NYSE: BGP) reported that its fourth-quarter net income plunged 54% to $28.9 million or $0.48 a share, from $67.3 million, or $1.14 a share, in the prior year quarter. On an adjusted basis, Borders Group registered fourth-quarter income of $63.8 million or $1.05 a share, compared to $74.3 million, or $1.26 a share, in the comparable quarter last year. Revenue dropped 14% to $1.09 billion.

On the front of economic data, February's construction spending data, pending home sales and March's ISM index are scheduled for release at 10:00 am ET. Auto sales data for the month of March is due for release later in the day.

US stocks finished with gains on Tuesday as investors shrugged off bleak economic data. Shares got a big boost from a rally in banking and technology stocks.

European stocks retreated in afternoon trade. At 13:20 pm London time, the U.K. FTSE fell 13.52 points or 0.34% to 3,912.62. The German DAX and French CAC decreased 0.25% and 0.50% respectively.

Asian stocks finished mixed. The Nikkei 225 rose 242.38 points or 2.99% to 8,351.91. The Hang Seng index of Hong Kong fell 56.48 points or 0.42% to 13,519.54.

NYMEX crude oil for May delivery declined as much as $1.48 or 3% to $48.18 a barrel.

Disclosure: Author does not own any of the stocks discussed here.

US seeks to drop case against former Sen. Stevens

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department has asked a judge to drop corruption charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens, saying prosecutors withheld evidence from the trial that led to his conviction.

The 85-year-old Alaska Republican was convicted late last year on seven felony counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure forms to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from a businessman.

In early morning court filings Wednesday, the Justice Department said prosecutors withheld evidence from Stevens' defense team that could have been used at trial. Prosecutors asked that the charges be dropped.

They said they will not seek a new trial.

The patriarch of Alaska politics, Stevens lost his re-election bid in November and was awaiting sentencing.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department will seek to drop all charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens, whose conviction on corruption charges sparked complaints of prosecutorial misconduct, officials said Wednesday.

The 85-year-old Alaska Republican was convicted late last year on seven felony counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure forms to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from a businessman.

Stevens has appealed his conviction. Problems with the prosecution angered the judge and made it more difficult for the Justice Department to defend the conviction.

Two people familiar with the case, speaking on condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to talk about it before court documents are filed, said Justice officials have decided to ask the judge to dismiss the indictment. If the judge agrees, Stevens' conviction would be vacated.

The decision was first reported Wednesday by National Public Radio, which said Attorney General Eric Holder decided the conviction could not be defended because of problems with the government's prosecution.

In December, Stevens asked a federal judge to grant him a new trial or throw out the case, saying his trial had many "deficiencies."

Reached at his office this morning by the Anchorage Daily News, Stevens' lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, told the newspaper he has a meeting at the Justice Department at 10 a.m. but said he had not been informed of the reported decision by Justice.

Messages for Stevens' lawyers from The Associated Press were not returned early Wednesday morning.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan held Justice Department lawyers in contempt last month for failing to turn over documents as ordered. He called their behavior "outrageous."

Sullivan had ordered Justice to provide the agency's internal communications regarding a whistle-blower complaint brought by an FBI agent involved in the investigation of Stevens. The agent objected to Justice Department tactics during the trial, including failure to turn over evidence and an "inappropriate relationship" between the lead agent on the case and the prosecution's star witness.

The Justice Department has since assigned a new team of prosecutors to the case.

Medvedev: I'll work with Obama to improve relations

Story Highlights
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is ready to repair relationship with U.S.

Medvedev says he will work with Barack Obama to build better ties

Highlights nuclear disarmament as area where progress can be made
(CNN) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says he is ready to work with U.S. President Barack Obama to overcome a recent low point in U.S.-Russian relations.

The Russian leader, writing an op-ed in The Washington Post ahead of Thursday's G-20 summit in London, said he and Obama have exchanged letters this year that "showed mutual readiness to build mature bilateral relations in a pragmatic and business-like manner."

Medvedev cited a number of possible areas of cooperation between the two countries, starting with nuclear disarmament. He agreed with Obama that resuming the disarmament process should become an "immediate priority."

"The wish to ensure absolute security in a unilateral way is a dangerous illusion," Medvedev wrote. "I am encouraged that our new partners in Washington realize this."

Both countries see a need for "collective solutions" to the problems in Afghanistan. Conferences on Afghanistan, organized by each country, should be part of a "mutually reinforcing rather than competitive" approach, he said.

Medvedev also said the two countries should help take the lead at the G-20 summit to address the state of the global economy.

Russia and the United States should push for "universal rules and discipline" in the financial sector and discuss the introduction of a supranational reserve currency, potentially under the International Monetary Fund, Medvedev wrote.

But Medvedev and Obama's first meeting -- scheduled for Wednesday, the day before the summit -- will offer the chance for a new start in their countries' relationship, the Russian leader said.

"Unfortunately, relations soured because of the previous U.S. administration's plans -- specifically, deployment of the U.S. global missile defense system in Eastern Europe, efforts to push NATO's borders eastward and refusal to ratify the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe," Medvedev wrote. "All of these positions undermined Russia's interests and, if implemented, would inevitably require a response on our part."

He said neither country should allow "drift and indifference" in their relationship.

"We should agree that overcoming our common negative legacy is possible only by ensuring equality and mutual benefit and by taking into account our mutual interests," he wrote. "I am ready for such work with President Obama on the basis of these principles, and I hope to begin as early as tomorrow at our first meeting in London before the Group of 20 summit."

Lisa Ling's Sister Facing Trial in North Korea

The situation in North Korea for Lisa Ling's sister and another journalist is becoming worse, reports People magazine.

Preparations for an indictment are already underway, with Laura Ling and Euna Lee headed for a trial on the basis of "already confirmed suspicions," according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

"The illegal entry of U.S. reporters into the DPRK and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements," the news agency said.

Ling and Lee, who work for former Vice President Al Gore's media venture Current TV, were captured by a North Korean military patrol on March 17 near the North Korea/China border. The journalists were in China filming a documentary on North Korean defectors who reside there.

Why Catholics Are Worried About Obama

By Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- Some friends who are loyal alumni of Notre Dame are distressed that God's alma mater is hosting a pro-choice president at commencement. For decades, they argue, Notre Dame has accommodated, legitimated and enabled pro-choice views, compromising its identity as a Catholic institution. They question the wisdom of the Obama invitation, which they believe adds to that confusion.

But some critics go further, calling President Obama's appearance "an outrage and a scandal." And that goes too far.

The office of the president has meaning and importance that transcend the views of its current occupant. Though elected by a part of America, the president becomes a symbol of its whole. The respect we accord him does not imply agreement or endorsement. It reflects our appreciation for constitutional processes. So a presidential visit is always an honor. The televised arrival of Air Force One, the motorcade, the playing of "Hail to the Chief," the audience standing as the president enters -- all these express a proper respect for democratic legitimacy.

If you cannot honor the man, then honor the office. If you cannot honor the office, then one more democratic bond has been severed.

But the controversy surrounding the Notre Dame invitation highlights growing strains in an important political relationship. In the last election, while evangelical Christians generally remained loyal to the Republican nominee, Catholics decisively shifted their votes toward Obama. In 2004, George W. Bush won the Catholic vote by five points. Obama carried it by nine points in 2008. A number of Catholic thinkers set out a "pro-life, pro-Obama" position -- disagreeing with Obama's pro-choice views but trusting in his moderate instincts and conciliatory temperament.

So far, Obama has done little to justify this faith. His initial actions on life issues -- funding overseas abortion providers, removing restrictions from federally funded medical experimentation on human embryos, revisiting conscience protections for pro-life health care professionals -- have ranged from conventional to radical. And this may be one reason why Obama's support among Catholics has eroded. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who disapprove of Obama's job performance increased by nine points from February to March. Among Catholics as a whole, his disapproval rating jumped 14 points. And among white, non-Hispanic Catholics, the figure doubled -- from 20 percent to 41 percent.

Catholics are having second thoughts, but it could get much worse. If the president and Congress are not careful on several issues, these concerns could open a major rift between the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party.

First, Obama has raised deep concerns among Catholic leaders by signaling he will overturn Bush's executive order protecting health workers from firing and discrimination if they refuse to perform actions they consider morally objectionable. The administration claims the order was overbroad and unnecessary. But Catholic hospitals believe these protections are essential, because of pressure by states and private medical associations for Catholic health care providers to perform or refer for abortions. Catholic leaders want the president to be helpful, not neutral or hostile, in the protection of conscience.

Second, Catholic leaders fear that the Hyde Amendment -- which bans the use of Medicaid funds for abortion except in the rarest of cases -- could easily be reversed by the pro-choice congressional majority.

Third, health care reform will raise the largest debate -- whether abortion should be a covered service. As a candidate, Obama said his health proposal would include "reproductive health services." Planned Parenthood argues that "full reproductive health" must be covered. But any proposed federal entitlement to abortion-on-demand would be unprecedented, push Catholic leaders toward revolt, and possibly doom health care reform entirely.

Americans disagree strongly about the legality of abortion. But for decades there has been a rough consensus that no one should be compelled to participate in abortions or have their federal tax dollars used for abortion. These three changes would shatter that consensus, making the destruction of life an essential part of the medical and legal order while stigmatizing and marginalizing all who object. This would be an outrage and a scandal -- a troubling reinterpretation of religious liberty, which is not merely the freedom to believe, but the freedom to bring religiously informed moral beliefs to professional and political life.

Obama's Catholic supporters would feel betrayed and discredited -- and rightly so. The Catholic hierarchy and Catholic health professionals would feel assaulted by the president -- and they would be correct. And President Obama would not need to worry about future invitations from Notre Dame.

Alabama Judge Charged in Prisoner Abuse Case

Former Mobile, Alabama judge Herman Thomas has been arrested in a bizarre criminal case alleging that he used the local jail as a type of personal stable of victims for beatings and sexual abuse. His lawyer — who goes by the moniker Robert “Cowboy Bob” Clark — has charged racism targeting the county first black judge.

The 57-count indictment alleges that Thomas committed kidnapping, sodomy, extortion, sex abuse and ethics violations. It lists nine former and current inmates, who Thomas allegedly had pulled from jail to beat them or have sex with them.

Calling this a “high tech lynching” Cowboy Bob insists “This is racism at its very finest. We ought to be proud we elected those bastards.” Cowboy Bob also says that he will challenge the restriction imposed by the court that Thomas say away from young men. The race charge has not played well thus far in Alabama.

The indictment states that Thomas singled out young men for “sexual contact, by forcible compulsion.”

In the meantime, the state bar has suspended Thomas’ license.

Baitullah Mehsud threatens attack on White House

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud on March 31 claimed responsibility for a series of recent terrorist attacks, including the March 30 assault on a police training centre in Lahore, The News reported. He also threatened to show his power to the world when his people would attack the US capital as a reaction to frequent drone attacks in the tribal areas and the reward on his head. “By the grace of Allah Almighty, I am claiming responsibility for the attack on the police training school in Lahore with eagerness, honour and love and will continue similar strikes across the country, if the US drones were not stopped from killing innocent people in the tribal areas,” Baitullah Mehsud said in his telephonic conversation with reporters. Baitullah also claimed responsibility for two other suicide attacks, including one on a military convoy near Bannu in the NWFP on March 30 and another on the Police intelligence office in Islamabad on March 23. Baitullah said his men were out to target Government installations against its failure to protect tribesmen against non-stop drone attacks. About the recent reward of $5 million for his head by the US State Department, he said he loved to be martyred, but threatened his men would soon attack Americans in their own country, not in Afghanistan. He said his men would soon teach a lesson to the Americans in Washington and the White House. An Associated Press report added that Baitullah said his group was planning a terrorist attack on the White House that would “amaze” the world. “Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world,” said Mehsud. In his latest comments in an interview with local Dewa Radio, a copy of which was obtained by the AP, Mehsud identified the White House as one of the targets In Washington.

Brown: G20 to agree global rules on bankers' pay

G20 leaders meeting in London this week will seek to agree global rules on remuneration in the banking sector, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Tuesday.

"You will find on Thursday at the G20 that for the first time ever, the world economies will agree international rules for the remuneration of bankers," he said two days before the crunch summit.

"In other words, every country will sign up to a set of rules that we and others will apply to the banking system," he added, after giving a speech calling for a sense of morality to be restored to the global financial system.

"The difficulties in the past have led to us agreeing that there will be global rules in this area for the future," he added.

Brown will play host to United States President Barack Obama and his counterparts from the Group of 20 leading developed and developing countries at Thursday's summit.

The British leader emphasised the need for regulation to have a moral dimension during a pre-summit speech at London's historic Saint Paul's Cathedral, alongside Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Rules for bankers' pay was part of this, he said. "Just as we are eliminating tax havens, we are trying to eliminate these bad practices by insisting that there are global rules and not simply rules that apply to one country and can be undermined in the next," he said.