Thursday, April 9, 2009

Obama and fried chicken, Heineken logo rip-off

Forget the fried chicken story: there’s no real Dutch angle to it, unless you want to celebrate the 400-year friendship between The Netherlands and New York City, although it’s a stretch. It’s a Brooklyn restaurant called Obama and people protested in front of it because implying that African Americans eat fried chicken is racist. Do they serve watermelon for desert?

Look at the logo of this Obama fried chicken joint: do you see the resemblance or is my coffee playing tricks on me? That red star caused enough problems for Heineken, are we going to go on a commie witch hunt soon, too?

Follow Tiger Woods From Your Pocket with This iPhone App

The 73rd edition of The Masters Golf Tournament kicks off today in Augusta, Georgia. It’s a big deal as usual, especially since Tiger Woods is back after taking some time off to heal from surgery. Greg Norman, aka “The Shark,” is back to play as well, and is looking to win his first Masters—he’s come really close a couple times. Things should wrap up Sunday, weather permitting, where the winner will get the coveted green jacket and a huge check—last year’s was over $7 million.

If you’re lucky enough to be viewing the tournament in person this year, then make sure you get over to Apple’s App Store before you depart. The Masters Golf Tournament App is available now and is totally free, but even if they charged for it, we’d still probably recommend it. You’ll be able to pull video clips right to your iPhone, and even watch some limited live coverage. If you’re taking in the scene at one hole, you’ll easily be able to see what’s happening on the other side of the course.

Even if you’re stuck in the office for the opening rounds, it’s still a solid pick. You can view flyovers to see the layout of each hole, and there’s a live leaderboard so you don’t have to check ESPN every couple of minutes while avoiding the boss. Just be careful when you try to sneak your iPhone out during Easter Sunday services to get an update, you don’t want your favorite toy to be taken away.

Obama Bows Before Saudi King

Despite the White House denials, it is clear from this video that The Teleprompted One was bowing to the Saudi King. Check out just how low he goes at the 5 second mark of this video.

“It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said an Obama aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Go ahead and pause that video at the 5 second mark and you’ll see for yourself what a lie that is. You can see Obama’s head wayyyyy down low and his left hand was still at his side and is visible in that video frame.

So, how does this fit in with custom and protocol?

The Washington Times called the alleged bow a “shocking display of fealty to a foreign potentate” and said it violated centuries of American tradition of not deferring to royalty. The Weekly Standard, meanwhile, noted that American protocol apparently rules out bowing, or at least it reportedly did on the occasion of a Clinton “near-bow” to the emperor of Japan.

Obviously, between this and the various lame gifts that Obama has given to British leaders, there is no one at home in the protocol office at the White House. A bow has distinct connotations and is generally viewed as a sign of not only respect but of subservience. An American president should bow before no leader of another nation.

Armstrong accused of violating anti-doping rules

Paris, France (Sports Network) - Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong has been accused of violating anti-doping rules during a test following a training session in southern France last month.

The French anti-doping agency (AFLD) released a statement Thursday, saying Armstrong "did not meet the obligation to remain under direct observation of the person responsible for the control" of the test.

Armstrong, making a comeback after a 3 1/2-year retirement, has denied any wrongdoing from the March 17 test, during which time a 20-minute delay in the procedure is at issue.

When reports of a possible violation circulated in France earlier this week, Armstrong on Tuesday released a statement saying, "I did not try to evade or delay the testing process that day.

"I had just returned from an all-day training session, wasn't sure who this French man at my home was, and as soon as the UCI (International Cycling Union) confirmed that he was authorized to conduct the test, I let him take all the samples he requested."

Armstrong added that he was granted permission by the tester to take a shower while Astana manager Johan Bruyneel waited with the tester to confirm his credentials.

The tests -- urine, blood and hair samples -- all came back negative.

Armstrong indicated that the forms he signed included a provision for the tester to state if there were any irregularities from the process and he wrote "no." The laboratory, however, decided to investigate the 20-minute delay.

The AFLD did not state whether it will seek sanctions against Armstrong, who has had numerous difficulties with the French anti-doping agency.

Armstrong won the first of his seven straight Tour de France crowns in 1999 and the last in 2005, announcing his retirement shortly after the final title.

The French newspaper, L'Equipe, reported in August 2005 that six of Armstrong's urine samples from 1999, tested in 2004, came back positive for EPO -- a hormone that increases red globules and allows a better muscular oxygenation.

In May of 2006, a Dutch lawyer in charge of investigating those allegations, cleared Armstrong of any wrongdoing.

Armstrong has always denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs.

DPS to close 23 schools, lay off 600, use $200 million for school upgrades

District manager tries to eliminate deficit; changes trouble parents

Detroit -- Detroit Public Schools' emergency financial manager on Wednesday said he plans to send layoff notices to 600 teachers and close Chadsey High School, Guyton Elementary and 21 other schools in the fall because of plummeting enrollment and a mounting deficit.

Robert Bobb, the manager, also announced plans to plow more than $200 million into existing buildings by enhancing security and making structural and other improvements.

Bobb said the closings and layoffs are necessary to stave off a $306 million deficit, but parents are already distraught over the changes, which will force the transfer of 7,500 students.

"My biggest problem is that if you close schools that kids attend, send them to a place that is better," said Rudy Jones, who has two daughters at Courtis Elementary, which is slated for closure.

The plan calls for the girls to be transferred to nearby Noble Elementary, which Jones said is structurally worse and lacks computer labs and other academic necessities. "I have no emotional ties to Courtis, but brick for brick, it's a better, safer environment."

He said he won't send his girls to Noble.

To determine which schools would close, Bobb and his team considered neighborhood redevelopment plans, population patterns, schools' student achievement levels and the condition of school buildings.

According to the district, for example, Noble is rated higher in academics using federal guidelines and Courtis' building would require $3.7 million in structural improvements, compared to $2.8 million at Noble. Nine of the schools on the closure list are in various stages of failure to make adequate yearly progress (AYP), ranging from alert to Phase 8, and some schools were at less than half their capacity.

Bobb said some of the 600 teachers who receive layoff notices -- who make up about 11.3 percent of the total -- may be recalled, but it's unknown how many.

Keith Johnson, President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said he knew of the layoff notices and understands some layoffs are necessary because of declining enrollment. He said he is concerned for any teacher who loses a job, but he believes many layoffs will be rescinded or teachers recalled after retirements and resignations are factored in.

"It may not be as bad as it seems," he said.

The closings will save $8.8 million annually beginning in the second year, Bobb said, though he acknowledged his plan requires a delicate balancing act between necessary cuts and preventing thousands more parents and students from fleeing the district. This concern is why the plan includes enhancements to schools that receive students from closed buildings, as well as others, he said.

"We are asking parents to stay with us and give us an opportunity," Bobb said. "Don't abandon the system ... We're going to stand up and fight for you, and if you're not getting a quality education in your schools, if the principals aren't standing up, if the teachers aren't standing up, and giving your children the type of education they need and deserve, we'll take whatever action we have to take."

Bobb said he is notifying the community and working with city planners to ensure the shuttered schools won't add blight to neighborhoods already impacted by dozens of shuttered Detroit schools dotting the landscape. He said he expects to make a final decision on closures by May 8.

But parents say the district also must take into account how the closures will impact their children.

"If you treat the parents poorly, we have an option," said parent Chris White. Parents can simply leave the district, he said.

Plan includes upgrades
Bobb plans to spend $25 million to enhance security at several schools, by replacing doors, adding security cameras and creating a new video monitoring system for the district's Department of Public Safety.

Parents have been crying out for enhanced security, and the school system has been plagued by violent intruders. Just last week, a school social worker tackled a boy who allegedly entered a school with a sawed-off shotgun.

At Central High School earlier this school year, several intruders engaged in a gun fight in the school halls. Officials have long said securing aging structures with dozens of doors is nearly impossible.

Bobb is asking the state to use federal stimulus funding for the majority of the building projects, which include other infrastructure improvements like lighting, roofs and new boilers.

Another $20 million from a 1994 bond issue will be used to repair and renovate schools that will be receiving new students, with an additional $6 million from allocated, unspent funds to improve several schools where students transferred as part of the last closure plan where 33 schools were shuttered.

He said financing options are being reviewed for three new K-12 educational complexes to replace Chadsey and Finney high schools and remodel or replace Mumford High.

Building review planned
Bobb also will review which shuttered buildings -- including 56 already vacant structures -- would be targeted for demolition, redevelopment or sale to charter schools. He acknowledged that closings must be strategic to avoid a greater loss of students. The district, which has about 96,000 students, has been losing about 10,000 students a year most years since 2001. But the community in the past has staged protests and railed against closures, which some say are contributing to the dismantling of the school system.

Former superintendent Connie Calloway this school year opted not to close schools after the district found the 33 school closings the previous year cost the system millions of dollars. An internal report compiled by a committee of academic and non-academic "stakeholders" and authored by Calloway said the district lost $11.3 million because students left the district following the closures.

Michelle Dixon, whose daughter, Mya, is a fourth grader at Guyton Elementary, which is slated for closure, said she plans to enroll her in a charter school, rather than a public school farther away. The school has been on the chopping block before.

"It's sad. That school is a neighborhood school, so it's very convenient for a lot of kids to walk back and forth," she said. "Closing the schools where people are working and the community is helping out -- that's not the solution."

Iran opens first nuclear fuel plant

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to reveal 'good nuclear news' as US, Russia, Europe and China seek talks

Julian Borger in Washington, Thursday 9 April 2009 15.04 BST Article historyIran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will inaugurate the country's first nuclear fuel production plant later today, Reuters news agency has quoted an official as saying.

The announcement, to mark Iran's nuclear technology day, comes as attempts are made to restart talks over Iran's enrichment of uranium for the first time since Barack Obama took office.

"This is the first nuclear fuel complex … 100% Iranian and the president will inaugurate this," Vajihollah Asadi, a manager at the complex, near the central city of Isfahan, told Reuters. He said the plant would produce fuel for Iran's Arak heavy water reactor.

The fact that Iran is now in a position to produce natural uranium fuel does not come as a surprise. The latest report on the country's nuclear programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency said a fuel fabrication plant in Isfahan was ready to begin producing fuel pellets, and it had already started making the rods in which the pellets are inserted. In a nuclear reactor, assemblies of such rods are lowered into a reactor to trigger fission and generate energy.

The existence of the Arak heavy water complex was first discovered by the outside world in 2002. It comprises a plant for manufacturing heavy water, and a reactor, which is still under construction.

Yesterday senior officials from the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China instructed the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, to make contact with his counterpart in Tehran. The group also welcomed the Obama administration's decision to fully engage in the talks.

Ahmadinejad said his country would welcome talks with Obama if the US president proved "honest" in extending a hand to Iran. But dialogue will depend more on what the Iranian president announces today. "I will have good nuclear news for the honoured Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said.

Italy extends quake rescue effort

The Italian government has extended the duration of its search for survivors of Monday's earthquake in the Abruzzo region as far as Sunday.

But rescue workers believe the chances of finding anyone alive are remote, and so will focus on recovering bodies and assessing the extent of the damage.

Earlier, the death toll rose to 278 after three bodies were removed from a collapsed student building in L'Aquila.

About 28,000 people have been left homeless around the stricken region.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been criticised for suggesting the 18,000 people living in tents should treat it as a "weekend of camping".

Preparations are meanwhile under way for a state funeral on Friday for most of the victims. It will also be a day of national mourning.

As long as we know that there are people under the rubble, we will keep searching even if we're sure they're dead.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, will lead a memorial service in a suburb of L'Aquila, Abruzzo's capital.

Thousands of people attended the funeral on Wednesday of 25-year-old student Danilo Ciolli, in his hometown of Carovilli in the neighbouring Molise region.

In Loreto Aprutino in Pescara, the funeral was also held for Giuseppe Chiavaroli, a 24-year-old student. Residents broke into applause as a mark of respect as his coffin was carried into the church.

Pope Benedict XVI said he would visit the region "as soon as possible", although a Vatican spokesman said this was unlikely to happen within the next two weeks.


On Wednesday evening, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the search for survivors would be extended by two days to Sunday. At least 10 people are still missing and believed to be under the rubble.

It could be months before those displaced can return to their homes.

The BBC's Helen Fawkes in the village of Castel del Monte says hopes are fading that anyone will be found alive.

No survivors have been rescued since late on Tuesday and officials say they are now concentrating on recovering bodies and assessing the damage.

Early on Thursday, three bodies were pulled by rescue workers from the ruins of a four-storey university dormitory in L'Aquila. In all, seven students were killed when the building collapsed.

At least 16 children, including a five-month-old baby, were killed by Monday's 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

"As long as we know that there are people under the rubble, we will keep searching even if we're sure they're dead. Families need to know what happened to their loved ones," one fireman told the Reuters news agency.

A series of aftershocks has been complicating rescue efforts. One 5.2-magnitude tremor at 0253 (0053 GMT) on Thursday caused damage to buildings in L'Aquila and several nearby villages, but there have been no reports of any further victims.

Hundreds of engineers have meanwhile begun evaluating the damage caused to public buildings and homes in the region, to see which ones are safe.

During a visit to L'Aquila on Wednesday, Prime Minister Berlusconi said it could take up to two months to calculate the full scale of the destruction.

Between 3,000 and 10,000 buildings are thought to have been damaged in L'Aquila, likely to make the 13th Century city of 70,000 uninhabitable for some time.

The head of the Italian Red Cross said it could be months or even years before all the displaced people could return to their own homes.

"This city has been annihilated and I don't think we'll ever go back to that house, our house. It's full of ghosts and fear," said Claudio Gaudieri, one of those living in a tent camp in L'Aquila.

"We lost everything," he added.

Somalia: U.S. Navy Intervenes Against Pirates

Nairobi — A United States Navy missile destroyer has arrived to help end an ongoing standoff between four Somali pirates and their American hostage off the east coast of Somalia.

< The hostage, the captain of the container ship, the Maersk Alabama, is being held captive in a lifeboat after a hijacking attempt early Wednesday.

After the Alabama's 20 American crew members managed to wrest control of the ship back from the pirates later Wednesday, they initially detained one of the pirates. The Nato Shipping Centre reports that the crew "returned their hostage [sic] to the pirates, hoping the pirates would give back the captain of the ship... but this was not the case."

News agencies report the name of the captain being held hostage as Richard Phillips, who lives in Vermont in the United States.

The Nato agency reported at 6am UTC (2am Eastern U.S. time) Thursday that the USS Bainbridge, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, had arrived at the scene of the hijacking.

According to the Lloyd's Register-Fairplay shipping news web site, the pirates are "conducting ransom negotiations with a satellite telephone."

Somali Pirates Hijack More Ships
Somalia: Pirates Seize U.S. Ship, Crew
Somalia: U.S. Ship Hijacked, Captain Taken Hostage
Somalia: U.S. Crew Seized by Pirates in Hijacking
Somalia: Pirates Seize More Ships
Maersk Line Limited, the U.S.-based owner and operator of the ship, said in a statement yesterday that they are "working closely with the U.S. military and other government agencies" to resolve the standoff.

The Alabama is carrying food aid and supplies to the port city of Mombasa, Kenya. The Alabama's hijacking by pirates was the sixth this week. Since Wednesday, the Nato Shipping Centre reports, two more ships, including a Yemeni fishing boat and a Marhsall-Islands flagged bulk carrier, have been attacked in the region.