Friday, May 8, 2009

Strange Study: 'Babyface' Look Helps Black CEOs

Black Fortune 500 CEOs with a "babyface"appearance are more likely to lead companies with higher revenues and prestige than black CEOs who look more mature, an upcoming study says.

Farrah GrayIn contrast with research showing that white executives are hindered by babyface characteristics, a disarming appearance can help black CEOs by counteracting the stigma that black men are threatening, according to the study from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

The study is scheduled to be published in the journal Psychological Science in September.

A babyface is characterized by combinations of attributes, including a round face, full cheeks, larger forehead, small nose, large ears and full lips, the study says.

Decades of research has shown that people believe babyfaced adults to be more trustworthy, and respond to them with greater patience, sensitivity and compassion, according to Robert Livingston, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of organizations and management at Kellogg.

In the study, a group of 21 college students was shown photographs of 40 current and past CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Eleven of the students were white, 10 were Asian and 10 were female.

Of the 40 CEOs, 10 were black (only 10 blacks have ever led Fortune 500 companies). For every black CEO, a current or former white CEO from the same company was included. Another 10 CEOs were white women, and 10 white male CEOs were chosen at random.

Participants rated each photo on scale of 1-4 for "babyfaceness," leadership competence and personal warmth.

To account for differences in perceptions about blacks or whites in general, participants gave separate ratings on warmth and competence for "blacks," "whites" and "women," which were factored into the results.

The results showed that black CEOs who rated high on the babyface scale worked for companies that ranked higher in the Fortune 500 and had higher annual revenues than blacks with more mature faces. The reverse was true for whites - the more babyfaced CEOs tended to work for companies that ranked lower and had less annual revenue.

Black CEOs also were described as significantly more babyfaced than white CEOs. The female CEOs were rated as having more mature faces than both blacks and whites.

The study was duplicated with 106 student participants, with similar results.

Livingston said the study indicates that "disarming" characteristics, which have been shown to hinder white executives, can help black leaders.

"Physical appearance, how you behave, having mixed-race parents - anything that conveys to whites 'I'm not the typical black man' can be helpful," Livingston said.

That leads to the idea that black executives face a double standard, he said.

"If you're a white male, you can exhibit anger, pound your fist, make ultimatums ... African-Americans have to adopt a kinder, gentler style of leadership," Livingston said. "The same sorts of behaviors that are effective for white males can't be utilized effectively by black males."

Livingston said his conclusion is not that babyface black CEOs reached the pinnacle of success because of their looks: "I'm saying that African-American leaders have to adopt certain qualities or behaviors that make them appear less threatening ... a babyface gives a certain perception that they're docile."

Leslie Zebrowitz, a professor of psychology and social relations at Brandeis University who was not involved with the study, called the findings new and "compelling."

Another psychologist who has studied babyface appearance and was not involved in the study, Nicholas Rule of Tufts University, said the new study "builds on our understanding of how appearances can shape and affect individuals' outcomes."

Livingston acknowledged that the small sample size of 10 black CEOs could be an "Achilles' heel" of the study. "Statistics will take care of that to a certain degree," he said. "But one could say, 'How much do these 10 unique people generalize to the rest of the world?"'

The results rang true for Michael Hyter, the black president and CEO of the management consulting firm Novations Group Inc. and co-author of the book "The Power of Inclusion."

"For anyone who's honest in the corporate space, you know that (disarming mechanisms) are a key to being successful," he said. "Technical skills are not enough. They need to get to know you based on who you are and not make a judgment on how you look."

"We all do it," Hyter added. "But what a person looks like doesn't really give you any indication what he or she is like."

Obama Seeks to Change Crack Sentences

The Obama administration joined a federal judge Wednesday in urging Congress to end a racial disparity by equalizing prison sentences for dealing and using crack versus powdered cocaine.

"Jails are loaded with people who look like me," U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, an African-American, told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said the administration believes Congress' goal "should be to completely eliminate the disparity" between the two forms of cocaine. "A growing number of citizens view it as fundamentally unfair," Breuer testified.

It takes 100 times more powdered cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger the same harsh mandatory minimum sentences.

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, said, "Under current law, mere possession of five grams of crack - the weight of five packets of sweetener - carries the same sentence as distribution of half a kilogram of powder or 500 packets of sweetener."

Durbin said more than 81 percent of those convicted for crack offenses in 2007 were African-American, although only about 25 percent of crack cocaine users are African Americans.

Congress enacted the disparity during an epidemic of crack cocaine in the 1980s, but the senator said lawmakers erred in assuming that violence would be greater among those using crack.

Breuer said the best way to deal with violence is to severely punish anyone who commits a violent offense, regardless of the drug involved.

"This administration believes our criminal laws should be tough, smart, fair," Breuer said, but also should "promote public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system."

Walton said, "We were mistaken" to enact the disparity. "There's no greater violence in cases before me."

He added that jurors have expressed an unwillingness to serve in crack cocaine cases because of the disparity.

President Barack Obama had called for such a change while campaigning for the White House.

Breuer said the government should focus on punishing drug trafficking networks, like the cartels wreaking havoc in Mexico, and those whose crimes include acts of violence.

The Obama administration is also seeking to increase drug treatment, as well as rehabilitation programs for felons after they're released from prison.

Miami's police chief, John Timoney, also favored ending the disparity, commenting, "It's the same drug. It's just manufactured differently."

Cedric Parker, of Alton, Ill., said his sister, Eugenia Jennings, is serving nearly 22 years for trading crack cocaine for designer clothes. If she had been trading powder cocaine, the sentence would have been less than half of the time.

"She would be getting ready to come home, probably already in the halfway house. But, because she was sentenced for crack cocaine she will not be released from prison until 2019," Parker testified.

While politicians often support laws lengthening prison terms for various crimes, it is rarer to try to reduce sentences, in part out of concern they may appear soft on crime. But recently, some states have been moving on their own to temper long-standing "get tough" laws.

In New York last month, state leaders reached an agreement to repeal the last vestiges of the Rockefeller drug laws, once seen as the harshest in the nation. Kentucky enacted changes that would put more addicts in treatment, and fewer behind bars.

The Justice Department is working on recommendations for a new set of sentences for cocaine, and Breuer urged Congress to overhaul the current law, written in 1986 at the height of public concern about crack use.

Since then, Breuer argued, prosecutors' views of crack cocaine have evolved to a more "refined understanding" of crack and powdered cocaine usage.

He also suggested that until such changes are made, federal prosecutors may encourage judges to use their discretion to depart from the current sentencing guidelines. Such departures are rare in the federal courts.

Analysis: Obama charts active role in Mideast

The impending arrival of Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will start an unpredictable engagement by President Barack Obama in trying to shift the Middle East from a tense standoff to Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

Netanyahu, due at the White House on May 18, has signaled he intends to resist a key plank in Obama's program: a Palestinian state carved out of land Israel has held since winning the 1967 Mideast War with the Arabs.

New to Middle East peace efforts, Obama is expected to insist on a "two-state solution" and try to entice Netanyahu and other skeptical Israelis with pledges of security assistance.

It is the president's first attempt at solving a dispute that has shadowed American presidents for more than 60 years. Obama is moving into the dispute with characteristic energy. But he acknowledged as a presidential candidate that "it's unrealistic to expect that a U.S. president alone can suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace in this region."

The case for Palestinian statehood will be made later in May during visits by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose country has been at peace with Israel since 1979.

Mubarak is expected on May 26, said a State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity because the date of the visit has not been announced. Officials said Abbas is due to visit as well, but the date has not been finalized.

Netanyahu is likely to try to take the initiative with proposals to improve economic conditions for the Palestinians, many of whom are locked in poverty, and by welcoming unconditional negotiations without a stated goal of Palestinian statehood.

Vice President Joe Biden, in a speech to the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee, indicated that approach would not suffice.

"Israel has to work toward a two-state solution," Biden told AIPAC last week. And, Biden said, Israel should not build more settlements and should dismantle existing outposts and allow Palestinians freedom of movement on the West Bank.

Abbas, for his part, is due to insist on a state, and one that incorporates part of Jerusalem, while Mubarak might dust off Egypt's bid for a nuclear-free Middle East, which would mean Israel giving up its presumed nuclear arsenal.

So far, Israel would have none of this. But pressure could build in light of Obama's diplomatic efforts to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

For most Israelis, Iran is the biggest threat to their existence, and Obama's overtures to Tehran tend to heighten their anxieties, especially in light of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threat to see Israel erased from the map.

Last month, in congressional testimony, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to caution Israel that it "can't stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts" if it expects Arab governments to form a coalition to contain Iran.

Netanyahu is likely to seek Obama's assurance that Israel can defer to the United States any consideration of a military strike against Iran. At the same time, though, Israel is reserving its right to protect itself.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said the obstacle to a peace deal "is not Israel. It is not the Palestinians. It's the Iranians."

Iran's ruling regime is very unpopular with the Iranian people and will not survive long, a senior Israeli defense official, Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog, said Thursday. But it is not clear whether Iran will go nuclear before the end of Ahmadinejad's reign, Herzog cautioned.

Herzog, chief of staff to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, estimated that Iran would reach the "breakout point" in producing nuclear weapons by late 2010 or early 2011.

Herzog bluntly warned Tehran that "when we say a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, we mean it. When we say everything is on the table, we mean it."

Obama, like his predecessors, has not ruled out using nuclear weapons as Israel has threatened.

But Obama is putting new emphasis on direct diplomacy. Iran has shown some interest, all the while insisting its nuclear program is designed to develop energy.

Herzog said "we have no doubt" of Iran's objective and that the United States has the same intelligence.

Drew Peterson arrested — but will it stick?

Lawyer: Case against him for murder of third wife is ‘weak, circumstantial’
The murder case against Drew Peterson is not a strong one, the former police sergeant’s attorney said. Peterson was arrested Thursday and charged with the murder of his third wife. He is also the prime suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife.

“This is a weak, circumstantial case at best,” lawyer Joel Brodsky told TODAY’s Natalie Morales Friday in New York. He pointed out that Will County, Ill., prosecutors have to prove that Peterson drowned his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in her bathtub in 2004. “Drew doesn’t have to prove his innocence,” Brodsky said.

Joking in cuffs
After Peterson was arrested at a traffic stop in his hometown of Bolingbrook, Ill., he was led to jail in handcuffs. He quipped to reporters, “I guess I should have returned those library books.”

Morales asked Brodsky if Peterson understood the gravity of the charges against him.

“He takes it very seriously,” Brodsky said, dismissing the flip remark as a way to deal with tension. “That’s just Drew’s way of reacting to his stressful situation. That’s just his nature. It’s impossible not to take it seriously.”

Peterson, 55, was scheduled to be arraigned on charges of first-degree murder in the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

Peterson is being held on $20 million bond, Illinois State Police Capt. Carl Dobrich said, and his young children are in the custody of local child welfare officials.

“We are very confident in our case,” Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow said.

Savio’s body was found in a dry bathtub, hair soaked in blood from a head wound, just before the couple’s divorce settlement was finalized. Her death originally was ruled an accidental drowning, but authorities later said it was a homicide staged to look like an accident.

The indictment alleges that “Peterson on or about Feb. 29, 2004 ... caused Kathleen Savio to inhale fluid,” causing her death.

Savio’s family has long voiced suspicions, saying she feared Peterson and told relatives if she died it would not be an accident. Their fears resurfaced after the October 2007 disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, then 23.

Drew Peterson is a suspect in the disappearance, which police have called a possible homicide. But he has not been charged and has repeatedly said he thinks Stacy Peterson ran off with another man.

In one of several appearances on TODAY after Stacy Peterson’s disappearance, Peterson told co-host Matt Lauer, “I can look right in your eye and say I had nothing to do with either of those incidents.”

‘Lock-tight alibi’
One of Peterson’s attorneys, Andrew Abood, said the indictment was not a complete surprise.

“There was tremendous pressure for the government to do something in this case,” Abood said Thursday evening. But Abood said one of Peterson’s sons with Savio has “provided a lock-tight alibi” for his father, who faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted.

In an appearance on CBS’ “The Early Show” last month, 16-year-old Thomas Peterson appeared alongside his father and defended him.

“I highly do not believe that my dad had murdered my mom. Because, first off, he wasn’t there, he was with us during that period of time,” Thomas Peterson said on the show.

Peterson has seemed to relish the spotlight since Stacy Peterson's disappearance, appearing in a People magazine cover story and on multiple national talk shows — most recently to tout his new engagement to a 24-year-old woman.

From the day Stacy Peterson was reported missing, her husband, a cop of nearly 30 years, knew if investigators weren’t focused on him, they soon would be. And it wasn’t two weeks before the Illinois State Police made it official, calling Peterson a suspect and her disappearance a possible homicide.

When at the same time authorities announced they believed Savio’s death looked like it was a homicide, Peterson knew authorities were looking closely at him as well.

“The husband is always a suspect, whether you declare him so or not,” another of Peterson’s attorneys, Joel Brodsky, said when authorities revealed an autopsy on Savio’s exhumed body showed she was murdered.

Savio’s body was found by a friend of Peterson’s after the police sergeant called him to say he was worried because he had not talked to or seen Savio for a few days. The couple had recently divorced.

The friend, Steve Carcerano, has said he went to the house and went upstairs while Peterson waited downstairs. When he found Savio’s body in the bathtub, he called downstairs to Peterson, who has said he then ran upstairs, took Savio’s pulse, but found none. Video

Peterson’s fiancee: ‘I just don’t believe it’
Feb. 13: Drew Peterson, who is suspected in the disappearance of his fourth wife and the death of his third, and his fiancee, Christina Raines, talk about their plans for the future.
Today show

Peterson’s next wife was Stacy, who was 30 years younger. They had two children, who lived with the couple along with Peterson’s two children from his marriage to Savio.

On the morning of Oct. 28, 2007, Stacy Peterson talked to a friend. Stacy’s sister, Cassandra Cales, tried to call her in the middle of the afternoon, and did not get through. Late that night, Cales went to Peterson’s home, but neither Drew nor Stacy was there. A few minutes later, she reached Peterson on his cell phone, with Peterson telling her that Stacy had left him.

Cales didn’t believe it and reported her sister missing the next day.

Pamela Bosco, a friend of Stacy’s family who has acted as an unofficial family spokeswoman, said, “We’re just happy for the Savio family.

“We always said that Stacy and Kathleen had one thing in common ... Drew Peterson,” Bosco said.

Hundreds of thousands flee Pakistan fighting

Pakistani jets screamed over a Taliban-controlled town Friday and bombed suspected militant positions as hundreds of thousands fled in terror and other trapped residents appealed for a pause in the fighting so they could escape.

A half a million people have either already left the Swat Valley and nearby districts or want to leave but can't because of the fighting, Pakistani officials and the U.N. say, bringing the number of people likely to be displaced due to anti-militant offensives across Pakistan's volatile northwest region to 1 million.

Pakistan has launched at least a dozen operations in the region near the Afghan border in recent years, but most ended inconclusively and after widespread destruction and significant civilian deaths.

The mountainous region remains a haven for al-Qaida and Taliban militants, foreign governments say.

To end one of those protracted offensives, the government signed a peace accord in Swat that provided for Islamic law there. But it began unraveling last month when Swat Taliban fighters moved into Buner, a neighboring district just 60 miles from Islamabad.

Following strong U.S. pressure, the Pakistani government launched its latest offensive, and the prime minister appealed for international assistance for the growing refugee crisis and vowed to defeat the militants.

Asking for Pakistanis to support the government and the army, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani pledged Thursday night to "eliminate the elements who have destroyed the peace and calm of the nation and wanted to take Pakistan hostage at gunpoint."

The military hailed signs of the public's mood shifting against the Taliban.

"The public have seen their real face," Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said. "They realize their agenda goes much beyond Shariah (Islamic) courts. They have a design to expand."

Still, the pro-Western government will face a stiff task to keep a skeptical nation behind its security forces.

The mayor of Mardan, the main district to the south of the fighting, said an estimated 250,000 people had fled in recent days and that more were on the move. Of those, 4,500 were staying in camps, while the rest were with relatives or rented accommodation, he said.

Pakistani officials have said up to 500,000 are expected to leave.

On Friday, the U.N. refugee agency said that the provincial government estimates that between 150,000 and 200,000 people have arrived in safer areas of North West Frontier Province in the last few days and another 300,000 are on the move or want to leave but can't because of the fighting or curfews.

The exodus from Swat and other nearby districts adds to the more than 500,000 already displaced by fighting elsewhere in Pakistan's volatile border region since August 2008, said Ron Redmond, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, in Geneva.

Government forces are fighting in three districts, stretching over some 400 square miles, but much of the fighting has been in the Swat Valley's main city of Mingora, a militant hub that was home to around 360,000 people before the insurgency two years ago.

Abbas said Friday that 140 militants had been killed in the last 24 hours, adding to around 150 already reported slain. He did give any figures for civilian deaths, but witness and local media say that noncombatants have been killed.

Tens of thousands of people remain trapped in Mingora. Some have said the Taliban are not allowing them to leave, perhaps because they want to use them as "human shields" and make the army unwilling to use force.

"We want to leave the city, but we cannot go out because of the fighting," said one resident, Hidayat Ullah. "We will be killed, our children will be killed, our women will be killed and these Taliban will escape."

"Kill terrorists, but don't harm us," he pleaded.

Sex slave case returns to haunt candidate

Editor's note: Jerome Corsi is a consultant for the Freedoms Defense Fund, a PAC that opposes Christie in the Republican primary and has funded his opponent, Steve Lonegan.

A case last year involving a sex slave scandal with underage illegal immigrants has come back to tarnish the record of former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who is now a Republican gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey.

Christie, who has based his campaign in part on his success as a federal prosecutor, worked a plea bargain with the operator of a Honduran sex-slave ring. The deal allowed the operator to avoid prison by paying over $500,000 in back taxes in exchange for her testimony to convict the Democratic mayor of a small town in New Jersey of corruption charges.

The crux of the scandal is that Christie used his prosecutorial discretion to look the other way on a major illegal immigrant sex-slave operation. The testimony helped convict Mayor David Della Donna of Guttenberg, N.J., and his wife, who at most had accepted $40,000 in gifts from the brothel madame, Luisa Medrano.

Medrano, in turn, had been indicted in 2005 by Christie's office for allegedly operating a sex-slave operation out of a Union City bar and apartment in which some two dozen Honduran women, some as young as 14, were forced to live together and work in Medrano's bars for six days a week, drinking and dancing with male patrons, as well as engaging in

The women, forbidden to move out or travel, were severely beaten if they violated Medrano's house rules that forced them to turn over $500 a week to her from their activities at the bars, according to New Jersey Star-Ledger reports.

According to media accounts in New Jersey, the sex slaves were forced to have abortions. In one case in which a trafficked women gave birth, her newborn died hours later after her captors allegedly tried to stuff the baby down the toilet.

WND is in possession of a criminal complaint filed by Christie's office in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey July 18, 2005, stating that in or about January 2005, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators began an investigation into whether certain Honduran females, some of whom were juveniles, were being smuggled into the U.S. and coerced into working in several bars in the Union City area.

The criminal complaint further asserts ICE agents interviewed a confidential Honduran national source who says he had visited a Medrano-owned bar where he was approached by his cousin, a 14-year-old Honduran female.

According to the criminal complaint, the young woman told the confidential informant that she had been smuggled into the U.S. with the promise of employment in a restaurant and brought to Union City, where she had been forced to work until her smuggling fee had been paid.

The criminal complaint further specified that ICE raids on two Medrano apartments in 2005 found 19 young Honduran females, some of whom were juveniles, living there. The Honduran illegal immigrants were being forced to work in three Medrano-operated bars until their smuggling debts had been paid in full.

WND is also in possession of a plea agreement between Medrano and Christie's office, filed with the court Sept. 12, 2006. The agreement indicates Medrano faced decades in prison plus substantial monetary fines if convicted on all counts at trial by a U.S. District Court under federal criminal statutes.

Under terms of the plea deal, Christie's office agreed to allow Medrano to pay approximately $500,000 in back taxes without having to serve any jail time. In exchange, Medrano testified she had given Mayor Della Donna and his wife gifts and cash in exchange for favors, including fixing code violation tickets and preventing the Alcohol Beverage Control board, of which Della Donna was a member, from closing her bar.

In April 2008, a federal judge sentenced Della Donna and his wife each to four years and three months in federal prison. The two were convicted of tax evasion for failing to report about $30,000 in income and of conspiracy to commit extortion by pocketing over $40,000 cash and gifts from Medrano between 2001 and 2005, in exchange for official favors.

On March 28, 2008, staff reporter Brian Donohue of the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported Medrano fended off town inspectors by "showering Mayor David Della Donna and his wife, Anna, with thousands of dollars in gifts, including Macy's gift cards, cash to gamble in Atlantic City, breast reduction surgery for Anna, a cuddly Yorkshire Terrier named Toby and pet insurance for the dogs."

Donohue further reported that Medrano also attempted to curry favor with the Della Donnas when she "ordered dozens of her female illegal immigrant bar workers out onto the street to campaign for Guttenberg Democrats."

Christie's New Jersey gubernatorial campaign did not return WND phone calls asking for comment on this column.

Jerome R. Corsi is a staff reporter for WND. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in political science in 1972 and has written many books and articles, including his best-sellers "The Obama Nation" and "The Late Great USA." Other books include "Showdown with Nuclear Iran," "Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil," which he co-authored with WND columnist Craig. R. Smith, and "Atomic Iran."

Thousands flee Pakistan fighting

A spokesman for the UN's refugee agency UNHCR said another 300,000 were already on the move or about to flee.

Added to the more than 550,000 who had already fled, this threatened to create one of the world's biggest displacement crises, the UN says.

Pakistani spokesman Gen Athar Abbas said the government had taken measures to provide for the civilians fleeing.

But reports suggest some civilians are being prevented from leaving militant-held areas.

See a map of the region

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani vowed on Thursday to "eliminate militants and terrorists" from Swat, a bastion of Taleban rule.

A full-scale offensive had begun on Friday, with helicopter gunships blasting militant strongholds from the air and troops conducting operations on the ground.

Despite now abandoned attempts to secure a peace deal in and around Swat, the area - close to the border with Afghanistan - has long been riven with tensions.

The UN estimates that before the current crisis, some 550,000 people had been displaced since last August, said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond, according to Associated Press news agency.

Militants 'entrenched'

Those displaced over recent days have been forced to flee with very little preparation, aid workers say.

They say families were often separated as they fled, and doctors in displaced camps report many are suffering psychological trauma.

Speaking to the BBC, Gen Abbas confirmed that the military's objective in this now fully fledged offensive was to eliminate militants from the Swat Valley and some surrounding districts.

"It will be a drawn-out affair," he warned, "because the militants in Swat have had time to entrench themselves in the area, mix with the people, and through coercion, fear and using terror as a weapon, eliminate all those who supported the government."

He said militants were "making best use of the terrain, which is ideal country for any guerrilla warfare".

The BBC's Mark Dummett in Islamabad says that the government's superiority in terms of military hardware would ensure it easy victory in a pitched battle.

But this is not a pitched battle, he says: the terrain allows the Taleban to disperse and regroup. The militants are well-motivated, he adds.

At present, our correspondent says, the government is confident it has public support for its military campaign - but this could easily be eroded if civilian casualties mount.

A Pakistani offensive against militants in the Swat Valley has displaced some 200,000 people recently, the UN says.

Pope heads to Mideast on 'pilgrimage of peace'

Pope Benedict XVI has set off for the Middle East on a self-proclaimed pilgrimage of peace.

Benedict's plane took off from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport at about 9:50 a.m. (0750 GMT, 0350 EDT) Friday, bound for Jordan. It is the first stop of a weeklong trip that will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The Jordan stop is Benedict's first visit as pope to an Arab country and he will meet with Muslim religious leaders in Amman.

Jordan's powerful Muslim Brotherhood has demanded that Benedict apologize for his September 2006 speech in which he linked the Prophet Muhammad to violence. The pope has said he was "deeply sorry" over the reaction to his speech and that the passage he quoted did not reflect his opinion.

Elizabeth Edwards: Rebuilding trust a slow process

Elizabeth Edwards said rebuilding trust with her husband after his admitted affair was "a slow process" during an interview aired Thursday on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

The wife of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards discussed his infidelity, her struggle with terminal cancer and her new memoir detailing how she has coped with both. She told Winfrey she decided to move on despite the feelings of anger and self-doubt she has had since learning of the former Democratic presidential candidate's affair with videographer Rielle Hunter.

"It's a slow process and it means sometimes he has to have conversations he doesn't want to have," she told the Chicago talk show host. "This is a really good man who did a very bad thing. If you take that piece out, I do have a perfect marriage."

John Edwards said he hadn't been sure whether his wife was going to leave him after he told her about the affair in 2006, soon after he started his second presidential campaign.

"I didn't know," John Edwards said. "The honest truth was I didn't know what she would do. I don't think anybody does."

Winfrey asked him, "Have you gotten to a good place?"

He replied, "I feel like we're getting to a good place, it's not over."

John Edwards went public with the affair last year after the National Enquirer reported he was the father of Hunter's daughter. He has denied paternity.

During the interview, Winfrey read excerpts from Elizabeth Edwards' second memoir called "Resilience." It hits stands Friday.

Edwards wrote that her husband admitted at the end of 2006 that he had made a mistake with Hunter on a single occasion. Elizabeth Edwards said it was more than a year later before she learned there was more to the story.

She said the initial news in 2006 made her sick to her stomach. But she slowly came to accept it. After she found out the whole story, the news "leveled" her.

"That was like starting over from a worse position," she said. "It just pushed us way back in the process ... That's the part we're still working on, trust."

Elizabeth Edwards said she blames both her husband and Hunter, but wants to move on and focus on the couple's 30-plus years of marriage. Hunter was not mentioned by name during the interview, a condition Elizabeth Edwards requested.

Elizabeth Edwards told Winfrey she doesn't believe Hunter's child is her husband's but doesn't want to know either way.

"I've seen a picture of the baby, it doesn't look like my children," she said. "This is the part where you have to concentrate on your life. Whatever the facts are doesn't change my life."

She said her battle with terminal cancer has made her set her priorities, including realizing how supportive her husband has been through the illness.

Elizabeth Edwards said she doesn't know how long she has to live, which is difficult.

"When I'm in pain, I think, 'Is this it?' Sometimes I get really really down. That's the cry cry cry," she said. "You're just overwhelmed about what it is that you've left undone and who you're going to leave behind."

She said her fear of death is partially eased because she has buried a child. In 1996, the Edwardses' son Wade died in a car accident at age 16.

"It's not as frightening," she said of dying. "It is a relief, (but) I don't think it takes all the fear away."

The interview was taped at the Chapel Hill, N.C., home where the Edwardses live with their children, Cate, Jack and Emma Claire. Besides the TV interview, there will be a companion piece in the June issue of "O" magazine.

F1 Standings Ahead of Spanish Grand Prix

Like a fox running before the hounds, the Brawn GP team know that their rivals are closing in to try to kill off their audacious assault on a drivers’ championship that Jenson Button leads by 12 points from Rubens Barrichello, his team-mate.

The first four races, in Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain on Sunday, have established Button as the favourite to succeed Lewis Hamilton, of McLaren Mercedes, as champion. With three wins and a third place, Button has proved the real deal and his car has yet to miss a beat.

But the hounds are speeding up as the Formula One circus arrives at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 10, the immaculate team lorries will be full of new parts for cars that have struggled to match the pace, not only of the Brawns but also the Toyotas and the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bulls.

Click Here For More Formula 1 Photos

Brawn believes that he has the driver in Button to capture the title; it is now up to him and the team to keep the car at the front of the grid. “I’ve got no doubts about Jenson’s ability to win. The way he is driving, that part is taken care of,” he said. “It’s up to us to produce the performance in the car, do the pitstops, the strategies and make sure the car is reliable.” Times Online

The Toyota’s qualified first and second but costly strategy mistakes ended their podium challenge, can they go all the way as the F1 season heads to Europe?

Will Brawn stay dominant, or will Red Bull and Toyota come out on top in the battle of the early front-runners? And what about the old guard of McLaren and Ferrari, will they finally show their worth in Barcelona. Sky Sports

Pos Driver Team Points
1 Jenson Button Brawn-Mercedes 31
2 Rubens Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes 19
3 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 18
4 Jarno Trulli Toyota 14.5
5 Timo Glock Toyota 12
6 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 9.5
7 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 9
8 Fernando Alonso Renault 5
9 Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber 4
10 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes 4
11 Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota 3.5
12 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 3
13 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 3
14 Sebastien Bourdais STR-Ferrari 1
15 Felipe Massa Ferrari 0
16 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 0
17 Nelsinho Piquet Renault 0
18 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India-Mercedes 0
19 Kazuki Nakajima Williams-Toyota 0
20 Robert Kubica BMW Sauber 0

Stockmarkets keep rising despite stress of US bank shortfalls

It appears that the results of the US's stress tests have reassured traders, even though Bank of America has been told to find $33.9bn.

Stockmarkets around the world kept rising today, shrugging off the news last night that 10 US banks need to raise $75bn (£50bn) of capital to survive the financial crisis.

The FTSE 100 gained 1.66% in early trading, up 73 points at 4471, with bank shares leading the rally despite Royal Bank of Scotland posting a first-quarter loss. Markets in France and Germany also rallied by over 1%. The FTSE 100 has already gained 6.6% this week, amid speculation that shares may be poised for another bull market.

With Japan's Nikkei index hitting a six-month high overnight, there was some surprise in London this morning that the headline figure of $75bn had not hit market sentiment.

"These markets can't keep going up in a straight line," warned David Buik of Cantor Index. "I'm just amazed that the markets think that such gargantuan figures can be shrugged off".

But it appears that the results of the US's stress tests have reassured traders, even though Bank of America has been told to find $33.9bn.

Anthony Conroy, head trader at BNY ConvergEx, said last night that the market welcomed greater visibility: "A lot of people had some pretty desperate numbers plugged into their models and this sense of clarity is helping," Conroy said.

Government economists assessed how America's 19 largest banks would cope if the economy stumbles into a further series of financial shocks as consumers default on credit cards payments and mortgages, and concluded that they risk racking up aggregate losses of $600bn in 2009 and 2010.

Several of the banks concerned have already said how they intend to bolster their balance sheets. Citigroup will generate the $5.5bn it needs by expanding an existing swap of preference stock for common stock, Morgan Stanley launched a public offering of $2bn and Wells Fargo began an underwritten $6bn offering of shares.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress yesterday that the stress tests were a "good start" toward regulation of broad-based risks to the US financial system.

The tests were originally conceived as a way of providing reassurance over the state of the US banking sector, but led to criticism of the Obama administration and speculation that some banks might not survive the exercise.

Although many of the other banks are looking for much smaller sums than Bank of America, experts question how achievable that will be in the current economic conditions.

Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner said he was "reasonably confident" that the banks concerned could raise the necessary capital on the financial markets, adding that the government was willing to provide aid if necessary.

In trading in London RBS shares gained nearly 14% to 47.3p despite reporting a post-tax loss of £857m. Lloyds Banking Group gained 6% to 102.85p.

Analysis: Slow recovery no help for Obama's plans

Barack Obama's budget, unveiled with fanfare, fails to deal with his biggest money problems.

A molasses-slow economic recovery will make it hard to find the huge sums he'll need to reach his biggest goals — fixing health care, confronting climate change and overhauling the tax system — without much deeper cuts than he's proposing in other programs.

Obama faces not only fiscal obstacles but political ones, as well.

The White House's exercise in fiscal discipline this week amounts to micro-cutting — proposals that would trim half a percent of the overall budget — and don't address the sacrosanct entitlements of Social Security and Medicare. His effort found a scant $17 billion in potential savings, suggesting that only a strong economy and its boost in government revenue can truly put a dent in the federal deficit and pay for Obama's policy goals.

Pushing an ambitious agenda during a tepid economic rebound will require money and presidential muscle that even the popular president might find in short supply.

In just two months, the recession has proved to be deeper than the White House predicted when Obama submitted his 2010 budget outline. His budget writers in February forecast that the economy, as measured by gross domestic product, would shrink by 1.2 percent this year and then grow by a relatively robust 3.2 percent in 2010. But the economy contracted by 6.1 percent in the first quarter, and economists inside and outside the government predict another, though smaller, contraction in the second quarter.

Likewise, the White House anticipated unemployment of 8.1 percent this year and slightly less next year. But unemployment is already at a 25-year high of 8.5 percent and is expected to climb when new numbers are announced Friday.

A slow recovery heading into the 2010 midterm congressional elections will probably make Democratic lawmakers especially cautious. What does that mean for the president's agenda?

"It doesn't improve chances," said Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a moderate Democrat. "It might dampen some enthusiasm about trying to find a health care solution that costs money."

Over the first 100 days of Obama's presidency, the nation has shown patience with his approach toward the economy. Over time, the public will watch three key numbers — unemployment, the stock market and the deficit.

In the short term, only the stock market might offer some relief as workers could see value return to their 401(k) accounts. But unemployment could reach 10 percent next year, according to some estimates. And the deficit, which the administration has predicted will reach nearly $1.2 trillion, will dip only to $533 billion in 2013, according to the president's own February projections. In March, the Congressional Budget Office offered a bleaker prediction — a deficit of $672 billion in 2013 under the president's policies.

The latest Associated Press-GfK poll shows that 41 percent of those surveyed disapproved of Obama's handling of the deficit, his highest disapproval rating on any subject polled. Other surveys show that the public is particularly attuned to government spending and the amount of red ink in the budget, a sign of restlessness that could pose a problem ahead.

Obama would like to couple the ideas of deficit-cutting and health care overhaul. He says the overhaul — costing more than $630 billion over 10 years — is the answer to spiraling costs in Medicare and Medicaid.

"The big ticket, that's health care," said Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden's chief economist. "That's where some of our real savings come from in the longer term."

As for the economy, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke predicted it would begin growing again this year, citing improved home sales, increased consumer spending and signs of improved lending conditions.

But he said activity would remain below normal and "only gradually gain momentum." Unemployment, which typically lags behind a recovery, "could remain high for a time, even after economic growth resumes," he said. In a private luncheon, he told Senate Republicans that he projected 2 percent GDP growth in 2010, according to Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

That assessment reinforces the "glimmers of hope" with which Obama and his team have begun to promote the economy. But it also underscores the difficulties Obama will have persuading Congress, even one dominated by his party, to put new potential stresses on the economy while it is still getting back on its feet.

"The problem, the challenge for the administration, is they don't just need tolerance or slack from the public, they need sufficient support to drive very difficult policies through Congress," said Robert Shapiro, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and now chairman of Sonecon, an economic advisory firm.

The economy may well not cooperate.

Analysts often talk about a U-shaped recovery, where the economy moves strongly upward after a bottom-dwelling period. But this recovery, as described by John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia Corp., could look more like a Nike swoosh, with only a gradual rise back to normal.

White House budget chief Peter Orszag on Thursday said the administration saw no need to adjust its ambitions based on a changing economic picture.

"We have not changed policies," he said. "There are a whole variety of proposals that we put forward in February. The world has evolved a bit since then. We have incorporated those proposals in the new document as a matter of principle."

Ramirez shakes baseball with 50-game suspension

Shaq's spelling was a bit off. His sentiment, though, was right on.

"Dam manny ramirez, come on man Agggggggggh, agggggggh, agggggh," Shaquille O'Neal wrote on Twitter.

From NBA courts to the court of public opinion, from major league clubhouses to the White House, reaction came swiftly Thursday after Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for failing a drug test.

The commissioner's office did not identify the substance; the Los Angeles Dodgers slugger said it was not steroids but a medication containing a banned substance that a doctor had given him.

Houston star Lance Berkman echoed a familiar refrain: In the Steroids Era, nothing is too shocking.

"I wasn't surprised. I think that anybody that makes the game look clownish is under suspicion because it's just not that easy," he said. "It's unfortunate that here we go again with another round of steroid questions."

Ramirez ranks 17th on the career home run list with 533. He said he was sorry for "this whole situation."

An avid sports fan, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James was asked if he was troubled by baseball's ongoing steroids scandal.

"Absolutely," said the NBA MVP and die-hard New York Yankees fan. "Because you love the game, you never want to have someone taint the game or try to get an advantage by not doing things the right way. It's definitely bad, but hopefully baseball will get through it because it's a great sport."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs weighed in, too.

"I think it's a disappointment to anybody that's a sports fan," Gibbs said. "My sense is, it's a great embarrassment on Major League Baseball. And you hope that each time this happens that others will recognize, if they are doing it, and stop. But, regrettably, it happens over and over again."

Tampa Bay pitcher Scott Kazmir wondered, as he watched the coverage on television, "Who else is going to be popped, you know?"

At Fenway Park, where Ramirez played through his prime and became Boston's first World Series MVP, the writer of his authorized biography happened to be giving a lunchtime talk when the news broke. Jean Rhodes, the author of "Becoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball's Most Enigmatic Slugger," painted Ramirez as a quirky craftsman who gave off an air of apathy but was diligent in his preparations.

That's also what Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo saw when he played with Ramirez on the 2004 team that ended Boston's 86-year World Series drought.

"It's kind of shocking that he got caught up in anything, honestly," Arroyo said. "Manny likes to play stupid, but he's a pretty bright guy. And he's definitely aware of a lot of things that he tries to act like he's completely oblivious to."

When Boston's clubhouse opened Thursday afternoon, TVs were giving the latest developments and few players milled about.

"No comment about Manny," slugger David Ortiz said, walking past reporters at his locker. "I play for Boston. Manny plays for L.A. Go and ask him."

In his pregame meeting with the media, manager Terry Francona deflected three attempts for comment on Ramirez, offering only: "The more you can concentrate on baseball, the better."

The fourth question was about injuries.

"Bless you," he told the reporter. "Thank God we've got injuries."

Ramirez's quirky side made him a fan favorite during his early years in Boston, and it may have helped him become the Hall of Fame-caliber player who seemed unaffected by strikeouts, home runs and paychecks alike. But his uncaring attitude eventually wore thin on his teammates, and he was shipped to Los Angeles last summer.

He batted .396 with the Dodgers with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games and helped propel them to the playoffs.

"He's a main cog, and he's not going to be in play for a while," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "Any distance we might've picked up, we lost as an industry. The sad part of it is that for whatever reasons there are individuals that just aren't getting it. ... There are so many guys that are clean, but they continue to be thrown under a black cloud for those who are involved. ... That saddens me, saddens me as a father, it saddens me as a citizen."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia took the same approach.

"You can use a lot of words. It's disappointing, unfortunate," he said. "It's an issue that it seems like a generation of players are upset with."

Former Ramirez teammate Tony Clark, now with the Diamondbacks, agreed.

"Any time you have the superstars in your game find themselves in difficult situations, it can't help but cast a general cloud over the group as a whole," he said. "And that's why someone as respected and appreciated for his ability as Manny is makes it really difficult. As a fan, as a former teammate and obviously now as a competitor, it makes it difficult."

Tigers manager Jim Leyland offered another view. He said the suspension would soon be forgotten by the fans who cheered on the 1998 home run race and Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's all-time homer record.

"I'll probably get fired for saying this but I'm going to say it anyway," Leyland said. "I don't really think the fans care."

Calif. wildfire burns 75 homes in Santa Barbara

Paradise is not lost, but it's in flames — again. The seasonal wildfires that menace this idyllic coastal city roared to life earlier than usual but with all-too-familiar ferocity, damaging or destroying 75 homes and forcing about 12,000 people to flee.

"I knew it was time to leave," said Tom Morse, 62, a day after he dusted off his motorhome as the fire neared his Mission Canyon Heights house. "I could see the flames getting close."

The fire was just the latest to ravage the area known as the American Riviera, home to screen stars, former presidents and Oprah Winfrey. The blaze reached the burn area of another wildfire that just six months ago destroyed about 200 homes in Santa Barbara and Montecito.

By day's end, state officials said the latest fire grew from 1,300 acres to more than 2,700 acres — roughly 4 square miles. Firefighters were on alert for a predicted return of a "sundowner" — fierce winds that late in the day can sweep down from the Santa Ynez Mountains towering close behind Santa Barbara.

The wind did kick up, but it blew from the ocean pushing the fire up into the mountains and away from homes.

A sundowner on Wednesday afternoon turned a slumbering brush fire on rugged slopes above the city into a towering wildfire that hurled flames into homes and spit embers into more distant neighborhoods.

About 4,700 homes remained evacuated, and another 12,000 people were advised to be ready to leave.

"It started firestorming dramatically," said Gregg Patronyk, a lifelong Santa Barbara resident who grabbed a hose and started wetting his roof when he saw other houses ablaze. "The fire got within 200 to 300 feet of my house.

"There was a lot of pressure to leave," he said. "Police wanted me out and I got a frantic call from my sister, who was walking up the hill to get me. So I packed up the car and left, picking her up on the way."

About 2,300 firefighters from many departments were on the lines, aided by aircraft. The fire was just 10 percent contained.

Authorities reported 10 firefighters injured, including three who sheltered in a house during a firestorm. They were in good condition at a Los Angeles burn center but two faced surgery. Other injuries ranged from smoke inhalation to ankle sprains.

Structure losses were still being counted but the numbers were expected to be in the dozens, not hundreds, said Joe Waterman, the incident commander from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Franklin said the destruction during Wednesday's firestorm could have been much worse.

"There maybe should have been hundreds of homes lost due to the amount of fuel in that canyon and the 70 mph winds," he said. "There was some real effort made on that fire front and some real saves that the firefighters made out there."

The city's location on the state's central coast gives it some of the best weather in the world, with temperatures routinely topping out in the 70s, and views of the Pacific Ocean. Now with a population of about 90,000, it dates to the Spanish colonial era of California and a Roman Catholic mission established in the 1780s is a major tourist draw.

Ronald Reagan's Rancho del Cielo in the mountains became his western retreat during his presidency. In 1992 President-elect Bill Clinton and his family spent a pre-inaugural vacation at an estate in nearby Summerland.

Over the decades, celebrities ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Christopher Lloyd and Rob Lowe have been drawn to the area. In 2007, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama made a speech on a Santa Barbara hillside en route to a celebrity-studded fundraiser at Winfrey's estate in nearby Montecito.

But the geography that gives the area beauty and a serene atmosphere also brings danger.

"I'm from the East Coast and at this point I'd rather put up with this than the winter," said evacuee Jim Hatch, 40, an illustrator who returned home to pick up clothes Thursday and motored up Jesusita Road on a baby blue Piaggio scooter to see the fire.

State Assemblyman Pedro Nava fled Wednesday with his wife, two dogs and a cat. They tossed pictures, documents and a few days of clothes into a car and went to the home of a friend.

"I've learned how important preparation is in an emergency," he said. "The public has to be prepared to move, and in Santa Barbara they are prepared. When the police squad car came through with loudspeakers telling us to leave, there was no arguing. And they will all be back."

Morse, the executive director of the environmental group Global Preservation Projects, said he's not surprised by so many fires, blaming it on global warming.

"Temperatures are rising and humidity levels are dropping. It means more fires," he said.

Global warming can't be blamed for specific fires, but it creates conditions that foster larger and more frequent wildfires, scientists say.

"A warming climate encourages wildfires through a longer summer period that dries fuels, promoting easier ignition and faster spread," the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote in 2007.

Hatch, the scooter-riding illustrator, said his wife grew up in Santa Barbara.

"Her family thinks this is normal," he said. "But after living here for 20 years I think the fires are getting worse."

Elsewhere, a southern New Mexico wildfire destroyed three homes and damaged a fourth near the small mountain community of Timberon. It also burned five outbuildings, such as sheds and garages, and 10 vehicles, fire information officer Darlene Hart said. Twenty homes were evacuated.

In southeastern Arizona, winds cooperated Thursday in holding down a wildfire that had destroyed three homes and critically injured a man, officials said. That blaze was 30 percent contained.