Friday, February 5, 2010

Man Exonerated by DNA 33 Years After Rape Conviction

In a story that is becoming all too familiar these days, a man was recently exonerated by DNA evidence for a crime he was convicted of 33 years ago. Freddie Peacock, 60, got the news at a hearing in Rochester New York on Thursday. The good news came 28 years after he was released on parole for an alleged raping of a Rochester woman in 1976.

The exoneration came from the work of "The Innocence Project," affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law. The project's co-director, Peter Neufeld, was in court with Peacock and his attorneys when the judgment was handed down.

Peacock, who is mentally ill, told the officers that he'd been hospitalized for mental illness. However, the officers continued to interrogate Peacock until he confessed. He was given 20 yeas in prison and released on parole in 1982.

Most interesting about Peacock's case is that he was badgered by police until he simply said, "I did it," without having any knowledge of how, when or where he committed the crime. This case is disturbing for a number of reasons. We also know that Peacock's case is not the only such case in the country, and there are thousands of other questionable cases that have never been challenged by the Innocence Project, leaving innocent men and women behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Of tremendous concern is the fact that many of these men and women are African American, leaving black families to struggle without the heads of households present to raise their children.

In a story that is becoming all too familiar these days, a man was recently exonerated by DNA evidence for a crime he was convicted of 33 years ago. Freddie Peacock, 60, got the news at a hearing in Rochester New York on Thursday. The good news came 28 years after he was released on parole for an alleged raping of a Rochester woman in 1976.

The exoneration came from the work of "The Innocence Project," affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law. The project's co-director, Peter Neufeld, was in court with Peacock and his attorneys when the judgment was handed down.

Peacock, who is mentally ill, told the officers that he'd been hospitalized for mental illness. However, the officers continued to interrogate Peacock until he confessed. He was given 20 yeas in prison and released on parole in 1982.

Most interesting about Peacock's case is that he was badgered by police until he simply said, "I did it," without having any knowledge of how, when or where he committed the crime. This case is disturbing for a number of reasons. We also know that Peacock's case is not the only such case in the country, and there are thousands of other questionable cases that have never been challenged by the Innocence Project, leaving innocent men and women behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Of tremendous concern is the fact that many of these men and women are African American, leaving black families to struggle without the heads of households present to raise their children.

Here are some quick thoughts:

1) Mr. Peacock and his family should be compensated: Any wrongfully convicted American who spends more than a year in prison should receive $10 million dollars in cash from the Federal Government. If we can bail out the bankers, we can also afford to bail out those who are falsely accused and arrested. You can't replace the time someone loses for being in prison when they didn't commit a crime. Going to prison is a horrible and traumatic experience.

2) Officers and prosecutors involved in the case should be put on trial: The idea that this man can present a confession that has no details or other evidence is unbelievable. Clearly, the prosecutors and officers involved in this crime are guilty of the worst forms of corruption and unethical behavior. I am not sure why we believe that they should be held above the punishments thrust upon the defendants whose lives they've chosen to carelessly destroy.

3) The federal government should dramatically expand funding for the Innocence Project: If the Innocence Project is finding so many people who were falsely convicted, there are undoubtedly many more. The federal government should allocate billions to providing DNA testing to any defendant who requests it. Defendants should be IMMEDIATELY released from prison if it is found that their DNA does not match that of the defendant at the scene of the crime. We should not let laws and systems get in the way of doing what is just.

4) Any small amount of time in prison can destroy your life: I had a relative who went to prison for only two years at the age of 17. He is now a 46-year old man who cannot psychology overcome the horrible things that happened to him during his time in the penitentiary. If any innocent man or woman is sent to prison for any amount of time, we should all be deeply concerned and someone should pay a very serious price for delivering such a horrible injustice.

I long for the day when cases like Freddie Peacock receive the outrage that they deserve. This should not be happening in America, but it still happens every single day.

The case is considered by the Project to be a national milestone, because it marks the 250th DNA exoneration in the United States.

Among the 250 DNA exonerations:
· 25 were in New York (the only states with more DNA exonerations overall are Texas with 40 and Illinois with 29)
· 76% of the wrongful convictions involved eyewitness misidentification.
· 50% involved unvalidated or improper forensic science.
· 27% relied on a false confession, admission or guilty plea.
· 70% are people of color (60% of the exonerated are black; nearly 9% are Latino; 29% are white).

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.

Jan. jobless rate falls to 9.7%, lowest since Aug.

Did unemployment rate peak at 10.1% in Oct?

By one measure the labor market showed signs of healing in January, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The unemployment rate fell to 9.7% in January from 10% in December, the government said.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected the unemployment rate to remain steady in double-digits.

In the survey of households used to figure the unemployment rate, the government reported employment rose by 511,000, while unemployment fell by 430,000. The labor force rose by 11,000.

These were the factors that led to the lowest unemployment rate since August.

Economists said it was possible that the unemployment rate peaked at 10.1% in October.

Immediately after the report was released, stock futures pared losses and futures added to bets that the Fed would hike rates. The dollar cut its gains.

But in a separate survey of business establishments, the U.S. economy lost 20,000 nonfarm jobs in January. Read full government data.

This was worse than expected. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch were forecasting payrolls to rise 25,000. Read forecast of all major U.S. indicators

Special factors
But the payroll data includes benchmark revisions and other special factors that may make it less of a reliable indicator this month.

One special factor was temporary hiring by the federal government for the 2010 Census. In January, 9,000 workers were hired.

In January, job losses continued for construction and in transportation. A positive sign was that temporary service employment increased.

Employment in the manufacturing sector increased for the first month since January 2007.

Positive signs
The department said 35,000 jobs were lost on average over the past three months. This is a much slower pace than the 103,000 per-month average in the three months ended in December.

Despite the signs of improvement, the official data also reflect that this recession has been the worst in terms of job losses since World War II.

Under the revisions released Friday, job losses since the start of the recession in December 2007 totaled 8.4 million. This was in line with expectations. See data preview: Massive revision will show recession was even worse

The economy lost 4.8 million jobs in 2009.

More details
Average hourly earnings increased 5 cents, or 0.3%, to $18.89. Economists had been expecting a 0.2% gain.

This is a new measure that includes all workers. Earnings are up 2% in the past year. The average workweek rose six minutes to 33.9 hours.

Within the goods-producing industries, manufacturing added 11,000 jobs. The manufacturing workweek rose 18 minutes to 39.9 hours and factory overtime increased.

Retail companies increased payrolls by 42,000 in January. Professional and business services gained 44,000 jobs, mostly in temporary help positions.

Government lost 8,000 jobs despite the gain in census workers.

Greg Robb is a senior reporter for MarketWatch in Washington

Charlie Rose - Henry Paulson

Henry Paulson, Former U.S. Treasury Secretary

Rahm Emanuel Has to Take the "R-Word Pledge"

Remember when Rahm Emanuel said that foul-mouthed thing that upset people? Sorry, I should be more specific. This thing, "f—ing retarded," used to describe "liberal groups and White House aides" in a meeting several months ago.

Apologies ensued, but that wasn't good enough once Sarah Palin hit the Facebook "dislike" button, so now the Rahm Emanuel Atonement Tour rolls on to its next stop…

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel apologized again Wednesday for using the word "retarded" during a private meeting last summer, telling advocates for the disabled that he will join their campaign to help end the use of the word.

"We are happy that he will join more than 54,000 other Americans in pledging to end the use of the R-word at, and that he committed that the administration would continue to look for ways to partner with us, including examining pending legislation in Congress to remove the R-word from federal law," they said in the statement.

Of course, this is Rahm Emanuel we're talking about.

I'm sure he knows a way to, ahh, enforce changes in pending legislation. Like, replace that 't' with a 'p' and that 'ard' with 'ubl' and then the 'ed' with 'ican.'

First National Tea Party Convention Kicks off in Nashville

by Bridget Blanton

Tom Tancredo, former Congressman from Colorado kicked off the First National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee with a rousing address to Tea Partiers from across the nation. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Tancredo announced. “There’s something happening here,” Tancredo went on to say as he referenced year one of the modern Tea Party movement. “Take it back, it’s your nation,” Tancredo told the packed room that erupted in applause.

The former Congressman voiced his concerns about the march of big government, the loss of personal freedom and the threat of multiculturalism. When talking about our flag, our country’s history and the indisputable greatness of this nation, the Congressman was visibly moved. A true patriot, Tancredo opened this gathering of Patriots with energy, enthusiasm and a message to the crowd to stay the course.

The presence of media from around the world in Nashville has surprised many of the Convention participants. Many of these same folks were also present at the 9/12 March on Washington, D.C. which was notoriously downplayed and under-reported on by most American media outlets.

As I waited for Congressman’s Tancredo’s opening remarks, I spoke with Carolyn Lowry of Kentucky. Like many of the folks gathered in Nashville this weekend, Carolyn had never been politically active before; yet in the past year, she and her husband attended local Tea Parties, a Town Hall Meeting, as well as the 9-12 March in D.C. Earlier in the evening, Carolyn had been interviewed by the New York Times; and that’s not all, I’m happy to announce that on the Tea Party Convention floor, Carolyn signed up at Smart Girl Politics.

Right after an interview with Campbell Brown of CNN, Smart Girl Politics member, Lisa Mei of Virginia took to the stage to sing her hit song “Revolution’s Brewing” along with some new material as part of the evening’s entertainment line-up. Red Rhinestone-studded cowboy boots peeked out from her jeans as Lisa brought the crowd to its feet more than once with her patriotic lyrics and melodic voice. Lisa will be featured in the April, 2010 issue of ‘Spin’ magazine as part of a story on the music of the Tea Party Movement.

Ray Stevens brought his entire Band to the stage as the headlining act and put the crowd in a partying mood. Stevens brought people to their feet and got them dancing as he played new music, patriotic tunes, as well as some of the old favorites. His performance reflected the energy of the crowd tonight.

Patriotism is the common thread from the convention logo exhibiting the stars and stripes and the American eagle, to the speakers and the evening’s entertainment. In some respects, this gathering in Nashville is a celebration of a phenomenal year when freedom-loving Americans united nation-wide through local grassroots networking in defense of the Constitution, our Judeo-Christian heritage and our way of life. All weekend long, these Patriots will be networking with each other, learning from each other and generally focusing the passion of the Tea Party into action. The event will culminate with a Keynote Address by Sarah Palin on Saturday night which will be covered by global news networks and viewed by millions around the world.

Jay-Z Sues Dallas-Based Highland Capital and NexBank Over Failed Hotel Development

By Robert Wilonsky
So reports The New York Post, which says one Shawn Corey Carter filed a $3.7 million suit in New York on Wednesday concerning a hotel he was trying to get off the ground in Chelsea. The two defendants are Highland Capital Management and NexBank, both HQ'd here and both of whom Carter says are trying to "bleed" him dry over the loan that was supposed to fund the project.

In short: Jay-Z borrowed the money in '07 from another lender that sold the note to Highland Capital -- and then the economy went boom, taking with it the bucks and the blueprint for the J Hotel. (See what I did there? No? Dang it.) In filings, Jay-Z claims the money men "intentionally dragged out talks to renegotiate his $52 million note so they could reap $20,000 a day in interest and fees." To which Highland Capital says, Nuh-unh.

Is that a "realistic" two-inch gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

A fourth-grader on Staten Island was nearly suspended from school after his principal caught him playing with this Lego policeman toy during his lunch period.

It wasn't the policeman that was the problem, of course: it was the two-inch Lego gun that he was holding. Since the Staten Island Dept of Education has a zero-tolerance policy for toy guns in schools, wee Patrick Timoney, holder of said Lego figure, was in some deep trouble.

Here's the Dept of Education's stance:

...all imitation weapons are prohibited because they are regarded as harmful to the school community. The principal can evaluate if the weapon looks realistic before considering suspension.
OK, great. But why is that the standard? Why is a "realistic" toy gun harmful to the school community? Because a realistic toy gun LOOKS LIKE A REAL GUN. It's pretty hard to argue that the toothpick-sized gun pictured above is realistic. It's bigger than the cop holding it, for one thing. It's smaller than a bullet, for another. If any of Patrick Timoney's classmates were actually intimidated by this bit of shoddy plastic craftsmanship, the school nurse would call to have their heads examined.

Enough with the disclipining kids for teensy toys and hippy hair. Back to work, people.

Super Bowl XLIV

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the Super Bowl is this Sunday. The bad news is that the NFL season is over. This year’s Super Bowl features the number one seeds from both the NFC and AFC, so it should be an outstanding game. During the regular season, both the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints were on track to go undefeated. The Colts got off to a 14-0 start and may have gone undefeated if the coach hadn’t rested his players for the playoffs. New Orleans started 13-0 and even though they dropped the last three games, they played like champions during the playoffs. Two of the league’s premiere quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, face off for what will probably be a very high-scoring game. Each defense will have its hands full trying to slow down the other team’s offensive attack. The Saints have never played in the Super Bowl before, so they have a lot riding on this game. The Colts are hoping that lightning strikes twice in Miami. On February 4, 2007, in the pouring rain, they beat the Chicago Bears to win Super Bowl XLI. I’m looking forward to a great game and I’m sure you are too. See you next season.

Kiteboarder Killed By Sharks Video

Stephen Schafer, was killed by a shark attack while kiteboarding off a Stuart, Florida beach Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010.

He surffered 8 to 10 inch bite wounds on his right thigh and on his right and left buttocks.

Stephen Howard Schafer, was declared dead at the Martin Memorial Medical Center.

Schafer was the first person killed in a shark attack in Florida in five years, last death by sharks was a 14 year old girl.

Kiteboarder Killed By Sharks Video

Supt.: School cops must be trained to search female students

Staff Writer

TRENTON — Superintendent of Schools Rodney Lofton yesterday called for better searches of girls at the city high school, where a girl pulled a knife from her bra and went after a rival last week.

Searches have been “a little lax,” Lofton said, because security officers are perplexed by what to do if a girl touches off the metal detectors at the school entry. He said the security force will be trained in how to search a girl without violating her and what to do if someone touches off the detector alarm.

His comments came after a press conference at Trenton Central High, which saw both females taken into custody last week because the second girl grabbed a pair of scissors to defend herself.

Lofton said keeping Trenton High students safe is a difficult challenge, but promised stepped up efforts to prevent violence like the knife-vs.-scissors battle in a school corridor last week.

“We can’t watch the 93 doors of this building with just 17 security officers, so we’re going to have to rely on the cameras that we have and more that will be installed,” Lofton said.

“Plus, we’re going to have to depend on the entire staff and students as well. We need their eyes and ears. We need the support of everybody.”

Lofton promised better security on every front, including more scrutiny for female students who offer special challenges for searches.

Retired city cop Howard White, director of the school security force, also said “lax” security procedures allowed the 16-year-old student to enter Trenton High with a knife.

Howard promised a reprimand for security officers who did not follow search procedures, which mandate daily security scanning of every students entering the school.

In the coming weeks, according to Lofton, all security staff will be trained to operate a high-tech Magna scanner for better detection of contraband.

Principal Elizabeth Ramirez told a Trenton High PTA crowd Tuesday that the district’s security force will have supplemental training on search and seizure procedures for students and property during a staff in-service this month.

Increased random searches of classrooms and lockers along with hall sweeps will commence immediately. Lofton promised a safe environment to facilitate better opportunity for learning.

“We’re going to keep schools safe and secure, continue to make this our No. 1 priority,” Lofton said.

White said he intends a city-wide crackdown on safety violators: “We’re going to investigate bookbags, clothing, oversized pants. Everything. We have a right to do it. We’re going to make schools safe and make sure that our security officers follow our procedure policy to a T.”
© Copyright 2010 The Trentonian

Crude Steady Near $73 Ahead Of Jobs Report

After plummeting in the previous session, the price of crude oil edged higher Friday morning even as the U.S. dollar continued to trade strong against a basket of currencies.

Light Sweet Crude Oil (WTI) futures for March 2010 were at $73.29, up $0.15 a barrel.

Yesterday, oil slipped by around $4 to settle at $73.14, taking cues from the falling global stock markets and amid a rising U.S. dollar. Investors across the globe sold stocks, pushing them to their multi-months lows on concerns over sovereign debt problem in the euro zone and ahead of the U.S. jobs data. The euro slipped to its lowest levels in 8-months against the dollar.

Moreover, crude inventories remain high amid modest demand. This week's data from the API and EIA indicated crude inventories have considerably moved up in the U.S., the largest consumer of this product.

Meanwhile, the greenback continued to strengthen versus the euro Friday morning, as the latter was pressured by high debt levels in some countries in the euro region.

Some of today's trading action may be guided by the much awaited non-farm payroll data from the U.S., which could throw some light on the strength of the recovery of the economy.

Economists expect that the U.S. economy created 15,000 jobs during the month, which wold be an improvement from the 85,000 jobs lost in December. The unemployment rate is forecast to remain unchanged at 10%.

Karachi bomb blasts leave many dead

Two bomb blasts in the Pakistani city of Karachi, apparently targeting Shia Muslims marking a religious ceremony, have killed at least 22 people.

A bomb-laden motorcycle first exploded on a main road in the city as a bus carrying Shia worshippers passed on Friday, killing at least 12 people and wounding 40 others.

The second blast went off outside the hospital where the wounded were being taken, reportedly killing another 10 people, witnesses said.

"An explosion occurred at the Jinnah hospital near the emergency ward, where the bodies and injured were being taken," Dr Mushtaq Ahmad said.

"I heard a large blast. People are running all over the place. Casualties are feared."


Democratic Nominee Pulled Knife on Prostitute Girlfriend

Scott Lee Cohen (D) -- "a pawnbroker who shocked state Democratic leaders Tuesday night by winning the party's nomination for lieutenant governor -- was arrested about four-and-a-half years ago and accused of holding a knife to a former live-in girlfriend's neck," the Chicago Sun Times reports.

"The misdemeanor charge against Cohen was dropped weeks later when the woman -- who had just been found guilty of prostitution -- failed to show up to testify."

Chicago Tribune: "The new disclosures added another element of unrest to a roiled political landscape after Tuesday's primary elections, which left the outcome of the Democratic and Republican nominations for governor in doubt."

Tea Party Convention Awaits Sarah Palin

By Elisabeth Meinecke/Human Events

Registration for the first Tea Party Convention started late Thursday afternoon, and the people lining up inside the convention center at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville are already excited about seeing Sarah Palin.

She’s not scheduled to speak until Saturday night, but mention her name, and you’ll get an instant smile.

“[Palin] was the draw for us,” said Roxanne, a convention attendee who traveled with her husband Wayne from North Carolina.

Roxanne is hoping the rumored major snowstorm -- anticipation of which is currently sending chills up and down the eastern part of the country -- won’t keep Palin from

New Jersey snow estimates: 16 to 24 inches

Wax down those shovels, Delaware Vally, there's snow on the way. The National Weather Service has posted Winter Storm Warnings for everybody from Philadelphia, Mercer County to all of Jersey. The warnings call for 16 to 24 inches of snow for the Baltimore area.

The first flakes are expected sometime Friday afternoon, (by early afternoon in Cape May), and they're likely to continue through Friday night, all day Saturday and into Saturday evening. I suspect, if the forecast holds up, this timing will discourage school officials about opening their doors at all on Friday. No point in bringing everybody in only to send them home in a storm.

The snow chances are about as high as they get - 100 percent for Friday and Friday night, slipping to 90 percent (UPDATE: now 100 percent) on Saturday. Temperatures in the Delaware Valley should be near freezing for the duration of the storm, in the upper 20s and low 30s. Here's some of the Winter Storm Warning, just to give you the flavor of the thing:


U.S. missiles in Romania would threaten Russia - analyst

U.S. plans to place elements of its global missile shield in Romania pose a real threat to Russia's national security, a Russian military analyst said on Friday.

Romanian President Traian Basescu said on Thursday his country was ready to host U.S. medium-range interceptor missiles to counter a potential ballistic missile attack, but stressed that they would not be directed at Russia.

"We are talking about the placement of the land-based Aegis system in Romania by 2015 which uses the new Standard Missile interceptor, SM-3. This weaponry, without a doubt, could significantly reduce Russia's deterrent capability," said Col. (Ret.) Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine.

He said SM-3 missiles would be able to intercept Russian ballistic missiles shortly after launch and on their initial flight trajectory.

"Russia must warn Romania that if the elements of the U.S. missile shield are placed in the country they will become a target of Russia's preventive missile strikes," Korotchenko said.

Last year U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped plans for Poland and the Czech Republic to host missile shield elements to counter possible strikes from Iran. The missile shield plans infuriated Russia.

However, Washington has announced a new scheme for a more flexible system, with a combination of land- and sea-based interceptors, to be deployed in Central Europe by 2015.

U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden visited Romania, Poland, and the Czech Republic last October to promote the new missile shield plan.

Warsaw and Prague have already expressed their support of the revamped U.S. strategy.

Korotchenko said that with ship-based SM-3s in the North, Black and Mediterranean seas, and mobile land-based SM-3s in Central Europe the western borders of Russia would be surrounded by U.S. missile interceptors by 2015.

The Tea Party Begins: Nashville Asks, Who Are These People and What Do They Want?

By Jeff Woods

They're here! Tea partiers are pouring into Nash Vegas for their first-ever national convention, attracting a gaggle of media to rival country music week's. Sarah Palin is on the way to climax the big event by giving a speech Saturday night. Until then, reporters are on the prowl for news. OK, they'll settle for just about anything. A little far-right nuttiness would do nicely to put some sparkle in their copy, but this convention might disappoint.

Tea party organizers insist they're all about business, focusing on grassroots how-to tactics--the phone banking, door-knocking and online networking that wins elections. You betcha! According to the Washington Post:
Unlike the mass protests and town-hall rage that has come to define the movement in its first year, the convention is designed to demonstrate that the Tea Party movement is "growing up," said convention spokesman Mark Skoda, chairman of the Memphis Tea Party. There are sessions on leadership, political philosophy and such nuts-and-bolts political topics as "how to do voter registration drives," as movement leaders try to turn grass-roots power into political gain in November's midterm elections and beyond. ad_icon

"We are all very mature people -- without the pointy hats and the signs," Skoda said. "You will see people of quality and maturity to help bring this movement to a pinnacle whereby we actually change politics."

The Tennessean's Jennifer Brooks was so excited at first that she started live blogging. But she's only managed to come up with one post all afternoon, and it was just a bitch-fest about her failure to secure credentials. Newsweek blogger Daniel Stone is so bored he's resorted to writing about the niceties of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel like it's the Taj Mahal. "It's not often I write while sitting on a leather chair at the foot of a massive Southern-style white staircase, and beside a fireplace powered by real wood," he writes.

We're not sure how much more of this we can take. Where are the nutjobs when you need them?

Israel's Lieberman cautions Syria

The Israeli foreign minister has cautioned Syria against drawing his country into another war, saying the Syrian army would be defeated and its regime would collapse in any future conflict.

Avigdor Lieberman's comments on Thursday followed accusations from the Syrian president a day earlier that Israel is "driving the region towards war, not peace".

The Syrians "have crossed a red line that cannot be ignored," Lieberman said in a speech at Bar-Ilan University, near Tel Aviv.

"Our message must be clear to [Syrian president Bashar al-Assad]: "In the next war, not only will you lose but you and your family will lose power."

Lieberman's comments prompted Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to issue a statement reassuring Syria that Israel seeks peace.

'No preconditions'

Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu's spokesman, said the prime minister had discussed the Syria issue with Lieberman.

"The two clarify that the policy of the government is clear: Israel seeks peace and negotiations with Syria without preconditions. Having said that, Israel will continue to act aggressively and persistently to any threat toward it," the statement from Hefetz said.

In another statement, the prime minister's office said Netanyahu will ask his ministers to refrain from speaking out about the Syrian issue.

Lieberman, the head of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, has stirred controversy before with statements that Israeli-Arab parliamentarians who meet Palestinian fighters should be executed and that the president of Egypt could "go to hell".

Eitan Cabel, a member of parliament from the Labor party, urged Netanyahu to get rid of Lieberman, calling the foreign minister a "warmonger who has no honour or wisdom."

Golan Heights

In his speech on Thursday, Lieberman also advised Syria to abandon its dreams of recovering the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

"We must make Syria recognise that just as it relinquished its dream of a greater Syria that controls Lebanon ... it will have to relinquish its ultimate demand regarding the Golan Heights," Lieberman said.

"All this is just posturing and things will calm down in two or three days since neither Israel nor Syria want to cause a war."

Eyal Zisser, specialist on Israeli-Syrian relations
Syria seeks the return of the Golan Heights, the plateau Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, as a precondition for any peace deal with Israel.

Several rounds of indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel in 2008 ended without agreement.

Al-Assad's comments about Israel not seeking peace came in response to a warning from Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, who earlier this week said the absence of peacemaking with Syria could result in a regional war.

Eyal Zisser, a specialist on relations with Syria at Tel Aviv University, said he believed the Syrians misinterpreted Barak's comments, which were meant as an argument in favour of renewed negotiations.

Zisser described the heated language between the two neighbouring countries as "posturing".

"All this is just posturing and things will calm down in two or three days since neither Israel nor Syria want to cause a war," he said.

Michael Irvin accused of rape

Former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin is back in Florida this week as part of the pre-Super Bowl festivities. He's broadcasting his ESPN Radio Dallas show from the Media Center in Fort Lauderdale, and like many of the former players milling about Radio Row he looks like he could still suit up and go right now.

But any sense of celebration has been tempered by the news that a civil suit alleging sexual assault has been filed against Irvin. According to the Miami Herald, Irvin allegedly raped a woman at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

A decision on whether criminal charges will be pursued is pending.

The alleged incident occurred in July 2007, a month before he gave a stirring speech upon entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Irvin, through his lawyer, denies the allegations, calling them "totally untrue."

The action comes after negotiations on a financial settlement stalled. The woman reportedly wanted $1 million, then dropped her demand to $800,000.

"This complaint is tantamount to criminal extortion,'' attorney Larry Friedman told the Herald. "There is no merit to the complaint.''

Though it's rare for anyone to admit to engaging in criminal conduct, Irvin is entitled to the presumption of innocence in a court of law.

In the court of public opinion, Irvin's history might work against him. But he seems to have changed his ways, so he merits in our view the benefit of the doubt.

North Korea Says It Will Release 'Repentant' US Missionary

North Korea says it will release American Robert Park, a Christian activist who deliberately crossed into North Korea more than a month ago. Pyongyang's official news agency quotes Park as regretting his actions and having a complete change of heart about the North.

Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency did not specify when or how it would set free Robert Park, a 28-year-old resident of Arizona.

The report only said a North Korean agency had decided to "leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrongdoings into consideration."

Fellow activists say Park intentionally crossed the frozen Tumen River from China to North Korea on Christmas Day, December 25. They say he carried a Bible and a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, urging him to "embrace God's love" and close down political prison camps.

North Korean media Friday quoted Park Friday as saying he had a "wrong understanding" of the North because of "the false propaganda made by the West to tarnish its image." He is further quoted as saying he now knows North Korea, in the words of the report, "respects the rights of all the people and guarantees their freedom."

The report says Park became convinced the North has "complete religious freedom" after being escorted to religious services in Pyongyang.

Jo Sung-rae, a fellow activist and one of Park's closest colleagues here, says even if Park said such things, he probably did not say them willingly. He says he believes Park was severely beaten in custody.

Human rights groups and North Korean defectors say government agencies routinely use torture to extract confessions and other statements.

Jo says Park is likely to be seen as a hero in the Christian activist community when he returns.

He says Park is someone who took real action to help those in desperate need. He says he views him as an equal figure to Martin Luther King, Junior.

While North Korea's constitution says there is freedom religion, defectors say religious worship is severely restricted. The country is considered to have one of the world's worst human rights records, and has tens of thousands of political prisoners.

The release announcement comes one day after President Obama said North Korea would remain off of a State Department list of nations believed to sponsor terrorism. Experts on North Korea say both actions may help thaw the relationship between the two countries, before the expected resumption of six-nation talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

Pyongyang recently said it had detained another American, but did not identify the person or say where he was captured.

Florida swimmers in panic as sharks kill kite-surfer

Beaches north of Miami remained largely empty as panic spread after a bizarre incident in which sharks attacked and killed a kite-surfer off the eastern coast of Florida.

Stephen Schafer, 38, was spotted by a lifeguard as he was floating encircled by sharks and screaming for help off Stuart Beach, some 90 miles (150 kilometers) north of Miami, police said.

The lifeguard brought the man to shore on his board and tried to resuscitate him Wednesday before he was rushed to hospital where he died.

The beach, which has never before recorded a shark attack, was swiftly closed Wednesday after the incident, but reopened Thursday as shark experts called for calm.

"This is very tragic and this kind of incident generates a lot of panic, but deadly shark attacks are very rare," said Neil Hammerschlag, a shark expert from the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), at the University of Miami.

"Yearly, on average, just four people die from sharks. They usually don't bite people unless they are provoked."

Residents remained concerned though. "You always have the feeling that sharks are out there," said Teague Taylor, one of Schafer's friends.

"But I have never heard of a group of sharks surrounding someone and causing their death."

Schafer's body had several deep wounds some 25 centimeters (10 inches) long, his right bicep had been torn and he had gashes on his hand where he had apparently fought to defend himself.

"We don't know exactly what happened, but during this time of the year a lot of sharks are migrating in groups along the coast," said Hammerschlag.

"It is possible that he landed on a group of sharks and the sharks may have gotten defensive and perceived this kiteboard as a threat and bitten the guy."

Despite widespread fears that most shark attacks in Florida waters are deadly, in fact 90 percent result in only minor injuries, experts say.

"It is the risk we take when we engage in the wilderness experience... going into the sea is the wilderness. Happily for us it is a pretty benign environment," said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research.

Most shark attacks are recorded off the central Florida coast, and 2008 was a record year with 23 documented attacks.