Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Israel's military takes PR battle to YouTube

YouTube briefly yanked a clip on Tuesday, only to restore it hours later

JERUSALEM - Israel's bruising war on the Islamic terrorists who control Gaza has moved online, where sites like YouTube and Facebook are the new battlegrounds.

In one of the fiercest skirmishes, sides are trading fire over the Israeli military's use of YouTube to explain its campaign against Gaza terrorists, saying they have terrorized southern Israel with deadly rocket fire.

Supporters of Gaza's Hamas rulers have posted images of the devastating Israeli offensive on both popular Web sites and on blogs, uploading images of the carnage and suffering in the tiny seaside territory.

The terrorists themselves regularly update their web sites in Arabic and English. In addition, they broadcast images of masked, uniformed fighters on Hamas TV, which was bombed by Israeli warplanes but continues to broadcast from a mobile unit.

Taking its campaign to the virtual world, the military spokesman's office has opened a YouTube channel containing footage it says was taken during the 5-day-old Israeli assault against Gaza's terrorists Hamas rulers.

One of the aerial surveillance videos shows about a dozen figures the military says are terrorists loading rockets onto a truck. The men are eventually targeted by an air-launched missile and disappear into a white cloud as the truck explodes.

"The blogosphere and the new media are basically a war zone" in a battle for world opinion, military spokesman Maj. Avital Leibovich said Wednesday. The YouTube channel — and a new blog the military is launching — are an important part of Israel's attempt to explain its actions abroad, she said.

In modern-day warfare, some battles are conducted through the media, says Gideon Doron, former chairman of the government agency that oversaw the privatization of television and radio services in Israel.

"Many of the victories of modern warfare are mediated by the media," Doron said. "We have Internet and all kinds of modern communication, and the Israeli military apparently decided that it has to broadcast its message through these tools."

But just as people have taken sides in the actual fight, so, too, have they taken sides for and against the clips themselves. YouTube briefly yanked the clip on Tuesday, saying it was inappropriate, only to restore it a few hours later, labeling it inappropriate for minors, the military said.

"We were saddened on Dec. 30, 2008 when YouTube took down some of our exclusive footage," the military wrote on its YouTube channel page. "Fortunately, due to blogger and viewer support, YouTube has returned the footage they removed."

YouTube did not immediately reply to an email requesting comment. In the past, YouTube, which is owned by Google Inc., has been pressed to take down videos depicting violence. The site has no automatic review process, so anything posted runs until a viewer flags it and asks that it be taken down.

In May, Sen. Joseph Lieberman complained that the process was flawed because al-Qaida recruitment videos could still be seen on the site.

The military says its clips have attracted more than 230,000 hits since going online Monday.

Israel launched the air assault on Saturday in an effort to curb the rocket barrages launched from Gaza at Israeli towns. Hundreds of airstrikes across the Palestinian territory have caused huge damage and Gaza officials say more than 390 Palestinians have been killed, including dozens of civilians.

Militant rockets have reached farther into Israel than ever before, killing three Israeli civilians and a soldier.

Couple Gives Birth to 'Miracle' Black and White Twins, Again

Black and white twins Hayleigh and Lauren Durrant proudly hold their new sisters Leah and Miya who incredibly are also twins with different colored skin.

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Hundreds in Michigan, NYC protest Israeli air strikes in Gaza

DEARBORN, Mich. – Close to 1,000 Arab-Americans and others marched through the Detroit suburb of Dearborn on Tuesday evening, waving Palestinian flags and shouting slogans to protest Israeli military strikes against the Gaza Strip.

Protesters braving 30-degree weather filled eight blocks of a major thoroughfare in Dearborn, widely seen as the heart of Arab America. Hundreds more gathered in New York City and Los Angeles outside the Israeli consulate, with rallies also reported in two cities in Florida.

Since Saturday, 374 Palestinians have died in the Israeli air onslaught against Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers. Most of the dead were members of Hamas security forces but the United Nations says at least 64 civilians have been killed.

The offensive came shortly after a rocky six-month truce expired. Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets and mortars at Israel before and during the Israeli offensive.

Marchers in Dearborn waved flags and carried signs condemning Israel and showing pictures of casualties of the fighting. One group of protesters carried a mock coffin decorated with pictures of dead and injured children and labeled "U.S. Tax Dollars at Work" and "Victims of Zionism."

Some marchers chanted in English, "Gaza, Gaza don't cry, Palestine will never die" and "Israel is a terrorist state."

Others chanted, in Arabic, "God is Great" and "a martyr is beloved of God."

One protester carried a sign saying "Dearborn, take your shoes off!" a reference to the action of an Iraqi protester who threw shoes at President George W. Bush during his recent visit to Iraq.

Southeastern Michigan is home to around 300,000 people with roots in the Arab world, the result of more than a century of immigration.

About 50 people gathered Tuesday on the University of Michigan-Flint campus to protest the Israeli attacks, The Flint Journal reported.

The Tampa Tribune reported that University of South Florida sophomore Jehad Saleh, 19, started a group on social networking site Facebook on Sunday, encouraging Palestinian supporters to gather for the protest.

Demonstrators lined a Tampa highway Tuesday, waving Palestinian and American flags and yelling through megaphones.

"I've had cousins in the Gaza Strip who died," Saleh told the newspaper. "If their voice can't be heard, mine will."

Further south in Fort Lauderdale, at least 200 pro-Palestinian demonstrators and a smaller group of pro-Israel protesters lobbed charges at each other Tuesday evening at an intersection, according to the Miami Herald.

Palestinian supporters yelled: "You kill our children!"

"No! You kill your own children!" Israel supporters responded.

Outside the Israeli consulates in Manhattan and Los Angeles, protesters Tuesday waved Palestinian flags and chanted "Free Palestine."

New York demonstrator Dalia Mahmoud said she was "shocked" at Israel's actions and that it was "punishing an entire population for the actions of a few."

Police barricades separated the protesters from a smaller pro-Israel rally across the street, where one demonstrator carried a sign reading "Israel must defend itself."

A few miles south at City Hall, Israeli Consul General Asaf Shariv met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, displaying for reporters an exploded rocket that killed an Israeli woman out for a walk.

"We are obligated to defend our people, and that is what we are doing," Shariv said.

Bloomberg voiced his support.

"I can only think what would happen in this country if somebody was lobbing missiles onto our shores or across the border," he said.

On Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening, one pro-Israel sign read, "Hamas, stop using children as human shields." A Palestinian supporter's sign declared, "End the siege, end the bloodshed."

The Dearborn protest was organized by the Congress of Arab American Organizations. Group spokesman Osama Siblani, who is also publisher of the Arab American News, said it was the first in a series of actions being planned in response to the Gaza fighting, including a candlelight vigil for peace and a petition calling for a cease-fire.

"There is disappointment and anger in our community and we need to express it toward the current U.S. administration that has given a blank check to the Israelis," Siblani said.

A memorial service for victims of the fighting scheduled for Tuesday was delayed because the reception hall could not fit all the protesters.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Police: 'Jena Six' teen shoots self

MONROE, La. - A teen convicted in the "Jena Six" beating case shot himself in the chest and was taken to the hospital Monday, days after his arrest on a shoplifting charge, police said.

Mychal Bell's wound isn't life threatening, said Monroe Police Sgt. Cassandra Wooten. The 18-year-old used a .22-caliber firearm in the shooting around 7:40 p.m., she said.

Wooten believes Bell was upset over media coverage of the arrest last week.

"I think he was upset over the incident ... and didn't want to be in the news again," she said.

Bell was one of a group of black teenagers who once faced attempted murder charges in the 2006 beating of a white classmate at Jena High School. The charges for all of the defendants were reduced.

The severity of the original charges brought widespread criticism and eventually led to more than 20,000 people converging in September 2007 on the tiny central Louisiana town of Jena for the largest civil rights march in decades.

Resisting arrest, assault charges
Bell was in the news again after he was arrested on Dec. 24 and booked on charges of shoplifting, resisting arrest and simple assault, police said.

Police said Bell tried to steal several shirts and a pair of jeans from a department store and fled when a security guard and off-duty police officer tried to detain him. After they found him hiding under a car, Bell "swung his arms wildly" and one of his elbows struck the security guard with a glancing blow, according to a police report. He was freed on $1,300 bond.

Wooten said Bell was taken to a hospital in Monroe, where a nursing supervisor wouldn't release his condition. Wooten didn't have further details on the shooting.

One of Bell's attorneys in the assault case didn't immediately return a call Monday seeking comment on the shoplifting case.

In the Jena case, Bell eventually pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery.

Bell, the only one of the six who has been tried, has been living in a foster home in Monroe and attending school.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Scientists eye swarm of Yellowstone quakes

Were the more than 250 tremors a sign of something bigger to come?

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Yellowstone National Park was jostled by a host of small earthquakes for a third straight day Monday, and scientists watched closely to see whether the more than 250 tremors were a sign of something bigger to come.

Swarms of small earthquakes happen frequently in Yellowstone, but it's very unusual for so many earthquakes to happen over several days, said Robert Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah.

"They're certainly not normal," Smith said. "We haven't had earthquakes in this energy or extent in many years."

Smith directs the Yellowstone Seismic Network, which operates seismic stations around the park. He said the quakes have ranged in strength from barely detectable to one of magnitude 3.8 that happened Saturday. A magnitude 4 quake is capable of producing moderate damage.

"This is an active volcanic and tectonic area, and these are the kinds of things we have to pay attention to," Smith said. "We might be seeing something precursory.

"Could it develop into a bigger fault or something related to hydrothermal activity? We don't know. That's what we're there to do, to monitor it for public safety."

The strongest of dozens of tremors Monday was a magnitude 3.3 quake shortly after noon. All the quakes were centered beneath the northwest end of Yellowstone Lake.

A park ranger based at the north end of the lake reported feeling nine quakes over a 24-hour period over the weekend, according to park spokeswoman Stacy Vallie. No damage was reported.

"There doesn't seem to be anything to be alarmed about," Vallie said.

He said Yellowstone remains very geologically active — and its famous geysers and hot springs are a reminder that a pool of magma still exists five to 10 miles underground.

"That's just the surface manifestation of the enormous amount of heat that's being released through the system," he said.

Yellowstone has had significant earthquakes as well as minor ones in recent decades. In 1959, a magnitude 7.5 quake near Hebgen Lake just west of the park triggered a landslide that killed 28 people.

11 Year Old Boy: Israel Attacks Gaza 2008

Obadiah 1:15

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wal-Mart to start selling iPhones on Sunday

CHICAGO - Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Friday it will start selling Apple Inc's iPhone on Sunday, but the popular cell phones that can surf the Web will not be priced as low as some anticipated.

Wal-Mart plans to sell the black 8-gigabyte iPhone 3G model, which also holds about 2,000 songs, for $197. The 16-gigabyte model, in black or white, will be priced at $297. All of the phones require a new two-year service agreement from AT&T Inc or a qualified upgrade, Wal-Mart said.

The move gives Apple the chance to reach millions of Wal-Mart shoppers who may not be as familiar with the company's products.

Wal-Mart typically appeals to a lower-income group of shoppers than those who buy Apple's Macintosh computers, iPods and iPhones, which are typically more expensive that other PCs and music players. But the world's largest retailer has also lured new customers seeking low prices in a recession.

Wal-Mart used discounts to draw in millions of cash-strapped shoppers during the holiday season. It was among the first to advertise its deals this fall, including hot electronics such as flat-screen televisions.

Numerous websites had previously speculated that Apple would offer a 4-gigabyte model of the iPhone for $99 at Wal-Mart stores. But the phones being sold at Wal-Mart are the same ones already on the market, for about $2 below the prices offered at other locations.

AT&T, the exclusive U.S. wireless service provider for iPhone, currently sells the cheapest version for $199 for a model with 8 gigabytes of storage, and $299 for the 16-gigabyte version. AT&T declined to comment.

Keeping the traffic
Wal-Mart was one of few U.S. retailers whose sales fared well in the weeks after U.S. Thanksgiving and it is trying to keep shoppers coming back to its stores after Christmas. It ran a commercial on Friday morning showing a mother taking her son to Wal-Mart to spend the gift card he got for the holiday.

While the commercial did not refer to iPhones, it did show the pair heading into the electronics section of a Wal-Mart store.

Wal-Mart's move may put pressure on Best Buy Co Inc, the largest consumer electronics retailer. Until now, Best Buy had been the only retailer besides Apple's own stores and AT&T stores selling the iPhone.

Best Buy currently has the 8-gigabyte iPhone on sale for $189.99 and the 16-gigabyte version for $289.99, each priced $10 less than their usual price at Best Buy.

Wal-Mart also said its stores could match local competitors' advertised prices during a promotional period.

The phones will be available in nearly 2,500 stores beginning Sunday, December 28.

Kuwait kills $17B Dow Chemical deal

The move may put Dow's plan to use the money to repay a large part of its $13 billion debt in peril.

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High wind knocks out power to 413,000 in Mich.

DETROIT – Wind gusting more than 60 mph knocked out power to about 413,000 Michigan homes and businesses on Sunday as temperatures dipped back into the 20s and 30s.

Meanwhile, flood warnings were posted throughout the Midwest as temperatures rose after a week of heavy snowfall. Forecasters said flooding was possible in areas of Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Indiana.

In Michigan, high wind knocked down tree limbs and power lines. Parts of the state also got about 4 inches of snow.

"We've had an intensifying storm system track northeast through the state," said Mark Sekelsky, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids. "As that storm intensified, it brought the winds."

Detroit-based DTE Energy Co. said about 230,000 lost power Sunday, mostly in Wayne and Oakland counties. Crews were working, but spokesman Scott Simons said 10 percent of the 155,000 customers blacked out Sunday night would have to remain without power into Thursday.

"We're still assessing," Singer said.

CMS Energy Corp. subsidiary Consumers Energy said about 183,000 of its customers lost power because of the winds and 91,000 remained blacked out Sunday night. Consumers said it couldn't predict when power might be restored because the winds continued.

Crews from Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio aided Michigan's power restoration efforts.

Strong winds also gusted across upstate New York, reaching 75 mph in the Buffalo area and toppling some power poles and trees. Nearly 16,000 customers were without power in five western and northern counties. In New York City, residents relaxed as temperatures reached the mid-60s Sunday.

Melting snow and ice caused problems in the Midwest. In southeastern Wisconsin, the National Weather Service predicted the Fox River would crest about a foot over flood stage Tuesday in the town of Wheatland.

Flooding along U.S. 31 in Holland, Mich., forced Amtrak to cancel a train from Chicago to Grand Rapids on Saturday night, and at least 300 passengers were taken to buses to complete their trips, WZZM-TV reported.

Amtrak canceled one train Sunday night and one Monday morning between Chicago and Grand Rapids because of the weather, Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell said.

Kuwait scraps joint venture with Dow Chemical

KUWAIT CITY – Kuwait's government on Sunday scrapped a $17.4 billion joint venture with U.S. petrochemical giant Dow Chemical after criticism from lawmakers that could have led to a political crisis in this small oil-rich state.

The Cabinet, in a statement carried by the state-owned Kuwait News Agency, said the venture, known as K-Dow Petrochemicals, was "very risky" in light of the global financial crisis and low oil prices. The move came just days before the Jan. 1 startup date for the joint venture.

In its statement, the Cabinet said the "limits of the effects" of the meltdown on international companies cannot be forecast. KUNA said the contract was canceled by the Supreme Petroleum Council, the country's highest oil authority.

Dow Chemical said it was "extremely disappointed" with the Kuwaiti government's decision and was evaluating its options under the joint-venture agreement.

"While disappointed in this outcome, Dow remains committed to its Middle East strategy," the Midland, Michigan-based company said in a brief statement.

The project, in which Kuwait was to hold a $7.5 billion stake, had been criticized in the country as a waste of public funds, and lawmakers threatened to question the prime minister in parliament if it was launched.

Such a move could have led to Sheik Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah's impeachment, sparking a new political row in the country just weeks after the Cabinet resigned in protest after an effort by a group of Islamist lawmakers to question the premier over corruption allegations within the government.

Sheik Nasser was reappointed to his post though he has yet to form a new Cabinet.

Dow, one of the world's largest chemical companies, and Kuwait's Petrochemical Industries Co., a subsidiary of the Kuwait Petroleum Corp., had hoped the joint venture would help them capture a larger share of the global chemicals market and boost profitability. The company was to be headquartered in the Detroit area.

But the sharp drop in crude oil prices — from mid-July highs of nearly $150 per barrel to under $40 currently, has hit Kuwait and its oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbors, hard.

The Kuwaiti stock exchange has fallen by about 35 percent since the beginning of the year, and some investors have criticized the government for what they said was a lack of action to stave off the impact of the global meltdown.

Dow has also faced difficulties, and announced earlier this month that it was cutting about 11 percent of its work force, closing 20 plants and selling off several businesses to cut costs amid the financial downturn.

As criticism over the deal mounted in Kuwait, Oil Minister Mohammed al-Eleim defended the venture as profitable, saying it was carefully studied by international consultants for over two years.

The Cabinet said in its Sunday statement it "rejected" politicizing the issue which is harming the country by impeding development projects.

Oldest Living Tree Found in Sweden, 9550 years Old

The world's oldest known living tree, a conifer that first took root at the end of the last Ice Age, has been discovered in Sweden, researchers say.The visible portion of the 13-foot-tall (4-meter-tall) "Christmas tree" isn't ancient, but its root system has been growing for 9,550 years.

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U.S. blames Hamas for attack by Israel

CRAWFORD, Texas - The United States on Saturday blamed the militant group Hamas for breaking a cease-fire and attacking Israel, which retaliated with strikes of its own during what became the single bloodiest day of fighting in years.

The White House called for the cease-fire to be restored, yet there were few indications that the violence, which has left more than 200 people dead and nearly another 400 wounded, was waning. Israeli officials said the operation in Gaza would widen if necessary.

It was "completely unacceptable" for Hamas, which controls Gaza, to launch attacks on Israel after a truce lasting several months, said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

"These people are nothing but thugs, so Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas that indiscriminately kill their own people," Johndroe said in Texas as President George W. Bush spent the holidays at his ranch here. "They need to stop. We have said in the past that they have a choice to make. You can't have one foot in politics and one foot in terror."

As Israel bombed Gaza, defiant Hamas leaders threatened revenge. Hamas "will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood," vowed spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank, condemned Israel. Egypt summoned the Israeli ambassador to express condemnation and opened its border with Gaza to allow ambulances to drive out some of the wounded.

Asked if the United States would back a continuation of the retaliatory strikes by Israel, Johndroe said: "The U.S. doesn't want to see any more violence. I think what we've got to see is Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel. That's what precipitated this."

A call from Saudi king
At his ranch, the president took a call from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who wanted to discuss the violence that began eight days after a six-month truce between Israel and the militants expired.

"The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza," Rice said in a statement. "The cease-fire should be restored immediately. The United States calls on all concerned to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza."

Israeli warplanes launched counterattacks on dozens of security compounds across the Hamas-ruled territory in unprecedented waves of airstrikes. Most of those killed were security men, but an unknown number of civilians were also among the dead.

Hamas said all of its security installations were hit, threatened to resume suicide attacks, and sent at least 70 rockets and mortar shells crashing into Israeli border communities, according to the Israeli military. One Israeli was killed and at least six people were hurt.

With so many wounded, the Palestinian death toll was likely to rise. The strikes caused widespread panic and confusion in Gaza. Some of the Israeli missiles struck in densely populated areas as children were leaving school, and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children.

Humanitarian needs
Johndroe said the U.S. was concerned that humanitarian needs were being met in Gaza. He urged Israel to avoid striking civilians, but he refrained from commenting specifically on positions that had been hit on the ground.

"I know they are targeting security and Hamas headquarters facilities," Johndroe said. "We urge them (the Israelis) to avoid civilian casualties."

"The message from the United States is that Hamas is a terrorist organization that is firing rockets into Israel and they fired them onto their own people as well," Johndroe said, noting reports he'd seen about the death of two Palestinian girls. "Hamas has done nothing for the people of Gaza."

The offensive has sparked angry protests throughout the Arab world. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Vatican, the U.N. secretary-general and special Mideast envoy Tony Blair called for an immediate restoration of calm. The Arab League scheduled an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss the situation.

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what next?

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Vandals burn down giant Christmas straw goat in Sweden

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – A giant Christmas straw goat that has been targeted in a violent Christmas tradition for four decades in Sweden was burned down yet again on Saturday, an official said.

"It was set on fire early in the morning; it's very sad," goat committee spokeswoman Anna Ostman said. "People from 105 countries have followed the goat via the Web cams and many become really sad when they learn that he's burned down. We have heard from a lot of people, including the United States."

Vandals have burned the 43-foot (13-meter)-high goat 23 times since it was first set up in the central Swedish city of Gavle on Dec. 3, 1966 to mark the holiday season.

The traditional yuletide goat has also been smashed several times, run over by a car and had its legs cut off.

A year ago the goat made it through the holiday season.

Vandals are seldom caught, but in 2001, the goat was set on fire by a 51-year-old visitor from Cleveland, Ohio, who was convicted and spent 18 days in jail.

In 2005, the goat was burned down by two arsonists dressed up as Santa Claus and the Gingerbread Man. They were never caught.

Authorities in Gavle have tried to protect the goat using fireproofing chemicals and security guards. But only 10 of the goats have survived beyond Christmas since 1966.

The goat is a centuries-old Scandinavian yule symbol that preceded Santa Claus as the bringer of gifts to Swedish homes. Many Swedes place a small straw goat underneath their Christmas trees, or hang miniature versions on the branches.

850-Pound Emerald At Center of Dispute

An 850-pound emerald said to be worth as much as $370 million is in the hands of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department while a court decides who really owns it, a spokesman for the sheriff said. The "Bahia Emerald" -- one of the largest ever found -- was reported stolen in September from a secured vault in South El Monte in Los Angeles County

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Albert Howard on the Alex Jones Show

With $55,600, Albert Howard is the first African American to receive a New Hampshire Primary Recount."ABC World News Tonight" confirms our website prophecy shut down the Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential campaign.

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Heavy toilet seats can be a danger to little boys

Wooden toilet seats' popularity may lead to rise in 'crush' injuries, doc says

Parents of newly toilet-trained boys should take a few simple steps to keep their sons' penises safe when they go to the bathroom, a team of UK urologists advises.

There's evidence that crush injuries due to falling toilet seats may be on the rise, Dr. Joe Philip of Leighton Hospital in Crewe in England and colleagues warn in a letter in BJU (British Journal of Urology) International.

While he and his colleagues typically see just one or two such cases a year, if any, Philip told Reuters Health, they treated four different 2- to 4-year-old boys with penile crush injuries in the past several months.

"Thankfully all of the four had only the foreskin swelling, but obviously there's a lot of anxiety for the parents and the kids," Philip said. All of the boys were kept in the hospital overnight until they were able to urinate, but none of them suffered lasting physical damage, he added.

In each case, the youngster was trying to urinate on his own and had lifted the toilet seat, only to have it fall back down. An industry report states that wooden toilet seats are becoming more popular as a possible explanation for the increase in injuries.

Philip and his colleagues offer the following tips to help families of young boys prevent these injuries from happening:

  • Install "soft fall" toilet seats in every bathroom in the home, and ban heavy toilet seats made of wood or ceramic from homes with young boys.
  • Leave the toilet seat up at all times, until all of the boys in the household can hold the seat up on their own.
  • Supervise children every time they visit the bathroom.
  • Constant supervision can be difficult, Philip conceded, especially during holiday gatherings when a youngster may steal off on his own to demonstrate his newly-found skill. "Children want to show that they are independent," he said.

    Scores killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza

    Israeli aircraft launched air attacks across Gaza on Saturday, killing at least 100 people, including the Hamas police chief, according to Israeli and Palestinian sources.

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    Israel launches air strikes on Gaza, 120 dead

    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli aircraft struck Hamas security compounds across Gaza on Saturday in unprecedented waves of simultaneous attacks, and Hamas and medics reported dozens of people were killed.

    The strikes caused widespread panic and confusion as black smoke rose above Gaza. Health Ministry official Moawiya Hassanain said at least 120 people were killed and more than 250 wounded. Officials said others were still buried under the rubble.

    In one of the Hamas compounds, the bodies of more than a dozen uniformed security officers were seen lying on the ground. One survivor raised his index finger in a show of Muslim faith, uttering a prayer. Among the dead was the Gaza police chief, Maj. Gen. Tawfiq Jaber, witnesses said.

    Hamas officials said all of Gaza's security compounds were destroyed. Hamas said it would seek revenge, including launching new rocket attacks on Israel and sending suicide bombers to Israel.

    "Hamas will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, speaking on a Gaza radio station.

    Israel confirmed it carried out a series of air strikes on Hamas installations but did not provide details. Israel has warned in recent days it would strike back hard against continued rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli border towns.

    There was no sign of an Israel ground offensive accompanying the air attacks.

    Israel urged its residents living near Gaza to seek refuge in secure locations in apparent anticipation of Hamas rocket fire.

    The first round of air strikes came just before noon and several more waves followed.

    Hamas security compounds are often located in civilian areas. The first air strikes took place as children were leaving school. Plumes of black smoke rose over Gaza City, sirens wailed through the streets and women frantically looked for their children.

    One man sat in the middle of a Gaza City street, close to a security compound, alternately slapping his face and covering his head with dust from the bombed-out building. "My son is gone, my son is gone," wailed Sadi Masri, 57. The shopkeeper said he sent his son out to purchase cigarettes minutes before the airstrikes began and now could not find him. "May I burn like the cigarettes, may Israel burn," Masri moaned.

    Civilians rushed to the targeted areas, trying to move the wounded in their cars to hospitals.

    Television footage showed Gaza City hospitals crowded with people, civilians rushing in wounded people in cars, vans and ambulances. "We are treating people on the floor, in the corridors. We have no more space. We don't know who is here and what the priority is to treat," said one doctor who hung up the phone before identifying himself at Shifa Hosptial, Gaza's main treatment center.

    In the West Bank, Hamas' rival, moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement that he "condemns this aggression" and calls for restraint, according to an aide, Nabil Abu Rdeneh.

    Israel has targeted Gaza in the past, but the number of simultaneous attacks was unprecedented.

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    psalm 52

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    Friday, December 26, 2008

    Entrepreneur names Subway top franchise

    Sandwich chain heads Entrepreneur’s list of the top franchise of 2009

    When Fred DeLuca and Peter Buck opened their first eateries in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 44 years ago, they debated whether to call their offering an Italian sandwich or simply a sub. They opted for the latter, and the rest, as they say, is history. Across the globe, the Subway sandwich, modeled after the classic Italian offering shaped like a submarine, is as ubiquitous as the hamburger. Subway even has seven outlets in Italy, the land of pizza and pasta. The privately held company has a total of 2,500 locations throughout Europe, and Asia. Latin America and the Middle East are also growth zones.

    What about recession woes? In late 2008, the company surpassed the 30,000-restaurant mark. It has 1,600 stores scheduled to open this year. Another 2,400 franchisees have bought in and are waiting in line to open. And it's on pace to overtake the king of fast food, McDonald's, in outlet numbers within five years. CEO DeLuca, speaking on the phone from Amsterdam, says 2008 — a time of stock market plunges, real estate busts and bank failures — was Subway's "best year ever."

    "We work hard to be extremely efficient," he says. "We give great value for our franchisees: They can build a store for well under $200,000. And we have extremely simple operating systems. The preparation is mostly done in front of the customer. That simplicity is really what attracts our franchisees. You see it, and you can do it".

    Steven Greenbaum, chairman of the International Franchise Association, says DeLuca "has done an incredible job of finding that value sweet spot" for franchisees and customers alike.

    Indeed, Subway has found sweet growth in a sour economy. Companies like Starbucks suffer when customers get the jitters about paying for premium coffee, but people still "gotta eat," says Hardeep "Hardy" Grewal, who runs Subway's Los Angeles and Orange County, California, territories. And when consumers can get a foot-long sandwich for a buck or so more than the price of a Starbucks caramel Macchiato, Subway takes the very dollars other companies are losing. "The downturn works for certain businesses like ours," Grewal says. "In fact, our franchisees want to open more stores."

    If anything, there's a bottleneck in Subway's growth, with many franchisees still searching for a storefront. The real estate bust and frozen credit have slowed some openings, DeLuca says. But the Subway boom still has some owners moaning about other locations opening too close. "There are complaints about encroachment issues —concerns that they're putting too many units close together," says franchise consultant Jeff Elgin, CEO of FranChoice. "But I think Subway has done well over the past seven years because there's absolute genius in the business model. The hardest thing, today, for Subway operators is finding labor."

    On the eve of interviewing DeLuca for Entrepreneur's 30th annual Franchise 500 issue, I stepped into a Subway landmark: the franchise's 500th store in Los Angeles County, which resides in a new Bell Gardens, California, strip mall. Before the door even closed behind me, someone called out, "Good morning. Welcome to Subway." The construction of fresh bread, meat, cheese, veggies, toppings and dressing went by in less than three minutes, toasting included. This particular franchise — in Los Angeles' Latino Eastside — displays bowls of avocados, sells creamy chicken chipotle soup and employs bilingual "sandwich technicians." Everything, down to the timer on the men's room light fixture, is deliberately economical. Steve Verduzco, a 36-year-old maintenance worker who says he comes here at least once a week, praises the place: "Everything is fresh; it's pretty good and it's pretty cheap."

    Subway is constantly trying to grab such repeat customers while luring new ones. Marketing is paramount. Select locations are testing ever-fluid LCD screens — promotions can change weekly, even daily — that might replace part of the traditional menu boards. In the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, iMan Wireless has paired up with a franchisee to offer on-demand coupons to customers via mobile phone. All eaters have to do is text "Subway" to a code presented on signs at the location. John Maier, president and founder of iMan, hopes to expand the program to a so far receptive Subway network.

    Indeed, one of Subway's strengths is its upward flow of ideas. Some of the chain's game-changing marketing concepts — from Jared Fogel, the pitch man who lost more than 240 pounds on the "Subway diet," to the "$5 footlong" — sprang from single stores. The $5 promotion started in late 2007 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In April, Subway took the discount nationwide, just before a spring and summer of astronomical gas prices. Good timing.

    "There's only one headquarters, but there are more than 30,000 stores," DeLuca says. "Those ideas that come up in the various stores might look little, but we see some with real promise." Another promising idea was to put the Italian sandwich on a domestic assembly line and let diners point to the ingredients they desire.

    DeLuca's parents emigrated from Italy, so the evolution of the sub into an American fast-food icon is personal for him. "Of all the things I could have done," the 61-year-old says, "Subway is a real point of pride. We have influenced the way people eat. The customer has a lot of choice and control. If someone wants to eat healthy, they can do that and get the sandwich exactly right. I'm so pleased we're able to influence so many people and their eating habits."

    Well-known American surgeon killed in Iraq

    TRENTON, N.J. - A prominent New Jersey doctor has been killed in Iraq, the Defense Department said Friday.

    Maj. John P. Pryor was a well-known trauma surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. According to the Pentagon, Pryor died Christmas Day when a mortar round hit near his living quarters.

    Pryor's colleagues say they're devastated by the loss of the New York City native. Pryor, who was 42, was a married father of three.

    He wrote of his experiences as a surgeon confronting violence in Iraq and inner-city Philadelphia in articles published in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post.

    new york new york

    1 -4 Why do you brag of evil, "Big Man"?
    God's mercy carries the day.
    You scheme catastrophe;
    your tongue cuts razor-sharp,
    artisan in lies.
    You love evil more than good,
    you call black white.
    You love malicious gossip,
    you foul-mouth.

    5 God will tear you limb from limb,
    sweep you up and throw you out,
    Pull you up by the roots
    from the land of life.

    6 -7 Good people will watch and
    worship. They'll laugh in relief:
    "Big Man bet on the wrong horse,
    trusted in big money,
    made his living from catastrophe."

    8 And I'm an olive tree,
    growing green in God's house.
    I trusted in the generous mercy
    of God then and now.

    9 I thank you always
    that you went into action.
    And I'll stay right here,
    your good name my hope,
    in company with your faithful friends.

    Psalm 52 message

    Ingrid Howard

    Thursday, December 25, 2008

    Mystery surrounds death of Bush adviser

    The US media is buzzing with speculation about the death of presidential adviser Mike Connell. He worked as an IT adviser to the Republican Party and played a major role in both of George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns. In 2006 he was linked to missing White House emails connected with a string of firings of US attorneys.

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    Singer-actress Eartha Kitt dies at 81

    NEW YORK - Singer and actress Eartha Kitt has died of colon cancer at age 81, her longtime publicist Patty Freedman told NBC News on Thursday.

    Kitt died in Connecticut with her daughter by her side.

    Kitt was a star of Broadway, records and films; she even played Catwoman in the Batman television show in the 1960s. One of her hit songs was the campy Christmas song "Santa Baby." She spoke out against the Vietnam War at a White House luncheon in 1968.

    Christmas Morning at the Breakfast Table in Sweden 2008

    A Father and Husband speaks blessings over His family on Christmas Day December 25, 2008.

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    Tuesday, December 23, 2008

    Police detain Mexican beauty queen, seize weapons

    A 23-year-old Mexican beauty queen and seven men were taken into custody late Monday after being found in vehicles containing weapons and cash in central Mexico, police said Tuesday.

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    Investor who lost more than $1 billion to Madoff kills himself

    NEW YORK – A fund manager who lost more than $1 billion of his clients' money to Bernard Madoff was discovered dead Tuesday after committing suicide at his Manhattan office, marking a grim turn in a scandal that has left investors around the world in financial ruin.

    Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet was found sitting at his desk at about 8 a.m. with both wrists slashed, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. A box cutter was found on the floor along with a bottle of sleeping pills on his desk. Police did not find a suicide note.

    De la Villehuchet was one of several money managers and investors left reeling in the wake of Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme, and his suicide demonstrates how the repercussions of this gigantic scam are intensifying by the day.

    De la Villehuchet, 65, was a distinguished financier who came from a long line of aristocratic Frenchmen, and he tapped his connections in the world of European high society to attract clients to his firm, Access International Advisors. It was not immediately clear how he knew Madoff or who his clients were.

    He grew increasingly subdued after the Madoff scandal broke, arousing suspicion among janitors in his Madison Avenue office tower Monday night when he demanded that they be out of there by 7 p.m. Less than 13 hours later, a security guard checked on him in his 22nd-story office suite. But de la Villehuchet was dead — a trash can placed near his body to apparently catch the blood, Browne said.

    His death came as swindled investors began looking for ways to recoup their losses. Funds that lost big to Madoff are also coming up against investor lawsuits and backlash for failing to properly vet Madoff and overlooking some red flags that could have steered them away. It's not immediately known what kind of scrutiny de la Villehuchet was facing over his losses.

    De la Villehuchet (pronounced veel-ou-SHAY) comes from rich French lineage, with the Magon part of his name referring to one of France's most powerful families. The Magon name is even listed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a world-famous monument that was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806.

    "He's irreproachable," said Bill Rapavy, who was Access International's chief operating officer before founding his own firm in 2007.

    The Frenchman's firm enlisted intermediaries with links to upper-crust Europeans to garner investors. Among them was Philippe Junot, a French businessman and friend who is the former husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, and Prince Michel of Yugoslavia.

    De la Villehuchet, the former chairman and CEO of Credit Lyonnais Securities USA, was also known as a keen sailor who regularly participated in regattas and was a member of the New York Yacht Club.

    He lived in an affluent suburb in Westchester County with his wife, Claudine. They have no children. There was no answer Tuesday at the family's two-story house. Phone calls to the home and de la Villehuchet's office went unanswered.

    Guy Gurney, a British photographer living in Connecticut, was friends with de la Villehuchet. The two often sailed together and competed in a regatta in France in November.

    "He was a very honorable man," Gurney said. "He was extraordinarily generous. He was an aristocrat but not a snob. He was a real person. When he was sailing, he was one of the boys."

    The two were supposed to have dinner last Friday but Gurney called the day before to cancel because of the weather. But during the call, de la Villehuchet revealed he had been ensnared in the Madoff deceit.

    "He sounded very subdued," Gurney said.

    Gurney said de la Villehuchet was happily married to his wife.

    "I can't imagine what it's like for her now," he said.

    Guinea president Lansana Conte, who seized power in 1984, dies

    CONAKRY, Guinea – Guinea President Lansana Conte, who has ruled the African nation with an iron hand since seizing power in a coup nearly a quarter century ago, has died following a lengthy illness, the National Assembly president said Tuesday.

    Aboubacar Sompare, flanked by the country's prime minister and the head of the army, said on state-run television that Conte died Monday evening. He was believed to be in his 70s but the government has never disclosed his birth date.

    "I have the heavy duty of informing the people of Guinea of the death of Gen. Lansana Conte following a long illness," said Sompare. He did not provide a specific cause of death or elaborate on the type of illness.

    Sompare said that for many years Conte "hid his physical suffering in order to give happiness to Guinea."

    Conte was one of the last members of a dwindling group of so-called "African Big Men" who came to power by the gun and resisted the democratic tide sweeping the continent.

    He seized power in a military coup a week after the 1984 death of Ahmed Sekou Toure, Guinea's first president after gaining independence from France in 1958. Conte's official biography described the action as "an operation to safeguard and maintain peace in the country."

    Conte quickly established himself as the sole leader of the military junta. He abandoned Toure's revolutionary socialist agenda, but like his predecessor, suppressed dissent.

    As a post-Cold War democracy wave swept Africa, Conte formed a political party and in 1993 won the country's first multi-party presidential election. He was re-elected in 1998 and 2003, though the opposition rejected the elections, protesting that they were flawed.

    Guineau's 10 million people are among the poorest in the world, even though the nation holds half the world's reserves of bauxite, the ore used to make aluminum. It exported food at independence, but corruption, inflation and high unemployment made it more impoverished, it had to begin importing food.

    According to the Constitution, the head of the national assembly becomes president in the case of the death of the head of state. But transfers of power have rarely been smooth in Guinea, which has been crippled by corruption and rocked by multiple coups.

    Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare called on the army to secure the nation's borders, while Sompare directed the country's courts to apply the law.

    The two announcements, coupled by the presence of the head of the army, appeared to be an effort to signal that the government intended a peaceful transition.

    The most serious recent challenge to Conte's rule came two years ago as demonstrators called for him to step down and Guinea descended into chaos.

    Conte responded by declaring martial law and sent tanks into the capital streets. Security forces killed dozens of demonstrators.

    Conte's health and his undisclosed illness has been an issue of national debate for years. Rumors of his death surfaced periodically, including in 2003 when he was forced to go on TV to deny them.

    Such rumors flared earlier this month when Conte failed to make his usual televised appearance on Tabaski, an important Muslim holiday. The prime minister and others appeared in his place, but people were on edge and numerous businesses shuttered their doors to protect against possible unrest.

    Last week, the editor of a local paper was arrested after publishing a picture of the frail leader struggling to stand up. A spokesman for the president went on TV to assure the nation that Conte was not ill.

    The newspaper was ordered to print a photograph of Conte, showing him in good health.

    Monday, December 22, 2008

    GOP consultant killed in plane crash was warned of sabotage

    The Republican consultant accused of involvement in a vote-rigging scandal was warned that his plane might be sabotaged before his death in a crash Friday night, according to a Cleveland CBS affiliate. The network also reported that the operative -- Michael Connell -- canceled two previous flights because of suspicious problems with his plane.

    read more | digg story

    OH Election Fraud Attorney Reacts to Death of Key Witness

    The Republican 'IT guru', a top IT consultant to Karl Rove, George W. Bush, John McCain and a bevvy of Congressional Republicans, had been in the nation's capital on still-unknown business before his single engine plane crashed Friday night.

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    Sunday, December 21, 2008

    Eastern Michigan reportedly hires English

    Louisville coordinator will be fifth black head coach in college football

    Eastern Michigan has hired Ron English, making him the fifth black head football coach in major college football, a person familiar with the contract agreement told The Associated Press on Sunday.

    The person, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the school hasn’t announced its decision, said English will be introduced at a news conference Monday.

    The other black coaches among the 119 teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision are Buffalo’s Turner Gill, Miami’s Randy Shannon, Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and New Mexico’s Mike Locksley.

    The 40-year-old English was Louisville’s defensive coordinator in 2008 after serving on Lloyd Carr’s staff at Michigan for five seasons.

    English turned the Cardinals’ inexperienced defense around before an injury-depleted unit was overmatched in a lopsided loss to end the season at Rutgers.

    After helping Michigan beat Florida 41-35 in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, English chose to accept an offer from Louisville after being aggressively pursued by schools such as UCLA.

    English was on Carr’s staff for five seasons, the last two as defensive coordinator. He began at Michigan as the secondary coach after being an assistant at Arizona State, San Diego State and Northern Arizona.

    He earned four letters at California, starting at safety for the Bears as a senior and ending his playing career in the 1990 Copper Bowl.

    English replaces Jeff Genyk, who was fired last month and went 16-42 in five seasons.

    'Karl Rove's IT guru' Mike Connell dies in plane crash

    A top level Republican IT consultant who was set to testify in a case alleging GOP election tampering in Ohio died in a plane crash late Friday night.With $55,600, Albert Howard is the first African American to receive a New Hampshire Primary Recount.

    read more | digg story

    Saturday, December 20, 2008

    Winless Detroit Lions drawing international attention

    One more loss would make the Lions the NFL's first 0-15 team, and a setback next week at Green Bay — where they haven't won since 1991 — would seal an imperfect season.

    read more | digg story

    Friday, December 19, 2008

    Carter meets with political leader of Hamas in Syria

    Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter meets with Hamas' exiled political leader Khaled Meshaal.

    read more | digg story

    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    Suspected mob boss arrested in Italian raids kills himself in jail

    PALERMO – A suspected Mafia boss arrested Tuesday in a high-profile police swoop has hung himself in his prison cell, police sources said Wednesday.

    Gaetano Lo Presti, who was already convicted of mob-related crimes prior to his latest arrest, was found dead late last night in Pagliarelli prison in the Sicilian capital of Palermo.

    He was one of the 99 people apprehended Tuesday suspected of trying to rebuild the top ranks of the Sicilian Mafia, which has been weakened by the arrests of powerful mob leaders.

    It was the latest blow to the Cosa Nostra, whose "boss of bosses" Bernardo Provenzano was arrested in 2006. Provenzano's heir apparent, Salvatore Lo Piccolo, was apprehended in 2007.

    Some 1,200 police, backed by helicopters and anti-drug units, carried out the latest round of arrests. Lo Presti and the other suspects were accused of crimes including extortion, trafficking of arms and drugs and having mafia links.

    Monday, December 15, 2008

    Federal authorities seize artifacts from hit show 'Survivor'

    WASHINGTON – The federal tribe has spoken: A contaminated monkey skull, termite-infested statues and other African artifacts of the TV show "Survivor" will not be allowed into the U.S.

    Officials disclosed Monday that customs inspectors in Houston seized a variety of restricted items that were being shipped to the U.S. in a container belonging to the CBS reality show. Among the items: the hide from an African cat suspected of carrying a dangerous disease, a mandrill skull, civet hides, parrot, poultry and ostrich feathers, bones and cowries shells.

    The 17th edition of "Survivor" took place in the West African nation of Gabon, the country from which the container was shipped. The final episode was shown Sunday night.

    The imports were seized Nov. 18 out of concern that they were contaminated with pests and disease that could harm U.S. agriculture, according to officials. Civet cats are mongoose-like animals that are a delicacy in China and are suspected of spreading severe acute respiratory syndrome — SARS — to humans. Inspectors also found wooden statues with termites.

    The restricted goods were fumigated by the Agriculture Department, said Customs spokeswoman Yolanda Chaotes. She said the prohibited items were sent away from the U.S. and no decision has been made about penalties on the importer.

    Jeffery Baldwin Sr., Custom's director of field operations at the Houston port, said: "Introducing an exotic disease or pest could harm our citizens or devastate our agriculture crops."

    Officials from "Survivor" did not return immediate requests for comment. Contestants are eliminated from the show each week with the mantra: "The tribe has spoken."

    Bush's shoe-thrower incident catches Secret Service flatfooted

    WASHINGTON — Although the Secret Service put everyone who attended President George W. Bush's Baghdad news conference through several layers of security Sunday, the agency appeared to be caught off guard when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at the president.

    ``We'll be our own harshest critic regarding this incident,'' Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said Monday, ``and we'll make any appropriate changes to security.''

    Donovan said, however, that agents on the scene knew that everyone in attendance had been screened for weapons and that they appeared to have taken the ``appropriate level of action.'' No shots were fired as Bush's Secret Service detail joined Iraqi police in taking the shoe thrower into custody.

    The arrested man, Muntathar al Zaidi, a 29-year-old employee of Cairo, Egypt -based Baghdadiya Television, remained in Iraqi custody Monday. Officials in Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's office refused to comment on his condition or on whether he'd be criminally charged.

    Throngs of Iraqi Shiite Muslims marched Monday in Sadr City, a sprawling Baghdad slum, hailing Zaidi as a hero and holding up shoes as they demanded his release.

    The National Media Center, an arm of the Iraqi government that deals with the news media, condemned Zaidi's behavior as barbaric and harmful to ``Iraqi journalists and journalism in general,'' demanding an apology from his employer.

    Baghdadiya hasn't apologized, and it pressed for Zaidi's release.

    The Iraqi Union of Journalists took a middle road, saying it was ``astonished by this behavior'' but urging Zaidi's release ``for humanitarian reasons."

    Video of the event at the prime minister's palace shows a tightly packed room in which most security personnel were forced to the sides, and 20 video cameras lined the back of the room.

    About an hour before the news conference, a Secret Service agent arrived and gave waiting Iraqi journalists, who didn't know that Bush was making a surprise visit, a fourth and final search.

    No Secret Service agent was in view on the video when Zaidi threw the first shoe at Bush's head from about 20 feet away and shouted in Arabic: ``This is a goodbye kiss, you dog.''

    Bush dodged the shoe, and Maliki, who was standing to Bush's left, tried to block Zaidi's second attempt, which also missed its target. A Secret Service agent appeared to move to Bush's side, but the president waved him off.

    The video shows that another Iraqi journalist, not security agents, pulled Zaidi to the floor before Iraqi police and Secret Service agents piled on him and carried him from the room.

    While Bush wasn't harmed, the incident was reminiscent of John W. Hinckley's failed attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981 . Hinckley slipped into a crowd of reporters outside the Washington Hilton , and when Reagan emerged from a speaking appearance, the 25-year-old drifter fired six shots with a .22-caliber handgun, hitting Reagan in the chest, permanently disabling presidential press secretary Jim Brady with a bullet to the head and wounding a Secret Service agent and a police officer.

    After that incident, the Secret Service began requiring journalists to undergo background checks, credentialing and screening with metal detectors.

    Donovan said that everyone attending Sunday's event ``was searched for weapons and passed through several layers of security'' before entering the room. He said that they also were subject to name checks, identification checks and verification that they represented their identified news employers.

    ``It's obvious that (Bush) could have been hit in the head with a shoe,'' he said. ``Anytime there's an incident like this, we're going to review it. We're always trying to improve ourselves.''

    Russian navy: Russian warships to visit Cuba

    MOSCOW – Russian warships will visit U.S. foe Cuba for the first time since the Soviet era, the navy said Monday.

    The destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support ships from a squadron that has been on a lengthy visit to Latin America will put in at Havana on Friday for a five-day stay, navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said.

    It will be the first visit by Russian warships to the Communist-led island just 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the United States since the 1991 Soviet collapse, Dygalo said.

    The Admiral Chabanenko, the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great and support ships arrived in the Caribbean last month in a deployment also unprecedented since Soviet times. The voyage is widely seen as a show of force close to U.S. shores and a response to the U.S. use of warships to deliver humanitarian aid to Russia's neighbor Georgia after their war in August.

    The ships' visit coincided with a Latin American tour by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who raised Russia's profile in the region and met with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

    The United States has maintained an economic embargo against Cuba since 1962, after a failed U.S. attempt to overthrow Castro's fledgling Cuban government. Later that year, the world came close to war when the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles on Cuba. That crisis ended two weeks later after the Soviets agreed to remove the missiles for a U.S. pledge not to invade the island.

    From 1969 until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soviet naval groups regularly called in Cuba, where there was a major intelligence collection station, says military analyst Nathan Hughes of Stratfor online intelligence service.

    Several thousand Soviet soldiers and their families were stationed in Cuba, which once received $5 billion annually in Soviet largesse.

    Moscow's support for Cuba sharply decreased after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but Russia has moved to bolster ties to the island recently.

    The Russian ships in Latin America now have held joint exercises with the navy of Venezuela, whose President Hugo Chavez is a fierce U.S. critic, and the Admiral Chabanenko became the first Russian warship to sail through the Panama Canal since World War II.

    The destroyer and two support vessels left Nicaragua on Sunday after delivering $200,000 worth of medicine, computers and other humanitarian aid, Nicaraguan Lt. Col. Juan Morales said. Dygalo said, however, that the ships left Nicaragua on Monday. Their visit stirred heated political debate there.

    The Peter the Great remains in the Caribbean but will not visit Cuba, Dygalo said.

    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Child's body found near Caylee Anthony's home

    ORLANDO, Fla. – A team of medical examiners and detectives was hustling to identify the skeletal remains of a child found in a wooded lot in central Florida Thursday, hoping to solve the six-month-old mystery of a missing toddler.

    Caylee Anthony, 3, has been missing since June. On Thursday, less than a half-mile from where the girl lived, a utility worker stumbled upon remains of a small child.

    There was nothing that immediately indicated the remains were Caylee's. But Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary said his investigators and the FBI would work around the clock and through the weekend to identify the child. Authorities searched the home where Caylee and her mother lived again on Thursday night, looking for more clues.

    "Now the investigation continues," Beary said. "There is a lot of lab work to do. There is a lot of DNA work to do. There is a lot of crime scene work to do."

    Caylee's mother, 22-year-old Casey Anthony, was indicted in October on first-degree murder and other charges, even without a body. She has insisted that she left the girl with a baby sitter in June, but she didn't report her missing until July.

    For the past several months, Anthony's family, police and volunteers from around the country have searched for the little girl.

    Lisa Hoffman, a member of the search group EquuSearch, said its volunteers were unable to completely scour the area where the remains were found because part of it was submerged in water during trips in September and November.

    Deborah Smith, an independent search volunteer, said she believed the remains belonged to Caylee.

    "I'm glad she was found before Christmas so they can give her a proper burial," Smith said.

    Allen Moore, a spokesman for the Orange County jail, said Casey Anthony was told about the discovery. She was placed under psychological observation, not suicide watch, and remains under protective custody. Her attorney, Jose Baez, visited her at the jail for about 90 minutes Thursday.

    Forensic experts said it was harder for investigators to identify a child's remains than an adult's, but they would have a few methods to pursue.

    Medical examiners would probably look at photos of the child along with the skull, hoping to make a bone structure comparison, said Dr. Lee Jantz, coordinator of the forensic anthropology center at the University of Tennessee.

    Dr. Bill Manion, a pathologist and an assistant medical examiner for Burlington County, N.J., said DNA testing could determine an identification even without other DNA from the victim, "as long as we know who the parents are or siblings."

    By early Thursday afternoon, dozens of reporters, police and onlookers had gathered in the pouring rain near where the remains were found. One man walked up and placed a flower-covered cross at the scene. Another man openly sobbed. An elementary school at the end of the street released students out through a back pedestrian exit, steering them away from the frantic scene.

    Sheriff's spokesman Angelo Nieves said officials told Caylee's grandparents about the find, but refused to discuss whether the remains were Caylee's. But Nieves also said there were no other similar missing-children cases in the area.

    The child's grandmother first called authorities in July to say she hadn't seen Caylee for a month and her daughter's car smelled like death.

    Police immediately interviewed Anthony and soon said everything she told them about her daughter's whereabouts was false. The baby sitter was nonexistent and the apartment where Anthony said she had last seen Caylee had been empty for months. Anthony also lied about where she worked.

    Other troubling details emerged as the case picked up national media attention: Photos surfaced of Anthony partying after her daughter went missing. Friends said she was a habitual liar, but also a good mother.

    Last month, the Orange County State Attorney turned over almost 800 pages of documents showing someone used the Anthonys' home computer to do Internet searches for terms like "neck breaking" and "household weapons."

    In mid-March, someone searched Google and Wikipedia for peroxide, shovels, acetone, alcohol and chloroform. Traces of chloroform, which is used to induce unconsciousness and a component of human decomposition, were found in the trunk of Casey Anthony's car during forensic testing, the documents say.

    Last week, prosecutors announced they would not pursue the death penalty for Anthony. Earlier Thursday, before the remains were discovered, a judge had delayed her trial from January to March.

    A spokeswoman with the state attorney's office said it would reserve comment until the investigation was complete. Messages left with Caylee Anthony's grandparents and with Casey Anthony's lawyer were not immediately returned.

    $50 billion fraud alleged

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bernard Madoff, a quiet force on Wall Street for decades, was arrested and charged on Thursday with allegedly running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme in what may rank among the biggest fraud cases ever.

    The former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market is best known as the founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, the closely-held market-making firm he launched in 1960. But he also ran a hedge fund that U.S. prosecutors said racked up $50 billion of fraudulent losses.

    Madoff told senior employees of his firm on Wednesday that "it's all just one big lie" and that it was "basically, a giant Ponzi scheme," with estimated investor losses of about $50 billion, according to the U.S. Attorney's criminal complaint against him.

    A Ponzi scheme is a swindle offering unusually high returns, with early investors paid off with money from later investors.

    On Thursday, two agents for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation entered Madoff's New York apartment.

    "There is no innocent explanation," Madoff said, according to the criminal complaint. He told the agents that it was all his fault, and that he "paid investors with money that wasn't there," according to the complaint.

    The $50 billion allegedly lost would make the hedge fund one of the biggest frauds in history. When former energy trading giant Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001, one of the largest at the time, it had $63.4 billion in assets.

    U.S. prosecutors charged Madoff, 70, with a single count of securities fraud. They said he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million.

    The Securities and Exchange Commission filed separate civil charges against Madoff.

    "Our complaint alleges a stunning fraud -- both in terms of scope and duration," said Scott Friestad, the SEC's deputy enforcer. "We are moving quickly and decisively to stop the scheme and protect the remaining assets for investors."

    Dan Horwitz, Madoff's lawyer, told reporters outside a downtown Manhattan courtroom where he was charged, "Bernard Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry. We will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events."

    A shaken Madoff stared at the ground as reporters peppered him with questions. He was released after posting a $10 million bond secured by his Manhattan apartment.

    Authorities, citing a document filed by Madoff with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on January 7, 2008, said Madoff's investment advisory business served between 11 and 25 clients and had a total of about $17.1 billion in assets under management. Those clients may have included other funds that in turn had many investors.

    The SEC said it appeared that virtually all of the assets of his hedge fund business were missing.


    An investor in the hedge fund said it generated consistent returns, which was part of the attraction. Since 2004, annual returns averaged around 8 percent and ranged from 7.3 percent to 9 percent, but last decade returns were typically in the low-double digits, the investor said.

    The fund told investors it followed a "split strike conversion" strategy, which entailed owning stock and buying and selling options to limit downside risk, said the investor, who requested anonymity.

    Jon Najarian, an acquaintance of Madoff who has traded options for decades, said "Many of us questioned how that strategy could generate those kinds of returns so consistently."

    Najarian, co-founder of, once tried to buy what was then the Cincinnati Stock Exchange when Madoff was a major seatholder on the exchange. Najarian met with Madoff, who rejected his bid.

    "He always seemed to be a straight shooter. I was shocked by this news," Najarian said.


    Madoff had long kept the financial statements for his hedge fund business under "lock and key," according to prosecutors, and was "cryptic" about the firm. The hedge fund business was located on a separate floor from the market-making business.

    Madoff has been conducting a Ponzi scheme since at least 2005, the U.S. said. Around the first week of December, Madoff told a senior employee that hedge fund clients had requested about $7 billion of their money back, and that he was struggling to pay them back.

    Investors have been pulling money out of hedge funds, even those performing well, in an effort to reduce risk in their portfolios as the global economy weakens.

    Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities has more than $700 million in capital, according to its website.

    Madoff remains a member of Nasdaq OMX Group Inc's nominating committee, and his firm is a market maker for about 350 Nasdaq stocks, including Apple, EBay and Dell, according to the website.

    The website also states that Madoff himself has "a personal interest in maintaining the unblemished record of value, fair-dealing, and high ethical standards that has always been the firm's hallmark."

    The company's website may be found here: http:/

    Monday, December 8, 2008

    Navy F-18 jet crashes into neighborhood near Miramar, Calif.

    SAN DIEGO - An F-18 military jet crashed in a residential San Diego neighborhood on Monday, sparking at least one house fire.

    Tribune Co. files for bankruptcy to deal with $13 billion debt

    NEW YORK – Media conglomerate Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy protection Monday, as the owner of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Cubs and other properties tries to deal with $13 billion in debt.

    Sunday, December 7, 2008

    ABC News: New Hampshire Senate Makes History

    Becomes First State Senate With More Ladies Than Gentleman.

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    Saturday, December 6, 2008

    Paulson in China: The Monster Under the Bed - TIME

    As Henry Paulson wraps up his last visit to Beijing as U.S. Treasury Secretary, he made a few last requests of the rising superpower — and China had a few of its own

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    Journalists become targets in Mexico's drug war

    CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – As the photographer pulled his 2000 Ford Explorer into a soccer field, the crackle of his police scanner was broken by a lone accordion riff.

    The riff, a fragment of a "narcocorrido" glorifying drug smugglers, was an announcement that the death toll in Mexico's drug war — already above 4,000 this year — had just risen.

    Hector Dayer already knew that as he looked out at the seven bodies, bound, beaten and repeatedly shot. What he didn't know was whether yet another colleague was among the victims.

    Two weeks earlier, Dayer had photographed a friend — a veteran crime reporter from a rival newspaper — shot dead in his car as his 8-year-old daughter sat shaking in the passenger's seat.

    On this day, none of the bodies belonged to journalists. Dayer grabbed his camera, pulled up the collar of his jacket to hide his face, and stepped out to photograph the carnage.

    "We should wear ski masks, like the police," said Dayer, a father of two who works for the newspaper El Norte. "We are so public. Everyone can see us and identify us."

    Mexico is the deadliest place in the Americas to be a journalist, and among the deadliest in the world. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 24 have been killed since 2000, and seven have vanished in the past three years.

    Many of the victims had recently reported on police ties to cartels. Some are suspected of accepting drug money, but it's hard to be sure because the killings are barely investigated. Of the 24 cases, the committee says, only one has been solved.

    Some attacks target specific journalists, others entire newsrooms. In at least two cases, grenades have been thrown at newspaper offices.

    The attacks are silencing journalists and undermining Mexico's young democracy. Across the nation, news media have stopped reporting on the drug war, with most limiting their reports to facts put out by authorities, with no context, analysis or investigation. In most places, journalists don't even report on killings they witness.

    Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's bloodiest city with about 1,400 deaths this year, is an exception. Here journalists continue to cover the daily deaths, without using bylines or photo credits.

    Many use different cars and routes to get to work each day. A few wear bulletproof vests, but most think those make them more of a target.

    Nearly all crime reporters have received threats. They include Armando Rodriguez, 40, a veteran with the newspaper El Diario. In February, Rodriguez asked the state prosecutor for protection, but she asked him to file a police report and he never did.

    On Nov. 13, Rodriguez sat in his driveway with his 8-year-old daughter, waiting for her 6-year-old sister to come out so he could drive the girls to school. Gunshots rang out.

    Rodriguez's wife, Blanca Martinez, screamed as she looked out the kitchen window. She saw her husband's head bent down and thought he was searching for his cell phone to call his newspaper to report the gunshots.

    Then she realized he wasn't moving. Their daughter was shaking in the seat next to him.

    Martinez ran out and told her daughter to get inside the house, then climbed into the car with her husband, holding his bloody body until police and colleagues arrived.

    "I don't have any hope the guilty will be caught," she said. "All I want is for them to repent."

    The colleagues who showed up to cover Rodriguez's death were shaken too.

    "I took photos but afterward we all didn't know what to do," Dayer said. "There was just silence."

    Rodriguez's desk at El Diario is much as he left it, notebooks and police communiques stacked haphazardly. El Diario director Pedro Torres says he wants a full investigation, but police have shown little interest.

    Hours after The Associated Press asked the office of Mexico's attorney general why nobody had examined Rodriguez's computer, El Diario editors say federal investigators called to say they were sending someone to pick it up. The attorney general's office never got back to the AP.

    "We're not interested in making him a martyr. We just want the truth," Torres said. "We feel so helpless, so angry — but not afraid. Because, I insist, you cannot do journalism with fear."

    Jorge Luis Aguirre, director of news Web site La Polaka, agrees. As he was driving to Rodriguez's wake, his cell phone rang.

    "You're next," said a voice.

    Aguirre parked his car, called his wife and fled to the U.S. with his family. He plans to apply for asylum.

    "Any journalist in Juarez is at risk right now of being assassinated just because someone doesn't like what you published," he said in a telephone interview from hiding.

    Media-freedom groups are pushing for the U.S. to grant such requests, and are lobbying Mexico's Congress to pass a bill that would make attacks on the news media a federal crime.

    "This violence has gone way beyond the press," said Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "It's going against freedom of expression."

    It is also insanely brutal. Dayer has seen the worst of it this year, from human legs protruding from a large pot commonly used to cook pork, to a body hanging inside a house with a pig mask over the face. When the death count reached eight in the span of an hour, he called his wife and told her to take the kids inside.

    Once, as he photographed a headless body hanging from an overpass, someone noticed a man in a car nearby taking pictures of the journalists. A photographer went over to ask what he was doing, but the man sped away. Later in the day, the head was found in a trash bag at the foot of the city's 28-year-old Journalist Monument, a statue of a newspaper delivery boy.

    "I think about that day a lot now," Dayer said.

    Juarez's journalists take extraordinary risks for their daily blood-and-gore reports. They careen through traffic, often arriving at crime scenes before the police. Photographers have stumbled across hitmen who fired shots, pistol-whipped them and stole their cameras.

    On a recent morning, an AP reporter accompanied a TV crew as it plied the streets looking for the day's dead. The police scanner reported an armed man in a white car nearby, and the driver swung into pursuit. A wailing police car raced up behind the crew, as TV and radio correspondent Ever Chavez screamed at the driver.

    "Not too close! Get back!" he said.

    The police car stopped the white car and dragged out two men as Chavez moved in with his microphone. Police pulled a black handgun from one of the men's pockets, but it turned out to be plastic. Chavez went on the air.

    "That's the report we have so far," Chavez said cheerily. "Be careful out there, and have a good morning."

    Pentagon Completes Largest Missile Simulated Attack

    The head of the Missile Defense Agency called it "the largest, most complex test we have ever done" and labeled it a success.

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    Friday, December 5, 2008

    Bush acknowledges recession, automakers' troubles

    WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush publicly acknowledged for the first time Friday that the U.S. economy is in a recession and worried aloud that Detroit's Big Three automakers may not all survive their mounting troubles.

    Four days after the long-suspected existence of a recession was made official, Bush used the word himself.

    "Our economy is in a recession," Bush said flatly, speaking to reporters on the South Lawn only hours after the release of a government report showing the biggest month of job losses in 34 years. "This is in large part because of severe problems in our housing, credit and financial markets, which have resulted in significant job losses."

    While repeatedly listing the serious problems in the economy, the White House has refused to embrace the actual term until Monday, when a panel for the National Bureau of Economic Research said the recession began last December and is ongoing.

    With automakers, particularly General Motors, in fear of bankruptcy, they are seeking from Washington a huge cash infusion of up to $34 billion, beyond an existing $25 billion loan program. Lawmakers are considering the idea, but there is uncertainty about the level of support on Capitol Hill for that plan.

    Bush displayed skepticism about the wisdom of new aid to companies that still need to make "hard choices on all aspects of their business." So while urging lawmakers to act next week to help the battered industry, Bush urged a Congress controlled by opposition Democrats to follow his approach.

    The president supports adjusting the $25 billion loan program, so that the money would be available more quickly and for more urgent needs than its original long-term purpose of helping to retool factories to produce more energy-efficient cars.

    "I am concerned about the viability of the automobile companies," he told reporters on the South Lawn. "I am concerned about those who work for the automobile companies and their families. And likewise, I am concerned about taxpayer money being provided to these companies that may not survive."

    With only 46 days left in office, Bush declared: "It's important to make sure that taxpayers' money be paid back if any is given to the companies."

    The president spoke not long after the release of a government report showing the biggest month of job losses in 34 years. Reacting to the jobs report for November, which also showed a huge jump in the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent, Bush expressed deep concern for Americans who have lost jobs, but also said there are some encouraging signs about the credit markets. "There is still more work to do," he said. "My administration is committed to ensuring that our economy succeeds."

    At 12 months, the current recession is already the longest since a severe 16-month slump in 1981-82. Many economists say this downturn will ultimately set a new record for the post-World War II period.

    During Bush's eight years in office, the United States has fallen into two recessions. The first one started in March 2001 and ended in November of that year.