ACCRA (Reuters) –
President Barack Obama was given a hero's welcome in Ghana on Friday on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office as the first black president of the United States.
It was a poignant moment for Africans as the leader of the world's most powerful country, the son of an African immigrant, and his wife Michelle, the descendant of Africans shipped to America as slaves, stepped onto the red carpet in Accra.
In Ghana, he is expected to deliver a message on the importance of good governance in a country that defies stereotypes of a continent blighted by conflict, coups and crisis.
“Part of the reason that we're traveling to Ghana is because you've got there a functioning democracy, a president who's serious about reducing corruption, and you've seen significant economic growth,” Obama said before leaving Italy.
Obama, his wife and two daughters were met at the airport by President John Atta Mills, elected in a peaceful, transparent vote last December that set an example for the continent.
Economic reforms in the cocoa and gold producing country, set to begin pumping oil next year, also helped bring unprecedented investment and growth before the impact of the global financial crisis.
Obama shook hands with local dignitaries, some in the colorful traditional kente cloth. To cheers, he moved briefly to the beat of the traditional drummers in the humid evening air of the coastal capital.
“He could hear the music before we opened the doors,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “This is both a special and an important visit for him personally as president but also for our country to articulate a vision for Africa.”
Ghanaians packed the dark streets around the airport, hoping for a glimpse of the president, who was driven quickly to his hotel without making any public statement.
“It's a great moment for Ghana and Africa. We have to celebrate our own,” said driver Emmanuel Tsawe, who covered his 43-seater bus with Obama posters.
“I believe he has good intentions for the continent and we must cooperate with him,” he said.
But Africa has not been a top priority for an administration grappling with the global financial crisis.
Few expect a shift in policy and the main message will be on the importance of good governance and the wise use of aid, such as the G8 commitment made in Italy to spend $20 billion on improving food security in poor countries.
Obama, whose father is from Kenya, drew on his own background to stress the importance of transparency and strong institutions in bringing change.
“My father travelled to the United States a mere 50 years ago and yet now I have family members who live in villages — they themselves are not going hungry, but live in villages where hunger is real,” he said.
“If you talk to people on the ground in Africa, certainly in Kenya, they will say that part of the issue here is the institutions aren't working for ordinary people. And so governance is a vital concern that has to be addressed.”
Obama was due to address parliament on Saturday before visiting Cape Coast Castle, a fort used in the transatlantic slave trade. He and his family will spend less than 24 hours in Ghana before returning to the United States.
Archive for July 10th, 2009
ACCRA (Reuters) –
PARIS – A Paris court on Friday convicted a gang leader for the 2006 kidnapping, torture and murder of a young French Jew and sentenced him to life in prison — a verdict that drew a thumbs-up sign from the head of the self-styled “gang of barbarians.”
Twenty-four others, including eight women, also were found guilty in the kidnapping, torture and murder of Ilan Halimi, who was 23 years old.
Halimi, held captive for more than three weeks, was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks near railroad tracks in the Essonne region south of Paris on Feb. 13, 2006. He died on the way to the hospital. The horrific death revived worries in France about lingering anti-Semitism, considered an aggravating circumstance in this case, and led to deep anxiety in France’s Jewish community, the largest in western Europe.
Youssouf Fofana, 28, pretended to applaud, then grinned at the packed courtroom and stuck his thumbs up when the verdict was read. He must spend a minimum of 22 years behind bars before parole can be considered.
Fofana, who describes himself as a hardline “Salafist” Islamist, came into the court room wearing a shirt depicting the map of Africa.
Defendants were convicted on a variety of charges, including kidnapping by an organized group, sequestration that resulted in death or failing to assist a person in danger.
Two defendants were acquitted, including one young woman who was told by the presiding judge she could seek indemnities for spending three years in jail before trial. The lightest sentence was six months in jail.
The trial, which began April 29, was held behind closed doors in a juvenile court because two of the defendants were minors at the time of the attack.
The case has attracted intense public scrutiny, and scores of police, some in full riot gear, took up posts around the Palais de Justice in central Paris.
The victim’s family was not present for the verdict. The family’s lawyer said the sentences for some of the lesser accomplices were too lenient, and asked Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie to lodge an appeal.
“I do not feel that the court fully took into account the anti-Semitic nature of this torturing and death,” Francis Szpiner told The Associated Press in the court room instants after the verdict.
Szpiner noted, for instance, that the young woman who tricked Halimi into being kidnapped was sentenced to nine years prison. The woman, who has only been identified as “Emma” because she was a minor at the time, could be released within years for good conduct.
“How am I going to tell Ilan’s mother that in three years time she could meet on the street the girl who lured her son to his death,” Szpiner said. The prosecutor had requested 10 to 12 years prison for Emma.
Halimi’s mother, Ruth, has told French television that she believes the proceedings should have been open to the public.
A month after the start of the trial, Fofana admitted to having stabbed and set fire to Halimi, pouring flammable liquid over him and setting it alight.
Critics say French police initially ignored the possibility of anti-Semitic motives in the killing, which, as the case wore on, prompted fears of resurgent anti-Semitism in France.
Most defense lawyers said they were satisfied with the sentences. “Nobody had anticipated the crime’s tragic ending,” said lawyer Jean Balan, who was defending one of the women in the gang.
Soon after the verdict, police broke up a scuffle between a handful of Jewish youth and a defense lawyer. Another brief scuffle erupted between some defendants and police inside their glassed-in stand in the courtroom.
Szpiner, the family’s lawyer, said the trial was “necessarily political,” because of the anti-Semitic nature of the killing.
“This crime is so heinous it defies … French society as a whole,” he said.
Verena von Derschau in Paris contributed to this report.
Los Angeles (E! Online) –
At some point, even Michael Jackson's kitchen sink will be up for auction.
For now, however, it's still the good stuff.
In fact, another of the King of Pop's famous gloves, as well as a tip-worthy hat, could be all yours…
Darren Julien, founder of Julien's Auctions, tells E! News exclusively that his company is plotting a sale of valuable M.J. memorabilia in November at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square.
While none of the items included in the sale will come from Jackson's private estate—so much for that kitchen sink!—Julien promises a range of collectors' items from people who worked with and knew the star. He's keeping mum on what some of those might be, but teased to E! News that at least one of those sparkly gloves and “a very significant hat” will top the lot.
Last April, the same company was scheduled to auction off up to 2,000 items from Jackson's personal estate, including clothing, art and furniture (something that spouts water, perhaps?). Unfortunately for fans—items would have been so much cheaper premortem—the singer took legal action to halt the sale, and the auction house returned the items to him.
Julien also claims his company and Jackson family members have begun discussing the possibility of reviving the original auction, but it's simply “too early” to announce any official plans.
While Jackson items have been fetching astronomical prices on online auction sites since his death, Julien says he thinks the “holy grail” of M.J. pieces is the iconic, red leather jacket he wore in the “Thriller” video.
“I think that's an item that could potentially sell for 800,000 to 1 million,” he says.
Too bad it's already on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
··· THEY SAID WHAT? Get today's most commented stories now at www.eonline.com
MIAMI – Paris Hilton repeatedly fussed with her hair and makeup in a federal courtroom Friday, sported six-inch stiletto heels and a black dress and amused the judge with a little wave on the way to the witness stand.
Once on the stand, though, Hilton was businesslike when it came to defending herself against an 8 million lawsuit’s claim that she didn’t do her part to promote the 2006 box-office bomb “Pledge This!” She acknowledged in court the movie didn’t turn out very well but insisted she plugged it for everything she was worth.
“If I have my name attached to something, I want it to be as big as it can be,” the 28-year-old heiress, model and actress testified. “It could have been a lot better if it was done more professionally. I wanted it to do as well as possible.”
Hilton is accused by an investor’s lawsuit of turning her back on the film, a box office bomb that made just 2.9 million, at a crucial time when it was being released on DVD and in foreign markets. The lawsuit seeking 8.3 million in damages claims she violated her contract by rejecting or ignoring requests by producers to appear on talk shows and do radio and magazine interviews for the film.
Hilton insisted she was never told her contract required appearances after the October 2006 premiere of “Pledge This!” and said she spent more than two years promoting it beforehand, including two high-profile trips to the Cannes Film Festival in France.
The trial is being heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, who reacted with surprise when Hilton gave him a little wave before testifying. “I’ve never had a witness wave at me before,” the judge cracked.
At one point, Hilton was testifying about how full her schedule was during rehearsals for her next film, 2008′s “The Hottie & The Nottie,” when Moreno interrupted.
“Was it better than this one?” the judge said, referring to “Pledge This!”.
“It was really good,” Hilton answered with a giggle. Along with the heels, Hilton wore an all-black sleeveless dress tied at the back and sported diamond rings and a bracelet.
Testimony was expected to conclude Friday but it was unclear when Moreno would issue a ruling. If he finds Hilton breached her contract, a separate proceeding could be held to determine any damages.
The lawsuit was filed by attorney Michael Goldberg, a court-appointed receiver for a now-defunct entertainment company that was the major investor in “Pledge This!” The company, Worldwide Entertainment Group, was shut down as a 300 million Ponzi scheme by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Goldberg is attempting to recoup losses for some 3,300 investors.
Goldberg said Friday he put up the final 600,000 from his receivership account to complete the movie in hopes that Hilton’s promotion prowess would enable it to turn a profit. He said her unwillingness to do events after the premiere was the reason it lost money.
“I said, ‘Just do one little thing and you’ll never hear from me again,’” Goldberg told Moreno. “We had no support whatsoever.”
Stores told to disclose packaging
UK supermarkets should be forced to reveal how much packaging they produce, local councils say.The Local Government Association (LGA) said only Morrisons, Waitrose, and Marks & Spencer responded to its request for details on packaging. The remaining five it asked, including Tesco and Sainsbury’s, referred the LGA to the waste reduction body Wrap. However, Wrap said it only publishes data for the grocery sector as a whole, not for individual stores. The LGA said that supermarkets log how much packaging they produce with Wrap, a government-funded organisation, and urged this information be made public every three months. “Supermarkets must be open with people about how much packaging they are producing,” said Margaret Eaton, chairman of the Local Government Association, in a letter to Environment Secretary Hilary Benn. “It is vital that consumers can make informed choices about where they shop and which products they buy.” Efforts ‘undermined’The LGA said recycling efforts are being undermined by supermarkets using excessive packaging, and this will add to the estimated 1.8bn local authorities will spend on landfill tax between 2008 and 2011. Sainsbury’s said it used packaging to protect food, to keep it fresher and extend its life, and that it had the industry’s most ambitious target to reduce packaging – by 33% relative to sales by 2015. It said local authority recycling rates varied from 14% to 58%, and said the LGA should focus its efforts on helping recycling authorities improve their record. Earlier this year, the LGA published its own survey of supermarket waste. Based on 29 common grocery items, it found Waitrose had the most wrapping while Tesco had the least. Lidl had the least recyclable packaging on their products, Sainsbury’s contained the most.
ROME (Reuters) –
Tyson Gay ran a world leading 9.77 seconds to win the 100 metres at Rome's Golden Gala on Friday and show Olympic champion Usain Bolt that he will not surrender his world sprint titles without a fight next month.
The American had to equal his personal best to see off Bolt's Jamaican compatriot and former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell, who ran 9.88 despite saying beforehand was not fully fit after suffering an ankle injury over two months ago.
Another Jamaican, Yohan Blake, came third with a time of 9.96 in the second attempt at the race after Daniel Bailey of Antigua false started.
Bolt is favorite to steal Gay's 100m and 200m crowns at the world championships in Berlin after winning the Olympic titles in both events in Beijing last year with world record times of 9.69 and 19.30 respectively.
But Gay's current form suggests he may give Bolt a run for his money after the American's Olympic campaign was hampered by a hamstring injury.
Friday's win comes after he ran a wind-assisted 9.75 seconds in the 100m at the U.S. world championship trials last month and 19.58 in the 200m in May in New York, the third fastest ever.
“I've been learning how to refocus at the start (after false starts) and that's what I've done,” Gay told Rai television.
“I don't know if it is a message to Bolt, it's not 9.69, but I'm pretty sure he knows I'm training and working hard.”
Kerron Stewart ran another world leading time of 10.75 and her personal best in the women's 100m to beat fellow Jamaican and Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser.
Victory keeps Stewart in contention for a slice of the $1 million jackpot shared between the athletes who win at all six Golden League meetings after she took the first two.
Ethiopian middle distance great Kenenisa Bekele still has a chance of a slice of the big prize too after clinching the 5,000 metres in 12 minutes, 56.23 seconds, the best time so far this year.
So has Sanya Richards of the United States, who won the 400m in 49.46 to notch her 36th sub-50-second performance, breaking the tally set by world record holder Marita Koch of East Germany.
Russia's Olympic and world pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva remains in the hunt too, although her winning mark of 4.85m was well short of her world record of 5.05m.
Norway's two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen ended his rival Tero Pitkamaki's million-dollar hopes with a final throw of 87.46m.
Finnish world champion Pitkamaki had led the competition from the start with his first throw of 83.68.
Bahrain's world champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal also set a year-best time of 3:56.55 for victory in the women's 1,500m.
Cuba's 110m hurdles Olympic champion and world record holder Dayron Robles triumphed at his first Golden League event this year in 13.17.
In the long jump America's former world and Olympic champion Dwight Phillips beat the current holder of those titles, Panama's Irving Saladino, with a leap of 8.61 metres.
The next Golden League meeting is in Paris on July 17.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) –
A Canadian judge has rejected a bid by female ski jumpers to compete in next year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but agreed they were being discriminated against.
The International Olympic Committee is discriminating against the women by barring them from the 2010 Games, but that decision cannot be challenged under Canada's civil rights laws, the court ruled on Friday.
“There will be little solace to the plaintiffs in my finding that they have been discriminated against; there is no remedy available to them in this court,” British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon said.
Ski jumping has been an Olympic sport since 1924, but is one of the few events in either the Winter or Summer Games to not have both a men's and women's competition. All new sports allowed into the Games must have both.
The IOC has refused to sanction women's ski jumping in the Games, arguing that not enough women are competing in the sport worldwide for it to qualify as an Olympic event.
Friday's court ruling comes after a group of 15 current and former international women ski jumpers sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee on the grounds that, as the host and organizer of the 2010 Games, VANOC was required to abide by Canadian law.
The women did not name the IOC in the suit, acknowledging that the committee, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, was not directly bound by Canadian civil rights laws.
NOT VANCOUVER'S DECISION
VANOC has said that, while it is sympathetic to the women's desire to compete, only the IOC had the authority to decide which sports would be included in Olympic competitions.
Justice Fenlon agreed that the decision on whether to include women ski jumpers was not VANOC's to make.
“The IOC made a decision that discriminates against the plaintiffs. Only the IOC can alleviate that discrimination by including an Olympic ski jumping event for women in the 2010 Games,” Fenlon wrote.
The group of women, both current and former ski jumpers, dispute the IOC's claim that there are not enough competitors internationally to qualify, and allege the IOC's decision is motivated by sexism.
“It's awful that we lost, but I'm glad we tried,” said Canadian ski jumper Katie Willis.
The jumpers' lawyers will have to study the court decision before deciding if there are grounds to appeal, a spokeswoman for the group said.
A BITTERSWEET VICTORY.
VANOC praised the decision, but said it hoped the women would be included in future Olympic Games.
“I think the judge did the best she could to sort out a very difficult matter,” said VANOC Chief Executive John Furlong.
The IOC also said it was pleased by the decision, but strongly disagreed with the court's finding that it discriminated.
“As previously explained, our decision was based on technical issues, without regard to gender,” the committee said in a statement.
The judge said the IOC has promoted women's participation in sports, but also noted that men's ski jumping is also not widespread internationally it remains an Olympic sport out of tradition.
(British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver, Docket #: S083619)
(Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson)
WASHINGTON The highly controversial no-warrant surveillance program initiated after the September 11 terrorist attacks relied on a “factually flawed” legal analysis inappropriately provided by a single Justice Department official, according to a report to Congress on Friday.
A demonstration in Chicago in 2006 protests the Bush administration’s wiretapping program.
The report was compiled by the inspectors general of the nation’s top intelligence agencies, the Pentagon and the Justice Department. The report, mandated by Congress, provides fresh context to information previously leaked in press accounts and buttressed by both congressional testimony and books written by former officials involved in the surveillance effort. The 38-page unclassified version of the document reaches a cautious conclusion, stating that any use of the information collected under the surveillance program “should be carefully monitored.” The program, launched by President Bush in the weeks after the September 11 attacks, allowed forwithout court approvalthe interception of communications into and out of the United States if there was a “reasonable basis” that one of the parties was a terrorist. The report, though not critical of the program’s objectives, sharply criticizes the legal advice provided to the White House by the Justice Department. Among other things, the report cites a Justice Department conclusion that “it was extraordinary and inappropriate that a single DOJ attorney, John Yoo, was relied upon to conduct the initial legal assessment” of the surveillance program. “The lack of oversight and review of Yoo’s work … contributed to a legal analysis of the [program] that at a minimum was factually flawed,” it says. The report says Yoo largely circumvented both his boss, Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Yoo, described by Bybee in the report as “the White House’s guy” on national security, also provided the legal justification for the CIA’s controversial harsh interrogation program. Yoo’s legal rationale was later repudiated by the Justice Department. The bitter debate within the Justice Department over the legal basis for the warrantless surveillance and related intelligence efforts is highlighted in references to the much-documented dramatic account of a March 2004 confrontation in Ashcroft’s hospital room. Deputy Attorney General James Comey defied then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales by refusing to sign off on the reauthorization of the program. The report notes that several members of Congressincluding then-House Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Nancy Pelosiwere briefed on the program on October 25, 2001, and a total of 17 times before the program became public in 2005. The document repeats the public assertion by former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden that no member of Congress had urged that the program be stopped. The new report makes clear that the President’s Surveillance Program was only a small part of the counterterrorism intelligence efforts in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and its impact even today remains unclear. Most of the intelligence officials interviewed by the inspectors general had, according to the report, “difficulty citing specific instances where PSP reporting had directly contributed to counterterrorism successes.” The report was compiled by inspectors general of five agencies despite the apparent refusal by key figuresincluding Yoo, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former CIA Director George Tenetto be interviewed by investigators. Those who consented to be interviewed by the investigators included Hayden, former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, former White House Counsel and Attorney General Gonzales, FBI Director Robert Mueller and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
US trade gap lowest in nine years
The US saw its deficit narrow to 26bn (16bn) in May, its lowest level in more than nine years, according to figures from the Commerce Department.Imports continued to fall while exports increased, pushing the deficit to its lowest level since November 1999. The deficit, the difference between what the US exports and imports, was 9.8% lower in May compared to April. The deficit in 2009 to date is running at a yearly rate of 350bn – around half what it was for the whole of 2008. “I think this was a very positive report and consistent with the idea that the US recession will come to an end in the next few months,” said Mark Zandi, economist for rating agency Moody’s. But separate figures on Friday showed consumers were increasingly negative in early July. Worries about a prolonged downturn and job security were key concerns hitting sentiment, the Reuters/University of Michigan survey suggested. The preliminary reading for July dropped to 64.6 from June’s final reading of 70.8. Fewer carsThe trade deficit between the US and its single biggest trading partner, Canada fell to its lowest level in 15 years at 628m. And the US deficit with Japan dropped its lowest level in more than 20 years, at 1.9bn. The deficit with China meanwhile added 4.4% to 17.5bn – though this is below the level seen in 2008. Figures from China recently showed a fall in exports and imports for June – though less than predicted. Fewer cars, auto-parts, civilian aircraft and computers were imported to the US in June.
What the G8 pledges mean
The G8 summit in Italy has closed with world leaders pledging 20bn to help boost food supplies in the developing world.There were also agreements among both developed and developing nations that global temperatures must not be allowed to rise to dangerous levels.BBC correspondents at the G8 give their analysis on the main developments. Follow the links below to jump directly to their analysis.
BRIDGET KENDALL ON THE G8 CONCEPT
Low expectations can be an advantage. The G8 has had much bad press in recent years, and the emergence of the other “Gs”, as President Obama called them – groupings of G20, G5 and G14 – had threatened to undermine its exclusivity. What was the point of a G8 club, many were beginning to ask, which was too narrowly-based to tackle today’s global problems and when it did reach a deal, never seemed able to live up to its own promises? At first glance, this year’s gathering did seem more consensual than it has been for some time. But on broader diplomatic questions, the sands soon began shifting. The American and Russian presidents both arrived, basking in the warm glow of what appeared to be a ground-breaking summit in Moscow, crowned by a deal to get back to a new round of nuclear arms cuts. But in his final G8 press conference President Medvedev sounded a chilly note: Russian missiles could still be re-targeted to point at Europe, he warned, if President Obama did not cancel plans for that controversial missile shield in Europe. So much for G8 consensus building… In the end, it seemed as though the main purpose of this summit was simply to take stock before the next global round of meetings. President Obama publicly warned Iran it had until the next G20 summit – due in September – to respond to an appeal to suspend its nuclear programme. Many leaders invoked the Copenhagen meeting in December as the real deadline when it came to a proper global deal on tackling climate change. So has the G8 had its day? President Obama seemed to hint as much, ruefully complaining there had been far too many summits already in the six months he had been in office. But it is much harder to dismantle clubs than it is to invent new ones. The Canadians are already preparing for next year’s event. And the French the year after. So watch this space… and see you again next year.
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JAMES ROBBINS ON CLIMATE CHANGE
Few people expected a decisive breakthrough on climate change at this summit. President Obama pointed out at the end of proceedings that the G8 was never really the right forum for that. Nevertheless, the meeting of the major economies forum he chaired did bring a greater meeting of minds and of joint political will than we have ever seen previously. The historic polluters – the industrialised countries who make up the Group of 8 – were able to join with the emerging economic giants in a shared acceptance that global warming must be limited to a maximum temperature rise of 2C. That could not have been taken for granted before all those leaders came to Italy. It helps bind India and China, in particular, into a process of restricting emissions of greenhouse gases – a process to which they have previously been highly resistant or even downright hostile. The US, under the new management of Barack Obama, has moved a long way too. His commitment to aim for emissions cuts of a whopping 80% by 2050, alongside the other G8 countries, does have its flaws. But it is a very big target, even if it is so far in the distance that it is quite hard to judge if really tough decisions will be made now to make deep cuts by 2020. That’s what the UN scientists insist is necessary. The failure to agree an interim target for 2020 provoked the UN Secretary General into unusually harsh criticism. Ban Ki-moon told me at this summit that the G8 leaders of the rich world were failing to shoulder their “historical responsibilities”. No wonder everyone agrees that it is going to be a very hard road indeed towards Copenhagen and the December UN summit meant to produce a new and binding global treaty.
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ANDREW WALKER ON DEVELOPMENT
The final day of the summit was dominated by food, and a new approach to tackling hunger. It involves less emphasis on food aid and more on promoting the development of agriculture. And there is money on the table to fund the strategy – 20bn. Campaigners here generally welcomed the basic idea, but have reservations about whether the money being offered is enough and whether it is genuinely new. The big concern they always have whenever the G8 offers aid for something is whether the money will be diverted from other development programmes. Most say that in the immediate aftermath of the news, they don’t know. But they will be poring over the figures to see if they can work it out. On the overall aid budget there was a great deal of criticism of some G8 countries ahead of the summit for falling behind on commitments they made at Gleneagles in 2005. Max Lawson of Oxfam says that European G8 countries made the biggest promises. But apart from the UK, he says, they are not on track to implement the aid increases they said they would by 2010. One of the communiques issued at this summit reiterates the importance of the Gleneagles commitments. But campaigners say some G8 countries are almost certain to fall short.
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WASHINGTON (AFP) –
US scientists on Thursday said that the El Nino warming trend of the Pacific Ocean waters has returned, bringing with it almost certain changes in weather patterns around the world.
The El Nino climatological effect — the periodic warming of central and eastern tropical Pacific waters — occurs on average every two to five years and typically lasts about 12 months.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement that the current El Nino was likely to develop further during the next several months, with additional strengthening possible and is expected to last through early 2010.
In past years, El Nino has been known to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity and typically brings beneficial winter rain to the arid US southwest.
But the weather system also often brings damaging winter storms in California and turbulent weather across the southern United States.
El Nino also has been associated with severe flooding and mudslides in Central and South America, and drought in Indonesia.
Jane Lubchenco, US undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, said the agency plans to provide frequent updates to “industries, governments and emergency managers about weather conditions El Nino may bring, so these can be factored into decision-making and ultimately protect life, property and the economy.”
French ‘Barbarian’ killer jailed
The leader of a Paris gang has been sentenced to life in prison in France for the torture and murder of a Jewish man, Ilam Halimi, in 2006.Youssouf Fofana, 28, the only member of the Barbarians gang to be tried for the murder, will serve at least 22 years. Mr Halimi was held by the gang for more than three weeks before being found by a railway line. He was handcuffed to a tree, naked and severely burned. His death prompted mass protests in France against anti-Semitism. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum sentence for Fofana – the life sentence means he must serve a minimum of 22 years. The Associated Press reported that he mimed applause when the verdict was given. Another 26 people were facing charges over involvement in the crime. Fofana’s two main accomplices received sentences of 15 and 18 years respectively, while a young woman who lured Mr Halimi to his death was given nine years. Two other defendants were acquitted. Some of those charged were minors so the trial was heard behind closed door, against Mr Halimi’s family’s wishes. Death threats
Mr Halimi, who worked in a mobile phone shop, was lured by a female gang member to an empty apartment in the Parisian suburbs in February 2006. When he arrived, he was attacked and drugged. The kidnappers tried unsuccessfully to extort a ransom of 450,000 euros (600,000; 405,000) from his family, sending them harrowing images and video recordings. Fofana, who is of Ivorian descent, is said to have targeted Mr Halimi because he believed that “Jews are loaded”. After the murder he fled to Ivory Coast, from where he is reported to have made death threats to Mr Halimi’s family. He was extradited to France in March 2006 to stand trial.
LONDON (Reuters) –
Actress Kate Beckinsale accepted 20,000 pounds ($32,000) in libel damages at the High Court on Thursday over a story in Britain's Daily Express newspaper that she was set to miss out on her dream role as Barbarella.
The 35-year-old star of films like “Pearl Harbor,” “Underworld” and “Van Helsing” was not in court for the settlement of her action against Express Newspapers, the Press Association newsagency reported.
Her solicitor, Graham Atkins, told Mr Justice Eady that the story in the Express last month was entirely false and had caused considerable embarrassment and harm.
Beckinsale was never in discussions about the film role and there was never a possibility she would be part of the project.
It followed that she had not been passed over in favor of rival Hollywood actress Rose McGowan, as the story claimed.
The newspaper's counsel, Ian Helme, offered its sincere apology.
NEW YORK – Grant Hill is staying with the Phoenix Suns.
Hill decided to remain in Phoenix on Friday, rather than join a title contender in Boston or a rebuilding team in New York.
Lon Babby, Hill’s agent, said during a conference call that the deal is for two years, the second at Hill’s option, and he will be paid 3 million in the first year. He could have earned more next season in New York, where Babby said the Knicks offered the full midlevel exception, about 5.8 million, for one year or 10 million for three.
The Celtics and Knicks both provided the chance for Hill to reunite with former coaches: Doc Rivers in Boston and Mike D’Antoni in New York. The Celtics had under 2 million to offer and couldn’t guarantee Hill a starting spot, but Babby said all three teams were willing to give Hill everything he asked for.
“I will say this. He thought long and hard about the alternatives. He did not come to this decision easily or lightly,” Babby said. “The places had a lot to offer and very different things to offer and that’s what made it challenging for us to work our way through this.”
Hill has played the last two years for the Suns and averaged 12 points in 2008-09 while playing in all 82 games for the first time in his 14-year career. Though Phoenix missed the playoffs last season, traded Shaquille O’Neal and listened to offers for Amare Stoudemire, Babby said Hill expects Stoudemire to remain in Phoenix next year.
Hill’s decision was previously reported by Yahoo Sports, which said part of his decision was based on the belief the Suns were close to an extension with Steve Nash.
“I think he’s quite confident the team that’s coming back next year is going to be a highly, highly competitive team and obviously that would include Steve Nash,” Babby said. “But you need to get those specifics from the Suns.”
The Knicks, previously turned down by Jason Kidd, hoped Hill would be intrigued by the opportunities the city could provide. His wife, Tamia, is a Grammy-nominated recording artist.
“New York offers many things, including an important platform off the court as well as on the court,” Babby said. “I think the obvious advantages of each place were given careful consideration.”
Hill is a seven-time All-Star who has averaged 18.5 points for Detroit, Orlando and Phoenix. Most of his six seasons with the Magic were ruined by injuries before the Suns signed him 2007. Babby said Hill considered the faith the Suns had in him two years ago, saying Hill, “didn’t want to leave Phoenix on a sour note.”
And the Suns strengthened their case with a late recruiting pitch after Hill had what Babby called a “very, very impressive visit” to New York. Team president Steve Kerr, owner Robert Sarver and coach Alvin Gentry then visited Hill, which Babby said might have been the deciding factor.
URUMQI, China – The petite Muslim woman with the sky blue head scarf began by complaining that the public washrooms were closed at a crowded mosque on Friday — the most important day of the week for Islamic worship. When a group gathered around her on the sidewalk, Madina Ahtam then railed against communist rule in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, rocked by ethnic rioting that has killed at least 184 people this week.
The 26-year-old businesswoman eventually led the crowd of mostly men in a fist-pumping street march that was quickly blocked by riot police, some with automatic rifles pointed at the protesters.
The incident was one of many examples of how Muslim women have been taking bold leadership roles following the deadliest communal violence in decades in the Xinjiang region. As the communist government launches a sweeping security crackdown, the women have faced down troops, led protests and risked arrest by speaking out against police tactics they believe are excessive.
Chinese leaders have alleged that a woman masterminded the rioting in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. They blame activist Rebiya Kadeer, a 62-year-old businesswoman who was once the government’s favorite Uighur success story. But she began criticizing communist rule, served time in prison and eventually went into exile in the U.S. She has repeatedly denied instigating the violence.
Women have been on the front line in Urumqi partly because more than 1,400 men in the Muslim Uighur minority have been rounded up by police since ethnic rioting broke out July 5.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency said late Friday that the death toll has risen to 184, with 137 of the victims belonging to the dominant Han ethnic group. The Han victims included 111 men and 26 women, the report said. The rest of the deaths were 45 men and one woman who were Muslim Uighurs, along with one man of the Hui ethnic group, Xinhua said, citing the information office of the regional government.
The violence came as the Uighurs were protesting the June 25 deaths of Uighur factory workers in a brawl in southern China. The crowd then scattered throughout Urumqi, attacking Han Chinese, burning cars and smashing windows.
Many Uighurs who are still free live in fear of being arrested for any act of dissent.
Thousands of Chinese troops have flooded into Urumqi to separate the feuding ethnic groups, and a senior Communist Party official vowed to execute those guilty of murder in the rioting.
At the Group of Eight summit in Italy, Gen. James Jones, the U.S. national security adviser, urged two Chinese diplomats “to ensure that government forces act with appropriate restraint,” according to a senior Obama administration official, who described the meeting to reporters on condition of anonymity because of White House ground rules.
In many Uighur neighborhoods during the crisis in Urumqi, the women did much of the talking with reporters as the men gathered in small groups on street corners and in back alleys, speaking quietly among themselves.
“I can’t speak freely. The police could come any minute and haul me away,” said a Uighur man who would only identify himself as Alim.
But on Friday, some men challenged officials when they showed up for prayers at Urumqi’s popular White Mosque and found the gate closed. Officials had earlier said the mosque would be closed for public safety reasons as security forces tried to pacify the capital.
The mosque was eventually opened when the crowd swelled and there was a threat of unrest, police said.
Most Muslim Uighurs practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam or follow the mystical Sufism tradition. The women often work and lead an active social life outside the home. Many wear brightly colored head scarves but the custom is not strongly enforced. Young Uighur women often wear jeans, formfitting tops and dresses.
As the faithful streamed into the White Mosque, Ahtam arrived holding a lilac umbrella and told foreign reporters in broken English, “Toilet no open. No water.”
She led reporters to an area where the faithful are supposed to cleanse themselves before prayers and said with tears running down her cheeks, “Washing room not open. Everybody no wash.”
After the prayers, she continued speaking on the sidewalk and attracted about 40 people who applauded when she criticized the government.
“Every Uighur people are afraid. Do you understand? We are afraid. Chinese people are very happy. Why?” said Ahtam, who wore a blue head scarf and leopard-print blouse.
The government believes the Uighurs should be grateful for Xinjiang’s rapid economic development, which has brought new schools, highways, airports, railways, natural gas fields and oil wells in the sprawling, rugged Central Asian region, three times the size of Texas.
But many of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, with a population of 9 million in Xinjiang, accuse the dominant Han ethnic group of discriminating against them and saving all the best jobs for themselves. Many also say the Communist Party is repressive and tries to snuff out their Islamic faith, language and culture.
As Ahtam’s crowd became more agitated, about 20 riot police with clubs marched toward the group. The Uighurs pumped their fists in the air and walked down the street with Ahtam leading the pack.
About 200 more riot police arrived and cut off the group, with some of the security forces kneeling down and pointing their automatic rifles at the marchers. Foreign reporters were led to a side alley, out of view of the protesters, who were forced to squat on the sidewalk along a row of shuttered shops.
Hours later, calls to Ahtam’s cell phone went unanswered and it was unknown what happened to her.
Police quickly closed off parts of major thoroughfare for much of the afternoon after the protest. In the past two days, the capital had been moving closer to its normal state, but Ahtam’s simple protest about the public toilet showed how volatile the situation is and how quickly it can regress.
Women led another protest Tuesday — one day after they said police rounded up 300 men in their neighborhood, a hot spot during the July 5 rioting. Foreign journalists visited the area during an official government media tour that was supposed to highlight the damage done during the violence.
But the trip backfired when the Uighur women emerged from a market nearby and began crying and complaining about missing husbands and sons. They screamed in the faces of the hundreds of riot police who were mobilized to shut down their spontaneous protest.
Later in the week, the women were less willing to talk, but some met with foreign reporters in side streets and complained.
“We haven’t had any news about our husbands. We haven’t been allowed to call,” said one woman, who only gave part of her name, Guli.
Most of the arrested suspects were Uighur men, and police and witnesses have said they used rocks, sticks and knives to brutally and randomly kill their victims. Officials have said many of the targets were women.
In other parts of Xinjiang, the city of Kashgar, near the Pakistan border, was declared off-limits to reporters in all but name. Foreign reporters were not allowed to leave their hotels, except to go to the airport. An Associated Press photographer was detained repeatedly and escorted to the airport. The effect was to make it impossible for reporters to work.
Associated Press writer Charles Babington contributed to this report from L’Aquila, Italy.
Air France box search winds down
French ships equipped with US listening devices are ending their hunt for the black boxes of an airliner lost over the Atlantic on 1 June, officials say.They failed to pick up signals the boxes’ “pingers” were meant to emit for 30 days after the Air France jet crashed with the loss of all 228 lives. Experts believe the cause of the crash may never be known unless the two flight recorders are recovered. There is still a chance that French submarines may discover the boxes.
Brazil ended its operation to recover bodies and wreckage from Flight AF447, which was flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, towards the end of last month, after finding the remains of 51 people. French investigators believe the plane, which disappeared in a storm, broke up on contact with water, not in the air. They say the plane’s speed sensors appear to have been a factor in the crash but not its cause. ‘Still hope’Two tugs chartered by the French agency investigating the crash (the Investigation and Analysis Bureau, or BEA) had been searching for the jet’s cockpit voice and flight data recorders with Towed Pinger Locators (TPL) supplied by the US Navy. US Air Force Col Willie Berges, the Brazil-based commander of US military forces supporting the effort, said one tug had already stopped searching. “The last ship will be departing the search area today,” he told the Associated Press news agency on Friday, adding that he did not know the exact time. The ships had had “no success – nothing was tracked”, Col Berges said. A French nuclear submarine, the Emeraude, has also been hunting the boxes and robot submarines will join the search later in July, Air France-KLM director Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said in an interview published in France’s Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday. “All hope is not lost,” he said. Chief BEA investigator Alain Bouillard said last week that a French boat equipped with two small submarines would begin a search along with another submarine and a robot craft “after 14 July”, a public holiday in France. Friday saw the funeral in Dublin of a young Irishwoman who was aboard the jet along with two friends, all three of them doctors. The body of Dr Jane Deasy was identified this month. Those of her friends, Dr Aisling Butler and Dr Eithne Walls, were never found.
The little number on the tag on a pair of pants that indicates size can mean a lot to a person, and retailers know it.
The probability of people describing themselves as overweight is decreasing, researchers find.
That’s why, in recent years, as the American population has become generally more overweight, brands from the luxury names to the mass retail chains have scaled down the size labels on their clothing. “You may actually be a size 14 and, according to whatever particular store you’re in, you come out a size 10,” said Natalie Nixon, associate professor of fashion industry management at Philadelphia University. “It’s definitely to make the consumer feel good.” Research shows that, when it comes to self-perception, the concept of “overweight” may be relative. A working paper from a group led by Mary Burke, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Massachusetts, suggested that people’s perceptions of overweight have shifted, and “normal” is now heavier than it used to be. Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, nationally representative surveys run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first group was surveyed in 1988-1994, and the second was surveyed in 1999-2004. Because there were different people in each survey, it is not possible to tell if the perceptions of individuals shifted over time, the authors said. Watch CNN’s Elizabeth Landau talk more about the study » Participants were asked whether they consider themselves “underweight,” “about right,” or “overweight,” and reported their body mass index, a measure of the health risks associated with weight. Calculate your BMI » Are people more complacent, or better educated? Although the BMI of the general population increased from the earlier survey period to the later one, the probability of people describing themselves as overweight decreased in the later survey, researchers found. They found that weight misperception tended to decrease among womenmeaning women with normal BMI who were surveyed in 1999-2004 were less likely to say that they’re “overweight” than women with normal BMI in 1988-1994, especially among 17 to 19-year-olds. For men, it was about the same. “For women, this was good news,” Burke said. “Women seem to get a more realistic perception of themselves.”
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Although the study authors said this trend may reflect healthy body image campaigns, physician nutrition specialist Dr. Melina Jampolis, who was not involved in this research, said she doubts that positive messages had this much influence. Rather, it is the relative increase in weight of the general population that makes people with normal BMI feel more normal, she said. On the flip side, feeling normal but being overweight may decrease a person’s motivation to lose weight, Burke said. Still, while the BMI scale reflects disease risks associated with being overweight, it does not reflect the whole story of a person’s health, experts said. There have been reports that being somewhat overweight, but not obese, is associated with decreased mortality, such as a 2005 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at deaths from a variety of causes. Innovations such as treatments for high cholesterol have lowered the death risks for overweight people, Burke said. Especially for older adults, being slightly overweight may increase bone density, cushioning bones against falls, she said. But the JAMA paper shows associations, not causes. People should not take this information as an excuse to gain weight, Jampolis said. There are, however, other reasons that BMI isn’t the whole storyfor instance, it does not reflect the distribution of a person’s weight, Jampolis said. “You could have really skinny arms and legs and just carry your weight in the middle, and it could be only 10 pounds, but belly fat, the visceral adiposity, it could very significantly increase your risk of disease,” she said. A brief history of body size perceptions Experts noted that plumpness has been in style during some historical periods, especially as an indicator of prosperity when food was scarce. But the ideal of controlling one’s food isn’t new either. The book “Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West” by historian Peter Stearns points out that fasting was a religious virtue seen throughout the Middle Ages, and continuing into the Puritan version of Protestantism. Christianity also espoused the idea of restricting food to fight sin.
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The artistic and literary movement known as Romanticism, beginning in the late 18th century, stressed “slender, ethereal” ideals, Stearns wrote. The 1830s brought a prominent New York fashion style of a “willowy” look for young women, and there were many reports of anorexia nervosa during this time, the book said. But for older women, plumpness remained fashionable, and women on stage were expected to be voluptuous. The meaning of the word “diet” came to include the goal of weight loss as early as 1910, Stearns wrote. “Middle-class America began its ongoing battle against body fat” between 1890 and 1910, Stearns wrote. The main factors that contributed to this shift were the advent of fat-control devices, the rise of public conversation about fat, and changes in fashion for both men and women, he wrote. The culture of beauty that shaped up around the turn of the last century, promoting slimness as beautiful and fatness as ugly, has intensified since then, Stearns wrote. Despite the widespread notion of dieting, obesity has risen dramatically over the last 20 years in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A recent survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health found that the percentage of adults classified as obese went up in 23 states in the last year. View a map of obesity in America » As clothing size numbers scale down in an era when bodies are getting more overweight, portion sizes have been increasing, Jampolis said. Photographs of fast food hamburgers from 50 years ago reveal that the serving size back then would seem like a “joke portion,” now, she said. “The same thing has happened with our body sizes. We’re perceiving them as totally normal,” she said.
As far as vanity sizing, Nixon called it a “temporary fix” that reflects a larger problem of people looking for quick solutions for losing weight, she said. “It doesn’t really deal with the root of the problem,” she said. “It’s really a lifestyle issue. It’s not about a temporary diet, it’s not about being pleasantly surprised because you’re a size 12 instead of a size 16,” she said.
Nigerian group claims oil attack
Nigeria’s most prominent militant group says it has blown up an oil pipeline operated by Chevron only recently repaired following a previous attack. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said it had targeted a pipeline linking Alero creek to a Chevron terminal in Delta state. “Our fighters revisited the recently repaired Chevron pipeline… and destroyed it again,” the group said. Attacks in the Niger Delta have severely cut Nigeria’s oil output. Mend said it had blown up the pipeline at about 1900 GMT. There was no immediate confirmation of the attack. The militants claim to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil wealth, though the government has in the past dismissed them as common criminals. Amnesty offer In the statement released on Friday, the group said it would now target repaired infrastructure because the government and oil companies cared more about fixing the installations than helping people displaced by a military offensive. “If the government can show the same speed… which it exhibited in repairing the lines as returning the displaced communities, the region will be a better place,” it said. The attack came one day after a lawyer acting for Henry Okah, a jailed militant who headed Mend before his arrest, said he had accepted a government offer of an amnesty. Mr Okah was arrested in Angola in 2007. His release has been one of the militant group’s key demands. A senior Mend official confirmed to the BBC that if Mr Okah was set free, the organisation would lay down its arms. But he also said that the release of Mr Okah was only one of many issues to be settled in the region. The government recently offered an amnesty to members of any militant group that lays down its weapons. But a second spokesman for Mend said yesterday that while he supported Mr Okah’s decision, he did not think the amnesty offer was aimed at “freedom fighters” because it did not allow for negotiation.
In recent days Mend has claimed to have blown up several oil pipelines and has captured six foreign crew from onboard an oil tanker.
The US is getting serious about cracking down on dogfighting, as shown by a sweeping raid Wednesday which yielded 26 arrests across seven states and the seizure of 450 pit bulls bred to fight.
This is the biggest dogfighting raid in US history, according to the Humane Society of US (HSUS).
But as raids on shadowy dogfighting rings step up, the HSUS and animal adoption groups face a dilemma: Can they find homes for all the rescued dogs?
Some pit bulls may become “casualties in the war between a society that says animal fighting is wrong and the issue of there not being enough homes for the animals being bred,” says Robert DeFranco, a companion animal behaviorist and president of the American College of Applied Science in Crescent City, Fla.
Wednesday's raid was conducted with the cooperation of local, county, and state law enforcement, as well as the FBI, the US Department of Agriculture, and the HSUS. Those arrested were charged under federal laws for buying and selling fighting dogs and engaging in dogfighting.
“The message is loud and clear to the dogfighting business that thriving on pain and suffering is not going to be tolerated any longer,” says Scotlund Haisley, senior director of emergency services at the HSUS in Washington.
Dogfighting raids have increased since the 2007 arrest and conviction of former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick in Virginia for breeding fighting dogs and engaging in dog fights became a rallying point for animal rights activists.
The successful adoption of Mr. Vick's dogs showed that even dogs bred to fight can find good homes. Thousands of pit bulls are euthanized each day in the US, experts say.
Media publicity and work by shelter organizations means all the rescued dogs from Wednesday's raids are likely to find a home, Mr. DeFranco says, adding that his school is willing to take two of the harder cases, if needed. “From Mississippi to New York, if everybody can get together, I think every one of those animals can find a home.”
The Humane Society of Missouri has taken more than 300 dogs from the raids, and the dogs will be evaluated by behavioral experts to see if they can be rehabilitated. The adoption process will likely be similar to what happened to the dogs seized from Vick's Bad Newz Kennels in Virgina.
But in general, pit bull adoption agencies are overwhelmed. Most pit bull shelters contacted by the Monitor on Thursday said they were not taking dogs, with one shelter saying on its voice mail message: “We're way, way overfull.”
The breeding and handling of pit bulls plays a huge role in their temperament, which can run the gamut from gentle to overtly aggressive, even deadly. There are a number of temperament tests on the market, but none can fully guarantee future behavior, making pit bulls a special case in the dog adoption world.
“If you have an animal that is controlled, handled, trained and nurtured, the animal will most likely be fine,” says DeFranco. “But if you put the animal in an environment where it's motivated to fight, then you could have a weapon that can do some serious damage.”
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History books tell us that the planet Neptune was found in the mid-1800s after years of speculation and search.
But in 1613, more than two centuries before Neptune was officially discovered, Galileo Galilei knew he had found it, according to a new theory by University of Melbourne physicist David Jamieson.
Jamieson has been studying Galileo's notebooks and found some interesting, buried notations that suggest the great astronomer – then working with a crude, early telescope he crafted himself – was onto something big.
It has long been known that Galileo observed Neptune, but it was thought that he discounted the object as a star and gave it no further thought. But it turns out Galileo may have known the “star” had moved in relation to other stars, Jamieson reveals. That sort of movement would have caught Galileo's attention, since he knew that it was just the sort of thing planets did.
Neptune, the farthest planet from the sun (assuming you don't count the recently demoted Pluto), is hard to spot even today. It is not visible to the naked eye. But this week, by coincidence, Neptune is well positioned near the easy-to-find Jupiter, making Neptune findable with binoculars or a small telescope.
Neptune's history of discovery has been controversial from the beginning.
Uranus had been discovered before Neptune, and observations suggest it was under the gravitational influence of another planet, farther out in the solar system, says Geoff Gaherty, who runs the Foxmead Observatory in Canada and writes skywatching articles for Starry Night Education and SPACE.com.
“Predictions of the position of this new planet were made by [British mathematician] John Couch Adams in 1843 and [French mathematician] Urbain Le Verrier in 1845-1846, but both mathematicians had great difficulty in persuading any astronomer to actually look for the planet,” Gaherty explains. “Finally on September 23, 1846, a German astronomer, Johann Gottfried Galle, used Le Verrier's chart to actually locate and observe Neptune. This led to a major controversy as to which country should be credited with the discovery; ultimately the honor was shared.”
Galileo was observing the four large moons of Jupiter ” now named for him ” in the years 1612 and 1613. Over several nights, he also recorded in his notebook the position of a nearby star that is not in any modern catalogues, Jamieson explains.
“It has been known for several decades that this unknown star was actually the planet Neptune,” Jamieson said. “Computer simulations show the precision of his observations revealing that Neptune would have looked just like a faint star almost exactly where Galileo observed it.”
But unlike stars, planets orbit the sun. So planets move through our sky different than the relatively fixed background of stars.
On the night of Jan. 28, 1613, Galileo wrote in his notebook that the star we now know is the planet Neptune appeared to have moved relative to an actual nearby star, Jamieson said. He added: There is also a mysterious unlabeled black dot in his earlier observations of Jan. 6, 1613, which is in the right position to be Neptune.
“I believe this dot could reveal he went back in his notes to record where he saw Neptune earlier when it was even closer to Jupiter but had not previously attracted his attention because of its unremarkable star-like appearance,” Jamieson said.
If the mysterious black dot on Jan. 6 was actually recorded on Jan. 28, Professor Jamieson proposes this would prove that Galileo believed he may have discovered a new planet.
It might be possible to date the entry by doing a chemical analysis of trace elements on the page, he hopes, and he aims to do that later this year.
“Galileo may indeed have formed the hypothesis that he had seen a new planet which had moved right across the field of view during his observations of Jupiter over the month of January 1613,” Jamieson said.
Or, perhaps there are other clues waiting to be found.
“Galileo was in the habit of sending a scrambled sentence, an anagram, to his colleagues to establish his priority for the sensational discoveries he made with his new telescope,” Jamieson notes. “He did this when he discovered the phases of Venus and the rings of Saturn. So perhaps somewhere he wrote an as-yet un-decoded anagram that reveals he knew he discovered a new planet.”
He presented his new theory in a series of lectures this month as part of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy.
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Original Story: New Theory: Galileo Discovered Neptune
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TEXARKANA, Ark. – Jailed evangelist Tony Alamo “married” the underage girls he allegedly forced into sex, exchanging wedding vows and rings, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors made the claim as lawyers met Friday with U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes about Alamo’s trial, slated to begin next week. The trial, scheduled to last two weeks, will put Alamo’s lawyers in a delicate position of trying to tear into the credibility of the evangelist’s alleged victims on the stand while trying to not alienate jurors in the conservative southwestern Arkansas town.
“We’re looking forward to the trial and looking forward to vindicating Mr. Alamo,” defense lawyer Don Ervin told The Associated Press Friday. “His spirits are high and he is strong and he is ready to go to trial.”
Alamo, 74, has pleaded not guilty to the 10-count federal indictment. FBI agents and Arkansas State Police troopers raided Alamo’s 15-acre complex in Fouke on Sept. 20, searching for evidence of child pornography. Agents arrested the evangelist five days later in Flagstaff, Ariz.
In the closed-door hearing in Barnes’ chambers, lawyers argued over a series of defense motions seeking to limit what prosecutors can use at trial. Meeting minutes filed by a court clerk show Barnes dismissed the majority of the defense requests seeking to name FBI informants, suppress evidence found during the Fouke search and offer other records.
However, Barnes granted portions of defense lawyers’ request to stop prosecutors from offering jurors Alamo’s criminal record and using words like “polygamy,” “cult” and “compound” at trial. Barnes did not immediately issue a written order Friday clarifying what portions of the defense request he had granted.
Ervin said Barnes would address motions in the case again Monday, when a pool of jurors from across western Arkansas will come to Texarkana for jury selection. Court officials expect opening arguments in the case by Wednesday.
Late Thursday, prosecutors filed a motion to reject the defense request. In it, they alleged Alamo used the marriages and physical abuse to keep the girls under his control. Alamo also took girls with him to West Virginia and Memphis, Tenn., to have sex with while he prepared for a 1994 tax-evasion trial, prosecutors said.
Alamo served four years in federal prison after being convicted in that trial. Alamo took another underage girl across state lines for sex while still living at a halfway house in Texarkana, prosecutors said.
“It demonstrates that (Alamo’s) true motive in transporting the victims of this case across state lines at various times and in various ways, was not to merely have them available for ‘office work,’ but that would allow him to maintain his sexual relationship with each of them,” the prosecutors’ filing reads.
Prosecutors also said Alamo had sexual relationships with several different partners at a time and believed in polygamy, but stopped short of calling him a practicing polygamist. A previous defense lawyer for Alamo said the evangelist “spiritually” married and divorced multiple women who continued to live with him.
Ervin said “no” when asked Friday if Alamo practiced polygamy. He declined to discuss the prosecutors’ claims about Alamo exchanging wedding rings and vows with the alleged victims, saying that would be discussed at trial.
Since the Fouke raid, state child-welfare officials have seized 36 children associated with Alamo’s ministry. A separate lawsuit the ministry filed against the state claims the raid fractured Alamo’s ministry and sent many followers into hiding. Ervin said that hasn’t prevented Alamo’s defense team from finding witnesses to testify on his behalf.
“He is still their leader,” the lawyer said. “The last time I visited the ministry, it looked fine. There were dedicated members and the ministry seemed to be functioning very well.”
The evangelist remains held without bond pending trial.
WASHINGTON – Key House Democrats decided Friday to raise taxes on the wealthy to help pay for health care legislation, at the same time they sought to quell concerns among moderate and conservative lawmakers about other elements of the bill atop President Barack Obama’s domestic agenda.
The decision, made behind closed doors, capped an up-and-down week as Obama, traveling overseas, reflected that “We’re closer to that significant reform than at any time in recent history. That doesn’t make it easy. It’s hard.”
A new surtax agreed to by Democrats on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee would start with households making 350,000 a year and begin in 2011, said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
It would raise some 540 billion over 10 years, about half the cost of Obama’s ambitious plan to reshape the nation’s health care system and provide care to the 50 million uninsured.
But the proposal faces an uncertain reception in the Senate and from moderate and conservative Democrats in the House, who rebelled Thursday over various aspects — including costs — of the plan.
Democratic leaders spent hours Friday trying to soothe those concerns without reaching resolution, even as Rangel’s panel met to come up with a payment proposal.
Obama acknowledged obstacles to the legislative timetable but said failure to meet a self-imposed August deadline for moving bills through the House and Senate didn’t doom the endeavor.
“I never believe anything is do-or-die,” the president said at a news conference in Italy. “But I really want to get it done by the August recess.”
Rangel said the new surtax would be graduated, starting with households at 350,000 and then rising at 500,000 and again at 1 million. In combination with cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and fees paid by employers who don’t provide insurance to their employers, that would pay for a comprehensive health bill costing around 1 trillion over 10 years.
“Instead of putting pieces of different revenue raisers together the best we can do is a graduated surtax,” Rangel said.
Rangel didn’t describe details, but one official said the surtax would apply to individuals with adjusted gross incomes over 280,000 a year, and couples over 350,000. A senior House aide said the surtax would be 1 percent for the first group of high earners, those households making 350,000 or more. The levels for the other two groups, those above 500,000 and 1 million in annual income are still being determined, said the aide.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
House Democrats had hoped to release a final bill Friday, but that was before a group of moderate and conservatives, known as Blue Dog Democrats, voiced their objections. House leaders are now promising a bill Monday with committee votes later in the week.
Associated Press writers David Espo and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON – The Bush administration authorized secret surveillance activities that still have not been made public, according to a new government report that questions the legal basis for the unprecedented anti-terrorism program.
It’s unclear how much valuable intelligence was yielded by the surveillance program started after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, according to the unclassified summary of reports by five inspectors general. The reports mandated by Congress last year were delivered to lawmakers Friday.
President George W. Bush authorized other secret intelligence activities — which have yet to become public — even as he was launching the massive warrentless wiretapping program, the summary said. It describes the entire program as the “President’s Surveillance Program.”
The report describes the program as unprecedented and raises questions about the legal grounding used for its creation. It also says the intelligence agencies’ continued retention and use of the information collected under the program should be carefully monitored.
Many senior intelligence officials believe the program filled a gap in intelligence. Others, including FBI, CIA and National Counterterrorism Center analysts, said intelligence gathered by traditional means was often more specific and timely, according to the report.
The Bush White House acknowledged in 2005 that it allowed the National Security Agency to intercept international communications that passed through U.S. cables without court orders.
The inspectors general interviewed more than 200 government officials and private sector personnel, including former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Five former Bush administration officials refused to be interviewed, including former CIA Director George Tenet and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The others: former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card; former top Cheney aide David Addington; and John Yoo, who served as a deputy assistant attorney general.
The IG report said an unnamed White House official inserted a paragraph into the first threat assessment prepared by the CIA after the Sept. 11 attacks, which was used to justify the extraordinary intelligence measures.
The paragraph said that the “individuals and organizations involved in global terrorism possessed the capability and intention to undertake further terrorist attacks within the United States,” according to the report. It also said that the president should authorize the NSA to conduct the surveillance activities.
The memos were revised and renewed thereafter every 45 days. The report said that the president consistently gave that authorization for the surveillance activity, and that both CIA chief Tenet and his successor, Porter Goss, never withheld their signatures from threat assessment memoranda.
The report also questions the legal advice used by President Bush to set up the program, pinpointing omissions and questionable legal memos written by Yoo at the Justice Department.
The report suggests Yoo ignored an explicit provision in the FISA law designed to restrict the government’s authority to conduct electronic surveillance during wartime. And it said flaws in Yoo’s memos later presented “a serious impediment” to recertifying the program.
Congress required the review of the so-called warrantless wiretapping program last year when it revised the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA is a 30 year-old law that created a secret court to oversee government electronic surveillance.
The inspectors general of the CIA, Justice Department, Defense Department, National Security Agency and Office of the National Intelligence Director also reviewed the Bush-era surveillance program.
Burris rules out re-election bid
Illinois Senator Roland Burris has said he will not stand for re-election when his term finishes next year. Mr Burris has been dogged by ethics complaints since being appointed to his post by disgraced ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. He would have faced a tough battle to be the Democrats’ nominee in the race. The senator, who denies any wrongdoing, says he would have had to spend too much time raising money, and not enough time on his senatorial duties. “I was called to choose between spending my time raising funds, or spending my time raising issues for my state. I believe that the business of the people of the state of Illinois should always come first,” he said. ‘Dilemma’ Mr Burris’s senate seat was previously held by US President Barack Obama, but became vacant when Mr Obama entered the White House. Under state law, it was Mr Blagojevich’s duty to pick a replacement for Mr Obama, but before he was able to make his choice, he was arrested and charged with attempting to “sell” the senate seat in return for campaign contributions and personal advancement. He was later impeached and removed from office, but not before he had chosen Mr Burris to fill the senate vacancy, raising concerns that the new senator may have offered Mr Blagojevich something in return for the appointment. At the time of his appointment, Mr Burris denied that he had spoken to any members of the governor’s team about the senate seat, but later acknowledged that he had discussed it with Blagojevich aides. The transcript of a conversation released by investigators in May indicated that Mr Burris had spoken about the seat to Mr Blagojevich’s brother Robert – who was in charge of fundraising for the former governor. “I mean, so Rob, I’m in a dilemma right now wanting to help the governor,” Mr Burris told Robert Blagojevich, according to the transcript. “I will personally do something,” Mr Burris allegedly said. Mr Burris has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and in June, prosecutors announced that they would not be charging him with any crime. With Mr Burris out of the running, the race to become the Democrats’ nominee in the 2010 senate race will be hard-fought. One leading contender – Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan – announced this week that she would not be entering the race, but state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias reportedly plans to seek the nomination, as does Christopher Kennedy, a Chicago businessman and son of the late Robert F Kennedy, and Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Jackson. For the Republicans, Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk has expressed an interest in running, according to media reports.