Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Safina, Serena, Venus reach Wimbledon semis

Top-ranked Dinara Safina, two-time champion Serena Williams and five-time titlist Venus Williams were quarterfinal winners Tuesday at Wimbledon. Fourth-seeded Russian Elena Dementieva also won on Tuesday, as the top-four seeds all made it into the semifinals here.
This marks the first time since 2006 that all four top-seeded women reached the semifinals at a Grand Slam event.
Thursday's semis at the All England Club, which will both pit an American against a Russian, will have Safina facing the third-seeded Venus and a second-seeded Serena taking on Dementieva. Serena and Venus are former world No. 1s, which means three of the four semifinalists have held the top ranking.
Venus has won the last two titles here, including a victory over her younger sister in last year's finale.
The French Open and Australian Open runner-up Safina was tested by rising 19-year-old German Sabine Lisicki on a hot day at the AEC, as the big Russian prevailed 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-1 on Centre Court.
Temperatures topped 90 degrees on Tuesday.
Lisicki broke serve early for a 2-1 lead and served for the opening set, but Safina won the first three points of that 10th game and broke to tie it. The set went to a tiebreak and Lisicki won four straight points to grab a 4-1 edge.
A double-fault by Safina gave Lisicki a 6-3 advantage, but the Russian blasted a forehand winner and Lisicki missed an easy forehand at the net that would have given her the set. With a chance to get back into the tiebreak on serve, Safina committed her seventh double-fault to drop the first set and slammed her racquet in disgust.
The second set remained on serve until Safina broke for a 4-3 edge. She nearly gave the break back serving in the 10th game, but Lisicki slipped while setting up for a backhand on break point and the mishit gave Safina another chance. The Russian managed to hold serve and force a decisive third set.
Unfortunately for Lisicki, the German simply ran out of gas in the final set, as Safina cruised in the last seven games by breaking Lisicki's serve four times in as many tries. The first three games of the set all resulted in breaks of serve, but Safina would assume control by holding serve and then breaking for a comfortable 4-1 advantage.
The big-serving Lisicki then called for a trainer, as she had her legs iced while laying face-down on the court.
Safina then held for a 5-1 cushion despite misfiring for three straight double faults at one point, and she broke her German counterpart in the next game by converting on her first match point when Lisicki missed the court with one final errant backhand.
The 23-year-old Safina moved on in 2 hours, 28 minutes despite piling up a whopping 15 double faults. She did, however, tally six breaks, compared to only two for Lisicki, who wound up out-acing Safina 12-0.
"I was Santa Claus on the court, serving so many double faults," Safina said. "I was tough mentally, that was the key today."
Safina, who does not like to play on grass, will now perform in her first- ever Wimbledon semifinal. She's been the runner-up at three of the last five Grand Slam events. Safina lost to fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova in the French Open final four weeks ago and succumbed to Serena in the Aussie Open final back in January.
The reigning Aussie Open and U.S. Open champion Serena blew past eighth-seeded Belarusian Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-3 on Centre Court. The 27-year-old Serena reached her sixth Wimbledon semifinal by dousing Azarenka in 1 hour, 13 minutes.
Serena took control of the opening set against Azarenka by breaking her Belarusian counterpart for a 4-2 lead. The American then held and broke again, with a set-ending forehand winner.
In the second set, the 19-year-old Azarenka recorded her first break of the day to assume a short-lived 3-2 lead, as she was unable to consolidate the break. Serena would break right back to level the stanza at 3-all.
Following a hold, Serena notched another big service break for a 5-3 advantage and then closed out the match by holding her big serve to advance. Serena set- up the only match point she would need with a forehand winner, and converted on it with another forehand winner that just caught the baseline.
A clean Serena committed a mere seven unforced errors, fired nine aces among her 26 winners and broke Azarenka four times, while the Belarusian settled for only one break en route to defeat.
Venus, seeking a third straight and sixth overall Wimbledon title, cruised to a lopsided 6-1, 6-2 triumph over 11th-seeded Pole Agnieszka Radwanska in a brisk 68-minute affair. The seven-time Grand Slam champ has yet to drop a set in her five matches at this fortnight and has won 33 straight sets here, dating back to 2007.
There was not much drama for Venus, who won the first six points on the way to a 5-0 lead in the first set. The 20-year-old Radwanska finally held serve in the sixth game, but Williams quickly put it away in the next game with an ace on set point.
The total domination in a 27-minute first set included four aces for Venus and 14 total winners. Radwanska had just three winners and won only two points against Venus' potent serve.
That quickly changed early in the second set, as Radwanska won eight of the first nine points to open a quick 2-0 lead. Venus, who double-faulted to give Radwanska a break in the second game, broke right back in the third and held serve to level the set.
Venus broke serve again for a 3-2 lead, winning a marathon fifth game with a brilliant point at the net, and Radwanska never recovered. The American finished the match with a perfectly-placed forehand winner.
The 29-year-old Venus is now 67-9 all-time on grass.
"Do I feel invincible?" Venus said. "I'd like to say yes, but I really do work at it."
The mighty Williams sisters have combined for seven of the last nine Wimbledon titles, with Venus capturing five and Serena two. The two met last year in the championship match, a 7-5, 6-4 victory for Venus. Both of Serena's titles at the All England Club came in back-to-back finals against her sister in 2002 and 2003.
Venus is 5-2 in seven Wimbledon finals, while Serena is 2-2.
The two-time major runner-up and reigning Olympic gold medalist Dementieva throttled Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 6-2 on Court 1 on Day 8. The weak-serving Russian moved on in 66 minutes, despite piling up nine double faults. Dementieva did, however, record five service breaks in nine tries, while being broken only once by the 29-year-old Schiavone.
The 27-year-old Dementieva will play in her second career Wimbledon semifinal, with both coming over the last two years. The Russian lost to Venus in last year's final four here.
On Thursday, Safina and Venus will meet for a fourth time, with the American leading the all-time series 2-1. The Russian beat Venus in Rome earlier this season.
In the other semi, Serena and Dementieva will square off for a fifth time, with the Russian holding a 3-1 lead in their lifetime set. The American bested the Russian in this year's Aussie Open semis.

They're Just Not That Into Us

They're Just Not That Into Us
alien extraterrestrial
Image (not a real alien) is licensed from istock.com
SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) research projects have scanned the sky for over 40 years looking for an intelligent signal. Could our level of intelligence be unique in the universe?
This is one of those thought provoking questions that I have real difficulty grappling with, because I know so little about the subject.
The same thing happens when I shop for my wife's birthday, so I've opted to apply the same marginally successful method of reaching a conclusion: make a list of everything relevant I can find, then take a shot in the dark as to which one of them is right.
Why is there no scientific evidence
of extraterrestrial intelligent life?
Possible answers:
We are the only intelligent life forms.
We are the first, or one of the first, intelligent life forms.
More of the universe needs to be searched.
We are not searching correctly.
Intelligent life exists, but they choose not to be known to us.
Governments are hiding the evidence.
Evidence exists, but is not accepted by the public.
Aliens use a different form of communication we cannot detect.
Unfortunately, I feel the most likely reason that we have not located an alien presence (or Eileen's presents), is that we simply have not looked long enough. I hope there is space at the mall. 
I would like to give a shout out to the people at The SETI Institute for having the foresight and diligence to be listening.

Madoff Gets Life For "Evil" Crimes

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with, while the Wall Street Journal banners, Bernard Madoff receiving a 150-year prison sentence. The federal judge called Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme an "extraordinarily evil" fraud and unexpectedly imposed the maximum sentence allowed, saying the length of the sentence should serve as deterrent for any would-be scam artists. It's one of the longest sentences ever given to a white-collar criminal but hardly a record. The sentence was met with applause in the courtroom, which was filled with Madoff's victims.
The Washington Post and USA Today lead with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of a group of mostly white New Haven, Conn., firefighters who said they were discriminated against when the city threw out the results of a promotion test after no black firefighters scored well enough to advance. The 5-to-4 ruling immediately caught Washington's attention because it overturned an appeals court decision joined by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who was recently nominated to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. In the opinion for the court's conservative wing, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that employers need "strong basis in evidence" that the test isn't up to par before throwing out the results instead of merely using "raw racial statistics." The ruling means that employers will now have a harder time changing a hiring or promotion procedure because it hurts minorities.

Before Madoff's sentencing, nine victims testified about the hardships they have experienced since the financier's fraud came to light. "I hope his sentence is long enough so his jail cell will become his coffin," said a 33-year-old whose family's funds with Madoff were supposed to sustain his disabled brother. Madoff apologized for the scheme that is estimated to have led to around $13 billion in losses. "I will live with this pain, with this torment, for the rest of my life," he said. Madoff's lawyer tried to argue that his client deserved a shorter sentence because he cooperated with the government's investigation, but the judge disagreed with that contention. "I simply do not get the sense that Mr. Madoff has done all that he could or told all that he knows," he said.

The disgraced financier looked thinner and wasn't accompanied by any family members. In fact, the judge even pointed out that he had not received any letters from friends, family, or other supports attesting to his moral character or good deeds. After the hearing, Madoff's wife broke her silence and, in a statement, said she was "embarrassed and ashamed."

Civil rights advocates said yesterday's Supreme Court decision in Ricci v. DeStefano will make it more difficult for employers, particularly in the public sector, to diversify their work force. The court ruled that the fear of a lawsuit isn't enough justification for throwing out hiring or promotion tests, meaning that an employer might have to abide by the results even if members of a minority, or perhaps women, do particularly poorly. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench and said the majority had successfully undermined civil rights law. "Firefighting is a profession in which the legacy of racial discrimination casts an especially long shadow," she said.

Sotomayor's critics had seized on this case as a supposed example of how she lets her personal feelings get in the way of her rulings. Her supporters yesterday said the Supreme Court decision changed how the law should be interpreted, so she had done the right thing by adhering to precedent. But opponents countered that her "approach had not been fully endorsed by any justice," as the NYT puts it. Still, even opponents concede it's unlikely this will derail Sotomayor's path toward confirmation.

In a piece inside, the NYT talks to legal experts who say the Supreme Court failed to put forward a clear standard about what would be allowed and "left things as muddled as ever for the nation's employers." The vague nature of the decision is practically a guarantee that there will be much more litigation on the issue.

The LAT fronts the latest from Honduras, where security forces used tear gas to break up protesters who had gathered to protest the ousting and forced exile of President Manuel Zelaya. The provisional government found itself isolated as leaders throughout the region spoke up against the coup. The country's rulers blocked access to Internet news sites and international cable news networks as Zelaya appeared at a summit of regional leaders in Nicaragua. The new rulers say they won't budge. In an interview with the WSJ, the acting leader, Roberto Micheletti, said the coup was an effort to protect Honduras from Zelaya's plans to change the constitution and remain in power. "We are acting within the law," Micheletti said.

In a front-page piece, the NYT takes a look at how the military coup in Honduras is forcing President Obama to confront "the ghosts of past American foreign policy in Latin America." Administration officials are now in the position of having to dismiss allegations by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez that the CIA had something to do with the coup. U.S. officials insist that while they didn't think Zelaya's planned referendum was constitutional, they hardly thought it justified a coup. Obama yesterday insisted the coup set a "terrible precedent" and evokes the continent's "dark past." But as the WP highlights, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was not formally calling it a coup just yet. Such a designation would interrupt millions of dollars in aid, and, so far at least, the United States doesn't seem ready to make any concrete threats.

In the NYT's op-ed page, Alvaro Vargas Llosa writes that the military fell for a trap set by Zelaya, and managed to turn "an unpopular president who was nearing the end of his term into an international cause célèbre." The big winner in all this? Chavez, who can now "claim the moral high ground" as he turns himself into "the unlikely champion of Jeffersonian democracy in Latin America."

A day after Michael Jackson's mother, Katherine Jackson, was granted temporary custody of his children and was appointed special administrator of her son's estate, the LAT takes a look at the close mother-son bond the two shared. Those close to the family say Michael's mother was always very protective of him and was a constant presence in her son's life. "I've never seen a closer relationship between a 50-year-old man and his mother," said the head of AEG Live, the company that was in charge of organizing Jackson's comeback concerts. Michael's father, though, is a whole other story. Although Joe and Katherine Jackson are still married, they haven't lived together for at least 10 years.

It's hardly a secret that Michael didn't get along with his father, and the WSJ hears word that he wasn't included in what is believed to be the King of Pop's last will, which was drafted in 2002 and sets up his children, mother, and at least one charity as the beneficiaries. The lawyer for Jackson's parents said he has never seen this will, which could be presented to the court as early as Thursday. This is all seen as the first steps in what will likely be a long, complicated fight over Jackson's estate. Even though Jackson had around $500 million in debt, "the value of his assets probably outweigh that, possibly by $200 million or more," reports the WSJ.

In the WP's Style section, David Montgomery looks into the Celebrity Death Rule of Three, which seemed to fulfill itself perfectly last week when Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett all died. But, really, it all depends "on which departed souls count as celebrities, and on how much time may elapse between deaths in a valid triplet." For example, what do you do about David Carradine, who died earlier this month. Or Sky Saxon, the singer and bass player for the band the Seeds, who died on the same day as Fawcett and Jackson. "But if Saxon is not famous enough to qualify for the rule of three, then how sad: dead and dissed."

Disney to boost HK park with $465M expansion

HONG KONG -- The Walt Disney Co. and Hong Kong have reached a deal to expand the territory's Disneyland at a cost of about $465 million in hopes of boosting the theme park's fortunes, officials announced Tuesday.
The deal will see the American entertainment giant invest new capital - some 3.5 billion Hong Kong dollars ($450 million) - to pay construction and operation costs during the building phases.
In the works for two years, the expansion plan is part of an effort to turn around a park criticized for failing to meet attendance targets, being too small and lacking high-profile rides. Hong Kong is also under pressure to increase the theme park's appeal to compete with a proposed Disneyland in Shanghai, which could open in the coming years, and would siphon off Chinese tourists.
"The expansion will be a catalyst to the park's long-term development and bring benefits to not just the local tourism industry but also the entire economy," Rita Lau, Hong Kong's commerce and economic development secretary, told reporters.
The park is a joint venture between Walt Disney and the Hong Kong government. The expansion will add three new theme areas as well a 30 new attractions, enlarging the park's size by nearly a quarter over the next five years.
Beyond the new investment, Burbank, California-based media Disney will convert into equity about $350 million in loans to the venture and maintain a credit facility of about $40 million.

"Disney is making a substantial investment in this important project," Leslie Goodman, a Disney vice president, said in a statement.
Hong Kong, which shouldered much of the $3.5 billion original construction cost, will not add any new capital. But the territory will convert a large portion of its loan to the park into equity. In all, Hong Kong's total stake is expected to decline from about 57 percent to 52 percent.
The park opened in 2005 to great fanfare, only to miss its targets for attendance in the first two years. However, traffic in its third year grew by 8 percent, according to figures provided by the Hong Kong government.
Sustaining that growth could prove all the more difficult with the allure of a Shanghai Disneyland. Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said last month the company is awaiting word from China's central government about the proposal.
Likely anticipating a Shanghai park, Hong Kong secured as part of the expansion proposal two new areas, called "Grizzly Trail" and "Mystic Point," that will be unique among Disneylands worldwide when they open. The third area, "Toy Story Land," will be exclusive in Asia.

Army overthrows Honduras president

The Honduran army has ousted leftist President Manuel Zelaya and exiled him, in Central America's first military coup since the Cold War.
US President Barack Obama and the European Union expressed deep concern after troops came for Zelaya, an ally of socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, around dawn and took him away from his residence. It's believed he upset the army by trying to seek another term in office.
Speaking on Venezuelan state television, Chavez – who has long championed the left in Latin America – said he would do everything necessary to abort the coup against his close ally.
A military plane flew Zelaya to Costa Rica and CNN's Spanish-language channel said he had asked for asylum there.
Pro-government protesters burned tires in front of the presidential palace in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, and two fighter jets screamed through the sky over the city.
Honduras, an impoverished Central American country, had been politically stable since the end of military rule in the early 1980s, but Zelaya's push to change the constitution to allow him another term has split the country's institutions.
Zelaya fired military chief General Romeo Vasquez last week for refusing to help him run an unofficial referendum on Sunday on extending the four-year term limit on Honduran presidents.
Zelaya told Venezuela-based Telesur television station that he was "kidnapped" by soldiers and called on Hondurans to peacefully resist the coup.
The EU condemned the coup and Obama called for calm.
Honduras was a staunch US ally in the 1980s when Washington helped Central American governments fight left-wing guerrillas.
"Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference," Obama said.
It was the first successful military ouster of a president in Central America since the Cold War era. An opposition deputy said Congress would chose Roberto Micheletti, the head of Congress, as acting president later on Sunday.
The country's Supreme Court last week came out against Zelaya and ordered him to reinstate fired military chief Vasquez. The court said on Sunday it had told the army to remove the president.
"It acted to defend the rule of law," the court said in a statement read on Honduran radio.
The global economic crisis has curbed growth in Honduras, which lives off coffee and textile exports and remittances from Honduran workers abroad. Recent opinion polls indicate public support for Zelaya has fallen as low as 30 percent.
Honduras, home to around 7 million people, is a major drug trafficking transit point. It is also a big coffee producer but there was no immediate sign the unrest would affect production.

Child survives Yemeni plane crash

A five-year-old child has been found alive, hours after a Yemeni airliner crashed in the Indian Ocean with more than 150 people on board.
Some bodies have also been recovered from the wreckage of the plane.
The Yemenia Airbus 310 flight IY626 was flying from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, but many passengers on the plane began their journey in France.
The EU voiced concern about Yemenia's safety and proposed a world blacklist of those carriers deemed unsafe.
The EU already has its own list, and its Transport Commissioner, Antonio Tajani, said such a list would be a "safety guarantee for all".
Another EU official told Reuters news agency there were concerns about the airline's "incomplete reporting procedure and incomplete follow-up" following 2007 tests on the aircraft which crashed, but that its record was improving.

1 June: An Air France Airbus plane travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappears in the Atlantic with 228 people on board
20 May: An Indonesian army C-130 Hercules transport plane crashes into a village on eastern Java, killing at least 97 people
12 February: A plane crashes into a house in Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 people on board and one person on the ground

Yemeni Transport Minister Khaled Ibrahim al-Wazeer told Reuters that the plane had undergone a thorough inspection and conformed to international standards.

Reports say the plane was due in the Comoros capital Moroni at about 0230 (2230GMT on Monday). Most of the passengers had travelled to Sanaa from Paris or Marseille on a different aircraft.
The flight on to Moroni, on the island of Njazidja (Grande Comore), was also thought to have made a stop in Djibouti.
There were more than 150 people on board, including three babies and 11 crew.
 An airport source told AFP news agency that 66 of the passengers were French, although many are thought to have dual French-Comoran citizenship.
This is the second air tragedy this month involving large numbers of French citizens.
On 1 June an Air France Airbus 330 travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris plunged into the Atlantic, killing all 228 people on board.
Relatives' anger
Gen Bruno de Bourdoncle de Saint-Salvy, French naval commander in the Indian Ocean, said the plane came down about 15km (eight nautical miles) north of the Comoran coast.
They put us aboard wrecks, they put us aboard coffins, that's where they put us - it's slaughter
Relative at Paris airport

A search is under way, with the French military assisting with the operation.
As well as the rescued child, five bodies and some wreckage of the plane have been recovered.
"The weather conditions were rough; strong wind and high seas," Yemenia official Mohammad al-Sumairi told Reuters news agency.
The three Comoros islands are about 300km (190 miles) northwest of Madagascar in the Mozambique channel.
A resident near the airport told the BBC about 100 people were trying to get into the airport to find out more information, but without much success.
Relatives also gathered at Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport and Marseille Marignane airport to wait for news, some expressing anger at the state of the airline's planes.
"They put us aboard wrecks, they put us aboard coffins. That's where they put us. It's slaughter. It's slaughter," one relative in Paris told French TV.
The airline Yemenia is 51% owned by the Yemeni government and 49% by the Saudi government.
In 1996, a hijacked Ethiopian airliner came down in the same area - most of the 175 passengers and crew were killed.

Map of aircraft's route

Iraqi Forces Assume Control Over Cities From US Troops

Iraqi forces assumed formal control of Baghdad and other cities Tuesday after American troops handed over security in urban areas in a defining step toward ending the U.S. combat role in the country. A countdown clock broadcast on Iraqi TV ticked to zero as the midnight deadline passed for U.S. combat troops to finish their pullback to bases outside cities.
"The withdrawal of American troops is completed now from all cities after everything they sacrificed for the sake of security," said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "We are now celebrating the restoration of sovereignty."

The Pentagon did not offer any comment to mark the passing of the deadline.
Fireworks, not bombings, colored the Baghdad skyline late Monday, and thousands attended a party in a park where singers performed patriotic songs. Loudspeakers at police stations and military checkpoints played recordings of similar tunes throughout the day, as Iraqi military vehicles decorated with flowers and national flags patrolled the capital.
"All of us are happy _ Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds on this day," Waleed al-Bahadili said as he celebrated at the park. "The Americans harmed and insulted us too much."
Al-Maliki declared a public holiday and proclaimed June 30 as "National Sovereignty Day."
Midnight's handover to Iraqi forces filled many citizens with pride but also trepidation that government forces are not ready and that violence will rise. Shiites fear more bombings by Sunni militants; Sunnis fear that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces will give them little protection.

If the Iraqis can hold down violence in the coming months, it will show the country is finally on the road to stability. If they fail, it will pose a challenge to President Barack Obama's pledge to end an unpopular war that has claimed the lives of more than 4,300 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
The gathering at the Baghdad park was unprecedented in size for such a postwar event in a city where people tend to avoid large gatherings for fear of suicide bombers. They ignored an appeal by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi to stay away from crowded places during the U.S. pullback, which has seen more than 250 people killed in bombings over the past 10 days.
Security at the party was stifling, as it was throughout much of Baghdad where increased checkpoints dotted the streets and identity checks were methodical. Police using bomb sniffers searched every man, woman and child who attended the party.
In a ceremony rich with symbolism, the top U.S. military commander in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Daniel Bolger, gave his Iraqi counterpart the keys to the former defense ministry building, which had served as a joint base.
"On the eve of the 30th of June 2009 in accord with a security agreement between Iraq and America, Iraqis take the lead in Baghdad," Bolger said.
The withdrawal, required under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, marks the first major step toward withdrawing all American forces from the country by Dec. 31, 2011. Obama has said all combat troops will be gone by the end of August 2010.
Despite Tuesday's formal pullback, some U.S. troops will remain in the cities to train and advise Iraqi forces. U.S. troops will return to the cities only if asked. The U.S. military will continue combat operations in rural areas and near the border, but only with the Iraqi government's permission.
The U.S. has not said how many troops will be in the cities in advisory roles, but the vast majority of the more than 130,000 U.S. forces remaining in the country will be in large bases scattered outside cities.
There have been some worries that the 650,000-member Iraqi military is not ready to maintain stability and deal with a stubborn insurgency.
Privately, many U.S. officers worry the Iraqis will be overwhelmed if violence surges, having relied for years on the Americans for nearly everything.
"We think they are ready," U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. He said his main concern was that a lack of progress in efforts to reconcile Shiite, Sunnis and Kurds was feeding the violence that still marks the daily lives of many Iraqis.
"Frankly they need to pick up the pace," Hill said of the national reconciliation effort.
The commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East, Gen. David Petraeus, expressed concern about the spate of high-profile bombings but said the average daily number of attacks remained low at 10 to 15 compared with 160 in June 2007.
"While certainly there will be challenges _ there are many difficult political issues, social issues, governmental development issues _ we feel confident in the Iraqi security forces continuing the process of taking over the security tasks in their own country," said Petraeus after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.
Despite some concerns, al-Maliki appears eager to see the Americans leave and has urged Iraqis to hold steady against any rise in violence. Ahead of national elections next year, al-Maliki is portraying himself as the leader who defeated terrorism and ended the U.S. occupation.
Iraqi officials said they are expecting some violence but would not allow it to trigger the sectarianism that nearly sparked a civil war in 2006-2007.
At that time, death squads roamed the streets, slaughtering members of the rival Muslim sect. Bombs rocked Baghdad daily _ until thousands of U.S. troops poured in, establishing neighborhood bases and taking control of the Iraqi capital and other cities.
While the U.S. troop surge strategy was successful in stemming the bloodshed, many Iraqis also saw it as an affront to their national pride.
On a visit to Ramadi, a Sunni city 70 miles west of the capital, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite, told the AP that when the sun rises on Tuesday "Iraqi citizens will see no U.S. soldiers in their cities. They will see only Iraqi troops protecting them."

Monday, June 29, 2009

What Michael Jackson Did on His Last Day

Michael Jackson spent the last night of his life doing what he had always done: performing. The singer was in rehearsals at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, running through a full slate of songs from his upcoming 50-concert London event flanked by friends and colleagues. He marveled at the major set pieces that had finally been installed in the rehearsal space. "He was just glowing, and you could see it, that he was finally seeing it all come together," says Dorian Holley, the vocal director for Jackson's upcoming tour. "Up until Wednesday, it had always been [just a concept], but that last day you could see it in him, that he was seeing the show finally come together for the first time. It was a big moment." (See TIME's complete Michael Jackson coverage.)

Holley says he left rehearsals just before midnight on the night of June 24, as Jackson headed off to attend yet more meetings. About 12 hours later, a 911 call would be placed from Jackson's home in Holmby Hills, reporting urgently that "he's not breathing ... He's not responding to CPR, anything."
The pop icon had seemed different during these rehearsals — not ailing by any means, but perhaps more contemplative — says Holley, who has coached Jackson on solo tours since 1987. In preparing for previous tours, Holley said auditions for backup singers and other performing roles would usually be held via videotape, and it wouldn't be all that uncommon for the two to speak directly only two or three times over the span of a year. But for "This Is It," the London concerts scheduled to begin in July, Jackson was much more present and available, attending auditions and eagerly talking with everyone in the crew about the larger mission behind the tour. (See TIME's photos: "The Young Michael Jackson at Home.")
"It almost sounds crazy to say that the show wasn't about him, but ... he'd put it in perspective all the time, saying, 'This is what we're here for, to spread a message of love and taking care of the planet, that we want people to understand it's very, very dear and not to take it for granted,'" Holley tells TIME. (See TIME's top 10 Jackson moments.)
Until the last hour of rehearsals, Jackson maintained a ferocious, perfectionist pace, says Holley, who, after decades working with the singer, says he was still astonished by his vocal and physical prowess. Some in the public questioned whether Jackson, at 50, would still be able to command a stage, and recent reports published Sunday in Britain's Daily Mail said that Jackson had been too feeble to dance, sing or, at times, even speak in the weeks leading up to his death. But, Holley — despite his own early concerns about a lack of rehearsal time leading up to the first London shows in July — says the star's presence and energy during his final week was unequivocal. "He'd take the stage with this group of dancers, all in their 20s, but you couldn't take your eyes off him ... Many of his songs have six or seven parts, and he would often come over if we were missing an important note in our mix, and he would sing through all the parts rapid-fire to show us what he wanted. We would just sit there with our jaws open — it was awesome," Holley says. "He could still do everything ... The only difference now was that he would sometimes talk about how it made him sore." (Hear TIME's top 10 Jackson songs.)
"This time around, we had the technology to isolate just his microphone and listen to his singing separate from everything else. I had no idea what a genius he was. The way he's able to use his voice as a percussion instrument, lyricist, jazz singer all at the same time. I'm sure as people mine his works in years to come, they're going to discover how much is there," he says.
It was a text message on Thursday afternoon that gave Holley the first hint of bad news — a note saying Jackson had been rushed to the hospital. Neither he nor the crew knew how to react to the uncertainty, so they did what they always did — they went in to rehearse. Except this time, as fans all over the world from Los Angeles to New York City to Tokyo to Buenos Aires played his music, sang his songs and emulated his dance in tribute, Holley says the crew couldn't bring themselves to touch the music.
Jackson had been preparing to take the world back, Holley says, and during the singer's final night, he finally knew he was ready. "You would think that, on the one hand, the world has kind of beaten him up, and you could forgive him for having some trepidation and fear. But he didn't have any of that," says Holley. "Words fail to describe what people would have seen with the tour. I couldn't even imagine until last week when it became physically apparent [on the set]. He was ready to show the world, and I so wish there could have been just one concert so the world would have seen."

The first Europeans were cannibals: archaeologists

ATAPUERCA, Spain: The remains of the "first Europeans" discovered at an archaeological site in northern Spain have revealed that these prehistoric men were cannibals who particularly liked the flesh of children.
The first Europeans were cannibals: archaeologists

"We know that they practiced cannibalism," said Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, one of the co-directors of the Atapuerca project, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A study of the remains revealed that they turned to cannibalism to feed themselves and not as part of a ritual, that they ate their rivals after killing them, mostly children and adolescents.
"It is the first well-documented case of cannibalism in the history of humanity, which does not mean that it is the oldest," he said.
The remains discovered in the caves "appeared scattered, broken, fragmented, mixed with other animals such as horses, deer, rhinoceroses, all kinds of animals caught in hunting" and eaten by humans, he said.
"This gives us an idea of cannibalism as a type gastronomy, and not as a ritual."
The Atapuerca caves were first discovered in the late 19th century, when a tunnel was blasted through the mountain for a railway line.
"But at the time in Spain, there was not enough scientific knowledge to begin research," said the other co-director, Eudald Carbonell.
The first excavations did not take place until 1978, then "in 1984, we found 150 human remains.
In 1992, they found a complete intact skeleton, and two years later, they discovered remains dating back more than 800,000 years.
Those remains probably correspond to the first humans who reached Europe, known as Homo antecessor, after the Latin word for pioneer or explorer.
Homo antecessor, who lived before Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens, probably came to the caves of Atapuerca after a long migration from Africa and through the Middle East, northern Italy and France.
It is a particularly good site for human settlement, at the confluence of two rivers with a comfortable climate and rich in fauna and flora, de Castro said.
They found water and food in abundance, could hunt wild boar, horses, deer, "which means that they did not practice cannibalism through a lack of food. They killed their rivals and used the meat," he said.
"We have also discovered two levels that contain cannibalised remains, which means that it was not a one-off thing, but continued through time," he said.
"Another interesting aspect ... is that most of the 11 individuals that we have identified" as victims "were children or adolescents".
"We think that there are also two young adults including a female, which indicates that they killed the base of the demographic pyramid of the group."
Atapuerca, situated on the edge of Eurasia, allowed Homo antecessor to develop in an isolated and more distinct way, with characteristics that were both archaic and modern.
In addition to hunting, they also made tools.
The area at the time was heavily forested, with oaks, chestnut trees and junipers, and abundant with bears, lynxes, panthers, foxes and hyenas.

Judgment day

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Admitted thief Bernard Madoffwill leave his jail cell and be taken under guard to court on Monday morning to hear his punishment for running Wall Street's biggest and most brazen investment scheme.
A U.S. judge is expected to sentence Madoff, 71, to an effective life term in prison during an emotional court hearing starting at 10 a.m. EDT, in which some of his defrauded investors will describe the shock of losing their life savings.
The swindler, who pleaded guilty to a slew of crimes in the same Manhattan federal court in March, will "speak to the shame he has felt and to the pain he has caused," said his lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin, who has suggested a 12-year prison sentence.
"Given the enormous amount of funds he has stolen and the number of victims, the sentence is going to be very, very high," said Paul Radvany, a law professor at Fordham University in New York and a former federal prosecutor.
The 100 or so letters sent to the judge from customers and what 10 will say at the hearing could have "a great impact" at the sentencing, Radvany said.
Investigators do not know how much was stolen, according to court papers. About $13 billion has been traced to more than 1,300 customer accounts. The trustee winding down the Madoff firm has so far collected $1.2 billion to return to investors.
Prosecutors also say $170 billion flowed through the principal Madoff account over decades and that weeks before his December arrest, the firm's statements showed a total of $65 billion.
The hearing will be held in a ceremonial courtroom that accommodates 250 people. Two other rooms in the courthouse in lower Manhattan are being provided for defrauded investors and spectators to watch on closed-circuit TV.
Madoff's wife Ruth and other family members are not expected to be there. They have not attended any court appearances since his arrest last December.
Madoff's brother, Peter, and his sons, Mark and Andrew, held executive positions in the brokerage unit of the firm. Their lawyers say they were not aware of or involved in the crooked asset management side.
The judge has allowed Madoff to wear his own clothes at the hearing, instead of the loose-fitting navy blue shirt and pants issued by the jail where he has been held since March 12.
Legal observers expect U.S. District Judge Denny Chin to sentence Madoff to one of the stiffest punishments for a white collar criminal.
"Madoff organized and led this fraud," the prosecutors said in court papers on Friday arguing for a life sentence. "Numerous clerical employees and others assisted."
Madoff has said all along he did it on his own and has not named accomplices. Only his outside accountant has been charged.
Michael Shapiro, a lawyer at law firm Carter Ledyard and Milburn LLP, said he expected a sentence of 30 years, based on previous sentences for large frauds in the same court.
He cited the case of former WorldCom Chief Executive Bernard Ebbers, who is serving 25 years for accounting fraud in a low-security prison.
"The individual damage that Madoff caused is probably much greater," Shapiro said. "Thirty years is effectively a life sentence and also takes into account he didn't kill anybody."
Madoff will serve his time in a low or medium security prison depending on the length of his incarceration.
Madoff and his wife have been stripped of all of their luxury homes and possessions, although Ruth Madoff is being allowed to keep $2.5 million in cash, according to an agreement with prosecutors.
Revelations that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission missed several warnings about Madoff's operation, sparked severe criticism of the markets watchdog and calls for tighter regulation of money managers.
"Madoff deserves a sentence befitting a thief, and murderer," wrote one investor, Julie Behar to the judge. "Because he has in essence murdered the trust the people placed in their investment advisers and the financial markets."
The case is USA v Madoff 09-213 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan)

Will Facebook kill blogging?

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase
Video didn't kill the radio star, iPods haven't murdered CDs and the "box" is definitely still alive and kicking despite years of hysteria about television having one foot in the grave.
When it comes to tech trends, we do like to predict which newcomer will kick its predecessors to the kerb.
Now with Nielsen Online declaring social networking to be one of 2009's fastest-growing categories exceeding email use for the first time ever it's the blog's turn to be scrutinised for signs of terminal illness.
Web monitors Hitwise say that in the year to April 2009, visits to social networking and forum sites increased by 16 per cent in Australia, with visits to blogs dropping by 27.5 per cent in the same period.
One of the leading blog providers, Blogger (now owned by Google), has suffered traffic decreases of 87.3 per cent year-on-year, at a time when Facebook visits have grown by 124 per cent.
Already, more than 5 million Australians are Facebook fanatics. For the 75 per cent who aren't, the online network is like a virtual pub, where you and your chosen "circle" can share photos of your weekend shenanigans, look up old classmates or simply waste time on trivia quizzes that prove your pop culture mettle.
Long-term blogger Shalini Akhil, a Melbourne novelist, admits her social media life has wooed her away from "obsessive" blogging. Two years ago, she was posting regular updates on two blogs but in 2007, she abandoned one of them and now prefers short status updates on Facebook.
"I must admit I am more active on Facebook and Twitter than I am with the blog," she says. "I only blog 'real' news now and use other social media a lot more for day-to-day stuff."
With celebrities like Oprah Winfrey flocking to join the bite-size blogging bandwagon of Twitter where you "tweet" what you're doing in less than 140 characters the concept of the micro-blog has exploded over the last year, with Twitter recording a staggering 2400 per cent growth.
Akhil says for her, it's the portability and spontaneity of Twitter that got her hooked.
"I send tweets from my phone when I'm out and about and I like the immediacy and brevity of it," she says. "It also feels a lot more intimate than blogging, for some reason."
Video game blogger Gabriel McGrath says he's still a committed blogger but he's using Twitter to lure readers to his blog, JustOneMoreGame, which covers retro, indie and coin-op games.
McGrath tweeted a meme called BackGames, asking people to describe a famous video game if the plot ran backwards the concept took off and sent him 21 times his usual week's traffic.
While McGrath uses Facebook to socialise and Twitter to unearth interesting blog articles, he thinks the blog itself can never be replaced for its depth.
Ad Feedback
"Twitter is a bit like the trailer for a movie, the chat you have with a friend while you queue for popcorn," he says. "But blogs are still the film, the main feature."
But not everyone is happy with the impact of social networking and micro-blogging, as Sydney fashion journalist Patty Huntington discovered during her recent social media experiment. For her coverage of Rosemount Australian Fashion Week, she decided to dump lengthy blog reviews in favour of short grabs via Twitter.
"There was a huge amount of flack over my RAFW coverage, primarily because I failed to sit down and do those wordy blog posts that I've done for three years now," she says.
Huntington sent more than 30 tweets a day from the event, which tripled her blog traffic but left many readers feeling duped.
"People were expecting 2000-word posts but Twitter has just exploded and we've got the ability to email photos from a BlackBerry and live stream video I just wanted to do something more intimate."
While she enjoys the contrast of Twitter and its global exposure, she refuses to join Facebook and says her blog remains her "marquee" product.
"There's a heap of people on Facebook and Twitter who would never blog," she says. "They're kind of involved but they're just dabbling."
Blog search engine Technorati has tracked blogging trends across the world and says the activity has definitely reached mainstream status. In its 2008 State Of The Blogosphere report, it says 184 million people have started a blog.
Of the 1200 bloggers surveyed across 66 countries, most had been at it for an average of three years and collectively they were creating close to 1 million posts every day. Among them, 64 per cent were part of a social networking site and 41 per cent used Twitter.
Google Australia spokesperson Rob Shilkin says as one of the world's first free blogging services, Blogger is still going strong, with Nielsen NetRatings reporting slight year-to-year growth for both their unique users and time spent per month on Blogger.
Shilkin says the rise of Facebook and Twitter hasn't pushed blogs aside, simply expanded the spheres of communication.
"As internet speeds get faster, innovative new services (like Facebook and Twitter) become available and the internet becomes available on more devices the whole internet ecosystem grows, including people reading and writing more blogs," he says.
Jenny Sinclair, who was The Age's first blog columnist back in 2001, says we can credit the blog with enabling the success of new conversation tools.
"Blogs made Facebook possible," she says. "They gave us the feeling that the internet was something that ordinary people could do somewhere to set up your own opinions. And Facebook makes that even easier."
Now with more advanced web 2.0 tools to give people a voice and a presence, Sinclair says the blogging pack may be dividing between experimenters and stayers.
Career bloggers like gossip guru Perez Hilton have proven that if you're good enough you can use your musings as a launch pad.
McGrath says as a voracious follower of seven blogs, including Boing Boing, which has become its own brand, blogs are definitely becoming more professional.
"The writing, editing, using video and photos, many blogs have lifted their game in recent years and there's a bit more corporate involvement," he says. "My prediction is that more bloggers will get 'deals' and 'writing jobs' out of it."
Business analyst Karin Quadros hopes to one day sell her handmade creations from her craft blog Kayi Dreaming, which she started to explore her creative side. "I think blogging is a great way to promote yourself, especially if you're an independent designer," she says.
"I have seen close friends use their blog as a craft career kick-starter and I want to eventually do the same."
Of course, not everyone wants that kind of exposure. Sinclair says many of the world's most popular blogs remain anonymous kept separate from the prying eyes of people you know.
"As soon as your mum or your employer start reading your blog, I think you'd start to become more closed," she says. "When you think nobody is reading, it's more liberating. You can say exactly what you think."
And that means for the web's most mysterious commentators, Facebook and blogging don't mix.
Blog links

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Parents face fines if pupils behave badly

Parents of children who regularly behave badly in class could be hauled before the courts under wide-ranging government school reforms to be unveiled this week.
Court-backed parenting orders could be imposed on families who refuse to co-operate with teachers over disciplining their children. A parenting order requires parents to take specific steps to control a child's behaviour - including attending parenting courses or counselling sessions, ensuring their children are at home at a certain time, or avoiding certain situations and people. Failure to comply could lead to parents being fined or given a community sentence.
The government believes existing home-school agreements - contracts between parents and teachers, which set out expectations on truancy, homework and uniform rules - are not properly enforced for low-level, regular disturbances. Under the plans, persistent breaches of the agreement could lead to the orders.
The idea may alarm parents who blame their children's behaviour on learning disorders or trouble at home, while teachers' leaders said legal action must be a last resort.
But in an interview with the Observer, Ed Balls, the children's secretary, said that parents wanted to know that discipline would be fairly enforced in all families, while headteachers needed more "bite" to existing powers.
"There are a small group of parents who just don't engage and take it seriously at all," he said. "I think there are some parents who, in principle, think it's a very good idea for there to be tough discipline but whose instinct, when it's their child, is to say, 'Hang on, is it my child you're picking on?' "
He refused to be drawn on the details of Tuesday's schools white paper, saying that it would be outlined first to parliament. But his words will be seen as signalling that home school agreement reforms will be at its centre .
Ministers are also expected to publish a statement of entitlement, setting out for families what they can expect from schools - including a guarantee of extra tuition for those identified as falling behind in their first year of secondary school.
The plan is part of a wider policy shift of dispensing individual rights across health, education and policing, to be unveiled tomorrow by Gordon Brown. This could see patients who do not get an appointment with a cancer specialist within two weeks being empowered to demand that their trust gives them the money to go private or to another hospital. However, the plan was attacked this weekend, with former government aide Paul Richards - who resigned with his boss Hazel Blears before the cabinet reshuffle - branding it "limp and disappointing".
Balls's schools white paper will make clear, however, that with rights come responsibilities. He said that where behaviour reflected deeper problems such as undiagnosed learning difficulties, schools should tackle those rather than punishing parents. But he added: "What parents want to know is that in their school their child will learn and will not be disrupted, and if there's disruption there will be action and it will be sorted out."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said teachers would welcome being able to make home-school agreements (HSA) more enforceable but added: "[Schools] don't like taking out parenting orders. They want to solve problems by other means as much as possible. All schools have HSA: whether they sit on the head's table and are shown to parents of recalcitrant children I rather doubt. You are dealing with badly behaved children, human relationships; a piece of paper has not been regarded with sufficient seriousness."
Parents breaching HSAs can in theory receive parenting orders, but officials say that in practice this does not happen for behavioural problems, although it does in truancy cases.
The white paper will also introduce new "report cards" for schools, detailing achievements in sport, music and pastoral care as well as exams, to help parents of prospective pupils choose schools.
There will also be proposals for schools to join together in federations within which they can swap expertise. Balls said the new structures did not mean Tony Blair's academy programme was being sidelined, but said academies were both ambitious and expensive projects and not necessary for every troubled school: "I am pushing forward more academies than any secretary of state has done, but the scale of school improvement I want can't only be met by the academies programme."
Tomorrow's publication of "Building Britain's Future", followed by the schools white paper, marks a critical attempt to rejuvenate Brown's government. But it was derailed in advance yesterday as Richards, who as special adviser to Blears worked on her plans to devolve power from Whitehall to citizens, predicted in an article for the Progress thinktank that Brown's blueprint would have the same impact as "a mouse treading on the toes of an elephant".

Supreme Court To Decide Final 3 Cases On Monday

WASHINGTON — A closely watched discrimination lawsuit by white firefighters who say they have unfairly been denied promotions is one of three remaining Supreme Court cases awaiting resolution Monday.The court also will say goodbye to Justice David Souter who has announced he will retire "when the court rises for the summer recess."
The court intends to finish its work for the summer that day, Chief Justice John Roberts said.
Sonia Sotomayor, nominated to take Souter's place, was one of three appeals court judges who ruled that officials in New Haven, Conn., acted properly in throwing out firefighters' promotions exams because of racially skewed results.
The city says it decided not to use the test scores to determine promotions because it might have been vulnerable to claims the exam had a "disparate impact" on minorities in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The white firefighters said the decision violated the same law's prohibition on intentional discrimination.
The opinion that Sotomayor endorsed has been criticized as a cursory look at a tough issue. Among the critics are fellow judges on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Her defenders have said the short opinion properly applied earlier cases from that appeals court.
The outcome of the case could alter how employers in both the public and private sectors make job-related decisions.
The other two unsettled cases involve campaign finance law and states' ability to investigate alleged discrimination in lending by national banks.
The court is considering whether a movie that was critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton during her presidential campaign should be regulated as a campaign ad.

The scathing 90-minute documentary about the former New York senator and current secretary of state was made by a conservative group. It wanted to air television ads in important Democratic primary states and makes the movie available to cable subscribers on demand, without complying with federal campaign finance law.
The Federal Election Commission and a lower court in Washington have said the not-for-profit group, Citizens United, must abide by campaign finance restrictions. The high court's conservative justices appeared especially skeptical of that view when the case was argued in March.
In the dispute over investigating national banks, the Obama administration says federal law prohibits states from looking at the lending practices of those banks, even under state anti-discrimination laws.
Federal courts have so far blocked an investigation begun by New York, which is backed by the other 49 states, of whether minorities were being charged higher interest rates on home mortgage loans by national banks with branches in New York.
President Barack Obama's proposed overhaul of financial regulation could make the outcome of the case less important. The proposal would create a consumer protection office and states would be empowered to enforce their own laws, with some degree of coordination with the new federal agency.
In addition to the three pending decisions, the court also is expected to announce whether it will hear several important cases in its term that begins in October.
Among those cases are:
_A plea by victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to reinstate a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia and several Saudi princes over charitable donations that allegedly were funneled to al-Qaida.
_A request by Chinese Muslims who continue to be held at Guantanamo Bay that the court put teeth into last year's ruling granting detainees some rights by allowing a judge to order their release into the United States. The 13 Uighurs who remain at the U.S. naval base in Cuba may be sent to the tiny Pacific nation of Palau, a move that probably would end their court case.
_A bid by convicted cop killer Troy Davis of Georgia to get a new court hearing so that he can present evidence suggesting his innocence. Seven of nine key witnesses against Davis have recanted their earlier testimony, but state and federal courts have so far refused to order a new hearing.
Once their work is done, four justices are heading to Europe for teaching gigs. Roberts will be in Galway, Ireland. Justice Samuel Alito will travel to Innsbruck, Austria. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is heading to Rome. Justice Anthony Kennedy will spend July in Salzburg, Austria, for the 20th straight year.
In keeping with his practice of shunning the spotlight, Souter is expected to return to his home in New Hampshire with little fanfare.

Source :HP

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Johnny Depp's accidental island

Johnny Depp's accidental island
Johnny Depp accidentally bought a Caribbean island.
The 'Public Enemies' actor - who has two children, 10-year-old Lily-Rose and Jack, seven, with girlfriend Vanessa Paradis - splashed out on the 45-acre tropical paradise after discovering it by chance on a family holiday.
He said: "Like everything else in my life, it wasn't planned, it just kind of happened. After I had done the first 'Pirates' movie I went on vacation to escape with my kiddies and my girl and someone said there was an island down the road for sale. I looked at it, I walked on it and I was done.
So I immediately called my business manager and said 'Please!' And that was it." The 46-year-old star loves spending time on the "perfect" island because it allows him and his family to hide away from the pressures of living in the public eye.
He explained to Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper: "It came at the perfect moment. The island provides me with somewhere I can go where no one is looking at me or pointing a camera or a finger at me.
When we're there we do absolutely nothing. My kiddies don't have any toys there and they build little houses out of shells."

Iran election violence 'outrageous' - Obama

US President Barack Obama has praised the bravery of Iranians who protested against a disputed election in the face of "outrageous" violence, while a hardline Iranian cleric called for the execution of leading "rioters".
Iran's top legislative body said it found no major violations in the June 12 presidential election which it described as the "healthiest" since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but said 10 percent of ballot boxes would be recounted.
The Guardian Council has rejected a call for annulment of the vote by reformist former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi, who led mass protests after he was declared a distant second behind incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Obama, who before the poll urged Iran "to unclench its fist," said the events would affect ties between Washington and Tehran, which are locked in a row over Iran's nuclear program, but it was too early to assess its impact on future dialogue
ranian authorities have used a combination of warnings, arrests and the threat of police action to drive mass rallies off Tehran's street since Saturday with smaller gatherings dispersed with tear gas and baton charges.
Iranian state television said eight Basij militiamen were killed by "rioters" during mass protests in the world's fifth largest oil exporter that erupted after the poll. State media had previously said 20 people were killed in the violence.
Authorities have accused Mousavi of responsibility for the bloodshed, while he says the government is to blame.
Ahmad Khatami, a member of the powerful Assembly of Experts, said the judiciary should charge leading "rioters" as "mohareb" or one who wages war against God.
"I want the judiciary to ... punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson," Khatami told worshippers at Tehran University on Friday.
"They should be punished ruthlessly and savagely," he said. Under Iran's Islamic law, punishment for people convicted as "mohareb" is execution.
Obama, who said Mousavi had "captured the imagination" of Iranians who want to open up to the West, hailed Mousavi supporters at a White House news conference.
"Their bravery in the face of brutality is a testament to their enduring pursuit of justice. The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous," Obama said.
The U.S. president said he did not take seriously Ahmadinejad's call for him to apologize for criticizing Tehran, "particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process in Iran."
Washington had been hoping to convince Tehran to drop what it suspects are plans to develop nuclear bombs, while also seeking its cooperation in stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq. The government says its nuclear program is to generate power.

"Iran's possession of nuclear weapons will trigger an arms race in the Middle East that would be bad ... for the security of the entire region," said Obama, adding: "So even as we clearly speak out in a unified voice in opposition to the violence that's taken place in Iran, we also have to be steady in recognizing that the prospect of Iran with a nuclear weapon is a big problem."
Group of Eight powers on Friday deplored violence stemming from Iran's disputed presidential election but held open the door for Tehran to take part in talks on its nuclear program.
"We sincerely hope that Iran will seize this opportunity to give diplomacy a chance ...," the G8 statement said.
The row over the election has exposed an unprecedented public rift within Iran's ruling elite.
Abbasali Kadkhodai, spokesman for the Guardian Council, said that to remove all ambiguities over the vote, 10 percent of all ballot boxes would be recounted in the presence of senior officials representing government and opposition.
Political and religious figures should send election-related questions to the council and the defeated candidates had 24 hours to present their representatives for the recount, he told the students' news agency ISNA.
The 12-man Guardian Council's statement leaves little scope for more legal challenges to the election result, short of an attack on the position of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has expressed strong support for Ahmadinejad.
Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a Mousavi ally, chairs the Assembly of Experts which has the constitutional power to depose Khamenei. The assembly has never tried to do so and Rafsanjani is seen as unlikely to take such a radical step.
Mousavi said he was determined to keep challenging the election results despite pressure to stop.

Source : WEB

US House passes historic climate change bill

The US House of Representatives narrowly passed historic legislation to limit pollution blamed for global warming, handing US President Barack Obama a major, hard-fought victory.
US House passes historic climate change bill
Children take part in a demonstration outside the White House calling on US President Barack Obama and visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to take action on climate change. The US House of Representatives narrowly passed historic legislation to limit pollution blamed for global warming, handing President Barack Obama a major, hard-fought victory. [Agencies] 
By a 219-212 margin, lawmakers voted for the first time in US history to limit heat-trapping carbon emissions and shift the US economy to cleaner energy in a move backers said will create jobs and restore Washington's shaky leadership on climate change ahead of global talks set for December.
Obama immediately hailed the vote, telling reporters at the White House that it amounted to "a victory of the future over the past" as well as "a bold and necessary step."
"The American people are demanding that we abandon the failed policies and politics of the past; we no longer accept inaction; that we face up to the challenges of our time. And today, the House has done exactly that," he said.
The "American Clean Energy and Security Act" aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by 2050, create "green" jobs, and wean the US economy from oil imports.
The bitter, day-long debate pitted supporters who argued the bill would put a shine back on the battered US economy and foes who described the measure's more than 1,200 pages as a grim recipe for long unemployment lines.
"Just remember these four words for what this legislation means -- jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. Let's vote for jobs," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi exhorted her colleagues minutes before the vote.
Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner warned the measure would send energy costs skyrocketing and denounced it as "the biggest job-killing bill that has ever been on the floor of the House."
The pitched political battle over a central plank of Obama's platform now shifts to the US Senate, where the prospects for action this year are uncertain and where outspoken foes of the House approach wield considerable clout.
"Now it's up to the Senate to take the next step. And I'm confident that in the coming weeks and months the Senate will demonstrate the same commitment to addressing what is a tremendous challenge," said Obama.
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid hailed the House's "courageous step" but warned "the bill is not perfect" while vowing to "pass bipartisan and comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this fall."
The bill, the fruit of months of tough negotiations, would create a "cap-and-trade" system limiting overall pollution from large industrial sources and then allocating and selling pollution permits.
The Democratic-crafted bill would require utilities, by 2020, to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources -- solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass -- and show annual energy savings of five percent from efficiency measures.
The European Union plan calls for getting 20 percent of all electricity from renewable resources by 2020.
Obama, who spent part of the day courting wavering lawmakers, said as he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel hours before the vote that he hoped the United States was reasserting its role after letting Europe lead for years.
"The United States, over the last several years, has not been where we need to be. We're not going to get there all in one fell swoop, but I'm very proud of the progress that's being made," he told Merkel at the White House.
Obama also vowed to work with rising economies, like China and India, amid worries that the bill may hamstring the US economy and send jobs fleeing to countries that lack similar restrictions.
"India and China will not shatter their own economies with this sort of scheme, and its nonsensical for America to impose a job killer like this on ourselves," said the number two House Republican, Representative Eric Cantor.
The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that implementing the legislation would cost 80-111 dollars per US household per year, while the Congressional Budget Office says it would run about 175 dollars.