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For ADDITIONAL NEWS articles, click HERE U.S. MILITARY DEATHS (IRAQ): 3218 U.S. MILITARY WOUNDED (IRAQ): 24,042 IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS (MIN): 59,326 'EXCESS' IRAQI DEATHS: 655,000 Rate Freeze Bush mortgage plan includes rate freeze WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has hammered out an agreement with industry to freeze interest rates for certain subprime mortgages for five years in an effort to combat a soaring tide of foreclosures, congressional aides said Wednesday. These aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not yet been released, said the five-year moratorium represented a compromise between desires by banking regulators for a longer time frame of as much as seven years and industry arguments that the freeze should only last one to two years. Another person familiar with the matter said the rate-freeze plan would apply to borrowers with loans made at the start of 2005 through July 30 of this year with rates that are scheduled to rise between Jan. 1, 2008, and July 31, 2010. The administration said that President Bush will speak on the agreement at the White House on Thursday and the Treasury Department announced that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson would hold a joint news conference Thursday afternoon with officials of the mortgage industry. Treasury also announced that there would be a technical briefing to explain more of the details of the proposal. Paulson, who has been leading the effort to craft a plan, said on Monday that the program would only be available for owner-occupied homes — as a way to make sure that the break is not granted to real estate speculators. The plan emerged from talks between Paulson and other banking regulators and banks, mortgage investors and consumer groups trying to address an avalanche of foreclosures that are feared as an estimated 2 million subprime mortgages reset from lower introductory rates to higher rates. The higher rates in many cases will boost monthly payments by as much as 30 percent, making it extremely difficult for many people to keep current with their loans. The plan is aimed at homeowners who are making payments on time at lower introductory mortgage rates but cannot afford a higher adjusted rate. Through October, there were about 1.8 million foreclosure filings nationwide, compared with about 1.3 million in all of 2006, according to Irvine, Calif-based RealtyTrac Inc. With home loan defaults still rising, the trend is expected to worsen next year. The plan represents an about-face for Paulson, who until recently had insisted that the mortgage crisis could be handled on a case-by-case basis. However, he and other administration officials became convinced that the tide of foreclosures threatened by the mortgage resets represented such a severe threat that a more sweeping approach was needed along the lines of a plan put forward in October by Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Paulson and other federal regulators began holding talks with some of the country's biggest mortgage lenders, mortgage service companies, investors who hold mortgage-backed securities and nonprofit groups that provide counseling for at-risk homeowners. Under the typical subprime loan, those offered to borrowers with spotty credit histories, the rates for the first two years were at levels around 7 percent to 9 percent. But after two years, those rates were scheduled to reset to levels around 9 percent to 11 percent. For a typical $1,200 monthly mortgage payment, the reset could add another $350 to the monthly payment, greatly raising the risks of loan defaults by homeowners struggling with the current payment. The wave of mortgage foreclosures threatened to make the most severe slump in housing even worse by dumping more foreclosed properties onto an already glutted market, further depressing home prices and shaking consumer confidence. The deepening housing slump has already roiled financial markets, starting in August, as investors grew increasingly concerned about billions of dollars of losses being suffered by banks, hedge funds and other investors. The administration plan is designed to deal with the crisis by allowing subprime borrowers who are living in their homes and are current on their payments to avoid a costly reset for five years. The hope is that by that time the housing downturn will have stabilized, clearing out the glut of unsold homes and halting the steep slide in prices that is occurring in many parts of the country. With sales and prices once again rising, the expectation is that homeowners will be able to renegotiate their current adjustable rate mortgages into a more affordable fixed-rate plan. The housing crisis has become an issue in the presidential race with Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards putting forward their own proposals this week that would go further than the administration. Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com, said while the administration plan is a good first step, eventually the government will have to go further because of the size of the problem and the threat to the economy. "This is the most serious housing downturn we have seen in the post World War II period," he said. "It is a threat to the broader economy. The risks of a recession are very high." America Map Puzzle Map that named America is a puzzle for researchers WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The only surviving copy of the 500-year-old map that first used the name America goes on permanent display this month at the Library of Congress, but even as it prepares for its debut, the 1507 Waldseemuller map remains a puzzle for researchers. Why did the mapmaker name the territory America and then change his mind later? How was he able to draw South America so accurately? Why did he put a huge ocean west of America years before European explorers discovered the Pacific? "That's the kind of conundrum, the question, that is still out there," said John Hebert, chief of the geography and map division of the Library of Congress. The 12 sheets that make up the map, purchased from German Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg for $10 million in 2003, were mounted on Monday in a huge 6-foot by 9.5-foot (1.85 meter by 2.95 meter) display case machined from a single block of aluminum. The case will be flooded with inert argon gas to prevent deterioration when it goes on public display December 13. Researchers are hopeful that putting the rarely shown map on permanent display for the first time since it was discovered in the Waldburg-Wolfegg castle archives in 1901 may stimulate interest in finding out more about the documents used to produce it. The map was created by the German monk Martin Waldseemuller. Thirteen years after Christopher Columbus first landed in the Western Hemisphere, the Duke of Lorraine brought Waldseemuller and a group of scholars together at a monastery in Saint-Die in France to create a new map of the world. The result, published two years later, is stunningly accurate and surprisingly modern. "The actual shape of South America is correct," said Hebert. "The width of South America at certain key points is correct within 70 miles of accuracy." Given what Europeans are believed to have known about the world at the time, it should not have been possible for the mapmakers to produce it, he said. The map gives a reasonably correct depiction of the west coast of South America. But according to history, Vasco Nunez de Balboa did not reach the Pacific by land until 1513, and Ferdinand Magellan did not round the southern tip of the continent until 1520. "So this is a rather compelling map to say, 'How did they come to that conclusion,"' Hebert said. The mapmakers say they based it on the 1,300-year-old works of the Egyptian geographer Ptolemy as well as letters Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci wrote describing his voyages to the new world. But Hebert said there must have been something more. "From the writings of Vespucci you couldn't have prepared the map," Hebert said. "There had to be something cartographic with it." MISGIVINGS ABOUT AMERICA Waldseemuller made it clear he was naming the new land after Vespucci, describing how he came up with the name America based on the navigator's first name. But he soon had misgivings about what he had done. An atlas Waldseemuller produced six years later shows only part of the east coast of the Americas, and refers to it as Terra Incognita -- unknown land. "America has gone out of his lexicon," Hebert said. "(No) place in the atlas -- in the text or in the maps -- does the name America appear." His 1516 mariner's map, on the same scale as the 1507 map, steps back even further, showing only parts of the new continents and reconnecting the north to Asia. South America is labeled Terra Nova -- New World -- and North America is labeled Terra de Cuba -- Land of Cuba. "Essentially he's reconnecting North America to the Asian mainland, suggesting a continual world of land mass rather than separated by those bodies of water that separate us from Europe and Asia," Hebert said. Why the rollback? No one knows. In writings accompanying the 1516 map, Waldseemuller comes across as if he "has seen the better of his error and is now correcting it," Hebert said. He speculated that power politics played a role. Spain and Portugal divided the globe between them in 1494, two years after Columbus, with territory to the east going to Portugal and land to the west to Spain. That demarcation line is oddly absent from the 1507 Waldseemuller map, and flags marking territorial claims in South America suggest Portugal controls the region's southernmost land, even though it is in Spain's area of influence. On the later map, the southernmost flag is Spanish, Hebert said. "It is possible one could say the 1507 map is influenced strongly by Portuguese sources and conceivably the 1516 map may be influenced more by Spanish sources," he said. Although the map conceals many mysteries, one thing is clear: it represents a revolutionary shift in the way Europe viewed the world. "This is ... essentially the beginning or first map of the modern age, and it's one that everything builds on from that point forward," Hebert said. "It becomes a keystone map." (Editing by Eddie Evans) Your Money Credit card execs defend rate policies WASHINGTON - Credit-card executives on Tuesday deflected congressional criticism of their practice of using falling credit scores to charge customers higher interest rates. Industry critics say it's another example of abusive, confusing credit-card practices that can push consumers deeper into debt. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee, said customers who consistently pay on time are getting whacked by credit-card issuers that raise such rates without an adequate warning or a clear notice. "The bottom line for me is this: when a credit card issuer promises to provide a cardholder with a specific interest rate if they meet their credit card obligations, and the cardholder holds up their end of the bargain, the credit-card issuer should have to do the same," he said Tuesday. Levin is holding out the club of possible legislation to spur voluntary changes by the industry. But executives from Bank of America Corp. and Discover Financial Services LLC. told the subcommittee that a credit score is one of several factors in determining whether to increase a customer's interest rate. "It's important criteria for how to manage risk and pricing," said Roger Hochschild, Discover's president and chief operating officer. Bruce Hammonds, president of Bank of America Card Services, said his bank also considers customer behavior on an account and their debt to others, in addition to credit scores. But it's the behavior of credit-card issuers that prompted several consumers to testify before Levin's subcommittee about not being informed when their rates were hiked. Janet Hard of Freeland, Mich., said her Discover credit-card rate nearly tripled without adequate notice and that issuers send "deliberately misleading and confusing" information. With Americans weighed down by some $900 billion in credit-card debt — an average $2,200 per household — practices of the very profitable industry have been ripe for scrutiny by the Democratic- controlled Congress. Levin's subcommittee, which has been investigating the industry, looked at how credit-card issuers raise consumers' rates, to as high as 30 percent, when their so-called FICO credit scores decline — even if they've paid credit-card bills regularly and promptly. In many cases, consumers have little notice of the increased rate, which are automatically triggered by declines in FICO scores for reasons left unexplained, the subcommittee found. In some cases, just opening another account, such as a department store credit card, could trigger the downgrade in credit score. In one of the cases cited by the subcommittee, Marjorie Hancock of Arlington, Mass., wound up with interest rates on her four Bank of America credit cards of 8 percent, 14 percent, 19 percent and 27 percent, even though her credit risk is the same for all four. Ken Clayton, managing director of card policy for the American Bankers Association, which represents the banking industry, said Monday: "Costs for nearly every product can change, be it because consumer's risk profiles change or because underlying costs change. Credit cards are no different." Five big financial companies — Discover, Bank of America., Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Capital One Financial Corp. — issue around 80 percent of U.S. credit cards, according to the subcommittee. A Capital One official also testified at Tuesday's hearing. Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Capital One said they will discontinue the practice; Citigroup's change already is in place and JPMorgan Chase's will take effect in March. But Levin says legislation may still be needed to get other companies to do the same. Larry DiRita, a spokesman for Bank of America, said its customers "have the right to say 'no' to an increase." ___ AP Business Writer Marcy Gordon in Washington contributed to this report. Bible Discovery Israeli says elusive biblical wall found JERUSALEM - A wall mentioned in the Bible's Book of Nehemiah and long sought by archaeologists apparently has been found, an Israeli archaeologist says. A team of archaeologists discovered the wall in Jerusalem's ancient City of David during a rescue attempt on a tower that was in danger of collapse, said Eilat Mazar, head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based research and educational institute, and leader of the dig. Artifacts including pottery shards and arrowheads found under the tower suggested that both the tower and the nearby wall are from the 5th century B.C., the time of Nehemiah, Mazar said this week. Scholars previously thought the wall dated to the Hasmonean period from about 142 B.C. to 37 B.C. The findings suggest that the structure was actually part of the same city wall the Bible says Nehemiah rebuilt, Mazar said. The Book of Nehemiah gives a detailed description of construction of the walls, destroyed earlier by the Babylonians. "We were amazed," she said, noting that the discovery was made at a time when many scholars argued that the wall did not exist. "This was a great surprise. It was something we didn't plan," Mazar said. The first phase of the dig, completed in 2005, uncovered what Mazar believes to be the remains of King David's palace, built by King Hiram of Tyre, and also mentioned in the Bible. Ephraim Stern, professor emeritus of archaeology at Hebrew University and chairman of the state of Israel archaeological council, offered support for Mazar's claim. "The material she showed me is from the Persian period," the period of Nehemiah, he said. "I can sign on the date of the material she found." However, another scholar disputed the significance of the discovery. Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, called the discovery "an interesting find," but said the pottery and other artifacts do not indicate that the wall was built in the time of Nehemiah. Because the debris was not connected to a floor or other structural part of the wall, the wall could have been built later, Finkelstein said. "The wall could have been built, theoretically, in the Ottoman period," he said. "It's not later than the pottery — that's all we know." Young Felons States rethink charging kids as adults A generation after America decided to get tough on kids who commit crimes — sometimes locking them up for life — the tide may be turning. States are rethinking and, in some cases, retooling juvenile sentencing laws. They're responding to new research on the adolescent brain, and studies that indicate teens sent to adult court end up worse off than those who are not: They get in trouble more often, they do it faster and the offenses are more serious. "It's really the trifecta of bad criminal justice policy," says Shay Bilchik, a former Florida prosecutor who heads the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University. "People didn't know that at the time the changes were made. Now we do, and we have to learn from it." Juvenile crime is down, in contrast to the turbulent days of the 1990s when politicians vied to pass laws to get violent kids off the streets. Now, in calmer times, some champion community programs for young offenders to replace punitive measures they say went too far. "The net was thrown too broadly," says Howard Snyder, director of systems research at the National Center for Juvenile Justice. "When you make these general laws ... a lot of people believe they made it too easy for kids to go into the adult system and it's not a good place to be." Some states are reconsidering life without parole for teens. Some are focusing on raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, while others are exploring ways to offer kids a second chance, once they're locked up — or even before. "There has been a huge sea change ... it's across the country," says Laurie Garduque, program director at the MacArthur Foundation, which has worked extensively on juvenile justice reform. "It certainly helps that there has been a decline in juvenile crime and delinquency." Not everyone, though, believes there's reason to roll back harsher penalties adopted in the 1990s. "The laws that were changed were appropriate and necessary," says Minnesota prosecutor James Backstrom. "We need to focus on the protecting the public — that's No. 1. Then we can address the needs of the juvenile offenders." Each year about 200,000 defendants under 18 are sent directly or transferred to the adult system, known as criminal court, according to rough estimates. Most end up there because of state laws that automatically define them as adults, due to their age or offense. Their ranks rose in the 1990s as juvenile crime soared and legislators responded; 48 states made it easier to transfer kids into criminal court, according to the juvenile justice center. These changes gave prosecutors greater latitude (they could transfer kids without a judge's permission), lowered the age or expanded the list of crimes that would make it mandatory for a case to be tried there. Some states also adopted blended sentences in which two sanctions can be imposed simultaneously; if the teen follows the terms of the juvenile sentence, the adult sentence is revoked. The changes were ushered in to curb an explosion in violent crime — the teen murder arrest rate doubled from 1987 to 1993 as the crack trade and guns flourished — and to address mounting frustrations with the juvenile justice system. A series of horrific crimes by kids rattled the nation: In Michigan, a baby-faced sixth grader, Nathaniel Abraham, shot and killed a stranger who was leaving a convenience store. When he was arrested in his classroom, his face was painted for Halloween. In Florida, Lionel Tate was 12 when he beat and stomped to death a playmate half his age. In Chicago, two boys, then 10 and 11, dangled, then dropped 5-year-old Eric Morse to his death from a 14th-story vacant public housing apartment. His terrified brother raced down the stairs, hoping he could somehow catch Eric. Some politicians began using the phrase "adult crime, adult time." There were predictions of even bleaker days ahead. Some warned that by the end of the century, thousands of remorseless kids — a new generation of "superpredators" — would be committing murder, rape or robbery, joining gangs and dealing drugs. "There was an organized effort to label kids and make people afraid of juveniles," Snyder says. "People were saying their mothers had smoked crack, their DNA had changed. ... they were no longer the same people. They tried to make it seem these kids are different from your kids and that you need to do something." But the super-vicious breed of criminal never emerged. (The professor who coined the "superpredator" term later expressed regret.) Drug trafficking declined. An improved economy produced more jobs. And the rate of juvenile violent crime arrests plummeted 46 percent from 1994 to 2005, according to federal figures. "When crime goes down, people have an opportunity to be more reflective than crisis-oriented and ask, `Was this policy a good policy?'" Bilchik says. The MacArthur Foundation said in a report to be released this month that about half the states are involved in juvenile justice reforms — among them, taking more kids out of the adult system, providing more mental health and community based-services and improving conditions at detention centers. A national poll, commissioned by MacArthur and the Center for Children's Law and Policy and set for release at the same time, also found widespread public support for rehabilitating teens rather than locking them up. Most favored shifting some money states spend on incarcerating kids and using it for counseling, education and job training. Some states have already begun to make changes. _In Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter, a former district attorney, recently formed a juvenile clemency board to hear cases of kids convicted as adults. The head of the seven-member panel says it's an acknowledgment that teens are still developing and different from adults — a point made in the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed the death penalty for crimes committed as juveniles. This was the second revision in Colorado. In 2006, a law replaced the juvenile life-without-parole sentence with the possibility of parole after 40 years. _In California and Michigan, life without parole for teens also is getting another look. This spring, a state Senate panel in California approved a plan offering the chance of freedom after 25 years. A package of bills that would ban the no-parole sentence for those under 18 and revamp the process allowing juveniles to be tried as adults awaits a hearing in Michigan. _In Connecticut, lawmakers recently raised the age of juveniles to 18 for most cases; the changes will be phased in by 2010. Prosecutors can still transfer felonies to adult court. Legislator Michael Lawlor said 16- and 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors such as shoplifting and vandalism were hindered when they applied for jobs or college. "This caused people to think ... should all of these cases be adult all the time?" he says. Those records are now sealed. _In Illinois, a proposal to move 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors to juvenile court passed in the state Senate and is pending in the House. In 2005, the state repealed the automatic transfer of kids to adult court for drug violations within 1,000 feet of public housing or schools. An advocacy group found virtually all the kids caught in this statewide law were minorities from Cook County; about two-thirds were first-time offenders — a population, it argued, that could benefit from juvenile court. _In Wyoming, talks are under way to shed a system that routinely charges and jails juveniles as adults even for minor offenses such as underage drinking. One idea is to have judges, prosecutors and social workers evaluate first-time offenders and find treatment — mostly, without sending them to jail. Not all states are easing up. Rhode Island headed in the opposite direction — at least, temporarily. Last summer, the state passed a law to send 17-year-old criminal offenders to adult prisons in what was intended as a cost-cutting move. The measure, however, was repealed about four months later after some critics pointed out this plan probably would be more expensive. And a North Carolina proposal to study whether the state should raise juvenile jurisdiction to age 18 stalled in a legislative committee this year. It is a change that would have aided North Carolina attorney Deborrah Newton last year, when she fought to keep a 15-year-old boy out of adult court. He was charged with second-degree murder in the drug-related death of his 16-year-old friend, Erica Hicks. Prosecutor Melanie Shekita argued the boy had supplied Erica with drugs, including Ecstasy. And, she says, when the girl collapsed at his house and a friend called 911, the boy hung up and later told the operator it was a prank. Shekita says the boy's "reckless behavior," his juvenile drug history and the need to have "a red flag" on his permanent record were reason enough for him to be treated as an adult. Newton painted a different portrait, of an insecure follower who wanted to "impress his peers, selling a dime bag of pot here and there to be popular. ... He was simply not mature enough to appreciate the consequences of his conduct," she says. The boy was tried as a juvenile and found responsible for involuntary manslaughter. He eventually entered a residential treatment program. "This kid would not have survived an adult prison," Newton says. "The most fragile are preyed upon. It's simply not the place for a child." It's an argument made by others who've studied kids prosecuted as adults. "The juvenile correctional system is more rehabilitative or treatment-oriented," says Donna Bishop, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston. "The adult system, for the most part is a warehouse where (kids) spend a great deal of time with older, more seasoned, more serious offenders, many of whom talk about becoming a better criminal." Reginald Dwayne Betts knows firsthand. He spent more than eight years behind bars in Virginia for an armed carjacking. An honors student who had never been in trouble with the police, he says he expected he might be sent to a juvenile detention center or even receive a suspended sentence. Instead, he was tried as an adult. When he was originally sentenced to 23 years, he says, he didn't know the difference between the terms "consecutive" and "concurrent." Locked up at 16, Betts spent most of his time in adult prisons. "Of course it makes a difference if you're 15, 16 or 17," he says. "You're not prepared to deal with it physically or emotionally. You're trying to deal with being away from home. You're trying to deal with the stress that comes with being in prison." Violence was a constant presence. "I got used to stuff most people I see today would never have to get used to — like somebody getting their head split open," Betts says. "You get numb to it. It's like, OK, somebody got stabbed." Betts had serious problems at first. He wound up in isolation three times during his first 18 months. But he gradually retreated into books, taught himself Spanish, took a paralegal course, wrote and published poetry. When he was released two years ago at age 24, he won a college scholarship, found work and started a book club for young boys. He's now engaged and has a book contract. He knows he is an exception: "People don't come out of prison and make good," he says. In New York, Judge Michael Corriero is aware of those odds. He presides over a special court in the adult system — it's called the Manhattan Youth Part and is responsible for resolving the cases of 13- to 15-year-olds accused of serious crimes. Corriero tries to steer as many kids as possible away from criminal court, a philosophy he has detailed in his book, "Judging Children as Children." "You take a 14-year-old and give him an adult sentence ... you're taking him out of the community at his most vulnerable time," he says. "His character is still malleable. Fourteen-, 15-year-old kids are supposed to be learning from their mistakes. They're becoming socialized. "If you put them in an institution, what is that kid going to look like in 10 years?" he asks. "What special skills will he have? What empathy? What can we expect of kids that are taken away and criminalized before their time?" Corriero says about 65 percent of the cases he handles are sent to mentoring, counseling or other alternative programs, mostly private. If the kids succeed, their records are sealed. The more hard-core teens are treated in the criminal courts. Treatment programs are very expensive, but they pay off in the long run, declares Melissa Sickmund, senior research associate at the juvenile center. "If you do good in juvenile justice, you won't have adult criminals," she says. Though juvenile crime tends to evoke images of gangs and murder, violent teens are the exception. Studies show they account for about 5 percent of all juvenile arrests. Drugs, burglary, theft and other property crimes are among the more common reasons teens are prosecuted in adult courts. Most of these kids, though, don't end up in adult prison, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice. A study the group commissioned of 40 large court jurisdictions in the country looked at teen felony cases in 1998 and found between a third and a half had no conviction or were bounced back to juvenile court. Many states have what is called "reverse waiver" provisions, meaning judges can send the case in the other direction. But crossing the threshold into the adult world is damaging in itself, argues Liz Ryan, head of the group. About 7,500 juveniles are held in adult jails on any given day, she says, and that number probably reaches tens of thousands a year because of turnover. Being in an adult jail, Ryan says, increases a kid's risk of sexual abuse and assault. Educational opportunities are limited. Even good intentions can go awry; teens who are separated for their safety can end up isolated in 23-hour lockdown. And for those eventually convicted of serious crimes in adult court, the damage can be irreparable. "A lot of people say, 'So what? They get a slap on the wrist,'" Ryan says. "Well, there is a consequence. We call it perpetual punishment. You have a felony record that follows you the rest of your life." Ryan says that can affect college loans and admissions, voting and job prospects. "By cutting off opportunity, it increases the likelihood they'll be back in the justice system," she says. Sheila Montgomery worries about her son, Zack. He recently was released after serving 27 months for being an accomplice in the robbery of an Oregon convenience store. He had originally received a 7 1/2- year term after falsely confessing to being the robber; he was re-sentenced after evidence revealed he wasn't. Montgomery says her son, then 15, was struggling with bipolar disorder. He's now 17 and a student again, though his mother says the school was reluctant to accept him. "He'll forever be a felon," Montgomery says. "He can't put the past behind him. It was hard for him to find work. A lot of people didn't want to see him." Montgomery says her son deserved punishment and she has no problem with "a little bit of jail time," but probation and counseling would have served him better. "I feel there are more economical ways to approach juveniles with treatment," she says. But prosecutors say some kids are just too dangerous to be considered juveniles, where they could be released to walk the streets again by age 21. If a criminal is likely to get out in three or four years and do more harm, "then I come down on the side of risking the damage that is done by sending someone to prison," says Gary Walker, a Michigan prosecutor who is active in juvenile issues. "When they tell me placing a younger person in an adult setting is not necessarily for the betterment of the individual," Walker says, "my answer is: 'Who thinks it is?'" Minnesota prosecutor Backstrom didn't hesitate at all in prosecuting Matthew Niedere and Clayton Keister as adults in the murder of Niedere's parents. The 17-year-olds, he says, carefully planned the crime: Niedere shot his father five times and his mother four times. Keister shot Patricia Niedere after she ran outside the family store, yelling for help, then returned and tried to save her dying husband. Prosecution was one thing, punishment another. "I had to make a very difficult decision whether to put these young men away for their natural lives, or give them a chance," Backstrom says. He weighed several factors, including their lack of criminal record and brain research that shows the frontal lobe — the part that regulates impulse control and aggression — is still developing in the 20s. Backstrom agreed to having the teens plead guilty to murder involving an armed robbery — allowing for the possibility of parole in 30 years. "As I told them at sentencing, they're going to have to show more remorse than they did when they pled guilty," he says. "If that's the case 30 years from now, then we'll give them a chance in society." More than a decade ago, Backstrom had pressed Minnesota lawmakers to make it easier for prosecutors to take serious cases into adult court. He was spurred by a case in which he wasn't allowed to try a 16-year-old for murder as an adult; the boy fatally shot an acquaintance point-blank in the head in a dispute over marijuana. He served less than 1 1/2 years in juvenile detention. "That's not justice," the prosecutor says. "That's a joke. ... He should have gone to prison 15 or 20 years. That's what would have happened today." State Attorney Harry Shorstein of Jacksonville, Fla., has his own approach. "I think I've created my own juvenile justice system," he says. "The secret is not choosing punishment vs. prevention, but using both." In 16 years, Shorstein's office has transferred more than 2,600 juvenile cases to adult court. Almost all offenders go to jail for about a year, where they live separately from adults, attend school, meet with mentors and receive social services. Meanwhile, the prosecutor buses in at-risk kids — ages 9 to 11 — so they can talk with a few teen inmates, seeing them locked up, cut off from their families. "All this is not to try to scare them but ... have them interact with the juveniles they looked up to because of their guns, money and cars," Shorstein says. But technically, the jailed teens have not been convicted. And if they stay out of trouble while locked up, and for two years of probation, their record is clean. "I believe crime is like gymnastics," he says. "It really is a young person's sport. If you incapacitate a 15- or 16-year-old for a year, you can prevent more crime than if you imprison a 22-year-old for life." NO GAMBLING Lottery winner wasn't supposed to gamble BOSTON - The winner of a $1 million lottery scratch ticket may not be so lucky after all: He's a convicted bank robber who isn't supposed to gamble. Timothy Elliott faces a Dec. 7 court hearing over whether he violated his probation when he bought the $10 ticket for the $800 Million Spectacular game at a supermarket in Hyannis. Elliott was placed on five years' probation after pleading guilty in October 2006 to unarmed robbery for a January 2006 heist at a bank on Cape Cod. Under terms of his probation, he "may not gamble, purchase lottery tickets or visit an establishment where gaming is conducted, including restaurants where Keno may be played." Elliott, 55, has collected the first of 20 annual $50,000 checks from the Massachusetts lottery commission. A picture of Elliott, holding his first check, was posted on the lottery's Web site Monday, though it was removed by Wednesday. As part of his sentence, Elliott was put under the care of the state Mental Health Department and sent to a hospital for treatment, and state officials refused Wednesday to say whether he was still being treated. A telephone number for Elliott could not immediately be located Wednesday, and it was not clear whether he had a lawyer. The lottery routinely cross references the names of winners with the state Revenue Department to see if they owe back taxes or child support, lottery spokesman Dan Rosenfeld said. In those cases, winnings go straight to the Revenue Department. But in this case, it will be up to the court to determine what will happen with Elliott's winnings. "This is kind of new territory," he said. ECONOMY SPURT Economy has strong showing in summer WASHINGTON - The economy barreled ahead in the summer, growing at a 4.9 percent pace. The performance was the strongest in four years but isn't expected to last through the current quarter amid the housing slump and credit crunch. New-home sales edged up in October but sales activity still hovered near an 11-year low. The Commerce Department's new reading of the gross domestic product from July through September, released Thursday, was even better than the government's initial estimate of a brisk 3.9 percent growth rate for period. Stronger U.S. exports to overseas buyers and more inventory investment by businesses were the main reasons for the improvement. A second report from the department showed that new-home sales increased 1.7 percent in October from September. That left sales at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 728,000. Even with the nudge up, sales have plunged 23.5 percent over the last 12 months. In September alone, sales dropped to a pace of 716,000, the lowest since 1996. The median sales price of a new home fell to $217,800 in October. That is down 13 percent from a year ago. That marked the biggest annual decline in prices since September 1970. The median price is where half sell for more and half for less. In October sales rose in all parts of the country, except for the West, where they tumbled 15.7 percent from the prior month. The slight increase in monthly sales nationwide didn't change the grim housing outlook. And, the big pickup in GDP didn't change the picture forming in the current October-to-December quarter. That scenario is somewhat grim, with indications the economy will lose considerable steam. Growth is expected to slow to a pace of just 1.5 percent or less in the final three months of this year. GDP is the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is the best measure of the country's economic health. The upgraded GDP figure for the third quarter matched economists' forecasts. The strong showing suggested that the economy was resilient even as the housing market plunged deeper into turmoil and credit problems intensified. Federal Reserve officials and other economists — looking at fresher barometers of economic activity — have warned that the economy is in for a rough patch. In another report, the number of new people signing up for jobless benefits last week jumped sharply, suggesting that employment conditions are softening as national economic activity slows. The Labor Department reported that new applications filed for unemployment insurance mushroomed by a seasonally adjusted 23,000 to 352,000. It was the highest level since Feb. 10. There have been signs in recent weeks that the housing and credit problems are affecting the behavior of consumers and businesses alike. Spending by consumers and businesses is the lifeblood of the country's economic activity. The big worry for economists is that consumers and businesses will cut back on spending and investing, dealing a blow to economic growth. The odds of a recession have grown this year. Still, Fed officials and many other economists remain hopeful the country will weather the financial storm without falling into recession. The Fed has sliced interest rates twice this year — in September and late October — to keep the housing collapse and credit crunch from throwing the economy into a recession. Fed policymakers at the October meeting signaled that further rate reductions may not be needed. Since then, however, financial markets have suffered through another period of turmoil. The housing slump has deepened, consumer confidence has sunk and shoppers are flashing signals of caution. Against that backdrop, investors and some economists believe the Fed might lower rates when they meet on Dec. 11. Even with the remarkable GDP showing in the third quarter, the housing situation grew more bleak. Builders slashed investment in housing projects by 19.7 percent, on an annualized basis. It marked the biggest cut in a year. Credit problems have made it harder for would-be home buyers to finance a home, deepening the housing slump. The inventory of unsold homes continues to pile up and builders continue to cut back. The industry's problems are expected to drag on well into next year, acting as a weight on national economic activity. Businesses largely carried the economy in the third quarter. Sales of U.S. exports abroad powered growth. Those sales were aided by the falling value of the U.S. dollar, which make U.S. goods cheaper to buy on foreign markets. Exports grew by 18.9 percent, on an annualized basis, in the third quarter. That was the biggest increase in four years. Inventory investment by businesses also added to GDP growth as did spending on equipment and software and construction of new plants, office buildings and other commercial construction. The huge losses reported by financial companies due to the mortgage meltdown took their toll on corporate profits. One measure showed that after-tax profits were flat in the third quarter after rising by 5.2 percent in the second quarter. Consumers were somewhat subdued in the third quarter. Their spending grew at a 2.7 percent pace, up from a weak 1.4 percent growth rate in the second quarter but still considered somewhat lukewarm. Analysts expect consumers turned cautious in the current October-to-December period, a factor in forecasts of slower overall economic growth. Post-Thanksgiving retail sales were promising, however. A separate GDP-related gauge of inflation showed that "core" prices — excluding food and energy — rose at a rate of 1.8 percent. That was the same as previously estimated but up from a 1.4 percent rate in second quarter. Still the inflation figure was within the Fed's comfort zone. Oil prices, which have been marching higher, have eased in recent days and are now hovering at above $90 a barrel. High energy prices can crimp spending by people and businesses on other things, putting another damper on economic growth. So far more expensive energy hasn't forced a widespread boost in the prices of lots of goods and services, which would spread inflation through the economy. But Fed officials — ever vigilant against inflation dangers — have said they'll keep a watchful eye on the situation. The fallout in the housing and credit markets is weighing on President Bush. The public is giving Bush low marks for his handling of the economy. Just 32 percent — a record low_ approve of his economic stewardship, according to a recent AP-Ipsos poll. BRAIN SURGERY Hospital makes 3rd brain surgery mistake PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Rhode Island Hospital has been fined $50,000 and reprimanded by the state Department of Health after its third instance this year of a doctor performing brain surgery in the wrong side of a patient's head. "We are extremely concerned about this continuing pattern," health department director David R. Gifford said in a statement Monday. The hospital issued a statement saying it was re-evaluating its training and policies, providing more oversight, giving nursing staff the power to ensure procedures are followed, among other steps. The most recent case happened Friday when the chief resident started operating on the wrong side of an 82- year-old patient's brain, the health department said. The patient was OK, the health department and hospital said. In February, a different doctor performed neurosurgery on the wrong side of another patient's head, said Andrea Bagnall-Degos, a health department spokeswoman. That patient was also OK, she said. In August, however, a patient died a few weeks after a third doctor operated on the wrong side of his brain. The death prompted the state to order the hospital to take a series of steps to ensure such a mistake would not happen again, including an independent review of its neurosurgery practices and better verification from doctors of surgery plans. The hospital is owned by Lifespan, a not-for-profit corporation. It serves as a teaching hospital for Brown University. SIBERIAN NATIVE AMERICANS Gene study suggests Native Americans came from Siberia WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US genetic study bolsters claims that Native Americans are descended from one migrant group that crossed a lost land link from modern Siberia to Alaska -- not waves of arrivals from Asia, as rival theories say The new study by the University of Michigan, published Monday, examined genes of indigenous people from North to South America and from two Siberian groups, the university said in a report introducing the research. Analysis found one unique genetic variant widespread across both the northern and southern American continents -- suggesting that all Native Americans were descended from a single group, not various ones as the rival theory holds. This variant "has not been found in genetic studies of people elsewhere in the world except eastern Siberia," the report said. "If there were a large number of migrations, and most of the source groups didn't have the variant, then we would not see the widespread presence of the mutation in the Americas," Noah Rosenberg, a geneticist who worked on the study, was quoted as saying. Anthropologists and archeologists have long argued over whether Native Americans are descended from migrants who crossed by land to the northwest 12,000 years ago, or waves of arrivals by sea and land from elsewhere in Asia and Polynesia beginning up to 30,000 years ago. The land link has long since disappeared, giving way to the Bering Strait -- a narrow sliver of sea separating the far northwestern US state from far eastern Russia. The study also found that genetic diversity increased the further away people were from the Bering Strait -- as would be expected if the migration were "relatively recent," the report said, citing the authors of the study. It is published in the specialist journal PLoS Genetics. BEST & WORST Iceland best place to live, Africa worst: UN BRASILIA (Reuters) - Iceland has overtaken Norway as the world's most desirable country to live in, according to an annual U.N. table published on Tuesday that again puts AIDS-afflicted sub-Saharan African states at the bottom. Rich free-market countries dominate the top places, with Iceland, Norway, Australia, Canada and Ireland the first five but the United States slipping to 12th place from eighth last year in the U.N. Human Development Index. But the index, blending 2005 figures for life expectancy, educational levels and real per capita income, finds that all 22 countries falling into its "low human development" category are in sub-Saharan Africa, with Sierra Leone last. In 10 of these countries, two children in five will not reach the age of 40, said the compilers at the U.N. Development Program. Last year's report said HIV/AIDS had had a "catastrophic effect" on life expectancy in the region. The index ranks 175 U.N. member countries plus Hong Kong and the Palestinian territories. It does not include 17 countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, because of inadequate data. Norway had held top spot for six years but was edged into second place by Iceland this year because of new life expectancy estimates and updated figures for gross domestic product, or GDP, the report said. U.N. officials played down the significance of minor short-term shifts in the rankings including the slide in the U.S. position. They said if subsequent data for the year in question been available for last year's report, the United States would have been in 10th, not eighth place. The United States scores high on real per capita GDP, which at $41,890 is second only to that of Luxembourg ($60,228), but less well on life expectancy -- joint last in the top 26 countries, along with Denmark and South Korea, at 77.9 years. Japanese have the longest life expectancy -- 82.3 years -- and Zambians the lowest, at 40.5. The report said most countries had seen their human development index rise over the last 30 years, but in 16 it was lower than in 1990, and in three -- the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe -- lower than in 1975. Per capita GDP is 45 times higher in Iceland than in Sierra Leone. The United Nations has published its human development index every year since 1990. (Writing by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations, editing by Cynthia Osterman) Immigration Sabotage The Senate plans to resume debate today on its proposed immigration overhaul, which has withstood more than a week of bombardment from critics right and left. More than 100 amendments are circling, many designed to make the tortuously drafted compromise meaner, narrower and nastier. The coalition that struck the deal has so far stood firm against efforts to gut its more generous and sensible provisions. While there is so much to do to improve this flawed bill, the senators also must make sure it doesn’t get worse. That means beating back a particularly noxious amendment from Senator John Cornyn of Texas. Its ostensible purpose is to “close a gaping loophole” that Mr. Cornyn says would allow terrorists, gang members and sex offenders into the country. But his real target is bigger than that. He had no appetite for the bipartisan compromise and now wants to destroy it by attacking one of its pillars: a path to legal status for an estimated 12 million immigrants. Mr. Cornyn would do this by significantly expanding the universe of offenses that make someone ineligible for legalization. Some people who used fake identity papers — a huge portion of the undocumented population — would be disqualified. The amendment would also expand the definition of “aggravated felonies,” an already overbroad category of crimes, to include the act of entering or re-entering the country illegally. Even more perversely, the amendment applies retroactively. So people who crossed illegally years ago — even those whose sentences have been suspended — would be subject to the drastic consequences of being declared “aggravated felons.” They would face mandatory detention and deportation under already negligible protections of due process. Under the system Mr. Cornyn wants, someone who comes forward to immigration authorities in good faith and admits using a fake Social Security card could end up not on a path to earned legalization, but arrested and deported, depending on the whims of zealous prosecutors. Those aren’t the only parts of the amendment that could have been drafted by Kafka. A provision to keep out anyone who fails to show “good moral character” would give the attorney general broad discretion to bar any and all immigrants. That discretion would not be reviewable, secret evidence would be allowed, and an immigrant could see an application for naturalization denied and never know the reason. This amendment is so far from the spirit of comprehensive reform that it amounts to legislative sabotage. It deserves to be decisively defeated. Shout Immigration Shouting is not a solution The phrase "illegal immigration" is rarely spoken these days. It is shouted in anger. Those who do speak calmly on the topic commit a courageous act merely by helping to tamp down the rhetoric. Those in Congress who dared to look for a solution came from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum to compromise and take big political risks. What they did isn't perfect or finished. But the process they used is the best our system has to offer. But no act of national heroism goes unpunished. Supporters of compromise immigration legislation in the Senate are branded as peddlers of amnesty and contributors to the breakdown of law and order. Enough. The shouting voices do not speak for a nation that remains conflicted, yet rational, about illegal immigration and illegal immigrants. Nobody likes the fact that 12 million people live in the shadows of our great country. Nobody - except a smuggler - could like our chaotic southern border. Most Americans understand that our broken immigration system lured illegal workers, and our economy now relies on them. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday said that 52 percent of Americans would support giving the current population of undocumented immigrants the right to stay if they meet certain requirements and pay a fine. Only 44 percent opposed that type of earned legalization, which is being mischaracterized as amnesty. Previous polls have found similar results. Yet Sen. John McCain has been slammed by his fellow GOP presidential wannabes - notably Mitt Romney - for supporting immigration reform that calls for just such a legalization program. McCain's response, in a speech Monday to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, is worth repeating. "Pandering for votes on this issue, while offering no solution to the problem, amounts to doing nothing," McCain said. "And doing nothing is silent amnesty." The status quo is not an option, but McCain explained its appeal. "Problems are left unsolved year after year because we fear the political consequences of seriously addressing them or value their utility as political attacks in our campaigns," he said. McCain challenged those who criticize the Senate compromise to offer an alternative. Tonight's debate in New Hampshire is a good opportunity to do that. To be realistic, a solution has to recognize the need to control the borders, the impracticality of deporting 12 million people, the importance of migrant workers to our economy and this nation's ideals of fairness and respect for human rights. Shouting is easier. But this issue demands more than noise pollution. Immigration Immigration bill faces major test WASHINGTON - A fragile bipartisan compromise that would legalize millions of unlawful immigrants faces a crucial test Thursday, after suffering punishing setbacks from the right and left. A test-vote on the bill will measure lawmakers' appetite for a so-called "grand bargain" between liberals and conservatives on immigration — a top priority of President Bush that has become a hot button dividing both parties. After surviving several potentially fatal blows, the agreement hit a major stumbling block early Thursday, when the Senate voted by the narrowest of margins to place a five-year limit on a program meant to provide U.S. employers with 200,000 temporary foreign workers annually. The 49-48 vote came two weeks after the Senate, also by a one-vote margin, rejected the same amendment by Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record). The North Dakota Democrat says immigrants take many jobs Americans could fill. The reversal dismayed backers of the immigration bill, which is loathed by many conservatives. The measure could sink altogether if proponents fail Thursday to muster the 60 votes needed to scale a procedural hurdle; otherwise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), D-Nev., has said he will shelve the bill and move on to other matters. The bill would tighten borders, hike penalties for those who hire illegals and give many of the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants a pathway to legal status. The Bush administration, along with business interests and their congressional allies, were already angry that the temporary worker program had been cut in half from its original 400,000-person-a-year target. A five-year sunset, they said, could knock the legs from the precarious bipartisan coalition. The change "is a tremendous problem, but it's correctable," said Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa. Backers will try as early as Thursday to persuade at least one senator to help reverse the outcome yet again, he added. Congress could block the legalization of millions of unlawful immigrants if it deemed the border too porous under a Republican proposal also slated for a vote on Thursday. An amendment by conservative Sens. Tom Coburn (news, bio, voting record), R-Okla., and Jim DeMint (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., would require a congressional vote to certify that border security and workplace enforcement "triggers" were in place before the legalization or a new guest worker program could take effect. It was one of several challenges the measure was facing from across the political spectrum as its backers struggled to steer clear of potentially fatal changes and push it to quick passage. Until the Dorgan vote was tallied, Specter and other architects of the compromise had succeeded in avoiding a minefield of major challenges. They had turned back a bid to reduce the number of illegal immigrants who could gain lawful status. They also defeated an effort to allow more family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to qualify for green cards. And they fended off an amendment, by Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), D-Ill., that would have ended a new point system for those seeking permanent resident "green cards" after five years rather than 14 years. The Senate voted 51-46 to reject a proposal by Sen. John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas, to bar criminals — including those ordered by judges to be deported — from gaining legal status. Democrats siphoned support from Cornyn's proposal by winning adoption, 66-32, of a rival version that would bar a more limited set of criminals, including certain gang members and sex offenders, from gaining legalization. Senators also rejected a proposal by Robert Menendez (news, bio, voting record), D-N.J., that would have boosted the number of immigrants who could get green cards based purely on family ties, rather than having to qualify through education or skill level. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., fell short in her bid to remove limits on visas for the spouses and minor children of immigrants with permanent resident status. Still, several changes proposed by conservatives prevailed, including one by Cornyn that would make it easier to locate and deport illegal immigrants whose visa applications are rejected. The bill would have barred law enforcement agencies from seeing applications for so-called Z visas that allow illegal immigrants to gain legal status. Cornyn said authorities should know if applicants have criminal records that would warrant their deportation. Opponents said eligible applicants might be afraid to file applications if they believed they could be deported as a result. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., said in an interview that Cornyn's amendment was "not a deal-killer" but would have to be changed in House-Senate negotiations. RUSSIA Bush says Russia won't attack Europe HEILIGENDAMM, Germany – President Bush on Wednesday discounted Vladimir Putin's threat to retarget missiles on Europe, saying "Russia's not going to attack Europe." Bush, in an interview with The Associated Press and other reporters, said no U.S. military response was required after Putin warned that Russia would take steps in response to a U.S. missile shield that would be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic. "Russia is not an enemy," Bush said, seeking not to inflame a heated exchange of rhetoric between Washington and Moscow. "There needs to be no military response because we're not at war with Russia. ... Russia is not a threat. Nor is the missile defense we're proposing a threat to Russia." Bush spoke before heading off to lunch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is hosting the annual meeting of the world's seven richest industrial democracies and Russia. Merkel has made global warming the centerpiece of her G-8 leadership and is pushing for specific targets for reducing carbon emissions. The meeting is being held under tight security on the Baltic Sea coast in northern Germany. Police used water cannons to scatter an estimated 10,000 demonstrators who swarmed a seven-mile fence that encircles the site. At one section, hundreds of protesters chanted "Peace" and "Free G-8! Free G-8!" Bush, who met with reporters for nearly an hour in a sun-drenched garden, also discussed Iran, the suffering in Darfur, global warming and this week's sentencing of a former White House aide. The president said he would like to see other countries follow the United States in taking steps against the government of Sudan to stop the misery in Darfur. "I'm frustrated because there are still people suffering and the U.N. process is moving at a snail's pace," Bush said. Bush announced tighter U.S. sanctions on Sudan last week. He also is seeking a U.N. resolution to apply new international sanctions against the Sudanese government. On climate change, Bush said he would not give ground on global warming proposals that would require mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, he backed his own idea for the United States and other nations that spew the most greenhouse gases to meet and — by the end of next year — set a long- term strategy for reducing emissions. Merkel has proposed a "two-degree" target, under which global temperatures would be allowed to increase no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, (2 degrees Celsius) before being brought back down. Practically, experts have said that means a global reduction in emissions of 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Merkel supports a global carbon-trading market as one tool. But Bush wants to bring India, China and other fast-growing countries to the negotiation table. He envisions that each country will set their own goals, and decide whether they should be binding. The president said his plan addresses "life after" 2012, the expiration date for the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States has not endorsed. Merkel put a good face on her talk with Bush about issues such as combatting poverty in Africa. But their debate on global warming seems unlikely to produce the kind of hard targets she and others have advocated. "We started here on a very good footing," she said after the lunch with Bush. Bush also met with Japan's new prime minister Shinzo Abe and discussed North Korea's pledge to close its sole nuclear reactor in exchange for economic aid and political concessions. "There is a common message here and that is: We expect North Korea to honor agreements," Bush said. While North Korea topped Bush's talks with Abe, the president's plan to deploy an anti-missile radar system in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland is likely to be a key topic in Bush's meeting Thursday with Putin. Asked if he anticipated a tense encounter, Bush replied "Could be. I don't think so ... I'll work to see that it's not a tense meeting." Putin has accused the U.S. of starting a new arms race and said if the U.S. pressed ahead with its plan, Russia would revert to targeting its missiles on Europe as it did during the Cold War. China joined Russia in saying the missile defense plan could touch off a new escalation in nuclear weapons. The move to put the missile defense shield in former Warsaw Pact nations — purportedly as a defense against a future missile launch from Iran — clearly fanned Putin's anger. Bush cited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declaration that it was "too late" to stop Iran's nuclear program as justification for the U.S. missile defense system. "Therefore, let's build a missile defense system," Bush said, adding that it was time to return to the U.N. Security Council to tighten pressure on Iran to give up its suspected weapons program. Bush also has angered Putin in the past by criticizing Russia's spotty progress on democratic reform and human rights — a theme Bush expressed in a speech just one day ago. Bush said that despite all the problems, the United States has a friendship with Russia. He suggested Putin's recent rhetoric could be calculated mostly for internal political consumption in Russia. "There will be disagreements," said Bush, who has invited Putin to meet him in July in Kennebunkport, Maine, the home of his father, former President George H.W. Bush. "That's the way life works." BLACKS ARE WRONG! Lawmaker says blacks should 'get over' slavery BY KIMBALL PAYNE 247-4765 January 17, 2007 RICHMOND -- The day after lawmakers honored the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., a member of the House of Delegates stirred furious and tearful debate in Richmond with inflammatory comments about African-Americans and Jews. Del. Frank Hargrove, R-Hanover, triggered controversy while talking about an impending House resolution that would formally apologize for the state's role in the slave trade. He said African-Americans should "get over it" because no one alive today was involved in slavery. "Are we going to force Jews to apologize for killing Christ?" Hargrove asked. His comments appeared in the Charlottesville Daily Progress on Tuesday, and lawmakers reacted quickly when the House opened session that day. Hargrove, 79, responded by denouncing slavery but was met with groans and awkward silence when he suggested that a Jewish delegate, whose grandparents escaped Nazi- occupied Poland, was being hypersensitive about the comments. "I think your skin was a little too thin," Hargrove said. It marks the third time in the last five months that a Virginia Republican has stepped into racial controversy. And it comes as the state is poised to welcome the world to Jamestown for the 2007 celebration, where it will mark the contributions of American Indians, Africans and English settlers and the beginning of the state's complex racial history. Last year, incumbent U.S. Sen. George Allen lost his seat after using an obscure racial epithet to describe a worker for a rival campaign. Allen's campaign never recovered after he twice called a videographer for his opponent "macaca" - a genus of monkey and a racial slur in some French-speaking African countries. Last month, Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Rocky Mount, touched off outrage when he criticized a Muslim Congressman for using a Quran at his swearing-in ceremony several weeks ago. Goode has not backed down, instead warning that not speaking out could lead to the election of more Muslims. On Tuesday, three delegates stood on the House floor to condemn Hargrove's words. Virginia Black Caucus Chairman Dwight C. Jones, D-Richmond, said Hargrove's statements were narrow- minded and exclusionary. Then Jones recalled the horrors of the slave trade and the struggles for civil rights. "When somebody tells me I should just get over slavery, I can only express my emotion by projecting that I am appalled, absolutely appalled," Jones said. Jones said Hargrove desecrated King's memory. Del. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, talked about the stories of his family's bondage that have been passed down from his grandmother who will soon turn 103 years old. "Quite frankly ... it's hard to get over it," said McEachin. "When there is a wrong committed, there needs to be an apology." Del. David Englin, D-Alexandria, explained his family's exodus to the United States to escape fervent anti- Semitism in Poland prior to World Ward II. "There are members of this body whose families came here in chains," said Englin, who sits next to Hargrove on the House floor. "My family came here in hope. ... I know the gentleman meant no harm to my family. I hope we can all use this as a learning opportunity." When Englin finished, Hargrove rose to respond. He condemned slavery and said he didn't mean to offend anyone. But after describing the plight of American Indians, Hargrove continued to explain why he was against a formal state apology for slavery. "I didn't have anything to do with mistreating Indians," Hargrove said. Hargrove then addressed Englin specifically. "I didn't know you were Jewish. I don't care what your religion is," Hargrove said. "I think your skin was a little too thin." Afterward, delegates from Hampton Roads had a variety of reactions. Del. Mamye BaCote, D-Newport News, read Hargrove's words early Tuesday morning and said she was not surprised. "Even though it's 2007, there are still people who believe that an apology isn't necessary," BaCote said. "Some things haven't changed." Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, was taken off guard. "It was shocking to see," said Ward. "It was really saddening." Del. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake, said there was no excuse for what Hargrove said. "What he said, you can't dress it up," said Spruill. "The man said thin-skinned? Come on, now. This kind of stuff has got to stop. He's been around a long time. He knew there was a problem a long time ago. How can we get over it by these kinds of remarks? It won't go away." Asked how outsiders would view Virginia in light of this latest racial controversy, Spruill said: "They will say, well, Virginia's still in the South." Some black delegates were more forgiving. "He's been one of those delegates who has always reached out to me," said Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke. "He's given me good sound advice. We've had plenty of conversations. I've never felt any racial tension between us." Ware said Tuesday's debate could have been handled differently by those who responded to Hargrove. "Although we disagree with Del. Hargrove's statement, this is America. It's OK for him to feel that way," he said. "But my job is to enlighten him, not to try and further incite the debate. That's the only place where I think we missed the opportunity." The slavery apology resolution is to be brought for a vote within the next few weeks. BLACKS MOCKED Clemson probes party that mocked blacks CLEMSON, S.C. - Clemson University and the NAACP said Tuesday they are investigating an off-campus party held during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend that some considered offensive because white students drank malt liquor and at least one partygoer wore black face. Pictures from the party were posted online, and Clemson officials learned of the Jan. 14 party this past weekend. The school is probing whether students were harassed or whether there was underage drinking. Clemson President James Barker wrote in a letter to students and faculty that he was "appalled, angered and disappointed" by the party, which "appeared to mock and disparage African Americans." "Many people have been offended and deeply hurt," he said. The party organizers issued an unsigned letter of apology, saying, "We invited all races and types of peoples and never meant any racial harm." "We want everyone to know how sorry we are, and that we are willing to do anything to make things right," the letter said. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was looking into the party and at least three similar events at other colleges around the country, said state chapter president Lonnie Randolph. Clemson has roughly 1,100 black students out of more than 17,000 undergraduates, the university's Web site says. YOUR MONEY IS MISSING CLICK HERE Audit: U.S. lost track of $9 billion in Iraq funds Pentagon, Bremer dispute inspector general's report Monday, January 31, 2005 Posted: 0412 GMT (1212 HKT) WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nearly $9 billion of money spent on Iraqi reconstruction is unaccounted for because of inefficiencies and bad management, according to a watchdog report published Sunday. An inspector general's report said the U.S.-led administration that ran Iraq until June 2004 is unable to account for the funds. "Severe inefficiencies and poor management" by the Coalition Provisional Authority has left auditors with no guarantee the money was properly used," the report said. "The CPA did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial and contractual controls to ensure that [Development Fund for Iraq] funds were used in a transparent manner," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., director of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The $8.8 billion was reported to have been spent on salaries, operating and capital expenditures, and reconstruction projects between October 2003 and June 2004, Bowen's report concluded. The money came from revenues from the United Nations' former oil-for-food program, oil sales and seized assets -- all Iraqi money. The audit did not examine the use of U.S. funds appropriated for reconstruction. (Full story) Auditors were unable to verify that the Iraqi money was spent for its intended purpose. In one case, they raised the possibility that thousands of "ghost employees" were on an unnamed ministry's payroll. "CPA staff identified at one ministry that although 8,206 guards were on the payroll, only 602 guards could be validated," the audit report states. "Consequently, there was no assurance funds were not provided for ghost employees." The Defense Department, which was in charge of the reconstruction effort, and former Iraq civil administrator Paul Bremer have disputed the findings. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told CNN that the provisional authority was operating under "extraordinary conditions" and relied on Iraqi ministries to manage development money that was transferred to them. "We simply disagree with the audit's conclusion that the CPA provided less-than-adequate controls over Iraqi funds that were provided to Iraqi ministries through the national budget process for hundreds of projects, essential services, Iraqi salaries and security forces," Whitman said. The occupation government established "major reforms" in Iraq's budgeting system, setting up a transparent mechanism for decision-making and beginning efforts to fight corruption, Whitman said. Under a U.N. Security Council resolution, the Development Fund for Iraq was to be used for humanitarian needs, economic reconstruction and repair of infrastructure, continued disarmament, costs of civilian administration and other programs benefiting Iraqis. Bremer, in a written response included in the report, said Bowen's report failed to recognize the difficulties of operating in wartime. "The IG auditors presume that the coalition could achieve a standard of budgetary transparency and execution that even peaceful Western nations would have trouble meeting within a year, especially in the midst of a war," Bremer wrote. Bremer, who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in December for his work in Iraq, stated that auditors did not interview him, any of his budget directors or deputies in preparing their draft report. "On the whole, the office has done excellent work," he wrote. "But I do believe my colleagues at the CPA have a right to expect a level of professional judgment and awareness, which seems to be missing in the current draft report." Bowen's report, which was prepared for Congress, acknowledged that the insurgency in Iraq poses "the most difficult challenge" to reconstruction. "Even under the most favorable of conditions, rebuilding Iraq would be a job of daunting proportions," he wrote. But the provisional authority did not clearly assign managerial responsibility, and its rules lacked clear guidance on procedures and controls for dispersing funds, he concluded. Staffing shortages and turnover also resulted in inadequate oversight of budget execution by Iraqi ministries, he found -- and allegations of corruption in the oil-for-food program should have raised concerns about the Iraqi government's ability to manage the reconstruction funds. *** Panel questions Annan, delays report U.N. secretary-general interviewed in oil-for-food investigation Thursday, January 27, 2005 Posted: 1909 GMT (0309 HKT) UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was formally questioned Tuesday for the third time by a panel he appointed to probe the United Nations' controversial oil-for-food program in Iraq. The interviews were conducted by members of the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Volcker took part in Tuesday's session, which lasted one hour and 35 minutes in Annan's office at U.N. headquarters, and in at least one other session. A U.N. spokesman said the committee previously interviewed Annan on December 3 for 25 minutes and on November 9 for one hour and 45 minutes. Volcker's interim report on the oil-for-food program had been expected next Monday, but the committee has decided to delay its release by at least one week. Sources close to the investigation said the report -- expected to focus on the program's procurement process and potential corruption involving participants outside the United Nations -- is being held up to give those involved time to respond. From the start, Volcker said no one was untouchable in his probe, and Annan pledged to cooperate fully. In all, he has been interviewed for nearly four hours. "I couldn't say what I accomplished today. We met with him from time to time," Volcker said exiting the United Nations. "All I can tell you is wait for the report to come out." Annan has come under scrutiny for alleged U.N. mismanagement of the program and for an apparent conflict of interest because a firm employing his son, Kojo Annan, won the U.N. contract to inspect goods shipped to Iraq. The oil-for-food program began in late 1996 as a way to permit Iraq, while still under economic sanctions, to export some of its oil. Revenues from the sales were deposited in a U.N.-controlled bank account, with proceeds earmarked for purchasing food, medicine and approved supplies. Kojo Annan worked for Cotecna Inspection in the late 1990s. The Switzerland-based firm replaced Lloyd's Register in 1998 as the contractor tapped to authenticate goods arriving in Iraq. The contract became worth $66 million over five years, according to a U.N. official. Both Cotecna and the younger Annan have said his work was unrelated to any of the firm's business in the Middle East or with the United Nations and was limited to West Africa, where Kojo Annan lives. The oil-for-food program grossed $64 billion, according to Volcker's committee, with two-thirds of the funds paying for Iraqi imports. The rest paid for U.N. weapons inspectors, Iraqi reparations to Kuwait for its 1990 invasion and costs of administering the program. Earlier this month, Volcker's committee said U.N. audits of the program revealed "under-pricing of oil and the overpricing of humanitarian goods" as well as "inadequate procedures, policy, planning, controls and coordination process across numerous areas of activity." Volcker's committee also found U.N. management overseeing the program was "not quick to react to criticism and was either unwilling or unable to address issues raised." (Full story) The program ended in 2003 after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Previously, Saddam handpicked the buyers of Iraqi oil and the vendors of humanitarian goods, allowing him to extort surcharges on the oil and kickbacks on the goods worth an estimated $1.7 billion to $4.4 billion, according to studies by the CIA-backed Iraq Survey Group and the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Besides Volcker, the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission and a handful of U.S. congressional committees are investigating the oil-for-food program. Last week, federal prosecutors obtained a guilty plea from an Iraqi-American, Samir Vincent, who bought oil from Iraq and was paid by the deposed regime to lobby U.N. and U.S. officials for the removal of sanctions. (Full story) Vincent pleaded guilty to failing to register as a lobbyist, engaging in banned financial activity with Iraq and failing to report income on his tax returns. WHOOPI G CALLED HOME West African Nation Lays Claim to Whoopi 02/07 BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau -- When the government of one of the world's poorest nations learned that Whoopi Goldberg had taken a DNA test showing her ancestors hail from here, the news reverberated through the halls of parliament. It was, the country's leaders decided, a chance to change the image of this West African nation plagued by coups since wresting independence from Portugal in 1973. If the world could only grasp that a Hollywood celebrity traced her roots to this forsaken corner of the globe, it could bring goodwill from afar -- even fame for Guinea-Bissau, they reasoned. So they decided to write a letter on official stationery embossed with the country's star-shaped seal. It was hand-delivered to the U.S. Embassy, which passed it on to the State Department in Washington with instructions for delivery to the Oscar-winning actress. It begins, with some uncertainty on the star's name: "Your Excellency Hoppy Goldberg, it is with great euphoria that the government of Guinea-Bissau ... learned of your ancestral origins. ... The news has awoken in each and every one of us a deep sense of fraternity. ... We simply cannot remain indifferent to the news of your Guinean heritage." The two pages peppered with elaborate expressions of praise and respect end with a simple request: Please come visit our country. For a special for the Public Broadcasting Service that aired last year, prominent black Americans agreed to take a DNA test. Oprah Winfrey discovered her roots in the rainforests of Liberia with the Kpelle tribe and Bishop T.D. Jakes, the Dallas megachurch pastor, found his in Nigeria's Ebo people. Goldberg learned that her genetic makeup is overwhelmingly Papel and Bayote, tribes indigenous to this country on Africa's western seaboard. "She will come. She's Guinean. She's our daughter. She's ours," said Minister of Tourism Francisco Conduto de Pina. There are few nations that are poorer than Guinea-Bissau, a country of 1.3 million people roughly the size of Maryland. In the capital, there are so few hospital beds that women in labor share mattresses in cramped maternity wards. Water is in chronically short supply, so much so that the fire department does not have enough pressure in its hoses to fight blazes. Restaurants routinely run out of food. Civil servants go months without a paycheck. Entire neighborhoods in the capital have not had electricity for six months. It's not hard to see how Goldberg's fame and her unexpected blood ties to Guinea-Bissau could seem like an unparalleled opportunity. But in an e-mail to The Associated Press, the actress' publicist, Brad Cafarelli, wrote that Goldberg never received the letter. In what might come as a surprise to fans who know her from the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Cafarelli also said a trip overseas is out of the question because Goldberg does not fly. "Regardless," he wrote, "due to the fact that she hosts a live daily radio show from New York and does not fly, it would not be possible for her to travel to West Africa in the foreseeable future." In Guinea-Bissau, however, the politicians who conceived the letter think the 51-year-old Goldberg is simply taking her time to reply. "We're waiting for her with much anticipation," said Prime Minister Aristides Gomes, sitting in his leather- clad office, an oasis of comfort in the crumbling capital. Gomes said he's a fan of "The Color Purple," the critically acclaimed film that secured Goldberg's spot in Hollywood. But he admits few of his countrymen have seen the movie -- or any others featuring the actress. There are only two television channels in Guinea-Bissau and both broadcast in Portuguese. After the government learned of Goldberg's ancestry, national TV began showing her movies with Portuguese subtitles. "Sister Act" and "Sister Act II" were instant hits in the capital, but in much of the country's brush- covered interior, access to TV is rare. Her movies never reached the grass-covered huts of Ome, a village 30 miles from Bissau in the country's Papel region, whose people share her DNA. "I have no idea who that is," said Tiro Ca, 50, carrying a baby on her back as she studied a headshot of the actress. But as villagers gathered to look at the photograph, a consensus emerged. "This woman must be Papel," said Iye Faustino, 28, pointing to the actress' distinctive cheekbones, not unlike that of the women crowding around the grainy image. The shape of her mouth and her nose, he added, is similar to theirs. In the PBS special, the actress said upon learning of her exact origins: "Who would I see when I went back, if I was able to go back to the village? Would I recognize anybody? Would they look like my mom?" Likely she would find people who look not unlike her. "She's pretty," said Faustino, before handing the picture back. "If she comes here, we will be very happy to see her." TRUE LOVE Eternal embrace? Couple still hugging 5,000 years on ROME (Reuters) - Call it the eternal embrace. Archaeologists in Italy have discovered a couple buried 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, hugging each other. "It's an extraordinary case," said Elena Menotti, who led the team on their dig near the northern city of Mantova. "There has not been a double burial found in the Neolithic period, much less two people hugging -- and they really are hugging." Menotti said she believed the two, almost certainly a man and a woman although that needs to be confirmed, died young because their teeth were mostly intact and not worn down. "I must say that when we discovered it, we all became very excited. I've been doing this job for 25 years. I've done digs at Pompeii, all the famous sites," she told Reuters. "But I've never been so moved because this is the discovery of something special." A laboratory will now try to determine the couple's age at the time of death and how long they had been buried. WAL-MART ON HEALTHCARE Wal-Mart, unions unite on health care WASHINGTON - Executives from Wal-Mart and three other major U.S. employers on Wednesday joined hands with union leaders in setting a goal of providing "quality, affordable" health care for every American by 2012. However, they did not propose any specific policies to achieve this goal, or commit to spending any extra money in the near-term to provide health coverage to more workers. Joining Wal-Mart Stores Inc. CEO Lee Scott and Service Employees International Union leader Andrew Stern at a Washington press conference were top executives from Intel Corp., AT&T Inc. and Kelly Services Inc., a temporary staffing agency. Still, the health-care initiative left Wal-Mart's two leading union critics divided. The partnership of business and union leaders laid out four main goals, including universal health-care coverage for all Americans and boosting the value of every dollar spent on health care. "Government alone won't and can't solve this crisis," Scott said. "By following this campaign's common sense principles, we believe America can have high quality, affordable and accessible health care by 2012." But Scott and others did not lay out a detailed plan, and in response to a reporter's question he said Wal- Mart is not committed to spending more on health care or making any immediate promises to provide health coverage to more workers. The SEIU funds campaign group Wal-Mart Watch, which as recently as last month said Wal-Mart's health plans were a raw deal for employees. But Stern said he joined Wal-Mart and the other employers because America's health care system requires fundamental change. "It's time to admit the employer-based health care system is dead," Stern said. Despite praise from SEIU and Communications Workers of America leaders who called for universal health care for every American within five years, Paul Blank, the campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com, gave only tepid support for the plan in a prepared statement. "If Wal-Mart is truly serious," Blank said, "we challenge the company to provide universal health care to all of its uninsured employees and their families today." Blank's group is funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which did not participate in Wednesday's press conference. The business and union leaders, in forming a coalition dubbed "Better Health Care Together," pledged to convene a national summit by the end of May to recruit other leaders from business, labor, government and non-profits. In late morning trading, shares of Wal-Mart fell 3 cents to $48.55, while shares of AT&T slid 30 cents to $37.21, both on the New York Stock Exchange. On the Nasdaq Stock Market, shares of Intel gained 22 cents to $21.53, while those of Kelly Services declined 9 cents to $30.91. SECOND IN SPACE PLACE Man gets second chance at space ride LOS ANGELES - A man who gave up a free space ride because he couldn't afford the taxes on the contest prize may be going to the cosmos after all. Brian Emmett, a 31-year-old software consultant from the Silicon Valley town of Mountain View, has signed on to become a consultant to a space tourism upstart in exchange for a chance to experience weightlessness some 60 miles above Earth. Emmett won a space trip as part of a 2005 sweepstakes sponsored by software company Oracle Corp. He forfeited the prize after calculating he would owe $25,000 in taxes for a spaceflight valued at $138,000. Enter Benson Space Co., a Poway-based company founded by rocket entrepreneur Jim Benson, who is trying to break into the suborbital spaceflight business. Benson, who dreamed of flying to space as a boy, said he sympathized with Emmett and offered him a consulting position. "He had a dream, the dream got broken and we fixed it," Benson said. As part of the agreement, Benson said, the company would pay Emmett an undisclosed amount to serve as a "test passenger," allowing him to hitch a free ride into space in late 2008 when the company hopes to send its first paying tourists. Benson said the partnership frees Emmett from any tax responsibility. In return, Emmett would offer his feedback during the testing phase of the project. Emmett said he was grateful for the second chance to go into space. "My original situation hasn't changed," he said. "This isn't something I could do with my own means." Several space tourism ventures, including British mogul Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, are jostling to develop a suborbital vehicle to ferry rich passengers before the end of the decade. Vehicles would need to get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration before they could fly out of the atmosphere. Benson's Dream Chaser will be powered by hybrid rocket motors and can hold as many as six people. The company has not yet decided on a launch site. A ticket will cost $200,000 to $300,000 — the higher prices for those who want to be in the co-pilot seat. GRIEVING SADDAM Saddam family marks 40 days of mourning SAN'A, Yemen - With tears and sobs, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's elder daughter joined hundreds of Baathists in the Yemeni capital on Wednesday to mark the passage of 40 days of mourning his death. Raghad Hussein, accompanied by her son and daughter and several of Saddam's defense lawyers, was greeted with chants of "Revenge for Saddam!" and "Eternity to Saddam!" on arrival at the San'a airport. A convoy of cars carrying pictures of Saddam then drove them to a palace in downtown San'a for a ceremony hosted by the chief of the state security forces, Yahia Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, who is also a cousin of the Yemeni president. Addressing the gathering, Raghad praised the insurgents in Iraq, saying that "as long as the resistance and the mujahedeen are fulfilling their duties in Iraq, the Iraqi people, without any doubt, will achieve victory." "Saddam Hussein is the real hero and the pan-Arab leader. I am proud of him and proud of his great struggle and sacrifices," she said. Other speakers at the ceremony lashed out at the United States and Iran as well as Arab regimes they did not identify but labeled as U.S. collaborators in Iraq. Saddam was sentenced to death on Nov. 5 for the killing of 148 Shiites in Dujail after an attempt in 1982 to assassinate him. The former dictator was executed on Dec. 30 in an unruly scene that brought worldwide criticism of the Iraqi government. Video of the execution, recorded on a cell phone camera, showed Saddam being taunted on the gallows. Saddam loyalists chose to mark the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period in Yemen a day early to draw attention, because similar ceremonies were scheduled across the Middle East on Thursday as well as this weekend. The presence of a large contingent of former Baathists in Yemen has long been known. Saddam loyalists have set up a media network in Yemen that issues statements in the name of the defunct Iraqi Baath Party, which was disbanded after U.S.-led forces overthrew Saddam in 2003. Baathists are believed to be trying to regroup and revive their network across the Middle East. Raghad, who supervised Saddam's defense, is known as "Little Saddam" because she shares her father's strident temperament. She has lived in Jordan under the condition that she not engage in political activities or make public statements. The Iraqi government accuses her and other Baathists of using millions allegedly stolen by Saddam to help finance the insurgency. CANCER DRUG (02/07) Lab disaster may lead to new cancer drug WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Her carefully cultured cells were dead and Katherine Schaefer was annoyed, but just a few minutes later, the researcher realized she had stumbled onto a potential new cancer treatment. Schaefer and colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York believe they have discovered a new way to attack tumors that have learned how to evade existing drugs. Tests in mice suggest the compound helps break down the cell walls of tumors, almost like destroying a tumor cell's "skeleton." The researchers will test the new compound for safety and hope they can develop it to treat cancers such as colon cancer, esophageal cancer, liver and skin cancers. "I was using these cancer cells as models of the normal intestine," Schaefer said in a telephone interview. Normal human cells are difficult to grow and study in the lab, because they tend to die. But cancer cells live much longer and are harder to kill, so scientists often use them. Schaefer was looking for drugs to treat the inflammation seen in Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, both of which cause pain and diarrhea. She was testing a compound called a PPAR-gamma modulator. It would never normally have been thought of as a cancer drug, or in fact a drug of any kind. "I made a calculation error and used a lot more than I should have. And my cells died," Schaefer said. A colleague overheard her complaining. "The co-author on my paper said,' Did I hear you say you killed some cancer?' I said 'Oh', and took a closer look." They ran several tests and found the compound killed "pretty much every epithelial tumor cell lines we have seen," Schaefer said. Epithelial cells line organs such as the colon, and also make up skin. It also killed colon tumors in mice without making the mice sick, they reported in the journal International Cancer Research. The compound works in much the same way as the taxane drugs, including Taxol, which were originally derived from Pacific yew trees. "It targets part of the cell cytoskeleton called tubulin," Schaefer said. Tubulin is used to build microtubules, which in turn make up the cell's structure. Destroying it kills the cell, but cancer cells eventually evolve mechanisms to pump out the drugs that do this, a problem called resistance. "Resistance to anti-tubulin therapies is a huge problem in many cancers. We see this as another way to get to the tubulin," Schaefer said. The PPAR-gamma compound does this in a different way from the taxanes, which might mean it could overcome the resistance that tumor cells often develop to chemotherapy. "Most of the drugs like Taxol affect the ability of tubulin to forms into microtubules. This doesn't do that -- it causes the tubulin itself to disappear. We do not know why." Schaefer's team plans more safety tests in mice. As the compound is already patented, her team will probably have to design something slightly different to be able to patent it as a new drug. Taxol, developed by U.S. National Cancer Institute researchers and manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1993, had annual sales of $1.6 billion at its peak in 2000. DIGITIZED PERIODICAL World's oldest newspaper goes digital STOCKHOLM, Sweden - For centuries, readers thumbed through the crackling pages of Sweden's Post- och Inrikes Tidningar newspaper. No longer. The world's oldest paper still in circulation has dropped its paper edition and now exists only in cyberspace. The newspaper, founded in 1645 by Sweden's Queen Kristina, became a Web-only publication on Jan. 1. It's a fate, many ink-stained writers and readers fear, that may await many of the world's most venerable journals. "We think it's a cultural disaster," said Hans Holm, who served as the chief editor of Post-och Inrikes Tidningar for 20 years. "It is sad when you have worked with it for so long and it has been around for so long." Queen Kristina used the publication to keep her subjects informed of the affairs of state, Holm said, and the first editions, which were more like pamphlets, were carried by courier and posted on note boards in cities and towns throughout the kingdom. Today, Post-och Inrikes Tidningar, which means mail and domestic tidings, runs legal announcements by corporations, courts and certain government agencies — about 1,500 a day according to Olov Vikstrom, the current editor. The paper edition was certainly not some mass-market tabloid. It had a meagre circulation of only 1,000 or so, although the Web site is expected to attract more readers, Vikstrom said. The newspaper is owned by the Swedish Academy, known for awarding the annual Nobel Prize in Literature. But it recently sold the publishing rights to the Swedish Companies Registration Office, a government agency. Despite its online transformation, Post-och Inrikes Tidningar remains No. 1 on a ranking of the oldest newspapers still in circulation compiled by the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers. "An online newspaper is still a newspaper, so we'll leave it on the list," WAN spokesman Larry Kilman said. IRAQ DEBATE Dems: Senate debate on Iraq inevitable WASHINGTON - A lengthy Senate floor debate on the Iraq war is inevitable, despite a Republican effort to block it, Democrats say. Following a procedural vote Monday that sidetracked a resolution on the war, Democrats said they would eventually find a way to put each senator on record. On the table is a nonbinding resolution backed by several Republicans and most Democrats that would state Senate opposition to President Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. "The president must hear from Congress, so he knows he stands in the wrong place — alone," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), D-Nev. The measure, if passed, would be a stinging critique of Bush's decision to deepen the U.S. military commitment in Iraq. Bush has said the extra troops are needed to calm sectarian violence in Baghdad and the western Anbar province. Republicans denied assertions that they were trying to block a vote on the measure, saying that they were seeking fair rules and consideration of a GOP alternative measure. "As far as stalling, we've got a week here where we can have a full debate. But we insist on it being a full debate and a fair one," said Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (news, bio, voting record), R-Miss. Negotiations on how to move forward on the debate were expected to continue Tuesday, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates headed to Capitol Hill to testify on Bush's $624.6 billion request in defense spending. The spending request marks the first time Bush has offered an estimate of how much the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost a year in advance. Gates planned to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee alongside Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Tina Jonas, the Pentagon comptroller. While the hefty budget will be a primary focus, panel members were expected to use the venue to air their grievances on Iraq. The two political parties were at odds Monday after Democrats refused to give equal consideration during the debate to a Republican proposal by Sen. Judd Gregg (news, bio, voting record), R-N.H., which would protect funding for troops in combat. While Democrats are largely supportive of the Gregg measure, they want to limit debate to only two proposals: one by Sen. John Warner (news, bio, voting record), R-Va., that states opposition to the troop buildup, and another by Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., that would support the president's position. Several leading Democrats have endorsed Warner's measure, including Sens. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record) of Illinois and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, but many Republicans were reluctant to say how they would vote. Sens. John Sununu (news, bio, voting record) of New Hampshire, George Voinovich (news, bio, voting record) of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski (news, bio, voting record) of Alaska and Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record) of Pennsylvania were each considered GOP wild cards in the vote. Specter said he wanted to hear out other members before deciding what to do. "It's a big issue," Specter said. "We need to debate it." BARBARA MCNAIR DIES (02/07) Actress-Singer Barbara McNair dies LOS ANGELES - Singer Barbara McNair, who became a film and television star in an era when such opportunities were opening up for black women, has died, her sister said. She was 72. McNair died Sunday after a battle with throat cancer in Los Angeles, sister Jacqueline Gaither said. "She was very family oriented," Gaither said. "She was more than just a star or a famous personality. She was a person of her own." McNair made her Hollywood acting debut in 1968 in the film, "If He Hollers, Let Him Go." She later starred opposite Sydney Poitier in "They Call Me Mister Tibbs" and with Elvis Presley in "Change of Habit." She hosted television's "The Barbara McNair Show," a musical and comedy program in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As a singer, one of her biggest hits was "You Could Never Love Him." WAR TRAINING (January 2007) U.S. may have botched training of Iraqis WASHINGTON - Training the police is as important to stabilizing Iraq as building an effective army there, but the United States has botched the job by assigning the wrong agencies to the task, two members of the Iraq Study Group said Wednesday. "The police training system has not gone well," said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the bipartisan commission. For a second day, a key Republican directly challenged President Bush to do more than pay "lip service" to this and other recommendations on how to resolve the troubled conflict in Iraq. "As a nation we'd be much better off if the executive branch were not so insular," said Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa. "I'd think the executive branch would be well advised to do more than have a meeting and a news conference to give in-depth consideration to what is being proposed here." According to the report, co-authored by Hamilton and former Attorney General Edwin Meese, the U.S. erred by first assigning the task of shaping the judicial system in a largely lawless country to the State Department and private contractors who "did not have the expertise or the manpower to get the job done." In 2004, the mission was assigned to the Defense Department, which devoted more money to the task. But department officials also were insufficiently trained for the job, Hamilton and Meese said. As a result, Iraq has little if any on-the-street law enforcement personnel or a functioning judicial system free of corruption, they said. Justice Department officials, they said, should lead the work of transforming the system. Police executives and supervisors should replace the military police personnel now assigned. And the FBI should expand its investigative and forensic training in Iraq, Hamilton and Meese told the panel. The recommendations about the Iraqi judicial system were included in the Iraq Study Group's report last year, but got little attention. Hamilton and Meese said Wednesday that unless the U.S. helps create a capable, trained professional police force and functioning criminal justice system, "ordinary Iraqis will not live in peace and will not have confidence in their new government." "Long-term security depends as much on the Iraqi police and judicial system as the Iraqi Army," they testified. The hearing comes as lawmakers increasingly line up against President Bush's escalation of the unpopular war in Iraq, many citing the findings of the Iraq Study Group as they urge an end to U.S. involvement there. Wednesday's hearing gave committee Democrats a fresh opportunity to take a swipe at the White House. "If the administration had been serious and competent about establishing a functioning democracy in Iraq, it would have seen the need for a trustworthy criminal justice system in which all Iraqis could have confidence," Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., said in prepared remarks. With a Senate showdown just days away, No. 2 GOP leader Trent Lott (news, bio, voting record) of Mississippi said he had concerns with each of a host of resolutions introduced so far on the war. If Republican leaders do not rally behind a single proposal, the party could avoid taking a clear, united stance on the widely unpopular Iraq war — a consequence Lott suggested he wouldn't mind. "To herd the cat some times you have to let them stray," he said. "Think about that. Keeping them together by letting them stray." The Iraq Study Group recommended the administration pull U.S. combat brigades out of Iraq by early 2008, launch new diplomatic initiatives with Iran and Syria and vastly increase the number of U.S. military advisers in the country. Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, in subtle disagreement with the Bush administration, told Wednesday's hearing that the United States should always be ready to negotiate, including with Iran and Syria as part of a regional conference that he proposed for dealing with Iraq. But Kissinger described radical Islamic fundamentalism promoted by Iran as the biggest threat to the area, and said that "I see little incentive Iran has to help us solve the Iraq problem." In prepared testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appeared to line up with senators opposing President Bush's buildup in Iraq. "I could have supported an increase in troops if that increase had been tied to a clear, important and achievable mission, and if we were guaranteed that our troops would have the best training and equipment," she said. VENEZUELA CHAVEZ Chavez gains free rein in Venezuela CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez was granted free rein Wednesday to accelerate changes in broad areas of society by presidential decree — a move critics said propels Venezuela toward dictatorship. Convening in a downtown plaza in a session that resembled a political rally, lawmakers unanimously gave Chavez sweeping powers to legislate by decree and impose his radical vision of a more egalitarian socialist state. "Long live the sovereign people! Long live President Hugo Chavez! Long live socialism!" said National Assembly President Cilia Flores as she proclaimed the "enabling law" approved by a show of hands. "Fatherland, socialism or death! We will prevail!" The law gives Chavez, who is beginning a fresh six-year term, more power than he has ever had in eight years as president, and he plans to use it over the next 18 months to transform broad areas of public life, from the economy and the oil industry in particular, to "social matters" and the very structure of the state. His critics call it a radical lurch toward authoritarianism by a leader with unchecked power — similar to how Fidel Castro monopolized leadership in Cuba. "If you have all the power, why do you need more power?" said Luis Gonzalez, a high school teacher who paused to watch in the plaza, calling it a "media show" intended to give legitimacy to a repugnant move. "We're headed toward a dictatorship, disguised as a democracy." .Hundreds of Chavez supporters wearing ruling party red gathered in the plaza, waving signs reading "Socialism is democracy," as lawmakers read out passages of the law giving the president special powers to transform 11 areas of Venezuelan law. "The people of Venezuela, not just the National Assembly, are giving this enabling power to the president of the republic," congresswoman Iris Varela told the crowd. Vice President Jorge Rodriguez publicly ridiculed the idea that the law is an abuse of power and argued democracy is flourishing. He thanked the National Assembly for providing "gasoline" to start up the "engine" of societal changes. "What kind of a dictatorship is this?" Rodriguez asked the crowd, saying the law "only serves to sow democracy and peace." "Dictatorship is what there used to be," Rodriguez said. "We want to impose the dictatorship of a true democracy." After the vote, Chavez remained out of public view Wednesday but announced plans for a news conference Thursday at the presidential palace. Chavez, a former paratroop commander re-elected with 63 percent of the vote in December, has said he will decree nationalizations of Venezuela's largest telecommunications company and the electricity sector, slap new taxes on the rich, and impose greater state control over the oil and natural gas industries. The law also allows Chavez to dictate unspecified measures to transform state institutions; reform banking, tax, insurance and financial regulations; decide on security and defense matters such as gun regulations and military organization; and "adapt" legislation to ensure "the equal distribution of wealth" as part of a new "social and economic model." Chavez plans to reorganize regional territories and carry out reforms aimed at bringing "power to the people" through thousands of newly formed communal councils designed to give Venezuelans a say on spending an increasing flow of state money on projects in their neighborhoods, from public housing to potholes. Historian Ines Quintero said that with the new powers, Chavez will achieve a level of "hegemony" that is unprecedented in the nation's nearly five decades of democratic history. Opposition leader Julio Borges called for the 4 million Venezuelans who voted against Chavez not to be left out of decision-making, particularly as he pushes for constitutional changes including scrapping the term limits that would end his presidency in 2013. "The worst we Venezuelans can do is throw in the towel and become like an ostrich (burying our heads in the sand) and giving up the fight," Borges told the Venezuelan radio station Union Radio. But the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, Thomas Shannon, said the law isn't an issue for the United States. "The enabling law isn't anything new in Venezuela. It's something valid under the constitution," Tom Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters in Colombia. "As with any tool of democracy, it depends how it is used," he added. "At the end of the day, it's not a question for the United States or for other countries, but for Venezuela." Chavez has requested special powers twice before, but for more modest legislative changes. In 1999, shortly after he was first elected, he used it to push through two new taxes and a revision of the income tax law after facing fierce opposition in congress. In 2001, invoking an "enabling law" for the second time, he decreed 49 laws including controversial agrarian reform measures and a law that sharply raised taxes on foreign oil companies. Now Chavez has a free hand to bring under state control the oil and natural gas projects still run by private companies in Venezuela, a top oil supplier to the United States and home to South America's largest gas reserves. Chavez has said companies upgrading heavy oil in the Orinoco River basin — British Petroleum PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Total SA and Statoil ASA — must submit to state-controlled joint ventures. The new law enables Chavez to unilaterally "regulate" this transition if companies don't agree to the new framework within an unspecified "peremptory period." SPY PROGRAM Justice to release spy program details WASHINGTON - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday he will turn over secret documents detailing the government's domestic spying program, ending a two-week standoff with the Senate Judiciary Committee over surveillance targeting terror suspects. "It's never been the case where we said we would never provide access," Gonzales told reporters. "We obviously would be concerned about the public disclosure that may jeopardize the national security of our country," he said. "But we're working with the Congress to provide the information that it needs." The documents held by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — including investigators' applications for permission to spy and judges' orders — will be given to some lawmakers as early as Wednesday. Gonzales said the documents would not be released publicly. "We're talking about highly classified documents about highly classified activities of the United States government," the attorney general said. The records will be given to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., and the panel's top Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa., who two weeks ago lambasted Gonzales for refusing to turn over documents that even the FISA Court's presiding judge had no objection to releasing. At the time, Gonzales said it was unclear whether the court orders could be released without exposing sensitive security information. The documents also will be available to lawmakers and staffers on the House and Senate intelligence committees. These people already were cleared to receive details about the controversial spy program. Leahy said he welcomed the Bush administration decision to release the documents, which he said he would review to decide "what further oversight or legislative action is necessary." Specter stopped short of calling for them to be publicly released, but said "there ought to be the maximum disclosure to the public, consistent with national security procedures." "They will not be made public until I've had a chance to see them," Specter said. But the administration still won't release other crucial documents that explain how FISA Court's orders comply with the 1978 surveillance law that the court oversees, said Rep. Heather Wilson (news, bio, voting record), R-N.M., a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee. She said the deal to release the documents stems from a briefing in front of that panel last week, which included Justice Department officials, and left many lawmakers frustrated. "We are playing hide the ball down at the Justice Department," said Wilson, who has told House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (news, bio, voting record), D-Texas, that she will support a subpoena, if need be. The documents are being turned over two weeks after a testy Senate hearing, during which lawmakers hammered Gonzales for refusing to provide details about the court's new oversight — and whether it provides adequate privacy protections. President Bush secretly authorized the spying program after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, allowing the National Security Agency to bypass court review and conduct domestic surveillance of people suspected of links to terrorism. The program, which a federal judge last August declared unconstitutional, monitors phone calls and e-mails between the United States and other countries when such a link is suspected. On Jan. 17, the day before the Senate hearing, Gonzales announced that the FISA Court had assumed oversight authority of the surveillance program a week earlier, and had already approved at least one warrant targeting a person suspected of having terror ties. Senators demanded to know more about how judges on the secret court might consider evidence when approving government requests to spy on people in the United States. And FISA Court Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, in a letter released at the hearing, said she had no objection to giving lawmakers copies of orders and opinions relating to the secret panel's oversight of the spy program. Gonzales' remarks Wednesday came as the Justice Department asked a federal appeals court in Cincinnati to dismiss a civil lawsuit against the spy program. Government attorneys have said the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit is moot since the surveillance now is monitored by a secret court. The ACLU, however, is asking the appeals court to uphold the earlier decision in August, declaring the program unconstitutional, since Bush retains authority to continue warrantless surveillance. Gonzales described the decision to release the documents to Leahy and Specter as the result of ongoing negotiations between Congress and the administration. He said lawmakers most likely will not have to review the documents at the Justice Department, which keeps a tight grip on classified information, but offered few other details. "It's important for us that they understand what we're doing," Gonzales said. "All they have to do is ask." FUNNY SENATOR Comedian Al Franken to Run for Senate WASHINGTON -- Comedian Al Franken has decided to run for U.S. Senate in Minnesota in 2008, challenging incumbent Republican Norm Coleman, a senior Democratic official told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The official, who requested anonymity because Franken has not made an announcement, said that the comedian and former star of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" told her of his decision recently. Andy Barr, the political director of Franken's Midwest Values Political Action Committee, declined to comment. The news was not unexpected. Franken has been calling members of the Minnesota congressional delegation to get their input on a run, and he announced this week that he would be leaving his show on Air America Radio on Feb. 14. He told listeners he would be making a decision on a race soon. Should he win the Democratic primary in Minnesota, Franken would take on Coleman, a first-term senator who is among the Democrats' top targets. FALLING SAVINGS 2006 personal savings fall to 74-yr. low WASHINGTON - People once again spent everything they made and then some last year, pushing the personal savings rate to the lowest level since the Great Depression more than seven decades ago. The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the savings rate for all of 2006 was a negative 1 percent, meaning that not only did people spend all the money they earned but they also dipped into savings or increased borrowing to finance purchases. The 2006 figure was lower than a negative 0.4 percent in 2005 and was the poorest showing since a negative 1.5 percent savings rate in 1933 during the Depression. For December, consumer spending rose a solid 0.7 percent, the best showing in five months, while incomes rose by 0.5 percent, both figures matching Wall Street expectations. In other news, a key gauge of factory activity flashed recession warnings in manufacturing in January. The Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index registered 49.3 last month, down from a December reading of 51.4. A reading below 50 indicates that manufacturing activity is contracting rather than expanding. Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported that the number of newly laid off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits dropped by 20,000 last week to 307,000. That improvement pushed the four-week average for claims to the lowest level in a year, indicating that the labor market remains healthy. The savings rate has been negative for an entire year only four times in history — in 2005 and 2006 and in 1933 and 1932. However, the reasons for the decline in the savings rate were vastly different during the two periods. During the Great Depression, when one-fourth of the labor force was without a job, people dipped into savings in an effort to meet the basic necessities of shelter and clothing. Economists have put forward various reasons to explain the current lack of savings. These range from a feeling on the part of some people that they do not need to save because of the run-up in their investments such as homes and stock portfolios to an effort by many middle-class wage earners to maintain their current lifestyles even though their wage gains have been depressed by the effects of global competition. Whatever the reason for the low savings, economists warn that it the phenomenon exists at a particularly bad time with 78 million baby boomers approaching retirement age. Instead of building up savings to use during retirement, baby boomers are continuing to spend all their earnings. "These low savings levels are coming right as baby boomers are starting to retire and after your retire, your savings rate typically goes down as you live off previous savings," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's in New York. The savings rate is computed by taking the amount of personal income left after taxes are paid, an amount known as disposable income, and subtracting the amount of spending. Since the figure has dipped into negative territory, it means consumers are spending all of disposable income and then some. For December, the savings rate edged down to a negative 1.2 percent, compared to a negative 1 percent in November. The savings rate has been in negative territory for 21 consecutive months. The 0.7 percent rise in personal spending was the best showing since a similar gain in July. It followed increases of 0.5 percent in November and 0.3 percent in October and reflected solid spending by consumers during the Christmas shopping season. Consumer spending posted a solid rebound in the final three months of the year, helping to lift overall economic growth to a rate of 3.5 percent during that period, up significantly after lackluster growth rates in the spring and fall. Incomes were up 0.5 percent in December, the best showing since a similar increase in September. On the inflation front, a gauge tied to consumer spending that is preferred by the Federal Reserve edged up by 0.1 percent in December. This gauge, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was up 2.2 percent over the past 12 months ending in December, still above the Fed's comfort zone of 1 percent to 2 percent. GIGANTIC BABY Big baby causes sensation in Cancun CANCUN, Mexico - He is called "Super Tonio," and at a whopping birth weight of 14.5 pounds, the little fellow is causing a sensation in this Mexican resort city. Cancun residents have crowded the nursery ward's window to see Antonio Vasconcelos, who was born early Monday by Caesarean section. The baby drinks 5 ounces of milk every three hours, and measures 22 inches in length. "We haven't found any abnormality in the child, there are some signs of high blood sugar, and a slight blood infection, but that is being controlled so that the child can get on with his normal life in a few more days," Narciso Perez Bravo, the hospital's director, said on Wednesday. In Brazil, a baby born in January 2005 in the city of Salvador weighed 16 pounds, 11 ounces at birth. According to Guinness World Records, the heaviest baby born to a healthy mother was a boy weighing 22 pounds, 8 ounces, born in Aversa, Italy, in September 1955. Antonio's mother, Teresa Alejandra Cruz, 23, and father, Luis Vasconcelos, 38, said they were proud of the boy, and noted that Cruz had given birth to a baby girl seven years ago who weighed 11.46 pounds. DIET Diet, exercise take off equal pounds, study finds WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Eating less and exercising more are equally good at helping take off the pounds, U.S. researchers said on Friday in a study that challenges many of the popular tenets of the multibillion dollar diet and fitness industry. Tests on overweight people show that a calorie is just a calorie, whether lost by dieting or by running, they said. They found there is no way to selectively lose belly fat, for instance, or trim thighs. And their carefully controlled study added to evidence that adding muscle mass does not somehow boost metabolism and help dieters take off even more weight. "It's all about the calories," said Dr. Eric Ravussin of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, part of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. "So long as the energy deficit is the same, body weight, fat weight, and abdominal fat will all decrease in the same way." Ravussin said the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, is one of the few done under controlled conditions that can actually demonstrate what happens to a human body while dieting and exercising. Ravussin's team has been testing volunteers for another reason -- to see if taking in fewer calories helps people live longer. Strict diets have been shown to help animals from worms to dogs live longer, but it takes longer to study monkeys and humans. They tested 24 people, 12 who ate a calorie-restricted diet, and 12 who dieted and also exercised five times a week for six months. The dieters ate 25 percent less than normal, while the exercisers reduced their calorie intake by 12.5 percent and increased their physical activity to lose an extra 12.5 percent in calories. Another 10 volunteers acted as controls. All food was provided by the university in carefully measured portions for most of the study. The volunteers in both groups lost about 10 percent of their body weight, 24 percent of their fat mass, and 27 percent of their abdominal visceral fat. Visceral fat is packed in between the internal organs and is considered the most dangerous type of fat, linked with heart disease and diabetes. The distribution of the fat on the body was not altered by either approach -- helping prove that there is no such thing as "spot reducing," Ravussin said in a telephone interview. This suggests that "individuals are genetically programmed for fat storage in a particular pattern and that this programming cannot easily be overcome," he added. Ravussin has published other studies that also dispute the idea that exercise builds muscle that helps people lose weight. "If anything, highly trained people are highly efficient, so they burn fewer calories at rest," Ravussin said. Dieting alone also did not appear to cause the volunteers to lose muscle mass along with fat, Ravussin's team found. "There is a concept that if you exercise, you are going to lose less of your muscle," he said. But his team found no evidence this is true. Ravussin believes exercise is crucial to health, however. "For overall health, an appropriate program of diet and exercise is still the best," he said. His team found some small suggestion that cutting 25 percent of calories by either diet or diet and exercise might extend life. "We found that 2 of the biomarkers of aging were improved -- core temperature was 0.4 to 0.5 degrees C less," he said. "Insulin, which has been shown to be a biomarker of aging, was reduced," Ravussin said. That finding was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last April. CAREER ADVICE Grammy winners offer career advice ATLANTA - Grammy winners including Ludacris and Earl Klugh told Atlanta high school students that the music industry has plenty of different jobs to offer. They advised about 300 teenagers on Wednesday to find their niche and show the world their own talent during a discussion at the Clark Atlanta University's Park Street Music & Art Complex. "Self-education is the most important thing to have," Ludacris said. "I know you can have street smarts. But if you combine that with book smarts, you'll be unstoppable." Klugh, a veteran jazz guitarist who has received a Grammy and 13 nominations, talked about touring and understanding how to make money from music. Panelists who included R&B singer Lyfe Jennings, music engineer Phil Tan, record label executive Dee Dee Murray and songwriter Tab Nkhereanye said the behind-the-scenes roles are important. "I can't play songs, rap or play instruments like all big headliners," said Tan, a Grammy winner who has worked with Mariah Carey, Usher and Gwen Stefani. "But I have the ability to mix songs to make them sound great," he added. "If you want to be a part of the music industry, there's always something to do." Murray, general manager of Purple Ribbon Records, offered insights as to how to act professional. She told the students to take charge of their education. "Reading, writing and speaking well are useful in this industry," Murray said. "You have to go that extra mile to get what you want in life. That's with anything." TEAM WORK Senate foes of troop buildup join forces WASHINGTON - Two senators, a Republican and a Democrat, leading separate efforts to put Congress on record against President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq joined forces Wednesday, agreeing on a nonbinding resolution that would oppose the plan and potentially embarrass the White House. Sens. John Warner (news, bio, voting record), R-Va., and Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., had been sponsoring competing measures opposing Bush's strategy of sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to the war zone, with Warner's less harshly worded version attracting more Republican interest. The new resolution would vow to protect funding for troops while keeping Warner's original language expressing the Senate's opposition to the buildup. Levin replaced Warner as chairman of the Armed Services Committee when the Democrats took control of the Senate in January. Their resolution could well gain more support from members of both parties than their separate versions had been attracting. It lacks Levin's language saying the troop increase is against the national interest, and it drops an earlier provision by Warner suggesting Senate support for some additional troops. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record) said he wants to begin debate Monday on the new measure, bypassing committee review. Levin's original resolution would no longer be considered unless offered as an amendment. "I believe we have a better chance now" of passing a resolution against the president's plan, said Sen. Richard Durbin (news, bio, voting record), D-Ill. The resolution is likely to pose a threat to the White House because of its potential appeal to Republicans who have grown tired of the nearly four-year war and want a chance to express their concerns. The White House has been hoping to avoid an overwhelming congressional vote criticizing Bush's handling of the war. "It's been a hard work in progress," Warner said of his resolution, which has been struggling to win support of 60 senators so as to prevent a filibuster. The agreement comes as several leading Republicans who support the troop buildup said they will give the administration and the Iraqis about six months to show significant improvement. Many other Republicans say they are deeply skeptical additional troops in Iraq, rather than a political settlement, would help calm the sectarian violence. The widely unpopular war has led to the deaths of more than 3,000 U.S. troops and is blamed for GOP losses in the Nov. 7 elections that handed control of Congress to the Democrats. The House had planned on waiting for the Senate to vote as a way of testing the waters for Republican support of such a resolution. But according to a Democratic aide, the House may begin the process next week with a committee review. That would set the stage for a House floor debate the week of Feb. 12. Warner had attracted at least seven other Republicans who were inclined to vote for his resolution. Scrambling to find additional support, Warner added language proposed by Sen. Judd Gregg (news, bio, voting record), R-N.H., that would protect funding for troops. As of late Wednesday, Gregg had not said whether he would support the revised resolution. "Colleagues have come up to me and said, 'Can you assure me that this doesn't provide a cutoff of funds?'" Warner said. Warner's resolution will now rival a proposal by Sens. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., that would identify benchmarks for the Iraqi government. McCain's measure is intended to give Republicans an outlet for expressing that the U.S. commitment in Iraq must not be open-ended, without openly criticizing the president. McCain's measure also picked up steam Wednesday, with Sens. Pat Roberts (news, bio, voting record), R- Kan., Lisa Murkowski (news, bio, voting record), R-Alaska, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (news, bio, voting record), R-Ga., and GOP leaders saying they might support it. "I don't think this war can be sustained for more than six months if in fact we don't see some progress," said Roberts. His comments came two days after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), R-Ky., said the new U.S. military push was the Iraqis' "last chance." Bush on Wednesday objected to Iraq proposals from Republicans and Democrats alike and acknowledged that "there's a lot of pessimism" in Congress about his troop buildup. In an interview with Fox News, Bush took issue with McConnell's statement that his plan needs to be successful over the next six to nine months. "I think it's a mistake to put timetables on difficult missions because an enemy can adjust," Bush said. "On the other hand, I certainly understand the urgency in Mitch's voice. I also understand the skepticism on Capitol Hill. I mean, no doubt, there's a lot of pessimism there today." In a statement after the president's interview, McConnell avoided mention of a specific time frame, but he stressed that the U.S. commitment in Iraq "is not open-ended." "We will know in a relatively short period of time whether or not the Iraqis are committed, and initial results are positive," McConnell said. "Of course we would need to reconsider our strategy if this effort fails." Bush also criticized a proposal by Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), a Democratic presidential candidate from Illinois, to have all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by spring 2008. "I say that it's important to succeed and that failure in Iraq will cause chaos," Bush said. "My admonition to those who are speaking out is let us back the troops and let us hope for the success" of their mission. Although deserted by some key Republicans, Bush said: "I don't feel abandoned. ... When times are good, there's millions of authors of the plan. When times are bad, there's one author, and that would be me." SPENDING House approves huge spending bill WASHINGTON - A must-pass bill covering about one-sixth of the federal budget swept through the House on Wednesday. A sizable chunk of Republicans joined virtually all Democrats in approving spending increases for education, veterans and the AIDS battle in Africa. The 286-140 vote — with 57 Republicans voting in favor — was a please surprise for Democrats who expected far less GOP support. The bill had much to please the rank and file, including Republican moderates, even though it contained no pet projects for their districts. "The content is a heck of a lot better than most expected we'd come up with," said the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. David Obey (news, bio, voting record), D-Wis. He worked with his Senate counterpart, Sen. Robert Byrd (news, bio, voting record), D-W.Va., to add money for initiatives popular with both Democrats and Republicans. The overall total would have been even higher had there not been such hurt feelings over how Democrats powered the bill through the House: just an hour of debate time, no amendments allowed. Republicans also said the measure was not entirely free of parochial "earmarks," saying powerful senators such as Ted Stevens (news, bio, voting record), R-Alaska, and Pete Domenici (news, bio, voting record), R- N.M., received special treatment for home-state projects. The White House has signaled that President Bush would sign the bill despite cuts to his requests for NASA, foreign aid and communities affected by the latest round of military base closings. But numerous agencies are feeling the crunch from operating for four months at or below last year's levels. So the administration was eager for relief for the FBI, the Census Bureau and the Veterans Affairs Department and others. Republicans also struggled to find unity. Conservatives pressed for a budget freeze to save about $6 billion. Other lawmakers, including Reps. Jerry Moran (news, bio, voting record), R-Kan., and Dave Weldon (news, bio, voting record), R-Fla., complained about inadequate spending. Moran pushed in vain for $3.3 billion in more money for farm disaster aid. Weldon complained that a $545 million cut to NASA would jeopardize the agency's plans to send man back to the Moon and on to Mars. Democrats were not entirely pleased with the bill. It would grant remarkable flexibility to the administration in determining how to use money within agency accounts — and in awarding grants and other projects to lawmakers' districts and states. Living within last year's budget cap set by Bush — before Democrats won control of Capitol Hill in the November elections — meant they could not be as generous as they would have liked. Democrats, nonetheless, provided increases for underperforming schools, health research, and grants to state and local law enforcement agencies. They were especially pleased with a $260 boost, to $4,310, in the maximum Pell Grant for low-income college students, and with a 40 percent increase, to $4.5 billion, for fighting AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis overseas. Obey said $3 billion to put the 2005 base closing law in place would be added to an upcoming Iraq war spending bill; that made it easier to bulk up favored domestic accounts. Republicans contended some money came from phantom savings from highway spending. In a striking exchange, GOP Rep. David Hobson (news, bio, voting record) of Ohio said Democrats bowed to powerful Republicans needed to pass the bill in the Senate. Hobson said the House wanted to cut $495 million from nuclear weapons accounts, but settled for just $95 million out of deference to Domenici and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), D- Nev., whose states are home to numerous Energy Department facilities. Hobson said Democrats acceded to Senate demands to preserve some home-state projects such as $45 million for a much-ridiculed indoor rainforest research in central Iowa. "If ever there was low-hanging fruit ... this was it," Hobson said. Obey said that project, obtained two years ago by Sen. Charles Grassley (news, bio, voting record), R- Iowa, originally was in a bill that Hobson personally negotiated. The tally for the measure may have been inflated. It contains a provision blocking lawmakers from receiving their annual cost of living pay raise; some members may have been reluctant to appear to cast a vote that could be interpreted of voting themselves more money. Agencies winning budget relief in the bill include: _Veterans Affairs, which would get a $3.6 billion increase for the rapidly growing veterans medical care program. _The National Institutes of Health, which would receive a $620 million increase for health research grants. _Amtrak, whose budget would be frozen at $1.3 billion instead of absorbing a $400 million cut proposed by Bush. _The Census Bureau, which would get money for new computers for field workers conducting the 2010 census. IMMIGRATION U.S. plans hike in immigration, citizenship fees PHOENIX (Reuters) - Immigrants applying to become citizens or permanent residents of the United States may have to pay higher application fees, U.S. officials said on Wednesday. The fee increases, which are subject to a review process, are part of a drive by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to overhaul its strained processing system, which leaves many legal immigrants waiting months or years for a green card or naturalization as U.S. citizens. The fee increases would provide "appropriate funding to meet customer service needs and national security requirements, and (modernize) an outdated business structure," the agency said. Under the proposed increases, citizenship applications would cost $595, up from $330, while permanent residency applications would jump to $905 from $325. If approved, these fees would be valid for a two-year period starting in October. Pro-immigration lobbyists were critical of plans to boost charges, which they said won't guarantee improve service. "With the level of service showing no signs of improvement, the announcement of yet another round of fee increases ... is dispiriting," said Douglas Rivlin, spokesman for the Washington-based National Immigration Forum lobbying group. "The national interest is served when we facilitate the citizenship and assimilation of immigrants into fully participating members of society," he added. "This substantial fee increase moves us in the wrong direction." CAR FLIES Flying car seen as solution for rescue YAVNE, Israel - Rafi Yoeli has an unconventional solution to saving people from burning high-rises or rescuing soldiers trapped behind enemy lines: a flying car. Yoeli already has gotten a rudimentary vehicle off the ground — about three feet — and hopes to see a marketable version of his X-Hawk flying car by 2010. Although his dream might seem far-fetched, Textron Inc.'s Bell Helicopters is taking a serious look, teaming with Yoeli's privately held Urban Aeronautics to explore X-Hawk's potential. Think of the people trapped in the World Trade Center. Think of ground patrols in Iraq blown up by roadside bombs. Think of New Orleans residents stranded on rooftops after Hurricane Katrina. X-Hawk and its smaller version, Mule, might one day offer the same capabilities as helicopters, but without the serious operating limitations — like exposed rotors — that helicopters face in urban terrain. "The reality is that we have not been designing helicopters to operate in urban environments," said M.E. Rhett Flater, executive director of the American Helicopter Society, a professional group. "What Rafi is doing is addressing that need to design some kind of vehicle that can operate in an urban environment, that can get close to buildings and skyscrapers, and provide some type of relief for people stranded in buildings." The concept of a flying utility vehicle dates back 50 years. Other design houses currently working on vertical lift concepts with enclosed rotors include U.S.-based Trek Aerospace Inc. and Moller International Inc., both of which focus on a different niche, personal use vehicles. X-Hawk — for now just a full-size mold in Urban Aeronautics' headquarters in the central Israeli town of Yavne — looks like a futuristic space car, with its streamlined design, two fans rising from the rear and cockpit-style driver's seat. But Yoeli envisions X-Hawk and Mule as more of a truck, pulling up to dangerous combat or terror arenas to ferry in personnel and supplies and ferry out people at risk. Like a similarly sized helicopter, X-Hawk will be able to take off vertically, fly up to 155 miles an hour and as high as 12,000 feet and remain aloft about two hours, Urban Aeronautics says. But encased fans will replace the exposed rotors that keep helicopters from maneuvering effectively in urban areas or dense natural terrain because they have to stay clear of walls, power lines and mountain ridges. And a patented system of vanes is designed to afford the vehicle greater stability. Urban Aeronautics says vehicles will be able to sidle right up to a building. The X-Hawk also will be quieter, offering a stealth advantage over helicopters, said Janina Frankel-Yoeli, the company's vice president for marketing. But because the rotor diameter is smaller, the new vehicle will use about 50 percent more fuel. Yoeli started working on the precursor to X-Hawk and Mule in 2000, but Flater said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have "given vertical takeoff and landing vehicles a new priority." "The military is learning that they have to fight wars in cities again," he said. "So we're looking at unmanned aerial vehicles that can provide reconnaissance. Obviously the next step would be to look for vehicles ... that can provide actual relief in urban areas." Bell, which exhibited a full-scale mock-up of X-Hawk at the 2006 Farnborough air show, sees huge market potential for an aircraft that could operate in confined areas and evacuate wounded soldiers, but hasn't fully committed to the project. Costs are still uncertain, and it's still unclear whether the X-Hawk can be designed to carry a "useful load — fuel, folks and equipment," said Jon Tatro, Bell's director of advanced concept development. Mule, configured to carry two wounded people, will carry an estimated $1.5 million price tag. A civilian, 10-passenger version of X-Hawk, for use in rescue missions, utility work or executive transport, is projected at $3.5 million, while a military model carrying a dozen people and more sophisticated equipment would cost $6 million. Tatro and Flater say the estimates for the military model might be low. Yoeli expects an unmanned Mule prototype to be flying in two or three years and in production within five. He projects a manned X-Hawk will first hover in 2009 and hit the market within eight years. He hopes ultimately to sell 250 to 300 machines annually, out of up to 2,000 helicopters sold worldwide. The 55-year-old Yoeli says he's been fascinated by flight since childhood and got into the flying car business after two years at Boeing Co., five at Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd. and 14 at a company he co- founded to develop unmanned airborne vehicles and helicopter applications. His initial fantasy was a flying sports car. But because of all the regulatory issues that would have to be resolved before masses of commuters could start whooshing through the sky, he tucked that dream aside to develop something that could hit the market earlier. Company headquarters are dominated by a large, white-domed flight simulator and the proof-of-concept vehicle that Yoeli says he built in his second-floor living room so he could spend more time with his family. What's compelled Yoeli on this project is the urge "to get up vertically," without needing a runway or a rotating mechanism overhead. "You sit in a traffic jam, and everyone gets this urge: I want to get up now, and over this," he said. "You need a certain kind of machine. I think X-Hawk can do it." SCARY MARKETING 9 suspicious packages planted in Boston BOSTON - Nine blinking electronic devices planted at bridges and other spots in Boston threw a scare into the city Wednesday in what turned out to be a marketing campaign for a late-night cable cartoon. At least one of the devices depicts a character giving the finger. Highways, bridges and a section of the Charles River were shut down and bomb squads were sent in before authorities declared the devices were harmless. "It's a hoax — and it's not funny," said Gov. Deval Patrick. Turner Broadcasting, parent company of Cartoon Network, said the devices were part of a promotion for the TV show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." "The packages in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger," Turner said in a statement. It said the devices have been in place for two to three weeks in 10 cities: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Philadelphia. "We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger," the company said. Police said only that they were investigating where the device came from. The Department of Homeland Security said there are no credible reports of other devices being found elsewhere in the country. An angry Mayor Thomas Menino said a stiff penalty will be pursued against whoever was responsible for the devices. "It's about keeping a city on edge. It's about public safety," he said. Authorities said some of the objects looked like circuit boards or had wires hanging from them. The first device was found at a subway and bus station underneath Interstate 93, forcing the shutdown of the station and the highway. Later, police said four calls, all around 1 p.m., reported devices at the Boston University Bridge and the Longfellow Bridge, both of which span the Charles River, at a Boston street corner and at the Tufts-New England Medical Center. The package near the Boston University bridge was found attached to a structure beneath the span, authorities said. Subway service across the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge was briefly suspended, and Storrow Drive was closed as well. Wanda Higgins, a 47-year-old Weymouth resident and a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, heard about the threat as she watched television news coverage while preparing to leave work at 4 p.m. "I saw the bomb squad guys carrying a paper bag with their bare hands," Higgins said. "I knew it couldn't be too serious." Messages seeking additional comment from the Atlanta-based Cartoon Network were left with several publicists. "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" is a cartoon with a cultish following that airs as part of the Adult Swim late- night block of programs for adults on the Cartoon Network. A feature length film based on the show is slated for release March 23. The surreal series centers on a talking milkshake (Master Shake), fries (Frylock) and a meatball (Meatwad). The cartoon also includes two trouble-making, 1980s-graphic-like characters called "mooninites," named Ignignokt and Err — who were pictured on the suspicious devices. They are known for making the obscene hand gesture depicted on the devices. LIGHT BULBS UNCONVENTIONAL California may ban conventional lightbulbs by 2012 LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California lawmaker wants to make his state the first to ban incandescent lightbulbs as part of California's groundbreaking initiatives to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. The "How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb Act" would ban incandescent lightbulbs by 2012 in favor of energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs. "Incandescent lightbulbs were first developed almost 125 years ago, and since that time they have undergone no major modifications," California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine said on Tuesday. "Meanwhile, they remain incredibly inefficient, converting only about 5 percent of the energy they receive into light." Levine is expected to introduce the legislation this week, his office said. If passed, it would be another pioneering environmental effort in California, the most populous U.S. state. It became the first state to mandate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, targeting a 25 percent reduction in emissions by 2020. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) use about 25 percent of the energy of conventional lightbulbs. Many CFLs have a spiral shape, which was introduced in 1980. By 2005, about 100 million CFLs were sold in the United States, or about 5 percent of the 2-billion-lightbulb market, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That number could more than double this year. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. alone wants to sell 100 million CFLs at its stores by the end of 2007, the world's biggest retailer said in November. While it will not give opinion on the possible California law, the EPA recommends CFLs. "They save money and energy," EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said. "They are more convenient than other alternatives and come in different sizes and shapes to fit almost any fixture." Also, CFLs generate 70 percent less heat than incandescent lights, Jones said. About a fifth of the average U.S. home's electricity costs pays for lighting, which means even if CFLs initially cost more than conventional lightbulbs, consumers will save, Jones said. A 20-watt CFL gives as much light as a 75-watt conventional bulb, and lasts 13 times longer, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit group studying energy issues. Southern California Edison, an Edison International subsidiary and one of the state's biggest utilities, runs a program that cuts the cost of a CFL by $1 to $2.50. In the past year, SCE has helped consumers buy 6 million CFLs, it said. California Energy Commission member Arthur Rosenfeld said an average home in California will save $40 to $50 per year if CFLs replace all incandescent bulbs. While not commenting specifically on Levine's likely legislation, Rosenfeld, winner of the Enrico Fermi Presidential Award in 2006, said the switch from incandescent bulbs became feasible about five years ago when CFL performance improved. "This is clearly an idea whose time has come," he said. Levine, a Democrat from Van Nuys in Los Angeles, last year introduced a bill that will become law in July that requires most grocery stores to have plastic bag recycling. VISTA SECURITY Windows Vista's hyped security will be tested SEATTLE/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Computer hackers are off and running trying to find vulnerabilities in Microsoft Corp.'s new Windows Vista operating system, putting to test the software maker's claim that it is the most secure Windows program ever. The new version of Windows, the computer operating system that runs over 95 percent of the world's computers, became available to consumers on Tuesday after five years of development and a number of delays to improve security. A high-profile new product like Windows Vista draws interest from the entire spectrum of the computer security industry, ranging from hackers trying to exploit a breach for criminal means to researchers looking to make a name for themselves as security experts. "For sure, people are hammering away on it," said Jeff Moss, the organizer of Defcon, the world's largest hacking convention. "If you are a bad guy and you find a problem, you have a way to spread your malware and spyware." Most security experts see Vista as a more secure operating system than its predecessor, Windows XP, but even Microsoft acknowledges it's not impenetrable and attackers will undoubtedly look for a way in. Attackers can use spyware programs to monitor a computer remotely and collect personal information on a user. They can also control machines remotely to attack Web sites, send spam e-mail or defraud online advertisers. Vista's comes with built-in anti-spyware software, and new account controls curb the ability of users to unintentionally install harmful programs. The high-end versions come with a feature called BitLocker that encrypts a computer's hard drive in the case of a lost or stolen machine. "We know from the outset that we won't get the software code 100 percent right. No one does in the entire software industry ... but Windows Vista has multiple layers of defense," said Stephen Toulouse, senior product manager at Microsoft's trustworthy computing group. Windows Vista runs over 50 million lines of software code and Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft invested $6 billion (3 billion-pound) to develop the first new operating system since it released Windows XP in October 2001. Microsoft's ability to protect Windows from attackers is seen as a critical litmus test for a product that generated more than $10 billion in sales last year, especially to large institutional customers who are extra careful. Another key element in Microsoft's plan to combat attacks will be automatic Windows updates sent to Vista users to patch up vulnerabilities and changes to its anti-spyware products. In the past, attackers honed in on vulnerabilities in the core Windows operating system, but those types of attacks are being cast aside for attacks from e-mail, instant messaging and applications downloaded from the Web. "In the past with XP, they could attack the operating system itself to infect you. Today the OS is stronger but threats can still get on your system," said Oliver Friedrichs, director of emerging technologies at security software maker Symantec Corp. Johannes Ullrich, a cyber security expert at the SANS Institute research group, expects hackers are working furiously to win recognition as the first to find and publicize a security hole in Vista. He also cautioned that hackers would still be able to launch attacks by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office, and warned that criminals would hold off on exploiting holes until more users adopt Vista. "Being the first to write an exploit for Vista is something a lot of people would like to do," Ullrich said in a telephone interview. "But ultimately any exploit will be used for financial gain." YOUNGSTER MUSIC LAW Teen accuses record companies of collusion WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - A 16-year-old boy being sued by five record companies accusing him of online music piracy accused the recording industry on Tuesday of violating antitrust laws, conspiring to defraud the courts and making extortionate threats. In papers responding to the record companies' lawsuit, Robert Santangelo, who was as young as 11 when the alleged piracy occurred, denied ever disseminating music and said it's impossible to prove that he did. Santangelo is the son of Patti Santangelo, the 42-year-old suburban mother of five who was sued by the record companies in 2005. She refused to settle, took her case public and became a heroine to supporters of Internet freedom. The industry dropped its case against her in December but sued Robert and his sister Michelle, now 20, in federal court in White Plains. Michelle has been ordered to pay $30,750 in a default judgment because she did not respond to the lawsuit. Robert Santangelo and his lawyer, Jordan Glass, responded at length Tuesday, raising 32 defenses, demanding a jury trial and filing a counterclaim against the companies that accuses them of damaging the boy's reputation, distracting him from school and costing him legal fees. His defenses to the industry's lawsuit include that he never sent copyrighted music to others, that the recording companies promoted file sharing before turning against it, that average computer users were never warned that it was illegal, that the statute of limitations has passed, and that all the music claimed to have been downloaded was actually owned by his sister on store-bought CDs. Robert Santangelo also claims that the record companies, which have filed more than 18,000 piracy lawsuits in federal courts, "have engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to defraud the courts of the United States." The papers allege that the companies, "ostensibly competitors in the recording industry, are a cartel acting collusively in violation of the antitrust laws and public policy" by bringing the piracy cases jointly and using the same agency "to make extortionate threats ... to force defendants to pay." The Recording Industry Association of America, which has coordinated most of the lawsuits, issued a statement saying, "The record industry has suffered enormously due to piracy. That includes thousands of layoffs. We must protect our rights. Nothing in a filing full of recycled charges that have gone nowhere in the past changes that fact." IRAQ RALLY Tens of thousands demand Iraq withdrawal WASHINGTON - Protesters energized by fresh congressional skepticism about the Iraq war demanded a withdrawal of U.S. troops in a demonstration Saturday that drew tens of thousands and brought Jane Fonda back to the streets. A sampling of celebrities, a half dozen members of Congress and busloads of demonstrators from distant states joined in a spirited rally under a sunny sky, seeing opportunity to press their cause in a country that has turned against the war. Standing on her toes to reach the microphone, 12-year-old Moriah Arnold told the crowd: "Now we know our leaders either lied to us or hid the truth. Because of our actions, the rest of the world sees us as a bully and a liar." The sixth-grader from Harvard, Mass., the youngest speaker on the National Mall stage, organized a petition drive at her school against the war. The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. John Conyers (news, bio, voting record), threatened to use congressional spending power to try to stop the war. " George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing," he said, looking out at the masses. "He can't fire you." Referring to Congress, the Michigan Democrat added: "He can't fire us. "The founders of our country gave our Congress the power of the purse because they envisioned a scenario exactly like we find ourselves in today. Now only is it in our power, it is our obligation to stop Bush." On the stage rested a coffin covered with a U.S. flag and a pair of military boots, symbolizing American war dead. On the Mall stood a large bin filled with tags bearing the names of Iraqis who have died. A small contingent of active-duty service members attended the rally, wearing civilian clothes because military rules forbid them from protesting in uniform. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tassi McKee, 26, an intelligence specialist at Fort Meade, Md., said she joined the Air Force because of patriotism, travel and money for college. "After we went to Iraq, I began to see through the lies," she said. In the crowd, signs recalled the November elections that defeated the Republican congressional majority in part because of Bush's Iraq policy. "I voted for peace," one said. "We see many things that we feel helpless about," said Barbara Struna, 59, who came from Brewster, Mass., to march. "But this is like a united force. This is something I can do." Struna, a mother of five who runs an art gallery, made a two-day bus trip with her 17-year-old daughter, Anna, to the nation's capital to represent what she said was middle America's opposition to President Bush's war policy. Her daughter, a high school senior, said she has as many as 20 friends who have been to Iraq. "My generation is the one that is going to have to pay for this," she said. Showcased speakers in addition to Fonda included actors Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Danny Glover. Fonda was a lightning rod in the Vietnam era for her outspoken opposition to that war, earning the derisive nickname "Hanoi Jane" from conservatives for traveling to North Vietnam during the height of that conflict 35 years ago. She had avoided anti-Iraq war appearances until now. About 40 people staged a counter-protest, including military family members and Army Cpl. Joshua Sparling, 25, who lost his leg to a bomb in Iraq in November 2005. He said the anti-war protesters, especially those who are veterans or who are on active duty, "need to remember the sacrifice we have made and what our fallen comrades would say if they are alive." As protesters streamed to the mall, Bush reaffirmed his commitment to the troop increase in a phone conversation Saturday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a day when one or two rockets struck the heavily fortified Green Zone, home of the Iraqi government, thousands of Americans and the U.S. and British embassies. Bush was in Washington for the weekend. He is often is out of town during big protest days. On Monday, for instance, he called anti-abortion marchers on the telephone from Camp David. United for Peace and Justice, a coalition group sponsoring the protest, said there has been intense interest in the rally since Bush announced he was sending 21,500 additional troops to supplement the 130,000 in Iraq. The rally was held as congressional opposition to the war is building. The Senate is considering nonbinding resolutions that would state opposition to Bush sending the extra forces to Iraq. Frank Houde, 72, of Albany, N.Y., was a career Air Force pilot who served in Vietnam. Houde did not carry a sign, but said that his protest was on his hat, which said "Veterans for peace." "The fact is war doesn't work," he said. "Iraq is not going to work. The war was started for reasons that turned out to be false." WHITE HOUSE MANIPULATION Ex-Cheney aide shares media manipulation WASHINGTON - A smorgasbord of Washington insider details has emerged during the perjury trial of the vice president's former chief of staff. For example, when Dick Cheney really needed friends in the news media, his staff was short of phone numbers. No one served up spicier morsels than Cheney's former top press assistant. Cathie Martin described the craft of media manipulation — under oath and in blunter terms than politicians like to hear in public. The uses of leaks and exclusives. When to let one's name be used and when to hide in anonymity. Which news medium was seen as more susceptible to control and what timing was most propitious. All candidly described. Even the rating of certain journalists as friends to favor and critics to shun — a faint echo of the enemies list drawn up in Richard Nixon's White House more than 30 years ago. The trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby owes its very existence to a news leak, the public disclosure four summers ago of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity. A private brainstorm of Plame's in 2002 brought a rain of public attacks on Cheney the following year. Cheney was accused of suppressing intelligence and allowing President Bush to present false information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Plame's husband, ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, started the attack. Her unit at the CIA had sent him to Niger in 2002 to check a report Iraq was buying uranium for nuclear weapons. Cheney and the departments of State and Defense wanted to verify that. Wilson thought he had debunked the report, but Bush mentioned it anyway in his State of the Union address in 2003. The story helped justify war with Iraq. Wilson claimed Cheney's questions prompted his trip and Cheney should have received his report long before Bush spoke. Wilson's charges first surfaced, attributed to an unnamed ex-ambassador, in Nicholas Kristof's New York Times column. But Martin testified she felt no urgency to set him straight because Kristof "attacked us, our administration fairly regularly." But by July 6, 2003, Wilson wrote his own account in the Times and appeared on "Meet the Press" on NBC. After that much exposure, Cheney, Libby and Martin spent the next week trying get out word that Cheney did not know Wilson, did not ask for the mission to Niger, never got Wilson's report and only learned about the trip from news stories in 2003. Cheney personally dictated these points to Martin. She e-mailed them to the White House press secretary for relay to reporters. When the story did not die, Martin found herself in a bind because Cheney's office was known for disclosing so little. "Often the press stopped calling our office," Martin testified. "At this point, they weren't calling me asking me for comment." So she had to call National Security Council and CIA press officers to learn which reporters were still working on stories. Once Martin got names, Cheney ordered his right-hand man, Libby, rather than lowly press officers, to call — a signal of the topic's importance. Top levels of the Bush administration decided that CIA Director George Tenet would issue a statement taking the blame for allowing Bush to mention the Niger story. Cheney and Libby worried Tenet would not go far enough to distance the vice president from the affair. Libby asked Martin to map a media strategy in case Tenet fell short. A Harvard law school graduate, Martin had succeeded legendary Republican operative Mary Matalin as Cheney's political and public affairs assistant. Matalin had brought Martin to Cheney's office as her deputy and trained her. Martin offered these options in order: _Put Cheney on "Meet the Press." _Leak an exclusive version to a selected reporter or the weekly news magazines. _Have national security adviser Condoleezza Rice or Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hold a news conference. _Persuade a third party or columnist to write an opinion piece that would appear in newspapers on the page opposite the editorials. Not only did Tenet leave unanswered questions about Cheney, his remarks came out late on a Friday, the government's favorite moment to deliver bad news. Why? "Fewer people pay attention to it later on Friday," Martin testified. "And in our view, fewer people are paying attention on Saturday, when it's reported." As Martin rated their options, putting Cheney on "Meet the Press," NBC's Sunday morning talk show, "is our best format." Cheney was their best person for the show and "we control the message a little bit more," according to Martin. The downside was that Cheney could "get pulled into the weeds and specifics. We like to keep him at a pretty high level," she said. Also, it "looks defensive to rush him out on `Meet the Press.'" Next they could give an exclusive or leak to one reporter and she considered David Sanger of The New York Times, Walter Pincus of The Washington Post, or Time or Newsweek. Because reporters are competitive, "if you give it to one reporter, they're more likely to write the story," Martin testified. Plus an official can demand anonymity in return for the favor. "You can give it to them as a senior administration official," she said. "You don't have to say this is coming directly from the White House." The news weeklies offered a focus on the big picture and opinion-editorial writers and columnists could voice opinions. Ultimately, Cheney crafted an on-the-record statement to be attributed to Libby by name along with some anonymous background information. Libby personally called Matt Cooper of Time, who had e-mailed questions to Martin earlier. But when Libby suggested calling Newsweek in fairness, Cheney's aides were at a loss. "We were scrambling for a number for a reporter that we know there named Evan Thomas," Martin testified. "We were looking around for a number. I didn't have it with me." Eventually, they found a number and left a message. But Cooper did not use the full quote and Martin called to complain. "I put Scooter on the phone with him, which we didn't do very often on the record with a quote," she testified, "and he took just a piece of it." The result "wasn't helpful" and the story did not fade away. So the following week, two senior Bush aides — communications director Dan Bartlett and Rice's deputy, Steve Hadley — briefed White House reporters. Cheney invited a group of conservative columnists to lunch at his residence. IRAN WARNING Bush warns Iran against action in Iraq WASHINGTON - President Bush said Monday the United States "will respond firmly" if Iran escalates military action in Iraq and endangers American forces. But Bush emphasized he has no intention of invading Iran. Bush also acknowledged skepticism concerning U.S. intelligence about Iran, because Washington was wrong in accusing Iraq of harboring weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. "I'm like a lot of Americans that say, 'Well, if it wasn't right in Iraq, how do you know it's right in Iran,'" the president said. The president, in an interview with NPR, said the United States was "constantly evaluating and answering this legitimate question by always working to get as good intelligence as we can." Sharply at odds over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, Washington and Tehran increasingly are arguing about Iraq, where both countries are seeking influence. The White House said last week that American troops in Iraq have been authorized to kill or capture Iranian agents deemed to be a threat. Iran's ambassador followed up by telling The New York Times that Tehran plans to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq and open an Iranian national bank branch in Baghdad. The United States accuses Iran of supplying terrorists and insurgents in Iraq with improvised explosive devices that have become the most lethal threat to U.S. forces. The Bush administration says it decided to take a tougher line with Tehran after months of evidence showing Iran was assisting anti-U.S. forces. "If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly," the president said. "It makes common sense for the commander in chief to say to our troops and the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government that we will help you defend yourself from people that want to sow discord and harm. And so we will do what it takes to protect our troops." Bush said it was important to distinguish the nuclear standoff with Iran from the quarrel over Tehran's involvement in Iraq. He said he believed the dispute over Iran's nuclear program could be resolved diplomatically. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), D-Nev., has said Bush does not have authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking congressional authorization. Bush told NPR he had no intention of going into Iran. "This is the kind of thing that happens in Washington," the president said. "People ascribe, you know, motives to me beyond a simple statement — 'Of course we'll protect our troops.' I don't know how anybody can then say, 'Well, protecting the troops means that we're going to invade Iran.'" FORMER PRESS SEC Fleischer recalls discussion about Plame WASHINGTON - Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified Monday he first heard that a prominent war critic's wife worked at the CIA from vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He said he thought the information might help deflect critical questions from reporters. Fleischer said Libby told him about Valerie Plame's job at the CIA over a lunch in the White House mess on July 7, 2003. But Libby has told investigators he thought he first learned about Plame on July 10 from NBC reporter Tim Russert. Four other government witnesses also have said they discussed Plame with Libby before July 10, and the discrepancy between those accounts and what Libby told the FBI and a grand jury are a major component of the perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. Libby now says his memory failed him when he spoke to Russert. Russert said Monday that he did not tell Libby about Plame. "I was not and never have been the recipient of the leak," Russert told an audience in Oklahoma City. The appearance of Fleischer, President Bush's chief spokesman from 2001 through mid-2003, slightly swelled the crowd of trial onlookers, including veteran reporters eager to see a White House press secretary questioned under oath. Acknowledging that he fielded lots hostile questions at the White House, Fleischer proved to be a calm and unflappable witness, even under cross-examination by defense attorney William Jeffress. He often turned to speak directly to the jurors, sometimes using hand gestures. Fleischer testified under an immunity agreement with prosecutors. He said he sought the deal after reading about the investigation and worrying, "Oh my God. Did I somehow play a role in outing a CIA operative?" He insisted he believed throughout that the information was not classified. Fleischer said his lunch with Libby was their first ever and had been scheduled by Libby in anticipation of Fleischer's imminent departure to start his own company. After talk of career plans and the Miami Dolphins, the subject shifted to the controversy raging over criticism by Plame's husband, ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, of President Bush's State of Union address in January 2003. Bush had said Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa for nuclear weapons, and that had become part of the justification for war with Iraq. Since then, Wilson had said in print and on television that he was sent to Niger to investigate the report and had debunked it in 2002. Wilson claimed questions by Cheney motivated his trip and that Cheney should have received his report months before Bush repeated the story in his speech. Previous testimony showed Cheney's office was working to get word out that Cheney didn't send Wilson to Niger and had never heard of Wilson, his trip or his conclusions until press reports in spring 2003. Libby said Wilson was sent to Niger by his wife and she worked at the CIA in the counter-proliferation division, Fleischer testified. "I believe he mentioned her name and said something like, `This is hush-hush, this on the Q-T, not very many people know this.'" "My sense is that Mr. Libby was telling me this was kinda newsy," Fleischer added. He did not think the information was classified, however, because whenever he was told or given classified information "people would always say, `This is classified. You cannot use it.'" Fleischer said he again heard about Plame four days later from White House communications director Dan Bartlett aboard Air Force One during Bush's trip to Africa. Bartlett was reading a document and began "venting" to no one in particular his displeasure that reporters kept writing that Cheney had sent Wilson to Niger. "His wife sent him," Fleischer recalled Bartlett saying. "She works at the CIA." Fleischer said he relayed that information later in the day to John Dickerson of Time magazine and David Gregory of NBC in Uganda. The information "didn't seem to me to be very newsy," Fleischer testified, but "now I had one more little nugget to back up" the administration version. As press secretary, reporters "challenge everything you say. They always want you to back it up," Fleischer testified. He said he thought, "Maybe this will help this go away because it backs up the White House statement." Jeffress tried to suggest that Fleischer might have heard the Plame story first from Bartlett and was trying to protect him. Wasn't Bartlett Fleischer's boss? "Nominally," Fleischer said, asserting he worked for Bush. Jeffress got Fleischer to acknowledge he saw reporters between July 7-10, but he said he didn't tell any of them about Plame until after hearing from Bartlett. But Fleischer would not back off his contention that he heard about her job from Libby first. He conceded only that he wasn't absolutely sure Libby used her name. BRANDY Police want Brandy charged in fatality LOS ANGELES - The California Highway Patrol recommended Monday that actress-singer Brandy be charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in a freeway crash that killed a woman motorist last month, a city attorney's spokesman told The Associated Press. The CHP referred the matter to the city attorney's office for review, said spokesman Nick Velasquez. "The office is currently reviewing the case and determining whether the evidence warrants the filing of a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter," Velasquez said. A message seeking comment from Brandy's publicist, Courtney Barnes, was not immediately returned. Earlier this month, Barnes issued a statement saying Brandy "wishes to publicly express her condolences to the family of the deceased." Barnes also has said Brandy wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash. The charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine, Velasquez said. Prosecutors couldn't say when they would make a decision about whether to bring a case. If charged, Brandy wouldn't necessarily have to appear in court and could have her lawyer enter a plea, Velasquez said. Brandy, 27, was driving a Land Rover on Interstate 405 on Dec. 30 when traffic slowed and her vehicle struck the back of Honda driven by Awatef Aboudihaj, 38, according to a CHP report. Aboudihaj's car hit another vehicle, slid sideways into the center divider and was then hit by another car, the report said. Aboudihaj, a Los Angeles waitress, died at a hospital from blunt-force injuries, according to the coroner's office. The CHP alleges in a report that Brandy caused the accident by breaking a law against driving at a speed "greater than is reasonable or prudent" or that "endangers the safety of persons or property," according to a part of the report obtained by the AP. Bill Sayed, an attorney for Aboudihaj's husband, said he supported the CHP's recommendation. Brandy, who earned a Grammy in 1999, has made five albums. She began her recording career at 14 and acted for film and television, starring on the sitcom "Moesha" from 1996-2001 and most recently as a judge for NBC's "America's Got Talent." HUNGRY SNAKE Huge python makes a meal of 11 guard dogs "I was shocked to see such a huge python," orchard-keeper Ali Yusof told the New Straits Times in an article published beneath a picture of the captured snake, which was almost long enough to span the width of a tennis court and as thick as a tree trunk. Villagers did not harm the snake, which was tied to a tree then handed to wildlife officials, the paper said on Friday. BB KING Bluesman B.B. King hospitalized in Texas HOUSTON - B.B. King was hospitalized for a low-grade fever following the flu but was in good condition Friday, his management agency said. The 81-year-old bluesman was expected to be discharged Saturday, a hospital spokesman said. King's agency said he plans to perform Tuesday in Fort Worth. "He's doing great," said Tina France, vice president of Lieberman Management of New York. "He's in good spirits and cracking jokes." King had been scheduled to perform Thursday at the Grand Opera House, but was admitted to The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, said Paul McCarthy, a hospital administrator. King, who has a history of diabetes, was taking antibiotics for a 100-degree fever, France said. The ailment in a younger person wouldn't have required hospitalization, but King is being monitored because of his age, she said. His concerts in Galveston, Orange and Tyler, Texas, previously scheduled for this week and early next week, will be rescheduled for June, France said. John Koloen, a hospital spokesman, said the hospital in Galveston, about 50 miles southeast of Houston, was keeping King in the elderly acute care unit until Saturday "just to make sure." With his trademark guitar that he named "Lucille," King racked up hits including "The Thrill Is Gone," "Every Day I Have the Blues" and "You Upset Me Baby." Born on a plantation in Itta Bena, Miss., King started out on street corners playing for pocket change, according to his Web site. He went on to become one of the nation's most influential blues musicians. In December, President Bush awarded King the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his musical contributions. YOUTUBE MONEY YouTube to share revenue with users DAVOS, Switzerland - Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube, said Saturday that his wildly successful site will start sharing revenue with its millions of users. Hurley said one of the major proposed innovations is a way to allow users to be paid for content. YouTube, which was sold to Google for $1.65 billion in November, has become an Internet phenomenon since it began to catch on in late 2005. Some 70 million videos are viewed on the site each day. "We are getting an audience large enough where we have an opportunity to support creativity, to foster creativity through sharing revenue with our users," Hurley said. "So in the coming months we are going to be opening that up." Hurley, who at 30 is one of the youngest Internet multimillionaires, gave no details of how much users might receive, or what mechanism would be used. In October 2005, Revver — which like YouTube offers video clips online — announced plans to attach advertising to user-submitted videos and give their creators a cut of the profits. Revver has said it would split the ad revenue evenly with content creators. Hurley said that when YouTube started, he and the site's other co-founders — Steve Chen and Jawed Karim — felt revenue-sharing would build a community of users motivated by making money, rather than their love of videos. But that as the site has grown, the three, who continue to run the company, have come to see financial remuneration as a way of improving content. Hurley spoke on the last full day of the World Economic Forum, which brings together the world's political, social and business leaders for a five-day gathering on the problems facing the world. CELL PHONES TRAVEL Cell phones vital in developing world HANOI, Vietnam - Nguyen Huu Truc's trusty cell phone has revolutionized his small embroidery business — and his life. When he bought his first mobile phone in 1995, Vietnam had just one fixed-line phone for every 100 people, and cell phones were a pricey novelty. Communication was difficult, forcing Truc to make time- consuming trips to suppliers and buyers. But these days, Vietnam has 33 telephones per 100 people — and two-thirds of the phones are mobile. Now Truc can make calls on his cell phone from virtually anywhere in the country for about 10 cents a minute, saving him time and money and providing quicker access to information. "I cannot imagine what it would be like if I didn't have my mobile phone for a day," he says. "It's no longer just something that only the rich can afford. Now, it's a basic means of communication." Truc's experience provides a glimpse into how wireless communication is helping fuel Vietnam's rapid growth — and transforming dozens of other developing nations from the ground up. Today, mobile phones are the primary form of telecommunication in most emerging economies, fulfilling much the same role as fixed-line phone networks did in facilitating growth in the United States and Europe after World War II. Some developing nations have even jumped out in front as mobile pioneers. In the Philippines, more than 4 million people use their cell phones as virtual wallets to buy things or transfer cash — services still rare in many wealthy countries, with few exceptions like Japan. As service charges and handset prices have plunged and coverage areas have expanded, cell phone subscriptions in the developing world have surged fivefold since 2000, to 1.4 billion at the end of 2005, according to the U.N. International Telecommunication Union. That's nearly double the 800 million in advanced economies. Research shows that greater cell phone use can drive economic growth in emerging economies. Based on market research in China, India and the Philippines, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that raising wireless penetration by 10 percentage points can lead to an increase in gross domestic product of about 0.5 percent, or around $12 billion for an economy the size of China. "There's enormous entrepreneurship and creativity worldwide, and through mobile phones you're providing people with the tools — rather than aid — to earn a living," says Leonard Waverman, a London Business School professor. In a separate study of 92 countries, Waverman had findings similar to McKinsey's report. "It's not a magic bullet, but it's a vital tool," says Waverman, whose research was partly funded by British mobile carrier Vodafone Group PLC. By bouncing signals off base stations, relay towers and satellites instead of over copper wires strung to villages and homes, cell phones can hurdle mountains. Mobile phones are not hampered by illiteracy — which is a barrier to computer use — giving millions new opportunities to exchange information, make money and conduct business. In India, fishermen call ahead to ports to see where they will get the best deal on their catch. Kenyan farmers check crop prices on a service offered by local provider Safaricom. In South Africa, cell phones serve as a virtual office for carpenters, painters and other laborers who post their numbers on handwritten signs advertising their skills. The Philippines has become a global leader in mobile commerce. Since 2000, Smart Communications Inc., the country's largest carrier, has allowed subscribers in its Smart Money program to hold limited amounts of cash in electronic wallets linked to their mobile accounts. Using their cell phones, members can withdraw cash from their bank accounts, pay for goods and services and transfer money and airtime credit. The phone records all transactions. Overseas Filipinos are even using this service to send money home. While the system is designed with work with financial institutions, subscribers don't need a bank account. "If your son or daughter is away at school and needs money, this is an easy way to send it to them," says Ramon Isberto, a Smart spokesman. This kind of application holds promise for the millions in developing countries who have no bank accounts and for whom transferring money can be difficult or risky. Wizzit, a South African-based company targeting customers without bank accounts, has been offering cell phone-based financial services since 2005. Vodafone, which is investing heavily in Africa, is partnering with Kenyan affiliate Safaricom and the Commercial Bank of Africa to soon launch M-Pesa, a mobile financial service that allows users to send and receive cash and perform other transactions. "Financial institutions are realizing that the only way to reach new customers is through mobile networks," says Nick Hughes, head of the mobile payment team at Vodafone. Expanding mobile networks also brings other economic benefits, experts say. It lures more foreign investment, gives families better access to health and educational information and provides governments with more revenue from licenses and taxes. Wireless technology has emerged at a fortuitous time for carriers expanding in developing countries because it is so much cheaper and easier to build than fixed-line networks. Rugged, sprawling Afghanistan, for example, now has 2 million cell phone subscribers and only 20,000 fixed-line phones. "They can leapfrog the technology," says David Knapp, general director of Motorola Vietnam. In Vietnam, where the economy is growing 8 percent a year, the communist government has spent heavily to expand coverage to all 64 provinces. "The more people who have cell phones, the more the economy will grow, and vice versa," says Bui Quoc Viet, a spokesman for the state-run Vietnam Post & Telecommunications Corp., the country's largest telecom company. The government has also promoted competition: Vietnam now has six mobile carriers, two with foreign partners. The development has driven down service charges, a key factor in the tripling of cell phone subscribers over the past two years to 18 million. Mobile phones provide a good way for the younger generation to seek new business opportunities and cash in on Vietnam's move toward a market economy, says Paul Ruppert, managing director of consultancy Global Point View LLC, who has extensive experience in Asia. "It's all micro-activity — tailors, small repair shops, textile producers, grocery stores," Ruppert says. "Even though they're small, they're allowed to get an idea of the market via the cell phone." Text messaging, or SMS, is another application that's particularly popular in Asian nations like Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. It's considered a cheap, unobtrusive way to stay in touch with friends, connect to the Internet and conduct business. "It's a good way to save costs, but more importantly I can use SMS services as evidence for my business transactions," says Truc, the embroidery business owner. Carriers have adapted to the needs of poorer customers by selling prepaid airtime cards, often for as little as 35 cents per card. This eliminates the need for a contract, credit history check or even an address. Once you register for a phone number and buy an airtime card, you're in business. Handset makers, meanwhile, are offering ultra-cheap phones. Motorola Inc., under the GSM Association's emerging market handset program, has produced cell phones with a wholesale price of less than $30. Retail prices vary depending on taxes and local market conditions. But even those phones are still too expensive for many who live on one or two dollars a day. That's given rise to communal phone use and a cottage industry made up of people who resell phone service for a living. Both are typified in Bangladesh's "Palli Phone," or village phone, program. A quarter million "phone ladies" buy mobile phones on credit from Grameen Bank, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with its founder Muhammad Yunus, providing wireless communication for the community and themselves with a livelihood. Hasina Banu, who lives in a remote village in northern Bangladesh, bought a phone from Grameen for about $110 and each week pays back about $2.50. She now earns about $25 a month from the phone and plans to use that money to open a small grocery store. But even in rural Bangladesh she says competition is heating up among other "Palli Phone" sellers. "Now I get less customers," Banu says. "But I am happy that now I have some money with (which) I can expand my business." MYSPACE DRUG BUST Police track suspected dealer on MySpace SUFFOLK, Va. - A man is facing felony drug distribution charges after an investigation that police said started after his brother used his MySpace Web page to boast of their homegrown marijuana crop and the frequency with which both men use marijuana, police said. Michael Wayne Pilkerton, 20, of Suffolk was charged after police used an informant to make three marijuana purchases from him in recent months, police said. They said the investigation was launched in March after they learned about the MySpace page. The page's creator, Jonathan Pilkerton, was not mentioned any further in a search warrant filed in Suffolk Circuit Court detailing the investigation last week. HILLARY’S JUSTIFICATION Clinton defends war vote, touts security DES MOINES, Iowa - Pressed to defend her Iraq war vote, Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday there are no "do-overs in life" and Democrats need a presidential nominee who inspires confidence on national security. In her first campaign swing through this early nominating state, the New York senator told party activists that Democrats in 2008 will face "someone on the other side who will be very tough and strong, even bellicose perhaps." That likely was a reference to Arizona Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), who has taken a hard line in supporting more U.S. troops to Iraq, as President Bush has announced. The former first lady also said has learned the lessons of the last two presidential campaigns, both lost by Democrats who responded slowly to criticism. "When you are attacked, you have to deck your opponent," Clinton said. "I have been through the political wars longer than some of you have been alive. We've got to be prepared to hold our ground and fight back." Clinton, who announced her candidacy last weekend, said Democrats cannot concede the security issue. "We have to nominate someone who can have the trust and confidence of the American people to make the tough decisions as commander in chief," the former first lady said. "That is the threshold issue." Her initial foray in Iowa was far different from the traditional caucus campaigning, with a few people in a living room. More than 1,500 people jammed a high school gymnasium for a town hall-style meeting. Some 150 reporters and photographers chronicled the event. Earlier, she met with state Democrats at the party's headquarters. Attention focused on Iraq and her vote to authorize the use of force ahead of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Presidential rivals such as former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards now say the vote in support was a mistake. "There are no do-overs in life," Clinton said. She says Congress received bad information going into the vote and that she would have voted differently given what she knows now. "As a senator from New York, I lived through 9/11 and I am still dealing with the aftereffects," Clinton said. "I may have a slightly different take on this from some of the other people who will be coming through here." Clinton said her view was that the nation was engaged in a deadly fight against terrorism, a battle that she contends President Bush has botched. "I do think we are engaged in a war against heartless, ruthless enemies," she said. "If they could come after us again tomorrow they would do so." Clinton has urged a cap to the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, but has refused to go along with suggestions that Congress use its power of the purse to bring the war to a halt. "This will be a problem that will be left to the next president," the senator said. "We've got to figure out now, given where we are, how we go forward." Seeking a "phased redeployment" of troops from Iraq, she said, "We've got to bring the Iraq war to the right end." The Democratic-controlled Congress, she said, must start to "build the political will" to stop the president. Clinton joked about the emotions she stirs in both those who like her and those who do not. "I know what I'm getting into. I do inspire strong feelings," she said. She later planned to visit eastern Iowa for house parties in Cedar Rapids and Davenport. IRAQ RESOLUTION Bush: 'I'm the decision-maker' on Iraq WASHINGTON - President Bush, on a collision course with Congress over Iraq, said Friday "I'm the decision-maker" about sending more troops to the war. He challenged skeptical lawmakers not to prematurely condemn his buildup. "I've picked the plan that I think is most likely to succeed," Bush said in an Oval Office meeting with senior military advisers. The president had strong words for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are lining up to support resolutions opposing his decision to send 21,500 troops to Iraq. He challenged them to put up their own ideas. "I know there is skepticism and pessimism and that some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work," the president said. "They have an obligation and a serious responsibility therefore to put up their own plan as to what would work." Despite doubts in Congress and among the public about his strategy, Bush said lawmakers agree that failure in Iraq would be a disaster and that he chose a strategy that he and his advisers thought would help turn the tide in Iraq. The president met with Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, newly confirmed by the Senate to command U.S. troops in Iraq. "My instruction to him was `Get over to the zone as quickly as possible, and implement a plan that will achieve our goals,'" Bush said. "You're going into an important battle in the war on terror," he told Petraeus. Bush talked about Patraeus later in the day at a retreat with House Republicans at Cambridge on Maryland's Eastern Shore. "As the president I must make sure he has everything he needs, that he thinks he needs, to succeed in the mission that we have sent him on," the president said. "I look forward to working with you to make sure that our generals and our troops that we put into harm's way have the support of the United States Congress." Earlier in the Oval Office, Bush was asked about stepped-up activities in Iraq against Iranian activities thought to be fueling the violence. Bush defended the policy, but said it is no indication that the United States intends to expand the confrontation beyond Iraq's borders. "That's a presumption that's simply not accurate," Bush said. But added: "Our policy is going to be to protect our troops. It makes sense." Bush also said he was confident that the dispute over Iran's nuclear program could be resolved diplomatically. On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said Friday that Iran expects to start installing thousands of centrifuges in an underground facility next month. He said the installation would pave the way to large-scale uranium enrichment, a potential means of making nuclear weapons. "I understand that they are going to announce that they are going to build up their 3,000-centrifuge facility ... sometime next month," ElBaradei said. Meanwhile, Bush also called Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to thank her for her support in the global war on terror. The president commended Arroyo for actions against the al-Qaida-linked group, Abu Sayyaf. Philippine officials say DNA test results have confirmed that the leader of the group was killed in a clash with Philippine troops in September, officials said Saturday. WORLD’S OLDEST WOMAN At 114, U.S. woman becomes world's oldest person BOSTON (Reuters) - A Connecticut woman born to former slaves in the decades following the U.S. Civil War has become the world's oldest person, at 114, according to Guinness World Records. Emma Faust Tillman, born near Greensboro, North Carolina, on November 22, 1892, became the world's oldest person on Wednesday, following the death of Emiliano Mercado del Toro, of Puerto Rico, Guinness said on its Web site. Longevity is common in Tillman's family. Though none of her 23 siblings have matched her 114 years, three sisters and a brother lived past 100, her great-nephew John Stewart Jr., said on Thursday. "At 114, she's lived a good, honorable, straight life," said Stewart, who is 76. "Her comment is always, 'If you want to know about longevity and why I lived so long, ask the man upstairs."' Tillman, who lives in the Hartford, Connecticut, nursing home she moved to at the age of 110, was not available for an interview. "Sometimes, she doesn't feel like talking," Stewart said. "But when you're 114, you can call your own shots." Tillman never smoked, drank or wore eyeglasses, Stewart said. Karen Chadderton, administrator of the Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center, where Tillman lives, said until a few months ago Tillman spent much of her time caring for an ailing roommate more than 20 years her junior, who has since died. "About a month ago, she started feeling less energetic," said Chadderton. "During the morning she has energy, she's up and about, in a wheelchair, but in the afternoon, once she goes to sleep, she doesn't want to be bothered." According to the International Committee on Supercentenarians, there are currently 86 people aged 110 or older alive in the world today. Eighty of them are women. The world's next-oldest resident is Japan's Yone Minagawa, born in 1893, according to the ICS. Guinness World Records said it is still investigating that claim. TOWEL IN PATIENT Suit settled over towel found in patient CANTON, Ohio - The Cleveland Clinic settled a lawsuit filed by the family of a woman who died seven years after a surgeon left a rolled-up towel inside her chest. The confidential agreement with Bonnie Valle's family came Thursday, almost two weeks into a jury trial in Cleveland. Also Thursday, Judge Nancy Margaret Russo dismissed claims against Valle's Canton-based doctor, Jeffrey Miller. Valle had surgery for emphysema at the Cleveland Clinic in 1995 and died at age 60 in 2002. She donated her body to the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown, where a dissection revealed a green surgical cloth the size of a large hand towel in her left lung. Her family sued in 2004, claiming that because Valle's doctors never found the towel, she suffered serious complications, incurred medical expenses and died. "She always said, `On the left side it feels like there's something there. It felt like something moved,'" Valle's daughter, Jeanne Clark, said in 2004. Clinic attorneys disagreed that the towel affected Valle's health. In a letter to the medical school, Miller wrote that he did not think the towel affected the length or quality of Valle's life. "She lived seven years ... which is certainly as well as one would have expected her to survive given her severe emphysema and poor pulmonary function and overall condition," Miller wrote. MICHAEL IN THE U.S. Michael Jackson returns to the U.S. TOKYO - Michael Jackson is back in the United States after living in Bahrain, France and Ireland. He emerged with his spokeswoman Friday to confirm to The Associated Press that he is back after more than a year in self-imposed exile following his acquittal in a high-profile child molestation trial that ended in June 2005. They also said he is on the comeback trail _ planning a pair of "fan appreciation events" in Japan in March, one of which will charge $3,300 for the opportunity to meet the Gloved One. "I can confirm that he is in the United States," spokeswoman Raymone K. Bain said. "We don't give out information regarding our client's whereabouts because of safety, and this is just an ongoing policy." During the brief conference call, Jackson read a statement prepared for The Associated Press about his plans to visit Japan and allowed only one question: How are you? "I'm fine, thank you," was his reply. Jackson, one of the best-selling artists of all time, said he has chosen to come back to Japan because of the strong support he enjoys there. "My friends and fans in Japan have been so supportive of me and my family for many, many years," he said. "My fans in Japan helped me achieve historic milestones in the music industry." Broderick Morris, the promoter working the Japan side of Jackson's trip, said they have sold 220 of 300 tickets to a "platinum VIP party" on March 8. Guests will have dinner, get autographed photos and be able to "meet and greet" Jackson for 30 seconds to one minute, he said. A less-exclusive party is scheduled for the following day. Jackson is not obligated to perform at either event, and promoters refused to comment on how much Jackson, 48, would be paid. Jackson made his first official foray back into the spotlight after his acquittal with an appearance _ again, in Tokyo _ to accept MTV Japan's "Legend Award." Last November, he allowed the syndicated TV show "Access Hollywood" to film him in the studio, working on music with producer will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas. OBAMA AND CELEBRITIES Obama excites entertainment community Star quality: It's what Hollywood was built on. And there's no question that to the many powerful Democrats in the entertainment community, Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record) has loads of it. George Clooney calls him a friend. Halle Berry has said she'd "collect paper cups off the ground to make his pathway clear." Oprah Winfrey says he's her man. And three of the most powerful men in Hollywood _ Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen _ have just invited Democrats to a truly high-profile fundraiser: a Feb. 20 reception for Obama at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, with a dinner later at Geffen's home for top donors. But despite all that, political analysts note that being the "next big thing" can be fleeting. And a number of traditional donors and activists in Hollywood and the music industry are a long way from choosing, at this early stage, whom to endorse among the three seen as top-tier Democratic candidates: Obama, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards. "People are very excited that this is a fine Democratic field," says Marge Tabankin, a longtime political activist in Hollywood. "Many people will support several candidates, to keep a healthy debate going. The top candidates are all coming out in the next month, and people will be carefully checking them out, listening to what they have to say." The movie, television and recording industries gave $33.1 million to federal candidates and parties in 2004, with much of that coming from Hollywood, according to the non-profit Center for Responsive Politics. Those industries were more generous in 2000, contributing $38.6 to federal candidates and parties, the center found. In both election cycles, Democrats got the majority of the money _ 69 percent in 2004 and 64 percent in 2000. In the 2004 cycle, Katzenberg donated about $248,000 to federal candidates and parties, Geffen gave about $73,500 and Spielberg gave some $29,200. Tabankin and other analysts point out that it's Clinton who's the clear front-runner at this point, with the long-term relationships, the financing, the network of support dating to the early '90s, when her husband began his first term as president. Others note the admiration for Edwards, and the sense that the former North Carolina senator and the 2004 vice presidential nominee has a strong and clear message this time around. "People feel he's very well-positioned," Tabankin says. "He's got support for his commitment to fighting poverty, for his energy and his intelligence." And in liberal Hollywood, many like his position on Iraq _ he's recanted his 2002 vote authorizing force there and demanded that Senate rivals block funds for President Bush's troop increase. Even the Obama fundraiser hosted by the three founders of the DreamWorks movie studio doesn't mean all three have decided to endorse Obama. Only Katzenberg is backing the Illinois senator, says Katzenberg's political adviser, Andy Spahn. Spielberg isn't picking favorites yet. He and other major Los Angeles donors, including producer Steve Bing, media mogul Haim Saban, supermarket magnate Ron Burkle and investment banker Sim Farar, will be co-hosting a fundraiser for Clinton in the spring, said her spokesman, Phil Singer. Clooney, one of the world's hottest movie stars, has made no secret of his enthusiasm for Obama's candidacy, even if he's made no public endorsement. "George is a huge supporter and fan of Barack, as well as a friend," said Clooney's publicist, Stan Rosenfield. He stressed that Clooney is unlikely to campaign for Obama, though, because the actor feels support from liberal Hollywood can be a detriment to the candidate. "You lose the heartland." Barbra Streisand and Norman Lear, major Democratic players in Hollywood, have not taken a position, and they traditionally give to multiple candidates "in order to keep debate alive," says Tabankin, who is affiliated with the Barbra Streisand Foundation. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons says he has yet to make a choice. But he has an idea for the perfect Democratic candidate. "If you could take Barack Obama's image, add Hillary Clinton's money and John Edwards' voice, that would be my candidate," says Simmons, an independent who has supported both Democrats and Republicans. Simmons says Obama has yet to present a clear picture of where he stands. "He's a rock star," Simmons said in a telephone interview. But he added, "I don't know what his opinions are." Simmons says that so far, the message he prefers is Edwards' _ but he's also fond of Dennis Kucinich, the liberal Ohio congressman launching his second long-shot candidacy. Others, Tabankin says, have similar reservations. "Obama has tremendous potential _ he cuts across race and class lines. But people don't know him yet," she says. There's also a current of nervousness: Is the country ready to elect a black president? The same current of nervousness exists about Clinton, of course: Is the country ready to elect a female? A key mistake, says analyst Todd Boyd, would be to reduce everything to the gender and race factor. "We're simplifying things if we do that," says Boyd, a professor at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. "What I'm finding interesting is that Obama is not the immediate favorite of a lot of African-Americans _ he came up through the system, not the grass roots like Jesse Jackson. At the end of the day, race and gender are a major factor but not the only factor. Hollywood will line up and see how these things play out." Yet Boyd and others cannot deny that Obama has one thing the others don't. "Obama has the potential to be a star like nobody else does," he said. "He has that 'It' factor, that star appeal. And it's Hollywood that created that system." SIDNEY POITIER’S BOOK Winfrey chooses Sidney Poitier memoir CHICAGO - Oprah Winfrey turned to an old acquaintance and personal idol for her first new book club choice since the James Frey scandal a year ago, announcing Friday that she had selected Sidney Poitier's "The Measure of a Man." Poitier's "spiritual autobiography," published in 2000, combines memories of such plays and films as "A Raisin in the Sun" and "The Defiant Ones" with observations about the Academy Award-winning actor's childhood, his religious faith, his thoughts on racism and the influence of such world leaders as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. "He writes really candidly and passionately about his childhood, his family, relationships and his extraordinary career," Winfrey said on her show. "It's a beautifully crafted book, written like poetry. Because, just as he speaks so eloquently, he also writes that way, too." Poitier did not appear on the telecast. But Winfrey said she will host "a once in a lifetime dinner party" with Poitier that will include members of her book club. She called him "one of my personal heroes since I was a little girl." "The Measure of a Man" spent several weeks on The New York Times' list of best sellers, and the audio edition, narrated by Poitier, won a Grammy Award for best spoken word album. Poitier wrote a previous memoir, "This Life," released in 1980. Right before Winfrey announced her selection, her 56th book club pick, "The Measure of a Man" ranked 288,958 on Amazon.com, a number that will likely change, and fast. Winfrey's picks almost inevitably top best seller lists. Mark Tauber, vice president and deputy publisher of HarperSanFrancisco, an imprint of HarperCollins, declined Friday to say how many books would be printed, but did say he expects to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Tauber also said that unlike many celebrity memoirists, Poitier did not use a ghostwriter, although the actor did have editorial "help." "I'm sure there'll be speculation about Winfrey picking yet another memoir," Tauber said. "But Poitier's life is filled with so much integrity." During an interview that appeared in her own "O" magazine in 2000, Winfrey and Poitier discussed his life and career, a meeting that the talk show host acknowledged left her feeling like a star-struck fan. "Poitier and I are sitting across from each other at the Bel-Air hotel in Los Angeles _ and I'm admiring that, at 73, this man still personifies grace, ease, strength and courage," Winfrey wrote at the time. "He is a gentleman in every sense of the word. In my more than 25 years as an interviewer, I've talked to hundreds of people _ yet today, I'm giddy." In 2005, Poitier made a surprise appearance on Winfrey's TV program, when she was marking her 20th anniversary on the air. Just before he came on stage, Winfrey had been telling her audience that after she had interviewed the actor, "I sobbed and cried because I felt I was not good enough for Sidney." Poitier, apparently, was also disappointed _ with himself _ and phoned Winfrey to say so. "It was life-changing," Winfrey was recalling, moments before Poitier arrived. "I was like, 'Oh my God.'" Poitier, who turns 80 on Feb. 20, became the first black performer to win the Oscar for best actor, cited in 1964 for "Lilies of the Field." His other films include "In the Heat of the Night," "To Sir, With Love" and "The Blackboard Jungle." In 2002, Poitier received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. He should be a welcome break from the travesty of Frey, whose "A Million Little Pieces" was picked by Winfrey in the fall of 2005, only to have The Smoking Gun Web site reveal in January 2006 that the memoir was largely fabricated. Winfrey initially defended Frey, then changed her mind, brought him back to the show and chewed him out. Winfrey's next pick, Elie Wiesel's "Night," was announced on Jan. 16, 2006, soon after the Frey scandal broke, but had already been decided upon weeks earlier. More than 1.5 million copies of Wiesel's Holocaust memoir were sold because of Winfrey's selection, according to publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Winfrey acknowledged on Friday's show that it had been a year since she had chosen a selection for her book club. She said she was busy during that time researching curriculum for her school for disadvantaged girls in South Africa, which opened earlier this month. "So I really did not have time to devote to reading other books," she said. "But now I do." Winfrey indicated the idea to feature "The Measure of a Man" came to her over the holidays while she was dining with a group of people in Africa that included Poitier. "We were all sitting around the table, and I was asking Sidney Poitier to tell some of the life stories from his book. And let me tell you, everybody at the table was weeping," Winfrey said. "I was sitting there, I was thinking, 'I wish everybody could hear this.' And then I realized, everybody can! Everybody can. I love this book." MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE? Tax break talks slow minimum wage hike WASHINGTON - The minimum wage increase that was supposed to zip through Congress veered onto a collision course Wednesday as lawmakers argued over business tax breaks that would be attached to ensure Republican support. Democratic leaders in the House began laying groundwork to blame the Republicans for any impasse. Senate Democrats, however, cautioned their House colleagues not to jeopardize legislation they'd promised to approve if they gained control of Congress. House Democrats demanded a clean bill from the Senate — no tax attachment — setting up a confrontation that could delay final congressional passage of the $2.10 an hour increase. The Senate did vote 54-43 to advance a House-passed measure that would lift the pay floor without any accompanying tax cut. However, that was well short of the 60 votes needed to keep that version moving. The vote was a signal to the House that without the tax breaks a minimum wage bill appeared doomed in the Senate. And the Senate promptly moved to a broader bill, backed by its Democratic leaders, that would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour over 26 months and provide $8.3 billion in tax benefits to businesses over 10 years. In the House, Democrats threatened to stifle that effort by enforcing constitutional precedents that require all tax bills to originate in the House. They blamed Republicans for the brewing impasse. "Democrats are committed to helping small businesses, but we should not delay a minimum wage increase another day in order to negotiate a tax package," said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record). Senate Democrats seemed more willing to accept the tax portion if it meant fulfilling their campaign promise. "Both bodies want to keep their eye on the ball," said Sen. Max Baucus (news, bio, voting record), D- Mont., a co-sponsor of the Senate tax break provisions. House Democrats could try to alter or even remove the tax package from the Senate version when the two houses try to reconcile their differing versions in a conference committee. In the meantime, the confrontation exposed difficulties the Democratic majority may well encounter when sending other House legislation to the Senate, where the minority Republicans enjoy more power to shape legislation than in the House. Still, in a separate vote Wednesday, the Senate effectively killed a modified line-item veto bill. The Republican-inspired measure would have permitted a president to pluck individual items out of spending bills and submit them to Congress for a vote. Senators also defeated a Republican amendment that would have given only the states the right to increase the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage has been unchanged for 10 years. In the meantime, a number of states have moved on their own to increase their minimums. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal leaning think tank, inflation has eroded the value of the minimum wage to its lowest level in more than 50 years. "Minimum wage workers are men and women of dignity," Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass., a longtime advocate of raising the wage floor, said. "They do some of the most difficult, backbreaking jobs in our society. They deserve a fair wage that respects the dignity of their work and they shouldn't have to live in poverty." Since the House passed its version two weeks ago, Speaker Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Charles Rangel (news, bio, voting record), the chairman of the taxwriting Ways and Means Committee, have prodded the Senate to keep tax proposals out of the bill. In scheduling the vote Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), D-Nev., sought to demonstrate the lack of Republican support for a straight minimum wage bill without tax cuts. Every Democrat present voted to cut off debate and five moderate Republicans joined them. "There seems to be agreement to raise the minimum wage," said Republican Sen. Michael Enzi (news, bio, voting record) of Wyoming. "The difficulty has been how do we take care of some of the impact to small businesses that will result from this." Reid is backing an $8.3 billion tax package that would extend for five years a tax credit for employers who hire low-income or disadvantaged workers. It also extends until 2010 tax rules that permit businesses to combine as much as $112,000 in expenses into one annual tax deduction. The cost of the proposal would be paid with revenue realized from a proposed cap of $1 million on executive compensation that can be tax deferred. The tax package also would end deductions for court settlements or punitive damages paid by companies that have been sued. Those proposed revenue increases have drawn opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has urged senators to vote against them. "These are permanent tax law changes that hat have significant impact on the broad business community," Bruce Josten, the chamber's top lobbyist, said in an interview. APRIL 17th IS TAX DAY IRS pushes back tax filing deadline WASHINGTON - Taxpayers around the country will get an extra two days, until April 17, to file 2006 returns and pay taxes owed, the Internal Revenue Service said Wednesday. The two-day reprieve comes about because April 15, the usual tax day, falls on a Sunday this year and April 16 is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in the District of Columbia. The IRS said holidays observed in the nation's capital have an impact nationwide. The tax agency had previously announced that residents of the District of Columbia and six eastern states would have an April 17 deadline because they are served by an IRS processing facility in Massachusetts, where Patriots Day will be observed on April 16. The IRS said the April 17 deadline will apply to actions including: _2006 federal individual income tax returns, whether filed electronically or on paper. _Requests for an automatic six-month tax-filing extension. _2006 balance due payments. _Tax-year 2006 contributions to a Roth or traditional IRA. Emancipation Day marks the April 16, 1862, signing by Abraham Lincoln of the Compensated Emancipation Act, which freed slaves in the District of Columbia. It is not a federal holiday, and IRS offices will be open. In 2008 taxpayers will again face the usual April 15 deadline. The next year that Emancipation Day could affect filing deadlines is 2011. IRAQ TRAGEDY 4 Americans in Iraq crash shot in head BAGHDAD, Iraq - Four of the five Americans killed when a U.S. security company's helicopter crashed in a dangerous Sunni neighborhood in central Baghdad were shot execution style in the back the head, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Wednesday. A senior Iraqi military official said a machine gunner downed the helicopter, but a U.S. military official in Washington said there were no indications that the aircraft, owned by Blackwater USA, had been shot out of the sky. Two Sunni insurgent groups, separately, claimed responsibility for the crash. In Washington, a U.S. defense official said four of the five killed were shot in the back of the head but did not know whether they were still alive when they were shot. The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. The helicopter was shot down after responding to assist a U.S. Embassy ground convoy that came under fire in a Sunni neighborhood in central Baghdad, said a U.S. diplomatic official in Washington. A second helicopter also was struck, but there were no casualties among its crew, said the diplomatic official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to make statements. The doomed helicopter swooped into electrical wires before the crash. U.S. officials said it was not clear if gunfire brought the aircraft down or caused its pilot to veer into the wires during evasive maneuvers. The Iraqi official, who also declined to be identified because details had not been made public, said the four were shot in the back of the head while they were on the ground. The crash occurred in an old neighborhood of narrow streets on the east bank of the Tigris River, north of the central city. In separate fighting Wednesday, U.S. and Iraqi troops battled gunmen firing heavy weapons from concrete high-rises in another Sunni insurgent stronghold, on the west bank of the Tigris north of the heavily fortified Green Zone. Iraq's defense minister said as many as 30 militants were killed and 27 captured. Apache attack helicopters buzzed past the tall buildings and radio towers along Haifa Street, while several Humvees drove on the tree-lined street below. Gunfire rang in the background as shells fell, according to AP Television News footage. The U.S. military said the targeted raids were intended to clear the area of militants, dubbing the operation dubbed Tomahawk Strike 11. The clashes were the second major fighting to break out in the area in less than a month. The military reported separately that an American soldier was killed Wednesday in fighting near the city's center, but officials declined to say whether it was connected to the Haifa Street fighting. The military also said that two Marines were killed Tuesday in western Anbar province. In the aftermath of Tuesday's Blackwater helicopter crash, U.S. forces were planning to blow up the wreckage to prevent people from scavenging equipment, the Iraqi official said. Blackwater USA confirmed that five Americans employed by the North Carolina-based company as security professionals were killed, but provided no identities or other details. On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad offered condolences for the five Americans killed. "We lost five fine men," Khalilzad told reporters during a round-table discussion at the embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. He said he had traveled with the men who were killed and had gone to the morgue to view the bodies, but offered no further details beyond saying that it was difficult to determine what happened because of "the fog of war." Another American official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said three Blackwater helicopters were involved. One had landed for an unknown reason and one of the Blackwater employees was shot at that point, he said. That helicopter apparently was able to take off but a second one then crashed in the same area, he added without explaining the involvement of the third helicopter. The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television said the 1920 Revolution Brigades insurgent group claimed responsibility for shooting down the helicopter and showed a video taken by a cell phone of a mass of still- smoldering twisted metal that it was said was the wreckage of the chopper. Another Sunni insurgent group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, also claimed responsibility and posted identity cards of men who were on the helicopter on a Web site, including at least two that bore the name of Arthur Laguna, who was later identified by his mother as among those killed. Laguna was a 52-year-old pilot for Blackwater who previously served in the Army and the California National Guard, his mother, Lydia Laguna, of Rio Linda, Calif., told the AP. She said she received a call from her other son, also a Blackwater pilot in Baghdad, notifying her of Arthur's death. Witnesses in the Fadhil neighborhood told the AP that they saw the helicopter go down after gunmen on the ground opened fire. Accounts varied, but all were consistent that at least one person operating the aircraft had been shot and badly hurt before the crash. Blackwater USA provides security for State Department officials in Iraq, trains military units from around the world, and works for corporate clients. "These untimely deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary circumstances under which our professionals voluntarily serve to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people," the Blackwater statement said. Katy Helvenston, mother of Scott Helvenston, a Blackwater employee who died in March 2004 when a frenzied mob of insurgents ambushed a supply convoy they were escorting through Fallujah, said Tuesday's crash "just breaks my heart." "I'm so sick of these kids dying," she said. Before Tuesday's crash, at least 22 employees of Blackwater Security Consulting or Blackwater USA had died in Iraq as a result of war related violence, according to the Web site iCasualties.org, which tracks foreign troop fatalities in Iraq. The crash of the small surveillance helicopter, believed to be a version of the Hughes Defender that was developed during the Vietnam War, was the second associated with the U.S. war effort in Iraq in four days. A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter went down Saturday northeast of Baghdad, killing all 12 service members on board. The American military in Baghdad has refused to confirm a report by a Pentagon official that debris at the crash site indicated the helicopter was shot out of the air by a surface-to-air missile. HEALTHCARE Obama calls for universal health care WASHINGTON - Every American should have health care coverage within six years, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record) said Thursday as he set an ambitious goal soon after jumping into the 2008 presidential race. "I am absolutely determined that by the end of the first term of the next president, we should have universal health care in this country," Obama told a conference of Families USA, a health care advocacy group. The Illinois senator did not provide specifics on his plan for coverage. Obama was previewing what is shaping up to be a theme of the 2008 Democratic primary. His chief rivals, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards, also are strong proponents of universal health care and have promised to offer their plans. Obama said while plans are offered in every campaign season with "much fanfare and promise," they collapse under the weight of Washington politics, leaving citizens to struggle with the skyrocketing costs. He said it's wrong that 46 million in this country are uninsured when the country spends more than any one else on health care. He said Americans pay $15 billion in taxes to help care for the uninsured. "We can't afford another disappointing charade in 2008, 2009 and 2010," Obama said. "It's not only tiresome, it's wrong." Obama's call was an echo of a speech he made last April when he said Democrats "need to cling to the core values that make us Democrats, the belief in universal health care, the belief in universal education, and then we should be agnostic in terms of how to achieve those values." His argument Thursday not only will be considered through the prism of the presidential campaign, but weighed against rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's ill-fated plan to overhaul the health care insurance system when she was first lady. Even after leading that calamitous attempt in 1993, Clinton remains in favor of universal health care and has made it a central theme of her presidential bid. "One of the goals that I will be presenting ... is health insurance for every child and universal health care for every American," she said at a community health clinic in New York Sunday, the day after entering the 2008 Democratic field. "That's a very major part of my campaign and I want to hear people's ideas about how we can achieve that goal." On Thursday, she criticized Bush's proposal to make health care more affordable through tax breaks, arguing that it would lead to less funding for hospitals. Addressing the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Clinton was self-deprecating in describing her own experience in the health care debate and joked that Bush would need some heavy-duty protection as he wades into the fight. "I welcome his participation in the health care debate. I'm going to send him a suit of armor because I know anybody who puts a foot in the health care debate is gonna need that. I've got the scars and experience to show for it," said the New York senator. Another candidate, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, also backs universal health care. RACIAL CASE REOPENED Man pleads not guilty in 1964 race case JACKSON, Miss. - A reputed Ku Klux Klansman and former sheriff's deputy pleaded not guilty Thursday to kidnapping charges in the deaths of two black hitchhikers, four decades after their decomposed remains were found in the Mississippi River. James Ford Seale, 71, was one of two white suspects initially arrested in 1964, but the FBI _ consumed by a search for three civil rights workers _ turned the case over to local authorities. A justice of the peace promptly threw out all charges. Seale was arrested again Wednesday, seven years after the Justice Department reopened the investigation into the deaths of teenagers Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. He was charged with two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. At his arraignment, Seale was shackled at the ankles and wrists and wore an orange jail jumpsuit, white socks and mismatched flip-flop sandals _ one orange, the other yellow _ as he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Linda R. Anderson. Anderson asked Seale if he understood the charges, which carry sentences of up to life in prison. "Yes, ma'am, I think so," Seale said in a calm voice. Seale _ previously believed to be dead _ will spend several days in the Madison County jail outside Jackson. A bond hearing is set for Monday. His court-appointed public defenders say he has cancer. The indictment alleges that Klansmen took Moore and Dee, both 19, to the Homochitto National Forest in southwestern Mississippi. Seale held a sawed-off shotgun on the men while other Klan members beat them with switches and tree branches, it said. The teenagers were still alive when they were weighted down and dumped into the Mississippi River, the indictment said. The second suspect, church deacon and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards, now 72, was not charged. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales declined to explain why or to say whether Edwards had agreed to testify against Seale. Sources close to the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity have said Edwards was cooperating with authorities. "Forty years ago, the system failed," said FBI Director Robert Mueller, who joined Gonzales and siblings of the victims at a news conference in Washington. "We in the FBI have a responsibility to investigate these cold case, civil rights-era murders where evidence still exists to bring both closure and justice to these cases that for many, remain unhealed wounds to this day." The break in the 43-year-old case was largely the result of the dogged efforts of Moore's older brother, who appeared at the Washington news conference. Red-eyed but strong-voiced, Thomas Moore said the case proved that cases of the civil rights era can still be solved. "There can be justice _ even 42 years later," said Thomas Moore, 63, of Colorado Springs, Colo. Thelma Collins, Dee's sister, told the gathering that she won't be satisfied until the case is concluded. She said cried when she heard about Seale's arrest. "I thank the Lord that I got to see it," Collins said. "At my age _ I'm 70 years old _ I did get to see something good come of it." But, Collins added, "It's not enough." The arrest marked the latest attempt by prosecutors in the South to close the books on crimes from the civil rights era that went unpunished. In recent years, authorities in Mississippi and Alabama won convictions in the 1963 assassination of NAACP activist Medgar Evers; the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that killed four black girls; and the 1964 Philadelphia, Miss., slayings of the three civil rights workers _ the case that led to the discovery of Moore's and Dee's bodies. Seale and Edwards are suspected of kidnapping the pair May 2, 1964, in a Klan crackdown prompted by rumors that black Muslims were planning an armed "insurrection" in rural Franklin County. For years, Seale's family told reporters that he had died. But in 2005, Thomas Moore and a Canadian documentary filmmaker, David Ridgen, found Seale living a few miles from where the kidnapping took place. According to FBI interrogators, Edwards admitted he and Seale took the two into the woods for a whipping. Edwards said both men were alive when he left them. An informant told the FBI that Seale's brother and another Klansman took the unconscious men to the river, lashed their bodies to an engine block and some old railroad tracks, and dumped them from a boat. The other Klansmen and the informant have since died. The remains of Dee and Moore were discovered two months later near Tallulah, La., during a search of the eastern Louisiana swamps for three civil rights workers who had disappeared from Philadelphia, Miss. The bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were found in Mississippi a short time later. WAL-MART SUIT Wal-Mart settles in overtime case Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will pay more than $33 million in back wages to thousands of employees after turning itself in to the Labor Department for paying too little in overtime over the past five years, according to an agreement announced Thursday by the U.S. Labor Department. Wal-Mart said the department's review of its overtime calculations also found it had overpaid about 215,000 hourly workers during the same five-year period. The company said it will not seek to recover any overpayments, which were at least $20 per worker. Steven Mandel, associate solicitor in the Labor Department's Fair Labor Standards Division, said the case _ involving nearly 87,000 employees _ resulted from Wal-Mart coming to the department in early 2005 and asking for a review of its overtime calculations. "They had some concern that some of the practices were not in compliance" with federal wage laws, he told a conference call for reporters "It's not particularly unusual for an employer to come to us and talk to us about potential payroll violations," Mandel said. But Mandel said the overtime settlement was one of the largest ever reached by the department's wage and hour division. Wal-Mart said the settlement includes no fines or penalties and that it has adopted measures to prevent the errors from occurring again. "The fact of the matter is we discovered this matter, we reported it to the Department of Labor and we resolved the issue," Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley said. "We are committed to our associates (employees) and we've apologized to them for this error," Simley said. Simley said Wal-Mart discovered possible mistakes in its formulas for overtime during a regular internal review. He said there was no connection between the company reporting itself to the Labor Department and multiple lawsuits against the retailer in recent years by employees alleging payroll violations. Last October, Wal-Mart workers in Pennsylvania won a $78.5 million judgment for working off the clock and through rest breaks. Wal-Mart denied wrongdoing and is appealing the jury award. One of Wal-Mart's most vociferous critics, union-backed WakeUpWalMart.com, said the overtime settlement was a sweetheart deal that favored the retailer rather than its workers. WakeUpWalMart.com spokesman Chris Kofinis said workers were not represented in the settlement talks and added that the idea that Wal-Mart "would negotiate in the best interests of its workers is ludicrous on its face." Critics had previously denounced a separate Labor Department settlement with Wal-Mart over child labor violations, which was made public last February. That $135,540 settlement was later found by the Labor Department's inspector general to contain significant concessions for the retailer. The inspector general's report said the settlement was "significantly different" from other such agreements and included far-reaching restrictions on the government's ability to assess monetary penalties. Regarding the overtime issue, Mandel said the department carried out a national review of all Wal-Mart stores over a two-year period from February 2005 to this year. The settlement was approved Thursday by a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for western Arkansas, Mandel said. The highest award to an individual employee was about $39,000, he said. NEW OLD BIRTH CONTROL New birth control pills could win approval WASHINGTON - New birth-control pills that are less effective in preventing pregnancy than the original contraceptives of the 1960s still could win federal approval if they promise other benefits, under a recommendation by health advisers. Food and Drug Administration advisers refused this week to recommend a set standard on how often next- generation pills would have to fail for them to be denied federal approval. "We don't want an arbitrary number to be ascribed," said Dr. Charles Lockwood of Yale University, acting chairman of FDA's reproductive health drugs advisory committee. Instead, the panel of outside experts recommended the agency keep an open mind to approving less- effective pills that could offer other important benefits, such as reduced risk of blood clots and stroke. Doing otherwise could limit the options available to women, the panel said. Most of the roughly 12 million U.S. women who take the pill do so to prevent pregnancy. But others rely on hormonal contraceptives to curb acne or regulate their monthly periods. The latest, low-dose versions of the pill allow women to go 84 days between periods. Throughout the 1960s, the earliest birth control pills to win FDA approval failed just once per 100 woman- years of use. That is, for every 100 women taking the pills for a year, there was fewer than one pregnancy on average among them. Today, newer pills contain less estrogen and progestin. Those pills can reduce the risk of sometimes deadly side effects. But as the hormone content of the pills has dipped, failure rates have climbed. Over the last decade, the FDA has approved some pills with failure rates that were twice the rate considered acceptable in the 1960s. Still, the pills remain highly effective, the FDA says. The FDA acknowledged its own staff is split over whether to establish an acceptable failure rate for pills and, if so, what that rate should be. The FDA isn't required to follow the recommendation that it not set such a limit, but it usually does follow the judgment of its advisory committees. Several panelists, during two days of meetings this week, suggested that any birth-control pill that isn't highly effective or offers some other benefit simply wouldn't sell, making the issue moot. "If a new product isn't as good as what's out there, clinicians aren't going to prescribe it _ unless there's something there," said Lorraine Tulman, of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Nursing and the panel's consumer representative. Panelist Dr. Paul Blumenthal, of Stanford University, even suggested the FDA establish different classes of pills, depending on their effectiveness in preventing pregnancy. The FDA is considering future guidelines that drug makers could follow in seeking approval for new hormonal contraceptives. The FDA is looking at how well studies done prior to the approval of those products reflected their "real- world" use. Typically, that use is less consistent and reliable than it is in clinical studies. In public testimony, experts said pill studies should include more older and overweight women to reflect the makeup of the U.S. population. FORECLOSURE? 9 options Real estate markets are slowing. Interest rates are ticking up. And the phones are ringing at ByDesign, a Los Angeles-based credit counselor, as homeowners start to panic about not being able to make their mortgage payments. "The number of people asking for appointments to talk about foreclosure is definitely up," said Susan Ulaga, the nonprofit service's senior vice president of counseling. Rising rates "are really putting a crunch" on homeowners with adjustable-rate loans. Nearly a quarter of the nation's mortgages have rates scheduled to reset this year or next, which means higher payments for millions of homeowners. How many will default isn't known, but the Mortgage Bankers Association, which tracks delinquencies and foreclosures, expects a "modest" uptick in both by the end of the year. If you're in danger of falling behind on your mortgage, or if you're already delinquent, it's important to know what's ahead and what your options are. Usually, the faster you move, the more choices you'll have about your financial future. The timeline 30 days: Your troubles actually start as soon as you miss a single payment. Lenders may not contact you until you've skipped a second payment, but most will report the first late payment and every subsequent delinquency to the credit bureaus. Even a single late payment can devastate your credit score, the three- digit number that lenders use to help gauge your creditworthiness. Each subsequent "late" further decreases your score, making it more difficult and expensive to get a loan or a refinance that might help your situation. In addition, lenders typically tack on late fees of 5% or so for each missed payment. 90 days to one year: Eventually, if the payments aren't made, the lender will file a "notice of default" with a local courthouse and send you a letter saying that the foreclosure process will start unless you make good the missing payments. How quickly the notice is filed depends on the individual lender. Some hold off if you contact them to work out a payment plan or otherwise explain your situation. Others are more aggressive and start the process as soon as possible to try to protect their investment. "They may do it as early as 90 days, or as late as a year," explained Anthony Hsieh, president of LendingTree.com. "It really depends on the lender's temperament." Usually, this notice means that the amount you owe has shot up as well, since the lender typically adds substantial fees to cover its legal costs. The notice of default "is a big threshold," Hsieh said. "Once you get into that state, it's a whole different world. Your options are fewer." The notice of default is generally picked up by the credit bureaus, further depressing your credit score and making refinancing the loan extremely difficult. (In addition, the notice tips off scam artists that you're in trouble and may be vulnerable to various "equity skimming" schemes. One common ploy: The scam artist promises to take over your payments, but instead rents out your house and keeps the rent payments as pure profit. The home goes into foreclosure, your credit is trashed and you've lost any equity you had in the home.) 90 days more: Borrowers typically have 90 days from the notice of default to make up the deficit before the lender sends out a "notice of sale," which sets a sale date for the house (typically within the next 15 to 30 days). Some lenders will allow you to keep your original loan if you can make up the missing payments plus any late fees and legal charges. Others will insist you refinance with another lender. You can also halt the foreclosure, at least temporarily, by filing a lawsuit or filing for bankruptcy. For either legal option to work, you'll have to be able to come up with a payment plan to fix the deficit. Your options Lenders today typically offer a variety of solutions for people who have fallen behind on their mortgages. Among them: Temporarily reducing or waiving payments. Setting up short-term repayment plans to help you make up the deficit. Adding the unpaid balance to the principal of your loan and increasing your payments slightly to cover the extra amount. If you have certain types of loans, you may have even more options. If you have a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration, for example, you may qualify for an interest-free (and payment-free) loan to get your mortgage current. The money doesn't need to be paid back until you pay off the mortgage or sell the house. If you can work out a solution with the lender quickly enough, you can contain or even avoid serious damage to your credit. That's among the reasons housing experts typically urge you to call your lender as soon as you know you'll have trouble making a payment. This is good advice, but trickier than it may seem at first, for two reasons: Lenders can make it tough to get to the right people. The folks you want to talk to are in the "loss mitigation" department. But many lenders don't routinely route borrowers to that department until they've missed several payments. Until then, you might be dealing with the lender's collections department, which typically offers one option: Pay up now. If you're serious about keeping your home, you may have to really push to get to right people. "The loss mitigation department (is) where the options are really going to open up," ByDesign's Ulaga said. You have to be able to make the payments. If you agree to a lender's "workout" or "loan modification" solution and then fail to make the agreed-upon payments, you'll be in a world of hurt. At best, you'll have "a lot fewer options the second time around," Ulaga said. More likely, Hsieh said, the lender will simply accelerate the foreclosure process. This can be a big problem if the financial crisis that caused you to fall behind isn't over. If you don't know where you're going to get the money to make the payments, trying to work out a solution with your lender will be tough. "If you're honest like that, (lenders) are not going to want to work with you," said New Jersey bankruptcy attorney John Amorison. "If you're dishonest, you breach the agreement." That's no reason to hide from your lender or ignore its letters, Hsieh said. Even if you can't work out an agreement, keeping in contact is usually the right choice: "At least you know where you stand." Filing a lawsuit or bankruptcy carries similar risk: If you don't have the money to make the payments, the foreclosure can proceed, and you may have further damaged your credit score. 9 steps to getting out of this mess So what to do? First, you'll need to take a hard, clear-eyed look at your financial situation. To that end: Make a budget. Sketch out a spending plan for the next several months, including expected income and expenses. See what costs you can trim to free up as much money as possible for home payments. You may need to pay the minimums, or even less, on other debts. In certain very limited circumstances -- such as when you are absolutely sure your financial hardship will be short-lived -- it may make sense to skip payments on some bills so you can pay your mortgage. Read "How to not pay your bills" to learn about the consequences that may follow. Another option: borrowing money from friends or family, or tapping retirement funds. Do the latter only if you're convinced you can make future payments; you don't want to drain your retirement funds if you're only going to end up losing the house. Consider getting help. Legitimate credit counseling services, those associated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies, typically have housing counselors that can help you evaluate your options. Or you can find a housing counseling agency approved by the Housing and Urban Development Department by calling (800) 569-4287. If you have a Veterans Administration loan, you can call (800) 827-1000 to get a referral to a financial counselor. Check your refinance options. If you have equity in your home, your credit rating is relatively intact and your lender hasn't yet filed a notice of default, you may be able to get another loan with more affordable payments. An experienced mortgage broker, preferably one affiliated with the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, can let you know your options. Be cautious about jumping into another risky loan, though: adjustable, interest-only or "option" mortgages might just put off the day of reckoning and you could find yourself facing even higher payments down the road. Be realistic. Many times, Amorison said, people struggle to hang on to a house that they simply can't afford when they'd be far better off without it. "People are just too tied to their homes," Amorison said. "It's just property." That may seem harsh, but it's far better to sell a home while you still have equity and some semblance of a credit score than to have it taken away in foreclosure. Get organized. If you are going to try for a loan modification, you'll need to prepare a small mound of documentation. The lender will specify what it wants, but typically you'll need to supply the details of your financial situation, a budget, documentation of your hardship (a letter from your doctor explaining an income-reducing illness, for example, or your layoff notice from your employer) and a "hardship letter" that outlines, in heart-rending detail, the circumstances that led you to fall behind and the improved prospects that will allow you to get your financial life back on track. You may also want (or be required) to provide a market analysis of your house, Ulaga said, to document how much equity you have in your home. A real estate agent can typically prepare this for free in exchange for the chance of winning your business should you decide to sell. Leaving home If a loan modification or refinance isn't possible or feasible, your options come down to these: Sell the house. If you have enough equity in your home to allow you to pay off your mortgage in full, after deducting any real estate agent commissions, then a quick sale is usually your best option. You'll preserve what's left of your credit score and your equity, leaving you in a much better position should you want to buy another home in the future. Offer a deed in lieu of foreclosure. If you can't sell the house for what you owe, but you're not deeply "upside down" on your mortgage, this may be an option: you propose handing over the deed to your home and your lender agrees to release you from your mortgage. This usually keeps you from having to pay any deficit that might be owed on the property, while the lender avoids further legal costs related to a foreclosure. Lenders can't be forced to accept a deed, however. Typically, lenders require that the borrower make "a really good effort" to sell the home first, Ulaga said, and show that their delinquency was due to "unavoidable hardship" before they'll agree to a deed in lieu of foreclosure. Negotiate a short sale. If you owe substantially more on your home than it's worth, you may be able to get the lender to accept less than it is owed by negotiating a "short sale." You essentially sell the house for whatever you can get, and the lender agrees to accept the proceeds and not go after you for the deficit. A short sale can further damage your credit scores, often showing up as a "settlement" that indicates you paid less than you owed. You may also face an IRS bill on the unpaid debt, which is generally considered income to you. A skilled negotiator may be able to avoid these consequences or at least minimize them, so you may want to consider getting an experienced attorney's help. Allow the foreclosure to proceed. This is generally the worst choice. In some states and in some circumstances, the lender can even go after you in court for any deficit between what the house eventually sells for and what you owe. An attorney or housing counselor can let you know if that's a possibility. Even if the worst happens, though, the damage to your financial life needn't be permanent. If your situation improves, you may be able to get another mortgage, at a reasonable interest rate, within a few years. For more details, check out "Bounce back fast after bankruptcy" for suggestions on how to rebuild your credit after financial disaster. MONEY Coin shortage could turn pennies to nickels NEW YORK (Reuters) - Talk about pennies from heaven. A potential shortage of coins in the United States could mean all those pennies in your piggy bank could be worth five times their current value soon, says an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Sharply rising prices of metals such as copper and nickel have meant the face value of pennies and nickels are worth less than the material that they are made of, increasing the risk that speculators could melt the coins and sell them for a profit. Such a risk spurred the U.S. Mint last month to issue regulations limiting melting and exporting of the coins. But Francois Velde, senior economist at the Chicago Fed, argued in a recent research note that prohibitions by the Mint would unlikely deter serious speculators who already have piled up the coinage. The best solution, Velde said, would be to "rebase" the penny by making it worth five cents rather than one cent. Doing so would increase the amount of five-cent coins in circulation and do away with the almost worthless one cent coin. "History shows that when coins are worth melting, they disappear," Velde wrote. "Rebasing the penny would ... debase the five-cent piece and put it safely away from its melting point," he added. Raw material prices in general have skyrocketed in the last five years, sending copper prices to record highs of $4.16 a pound in May. Copper pennies number 154 to a pound. Prices have since come down from that peak but could still trek higher, Velde said. Since 1982, the Mint began making copper-coated zinc pennies to prevent metals speculators from taking advantage of lofty base metal prices. Though the penny is losing its importance -- it is worth only four seconds of the average American's work time, assuming a 40-hour workweek -- the Mint is making more and more pennies. Velde said that since 1982 the Mint has produced 910 pennies for every American. Last year there were 8.23 billion pennies in circulation, according to the Mint. "These factors suggest that, sooner or later, the penny will join the farthing (one-quarter of a penny) and the hapenny (one-half of a penny) in coin museums," he said. U.S. SENATE SAYS ‘NO’ Senate panel votes against Bush on Iraq WASHINGTON - The Democratic-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee dismissed President Bush's plans to increase troops strength in Iraq on Wednesday as "not in the national interest," an unusual wartime repudiation of the commander in chief. The vote on the nonbinding measure was 12-9 and largely along party lines. "We better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder," said Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record) of Nebraska, the sole Republican to join 11 Democrats in support of the measure. Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record), D-Del., the panel's chairman, said the legislation is "not an attempt to embarrass the president. ... It's an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq." The full Senate is scheduled to begin debate on the measure next week, and Biden has said he is willing to negotiate changes in hopes of attracting support from more Republicans. House Democrats intend to hold a vote shortly after the Senate acts. Even Republicans opposed to the legislation expressed unease with the revised policy involving a war that has lasted nearly four years, claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops and helped Democrats win control of Congress in last fall's elections. "I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed," said Sen. Richard Lugar (news, bio, voting record) of Indiana, senior Republican on the committee. But he said in advance he would vote against the measure. "It is unclear to me how passing a nonbinding resolution that the president has already said he will ignore will contribute to any improvement or modification of our Iraq policy." "The president is deeply invested in this plan, and the deployments ... have already begun," Lugar added. He suggested a more forceful role for Congress, and said lawmakers must ensure the administration is "planning for contingencies, including the failure of the Iraqi government to reach compromises and the persistence of violence despite U.S. and Iraqi government efforts." Divisions over the war were on clear display as the committee met. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said he wanted to change the measure to say flatly that the number of troops in Iraq "may not exceed the levels" in place before Bush announced his new policy. The suggestion failed, 15- 6. Sen. Norm Coleman (news, bio, voting record), R-Minn., sought to amend the legislation to show support for an increase troops in the Anbar province in western Iraq, but not in Baghdad, where the sectarian violence is particularly fierce. His proposal also fell, 17-4. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., chastised fellow lawmakers, accusing them of being reticent to respond to Bush's plans. He said he would seek passage of legislation at a later date cutting off funds for the war. Hagel's remarks were among the most impassioned of the day, and he was unstinting in his criticism of the White House. "There is no strategy," he said of the Bush administration's war management. "This is a pingpong game with American lives. These young men and women that we put in Anbar province, in Iraq, in Baghdad are not beans; they're real lives. And we better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder." A Vietnam veteran, he fairly lectured fellow senators not to duck a painful debate about a war that has grown increasingly unpopular as it has gone on. "No president of the United States can sustain a foreign policy or a war policy without the sustained support of the American people," Hagel said. At least eight other Republican senators say they now back legislative proposals registering objections to Bush's decision to boost U.S. military strength in Iraq by 21,500 troops. The growing list — which includes Sens. Gordon Smith (news, bio, voting record), George Voinovich (news, bio, voting record) and Sam Brownback (news, bio, voting record) — has emboldened Democrats, who are pushing for a vote in the full Senate by next week to rebuke the president's Iraq policy. In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Bush urged skeptical members of Congress to give the plan a chance to work. Many lawmakers remained reluctant. "I wonder whether the clock has already run out," said Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R- Maine. She said she was worried that U.S. troops in Iraq are already perceived "not as liberators but as occupiers." Bush did get a word of support from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls. "I believe we should give the president the support to do this. I want us to be successful in Iraq," he said Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show. "I know how important it is to the overall war on terror. Success in Iraq means a more peaceful world for America, it means a victory against terrorists. Failure in Iraq means a big defeat against terrorists and the war on terror is going to be tougher for us." But Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), D-Ill., appearing on the same show, said, "I think all of us are talking about a phased redeployment which would leave American troops in the region to send a strong message, not only to the Iraqi government that we want to help them, but also to neighbors, like Iran, that we're not abandoning the field." MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE Tax breaks sidetrack minimum wage bill WASHINGTON - Democrats' promise of a quick increase in the minimum wage ran aground Wednesday in the Senate, where lawmakers are insisting it include new tax breaks for restaurants and other businesses that rely on low-pay workers. On a 54-43 vote, Democrats lost an effort to advance a House-passed bill that would lift the pay floor from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour without any accompanying tax cut. Opponents of the tax cut needed 60 votes to prevail. The vote sent a message to House Democrats and liberals in the Senate that only a hybrid tax and minimum wage package could succeed in the Senate. But any tax breaks in the bill would put the Senate on a collision course with the House, which is required by the Constitution to initiate tax measures. In a separate vote, the Senate also effectively killed a modified line-item veto bill. The Republican-inspired measure would have permitted a president to pluck individual items out of spending bills and submit them to Congress for a vote. Raising the minimum wage is one of the new Democratic Congress' top priorities. The wage floor has been unchanged for 10 years. The bill would increase it to $7.25 in three steps over 26 months. "Why can't we do just one thing for minimum wage workers, no strings attached, no giveaways for the powerful?" asked Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass., a leading sponsor of the bill. The House passed the increase two weeks ago. Since then Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., and Rep. Charles Rangel (news, bio, voting record), the chairman of the tax writing Ways and Means Committee, have prodded the Senate to keep tax proposals out of the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), D-Nev., scheduled Wednesday's vote to demonstrate the Democrats' lack of Republican support for a straight minimum wage bill without tax cuts. Every Democrat present voted to end debate and five moderate Republicans joined them. "There seems to be agreement to raise the minimum wage," said Republican Sen. Michael Enzi (news, bio, voting record) of Wyoming. "The difficulty has been how do we take care of some of the impact to small businesses that will result from this." Reid is backing an $8.3 billion tax package that would extend for five years a tax credit for employers who hire low-income or disadvantaged workers. It also extends until 2010 tax rules that permit businesses to combine as much as $112,000 in expenses into one annual tax deduction. The cost of the proposal would be paid with revenue realized from a proposed cap of $1 million on executive compensation that can be tax deferred. The tax package also would end deductions for court settlements or punitive damages paid by companies that have been sued. A vote on that package is not expected until early next week. HOT-ATLANTA IS DIXIED White Atlanta suburbs push for secession ATLANTA - A potentially explosive dispute in the City Too Busy to Hate is taking shape over a proposal to break Fulton County in two and split off Atlanta's predominantly white, affluent suburbs to the north from some of the metropolitan area's poorest, black neighborhoods. Legislation that would allow the suburbs to form their own county, to be called Milton County, was introduced by members of the Georgia Legislature's Republican majority earlier this month. Supporters say it is a quest for more responsive government in a county with a population greater than that of six states. Opponents say the measure is racially motivated and will pit white against black, rich against poor. "If it gets to the floor, there will be blood on the walls," warned state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus who bitterly opposes the plan. Fort added: "As much as you would like to think it's not racial, it's difficult to draw any other conclusion." The legislation calls for amending the Georgia Constitution to allow the return of Milton County, which succumbed to financial troubles during the Depression and was folded into Fulton County in 1932. The former Milton County is now mostly white and Republican and one of the most affluent areas in the nation. Atlanta and its southern suburbs are mostly black, are controlled by Democrats and have neighborhoods with some of the highest poverty rates in America. (Buckhead, a fashionable Atlanta neighborhood of clubs, restaurants and mansions, would remain in Fulton County.) "The only way to fix Fulton County is to dismantle Fulton County," said state Rep. Jan Jones, the plan's chief sponsor. "It's too large, and certainly too dysfunctional, to truly be considered local government." Jones, a former marketing executive who lives in the Fulton suburb of Alpharetta, cited the county's troubled library and public transit systems and a jail that was taken over by a federal judge because it was filthy and unsafe. He denied the move is racially motivated. Don Petree, the 62-year-old owner of Don's Hairstyling in Roswell, another northern Fulton suburb, said many of his customers "feel like they're not being taken care of like they should be with the tax dollars they're spending. I think there's some truth to that." Milton County would have a population of about 300,000, instantly making it Georgia's fifth-largest county. Residents of north Fulton represent 29 percent of the county's population of 915,000 but pay 42 percent of its property taxes, according to a local taxpayers group. A split would lead to the loss of $193 million in property taxes alone for Fulton County. About 25 miles to the south in downtown Atlanta, the Rev. J. Allen Milner said he is afraid the tax revenue loss would have a devastating effect on those who need government help the most. "If you take that money out of their coffers, human services will suffer greatly," said Milner, a black man who runs a homeless mission and is pastor of the Chapel of Christian Love Church. Critics of a split also worry about the future of Grady Memorial Hospital and the Atlanta area's MARTA commuter-rail system — both of which have contracts with the county. In addition, some warn that a breakup of Fulton could harm Atlanta's international reputation as a progressive city and hurt its appeal as a business, entertainment and convention destination. While other Southern cities erupted in violence a generation ago, Atlanta came through the civil rights movement with little strife, earning the nickname The City Too Busy to Hate. It is now home to one of the nation's largest black middle-class communities. "This would send a clear messages to companies around the country that Atlanta may not be as progressive as it would like people to think," Fort said. The measure would require the support of two-thirds of both the House and Senate. Then it would have to put to a statewide vote. Also, residents of what would become Milton County would have to endorse the plan. While Republicans have majorities in both chambers, they would need to win over three Democrats in the Senate and 14 in the House to get it passed. The legislation has support from some of the Legislature's key leaders. Republican House Speaker Glenn Richardson has referred to his top lieutenant, Rep. Mark Burkhalter, as "the member from Milton County." TEXT MESSAGED NOVEL Text message novel published in Finland HELSINKI, Finland - A novel whose narrative consists entirely of mobile phone text messages has been published in Finland. "The Last Messages" tells the story of a fictitious information-technology executive in Finland who resigns from his job and travels throughout Europe and India, keeping in touch with his friends and relatives only through text messages. His messages, and the replies — roughly 1,000 altogether — are listed in chronological order in the 332- page novel written by Finnish author Hannu Luntiala. The texts are rife with grammatical errors and abbreviations commonly used in regular SMS traffic. "I believe that, at the end of the day, a text message may reveal much more about a person than you would initially think," said Luntiala, who also is head of a company that keeps databases on people living in Finland. Sari Havukainen, spokeswoman at Finnish publishing house Tammi, said the company is considering translating the book into other languages. The taciturn Finns, keen on all mobile gadgets, have wholeheartedly accepted text messages as a tool to communicate even in most private matters. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen recently made tabloid front pages after reportedly having broken up with his girlfriend with a text. SEND MORE TROOPS Group Says al-Qaida No. 2 Mocks Bush CAIRO, Egypt -- Al-Qaida's deputy leader mocked President Bush's plan to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq, challenging him to send "the entire army" and vowing insurgents will defeat them, according to a new videotape released Monday by a U.S. group that tracks al-Qaida messages. The Washington-based SITE Institute said it had intercepted the video from Ayman al-Zawahri, which had not yet been posted on Islamic militant Web sites, where his messages are usually posted. SITE did not elaborate on how it received the message. Al-Zawahri said the U.S. strategy for Iraq, outlined by Bush in a Jan. 9 speech, was doomed to fail. "I ask him, why send 20,000 (troops) only -- why not send 50 or 100 thousand? Aren't you aware that the dogs of Iraq are pining for your troops' dead bodies?" said al-Zawahri in the footage released by SITE, which assesses and analyzes intelligence related to terrorism. "So send your entire army to be annihilated at the hands of the mujahideen (holy warriors) to free the world from your evil," he said, "because Iraq, land of the Caliphate and Jihad, is able to bury ten armies like yours, with Allah's help and power." The video showed al-Zawahri in a full gray beard and wearing a white turban, in front of a black backdrop. The message was the first reaction from al-Qaida's leadership to the new Iraq strategy. The U.S. has said the extra troops aim to crack down on al-Qaida fighters and other Sunni Arab insurgents in Iraq, as well as Shiite militiamen blamed in the country's spiraling sectarian violence. KID GOES TO JAIL Class president gets 53 years in prison January 18, 2007, 12:21 PM EST YORK -- A York County judge sentenced Lafayette High School's 2005 class president Thursday to 53 years in prison for the May 2006 shooting of Michael Tyler, a 29-year-old father of four. Marquise Edwards, 19, agreed in November that there was enough evidence to convict him of first-degree murder and using a firearm while committing a felony. Police say Edwards shot Tyler in the stomach May 4 on Walnut Drive in Yorktown after arguing with him earlier in the day. During the sentencing hearing, members of Tyler's family remembered "Big Mike" as someone everyone looked up to, while those who know Edwards expressed disbelief at his involvement. Edwards apologized to Tyler's family, and to the family members and Lafayette High School staff members who testified on his behalf. "I'm disappointed in myself because I let a lot of people down," he said."I can't bring him back, but I wish I could." Two co-defendants, Marquise Edward's cousin Kwaume Edwards and Carlos Chapman, are set for trial Jan. 30 and Feb. 22. LIVE LONGER=GO TO PRISON State Prison Inmates Outliving People on Outside State prison inmates, particularly blacks, are living longer on average than people on the outside, the government said Sunday. Inmates in state prisons are dying at an average yearly rate of 250 per 100,000, according to the latest figures reported to the Justice Department by state prison officials. By comparison, the overall population of people between age 15 and 64 is dying at a rate of 308 a year. For black inmates, the rate was 57 percent lower than among the overall black population — 206 versus 484. But white and Hispanic prisoners both had death rates slightly above their counterparts in the overall population. The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics said 12,129 state prisoners died between 2001 through 2004. Eight percent were murdered or killed themselves, 2 percent died of alcohol, drugs or accidental injuries, and 1 percent of the deaths could not be explained, the report said. The rest of the deaths — 89 percent — were due to medical reasons. Of those, two-thirds of inmates had the medical problem they died of before they were admitted to prison. Medical problems that were most common among both men and women in state prisons were heart disease, lung and liver cancer, liver diseases and AIDS-related causes. But the death rate among men was 72 percent higher than among women. Nearly one-quarter of the women who died had breast, ovarian, cervical or uterine cancer. Four percent of the men who died had prostate or testicular cancer. More than half the inmates 65 or older who died in state prisons were at least 55 when they were admitted to prison. State prison officials reported that 94 percent of their inmates who died from an illness had been evaluated by a medical professional for that illness, and 93 percent got medication for it. Eighty-nine percent of these inmates had gotten X-rays, MRI exams, blood tests and other diagnostic work, state prison officials told the bureau. CHAVEZ CALLS RUMSFELD A DOG Hugo Chavez Calls Rumsfeld 'Mr. Dog,' Defends Arms Deals CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez called U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld a "dog of war" on Tuesday, saying the defense chief has no business suggesting neighboring countries are concerned about Venezuela's arms purchases. Chavez said it's disingenuous for Rumsfeld to say he knows of no country that is threatening Venezuela, and he insisted that the U.S. is a threat. The Venezuelan leader called on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to clarify whether he shares Rumsfeld's worries about Venezuela's recent military acquisitions, including helicopters, fighter jets and assault rifles. CountryWatch: Venezuela "If this man is saying that my neighbors are worried because the weapons that Venezuela is acquiring could go to the leftist guerrillas, I need to know, President Uribe, if you have some type of worry regarding this," Chavez said. "It should be you who says it, not the dog of war." In his televised speech, Chavez also chuckled as he called Rumsfeld "little dog" and "Mr. Dog." Rumsfeld, attending a meeting of Western hemisphere military leaders in Nicaragua this week, told reporters on Monday that he understood why Venezuela's neighbors would be concerned by the buildup. Venezuela recently closed deals with Russia worth roughly US$3 billion (euro2.4 billion) for 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets, 53 military helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles. Venezuela is also obtaining a license for the first Kalashnikov rifle factory in Latin America. Chavez also said Venezuela will soon install Chinese-made radar and an advanced air-defense system equipped with anti-aircraft missiles capable of shooting down approaching enemy warplanes. "We are going to install a system for rockets and missiles, which are defensive weapons," said Chavez, speaking to students during the inauguration of a state-run university campus in central Venezuela. "Venezuela is a country that needs defensive capacity." Chavez, who has called U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil," said the new military hardware is purely for defense. He claims the United States plans to invade this South American nation to seize control of its immense oil reserves — an allegation that U.S. officials deny. Relations between Caracas and Washington have been particularly tense since Sept. 23, when Venezuela's top diplomat was temporarily detained by officials at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. U.S. officials have apologized for the incident and expressed hope that relations between the two countries can be improved. MJ HEAD SHRINKAGE Michael Jackson Shirks Shrink Evaluation - Jacko Avoids Shrink Evaluation I told you last Tuesday in this space that Michael Jackson was on the verge of settling his custody agreement with ex-wife Debbie Rowe concerning their two children, Prince and Paris. Late Saturday, word came from the lawyers: The deal is done. What they didn’t tell you is why Jackson was eager to conclude the case before the next hearing. There are two reasons. For one thing, the case and all its papers are now public. Anyone can read the ongoing battles between Jackson and Rowe simply by going down to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles. Click Here for the Michael Jackson Celebrity Center But the second reason was more pressing: Jackson would have been ordered soon to have a psychiatric evaluation. The only way he could have stopped it was to announce he was a Scientologist and decline on a religious grounds to have a qualified mental-health professional ask him a few questions. Of course, people would have paid more to see those papers than to see him in concert. I am told that Rowe’s lawyers had already picked out one of the most prestigious and well-respected family psychologists in the Los Angeles area, Dr. Mary Lund. Jackson would have done anything to avoid answering her questions, whether they were posed in her Santa Monica office, in a London or Paris hotel (where he likes to make lawyers go for depositions) or on top of a roller coaster at Disneyland. Hence, the hurried settlement. As I told you last Tuesday, back in July 2005 Jackson was offering Rowe $4 million to stay away from the kids and see them once a year. This meant Rowe would have to sign away all her parental rights, however, so she didn’t sign on the dotted line. An appeals court, on a separate track, then restored all the parental rights she’d given away in 2001. Here’s the thing about Rowe: She had Prince and Paris as part of a deal with Michael Jackson. She actually loved him. She knew he wanted to be a parent, but without consummating a relationship or legal adoption. So she married him and had the kids with a donor. She would have stayed married to him, but once the children were born, and she and Jackson were living apart, she had no legal agreement for visitation. She thought divorce would clarify the situation. But it only made things worse. Jackson, she said, according to court papers, was making her travel long distances to odd places so she could see her children. In 2001, at a low point, she gave up and petitioned the court to let go entirely. She told the court it was too confusing for the kids to see her occasionally. But then the child molestation scandal broke on Feb. 6, 2003. On TV, Jackson looked suspect after Martin Bashir’s interview showed the 45-year-old pop star holding hands with a 12-year-old boy. All hell broke loose. Jackson’s associate, Marc Schaffel, reached out to Rowe and asked her to appear in a rebuttal video. She agreed because she thought that it would show Jackson she was loyal. Maybe he would let her see the kids as a reward. He did not. In fact, Jackson — who is famously disloyal to everyone around him — did nothing for Rowe at all. In October 2003, maybe to provoke him a little, she appeared on “Entertainment Tonight” to talk about raising horses. Jackson responded by claiming she’d violated their confidentiality agreement and cut off her sizeable annual alimony payments of $750,000. In December, a couple of weeks after his arrest, Jackson went into business with the Nation of Islam. Rowe, who converted to Judaism in her first marriage, panicked. Her children were Jewish. The Nation of Islam, she felt, was anti-Semitic. She worried about how her kids would be treated and renewed her quest to see them. Rowe threw another emotional grenade at Jackson in January 2004. While his lawyers convened a now famous freak show of a public summit meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Rowe lunched with Schaffel at the nearby Ivy restaurant. The summit meeting showed that Jackson was listening to Leonard Muhammad, son-in-law of NOI leader Louis Farrakhan, who’d once chided Jackson in a speech for being weird. Rowe, who’d never heard a word from Jackson even after defending him on TV a year earlier — not even a thank-you note — was miffed that she wasn’t part of the summit. She wanted to get his attention. She got it. And then came the trial. Rowe’s testimony, on Jackson’s behalf, along with that of Macaulay Culkin, is probably what saved him from doing any prison time at all. She told the court Jackson was a good father. That’s all the jury had to hear. Jackson was acquitted on all counts, and instead of rewarding Rowe, he continued to ignore her. Because the children’s passports had been confiscated by the police, he sent his nanny to get new ones. Jackson lied on the applications and said he had full custody. The passports were issued, and Jackson took his children to the Middle East island of Bahrain. Rowe would never have seen her children again, except for that brief settlement talk in late July 2005. Things went so well that Jackson sent Prince and Paris back to Los Angeles on Aug. 2 with their nanny. Rowe spent a couple of hours with them in a hotel but was told not to let Prince or Paris know she was their mother, just a friend. Jackson’s lawyers then sent different wording for the proposed agreement, and everything broke down. People ask me all the time, what’s the story with Debbie Rowe? Did she have children for money? The answer is no. She actually did it naively out of love and friendship. She expected a lot from Michael Jackson, and like his family and other friends, like his fans (the ones that are mentally healthy) and his employees, she was deeply disappointed. P.S. Clearing up the Rowe matter still leaves Jackson with a lot of legal issues on his plate. Darien Dash, cousin of Damon, is still suing him for $48 million, and the courts have allowed the case to proceed. Jackson is also being sued by former attorney Brent Ayscough for unpaid fees. So stay tuned … Click Here for the Michael Jackson Celebrity Center Queen Rules; Zippy Zarem; Picture This Stephen Frears’ “The Queen” opened the New York Film Festival on Friday night and went right into theaters on Saturday. Helen Mirren stars as Queen Elizabeth II, who must deal with the sudden death of Princess Diana. Michael Sheen plays Tony Blair, only in office a short time. James Cromwell is Prince Philip. Sylvia Syms, only 72 in real life, is the then 95-year-old Queen Mum. All these performances are devastatingly good. Screenwriter Philip Morgan — who also wrote "The Last King of Scotland" (it’s his year) — captures everything about that moment in time with delicious accuracy. Philip — evil in every way — is blissfully ignorant, stupid and mean. Blair starts out as a populist and quickly joins the establishment. The Queen Mum is an old lush. But it’s Mirren’s soon-to-be Oscar-nominated performance that is the most memorable. Elizabeth II is a slow learner, but Mirren makes her mistakes almost defendable … PR legend Bobby Zarem’s birthday at Elaine’s on Saturday night went on into the wee hours, with urbane director Taylor Hackford (Mirren’s hubby) telling great tales to “Chorus Line” original star Donna McKechnie plus boatloads of A-listers and media types … Jill Krementz’s Friday night presentation of her 2007 calendar was sold out to the rafters at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Center. Her husband, Kurt Vonnegut, made the introduction, and Jill held us spellbound with stories about all her subjects from Truman Capote to John Guare, who surprised her with an appearance and a testimonial. And forget the fancy stuff: Jill told the crowd one of her most famous pictures, of Saul Bellow, was taken on a little point-and-shoot camera that she carries in her handbag. The highlight of the evening was Irving Berlin’s 13-year-old great-grandson reading his quote from the calendar to accompany the late great composer’s picture ... 68 BULLETS KILL MAN Florida Police Shot Suspected Cop Killer 68 Times LAKELAND, Fla. — Officers fired 110 rounds of ammunition at the man suspected of killing a sheriff's deputy, killing the suspect, according to an autopsy released by the sheriff's office. Angilo Freeland — who was suspected of fatally shooting the deputy after being pulled over for speeding Thursday — was hit 68 times by the SWAT team members' shots, the examination released Saturday showed. He also was suspected of wounding a deputy and killing a police dog. Freeland's death ended a nearly 24-hour manhunt that forced schools to lock down and families to stay indoors as about 500 officers scoured the woods. • Click here to read FNC correspondent Steve Harrigan's on-the-scene blog Click here to visit FOXNews.com's Crime Center The wounded deputy had pulled Freeland over for speeding and became suspicious of his identification. The suspect got nervous and bolted into the woods, officials said. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said he was not concerned by the number of shots fired. "You have to understand, he had already shot and killed a deputy, he had already shot and killed a K-9 and he shot and injured another deputy," Judd said by phone Saturday. "Quite frankly, we weren't taking any chances." Ten SWAT officers surrounded Freeland on Friday as he hid beneath brush and a fallen tree in a rural area. Authorities say he raised the gun belonging to the deputy he had killed, prompting nine officers to fire. "I suspect the only reason 110 rounds was all that was fired was that's all the ammunition they had," Judd said. "We were not going to take any chance of him shooting back." The SWAT officers who shot Freeland have been placed on paid administrative leave, standard procedure in all police shootings. Also released Saturday were autopsy results for the deputy, Vernon Matthew Williams, 39, which showed he had been shot eight times. He was not wearing a protective vest, but shots hit him in his right leg and behind his right ear, among other places. Diogi, his German shepherd police dog, was also killed. The dog had been shot once in the chest. Authorities said deputy sheriff Doug Speirs, also 39, was fired at several times and shot once in the leg. A sergeant and an officer from the Lakeland Police Department were also fired at, authorities said. DOOMS DAY IS AHEAD Nuclear, climate perils push Doomsday Clock ahead WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The scientists who mind the Doomsday Clock moved it two minutes closer to midnight on Wednesday -- symbolizing the annihilation of civilization and adding the perils of global warming for the first time. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 to warn the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons, advanced the clock to five minutes until midnight. It was the first adjustment of the clock since 2002. "We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age," the bulletin's board of directors said in a statement. They pointed to North Korea's first nuclear test, Iran's nuclear ambitions, U.S. flirtation with "bunker buster" nuclear bombs, the continued presence of 26,000 American and Russian nuclear weapons and inadequate security for nuclear materials. But the scientists also said destruction of human habitats wreaked by climate change brought on by human activities is a growing danger. "Global warming poses a dire threat to human civilization that is second only to nuclear weapons," they said. The announcement was made in news conferences in London and Washington. "We foresee great peril if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change," theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking of the University of Cambridge, a member of the bulletin's board of sponsors, told reporters in London. 'VILLAGE IDIOTS' Cambridge astrophysicist Martin Rees added that while the Cold War confrontation between two nuclear- armed superpowers is over, the world is closer than ever to having nuclear bombs used in a localized war or by terrorists in a city center. "A global village will have its village idiots," Rees said. Kennette Benedict, the bulletin's executive director, dismissed the notion that by touting the threat posed by global warming, the scientists had diluted their message about the nuclear peril. Many scientists predict dire consequences from global warming, including higher sea levels that over time could swamp coastal regions, more severe storms and worse wildfires. Human activities like burning of fossil fuels contribute to warming, they contend. Physicist Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland said if humankind fails to change course on global warming, "there's a great possibility that the Earth in the year 2100 will only dimly resemble our planet today -- and as it has existed over the past 500,000 years." The bulletin's scientists moved the clock two minutes forward in 2002, to seven minutes until midnight, following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The bulletin was founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had worked on developing the first nuclear bomb, and it is now overseen by some of the world's most prominent scientists. The bulletin created the clock in 1947, two years after the United States ushered in the nuclear age by dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities at the end of World War Two, to symbolize the urgent nuclear dangers confronting the world. It now stands at the closest to midnight since 1984, when it was three minutes to midnight amid a deepening Cold War. It has been adjusted 18 times in 60 years. It was set as close as two minutes to midnight in 1953 after the United States and Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs, and as far as 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 at the Cold War's end. CHAVEZ MAD AT U.S. Chavez to U.S. officials: 'Go to hell' CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez told U.S. officials to "Go to hell, gringos!" and called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "missy" on his weekly radio and TV show Sunday, lashing out at Washington for what he called unacceptable meddling in Venezuelan affairs. The tirade came after Washington raised concerns about a measure to grant the fiery leftist leader broad lawmaking powers. The National Assembly, which is controlled by the president's political allies, is expected to give final approval this week to what it calls the "enabling law," which would give Chavez the authority to pass a series of laws by decree during an 18-month period. On Friday, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Chavez's plans under the law "have caused us some concern." Chavez rejected Casey's statement in his broadcast, saying: "Go to hell, gringos! Go home!" He also attacked U.S. actions in the Middle East. "What does the empire want? Condoleezza said it. How are you? You've forgotten me, missy ... Condoleezza said it clearly, it's about creating a new geopolitical" map in the Middle East, Chavez said. In typical style, Chavez spoke for hours Sunday during his first appearance on the weekly program in five months. He sent his best wishes to the ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro, his close ally and friend who has been sidelined since intestinal surgery last summer. Other comments ranged from watching dancing Brazilian girls wearing string bikinis at a recent presidential summit to Washington's alleged role in the hanging of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "They took out Saddam Hussein and they hung him, for good or worse. It's not up to me to judge any government, but that gentleman was the president of that country." Holding up a newspaper with a photograph of him gazing at a string bikini-clad Brazilian dancing samba during a summit last week in Rio de Janeiro, Chavez laughed and said: "I didn't know where to look ... It was truly a thing of beauty." Chavez, who was re-elected by a wide margin last month, has said he will enact sweeping reforms to remake Venezuela into a socialist state. Among his plans are nationalizing the main telecommunications company, CANTV, and the electricity and natural gas sectors. He said Sunday his government will not pay the market value for CANTV, but rather will take into account debts to workers, pensions and other obligations including a "technological debt" to the state. CANTV, partially owned by U.S.-based Verizon Communications Inc., was privatized in 1991. The president's opponents accuse him of using his political strength to expand his powers. Relations between Caracas and Washington have been tense since Chavez was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup that he claimed the U.S. played a role in. The Bush administration has repeatedly denied being involved, although it recognized an interim government established by coup leaders. Since then, Chavez has consistently accused the U.S. of conspiring to oust him and often asserts the CIA is working to destabilize his government. U.S. officials have denied trying to overthrow Chavez, but they have labeled him a threat to democracy. Criticizing excessive consumption and self-indulgence, Chavez also announced plans in his broadcast to raise domestic gasoline prices and approve a new tax on luxury goods such as private yachts, second homes and extravagant automobiles. He did not give details on the gas price hike, which he said would not affect bus drivers who provide public transportation, or the luxury tax. He said revenue from the new measures would be put toward government social programs. Venezuela is one of the world's leading petroleum exporters and gasoline now costs as little as 12 cents a gallon due to government subsidies. DRUG COMPANY LAYOFFS Pfizer to lay off 10,000 to cut costs (January 2007) NEW YORK - Pfizer Inc. announced Monday it will cut 10,000 jobs, as the world's largest drugmaker seeks to slash its annual costs by up to $2 billion by 2008 amid fierce competition from generic drugs. The company said it will close three research sites in Michigan and two manufacturing plants in New York and Nebraska. It may also sell another manufacturing site in Germany and close research sites in Japan and France. It's the second time in two years that Pfizer has announced a major cost reduction plan in order to combat the loss of about $14 billion in revenues this year due to expiring patents on key drugs. The company is at risk of losing 41 percent of its sales to generic competition between 2010 and 2012, according to one analyst. The latest cuts, which amount to 10 percent of Pfizer's worldwide workforce, come on top of a previously announced plan to cut costs by $4 billion a year by 2008. Pfizer also reiterated that its revenue would be flat this year and next year, but said it expects its earnings will jump by between 6 percent and 9 percent in both 2007 and 2008. The latest layoffs include the elimination of 2,200 jobs from the U.S. sales force, which Pfizer announced late last year. The company said Monday it would cut 20 percent of its European sales force but couldn't immediately say how many drug representatives it employed there. Analysts are skeptical that Pfizer's crop of current and pipeline products can generate enough sales to compensate for revenue it stands to lose. Pressure on Pfizer has intensified since safety issues forced it to halt development of the star drug in its pipeline, which was slated to replace the best-selling drug Lipitor as it loses patent protection as early as 2010. "You can't cost-cut your way to prosperity," said Les Funtleyder, an analyst at Miller Tabak & Co. Still, the cuts do help shore up business and remain a good short-term strategy as the company seeks acquisitions to boost revenue, said Barbara Ryan, an analyst at Deutsche Bank. The sites in Michigan employ about 2,300 people, while the plant being closed in the Brooklyn borough of New York employs 600 people. Only 25 jobs will be lost in Nebraska. Pfizer said many of the Michigan workers will be offered jobs elsewhere in the company. Pfizer's fourth-quarter earnings report, issued earlier Monday, illustrated the company's woes. Net income for the period rose sharply because of the $16.6 billion sale of its consumer health-care business last month, resulting in an after-tax gain of $7.9 billion. However, after adjusting for that gain and other items, Pfizer's earnings fell 15 percent on flat sales, hurt by the patent expiration of antidepressant Zoloft last year. Meanwhile, U.S. sales of Lipitor, Pfizer's top-selling drug, slipped 6 percent to $1.95 billion. Last summer Zocor, a rival cholesterol treatment made by Merck & Co., lost patent protection and insurers have pushed the cheaper versions of that drug over Lipitor when appropriate. Pfizer's struggle with patent expirations comes as insurers and the government are pressuring drugmakers to keep prices down and refusing to pay for new treatments that are essentially the same as those they are intended to replace. That means drugmakers are taking bigger risks to find new types of medicines. But their attempts can fail. Last year, safety issues forced Pfizer to scrap its drug torcetrapib, a novel cholesterol treatment, after spending $800 million on its development. Overall, Pfizer's own labs haven't been very productive. It hasn't introduced a blockbuster since it discovered the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra in 1998. Meanwhile, some recent deals to bolster its pipeline haven't produced new treatments. Last year, Pfizer killed at least two development agreements after the drugs didn't live up to expectations. At the same time, key drugs are losing patent protection. This year, Pfizer will face generic competition on blood pressure medicine Norvasc, which brought in $4.9 billion in sales last year, and allergy treatment Zyrtec, with $1.6 billion in revenue in 2006. Analysts differ on the approach they believe Pfizer will take to bolster revenues. Funtleyder thinks Pfizer will continue to ink development deals with companies that have products that will be ready for market by the time Lipitor loses patent. He thinks it won't be forced into a mega-merger unless many of those deals falter. Ryan believes Pfizer will buy a company with a product flow so it can use the revenue to add to its earnings. For the fourth quarter, net income soared to $9.45 billion, or $1.32 per share, from $2.73 billion, or 37 cents per share, a year ago. Excluding the gain from the sale of the consumer division, earnings totaled $3.05 billion, or 43 cents per share, down from an adjusted $3.59 billion, or 49 cents a share, a year ago. The earnings beat the consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial by a penny per share. Revenue was essentially flat at $12.60 billion compared with $12.55 billion a year ago. Analysts expected sales of $12.62 billion. Zoloft sales sank 79 percent to $166 million. In the United states, Zoloft sales plunged 88 percent to $76 million. For the year, Pfizer earned $19.34 billion, or $2.66 a share, up from $8.09 billion, or $1.09 a share, in 2005. Revenue rose to $48.37 billion, up from $47.41 billion in 2005, driven by strong U.S. sales of cholesterol- lowering treatment Lipitor, pain-reliever Celebrex and blood pressure pill Norvasc. Pfizer shares slipped 52 cents, or almost 2 percent, to $26.70 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has traded in a 52-week range of $22.16 to $28.60. ARIZONA SNOW Rare snow storm surprises Arizona (January 2007) PHOENIX - More than a foot of snow fell on parts of northern Arizona, and several more inches were possible Monday, while children as far south as Tucson got a rare chance to play in the snow. Sunday's storm, one of the strongest of the winter, came amid a wave of storms that have brought snow, ice and strong winds to the Plains region, and also to the Southwest, including Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. The harsh, frigid conditions were blamed for at least 11 traffic fatalities in the Plains over the weekend. In Colorado, crews looking for a missing snowshoer found a body in a creek southwest of Denver Monday, but authorities had not determined whether it was the missing man. Southern New Mexico picked up 9 inches on snow on Sunday and Monday, closing 145 miles of the Interstate 25, the state's major north-south highway. "The semi-trucks are having a hard time," State Police Lt. Rick Anglada said, noting that three tractor-trailers had jackknifed on I-25 and 10 to 15 rigs had pulled off the roadway. Some public schools in the southern and western parts of the state closed Monday. Although the heaviest snowfall in Arizona on Sunday was in the north, snow also fell in downtown Phoenix and Tucson, which received up to 1 1/2 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Danita D'Water said there were huge snowflakes in her neighborhood in far northeast Phoenix. "The children are running up and down the street, riding their scooters in the snow," she said. "The kids are pretty excited but the adults were out taking pictures." More than a foot fell in Forest Lakes, Pinetop and at the Sunrise Ski Resort, among other places in northern Arizona. Between one and three inches fell in Flagstaff, said Robert Bohlin, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. A winter storm warning remained in effect until noon Monday for parts of northern and northeastern Arizona, with the National Weather Service forecasting up to an additional three inches of snow. Dense fog and icy roads created hazardous driving conditions Monday morning in the Tucson area. In Colorado, 3 to 6 inches of snow fell across much of the Front Range, with more in the in the eastern plains and the mountains. Strong winds created whiteout conditions on the state's eastern plains. Dozens of schools opened late or closed Monday in eastern Colorado. Few details were released about the body found near Chatfield Reservoir, which was near the area where Mel Dinklage, 46, went snowshoeing alone on Saturday. Jefferson County sheriff's officials said Dinklage was an inexperienced snowshoer who wasn't familiar with the area. On Sunday, officials closed a long stretch of Interstate 70, from near Denver International Airport almost to the Kansas state line because of high winds, blowing snow, poor visibility and ice. The road had reopened by Monday morning. In Oklahoma, where an ice storm disrupted power to as many as 125,000 homes and businesses more than a week ago, about 17,000 electrical customers remained without power early Monday — mostly in the eastern part of the state. Hundreds of utility linemen worked through the night in hopes of fully restoring power by Monday or Tuesday, authorities said. But for some rural customers, it could be at least another week before the electricity is back on. Warmer temperatures led to melting ice and snow that turned roads into slushy rivers, yards into quagmires and streams into rushing torrents. Muddy roads and pastures caused some utility equipment to bog down, slowing their progress, said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. "Extremely muddy conditions in some areas are making it difficult for some electrical restoration crews," Ooten said. A pickup truck carrying radioactive materials used in pipeline scanning equipment was swept from a bridge and disappeared in a swollen creek in Oklahoma's Pittsburg County, said Undersheriff Richard Sexton. The truck's two occupants escaped unharmed, but efforts to locate the truck and its radioactive cargo were suspended after dark. He said officials hope the creek's level will fall enough on Monday to reveal the truck's whereabouts. A container with the material is bolted to the truck. "The radioactive materials are still in the truck, and that's what we're worried about," Sexton said. In Missouri, more than 45,000 people remained in the dark from the same storm. Winter weather has also hit hard on the East Coast, bringing snow, sleet and freezing rain to Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland and making roads treacherous. An accident on Interstate 81 in Virginia killed one person and injured five, authorities said. Several school districts in northern and western Virginia were closed Monday. OPRAH CRIES Winfrey cried over relative's 'betrayal' (01/07) CHICAGO - Oprah Winfrey says in the February issue of her magazine that she cried for three days when a relative told the National Enquirer that Winfrey became pregnant at 14 and lost the baby after birth. Winfrey already had confirmed the Enquirer's 1990 report that she got pregnant as a teenager, telling Parade magazine later that year that the baby was born prematurely and died shortly after birth. Her half- sister, Patricia Lloyd, sold the story to the tabloid, according to news reports at the time. Winfrey, who did not name Lloyd in her column, wrote in O, The Oprah Magazine that the relative "sat in a room, told them the story of my hidden shame and left their offices $19,000 richer." "I felt devastated. Wounded. Betrayed. How could this person do this to me?" she wrote. Winfrey now says she learned something from what she calls "that first betrayal." Having the secret out was "liberating" and it allowed her to begin to heal from the sexual abuse she said she experienced as a girl. She says she hasn't let more recent betrayals in her life bother her as much, although they still feel like "a kick in the gut." CLINTON FOR PRESIDENT Hillary Clinton launches White House bid (01/07) NEW YORK - Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton launched a trailblazing campaign for the White House on Saturday, a former first lady turned political powerhouse intent on becoming the first female president. "I'm in, and I'm in to win," she said. In a videotaped message posted on her Web site, Clinton said she was eager to start a dialogue with voters about challenges she hoped to tackle as president — affordable health care, deficit reduction and bringing the "right" end to the Iraq war. "I'm not just starting a campaign, though, I'm beginning a conversation with you, with America," she said. "Let's talk. Let's chat. The conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately, don't you think?" Clinton's announcement, while widely anticipated, was nonetheless an historic moment in a fast-developing campaign that has already seen the emergence of a formidable black contender, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record) of Illinois. Since joining the field, Obama has secured the backing of a number of prominent fundraisers, including billionaire philanthropist George Soros, stepping up the pressure on Clinton to disclose her plans. In an instant, Clinton became the most credible female candidate ever to seek the presidency and the first presidential spouse to attempt to return to the White House in her own right. Her husband, Bill, served two terms as president from 1993 to 2001. "I am one of the millions of women who have waited all their lives to see the first woman sworn in as president of the United States — and now we have our best opportunity to see that dream fulfilled," said Ellen Malcolm, president of EMILY's list, which raises money for Democratic women who run for office. With her immense star power, vast network of supporters and donors and seasoned team of political advisers, the 59-year-old Clinton long has topped every national poll of potential Democratic contenders. But her controversial tenure as first lady left her a deeply polarizing figure among voters, leading many Democrats to doubt Clinton's viability in a general election. In a detailed statement posted on her Web site, Clinton sought to acknowledge and bat away such doubts. "I have never been afraid to stand up for what I believe in or to face down the Republican machine," she wrote. "After nearly $70 million spent against my campaigns in New York and two landslide wins, I can say I know how Washington Republicans think, how they operate and how to beat them." Recently, Clinton has clashed with many in her own party over the Iraq war. Clinton supported the 2002 resolution authorizing military intervention in Iraq. She has refused to recant her vote or call for a deadline for the removal of troops. She has announced her opposition to President Bush's troop increase in Iraq and has introduced legislation capping troop levels. "A woman candidate could find it easier to run in peacetime, rather than wartime, but Senator Clinton's tried to position herself as a serious person on national security," said Andrew Polsky, a presidential historian at Hunter College. "But that means she's staked out difficult position on the war that won't make it easy for her to get Democratic nomination." With a $14 million campaign treasury, Clinton starts with an impressive fundraising advantage over the rest of the Democratic field. But Obama and others have started to secure fundraising commitments from New York, California and other deep-pocketed, Clinton-friendly areas. Her creation of a presidential exploratory committee, announced Saturday, allows her to raise money for the campaign; she already has lined up campaign staff. In tone and substance, Clintons' videotaped announcement recalled her first Senate race in New York in 2000, where she conducted a "listening tour" of the state's 62 counties before formally entering the contest. She promised a three-day series of Web chats with voters beginning Monday and prepared a campaign swing late this coming week through the early voting state of Iowa, while a visit to New Hampshire was in the works. On Sunday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was also set to enter the Democratic field; if elected, he would be the first Hispanic president. For the short term at least, the outsized candidacies of Clinton and Obama were expected to soak up the lion's share of attention. Obama, who launched his own presidential committee on Tuesday, praised Clinton as a friend and colleague. "I welcome her and all the candidates, not as competitors, but as allies in the work of getting our country back on track," he said in a statement. Other Democratic contenders include former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack; Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd; Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the party's 2004 vice-presidential nominee. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden has said he will run and planned to formalize his intentions soon. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the party's 2004 standard bearer, is also contemplating another run. An influential player in her husband's political career in Arkansas, Hillary Clinton leapt to the national scene during the 1992 presidential campaign when husband and wife fought to survive the scandal over Gennifer Flowers' allegations of a lengthy affair with Bill Clinton when he was the state's governor. The Clintons appeared together on CBS' "60 Minutes" to talk about their marriage — Hillary Clinton's first famous "Stand by Your Man" moment. As first lady, Clinton headed up a disastrous first-term effort to overhaul the health care insurance system. There was more controversy as the couple battled allegations of impropriety over land deals and fundraising, missing records from her former Arkansas law firm and even her quick and hefty profits from an investment in cattle futures. There was no letup in the second term. The president found himself denying — then admitting — having a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. As he battled impeachment and possible removal from office, his wife's poll numbers rose. Her own political career began to take shape in late 1998 when New York Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate seat he had held since 1976. The campaign trail was not always friendly. For almost every cheer, there was a shouted "Go home, Hillary!" and the emerging Republican theme that carpetbagger Clinton simply wanted to use New York as a launching pad for a later presidential run. PC VIRUS Storm Worm hits computers around the world (01/07) HELSINKI (Reuters) - Computer virus writers attacked thousands of computers on Friday using an unusually topical email citing raging European storms, a security company said. The virus, which the company named "Storm Worm," was emailed to hundreds of thousands of addresses globally with the subject line "230 dead as storm batters Europe." An attached file contained so-called malware that can infiltrate computer systems. "What makes this exceptional is the timely nature of the attack," Mikko Hypponen, head of research at Finnish data security firm F-Secure (FSC1V.HE), told Reuters. Hypponen said thousands of computers, most in private use, had been affected. He said most users would not notice the malware, or trojan, which creates a back door to the computer that can be exploited later to steal data or to use the computer to post spam. LOSE WEIGHT WITH WII It's official. Wii use can cause weight loss (01/07) LOS ANGELES, Jan 19 (Reuters Life!) - Video gamers who'd rather battle virtual villains than fight the flab can take heart. Use of the new Nintendo Wii can lead to weight loss. After six weeks and 21 hours of total game play on Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s (7974.OS) new game console, Philadelphia resident Mickey DeLorenzo is nine pounds (4 kgs) lighter and making a splash with his new svelte self. "I'm on my 15 minutes here," he joked, referring to the famous Andy Warhol quote about 15 minutes of fame, in a telephone interview with Reuters on Friday. DeLorenzo, 25, came up with the idea for his experiment after he and his fianc饠 ended up breathless and glistening with sweat after virtually pummeling each other in the "Wii Sports" boxing game. "On the fly, as I was typing my blog posts, I set up a daily regimen and went at it 100 percent," said DeLorenzo, who tipped the scales at 181 pounds -- where he's been for the last couple years -- when he started the experiment on December 3. He ate as usual and didn't deprive himself during the holidays. The only thing that changed was the addition of daily, 30-minute sessions of Wii tennis, bowling, boxing or baseball. DeLorenzo chronicled his progress on his blog at WiiNintendo.net, which includes weight-loss charts and "before" and "after" pictures, as well as shots recalling Rocky Balboa, the City of Brotherly Love's most famous fictional resident -- with Wiimotes. While he expected to shed a couple pounds, DeLorenzo got more than he bargained for. "Seeing the 'before' and 'after' pictures, I am going to keep doing it. I am going to add some weights to the next round because I don't want to shrink to nothing," said DeLorenzo, who said he had never before dieted or worked out to lose weight. More projects are already in the works. A fitness Web site already has asked him to help it create Wii workouts and he already owns the Internet address WiiWorkout.net, which for now, links to his blog. He's betting that Nintendo will soon have its own workout game. And no, the Japanese game giant hasn't called. Visits to DeLorenzo's blog have jumped -- he's been the subject of numerous blog posts and news stories on major mainstream media outlets -- but his fame has not come without a price. The bill for the extra Web traffic was $80 two days ago and has likely climbed. He's adding ads to offset the cost, but said even if he comes out in the red on this venture, it's all been worth it. "It's been a wild ride. It's been great." CRUMBLING MOON Earth's Moon Destined to Disintegrate (January 2007) The Sun is midway through its stable hydrogen burning phase known as the main sequence. But when the Sun enters the red giant phase in around 5 billion years things are going to get a lot rougher in the Earth- Moon system. During the red giant phase the Sun will swell until its distended atmosphere reaches out to envelop the Earth and Moon, which will both begin to be affected by gas drag-the space through which they orbit will contain more molecules. The Moon is now moving away from Earth and by then will be in an orbit that's about 40 percent larger than today. It will be the first to warp under the Sun's influence. 'The Moon's actual path is a wiggly line around the Sun, with it moving faster when it is slightly farther out (at full Moon) and more slowly when it is slightly closer (at new Moon),' said Lee Anne Willson of Iowa State University. 'So the gas drag is more effective at the farther part of the orbit and this will put the Moon into an orbit where the new Moon is closer to Earth than the full Moon.' Willson's idea about the Moon's demise, explained recently to SPACE.com, is an unpublished byproduct of her research into Earth's fate in the face of an expanding Sun. Moving away Today, the Moon is on average 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometres) away and has reached this point after a long and dramatic journey. Earth's Moon was born around 4.5 billion years ago in a titanic collision between our planet and a Mars- sized sibling, according to the leading theory. The enormous impact threw debris into orbit around the young Earth and from this maelstrom the Moon coalesced. For the last few billion years the Moon's gravity has been raising tides in Earth's oceans which the fast spinning Earth attempts to drag ahead of the sluggishly orbiting Moon. The result is that the Moon is being pushed away from Earth by 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) per year and our planet's rotation is slowing. If left unabated the Moon would continue in its retreat until it would take bout 47 days to orbit the Earth. Both Earth and Moon would then keep the same faces permanently turned toward one another as Earth's spin would also have slowed to one rotation every 47 days. Solar influence The Sun's mutation into a red giant provides a huge stumbling block to the Moon's getaway and is likely to ensure the Moon ends its days the way it began; as a ring of Earth-girdling debris. 'The density and temperature both increase rapidly near the apparent surface (photosphere) of the future giant Sun,' Willson explained. As the Earth and Moon near this blistering hot region, the drag caused by the Sun's extended atmosphere will cause the Moon's orbit to decay. The Moon will swing ever closer to Earth until it reaches a point 11,470 miles (18,470 kilometers) above our planet, a point termed the Roche limit. 'Reaching the Roche limit means that the gravity holding it [the Moon] together is weaker than the tidal forces acting to pull it apart,' Willson said. The Moon will be torn to pieces and every crater, mountain, valley, footprint and flag will be scattered to form a spectacular 23,000-mile-diameter (37,000-kilometer) Saturn-like ring of debris above Earth's equator. The new rings will be short-lived. Theory dictates they'll eventually rain down onto Earth's surface. 'Particles of different masses will have different survival times; the smaller particles will be removed first, and the biggest ones last. Most of the ring particles would be gone by the time the Earth reaches the stellar photosphere,' Willson said. If the Sun's photosphere reaches Earth, our planet too will experience drag and spiral into the Sun to be incinerated. Possible out There are possible natural alternatives, however. If the Sun as a red giant sloughs off enough material before Earth evaporates, our planet will be revealed from its stellar cocoon in a Moon-less guise. Earth, robbed of its companion, would undertake a lonely vigil as the Sun turns eventually into a stellar corpse called a white dwarf Sun, fading to black over the ensuing trillions of years. Alternatively, if the swelling Sun loses 20 percent of its mass prior to it reaching our vicinity, both Earth and Moon could be spared incineration and remain together facing each other for eternity. The actual outcome remains a theoretical uncertainty because no red giant star has been observed during this crucial phase. This article is part of SPACE.com's weekly Mystery Monday series. Top 10 Strangest Things in Space Moon Mechanics: What Really Makes Our World Go 'Round 24 Hours of Chaos: The Day The Moon Was Made Mysteries of the Sun Original Story: Earth's Moon Destined to Disintegrate Visit SPACE.com and explore our huge collection of Space Pictures, Space Videos, Space Image of the Day, Hot Topics, Top 10s, Multimedia, Trivia, Voting and Amazing Images. Follow the latest developments in the search for life in our universe in our SETI: Search for Life section. Join the community, sign up for our free daily email newsletter, listen to our Podcasts, check out our RSS feeds and other Reader Favorites today! DRIVING AND OTHER THINGS U.S. drivers eat, shave, email -- oh, and drive (January 2007) CINCINNATI, Jan 22 (Reuters Life!) - Talk on the phone while you're driving? Fix your makeup? Check e-mail? You're not alone. A survey released on Monday shows 81 percent of Americans do more than drive when they're behind the wheel. More than eight of 10 people surveyed by Nationwide Mutual Insurance said they adjust the radio or music while they drive, while 73 percent talk on the phone, 68 percent eat, 19 percent send text messages and 5 percent checked their e-mail. Personal hygiene was also a big driver distraction, with 19 percent fixing their hair, 12 percent putting on makeup and 2 percent shaving while at the controls of a car. "Clearly Americans have much to do and little time to do it, so to cope with that we've become multi- taskers," said Bill Windsor, associate vice president of Safety at Nationwide. "The problem with that is driving requires focus, and multi-tasking while driving puts you and your fellow drivers at risk." Drivers in the survey also admitted to changing seats with passengers, watching a movie, painting their toenails, nursing a baby and putting in contact lenses while driving. Younger drivers multi-task the most, the survey found, with 35 percent of 18-to-27 year olds saying they always multi-task in the car, compared to 21 percent of baby boomers. Windsor said the consequences for young drivers are severe, with car accidents being the number one cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 27. "The bottom line is if it can be done in the kitchen, bathroom, office or bedroom, it should not be done in the car," Windsor said. While some U.S. jurisdictions require hands-free devices for cellphone use in cars, most of the activities listed in the survey are not illegal unless they are determined to be the cause of an accident. The survey of 1,200 drivers between the ages of 18 and 60 found that while 83 percent believe they are safe drivers, 38 percent admitted they have driven a certain distance without any recollection of doing so. Sandra Guile, spokeswoman for AAA in Cincinnati, said the automobile club's driving instructors have seen it all, and work hard to try to correct the bad habits. "Imagine if you're going 55 miles an hour down the road and you spill something on your suit and you have a meeting that day -- you're going to be more worried about grabbing a napkin than watching the road," said Guile. "But it just takes a split second to look away and there's an accident." Cincinnati professor Penny Braboy said that while she never eats or makes phone calls while driving, she does answer the phone if it rings -- and she admits to other distractions. "I have put on lipstick in the car," Braboy, 55, said with a laugh. "And I might try to look for something in my purse, which I know is dangerous." But she said her distractions have never caused an accident. "I try to be careful," said she, getting into her sport utility vehicle, Starbucks coffee in hand. FOREIGNERS & ITUNES German, French groups want open iTunes (January 2007) OSLO, Norway - German and French consumer groups have joined a Nordic-led drive to force Apple Inc. to make its iTunes online store compatible with digital music players made by rival companies, a Norwegian official said Monday. Currently, song purchased and downloaded through iTunes are designed to work with Apple's market- leading iPod players but not competitors' models, including those using Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media system. Likewise, iPods generally can't play copy-protected music sold through non-Apple stores. Last June, consumer agencies in Norway, Denmark and Sweden claimed that Apple was violating contract and copyright laws in their countries. Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman Bjoern Erik Thon said French consumer lobby UFC-Que Choisir and its German counterpart, Ferbraucherzentralen, joined the effort late last year, and other European countries are considering it. Finland's Kuluttajavirasto consumer group is also part of the effort. "This is important because Germany and France are European giants," Thon said. "Germany, in particular, is a big market for digital music." The Nordic regulators have met Apple officials at least twice on the complaints. In a written statement after one such meeting in Oslo in September, Apple said it "is working to address the concerns we've heard from several agencies in Europe, and we hope to resolve these issues as quickly as possible." Thon said Norway gave Apple until September to change its polices, or face possible legal action and fines in the country. "It cannot be good for the music industry for them to lock music into one system," he said. A French law that allows regulators to force Apple to make its iPod player and iTunes store compatible with rival offerings went into effect in August. HP AND RUSSIA Hewlett-Packard to open Russia facility (January 2007) SAN JOSE, Calif. - Hewlett-Packard Co. said Monday it plans to open a research and development facility in St. Petersburg, Russia, that will employ dozens of researchers and focus on inventing ways to manage and mine digital data. The Russian center will be HP's seventh R&D center around the world operated under the umbrella of HP Labs, the Palo Alto-based company's central research organization. HP Labs was founded more than 40 years ago and has claimed breakthroughs in areas as diverse as pocket calculators, semiconductor devices, thermal ink jet printing and nanotechnology. Its other facilities are in China, India, the United Kingdom, Israel and Japan. HP declined to say how much it was spending on the new facility, which will be located in the company's existing sales facility in St. Petersburg. Beth Keer, director of the company's Information Services and Process Innovation Lab, will initially oversee the project as acting director while searching for a full-time director and research staff. Keer said the new facility will allow HP to tap into a pool of Russian scientists with a rigorous academic background and help local customers solve region-specific problems arising from fast-growing industries including oil and gas exploration, telecommunications and banking. The research could help companies, for example, mine customer data they've already collected and understand how to better improve their products based on their tastes. "It's really important for us to be where our customers are, and where the scientific talent is," Keer said. AMERICAN IDOL Seattle sets new `Idol' benchmark LOS ANGELES - The "American Idol" auditions in Seattle, dubbed the "weirdest turnout in history" by host Ryan Seacrest, more than lived up to the billing. "What the bloody hell was that?" judge Simon Cowell said on Wednesday's show after enduring a unique version of "Unchained Melody," adding, "It was almost non-human." In fact, the two-day tryout for Fox's hit singing talent was a real zoo. One big-eyed, failed hopeful was compared to a "bush baby," a jungle animal, by the caustic Cowell, who termed another contestant, a 6-foot-4 woman who passed singing muster, a "giraffe." Then there were the actual animals — a Chihuahua and a Pomeranian — brought along for the ride. Many of those on display were conspicuously lacking skill, self-awareness or fashion sense, and "American Idol" made the most of their situation with camera work and Cowell's gibes. He earned his paycheck in Seattle, one of seven cities where auditions were held last summer. The next episode, on Tuesday, will feature the Memphis, Tenn., tryouts. "You could lie in a bath with your mouth open and you couldn't sing," Cowell told one woman who insisted that a drink of water would smooth her delivery. A few promising singers made it through the gauntlet of Cowell and fellow judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul, including Jordin Sparks, 16, the daughter of former NFL player Phillippi Sparks, and a brother and sister who dabbled in a bit of teenage sibling rivalry. The series kicked off its sixth year Tuesday with its largest season premiere audience ever, an estimated 37.3 million viewers. IS MSPACE RESPONSIBLE? MySpace hit with online predator suits NEW YORK - Four families have sued News Corp. and its MySpace social-networking site after their underage daughters were sexually abused by adults they met on the site, lawyers for the families said Thursday. The law firms, Barry & Loewy LLP of Austin, Texas, and Arnold & Itkin LLP of Houston, said families from New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina filed separate suits Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging negligence, recklessness, fraud and negligent misrepresentation by the companies. "In our view, MySpace waited entirely too long to attempt to institute meaningful security measures that effectively increase the safety of their underage users," said Jason A. Itkin, an Arnold & Itkin lawyer. The families are seeking monetary damages "in the millions of dollars," Itkin said. "Hopefully these lawsuits can spur MySpace into action and prevent this from happening to another child somewhere," he said. Critics including parents, school officials and police have been increasingly warning of online predators at sites like MySpace, where youth-oriented visitors are encouraged to expand their circles of friends using free messaging tools and personal profile pages. MySpace has responded with added educational efforts and partnerships with law enforcement. The company has also placed restrictions on how adults may contact younger users on MySpace, while developing technologies such as one announced Wednesday to let parents see some aspects of their child's online profile, including the stated age. That tool is expected this summer. "MySpace serves as an industry leader on Internet safety and we take proactive measures to protect our members," Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security officer, said in a statement. "We provide users with a range of tools to enable a safer online experience." But he said Internet safety is a shared responsibility, requiring users to "apply common sense offline safety lessons in their online experiences and engage in open family dialogue." The lawyers who filed the latest lawsuits said the plaintiffs include a 15-year-old girl from Texas who was lured to a meeting, drugged and assaulted in 2006 by an adult MySpace user, who is currently serving a 10- year sentence in Texas after pleading guilty to sexual assault. The others are a 15-year-old girl from Pennsylvania, a 14-year-old from upstate New York and two South Carolina sisters, ages 14 and 15. Last June, the mother of a 14-year-old who says the youth was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old user sued MySpace and News Corp., seeking $30 million in damages. That lawsuit, pending in a Texas state court, claims the 19-year-old lied about being a senior in high school to gain her trust and phone number. News Corp. shares hit a new 52-week high of $24.07 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange before slipping back to $23.99, up 29 cents. WOMAN DRINKS WATER & DIES Sheriff looks into water-drinking death SACRAMENTO, Calif. - As participants in KDND-FM's water-drinking contest chugged bottle after bottle, a listener called in to warn the disc jockeys that the stunt could be fatal. "Yeah, we're aware of that," one of them responded. Another DJ said with a laugh: "Yeah, they signed releases, so we're not responsible. We're OK." Those comments, and others made during the Jan. 12 "Morning Rave" radio show, appeared to give little regard to the risk of water intoxication. But just hours after the contest, a woman who guzzled nearly two gallons was dead. On Wednesday, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department launched a criminal investigation into the incident, and attorneys for the family of Jennifer Lea Strange said they plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the radio station. The county coroner said preliminary autopsy findings indicate Strange, a 28-year-old mother of three, died of water intoxication. Authorities decided to pursue the investigation after listening to a tape of the show, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, during which DJs joked about the possible dangers of consuming too much water, sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Tim Curran said. At one point, the DJs even alluded to a college student who died during a similar stunt in 2005. Strange was one of about 18 contestants who tried to win a Nintendo Wii gaming console by determining how much water they could drink without going to the bathroom. Several hours into the contest, Strange was interviewed on the air and complained that her head hurt. "They keep telling me that it's the water. That it will tell my head to hurt and then it will make me puke," she said. Eventually, Strange gave in and accepted the second-place prize: tickets to a Justin Timberlake concert. She commented that she looked pregnant, and a female DJ agreed. "Oh, my gosh, look at that belly. That's full of water. ... Come on over, Jennifer, you OK?" a male DJ asked. "You going to pass out right now? Too much water?" Several hours later, Strange was found dead in her home. On Tuesday, KDND's parent company, Entercom/Sacramento, fired 10 employees connected to the contest, including three morning disc jockeys. The company also took the morning show off the air. Station spokesman Charles Sipkins said Wednesday the company had not yet heard from the sheriff's department but that it would cooperate with the investigation. INFLATION Inflation has best showing in 3 years WASHINGTON - The Labor Department reported Thursday that consumer prices rose by 2.5 percent in 2006, the best showing since prices had increased by just 1.9 percent in 2003. The improvement came in spite of the fact that consumer prices jumped 0.5 percent in December, as gasoline prices staged a momentary rebound. The slowdown in inflation translated into more spending power for Americans. The government said average weekly earnings for non-supervisory workers rose by 2.1 percent last year, after adjusting for inflation. That was the biggest gain in nine years. Inflation-adjusted weekly earnings had fallen for three straight years, a development that Democrats argued in last fall's election campaigns showed that President Bush's economic policies were not working for the middle class. In other economic news, the number of newly laid off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 290,000 last week, the lowest level in 11 months and an indication that the labor market began the new year in good shape in spite of weakness in housing and auto manufacturing. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that construction of new homes rose by 4.5 percent in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.642 million units, raising hopes that the worst of the housing slowdown may be coming to an end. However, analysts cautioned that the figure was heavily influenced by warmer-than-normal weather last month. The 0.5 percent December increase in consumer prices had been expected, given that gasoline costs rebounded during the month. However with crude oil prices setting 19-month lows in recent weeks, the expectation is that gasoline costs will resume their downward trend and stay well below the record level of over $3 per gallon, set last summer. For all of 2006, energy costs rose 2.9 percent, a significant slowdown after an increase of 17.1 percent in 2005 and 16.6 percent in 2004. That price moderation occurred in recent months. After advancing at a 22.8 percent annual rate in the first six months of 2006, energy costs fell at a 13.4 percent rate in the final half of the year. The moderation in energy in the second half of last year helped lower the overall price increase to 2.5 percent, down from a gain of 3.4 percent in 2005, which had been the biggest price jump in five years. Core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food costs, rose by 2.6 percent in 2006, up from gains of 2.2 percent in both 2004 and 2005. That was the fastest increase since a 2.7 percent rise in 2001. The Federal Reserve has been watching the performance of core inflation closely for signs that the surge in energy costs in recent years was breaking out to more widespread inflation troubles. In an effort to prevent that from occurring, the Fed raised interest rates at 17 consecutive meetings as a way of slowing overall growth enough to keep inflation under control. Analysts believe the central bank could start cutting interest rates by this summer if core inflation continues to show improvement. The report on the Consumer Price Index offered good news on that front, showing that core inflation was rising at an annual rate of 1.4 percent in the final three months of the year, just half of the 2.8 percent rate of increase turned in during the July-September quarter. It was the best showing of the year. SPOUSE MISSING? Majority of US women living without spouse The New York Times, which based its report on an analysis of census results, said 51 percent of women in 2005 reported living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000. "Coupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time, the trend could ultimately shape social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits," the newspaper said. It said that several factors are behind the shift including women marrying at a later age and living with partners for more often and for longer periods. Women are also living longer as widows and once divorced, often opt to stay single, the report said. According to the Census figures, only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, compared with 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women. BROKE POWER BALL WINNER Powerball winner: Thieves cleaned me out CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A man beset by problems since winning a record lottery jackpot says he can't pay a settlement to a casino worker because thieves cleaned out his bank accounts. Powerball winner Jack Whittaker gave that explanation in a note last fall to a lawyer for Kitti French, who accused him of assaulting her at the Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center, a slots-only casino near Charleston, according to a motion French's lawyer filed this week demanding payment of the confidential settlement. Whittaker won a nearly $315 million on Christmas 2002, then the largest undivided lottery prize in U.S. history. He took his winnings in a lump sum of $113 million after taxes. Since then, he has faced his granddaughter's death by drug overdose; he has been sued for bouncing checks at Atlantic City, N.J., casinos; he has been ordered to undergo rehab after being arrested on drunken driving charges; his vehicles and business have been burglarized; and he has been sued by the father of an 18-year- old boy, a friend of his granddaughter's, who was found dead in Whittaker's house. In the latest lawsuit, Whittaker told French's lawyer, John Barrett, that "a team of crooks" cashed checks in September at 12 City National Bank branches and "got all my money," according to the motion Barrett filed Wednesday in state court. "I intend to pay but can't without any money," Whittaker wrote, according to the motion. An official with City National Bank said Friday the bank is investigating "small discrepancies" in Whittaker's accounts. Calls to Whittaker and his lawyers Friday were not immediately returned. WIRELESS THEFT Using neighbor's wireless link: Probation SINGAPORE - A Singaporean teenager who illegally tapped into a neighbor's wireless Internet network — an offense the city-state deems punishable by jail — was placed on 18 months' probation by a district court Tuesday. The court also ordered Garyl Tan Jia Luo, 17, to carry out 80 hours of community service after he admitted linking his computer to his neighbor's wireless router to access the Internet without permission. Tan could have been jailed up to three years and fined 10,000 Singapore dollars (US$6,500). Senior District Judge Bala Reddy cited a probation report as saying Tan had been addicted to Internet gaming at the time of the offense, adding the teenager had "few friends, if not none." Reddy said Tan should seek "disciplined and structured psychiatric and psychological intervention" to cure his addiction. Tan is the first Singaporean to have been prosecuted and convicted for tapping illegally into a wireless Internet network, an offense under the Computer Misuse Act, according to Tan's lawyer, Sam Koh. A second Singaporean is currently facing 60 charges of illegally accessing wireless Internet networks. MIDWEST ICE STORM Death toll mounts from Midwest ice storm ST. LOUIS - The death toll from a powerful winter storm rose to 36 across six states Monday as utility crews labored to restore service to hundreds of thousands of Missouri households and businesses enduring cold weather without electricity for heat and lights. The crews hoped to take advantage of moderate weather expected Monday — with only a few lingering snow showers and flurries — before temperatures plunged back to the single digits Monday night. However, some people won't be back online until late Wednesday, said the utility Ameren. Power outages spread to other states Monday as the remains of the storm system streamed across New England. Ice-covered roads cut into Martin Luther King Jr. holiday observances from New York to Texas, where officials canceled Gov. Rick Perry's inauguration parade scheduled for Tuesday. Even in Maine, more accustomed to winter weather, a layer of sleet and snow on roads Monday shut down numerous businesses, day care centers and schools. Waves of freezing rain, sleet and snow since Friday had been blamed for at least 15 deaths in Oklahoma, eight in Missouri, five in Iowa, three in Texas and four in New York and one in Maine. Seven of the Oklahoma deaths occurred in one accident, in which a minivan carrying 12 people slid off an icy highway Sunday and struck an oncoming truck, the Highway Patrol said. All of the van's occupants were adult residents of Mexico, who were traveling from Arizona to North Carolina, Highway Patrol Capt. Chris West said. About 330,000 homes and businesses had no electricity Sunday night in Missouri. State officials did not have a new estimate Monday morning, but Ameren's share of those outages had dropped from 130,000 to 98,000, spokeswoman Susan Gallager said. However, that figure included about 13,000 new outages in central Missouri. Most of the Missouri power outages were caused by the weight of ice snapping tree branches and dropping them onto power lines, officials said. In New Hampshire, outages also were caused by vehicles sliding into utility poles. Missouri National Guardsmen went door to door checking on the health and safety of residents in the hardest hit parts of the state and helping to clear slick roads. The St. Louis temperature hovered just above the freezing mark Monday morning, and the wind chill was 24 degrees, the weather service said. As the storm blew across the lower Great Lakes and northern New England on Monday, a layer of ice up to a half-inch thick knocked out power to more than 50,000 customers in northern New York and was blamed for dozens of traffic accidents, authorities officials said. A King holiday appearance in Albany, N.Y., by Gov. Eliot Spitzer was canceled because the weather prevented him from flying or driving north from New York City. The ice accumulation also blacked out at least 4,500 customers in New Hampshire, but in the northern part of the state ski areas were celebrating their first significant snowfall of the season. The weather and the need to de-ice aircraft prompted the cancellation of 100 scheduled departures Monday morning at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, DFW Airport spokesman Ken Capps said. More than 400 flights were canceled there Sunday. About 122,000 customers were blacked out in Oklahoma as of Sunday night, the state Department of Emergency Management said. Authorities said it could be up to a week before power is fully restored. Late Sunday, President Bush declared a federal disaster for Oklahoma because of the storm. Elsewhere, a weekend cold snap that had worried citrus growers and other farmers in California produced rare freezing temperatures Monday in southern Arizona. The 8 a.m. reading in Phoenix was 29, the weather service said. ALZHEIMER'S STUDY New gene linked to Alzheimer's identified Abnormalities in a gene called SORL1 increased the risk for the disease, and this finding could help scientists develop new treatments, the researchers reported in the journal Nature Genetics. The researchers looked at DNA samples from 6,000 people from four ethnic groups: Caribbean-Hispanics, North Europeans, black Americans and Israeli-Arabs. They found certain variations of SORL1 more often in people with late-onset Alzheimer's disease than in healthy people. The late-onset form, affecting people age 65 and up, represents about 90 percent of Alzheimer's cases. The rarer early-onset form affects people from about age 30 to 65. Only one other gene, called ApoE4, has been identified as a risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer's. It was identified in 1993. Several genes are linked with early Alzheimer's, and study of both types might lead to better understanding of how the disease begins and how to tackle it. Many scientists think Alzheimer's begins with the buildup in the brain of a gooey material called amyloid that clumps together to form plaques. That material stems from a protein called amyloid precursor protein, or APP. SORL1 controls the distribution of APP inside nerve cells of the brain. When working normally, the gene prevents APP from being degraded into a toxic byproduct called amyloid beta peptide. When SORL1 is deficient, it allows more of the bad amyloid beta peptide to accumulate, fostering amyloid plaques. Alzheimer's is a complex disease that gradually destroys a person's memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. Scientists have struggled to understand the biology of the disease and its genetic and environmental causes. 'PIECE OF THE PUZZLE' "It's another clue to the way in which this disease comes about, another piece of the puzzle," Dr. Peter St. George-Hyslop, director of the Center for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Toronto and one of the key researchers, said in a telephone interview. "Every time you get a piece of the puzzle and you can relate it to something else in the puzzle, you're that much closer to knowing what the picture on the puzzle is," he added. St. George-Hyslop said it is premature to say what percentage of cases of late-onset Alzheimer's disease can be attributed to SORL1. ApoE4, which also may be involved in the production of amyloid plaques, has been linked to about 20 percent of late-onset Alzheimer's cases. "This appears to be the fifth Alzheimer's disease gene, and there are likely to be other important genetic variants that need to be identified before the entire picture is complete," Dr. Richard Mayeux of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, also involved in the research, said in a statement. The disease first affects parts of the brain controlling memory and thinking, but as it advances it kills cells elsewhere in the brain. Eventually, if the patient has no other serious illness, the loss of brain function will prove fatal. Researchers from Boston University and the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, Florida, also took part in the five-year study. DO YOU NEED A CREDIT CHECK? CREDIT CHECKS - CIA & FBI LOOKING AT YOUR CREDIT Cheney: Credit checks aren't illegal WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday the Pentagon and CIA are not violating people's rights by examining the banking and credit records of hundreds of Americans and others suspected of terrorism or espionage in the United States. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (news, bio, voting record), D-Texas, the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said his panel will be the judge of that. National security letters permit the executive branch to seek records about people in terrorism and spy investigations without a judge's approval or grand jury subpoena. "The Defense Department gets involved because we've got hundreds of bases inside the United States that are potential terrorist targets," Cheney said. "The Department of Defense has legitimate authority in this area. This is an authority that goes back three or four decades. It was reaffirmed in the Patriot Act," he said. "It's perfectly legitimate activity. There's nothing wrong with it or illegal. It doesn't violate people's civil rights." In a statement Sunday, Reyes promised that his panel would take a careful look at those claims. "Any expansion by the department into intelligence collection, particularly on U.S. soil, is something our committee will thorough review," Reyes said. "We want our intelligence professionals to have strong tools that will enable them to interrupt the planning process of our enemies and to stop attacks against our country," he said. "But in doing so, we also want those tools to comply fully with the law and the Constitution." The Pentagon and the CIA, to a lesser extent, have used this little-known power, officials said. The FBI, the lead agency on domestic counter-terrorism and espionage, has issued thousands of such letters since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The letters have generated criticism and court challenges from civil liberties advocates who claim they invade the privacy of Americans' lives, even though banks and other financial institutions typically turn over the financial records voluntarily. The vast majority of national security letters are issued by the FBI, but in rare circumstances they have been used by the CIA before and after Sept. 11, according to a U.S. intelligence official. The CIA has used these noncompulsory letters in espionage investigations and other circumstances, the official said. The New York Times, which reported Sunday on the expanded use of the technique by the Pentagon and CIA, said military intelligence officers have sent the letters in up to 500 investigations. Cheney was interviewed on "Fox News Sunday." GRISHAM LAWSUIT Va. court OKs suit against John Grisham RICHMOND, Va. - Best-selling author John Grisham and a couple he knows must answer allegations that they deliberately caused a woman's emotional problems by accusing her of sending them anonymous letters, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Friday. In a 6-1 ruling, the court reinstated Katharine Almy's lawsuit against Grisham, Alan Swanson — a teacher at a private school were Grisham served on the board of directors — and Swanson's wife, Donna. A judge had dismissed the lawsuit after reviewing a deposition by a mental health professional who treated Almy. The justices, however, ruled Almy had stated allegations sufficient to hold a trial on her claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Almy, who denies writing the letters, is entitled to her day in court, said her lawyer, Bernard J. DiMuro. Thomas E. Albro, the attorney for Grisham and the Swansons, declined to comment. Donna Swanson received several handwritten letters between 1996 and 1998 accusing her husband of infidelity, among other allegations, according to the facts set out in Friday's ruling. Grisham, a Charlottesville-area resident whose legal thrillers include "The Firm" and "The Runaway Jury," also received an anonymous letter in 1998. The court did not describe the contents of that letter. Almy claims Grisham and the Swansons set out to prove she wrote the letters, hiring two handwriting experts to compare the letters to other samples of her writing: materials from a baseball league in which Almy's daughter played and Grisham coached and confidential records from her children's files at the school. Almy alleges the defendants persuaded authorities to send a police officer to Almy's home to confront her, which she says caused her severe emotional problems. TAX TIME Put off reading this until tax time WASHINGTON - Procrastination in society is getting worse and scientists are finally getting around to figuring out how and why. Too many tempting diversions are to blame, but more on that later. After 10 years of research on a project that was only supposed to take five years, a Canadian industrial psychologist found in a giant study that not only is procrastination on the rise, it makes people poorer, fatter and unhappier. Something has to be done about it, sooner rather than later, University of Calgary professor Piers Steel concludes. His 30-page study is in this month's peer-reviewed Psychological Bulletin, published by the American Psychological Association. In 1978, only about 5 percent of the American public thought of themselves as chronic procrastinators. Now it's 26 percent, Steel said. And why not? There are so many fun ways to kill time — TVs in every room, online video, Web-surfing, cell phones, video games, iPods and Blackberries. At work, e-mail, the Internet and games are just a click away, making procrastination effortless, Steel said. "That stupid game Minesweeper — that probably has cost billions of dollars for the whole society," he said. The U.S. gross national product would probably rise by $50 billion if the icon and sound that notifies people of new e-mail suddenly disappear, he added. And there's good reason to worry right now about the problem of procrastination. "People who procrastinate tend to be less healthy, less wealthy and less happy," Steel said Wednesday. "You can reduce it, but I don't think you can eliminate it." Psychologist William Knaus, who has written several self-help books on fighting procrastination since 1977's "Overcoming Procrastination," said Steel is "absolutely right." He said he found it harder to wean chronic procrastinators from the habit of delaying than to wean alcoholics from booze. Knaus mentioned one businessman who spent 40 hours of delay time to avoid five minutes of work. "It's a huge problem," Knaus said. "I think the majority of mental disabilities people have — anxiety, panic — they can be defined as a special case of procrastination." There is personal financial fallout from procrastination, too. Delay in filing taxes on average costs a person $400 a year and last-minute Christmas shopping with credit cards was five times higher in 1999 than in 1991, Steel found in a review of more than 500 economic and psychological studies about putting off unpleasant chores. Steel's study found that in the past quarter century, the average self-score for procrastination (using a 1-to-5 scale with 1 being no delaying) has increased by 39 percent. Overall, more than a quarter of Americans say they procrastinate. Men are worse than women (about 54 out of 100 chronic procrastinators are men) and the young are more like to procrastinate than the old, Steel said. Three out of four college students consider themselves procrastinators. Early studies looking at U.S. and Canadian cultures didn't find any differences in the two countries' procrastination problem, but Steel said when he has more time he'll get around to more cross-cultural studies. The causes of procrastination combine temptation, sense of immediacy, the value of doing the job, and whether you believe you can get the work done, Steel found. He even created a complicated mathematical formula, complete with Greek letters, to figure out when a person is likely to procrastinate. Temptation is the biggest factor. And it's why procrastination is getting worse, Steel said, citing technology. "It's easier to procrastinate now than ever before. We have so many more temptations," he said. "It's never been harder to be self-disciplined in all of history than it is now." But procrastination goes back thousands of years, before technology. Ancient literature harps on the problem, Steel said. Knaus mentioned a book from 1852: "Thoughtless Little Fanny: The Unhappy Results of Procrastination." The author is just called "a friend of children." While many self-help books say perfectionists procrastinate because they don't want to get things wrong, Steel found just the opposite. Perfectionists procrastinate less and do better because they avoid delaying. However they do worry more about putting stuff off, he said. Studying procrastination as a field has a benefit, said the professor. The more he knows about the problem and the causes, the less he procrastinates — even though he sheepishly acknowledges his study was completed five years late. The good thing about studying procrastination, he said: "If you take a day off from it, you can always say it's field research." MICHAEL JACKSON Spokeswoman: Jackson resolved bill suit LOS ANGELES - Michael Jackson has amicably resolved a lawsuit filed by a Beverly Hills pharmacy that claimed the singer owed more than $100,000 for prescription drugs during the past two years, his spokeswoman said Friday. "(Mickey) Fine Pharmacy has been paid," Jackson spokeswoman Raymone K. Bain said in a statement. The suit, filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleged the pharmacy had an oral agreement with Jackson to pay for his prescription medications and sent monthly bills that went unpaid by the singer. As of Dec. 25, 2006, Jackson owed $101,926 and had made his last payment in mid-2005, the lawsuit said. A lawyer representing the pharmacy initially declined comment on the lawsuit, and did not immediately return a phone call late Friday regarding Bain's comments. In her statement, Bain said the lawsuit related to the administration of Jackson's finances. She noted that Jackson has filed a lawsuit against his former business managers. TWO BOYS FOUND Man charged with kidnapping Mo. boy - January 12, 2007 BEAUFORT, Mo. - A 13-year-old boy who vanished from the gravel road near his home five days ago was found alive Friday about 60 miles away in a suburban St. Louis home, along with a 15-year-old boy missing since 2002, authorities said. Sharp-eyed police and suspicions about a white truck led police to the Kirkwood apartment of Michael Devlin, 41, who has been charged with one count of first-degree kidnapping, Sheriff Gary Toelke said. The sheriff said both boys appeared unharmed. William Ownby who goes by Ben, appeared somewhat dazed as he walked inside the sheriff's department, where he was reunited with his family who had been searching for him since Monday. "His eyes lit up like silver dollars," said the boy's uncle, Loyd Bailie, who was escorted to the sheriff's department with Ben's parents. Everyone broke into tears and Ben's parents embraced him as tightly as they could, Bailie said. The straight-A student and Boy Scout was last seen after he stepped off his school bus and ran toward his Beaufort home down a gravel road on Monday. A friend who left the bus with the boy told authorities that after the two parted, he saw a small white pickup with a camper shell speeding away from where Ben had been walking. Searchers on foot, horseback and all-terrain vehicles looked for Ben in the hilly area about 60 miles southwest of St. Louis. Toelke said the break in the case came Thursday night. Kirkwood city police officers were serving a warrant on an apartment complex when they noticed a white truck matching the description of a vehicle authorities had been searching for in the Ownby investigation. Kirkwood officers contacted the Franklin County Sheriff's Department and determined where the owner of the truck was and then searched Devlin's house. Toelke said authorities found Ben and were surprised to find another boy who identified himself as Shawn Hornbeck. Hornbeck disappeared from his Richwoods in October 2002, when he was 11. He went for a bike ride and never returned. Hornbeck's parents, Pam and Craig Akers, were reunited with their son, Toelke said. Later, both boys were taken to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis for evaluation. Hospital spokesman Bob Davidson said both were in good spirits. "The boys were smiling and appeared very pleased to be with their families," Davidson said. "Obviously the families were incredibly tickled to have the boys back. It's a thrilling night." Hornbeck's parents have devoted themselves to bringing missing people home since Hornbeck vanished over four years ago from his hometown 65 miles southwest of St. Louis. His parents, dozens of volunteers and sniffer dogs searched for weeks. The couple set up a Web site and listened to anyone who offered a tip. Craig Akers, Shawn's stepfather, quit his job as a software designer to devote his time to a foundation bearing his son's name. They depleted their savings, borrowed against their retirement and talked to psychics. The financial strain forced both of them back to work. A retired police officer volunteered to work on the case until Shawn was found. Even though so much time had passed, Pam Akers said her son is frozen in her memory as an 11-year-old boy. "It's been four years," she said on the anniversary of his disappearance last fall. "But for me, it's just been one long continuous day." Toelke said authorities were still investigating the motive behind the abductions. Franklin County Prosecutor Robert Parks said more charges are likely to be filed. "There are a lot of things we don't know right now," Toelke said. Neighbor Rick Butler, 43, said the FBI came to his door Thursday night and showed a picture of Ben, asking if he had seen him. He said he had not. But he had seen a boy he now believes was Hornbeck. He said he saw no evidence that the boy now believed to be Hornbeck was scared or trying to get away. He had seen Devlin and the teen pitch a tent in the courtyard. "I didn't see or hear anything odd or unusual from the apartment," Butler said. "I just figured them for father and son." Devlin worked at a local pizzeria and an overnight shift answering phones at a funeral home, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported. "He just acted like a relatively normal guy. Nothing unusual stuck out at me," his former landlord, Marvin Reid, told the newspaper. MEDICARE REFORM House approves Medicare reform measure - January 12, 2007 WASHINGTON - The House approved legislation Friday requiring the government to negotiate with drug companies over the price of medicines for Medicare participants. Despite a veto threat from the president, Democrats used their majority status to push through another of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record)'s priorities for the first 100 hours of the new Congress. The vote was 255-170, mostly along party lines. The idea behind the bill is using the sheer size of the Medicare program to generate steeper discounts than private insurance plans can muster. "Forty-three million people can have the purchasing power to perhaps encourage these drug houses to give the government and the American retirees a better price," said the bill's author, Rep. John Dingell (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich. However, the bill's prospects dim after Friday's vote. President Bush has said he would veto the bill if it makes it to his desk. He said that competition is already reducing prices for seniors and creating an environment that encourages the development of new drugs. The Senate has held one hearing on the subject this year, and more are expected, with that chamber likely to take a much longer look at the concept than the House did. The legislation strikes a clause known as the "noninterference provision," which prohibits the secretary of Health and Human Services from participating in negotiations between drug manufacturers and insurers that sponsor Medicare plans. It would require the secretary to negotiate. Insurers still would be allowed to try for steeper discounts than what the government obtained. Republicans countered that the drug benefit, which kicked in on Jan. 1, 2006, has cost less than anticipated, and the large majority of seniors and disabled people who use the program are satisfied. "With all that's right with the program, it seems unwise and unkind to jeopardize its success," said Rep. Michael Burgess (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas. Democrats have said that savings produced by the negotiations would be used to reduce a coverage gap that is common in many plans. Reducing the gap, known as the doughnut hole, would lower those beneficiaries' out-of-pocket costs. But Republicans counter that there wouldn't be any savings. Also, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the legislation was unlikely to result in savings to taxpayers. The drug program cost about $30 billion in its first year. Insurance companies offer competing coverage plans, and seniors may enroll in the one they like best. The administration announced on Wednesday that 23.5 million seniors had enrolled in stand-alone plans as of Jan. 1. White House press secretary Tony Snow noted that actuaries at both the budget office and the Department of Health and Human Services say the bill will have little or no effect on federal spending and provide no substantial savings to the government. "If this bill is presented to the president, he will veto it," Snow said Friday. Currently, private drug plans negotiate how much they'll pay for the medicine their Medicare customers take. Those plans get a federal subsidy, plus consumers pay for a portion of the medicine. Dingell said the government can do better than individual insurance companies in getting discounts. "The president and his Republican allies have argued that this bill would do nothing. Then why, I must ask, would he bother to veto it?" said Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Twenty-four Republicans voted for the legislation. Rep. Dan. Burton, R-Ind., was one of them. He noted during the debate that Americans pay more for medicine than residents of other countries pay. Also, the government negotiates for other products. "For us to say we cannot negotiate on pharmaceuticals is just crazy," he said during the debate. No Democrat voted against the legislation. CANON'S VENTURE Canon to take control of joint venture - January 12, 2007 TOKYO - Japanese electronics maker Canon will take full control of a joint venture for flat panel TVs using a new technology called SED, the company said Friday, in a move aimed at an early settlement of a legal dispute in the United States. Canon Inc. will turn SED Inc., an equally owned venture with Toshiba Corp., into a wholly owned subsidiary, effective Jan. 29, the two companies said in a statement. The decision was prompted by litigation against Canon underway in the U.S. over SED technology, a new type of flat-panel display jointly developed with Toshiba, the statement said. SED, which stands for surface-conduction electron-emitter display, panels have a reputation for delivering clear and vivid images because their light-beaming technology is similar to that for old-style cathode-ray tube TVs. Nano-Proprietary Inc., a U.S. technology company that has licensed a key SED technology to Canon, claims SED Inc. is not covered under the agreement because the company is not a Canon subsidiary. Canon decided to purchase all outstanding shares held by Toshiba in the joint venture "based on the assumption of prolonged litigation pending against Canon in the United States with respect to SED technology," the companies said. The purchase price is estimated at about 10 billion yen ($82.64 million), the Nikkei business newspaper said in its evening editions, citing unidentified sources. Canon and Toshiba will produce SED television sets in Japan later this year as originally planned, although Canon will reassess its future mass-production plans for SED panels, the statement said. Though the joint venture, set up in 2004, will be fully taken over by Canon under an agreement between the two companies, Toshiba is planning to procure SED panels from Canon in the future and assemble its own SED TVs, said Toshiba spokesman Keisuke Ohmori. Toshiba shares, which have made some fluctuations over the past year, closed up 0.86 percent to 819 yen ($6.77) on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Canon shares, which have risen about 20 percent over the pas six months, climbed 1.24 percent at 6,540 yen ($54.05). U.S. UNIFORM IN PLAYBOY MAG. Sergeant in trouble for Playboy spread - January 12, 2007 SAN ANTONIO - An Air Force staff sergeant who posed nude for Playboy magazine has been relieved of her duties while the military investigates, officials said Thursday. In February's issue, hitting newsstands this week, Michelle Manhart is photographed in uniform yelling and holding weapons under the headline "Tough Love." The following pages show her partially clothed, wearing her dog tags while working out, as well as completely nude. "This staff sergeant's alleged action does not meet the high standards we expect of our airmen, nor does it comply with the Air Force's core values of integrity, service before self, and excellence in all we do," Oscar Balladares, spokesman for Lackland Air Force Base, said in a statement. Manhart told Playboy that she considers herself as standing up for her rights. "Of what I did, nothing is wrong, so I didn't anticipate anything, of course," Manhart, 30, told The Associated Press. "I didn't do anything wrong, so I didn't think it would be a major issue." Manhart, who is married with two children, joined the Air Force in 1994, spending time in Kuwait in 2002. She trains airmen at Lackland. WORKERS PISS YOU OFF? "It's Important to Stay Cool Under Pressure" We've all had stressful workdays, but be careful: Losing your temper in the workplace might cost you more than embarrassment. It could lead to loss of respect from co-workers and colleagues, and might just cost you a valued customer, a well-deserved promotion or even your job. However, there are a few simple tips that might help you overcome your stress, anger and frustration: Keep calm. Learning to stay cool when you are about to lose your temper might be one of the hardest things to do, but there are ways to manage short-term anger and frustration. Keep your voice calm, remove yourself from the situation if need be, and talk about it with somebody. Be prepared. If prepared, you are less likely to be caught off guard, thus readily minimizing stressful situations that may lead to loss of temper. For example, if you are a Notary Signing Agent heading for an early morning assignment, prepare materials the night before. Make sure that all your notarial tools are functioning correctly. Be organized. Use all methods available to keep you on track and aware of deadlines, appointments and other commitments. Use calendars, journals, cell phone reminders and Personal Digital Assistants to avoid the anger and embarrassment associated with arriving late or missing work assignments. EXPENSIVE HOUSING U.S. home prices unaffordable for many workers: study - January 10, 2007 CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. home prices may have dipped over the past year, but many American workers would still struggle to afford a median-priced home in major cities, a new study said on Wednesday. "American workers are really not gaining ground and they're so far behind in the first place," said Barbara Lipman, research director for the nonprofit Center for Housing Policy, which conducted the study. While the median home price in the 202 largest metropolitan areas declined 2 percent from a year ago to $248,000 in the third quarter of 2006, mortgage rates rose enough over the year that homes actually became less affordable as pay did not keep pace. "The real story is what happened to salaries," Lipman said. "Lower-paid occupations -- such as in retail, or home health workers -- their salaries went up only about 3 percent." The study found an annual income of nearly $85,000 was needed to afford the median-priced U.S. home. In the New York metropolitan area, a $500,000 median-priced home required a $171,000 annual salary. The median-priced home in San Francisco, the most expensive U.S. market, was $759,000, requiring income of $260,000. In less-expensive Chicago, the median-priced home cost $254,000, requiring an $87,000 salary. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mansfield, Ohio, homes cost a median $85,000, requiring $29,118 in income. The study assumed home buyers needed a 10 percent down payment and could afford to pay 28 percent of their income on mortgage payments, property taxes and home insurance. In reality, many households expend a much higher percentage of their incomes on mortgage payments, Lipman said. To afford that, consumers cut other expenses such as for health care and transportation, she said, citing research showing unaffordable housing is the major reason families lack health insurance. Other ways families cope with high housing expenses is to work longer hours or extra jobs, or by crowding in more income producers, she said. An October 2006 survey by the group found families who seek to buy less-expensive homes in further-out suburbs -- adding to urban sprawl -- pay so much more for transit that it eliminates the savings. While home prices range widely across the country, wages for low-wage jobs -- from teachers to janitors -- are about the same no matter where they are located, Lipman said. The report cited housing aid programs offered by some big-city hospitals that have plenty of modestly-paid workers. "For the low- to moderate-income individuals that we're talking about, they're not going to be helped by marginal declines in home prices," Lipman said. "The only way to address the problem is to create more affordable units (homes) -- which may mean higher density units, townhouses and condos." CHAVEZ'S 3RD TERM Venezuela's Chavez sworn in for 3rd term - January 10, 2007 CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez echoed Fidel Castro's cry of "socialism or death" as he was sworn in for a new six-year term on Wednesday, promising to accelerate Venezuela's transformation into a socialist state. Chavez took the oath of office at the National Assembly after a sweeping re-election victory that has given him free reign to pursue more radical changes, including plans to nationalize power and telecommunications companies. His right hand raised, Chavez declared: "Fatherland, socialism or death — I swear it," invoking the Cuban leader's famous call to arms. Chavez also alluded to Jesus, saying: "I swear by Christ — the greatest socialist in history." In a speech that followed, he said the central aim of his term that runs until 2013 will be "to build Venezuelan socialism." "I don't have the slightest doubt that is the only path to the redemption of our peoples, the salvation of our fatherland," Chavez told lawmakers to applause. He said he believes that socialism — not capitalism — is the only way to guarantee well-being not only for Venezuela, but the world. He said a commission was being formed to oversee proposed constitutional reforms, including one that would allow "indefinite re-election" by doing away with presidential term limits that bar him from running again in 2012. Referring to critics' claims the action showed he was a tyrant or doing the bidding of Castro, Chavez said, "The important thing is that the people will make the decision, because nothing can be done without that here." He has said in the past that Venezuelans should decide in a referendum. Chavez also said he would ask the National Assembly, solidly dominated by his allies, for special powers allowing him to enact a series of "revolutionary laws" by decree. He scolded leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Organization of American States for criticizing his decision not to renew the license of an opposition-aligned television station. Addressing Venezuela's top Catholic prelate, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, Chavez said he could not understand why the church supported Radio Caracas Television, which Chavez accuses of subversive activities aimed at ousting him. "Mr. Cardinal," Chavez said, "the state respects the church. The church should respect the state. I wouldn't like to return to the times of confrontation with Venezuelan bishops, but it's not up to me. It's up to the Venezuelan bishops." With oil profits booming and his popularity high, Chavez seems to be in step with many Venezuelans even as spooked investors rushed to sell off Venezuelan stocks in the affected companies after his nationalization announcement Monday. Chavez attended a ceremony earlier Wednesday at the tomb of Simon Bolivar, the South American independence hero who is the inspiration of Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution" movement. He then rode in an open car, blowing kisses and waving to supporters who tossed rose petals, to the National Assembly, where he was sworn in by the body's president, Cilia Flores. Some lawmakers shouted "Viva socialism!" after the ceremony. Chavez, an admirer of the 80-year-old Castro, has said he is crafting a new sort of "21st century socialism" for Venezuela. Critics say it is starting to look like old-fashioned totalitarianism by a leader obsessed with power. "They want to nationalize everything. This is the beginning," said Marisela Leon, a 47-year-old engineer who said she might consider leaving the country because she sees difficult times ahead. The U.S. government has expressed concern about Chavez's vaguely defined nationalization plans, which he has said also include bringing under state control four lucrative oil projects now run by foreign companies in the Orinoco River basin. But most of Chavez's largely poor supporters remain optimistic. Miguel Angel Martinez, a 52-year-old street vendor, said the president "has dedicated himself to studying communist, socialist and democratic models and has taken the best of those models." Orlando Vera, a 63-year-old window washer, said nationalization makes sense for companies that serve the public interest. "Everything the man is doing is good," he said, adding that his economic situation has improved under the Venezuelan leader. First elected in 1998, Chavez has cemented his popularity by using a bonanza in oil profits to set up state- funded cooperatives and fund social programs from subsidized grocery stores to free universities. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted three weeks before Chavez was re-elected on Dec. 3 found 62 percent of those asked supported nationalizing companies when in the national interest — a result that paralleled Chavez's victory with nearly 63 percent of the votes. But that support also has its limits. The poll found 84 percent said they oppose adopting a political system like Cuba's, despite Chavez's reverence for Castro. Chavez, who was traveling to Nicaragua later Wednesday to attend the inauguration of fellow leftist Daniel Ortega, said he does not aim to copy Cuba's system. But he ended his speech by repeating the phrase that Castro made famous: "Toward victory always! Fatherland, socialism or death! We shall prevail!" AL QAIDA KILLING Al-Qaida chief in Somalia may be dead - January 10, 2007 MOGADISHU, Somalia - A senior al-Qaida suspect wanted for bombing American embassies in East Africa was killed in a U.S. airstrike, a Somali official said Wednesday, a report that if confirmed would mean the end of an eight-year hunt for a top target of Washington's war on terrorism. In Washington, U.S. government officials said they had no reason to believe that the suspect, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, had been killed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the information's sensitivity. The report came as U.S forces apparently launched a third day of airstrikes in southern Somalia. At least four separate strikes were reported around Ras Kamboni, on the Somali coast near the Kenyan border. Witnesses said an AC-130 gunship attacked a suspected al-Qaida training camp. A senior Somali government official also said a small U.S. team has been providing military advice to Ethiopian and government forces on the ground. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. In Washington, a U.S. official said it would be virtually unheard of for the United States to be involved in an operation of this size without "eyes on the ground." Two senior Pentagon officials said they had heard of no plans to put any sizable contingent of Americans in Somalia. However, small teams of liaison officers — such as special forces or trainers — are another matter, the officials said. All three officials also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the subject. Meanwhile, Somalia's deputy prime minister said Wednesday that American troops were needed on the ground to root extremists from his troubled country, and he expected the troops soon. Fazul, the al-Qaida suspect believed killed in the airstrike Monday, was wanted for allegedly planning the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. "I have received a report from the American side chronicling the targets and list of damage," Abdirizak Hassan, the Somali president's chief of staff, told The Associated Press. "One of the items they were claiming was that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is dead." Fazul, 32, joined al-Qaida in Afghanistan and trained there with Osama bin Laden, according to the transcript of an FBI interrogation of a known associate. He had a $5 million bounty on his head for allegedly planning the 1998 embassy bombings, which killed 225 people. He is also suspected of planning the car bombing of an Israeli beach resort in Kenya and the near- simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the blast at the hotel, 12 miles north of Mombasa. The missiles missed the airliner. In Washington, an intelligence official said the U.S. killed five to 10 people in an attack on an al-Qaida target in southern Somalia but did not say who was killed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the operation's sensitivity. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said, meanwhile, that eight terror suspects had been killed in the U.S. airstrike, and he was awaiting results of DNA testing to determine their identities. He said he believed they were high-ranking members of the Somali Islamic movement. He also said he was not aware of any American special forces in Somalia, but that the U.S. was providing intelligence. In three days of attacks near Afmadow, close to the Kenyan border, 64 civilians had been killed and 100 injured, said elder Haji Farah Qorshel. There was no independent confirmation of his claim. Hassan said local intelligence reports indicated that Abdirahman Janaqow, a deputy leader of the Somali Islamic militants, had also been killed. The airstrikes were part of the first U.S. offensive in Somalia since 18 American soldiers were killed there in 1993. The offensive is aimed at capturing al-Qaida members thought to be fleeing Somalia since the Islamic militia that sheltered them began losing ground to Somali government soldiers backed by Ethiopian troops last month. It has drawn international criticism, although Britain's leader Tony Blair has pledged support. U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said the U.S. military assault had been based on credible intelligence. He would not confirm any details of the airstrikes, conducted by at least one AC-130 gunship. He would also not say if any specific members of al-Qaida had been killed, or address if the operations were continuing. Somalia's Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aided said U.S. special forces were needed on the ground as Somali and Ethiopian forces have been unable to capture the last remaining hideouts of suspected extremists. "The only way we are going to kill or capture the surviving al-Qaida terrorists is for U.S. special forces to go in on the ground," said Aided, a former U.S. Marine. "They have the know-how and the right equipment to capture these people." "As far as we are aware they are not on the ground yet, but it is only a matter of time," Aided said. Leaders of Somalia's Islamic movement have vowed from their hideouts to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war, and bin Laden's deputy has called on militants to carry out suicide attacks on Ethiopian troops. Somalia has not had an effective central government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other. The interim government was established in 2004. MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE House set to vote on minimum wage hike - January 10, 2007 WASHINGTON - Tackling a top priority, House Democrats pushed a $2.10 an hour increase in the federal minimum wage toward passage Wednesday, calling it only a partial restoration of purchasing power for America's lowest-paid workers. As their second bill since taking control of Congress, the Democratic-written legislation would raise the federal wage floor from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour in three steps over 26 months. The federal wage hasn't budged for 10 years. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (news, bio, voting record), D-Md., said passing the boost "is simply a matter of doing what's right, what's just, and what's fair." "If the minimum wage had been adjusted with the cost of living on an annual basis since 1968, a minimum wage worker would not be making $5.15, not be making $7.25, would be making $9.05," he said. Organized labor and other supporters pitched the bill as coming to the aid of the working poor. Business groups and other opponents said it could lead to higher prices for goods and services, force small companies to pink-slip existing workers or hire fewer new ones, and crimp profits. "In America we can either have maximum opportunity or we can have minimum wages. We cannot have both," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas. The bill would raise the wage floor in three steps. It would go to $5.85 an hour 60 days after signed into law by the president, to $6.55 an hour a year later, and to $7.25 an hour a year after that. "For 10 years the lowest-paid Americans have been frozen out. They have been working at a federal poverty wage, not a federal minimum wage," said Rep. George Miller (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., author of the legislation. President Bush said he supports a wage boost paired with "targeted tax and regulatory relief" to help businesses — which would have to pay for the higher labor costs — stay competitive. As currently written, the House bill doesn't include any such tax or regulatory breaks. House Democrats are denying Republicans any chance to amend the minimum wage bill. Rep. Howard McKeon (news, bio, voting record), R-Calif., complained that constituted a "a series of colossal missed opportunities" The Senate is expected to move quickly — perhaps in the next few weeks — on a similar bill. Business groups and some Republican lawmakers, however, hope they will be able to get some business-friendly provisions into the Senate package. The last time the federal minimum wage rose was in 1997. That's the longest stretch without an increase since the minimum wage was established in 1938. Inflation has eroded the minimum wage's buying power to the lowest level in about 50 years. The Labor Department says 479,000 workers paid by the hour earned exactly $5.15 in 2005, the most recent estimate available. The federal minimum wage is like a national wage floor, though some people can be paid less under certain circumstances. States can set minimum wages above the federal level; more than two dozen states plus the District of Columbia do. People who are paid the minimum wage tend to be young — under age 25 — never married, more likely to be a woman, a minority and work part time, according to a recent analysis of 2005 data by the Labor Department. If the federal wage does rise in 26 months to $7.25 an hour, about 5.6 million people — 4 percent of the work force — who make less than this would be directly affected, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal leaning group. The group estimates that another 7.4 million workers would benefit indirectly as raising the floor would ripple through the work force. That means higher payroll costs for employers. "It is an economic reality that if the federal minimum wage increases by 41 percent, it will put upward pressure on all labor costs for small businesses, which continue to be the engine of economic growth in the United States," the National Retail Federation complained in a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record) of California. The retail group expressed concern about the "lack of balance" in the House bill because it doesn't include other provisions to help ease the economic impact on companies. Many businesses want the pot sweetened, perhaps by faster depreciation or other tax breaks or letting small businesses band together to buy health insurance for their workers. But AFL-CIO President John Sweeney shot back saying: "An increase in pay for America's lowest-paid workers should not have to depend on additional payoffs to business." Both the House and Senate minimum wage bills also would extend the minimum wage — on a separate time table — to employers on the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory. Recent attempts to boost the federal minimum wage had failed when Republicans had control of Congress. But prospects changed after the Nov. 7 midterm elections put Democrats in charge in both the House and Senate. SLAYING IRAQI'S New facts emerge in Iraqi slayings case - January 6, 2007 WASHINGTON - A Marine squad that had just endured casualties from a roadside bombing ordered five unarmed Iraqi civilians out of a taxi, and the squad leader shot them one by one, witnesses have told naval investigators. Four Marines have been charged in the deaths of 24 civilians, including women and children, that occurred immediately after a bombing in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005, killed one Marine and injured two others. In addition, four officers who were not there during the killings but were accused of failures in investigating and reporting the deaths have been charged. The killings have led to the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths to come out of the Iraq war. According to one witness, quoted in the report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service obtained by The Washington Post, a white taxi happened upon the scene shortly after the explosion. The Marines' squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, ordered the passengers, five unarmed Iraqis, out of the car, witnesses said. The Post said naval investigators found that the five Iraqis were shot by Wuterich as they stood there. "They didn't even try to run away," according to one witness, a young Iraqi soldier working with the Marine squad. "We were afraid from Marines and we saw them behaving like crazy. They were yelling and screaming." After the taxi inhabitants were shot, the report found, the Marines raided nearby houses, firing indiscriminately, using both grenades and guns, in a bloody, door-to-door sweep, killing 14 unarmed inhabitants, in just 10 minutes. One 13-year-old girl was the lone survivor in the second house, losing five family members, including her mother and 3-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother. "He fired and killed everybody. The American fired and killed everybody," Safah Yunis Salem told investigators. The four Marines charged last month with murder for the Haditha deaths are: Wuterich; Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz; Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt; and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum. They all face a maximum penalty of life in prison. Defense attorneys have disputed the idea that the shootings were in revenge for the roadside bombing, saying their clients were doing what they had been trained to do: responding to a perceived threat with legitimate force. Navy investigators interviewed hundreds of witnesses, including Marines, Iraqi soldiers and civilians. The Post said the report is sometimes fragmented and contains conflicting testimony of the events that day. FREE COLLEGE COURSES How to go to M.I.T. for free - January 5, 2007 (By Gregory M. Lamb, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor) By the end of this year, the contents of all 1,800 courses taught at one of the world's most prestigious universities will be available online to anyone in the world, anywhere in the world. Learners won't have to register for the classes, and everyone is accepted. The cost? It's all free of charge. The OpenCourseWare movement, begun at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2002 and now spread to some 120 other universities worldwide, aims to disperse knowledge far beyond the ivy-clad walls of elite campuses to anyone who has an Internet connection and a desire to learn. Intended as an act of "intellectual philanthropy," OpenCourseWare (OCW) provides free access to course materials such as syllabi, video or audio lectures, notes, homework assignments, illustrations, and so on. So far, by giving away their content, the universities aren't discouraging students from enrolling as students. Instead, the online materials appear to be only whetting appetites for more. "We believe strongly that education can be best advanced when knowledge is shared openly and freely," says Anne Margulies, executive director of the OCW program at MIT. "MIT is using the power of the Internet to give away all of the educational materials created here." The MIT site (www.ocw.mit.edu), along with companion sites that translate the material into other languages, now average about 1.4 million visits per month from learners "in every single country on the planet," Ms. Margulies says. Those include Iraq, Darfur, "even Antarctica," she says. "We hear from [the online students] all the time with inspirational stories about how they are using these materials to change their lives. They're really, really motivated." So-called "distance learning" over the Internet isn't new. Students have been able to pay for online courses at many institutions, either to receive credit or simply as a noncredit adult-learning experience. Many universities also offer free podcasts (audio or sometimes video material delivered via the Internet). But the sheer volume and variety of the educational materials being released by MIT and its OCW collaborators is nothing less than stunning. For example, each of the 29 courses that Tufts University in Medford, Mass., has put online so far is "literally the size of a textbook," says Mary Lee, associate provost and point person for the OCW effort there. The material provides much more than "a skeleton of a course," she says. Visitors to Tufts' OCW course on "Wildlife Medicine" call it is the most comprehensive website on that topic in the world, Dr. Lee says. What OCW is not, its supporters agree, is a substitute for attending a university. For one thing, OCW learners aren't able to receive feedback from a professor - or to discuss the course with fellow students. A college education is "really the total package of students interacting with other students, forming networks, interacting with faculty, and that whole environment of being associated with the school," says James Yager, a senior associate dean at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He oversees the OCW program there. His school of public health now offers nearly 40 of its most popular courses for free via OCW. The school's goal is to put 90 to 100 of its 200 or so core courses online within the next year or so. In November, learners from places such as Taiwan, Britain, Australia, Singapore, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands logged some 80,000 page views of OCW course material, Dr. Yager says. MIT's initiative began with the idea of giving faculty at other universities access to how professors at MIT approached teaching a subject. But after the OCW project went online, the school quickly realized it had two other huge constituencies: students at other colleges, who wanted to augment what they were learning, and "self learners," those not pursuing a formal education but interested in increasing their knowledge. Along with course content, MIT also wanted to showcase its teaching methods. Many schools follow a traditional model, teaching the theory first, then allowing students to practice what they've learned. MIT has a "practice, theory, practice" way of teaching, Margulies says, that aims to get students engaged and energized immediately - before delving much into theory. Younes Attaourti, a physics professor in Marrakesh, Morocco, stumbled upon MIT's OCW site while surfing the Net. He's used the materials as the basis for courses he's taught on statistical physics and quantum theory of fields. And for his own learning, he's downloaded theoretical physics courses and one on ultrafast optics. "I don't think there is another university elsewhere in the world that is more generous," he writes in an e-mail: "[T]his is the first time that many people around the world are able to have access to top-quality courses." Phillipa Williams is an adult (40-something) student at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, studying mathematics ("don't groan, I love it!" she writes in an e-mail). She's worked her way through many of the OCW undergraduate mathematics courses, she says, because they provide "a different viewpoint, another explanation of material," as well as different practice questions. MIT's OCW website features even more glowing feedback from learners. "[B]ecause of money, many good students with great talent and [who are] diligent do not have the chance to learn the newest knowledge and understanding of the universe," says Chen Zhiying, a student in the People's Republic of China. "But now, due to the OCW, the knowledge will spread to more and more people, and it will benefit the whole [world of] human-beings." "The MIT OCW program is a generous and far-sighted initiative that will do more to change the world for the better than a thousand Iraq-style invasions," the MIT site quotes Leigh Pascoe, a self-learner in Paris, as saying. "It does much to restore my faith in the enlightenment of the American people and their great experiment in democracy. This program should be emulated by every university worthy of the name." Besides MIT, Tufts, and Johns Hopkins, the OCW consortium (ocwconsor tium.org) in the United States includes among its members Michigan State, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Utah State. Internationally, members include groups of universities in China, Japan, and Spain. So far MIT has published 1,550 of its courses for OCW and plans to get the rest online by the end of this year. The materials for each course vary. Full videos of lectures, one of the most popular features, are available for only 26 courses, about 1,000 hours of video in all. "We'd like to do more video because it's really quite popular and our users love it," Marguiles says. "But it's quite expensive." The program relies on "generous support" from foundations, individuals, and MIT itself for funding, she says. Schools like Tufts and Johns Hopkins were able to jump-start their OCW programs quickly because the schools had already committed themselves for many years to putting all their classroom materials online for use by their own students. The biggest job has been to vet the materials for copyright issues, so-called "copyright scrubbing," Lee and Yager say. If permission cannot be obtained for a specific photo or chart, it must be left out of the OCW version or a substitute found. The OCW effort is part of a wide range of dynamic educational content emerging on the Internet, says Dan Colman, associate dean and director of Stanford University's continuing studies program and host of the website oculture.com, which highlights what's happening in Web-based education, with an emphasis on podcasts. Full-fledged online courses "might eventually offer a viable alternative to the classroom, but right now we have a ways to go," he writes via e-mail. Podcasts, for example, let learners hear a lecture, but they don't require that the listener write a critical essay or take part in a classroom discussion - activities that are a key element of the learning process, Mr. Colman says. And technology still needs to advance a bit more too. "We'll need a very fast fiber network and communication tools that give courses a greater degree of immediacy and sociability before this [online] model will become a real option educationally and economically," he says. "In the meantime, the traditional classroom is fairly safe." For example, lab work, which usually requires close hands-on collaboration between an instructor and students, remains problematic online, Yager points out. The losers in putting free content online aren't likely to be universities, which will continue to attract young students, Colman says. But free podcasts and OCW courses may pull adult learners away from other leisure activities, he says, such as reading books, watching educational television shows, or buying recordings of books or lectures. "All of these entities could suffer as users find free high-quality information on the Web," Colman says. WARNING FOR NORTH KOREA Japan, U.S. warn N. Korea on nuke tests - January 5, 2007 TOKYO - Japanese and U.S. officials warned Friday of tougher measures against North Korea if the isolated communist nation conducts a second nuclear test. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a second nuclear test "no doubt would deepen its isolation." Rice and South Korea's foreign minister, Song Min-Soon, agreed at a news conference in Washington that their governments want negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program resumed. "If North Korea is prepared to return in a more constructive spirit" the talks could be reopened fairly soon, Rice said. But she added, "We know of no substantive response from the North Koreans." The remarks came amid U.S. media reports that Pyongyang has appeared to have readied for another nuclear test and that the preparation steps were similar to those taken before its first nuclear detonation on Oct. 9. But Japanese and South Korean officials have not reported any signs that the North was preparing for another test. The talks, held last month in Beijing, would swap economic incentives and a U.S. assurance of respect for North Korea's security for cessation of the nuclear weapons program that produced a nuclear test nearly two months ago. Tokyo urged its neighbor to refrain from any developments that would stoke regional tensions. "We think it is essential that North Korea should stop further nuclear testing and they should abandon all their nuclear programs," said Nori Shikata, assistant press secretary for Japan's Foreign Ministry. "If they conduct another nuclear test, then the international community, including Japan, will take additional measures." Shikata did not say what other steps might be taken, but said they would be pursued through the United Nations, which authorized trade restrictions against North Korea after its October test. Rice said "there is intensive discussion among the parties about the resumption of the six-party talks." State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said negotiators were looking for "clear commitments, clear indications, clear actions" that North Korea had made the "strategic choice" to abandon its nuclear weapons. "Obviously, conducting a second nuclear test sends the opposite signal and very clearly indicates that they have chosen to go down the pathway of deeper isolation for North Korea and the North Korean people," McCormack said. But officials in Japan and South Korea said earlier Friday they saw no particular signs that the North was readying for a second test. "Some unidentified activities have been detected around a suspected test site but so far there are no particular indications directly linked to an additional nuclear test," said Cho Hee-yong, a spokesman for South Korea's Foreign Ministry. A South Korean military intelligence official said vehicle and personnel activities are constantly spotted at a suspected test site but that it was too early to say whether they indicated an imminent nuclear test, the Yonhap news agency reported, without identifying the official. North Korean nuclear envoy Kim Kye Gwan said in December that his country would bolster its atomic arsenal and further improve its deterrent in response to international pressure. The North has hailed its test as "an auspicious event in the national history," and says it serves as a key deterrent against a possible U.S. attack. Washington has repeatedly denied that it plans to invade. In 2005, North Korea pledged to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid but no progress has been made in implementing that accord. A key sticking point at the international talks has been North Korea's demand that the U.S. lift financial restrictions imposed on it in response to the impoverished nation's alleged counterfeiting of $100 bills and money laundering. MORE U.S. TROOPS IN IRAQ? Critics slam possible Iraq troop boost - January 5, 2007 WASHINGTON - Days from announcing an overhaul of Iraq strategy, President Bush on Friday encountered a wall of criticism of the U.S. troop escalation that is expected to be the centerpiece of his new war plan. Bush also reshuffled his war commanders, installing a new team to support the policies he will announce next week. Democrats and Republicans alike took aim at the expected increase in U.S. forces. "It has to be significant and sustained. Otherwise do not do it," said Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), a Republican presidential hopeful and Vietnam veteran who has been advocating a troop increase. Those for going in the opposite direction spoke out, too. "We are well past the point of more troops for Iraq," new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wrote in a letter to Bush a day after their party took the reins on Capitol Hill. Instead, Pelosi and Reid urged Bush to begin pulling troops out in four to six months. The criticism underscored that Bush, preparing his new policy for an increasingly unpopular and costly war, will face a Congress that is not only controlled by Democrats who could challenge him at any turn but also populated with Republicans looking toward the congressional and presidential elections of 2008. The president spent much of the day in last-minute consultations with members of Congress from both parties, by all accounts soliciting their input while giving few hints of his own plans. But doubts about dispatching more soldiers to Iraq — which Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (news, bio, voting record) called "the elephant in the room" at the White House — were expressed to the president's face and before various audiences around Washington. Rep. Heather Wilson (news, bio, voting record), R-N.M., an Air Force veteran and member of the House Intelligence Committee who had just returned from Iraq, lambasted Bush's war leadership as lacking "a clarity of mission." She spoke at a news conference against sending more Americans, saying the U.S. should be focused only on hunting for al-Qaida terrorists and ensuring Iraq does not become a source of regional instability. "We're talking about goals in lofty terms that are not vital American national interests," she said. CBS News reported that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended that the president order an immediate 10,000 additional troops to Iraq with an option to double that number by spring under a plan in which five additional brigades of troops could eventually help in Baghdad and two in troubled Anbar province. Asked for comment, a senior defense official told The Associated Press that parts of the CBS report were incorrect but declined to say which parts or to comment on any recommendations Gates might have made to Bush. Bush, meanwhile, announced more changes in his team of military and diplomatic advisers. He said Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander overseeing the theater that includes Iraq, will be succeeded by Adm. William Fallon, now Abizaid's counterpart in the Pacific. Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus is the president's choice to be the new chief commander in Iraq, replacing Gen. George Casey. The nominations must be approved by the Senate. Petraeus led the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 Iraq invasion and later headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. Both Abizaid and Casey already had been expected to rotate out of their jobs. Both also had publicly expressed skepticism about a troop increase, and when Bush began devising a new Iraq plan their timetable appeared to move up. Also, Ryan Crocker, a veteran American diplomat who is now U.S. envoy to Pakistan, was expected to replace Zalmay Khalilzad as U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Bush nominated Khalilzad, a subject of criticism in Iraq as favoring his fellow Sunni Muslims, to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In a White House that prides itself on discipline, there was much confusion about the personnel changes. There was a torrent of news leaks, unsuccessful efforts by the White House to control the flow of information and messy shifts in how the announcements would be made. The president's talks Friday with several groups of lawmakers included moderate Democrats and loyalist Republicans but also some of the president's biggest critics, such as Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. "He did say he has not made up his mind yet," said Rep. Chris Carney, a freshman Democrat from Pennsylvania who is in the Navy Reserve and served as a Pentagon intelligence analyst. Republican Sen. Norm Coleman (news, bio, voting record), part of a later meeting with over a dozen senators of both parties, said the skepticism about whether a burst of troops could achieve anything was nearly universal. "I don't think there was a sense that case had been made," said Coleman, from Minnesota. Several senators said Bush promised an increase would be done only in concert with greater efforts by the Iraqi government, which has failed to rein in the Shiite militias and to supply the promised amount of Iraqi forces to work alongside Americans. Nelson, who said he walked away with no doubt Bush is planning to boost troops, said the president suggested there would be "the expectation of the Iraqis carrying out their part of the deal or else." But, said the Nebraska Democrat, the president did not define the consequences. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, set to unveil his own revamped strategy within days, is himself uneasy about more American troops, preferring that the U.S. presence be pulled back to Baghdad's outskirts. During a nearly two-hour discussion Thursday, Bush told al-Maliki he was ready to send additional U.S. forces. But the Iraqi leader replied "he would have to talk that over with his senior military officers to see if they were needed," Sami al-Askari, an al-Maliki political adviser, told The Associated Press. Sen. Joe Lieberman, meanwhile, agreed with McCain that a small, temporary force boost would not be enough. Neither of the senators, appearing together at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, would put a precise number on how many more troops might be necessary. However, they said that — at minimum — it should be another three to five brigades for Baghdad, where Shiite militias are terrorizing the minority Sunni population, and one brigade for western Anbar Province, the center of the mostly Sunni anti-American insurgency. With about 3,500 troops in each brigade, that would total 14,000 to 21,000 additional troops. A letter from 28 House Republicans urged Bush to divert some of the 21 Iraqi battalions operating in peaceful provinces to Baghdad and other dangerous areas, to spare U.S. troops. White House press secretary Tony Snow said Bush's meetings with lawmakers were more than just window dressing. He said, "The fact is, these meetings may not be happy-face, kumbaya, but they have been very constructive." MORE U.S. JOBS…? January 5, 2007 WASHINGTON - Employers stepped up hiring last month, boosting payrolls by a healthy 167,000 and keeping the unemployment rate steady at a still historically low 4.5 percent. Workers' wages grew briskly. The latest snapshot of the nation's employment climate, released Friday by the Labor Department, showed that the jobs market ended 2006 on a strong note and provided fresh evidence that the troubled housing and automotive sectors aren't dragging down employment across the country. The tally of new jobs added to the economy last month exceeded analysts' forecasts for a gain of around 115,000 and was the best showing since September. Analysts were predicting the politically sensitive jobless rate would remain unchanged from November, which it did. "This is a good report for the American worker," said Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics. For all of 2006, the nation's unemployment rate dropped to a six-year low of 4.6 percent as the economy added 1.8 million jobs. In 2005, the unemployment rate averaged 5.1 percent. With the economy losing momentum, though, many economists predict the jobless rate will climb this year and average around 4.9 percent. On Wall Street, stocks fell as the strong jobs report threw cold water on investors' hopes that the Federal Reserve would soon slice interest rates to protect the economy against fallout from the real-estate bust. The Dow Jones industrials were down 63 points and the Nasdaq index was off 18 points in morning trading. In December, jobs gains in education and health care, business services, financial firms and leisure and hospitality swamped job losses in construction, manufacturing and retail. Jobs gains for both October and November turned out to be stronger than the government previously thought. Many employers showed not only a greater appetite to hire in December but also more willingness to boost compensation to workers. Workers, many of whom had seen their paychecks eaten by inflation, saw wages grow robustly last month. Average hourly earnings jumped to $17.04, a sizable 0.5 percent rise from the prior month. Analysts were forecasting a more modest, 0.3 percent increase. Over the last 12 months, wages grew by a strong 4.2 percent. That matched the annual gain registered in November and was exceeded only by a 4.3 percent annual increase in November 2000. Growth in wages should support consumer spending — a force that helps drive the economy. But a rapid and sustained advance — if not blunted by other economic forces — can stoke concerns about inflation. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the central bank will be on close watch for any signs that wage growth might be spurring an unwanted pickup in inflation. The Federal Reserve, which has boosted rates 17 times since June 2004 to fend off inflation, has been on the sidelines since August. Analysts believe the Fed will keep its finger on the interest-rate pause button when it meets next on Jan. 30-31. The strong wage and job-growth figures also dashed investors' hopes that the Fed might soon lower rates. The latest employment snapshot comes as the new Democratic-controlled Congress, which convened Thursday, will now play a lead role in shaping policies for workers and businesses. A top priority for Democrats is boosting the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. President Bush said he supports such a move as long as it is paired with business-friendly provisions, which would soften the sting to employers who would have to dole out more in labor costs. The job hunt got shorter in December. The average time that the 6.8 million unemployed people spent in their job searches was 15.9 weeks, down from 16.3 weeks in November. On the payrolls front, education and health services added 43,000 jobs in December. Professional and business services added 50,000 slots. Leisure and hospitality expanded employment by 31,000 and financial firms added 9,000 new jobs. Factories, however, cut 12,000 positions and construction companies eliminated 3,000 jobs - casualties of the souring housing market and the struggling auto industry. Retailers shed just over 9,000 slots. Employment gains were stronger in both October and November. Employers added 154,000 new positions in November, versus the 132,000 reported last month. Payrolls grew by 86,000 in October, up from a previous estimate of a 79,000 gain. The strong showing on jobs comes even as the economy lost steam throughout last year. Economic growth slowed to a pace of 2 percent in the late summer — the most recent period available — and is expected to remain sluggish for a while as the economy works its way through fallout from the housing slump and the lingering impact of two years of rising interest rates. Even with the expectations for slow growth ahead, most analysts don't believe the economy will slide into recession, but they do predict that the unemployment rate will move higher. January 3, 2007 Saddam execution video leads to arrests - By STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writer BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi authorities reported the arrests Wednesday of two guards and an official who supervised Saddam Hussein's hanging and said the guard force was infiltrated by outsiders who taunted the former leader and shot the video showing his body dangling at the end of a rope. National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie and two other top officials variously reported one to three men were being questioned in the investigation into who heckled Saddam as he was minutes from death and took cell phone pictures of his execution. "The investigation has already had an arrest warrant against one person and two to follow," al-Rubaie told CNN. He said the guard force at the execution was infiltrated by an Arab television station or another outsider. The clandestine footage appeared on Al-Jazeera television and Web sites just hours after Saddam was hanged Saturday. The tumultuous scenes quickly overshadowed an official execution video, which was mute and showed none of the uproar among those on the floor of the chamber below the gallows. The unauthorized video, which ignited protests by Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs in various Iraqi cities, threatens to turn the ousted dictator into a martyr. Saddam was shown never bowing his head as he faced death, and asking the hecklers if they were acting in a manly way. A U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, said Saddam was dignified and courteous to his American jailers up to the moment he was handed over to the Iraqis outside the execution chamber. He said no Americans were present for the hanging. Sami al-Askeri, a Shiite lawmaker who advises Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said two "Justice Ministry guards were being questioned. The investigation committee is interrogating the men. If it is found that any official was involved, he will face legal measures." A second key al-Maliki adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said, "In the past few hours, the government has arrested the person who videotaped Saddam's execution. He was an official who supervised the execution and now he is under investigation." Prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon, one of 14 official witnesses to the execution, told The Associated Press that he saw two government officials using camera phones at the hanging. "I saw two of the government officials who were ... present during the execution taking all the video of the execution, using the lights that were there for the official taping of the execution," he said. "They used mobile phone cameras. I do not know their names, but I would remember their faces." Caldwell said the tumultuous execution would have gone differently had the Americans been in charge. As the storm over the handling of the hanging gained strength, Caldwell was among several U.S. officials who suggested displeasure with the conduct of the execution. "If you are asking me: 'Would we have done things differently?' Yes, we would have. But that's not our decision. That's the government of Iraq's decision," the general said. The Bush administration sent conflicting signals Wednesday about the taunting and baiting that accompanied Saddam's execution, with the White House declining to join criticism of the procedure and the State Department echoing the U.S. military's questions about it. "The president is focused on the new way forward in Iraq so these issues are best addressed out of Iraq, out of Baghdad," deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said. "Prime Minister Maliki's staff have already expressed their disappointment in the filmings, so I guess we'll leave it at that." Stanzel said the U.S. military and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq had expressed concerns about the timing of the execution and about "the process and what took place." State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. officials had questioned holding the execution on a Muslim festival day, the opening of Eid al-Adha, and as well as some procedures. U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and his diplomatic team "did engage the government of Iraq on issues relating to procedures involved in the timing of the execution (of Saddam), given the upcoming holy days. While the government of Iraq gave consideration to U.S. concerns, all decisions made regarding the execution were Iraqi decisions based on their own considerations." The second-guessing over the conduct of the execution came as Iraqi and Arab media and an Iraqi government official said preparations were under way to hang two of Saddam's co-defendants in the next few days but that the details still have to be worked out with the American military. A Cabinet official, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the information, said the two men would hang "at the beginning of next week." Caldwell said those executions, like Saddam's, were the responsibility of the Iraqi government. "It's a sovereign nation. It's their system. They make those decisions." Saddam's half brother Barzan Ibrahim, a former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, were originally scheduled to hang with Saddam. But their execution was delayed until after Eid al-Adha, which ended Wednesday for Iraq's majority Shiites. In Washington, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts denied a request by a lawyer for Bandar to block the U.S. military from transferring custody of the condemned man to Iraqi authorities. U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour appealed to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to prevent the execution of Ibrahim and al-Bandar, saying she was concerned with "the fairness and impartiality" of their trials. Saddam, Ibrahim and al-Bandar were sentenced to death for the 1982 killings of 148 Shiites in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination plot against Saddam. They were convicted Nov. 5, and an appeals court upheld the verdict on Dec. 26. Saddam was hanged in Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Kazamiyah. During his regime, Saddam had numerous dissidents and opponents executed in the facility, located in a neighborhood that is home to the capital's most important Shiite shrine — the Imam Kazim. As he faced his own death on the gallows, Caldwell said, Saddam "was courteous, as he always had been, to his U.S. military police guards." The spokesman said Saddam's demeanor changed "at the prison facility when the Iraqi guards were assuming control of him, but he was still dignified toward us. "He spoke very well to our military police, as he always had. And when getting off there at the prison site, he said farewell to his interpreter. "He thanked the military police squad, the lieutenant, the squad leader, the medical doctor we had present, and the colonel that was on site." 01/02/07 - Iraq PM orders probe into Saddam video BAGHDAD, Iraq - The prime minister on Tuesday ordered an investigation into the conduct of Saddam Hussein's execution in a bid to learn who among the witnesses taunted the former Iraqi leader in the last minutes of his life, then leaked a cell phone video. The video contained audio of some witnesses taunting Saddam with chants of "Muqtada" and of the former leader responding that his tormentors were being unmanly. It surfaced on Al-Jazeera television and the Internet late Saturday, the day Saddam was hanged. The taunts referred to Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who is a main backer of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite leader who pushed for a quick execution of Saddam. Al-Jazeera said when it broadcast the video that it was exclusive to them. The pictures appeared on the Web at about the same time. Sami al-Askar, a close al-Maliki political adviser, told The Associated Press that the Iraqi leader had "ordered the formation of an investigative committee in the Interior Ministry to identify who chanted slogans inside the execution chamber and who filmed the execution and sent it to the media." The video was particularly inflammatory not only because the disrespectful chanting was clearly audible, but also because it showed Saddam's death as he dropped through the gallows floor and then swung by his neck, his eyes open and neck twisted dramatically to his right. The clandestine video portrayed a much different scene than the official tape of the execution, which was muted. It did not show Saddam dropping to his death. Munqith al-Faroon, an Iraqi prosecutor whose job was to convict Saddam Hussein of genocide, was one of the small group of witnesses at the hanging and defended Saddam's right to die in peace. He said he knew that "two top officials ... had their mobile phones with them" at the execution, although other witnesses had their phones taken away beforehand. Saddam's execution and the way it was conducted have provoked anger among Sunni Muslims, who have taken to the streets in recent days in mainly peaceful demonstrations in Sunni enclaves across the country. On Monday, a crowd of Sunni mourners in Samarra marched to a bomb-damaged Shiite shrine and were allowed by guards and police to enter the holy place carrying a mock coffin and photos of the former dictator. The protest took place at the Golden Dome, a Shiite shrine bombed by Sunni extremists 10 months ago. That attack triggered the current cycle of retaliatory attacks between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, in the form of daily bombings, kidnappings and murders. Meanwhile, the military announced the death of a U.S. soldier by a roadside bomb southwest of Baghdad. The blast Monday wounded three others, including an interpreter, as they talked with residents about sectarian violence, the military said. U.S. troops killed a suspected al-Qaida weapons dealer and two other people in Baghdad raids Tuesday, and Iraqi forces detained more than 60 suspects over the past week, the U.S. military said. In Fallujah, a U.S. Marine fatally wounded an Iraqi soldier in an altercation at the guard post they shared, the U.S. military also said. The confrontation took place Saturday between members of U.S. and Iraqi units assigned to combined security posts at the Fallujah Government Center. The Marine — assigned to the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 — has been assigned to administrative duties while the military investigates. "This will not impact our mission to continue the transition of the security responsibility to the Iraqi army," said Marine Lt. Col. Bryan Salas. "Marines and Iraqis from the two units continue to live, eat, and fight alongside each other." Gunmen attacked the car of a provincial councilman northeast of Baghdad on Monday night, killing the official and three relatives, police said. The shootings occurred on a road in Diyala province, a stronghold of Sunni Arab insurgents. Ali Majeed Salboukh, a member of the Diyala provincial council, was slain along with his brother and two other relatives, police said. A roadside bomb killed three Iraqi civilians and wounded seven in a neighborhood of eastern Baghdad, police said. Police said the bomb was hidden in a pile of garbage in Camp Sara, a mixed area of the city with a large Christian population. A string of blasts in Camp Sara's shopping district in October killed 16, wounded 87, destroying cars and collapsing part of a building. Five mortar shells hit residential areas of western Baghdad, wounding four civilians, police said. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair said his country must carry through its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 while he continues a personal quest to revive the peace process in the Middle East. "The threat of global terrorism menaces us as it does other nations," Blair said in his New Year's message, likely his last as prime minister. "That is one reason why it is so important that we see through the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan where the British forces show day after day why they are the finest in the world." Hundreds of demonstrators on Monday mourned Saddam in a Sunni neighborhood in northern Baghdad. Some praised the Baath Party, the outlawed nationalist group that under Saddam cemented Sunni Arab dominance of Iraq. In Dor, 77 miles north of Baghdad, hundreds more demonstrators marched to a dedication of a giant mosaic of Saddam. Children carried toy guns and men fired real weapons in the air. Mourners at a mosque in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit slaughtered sheep as a sacrifice. The mosque's walls were lined with condolence cards from tribes in southern Iraq and Jordan who were unable to travel to the memorial. The demonstrations came on a day that the U.S. military killed six Iraqis during a raid on the offices of a prominent Sunni political figure, where American forces believed al-Qaida fighters had taken refuge. Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, reported that 16,273 Iraqis — including 14,298 civilians, 1,348 police and 627 soldiers — died violent deaths in 2006. The total exceeds the AP count by more than 2,500. On the first day of the New Year, Iraqi police reported finding the 40 handcuffed, blindfolded and bullet- riddled bodies in Baghdad. A police official, who refused to be identified because of security fears, said 15 of the bodies were discovered in the mainly industrial Sheik Omar district of northern Baghdad. On Tuesday, police said they found 15 more bodies in the north of the city. 01/01/2007 - BAGHDAD, Iraq - Enraged crowds protested the hanging of Saddam Hussein across Iraq's Sunni heartland Monday, as a mob in Samara broke the locks off a bomb-damaged Shiite shrine and marched through carrying a mock coffin and photo of the dictator. The demonstration in the Golden Dome, shattered in a bombing by Sunni extremists 10 months ago, suggests that many Sunni Arabs may now more actively support the small number of Sunni militants fighting the country's Shiite-dominated government. The Feb. 22 bombing of the shrine triggered the current cycle of retaliatory attacks between Sunnis and Shiia, in the form of daily bombings, kidnappings and murders. Monday's protest came on a day that saw the U.S. military kill six Iraqis during a raid on the offices of a prominent Sunni political figure, who was suspected of giving al-Qaida in Iraq fighters sanctuary. Until Saddam's execution Saturday, most Sunnis sympathized with militants but avoided taking a direct role in the sectarian conflict — despite attacks by Shiite militia that have killed thousands of Sunnis or driven them from their homes. The current Sunni protests, which appear to be building, could signal a spreading militancy. Sunnis were not only outraged by Saddam's hurried execution, just four days after an appeals court upheld his conviction and sentence. Many were also incensed by the unruly scene in the execution chamber, captured on video, in which Saddam was taunted with chants of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada." The chants referred to Muqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shiite cleric who runs one of Iraq's most violent religious militias. He is a major power behind the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Many Sunnis are also upset that Saddam was put to death the day that Sunni celebrations began for Eid al- Ahda, a major Muslim festival. The judge who first presided over the case that resulted in Saddam's death sentence said the former dictator's execution at the start of Eid was illegal according to Iraqi law, and contradicted Islamic custom. The law states that "no verdict should implemented during the official holidays or religious festivals," said Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, a Kurd. Rizgar presided over Saddam's trial on charges he killed 148 Shiite men and boys in Dujail, north of Baghdad, in a botched assassination attempt in 1982. The judge was removed from the case after Shiite complaints that he was too lenient. In a Sunni neighborhood in northern Baghdad, hundreds of demonstrators mourned the executed leader. Some praised the Baath Party, the outlawed nationalist group that under Saddam cemented Sunni Arab dominance of Iraq. "The Baath party and Baathists still exist in Iraq, and nobody can marginalize it," said Samir al-Obaidi, 48, who attended a Saddam memorial in the Azamiyah neighborhood. In Dor, 77 miles north of Baghdad, hundreds more took to the streets to attend the dedication of a giant mosaic of Saddam. Children carried toy guns and men fired real weapons into the air. Mourners at a mosque in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit slaughtered sheep as a sacrifice for their former leader. The mosque's walls were lined with condolence cards from tribes in southern Iraq and Jordan who were unable to travel to the memorial. Saddam's eldest daughter briefly attended a protest Monday in Jordan — her first public appearance since her father was hanged. "God bless you, and I thank you for honoring Saddam, the martyr," said Raghad Saddam Hussein, according to two witnesses. She addressed members of the Professional Associations — an umbrella group of unions representing doctors, engineers and lawyers — in the group's office parking lot in west Amman. In the midst of the protests, U.S. forces continued operations in Iraq. Six Iraqis were killed in a U.S.-led raid on the Baghdad offices of a top Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq. The U.S. military and Iraqi police said they suspected the offices were being used as an al-Qaida safe house. Al-Mutlaq is a senior member of the National Dialogue Front, which holds 11 of the 275 seats in Iraq's parliament. U.S. forces said they took on heavy fire from automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades as they sought to enter the building. Ground troops were backed by helicopters that "engaged the enemy with precision point target machine gun fire," the military said. It was unclear whether the deaths resulted from the ground assault or fire from U.S. helicopters. Associated Press Television News footage showed masses of rubble in the area and what appeared to be a long smear of blood where a body had been dragged across the floor of one of the buildings. Walls were pitted with what appeared to be bullet and shrapnel holes. The U.S. death toll, meanwhile, climbed to at least 3,002 by the final day of 2006 as the American military reported the deaths of two more soldiers in an explosion Sunday in Diyala Province, northeast of the capital. With the announcement, the Associated Press count of fatalities showed that at least 113 U.S. service members died in December. That makes it bloodiest month of 2006. Police reported finding the bodies of 40 handcuffed, blindfolded and bullet-riddled bodies in Baghdad on the first day of the New Year. A police official, who refused to be named out of security fears, said 15 of the bodies were discovered in the mainly industrial Sheik Omar district of northern Baghdad. An Iraqi worker for the Algerian Embassy in Baghdad was shot to death, police said. Also Monday, the Iraqi government raided and sealed the offices of a privately owned television station, charging it had incited violence and hatred in its programming. In its coverage of the execution of Saddam over the weekend, a newscaster had worn black mourning clothes. The satellite television channel Al-Sharqiya, which broadcasts from Dubai, remained on the air late Monday. The station is owned by Saad al-Bazzaz, a one-time chief of radio and television for Saddam. WASHINGTON - Another terrorist attack, a warmer planet, death and destruction from a natural disaster. These are among Americans' grim predictions for the United States in 2007. Only a minority of people think the U.S. will go to war with Iran or North Korea over those countries' nuclear ambitions. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed think Congress will raise the federal minimum wage. One-third see hope for a cure to cancer. These are among the findings of an Associated Press-AOL News poll that asked people in the U.S. to contemplate what 2007 holds for the country. Six in 10 people think the U.S. will be the victim of a terrorist attack. An identical percentage thinks it likely that a biological or nuclear weapon will be unleashed somewhere else in the world. Seventy percent of people in the U.S. predict a major natural disaster in the country and an equal percentage expects worsening global warming. Also, 29 percent think it likely that the U.S. will withdraw its troops from Iraq. Among other predictions for the U.S. in 2007: _35 percent predict the military draft will be reinstated. _35 percent predict a cure for cancer will be found. _25 percent anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ. _19 percent think scientists are likely to find evidence of extraterrestrial life. With Democrats poised to take control of Congress this week, eight in 10 people predict lawmakers will raise the $5.15-an-hour federal minimum wage. It would be the first increase since 1997. Democratic leaders have proposed raising it in stages to $7.25 an hour. President Bush has said he supports the idea, with some protections for small businesses. Fewer than half the public think it likely the U.S. will go to war with Iran or North Korea. Should it come down to that, 40 percent think the battle will be with Iran while 26 percent said North Korea. Higher gas prices, legalized gay marriage and the possible arrival of bird flu also are seen as being in the cards. More than 90 percent of people think higher gas prices are likely. A gallon of self-serve regular gasoline averaged $2.29 last week, compared with $3 over the summer. Also, 57 percent said it is likely that another state will legalize gay marriage. Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts; four other states offer civil unions or domestic partnerships. People were split on whether 2007 will bring the U.S. its first bird flu case. More than 150 people worldwide have died from the disease. Health officials fear a pandemic if the virus mutates into a form easily passed from person to person. Women generally were more likely than men to expect some of the more dire predictions to come true, such as a worldwide terrorist attack and war with Iran or North Korea. Democrats and people under 35 were more likely than Republicans and older people to say global warming will worsen in 2007. The telephone poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Dec. 12-14 by Ipsos, an international polling firm. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points. ___ AP Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson, News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and writer Kasie Hunt contributed to this report. SADDAM HANGED 2007-BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein struggled briefly after American military guards handed him over to Iraqi executioners before dawn Saturday. But as his final moments approached and masked executioners slipped a black cloth and noose around his neck, he grew calm. In a final moment of defiance, he refused a hood to cover his eyes. Hours after Saddam faced the same fate he was accused of inflicting on countless thousands during a quarter-century of ruthless power, Iraqi state television showed grainy video of what it said was his body, the head uncovered and the neck twisted at a sharp angle. A man whose testimony helped lead to Saddam's conviction and execution before sunrise said he was shown the body because "everybody wanted to make sure that he was really executed." "Now, he is in the garbage of history," said Jawad Abdul-Aziz, who lost his father, three brothers and 22 cousins in the reprisal killings that followed a botched 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam in the Shiite town of Dujail. The post-execution footage showed the man identified as Saddam lying on a stretcher, covered in a white shroud. His neck and part of the shroud have what appear to be bloodstains. His eyes are closed. Al-Arabiya satellite television reported Saturday night that a delegation including the governor of Salahuddin Province and the head of Saddam's clan retrieved his body from Baghdad and took it for burial near the executed dictator's hometown of Tikrit. The broadcaster reported the burial would take place Sunday. The report could not immediately be verified. Earlier, in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, hundreds of people danced in the streets while others fired guns in the air to celebrate. Some hanged an effigy of Saddam. The government did not impose a round-the-clock curfew as it did last month when Saddam was convicted to thwart any surge in retaliatory violence. It was a grim end for the 69-year-old leader who had vexed three U.S. presidents. Despite his ouster, Washington, its allies and the new Iraqi leaders remain mired in a fight to quell a stubborn insurgency by Saddam loyalists and a vicious sectarian conflict. The execution took place during the year's deadliest month for U.S. troops, with the toll reaching 109. At least 2,998 members of the U.S. military have been killed since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. President Bush said in a statement issued from his ranch in Texas that bringing Saddam to justice "is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror." He said that the execution marks the "end of a difficult year for the Iraqi people and for our troops" and cautioned that Saddam's death will not halt the violence in Iraq. Within hours of his death, bombings killed at least 68 people in Iraq, including one planted on a minibus that exploded in a fish market in a mostly Shiite town south of Baghdad. Ali Hamza, a 30-year-old university professor, said he went outside to shoot his gun into the air after he learned of Saddam's death. "Now all the victims' families will be happy because Saddam got his just sentence," said Hamza, who lives in Diwaniyah, a Shiite town 80 miles south of Baghdad. But people in the Sunni-dominated city of Tikrit, once a power base of Saddam, lamented his death. "The president, the leader Saddam Hussein is a martyr and God will put him along with other martyrs. Do not be sad nor complain because he has died the death of a holy warrior," said Sheik Yahya al-Attawi, a cleric at the Saddam Big Mosque. Police blocked the entrances to Tikrit and said nobody was allowed to leave or enter the city for four days. Despite the security precaution, gunmen took to the streets of Tikrit, carrying pictures of Saddam, shooting into the air, and calling for vengeance. Security forces also set up roadblocks at the entrance to another Sunni stronghold, Samarra, and a curfew was imposed after about 500 people took to the streets protesting the execution of Saddam. A couple hundred people also protested the execution just outside the Anbar capital of Ramadi, and more than 2,000 people demonstrated in Adwar, the village south of Tikrit where Saddam was captured by U.S. troops hiding in an underground bunker. In a statement, Saddam's lawyers said that in the aftermath of his death, "the world will know that Saddam Hussein lived honestly, died honestly, and maintained his principles." "He did not lie when he declared his trial null," they said. Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, were not hanged along with their former leader as originally planned. Officials wanted to reserve the occasion for Saddam alone. "We wanted him to be executed on a special day," National Security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie told state-run al-Iraqiya television. Sami al-Askari, the political adviser of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, told the AP that Saddam initially resisted when he was taken by Iraqi guards but was composed in his final moments. He said Saddam was clad in a black suit, hat and shoes, rather than prison garb. His hat was removed and his hands tied shortly before the noose was slipped around his neck. Saddam repeated a prayer after a Sunni Muslim cleric who was present. "Saddam later was taken to the gallows and refused to have his head covered with a hood," al-Askari said. "Before the rope was put around his neck, Saddam shouted: 'God is great. The nation will be victorious and Palestine is Arab.'" Iraqi state television showed footage of guards in ski masks placing a noose around Saddam's neck. Saddam appeared calm as he stood on the metal framework of the gallows. The footage cuts off just before the execution. Saddam was executed at a former military intelligence headquarters in Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, al-Askari said. During his regime, Saddam had numerous dissidents executed in the facility, located in a neighborhood that is home to the Iraqi capital's most important Shiite shrine — the Imam Kazim shrine. The Iraqi prime minister's office released a statement that said Saddam's execution was a "strong lesson" to ruthless leaders who commit crimes against their own people. "We strongly reject considering Saddam as a representative of any sect in Iraq because the tyrant only represented his evil soul," the statement said. "The door is still open for those whose hands are not tainted with the blood of innocent people to take part in the political process and work on rebuilding Iraq." The execution came 56 days after a court convicted Saddam and sentenced him to death for his role in the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims from Dujail. Iraq's highest court rejected Saddam's appeal Monday and ordered him executed within 30 days. A U.S. judge on Friday refused to stop Saddam's execution, rejecting a last-minute court challenge. U.S. troops cheered as news of Saddam's execution appeared on television at the mess hall at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in eastern Baghdad. But some soldiers expressed doubt that Saddam's death would be a significant turning point for Iraq. "First it was weapons of mass destruction. Then when there were none, it was that we had to find Saddam. We did that, but then it was that we had to put him on trial," said Spc. Thomas Sheck, 25, who is on his second tour in Iraq. "So now, what will be the next story they tell us to keep us over here?" At his death, he was in the midst of a second trial, charged with genocide and other crimes for a 1987-88 military crackdown that killed an estimated 180,000 Kurds in northern Iraq. Experts said the trial of his co- defendants was likely to continue despite his execution. Many people in Iraq's Shiite majority were eager to see the execution of a man whose Sunni Arab- dominated regime oppressed them and Kurds. Before the hanging, a mosque preacher in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Friday called Saddam's execution "God's gift to Iraqis." In a farewell message to Iraqis posted Wednesday on the Internet, Saddam said he was giving his life for his country as part of the struggle against the U.S. "Here, I offer my soul to God as a sacrifice, and if he wants, he will send it to heaven with the martyrs," he said. One of Saddam's lawyers, Issam Ghazzawi, said the letter was written by Saddam on Nov. 5, the day he was convicted by an Iraqi tribunal in the Dujail killings. Najeeb al-Nauimi, a member of Saddam's legal team, said U.S. authorities maintained physical custody of Saddam until the execution to prevent him being humiliated publicly or his corpse being mutilated, as has happened to previous Iraqi leaders deposed by force. He said they didn't want anything to happen to further inflame Sunni Arabs. "This is the end of an era in Iraq," al-Nauimi said from Doha, Qatar. "The Baath regime ruled for 35 years. Saddam was vice president or president of Iraq during those years. For Iraqis, he will be very well remembered. Like a martyr, he died for the sake of his country." Iraq's death penalty was suspended by the U.S. military after it toppled Saddam in 2003, but the new Iraqi government reinstated it two years later, saying executions would deter criminals. Saddam's own regime used executions and extrajudicial killings as a tool of political repression, both to eliminate real or suspected political opponents and to maintain a reign of terror. In the months after he seized power on July 16, 1979, he had hundreds of members of his own party and army officers slain. In 1996, he ordered the slaying of two sons-in-law who had defected to Jordan but returned to Baghdad after receiving guarantees of safety. Saddam built Iraq into a one of the Arab world's most modern societies, but then plunged the country into an eight-year war with neighboring Iran that killed hundreds of thousands of people on both sides and wrecked Iraq's economy. When the U.S. invaded in 2003, Iraqis had been transformed from among the region's most prosperous people to some of its most impoverished. ___ Associated Press Writer Will Weissert contributed to this report. RANGEL INTRODUCES DRAFT ASSOCIATED PRESS WASHINGTON - Americans would have to sign up for a new military draft after turning 18 under a bill the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee says he will introduce next year. Rep. Charles Rangel (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., said Sunday he sees his idea as a way to deter politicians from launching wars. "There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way," Rangel said. Rangel, a veteran of the Korean War who has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation on conscription in the past, has said the all-volunteer military disproportionately puts the burden of war on minorities and lower- income families. Rangel said he will propose a measure early next year. While he said he is serious about the proposal, there is little evident support among the public or lawmakers for it. In 2003, Rangel proposed a measure covering people age 18 to 26. It was defeated 402-2 the following year. This year, he offered a plan to mandate military service for men and women between age 18 and 42; it went nowhere in the Republican-led Congress. Democrats will control the House and Senate come January because of their victories in the Nov. 7 election. At a time when some lawmakers are urging the military to send more troops to Iraq, "I don't see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft," said Rangel, who also proposed a draft in January 2003, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "I think to do so is hypocritical." Sen. Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record), a South Carolina Republican who is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Standby Reserve, said he agreed that the U.S. does not have enough people in the military. "I think we can do this with an all-voluntary service, all-voluntary Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. And if we can't, then we'll look for some other option," said Graham, who is assigned as a reserve judge to the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals. Rangel, the next chairman of the House tax-writing committee, said he worried the military was being strained by its overseas commitments. "If we're going to challenge Iran and challenge North Korea and then, as some people have asked, to send more troops to Iraq, we can't do that without a draft," Rangel said. He said having a draft would not necessarily mean everyone called to duty would have to serve. Instead, "young people (would) commit themselves to a couple of years in service to this great republic, whether it's our seaports, our airports, in schools, in hospitals," with a promise of educational benefits at the end of service. Graham said he believes the all-voluntary military "represents the country pretty well in terms of ethnic makeup, economic background." Repeated polls have shown that about seven in 10 Americans oppose reinstatement of the draft and officials say they do not expect to restart conscription. Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Congress in June 2005 that "there isn't a chance in the world that the draft will be brought back." Yet the prospect of the long global fight against terrorism and the continuing U.S. commitment to stabilizing Iraq have kept the idea in the public's mind. The military drafted conscripts during the Civil War, both world wars and between 1948 and 1973. An agency independent of the Defense Department, the Selective Service System, keeps an updated registry of men age 18-25 — now about 16 million — from which to supply untrained draftees that would supplement the professional all-volunteer armed forces. Rangel and Graham appeared on "Face the Nation" on CBS. VICTORY IN IRAQ? ASSOCIATED PRESS LONDON - Military victory is no longer possible in Iraq, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in a television interview broadcast Sunday. Kissinger presented a bleak vision of Iraq, saying the U.S. government must enter into dialogue with Iraq's regional neighbors — including Iran — if progress is to be made in the region. "If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," he told the British Broadcasting Corp. But Kissinger, an architect of the Vietnam war who has advised President Bush about Iraq, warned against a rapid withdrawal of coalition troops, saying it could destabilize Iraq's neighbors and cause a long-lasting conflict. "A dramatic collapse of Iraq — whatever we think about how the situation was created — would have disastrous consequences for which we would pay for many years and which would bring us back, one way or another, into the region," he said. Kissinger, whose views have been sought by the Iraqi Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker III, called for an international conference bringing together the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Iraq's neighbors — including Iran — and regional powers like India and Pakistan to work out a way forward for the region. "I think we have to redefine the course, but I don't think that the alternative is between military victory, as defined previously, or total withdrawal," he said. HOME SALES DECREASE Realtors see a drop in existing home sales for second year (Reuters) WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Next year will likely bring a second annual decline in existing home sales, the National Association of Realtors predicted on Monday. Sales of existing homes are expected to decline 8.6 percent to 6.47 million for 2006 and contract another 1 percent to 6.40 million units next year. Still, the housing sector should see a rebound by the end of next year, said David Lereah, the association's chief economist. "By the fourth quarter of 2007, existing-home sales will be 4.6 percent higher than the current quarter," Lereah said. Sales of new homes should fall a sharp 17.7 percent this year and another 9.4 percent next year, the Realtors said. About three-quarters of the country will see a sluggish expansion of existing home sales next year, Lereah said. The health of housing markets across the country will vary, he said, but "general gains in value next year will be modest by historic standards." In the last three months of 2005, homes across the nation were appreciating at a 12 percent rate, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight. From July to September this year, home price appreciation had slowed to a 3.5 percent rate. Lereah also predicted that 30-year mortgage rates would increase to 6.7 percent by September. Those rates were at 6.11 percent last week, mortgage finance company Freddie Mac reported. OLDEST PERSON DIES World's oldest person dies at 116 (Associated Press) MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolden, recognized as the world's oldest person, died Monday in a nursing home, the home's administrator said. She was 116. Bolden was born Aug. 15, 1890, according to the Gerontology Research Group, a Los Angeles organization that tracks the ages of the world's oldest people. Guinness World Records recognized Bolden as the oldest person in the world in August after the death of Maria Esther de Capovilla of Ecuador, who also was 116. Bolden died at the Mid-South Health and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home where she had been living for several years, said the center's administrator, Charlotte Pierce. Bolden suffered a stroke in 2004, and her family said she spoke little after that and slept much of the time. Emiliano Mercado del Toro, 115, of Puerto Rico is now expected assume the title of world's oldest person, said Robert Young, a Guinness researcher. The Gerontology Research Group lists Toro's date of birth as Aug. 21, 1891. Family members said this year that Bolden had 40 grandchildren, 75 great-grandchildren, 150 great-great- grandchildren, 220 great-great-great grandchildren and 75 great-great-great-great grandchildren. CELEBRITY GIVES MONEY Actress gives $1 million to arts school (Associated Press) BALTIMORE - Jada Pinkett Smith has donated $1 million to her high school alma mater, the Baltimore School for the Arts, asking that its new theater be dedicated to classmate Tupac Shakur, who was shot and killed in 1996. "It means a lot when you're a teacher and your most famous alumnus comes back to give a donation," said Donald Hicken, head of the school's theater department since its founding in 1980 and Pinkett Smith's former theater teacher. "It really says a lot to the community that the school matters in people's lives." The donation from the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation, which is based in Baltimore, will be used for renovation and expansion. The school, which announced the donation Monday, said it will name its new theater for Pinkett Smith. Pinkett Smith, 35, is married to Will Smith who stars in the new movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" with their 8-year-old son, Jaden. The couple had previously given $112,500 to the school. When a $30 million expansion program is finished in the fall of 2007, the school will increase its enrollment from 316 to 375 students. Karen Banfield Evans, executive director of the Smith Family Foundation, and Pinkett Smith's aunt, said the actress was moved by the school's advances since she graduated. Pinkett Smith wanted the theater named for Shakur because of the friendship they developed at the school. The rapper died after a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. The actress has appeared in movies such as "Ali," which starred her husband, and "Collateral," and she was the voice of the hippo Gloria in the 2005 animated film "Madagascar." "The Pursuit of Happyness," a Sony Pictures release opens in theaters Friday. POLICE BRUTALITY INCREASE Police brutality charges on the rise By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Washington Correspondent December 11, 2006 WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Fifteen years after the Los Angeles' police videotaped beating of Rodney King sensitized America about police brutality, some civil rights advocates say cops are still out of control in Black neighborhoods and the violence appears to be increasing with the institution of anti-terror measures. "The heightened so-called war on terrorism I think that is fueling police aggression," says Diop Kamau, a former Hawthorne, Calif. Police detective and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Police Complaint Center. "I think that the president's choice with regards to torture, the attack on habeas corpus, the kind of things that we're doing overseas, I think, are actually impacting domestic police policies. "I think the green light with regards to spying and everything else, what it has done is elevated the role and the public's regard for law enforcement to the attitude that says, 'Those are our protectors. We need to take the gloves off and give them the room to do what they need to do,' Well, they're not always fighting terrorists, and they're not always arresting bad guys. More often than not they're dealing with regular people for small and minor incidents." And they're disproportionately Black. "It's still mainly just us...We are the fodder for the lion. And the bottom line is that's not going to change any time soon," says Kamau. "I think that as African-Americans continue to be viewed and anticipated by police as violent and uncooperative with all of this negative stereotype associated with Black youth, those are going to be the principle victims." The center files complaints on behalf of victims, assists citizens with reporting of misconduct, tests for racial profiling and tests to determine whether police complaint systems work. Kamau says between Dec. 2005 and Dec. 2006, police misconduct complaints he has received from around the country have increased by 40 percent, from 239 to 336. Two currently high-profile cases have sparked outrage from the streets to the halls of Congress. The Nov. 21 shooting death of a 92-year-old woman in her Atlanta home by police who claimed to have been on a drug raid is now under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In addition, the Nov. 25 shooting death of 23-year-old Sean Bell by five New York undercover police detectives and officers. Bell was killed in a hail of 50 bullets as he and two friends left his bachelor party on his wedding day. Civil rights activists Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson Sr. and Marc Morial have called for FBI investigations into the case. Kamau says federal legislation is needed to supercede some state and local laws. Strong police unions also presents a problem, he says. "People don't know this, but police unions, particularly in New York, for example, have been lobbying so that officers who are accused of misconduct don't have to talk to their own police administrators, " Kamau says. U. S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees matters of criminal justice, says he will use his clout to demand more police accountability. Conyers says he has already spoken with New York Congressmen Gregory Meeks and Charles Rangel and is planning a meeting with activists and civil rights leaders to seek long-term solutions. "We're looking at some new ways and we want to hold creative hearings," Conyers told the NNPA News Service in his first press interview since the Democrats won control of the House Nov. 7. "I'm going to be meeting with Meeks, Rangel, Rev. Jackson and Rev. Sharpton and we're going to be looking at how we can move some of this racial and ethnic profiling into a more workable system." Conyers, the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, says he will be able to say more after the official swearing into his new position, which will take place in January. "The whole idea is that we're beginning to see that it's just not working. Law enforcement investigating law enforcement is just something that may need to be changed," he says. "There's one thing that we had said earlier. That's getting independent systems to deal with this and I think that might be possible...[ We will] get a fair examination of how we improve from some of the deplorable situations that are now being taken for granted and keep reoccurring. " Kamau has seen a change in the way people are brutalized. Years ago, police mainly used guns, batons, dogs and tear gas. Now they have tasers, stun guns and chemicals, such as pepper spray. "Each of those items in many situations are being used for punishment and abuse and not control," Kamau says. "Also, you're now looking at where officers were carrying revolvers 30 years ago, they're now carrying semi-automatic weapons. There's also been an explosion in SWAT teams and intervention teams across the country." Though police brutality has long been an issue in the Black community, public outrage over it has been stronger now that many incidents are being caught by citizens on videotape. Still, national advocates against police brutality say it will be difficult to crack police culture, including the so-called "blue code of silence" that causes some police to stick together and sometimes remain silent even after witnessing wrongdoing. "The culture of law enforcement is White, male-dominated, racist, sexist, homophobic, and then you might find a good cop," says retired East Orange, N.J. Police Sergeant De Lacy Davis, founder and president of Black Cops Against Police Brutality. "The mindset is that it is a White supremacy mindset, by in large, that we are fighting in policing. Black police didn't enter the police force in this country until 1805 in Louisiana as 'The Guard'. And their role solely was to watch Black people - free Blacks - and to apprehend Blacks. Nothing else. And that role hasn't changed since 1805." Kamau knows about police brutality from experience. In 1988, when he sensed there were places where Black men could not walk in Los Angeles without police harassment, he went undercover to investigate the Los Angeles Police Department. In the video-taped sting operation, he and six companions were stopped while walking through the upscale Westwood Village area. He was charged with blocking a sidewalk , but the charges were later dropped. The next year, in a similar operation to test the Long Beach Police Department, he was followed by a news crew secretly videotaping his movement. Kamau was stopped and beaten by police who did not know that he, too, was an officer. He was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing an investigation. During the arrest, an officer bashed Kamau's head through a plate glass window. The video was publicly released and the officers involved were charged with assault and falsifying police reports. But they got off when the jury deadlocked, splitting along racial lines. They were never convicted. The FBI and Justice Department also cleared the officers of any wrongdoing. However, the California State Legislature increased the penalty for falsifying a police report from a misdemeanor to a felony and now requires all police officers to take a class in racial sensitivity. Davis, the author of the book, "Black Cops Against Police Brutality: A Crisis Action Plan," says he not only witnessed a lot of police brutality before he retired last year after 20 years, but he also broke the "blue code" many times to serve as a witness in court. He says one problem is that legislative bodies fail to put teeth into new laws to control police behavior. "When people talk about oversight and commissions and civilian review boards, all of that is reduced to nothing if there's no funding for it or investigators for it or if it doesn't have subpoena power," he says. Among his advice in the book, Davis says if a person believes they are being stopped for no good reason, they should not debate the issue on the street. "Take a deep breath and develop your strategy, which will be used later when you file your complaint. Remain calm," the book states. It says to take notes of the officer's name, badge, car number and physical description, and notice any witnesses, the time of day, location, weather conditions and unique circumstances such as a type of vehicle or building nearby. Davis, as a former union head, says the union must protect dues-paying members, but should also be held accountable. "Therefore, when the union is doing its job and even doing more than its job by protecting bad officers; then they should have to share in the liability and the culpability. They should be sued," he says. Conyers, a member of the Judiciary Committee since his election in 1965, says police brutality and profiling will be among many criminal justice laws that the Judiciary Committee will now consider with its new Democratic power holders. "And we're going to change very dramatically the circumstances that exist in this country in terms of civil rights laws and actions," Conyers says. "Now that we're in the majority, we don't have to come with hat-in- hand anymore. We can cause the investigation to happen. We can introduce legislation. And we have the majority that can pass the laws." Meanwhile, Kamau is not optimistic to cops under suspicion in the Atlanta and New York cases. "Don't anticipate any of these officers to be found guilty of anything," he says. "The bad news is that these kinds of shootings are easily covered up. All these officers have to do is speak to what their state of mind was and they're going to be exonerated. And their state of mind was, 'I was scared'." HOME SALES ANTIOCH, Calif. - Donald Anthony has slashed the price on his four-bedroom, two-bathroom house by almost $80,000 — and added $40,000 worth of improvements, including a new kitchen and landscaping in the leafy yard He's used three different agents. He's listed the 1,800-square-foot home — an immaculate ranch on a quiet cul-de-sac — on for-sale-by-owner sites, in newspapers, on cable television and community site Craigslist. He or his agents have spent at least 50 idle afternoons hosting open-house events. But the 74-year-old retired physicist cannot unload the house, now listed at $489,950 — well below the price of comparable homes in the fast-growing region between San Francisco and Sacramento. "The buyers have vanished," Anthony shrugged in front of new Shaker maple cabinets and never-used appliances. "If this doesn't sell post haste, I'm going to bite the bullet and pull it off the market." If Anthony can't wait another year or more, he might as well rip out the for-sale sign now. Although few experts predict that home values will fall dramatically in 2007, many economists say that prices won't improve for 12 to 18 months. And without the cushion of rising home equity — which softened the blow of high oil prices last year and kept consumers buying big-ticket items at a rapid clip — Americans may lose confidence in their finances, and the broader economy is likely to suffer. Ambitious building booms in many markets in the past half-decade, combined with mortgage interest rates that have increased about 1 percent in the past year, have resulted in residential real estate stagnation. The gridlock defies conventional wisdom, stubbornly remaining neither a buyer's nor a seller's market. "We are currently experiencing the worst of the market freeze, which is being exacerbated by the gap between the buyer's desire for bargains and the seller's fantasy of what they once thought their homes would be worth," said Diane Swonk, chief economist for Chicago-based Mesirow Financial, who forecasts a rebound in early 2008. "The good news is that there are some signs of stabilization. The bad news is that a substantial backlog of unsold homes still exists." Global forces and U.S. monetary policies play important roles in the housing slowdown, which already appears to be depressing the national economy. The newest forecast by Moody's Economy.com, a private research firm, projected that the median sales price for an existing home will decline in 2007 by 3.6 percent — the first decline for an entire year in U.S. home prices since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Commerce Department reported Nov. 29 that gross domestic product grew at a 2.2 percent annual rate in the third quarter, down from 2.6 percent in the second quarter. The residential construction falloff subtracted 1.2 percent from growth, the department stated. Peter Morici, business professor at the University of Maryland, said artificially low interest rates over the past half-decade encouraged China and other exporting nations to purchase 10-year bonds, which kept U.S. mortgage rates low and fueled the housing bubble — despite a gaping trade deficit that should have sapped investor confidence years ago. "In order to play this ponzi scheme, the value of the homes had to go up faster than the economy grew and faster than people could service their debt. We've reached that limit," Morci said. "The housing market sustained the economy at a time of very large trade deficits. It's been a false prosperity." In addition to macroeconomic forces, regional U.S. housing markets faced particular challenges. In expensive coastal cities, economists say, price appreciation hit a wall. San Francisco and Boston — where many investors enjoyed double-digit property gains in the late 1990s and the first half of this decade — have simply become unaffordable. The number of Californians who could comfortably pay the mortgage on an entry-level home fell to 24 percent in the third quarter — down from 44 percent in 2003, according to the California Association of Realtors. The median price statewide was $563,190. "I don't see how the economy can continue with these prices," said Stephen Levy, senior economist of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. Housing prices in New England grew an average of 10 percent per year from 2000 to 2005, compared with 8.3 percent for the nation as a whole. But a forecast released Nov. 14 by the New England Economic Partnership, a nonprofit forecast organization with members are from private industry, government and academia, projects prices in New England will be flat through 2010, below the U.S. forecast of 2.1 percent growth per year. Housing prices in Massachusetts are expected to decline 9 percent through 2010. "Areas along the coast of the nation and the large urban areas tend to see stronger price gains in housing upturns, and stronger declines in downturns," said Celia Chen, a housing economist with Moody's Economy.com in West Chester, Pa. In Sun Belt havens such as San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix, overzealous construction resulted in a glut of new homes and condos. Real estate experts say sellers and developers there will struggle throughout 2007. "We have to work off the inventory," said Daniel Nussbaum, a licensed investment adviser and CEO of Calabasas-based TheUSARealty.com. "I honestly think we're past the worst of it, but if you don't take out your magnifying glass you might not notice." Florida will likely remain the toughest market for buyers and sellers. Building frenzies in Miami, Orlando and the Caribbean coast resulted in a plethora of for-sale signs. Developers desperate to unload inventory offer free granite countertops, appliances and furniture — even cars, vacations and mortgage payments for up to six months. Meanwhile, insurance companies dramatically raised premiums after Hurricane Katrina. Depending on where they live and their policies, Florida home owners may pay as much as 10 times more for flood and wind insurance than last year; premiums can exceed $30,000 per year on mansions. That's caused monthly costs to skyrocket, pinching current owners and making it all but impossible for renters to buy. Throughout Florida, 12,773 existing single-family homes were sold in October, down 22 percent from a year ago, according to the Florida Association of Realtors. Florida's median price was unchanged at $242,500, but more than half of the urban areas posted declines. Around Fort Myers, the median price plunged 44 percent to $249,200 from October 2005. Not everyone is pessimistic — even in beleaguered Florida. Long-term demographic shifts from the Midwest and New England bode well for the notoriously boom- and-bust state, said Dave Denslow, professor of economics at the University of Florida. Florida, which gained 430,000 new residents in the past year, is a popular destination for Latin American immigrants and retirees from northern states, Canada and western Europe. "People start thinking about buying a retirement home in their late 50s, and baby boomers are approaching that age," Denslow said. "The demand for residential housing here is only going to get stronger through 2020." Meanwhile, back in Antioch, where Don Anthony is struggling, Zach and Katherine Chouteau are looking for a house or condo with a home office and room for twin Pug dogs. They'd love to buy in Antioch, but the couple — who moved from suburban New York five years ago to start their own business — are reluctant to commit. Like many shoppers, they're discouraged by higher interest rates — and rampant appreciation in recent years and the perception that many San Francisco Bay Area owners have halcyon-day notions of multiple offers and bidding wars. "It's definitely a friendlier market than earlier this year, but not a dramatically cheaper one," Zach Chouteau, 41, said. "People have gotten really spoiled by the rapidly escalating prices, and it seems like they're in denial that things have leveled out. They're just fishing for the best price."
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