Saturday, October 31, 2009


Best Buy has announced the release of the Little Buddy Tracker to its Insignia product line. The Little Buddy Tracker helps you keep track of your child’s location. All you need to do is drop this little device into their backpack or lunch box.

The Little Buddy Tracker then uses GPS and cellular technology to provide you with real-time location data using either your computer or smart phone. Parents just log on to the Insignia GPS Locator website and they’ll see a map of their child’s precise location.

You can also tell the device where you child is supposed to be during any given period of time and the Little Buddy Tracker will send you an SMS text message if they leave the assigned area during the specified time.

You’ll also get a warning when the device’s battery is running low. If you have more than one child, you can use multiple Little Buddy Trackers to check the locations of all of them.

The device is marketed as a “child tracker,” but you could also use it to keep track of your pet or even to find your car if it’s stolen.

Some say that the device is insulting and is equivalent to putting your children on a leash, but with sexual predators lurking around seemingly every corner, this little device along with the free Child Safety ID kit just might save your child’s life.

The Insignia Little Buddy Child Tracker is available in Blue and Green for $99.99.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ghost Adventures Live

Ghost Adventures Live..
Security was tight at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Friday, where Ghost Adventures kicked off its first seven-hour live event. The excitement was high both inside, where the Ghost Adventures crew looked for paranormal proof, and outside, where the believers could not wait to see what they found.
Curious on-lookers started gathering at the hospital while preparations were still being finalized. The thrill of the Halloween Eve show began Thursday night for the crew, right after rehearsal.

Ghost Adventures Live..
"The guys got on a live chat ...and we had record numbers of people show up with minimal promotion for the chat," said Travel Channel Executive Producer Charlie Parsons, "But we blew away the records on our live chats, and I think that's a good harbringer for tonight."

Ghost Adventures Live..
Fans of the show of the hospital were easily as excited for Zak, Nick, and Aaron to search for ghosts.

"Every chance I get I try to come down and help out with anything that's going on, try to volunteer," said Dawn Ferrebee, who drove in from Salem. "Plus, I love the Ghost Adventures."

"Listen, honest to God, we watch these guys every week when they're on," said Chuck Rogan from Lumberport. "They're fantastic."

A few brought their own proof the hospital is haunted.

"It looks to be like two male doctors in a window a long time ago," explained Kay Beane, who took the pictures.

Fans got a surprise when the crew came to get advice on where they should look.

"The tunnels," said Beane. "They have places down there where they used to chain the patients."

"I found that I've heard a lot of stories from the from the 4th floor," claimed Ferrebee. "I hear it's pretty active."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

UN nuclear inspectors head to Iran to visit site

U.N inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

VIENNA – A team of U.N. inspectors went to Iran on Saturday to visit a recently revealed nuclear site, amid new efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency experts are slated to examine an unfinished uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom to verify it is for peaceful purposes. Disclosure of its existence last month raised international suspicion over the extent and aim of the country's nuclear program.

Iran insists its nuclear program serves to generate power and denies allegations it is trying to make nuclear weapons. Tehran asked for more time Friday to consider a U.N.-backed plan to ship much of its uranium to Russia for enrichment.

The U.S., Russia and France endorsed the deal Friday, but Iran's representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tehran wants until next week to respond

President Barack Obama called French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday to discuss Iran. "The two chiefs of state stated their perfect convergence of views on the Iranian nuclear issue," according to a statement from Sarkozy's office. It would not comment further on what they discussed or the timing for an eventual new international meeting on Iran.

The White House said Obama thanked Sarkozy for France's close cooperation on the issue and that they agreed to continue consultations in the weeks ahead. Obama also spoke with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, stressing the need for unity between Washington and Moscow on Iran, according to the White House.

Bernanke's trillion-dollar decision

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke

The biggest decision of the economic recovery will be made in the next six months, and Barack Obama will have almost nothing to do with it.

Forget the debate over TARP, and never mind the questions about a second stimulus. This decision is about when to pull out $1 trillion that’s propping up the U.S. banking system. And it will be Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his Fed colleagues who make the call.

That’s hard enough for a White House that knows its political fortunes rise and fall with the economy.

What’s worse is that Bernanke and Obama – like many presidents and Fed chairmen past – won’t necessarily have the same goals for this trillion-dollar decision.

Fed chiefs worry about inflation. Bernanke wants to take the money out quickly enough to prevent the economy from overheating and causing a jump in prices that strangles growth. But move too fast, and the economic recovery runs out of fuel.

Presidents worry about jobs. Obama probably wouldn’t mind a little overheating, say, next summer – when voters are starting to make up their minds about the 2010 congressional elections, and he hopes the economy can shake the 10-percent unemployment rate doldrums.

“Any chairman of the Fed will do what’s right for the country, not what’s right for the administration,” said Ernest Patrikis, a partner at the law firm White & Case who spent 30 years at the New York Fed. “That’s his job – that’s why he’s apolitical.”

“The exit will be so difficult,” said economist Joseph Brusuelas of Moody’s “Bernanke wants to engineer a recovery that does not include inflation. Obama wants a more robust recovery and like many political actors may be willing to forgo a little inflation for a little more employment.”

The White House is already worried that jobs won’t be coming back fast enough next year, Fed or no Fed.

Obama economic adviser Christina Romer warned a congressional panel Thursday that the jobs picture will remain “painfully weak” through 2010, with a seriously elevated unemployment rate for another year.

So all the White House can do is watch and wait, and hope it doesn’t pay a political price for any missteps by Fed officials they can’t control.

“It’s a dicey thing to do, and they know it,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee. “They have to be careful.”

The Fed’s moves are shrouded in secrecy, their prerogative to move the levers of the economy closely guarded – so much so that there’s been a recent a rise in populist anger about this all-powerful agency that exists largely outside the democratic process.

But because the Fed is an independent agency, it’s even considered bad form for a president to talk much about it – and indeed, the White House refused to comment for this story.

Last fall, the Fed injected $ 1 trillion-plus into the nation’s banking system – at times, by providing financial institutions with cash to cover their losses as the global meltdown spread. Now Fed officials are already talking about the need to withdraw the funds injected into the economy during the darkest days of the crisis, moves that are credited with largely saving the United States from plummeting into an economic depression.

“Given the highly unusual economic and financial circumstances, judging when the time is appropriate to remove policy accommodation, and then calibrating that removal, will be challenging,” said Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn in a speech to the Cato Institute on Sept. 30. “Still, we need to be ready to take the necessary actions when the time comes, and we will be.”

Translation: “policy accommodation” is the cash, and “the necessary actions” are the decision to ease it out of the economy.”

And is the Fed prepared to the pull the trigger? “We will be” seems to cover it.

Already, the Fed is already showing some signs of restlessness. On Monday, the New York Fed tested its “reverse-repo” process -- one tool the Fed could use to use to pull the money out when the time comes. The test run was widely interpreted as a sign the Fed is getting ready to act – but when, nobody knows.

The Fed can also tap on the brakes at the first sign of inflation by raising interest rates, now near zero. The Fed has said it will keep the rock-bottom rates for an extended period, but it won’t be more specific when they could go up – a decision that is bound to be controversial when it comes.

Patrikis thinks the Fed will make a decision on withdrawing liquidity either during the second quarter of 2010, or after the November elections that year – but that it won’t make any dramatic moves in the run-up to Election Day.

Still, he said, it is too early to predict what the Fed might do. And Patrikis points out that Obama will have indirect input into the decision, because there are two vacancies on the Fed’s board now that Obama will fill in the coming months. The president will surely select board members whose economic judgment he trusts.

Between the two vacancies, a member who Obama appointed earlier this year and Bernanke himself, the president will likely have named four of the seven members of the Fed’s Board of Governors by the time they make the call.

But the Fed knows actions like that can have political consequences. “There are few politicians who like higher interest rates,” said one former Fed official. “And President Obama is a politician.” That said, the official continued, “I suspect they will be broadly on the same page.”

That’s because Obama, too, has a longer-term time frame in mind: 2012, when he will be running for reelection. It’s in Obama’s interest for the Fed to take inflation prevention measures now so that he doesn’t have to run a tricky reelection campaign in a high-inflation environment.

Tensions between Presidents and Fed chairmen are nothing new.

In the 1980s, Fed Chairman Paul Volcker declared war on inflation. His strategy: raising interest rates. Volcker jacked the Fed funds rate to 20 percent, which contributed to the deep early 1980s recession that caused howls of protest from the White House and incumbent Republicans on Capitol Hill. The Fed, grumbled then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), should “get its boot off the neck of the economy.”

Nonetheless, Volcker’s strategy worked, and the Fed broke the back of the inflation cycle. Ironically, Volcker is a top economic adviser to Obama today.

In the 1990s, President George H.W. Bush blamed Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan for his election loss to Bill Clinton. Bush didn’t believe Greenspan was lowering interest rates fast enough to pull the nation out of a recession – which gave Clinton, with his famous “it’s the economy, stupid” campaign, an opening to trounce the elder Bush.

Mark Gertler, a professor of economics at New York University, says the lesson of history is that politicians should not interfere with the central bank. “If the Fed doesn’t act independently, the economy is endangered,” said Gertler. “It would be dangerous if the administration appeared to be interfering with the Fed.”

Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) doubts they’ll be any daylight between Obama and Bernanke – who Obama just reappointed over the summer at a time when Wall Street needed a signal that there would be continuity at the Fed.

He argues that Bernanke and Obama will have the same agenda in 2010: fixing the economy.

“I think they are very much in sync,” said Frank. Asked about potential divergence between the Fed and the White House, he said, “That reflects a journalist’s hope that there will be friction. Obama and Bernanke have both argued that at some point they’re going to unwind this.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

WH releases official Obama family photo; high-profile week for first lady

This week the White House released the much-anticipated official Obama family photo on its Flickr page. The portrait was taken in the Green Room of the White House on September 1 by famed Vanity Fair photographer Annie Leibovitz, notable for her decades of work capturing the images of rock stars and Hollywood's elite as well as for her multimillion-dollar fortune's recent collapse. The seated and beaming first family looks happy and relaxed, with Sasha and Malia Obama each draping an arm over mom and dad.

Official Obama family portrait

Michelle Obama style-watchers may want to note she’s not in a sleeveless dress: The bare arms in her solo official portrait caused a minor stir when it was released last February.

The portrait adds to a flurry of Michelle Obama publicity this week. On Wednesday she hosted a "healthy kids fair" for approximately 100 Washington D.C.-area schoolchildren on the South Lawn of the White House. During the event, part of her ongoing effort to educate children about the importance of proper diet and exercise, the first lady wowed onlookers by swiveling a Hula-Hoop 142 times before it finally hit the ground. Not quite done there, Mrs. Obama also took off her shoes to run an obstacle course with hurdles.

Also on the agenda: tackling the 10 questions segment of “The Jay Leno Show” on Friday night. The rapid-fire “Ten @ Ten” questions — fielded recently by Justin Timberlake, Sen. John McCain, Tom Cruise, and LeBron James — have made for some water-cooler conversations after the show, which has been tanking in the ratings of late. Mrs. Obama's appearance with Leno is notable but certainly not unusual, as former first lady Laura Bush appeared as a guest on “The Tonight Show” when it was hosted by Leno during her husband's presidency.

Also this week, a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that the American people view Michelle much more favorably than they do her husband or Vice President Joe Biden, a change from the numbers just after the first family took up residence in the White House.

Approval numbers for the president, meanwhile, have been sliding; the USAToday/Gallup poll notes that Obama is viewed favorably by 55 percent of respondents, down from 68 perecent just after the election. Insiders were quick to note when Laura Bush raised her profile during the last days of her husband’s embattled term; similarly, her successor’s PR efforts are getting noticed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Struggling Liverpool needs win over United

LONDON: Even with seven months of the season to go, Liverpool’s clash with Manchester United is being billed as make-or-break for the Reds’ Premier League title hopes.

Two league losses in a row - taking the early total to four - have left last season’s runners up seven points adrift of three-time defending champion United.

And for once, not even Europe is not providing a salvation for Rafa Benitez’s side - Liverpool is in danger of missing out on the lucrative Champions League knockout phase after a second straight loss Tuesday.

Not since 1987 has Liverpool endured a four-match losing sequence and it’s being left to stalwart defender Jamie Carragher to rally the battered team, which could again be without the dynamic, but bruised, duo of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres on Sunday.

“Beating Manchester United could be just the boost we need, we always bounce back because that us what we are about,” Carragher said.

“We’ve got a lot of fight and character and will want to show that against United, particularly after what happened against Lyon.

“We’re going through a tough patch but we’ve been through them before and we’ll bounce back, there’s no doubt about that. It’s always a great game against United, and that could be what we need - if we win it will give everyone a massive lift.”

While United has also experienced a sluggish start to the season, Alex Ferguson’s side has still managed to eke out victories and lead Chelsea by a point.

The Red Devils are also on course for the Champions League knockout stage, preparing for Sunday’s trip to Anfield with a third straight win at CSKA Moscow even after leaving Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung to rest back in Manchester.

Michael Owen made a late cameo from the bench in the 1-0 win in Moscow and the former Liverpool striker will be hoping for a rare United start at the club that turned him into one of the world’s top players as a teenager.

There could be a hostile reception awaiting Owen, who needs to improve his scoring form to force his way back into the England team.

“I am human. I would prefer people to sit down and recognize what you did for them and for the team in years gone past,” Owen said. “But I am pretty realistic as well and now that I am playing for their archrivals.”

Both teams are looking for a record 19th league title, a year after United matched Liverpool’s haul of 18.

Second-place Chelsea can put the pressure on United with a victory over Blackburn Saturday after losing at Aston Villa last weekend.

Salomon Kalou’s two goals Wednesday helped revive the Blues on Wednesday as they moved to the verge of the Champions League knockout phase by beating Atletico Madrid 4-0.

“It’s good to get confidence back by winning, and everyone gave his best today and we have the result in the end,” Kalou said. “After the disappointment of last week (against Villa) we had the opportunity to show it was a mistake.”

Tottenham, which is two points adrift of Chelsea, is also in action on Saturday, hosting Stoke. Fourth-place Arsenal is at West Ham on Sunday.

Portsmouth travels to Hull on Saturday chasing a second win of the season that could lift Paul Hart’s side off the bottom of the table.

Also Saturday, Birmingham hosts Sunderland, Wigan is at Lancashire rival Burnley and Wolverhampton takes on Aston Villa in the Midlands derby.

On Sunday, Manchester City plays Fulham and Bolton hosts Everton.

Utah's 4-day workweek brings some dividends

Closing Utah state offices on Fridays has delivered an unexpected bonus: a big saving on overtime pay.

New calculations show Utah saved $4.1 million in the first year of a government experiment with a four-day workweek.

State employees were eager to leave after the longer workday, and weren't inclined to work an extra hour or two.

"They're getting what they need to get done in 10 hours and going home," said Angie Welling, spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert.

"The state envisioned some energy savings, but that overtime number was not anticipated," she said Wednesday.

Utah was the first state in the country to shut down most of its services on Fridays. Other states took notice. Hawaii tried a limited four-day week last fall, when a similar program was under way in Washington state. Lawmakers in at least two other states — West Virginia and Virginia — have also looked into adopting a four-day workweek.

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman made the switch for Utah in August 2008, largely to cut energy costs.

Utah, however, achieved only a sixth of the $3 million it expected to trim on energy costs.

The state couldn't shut down as many state buildings as it planned on Fridays, officials said, and it didn't save much by closing the smaller buildings.

Also, the state assumed gasoline for state fleet car use and building utility costs would soar, and it would save as much.

Both expenditures actually fell over the past year, however. Utah has some of the lowest utility rates in the country.

The energy saving came out to $502,000 for the year. The state also saved $200,000 on janitorial services. With reduced overtime expenses, the total saving was $4.8 million.

The figures were released Wednesday by Herbert's strategic planner, Mike Hansen.

The new governor — Huntsman left to become the U.S. ambassador to China — is undecided on whether to stick with the program, Welling said.

"He's still reviewing the results. He feels like we have good data on the amount of cost savings, employee satisfaction and the energy reduction. What he things is missing is input from the public," she said.

To that end, Herbert will commission a poll of public sentiment — citizens lost a day of government service with the switch.

State workers are largely happy. Another survey found 85 percent of the workers like working four longer days better than five shorter ones.

Working mothers like Carolyn Dennis — she has two young sons — found a way to adjust.

"It's actually a lot easier than the five-hour day, because I have all day Friday to clean and run errands and still have the whole weekend to spend with my kids," said Dennis, customer service manager for the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

"I actually found it's freed up my time. We never did anything in the evening anyway, but having that extra day has made it easier to be a working mom."

Dennis leaves the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan at 5:45 a.m. with her youngest, a 2-year-old, in tow. she drops him at a day care center near work in downtown Salt Lake City. Her husband, a business owner, drops the couple's 7-year-old son, a first-grader, at school.

Dennis works from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., skipping lunch hour and leaving a half-hour earlier than normal. That allows her to cut down a long day for her youngest.

"I started out getting him dressed while he was still asleep, but now he's getting up early for breakfast. Ryan is still on a malleable infant schedule. He's happy and smiling when I drop him off, so it makes my day go better," she said.

All things considered, Dennis would never switch back.

"I do love the 4/10 and told my boss if they take it away, I'll probably cry," she said.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Man staged nearly 100 car crashes in cash scam

A Briton who cost the insurance industry some 1.6 million pounds by staging almost 100 car crashes as part of a scam to win fraudulent payouts, was jailed for 4-1/2 years on Wednesday.

Mohammed Patel, 24, charged 500 pounds a time to stage accidents which enabled fraudsters to claim an average of 17,000 pounds from their insurers.

Police said he staged at least 92 crashes between 2005 and 2008, each time persuading the other driver to believe they were at fault.

The plot was uncovered after workers in an office block by the main A34 road in Cheadle, near Manchester, became suspicious about a regular number of crashes taking place at a nearby roundabout.

AXA insurance, one of the firms caught up in the scam, investigated and contacted police. Detectives found that Patel deliberately caused crashes for his clients by braking suddenly so the vehicle behind could not avoid a collision.

The claimants then demanded compensation from the victim's insurance firm for personal injury, legal fees, courtesy cars, and often with the damage to the cars fabricated.

Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court heard that fraudsters were able to claim on average 17,000 pounds from insurance firms for each of the crashes Patel caused, the Press Association reported.

Patel himself raked in around 46,000 pounds for his role, and from his earnings he treated his girlfriend to gifts, two luxury cars and foreign holidays, police said.

"Patel was prepared to put lives in danger to make money," said Sergeant Mark Beales.

"This abuse of the insurance claims system has implications for all law-abiding road users."

Patel, from Bolton, admitted 17 charges including conspiracy to defraud, dangerous driving and driving while disqualified.

Another 24 co-conspirators are also due to be sentenced for their role in the scam.

"The cost of insurance fraud adds on average 44 pounds to every policyholder's insurance premium annually," said John Beadle, chairman of the Insurance Fraud Bureau.

German pensioner loses 20,000 euros on motorway

A German pensioner had to scour bushes and trees beside a motorway after 20,000 euros (30,000 dollars) that he had left on the bonnet of his car during a break fluttered away, police said Wednesday.

The 64-year-old Bavarian, who has not been named, told police that he had taken the money to Luxembourg in order to buy a car and that on the way back, the deal having fallen through, he stopped at a service station.

Back on the road, the man heard something hit the windscreen but thought nothing of it, and it was only when he pulled over into a layby that he realised that the object must have been the envelope containing the cash.

In a panic, he persuaded a police officer who happened to be in the layby to help him look for the money. Together they managed to gather 18,080 euros in bushes, branches, in the central reservation and on the other side of the road.

"The elder gentleman was pleased to find his money again," police said in a statement. "What he was less happy about, however, was the fact that a receipt for a Luxembourg bank account being closed down was also found."

The man admitted that in fact, the story about the car was untrue and that he had withdrawn the money from a bank in Luxembourg. The case was then passed on to customs officials.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

US scientist accused of trying to sell secrets

Prosecutors say a scientist who worked on the cutting edge of moon exploration has been caught trying to sell classified secrets to an FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence agent.

Stewart David Nozette, who is credited with helping discover evidence of water on the moon and has been a leader in recent lunar exploration work, was arrested Monday and charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to communicate, deliver and transmit classified information, the Justice Department said.

Nozette, 52, of Chevy Chase, Md., was expected to make his initial appearance in federal court in Washington on Tuesday. Law enforcement officials said Nozette did not immediately have a lawyer.

Nozette worked in various jobs for the Energy Department and NASA. In 1989 and 1990, he worked for the White House's National Space Council.

He developed the Clementine bi-static radar experiment that is credited with discovering water on the south pole of the moon. He also worked at the Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he designed highly advanced technology, from approximately 1990 to 1999.

At Energy, Nozette held a special security clearance equivalent to the Defense Department's top secret and "critical nuclear weapon design information" clearances. DOE clearances apply to access to information specifically relating to atomic or nuclear-related materials.

Nozette also held top offices at the Alliance for Competitive Technology, a nonprofit corporation that he organized. Between January 2000 and February 2006, Nozette, through his company, had several agreements to develop advanced technology for the U.S. government.

To build a case against Nozette, FBI agents posed as officers of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, and the criminal complaint suggests why they thought their suspect would take the bait.

From 1998 to 2008, the complaint alleges, Nozette was a technical adviser for a consultant company that was wholly owned by the Israeli government. Nozette was paid about $225,000 over that period, the court papers say.

Then, in January of this year, Nozette allegedly traveled to another foreign country with two computer thumb drives and apparently did not return with them. Prosecutors also quote an unnamed colleague of Nozette who said the scientist said that if the U.S. government ever tried to put him in jail for an unrelated criminal offense, he would go to Israel or another foreign country and "tell them everything" he knows.

The complaint does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf violated U.S. law. In Jerusalem, Israeli government officials said they were not familiar with the case and had never heard of the suspect.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Tuesday that Nozette had past business dealings with Israel Aerospace Industries, a government-owned defense contractor. IAI declined to comment.

The affidavit by FBI agent Leslie Martell said that on Sept. 3, Nozette received a telephone call from an individual purporting to be an Israeli intelligence officer, but who was actually an undercover FBI agent.

Nozette agreed to meet with the agent later that day at a hotel in Washington and in the subsequent meeting the two discussed Nozette's willingness to work for Israeli intelligence, the affidavit said.

Nozette allegedly informed the agent that he had, in the past, held top security clearances and had access to U.S. satellite information, the affidavit said.

The scientist also allegedly said he would be willing to answer questions about this information in exchange for money. The agent explained that the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, would arrange for a communication system so Nozette could pass on information in a post office box.

Nozette agreed to provide regular, continuing information and asked for an Israeli passport, the affidavit alleged.

According to the court papers, Nozette and the undercover agent met soon afterward in the same hotel, where the scientist allegedly said that while he no longer had legal access to any classified information at a U.S. government facility, he could, nonetheless, recall classified information by memory.

Nozette allegedly told the agent, "Well, I should tell you my first need is that they should figure out how to pay me ... they don't expect me to do this for free."

About a week later, FBI agents left a letter in the designated post office box, asking Nozette to answer a list of questions about U.S. satellite information. The agents provided a $2,000 cash payment.

Nozette was later captured on videotape leaving a manila envelope in the post office box. The next day, agents retrieved the sealed envelope and found, among other things, a one-page document containing answers to the questions and an encrypted computer thumb drive.

One answer contained information classified as secret, which concerned capabilities of a prototype overhead surveillance system. Nozette allegedly offered to reveal additional classified information that directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, and other major weapons systems.

Agents then asked for more information, and again he allegedly provided it, in exchange for a cash payment of $9,000.

Over the course of his career, Nozette performed some of his research at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, Va., and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two aid workers kidnapped in Darfur set free after 107 days

The mother of an Irish aid worker Sharon Commins (pictured) who was freed after being kidnapped in Sudan's

Two female staff of Irish aid agency GOAL who were kidnapped at gunpoint in Sudan's Darfur region in July were celebrating their release on Sunday from more than 100 days in captivity.

Irishwoman Sharon Commins, 33, and Ugandan Hilda Kawuki, 42, were kidnapped in the North Darfur town of Kutum on July 3 by a gang of armed men from a compound run by GOAL.

The two women were freed early Sunday after local tribal chiefs pressured the kidnappers into releasing them, a Sudanese minister said.

"We are naturally thrilled to be released after such a long period in captivity," Commins and Kawuki said in a statement released by GOAL.

"We now can hardly wait to get home and spend time with our loved ones," they added.

North Darfur state humanitarian affairs minister Abdel Baqi Gilani said that no ransom had been paid.

He said the two aid workers were in Kutum and were due to fly to the capital Khartoum later Sunday before returning home.

"We are all relieved," GOAL president John O'Shea told AFP.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the kidnappers had late on Saturday contacted its representatives in Kutum to say they were ready to free the hostages.

"Last night we received a phone call from the kidnappers saying they were ready to hand over the two ladies," ICRC spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh told AFP. "We did not participate in the negotiations in any way."

Commins's mother said she was "absolutely overjoyed" at the news, while the Irish government also welcomed the releases.

"Oh my God, can you imagine, we just leapt out of bed when we heard the phone. We were just absolutely overjoyed," she told Ireland's state broadcaster RTE.

She was informed of the release by Gilani and spoke to her daughter shortly afterwards.

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, who travelled to Khartoum last month in an effort to secure the women's release, said he was "personally delighted and extremely relieved."

"I want to pay a personal tribute to the two women who have undergone such a difficult ordeal. Their personal courage and resilience has helped them through what must have been a traumatic experience," he said in a statement.

The UN's Sudan-based humanitarian coordinator, Ameerah Haq, welcomed the release of the GOAL aid workers, and thanked those who helped to free them.

"The kidnapping of Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki is a reminder of the dangers faced by humanitarians working to help the people of Sudan, often in circumstances of considerable personal risk," Haq said in a statement.

"The efforts by the Sudanese authorities and Darfurian community leaders constitutes a significant step towards ensuring that aid workers in Darfur can accomplish their humanitarian brief in a safe and secure environment," she said.

The two spent more than 100 days in captivity, the longest endured by foreign aid staff in Darfur since the conflict erupted in the western region in early 2003.

An International Criminal Court warrant in March accusing Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir of war crimes in Darfur triggered a sharp downturn in Sudan's relations with foreign relief organisations.

Two members of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres MSF) and French aid agency Aide Medicale Internationale (AMI) had been kidnapped in March and April then released after spending three days and 26 days respectively in captivity.

Sudanese authorities had not punished those responsible for the kidnappings which shook the aid community in Darfur.

Gilani said that those who carried out the latest kidnapping must be brought to justice.

"They must be punished otherwise there will be no more order" in Darfur, he told AFP.

Two civilian employees for the UN-African Union joint peacekeeping force in Darfur kidnapped in August at Zalingei in west Darfur are still in the hands of their abductors. They are the only hostages still kidnapped in Darfur.

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels in Darfur rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum in February 2003.

The government says 10,000 people have been killed.

Arctic ice cap to disappear in 20-30 years

The Arctic ice cap will disappear completely in summer months within 20 to 30 years, a polar research team said as they presented findings from an expedition led by adventurer Pen Hadow.

It is likely to be largely ice-free during the warmer months within a decade, the experts added.

Veteran polar explorer Hadow and two other Britons went out on the Arctic ice cap for 73 days during the northern spring, taking more than 6,000 measurements and observations of the sea ice.

The raw data they collected from March to May has been analysed, producing some stark predictions about the state of the ice cap.

"The summer ice cover will completely vanish in 20 to 30 years but in less than that it will have considerably retreated," said Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the polar ocean physics group at Britain's prestigious Cambridge University.

"In about 10 years, the Arctic ice will be considered as open sea."

Starting off from northern Canada, Hadow, Martin Hartley and Ann Daniels skied over the ice cap to measure the thickness of the remaining ice, assessing its density and the depth of overlying snow, as well as taking weather and sea temperature readings.

Across their 450-kilometre (290 mile) route, the average thickness of the ice floes was 1.8 metres (six feet), while it was 4.8 metres when incorporating the compressed ridges of ice.

"An average thickness of 1.8 metres is typical of first year ice, which is more vulnerable in the summer. And the multi-year ice is shrinking back more rapidly," said Wadhams.

"It's a concrete example of global change in action.

"With a larger part of the region now in first year ice, it is clearly more vulnerable. The area is now more likely to become open water each summer, bringing forward the potential date when the summer sea ice will be completely gone."

Doctor Martin Sommerkorn, senior climate change adviser for the World Wide Fund for Nature's international Arctic programme, said the survey painted a sombre picture of the ice meltdown, which was happening "faster than we thought".

"Remove the Arctic ice cap and we are left with a very different and much warmer world," he said.

Loss of sea ice cover will "set in motion powerful climate feedbacks which will have an impact far beyond the Arctic itself," he added.

"This could lead to flooding affecting one quarter of the world's population, substantial increases in greenhouse gas emission from massive carbon pools and extreme global weather changes."

"Today's findings provide yet another urgent call for action to world leaders ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen in December to rapidly and effectively curb global greenhouse gas emissions."

A devastated Leon Lai mourns the death of his beloved cat

Heavenly King Leon Lai's beloved cat Baba recently died of kidney failure, as reported by the Hong Kong news. The singer-actor was present at a charity event a few days ago when Baba's condition suddenly deteriorated. A nervous and panicky Leon interrupted the host a few times and rushed down to the hospital in hopes of seeing his cat for the last time.

In an interview at the event, Leon revealed that his cat, Baba (who shared the same name as a song) was admitted into hospital two days ago for kidney failure. Although she was said to be in stable condition, he was instructed to head down to the hospital as soon as possible as her condition suddenly took a turn for the worse.

"The doctor suggested putting her to sleep. I told him to stop scaring me. I hope that it can be saved and I want to go give her some encouragement. Even if she cannot be saved, I hope to see her one last time before she goes."

Leon sang praises of Baba and shared that she was the most obedient cat out of the three at home. Upset at her death, he said, "It was very sudden. After taking care of it for seven years, there are definitely feelings. I have not kept any pets before and I started taking care of cats only 10 years ago. I have not had the experience of facing with the death of pets."

It was reported that Leon and his wife, Gaile Lok rushed down to the hospital to see Baba for the last time. Unfortunately, she passed on before they arrived and Leon had to comfort Gaile who was visibly upset in tears.

Brazil vows safe Olympics after 14 killed in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO – At least 2,000 police officers patrolled this coastal city Sunday and Brazilian officials pledged to host a violence-free 2016 Olympics despite bloody drug gang shootouts that left 14 people dead.

An hourslong firefight between rival gangs Saturday in one of the city's slums killed at least 12 people, injured six and saw a police helicopter shot down and eight buses set on fire.

Police said Sunday that they killed two other suspected drug traffickers in overnight clashes near the Morro dos Macacos ("Monkey Hill") slum where the gangs fought for territory a day earlier. But the area was largely peaceful.

Two officers died and four were injured Saturday when bullets from the gang battle ripped into their helicopter hovering overhead, forcing it into a fiery crash landing on a soccer field. Officials said they did not know if the gangs targeted the helicopter or it was hit by stray bullets.

Gunfire on the ground killed 10 suspected gunmen and wounded two bystanders.

Authorities said the violence only toughened their resolve to improve security ahead of the Olympics and before 2014, when Brazil will host the World Cup soccer tournament with key games in Rio, the country's second-biggest city.

Rio state Public Safety Director Jose Beltrame told reporters that the violence was limited to a specific area of the city of 6 million and "is not a problem throughout all of Rio de Janeiro."

He said authorities will follow through with promised efforts to reduce crime.

"We proved to the Olympic Committee that we have plans and proposals for Rio de Janeiro," Beltrame said. "We proved that our current policy not only consists of going into battle, it also consists of keeping the peace."

Rio state Gov. Sergio Cabral said earlier that the city's security challenges can't be cured "by magic in the short term." But money is being poured into programs to reduce crime and authorities are prepared to mount an overwhelming security presence at the sporting events to ensure safety, he said.

Saturday's fighting raged about five miles (eight kilometers) southwest of one of the zones where Rio's 2016 Olympics will be held.

It was on Oct. 2 that the city was chosen over Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo to host the games. Rio alone among the bid cities was highlighted for questions about security ahead of the vote by the International Olympic Committee.

Rio is one of the world's most dangerous cities. Although violence is mostly contained within its sprawling shantytowns, it sometimes spills into posh beach neighborhoods and periodically shuts down a highway linking the international airport to tourist destinations.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has played down the threat of violence for the Olympics, saying Rio has repeatedly demonstrated it can put on big events without risks to participants. The Pan-American Games in 2007 were held without major incidents after authorities deployed 15,000 specially trained officers.

More lasting change is needed now to protect Rio's citizens, said 83-year-old Maria Jose Gonzaga, who awoke to gunfire Saturday near the violence zone and cowered at home for hours until it finally ended.

"As soon as Saturday began, they started shooting at each other," Gonzaga said. "It was very intense, very awful indeed.

Iran bombing kills 5 Revolutionary Guard leaders

TEHRAN, Iran – A suicide bomber killed five senior commanders of the powerful Revolutionary Guard and at least 37 others Sunday near the Pakistani border in the heartland of a potentially escalating Sunni insurgency.

The attack — which also left dozens wounded — was the most high-profile strike against security forces in an outlaw region of armed tribal groups, drug smugglers and Sunni rebels known as Jundallah, or Soldiers of God.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised sharp retaliation. But a sweeping offensive by authorities is unlikely.

Iranian officials have been reluctant to open full-scale military operations in the southeastern border zone, fearing it could become a hotspot for sectarian violence with the potential to draw in al-Qaida and Sunni militants from nearby Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The region's top prosecutor, Mohammad Marzieh, was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying Jundallah claimed responsibility for the blast in the Pishin district near the Pakistani border.

There was no immediate statement directly from the group, which has carried out sporadic kidnappings and attacks in recent years — including targeting the Revolutionary Guard — to press their claims of persecution in the Shiite government and officials.

In May, Jundallah said it sent a suicide bomber into a Shiite mosque in the southeastern city of Zahedan, killing 25 worshippers.

The latest attack, however, would mark the group's highest-level target. It also raised questions about how the attacker breached security around such a top delegation from the Revolutionary Guard — the country's strongest military force, which is directly linked to the ruling clerics under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The official Islamic Republic News Agency said the victims included the deputy commander of the Guard's ground forces, Gen. Noor Ali Shooshtari, as well as a chief provincial Guard commander, Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh. The others killed were Guard members or tribal leaders, it said.

The agency quoted the provincial forensics director, Abbas Amian, as saying 42 bodies had been handed over to his department.

More than two dozen others were wounded, state radio reported.

The commanders were entering a sports complex to meet tribal leaders to discuss Sunni-Shiite cooperation when the attacker detonated a belt fitted with explosives, IRNA said.

Ahmadinejad — who counts on support from the Revolutionary Guard — vowed to strike back.

"The criminals will soon get the response for their inhuman crimes," IRNA quoted him as saying.

But controlling the scrubland and arid hills along the southeastern borders is a huge challenge that has been out of Iran's reach.

Drug traffickers ferry opium and other narcotics through the cross-border badlands — a key source of income for the Taliban in Afghanistan and the ethnic Baluchi tribes that straddle the three-nation region and include members of Jundallah. Iran has pleaded for more international help to cut off the drug routes and criminal gangs.

Iran also has accused Jundallah of receiving support from al-Qaida and the Taliban, though some analysts who have studied the group dispute such a link.

"There is no evidence of outside help for Jundallah from wider militant networks," said Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. "It's a homegrown group that moves across the borders within fellow Baluchi tribes. It is very hard to control the border."

In an attempt to boost security in the region, Iran in April put the Revolutionary Guard directly in control of the Sistan-Baluchistan Province in Iran's southeastern corner.

The 120,000-strong Guard also controls Iran's missile program, guards its nuclear facilities and has its own ground, naval and air units.

The Revolutionary Guard led the blanket crackdown on dissident after Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June. But the attack Sunday appeared to have no link to the political showdowns.

State television accused Britain of supporting Jundallah, without providing any evidence.

The Revolutionary Guard blamed the attack on what it called the "global arrogance," a reference to the United States.

On the eve of talks about Tehran's nuclear program, Washington was quick to react.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States condemned what he called an "act of terrorism." Reports of alleged U.S. involvement are "completely false," he said.

Iran's parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, told lawmakers that the bombing was aimed at further destabilizing the uneasy border region with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"The intention of the terrorists was definitely to disrupt security in Sistan-Baluchistan Province," Larijani said.

Iranian officials summoned Pakistan's charge d'affairs in Tehran to lodge allegations that "terrorists" use bases in Pakistan to carry out attacks against Iran, IRNA reported.

In Quetta, Pakistan, police official Akbar Sanjrani said Iran had closed at least one border crossing. He said Iranian authorities did not give a reason for blocking the route, but Sanjrani speculated it was related to the bombing.

Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman, Abdul Basit, also rejected Iranian claims that Jundallah's leader is in Pakistan.

"We are struggling to eradicate the menace of terrorism," Basit told Geo TV.

The group also has claimed responsibility for a February 2007 car bombing that killed 11 members of the Revolutionary Guard near Zahedan.

Despite Iran's claims of an al-Qaida link, Chris Zambelis, a Washington-based risk management consultant who has studied Jundallah, said in a recent article that there is no evidence al-Qaida is supporting the group. He does note, however, that the group has begun to use the kinds of suicide bombings associated with the global terror network.

"Jundallah's contacts with the Taliban are most likely based on jointly profiting from the illicit trade and smuggling as opposed to ideology," Zambelis wrote in the July issue of West Point's CTC Sentinel.

FROM:Associated Press writer Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Pakistan, contributed to this report. Murphy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.