- Signs of the Times Archive for Thu, 20 Dec 2007 -

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U.S. News
Disabled man says he had no way to carry out threats against judge

Associated Press
2007-12-20 17:15:00

GREENSBURG, Pa. - A man accused of threatening to punch and strangle a judge says the charges should be dismissed because, given that he has no legs and limited use of his arms, there was no way he could deliver.

"The question is, who would honestly believe it?" defense attorney Richard Galloway said Tuesday at a hearing on Samuel Shoemaker's motion to dismiss the charges against him. "It was simply one of many times when people come out of family court blowing off steam and making threats they didn't mean."

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Teens charged in 'Mortal Kombat' killing

Associated Press
2007-12-20 16:42:00

Two teens have been charged with killing the 7-year-old sister of one of them by beating her with imitations of moves from the "Mortal Kombat" video game, prosecutors said.

Lamar Roberts, 17, and Heather Trujillo, 16, were charged as adults on one count each of felony child abuse causing death, state prosecutor Robert Miller said in court documents released Wednesday and filed a day earlier.

According to a police affidavit, the teens were baby-sitting Trujillo's half-sister, Zoe Garcia, on December 6 while the girl's mother was at work.

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Blast at Florida chemical plant kills 3

Associated Press
2007-12-19 16:33:00

An explosion and fire at a chemical plant killed three people Wednesday and injured at least 14, fire officials said.

Six people were initially missing at the T2 Laboratories Inc. plant, but three were found, said Tom Francis, a fire rescue spokesman. Fourteen were taken to hospitals, but he did not say what their condition was.


The chemicals at the plant made the environment "incredibly dangerous for the first responders," Francis said. "Explosions were generating all kinds of side brush fires and other kinds of blazes."

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Bush 'loses patience' with Syria

BBC News
2007-12-20 17:45:00

US President George W Bush says he has long since lost patience with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, and has ruled out opening a dialogue with him.

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Voters who go to the polls may win $1m

Francis Harris
The Telegraph
2007-12-20 14:52:00

Who wants to be a millionaire? Anyone using the ballot box in America's western state of Arizona, if campaigners have their way.

Under the scheme, which is designed to increase turnout, a $1 million (£550,000) prize will be handed to a voter selected at random after elections held every two years. Those taking part in party primary elections could win another $1 million prize.

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Descendants of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse break away from US

2007-12-20 13:40:00

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Lakota Indians, who gave the world legendary warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from treaties with the United States, leaders said Wednesday.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us,"
long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means told a handful of reporters and a delegation from the Bolivian embassy, gathered in a church in a run-down neighborhood of Washington for a news conference.

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Scotsman free after 20 years on US death row

Andrew Gumbel
The Independent
2007-12-20 11:21:00

Kenny Richey, the Scottish national whose 20 years on Ohio's death row made him a cause célèbre for death penalty opponents, will walk free from prison today after the collapse of the murder case against him.

Mr Richey, now 42, has spent more than half his life insisting he had no responsibility for the death of his ex-girlfriend's two-year-old daughter, who perished in a fire in the tiny Ohio town of Columbus Grove in June 1986.

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Senate passes gun bill in response to rampage

Thomas Ferraro
2007-12-20 07:46:00

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Congress, prodded by the deadliest shooting rampage in modern American history, passed legislation on Wednesday to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Without objection, the Senate and House of Representatives approved the measure, which would bolster background checks for gun buyers, and sent it to President George W. Bush to sign.

Comment: All for show. It does not change the gun culture and even the National Rifle Association backed this one, which goes to show that this legislation was all for public consumption.

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Crossing the Line in Texas: Sundown Action Brings Toys to Imprisoned Children

Greg Moses
2007-12-20 07:27:00

In an act of civil disobedience on Sunday marking the first anniversary of protests against the imprisonment of children at the T. Don Hutto immigrant prison in Taylor, Texas, 100 people carried holiday toys and wrapping paper into the prison lobby. The action at sundown was the first time this year that protesters carried their message onto prison property.

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California: Lost family huddled for three days before rescue

2007-12-20 07:00:00

A father and his three children lost for three days in the snowy California woods used sticks to spell out the word "Help" and warmed their feet inside each other's shirts to help stave off frostbite before their rescue.

©Frederick Dominguez
Frederick Dominguez took this photo of his son, Christopher, warming his feet during their ordeal.

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Funds Cut for Homeland Security Headquarters

Mary Beth Sheridan
2007-12-19 22:00:00

Congress has eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars requested by President Bush for 2008 to start building a giant headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security in the District, officials said yesterday.

The removal of the money from a $515.7 billion domestic spending bill was a setback to proponents of the project. One, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), said she was in talks to see if she could come up with funds elsewhere to preserve the plans for the western campus of the St. Elizabeths Hospital grounds in Anacostia.

But a senior federal official knowledgeable about the project said that if the money wasn't restored before a Senate vote on the bill, "the real possibility of making this [headquarters] a reality gets very dim." He spoke on condition of anonymity since the legislation hadn't gotten final approval.

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Ex-NASA employee pleads guilty to stashing child porn on work computer

Henry K. Lee
2007-12-19 20:22:00

A former NASA employee has pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography on his government computer, authorities said today.

Mark Charles Zelinsky, 56, of San Bruno entered a guilty plea Monday before U.S. District Judge James Ware in San Jose. Zelinsky admitted to possessing more than 600 images of child pornography, authorities said. Ware is to sentence Zelinsky on March 24.

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Election Software Lost in Transit

Kim Zetter
2007-12-19 17:21:00

More than a hundred computer chips containing voting machine software were lost or stolen during transit in California this week.

Two cardboard shipping tubes containing 174 EPROMs loaded with voting machine software were sent via Federal Express on December 13th from the secretary of state's office in Sacramento to election officials in nineteen California counties that use optical-scan voting machines made by Diebold Election Systems. But on Monday, two shipping tubes arrived empty to one of these counties.

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Shocking: Slave labour that shames America

Leonard Doyle
The Independent
2007-12-19 18:04:00

Migrant workers chained beaten and forced into debt, exposing the human cost of producing cheap food.

Three Florida fruit-pickers, held captive and brutalised by their employer for more than a year, finally broke free of their bonds by punching their way through the ventilator hatch of the van in which they were imprisoned. Once outside, they dashed for freedom.

When they found sanctuary one recent Sunday morning, all bore the marks of heavy beatings to the head and body. One of the pickers had a nasty, untreated knife wound on his arm. Police would learn later that another man had his hands chained behind his back every night to prevent him escaping, leaving his wrists swollen.

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UK & Euro-Asian News
Churchill's great-grandson jailed for three years

RIA Novosti
2007-12-20 17:14:00

The great-grandson of the late British prime minister Winston Churchill has been sentenced to three years in an Australian prison, British media reported on Thursday.

Nicholas Jake Barton, 33, was arrested in June 2006 after police discovered 250,000 tablets of Ecstasy and drug-making equipment in his home. He pleaded guilty "to knowingly taking part in the supply of a commercial quantity of a prohibited drug" in November 2007, the Daily Telegraph website said.

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Vatican blasts "Golden Compass" as Godless and hopeless

Philip Pullella
2007-12-19 08:31:00

The Vatican on Wednesday condemned the film "The Golden Compass," which some have called anti-Christian, saying it promotes a cold and hopeless world without God.

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Man Cries 'Heil Hitler,' Beats American

Associated Press
2007-12-20 13:37:00

An American was attacked in western Germany by a man who shouted "Heil Hitler," police said Thursday.

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Drivers who use mobile phones face jail

David Millward & Christopher Hope
2007-12-20 11:27:00

Motorists caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving could be jailed for two years under tough new guidelines issued today by prosecutors.

Drivers who adjust sat-navs, tinker with MP3 music players such as iPods or send text messages at the wheel could also face prison sentences.

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US delays troop drawdown in Europe

Agence France-Presse
2007-12-20 07:31:00

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed to delay a drawdown of US troop levels in Europe, the Pentagon said Wednesday, following requests from commanders to maintain its military personnel levels there at around 40,000.

Two brigades had been due to come back to the United States, but the decision has been made that they "will remain in Europe within EUCOM (US Europe Command) for a couple of more years," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters.

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Austrian, Slovak leaders cut down Schengen frontier barrier

Agence France-Presse
2007-12-20 07:23:00

BERG-PETRZALKA - Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico literally cut down the barriers between their two countries on Thursday, in a ceremony to mark the expansion of the Schengen visa-free zone.

The two leaders symbolically sawed through the wooden barrier posts at the crossing point between Berg in Austria and Petrzalka in Slovakia, aided by Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic.

Austrian, Slovak leaders cut down Schengen frontier barrier

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Putin Agonistes: Missile Defense will not be Deployed

Mike Whitney
Information Clearing House
2007-12-19 00:49:00

It's been a lot of hard work, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally achieved his goal. He's cleaned up the mess left behind by Yeltsin, put together a strong and thriving economy, and restored Russia to a place of honor among the community of nations. His legacy has already been written. He's the man who rebuilt Russia. The last thing he wants now, is a pointless confrontation with the United States. But how can it be avoided? He understands Washington's long-range plans for Russia and he is taking necessary steps to preempt them. He is familiar with the heavyweights of US foreign policy, like Zbigniew Brzezinski, and has undoubtedly read his master-plan for Central Asia, "The Grand Chessboard". Brzezinski's recent article in Foreign Affairs, (A publication of the Council on Foreign Relations) "A Geostrategy for Eurasia" summarizes his views on America's future involvement in the region:

"America's emergence as the sole global superpower now makes an integrated and comprehensive strategy for Eurasia imperative."

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£20,000 Scandal as boy, 12, cleared of throwing a sausage

Gary Cleland
2007-12-19 15:25:00

A police investigation to prosecute a 12-year-old for throwing a cocktail sausage at a neighbour has cost £20,000.

The youngster was charged with common assault and brought before magistrates six times after the case was repeatedly adjourned to allow reports to be prepared.

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Around the World
Ontario man who abused daughter live online given 4-year sentence

CBC News
2007-12-20 17:01:00

An Ontario man who sexually abused his young daughter live on the internet in 2006 was sentenced to four years in prison by a judge in St. Thomas Wednesday.

The sentence means the St. Thomas man, who can't be named to protect the child's identity, will spend another 20 months behind bars, in addition to the 14 he has already served in custody. Afterwards, he will be on probation for three years.

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Australia: Shark attack just a fishy line

Jano Gibson
The Sydney Morning Herald
2007-12-20 16:49:00

A shark attack at Bondi Beach, which made headlines around the world, never occurred and the man who made the claim has been arrested for theft, sources have told smh.com.au.

Scott Wright had told reporters on the weekend that he thought he was a "goner" after being bitten on the arm by a shark on Friday night.

The last attack at Bondi was 70 years ago.

Even as late as today lifeguards at Bondi thought a wobbegong shark might have been responsible.

©Channel Ten
The "bite" marks on Scott Wright's arm

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Three deadly explosions rock Freetown

BBC News
2007-12-20 15:42:00

Three huge explosions have rocked the centre of the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, eyewitnesses say.

At least 17 bodies had been recovered, said the deputy head of the fire-fighting service.

©BBC News
The area was full of people doing their holiday shopping

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10 humanitarian crises forgotten (but not gone)

Claire Soares and Daniel Howden
The Independent
2007-12-20 07:41:00

If doctors edited newspapers... The frontline physicians at Médecins Sans Frontières have chosen the 10 humanitarian crises that should have been given more coverage in 2007.


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'Enough evidence' to charge Zuma says prosecutor

The Independent
2007-12-20 07:36:00

South Africa's top prosecutor says there is enough evidence to charge newly elected ruling ANC party leader Jacob Zuma with corruption.

Mokotedi Mpshe told The Associated Press that prosecutors would announce in the new year the next step in their investigation into allegations that Zuma accepted bribes of 4 million rands (nearly US$600,000) from the French arms company Thint to stop investigations into a multi-billion-dollar arms deal.

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India: Tigers kill zoo visitor who came too close

The Telegraph
2007-12-20 03:19:00

A zoo visitor has died after being savagely attacked by two tigers he was trying to photograph.

A Royal Bengal tiger tore off the 50-year-old man's hand as he tried to capture the beast on his mobile phone camera.

Despite the efforts of staff at the zoo in Guwahati, northeast India, a second tiger then joined in the assault through the bars of the cage.

The victim, who had been visiting the zoo with his wife and two children, was taken to hospital but declared dead by doctors.

It is understood that the man had vaulted a safety barrier in order to get a close-up shot of the animals.

One of the Bengal tigers attacks the photographer

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Australia to Spy on Japanese Whaling

Rod McGuirk
Associated Press
2007-12-19 23:43:00

©David Guttenfelder /Associated Press
School children on a field trip watch and take notes as a Baird's Beaked whale is butchered in Wada, Japan on June 21, 2007.

Australia will send planes and a ship to conduct surveillance of Japanese whaling ships off Antarctica, the Australian government announced Wednesday.

The craft will collect photographic and video evidence that will be used to decide if Australia will launch legal action to try to stop Japan's whaling program, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said.

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Former Seoul Mayor Wins South Korean Presidency

Kurt Achin
VOA News
2007-12-19 21:25:00

South Korean officials are confirming an election result that has been expected for weeks. Former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak has apparently won the presidency by about half of the popular vote.

With more than 90 percent of the popular vote tallied late Wednesday night, South Korean election officials said former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak has about 48 percent of the day's votes.

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Product of US liberation: Reports document deepening social catastrophe in Afghanistan

Oscar Grenfell
World Socialist Web Site
2007-12-19 20:42:00


More than six years after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, two recently released reports have again demonstrated the falsehood of the Bush administration's claims to be helping the Afghan people. The social indices on literacy, life expectancy and food availability contained in the reports provide an insight into the terrible social crisis confronting millions of Afghans.

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The Africa Command prospect and the partition of Somalia

Abukar Arman
Online Journal
2007-12-18 20:24:00

As US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was recently visiting American forces in Djibouti, the Washington Post was reporting how the Pentagon has been spearheading a seemingly dicey initiative to pressure Washington into recognizing the secessionist northwestern region of Somalia, known as "Somaliland," as an independent state.

In a December 4 article, "U.S. Debating Shift of Support in Somali Conflict," the Post highlights how some Pentagon officials are convinced it is time "to forge ties with Somaliland, as the U.S. military has with Kenya and other countries bordering Somalia." The article quotes a senior defense official who asserts that "Somaliland is an entity that works." And another unnamed official who confirms the Pentagon's view is that "Somaliland should be independent," and that the US should "build up the parts that are functional and box in Somalia's unstable regions, particularly around Mogadishu."

This initiative clearly contradicts the State Department's wait-and-see approach to this diplomatically sensitive issue. And, handled haphazardly, this could set ablaze the volatile intertribal tensions looming in northern Somalia, and, according to the article, "set a precedent for other secession movements seeking to change colonial-era borders," therefore, "opening a Pandora's box in the region.

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Pakistani insurgents join forces on Afghan border

Saeed Shah
The Globe and Mail
2007-12-17 19:11:00

Militant groups in Pakistan's wild northwest region have come together in a single organization for the first time, threatening to step up operations against the Pakistan army and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The insurgents have named Baitullah Mehsud, a tribal chief from the Waziristan area, which borders Afghanistan, as their chief, or Emir.

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Big Brother

No new articles.

Axis of Evil
Torture, American style

Darius Rejali
The Boston Globe
2007-12-16 17:20:00

A 19th-century image shows federal troops employing several forms of torture. One man stood on a barrel for several hours; another carried a large log, his leg weighted with a ball and chain; a third was bound to a tree with his arms raised above his head; a fourth sat on the ground, tied.

The surprising force behind torture: democracies

Nearly every month, it seems, news reports carry disturbing revelations about torture by American soldiers, intelligence officers, or allies. Just by reading the news we learn things we never wanted to know about waterboarding, forced standing for hours, and sleep deprivation; most recently the CIA has destroyed videotapes showing a suspected terrorist being interrogated with techniques that an agent called torture.

Behind these disclosures, as they reach our ears, runs a powerful current of disbelief and shock: it is hard to imagine that such things would be done by Americans.

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What Happens at a CIA 'Black Site'

Amy Goodman
2007-12-19 16:56:00

The kidnap and torture program of the Bush administration, with its secret CIA "black site" prisons and "torture taxi" flights on private jets, saw a little light of day this week. I spoke to Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah in his first broadcast interview.

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Inherent powers, ignoble history make new idea anything but innocuous

Peter Erlinder
2007-12-20 16:15:00

At the beginning of the last century American philosopher George Santayana famously observed: "Those who can't remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

The U.S. House recently confirmed that Santayana's warning about the danger of repeating the history we don't, can't or won't remember applies not only to ordinary mortals in the last century but to members of Congress in this century, too.

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"Black Site" Survivor Relates Horrific Tale

William Fisher
Inter Press Service
2007-12-19 10:34:00

NEW YORK - As human right lawyers sought to block U.S government efforts to stop a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary accused of flying detainees to "black sites" where they were tortured, a legal advocacy group published the first testimony of a victim of the Central Intelligence Agency's "enhanced interrogation" programme.

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Architect of Cambodian Genocide Endorses John McCain for President

Seth Gitell
New York Sun
2007-12-20 09:23:00

BOSTON - Making a rare foray into primary politics, Henry Kissinger, 84, who served as secretary of state under Presidents Ford and Nixon, is saying Senator McCain is the best person to serve as president at a dangerous time for America and the world.

©Charles Krupa / AP
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain with Henry Kissinger at Faneuil Hall in Boston, yesterday.

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UN representative expresses "grave concern" over CIA torture, Guantánamo hearings

Naomi Spencer
World Socialist Web Site
2007-12-19 04:38:00

Following a visit earlier this month to the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, a United Nations human rights representative reported ongoing abuse, drumhead judicial proceedings, and other violations of international law. The report by the UN official, charging the US government with widespread criminality, has been almost entirely ignored by the US media.

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Is the NIE Bush's Watergate?

Saul Landau
2007-12-19 23:53:00

"Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous, if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

-George Bush, Dec. 4, 2007

"We have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. . . . Bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant."

-Prof. Harry Frankfurt (1986)

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Middle East Madness
Iraq: Karbala organizations threaten civil disobedience over ration card items

Voices of Iraq
2007-12-18 04:31:00

Civil society organizations in Karbala threatened to start a campaign of civil disobedience if ration card items are reduced, an informed source said on Tuesday.

"Local civil society organizations in the province held a conference on Monday evening to discuss an upcoming (government) decision on the removal of some ration card items and threatened to declare a civil disobedience if the decision is not reversed," the head of the Karbala Assembly, a Karbala-based civil society organization, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

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More women report KBR, Halliburton assaults in Iraq

Suzanne Gamboa
Associated Press
2007-12-19 19:20:00

Several women have joined a Texas woman in coming forward with reports of sexual harassment and assault while working in Iraq for Halliburton's former subsidiary, KBR, a Texas congressman told a House subcommittee Wednesday.

The women have given lawyers and a congressman accounts similar to the allegations of Jamie Leigh Jones of Conroe, Texas, whose allegations of rape have gained national media attention.

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A Christmas Reflection on Palestine: Christians and Muslims Weep Together

Sonja Karkar
2007-12-19 18:59:00

As Christmas approaches this year, the thoughts of Christians all over the world will once again turn to Bethlehem, the holy town where Jesus was born over two millennia ago. Voices will be raised in joyful celebration and children everywhere will re-create the Christmas story to help us remember the circumstances in which the Christ child was born.

Such a momentous occasion in such humble surroundings heralded a new way of thinking about people's relationship with God and with each other. It shook the foundations of an unforgiving society presided over by an unforgiving God and proclaimed peace and goodwill on earth amongst all people. There was indeed much to hope for.

However, the tranquil pastoral scene so familiar to us is not at all evident in Bethlehem today. Bethlehem does not lie still, and peace on earth and goodwill towards all is as elusive as ever. The tyranny of Israel's occupation and its colonial expansionism is crippling the lives of both Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike. Yet, many Christians will again ignore the misery suffered by the Palestinians in the Holy Land and will celebrate Christmas without remembering that it was amongst this people and in their land that Jesus was born. Priests will chant, masses will be said, carols will be sung and nativity scenes will be created, but it is unlikely that many sermons will urge Christian congregations to speak out against the crimes being committed in Palestine.

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The Loan Gunmen
Everything you ever wanted to know about the mortgage meltdown but were afraid to ask.

John Atlas and Peter Dreier
The American Prospect, Inc.
2007-12-20 11:57:00

Hardly a day goes by without a news story about the accelerating number of foreclosures, an economic tsunami that is causing chaos in the housing and stock markets, the banking industry, and the global money markets, not to mention upending families and neighborhoods. Business leaders, activist groups, and Democratic presidential candidates are calling for our government to do something before the situation declines even further. The problem is worsening in every part of the country, but two early primary states - Florida and Nevada - are among the hardest hit.

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Oil rises after US crude supplies drop

George Jahn
Business Week
2007-12-20 07:49:00

Vienna - Oil prices rose Thursday after a U.S. agency reported that supplies of crude oil and heating oil fell sharply last week, a drop that was expected to be temporary.

Crude stocks fell 7.6 million barrels in the U.S. last week, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday in its weekly inventory snapshot. The decline was five times more than the average 1.5 million barrel drop expected by analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires.

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The Consequences of the Trade Deficit

Peter Morici
2007-12-18 21:09:00

Yesterday, the Commerce Department reported the third quarter current account deficit was $178.5 billion, down from $188.9 billion in the second quarter. The deficit exceeded 5.4 percent of GDP.

The current account is the broadest measure of the U.S. trade balance. In addition to trade in goods and services, it includes income received from U.S. investments abroad less payments to foreigners on their investments in the United States.

In the third quarter, the United States had a $26.5 surplus on trade in services and a $20.5 billion surplus on income payments. This was hardly enough to offset the massive $199.7 billion deficit on trade in goods, and net unilateral transfers to foreigners equal to $25.8 billion.

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The Living Planet
Powerful Volcano Eruption in Kamchatka

2007-12-20 15:41:00

An eruption of the most northern active volcano in Kamchatka - Shiveluch occurred this night and appeared to be one of the most powerful eruptions of the recent years. Powerful flows of ash were coming from the volcano crater along with gas flows and fragments of magma substances with the temperature reaching 800 degrees Centigrade.

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Volcanic particles 'can help cool' Earth

China Daily
2007-12-20 15:31:00

Russian scientists have discovered that volcanic particles can help cool the Earth, a leading environmental scientist said yesterday.

The world's temperature can drop 0.5 to 1 C a year if 1 million tons of volcanic particles are sprinkled across the globe from 10 to 14 km in the sky, said Yuri Israel, deputy head of the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which won this year's Nobel Peace Prize with former US vice-president Al Gore.

"Our experiments have shown it's effective, and actually it's more effective than some methods stipulated in the Kyoto Protocol to mitigate global warming," Israel said during a Moscow-Beijing video-conference on climate change. The conference was part of an exchange program between Russia and China.

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Volcano Deep Down Could Be Melting Greenland's Ice

2007-12-20 15:29:00

A thin spot in the Earth's crust is enabling underground magma to melt Greenland's ice, scientists at the Ohio State University feel.

According to them, the "hotspot" is located in the northeast corner of Greenland -- just below a site where an ice stream was recently discovered.

The researchers don't yet know how warm the hotspot is, but if it is warm enough to melt the ice above it even a little, it could enable the ice to slide more rapidly out to sea.

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Damage but no deaths as earthquake 6.8 hits New Zealand

Sarah Bridge
The Guardian
2007-12-20 08:24:00

A strong earthquake has hit the east coast of New Zealand, causing power cuts and damage to buildings but no casualties.

The tremor, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, struck at 8.55pm (7.55am GMT). It was centred 30 miles (48km) off the coast, just south east of the city of Gisborne on the country's north island.

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Year of global cooling

David Deming
The Washington Times
2007-12-19 20:33:00

Al Gore says global warming is a planetary emergency. It is difficult to see how this can be so when record low temperatures are being set all over the world. In 2007, hundreds of people died, not from global warming, but from cold weather hazards.

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Health & Wellness
Why exertion leads to exhaustion

University of Exeter
2007-12-20 17:33:00

Scientists have found an explanation for runners who struggle to increase their pace, cyclists who can't pedal any faster and swimmers who can't speed up their strokes. Researchers from the University of Exeter and Kansas State University have discovered the dramatic changes that occur in our muscles when we push ourselves during exercise.

We all have a sustainable level of exercise intensity, known as the 'critical power'. This level can increase as we get fitter, but will always involve us working at around 75-80% of our maximal capacity. Published in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, this research shows why, when we go beyond this level, we have to slow down or stop altogether. This is the first time that scientists have looked at processes taking place inside the muscles when we exceed the critical power.

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Buyers at Risk: Christmas Season of Toxic Recalls

Mark Schapiro
2007-12-19 18:50:00

As we pass through the season of toy recalls into the season of Christmas consumerism, none of the presidential candidates on either side of the aisle have focused on a singular issue that would send a powerful signal of commitment to protecting Americans. The question of ensuring the security of Americans from the hazards to their health contained in hundreds of consumer products hangs like a ripe fruit for any candidate willing to pick it.

Who is out there protecting Americans from these hidden hazards? The answer: practically nobody.

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Science & Technology
Asteroid on track for possible Mars hit

John Johnson Jr.
Los Angeles Times
2007-12-20 12:20:00

Talk about your cosmic pileups.

An asteroid similar to the one that flattened forests in Siberia in 1908 could plow into Mars sometime in the next few weeks, scientists said.

Researchers attached to NASA's Near-Earth Objects Program, who like to call themselves the Solar System Defense Team, have been tracking the asteroid for days.

The scientists, based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, put the chances that it will hit the Red Planet at about 1 in 300. That's better odds than any known asteroid has ever had of hitting Earth, except for the Siberian strike, the scientists said.

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Meteors May Set Off Explosions of Biodiversity

Karen Hopkin
Scientific American
2007-12-20 15:33:00

If you woke up this morning and the newspaper headline screamed Meteor Headed for Earth, you'd think: That's not good. And you'd probably be right. But sometimes a little cosmic bombardment can be just what the doctor ordered. In a study published online in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers in Sweden say that 470 million years ago, meteor showers might have boosted our biodiversity.

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Time is running out - literally, says scientist

Tom Chivers and Roger Highfield
2007-12-20 11:43:00

Scientists have come up with the radical suggestion that the universe's end may come not with a bang but a standstill - that time could be literally running out and could, one day, stop altogether.

Hubble telescope photo of a supernova. Scientists use these to study distant galaxies

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Physicists have 'solved' mystery of levitation

Roger Highfield
2007-12-20 11:31:00

Levitation has been elevated from being pure science fiction to science fact, according to a study reported today by physicists.

In earlier work the same team of theoretical physicists showed that invisibility cloaks are feasible.

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Archaeologists find mysterious neolithic structure in Orkney dig

Caroline Lewis
2007-12-20 07:46:00

The sands of time have been rapidly eroding at the Orkney Bronze Age site, the Links of Noltland. Before everything is lost to the sea around the island of Westray, Historic Scotland have been carrying out a thorough excavation to learn everything they can.

The dig at the ancient dune-protected houses has now turned up an unexpected and impressive discovery dating to Neolithic times, archaeologists have announced following the conclusion of their work.

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Small Asteroids Pose Big New Threat

Charles Q. Choi
2007-12-19 07:39:00

The infamous Tunguska explosion, which mysteriously leveled an area of Siberian forest nearly the size of Tokyo a century ago, might have been caused by an impacting asteroid far smaller than previously thought.

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Huge Newfound Part of Milky Way Rotates Backward

Robert Roy Britt
Live Science
2007-12-12 00:47:00

Our Milky Way Galaxy has two distinct parts in its outer reaches that rotate in opposite directions, astronomers announced today.

©SDSS-II, Masashi Chiba, Tohoku University, Japan
The new study finds an inner halo (orange area) that is more flattened and dominates the population of stars up to 50,000 light years from the Milky Way's center. The outer halo (blue) is more spherical, and dominates the population beyond 65,000 light years from the galactic center. It may extend out to more than 300,000 light years. The red plus symbols represent stars and the brown burst-like symbols are star clusters.

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Baffling Cosmic Explosion Comes Out of Nowhere

Andrea Thompson
Live Science
2007-12-20 00:24:00

A cosmic explosion that seems to have come out of nowhere--thousands of light-years from the nearest collection of stars--has left astronomers baffled.

©B. Cenko, et al. and the W. M. Keck Observatory
The robotic Palomar 60-inch telescope imaged the afterglow of GRB 070125 on January 26, 2007. Right: An image taken of the same field on February 16 with the 10-meter Keck I telescope reveals no trace of an afterglow, or a host galaxy. The white cross in this zoom-in view marks the GRB's location. The two nearest galaxies, and their distances, are marked with arrows.

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"Granddaddy of Kangaroos" Found in Aussie Fossil

Dave Hansford
National Geographic
2007-12-20 00:11:00

A 25-million-year-old fossilized skeleton of a kangaroo is shedding new light on the evolution of the iconic Australian animal, scientists say.

The nearly complete specimen reveals a creature that once plucked fruit from Australian rain forests and bounded on all fours like a modern-day possum.

©La Trobe University
A 25-million-year-old skull is part of what scientists say is one of the oldest and most complete kangaroo fossils ever found.

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Uranus, Neptune Swapped Spots, New Model Says

Anne Minard
National Geographic
2007-12-19 23:15:00

Like children growing up and moving away from home, the gas giant planets of our solar system took shape twice as close to the sun as they are now and slowly moved outward.

©Uranus image courtesy NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute; Neptune image courtesy NASA/JPL
The gas giant planets of our solar system took shape twice as close to the sun as they are now and slowly moved outward, according to a new theory that challenges established ideas for how the gas giants formed. But for this theory to work, the lead author says, Uranus (left) and Neptune (right) had to have switched orbital positions up to four billion years ago.

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Sandia supercomputers offer new explanation of Tunguska disaster

Sandia National Laboratories
2007-12-17 22:04:00

INCINERATION POSSIBLE - Fine points of the "fireball" that might be expected from an asteroid exploding in Earth's atmosphere are indicated in a supercomputer simulation devised by a team led by Sandia researcher Mark Boslough. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

The stunning amount of forest devastation at Tunguska a century ago in Siberia may have been caused by an asteroid only a fraction as large as previously published estimates, Sandia National Laboratories supercomputer simulations suggest.

"The asteroid that caused the extensive damage was much smaller than we had thought," says Sandia principal investigator Mark Boslough of the impact that occurred June 30, 1908. "That such a small object can do this kind of destruction suggests that smaller asteroids are something to consider. Their smaller size indicates such collisions are not as improbable as we had believed."

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Brain Cells More Powerful Than You Think

E.J. Mundell
2007-12-19 20:19:00

The human brain constantly sorts through its 1 trillion cells, looking for perhaps only one or a handful of neurons to carry out a particular action, a trio of new studies says.

The research, conducted with rodents and published in the Dec. 20 issue of Nature, could rewrite the textbooks on just how important individual brain cells or cell clusters are to the working mind.

Before these insights, "The thinking was that very large ensembles of neurons [brain cells] had to be activated at some point for the animal to feel or perceive" a stimulus, explained the senior researcher of two of the studies, Karel Svoboda, a group leader at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Va.

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Why Deep-Diving Mammals Don't Black Out

Jeanna Bryner,
2007-12-19 20:13:00

Some seals and dolphins can hold their breath underwater for a cheek-popping hour or more without passing out from lack of oxygen.

Definitely don't try this at home. Humans can't make it more than a few minutes without breathing (at least without some sci-fi device).

The secret to the superhero animal feat is elevated levels of special oxygen-carrying proteins found in their brains, a new study reveals. But the research leaves puzzles.

Scientists have long wondered why marine mammals, such as dolphins, whales, Weddell seals and sea otters, are so tolerant of such low oxygen conditions. The simplest explanation had been that they evolved adaptations to boost oxygen delivery to the brain. But studies have shown that the oxygen levels in their blood vessels plummeted within minutes of dipping beneath the water's surface.

©T. M. Williams/UCSC
Beau Richter monitors the breath-holding cabability of Puka, a bottlenose dolphin at UC Santa Cruz's Long Marine Laboratory. Researchers found some marine mammals may be able to endure low oxygen levels due to enhanced amounts of proteins called globins in their brains.

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Bamboo road bridge can support 16-tonne trucks

Mason Inman
2007-12-19 19:42:00

Bridges built from bamboo instead of steel could provide a cheaper, more environmentally sustainable engineering solution in China, a recent experiment suggests.

A novel type of bridge with horizontal beams made from a bamboo composite proved strong enough to support even heavy trucks in tests. The bamboo beams are cheaper and more environmentally friendly to make than steel or concrete, yet offer comparable structural strength.

Yan Xiao, who works at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, US, and at Hunan University in China, led the development of the bamboo beams used to make the bridge.

Instead of using round, pole-like pieces of unprocessed bamboo, which have been used as building material for many thousands of years, he came up with a way of assembling timber-like beams from many smaller strips of bamboo.
©University of Southern California
The novel bridge with horizontal beams made from a bamboo composite proved strong enough to support even heavy trucks

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Deer-like fossil is a missing link in whale evolution

Jason Palmer
2007-12-19 19:34:00

A racoon-sized mammal which lived in India about 48 million years ago, may represent one of the missing links in whale evolution, suggests a new fossil study.

The research also challenges the idea that cetaceans - the order that includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises - split from their land-dwelling forebears and returned to the water to hunt aquatic prey.

Researchers studying 48-million-year-old fossils of Indohyus, an extinct animal which may have looked like a small deer, from ancient riverbeds in Kashmir suggest that the fossils represent a likely ancestor of the cetaceans.

Indohyus belongs to a family known as raoellids and would have lived around the same time as early cetaceans, both having descended from a common ancestor, they suggest.

©Carl Buell
Evidence shows that Indohyus was at least in part an eater of vegetation and did not return to a watery life to hunt

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Our Haunted Planet
Carolina Writer Releases UFO Book for 2007

Jason Saine
Lincoln Tribune
2007-12-19 07:09:00

Lincolnton - George Fawcett, a local author and a veteran UFO investigator and researcher for 67 years has released a revised and enlarged version of his book, UFO Repetitions - A Challenge to Scientific Investigations.

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Don't Panic! Lighten Up!
Hangover is main reason for Britons taking sick leave: study

2007-12-20 16:47:00

The morning after the night before is the main reason in Britain for employees calling in sick, a study published Wednesday showed.

One in five workers opting to stay in bed do so because of over-indulgence, according to 500 individuals surveyed by Unum insurance company. Scots are the most likely to take sick leave in this way.

"These figures reinforce well-documented and worrying trends that people's drinking habits are impacting on their workplace," said Unum's chief medical officer, Professor Michael O'Donnell.

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Mysterious air package contains thousands of dead snakes

VietNamNet Bridge
2007-12-20 01:00:00

Authorities have destroyed nearly 700kg of dead snakes sent to an unknown address in Vietnam via Thai Airways.

According to the bill of lading, the package was fresh fish sent by an Indonesian man to an unclear address in Vietnam on December 15.

Tien Phong newspaper reported that after several days waiting for the receiver, Noi Bai Airport Goods Service Company opened the package as stipulated by the rules on unknown goods. Inside they found hundreds of kilos of dead, malodorous snakes.

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Will Your Tongue Really Stick to a Frozen Flagpole?

2007-12-19 20:09:00

The next time someone triple-dog dares you to stick your tongue to a frozen metal pole - don't. Your tongue will be joined to the pole, and you'll have plenty of time to ponder the thermal conductivity of metal while you await the rescue squad.

Your tongue is covered with moisture, which beings to freeze if its temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body counteracts the freezing by pumping warm blood to your tongue.

Heat from your blood warms the moisture through a process called conduction. Heat energy from the blood excites atoms in your tongue. The atoms absorb energy and vibrate. The more they vibrate, the more their temperatures increase. This incites vibrations in neighboring atoms, which take the energy and pass it up the line like a hot potato and eventually warms the surface moisture.

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