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UK Government Proposes Formal Register of Lobbyists

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© talktomeblog.net
Lobbyists in the UK should be formally registered and subject to fines and imprisonment for improper attempts to influence ministers and officials, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition proposed yesterday.

Launching a three-month consultation, a Cabinet Office paper proposed, however, that the register should extend much further than public companies and should also include trade unions and charities.

Saying that lobbying was perfectly proper, Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper said ministers and officials must hear "the full range of views" surrounding a subject, but it must happen "in the open".

However, Bob Crow, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union furiously condemned the proposed inclusion of unions, saying: "The idea that [we] should be bracketed in with the chancers and schmoozers from the shadowy world of political lobbying is a gross insult."

Dollar

US: All 2011 Unemployment Insurance Benefits Taxable

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© barbaraweltman.com
The jobless rate is dipping, but millions of people are still out of work. And that could have implications when they file their income tax returns.

Collecting unemployment insurance benefits? All that you received in 2011 is taxed as income. Unless you requested that federal taxes be withheld, you could be in for a big surprise when you calculate taxes owed.

"People tend to believe unemployment benefits are still not taxable," said Bob Meighan, a vice president at TurboTax. That was the case in 2009, for the first $2,400 in unemployment benefits. But that provision was not renewed by Congress.

If it's any consolation, you may find yourself in a lower tax bracket because of reduced income, even counting the unemployment benefits. And you might also be eligible for tax breaks that you didn't qualify for before.

"If you have major household changes, say you lost your job in 2011, we encourage people to take a close look at things like the earned income credit," Internal Revenue Service spokesman Terry Lemons said.

He said people should go ahead and file their taxes even if they don't have the money to pay any taxes that are due. "There are more options there than many people realize," he said, including installment agreements.

Eye 2

Crocodile Swallows Indonesian Girl

crocodile
© unknown
A wild crocodile swallowed a 10-year-old girl while she played in a river with her father in eastern Indonesia, the second death in the same place in two months, a local official said Friday.

The girl was swimming in Wailolong river on Thursday when the large crocodile suddenly appeared, swallowed her instantly and disappeared into the water, said Viktor Mado Waton, Lembata district head in East Nusa Tenggara province.

"They only found the girl's clothes three hours after the incident, some 200 metres (650 feet) away from the attack site," he said, adding that her family members were still trying to find the body.

Boat

Costa Concordia: 'Insulting' Cruise Offer to Survivors

The owners of the Costa Concordia are offering survivors of the disaster a 30 per cent discount off future cruises as they battle to stave off law suits expected to cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

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© Camera Press/Paris Match/Emilie Blachere
terrified passengers clambering across the side and hull of the stricken Costa Concordia after its captain steered the liner on to reefs.
One British survivor of the disaster, which claimed 12 lives with 20 people still missing, branded the offer as "insulting".

It was disclosed that in an attempt to help survivors the ship's parent company, Carnival, has been telephoning passengers daily asking if they are suffering nightmares or sleepless nights.

But that move also appeared to backfire when a psychologist said such questioning could trigger post traumatic stress rather than relieve it.

Magic Hat

Top British TV Magician Saws Off Finger

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© unknown
Magician Paul Daniels
One of the UK's most famous TV magicians was thanking the magic of modern medicine Sunday after sawing his finger off in a gruesome accident.

Paul Daniels sliced off the top of his ring finger and mauled other digits when his left hand was caught in a circular saw at his home in Wargrave, southeast England.

"I decided to make a 'sled' for my table saw to make it safer. I already had most of the pieces cut and started to cut a fiddly bit. Very quickly and without any warning, a piece of timber seemed to leap and pulled my left hand fingers into the teeth of the circular saw," the 73-year-old told the Henley Standard .

With his radio presenter wife at work, he staggered to his car and drove in a panic to a hospital.

Arrow Up

US Colorado: 9 Year Old Girl Escapes Kidnapping, Police Arrest Suspect After Manhunt

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Calysta Cordova was found safe at the Circle K convenience store in Colorado Springs, Jan. 20, 2012.
A quick-thinking, 9-year-old girl managed to escape from her alleged kidnapper today, and Colorado police nabbed the suspected abductor after a manhunt.

Calysta Cordova was reported missing Thursday afternoon by her mother when she didn't come home from school. Authorities believed she was abducted on her walk home and issued an Amber Alert.

Calysta was found safe today at the Circle K convenience store in Colorado Springs, according to ABC News' Denver affiliate KMGH. Colorado Springs police spokeswoman Barbara Miller told KMGH that authorities believe Calysta was in a car with 29-year-old suspect Jose Garcia when the car broke down early this morning.

A passerby picked them up and drove them to the Circle K convenience store, police said. There, Calysta ran into the store and asked for a phone, saying she wanted to call her uncle. Instead, she called 911.

Handcuffs

Internet's Dr Evil sprang electronic locks in his 'Bond villain lair' and retreated to safe room as police swooped

  • Kim Dotcom one of four men arrested as part of investigation into Megaupload website
  • 'It was definitely not as simple as knocking at the front door' says police chief
It sounds like something more reminiscent of a James Bond film than real life.

When police officers attempted to arrest the man accused of being one of the world's biggest internet pirates at his multi-million pound mansion, things were a bit trickier than they might have expected.

Instead of giving himself up easily, Kim Dotcom refused to let the police in, activated a number of locking mechanisms in his sprawling home and then hid in a safe room.
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© The Associated Press/NewZeland Herlad/Natalie Slade
James Bond hideaway: Kim Dotcom's sprawling mansion in Coatesville, north west of Auckland, can be seen in this image.

Laptop

Man Behind Megaupload Remains Defiant

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© Reuters
Megaupload chief Kim Dotcom, formerly known as Kim Schmitz, was arrested in Auckland on Thursday
Kim Dotcom, the 37-year-old man behind Megaupload.com, was already a notorious figure in the online file-sharing world before he was forced out of the "panic room" of his $24m New Zealand mansion and arrested, in one of world's largest criminal copyright cases.

Despite being convicted for computer hacking and later insider trading in Germany in the late 1990s, the man formerly known as Kim Schmitz has always denied any wrongdoing.

But since moving to Hong Kong - "an awesome place to do business and to host my new phantom persona", he said in one interview - and then to New Zealand, he has never been shy about flaunting his success either.

His home in Auckland is one of New Zealand's most expensive properties. To celebrate his move there last year, he sponsored a $500,000 New Year's eve fireworks display and told the New Zealand Herald that he had donated generously to the country's earthquake relief fund. The US Deparment of Justice says his personal earnings in 2010 totalled $42m as he owns 68 per cent of the Mega empire.

Info

Dragon Year Spells Nightmare For Mothers

Dragon Baby?
© Corbis
The infrastructure will need to be boosted to handle the population growth.

Having a baby in the "Year of the Dragon" is a dream come true for many ethnic Chinese who see the zodiac as an auspicious and powerful portent. But for some Hong Kong mothers, it's a nightmare.

Tens of thousands of pregnant mainlanders come to Hong Kong to give birth every year, taking up limited beds in maternity wards and pushing up delivery costs.

The problem is expected to peak in the Year of the Dragon, which comes every 12 years in Chinese astrology and usually results in a baby boom.

"We didn't plan for a Dragon baby," says 38-year-old Michele Lee, who is expecting her second child, a girl, in April. "It was exciting when we first found out the news but very soon that excitement turned into worry about whether we'll get a place in hospital."

Hong Kong women have recently taken to the streets in protest over the influx of mainland Chinese mothers to the semi-autonomous former British colony. Having their babies in the glitzy -- and relatively free -- southern city entitles the child to rights of abode and education, while providing a loophole the size of Victoria Harbor to China's one-child policy.

Lee says she tried to book a maternity bed at her gynecologist's hospital soon after she found out she was pregnant, but it was already too late.

"I couldn't get my preferred private hospital to deliver even though I'm willing to pay and both me and my husband are Hong Kong residents," she says. "Some friends told me I should start registering my Dragon baby girl for kindergarten -- it's like a fight for hospitals, a fight for schools. I have to remind myself to take it easy."

Bizarro Earth

US: Man Sexually Abuses Dog, Posts Pictures Online


Metairie, Louisiana (CNN/WVUE) - State police arrested 21-year-old Blake Sanderford and charged him with taking video while he sexually abused his dog and then posting pictures of the assault on the internet.

"This was one of the more repugnant acts that we have ever seen, and that we hope not to see," said Robin Beaulieu of the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter where the dog is currently being tested and treated.

The pictures were reportedly spotted by a web surfer outside of Louisiana who notified authorities who then began focusing on the victim's home.