Society's ChildS


Hundreds of Thousands Rally in Portugal Against Austerity

Portugal rally
Hundreds of thousands protested in Portugal Saturday against austerity measures ahead of next week's talks with international creditors, with unions vowing to keep up the pressure.

Officials from the so-called Troika -- the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- will next week evaluate progress on the country's bailout programme.

Demonstrators arrived in Lisbon from across the country in the rally described as one of the country's biggest in three decades.

Many were brandishing banners such as "The struggle continues" and "No to exploitation, no to inequality, no to impoverishment."

The CGTP union which called the march estimated 300,000 people took part, while police would not give any figures, in line with their usual practice.

"We are convinced that it is one of the biggest demonstrations in the last 30 years," said Armenio Carlos, general secretary of the CGTP, in a speech at the end of the protest in the landmark Praca do Comercio (Commerce Square).


US: Whitney Houston Dies at 48

Whitney Huston
© The Associated Press
Whitney Houston, who reigned as pop music's queen until her majestic voice and regal image were ravaged by drug use, erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, has died. She was 48.

Publicist Kristen Foster said Saturday that the singer had died, but the cause and the location of her death were unknown.

At her peak, Houston the golden girl of the music industry. From the middle 1980s to the late 1990s, she was one of the world's best-selling artists. She wowed audiences with effortless, powerful, and peerless vocals that were rooted in the black church but made palatable to the masses with a pop sheen.

Her success carried her beyond music to movies, where she starred in hits like The Bodyguard and Waiting to Exhale.

She had the he perfect voice, and the perfect image: a gorgeous singer who had sex appeal but was never overtly sexual, who maintained perfect poise.

She influenced a generation of younger singers, from Christina Aguilera to Mariah Carey, who when she first came out sounded so much like Houston that many thought it was Houston.


Chinese 'Birth Agent' Charged in Hong Kong

© unknown
A woman has admitted arranging for mainland Chinese women to give birth in Hong Kong, reports said Saturday, the first prosecution of its kind as the southern city cracks down on the practice.

The Chinese city has been struggling with an influx of tens of thousands of mainland women who come to Hong Kong each year to give birth, to gain residency rights for their children and to circumvent China's one-child policy

Local women have taken to the streets to protest at the influx, which critics say has led to a shortage of maternity beds in hospitals. The outcry has prompted the government to step up enforcement.

Mainland woman Xu Li, 29, was charged in a Hong Kong magistrates' court on Friday for her role as a "birth agent", according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post and Apple Daily newspapers.


People Power! Europeans Protest Controversial Internet Pact

© Agence France-Presse/Nikolay DoychinovProtesters hold a a banner and wear Guy Fawkes masks during a protest against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in downtown Sofia.
Tens of thousands of people marched in protests in more than a dozen European cities Saturday against a controversial anti-online piracy pact that critics say could curtail Internet freedom.

Some 41,000 people rallied in Germany, including 16,000 in Munich and 10,000 in Berlin, against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which was negotiated between the 27-nation European Union and 10 other countries.

Many brandishing "Stop ACTA" banners and wearing Guy Fawkes masks -- a symbol of hacker-led rallies -- the mostly young protestors also braved subzero temperatures to mass in cities such as Budapest, Bucharest, Bratislava, Prague, Paris, Sofia, Tallinn, Vilnius and Vienna.

ACTA is awaiting ratification from several governments, but intense opposition led by Internet users has forced some EU states including Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to freeze their ratification process.

"We see the suspension of ratification as a victory, but we cannot over-estimate it," said the vice-president of the Czech Republic's pirate party, Mikulas Ferjencik.


US: Community Takes Stand on San Onofre Nuclear Plant

San Onofre Nuclear plant
© Courtesy of SONGS
Laguna Beach will back San Clemente's appeals to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure that San Onofre doesn't replicate last year's disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 4 to 1 to send a letter to the commission requesting the resolution of public concerns before any consideration is given to extending San Onofre's operating license due to expire in 2022.

The letter had been requested by San Clemente Mayor Lori Donchak, but the action might be moot.

"Southern California Edison has not made a decision on whether we'll apply for renewal," said Edison spokesman Christopher Abel.

The majority of 14 speakers at Tuesday's meeting would be delighted if Edison immediately dismantled the plant, let alone opted not to renew the license.

Abel verified that 4,000 tons of high-level, radioactive waste are stored there.

"There is no way the plant should be storing waste material," said Kathleen Jepson-Bernier.


Transformer Explosions Redux? Mysterious Russia power station explosion triggers speculation of martians, nuke bomb, conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theorists came out of the woodwork after a massive explosion erupted south of St. Petersburg, Russia, on Monday, causing wild speculation and online concerns of the beginning of Armageddon.

As news and videos of the spectacular event went viral this week, the cause of the explosion ranged from Martian visitation to a nuclear bomb test gone wrong.

Comment: St. Petersburg's explosion, although not as impressive, is similar to the transformer explosion that happened in Fort Worth, Texas, US, last year in May,

Read Exploding Transformers - More than meets the eye? to learn more on the topic.


US: Woman Pleads Guilty in New York Newborn Kidnap Case

© The Associated Press/Wake County Bureau of IdentificationAnn Pettway accused of kidnapping newborn baby Carlina White from Harlem Hospital in August 1987.
A woman who snatched a newborn baby from a New York City hospital in 1987, then raised the child as her own for more than two decades, pleaded guilty to a kidnapping charge Friday as the girl's true mother wept in the courtroom.

Ann Pettway, 51, appeared resigned to a life behind bars as she entered the plea at a federal courthouse in Manhattan. Her voice was flat as she briefly recounted how she took a train from her home in Bridgeport, Conn., to Harlem Hospital, where she scooped up Carlina White, a 3-week-old baby who had been brought to the emergency room by her parents.

"I went to the hospital. I took a child," she said. "It was wrong."

Pettway said little else during the hearing, and offered no explanation for why she would do such a thing. As part of her plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to recommend between 10 and 12½ years in prison, although the actual term will be set by a judge.

As Pettway admitted her guilt, Carlina's birth mother, Joy White, quietly cried in the courtroom gallery. Afterward, she told reporters that she was outraged at the plea bargain, and felt a decade in prison would be too light a punishment for the woman who had robbed her so cruelly. Justice, she said, would be a term of 23 years, one for every year she was separated from her daughter.


US, New Hampshire: 14-Year-Old Shoots Self in Face in Cafeteria

© The Associated Press/Matthew Cavanaugh An unidentified parent of a Walpole Elementary School student speaks to a police officer outside the school where a 14 year old male student shot himself in front of many classmates in the school's cafeteria in Walpole, NH Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.
A 14-year-old shot himself in the face in a New Hampshire elementary school cafeteria filled with dozens of students eating lunch, officials said Friday.

The teen, identified by a relative and fellow students as Hunter Mack, was hospitalized after shooting himself around 11 a.m. at Walpole Elementary School in southwestern New Hampshire. Police locked down the school for several hours, but no one else was injured.

Cheshire County Attorney Peter Heed told The Associated Press the student might have been upset about a "relationship issue" with a girl.

"It clearly involved a relationship issue; I think that is fair to say," Heed told the AP.

As of Friday afternoon, the student was in serious condition in the intensive care unit.

"Our hearts go out to the family of this young man and our thoughts go out to all of the students that were in the school at this time," Heed said at an afternoon news conference.


US: Uzbek Man Pleads Guilty in Plot to Kill Obama

Ulugbek Kodirov
© The Associated Press/Shelby County Sheriff's Dept22-year-old Ulugbek Kodirov, who is scheduled for a hearing Friday, Feb.10, 2012 in Birmingham, Ala.
A man from Uzbekistan who pleaded guilty Friday to plotting to kill President Barack Obama with an automatic rifle claimed he was acting at the direction of an Islamic terror group in his home country.

Authorities said Ulugbek Kodirov had discussed trying to kill the president as he campaigned for re-election because he would be out in public more often. Kodirov entered the plea during a hearing in Birmingham before U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon, an Obama appointee.

Defense attorney Lance Bell said the 22-year-old Kodirov avoided a potential life sentence by pleading guilty. He faces up to 30 years in prison, though Bell expected Kodirov to receive about half that. The judge also told Kodirov that he will face deportation once he's released from prison.

Kodirov pleaded guilty to three counts: Threatening to kill the president, possessing an automatic weapon, and providing material support to terrorists. Four other charges were dropped as part of the deal.

Area Muslims who knew Kodirov were stunned to learn of his plans.


US: Obama Shift Seeks to Defuse Birth-Control Fight

© Reuters/Larry Downing
President Barack Obama, in an abrupt policy shift aimed at quelling an election-year firestorm, announced on Friday that religious employers would not be required to offer free birth control to workers and the onus would instead be put on insurers.

But Catholic Church leaders and Obama's Republican opponents, who had railed against the Democratic president's new rule on contraceptives as a violation of religious freedom, signaled that divisions remain over the hot-button social issue.

The compromise by the Obama administration sought to accommodate religious organizations, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, outraged by a new rule that would have required them to offer free contraceptive coverage to women employees.

Instead, the new approach puts the burden on insurance companies, ordering them to provide workers at religious-affiliated institutions with free family planning if they request it, without involving their employer at all, the White House said.

"Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women," Obama told reporters in the White House briefing room as he sought to put the political furor to rest.