Incumbent Liberian President Leading in Early Returns

reuters_liberia_sirleaf_votes First results from Liberia's presidential election show incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf leading her 15 rivals.

Reporting results from just over 16 percent of more than 4,000 polling stations, Liberia's National Electoral Commission says President Sirleaf has more than 44 percent of the vote. Former justice minister Winston Tubman has more than 26 percent, while former rebel leader and current Senator Prince Johnson is running third with about 13 percent.

Vote counting is expected to continue through the weekend, and complete results may not be known for some time as the electoral commission has until October 26 to make a final count.  If none of the candidates wins an outright majority, there will be a run-off election between the top two finishers November 8.

This is Liberia's second post-civil war election but the first that has been run entirely by Liberians after the United Nations supervised the 2005 contest.  U.N. peacekeepers remain in place for this vote, but U.N. mission spokesperson Yasmina Bouziane says the election itself is up to Liberians to decide.

Video games 'can alter children's brains'

Video games 'can alter children's brains' Children should "feel the grass under their feet" rather than play addictive computer games which can harm their mental development, a leading scientist has said.

Baroness Greenfield, the former director of the Royal Institution, said spending too much time staring at computer screens can cause physical changes in the brain that lead to attention and behaviour problems.

Technology that plays strongly on the senses – like video games – can literally "blow the mind" by temporarily or permanently deactivating certain nerve connections in the brain, the Baroness said.

She told the Daily Telegraph last night: "The human brain has evolved to adapt to the environment. It therefore follows that if the environment is changing, it will have an impact on your brain.

"If you play computer games to the exclusion of other things this will create a new environment that will have new effects ... every hour you spend in front of a screen is an hour not spent climbing a tree or giving someone a hug."

Giving a speech earlier yesterday about the addictiveness of screen technologies at the opening of a new £2.5 million science centre at the private Sherbourne Girls' school in Dorset, the Baroness urged pupils “to be outside, to climb trees and feel the grass under your feet and the sun on your face".

"Screen technologies cause high arousal, which in turn activates the brain system’s underlying addiction and reward, resulting in the attraction of yet more screen-based activity, the Baroness said.

Burmese President Visits India as Ties Between Neighbors Deepen

ap_burma_Thein_Sein_13oct11 The Burmese president is in India for a bilateral visit aimed at deepening a relationship that has been growing steadily in recent years. New Delhi wants to nurture ties with its neighbor, whose new, nominally civilian leadership has made tentative moves toward political reforms.

Burmese President Thein Sein visited Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India before arriving in New Delhi to hold talks with senior Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

It is the first visit by the head of Burma’s nominally civilian government, which took office in March this year. He is accompanied by several senior ministers.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash says New Delhi is pleased that ties with Burma are gaining momentum. 

“Relationships are a process, it is a building process and I consciously did note that both in terms of content and substance and the sweep of the relationship, certainly it's an upwards trajectory, there is no doubt about that,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman says New Delhi will deepen ties with Burma in areas ranging from security, trade, energy, and infrastructure development, to education and agriculture. He called Burma an important partner in India’s quest for energy security. He says roads and a port being developed by India in the neighboring country will give remote northeastern Indian states easier access to port facilities and boost their economic development. The two countries also plan to increase bilateral trade from $1.2 billion at present to $3 billion by 2015.

An embedded home hugs its hillside

People have been transforming the rolling landscape of Ontario’s Grey County for more than 150 years. They have mined and logged it, cleared and farmed it, and, more recently, turned it into a much-frequented rural retreat from life in Toronto, dotted with weekend houses.

The architectural results are uneven. As anyone driving around the district can see, builders have occasionally just dropped city homes into the midst of the rural scenery. The more thoughtful designers, however, have engaged in dialogues with the place’s geology and cultural history, and developed solutions that fit, rather than fight (or ignore), the complex beauty of what’s there.

Toronto architect Ian MacDonald has tackled the more exacting task and carried it through to an interesting and expressive conclusion in his house known as Grey Highlands.

Designed as a second residence for a Toronto couple with five children, the 2,950-square-foot building stands on the site of a former farm laid out high up the sloping side of a valley. The visitor coming there drives up a steep dead-end road, then parks on a small pad just off the road.

Surveyed from the vantage point of the pad, the flat-roofed house lies low and broad below, partly embedded into the hillside. In plan, its two limbs describe an L shape. The larger wing contains the more public areas, while the other wing, enclosing the bedrooms, thrusts out toward the distant, opposite side of the valley. This out-bound visual pulse is sharply checked by an old barn that Mr. MacDonald preserved and renovated.

Doctors may downplay pain of disliked patients

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but patients suffering from pain can wind up with something more like cod liver oil if they’re not on good terms with their doctor.

If a clinician doesn’t like a patient, he or she is likely to rate the patient’s pain as less severe, according to a University of Northern British Columbia professor who is studying the impact of the clinician-patient relationship on professionals’ assessment of pain.

Pain sufferers often take issue with their treatment, and that’s why the research is so important, said psychology professor and pain expert Ken Prkachin.

Specific complaints include “nobody believes me, no one is taking me seriously,” he said. “You really get that sense when you talk to patients, maybe people are being downgraded because they’re also disliked.”

Dr. Prkachin said people with invisible pain – such as bad backs, as opposed to broken legs – may not get adequate treatment for the problem if the doctor disregards their feelings.

“A good case can be made … that that is going to demoralize patients and contribute to very testy patient-professional relationships. What we’re trying to do is understand what’s going on there and how to change that.”

The research, presented in an article co-written by Dr. Prkachin and five other researchers from the University of Ghent in Belgium, was published in the latest edition of the international journal Pain.

BlackBerry: 'We've now restored full services'

111010091750-blackberry-101011-story-top All BlackBerry service has been restored following the largest network outage in that smartphone's history, Research in Motion executives said in a conference call on Thursday morning.

"We've now restored full services," RIM's co-CEO Mike Lazaridis told reporters.

Some BlackBerry users may still see e-mails coming in slowly as the system recovers, he said.

The major outage frustrated customers on nearly every continent who were unable to send and receive e-mails and text messages this week. It also comes at a bad time for RIM, which is facing increased competition from Android and Apple smartphones.

The iPhone 4S is set to be released on Friday, and social media posts suggest some BlackBerry users may switch to other phones in part because of the prolonged break in services.

The outage started on Monday in Europe and spread to North America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America over the course of the next two days. A failure at one of the company's messaging servers in Europe, along with the subsequent failure of its backup system, led to a ripple effect that reportedly caused problems for millions of BlackBerry owners.

Executives on Thursday did not answer questions about how many people were impacted by the four-day service outage, but they did say this breakdown was the largest in the company's history.

"We've worked 12 yrs since the launch of BlackBerry to win the trust of our 70 million BlackBerry subscribers and we're going to fully commit to win that trust back -- 100%," Lazaridis said during the press conference.

This is not the first time RIM has faced a major service outage.

"I have been an analyst for 25 years and have watched RIM wrestle with this same outage problem time after time. Every few years we get pinched by yet another major problem," tech analyst Jeff Kagan said in a statement.

This outage, however, comes at a particularly unfortunate time for RIM, since it faces increasing competition in the smart phone market, Kagan says.

BlackBerry users, many of whom use the devices primarily for business purposes, took to the Web to vent their anger about the outage. Twitter and other messaging platforms have been full of complaints since the outage began almost four days ago.


Mohamad Soueid of N.Va. accused of surveilling anti-Assad protests for Syrian officials

A Northern Virginia man has been accused of gathering information about people protesting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and passing it along to Syrian intelligence officials.

Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, 47, of Leesburg sought to “undermine, silence, intimidate, and potentially harm” those protesting the Damascus regime and its crackdown on demonstrators, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday. He is charged with acting as an agent for a foreign government, making false statements to federal agents and providing false residence information on a gun-purchase form.

The indictment accuses Soueid of working for the Syrian intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, since March by helping it collect audio and video recordings of people protesting in Syria and the United States.

“The allegations in the indictment are extremely troubling,” said Neil MacBride, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The ability to peaceably assemble and protest is one of the oldest rights in this country, and so the fact that you have an agent for Syrian intelligence who is working with the Syrian government to identify and intimidate U.S. citizens and others is an extremely serious allegation.”

During a brief hearing in Alexandria’s federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitizpatrick called Soueid, a Syrian-born naturalized U.S. citizen, “a serious risk of flight,” and a judge ordered Soueid held until a detention hearing Friday.

A National Security Council spokesman said that the allegations reveal a “desperate effort” by the Assad government to stifle protesters.

The mysterious mushroom, sign of a healthy garden

We are in the midst of mushroom madness, the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. This is thanks to a soaking September. Gardeners, who are by nature controlling, just have to go with the flow. You never know when — or where — a mushroom might pop up.

My veggie garden has a wood-chip patio, from which erupted a robust, classically formed mushroom with a cap that was a ruddy-brown. I pulled it to examine the thing: the stem was white and stout, and the gills beneath the cap an ivory yellow and distinctively branched. I’m fairly sure this is a fungus called the burgundy cap, and the guides say that it tastes good when young. The trouble is, when it comes to mushroom foraging, “fairly sure” doesn’t hack it.

The common and tasty meadow agaricus is remarkably similar to the toxic yellowing agaricus. Amanita virosa looks pristine white and delicious, to its victims it is the destroying angel.

Mushrooms, or the darker term toadstools, carry ominous connotations in our mycophobic culture. They are associated with poison and hallucination, the occult, with fairies and the underworld. There is the idea that a toadstool is killing our plants.

A few fungal types do harm garden plants, notably the honey fungus. It is one of the bad guys that feed off living trees (unusually drought stressed). More species feed off wood that is already dead. Here’s the thing about the mushroom. It is merely the fruiting body of a much larger and permanent organism that lives beneath the soil. It is akin to the flower of a plant, dispersing its seed. I like to think of a mushroom as the dorsal fin of some great whale that lives in the depths. It flashes, it is gone, the leviathan passes from our consciousness, but it is still there.

Sex workshop fails to swing

Sex workshop fails to swing But sadly a council’s efforts at launching a “fun” workshop about “sex in later years” have proved a flop.

Organisers of the scheme in Portsmouth have been left embarrassed after they had to cancel it due to a lack of interest.

It had been hoped that the workshop would help break the “taboo” around sex among the older generation.

But it failed to arouse the excitement of the amorous elderly. Perhaps they were too busy playing bowls or looking after their grandchildren to notice.

The move appears to fly in the face of recent surveys indicating that those in their later years were enjoying more carefree times than ever, with attitudes shaped in the swinging Sixties and lifestyles liberated by paying off their mortgages.

Portsmouth City Council had launched the free scheme, called Generation Sex, with the aim of encouraging older people to practise safer sex.

The session was to have been part of the council’s 60+ festival, “aimed at exploring the realities of sex in the 21st century” because “sex over 60 can be largely seen as a taboo subject”.

It was due to be run by Scott Deacon, 45, an NHS sexual health therapist, who said as the scheme was launched: “It’s all about practising and negotiating safe sex. No matter if you are 16 or over 60, it is all the same.”

The event, billed as “frank, fun and factual”, was due to have been held at a library yesterday. While it was a free session, residents would have required proof of age to attend the “interactive” event.

Skoda Superb Estate Greenline review

What is it? This is the most efficient version of Skoda’s Superb Estate.

What is it? This is the most efficient version of Skoda’s Superb Estate. It’s based on the regular 1.6-litre turbodiesel model, but features a host of fuel-saving measures, including longer gearing, engine stop-start and a brake-energy-recuperation system.

They work, too. Average economy rises from 54.3mpg to a whopping 64.2mpg, while CO2 emissions fall from 133g/km to 114g/km, which means the Greenline qualifies for a lowly 13% company car tax rating (down from 19%).

What’s it like to drive? The downside of the Greenline’s longer gearing is that it hurts flexibility. The engine still feels just about eager enough at motorway speeds, but you have to be careful with your gear selection on slower roads – let the revs drop below 1500rpm and it's distinctly flat.

Apple to Launch 'iPad Mini' in Early 2012?

Apple to Launch 'iPad Mini' in Early 2012? Apple may be working on a new entry-level tablet scheduled to launch early next year. 

In a note to investors on Wednesday, Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White recounted numerous meetings with technology supply chain companies at a trade show in China this week. White noted a general ominous environment, with the majority of the companies he met with commenting on weakening demand across the industry. 

“The whole world is shrinking,” one company representative told the analyst. 

White’s meetings with Apple suppliers has turned up an interesting note, however. 

“Our research is pointing to the unveiling of a lower priced iPad in the first few months of 2012 that is aimed at expanding the company’s market potential by tapping into a more price sensitive consumer segment,” the analyst wrote. “Essentially, this ‘iPad mini’ will also fend off the recently announced Amazon Kindle Fire that addresses the low-end tablet market with a $199 price tag but could lead to bigger tablet ambitions from the online retailer in the future.”

Corruption activist Hazare's aide assaulted on camera

Corruption activist Hazare's aide assaulted on camera A key aide of India's famed anti-corruption activist, Anna Hazare, was assaulted in his office during a television interview Wednesday, TV footage showed.

A young man was seen slapping, kicking, punching and pulling down lawyer Prashant Bhushan from his chair.

Authorities identified the attacker as Inder Verma, whose group claimed to be upset over remarks Bhushan made about Indian-administered Kashmir.

New Delhi's police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told CNN that two other assailants fled the scene after the assault.

Bhushan told the TV station interviewing him that his attackers were angry over his comments supportive of a referendum in the Muslim-majority Himalayan territory under Indian control.

A military line divides Kashmir between Hindu-majority India and Islamic Pakistan. Both arch-rival neighbors claim the region in its entirety.

BlackBerry blackout enters day three

BlackBerry blackout enters day three Millions of BlackBerry users have entered their third day of an internet blackout, with no word on when services might be restored.

RIM, the Canadian company behind the BlackBerry brand, released limited details of the source of the ongoing problems last night.

"The messaging and browsing delays being experienced by BlackBerry users in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Brazil, Chile and Argentina were caused by a core switch failure within RIM’s infrastructure," it said in a statement at 10PM.

"Although the system is designed to failover to a back-up switch, the failover did not function as previously tested. As a result, a large backlog of data was generated and we are now working to clear that backlog and restore normal service as quickly as possible.

"We apologize for any inconvenience and we will continue to keep you informed."

It was not immediately clear however if the broken switch - which in the context of internet infrastructure refers to an expensive and specialised piece of equipment that routes traffic in a data centre - was the original cause of the blackout on Monday or a secondary problem.

Captain of ship spilling oil off New Zealand charged

Captain of ship spilling oil off New Zealand charged The captain of a container ship that ran aground on a reef off the coast of New Zealand causing it to leak oil into the sea has been arrested and charged, officials say.

The captain will appear in court on Wednesday on the charge of "operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk."

If convicted, he faces a maximum fine of $7,800, or up to 12 months imprisonment. New Zealand's oil spill response agency, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), said it is likely more charges will follow.

The Rena, a Liberian-flagged vessel, struck the Astrolabe Reef, about 12 nautical miles off the city of Tauranga, on the North Island, a week ago.

Hundreds of tonnes of fuel oil have leaked from the ship, leading New Zealand's environment minister, Nick Smith, to call the spill the country's most significant maritime environmental disaster.

MNZ estimates that 200-300 tonnes of oil have leaked from the vessel, which was carrying 1,700 cubic meters (450,000 gallons) of fuel. The agency said a "significant" amount of oil is expected to come ashore within days between the towns of Mount Maunganui and Maketu in the North Island's Bay of Plenty.

BMW 3 Series teaser released

BMW has released this teaser image of the all-new 3 Series.

The sketch suggests that the new 3 Series will be strongly influenced by the latest 5 Series, with a similarly curving bonnet line and sculpted sides. BMW is yet to confirm technical details, but the 3 Series is expected to be slightly larger overall.

A range of new turbocharged engines are expected to give lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Currently, the cleanest 3 Series is the 320d Efficient Dynamics, which emits 109g/km of CO2. A sub-100g/km version of the new 3 Series is a tantalising possibility.

Prices are expected to rise slightly, but standard equipment is also likely to be increased.

BMW will release full details on Friday, October 14. We’ll have the full story – including photos and UK prices

What car?

Number of cellphones exceeds U.S. population: CTIA trade group

There are now more wireless devices being used in the United States than there are people, and Americans have doubled the amount of Internet data traffic they generate on smartphones, according to the trade group CTIA.

The number of mobile devices rose 9 percent in the first six months of 2011, to 327.6 million — more than the 315 million people living in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Wireless network data traffic rose 111 percent, to 341.2 billion megabytes, during the same period.

How is this possible? Many adults have more than one wireless device, which include smartphones, tablets, and wireless cards.

Analysts have also pointed to the shorter lifecycle of electronics in U.S. homes, a trend prompted mostly by the availability of high-speed wireless access and more affordable devices.

Another flight of fancy for conspiracy theorists as 'UFO' is caught on camera off Cornish coast

Another flight of fancy for conspiracy theorists as 'UFO' is caught on camera off Cornish coast Spotting a UFO is not the kind of sight-seeing you expect to find when you go on holiday.

But that is exactly what one man chanced upon without even realising it when he thought he was taking a picturesque photograph of the sea.

The witness had been taking a stroll in Black Head at Trenarren near St Austell, Cornwall at around 5pm on August 1, when he pulled out his camera to capture a snap of the sea.

In a strange twist, it was not until he later downloaded the photograph from his digital camera onto his computer that he noticed the mysterious 'flying object' hovering above.

The photograph of the circular object has now been unveiled at the Cornwall UFO Research Group (CUFORG), which was founded by Dave Gillham in 1995.

He said: 'The person who took the photo never saw anything in the area while taking the photo.

'It was only when he got home and downloaded it onto his computer that he saw an object - a disc shaped craft, hovering just above the sea.

Barroso to announce bank plan

Barroso to announce bank plan European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso will announce his plan to recapitalize Europe's banks on Wednesday afternoon, his office told CNN.

The details will come in a speech to the European Parliament, his office said, declining to say what the plan would include.

The announcement comes as the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission hinted that Greece would get a much-needed infusion of cash as it struggles to stave off default.

The tranche of 8 billion euros (about $10.8 billion) is likely to be released to Greece in early November if the Eurogroup and IMF executive board approve it, the ECB said Tuesday.

Skepticism Meets Burma's Prisoner-Release Plan

Skepticism Meets Burma's Prisoner-Release Plan Burma has announced it will release thousands of prisoners as part of a general amnesty amid indications that political prisoners could be among those set free. A leading rights group has dismissed the news, though, as a ploy that shows no real change in policy.

Burma’s state TV announced Tuesday that authorities would release more than 6,300 prisoners as part of an amnesty plan.

Myanmar Radio and Television 4 said officials have prepared a list of the prisoners who will be set free, but did not name anyone.

The news reader said prisoners who already have served parts of their sentences with good behavior will be released under a humanitarian amnesty by President Thein Sein. He said 6,359 inmates will be set free beginning Wednesday in accordance with the constitution.

There was no confirmation, however, that any of Burma’s estimated 2,000 political prisoners will be among those given amnesty.

On-screen text during the announcement repeated the official line that Burma has no political prisoners, only criminals. But there have been other indications that some political prisoners are about to be released.

Tuesday’s edition of the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper published a plea from Burma’s Human Rights Commission urging Sein to release “prisoners of conscience.” On Monday, a Norwegian deputy foreign affairs minister told VOA's Burmese service that parliament speaker Thura Shwe Mann assured him political prisoners will be released beginning within days.

Critics of Burma’s government say that even if the political prisoners are freed, that does not indicate a change of policy by authorities.

'Significant' oil leakage from ship aground off New Zealand

oil-clump-horizontal-gallery A "significant" amount of oil is leaking from a container ship that ran aground on a reef off the pristine coast of New Zealand's North Island, officials said Tuesday.

New Zealand's oil spill response agency, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), said in a statement that the ship has sustained "some damage from current movement and there is a significant amount of oil leaking from the vessel."

MNZ estimates that 130-350 tonnes of oil have leaked from the vessel, which was carrying 1,700 cubic meters (450,000 gallons) of fuel.

The agency said that the vessel was still intact, but was being moved around by strong seas.

Clumps of oil from the leaking ship have been found on Mount Maunganui beach in the Bay of Plenty.

MNZ is advising people to avoid the beach for health reasons.

Oil began leaking from the Rena, a Liberian-flagged vessel, after it struck the Astrolabe Reef, about 12 nautical miles off the coast of Tauranga, on the North Island, on Wednesday, creating a five-km (three-mile) slick.

Efforts to recover oil from the grounded ship, now heading south down the coast, are being hampered by high winds and strong swells.

Libyan NTC: Gadhafi-Backers Cornered in Sirte

Gadhafi-Backers-Cornered-in-Sirte Libya's revolutionary forces say they have loyalist fighters cornered in former leader Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, where desperate civilians are still trying to flee the fierce street fighting.

Burned-out vehicles blocked roads Monday as provisional government tanks and artillery pounded pro-Gadhafi positions that NTC fighters said were squeezed into two neighborhoods.

On Sunday, National Transitional Council fighters in Sirte took three important landmarks - the city's main hospital, the university and the Ouagadougou convention center that Gadhafi loyalists had used as their main base of operation.

Most NTC forces attacking Sirte are from other towns, putting them at a distinct disadvantage against the remnants of Mr. Gadhafi's army who know the city well. Many civilians from Sirte also are fighting alongside loyalist fighters.

Air pollution from traffic impairs brain

Air pollution from traffic impairs brain Air pollution in cities and beside roads can impair the way the brain functions, two new studies have revealed.

Scientists have found living in areas with high levels of traffic pollution can reduce people's performance in cognitive tests.

They found that people older than 51 who had lived in polluted areas had lower cognitive scores than those who had been exposed to lower levels of pollution during their life time even after their results had been adjusted for social and educative status.

A second study in animals has also revealed that fine airborne particulates that are typically emitted by diesel engines can lead to learning and memory problems by reducing the growth of neurons in the brain.

Dr Melinda Power, from the department of epidemiology and environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, said that long term exposure to air pollution related to traffic seemed to affect the way the brain functions.

She said: "Cognitive decline and impairment in the elderly is a huge public health issue. Our study suggests that traffic-related air pollution, particularly diesel exhaust, may play a role.

"Our results suggest an adverse effect of traffic related air pollution on global cognitive function in older men.

"When we explored the potential for effect modification, our results suggest the effect of traffic-related air pollution on cognition may be greater in smokers or overweight and obese individuals.

"Although we looked at the effect in men, I believe the findings are applicable to women as well."

The study examined the average lifetime exposure to traffic-related pollution and the cognitive test scores of 680 men aged between 51-years-old and 97-years-old.

It found that those living in areas that were exposed to twice as much black carbon as low pollution areas were 1.3 times more likely to have lower cognitive scores.

The researchers also found that if black carbon levels doubled in one area compared to another, the effect on the cognitive functions of people from that area were equivalent to ageing by nearly two years.

Dr Power added: "Traffic-related air pollution is a complex mixture of gases and particles.

"Traffic-related air pollution appears to cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. There is also evidence that ultrafine particulates can get into the brain and cause dysfunction."

In the second, separate study in mice, researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus found that exposure to fine particles of pollution known as PM2.5s caused increases in the levels of inflammatory molecules in the animals' brains.

They found that mice exposed to air polluted with the particles for ten months showed signs of impairment of their learning and memory abilities compared to those that been given filtered air.

The researchers found that a part of the animals' brains known as the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning, had also suffered decreased neuron growth in the mice exposed to the pollution.

Laura Fonken, from the behavioural neuroscience program at the university, said: "These data suggest that long-term exposure to particulate air pollution levels typical of exposure in major cities around the globe an alter the affective responses and impair cognition."

Particulate air pollution has already been linked with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and scientists have found pollution from diesel engines can harden the arteries and increase the risk of heart attacks.

It is estimated that more than 20 towns and cities in Britain are emitting pollution at twice the levels specified by the World Health Organisation.

An official report by the Committee on the Medial Effects of Air Pollutants said that air pollution in the UK takes around two years off the lives of 200,000 people.

The UK has one of the worst rates of air pollution in Europe and last year the Government was warned it may face a £300 million fine for failing to meet European air quality standards.

The Telegraph

$2B for rail projects, speed upgrades announced

Money designated for a now-canceled rail line in Florida was divvied up among nearly two dozen projects around the country Monday, heartening supporters but giving critics fuel to deride it as a diversion from President Barack Obama's high-speed-train ambitions or as a simple waste of money.

The bulk of the $2 billion is to go the congested Washington-New York-Boston corridor, where $795 million in improvements should allow trains to run at 160 mph on a stretch where they are currently limited to 135 mph. Another $404 million will go toward increasing speeds to 110 mph between Chicago and Detroit.

Sada Thompson, 1970s TV mom, dies in Conn. at 81

Sada Thompson, the durable matriarch of stage and screen who won a Tony Award for her portraits of three sisters and their mother in the 1971 comedy "Twigs" and an Emmy Award for playing the eternally understanding mother in the television series "Family," has died at age 81.

Thompson died Wednesday of a lung disease at Danbury Hospital, agent David Shaul said Sunday from Los Angeles.

Thompson won wide acclaim during an illustrious career that spanned more than 60 years, during which she gravitated toward quality work that allowed her to plumb her characters' complexities.

LA police move to stem violence in Venice Beach

Police Sgt. Marc Reina checks the weather on his iPhone every morning to forecast what lies ahead on the job at Venice Beach.

"Eighty-two and sunny - I know it's going to be a long day," he says.

Police are gearing up for especially long days even before summer's unofficial Memorial Day start, as the sun and heat that draw throngs of tourists to one of the city's top destinations also attracts an unsavory element and unusual violence - a shooting and stabbing in recent weeks.

Colo. wildlife commission not OK with Christo plan

SALIDA, Colo. (AP) -- Colorado wildlife commissioners have voted to send a letter opposing the artist Christo's proposal to suspend nearly six miles worth of fabric over parts of a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River.

Colorado wildlife commissioners voted 9-0 Friday in favor of sending a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management expressing concerns over how the project in southern Colorado would affect bighorn sheep.

Prosecutors review charges in attack at McDonald's

ROSEDALE, Md. (AP) -- Baltimore County prosecutors are reviewing whether further charges, including hate crimes counts, are warranted in an attack on a transgender woman at a McDonald's that was caught on video, authorities said Monday.

The review of the April 18 beating also will determine whether others will be charged, State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said Monday.

The video posted online shows a woman being attacked outside the restroom of the restaurant in Rosedale and apparently having a seizure. Teonna Monae Brown, 18, was arrested Friday and charged with first- and second-degree assault. A 14-year-old girl has been charged as a juvenile.

Thai-Cambodian border fighting enters 3rd day

BANGKOK (AP) -- Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged artillery fire Sunday in a third day of fighting that has killed 10 soldiers and uprooted thousands of villagers from their homes.

Officials from both sides said the clashes over disputed territory lasted about two hours Sunday morning. Cambodian military officials said the shooting resumed in the afternoon for several hours.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called for a cease-fire, but the prospects for peace appeared shaky, with the two sides disagreeing on what triggered the fighting and differing on how to negotiate the conflicting territorial claims underlying the crisis.

Civil War guide touts spy, life off battlefields

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- There are battlefields, and then there's Belle Boyd, teenage temptress and Confederate spy.

The Appalachian Regional Commission is betting Boyd is the sexier Civil War story and that tourists will want to visit the Martinsburg, W.Va., home of the notorious "siren of the South" who used her feminine charms to spy on Union soldiers for the Confederacy.

The Belle Boyd House in the Eastern Panhandle is one of 150 lesser-known Civil War destinations the commission is highlighting on a new 13-state map that was released Thursday, pointing the way to that footnote on history and plenty more.

Queen Victoria's gown offers hints on Middleton's

LONDON (AP) -- The celebrated silk-and-lace bridal gown worn by Queen Victoria offers some clues about what Kate Middleton will wear when she walks down the aisle on April 29, even if much has changed since Victoria's low-key wedding in 1840.

Victoria didn't have to get married in front of live TV cameras with thousands of reporters and photographers camped outside. And she tied the knot in a relatively small private chapel, not the cavernous chamber of London's Westminster Abbey.

Libya rebels claim control of Tunisian border post

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- Libyan rebels said Thursday they had control of a post on the Tunisian border, forcing government soldiers to flee over the frontier and possibly opening a new channel for opposition forces in Moammar Gadhafi's bastion in western Libya.

In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, meanwhile, relief workers and medical teams awaited the arrival of a passenger ferry carrying about 1,000 people - mostly Libyan civilians and workers from Asia and Africa - out of the besieged city of Misrata, the main rebel holdout in Gadhafi's territory.

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Health insurance plans may seem like an added expenses that you might not actually need. Nevertheless, health insurance might be helpful for a number of reasons. You can research through health insurance plans to find the best one for you, whether it is something that only covers the a few and far-between doctor's visits you may need throughout the year, or disability coverage that takes into account any serious health issues that you may have. Health insurance, if it is the correct plan, can assist as a hugely good separate of maintaining you healthy.

Credit card defaults, late payments drop in March

NEW YORK (AP) -- More Americans paid their credit card bills on time in March, a positive sign for the banking industry in a month that has proved volatile over the past few years.

The top six credit card companies, Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, Capital One, Discover and American Express, all said defaults and late payments fell in March. Overall, delinquency and charge-offs, as they're called in the industry, are at their lowest points since mid-2008.

A Consumer's Head to Health Care Overtake

The six-month day of remembrance] of the act of the health care overtake, more of the law's provisions will be effectively. Most consumers, even so, won't attend any alterations until later Jan. 1, once their new health insurance plan year begins.

Meanwhile, employees will be coming fix for fall's "open enrollment" period, when they pick their health coverage for the adopting year. In addition, people who buy their have health insurance will be researching their choices. Medicare beneficiaries will be able to change their coverage after this year if they want.

Here's a look at how the law affects people who get their coverage at work, buy their own health insurance or are entered in Medicare.

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More governments advising citizens to leave Tokyo

TOKYO (AP) -- Australia, Britain and Germany advised their citizens in Japan to consider leaving Tokyo and earthquake-affected areas, joining a growing number of governments and businesses telling their people it may be safer elsewhere.

The advisories came as the crisis at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in the northeast deepened in the wake of last week's earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, however, said its advice to Australians had nothing to do with the threat of nuclear contamination from the damaged plant.

Cuba cuts hard currency peso to par with dollar

HAVANA (AP) -- Cuba's central bank is devaluing the country's two types of peso by about 8 percent in relation to the dollar and other foreign currencies, hoping the move will spur exports and local production as the government seeks to overhaul a moribund economy.

The announcement published in state newspapers on Monday says the hard-currency peso used mostly by tourists and foreign companies on the island will now be worth $1, down from $1.08. Each hard-currency peso is still worth 24 of the standard pesos with which most Cubans are paid in an unusual two-tiered currency system.

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Big East crown caps incredible 5-day run for UConn

NEW YORK (AP) -- Kemba Walker capped the best five days an individual and team may have ever had in college basketball, scoring 19 points to lead No. 21 Connecticut to a 69-66 victory over No. 14 Louisville in the Big East championship Saturday night.

Walker, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, took home the most obvious MVP award in any conference tournament after leading the ninth-seeded Huskies (26-9) to five wins in as many days - the last four over teams ranked in the Top 25 - and the program's seventh conference title, tying Georgetown for the most in Big East history.

Apple fans line up to buy first batch of iPad 2s

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The updated version of Apple Inc.'s iPad tablet computer went on sale Friday afternoon, and was greeted by the now-familiar lines of buyers outside Apple stores.

The Cupertino company opened online sales of the iPad 2 at 4 a.m. Eastern time, well before they became available in East Coast stores at 5 p.m. They were set to go on sale nationwide at the same hour, local time.

Apple fans, as usual, were eager to get their hands on the device as they waited at the company's Apple's Fifth Avenue store in New York. The line of customers, including some who traveled from Japan and Russia, snaked through the street-level plaza above the subterranean store while bystanders gawked at the crowd.

Libyan envoy in Europe as emergency talks begin

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The Libyan government, trying to put down an uprising against leader Moammar Gadhafi, is mounting a diplomatic press to stave off tough action by the European Union and NATO.

Mohamed Tahir Siala, a Libyan envoy, met Thursday with two Greek foreign ministry officials. Similar talks were held in Lisbon on Wednesday with Portugal's Foreign Minister Luis Amado.

The meetings come as European leaders begin two days of emergency talks about Libya, which appears to be descending into civil war.

Interim CEO defends NPR as new video emerges

WASHINGTON (AP) -- National Public Radio's interim president and CEO said Thursday she is fully confident the organization's leadership team and said those who think their news coverage is biased would change their minds simply by listening to its programming.

Joyce Slocum's comments in a Thursday interview with The Associated Press came just before conservative activist James O'Keefe posted a follow-up video as part of his undercover investigation of NPR. A video posted Tuesday included a former NPR executive calling the tea party movement racist and led to former president and CEO Vivian Schiller's resignation.

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European growth helps McDonald's February results

OAK BROOK, Ill. (AP) -- McDonald's says higher global demand, especially in Europe, boosted sales in February.

Revenue at company-owned and franchised restaurants open at least 13 months grew 3.9 percent, more slowly than January's 5.3 percent. McDonald's Corp.'s stock fell 88 cents in midday trading to $75.41.

The monthly sales figure is a snapshot of the dollar value of food sales at all McDonald's restaurants. McDonald's corporate revenue, reported quarterly, includes only revenue at company-owned stores plus fees and rents paid by franchisees.

Obama restarts Guantanamo trials

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama reversed course Monday and ordered a resumption of military trials for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, making his once ironclad promise to close the isolated prison look even more distant.

Guantanamo has been a major political and national security headache for the president since he took office promising to close the prison within a year, a deadline that came and went without him ever setting a new one.

Haiti's Carnival resumes amid capital's ruins

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Raucous crowds danced in the streets of the Haitian capital Sunday as the city celebrated its first Carnival since last year's devastating earthquake forced the cancellation of the annual festivities.

The parade filed past the ruined facades of downtown shops, and the normally busy boulevard outside the collapsed National Palace was turned into a pedestrian zone for three days of revelry. Organizers erected a plywood wall to separate the Carnival zone from the huge Champ de Mars plaza, now a camp for tens of thousands of people made homeless by the quake.

Opposition reaches pact to form Irish government

DUBLIN (AP) -- The two opposition parties that triumphed in Ireland's election, conservative Fine Gael and left-wing Labour, agreed Sunday to form the country's next coalition government after compromising on plans to repair the debt-battered economy.

Both parties ratified their 64-page plan following five days of negotiations. Fine Gael's lawmakers offered the document unanimous support, while Labour's much larger meeting of party activists also voted overwhelmingly in favor of the policy document.

Tide turns: Sharp increase in number of Mexicans returning home

(CNN) -- The number of Mexican migrants returning to their country -- mainly from the United States -- has increased dramatically in the last five years compared with the previous five years.

According to the most recent numbers released by the Mexican census bureau, the increase was 31.9% in the period from 2005 to 2010, compared with 2000 to 2005 numbers.

The Mexican Institute of Statistics and Geography -- INEGI by its Spanish acronym -- says that during the last five years of the decade, 1.1 million Mexicans left their country. According to the government agency, by the time the national census was taken last summer, more than 351,000 Mexican migrants had returned to Mexico.

Radical Venezuelan pro-Chavez leader Lina Ron dies

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Lina Ron, a vocal supporter of President Hugo Chavez who led radical street groups, died of a heart attack Saturday, Venezuela's government said. She was 51.

Chavez praised her as "true soldier of the people." In a Twitter post, Chavez said: "A Complete Revolutionary. Let's follow her example!"

Information Minister Andres Izarra confirmed Ron's death, saying she had no vital signs when she arrived at a Caracas hospital. "Honor and glory to Lina Ron," Izarra said on Twitter.

Britney Spears Strips Down For V Magazine

source : Britney Spears Strips Down For V Magazine
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"I effort to block off it all out and not pay attending to anything they write of me in the magazines or net. I'm done with that," Spears told V Magazine. "I have acquired to always abide honest to myself and never allow what other people say about me change who I am. It's a very important lesson that took me a long time to learn."

ECB shocks markets with April rate hike hint

LONDON (AP) -- The European Central Bank's chief shocked markets Thursday by saying interest rates could be raised as soon as the next policy meeting in April - far earlier than expected - to fight inflation across the 17-nation eurozone.

Speaking after the bank left its main interest rate unchanged at the record low of 1 percent, President Jean-Claude Trichet said "strong vigilance" was warranted and that an interest rate increase next month was "possible" though "not certain."

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NBA says 'not so sure' about yearly London games

LONDON (AP) -- The success of this weekend's first regular-season games in Europe will play a large part in whether the NBA comes back to London next year.

The New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors play Friday and Saturday at the O2 Arena, the same venue that has hosted sellout games the last four preseasons.

"I'm not so sure about every season, but I think it will become a regular feature," NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. "I think it depends in large part on the success we have this weekend."

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Ethiopia is Top UK Aid Recipient

Britain has chosen Ethiopia to be its biggest recipient of development aid during the next four years. Several donor governments are ramping up assistance as Ethiopia sets ambitious goals for eradicating poverty and hunger.

Ethiopia will receive $2 billion in British development assistance in a four-year period.

Howard Taylor, head of the British aid program in Ethiopia, says the decision to boost assistance was based on need as well as evidence that the country has made major strides in recent years.

Cable company inserts ads as subscribers surf

NEW YORK (AP) -- Mediacom Communications Corp., a cable company with more than 800,000 Internet subscribers, has tried something other U.S. Internet service providers have shied away from: It has inserted its own ads into Web pages as its subscribers surfed.

Ads for Mediacom's home phone service have shown up on the normally ad-free home pages of and, according to subscribers.

There are only a few reports of the ads showing up, starting last week, and many Mediacom subscribers on Web forums said they had not seen any. That leaves the possibility that the ads were part of a test run rather than a full-fledged rollout.

GOP looks to cut IRS budget despite returns

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Every dollar the Internal Revenue Service spends for audits, liens and seizing property from tax cheats brings in more than $10, a rate of return so good the Obama administration wants to boost the agency's budget.

House Republicans, seeing the heavy hand of a too-big government, beg to differ. They've already voted to cut the IRS budget by $600 million this year and want bigger cuts in 2012.

The IRS has dramatically increased its pursuit of tax cheats in the past decade: Audits are up, property liens are up and asset seizures are way up. President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress see stepped up enforcement as a good way to narrow the nation's staggering budget deficit without raising tax rates or cutting popular spending programs.

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Daiichi Sankyo of Japan buys California drug maker

TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese drug maker Daiichi Sankyo Co. is acquiring California pharmaceutical company Plexxikon Inc. for $935 million, with eyes on a still developing cancer treatment, both sides said Tuesday.

Daiichi Sankyo is interested in Plexxikon's PLX4032 drug, as well as its potential to develop drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases, said company spokesman Masaya Tamae.

Tokyo-based Daiichi, Japan's No. 2 pharmaceutical company, is paying $805 million for Plexxikon, and will pay another $130 million when PLX4032, its code-name, is approved as a commercial drug, he said.

Centro sells US shopping malls for $9.4 billion

SYDNEY (AP) -- Struggling shopping mall operator Centro Properties Group said Tuesday it has agreed to sell its 588 U.S. malls to New York-based Blackstone Group LP in a deal valued at $9.4 billion.

The acquisition is Blackstone's largest since its $20.1 billion takeover of Hilton Hotels Corp. in 2007 and shows faith that the weak U.S. retail market will improve.

Centro, which is weighed down by massive debt, also announced a plan to pay off its creditors by giving them ownership of most of its Australian shopping malls.

Envoy claims Libyans set up caretaker government

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Libya's top envoy to the U.S. claimed Saturday that opponents of Moammar Gadhafi's regime are rallying behind efforts to establish an alternative government led by a former Libyan minister. He said the international community should back the movement.

The claim by Ambassador Ali Aujali couldn't be immediately verified and it was unclear what support the "caretaker government" led by ex-Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil commanded.

But Aujali said the U.S. and other countries could accelerate Gadhafi's exit by supporting Abdel-Jalil.

"He is a very honest man, a man with dignity," Aujali said. "I hope this caretaker government will get the support of Libyans and of the international community."

Volunteers help Wis. protesters keep up the fight

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Harriet Rowan was among the first to join what has become an almost two-week-long rally at the Wisconsin Capitol, and she said with the arrival of thousands of others, confusion, misinformation and rumors quickly spread.

"I came back on Tuesday night and there was absolutely no organization," Rowan said. "People needed people to go up upstairs and testify all night to keep the building open ... people were going around just waking people up ... it was chaotic."

The University of Wisconsin senior made a spur-of-the-moment decision to coordinate protest efforts, making signs with media talking points and starting a Twitter feed detailing legislative meeting times, union rally locations and details on day-to-day life in the Capitol.

Penney's 4Q profit rises 36 percent

NEW YORK (AP) -- Cutting costs and selling more exclusive brands like Liz Claiborne drew new customers and helped J.C. Penney Co.'s fourth-quarter profit rise 36 percent, the company said Friday.

The results cap a week of similar reports from clothing and department store chains. And, like Gap Inc. and Kohl's Corp., J.C. Penney announced a new share buyback.

But Penney's shares fell $2.39, or 6.5 percent, to $34.16 Friday as investors appeared worried that price increases ricocheting through the retail industry would particularly hurt Penney's middle-income customers.

4 killed in an attack on NATO convoy in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) -- Militants in Pakistan attacked tankers bringing fuel to NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan on Friday, killing four people in the latest strike on an important supply line to the Western-led war.

Around 15 militants armed with rockets and guns stormed a roadside terminal on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar. At least 12 tankers were set ablaze in the attack, said police officer Liaquat Ali Khan.

Thousands Protest High Food Prices in India

Tens of thousands of people have gathered in India's capital to protest surging food prices.

Demonstrators marched through the center of New Delhi Wednesday, heading towards the Indian parliament building as they chanted slogans against high food costs. Protesters included members of several trade unions, including one linked to India's ruling party.

India has been struggling with rising food inflation, which hit nearly 20 percent late last year. The country's poor have been especially affected.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said inflation poses a serious threat to the India's economic growth. He has called for an increase in food production.

Japan posts first trade deficit in 22 months

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's exports grew at their weakest pace in more than a year in January, resulting in the country's first trade deficit in 22 months.

Exports expanded by 1.4 percent to 4.971 trillion yen ($60 billion), compared with a nearly 13 percent jump in December, the finance ministry said Wednesday. Meanwhile, rising food and commodity prices pushed imports up 12.4 percent to 5.442 trillion yen ($65.7 billion), producing a deficit for the month of 471 billion yen ($5.7 billion).

Japan last posted a trade deficit in March 2009.

Report: Libyan-sponsored attacker now free in Rome

ROME (AP) -- The only terrorist who served prison time for the 1985 attack on Rome's airport that killed 16 people has been released after serving his term and is living and working legally in Rome, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

Il Messaggero daily interviewed Mahmoud Ibrahim Khaled over the weekend amid new turmoil in Libya, which the United States has long blamed for sponsoring the airport attack.

Khaled, a 44-year-old Syrian, told the newspaper that the killings haunt him, that he realizes how wrong terrorism is and how wrong he was, and that he hopes Allah has forgiven him.

TV reporter says she was `terrified' when her speech became incoherent during Grammys report

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A TV reporter who lapsed into gibberish during a live shot outside the Grammys said she was terrified when it happened and knew something was wrong as soon as she opened her mouth.

KCBS-TV reporter Serene Branson's incoherence Sunday fueled Internet speculation that she suffered an on-air stroke. But doctors at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she went to get a brain scan and blood work done, ruled it out. Doctors said she suffered a type of migraine that can mimic symptoms of a stroke.

Branson told CBS' "The Early Show" in an interview Friday that she was terrified, scared and confused, and didn't know what was going on.

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Tea Party activists join protests, favoring Wisconsin budget bill

Madison, Wisconsin (CNN) -- Tea Party activists supporting a bill that would slash collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin public employees flocked to Madison on Saturday, bringing a new dimension to a budget battle that shows few signs of compromise.

As tens of thousands of people marched in favor or against the bill, Republican Gov. Scott Walker indicated he has the votes to pass it.

"We're going to stay firm on it," he said on the fifth day of large protests and political wrangling in the capital, which saw the arrival of conservative groups.

Hardy gets St. John's another win over top-10 team

NEW YORK (AP) -- Madison Square Garden has been a second home to St. John's basketball teams over the last eight decades.

This current team has turned the building at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue into a house of horrors for highly ranked teams.

The latest of the Red Storm's five wins over teams regarded as the best in the country was a heart-stopping, come-from-behind thriller over No. 4 Pittsburgh that has the players thinking of joining the ranks of the ranked themselves.

New Facebook status options applauded by gay users

NEW YORK (AP) -- Jay Lassiter is no longer "in a relationship."

Let's clarify that: Lassiter, a media adviser for political campaigns who lives in Cherry Hill, N.J., is still with his partner of nearly eight years, Greg Lehmkuho. But since Thursday, when Facebook expanded its romantic-status options, Lassiter's profile there echoes his relationship's legal status: "Domestic partnership."

It may not be a life-altering change. After all, you can call yourself anything you want on a social network. And Facebook is merely that.

But, Lassiter notes: "I'm no different from all those other Facebook users whose identity is tied up with their Facebook pages, for better or for worse."

Auburn: Oak trees poisoned at historic site

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Auburn University says someone deliberately poisoned trees at Toomer's Corner, where fans have long celebrated big wins and hundreds gathered after the Tigers won the football national championship on Jan. 10.

The university said in a statement Wednesday that a herbicide commonly used to kill trees was applied "in lethal amounts" to the soil around the two trees, and that they likely can't be saved.

Auburn discovered the poisoning after taking soil samples on Jan. 28, a day after a man called a syndicated radio show based in Birmingham saying he had used the herbicide on the trees.

Analysis: Barbour followed by Confederate images

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Does Haley Barbour have a Confederate problem?

It's a question hounding Mississippi's Republican governor as he gears up for a possible 2012 presidential run. Barbour refused this week to condemn a proposed state license plate to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general who was also an early Ku Klux Klan leader.

Barbour wouldn't say what he thinks about Forrest, a Tennessee native who's venerated by some as a brilliant military strategist and reviled by others for leading the 1864 massacre of black Union troops at Fort Pillow, Tenn.

"Look," Barbour told The Associated Press, "if you want a lesson on Nathan Bedford Forrest, buy a book."

Borders decline means big changes for industry

NEW YORK (AP) -- Whether or not Borders survives closing some 200 stores, the "superstore" boom of the past two decades has busted, authors and publishers face a market minus millions of square feet of physical shelf space and communities once crowded with booksellers may find themselves with none.

"I think Borders' fall will cause a lot of publishers to realize they can't just count on a few giant entities to sell their products," said Simba Information senior trade analyst Michael Norris.

Borders, the second largest chain behind Barnes & Noble, Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday, and will close nearly a third of its 642 stores, from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. About 6,000 of the company's 19,500 employees will lose their jobs. Borders owes millions of dollars to publishers, who must decide whether they should continue doing business with a bookseller that has been unable to pay its bills.

Obama, GOP freshmen win in jet engine budget fight

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Determined to reduce deficits, impatient House Republican freshmen made common cause with President Barack Obama on Wednesday, scoring their biggest victory to date in a vote to cancel $450 million for an alternative engine for the Pentagon's next-generation warplane.

"Right here, right now was a surefire way to reduce spending," declared Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida, a second-term lawmaker whose summons to cut money from the F-35 fighter jet was answered by 47 Republican newcomers. Speaker John Boehner and other House GOP leaders back the funding.

The incursion into the defense budget occurred as the Republican-controlled House debated legislation to cut federal spending by more than $61 billion through the end of the current fiscal year. Nearly all of the reductions are aimed at domestic programs, ranging from education aid to nutrition, environmental protection and farm programs.

German and NY Stock Exchanges Plan Merger

Two of the world's leading stock markets, Germany's Deutsche Boerse and NYSE Euronext, plan to merge, creating the world's largest stock exchange operator, with dual headquarters in Frankfurt and New York. Officials at both companies said Tuesday the $10 billion all-stock deal should be completed by the end of the year, if regulators and shareholders agree.

The proposed new company, which would be the world's largest stock exchange, has no name yet, but officials at both Deutsche Boerse and NYSE Euronext sounded confident that shareholders and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic would approve. They said the merger will create a $5.4 billion company, the first truly global exchange, and lead to an additional $133 million in annual revenue and costs savings of $400 million by the third year.

Oil prices fall on economy, supply concerns

Oil prices retreated Tuesday on concerns about growing supplies of crude in the U.S. and weak retail sales numbers that suggested consumers were spending less because of high energy prices.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude fell 49 cents to settle at $84.32 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude fell $1.44 to settle at $102.29 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

The Commerce Department said retail sales rose in January, but it was the smallest increase since June and only half what analysts expected. Some experts think consumers may be pulling back on spending as they pay more for essentials like gasoline.

Prince William chooses Harry for best man

London, England (CNN) -- Prince William's younger brother Prince Harry will be his best man when he marries Kate Middleton in London in April, Clarence House announced Monday. Middleton's sister Philippa will be her maid of honor.

William, who is second in line to the throne, is due to marry his long-time girlfriend April 29 at Westminster Abbey. Prince Harry is currently third in line of succession.

Royal protocol states that the groom should have a "supporter" rather than a Best Man and speculation was rife that Prince Harry would be named supporter, and another friend of Prince William announced as his best man.

Stroke rehab doesn't have to be high-tech to help

The largest study ever on stroke rehabilitation found that doing physical therapy at home improved walking just as well as a high-tech treadmill program.

More surprising, patients who started rehab late - six months after their strokes - still improved. It's long been thought that there was little to gain from rehab after half a year.

"We now have evidence, for the first time, that a prolonged course of therapy will have benefits," said Dr. Jeffrey Saver, director of the stroke center at the University of California, Los Angeles. "For virtually everyone, we should be doing more intensive therapy than we are."

Police: Man kills 4 in stabbing rampage across NYC

NEW YORK - A graffiti artist armed with five knives went on a bloody 28-hour rampage across New York City, fatally stabbing his stepfather, ex-girlfriend and her mother, running down a pedestrian with a stolen Lexus and knifing a subway passenger before being arrested in Times Square, police said.

Maksim Gelman, 23, was armed with a bloodied kitchen knife when he was taken into police custody at about 9 a.m. Saturday after a nightlong manhunt from Brooklyn into Manhattan, police said.

"It's so horrendous and bizarre. We have no reason to know why he did this," said police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who held up a photo of the knife that he said Gelman had used to slash the subway rider on the head and neck. The man survived.

Assange extradition hearing ends

London (CNN) -- A court hearing to determine whether Britain will extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to Sweden ended Friday.

Assange has not been charged with a crime, but Swedish prosecutors want to question him in connection with sexual misconduct allegations related to separate incidents in August. Assange denies the accusations, and his attorneys are fighting his extradition on procedural and human-rights grounds.

Judge Howard Riddle said he hopes to announce his decision on February 24.

Mubarak speech offers concessions, but no resignation

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 82, addressed fellow Egyptians as "a father to his sons and daughters" in a speech Thursday. Here are some of his key points.

-- Blood of the victims of recent demonstrations will not go unpunished

-- Those who committed crimes "will be punished severely"

-- Demonstrators' demands "are legitimate"

-- Mubarak reiterated he will not run in the upcoming presidential elections

Fox News Poll: Voters Give Mixed Reviews for Economy and Obama's Recovery Efforts

While most voters think President Obama hasn't made the economy his "singular focus" as he's declared for over a year, many are less anxious about the country's economic situation.

A Fox News poll released Thursday also shows that while about half of voters think the "worst is over" (48 percent), the same number -- 48 percent -- think the "worst is yet to come."

Overall, feelings on the economy have gotten more positive. The 48 percent who feel optimistic is up from a year ago when 37 percent said the worst was behind us (February 2010), and constitutes a major increase from two years ago when 29 percent thought so (January 2009).

EXCLUSIVE: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson Helping Hugh Jackman Gain 40 Pounds

It's that time again, folks: Hugh Jackman is pumping iron and packing on the pounds to shape up for the next installment of "Wolverine."

But who has he enlisted for help in achieving that rock-solid physique? Why, none other than The Rock.

"I got the diet from Dwayne Johnson, he put on 25 pounds for his last film and I saw him and was like, 'wow' so I called him up and he gave me his exact diet," Jackman told FOX411's Pop Tarts at the Audi Super Bowl celebration at the Audi Forum in Dallas on Friday evening. "I need to put on about 30-40 pounds, I don't know if I can get there but I am up about 15 pounds so far. I'm trying."

Intelligence Lapse on Egypt Debated

The sudden eruption of mass anti-government protests in Egypt seemingly caught most people by surprise, including U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies. The turn of events has sparked questions about whether the United States experienced an "intelligence failure." But it is extraordinarily difficult for spy agencies to predict specific events.

Former and current intelligence officials dispute the notion raised by some politicians and outside analysts that the United States suffered some sort of an intelligence failure on Egypt.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden says the intelligence community repeatedly briefed policymakers that the situation in Egypt was spiraling downward.

School scraps race-specific mentoring program

(CNN) -- A Pennsylvania high school has scrapped a mentoring program, which allowed students to be taught by instructors of their same race for a few minutes each day, following a storm of criticism over the initiative.

"The mentoring programs are more heterogeneous now," school spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder said Tuesday.

McCaskey East High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, instituted what it described as a pilot program meant to enrich "students' experiences through mentoring" and was derived from research "that shows grouping black students by gender with a strong role model can help boost their academic achievement and self esteem," according to a school statement.

Planned Parenthood to retrain after anti-abortion group videos

(CNN) -- Responding to the latest undercover video by an anti-abortion group, women's reproductive health care provider Planned Parenthood announced Tuesday it will retrain more than 11,000 staff members at more than 800 centers across the United States.

Planned Parenthood has ordered "all health center staff and educators who have contact with patients and teens be retrained in understanding our policies and procedures for responding to situations that indicate that the welfare of a minor is endangered," Stuart Schear, vice president for communications at Planned Parenthood, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The retraining will be completed by April 1, Schear said.

Prince Kicks Kim Kardashian Off Stage at Concert for Not Dancing

Musician Prince brought reality TV star Kim Kardashian on stage with him Monday night at New York's Madison Square Garden -- then kicked her off for refusing to dance.

YouTube video posted late Monday night shows Prince dancing with an audience member before sending her back to her seat and summoning Kardashian from the front row.

Kardashian clapped but did not dance with the singer, and moments later Prince told her, "Get off the stage!"

Later in the show, Prince gave Kardashian another chance and she obliged him with some dance moves.

Tension, Uncertainty as Uganda Prepares for Election

In just over one week Ugandans will go to the polls to elect their president for the fourth time since the reinstitution of democracy. Facing perhaps his toughest competition yet, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will seek a fourth term and a continuation of his 25-year rule.

On February 18, Museveni will face yet another election and another challenge to his long tenure as the country's leader. Museveni has soundly defeated his challengers every five years since 1996, but his support has steadily declined. In the 1996 poll, the Ugandan leader received around 75 percent of the vote, but registered just under 60 percent in 2006.

Internet Creators Ask Hackers for Help

The military's technology research arm -- the same group that helped create the Internet in the early 70s -- is asking hackers for help keeping it secure.

Called "Cyber Fast Track," the new program from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will fund independent security researchers and experimental programs, emphasizing unconventional solutions and unusual players, including hobbyists, startups, and even hackers. DARPA, the Defense Department's cybersavvy research division, hopes the program will cut through big budget projects to launch new initiatives in a more timely fashion.

The program aims to implement cybersecurity projects faster, said Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, according to a report at And awardees would retain commercial rights over their work.

Back to Business for Obama and Chamber of Commerce

In the months since the Obama White House began what aides describe as a "turning point" in relations with the GOP, they contend a similar turn of events has occurred with the business community.

When the president heads to the Chamber of Commerce for an economic speech Monday, he'll find a business lobby with tough questions.

"When are jobs coming back? How can we get this economy growing as it should again? How are we going to successfully compete in the world and when are going to get a handle on the growth of government and the deficits?" Chamber Director of Communications Blair Latoff asked.

1972 Murder of Blind Homemaker Heads to Trial

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Tommie Cray was 9 years old in 1947 when his father, a single parent with three sons, brought home a new companion who was raising three boys of her own. Annie Mae had a sweet Southern drawl and an easy laugh, and an emotional bond took hold right away.

"She brought everybody's spirit up, she was so lovable and friendly," reminisced Cray, now 72, as he sat on the edge of his bed in a cluttered studio apartment adorned with fading family portraits. "From day one, I loved her."

After a 38-year hiatus, twice-convicted sexual predator Willie James Kimble, 78, is headed to trial on March 3 on charges of bludgeoning to death Cray's stepmother at her home on Oct. 29, 1972 - the week before Richard Nixon was re-elected president.

Her death would be one of the nation's oldest cold-case murders to be solved by DNA.

Kimble, distantly related to the Crays, had lived in Rochester most of his life but hurriedly left town in 2009 while the slaying was being re-examined.

Mubarak Huddles With Advisers as Protests Continue

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with his economic team Saturday to discuss the financial impact of the country's political crisis, as thousands of anti-government protesters continued their vigil in Cairo's main square.

Egyptian state media reports Mr. Mubarak's talks included the prime minister, the ministers of oil and finance and the central bank governor. The trade minister Samiha Fawzi Ibrahim said Saturday that exports fell 6 percent in January because of the unrest. Some estimates say the unrest is costing the country $310 million a day.

Bellagio Heist Soured Quickly for Accused Bandit

LAS VEGAS-- The scenes that led to the Bellagio casino bandit's downfall look less like "Ocean's Eleven" and more like "America's Dumbest Criminals."

Bragging about a big gambling score with high school buddies over rounds of shots in Colorado. E-mailing pictures to a total stranger -- dated and signed "Biker Bandit" with two $25,000 Bellagio chips. Losing $105,000 gambling at the scene of the crime in Las Vegas, but cashing out nearly $209,000 and apparently hoping the casino wouldn't notice.

The deceptively simple burglary lit up the Internet -- appealing to anyone who's ever had fantasies about pulling off a major score against a casino giant. But police say Anthony Carleo's shoddy plan after stealing $1.5 million in chips unfolded like a badly played poker hand.

Train Derailment, Fire Forces Ohio Evacuations

ARCADIA, Ohio -- A freight train carrying volatile chemicals derailed about 50 miles south of Toledo Sunday morning, causing at least 15 tanker cars to catch fire and explode and forcing evacuations of nearby homes, a fire official said. No injuries have been reported.

Capt. Jim Breyman of the Arcadia Fire Department said the call came in at about 2:15 a.m., and estimates 15 to 18 tanker cars carrying ethanol derailed.

About 20 homes were evacuated in the area about two miles west of the village of Arcadia, but it was unclear exactly how many people were in those homes, he said.

The scene was intense and dramatic.

Redskins lineman Haynesworth accused of punching motorist

(CNN) -- Washington Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth is named in a misdemeanor assault warrant accusing him of punching a motorist who had complained the NFL player was tailgating, a police spokeswoman said Friday.

A Fairfax County magistrate issued the simple assault warrant Thursday night, police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said.

Haynesworth's agent, Chad Speck, said it was the other driver who instigated the incident and called the accusation "ridiculous."

Burma’s Parliament Elects Former PM as President

Burma's military-dominated parliament has elected the country's first president, choosing military loyalist Thein Sein. Although a civilian now is nominally leading the government, Burma experts say the military maintains its grip on power but there is still a chance for gradual change.

Burma's parliament on Friday elected a former general, Prime Minister Thein Sein, to serve as the country's president in the new civilian government.

He was chosen over two other military loyalists who will serve as vice presidents.

As prime minister, he was the international face of Burma's military government and considered the favorite for president.

Rural air subsidies test resolve to cut spending

WASHINGTON - A program that subsidizes air service to small airports, often in remote communities, is shaping up as an early test in the new Congress of conservatives' zeal for shrinking the federal government.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has proposed an amendment to an aviation bill pending before the Senate in order to eliminate the $200 million annual essential air service program. The program pays airlines to provide scheduled service to about 150 communities, from Muscle Shoals, Ala., to Pelican, Alaska.

In the House, the Republican Study Committee - a group of conservative lawmakers - has also proposed killing the program.

Texas Soccer Coach Dies After Parking Lot Attack

A Houston teacher and soccer coach has died after police say he was attacked in a shopping center parking lot.

Christopher Matthews, 33, was allegedly attacked around 11 p.m.on Friday in the parking lot of a shopping complex. Ronald Lee Newman was taken into custody by police following the attack, and was charged with aggravated assault and serious bodily injury.

Police say Newman found his wife with Matthews in the parking lot, approached Matthews and punched him, according to a statement released Monday by the Houston Police Department. Matthews fell to the ground following the assault, rendered unconscious.

'Jihad Jane' Terror Suspect Pleads Guilty in Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania woman who supported a global terror plot while using the online moniker "Jihad Jane" has pleaded guilty.

Colleen LaRose, 47, of Pennsburg, Pa., entered the plea during an appearance Tuesday in a Philadelphia federal court. Authorities allege the suburban Philadelphia woman aided foreign terror suspects seeking to start a holy war in Europe and South Asia. Prosecutors claim she agreed to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had offended Muslims.