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Showing posts from June 21, 2013

Afghan government to shun U.S. talks with Taliban

Revived Afghan peace talks hit their first roadblock on Wednesday, a day after they were announced, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his government would not join U.S. talks with the Taliban and would halt negotiations with Washington on a post-2014 troop pact. The United States and the Taliban had announced on Tuesday that officials from both sides will meet in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in coming days, in a step forward for a stuttering peace process after 12 years of bloody and costly war between U.S.-led forces and the insurgents. But the precise timing of the negotiations was uncertain on Wednesday as U.S. officials worked furiously to keep the nascent peace talks on track. Officials of Karzai's government, angered by the opening of a Taliban political office in Doha on Tuesday, said the United States had violated assurances it would not give official status to the insurgents. "As long as the peace process is not Afghan-led, the High Peace Council will not par

North Carolina governor signs law aimed at restarting executions

North Carolina's governor, hoping to resume executions in his state, on Wednesday signed the repeal of a law that has allowed death row inmates to seek a reduced sentence if they could prove racial bias affected their punishment. The Racial Justice Act, the only law of its kind in the United States, had led to four inmates getting their sentences changed to life in prison without parole after taking effect in 2009. Supporters said the historic measure addressed the state's long record of racial injustice in its capital punishment system, while critics said it caused unnecessary costs and delays after nearly all death-row inmates, including whites, sought relief under the act. Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican, said repealing the law would remove the "procedural roadblocks" that had kept North Carolina from executing anyone since 2006 despite there being 152 people on death row.   "The state's district attorneys are nearly unanimous in their bipartisan

Facebook has never been stronger since IPO, Sandberg says

A year after Facebook Inc's fumbled IPO, Wall Street remains slow to recognize what Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg argues has been an across-the-board improvement in its business. Facebook's ability to deliver ads to mobile phones, improvements in measuring the effectiveness of its ads and increasing user engagement have all put the world's largest social network in a better position than before the IPO, Sandberg told the Reuters Global Technology Summit on Wednesday.   "When I look back at the last year since we went public, I believe we are unequivocally a much stronger company today than we were on literally any metric I can think of," Sandberg said at the Reuters Global Technology Summit on Wednesday. Facebook became the first U.S. technology company to debut with a value of more than $100 billion, in May 2012. Its shares have lost almost 40 percent of their value since. "I can't speak to the stock price but I do feel strongly that we

UPDATE 2-Storm Barry heads for Mexico Gulf coast oil installations

Tropical Storm Barry, the second of the Atlantic hurricane season, strengthened as it churned toward Mexico on Wednesday, threatening to bring heavy rains to oil and power installations near the country's Gulf coast. The Minatitlan oil refinery of state oil monopoly Pemex and the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant, both in Veracruz state, are being monitored closely, said Noemi Zoila, head of the local government's emergency services. Mexico's three major Gulf coast oil export terminals - Coatzacoalcos, Cayo Arcas and Dos Bocas - closed on Wednesday because of heavy rain and reduced visibility.   Barry was about 40 miles (60 km) east-northeast of the port of Veracruz, moving at 6 miles per hour (9 kph) as it approached land, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The storm's maximum sustained winds were 45 mph (75 kph), the center added, and a tropical storm warning was in effect along a costal stretch from Tuxpan to Punta El Lagarto. The biggest impact was expec

China jails 19 Uighurs for religious extremism

Courts in China's far western region of Xinjiang have sentenced 19 ethnic Uighurs to up to six years in jail for promoting racial hatred and religious extremism online, in the latest crackdown on what China sees as violent separatists. _0"> All but one of those jailed were from the heavily Uighur southern part of Xinjiang, including eight from the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, the official Legal Daily reported on its website.   Many Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who call energy-rich Xinjiang home, chafe at Chinese government restrictions on their culture, language and religion. class="mandelbrot_refrag"> China says it grants them wide-ranging freedoms. In one of the cases, the suspect went on illegal websites to download material which "whipped up religious fervor and preached 'holy war'" and "whipped up ethnic enmity", the Legal Daily said in its report late on Wednesday. "This created a despicable effect o

Lawmaker, university spar over 'control' of Chinese dissident in U.S.

A U.S. congressman who has been blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng's main champion in Washington said people working for New York University have tried to keep him from meeting Chen, barging into a meeting on Capitol Hill and pulling Chen out on one occasion. U.S. Representative Chris Smith, an outspoken supporter of Chinese dissidents since the 1980s, described repeated instances of various people he says were from NYU interfering in his attempts to meet with Chen. NYU spokesman John Beckman in an email vigorously disputed the assertion that its representatives may have been involved in improper interference or control of Chen during his meetings with lawmakers and others, stressing that anyone present was there to help Chen at his request.   The encounters took place both in Washington and at NYU. Chen has been a research fellow at NYU Law School since he flew to the United States in May 2012 after he escaped from house arrest in his village in Shandong province and too

Special Report: How Syria's Islamists govern with guile and guns

The Syrian boys looked edgy and awkward. Three months ago their town, the eastern desert city of Raqqa, had fallen to rebel fighters trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad's government. Now the four boys - clad in tight jeans and bright T-shirts - were whitewashing a wall to prepare it for revolutionary graffiti. "We'll make this painting about the role of children in the revolution," one of the boys told two journalists.   A white Mitsubishi pulled up and a man in camouflage trousers and a black balaclava jumped out and demanded that the journalists identify themselves. He was from the Islamic State of Iraq, he said, the Iraqi wing of al Qaeda linked to an Islamist group fighting in Syria called Jabhat al-Nusra. The boys kept quiet until the man pulled away, and then started talking about how life has changed in the city of around 250,000 people since the Islamists planted their flag at the former governor's nearby offices. "They want an Islamic

Pirate Bay founder sentenced to 2 years in Sweden hacking case

A co-founder of file-sharing website Pirate Bay was sentenced to two years in jail on Thursday for hacking into computers at a company that manages data for Swedish authorities and making illegal online money transfers, a court said. Gottfrid Svartholm Warg was extradited to Sweden last year from Cambodia to begin a one-year jail sentence after being convicted in 2009 of internet piracy. He was then charged by authorities as part of the separate hacking investigation.   "The hacking has been very extensive and technically advanced," the Nacka district court said in a statement. "The attacker has affected very sensitive systems." He had denied the charges. Prosecution documents say Warg, a 28-year-old Swede, managed to transfer 24,200 Danish crowns ($4,300) online, but also attempted, in several different transactions, to transfer a total of around 683,000 euros ($915,500). The investigation was into data infringement involving outsourcing firm Logica. Swedis

Afghan peace bid stumbles on Kabul-Taliban protocol row

A fresh effort to end Afghanistan's 12-year-old war was in limbo on Thursday after a diplomatic spat about the Taliban's new Qatar office delayed preliminary discussions between the United States and the Islamist insurgents. A meeting between U.S. officials and representatives of the Taliban had been set for Thursday in Qatar but Afghan government anger at the fanfare surrounding the opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state threw preparations into confusion. The squabble may set the tone for what could be arduous negotiations to end a conflict that has torn at Afghanistan's stability since the U.S. invasion following the September 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on U.S. targets.   Asked when the talks would now take place, a source in Doha said, "There is nothing scheduled that I am aware of." But the U.S. government said it was confident the U.S.-Taliban talks would soon go forward. "We anticipate these talks happening in the coming days," said St

New Palestinian prime minister offers resignation

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has offered his resignation to President Mahmoud Abbas just two weeks after taking office, an official in his press office told Reuters on Thursday. It was not immediately clear whether Abbas would accept the resignation by Hamdallah, an academic and political independent whose cabinet convened for the first time last week.   The official told Reuters Hamdallah made the abrupt, unexpected move because of a "dispute over his powers". A note on Hamdallah's Facebook page said his decision came after "outside interferences in his powers and duties". His cabinet consists overwhelmingly of members of the Fatah faction led by Abbas and political commentators had immediately questioned how much leeway he would have to maneuver. Hamdallah's predecessor, American-educated economist Salam Fayyad, resigned in April after six years in power defined by tough economic challenges and rivalries with Fatah politicians eager to

Lake Powell accident

Lake Powell accident , A Utah man driving a motorboat on Lake Powell was apparently distracted by his young passengers when he hit a houseboat and flipped the craft, leaving his wife dead and his daughter and his son's girlfriend missing, deputies said. Adrian Jackman , 59, of South Jordan, apparently tried to swerve when he noticed the moving houseboat but hit the front corner, authorities said. The accident about 8 a.m. Thursday killed his wife, Marilyn Jackman , 57. His daughter, Jessica Jackman , 22, and his son's girlfriend, Valerie Rae Bradshaw , 29, of Sandy, Utah, are missing in the water. Crews brought a robot equipped with a camera to search for the missing women Friday in the 400-foot-deep water near Dangling Rope Marina. But they ran into technical problems and had to call off the effort, according to Denise Shultz, spokeswoman for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area that encompasses Lake Powell. She said the Utah Highway Patrol has been as

U.S. group that 'converted' gays closes its doors and apologizes

A Christian group that once promoted therapy to encourage gays and lesbians to overcome their sexual preferences has closed its doors and apologized to homosexuals, acknowledging its mission had been hurtful and ignorant. Exodus International billed itself as the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality, operating since 1976. It announced it would cease operations in a statement on its website on Wednesday.   The Irvine, California-based group's board unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry, the statement said. "I am sorry for the pain and hurt that many of you have experienced," President Alan Chambers said in a statement. "I am sorry some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt when your attractions didn't change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents." Chambers said he was

France, Spain take action against Google on privacy

France and Spain led a Europe-wide push on Thursday to get U.S. Internet giant Google to change its policies on collecting user data. News that the U.S. National Security Agency under the Prism surveillance program secretly gathered user data from nine U.S. companies, including Google, to track people's movements and contacts makes the timing especially sensitive for Google. France's data protection watchdog (CNIL) said Google had broken French law and gave it three months to change its privacy policies or risk a fine of up to 150,000 euros ($200,000).   Spain's Data Protection Agency (AEPD) told Google it would be fined between 40,000 euros and 300,000 euros for each of the five violations of the law, that it had failed to be clear about what it did with data, may be processing a "disproportionate" amount and holding onto it for an "undetermined or unjustified" period of time. The CNIL, which has been leading Europe's inquiry since Google lau

Doctors spent 40 minutes trying to revive 'Sopranos' star Gandolfini

Doctors at a Rome hospital battled for 40 minutes to try to save the life of James Gandolfini, best known for his Emmy-winning role as a mob boss in the TV series "The Sopranos," before pronouncing him dead, the emergency room chief said on Thursday. Gandolfini, 51, whose performance as Tony Soprano made him a household name and help usher in a new era of American television drama, was vacationing in Rome and had been scheduled to attend the closing of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily on Saturday.   He was taken from his Rome hotel to the city's Umberto I hospital late on Wednesday, according to a hospital spokesperson. The actor's 13-year-old son, Michael, had found him collapsed in the bathroom of his Rome hotel room, Gandolfini's manager, Mark Armstrong, said in an email. "The resuscitation maneuvers, including heart massage, etc., continued for 40 minutes and then, seeing no electric activity from the heart, this was interrupted and we declared

Wall St. plunges, S&P posts biggest drop since Nov 2011

Stocks fell more than 2 percent on Thursday, extending the previous day's sharp decline as investors fretted over the Federal Reserve's plan to begin reducing its stimulus later this year if the economy strengthens. The S&P 500 recorded its biggest daily decline since November 11, 2011, on the year's heaviest day of trading. All 10 S&P sectors were sharply lower, with 94 percent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange down for the day and more than four-fifths of Nasdaq -listed shares ending lower.   The Dow Jones industrial average dived 353.87 points, or 2.34 percent, at 14,758.32. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 40.74 points, or 2.50 percent, at 1,588.19. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 78.57 points, or 2.28 percent, at 3,364.64. The Fed's program of bond-buying has fueled stock market gains this year, sending indexes to a series of all-time highs. A trend emerged of investors buying on market dips and limiting stocks' de

Finding value when the market misbehaves

Traders are nervous as Wall Street waits for the Federal Reserve to reveal its next quantitative easing move. Last week marked the third week out of the last four in which major indexes turned negative. What if you ignored the market's mood, though? Would it make a difference?   If you can find managers focused on buying and holding the best stocks - no matter how the rest of the market is behaving - you might reap higher gains over time. C. Thomas Howard, professor emeritus at the University of Denver, has found that managers who invest in what he defines as the "best markets" for overall stock performance and the stocks that represent the "best ideas" will outperform market indexes. Howard identified hundreds of companies that fit his criteria and could have been bought at bargain prices. Examining a period from April 2003 to March 2013, Howard found in a recent paper that his "best idea" group of 400 stocks, which includes Google, Ethan Allen

State Street says global equities chief to leave

State Street Corp announced on Wednesday that global equities chief Alistair Lowe will leave the company by the end of the year as part of a shake-up in its asset management division. _0"> The move comes as State Street Global Advisors combines its cash and fixed income asset classes under Steve Meier. He will become chief investment officer of fixed income, currency and cash, Boston-based State Street said in a news release.   At the end of March, State Street had $2.18 trillion in assets under management. Most of that money is in passive investments, such as exchange-traded funds. "We believe that the boundaries between fixed income disciplines are blurring and that a broad view is beneficial," said Rick Lacaille, SSgA's chief investment officer. "For instance, it is clear that cash management is moving away from a traditional money market framework and that optimal portfolio management now incorporates skills typically associated with managing longer

For wine investors, it's hard work to drink in success

When investing in wine, as opposed to drinking it, experts advise leaving your taste buds at the cellar door but keeping your eyes wide-open. Wine is highly regulated, but the market it trades in is not, and the entry fee is not for the faint of heart. "For proper investment in wine you really need to separate out your personal taste and your personal preference from investment purposes. These are two entirely different goals," said Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, author most recently of "The One Minute Wine Master" and "Pairing with the Masters: A Definitive Guide to Food & Wine."   "Wine is completely emotional and that's what makes it very difficult as an asset class," said Simonetti-Bryan, who before attaining the top qualification of Master of Wine, worked as a financial analyst in London. Collectible wine represents less than 1 percent of the entire world's annual wine production. The other 99 percent of this year's output w