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    27 January 2009

    AIG VP Gets 4 Years For Fraud

    What will $500 million get you? Four years in prison if you are a former executive of American International Group convicted in a fraud case that authorities say cost shareholders more than $500 million.

    Christian Milton, 61, of Pennsylvania and four former executives of General Re Corporation were convicted last year of conspiracy, securities fraud, mail fraud and making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    Milton declined to comment during a hearing in Hartford federal court Tuesday. He was ordered to report to prison March 25. His lawyers said they're working on an appeal.

    Judge Christopher Droney also fined Milton $200,000. Authorities expect him to be deported to his native England after he serves his sentence.

    Milton was AIG's vice president of reinsurance from 1982 until 2005.

    Prosecutors said New York-based AIG paid Gen Re in a secret side agreement to take out reinsurance policies with AIG in 2000 and 2001, propping up AIG's stock price and inflating reserves by $500 million.

    Copyright Associated Press

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    24 January 2009

    [AFRICA]Deadly 'suicide' blast in Mogadishu

    A suspected suicide car bomb has killed at least 20 civilians in the Somali capital Mogadishu, witnesses say.

    The attack on Saturday was apparently aimed at a group of African Union peacekeepers but missed its target, they said. 

    "That opposition group has massacred only innocent Somali people," Major Barigye Ba-hoku, spokesman for the AU force, said.

    The attack came just days before more troops from Uganda and Burundi were due to arrive to boost the 1,400 African Union peacekeepers currently deployed in Somalia.

    Abdifatah Shaweye, the city's deputy governor, told the Reuters news agency that police officers stationed near the base had opened fire on the car as it approached, after which it crashed and blew up.

    Gunfights were reported to have broken out after the car exploded. 

    Mohamed Osman Ali, Mogadishu's mayor, said it was unclear who was behind the attack.

    Doctors said at least 30 other people were wounded.

    Abdifatah Ibrahim Shaweye, Mogadishu's deputy governor told the AFP news agency that the bomber was a foreigner.

    "We have one of his arms which is clearly showing that the suicide bomber was a foreigner"

    Abdifatah Ibrahim Shaweye, Mogadishu's deputy governor

    "We have one of his arms which is clearly showing that the suicide bomber was a foreigner," he said, explaining that the bomber's light skin tone showed he was not Somali.

    Somalia is wracked by violence with near-daily attacks on troops loyal to the largely powerless UN-backed transitional government.

    Much of the country is controlled by armed opposition groups who have captured many of the towns and villages seized by government and Ethiopian troops from the Islamic Courts Union in late 2006.

    The interim government has failed to bring stability to the Horn of Africa nation, where more than 16,000 people have been killed in the past two years and one million others driven from their homes.

    Some analysts have said the the recent withdrawal of Ethiopian troops could create a power vacuum as opposition forces scramble for control. 

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    Mariana Bridi da Costa, Brazilian model whose hands, feet were amputated, dies

    Mariana Bridi da Costa, Brazilian model whose hands, feet were amputated, dies

    RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - One month ago, 20-year-old beauty queen Mariana Bridi was living the dream of many young Brazilian women, trading her striking good looks for a modeling career that promised to lift her family out of poverty. Then she contracted a seemingly ordinary urinary tract infection. The bacteria spread quickly and inexorably through her body, proving to be extremely resistant to drugs. In a desperate bid to save her life, doctors amputated her hands and feet. But by Saturday she was dead. "God is comforting our hearts because he wanted her to be with him now," her father Agnaldo Costa told reporters outside the hospital where his daughter died. "I can't accept that my daughter left us so soon." Bridi's Web site says she began modeling at age 14 with the hope of giving "a dignified life to her parents."
    Her father is a taxi driver and her mother a house cleaner. By the age of 18, she was well on her way: In 2007 and 2008, she was a finalist in the Brazilian stage of the Miss World pageant. Her Web site said next month she was to participate in the second stage of a modeling competition held in Sao Paulo by Dilson Stein, the Brazilian model scout who discovered supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Last year, she took fourth in the Face of the Universe competition in South Africa and she had won bikini competitions across the globe. The Miss World Brazil organization said she was an example of someone "who knew how to intensely live her life." Half a dozen memorial groups onFacebook had already sprung up just hours after her death. On Bridi's own page on Orkut — the most popular Web social networking site in Brazil — dozens of memorial messages were left. The course of her illness was swift. In late December, she fell ill and doctors in her native state of Espirito Santo — northeast of Rio de Janeiro — initially diagnosed as having kidney stones. She returned to a hospital on Jan. 3 in septic shock — life-threatening low blood pressure — from the infection that would force doctors to amputate first her feet, then her hands. Doctors said there was little they could do but pump drugs into her and hope for the best. It was a nightmare scenario for anyone with an infection: Her body did not react to the latest and most potent drugs while the bacteria in her veins spread from head to toe. In Bridi's case, the culprit was the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is known to be drug resistant. According to the January 2008 book "Pseudomonas: Genomics and Molecular Biology," edited by Pierre Cornelis, a researcher at the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology in Brussels, the bacteria has the "worrisome characteristic" of "low antibiotic susceptibility." It also easily mutates to develop resistance to new drugs. Death from infections caused by the bacteria are relatively rare, but not unheard of: In late 2006, an outbreak of the bacteria at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles sickened five infants — leading to the deaths of two. The bacteria causes about 10 percent of the roughly two million hospital-acquired infections each year in the U.S., according to health officials. A short statement from the Espirito Santo State Health Secretariat announced her death on Saturday "despite all the commitment of the hospital team." Her aunt said the hundreds of messages left on her Web site had lifted Bridi's spirit in the past weeks. "I believe that the serenity on her face came from this spiritual comfort," Oriendina Pereira Wasen said outside the hospital. Bridi's funeral was planned for Saturday afternoon in the town of Marechal Floriano. On the Web: http://www.marianabridi.com.br

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    BBC Under fire for blocking Gaza charity appeal

    LONDON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - The British government urged the BBC on Saturday to drop its refusal to broadcast a humanitarian appeal for victims of the war in Gaza.

    The BBC said the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a coalition of 13 aid agencies, would compromise the impartiality of its coverage.

    "The most important thing we can do for the people who are suffering is carrying on reporting it and we've done exemplary work in reporting the suffering of the people of Gaza," Chief Operating Officer Caroline Thomson said.

    "If we lose the trust of the audience by appearing...to support one side rather than another, then we will have lost it for the charities themselves as well as everyone else."

    Broadcasters ITV and Channel 4 said they would show it, but satellite broadcaster Sky said it had yet to reach a formal decision.

    But most attention focused on the stance of the BBC, which as the national public broadcaster is funded by a licence fee paid by owners of TV sets.

    International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said the British public could distinguish between support for humanitarian aid and perceived partiality in a conflict.

    "I really struggle to see in the face of the immense human suffering of people in Gaza at the moment that this is in any way a credible argument," he said.

    The BBC has argued that aid access to Gaza is in any case restricted, but Alexander said supplies and personnel had managed to get through on Friday.

    "I do not think the fact that limited access is available at the moment is itself an adequate reason not to broadcast an appeal to try and address what is still a dire humanitarian situation," Alexander told BBC radio.

    Politicians and aid groups have written to the BBC to try to persuade it to reconsider its decision, while hundreds of people demonstrated outside one of the broadcaster's London television centres.

    About 1,300 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,000 were injured during Israel's 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip, launched in an attempt to stop rocket attacks on its territory by Hamas militants. Thirteen Israelis died.

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    23 January 2009

    [FOOD- Foodimentary]January 23: Today is..National Rhubarb Pie Day

    Though this vegetable,indigenous to Asia, has poisonous leaves, the stalks make one heck of a pie.

    A common slang term for rhubarb is the "pie plant."

    The pies are often made with strawberries for the sweetness. I am not to fond of this tart pie, but if you are a fan...go have a slice today! I have also heard that the word rhubarb is a great code word for when traveling in groups and one gets separated. Just stand there shouting rhubarb, ignore the stares, until someone in your group finds you.

    Source : Foodimentary

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    UN releases Gaza attack photos

    Pictures show alleged Israeli use of white phosphorus munitions on a UN compound.

    The United Nations has released images of what it believes are white phosphorus munitions raining down on one of its compounds during Israel's war on Gaza.

    The pictures, broadcast by Al Jazeera on Thursday, show what appears to be flame-generating munitons, thought to be white phosphorus "wedges", falling into a UN compound in Gaza where hundreds of people were sheltering.

    Two Palestinian boys, aged five and seven, were killed in the attack on January 17.

    Israel has said it will investigate the issue, but has not publicly acknowledged using the controversial chemical.

    Al Jazeera has learnt that a total of 53 installations used by the United Nations Relief and Works agency, Unrwa, were damaged or destroyed during Israel's Gaza campaign including 37 schools - six of which are being used as emergency shelters - six health centres, and two warehouses.

    White phosphorus - a high-incendiary substance that burns brightly and for long periods on contact with the air - is often used to produce smoke screens.

    But it can also be used as a weapon producing extreme burns when it makes contact with human skin.

    The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported a brigade of paratroop reservists fired about 20 white phosphorus shells into the built-up area of Beit Lahiya on January 17, which landed in the UN-run compound where the two Palestinian children were killed and severe burns were inflicted on 14 other people.

    Amnesty International, the London-based rights group, has accused Israel of war crimes over its use of the munitions in heavily populated areas.

    Children killed

    International law forbids white phosphorus use against military targets within areas where civilians are concentrated, except when the targets are clearly separated and "all feasible precautions" are taken to avoid casualties among non-combatants.

    "I expect a full explanation of each incident and that those responsible will be held accountable for their actions," the statement quoted Ban as saying.

    Deadly weapons

    The Israeli military has also been accused of using Dense Inert Metal Explosive (Dime) weapons in urban areas, causing horrific abdominal and leg injuries.

    When detonated, a Dime device expels a blade of charged tungsten dust that burns and destroys everything within a four-metre radius.

    Israel has been criticised by human rights groups and foreign officials over its suspected use of a number of weapons during its aerial, naval and ground assault on the Palestinian territory in which over 1,300 Palestinians were killed.

    The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Wednesday it will open an investigation into whether Israel used depleted uranium, which is added to munitions as its density allows them to penetrate armour more easily, during the conflict.

    It is thought that the dust left at blast sites after the weapons have hit also pose a health risk, but a definitive link has not yet been proven.

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    22 January 2009

    [AVIATION] Ireland grounds Ryanair's bid for Aer Lingus

    The Irish government has rejected a billion-dollar bid by budget carrier Ryanair for rival Aer Lingus, arguing it "undervalued" the national carrier and would have created a monopoly in the market.Budget airline Ryanair admitted defeat Thursday in its efforts to take over rival Aer Lingus after the Irish government, which owns a 25 percent stake in the carrier, rejected its one-billion-dollar bid.
    Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said Ryanair's offer "greatly undervalues" Aer Lingus, adding the deal would have created a monopoly which was bad for Irish consumers.
    But the decision was attacked as "strange" and "sad" by Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary, although he said the firm would "respect and abide by" the government's decision.
    Aer Lingus management urged shareholders not to back the takeover when it was launched before Christmas.
    Ryanair's bid was worth only half the 1.48 billion euros the low-budget carrier had offered for Aer Lingus in an unsuccessful takeover attempt in October 2006.
    "It is strange, when the Irish government is looking for two billion euros in cost savings (because of the credit crunch), that it would reject an offer of 188 million euros (for its stake)," O'Leary said after the rejection was announced.
    "It is also sad, when thousands of jobs are being lost in Ireland, that Ryanair's offer to create 1,000 new Irish jobs in Aer Lingus over the next five years has been rejected."
    Dempsey, however, insisted that the government had taken the right decision.
    "Government took the view that the Ryanair offer greatly undervalues Aer Lingus," he said in a statement.
    "Competition was a major consideration. The cornerstone of Irish aviation policy is and has been for many years, to encourage competition.
    "Because we live on an island, Irish consumers depend very heavily on air transport. A monopoly in this area would not be in the best interests of Irish consumers."
    Ryanair's failed 2006 offer was also strongly opposed by major Aer Lingus shareholders, including the Irish government, company employees, pilots and their pension fund.
    It was ultimately blocked by EU anti-competition regulators.
    Earlier Thursday, Aer Lingus said it was forging closer links with United Airlines over a number of routes between Europe and the United States that may develop into a broader and deeper joint venture.
    "We are very excited by the potential of the partnership and believe that the unique combination of two leading transatlantic airlines can drive significant value for the shareholders of both companies," said Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion.
    But O'Leary was dismissive of this announcement, saying Aer Lingus faced an "isolated" future "as a small, peripheral, loss-making airline".
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    16 January 2009

    BBC Awaiting response to BBC Persian television

    The launch of BBC Persian television is part of the BBC's strategy for - in the words of the head of the World Service, Nigel Chapman - "having the right services in the right media for each part of the world".

    The new channel's annual budget of £15m ($22m) is being provided by the UK government.

    It will broadcast for eight hours a day, with a staff of 150, after its launch on 14 January.

    Its headquarters is in the new development of studios and offices being built at the BBC's traditional home, Broadcasting House, in the centre of London.

    The channel will show a wide variety of social and cultural programmes, as well as news.

    It will be available for the more than 100 million Farsi speakers around the world, but its main focus will be on Iran.

    Mr Chapman has said the preliminary target is to have seven million viewers in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan by 2011.

    Tehran suspicious

    The channel will draw on BBC resources around the world.

    It will also have its own correspondents in such key locations as Beirut, Islamabad, Kabul, Jerusalem and Washington.

    Nigel Chapman, Pooneh Ghoddoosi, and Behrouz Afagh (8 January 2009)
    The BBC says its standards of objectivity and impartiality will be maintained

    But there will be no correspondent in Iran - the authorities there have refused permission.

    Iranian officials have already denounced the station as being an agent for "espionage and psychological warfare", and have warned citizens not to get involved with a "lie-spreading" channel.

    Representatives from the BBC say they have no intention of attacking the Iranian government purely for the sake of it.

     The BBC is well respected by opinion formers within Iran and brand awareness is high - despite government media restrictions 
    Richard Sambrook
    Director, Global News division

    But, the fact that the station is being financed by the UK Foreign Office is likely to raise suspicions not just among officials, but among ordinary Iranians too.

    The BBC has said that its standards of objectivity and impartiality will be rigorously maintained, but some media analysts have seen the setting up of the new station as part of the UK government's attempt to retain some influence in the region.

    Underdeveloped market

    The BBC Persian radio station has been broadcasting for more than 65 years and still has a good reputation in Iran.

    But the BBC says that with the huge take-up of satellite TV in Iran - despite an official ban - it can only keep up its position there by offering a TV service.

    Parvin Sarfi of the BBC Persian Service looking at the London shops (1963)
    BBC Persian radio has been broadcasting for more than 65 years

    The same argument was made for the launch of BBC Arabic TV last year.

    Some critics suggested that the Corporation might have left it too late to enter the Arab market, where satellite TV channels have mushroomed in the past 15 years.

    Arab news stations like al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya had already established a dominant position.

    The Iranian market is not so developed, although Tehran has set up a number of its own satellite stations broadcasting news and other programmes - and they are becoming increasingly professional and influential.

    But analysts say there is a clearer niche for BBC Persian TV to fill than was apparent with its Arabic TV service.

    The BBC's reputation as a reliable news provider is still high in Iran - and it has less competition from other T.V.News stations broadcasting in Farsi than BBC Arabic faced in the Arab world. BBC Arabic Television was Lauched on 11 March 2008 

    [Cautious approach  ]                                                                          

    The new station is hoping to be able to interact with its audience in Iran through phone-ins and people sending in material that they have filmed themselves.

    Jon Leyne
    Iran only allows the BBC to have an English-language correspondent

    But it is taking a cautious approach and advising its viewers only to do what they consider safe.

    Iran's displeasure with the BBC's ability to provide uncensored news for its citizens has already shown itself in the partial blocking of BBC's Persian website.

    But jamming the new TV station - as Tehran has tried to do with other unwelcome satellite and radio channels in the past - may not be feasible this time.

    For the moment, both the BBC and the Iranian authorities are waiting with some wariness to see how the new service will be received by the viewers.

    The BBC hopes that Tehran will with time become more open and welcoming to the station.

    For its part, the Iranian government will be hoping that BBC Persian TV will make little impact with a public that until now has switched to satellite TV mainly for an uncensored diet of Hollywood films, Western music and fashion that it can not otherwise access. 

    Copyright © 2009  

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    15 January 2009

    All 155 Escape Jet’s Plunge Into Hudson

    All 155 Escape Jet’s Plunge Into Hudson

    Published: January 15, 2009 By The New York Times

     (January 16, 2009)

    Moments after the plane, a twin jetAirbus A320 bound for Charlotte, N.C., crashed into the river, at least a half-dozen small craft converged on the crippled aircraft and rescued the freezing passengers, two pilots and three flight attendants.

    “It would appear the pilot did a masterful job of landing in the river and making sure everybody got out,” MayorMichael R. Bloomberg said at an early evening news conference. “I had a long conversation with the pilot, he walked the plane twice and made sure that everybody was out.”

    Some of the passengers were taken to hospitals in New York and New Jersey, and several were treated for hypothermia after being plucked from the wings of the aircraft. It was one of the coldest days of the year in New York City, with the air temperature in the 20s and water temperature about 40 degrees.

    A spokeswoman for the F.A.A., Laura J. Brown, said that a flock of birds might have been sucked into the jet engines, but several aircraft manufacturers said such occurrences are rare.

    The two engines on the plane were manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture operated by General Electric and Snecma, a company based in France. A spokeswoman for CFM said she did not know the age of the engines or whether they had been involved in previous incidents.

    Stunned and shivering passengers who were rescued from the jetliner described a frightening scene in the three minutes from takeoff to a hard landing into the river, and then a surprisingly controlled exit from the partly submerged aircraft.

    Jeff Kolodjay, 31, who was traveling with his father and a brother and was seated over the left wing, said he heard the left engine blow.

    "The left engine just blew and there were flames,” Mr. Kolodjay said. “It started smelling a lot like gasoline. The pilot got on and said, ‘You guys got to brace for a hard impact.’ That’s when everyone started to say their prayers. I got to give it to the pilot, he did a hell of a landing.”

    Alberto Panero, another passenger, told CNN: “Within a couple of minutes all of a sudden you just heard a loud bang, and the plane shook a bit and immediately you could smell smoke, like fire. Although it didn’t seem like it was out of control we knew something was going on because we were turning back.”

    Mr. Panero added: “We just hit, and somehow the plane just stayed afloat and we were able to get on the raft and, it’s just incredible right now that everyone’s still alive.”

    Mr. Kolodjay said that the plane started taking on water soon after it hit the river. “It was filled up to our waist by the time we got off,” he said.

    Accounts from witnesses, including those on the Weehawken Ferry who aided in the rescue, were equally gripping.

    David Watta, a 42-year old vice president of Product Management at Shermans Travel Media, was heading home on the first ferry to reach the plane.

    Mr. Watta said in a telephone interview that his ferry was diverted to the plane after about two minutes out of port.

    "A lot of people were in shock, and a lot of people were freezing,” he said. “They loaded about fifty onto the boat, and we gave them our coats to warm them up and tried to comfort them. We were holding people, hugging them, reassuring them, holding there hands, warming them with our body heat. We tried to take them to the back of the ferry which was warmer because it was furthest from the entrance.

    He added: “We provided cell phones so they could call loved ones, a lot of them were so cold that they couldn’t dial so we dialed for them. I would say that everyone on the ferry were heroes for the day, they were all civilians who stepped up in a time of need to help their fellow citizens.”

    Ms. Brown of the F.A.A. said the plane took off from Runway 4 at LaGuardia, made a left turn after takeoff, which is standard procedure, and moments later glided to an unexpected stop on the icy, gray Hudson.

    Port Imperial Ferry, which operates between Manhattan and Weehawken, shut down service during the rescue operation.

    Coast Guard personnel rushed to the scene, from the stations in New York and Sandy Hook, N.J. In addition there were four helicopters dispatched from Atlantic City.

    Most witnesses on the Manhattan side of the Hudson recalled an eerie sight of a plane flying too low over the Hudson River, sending chilling reminders of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    All 155 Escape Jet’s Plunge Into Hudson

    Published: January 15, 2009

    Fulmer Duckworth, 41, an employee at the Bank of America who watched the incident unfold from the 29th floor of his building at West 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue. “It didn’t occur to me that it was a plane in the water.”

    Mr. Duckworth said he saw the plane spin counterclockwise in the water, and then begin drifting down the river with the current. The plane had taken off at 3:26 p.m., and the tide was on its way out, pulling the downed craft south down the river as the number of blinking red lights on the river and the shoreline multiplied.

    “Actually it looked like everybody was really calm, like on the subway platform when it’s really, really crowded, and everyone’s standing shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “Everyone was standing right up against each other on the wings.”

    Witnesses said the plane, described by the manufacturer as a medium-range jetliner, floated for two or three minutes before it started to sink as it drifted downstream, its nose poking up.

    “It didn’t break up at all,” Mr. Duckworth said. “Everything you could see looked perfectly intact, like you could take it out of the water and fly it.

    Another witness, Matt Mireles, who sent an e-mail message to The New York Times, said that from the window of his Upper West Side apartment he saw white smoke trailing from the left engine shortly before it glided onto the icy gray water.

    The Airbus has sold nearly 3,600 airplanes in the A320 series since it was introduced in 1988. There have been 19 major accidents and 631 fatalities. There have also been 33 non-fatal accidents involving engine failures, nose gear problems and minor collisions.

    At the airport in Charlotte, where the flight was scheduled to arrive at 5:16 p.m. and then depart for Seattle at 6:10, the arrival board said the plane was still expected to arrive on time late into the afternoon.

    But it would not.

    “I just want to get warm and grab my family,” Mr. Kolodjay said as he stood on the promenade at 12th Avenue and 40th Street, blowing on his hands.Copyright © 2009 Asnycnow15 News/Blogger
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