the world as we write it
Friday, August 29, 2008
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McCain picks Alaska Gov. Palin as running mate
Sen. John McCain has picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, a senior McCain campaign official told CNN on Friday.
Palin, 44, who's in her first term as governor, is a pioneering figure in Alaska, the first woman and the youngest person to hold the state's top political job.
She catapulted to the post with a strong reputation as a political outsider, forged during her stint in local politics. She was mayor and a council member of the small town of Wasila and was chairman of the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates Alaska's oil and gas resources, in 2003 and 2004.
The conservative Palin defeated two so-called political insiders to win the governor's job -- incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski in the GOP primary and former two-term Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles in the 2006 general election. iReport.com: What do you think of McCain's VP pick?
Palin made her name in part by backing tough ethical standards for politicians. During the first legislative session after her election, her administration passed a state ethics law overhaul.
Palin's term has not been without controversy. A legislative investigation is looking into allegations that Palin fired Alaska's public safety commissioner because he refused to fire the governor's former brother-in-law, a state trooper.
Palin acknowledged that a member of her staff made a call to a trooper in which the staffer suggested he was speaking for the governor.
Palin has admitted that the call could be interpreted as pressure to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, who was locked in a child-custody battle with Palin's sister.
"I am truly disappointed and disturbed to learn that a member of this administration contacted the Department of Public Safety regarding Trooper Wooten," Palin said. "At no time did I authorize any member of my staff to do so."
Palin suspended the staffer who made the call.
Palin has focused on energy and natural resources policy during her short stint in office, and she is known for her support of drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, a position opposed by McCain but supported by many grass-roots Republicans.
Her biography on the state governor's Web site says one of the two major pieces of legislation passed during her first legislative session was a competitive process to construct a gas pipeline.
Palin started Alaska's Petroleum Systems Integrity Office, an oversight and maintenance agency for the state's oil and gas equipment, facilities and infrastructure. She created the Climate Change Subcabinet that would forge a climate change strategy, according to the Web site.
At present, Palin chairs the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a multistate panel "that promotes the conservation and efficient recovery of domestic oil and natural gas resources while protecting health, safety and the environment," the biography says.
She has been named chair of the National Governors Association's Natural Resources Committee. That panel is focused on legislation to ensure that federal policies take state priorities into account in agriculture, energy, environmental protection and natural resource management.
She is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and takes part in two of Alaska's popular pastimes -- fishing and hunting.
The governor's biography said Palin's other priorities have been "education and workforce development, public health and safety, and transportation and infrastructure development."
The biography touts other achievements during her time as governor -- the investment of $5 billion in state savings, overhaul of educational funding and implementation of a program to help low-income elderly Alaskans.
Born in Idaho, she is a longtime Alaskan and a Protestant. Her biography said she arrived in Alaska in 1964, "when her parents came to teach school in Skagway."
She graduated from Wasila High School in 1982 and received a bachelor of science degree in communications-journalism from the University of Idaho in 1987.
Her husband is Todd Palin, an oil production operator on Alaska's North Slope. They have five children, including a son who enlisted in the Army last year.
Congressional Quarterly notes Sarah Palin's other past occupations, including commercial fishing company owner, outdoor recreational equipment company owner and sports reporter.
Palin also made an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 2002, Congressional Quarterly said.
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Nokia shares fall before MSCI index change: traders
Friday, Aug 29, 2008 12:26PM UTC
HELSINKI (Reuters) - Shares in the world's top cell phone maker Nokia <NOK1V.HE> fell sharply on Friday as an imminent change in a key MSCI index put pressure on the stock price, traders said.
Shares in Nokia were 2.6 percent lower at 17 euros by 8:11 a.m. EDT, weighing on the DJ Stoxx European technology index <.SX8P> which was 1.1 percent weaker. The shares traded as low as 16.90 euros.
"The index is being rebalanced tonight and the proforma number of Nokia shares is going to decrease," said an MSCI Barra spokesman.
Traders in Helsinki said the rebalancing in the closely followed index meant that some 8 million shares in Nokia were to be sold, hurting the stock.
Nokia declined to comment.
Traders added that Nokia was also pressured by gloomy comments from its closest rival Samsung <005930.KS> in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, which increased fears that the economic downturn would hurt consumer product demand during the key Christmas sales period.
"The seasonal gain is being overcome by the macroeconomic weakness," the paper quoted Samsung's investor relations head, Chu Woosik, as telling an investment conference in Seoul.
"We see the markets in the U.S. and Europe are softening quite a bit, although emerging-market demand seems to be holding quite well," he was quoted as saying.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki in Helsinki and Sitaraman Shankar in London; Editing by Erica Billingham)
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EU, mobile operators clash over call billing
Thursday, Aug 28, 2008 3:11PM UTC
By Huw Jones
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Mobile phone operators may face legislation from the European Commission to crack down on what the EU executive sees as overcharging, but industry said such a step would amount to micro-management.
European Union Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding is concerned that some mobile operators are charging by the minute rather than second for calls made while traveling between EU states, her spokesman said.
"In some cases operators are charging you for a call of one minute two seconds what they can charge you for two minutes. This leads to overcharging on average of 24 percent for calls made and 19 percent for calls received," the spokesman told a news briefing.
Mobile operators say they should have the fundamental right to determine their own prices in a competitive market as long as they are transparent about billing increments.
"The regulation of billing increments within the Eurotariff or any other roaming tariff would amount to micro-management and would risk further erosion of competitive differentiation in the market," said David Pringle, spokesman for the GSMA mobile industry lobby.
"Billing increments are a point of differentiation that operators can use to appeal to customers with different preferences," Pringle said.
In France, Spain, Lithuania and Portugal, operators have to bill by the second, but national legislation is not practical for roamed calls, the Commission spokesman said.
"This is an issue national regulators have recommended the European Commission to address ... If you tackle this issue you have to tackle it in EU legislation. This is something the European Commission will consider in the weeks to come," he added.
The EU has already adopted a law to cap the price of roamed voice calls for three years, with the cap due to be lowered on Saturday and in August next year before the law expires in 2010.
Reding is due to unveil proposals by early October to extend the voice roaming caps for another three years to 2013 and introduce a cap on roamed text messages.
She is also keen on capping the price of using a laptop or mobile phone to surf the Web while traveling in other EU states but it is unclear whether the rest of the Commission will back her.
Any plan for mandatory billing by the second would be included in her proposal. EU states and the European Parliament would have the final say.
(Editing by Dale Hudson)
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Microsoft to buy ciao.com price comparison firm
Friday, Aug 29, 2008 11:54AM UTC
LONDON (Reuters) - Microsoft has agreed to buy Greenfield Online, owner of European price comparison website ciao.com, for about $486 million to boost its Internet search and e-commerce business in Europe.
Microsoft, whose $47.5 billion bid to buy Yahoo earlier this year failed after a protracted battle, said on Friday the acquisition should benefit its Live Search platform.
Internet search is dominated by Google, which has 62 percent of the global search market and 79 percent in Europe, according to the most recent data published by Web usage tracker ComScore.
Microsoft has a 2 percent market share in Europe and 9 percent worldwide, behind both Google and Yahoo. In Europe, Microsoft is also outranked by online auction site eBay and Russia's Yandex.
"The team at Ciao has built a passionate consumer community based on intuitive technology and extensive merchant relationships that we believe will deliver incremental benefit to the Microsoft Live Search platform," said Microsoft's vice president for Windows and online services, Tami Reller.
Ciao.com offers advice on purchases, mainly of consumer electronics, and encourages users to join a network of shopping experts to share opinions. It makes its revenues from e-commerce, merchant referrals and advertising sales.
Microsoft's offer of $17.50 per share betters an earlier proposal by media-focused U.S. buyout firm Quadrangle Group to acquire the company for $15.50 a share, and represents a slight premium to Greenfield's closing price of $17.25 on Thursday.
On August 26, Greenfield had said it had received a $17.50 per share offer but did not reveal from whom. The latest offer represents a premium of about 10 percent over Greenfield's closing share price on August 25.
Microsoft said it had agreed to sell off Greenfield Online's main business, which surveys consumer opinion online and sells the results to market researchers, to an unnamed financial buyer.
The companies expect both deals to close during the fourth quarter of 2008. Completion of the Greenfield sale to Microsoft does not depend on Microsoft's disposal of the online survey business, the two companies said.
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan in London and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty in Bangalore; Editing by Quentin Bryar)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 6:56 AM
Gameworld: Videogaming enters the Third Dimension
Friday, Aug 29, 2008 5:1AM UTC
By John Gaudiosi
SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - Videogamers, your glasses to transport you into three dimensional space.
Visual computing technology company Nvidia <NVDA.O> has unveiled the first mainstream 3D gaming technology at the inaugural NVISION 08 conference in San Jose, which focused on the convergence of technology with Hollywood, games and business.
With Hollywood migrating to 3D for event movies like "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and next year's "Avatar" from James Cameron, the electronics and gaming industries have created new technology that lets home systems and PCs also deliver true 3D.
This technology uses clear 3D glasses similar to those used at an IMAX theater.
On the show floor, games like upcoming Spore and Call of Duty: World at War and recent releases like Race Driver Grid, Devil May Cry 4, and Unreal Tournament 3 were playable on 73-inch Mitsubishi 3D Ready 1080p DLP TVs and Viewsonic 3D Ready 120Hz LCD displays.
Publishers like Ubisoft <UBIP.PA>, which is developing the game based on "Avatar," are already taking advantage of this new technology for new gameplay experiences to be released next year.
"Stereoscopic technology will have gamers going back two or three years and playing older games just to see how they look in 3D," said Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia.
A packed theater of thousands of engineers, designers, developers, gamers and business professionals from around the world put on 3D glasses and watched a spectacular castle siege in Microsoft's 2005 PC strategy game, Age of Empires III.
Huang also focused on the future of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. There are currently over 100 million active global gamers playing MMO games like World of Warcraft, EverQuest II and Pirates of the Caribbean Online.
"We believe the notion of an MMO and a social network will converge and create a new type of virtual world where people can meet and hang out and just chat with their friends," said Huang.
Korean developer Nurien showed off its Nurien Social Network, a hybrid game world that allows players to create and dress their avatar and then design their home.
This home serves as a 3D homepage for web browsing, watching videos and playing games like a dancing competition.
Tricia Helfer, who starred virtually last year as General Kilian Qatar in Electronic Arts' Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars game, showed how 3D technology is influencing Hollywood and her Sci-Fi Channel show, "Battlestar Galactica."
"What they're doing with visual computing is transforming a lot of industries," said Helfer. "I see on the set in Hollywood every day what computer technology is doing for entertainment."
Acclaimed game creator Lorne Lanning told the conference how game technology is opening up new opportunities for filmmakers.
"Videogame engines provide an entirely different logic to how we're thinking about making films," said Lanning.
"The game design industry grasps this easily. The filmmakers are taking some time to figure this out, but eventually they're going to get it. Hollywood loves it because using a game engine brings the budget down."
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmiht)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 6:54 AM
GeoEye signs deal to provide imagery to Google
Friday, Aug 29, 2008 9:10AM UTC
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - GeoEye Inc on Thursday said it will provide imagery from its new $502 million high-resolution GeoEye-1 satellite to Google Earth and Google Maps after the spacecraft is launched on September 4.
GeoEye spokesman Mark Brender said the Google logo was on the first stage of the Delta II rocket that will launch the new satellite, which will provide the highest resolution commercial color imagery available on the market.
"Google is interested in collecting the highest quality satellite imagery available and as a symbol of this commitment has agreed to put the company logo on the first stage of our launch vehicle," Brender said.
He said Google did not have any direct or indirect financial interest in the satellite or in GeoEye, nor did it pay to have its logo emblazoned on the rocket.
If all goes well with the launch, GeoEye's new satellite will be the world's highest resolution commercial earth-imaging satellite, offering images at .41 meters resolution in black and white and 1.65 meters in color.
Under current government rules, the company can only offer the public half-meter images.
Google spokeswoman Kate Hurowitz said Google would begin receiving half-meter resolution imagery from the new satellite after 45 to 60 days, during which the company will make sure all the satellite's systems are up and running.
"The combination of GeoEye's high-resolution, map-accurate satellite imagery from GeoEye-1 and Google's search and display capabilities provides users with access to rich, interactive visual image maps of the Earth," Hurowitz said. She gave no details on the financial terms of the agreement.
Google already uses imagery collected by another high-resolution GeoEye satellite, IKONOS, as well as imagery from other sources, including GeoEye's main rival, Digital Globe, which plans an initial public offering this year.
DigitalGlobe launched its new high-resolution satellite, WorldView-1, in late 2007, which offers half-meter resolution and can collect up to 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles) of imagery each day, albeit only in black and white.
Google will continue to use imagery from other providers, but GeoEye will provide its imagery exclusively to Google, not any other on-line mapping websites, Brender said.
GeoEye, which went public in September 2006, has expanded dramatically over the past five years, quadrupling its work force and reporting large revenue and profit increases.
Its shares were hammered in recent months on news of a delay in the launch of the new satellite, which was originally planned in April, and given a slump in orders from the Pentagon's National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
But GeoEye Chief Executive Matthew O'Connell said the launch of GeoEye-1 should help spur U.S. government orders and buoy the company's shares. He predicted strong growth over the next five years, bolstered by growing commercial, global and government demand for satellite imagery.
GeoEye's shares closed 2.4 percent higher at $23.18 on Thursday, up sharply from a low of $16.05 in May, but still well below a 52-week high of $37.37 in January.
(Editing by Gary Hill)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 6:51 AM
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Obama: "We are a better country than this"
Friday, Aug 29, 2008 2:35AM UTC
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent
DENVER (Reuters) - Barack Obama, preparing to take a historic step as the Democratic presidential nominee, launched a sharp assault on Republican rival John McCain on Thursday and promised to reverse the economic failures of the last eight years.
Obama, the first black White House nominee of a major U.S. party, said McCain had supported the policies of President George W. Bush that were responsible for the faltering U.S. economy and decline in U.S. global standing.
"We are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery to the Democratic convention.
"On November 4th, we must stand up and say: 'Eight is enough,'" he said. "We are a better country than this."
Obama said McCain was out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of Americans and had been "anything but independent" on key issues like the economy, health care and education.
"It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it," said Obama, who has been criticized by some Democrats for not taking a tougher line against McCain.
"The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans -- have built, and we are to restore that legacy," he said.
Obama was set to deliver the biggest speech in a career filled with big speeches later in Denver's open-air football stadium before an expected 75,000 supporters on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech -- a landmark in the U.S. civil rights movement.
The televised acceptance speech by Obama, who was formally nominated on Wednesday, gives the first-term Illinois senator his biggest national audience until he meets McCain in late September in the first of three face-to-face debates before the election.
The speech kicks off a two-month sprint to the general election against McCain, who tried to steal the limelight with word that he has chosen his running mate and will appear with the choice on Friday in Ohio.
"Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time?" Obama asked, citing McCain's voting record in the Senate.
"I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change," he said.
Former Vice President Al Gore, the Nobel Prize and Academy Award winner who lost a disputed election to Bush in 2000, said things would have been very different if he had won.
"I doubt anyone would argue now that election didn't matter," Gore told a stadium filled nearly to capacity with flag-waving Democrats, describing Obama as "a clean break from the politics of partisanship and bitter division."
Obama, an early opponent of the Iraq war, promised to "end this war in Iraq responsibly" but said he would finish the fight against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and would be willing to use U.S. military power when necessary.
"As commander-in-chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home," Obama said.
"I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons," he said.
Obama is running even with McCain in most opinion polls, although a Gallup daily tracking poll on Thursday showed him beginning to get an edge from the convention and moving out to a 6-point advantage, up five points.
Obama addressed criticism he has not offered enough specifics along with his sometimes soaring rhetoric, restating an ambitious domestic agenda that includes a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans and an end to dependence on Middle East oil in 10 years.
He said McCain's emphasis on new offshore oil drilling was a stop-gap measure and not a long-term energy solution. He promised to invest $150 billion over the next decade to develop affordable, renewable energy sources.
While Obama's policy proposals were not new, national conventions are often the first time voters pay attention to a presidential race. Opinion polls show many still unfamiliar with Obama and concerned about his readiness for the job.
Supporters were slow to make their way into the stadium, with many seats in the upper decks still empty as the sun set during performances by singers Stevie Wonder and Sheryl Crow.
McCain launched an advertisement on cable television in which he spoke directly to Obama through the camera.
"Too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I wanted to stop and say, congratulations," said McCain, who has been scathing in his criticism of Obama.
"How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day. Tomorrow, we'll be back at it. But tonight, senator, job well done."
The last presidential candidate to accept the nomination in an open-air football stadium was John Kennedy, who spoke to the Democratic convention at the Los Angeles Coliseum before 80,000 supporters in 1960.
(Editing by David Wiessler)
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Putin accuses U.S. of orchestrating Georgian war
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of orchestrating the conflict in Georgia to benefit one of its presidential election candidates.
In an exclusive interview with CNN's Matthew Chance in the Black Sea city of Sochi Thursday, Putin said the U.S. had encouraged Georgia to attack the autonomous region of South Ossetia.
Putin told CNN his defense officials had told him it was done to benefit a presidential candidate -- Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama are competing to succeed George W. Bush -- although he presented no evidence to back it up.
"U.S. citizens were indeed in the area in conflict," Putin said. "They were acting in implementing those orders doing as they were ordered, and the only one who can give such orders is their leader."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino blasted Putin's statements, saying they were "patently false."
"To suggest that the United States orchestrated this on behalf of a political candidate just sounds not rational," she said.
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood concurred, and labeled Putin's statements as "ludicrous."
"Russia is responsible for the crisis," Wood said in an off-camera meeting with reporters in Washington on Thursday. "For the Russians to say they are not responsible for what happened in Georgia is ludicrous. ... Russia is to blame for this crisis and the world is responding to what Russia has done."
When told that many diplomats in the United States and Europe blame Russia for provoking the conflict and for invading Georgia, Putin said Russia had no choice but to invade Georgia after dozens of its peacekeepers in South Ossetia were killed. He told Chance it was to avert a human calamity. iReport.com: First-person accounts from the center of the conflict
The former Russian president, still considered the most powerful man in the country, said he was disappointed the U.S. had not done more to stop Georgia's attack.
Putin recalled he was watching the situation in Georgia and South Ossetia unfold when he was at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games on August 8.
He said he spoke to U.S. President George W. Bush, also attending, who told the Russian prime minister he didn't want war -- but Putin spoke to CNN of his disappointment that the U.S. administration didn't do more to stop Georgia early in the conflict.
Also Thursday Putin announced economic measures which he said were unrelated to the fighting with Georgia. Nineteen U.S. poultry meat companies would be banned from exporting their products to Russia because they had failed health and safety tests, and 29 other companies had been warned to improve their standards or face the same ban, Putin said.
Putin said Russia's health and agricultural ministries had randomly tested the poultry products and found them to be full of antibiotics and arsenic.
While Putin repeated that the bans were not related to the Georgian conflict, they indicate the measures some Western countries -- particularly in Europe -- fear if Russia goes on a diplomatic offensive.
Russia is trying to counterbalance mounting pressure from the West over its military action in Georgia and its recognition of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
But Russia's hopes of winning international support for its actions in Georgia were dashed Thursday, when China and other Asian nations expressed concern about tension in the region.
The joint declaration from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, said the countries hoped any further conflict could be resolved peacefully.
"The presidents reaffirmed their commitment to the principles of respect for historic and cultural traditions of every country and efforts aimed at preserving the unity of a state and its territorial integrity," the declaration said, The Associated Press reported.
"Placing the emphasis exclusively on the use of force has no prospects and hinders a comprehensive settlement of local conflicts," AP reported the group as saying.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had appealed to the SCO at a summit in Tajikistan Thursday to support its actions, saying it would serve as a "serious signal for those who are trying to justify the aggression."
On Wednesday a U.S. ship carrying aid docked in Georgia, while Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband traveled to the Ukraine, which is worried about Russia's intentions in the region, to offer the UK's support.
Miliband equated Moscow's offensive in Georgia with the Soviet tanks that invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring democratic reforms in 1968, and demanded Russia "change course," AP reported. iReport.com: Do remember the Cold War?
Bombed by The Black Rider at 1:17 PM
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Jamaica sweeps the sprint golds in Beijing
Thursday, Aug 21, 2008 1:37PM UTC
By Sean Maguire
BEIJING (Reuters) - Jamaica made a clean sweep of Olympic sprint golds on Thursday with victory in the women's 200 meters to complete their domination over the United States.
The Americans, the traditional power in track and field, had a nightmare night with both the women and the men dropping their batons during the heats of the 4x100 meter relay to crash out.
The United States were also beaten in the final of women's softball, the first time the Americans have failed to win gold in that event.
The Caribbean island's Veronica Campbell-Brown powered through to gold in the 200m, taking a meter's lead by the halfway mark.
Her face was creased with pain but broke into a broad grin at the finish, where she dropped to her knees for a prayer.
Campbell-Brown also won the event in 2004. American world champion Allyson Felix came second and 100 meter silver medalist Kerron Stewart of Jamaica was third.
The victory will bring more rejoicing to an island already exultant over the two world records and double sprint gold of Usain "Lightning" Bolt. His jawdropping speed has brought superlatives pouring forth from media and commentators.
Bolt, 22 on Thursday, collected his second gold in a rain-soaked ceremony in the Bird's Nest stadium and gave his signature lightning bolt gesture for the cameras.
The head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has questioned the Jamaican's sportsmanship, taking exception to his exuberant celebration of his 100 meter win on Saturday when he pounded his chest even before crossing the finish line.
"I think he should show more respect, shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones. Not making gestures like the one he made," Jacques Rogge said. "He still has to mature."
Jamaican coach and former sprinter Don Quarrie defended Bolt, saying his celebrations were just youthful high spirits, from a man who is "playful, funny, happy".
The United States have won a major sprint medal at every Games since 1984 and this year's collection of silvers and bronzes will be little consolation for a team doing worse than anticipated in track and field, a traditional strength.
The failure in the relays, an unexpected loss in the final of the women's water polo the Netherlands and defeat to Japan in the softball will be salt in the wounds for the Americans.
Softball will not be at the 2012 Games and the U.S. had won every gold on offer since it became an Olympic sport in 1996.
That will do little to chip at the dominance of China in the medals table. The hosts have a commanding 45 golds to the U.S.'s 27, a lead that China says shows it now has the sporting prowess to match its growing economic might and superpower clout.
In Athens, the U.S. team topped the medals table with 36 golds to China's 32, but the hosts have invested heavily in selecting and training athletes intensively over many years.
"The world has to learn to live with a change of geopolitical nature," the IOC's Rogge said, adding that China's sporting success would last "as long as their sports system lasts".
One sport where Americans did enjoy success was women's beach volleyball.
An excited home crowd sheltered from torrential rain as China's Tian Jia and Wang Jie lost to the defending champions, U.S. pair Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, in straight sets.
May-Treanor and Walsh, who have dominated the sport for five years, left the door open to a return in London 2012, but said that might depend on plans to have children.
The rain did not matter to the men's marathon swimmers.
Dutchman Maarten van der Weijden, who was given only a slim chance of survival when diagnosed with leukemia seven years ago, won the 10km swim, one of the most testing Olympic events.
A stem cell transplant and chemotherapy saved van der Weijden's life.
"That makes it extra special," he said. "It proves that even after such an illness you can win gold."
HORSE DOPE TESTS
Equestrian sports were embarrassed by positive drug tests on four horses that could lead to Norway's Tony Andre Hansen losing his bronze medal.
Four horses tested positive for capsaicin, which is banned for its hyposensitizing and pain-relieving properties.
Hansen, on his horse Camiro, was a member of the Norwegian team that won bronze in Monday's team show jumping competition. A decision on his team's medal will come after a B-sample test.
"It is certainly a serious blow to the sport and we are very well aware of the possible implications it can have," said Sven Holmberg, the chairman of the International Equestrian Federation's jumping committee.
(Reporting by Beijing Olympics bureau; Editing by Jon Bramley)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 6:55 AM
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
"Lightning" Bolt strikes again in Beijing
Wednesday, Aug 20, 2008 5:46PM UTC
By Andrew Cawthorne
BEIJING (Reuters) - Jamaica's Usain "Lightning" Bolt roared to gold in the 200 meters on Wednesday to become the first man since Carl Lewis in 1984 to win an Olympic sprint double.
Bolt, whose father says owes his speed and power to the island's local yam vegetable, charged to a world record time of 19.30 seconds, falling to the floor in joy at the end.
"I'm Number One," he mouthed at TV cameras, beating his chest and blowing kisses at the 91,000 crowd in the Bird's Nest.
Bolt had won the 100m at the showcase Olympic stadium in swashbuckling style at the weekend, also setting a world record.
This time, he again joked on his way to the block, firing an imaginary arrow in the air, but looked deadly serious as he opened up a big gap and steamed through the finishing line to beat Michael Johnson's 1996 record by two hundredths of a second.
"I knew the track was a fast track but I didn't think this was possible. I'm shocked," Bolt said afterwards.
Johnson dubbed Bolt "Superman 2" during commentary for the BBC. "I looked at his start and just went, 'Wow'. Guys that tall should not be able to start like that," he said.
Competitors were awe-struck. "It's a brutal ass-whipping we took," said Kim Collins, of St Kitts and Nevis, who was seventh.
Nine men have now won the double sprint in Olympic history.
Bolt, who turns 22 on Thursday, has established himself as the joint hero of the Games along with American swimmer Michael Phelps who took an unprecedented eight golds.
Just as Phelps's exploits in the Water Cube, passing Mark Spitz's 1972 Munich record, have thrilled Americans, so Bolt has swelled national pride across his Caribbean homeland.
The lanky runner started sprinting only when a school cricket coach noticed his speed as a fast bowler.
Right after Bolt's triumph, Melaine Walker added to Jamaica's joy by taking gold in the women's 400 meters hurdles.
While her team mate Bolt and America's Phelps have given the standout individual performances so far in the August 8-24 Games, it is team China whose overall record has dazzled the world.
CHINESE GOLD RUSH
The hosts, who came second to the United States in Athens 2004, have 45 gold medals, a seemingly unassailable lead that marks their emergence as an Olympics superpower.
That will delight the Communist government, for whom the $43 billion Games are a symbol of China's new global standing.
Local windsurfer Yin Jian pumped and glided her way to a first sailing gold for China. Then Wu Jingyu won gold in women's taekwondo on another successful day for the hosts.
The United States lie second with a less-than-expected 26 golds, while next Olympics hosts Britain are a surprising third with 16 golds, their best showing in a century.
Global conflict zones like Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories struggled to send athletes to China, and some competitors had to prepare in appalling circumstances.
Swimmers have used under-size public pools, while runners have had to dodge bullets.
Against all odds, though, Rohullah Nikpai won the first Olympic medal in Afghanistan's history -- a taekwondo bronze.
"I'm very happy," said Nikpai, who fell to his knees, hugged coaches and wept after beating world champion Juan Antonio Ramos.
Many Afghans were unaware of Nikpai's win because power is intermittent and few households have cable television.
The International Olympic Committee is delighted at unprecedented global interest in the Games.
It said online broadcasts and enormous viewership within China, the world's most populous country, had made the Beijing Olympics the most watched in history.
A record 1.2 billion people are thought to have seen the opening ceremony and 40 million people in the United States alone saw Phelps win his eighth gold medal, an 18-year high for the NBC network's Saturday evening viewing.
Trying to attract a younger audience, the Olympic movement is embracing the Internet and also allowing new telegenic sports.
In the first Olympic 10 km open water swim, Russia's Larisa Ilchenko won by less than two seconds from Britain's Keri-Anne Payne and Cassie Patten, sprinting past the pair in the last 100 meters of the jostling, rough-and-tumble contest.
South Africa amputee Natalie du Toit won admiration for her pluck in swimming the 10 km but there was no medal for the 24-year-old, who lost her left leg in a motorcycle accident in 2001. She finished 16th, around a minute behind Ilchenko.
As well as the water race, TV-friendly BMX biking got its first start, bringing some counter culture attitude to the Games.
To the sound of thumping music, bikers race down a three-storey start ramp, fly over rolling dirt bumps in helmets and protective padding, and crash their tiny bikes recklessly in action-packed races that last less than 40 seconds.
"Being a fast, intense spectator sport, it suits young people's expectations," said France's Anne-Caroline Chausson, who crashed but made it into the semi-finals.
(Reporting by Beijing Olympics bureau, editing by Ralph Gowling)
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Reports: Madrid plane crash kills dozens
A Spanish plane with more than 170 people on board went off the runway Wednesday at Madrid's Barajas Airport, killing at least 90 people, officials said.
The crash during take off reportedly followed an explosion on board the budget airline jet, sending up a plume of smoke visible from several kilometers away.
The official death toll is 90, according to Interior Ministry officials. But local officials are telling CNN's Spanish sister station CNN+ that 26 people taken to hospital are the only survivors.
Some of those survivors have serious injuries and others non-life threatening injuries, Spanish Red Cross spokeswoman Olivia Acosa told CNN. Many of the injured were treated for burns, she said.
The incident happened as Spanair Flight 5022 was taking off from the main runway, the official said. It was headed to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, a more than two-hour flight.
The Red Cross said it has set up a field hospital at the airport to treat the injured and is offering psychological counseling to the victims' families.
Clouds of gray and black smoke billowed from the site, and even local media cameras could not get a close view of the accident scene. A helicopter passed overhead, dumping what appeared to be water on reported grassfires sparked by the blaze.
Ambulances were seen speeding in and out of the airport and dozens of emergency vehicles gathered at one entrance point.
Spanish journalist Carlota Fomina told CNN said she had spoken to one of the passengers who had been on board the plane at the time of the crash who described an explosion and fire at the back of the plane.
She said the plane appeared to make a relatively controlled landing.
CNN sister station CNN+ is reporting that the plane may have veered off the runway after experiencing engine problems. Spanish media reported at least 11 fire engines were dispatched to control the blaze.
The accident happened as Spanair Flight 5022 -- also carrying passengers from Lufthansa Flight 2554 -- was taking off at about 2:45 p.m. (8:45 a.m. ET), an airport official said.
Spanair, owned by Scandinavian airline SAS, is one of Spain's three major private carriers.
An SAS official said there were 166 passengers plus six crew on the plane, which was a code-share flight with Lufthansa Airline, indicating the jet may have been carrying German vacationers.
Barajas Airport closed after the crash but reopened more than two hours later, allowing a limited number of take-offs and landings, the airport official said. iReport: Send us your pictures, video, information.
It was the first fatal accident at the airport since December 1983, when 93 people were killed as two Spanish airliners collided while taxiing for takeoff.
The airport, eight miles (13 km) northeast of central Madrid, is Spain's busiest, handling more than 40 million passengers a year.
The United States' National Transportation Safety Board is sending an investigation team to Madrid to aid in the crash investigation because the aircraft is an American-made McDonnell Douglas MD-82, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said.
He said the group will depart "as soon as we can gather the team together."
Spanair has set up a local emergency number for family members, +34 800-400-200.
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Motorola unveils low-end phones for music and Web
Wednesday, Aug 20, 2008 9:47AM UTC
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Motorola Inc, the world's third-largest handset maker, unveiled two new low-end phones on Wednesday that allow users to listen to songs and surf the Web.
Motorola, which has failed to come up with a strong follow-up to its once-lauded Razr phone, has lost out to market leader Nokia and other rivals since early last year.
The firm, which faces stiff competition from handsets such as Apple Inc's popular touch-screen iPhone, has said it would launch 50 new devices this year, including advanced phones.
One new handset is a music-enabled camera phone -- the W388 -- that sells for under $100.
The second device is a low-end third-generation (3G) mobile phone -- the VE538 -- which goes for less than $250 and offers one-click mobile social networking, photo uploading and blogging at various websites.
The two new products will be shipped to Asia-Pacific markets first -- before being rolled out globally -- by September.
"People don't buy products any more, they buy what those products can create for them -- solutions, dreams, whatever they are looking for in life," said Ian Chapman-Banks, the General Manager for Motorola's Mobile Devices business in Asia. In July, Motorola posted a small quarterly profit after more than a year of disappointing results, as it sold more mobile phones than expected, thanks to strength in North America.
The firm, which narrowly kept its No. 3 ranking in the global phone market ahead of South Korea's LG Electronics Inc, also forecast a full-year profit that beat Wall Street estimates as it plans new products and further cost cutting.
It plans to separate its mobile phone unit from the rest of the company in the third quarter of 2009.
(Reporting by Jennifer Tan; Editing by Kim Coghill)
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McCain takes lead over Obama: poll
Wednesday, Aug 20, 2008 3:16PM UTC
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a sharp turnaround, Republican John McCain has opened a 5-point lead on Democrat Barack Obama in the U.S. presidential race and is seen as a stronger manager of the economy, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
McCain leads Obama among likely U.S. voters by 46 percent to 41 percent, wiping out Obama's solid 7-point advantage in July and taking his first lead in the monthly Reuters/Zogby poll.
The reversal follows a month of attacks by McCain, who has questioned Obama's experience, criticized his opposition to most new offshore oil drilling and mocked his overseas trip.
The poll was taken Thursday through Saturday as Obama wrapped up a weeklong vacation in Hawaii that ceded the political spotlight to McCain, who seized on Russia's invasion of Georgia to emphasize his foreign policy views.
"There is no doubt the campaign to discredit Obama is paying off for McCain right now," pollster John Zogby said. "This is a significant ebb for Obama."
McCain now has a 9-point edge, 49 percent to 40 percent, over Obama on the critical question of who would be the best manager of the economy -- an issue nearly half of voters said was their top concern in the November 4 presidential election.
That margin reversed Obama's 4-point edge last month on the economy over McCain, an Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war who has admitted a lack of economic expertise and shows far greater interest in foreign and military policy.
McCain has been on the offensive against Obama during the last month over energy concerns, with polls showing strong majorities supporting his call for an expansion of offshore oil drilling as gasoline prices hover near $4 a gallon.
Obama had opposed new offshore drilling, but said recently he would support a limited expansion as part of a comprehensive energy program.
That was one of several recent policy shifts for Obama, as he positions himself for the general election battle. But Zogby said the changes could be taking a toll on Obama's support, particularly among Democrats and self-described liberals.
"That hairline difference between nuance and what appears to be flip-flopping is hurting him with liberal voters," Zogby said.
Obama's support among Democrats fell 9 percentage points this month to 74 percent, while McCain has the backing of 81 percent of Republicans. Support for Obama, an Illinois senator, fell 12 percentage points among liberals, with 10 percent of liberals still undecided compared to 9 percent of conservatives.
OBAMA NEEDS TO WORK ON BASE
"Conservatives were supposed to be the bigger problem for McCain," Zogby said. "Obama still has work to do on his base. At this point McCain seems to be doing a better job with his."
The dip in support for Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, cut across demographic and ideological lines. He slipped among Catholics, born-again Christians, women, independents and younger voters. He retained the support of more than 90 percent of black voters.
"There were no wild swings, there isn't one group that is radically different than last month or even two months ago. It was just a steady decline for Obama across the board," Zogby said.
Obama's support among voters between the ages of 18 and 29, which had been one of his strengths, slipped 12 percentage points to 52 percent. McCain, who will turn 72 next week, was winning 40 percent of younger voters.
"Those are not the numbers Obama needs to win," Zogby said about Americans under 30. The 47-year-old is counting on a strong turnout among young voters, a key bloc of support during his primary battle with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
It made little difference when independent candidate Ralph Nader and Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr, who are both trying to add their names to state ballots.
McCain still held a 5-point edge over Obama, 44 percent to 39 percent, when all four names were included. Barr earned 3 percent and Nader 2 percent.
Most national polls have given Obama a narrow lead over McCain throughout the summer. In the Reuters/Zogby poll, Obama had a 5-point lead in June, shortly after he clinched the Democratic nomination, and an 8-point lead on McCain in May.
The telephone poll of 1,089 likely voters had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
The poll was taken as both candidates head into their nominating conventions and the announcements of their choices of vice presidential picks. The Democratic convention begins on Monday in Denver, with the Republican convention opening the next Monday, September 1, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
(Editing by Patricia Wilson and Patricia Zengerle)
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Monday, August 18, 2008
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Is GPS a high-tech crime-fighting tool or Big Brother?
It's the stuff crime movies are made of: Determined police officers shadowing their suspect as he drives around town, watching and waiting for his next move, always careful not to lose him.
But now, investigators can track a potential bad guy without ever leaving their desks, thanks to the Global Positioning System, or GPS.
The technology is easy to use and the devices are hard to detect.
All police have to do is attach a GPS receiver to a suspect's car and they easily go along for the ride online, tracking the individual's exact location in real time from their computer.
"I think it's a good use of resources. It doesn't put any officers in danger, which is a good thing," said Mike Brooks, a CNN security enforcement analyst and a former Washington police detective.
"You can sit at a computer and find exactly where [a suspect] goes."
But because investigators often track without a warrant, privacy advocates say the tactic threatens to monitor innocent people as well.
"Law enforcement has a legitimate right to try to solve crimes and track suspects, provided that there are protections so that the innocent are not improperly snooped upon," said Norman Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
He wondered how many people would be comfortable knowing that police could attach something to their car and be able track their whereabouts 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.
A recent case illustrates how investigators use the technology.
Court documents show Fairfax County, Virginia, police followed David Lee Foltz Jr. without a warrant in February by placing a GPS device inside the bumper of his van.
Police began watching Foltz, who had previously been convicted of rape, after 11 attacks on women in the area where he lived, The Washington Post reported.
Foltz is facing trial, charged with abduction and sexual battery. He is charged in connection with an attack that happened after the monitoring began, according to the Post.
The attacks stopped after his arrest in February, the newspaper reported.
Foltz's attorney tried to get the GPS evidence thrown out of court. Chris Leibig wouldn't discuss the case with CNN, but said the tracking constituted illegal search and seizure, a violation of his client's Fourth Amendment right.
"Our main point with this is that before installing a GPS tracking device secretly on someone's vehicle, a judicial officer should make the decision about how much evidence is good enough, how long the tracking can be for, and the parameters of the tracking," Leibig said.
"I want to point out it's very easy to get a warrant if the police have a good reason, it doesn't take a long time, and if there is a real reason, the warrant will be granted."
Leibig described GPS tracking as more intrusive than just an investigator following someone down the street.
"It's a lot more like a police officer tagging along inside your car, an invisible police officer inside your car," Leibig said.
Despite Leibig's motion to suppress, a judge has allowed the evidence to be used at Foltz's trial this October, The Washington Post reported.
Police involved in the case would only say there is an internal review before GPS tracking can be used. Many privacy advocates say that's not enough.
The Supreme Court has yet to address GPS tracking without warrants, so the legal standards vary from state to state. Most allow it or haven't ruled on it. Courts in Washington and Oregon, however, have ruled police need a warrant before using GPS.
"It's a wonderful tool for law enforcement," Reimer said.
"The question always comes down to how much are we willing to give up in freedom and privacy for how much marginal increase in our security."
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New York Web site gives juicy details on city's notables
Thursday, Aug 14, 2008 9:59PM UTC
By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Which failed presidential hopeful from New York once married his second cousin and who married the same person twice? Which New Yorker gave his girlfriend a $1 million Rolls Royce birthday gift? And which top literary agent drove a cab?
The answers are part of a new Web site, www.cityfile.com, which lists profiles of the 2,121 most notable people in New York City and has sparked questions by some wannabe movers and shakers as to why they are not on the list.
"We have had quite a few e-mails from people suggesting other people to include or (to include) themselves," said Cityfile founder Remy Stern.
While he would not name names, he said: "Society wannabes are the kinds of people who want to be on the list. They desperately want to be taken seriously."
Cityfile has sparked controversy among some of those on the list by revealing some potentially embarrassing details of their private lives and where they live, in some cases even including a picture of their front door.
"There were people who just really objected to it, found it invasive and were unhappy that we listed where they lived or the names of their kids or put up satellite imagery of their house in the Hamptons," Stern, 34, said.
"It's a little amusing when people complain because it's stuff that's really easy to find on the Internet," he said.
Stern, who was born and raised in Manhattan and called on family and friends to help fund Cityfile, said his small editorial team spent the past year determining the city's most influential people.
He likened Cityfile to the Zagat guides, which rate restaurants, clubs, bars and stores. On Cityfile, the most notable are rated by visitors to the site and on Thursday long-time Village Voice columnist Michael Musto was No. 1.
"I'm very flattered, but I don't feel that popular," Musto said, adding that he didn't have a problem with the Web site. "It's fun because it's a place for the 'bold-faced' names of New York. A place to catch up on their antics.
The most viewed profiles are currently Vogue editor Anna Wintour, businessman Aviv Nevo, socialite Tinsley Mortimer, Fox News host Shepard Smith and film producer Harvey Weinstein.
Stern said the Web site aims to be impartial and trustworthy, giving people the "straight scoop on the good the bad and the ugly."
"There's really no place to go to look up who people are and how they're connected," Stern said. "You search for people online and pull up a corporate bio that's full of the charities they donate to, but doesn't tell you the guy spent three years in jail in the '80s or he's been married eight times."
As for the New Yorker who married his second cousin, that was former mayor Rudy Giuliani. Playwright Neil Simon married the same person twice and rapper Jay-Z gave Beyonce, then his girlfriend and now his wife, a $1 million 1959 Rolls Royce for her 25th birthday.
And top New York literary agent Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie once drove a cab.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 11:40 AM
HP introduces lightweight business laptops
Monday, Aug 18, 2008 2:13PM UTC
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hewlett-Packard Co <HPQ.N> has announced a line of portable lightweight computers aimed at business travelers to compete with a product range announced by rival Dell Inc <DELL.O> last week.
HP said on Monday that the lineup included the EliteBook 2530p, which is the smallest and lightest of its computers with a weight of just over 3 pounds and an extended battery life.
The company said its EliteBook 2730p is an ultra-thin computer that converts to a touch-screen pen-based tablet computer with a twist of its screen and weighs 3.7 pounds.
HP said it expected the HP EliteBook 2530p and HP EliteBook 2730p to become available by early September, with estimated prices of $1,499 and $1,670, respectively.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
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U.S. at risk of cyberattacks, experts say
The next large-scale military or terrorist attack on the United States, if and when it happens, may not involve airplanes or bombs or even intruders breaching American borders.
Instead, such an assault may be carried out in cyberspace by shadowy hackers half a world away. And Internet security experts believe that it could be just as devastating to the U.S.'s economy and infrastructure as a deadly bombing.
Experts say last week's attack on the former Soviet republic of Georgia, in which a Russian military offensive was preceded by an Internet assault that overwhelmed Georgian government Web sites, signals a new kind of cyberwar, one for which the United States is not fully prepared.
"Nobody's come up with a way to prevent this from happening, even here in the U.S.," said Tom Burling, acting chief executive of Tulip Systems, an Atlanta, Georgia, Web-hosting firm that volunteered its Internet servers to protect the nation of Georgia's Web sites from malicious traffic.
"The U.S. is probably more Internet-dependent than any place in the world. So to that extent, we're more vulnerable than any place in the world to this kind of attack," Burling added. "So much of what we're doing [in the United States] is out there on the Internet, and all of that can be taken down at once."
"This is such a crucial issue. At every level, our security now is dependent on computers," said Scott Borg, director of the United States Cyber Consequences Unit, a nonprofit research institute. "It's a whole new era. Political and military conflicts now will almost always have a cyber component. The chief targets will be critical infrastructure, and the attacks will emerge from within our own computer systems."
Hackers mounted coordinated assaults on Georgian government, media, banking and transportation sites in the weeks before Russian troops invaded. Known as distributed denial of service, the attacks employ multiple computers to flood networks with millions of simultaneous requests, overwhelming servers and crippling Web sites.
Hackers shut down the Web site of the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, for 24 hours and defaced the Georgian parliament site with images of Adolf Hitler. Saakashvili blamed Russia for the attacks, although the Russian government said it was not involved.
Web sites and computer networks have been targeted by hackers for decades, although large-scale, coordinated cyberattacks are still a relatively new phenomenon. Some Internet-security experts believe that the Georgia conflict marks the first time a known cyberattack has coincided with a ground war, but others said that similar computer attacks have accompanied military operations in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The challenge to U.S. security experts is that such attacks can be mounted anonymously, and relatively cheaply, from anywhere in the world. Georgia's attackers employed "botnets," or malicious automated programs that take root undetected in far-flung computers and barrage their targets with useless data. By last Friday, some of those botnets were originating from Comcast Internet addresses in the United States, Burling said.
"It only takes a couple of experts; it doesn't take a whole cyber infantry division to pull something like this off," said Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence for SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based computer security firm. "For a very small investment in resources, you can have a huge impact."
In the United States, government computer networks parry millions of attempted intrusions every day, Internet-security experts say. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security created a National Cybersecurity Center this year to coordinate federal cyberdefense efforts and quicken responsiveness. However, a recent Homeland Security Department intelligence report, obtained by The Associated Press, concluded that there are no effective means to prevent a coordinated attack on U.S. Web sites.
"When it comes to our government IT security, we're pretty strong in protecting against [attacks]," Homeland Security spokesman William R. Knocke told CNN. "But I wouldn't say ... we're 100 percent impenetrable."
So what would a cyberattack on the United States look like? And where is the U.S. most vulnerable? It depends on who you talk to.
Borg does not believe that the U.S. is susceptible to the kind of attacks launched at Georgia.
"We can command so much bandwidth that it's hard to overwhelm our servers," he said. "We are vulnerable to more sophisticated attacks, but right now most of the people who want to do us harm don't have those capabilities."
The Web sites of key government security agencies, such as the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency, are difficult to bring down, experts said. So are the computer networks of large American banks. But experts say a successful, large-scale attack on U.S. computer systems could hobble electric-power grids, transportation networks and industrial-supply chains.
"You'd see some disruption of essential services, like electricity. You'd definitely see espionage," said James A. Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Would it be decisive? No. Nobody's going to win a conflict with the United States in cyberspace. But would it be disruptive and irritating? Yes."
Federal researchers who launched an experimental cyberattack last year in Idaho caused a generator to self-destruct, prompting fears about the effect of a real attack on the nation's electrical supply.
And a May report by the Government Accountability Office found that the Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplies power to almost 9 million people in the southeastern U.S., had not installed sufficient cybersecurity measures. Spokesman Jim Allen said the TVA, the nation's largest publicly owned utility company, is "on track" to correct the problems.
What frustrates computer-security experts is that the features that make the Internet such an invaluable resource -- its openness and interconnectedness -- also make it easier for hackers to do harm. As a staple of 21st-century warfare, cyberattacks will become increasingly sophisticated, forcing governments and private industry to build ever-stronger firewalls and other defenses, experts said.
Also, vague international laws and a lack of accountability will continue to make tracking down and prosecuting cyberattackers difficult.
"We don't know quite what the rules are for this kind of conflict. If it's spying, it's illegal. But is it an act of war? And who do you arrest?" Lewis asked. "We're much safer [in the U.S.] than we were a year ago. But we still have a long way to go."
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By Chris Woodyard and Sharon Silke Carty, USA TODAY
The auto industry has seen its share of technological leaps, whether it was the advent of electric starters, automatic transmissions or hybrid gas-electric powertrains. And don't forget hideaway headlights.
One leap that engineers and tinkerers have never quite made, however, but refuse to let die: the flying car.
PHOTO GALLERY: Those incredible flying and driving machines
Year after year a few more try. Of all those stuck stewing in traffic gridlock, who hasn't imagined soaring Jetsons-style directly to a destination?
Most flying cars never get off the page, let alone the ground. The few that do are bedeviled by lack of funding, impracticality, limited appeal or fears they may simply break apart in flight as some have.
The fact is that these keystones of modern transportation cars and planes have basic differences that make them a match made in hell.
"It's like trying to mate a pig and an elephant," says Lionel Salisbury, editor of the Roadable Times, a website that has made him a de facto chronicler of flying car attempts. "You don't get a very good elephant, or a very good pig."
Today, a new crop of magnificent men and women believe advanced materials and sounder business practices finally will allow their flying machines to defy skeptics.
They range from a guy who just built a prototype three-wheel flying motorcycle in the driveway of his Los Angeles home to a Woburn, Mass., company with more than 50 orders for a two-seat car that flies. Some designs call for wings that telescope. Some fold, manually or at the push of a button.
No dreamers allowed. Only cold-eyed realists. Aware of how quickly they can be branded kooks, the new breed deliberately discourages the label "flying cars" and eschews Hollywood fantasies such as Harrison Ford cruising the skies of Los Angeles in Ridley Scott's 1982 Blade Runner.
Their preferred terminology is "roadable aircraft" a plane you can drive to the airport, then sprout wings and fly off into the sunset. They see early adopters as private pilots.
"You get a lot of people who have the Jetsons dream of one of these things in everyone's driveway. Maybe that will happen someday, but it's not something you can build a business on now," says Carl Dietrich, CEO of Massachusetts-based Terrafugia.
The effort has been helped by innovations in cheap, lightweight engines and strong, light materials such as carbon-fiber composites. They could finally lead to an affordable vehicle equally at home on the interstate or the runway.
Today's group follows pioneers such as Paul Moller, who has pursued his vision of a flying car since 1970. He predicted to USA TODAY in 1994 that he would be mass producing his M400 Skycar by 2000 and selling it for as little as $30,000. His company is still alive and he's still trying to start production.
Moller was far from the first. Salisbury, a former pilot living north of Toronto, says he's found records of attempts at a flying car formulated "within months of the Wright brothers." The first patent was issued 15 years later in 1918.
At least 100 serious tries followed. The original Aerocar of the 1950s was among the most successful, with five built, says Jake Schultz, author of A Drive in the Clouds The Story of the Aerocar. It was a novel design: The wings detached to turn into a trailer towed behind the car. He says at least one is still flying and three are in museums.
Developed by private pilot Molt Taylor, the Aerocar was one of only two flying cars to be certified by the predecessor agency to the FAA. An aircraft company later known as Ling-Temco-Vought looked at the Aerocar, but didn't get enough orders to justify production. Ford Motor looked, too, but lost interest, so Taylor started building sport aircraft.
Salisbury says it was 1970s entrepreneur Henry Smolinski who developed a wing and engine to be hooked to the back of a Ford Pinto, a subcompact car in the era, with hopes of production.
"It was fun," says Bert Boeckmann, whose Galpin Motors in Los Angeles is the nation's largest Ford dealership. He took a test ride in the Flying Pinto to an altitude of about 10 feet.
But the operation "was kind of working on a shoestring" and didn't pay enough attention to safety. Smolinski and a colleague were killed in 1973 when a wing collapse led to a fiery crash.
"Henry said if he ever died, he would like to die in his Flying Pinto," Boeckmann recalls.
Such structural risks inevitably come into play as inventors try to make a car light enough to get off the ground.
"Weight is one of the problems," says Bob Blake, an auto historian in North Carolina. "You're trying to make something that's designed for the highway to go into the sky. Even now, with the lightweight composite materials, it's more of a novelty than something practical."
But the latest entrepreneurs believe otherwise and are convinced they can strike the balance. Drivable aircraft now being developed include:
Dietrich says he thought most interest in his carbon-fiber craft would be from "wealthy playboy types. We have a couple of those but have a lot of retired couples who want to use it to fly around for fun."
He says his company has 10 employees and that he's been working on the Terrafugia Transition's design since 2004. Design goals include a range of 500 miles and conversion from car to plane or vice versa in about 15 seconds.
Dietrich says more than 50 have already been ordered. The first flight is planned by the end of the year, and he hopes deliveries can begin in 2010.
At a projected price of $194,000, the Transition "is not a replacement for a Honda," he says, Rather, it's meant to provide "a fundamental new freedom that has never existed in one package. And we know there is a market for it."
Mitch LaBiche believes he has the winning formula for his flying car: The wings extend from the car with the push of a button, instead of being bolted on or unfolded.
LaBiche Aerospace settled on the configuration after interviewing about 3,000 people to find out what they wanted in a car that could fly. "Most people most interested in flying cars were already pilots," LaBiche says. "They wanted to drive to a local airport, take off, land at their destination and then reverse the whole process to come home."
He says, "People basically structure their lives around where they live and work. We are a car-based society, and 75% of our travel is less than 80 miles, so people want something that acts more like a car than a plane."
LaBiche is taking orders for the FSC-1 as a buildable kit costing $175,000. He hopes eventually to get the craft federally certified an expensive proposition so it can be sold as a fully-built unit.
"We want to show people what we can do," he says of his six-worker company. "Once we have enough of them out there, some history and some backing, we can go out and attract the $250 million we need."
Sam Bousfield came up with a futurist design for a three-wheeled flying motorcycle with wings that telescope so it won't be blown around on the highway.
Bousfield, whose Samson Motorworks is based near Sacramento, says engineering is underway and he hopes to have a half-scale, radio-controlled model flying in a few months.
He hopes to be able to produce a full-size kit version that could sell for about $50,000. At that price, "We feel we can sell at least 1,000 kits a year," he says.
After a decade working at Rocketdyne, a big aerospace company, Joseph Caravella had saved up more than $100,000 to be able to quit and pursue his dream: a flying three-wheel motorcycle.
The idea came to him after he got a speeding ticket driving from Indiana to Virginia while in college. He'd been clocked by an aircraft.
Caravella Aerospace's design calls for a lightweight single engine that powers both the motorcycle and a rear-mounted propeller from an enclosed cockpit. Aimed at commuters, he sees cost as a key advantage for the single-seat CaraVellair, as he's named it: He believes it can be produced as a kit for $50,000. He hopes to have a version flying by 2010.
Caravella spent months working in his garage and driveway with dad Joe Sr. to finish the non-flying prototype in time for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh aviation show earlier this month in Wisconsin. Terrafugia and Samson also were displayed at the show.
While Moller's Skycar won attention, it has been grounded by cost. Moller International has moved to a less ambitious project designed to make sales, not just headlines.
Moller is working on a saucer-like, ground-effect vehicle. The M200X prototype, possibly to be marketed as the Neuera (pronounced: new era), would "fly" actually hover at less than 10 feet and travel for an hour at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour. It is not a true plane and, the company says, would not require a pilot's license.
Moller general manager Bruce Calkins says the 17-worker company in Davis, Calif., hopes to build 40 for delivery starting in 2010 at up to $250,000 each. But he considers it just a way station on the way to producing a car that really flies. "Eventually, the common vision of having a flying car is going to be true."
Matt Novak, however, remains unconvinced. The host of Paleofuture.com, a blog that looks at past predictions of the future, says flying cars look even further away these days.
"We had this sort of optimism in the '50s and '60s, a feeling that things were inevitable because of technology. And flying cars were on the short list," Novak says. "I don't think we're going to have freeways in the sky any time soon."
Woodyard reported from Los Angeles and Carty from Detroit.
Website address: http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2008-08-17-flying-cars_N.htm
Bombed by The Black Rider at 7:01 AM
Xbox 360 beats PS3 in Japan
Monday, Aug 18, 2008 7:17AM UTC
TOKYO (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp's <MSFT.O> Xbox 360 beat Sony Corp's <6758.T> PlayStation 3 in Japan weekly sales for the first time two weeks ago, riding robust demand for a recent Xbox 360 title produced by Namco Bandai Holdings <7832.T>, a magazine publisher said.
Microsoft sold 28,116 units of the Xbox 360 in the week ended August 10, compared with 10,705 units of the PS3, driven by the August 7 launch in Japan of Namco Bandai's "Tales of Vesperia" role-playing game, Ascii Media Works said.
Microsoft, locked in a three-way game console battle with Sony and Nintendo Co Ltd <7974.OS>, has been struggling to stir up demand for the Xbox 360 in Japan.
During the week, the Microsoft machine still lagged behind Nintendo's Wii, which sold 41,044 units, according to an Ascii Media Works report dated August 14.
The Wii has been leading the global video game console market since its launch in late 2006 thanks to its easy-to-learn motion-sensing controller, low price and innovative software titles such as "Wii Fit" exercise game.
Namco Bandai plans to launch "Tales of Vesperia", an Xbox 360 exclusive, in North America on August 26.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 6:55 AM
Russia promises to "crush" future aggressors
Monday, Aug 18, 2008 1:16PM UTC
By Oleg Shchedrov and James Kilner
KURSK/GORI (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev promised on Monday a "crushing response" to any attack on its citizens as Georgia waited for concrete signs of a promised Russian military pullout.
Medvedev was speaking shortly before Russian military authorities announced that the withdrawal had begun, although Georgia denied this.
"If anyone thinks that they can kill our citizens and escape unpunished, we will never allow this," Medvedev told World War Two veterans in the Russian city of Kursk. "If anyone tries this again, we will come out with a crushing response."
"We have all the necessary resources, political, economic and military. If anyone had any illusions about this, they have to abandon them."
In Moscow, the Russian General Staff told a daily briefing that Russian troops had began their pullout from the conflict zone but there was no immediate sign of this on the ground.
"The Russians aren't withdrawing, they are in the same places. They are in Senaki, Khashuri, Zugdidi and Gori," Shota Utiashvili, a Georgian Interior Ministry official, told Reuters at 6:30 a.m. EDT.
Russian troops with armored cars mounted checkpoints on a major Georgian highway, ahead of the promised withdrawal from parts of the country under an international ceasefire plan.
In the central Georgian town of Gori, a reporter saw armored personnel carriers bringing what looked like ration boxes out to checkpoints.
One soldier from Volgograd, asked how long he would be there, replied: "We don't know. Our orders are to stay here."
Russia mounted its biggest military deployment outside its borders since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union after Georgia sent a force on August 7-8 to try to recapture the rebel, Moscow-backed province of South Ossetia.
The European Union and the United States, wary of a drift back into conflict if there are delays, are pressing Moscow to finish the pullout quickly.
Both Brussels and Washington want to see international observers on the ground quickly to monitor the pullout but no arrangements for this have yet been made.
The United Nations said a first aid convoy managed to enter Gori on Sunday and that while buildings did not appear to be badly damaged, there were "clear signs of massive looting".
Georgian television showed pictures of Russian forces moving out of the western Georgian town of Senaki, but it was not clear if this was part of the promised larger withdrawal.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, in a shift from previous statements condemning Russians as "21st century barbarians" bent on ethnic cleansing, called on Monday for talks with Moscow.
"I appeal to you that after your armed forces leave Georgian territory, to start serious thinking and discussions about further negotiations, a further search for ways (to conduct) relations in order not to sow discord between our countries for good," Saakashvili said in the broadcast.
Russian leaders have condemned Saakashvili as a dangerous "maniac" and have suggested privately that there is no need to speak to him because his own people will topple him before long.
ACCUSATIONS OF "GENOCIDE"
The 10-day confrontation around South Ossetia has killed more than 170 Georgians, dealt a blow to the Georgian military, damaged the country's economy, disrupted road and rail links and drew Western criticism of Saakashvili's handling of the crisis.
Washington has strongly backed its close ally Georgia and accused Russia of "bullying" its small, former Soviet vassal.
Russia and Georgia have accused each other of attempted genocide during the conflict, though some humanitarian organizations have questioned whether the term is appropriate.
Russia says some 1,600 people were killed in the initial Georgian attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, a figure which has not been independently confirmed.
Georgia accuses Russian and irregular forces of leveling Georgian villages around the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali.
From Tskhinvali, the separatist leader Eduard Kokoity told Reuters in an interview that he wanted a permanent Russian military base in South Ossetia and pledged never again to accept international observers in his territory.
"They fled meanly like traitors from South Ossetia just before the shooting started," he said. "...We have no confidence in these international observers, in these people who corrupt the truth."
Russia has sent in aid to South Ossetia to help thousands of displaced people and help restore ruined infrastructure, water and sanitation facilities but international organizations have not been granted the same access.
The International Red Cross complained on Monday that its president, Jakob Kellenberger, had not been given permission to enter South Ossetia to assess the situation.
The Russians have not set a deadline for completion of the military pullout, saying it depends on stability in Georgia.
The six-point peace plan foresee a prompt withdrawal of Russian forces from 'core Georgia' -- the areas outside South Ossetia and a second Russian-backed separatist province of Abkhazia -- but the West will also be looking for Russian troops to cut back their numbers quickly in South Ossetia itself.
The conflict has rattled the West, which draws oil and gas through pipelines across Georgian territory from the Caspian region -- a route favored because it bypasses Russia.
(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow, Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Writing by Michael Stott; Editing by Giles Elgood)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 6:51 AM
Sent from Bombastic4000@gmail.com's mobile device from http://www.cnn.com.
Musharraf says he will resign Pakistan presidency
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation Monday after weeks of pressure to relinquish power.
Musharraf told the nation in a televised address that he would step down -- nearly nine years after he seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.
"I don't want the people of Pakistan to slide deeper and deeper into uncertainty," Musharraf said.
"For the interest of the nation, I have decided to resign as president," he said. "I am not asking for anything. I will let the people of Pakistan decide my future."
Musharraf has been a keen ally of the West in the fight on terror, receiving billions in military aid from the U.S. and launching attacks on militant groups near the country's border with Afghanistan.
He was expected to turn in his resignation to parliament Monday.
"It will be accepted, there is no second opinion about that," said Iqbal Zaffar Jhagra, the secretary general of the junior partner in the ruling coalition, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).
Musharraf quit as the ruling coalition was taking steps to impeach him.
Local media reports said he had been granted "safe passage" out of the country.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said it was strongly committed to its alliance with Pakistan following Musharraf's resignation.
He praised Musharraf's economic and security achievements, described Pakistan as a "vital friend" and said Britain's aid program for the country would continue, The Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, two Afghanistan government spokesman told AP Musharraf's resignation would be good for their country.
Until now, Musharraf, 65, had resisted pressure to resign. But his power had eroded since parties opposed to his rule swept to victory in February's parliamentary elections.
Musharraf spent a large part of his speech delivering a state-of-the-union style list of Pakistan's "accomplishments" under his rule. He contrasted it with what he called the deteriorating economic situation now.
"After the elections, the nation wanted solutions from the new government," he said. "But the politicians could not do so. A personal vendetta was started."
A coalition committee spent last week compiling a list of charges against Musharraf including corruption, economic mismanagement and violating the constitution. Parliament was expected to consider an impeachment motion Monday or Tuesday.
"I am confident that not a single charge can stand against me," Musharraf said. "I have not done anything for my personal gain. Whatever I have done, I have done it for Pakistan."
Faisal Kapadia, a commodities trader in Karachi who runs a blog about Pakistan called Deadpan Thoughts, said Musharraf's decision would get a mixed reaction.
"Leading Pakistan is not an easy task, and anyone doing it comes under a lot of criticism," he said.
"In the start, most Pakistanis were for him. And he still has some supporters -- especially because the new government, which promised to do things differently, has failed to do much in the past 100 days in power."
Musharraf grabbed power in 1999. He was serving as military chief when then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dismissed him, setting off a confrontation.
As Musharraf was returning from an overseas visit in October 1999, Sharif refused to allow the commercial airliner with 200 passengers on board to land.
Within hours the army had deposed Sharif in a bloodless coup, and the plane was allowed to touch down with only 10 minutes of fuel left.
Musharraf was welcomed by a nation on the brink of economic ruin.
"I think at this point, his intentions were good," said Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, a political analyst. "He wanted to serve the country and to be different."
During his rule, Pakistan attained respectable growth rates and established a generally favorable investment climate.
Along with that came a growing middle class, a more aggressive media, and a more assertive judiciary.
"He brought parliamentary reforms. He brought women into the parliament," said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, director of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency.
But, analysts say, Musharraf never lost his military mindset.
"He in a way, always believed in a unity of command, a very centralized command, which means his command, in fact," said Masood.
After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Musharraf found himself on the frontline of the 'war on terror.'
Pakistan had long supported the Taliban as they battled for control of Afghanistan in 1990s, in the aftermath of the Soviet pull out.
But after the 2001 attacks, Musharraf aligned himself with the U.S. to help rout the fundamentalist Islamic movement.
Washington gave Musharraf billions in aid as he vowed to deprive the militants of the sanctuary they had established along the country's border with Afghanistan.
He cast himself as indispensable -- to the West and to Pakistan, analysts said.
However, Musharraf's popularity began to plummet last year following the March suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
The move triggered protests and accusations that he was trying to influence the court's ruling on whether he could run for another five-year term.
Chaudhry was reinstated but the damage was done.
"Undoubtedly, that was the catalyst," Masood said. "This is where he went wrong, and he underestimated the value of democracy."
In October, Musharraf was re-elected president by a parliament critics said was stacked with his supporters. Opposition parties filed a challenge.
The next month, he declared a state of emergency, suspended Pakistan's constitution, replaced the chief judge again and blacked out independent TV outlets.
Under pressure from the West, he later lifted the emergency and promised elections in January.
He allowed Sharif, the prime minister he deposed, to return from exile. He also let in another political foe, Benazir Bhutto. She, too, had been a prime minister, and led the Pakistan People's Party.
However, in December, the country was plunged into further turmoil when Bhutto was killed at a rally in Rawalpindi.
Musharraf's government and the CIA contend the killing was orchestrated by Baitullah Mehsud, a leader of the Pakistani Taliban with ties to al Qaeda. But nationwide polls found that a majority of Pakistanis believe Musharraf's government was complicit in the assassination.
Meanwhile, several other factors compounded Musharraf's declining popularity: a shortage of essential food items, power cuts, and a skyrocketing inflation.
Bombed by The Black Rider at 5:35 AM
Friday, August 15, 2008
Texas school district to let teachers carry guns
Friday, Aug 15, 2008 7:41PM UTC
HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Texas school district will let teachers bring guns to class this fall, the district's superintendent said on Friday, in what experts said appeared to be a first in the United States.
The board of the small rural Harrold Independent School District unanimously approved the plan and parents have not objected, said the district's superintendent, David Thweatt.
School experts backed Thweatt's claim that Harrold, a system of about 110 students 150 miles northwest of Fort Worth, may be the first to let teachers bring guns to the classroom.
Thweatt said it is a matter of safety.
"We have a lock-down situation, we have cameras, but the question we had to answer is, 'What if somebody gets in? What are we going to do?" he said. "It's just common sense."
Teachers who wish to bring guns will have to be certified to carry a concealed handgun in Texas and get crisis training and permission from school officials, he said.
Recent school shootings in the United States have prompted some calls for school officials to allow students and teachers to carry legally concealed weapons into classrooms.
The U.S. Congress once barred guns at schools nationwide, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck the law down, although state and local communities could adopt their own laws. Texas bars guns at schools without the school's permission.
(Reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; writing by Bruce Nichols in Houston, editing by Vicki Allen)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 1:07 PM
Sony plans no PS3 price cuts at Leipzig games fair
Friday, Aug 15, 2008 4:4PM UTC
BERLIN (Reuters) - Sony Corp <6758.T> does not plan to announce price cuts to its flagship PlayStation 3 games console at Europe's biggest video games fair in Leipzig, Germany next week, a company spokesman said on Friday.
"It's not going to happen. If you're coming for that you'll be disappointed," Sony Computer Entertainment spokesman Nick Caplin said.
In the 12 months ending March 31, Sony sold 9.24 million units, below its initial estimates of 11 million sales.
But in an interview with Reuters on July 16, the company's video game chief said the firm was on track for the current year's target of 10 million sales.
Cuts to the Playstation 3's original high price have helped boost its fortunes in Sony's three-way battle with Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> and Nintendo Co Ltd <7974.OS> in the global video game industry.
Sony ruled the video game industry for about a decade from the mid-1990s with its original PlayStation and PlayStation 2.
In the current console cycle, Sony has found itself in an unfamiliar position, trailing Nintendo's Wii and competing neck and neck with Microsoft's Xbox 360 for second place in monthly sales in the United States.
The Leipzig games fair runs from August 20-22.
(Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Rory Channing)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 9:53 AM
T-Mobile to offer first Android smartphone
Friday, Aug 15, 2008 8:13AM UTC
(Reuters) - Deutsche Telekom's <DTEGn.DE> T-Mobile USA will be the first carrier to offer a mobile phone based on Google Inc's <GOOG.O> Android software, the New York Times reported, citing people briefed on the company's plans.
The high-end phone, which will be made by the world's top smartphone maker High Tech Computer Corp <2498.TW>, is expected to challenge Apple Inc's <AAPL.O> iPhone as well as other smartphones that run software from Palm Inc <PALM.O>, Research in Motion <RIM.TO> <RIMM.O>, Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> and Nokia Oyj <NOK1V.HE>.
The phone is expected to go on sale in the U.S. before Christmas and perhaps as early as October, the paper said.
Neither Google, nor T-Mobile immediately returned calls seeking comment.
Last November, Google introduced its highly anticipated Android software system for designing mobile phone devices, in a move it promised could help the cellphone industry make the Internet work as smoothly on phones as it does on computers.
(Reporting by Tenzin Pema in Bangalore; Editing by Paul Bolding)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 6:59 AM
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Russia occupies Georgia, world pressure mounts
Thursday, Aug 14, 2008 9:3PM UTC
By Matt Robinson
GORI, Georgia (Reuters) - Russian troops and armor deployed around three Georgian towns on Thursday, as international pressure mounted on Moscow over its continuing occupation of parts of Georgia.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "extremely concerned" about the humanitarian situation in Georgia and called for a halt to lawlessness.
In the key Georgian town of Gori, west of the capital Tbilisi, correspondents saw signs of looting which locals blamed on militias from the neighboring province of South Ossetia, where the conflict erupted last Thursday.
Russian armed forces have occupied parts of Georgia since repelling a Georgian attack last week on the tiny pro-Russian separatist territory of South Ossetia, which threw off Tbilisi's control in the 1990s.
Shops had been smashed up in Gori and there were very few parked cars. "They were stealing cars and breaking into shops," Vasily, 72, said. "They spoke Ossetian."
The Russians have pledged to stop looting but men wearing an assortment of camouflaged uniforms stole cars from journalists and from the United Nations on Thursday and a hidden sniper shot at a female Georgian television correspondent, grazing her arm.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the architect of a two-day old ceasefire, said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would visit Tbilisi on Friday to secure Georgia's signature to a peace deal which would "consolidate" the halt to fighting.
"If tomorrow Mr. Saakashvili signs the document that we have negotiated with (Russian President) Mr. Medvedev, then the withdrawal of Russian troops can begin," Sarkozy said.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "We can forget about talks on Georgia's territorial integrity because it's impossible to force South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree that they can be returned into Georgia's fold by force".
Mentioning Georgia's territorial integrity in any document settling the conflict would be seen by people as "the deepest insult", he added in a radio interview.
In a sharp warning, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Washington's relationship with Russia could be "adversely affected for years to come" unless the Kremlin rethought its "aggressive posture" in Georgia, a close U.S. ally.
"This is going to be a defining crisis in the United States-Russian relationship. The danger is that neither side feels it can back down," said Michael Cox, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.
"We may only be at the beginning of this crisis rather than at the end of it."
Lavrov dismissed talk that Moscow might be blocked in its long-running bid for membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a result of the conflict.
"I have heard some threats that they will not accept us into the WTO but no one has so far even tried to allow us to join it," he said.
Widening the ramifications of the conflict, Russia's neighbor Ukraine announced it would enforce a presidential decree demanding that warships from Russia's Black Sea fleet based at a Ukrainian port get advance permission before putting to sea or returning.
That decision drew an angry response from Moscow, with the Russian General Staff dismissing it as "illegitimate" and insisting the Russian fleet would only obey orders from its commander-in-chief in the Kremlin.
Reuters witnesses on Thursday saw Russian troops in the key central Georgian town of Gori and outside the western town of Zugdidi. Residents in the Black Sea port of Poti saw a Russian incursion.
The Russian General Staff said it was legitimate for "Russian peacekeepers" to be in Poti and for what it termed reconnaissance parties to be in Gori, two days after Russia signed up to a French-led peace plan to stop the fighting.
The peace agreement brokered by Sarkozy contains a clause allowing Moscow's forces "to implement additional security measures" while awaiting international monitors.
The conflict has spooked oil markets, reliant on pipelines through the Caucasus for Caspian oil, and alarmed the West, which fears it could spiral out of control.
Sharpening the confrontation with the United States over the future of Georgia, Medvedev received in the Kremlin on Thursday the leaders of the two separatist regions at the heart of the week-old conflict and promised them Moscow's backing.
"You defended your land and justice was on your side," a stern-looking Medvedev said in televised remarks at the meeting. "That is why you won, with the assistance of Russian peacekeepers...I think that is an appropriate outcome."
In Georgia, a second U.S. military plane arrived, bringing in aid in a show of American support for its embattled ally. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has criticized the United States for failing to act strongly enough to help him.
But the Russian General Staff's deputy chief, Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, criticized the U.S. airlift to Georgia announced by Bush.
"We have information that American military-transport aviation say they are delivering a certain humanitarian cargo to Tbilisi airport, though they said we had bombed the airport two days ago," he said.
"Let's ask them: Will they invite you (the media) to check whether it is humanitarian or not?... What is in it (the cargo) in reality?...It is of major concern to Russians."
Earlier in the day, Russian commanders said they were handing over control of Gori, 60 km (35 miles) east of the capital Tbilisi and close to Georgia's main east-west highway. But Georgian officials later said it appeared the handover had been delayed.
In the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, a small oil terminal, witnesses said Russian tanks had rolled in on Thursday morning, accompanying trucks carrying troops to the port area.
In the western Georgian town of Zugdidi, not far from the second separatist region of Abkhazia, a Reuters photographer saw a column of more than 100 Russian military vehicles, including 40 armored vehicles, massed two km (1.5 miles) from the town centre. Their purpose was unclear.
Russia says 1,600 civilians died when Georgia attacked South Ossetia. The figure has not been independently verified and Human Rights Watch researchers have cast doubt on it.
Moscow's General Staff said on Wednesday it had lost 74 soldiers in the fighting, with 171 wounded and 19 missing. At least four warplanes have been shot down. It said on Thursday there had been no new deaths.
Tbilisi puts deaths on its side at over 175, with hundreds injured. That figure does not include South Ossetia.
For special cover see:
For Reuters blogs see:
(Additional reporting by Melissa Akin, Dmitry Zhdannikov, Guy Faulconbridge and Simon Shuster in Moscow, James Kilner and Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Sue Pleming and Richard Cowan in Washington, writing by Michael Stott, editing by Ralph Boulton)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 2:25 PM
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