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    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    CNN - 8 U.S. deaths at military base in Afghanistan

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    8 U.S. deaths at military base in Afghanistan


    Eight Americans were killed in a suicide bombing Wednesday at a military base in eastern Afghanistan, according to a U.S. military official and a U.S. Embassy official.

    A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest attacked Forward Operating Base Chapman near the district of Khost in Khost province, said a third official, who asked not to be named.

    The military official said the eight people were not from the military.

    There were conflicting reports as to whether the bomber walked into the dining facility or the gym at the base.

    Monday, December 28, 2009

    Reuters - Advocacy groups urge FTC to bar Google-AdMob deal

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    Advocacy groups urge FTC to bar Google-AdMob deal

    Monday, Dec 28, 2009 8:17PM UTC

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two advocacy groups asked U.S. antitrust regulators on Monday to block Google's purchase of AdMob, a provider of advertising services for mobile phones, on antitrust grounds and to address privacy issues raised by the deal.

    Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy organization, and the Center for Digital Democracy, an advocate of open access to the Internet, said in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission that the proposed deal would "substantially lessen competition in the increasingly important mobile advertising market."

    The groups also said the deal created privacy concerns, which are not normally considered in antitrust analyses.

    "Google amasses a gold mine of data by tracking consumers' behavior as they use its search engine and other online services. Combining this information with information collected by AdMob would give Google a massive amount of consumer data to exploit for its benefit," said the emailed letter, which was addressed to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

    Google, the No. 1 online search engine, has said that the FTC requested additional information about the $750 million deal last week. In the absence of a second request, U.S. antitrust regulators normally approve deals within 30 days.

    If approved, Google's purchase of privately held AdMob would be its third most expensive purchase behind the $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick and the $1.65 billion purchase of YouTube.

    Google said in an e-mail statement that it was certain that mobile advertising would remain competitive despite the deal.

    "Google has a track record of providing strong privacy protections and tools, like the new Dashboard, for users to take control or opt out of data collection, and it will apply the same approach to privacy following this acquisition," it said in the statement.

    Google generates the majority of its revenue, which totaled roughly $22 billion in 2008, by selling ads that appear alongside its Internet search results.

    The FTC could not immediately confirm receipt of the letter.

    Google has experienced increasing regulatory scrutiny as it has grown. The U.S. Department of Justice in September asked a New York court to reject Google's settlement with book publishers and authors groups that would allow the company to sell digital copies of some books.

    (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

    Reuters - Nigeria bomber's home town blames foreign schooling

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    Nigeria bomber's home town blames foreign schooling

    Sunday, Dec 27, 2009 9:26PM UTC

    By Sahabi Yahaya

    FUNTUA, Nigeria (Reuters) - For residents in his home town, it was Umar Abdulmutallab's foreign education, not his roots in Muslim northern Nigeria, that radicalized him and led him to try to blow up a U.S. passenger plane.

    The 23-year-old London-educated Nigerian was charged on Saturday in the United States with trying to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day with almost 300 people on board.

    The son of a highly respected banker, Abdulmutallab's actions shocked Nigeria's wealthy elite and residents in his family's predominantly Muslim northern hometown of Funtua.

    "Everyone knew the Mutallabs and the father is honest, generous, helpful and above all a prominent banker. I cannot see why his son should be involved in this act," Funtua resident Ibrahim Bello, 65, said, close to the Mutallab family home.

    Like other elders from the community, Bello said Abdulmutallab's schooling abroad meant he had been brought up outside the customs of northern Nigeria, a region with a history of moderate Sufi Islam.

    "My only advice to the elite is to allow their children to mingle with the children of the masses so that he will have some of the traditional morals and values that (the elder) Mutallab himself enjoyed," Bello told Reuters.

    Behind him, a group of elderly men were listening to the local Hausa language services of the BBC and Voice of America radio stations, eager to hear the latest developments.

    FOREIGN SCHOOLING

    Abdulmutallab is from a privileged background in Africa's most populous nation, where most of an estimated 140 million people live on under $2 a day.

    His father, Umaru Mutallab, retired earlier this month as chairman of First Bank, the country's oldest, after a distinguished career in finance.

    Like many children from rich Nigerian homes, Abdulmutallab spent his formative years abroad. Information Minister Dora Akunyili said he had been living outside Nigeria "for a while" and only returned on the eve of the attack.

    "We were shocked when we heard a report from one of the international radio stations that the son of Mutallab is involved in an act of terrorism in the United States," said Ahmed Ibrahim, one of Abdulmutallab's contemporaries.

    "But many of us did not know the children of the Mutallabs because they did not grow up here in Funtua," he said, sipping Coca-Cola under the shade of a tree.

    The Mutallab home in Funtua, more than 250 km (155 miles) north of the capital Abuja, is a single-story brown and white building behind big gates, larger than surrounding houses but not ostentatious.

    Abdulmutallab was educated at the British School in Lome, Togo -- a boarding school mostly serving expatriates and students from around West Africa -- before studying engineering at University College London (UCL), where he is believed to have lived in a multi-million dollar city-center apartment.

    One friend who knew him in London said he kept himself to himself and always wore a skullcap, rare among young Nigerian Muslims who usually wear such caps only on religious occasions.

    Nigeria's This Day newspaper said he had been given the nickname "Alfa" -- a local term for an Islamic scholar -- while at school in Togo, for his preaching to other students.

    He also made two trips to Yemen during his student days for short Arabic and Islamic courses, according to a family friend.

    PRECEDENTS

    If Abdulmutallab was radicalized outside Nigeria as many of his compatriots believe, his case would have precedents.

    Ahmed Saeed Omar Sheikh, or Sheikh Omar, who was sentenced to death in Pakistan in 2002 for the killing of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl and suspected of links to the September 11, 2001 attacks, came from a similarly privileged background.

    Born in Britain in the early 1970s, Omar was the son of a wholesale clothes merchant from Wanstead in northeast London who went to an expensive school but dropped out of one of Britain's top universities, the London School of Economics.

    Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north has seen bouts of religious unrest. But while some Western diplomats have expressed concern that its huge population and widespread poverty could attract foreign Islamic extremists, there has been no conclusive evidence of such a presence in the country.

    Clashes between security forces and a radical Islamic sect called Boko Haram -- which wanted a wider adoption of sharia (Islamic law) -- killed hundreds of people in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri in July.

    But Islamic jurisprudence in Nigeria is based on the moderate Maliki school of Sunni Islam and Boko Haram's ideology is dismissed by the country's Muslim leaders and most believers.

    Young Muslims who grew up in Funtua insist it was Abdulmutallab's life overseas, which they view as alien, not Nigerian Islam that gave rise to his extremist views.

    "We the children of the masses in this country, we don't know anything about terrorism because our parents are poor. They don't have the money to take us abroad," said 25-year old student and Funtua resident Usman Mati.

    (Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Robin Pomeroy)

    CNN - Al Qaeda claims responsibility for failed terror attack

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    Al Qaeda claims responsibility for failed terror attack


    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack on a plane about to land in the United States, saying it was in retaliation for alleged U.S. strikes on Yemeni soil.

    In the statement, published on radical Islamist Web sites, the group hailed the "brother" who carried out the "heroic attack." The group said it tested a "new kind of explosives" in the attack, and hailed the fact that the explosives "passed through security."

    The group threatened further attacks, saying, "since Americans support their leaders they should expect more from us."

    "We have prepared men who love to die," the statement dated Saturday said.

    In his first public comment since the Christmas Day incident, President Obama said he directed his national security team to "keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country."

    "We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland."

    A suspect, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, is being held for allegedly trying to blow up the flight carrying 300 passengers.

    Part of the explosive device was sewn into AbdulMutallab's underwear, a law enforcement official told CNN Monday.

    A preliminary FBI analysis found that the device AbdulMutallab allegedly carried aboard the flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan, contained the explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate, known as PETN. The source could provide no details on the device.

    The amount of explosive involved was sufficient to blow a hole in the aircraft, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN Sunday.

    Authorities have focused their investigation on how AbdulMutallab, 23, allegedly smuggled the explosives aboard the flight and who might have helped him.

    "We're ascertaining why it was that he was not flagged in a more specific way when he purchased his ticket, given the information that we think was available, allegedly was available," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told CNN's "American Morning" Monday.

    AbdulMutallab, a Nigerian who had a multiple-entry visa to the United States, had been added to a watch list of 550,000 potential terrorist threats after the information provided by his father was forwarded to the National Counter-Terrorism Center, a senior administration official said. But "the info on him was not deemed specific enough to pull his visa or put him on a no-fly list," the official said.

    "Now, we are going to be looking at that process and how those lists are created, maintained, updated, exchanged and the like, because clearly this individual should not have been able to board this plane carrying that material," Napolitano said.

    Napolitano told CNN on Sunday there was no indication that the failed attack was part of any larger international terrorist plot.

    Tighter security measures in the wake of the incident triggered long lines at security checkpoints at airports in the United States and abroad. Obama has ordered a review of security procedures. Both the House and Senate plan to hold hearings on the incident.

    Do you feel safe in the skies?

    AbdulMutallab's family said Monday it had told authorities about his "out of character" behavior and hoped that authorities would intervene.

    The 23-year-old suspect was studying abroad when he "disappeared" and stopped communicating with his family members, they said Monday in a statement. His father, Umaru AbdulMutallab, contacted Nigerian security agencies two months ago and foreign security agencies six weeks ago, the statement said.

    "We were hopeful that they would find and return him home," the family said. "It was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we arose to the shocking news of that day."

    The suspect's family said his behavior prompted it to seek help.

    "The disappearance and cessation of communication which got his mother and father concerned to report to the security agencies are completely out of character and a very recent development, as before then, from very early childhood, Farouk, to the best of parental monitoring, had never shown any attitude, conduct or association that would give concern," his family said.

    The father of the suspect contacted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria with concerns his son had "become radicalized" and was planning something, a senior U.S. administration official said.

    "After his father contacted the embassy recently, we coded his visa file so that, had he attempted to renew his visa months from now, it would have triggered an in-depth review of his application," a U.S. official said.

    The embassy -- which has law enforcement, security and intelligence representatives on staff -- reported the father's concern to other agencies, the official said.

    Passengers on the Christmas Day flight described a chaotic scene that began with a popping sound as the plane was making its final approach, followed by flames erupting at AbdulMutallab's seat.

    The suspect was moved Sunday from a hospital where he was treated for his burns to an undisclosed location in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

    He is charged with attempting to destroy the plane and placing a destructive device on the aircraft.

    AbdulMutallab's trip originated in Lagos, Nigeria. There, he did not check in a bag as he flew on a KLM flight to Amsterdam, said Harold Demuren, director-general of Nigeria's Civil Aviation Authority.

    Demuren said the suspect underwent regular screening -- walking through a metal detector and having his shoulder bag scanned through an X-ray machine.

    He then underwent "secondary screening" at the boarding gate for the KLM flight, according to officials of the Dutch airline.

    In Amsterdam, AbdulMutallab boarded the Northwest Airlines flight to the United States.

    The Netherlands' national coordinator for counterterrorism told CNN that AbdulMutallab had gone through "normal security procedures" in Amsterdam before boarding the flight to Detroit.

    Over the weekend in Britain, where the suspect studied engineering at a London university, police searched AbdulMutallab's last known address.

    Scotland Yard detectives on Sunday interviewed Michael Rimmer, a former high-school teacher who described AbdulMutallab as a "very devout" Muslim who had once expressed sympathy for Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency during a classroom discussion.

    But Rimmer, who taught AbdulMutallab at a school in the west African nation of Togo, said it was not clear whether the then-teenager was simply playing devil's advocate during the class.

    A federal security bulletin obtained by CNN said AbdulMutallab claimed the explosive device used Friday "was acquired in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used."

    Yemeni authorities said they will take immediate action once the attempted bombing suspect's alleged link to the country is officially identified.

    Thursday, December 24, 2009

    Reuters - The secret comic-book origin of "Sherlock Holmes"

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    The secret comic-book origin of "Sherlock Holmes"

    Thursday, Dec 24, 2009 7:23AM UTC

    By Borys Kit

    LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Before "Sherlock Holmes" was a movie opening on Christmas Day, it was a comic.

    Sort of.

    Lionel Wigram, one of the film's producers, wanted to do a modern retelling of the classic detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. "I wanted to present Sherlock Holmes not as fuddy duddy, 'Masterpiece Theatre' guy," said the British native.

    Wigram came up with a story treatment but "realized that wasn't going to be enough." He decided to give his story some comic book pizazz to convey the atmosphere and the attitude. It's one thing to write that the new Holmes has a Bohemian or rock-and-roll attitude, as Wigram was going for, but it's another to show a piece of art that embodies it.

    Wigram called DC Comics executive Gregory Noveck and asked him for assistance in finding an artist, and Noveck pointed him to John Watkiss, another Brit. Watkiss is a comic artist who's drawn for "Sandman," "Deadman" and "Savage Sword of Conan." He also worked on Disney's "Tarzan" and "Treasure Planet" movies.

    Wigram used his own money, $5,000 of it, to have Watkiss draw up scenes. Wigram then bound them in a comic-book form and published a small number to pitch his take.

    The final product is not exactly a comic book. There are no sequential panels or word balloons but rather beautiful, moody splash pages with occasional story notes along the borders.

    Wigram showed the book to Warners exec Dan Lin (who later became a producer on the movie) and then to Warners' president Jeff Robinov, who ultimately gave the movie the go-ahead.

    "What he drew was what I imagined, but better," said Wigram, who is surprised that more Hollywood types don't prepare these style of pamphlets when pitching ideas. "And if you compare Guy Ritchie's screen version to the images, there's a direct connection. Watkiss deserves a lot of credit and recognition for this."

    There was talk of DC making a "Holmes" comic, maybe using the images, maybe not, but the movie project found itself fast-tracked and swept away once Ritchie and then Robert Downey Jr. came on board, and Wigram never had a chance to revisit the idea.

    Tuesday, December 22, 2009

    Reuters - "Avatar" could get nine Oscar nominations

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    "Avatar" could get nine Oscar nominations

    Tuesday, Dec 22, 2009 5:22AM UTC

    By Gregg Kilday

    LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Since June, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences opened the best picture race to 10 nominees, Oscar has been waiting for a knight in shining box office armor -- preferably a "Dark Knight": a commercial powerhouse with strong critical credentials.

    A large part of the rationale for opting for an Oscar Top 10 was the hope that Academy voters would embrace mainstream hits, thereby expanding the potential audience for the broadcast while avoiding the cries of protest from jilted fanboys who felt robbed when "The Dark Knight" failed to earn a best picture nomination last time around.

    But then another "Dark Knight" failed to materialize immediately. Consider: Pixar's "Up," released in May and now the No. 3 domestic grosser of 2009, is regarded as a possible contender -- if it isn't relegated to the animated feature category. "The Hangover," the year's biggest comedy at No. 4, with $277 million, would have to overcome the hurdle that it is the year's biggest comedy. "Star Trek" might have attracted appreciative reviews and a No. 6 rank at the box office, but it doesn't seem to have inspired much Oscar buzz in the top categories.

    In fact, you have to move all the way down the list of the year's top grossers to No. 22, "Inglourious Basterds," before finding another movie that appears to be in line for a best picture nomination.

    But just when it appeared that a whole host of smaller, specialty films were lining up to fill the available slots -- in the process, undermining the Academy's attempt to reach out to a wider audience -- Fox's "Avatar," with a veritable flourish of trumpets, has ridden to the rescue.

    There were plenty of skeptics awaiting the years-in-the-making film with a show-me attitude. But once it began screening two weeks ago, and in the wake of its opening Friday, James Cameron's space odyssey has redefined the awards-season contests.

    Critically, the movie's collective reviews stand at 83 out of 100 on the Metacritic Web site. At RottenTomatoes.com, 83% of the movie's notices were positive, and among the site's sampling of top critics, the approval rate rose to 94%. Even the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan, one of the loudest voices torpedoing Cameron's "Titanic" in 1997, hailed the filmmaker's new movie, praising it for restoring "a sense of wonder to the moviegoing experience" and testifying "the film's romantic protagonists paradoxically end up feeling like creatures whose fates we care more about than we did Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet's on the boat."

    Commercially, "Avatar" appears on track as well. Its first-weekend domestic gross clocked in at $77 million, which was several million dollars higher than the studio's Sunday estimate. It remains to be seen whether it will attract the repeat business that floated "Titanic's" boat week to week. It's worth noting, though, that moviegoers showed a preference for seeing the movie in 3D -- 72% of the opening-weekend take came from 3D screens, 13% from Imax 3D screens. Since there's still a relatively limited number of 3D and Imax screens in play, that suggests the movie will play like an old-fashioned, leggy blockbuster, rather than the one- or two-weekend wonders of the standard superwide release, with moviegoers lining up for the available screens.

    All of which brings us back to the Academy, where the movie officially screened at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Sunday evening. The audience was packed, and the response was huge, with waves of applause greeting individual names during the end credits.

    Hollywood insiders, recognizing the technical leaps involved, already have begun applauding. None other than Steven Spielberg has called "Avatar" "the most evocative and amazing science-fiction movie since 'Star Wars.'"

    But it's not just about technique. Thematically, the movie also might strike a nerve with the Academy. "Honestly, it's the most liberal, old-fashioned Hollywood movie in years," said one member of Sunday's audience. "It's eco-friendly, and it's a diatribe against George Bush's America, raping and pillaging sovereign nations for their resources."

    So how big could "Avatar's" footprint be when the Academy noms are announced February 2?

    Right now, the number that's being bandied about is nine -- drawn from a menu that includes best picture, director, visual effects, editing, art direction, sound, sound editing, score and song. (Cinematography, costumes and makeup are more of a stretch, given how much of that work was done digitally.)

    Unlike "Titanic," which earned acting nods for Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart, "Avatar" will have a tougher time winning over the actors branch unless it's feeling generous and rewards Sigourney Weaver with a supporting actress nomination for her feisty scientist.

    By rights, Zoe Saldana also should be part of the conversation for her warrior princess Neytiri. But while the actress might have displayed her versatility with her equally high-profile appearance this summer as Uhura in "Star Trek," she's not seen in the flesh in "Avatar."

    Even though the studio hopes to get out the message that the actors involved delivered full-blown performances that Cameron captured digitally, that's still a tough sell. Witness the fact that the Screen Actors Guild ignored "Avatar" when it handed out its noms last week. (One added factor: Most of the 2,300-member SAG nominating committee probably hadn't seen the movie by the time its nominating ballots were due December 14.)

    But even though "Avatar" isn't expected to pick up the 14 noms that "Titanic" commanded, if it makes it into best picture contention, that will be an achievement in itself since the Academy -- at least under its old five-pic rule poise -- has been fairly resistant to fantasy and sci-fi movies in its top category.

    Since 1977's "Star Wars," only 1982's "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" and the three "Lord of the Rings" movies at the beginning of this decade have made that select list of nominees. A movie like 1993's "Jurassic Park" -- groundbreaking in its day -- had to settle for visual effects and two sound noms, all of which it won.

    "Avatar" is looking like it will join that club -- and potentially attract lots of self-proclaimed Avartards to the March 7 Oscar broadcast as well.

    Adam Shankman, who's producing the show with Bill Mechanic, certainly was jazzed when he tweeted early Monday: "'Avatar' is not only brilliant but has the most powerful environmental message of the year. Amazing. Game-changer." Cue the dancing Na'vi.

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    CNN - Centenarian honored by Obama dies

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    Centenarian honored by Obama dies


    Ann Nixon Cooper, the Atlanta centenarian whose name Barack Obama invoked in his post-election speech as a symbol of America's struggles and progress, died Monday. She was 107.

    In his victory speech in Chicago, Obama said of Cooper, who was African-American: "She was born just a generation past slavery ... when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

    "At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot."

    When Obama was sworn in as president, Cooper called it one of the greatest days of her life.

    "There was a time when they thought they could just kick us around," she said on Inauguration Day. "Now, it has changed."

    Cooper, who was just 19 days shy of her 108th birthday, died at her home surrounded by loved ones, friend Sally Warner told CNN.

    Cooper was born in Shelbyville, Tennessee, in 1902 and grew up in Nashville with uncles and an aunt who worked as domestic help for wealthy whites.

    She married Albert Cooper, a prominent dentist, in Nashville in 1922, and the couple moved to Atlanta, where they raised four children and were members of black society.

    She co-founded a Girls Club for African-American youths and taught community residents how to read in a tutoring program at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached.

    "Our days and nights were just social affairs," she recalled to CNN in 2008. Celebrities, including the late singer Nat King Cole, dropped in to visit.

    Three of Cooper's four children have died; her surviving daughter, who was by her mother's side Monday, is 84.

    When asked about the secret to her longevity, Cooper told CNN, "I don't know how it happened, but being cheerful had a lot to do with it. I've always been a happy person, a giggling person -- a wide-mouthed person!"

    To young people, Cooper offered this advice: "Keep smiling. No matter what, you get out and vote. Vote your choice."

    Saturday, December 19, 2009

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    Thursday, December 17, 2009

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    Links to doctor could deepen Tiger Woods' travails

    The headlines and stories about Tiger Woods are still rolling in on a daily basis, but they have taken a decidedly different turn over the past couple of days. These new dispatches have nothing to do with mistresses, tabloids and text messages. They are all about the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a doctor and his performance-enhancing drugs.

    There is no evidence at all, not a known shred, that Woods used an illegal substance or cheated on the golf course in any way.

    We do know this from a New York Times story this week: A Canadian doctor who says he went to Woods' Windermere, Fla., home four or five times in February and March of this year to treat Woods' left knee with a legal, cutting-edge technique known as platelet-rich plasma therapy is under criminal investigation in the United States.

    MORE ON CASE: Doctor charged in CanadaRON ARTEST: Coverage of Tiger's troubles unfair

    And on Wednesday, we learned this: The doctor, Anthony Galea, was charged by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after his Oct. 15 arrest in Toronto with selling an illegal drug known as Actovegin, and also with conspiracy to import an unapproved drug, conspiracy to export a drug and smuggling goods into Canada.

    The arrest was precipitated by an investigation that began when Galea's assistant was stopped at the Canadian-U.S. border. Human growth hormone and Actovegin were found in Galea's medical bag, which was in the car, according to the Times. HGH is a banned substance in sports under World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines, although it is not widely tested for because it requires a blood test. Since July 2008, the PGA Tour has had a drug policy in place that bans HGH but does not use a blood test. Woods was an early and outspoken advocate for drug testing on the Tour.

    The authorities also seized Galea's laptop, which the Times reported includes medical information relating to several professional athletes he treated.

    Tiger isn't talking publicly about any of this, but in an e-mail to the Associated Press, his agent, Mark Steinberg, said: "The treatment Tiger received is a widely accepted therapy and to suggest some connection with illegality is recklessly irresponsible."

    The day before, Steinberg wrote to the Times: "I would really ask that you guys don't write this? If Tiger is NOT implicated, and won't be, let's please give the kid a break."

    It was foolhardy of Steinberg to believe any news organization would not report on an association between someone like Woods and someone like Galea. Since 1988, when the Ben Johnson scandal broke at the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, the enormously important topic of performance-enhancing drug use has been the biggest worldwide issue in sports.

    Associations between doctors and athletes, or sports medicine/nutrition gurus and athletes, have led to some of the most crucial performance-enhancing drug stories in sports, including those involving Johnson, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Marion Jones. We are better as a society for having found out about them.

    For all the conversation about Tiger's titillating tabloid lifestyle, that by itself will not sink his golf career. But were he to have cheated in sports by using performance-enhancing drugs, his golf career likely would be over. Golf isn't baseball, where A-Rod can acknowledge cheating in spring training and be feted with a ticker-tape parade by autumn. Golf is a game of honor, where the athletes call penalties on themselves. Performance-enhancing drug use by such a high-profile person probably would kill a career in that sport.

    Understandably, the PGA Tour is monitoring the situation. "From what I read in the New York Times article, there is nothing that would suggest a violation of our anti-doping policy," Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour's executive vice president of communications and international affairs, said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. "We're taking what we read at face value. If there's more, we'll go from there."

    Otherwise, he said, "We don't talk about ongoing legal investigations."

    So this side of the Tiger Woods story moves along, fascinating in its own right, but so different from the other.

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Reuters - FACTBOX: Sponsors stand by Tiger Woods after apology

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    FACTBOX: Sponsors stand by Tiger Woods after apology

    Wednesday, Dec 02, 2009 6:53PM UTC

    (Reuters) - Golfer Tiger Woods, engulfed in media speculation over his private life after a car accident in the middle of the night, apologized on Wednesday for "transgressions" in a statement that apparently addressed allegations he had extra-marital relationships.

    Several sponsors, who collectively pay Woods about $100 million a year to tout their products and services, said later on Wednesday their relationships would not change with one of the most recognized athletes in the world.

    ELECTRONIC ARTS INC:

    "Our strong relationship with Tiger for more than a decade remains unchanged. We respect Tiger's privacy, we wish him a fast recovery and we look forward to seeing him back on the golf course," the company said in a statement.

    TLC VISION CORP:

    "Tiger Woods is important to TLC Vision. Our relationship with him continues without change. This is a private matter and we have no further comment," the company said in a statement.

    DAVID SOKOL, CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY'S NETJETS INC UNIT:

    "Tiger Woods is one of the premiere athletes in the world and we are proud to have him involved with NetJets."

    PEPSICO INC'S GATORADE UNIT:

    "Tiger and his family have our support as they work through this private matter. Our partnership continues," the company said in a statement.

    PROCTER & GAMBLE'S GILLETTE UNIT:

    "At this time, we are not making any changes to our existing marketing programs. As a matter of policy, we don't comment on future marketing plans," the company said in a statement.

    NIKE INC:

    "Nike supports Tiger and his family. Our relationship remains unchanged," the company said in a statement.

    Officials with AT&T Inc, Accenture, Tag Heuer, and Upper Deck could not be reached for comment.

    (Reporting by Ben Klayman in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry)

    For real-time mobile news, go to - http://usatoday.mlogic.mobi

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    Statement issued: Tiger Woods admits to 'transgressions'

    Tiger Woods says he has let his family down and regrets those "transgressions."

    His comments came after Us Weekly magazine published a cover story alleging that a Los Angeles cocktail waitress had a 31-month affair with the world's No. 1 golfer.

    Jaimee Grubbs told the magazine she met Woods at a Las Vegas nightclub the week after the 2007 Masters two months before Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren, gave birth to their first child. Grubbs claims to have proof in 300 text messages.

    Wednesday morning, the magazine published what it said was a voicemail provided by Grubbs that she said was left by Woods on Nov. 24, three days before his early morning car crash outside his home near Orlando.

    Woods issued the following statement on his website tigerwoods.com:

    "I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone.

    Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. The stories in particular that physical violence played any role in the car accident were utterly false and malicious. Elin has always done more to support our family and shown more grace than anyone could possibly expect.

    But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don't share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one's own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions.

    Whatever regrets I have about letting my family down have been shared with and felt by us alone. I have given this a lot of reflection and thought and I believe that there is a point at which I must stick to that principle even though it's difficult.

    I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology."

    ***

    Contributing: The Associated Press

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Reuters - T-Mobile admits employee sold private data

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    T-Mobile admits employee sold private data

    Tuesday, Nov 17, 2009 6:47PM UTC

    By Peter Griffiths

    LONDON (Reuters) - A employee of mobile phone operator T-Mobile is facing prosecution after selling personal details of thousands of British customers to rival companies in an alleged major breach of data protection laws.

    In a statement, T-Mobile UK, part of Deutsche Telekom AG, said it had contacted the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) after discovering an employee was passing on the information and it believed the investigation would result in a prosecution.

    "While it is deeply regrettable that customer information has been misappropriated in this way, we have proactively supported the ICO to help stamp out what is a problem for the whole industry," T-Mobile said on Tuesday.

    Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said the data was sold for "substantial amounts of money" to brokers working for other mobile phone companies.

    The privacy watchdog said it planned to prosecute and would push for jail terms for anyone convicted.

    The watchdog said staff sold details relating to customers' phone contracts, including their names and addresses and contract expiry dates.

    Rival companies bought the information and used it to make cold calls to the customers offering them a new contract with a new network, the Information Commissioner's Office said.

    "Many people will have wondered why and how they are being contacted by someone they do not know just before their existing phone contract is about to expire," Graham said in a statement.

    "We are considering the evidence with a view to prosecuting those responsible and I am keen to go much further and close down the entire unlawful industry in personal data."

    The watchdog has searched several premises after obtaining warrants and is preparing a prosecution file.

    Many thousands of customers' account details were illegally obtained, the company told the watchdog. Graham said the practice was highly profitable, but illegal under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act.

    "The existing paltry fines for Section 55 offences are simply not enough to deter people from engaging in this lucrative criminal activity," he said. "The threat of jail, not fines, will prove a stronger deterrent."

    (Editing by John Stonestreet and David Holmes)

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Reuters - Lou Dobbs leaving CNN, does not reveal plans

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    Lou Dobbs leaving CNN, does not reveal plans

    Thursday, Nov 12, 2009 2:21AM UTC

    By Gina Keating and Steve Gorman

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - CNN host Lou Dobbs, whose outspoken views on U.S. immigration have made him one of the most controversial figures on television, said on Wednesday he is leaving the 24-hour cable news network immediately because he wants a freer platform to state his opinion.

    Dobbs, who announced his departure near the start of his nightly news and commentary show, did not say where he plans to go, after nearly 30 years at CNN.

    Dobbs, whose ratings have been on the decline, said he had been released from his contract, effective immediately, and wanted "to contribute positively to the understanding of the great issues of our day ... in the most honest and direct language possible."

    A CNN source told Reuters Dobbs will be concentrating on his syndicated radio show, "The Lou Dobbs Show." The source would not confirm a New York Times report that he had met with Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive of the Fox News channel, the News Corp-owned rival to CNN, a unit of Time Warner Inc.

    CNN had been under pressure from civil rights and Latino groups to drop Dobbs from its lineup, accusing the host of aligning himself with anti-immigrant groups that critics say espouse hate messages.

    "It's about time. He was doing CNN no good," said Nativo Lopez, head of the California-based Mexican-American Political Association that promotes the interests of Mexican-Americans in the United States and is part of a campaign against Dobbs.

    "His is not a debate based on science or reason, it's based on prejudice, it's based on racial overtones, it's based on profiling and an obsessive fixation on immigrants from Mexico," said Lopez.

    As a radio host, Dobbs also drew criticism by appearing to stoke the so-called "birther" movement, whose adherents believe that President Barack Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate was faked to hide a Kenyan birthplace, making the first black U.S. president ineligible for office.

    Dobbs said he was considering "a number of options and directions." His contract was due to end in 2011.

    "For the past six months it has become increasingly clear that strong winds of change have begun buffeting this country and affecting all of us," Dobbs said.

    "Some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and engage in constructive problem-solving," said Dobbs, referring to himself as one of the last original CNN anchors.

    'HAPPY DAY'

    Eric Burns, president of liberal advocacy group Media Matters for America, called Dobbs' departure "a happy day for all those who care about this nation of immigrants and believe in the power of media to elevate the political discourse."

    Dobbs, 64, started out at CNN as the network's chief business and financial correspondent and host of its business news program "Moneyline" in 1980. He left the network in 1999 after friction with CNN's then-president Rick Kaplan to start his own dotcom venture.

    He returned two years later to become host and managing editor of a new general news broadcast, and for a time renewed his "Moneyline" show.

    But Dobbs' role at the network changed dramatically.

    "He morphed from being an economic and finance guy to being much more in the style of an opinion commentator," independent television news analyst Andrew Tyndall said. "He turned into specializing on the illegal immigrants story, which was very hot three years ago or four years ago."

    But as the national economy slumped, Dobbs found himself preoccupied with a subject that waned as a hot-button issue, Tyndall said.

    "His problem has been that he put all his eggs in that basket and he hasn't been able to diversify his brand in opinion journalism," Tyndall said.

    As CNN sought in recent years to distinguish itself in the cable news field from the more conservative Fox News, the ratings leader, and the more left-leaning, third-place MSNBC, Dobbs became less of a fit, Tyndall said.

    "There's clearly editorial differences between the way CNN wants to go and the direction he wants to go."

    (Reporting by Gina Keating and Steve Gorman; Editing by Catherine Bremer, David Gregorio, Gary Hill)

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Reuters - Nintendo to launch new DSi handheld in Japan: report

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    Nintendo to launch new DSi handheld in Japan: report

    Tuesday, Oct 27, 2009 2:7AM UTC

    TOKYO (Reuters) - Nintendo Co plans to launch a new version of its DSi hand-held videogame player with a larger screen in Japan as early as this year to kick-start sluggish demand, the Nikkei business daily said on Tuesday.

    Nintendo, which cut the price of its popular Wii videogame console last month, has been looking to bolster demand for the DSi, whose monthly sales have slowed to a third of their peak levels following its launch about a year ago.

    Nintendo's hand-held, which now has a 3.25-inch screen, is struggling against competition from Apple Inc's iPhone, whose screen is about the same size.

    The new version will have a screen larger than 4 inches, which would put it roughly on a par with the screen on Sony Corp's PlayStation portable game player, the Nikkei said.

    "A bigger screen alone does not count for much," said KBC Securities analyst Hiroshi Kamide, adding that Nintendo needs better graphics quality and a more powerful chip to run multimedia-type games and become more competitive.

    "Nintendo is under pressure from iPhone and iTouch."

    The DSi now uses a chip by ARM Holdings.

    The large-screen DSi will sell for 18,900 yen, about the same as the current version, the Nikkei said.

    Nintendo spokeswoman Yuka Tanegashima declined to comment.

    Nintendo also plans to launch a version of the DSi with more robust anti-piracy features for the Chinese and South Korean markets by the end of the current business year in March 2010, the Nikkei said.

    Its shares ended the morning down 0.5 percent, outperforming Tokyo's electrical machinery index's 1.7 percent decline.

    (Reporting by Mayumi Negishi and Nathan Layne; Editing by Michael Watson)

    Reuters - Busy U.S. cell networks a bonanza for gear makers

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    Busy U.S. cell networks a bonanza for gear makers

    Monday, Oct 26, 2009 4:13PM UTC

    By Sinead Carew

    CHICAGO (Reuters) - Dropped calls may be annoying to a mobile phone user but network equipment makers and operators are eyeing a big payday from congested cellphone networks.

    Flashy smartphones like Apple Inc's iPhone, which allow downloads of everything from games to stock prices, are straining mobile networks and pushing carriers to upgrade wired broadband connections to cell towers, known as backhaul.

    The market for backhaul equipment will double to $10.9 billion in 2013 from $4.6 billion in 2008, according to research firm Infonetics.

    This will provide new areas of growth for network equipment makers such as Alcatel Lucent, Ciena, Nokia Siemens, a venture of Nokia and Siemens.

    The Supercomm telecom trade show in Chicago this week was buzzing with operators and gear makers talking up the new possibilities of backhaul.

    "We're seeing at this show, really a lot of demand for optical backhaul capability," said Nokia Siemens North American President Sue Spradley.

    Operators like Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc are beefing up their backhaul by replacing old copper wires with fast fiber optic connections in markets where they have both a wired and a wireless network.

    They are working on new deals with local operators outside their wireline markets to improve mobile data rates there.

    Telecom operators such as Level 3 Communications Inc and Qwest Communications International Inc and cable operators such as privately held Cox Communications all want be first to lay fiber to a cell site to make sure they win the backhaul contract with the wireless operators which have equipment there.

    Spradley said the U.S. market had a real requirement for upgrades as operators want to avoid bottlenecks in their increasingly popular data networks.

    IPhone users, who tend to download more data than average mobile phone owners, have criticized AT&T's slow data speeds and the company has said it is building a stronger backhaul.

    "If you have a really fast radio link and you don't have a large pipe you're slowing down the network," said Spradley, adding she had customers signing deals worth a few million to the $50 million range at the trade show.

    The executive said she expects the small operators who made initial orders for backhaul equipment to come back for more once they win business for upgrading more cell sites.

    LOCAL WHOLESALE BOOST

    Some local telecom companies struggling with home phone disconnections, are also getting new wholesale telecom business from the trend.

    Qwest, which runs a long distance fiber service for businesses as well as local phone and Internet services for consumers, said it is already seeing growth from backhaul.

    Qwest Chief Financial Officer Pieter Poll said in an interview that his company had received inquiries from wireless operators about backhaul upgrades for about 7,500 cell sites out of 17,000 across Qwest's operating states.

    The executive said this was a sign of strong demand even if Qwest does not ultimately win the backhaul contract for all these sites, as it competes heavily with cable providers.

    Where it does win contracts, Poll said it could mean consumers in nearby communities may end up with higher-speed residential services sooner than they would have otherwise.

    Level 3, a service provider with a long-distance fiber network that serves businesses and other carriers, announced a new backhaul service offering this week.

    Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc, is planning to upgrade its backhaul for its next-generation network, which it promises to put in as many as 30 markets in 2010.

    "For 4G, whether its WiMax or LTE, the backhaul will have to be fortified," Mark Wegleitner, a senior vice president for technology at Verizon, said in an interview.

    Long Term Evolution (LTE) is the 4G technology Verizon will use, and WiMax is a rival technology.

    Estimates vary as to how much carriers will have to boost their backhaul links, which can typically move around 6 Megabits of data per second to 10 Megabits per second (Mbps).

    Qwest says some of its customers are looking for speeds as high as 350 Megabits per second, but Wegleitner said upgrades to a range of 30 Mbps to 50 Mbps would be more typical. But he noted that the company would be ready to upgrade to 300 Mbps in busier cell sites.

    "Cranking up the hardware, once you've fiber installed, isn't that hard to do," he said.

    (Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Richard Chang)

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Reuters - Viadeo buys Unyk, second only to LinkedIn

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    Viadeo buys Unyk, second only to LinkedIn

    Tuesday, Oct 13, 2009 11:49AM UTC

    By Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent

    HELSINKI (Reuters) - French company Viadeo, which runs a social networking website aimed at professionals, has acquired Canadian peer Unyk, to become the second-largest firm globally after LinkedIn.

    Viadeo said on Tuesday it has more than 25 million users after the deal, and its network was growing by more than one million users each month. LinkedIn has 45 million members.

    The economic crisis has sparked a spike in use of online social networks as people hedge against losing work and laid-off employees seek jobs.

    Viadeo said the deal included 16 million users, a smart address book feature and contact synchronization technology, but did not disclose financial details.

    "This acquisition is highly complementary and more than doubles our subscriber base," chief executive Dan Serfaty said in statement.

    "We have significantly strengthened our market position and offering, particularly throughout Mexico, Brazil and India," Serfaty said, adding the company now has 4 million users in North America.

    Viadeo said it was currently profitable and expected the deal to boost profit in the first year.

    (Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Dan Lalor)

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    CNN - Obama awarded 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

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    Obama awarded 2009 Nobel Peace Prize


    President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a stunning decision that comes just eight months into his presidency.

    The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it honored Obama for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

    The decision appeared to catch most observers by surprise.

    The president had not been mentioned as among front-runners for the prize, and the roomful of reporters gasped when Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel committee, uttered Obama's name.

    Nominations for the prize had to be postmarked by February 1 -- only 12 days after Obama took office. The committee sent out its solicitation for nominations last September -- two months before Obama was elected president.

    The president, who was awakened to be told he had won, said he was humbled to be selected, according to an administration official.

    Obama will make a statement Friday at 10:30 a.m. ET from the Rose Garden, administration officials said.

    The Nobel committee recognized Obama's efforts to solve complex global problems including working toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

    "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," the committee said.

    Jagland said the decision was "unanimous" and came with ease.

    He rejected the notion that Obama had been recognized prematurely for his efforts and said the committee wanted to promote the president just it had Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 in his efforts to open up the Soviet Union.

    "His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population," it said.

    Obama's recognition comes less than a year after he became the first African-American to win the White House. He is the fourth U.S. president to win the prestigious prize and the third sitting president to do so.

    Jagland said he hoped the prize would help Obama resolve the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, last year's laureate, said it was clear the Nobel committee wanted to encourage Obama on the issues he has been discussing on the world stage.

    "I see this as an important encouragement," Ahtisaari said.

    The committee wanted to be "far more daring" than in recent times and make an impact on global politics, said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the International Peace Research Institute.

    And Wangari Muta Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist who won the 2004 Peace Prize, said the win for Obama, whose father was Kenyan, would help Africa move forward.

    "I think it is extraordinary," she said. "It will be even greater inspiration for the world. He has shown how we can probably come together, work together in a cooperative way."

    The award comes at a crucial time for Obama, who has initiated peace missions to key parts of the globe.

    Obama's envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, has returned to the region to advocate for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Mitchell met Thursday with Israeli President Shimon Peres. He plans to meet Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before talking with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank.

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton starts a six-day trip to Europe and Russia on Friday. On the trip, the secretary will discuss the next steps on Iran and North Korea, and international efforts to have the two countries end their nuclear programs.

    The centerpiece of the trip will be her visit to Moscow, where she will work toward an agreement to take the place of the Start II arms control pact, which expires December 5. She also will address the new bilateral presidential commission that is working on a broad range of issues, from arms control to health.

    Mohamed ElBaradei, who won the 2005 peace prize for his efforts to prevent nuclear energy being used for military means, said Obama deserved to win for his efforts to bring Iran to the table for direct nuclear talks with the United States.

    "I could not think of anybody who is more deserving," said ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    As the news of Obama's win broke online, postings on social network sites Twitter and Facebook expressed surprise. Many started with the word: Wow.

    The last sitting U.S. president to win the peace prize was Woodrow Wilson in 1919. The other was Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Jimmy Carter had been out of office for more than two decades when he won in 2002.

    This year's Peace Prize nominees included 172 people -- among them three Chinese dissidents, an Afghan activist and a controversial Colombian lawmaker -- and 33 organizations, the highest number of nominations ever.

    The Nobel recipient receives a prize of about $1.4 million.

    CNN - Obama awarded 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

    Sent from bombastic4000@yahoo.com's mobile device from http://www.cnn.com.

    Obama awarded 2009 Nobel Peace Prize


    President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a stunning decision that comes just eight months into his presidency.

    The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it honored Obama for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

    The decision appeared to catch most observers by surprise.

    The president had not been mentioned as among front-runners for the prize, and the roomful of reporters gasped when Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel committee, uttered Obama's name.

    Nominations for the prize had to be postmarked by February 1 -- only 12 days after Obama took office. The committee sent out its solicitation for nominations last September -- two months before Obama was elected president.

    The president, who was awakened to be told he had won, said he was humbled to be selected, according to an administration official.

    Obama will make a statement Friday at 10:30 a.m. ET from the Rose Garden, administration officials said.

    The Nobel committee recognized Obama's efforts to solve complex global problems including working toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

    "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," the committee said.

    Jagland said the decision was "unanimous" and came with ease.

    He rejected the notion that Obama had been recognized prematurely for his efforts and said the committee wanted to promote the president just it had Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 in his efforts to open up the Soviet Union.

    "His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population," it said.

    Obama's recognition comes less than a year after he became the first African-American to win the White House. He is the fourth U.S. president to win the prestigious prize and the third sitting president to do so.

    Jagland said he hoped the prize would help Obama resolve the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, last year's laureate, said it was clear the Nobel committee wanted to encourage Obama on the issues he has been discussing on the world stage.

    "I see this as an important encouragement," Ahtisaari said.

    The committee wanted to be "far more daring" than in recent times and make an impact on global politics, said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the International Peace Research Institute.

    And Wangari Muta Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist who won the 2004 Peace Prize, said the win for Obama, whose father was Kenyan, would help Africa move forward.

    "I think it is extraordinary," she said. "It will be even greater inspiration for the world. He has shown how we can probably come together, work together in a cooperative way."

    The award comes at a crucial time for Obama, who has initiated peace missions to key parts of the globe.

    Obama's envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, has returned to the region to advocate for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Mitchell met Thursday with Israeli President Shimon Peres. He plans to meet Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before talking with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank.

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton starts a six-day trip to Europe and Russia on Friday. On the trip, the secretary will discuss the next steps on Iran and North Korea, and international efforts to have the two countries end their nuclear programs.

    The centerpiece of the trip will be her visit to Moscow, where she will work toward an agreement to take the place of the Start II arms control pact, which expires December 5. She also will address the new bilateral presidential commission that is working on a broad range of issues, from arms control to health.

    Mohamed ElBaradei, who won the 2005 peace prize for his efforts to prevent nuclear energy being used for military means, said Obama deserved to win for his efforts to bring Iran to the table for direct nuclear talks with the United States.

    "I could not think of anybody who is more deserving," said ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    As the news of Obama's win broke online, postings on social network sites Twitter and Facebook expressed surprise. Many started with the word: Wow.

    The last sitting U.S. president to win the peace prize was Woodrow Wilson in 1919. The other was Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Jimmy Carter had been out of office for more than two decades when he won in 2002.

    This year's Peace Prize nominees included 172 people -- among them three Chinese dissidents, an Afghan activist and a controversial Colombian lawmaker -- and 33 organizations, the highest number of nominations ever.

    The Nobel recipient receives a prize of about $1.4 million.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009

    CNN - 'SNL' Obama sketch marks end of honeymoon

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    'SNL' Obama sketch marks end of honeymoon


    "Saturday Night Live" was formed in the crucible of the mid-1970s, when Watergate brought respect for politicians to all-time lows, the counterculture was taking over comedy, and many television viewers were seeking out something fresh and bold.

    It was a powerful combination -- and after 34 years, the combination of "SNL" and politics can still strike sparks among political observers.

    The most recent example came this past weekend when Fred Armisen, as President Obama, chided "those on the right" for saying that he was "turning this great country into something that resembles the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany."

    Not true, said Armisen as Obama.

    "When you look at my record," he said, "it's very clear what I've done so far -- and that is nothing."

    The sketch has caused a rumble among the inside-the-Beltway chattering classes and New York news nabobs. Wrote Washington Post blogger Jonathan Capehart, "When your 'friends' start talking about you like this -- and friends with a huge megaphone and a feel for the national mood -- the White House should listen."

    "Humor with some truth in it is always dangerous. Make no mistake, a drumbeat of belittlement can damage a president," added CNN political contributor Ed Rollins in a column.

    The White House had no comment when asked about the sketch by CNN.

    "SNL" cast members weren't available for interviews, an NBC representative said. "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels also turned down an interview request but has said the show doesn't take sides.

    "I think 'SNL's' role is, the moment they're in power, we're the opposition," he told CNN's Alina Cho last year. "We're not partisan. We're not, you know, we're not putting on anything that we don't believe is funny."

    The recent sketch is indicative of the end of Obama's honeymoon, Syracuse University pop culture professor Robert Thompson says, but he doesn't want to read more into it than that.

    "Comedy is about going after the people in power," he said.

    The president has also taken recent shots from "The Daily Show" and "Real Time with Bill Maher." "What this says is that the comedy-industrial complex has turned its sights on the reigning president of the United States," he said.

    But, he added, "I wouldn't put this into the meme category," referring to concepts that travel so quickly they take on a life of their own, such as Tina Fey's Sarah Palin sketches from last year. "The [Obama] sketch wasn't that funny."

    Indeed, the show's overall impact is often mixed, observes Slate columnist and Rutgers media studies professor David Greenberg. It can "capture or intensify" a storyline that's being passed through the news media, but the show is more a barometer that can change with events.

    "It's not incapable of influencing things," he said, noting the show's slash-and-burn '70s satire and Fey's Palin parody. "But since the early '80s, those moments are pretty rare. ... You'll see good impersonations but not the underlying critique you had with, say, Dan Aykroyd as [Richard] Nixon."

    Besides, he added, the Obama sketch may have titillated the politico-media crowd, but he wonders whether its impact went any wider.

    "I'm a political junkie," he said, "and this is the first I've heard of it."

    Indeed, the ratings for the episode were a far cry from last year's Palin-fest -- from a 7.3 rating for the same week in 2008, to 4.7 -- and the Armisen sketch didn't get the frenzied online dispersion the Palin sketches did.

    However, Obama should be concerned about one thing, observes Thompson.

    In general, "SNL" mocked previous presidents' personal characteristics, such as Clinton's outsized appetites or George W. Bush's struggles with spoken English. With Obama -- who lacks the same kind of easily caricatured traits, Thompson says -- the show went after his record.

    "In some ways," Thompson said, "he's vulnerable to more serious damage."

    Reuters - Dell plans first U.S. smartphone with AT&T: report

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    Dell plans first U.S. smartphone with AT&T: report

    Wednesday, Oct 07, 2009 8:28PM UTC

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Dell plans to launch a smartphone with Google's Android mobile software on carrier AT&T's network as soon as early 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

    That would mark Dell's first foray into the booming and competitive U.S. smartphone market, now fought over by the likes of Apple and Research in Motion.

    The Wall Street Journal, citing people briefed on the matter, reported that Dell's phone would come with a touch-screen and a camera.

    Last summer Dell confirmed it was developing mobile devices for China Mobile Ltd, but the company wouldn't say what type of devices or give any details on the timing.

    Dell spokesman Andrew Bowins declined to comment on the Journal report Wednesday but said, "We are deeply engaged with our operator partners around the world to deliver mobile broadband enabled computing devices."

    The Dell spokesman said: "We haven't announced anything around voice or Android although we continue to explore opportunities in those areas with operators around the world."

    AT&T also declined comment, but spokesman Michael Coe said "we expect to sell Android phones in the future."

    Google declined to comment.

    On Tuesday, Google announced it was partnering with Verizon Wireless to co-develop multiple phones based on Android. They plan to bring two phones to market this year.

    Verizon Wireless is a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.

    There have been a number of announcements recently relating to Android phones, including Motorola Inc's recent introduction of the Cliq phone and HTC's Hero, slated for U.S. release next week.

    (Reporting by Gabriel Madway, Ritsuko Ando and Anupreeta Das; Editing by Carol Bishopric, Gary Hill)

    Reuters - AT&T allows Internet voice calls on Apple's iPhone

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    AT&T allows Internet voice calls on Apple's iPhone

    Wednesday, Oct 07, 2009 1:48AM UTC

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - AT&T Inc will open its third-generation wireless network to third-party Internet voice applications on Apple Inc's iPhone, clearing the way for services such as Skype.

    AT&T, which has exclusive rights to the iPhone, said in a statement that the company informed Apple and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission of its decision, which was in response to a regulatory inquiry into the wireless industry.

    "Today's decision was made after evaluating our customers' expectations and use of the device compared to dozens of others we offer," said Ralph de la Vega, head of AT&T Mobility & Consumer Markets.

    The move allows Skype, owned by eBay Inc, to file an application with Apple, which would then review it and decide whether to approve the app for its iPhone.

    Apple praised AT&T's move and said it would move swiftly to make voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) apps available on the iPhone

    "We are very happy that AT&T is now supporting VoIP applications," Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said. "We will be amending our developer agreements to get VoIP apps on the App Store and in customers' hands as soon as possible."

    Apple had previously not made Google Inc's Voice application available for downloading on its iPhone. The two companies have bickered in recent statements to the FCC about why Google's Voice application is not available on the iPhone.

    Google said Apple rejected it. But Apple said it is still studying it because the application alters the iPhone's telephone functionality and user interface.

    AT&T's action, which is a reversal from a previous position to ban such calls on its 3G network due to revenue concerns, does not affect the Google Voice app spat.

    The FCC, which has launched an inquiry into the state of competition, innovation and investment in the wireless industry, welcomed the move.

    "When AT&T indicated, in response to the FCC's inquiry, that it would take another look at permitting VoIP on its 3G network I was encouraged," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.

    "I commend AT&T's decision to open its network to VoIP. Opening wireless services to greater consumer choice will drive investment and innovation in the mobile marketplace," he said.

    On October 22 the FCC is expected to propose a Net neutrality rule aimed at ensuring that network operators like AT&T and Verizon treat the flow of Internet content and applications without discrimination.

    But the move by AT&T is not likely to deter the FCC from going ahead with the Net neutrality rule.

    "We believe the announcement is good news for Skype and other VoIP providers, and it also improves AT&T's political and rhetorical position as the FCC attempts to write network neutrality rules, including for wireless broadband providers," Stifel Nicolaus analyst David Kaut said.

    "AT&T's announcement should remove one likely thorn with regulators, but does not, in our view, halt the movement toward applying Net neutrality to wireless," Kaut said.

    The move was made the same day Verizon Wireless announced it will sell two mobile phones with Google's Android operating system this year, part of a partnership that could boost Google's efforts to challenge Apple in the fast-growing smartphone market.

    The first Android phones from Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, will support the Google Voice software application -- allowing consumers to make low-priced international calls and which Apple had yet to approve for its iPhone.

    Skype President Josh Silverman called AT&T's move the "right step" but cautioned that government actions are still needed to maintain an open Internet. Skype's application has been downloaded on 10 percent of all iPhone and iPod Touch devices, where it previously could be used over Wi-Fi, but not AT&T's 3G network.

    "Nonetheless, the positive actions of one company are no substitute for a government policy that protects openness and benefits consumers," Silverman said.

    (Reporting by John Poirier and Gabriel Madway; Editing by Bernard Orr, Gary Hill)

    CNN - Scientists discover massive ring around Saturn

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    Scientists discover massive ring around Saturn


    Scientists at NASA have discovered a nearly invisible ring around Saturn -- one so large that it would take 1 billion Earths to fill it.

    The ring's orbit is tilted 27 degrees from the planet's main ring plane. The bulk of it starts about 3.7 million miles (6 million km) away from the planet and extends outward another 7.4 million miles (12 million km).

    Its diameter is equivalent to 300 Saturns lined up side to side. And its entire volume can hold one billion Earths, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said late Tuesday.

    "This is one supersized ring," said Anne Verbiscer, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

    Verbiscer and two others are authors of a paper about the discovery published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

    The obvious question: Why did it take scientists so long to discover something so massive?

    The ring is made up of ice and dust particles that are so far apart that "if you were to stand in the ring, you wouldn't even know it," Verbiscer said in a statement.

    Also, Saturn doesn't receive a lot of sunlight, and the rings don't reflect much visible light.

    But the cool dust -- about 80 Kelvin (minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit) -- glows with thermal radiation. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, used to spot the ring, picked up on the heat.

    One of Saturn's moons, Phoebe, orbits within the ring. As Phoebe collides with comets, it kicks up planetary dust. Scientists believe the ice and dust particles that make up the ring stems from those collisions.

    The ring may also help explain an age-old mystery surrounding another of Saturn's moons: Iapetus.

    Astronomer Giovanni Cassini, who first spotted Iapetus in 1671, deduced the moon has a white and dark side -- akin to a yin-yang symbol. But scientists did not know why.

    The new ring orbits in the opposite direction to Iapetus. And, say researchers, it's possible that the moon's dark coloring is a result of the ring's dust particles splattering against Iapetus like bugs on a windshield.

    "Astronomers have long suspected that there is a connection between Saturn's outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus," said Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland in College Park -- one of the three authors reporting on the findings in the journal Nature.

    "This new ring provided convincing evidence of that relationship."

    Saturday, October 3, 2009

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    Reuters - TerreStar, AT&T to launch satellite smartphone

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    TerreStar, AT&T to launch satellite smartphone

    Wednesday, Sep 30, 2009 3:13PM UTC

    (Reuters) - TerreStar Corp's <TSTR.O> majority-owned unit signed a deal with AT&T <T.N> to launch the first fully integrated satellite smartphone, sending its shares up 39 percent to a 52-week high.

    Users will be able to access voice and data services in the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and offshore coastal waters over either the AT&T cellular network or the TerreStar satellite network, said the unit, mobile communications provider TerreStar Networks Inc.

    The service is intended to work as a user's everyday cellular smartphone device, with satellite access capability as a secondary option when needed.

    TerreStar shares rose to a high of $2.95 before paring some gains to trade up 20 percent at $2.56 Wednesday morning on Nasdaq.

    (Reporting by S. John Tilak in Bangalore; Editing by Anne Pallivathuckal)

    Reuters - Verizon discontinues Internet Hub phone

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    Verizon discontinues Internet Hub phone

    Wednesday, Sep 30, 2009 8:30PM UTC

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 U.S. mobile service, quietly stopped selling the Verizon Hub on Tuesday, just eight months after it launched the experimental device which combined a home telephone and Web applications.

    Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, did not explain why it stopped selling the device, which launched on February 1.

    "We look at our products and we rotate them in and out. This isn't anything other than business as usual," company spokeswoman Brenda Raney said. "Technology is changing and there may be different opportunities available."

    Verizon, whose traditional home phone service has been steadily losing customers, had said in January that the Hub, with its roomy touch screen display and Web apps like weather and traffic reports, was a reinvention of the home phone.

    It had also shown prototypes for future hub products and talked about plans to build a special app store for the device, which cost $199 and came with a $34.99 monthly fee on top of home broadband service fees.

    However, analysts had said at the time that the company would have a tough time convincing consumers that the device was so much better than a traditional home phone that it was worth paying extra for, especially in a weak economy.

    (Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Reuters - Pearl Jam cuts out the middleman with "Backspacer"

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    Pearl Jam cuts out the middleman with "Backspacer"

    Tuesday, Sep 01, 2009 1:8PM UTC

    By Jonathan Cohen

    NEW YORK (Billboard) - "Super poppy." "Just plain fun." "Surprisingly optimistic." "Catchy as hell." These are not phrases often used to describe Pearl Jam, the 30 million-selling purveyor of angst-ridden guitar rock now approaching its 19th year of existence.

    And yet these are the words being used on blogs to describe "The Fixer," the first song from the Seattle rock band's ninth album, "Backspacer."

    The track is a surging, '80s-style rocker written by drummer Matt Cameron.

    You can't blame Cameron, singer Eddie Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament or guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready for smiling wider than usual. President George W. Bush, who the band vilified in song and onstage for eight years, is out of office. The group remains a huge touring draw and A-list festival headliner, having grossed nearly $42 million from 51 shows reported to Billboard Boxscore from 2006 to 2008. Vedder won a Golden Globe for his soundtrack to the 2007 movie "Into the Wild." Life is quieter on the homefront, too: Four of the five band members have children.

    But Pearl Jam is also celebrating because it finally made good on a longstanding desire to release its music on its own, without the aid of a major label. "Backspacer" will come out September 20 in the United States through a creative patchwork of deals with physical and digital retailers, the most prominent of which is a one-off, big-box exclusive with Target. Internationally, Universal Music is the label for the release.

    The Target partnership threw fans for a loop when the news leaked in June. At first glance the move seems at odds with a band whose DIY, fan-first business ethic has set it against corporate behemoths like Ticketmaster and AT&T. But as details began to emerge, it became clear that Pearl Jam struck a deal that rewards the band and its fans as much as it does the stores that sell its music.

    MORAL BAROMETER

    Target agreed to let independent music retailers carry "Backspacer," a first for one of its exclusives. "Backspacer" will also be sold on Pearl Jam's Web site and at Apple's iTunes Music Store.

    "We've put a tremendous amount of thought into this, and we've done it in a way that we think will be good for everybody," Vedder says. He understands why some fans may be confused about the deal, but he says, "I can't think of anything we've ever done without putting it through our own personal moral barometer. Target has passed for us. The fans just have to trust us."

    As Gossard puts it, "If somebody would have said 15 years ago that they were going to give us a great chunk of money and let it be a one-off and not hold us to any strings, we would have said, 'Come on! This is the best deal ever!' We fought our way through eight records at Sony and J to get ourselves in a position where we could cut a deal to get paid $5 a record, rather than $1.50 or $2. It was the right compromise for this record, and I think it will give us even more flexibility in the future. The fact that we cut out a few other chains -- I think it's our prerogative to do that. We're bringing a lot of smaller stores with us."

    The Target discs will link to a virtual "vault" of 11 concerts spanning Pearl Jam's career, from which fans can choose two. The band will also create an organic cotton T-shirt to be sold at Target, with proceeds earmarked for the hunger relief charity Feeding America. And in September, a Cameron Crowe-directed TV ad will air featuring footage shot during a private performance at Seattle's Showbox in late May.

    For Vedder, an avowed vinyl junkie who still savors memories of buying Jackson 5 records as a preteen in Chicago, Target isn't exactly his preferred music purchasing environment. "Maybe it will change, but I'm not going to find Thee Headcoatees at a Target," he says, invoking the obscure British band with a hearty laugh. "But if they only have 300 records at Target, and you can be one of them, and that's how people are going to hear your music, you have to think about that."

    That's not the only thing Vedder is thinking about, either. While acts like AC/DC and Aerosmith were winning new fans with branded versions of "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero," respectively, Pearl Jam was sitting on the videogame sidelines. The band finally took the plunge this spring when it made all of the songs from "Ten" available for download on "Rock Band" the same day the reissue hit stores. The band's manager, Kelly Curtis, declined to discuss sales, but sources at MTV say the "Ten" songs have generated more than 850,000 downloads.

    "Backspacer" will also be available on "Rock Band" the day it comes out, and Target has an exclusive on an edition of the album featuring access to download its songs for "Rock Band" on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. It's a precursor to a dedicated Pearl Jam game that could hit stores as early as 2010.

    Industry observers are eager to see how Pearl Jam's plan plays out. If successful, it could inspire a host of established bands to try a similar approach, according to Tsunami Entertainment president Bruce Kirkland, who has helped negotiate numerous exclusives between artists and big boxes, including the Pearl Jam/Target pairing.

    "Any artist that can tour without support and has a base is well served by this system," he says, pointing to Wal-Mart's deals with the Eagles and Garth Brooks. "For them, the record is a marketing tool for other revenue-generating opportunities. It is a no-brainer. It's a perfect deal in that sense. The financial upside is cutting out a lot of the middle pieces. I like the model because it basically puts more money into marketing, which is a big piece missing from labels these days, and there's a better bottom line for the artist."

    Others are impressed that Pearl Jam has been able to create synergy among such a disparate roster of partners. "They're playing ball with the big boys," one former major-label executive says. "This isn't like some other bands, who self-released music online and then followed it up at retail months later. They picked major partners, because this is still a major band."

    LEAN AND MEAN

    As Pearl Jam reinvented its business, it turned to a familiar face when it came time to record: Brendan O'Brien. The band recorded "Backspacer" in Los Angeles and Atlanta with the producer, who also worked on "Vs." and "Vitalogy" but hadn't produced a Pearl Jam album since 1998's "Yield."

    Pearl Jam's members quickly realized what they'd been missing, as O'Brien provided crucial input on arrangements; played piano, keyboard and percussion; and put together orchestrations for delicate Vedder songs like the acoustic guitar-powered "Just Breathe" and the gut-punch finale "The End."

    "He does those melodic things from his musician brain first, and then he's able to layer them within the music with his producer brain," drummer Cameron says. "He uses both sets of skills in a way that most producers aren't even able to do." O'Brien's efficiency rubbed off on the band, according to Gossard. "We made this faster than we've made any record," he says. "We were 30 days in the studio total, including mix. I think we had 90 percent of the record cut in the first nine days."

    At 11 songs and less than 37 minutes, "Backspacer" is the leanest and meanest Pearl Jam album yet. "At one of our gigs, without flashpots and electricity, there's only so much room for those more difficult listening songs," Vedder says with a laugh. "That was one reason why we kept the arrangements lean. The songs come off more like sparkling water than pea soup, and I think that's good for our group right now."

    "The Fixer" became the foundation for the album after Vedder came up with an edit of an arrangement the band bashed through without him. "My personal interpretation is that it's about how (Vedder) makes our songs work," Gossard says of the track. "When someone inspires him, he's an incredible collaborator."

    Other musical highlights on "Backspacer" include the opening one-two combo of "Gonna See My Friend," a furious Stooges-style garage blast, and the propulsive, Police-y "Got Some," which Pearl Jam premiered June 1 on the first episode of "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien."

    On the softer side, "Just Breathe" is a ballad based on an instrumental from Vedder's "Into the Wild" soundtrack, while "The End" is an aching love song that closes the album with startling lyrics: "My dear/I'm here/But not much longer."

    "You know, I'll admit that even I felt some impact myself listening to it back the first time, and not even really knowing where it came from," Vedder says of the song, which he debuted this summer during a solo tour. "A lot of the songs on this record were ones I just tried to get out of the way of, without self-editing."

    Vedder named the album in homage to a typewriter key. The frontman, who still uses typewriters for lyric writing and personal correspondence, says he got upset when he saw vintage typewriter keys being used as jewelry. "For me it was like shark fin soup: 'You're killing typewriters for a bracelet!'" he says.

    The band, which headlined the past weekend's Outside Lands festival in San Francisco, has shows lined up in Seattle, Los Angeles and Philadelphia through September and October, with the Philly gigs set to be the final ones at the Spectrum.

    Also on tap is a headlining slot October 4 at the Austin City Limits festival, plus a run of shows in Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii in November and December.

    As satisfied as they are with their new album and their new deals, Vedder and his bandmates insist they're as driven as ever to keep challenging themselves, both as a band and a business.

    "You'd like to be able to go to work and have everything be smooth, but there's some weird artistic gene in some of us," he says, expanding on the theme of "The Fixer." "It can feel like a curse, because it makes you push yourself to make things better and not allow them to be easy. That's how you get the good stuff."

    (Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)

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    Mexico's health care lures Americans

    It sounds almost too good to be true: a health care plan with no limits, no deductibles, free medicines, tests, X-rays, eyeglasses, even dental work all for a flat fee of $250 or less a year.

    To get it, you just have to move to Mexico.

    As the United States debates an overhaul of its health care system, thousands of American retirees in Mexico have quietly found a solution of their own, signing up for the health care plan run by the Mexican Social Security Institute.

    The system has flaws, the facilities aren't cutting-edge, and the deal may not last long because the Mexican government said in a recent report that it is "notorious" for losing money. But for now, retirees say they're getting a bargain.

    "It was one of the primary reasons I moved here," said Judy Harvey of Prescott Valley, who now lives in Alamos, Sonora. "I couldn't afford health care in the United States. To me, this is the best system that there is."

    It's unclear how many Americans use IMSS, but with between 40,000 and 80,000 U.S. retirees living in Mexico, the number probably runs "well into the thousands," said David Warner, a public policy professor at the University of Texas.

    "They take very good care of us," said Jessica Moyal, 59, of Hollywood, Fla., who now lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a popular retirement enclave for Americans.

    The IMSS plan is primarily designed to support Mexican taxpayers who have been paying into the system for decades, and officials say they don't want to be overrun by bargain-hunting foreigners.

    "If they started flooding down here for this, it wouldn't be sustainable," said Javier Lopez Ortiz, IMSS director in San Miguel de Allende.

    Pre-existing conditions aren't covered for the first two years, and some newer medicines and implants are not free. IMSS hospitals don't have frills such as televisions or in-room phones, and they often require patients to bring family members to help with bathing and other non-medical tasks. Most doctors and nurses speak only Spanish, and Mexico's overloaded court system doesn't provide much recourse if something goes wrong.

    But the medical care doesn't cost a dime after paying the annual fee, and it is usually good, retirees and health experts say. Warner said most American retirees enroll in IMSS as a form of cheap insurance against medical emergencies, while using private doctors or traveling back to the USA for less urgent care. Medicare, the U.S. insurance plan for retirees, cannot be used outside the United States.

    Program prompts relocation

    The program has helped people such as Ron and Jemmy Miller of Shawano, Wis. They decided to retire early, but knew affording health care was going to be a problem.

    Ron was a self-employed contractor, and Jemmy was a loan officer at a bank. At ages 61 and 52, respectively, they were too young to qualify for Medicare, but too old to risk not having health insurance.

    "We knew that we couldn't retire without Medicare," Jemmy Miller said. "We're pretty much in Mexico now because we can't afford health care in the States."

    The couple learned about IMSS from Mexico guidebooks and the Internet. They moved to the central city of Irapuato in 2006, got residency visas as foreign retirees, and then enrolled in IMSS.

    The IMSS system is similar to an HMO in the United States, Jemmy Miller said. Patients are assigned a primary care physician and given a passport-size ID booklet that includes records of appointments. The doctor can refer patients to specialists, a bigger hospital or one of the IMSS specialty hospitals in cities such as Guadalajara or Mexico City.

    In 2007, Ron Miller got appendicitis and had emergency surgery at the local IMSS hospital. He was in the hospital for about a week and had a double room to himself. The food was good, the nurses were attentive, and doctors stopped by three or four times a day to check on him, he said. At the end of it all, there was no bill, just an entry in the ID booklet.

    The Millers may soon move back to the United States, but Jemmy Miller said they want to try to maintain the IMSS coverage. "If something big really comes up, we'd probably come back to Mexico," she said.

    Different levels of care offered

    IMSS is one of several public health systems in Mexico, each with its own network of hospitals and clinics. The program, which was founded in 1943, is funded by a combination of payroll deductions, employer contributions and government funds. It covers 50.8 million workers.

    IMSS facilities are a step up from the state hospitals, but not as advanced as Mexico's private hospitals, which are often world-class, said Curtis Page, a Tempe, Ariz., doctor and co-author of a book about health care in Mexico.

    Most patients seem grateful nonetheless. When Michael Kirkpatrick, 63, of Austin, fell off his motorcycle near his home in San Miguel de Allende, IMSS surgeons gave him a stainless-steel artificial hip.

    There was no physical rehabilitation after the surgery, just a checkup a few weeks later.

    "There was not the kind of follow-through and therapy that you would expect if you were doing this in the first world," Kirkpatrick said. "But it was satisfactory. The hip feels good."

    Bob Story, 75, of St. Louis, had prostate-reduction surgery at an IMSS hospital in Mazatln and discovered that patients were expected to bring their own pillows. It was a small price to pay, he said, for a surgery that would have cost thousands of dollars back home.

    "I would say it's better than any health plan I've had in the States," he said.

    Hawley is Latin America correspondent for USA TODAY and The Arizona Republic

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