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Apr 28 2011

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 US economy slowed sharply in first quarter

by Paul Handley, AFP

1 hr 23 mins ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Sharp cuts to government spending and higher fuel and food prices slowed US growth in the first quarter, highlighting the weakness of the country’s recovery, official data showed Thursday.

Growth slowed to an annual pace of 1.8 percent in the January-March quarter, compared with a humming 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, the Commerce Department said in its first estimate for the period.

The deceleration in the world’s biggest economy was in line with analyst expectations, some of whom blamed heavy wintry weather for a key part of the figure: a downturn in investment in residential and non-residential buildings.

AFP

2 Fed chief holds court, signals end of stimulus plan

by Andrew Beatty, AFP

Wed Apr 27, 6:40 pm ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Ben Bernanke sought to cast the Federal Reserve as a dependable custodian of the US recovery in a first-ever press conference Wednesday, as the bank began to inch away from crisis-era policies.

Heralding a second attempt to halt — and eventually reverse — stimulus spending that has helped prop up the recovery, Bernanke said the Fed would complete a $600 billion bond buy-up in June as planned.

“We’re just going to let the purchases end,” he said, hosting the first post-policy meeting press conference in the Fed’s 97-year history.

3 Britain withdraws Syria’s wedding invite

by Danny Kemp, AFP

Thu Apr 28, 7:47 am ET

LONDON (AFP) – Britain on Thursday withdrew the Syrian ambassador’s invitation on the eve of the royal wedding, while it emerged that Kate Middleton will not promise to obey Prince William in her marriage vows.

Seeking to end a diplomatic spat that was fast becoming a headache for organisers, Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was “unacceptable” for the envoy to attend because of Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

“In the light of this week’s attacks against civilians by the Syrian security forces, which we have condemned, the Foreign Secretary has decided that the presence of the Syrian ambassador at the royal wedding would be unacceptable and that he should not attend,” a Foreign Office statement said.

4 New attack on Pakistan navy kills five

by Hasan Mansoor, AFP

Thu Apr 28, 7:40 am ET

KARACHI (AFP) – A bomb ripped through a Pakistani bus in Karachi on Thursday, killing four naval personnel and a passing motorcyclist in the third attack on navy transport this week in the country’s biggest city.

A dozen people were wounded in the attack claimed by the Taliban in Pakistan’s politically tense economic capital and southern port, where NATO ships supplies to the 130,000 US-led troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Two other navy buses were bombed on Tuesday, dealing a blow to the military just days after Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Kayani claimed his forces had “broken the back” of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

5 Russia bans gasoline exports amid shortages

by Dmitry Zaks, AFP

Thu Apr 28, 7:07 am ET

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia decided on Thursday to halt gasoline exports and switch the flow to the home market to fight shortages and a price rise that is coinciding with rising voter discontent.

The sudden announcement from the world’s biggest oil producer came after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered his government to tackle an issue that has been gaining increasing attention ahead of upcoming elections.

Deputy Energy Ministry Sergei Kudryashov’s comments suggested the ban would only apply for the month of May and then be followed by higher gasoline (petrol) export duties aimed at keeping most future sales within Russia.

Reuters

6 Economic growth slows, inflation surges

By Lucia Mutikani, Reuters

1 hr 40 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Economic growth braked sharply in the first quarter as higher food and gasoline prices dampened consumer spending and sent inflation rising at its fastest pace in 2-1/2 years.

Another report on Thursday showed a surprise jump in the number of Americans claiming unemployment benefits last week, which could cast a shadow on expectations for a significant pick-up in output in the second quarter.

Growth in gross domestic product slowed to a 1.8 percent annual rate after a 3.1 percent fourth-quarter pace, the Commerce Department said. Economists had expected a 2 percent pace.

7 Bomb attack in Morocco tourist cafe kills 15

By Youssef Boudlal, Reuters

31 mins ago

MARRAKESH (Reuters) – A bomb killed 15 people including 10 foreigners in Morocco’s bustling tourist destination of Marrakesh, state television said on Thursday, in an attack that bore the hallmark of Islamist militants.

The blast ripped through a cafe overlooking Marrakesh’s Jamaa el-Fnaa square, a spot that is often packed with foreign tourists. A Reuters photographer said he saw rescuers pulling dismembered bodies from the wreckage.

State-run 2M television said the 15 dead comprised six French nationals, five Moroccans and four foreigners whose nationality it did not give.

8 Bahrain sentences four to die over police killing

Reuters

9 mins ago

MANAMA (Reuters) – A Bahraini military court ordered the death penalty for four men on Thursday over the killing of two policemen in recent protests, state media said, a move that could increase sectarian strife in a close U.S. ally.

The ruling came amid heightened antagonism between Bahrain’s Shi’ite Muslim majority and its Sunni ruling family after the island kingdom crushed anti-government protests last month with military help from fellow Sunni-led Gulf Arab neighbours.

It was only the third time in more than three decades that a death sentence had been issued against citizens of Bahrain, a U.S. ally which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

9 Libyan forces overrun rebels on Tunisian border

By Lin Noueihed and Abdelaziz Boumzar, Reuters

1 hr 8 mins ago

TRIPOLI/DEHIBA, Tunisia (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi overran a rebel outpost on the Tunisian border on Thursday, but the opposition disputed a state TV report that they had also taken a remote desert town.

Fighting spilled onto Tunisian territory at the Dehiba-Wazin border crossing, in what appeared to be part of a broader government move to root out rebel outposts beyond their eastern heartland. But Gaddafi’s soldiers apologized to their Tunisian counterparts for the incursion and returned to their posts.

Rebels said the western mountain town of Zintan also came under fire from multiple-launch Grad rockets seen as especially hazardous to civilian areas because of their inaccuracy.

10 Syria’s Assad facing dissent over Deraa crackdown

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Reuters

Thu Apr 28, 7:47 am ET

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faced rare dissent within his Baath Party and signs of discontent in the army over violent repression of protesters that a rights group said on Thursday had killed 500 people.

Two hundred Baath members from southern Syria resigned on Wednesday after the government sent in tanks to crush resistance in the city of Deraa, where a six-week-old uprising against Assad’s authoritarian rule erupted.

Diplomats said signs were also emerging of differences within the army where the majority of troops are Sunni Muslims, but most officers belong to Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

11 European push for U.N. condemnation of Syria fails

By Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip, Reuters

Wed Apr 27, 8:58 pm ET

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – A European push for the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syria’s violent crackdown on anti-government protesters was blocked on Wednesday by resistance from Russia, China and Lebanon, envoys said.

“There will be no statement,” a Security Council diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Instead, Western countries called a public debate on Syria, but the meeting highlighted differences in the 15-nation council, with Russia charging that it was outside interference in Arab countries that could be a threat to peace.

12 AIG seeks to recoup billions it says lost to fraud

By Tom Hals, Reuters

13 mins ago

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) – American International Group Inc sued two money management firms on Thursday in the start of a fight to recoup billions of dollars the bailed-out insurer said it lost due to fraud.

The insurer, 92 percent-owned by the U.S. government, joined the swelling ranks of investors and insurers who are taking on Wall Street over supposedly safe mortgage-related investments at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis.

The insurance giant sued ICP Asset Management and Moore Capital in New York State Supreme Court, but made clear that the lawsuits were the start of a campaign that would put Wall Street’s biggest banks in its sights.

13 Ex-SAC manager pleads guilty to insider trading

By Jonathan Stempel, Reuters

56 mins ago

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A former SAC Capital portfolio manager who prosecutors said scrambled to toss incriminating evidence into garbage trucks pleaded guilty to insider trading.

Donald Longueuil, 35, is the latest to admit wrongdoing in a probe into illegal trading on corporate secrets leaked by consultants working for so-called expert network firms that help hedge funds obtain information about public companies.

He is the second former employee of the $12 billion hedge fund founded by Steven A. Cohen to plead guilty to an insider trading charge this year. SAC has not been implicated in the probe.

14 NYSE investors demand Nasdaq talks

By Jonathan Spicer and Luke Jeffs, Reuters

Thu Apr 28, 12:20 pm ET

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) – NYSE Euronext’s attempts to charm investors into backing the lowest of two bids were overshadowed by investor demands the exchange open talks with arch-rival Nasdaq OMX.

At a packed shareholder meeting in New York on Thursday, the Big Board owner faced mounting calls that it talk to its cross-town rival, whose $11.2 billion advances it has rejected in favor of a near $10 billion all stock merger with Deutsche Boerse.

Kenneth Steiner, who owns about 1,000 NYSE Euronext shares, called for the board to be ousted and accused the company of selling itself too cheaply by ignoring the Nasdaq-led cash and stock bid.

15 Buffett’s Berkshire says Sokol deceived and broke law

By Ben Berkowitz, Reuters

Thu Apr 28, 1:37 am ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former Berkshire Hathaway executive David Sokol deliberately misled Warren Buffett when pitching an investment to him, the company’s board concluded in a scathing report that may add fuel to a pending SEC probe of Buffett’s one-time heir apparent.

The board said it may sue Sokol to recover the $3 million of trading profit he made when Berkshire bought chemicals company Lubrizol Corp and could seek damages from him for harm to the company’s reputation. The company will cooperate with any government probe in the matter as well.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is probing Sokol, a person familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

16 Nuclear regulator scrutinizes back-up power plans

By Roberta Rampton and Ayesha Rascoe, Reuters

1 hr 37 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One day after deadly tornadoes knocked out power to nuclear reactors in Alabama, the head of the U.S. nuclear safety regulator expressed concern whether backup batteries at sites across the United States have the staying power in a prolonged emergency.

The commission on Thursday was examining whether the 104 U.S. nuclear plants have enough emergency power in place to ensure that safety systems can keep running in extreme blackouts, like when an earthquake and tsunami shut down power to the Fukushima plant in Japan in March.

Senior staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission explained that plants have a series of strategies including diesel generators, emergency fuel supplies, back-up batteries and battery rechargers to keep plants going when power gets knocked out.

17 Portugal bailout terms seen ready in days: source

By Sergio Goncalves, Reuters

Thu Apr 28, 9:52 am ET

LISBON (Reuters) – A package of conditions for Portugal to meet in return for a bailout from Europe and the IMF should be ready within days, a source said Thursday as ministers voiced confidence the negotiations were on track.

European Commission and IMF officials have been in Portugal since mid-April, poring over the heavily indebted country’s public accounts to come up with measures in return for a bailout that is expected to reach about 80 billion euros.

“The work is proceeding in depth and in a completely normal way,” a senior source close to the talks told Reuters. “It is expected that this phase will be completed in the coming days. That means there will be a full package of measures, not just the diagnostics.”

18 Royal wedding no tonic for fragile UK recovery

By Christina Fincher

Thu Apr 28, 9:39 am ET

LONDON (Reuters) – Tourist trade may rocket and sales of memorabilia soar but Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton is unlikely to provide the boost to Britain’s economy that the government hopes.

The Confederation of British Industry reckons an extra public holiday typically costs the economy around 6 billion pounds ($10 billion) in lost output.

Even accounting for the feel-good factor the historic occasion will impart and the boost to London attractions from an influx of wealthy foreign visitors, the wedding is not the “unadulterated good news” Prime Minister David Cameron called it.

19 Sony faces global legal action over data theft

By Nathan Layne and Tom Hals, Reuters

Thu Apr 28, 10:27 am ET

TOKYO/WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) – Sony Corp could face legal action across the globe after it delayed disclosing a security breach of its popular PlayStation Network, infuriating gamers and sending the firm’s shares down nearly 5 percent in Tokyo Thursday.

Sony shut down the network on April 19 after discovering the breach, one of the biggest online data infiltrations ever. But it was not until Tuesday that the company said the system had been hacked and that users’ data could have been stolen.

In the United States, several members of Congress seized on the breach, in which hackers stole names, addresses and possibly credit card details from 77 million users. One U.S. law firm filed a lawsuit in California on behalf of consumers.

20 Panasonic to axe thousands of jobs, close dozens of plants

By Isabel Reynolds and Reiji Murai, Reuters

Thu Apr 28, 6:48 am ET

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese consumer electronics giant Panasonic Corp said it would cut another 17,000 jobs and close up to 70 factories around the world over the next two years in a bid to pare costs and keep up with Asian rivals.

The maker of Viera TVs and Lumix cameras said it was aiming to trim its workforce of 367,000 at the end of last month to 350,000 by March 2013. The cull comes on top of nearly 18,000 job cuts made in the past business year, for a total of around 35,000 over three years.

“The figure is huge, but so is the company, and for an old-fashioned one like Panasonic, this is a big move,” said Toru Hashizume, chief investment officer at Stats Investment Management in Tokyo.

21 BOJ believes Japan in recession, stands pat on policy

By Leika Kihara and Rie Ishiguro, Reuters

Thu Apr 28, 8:05 am ET

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan kept monetary policy unchanged on Thursday even as it lowered growth forecasts and estimated the economy tipped into recession early this year, disappointing analysts who felt the grim readings after last month’s earthquake called for more policy easing.

Japan’s recovery from the quake would accelerate from October, the BOJ said in its twice-yearly outlook report on the economy. At the same time, it revised up economic forecasts for the year ending in March 2013 and raised its estimate for core consumer price inflation in the current fiscal year.

BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said the central bank still needed time to examine the effects on the economy of its monetary easing last month.

22 Deutsche Bank acquisitions drive near-record profit

By Edward Taylor and Arno Schuetze, Reuters

Thu Apr 28, 6:56 am ET

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Deutsche Bank posted near record first-quarter profit, driven by investment banking market share gains and acquisitions in retail banking and wealth management.

The additions made in the wake of the financial crisis, including retail lender Deutsche Postbank and wealth manager Sal. Oppenheim, helped offset a slight fall in profit from investment banking.

But even in this area Deutsche performed better than peers, seeing profit dip 5 percent from a bumper year-ago period, but rise to more than three times the previous quarter.

23 Bernanke signals no rush to reverse stimulus

By Mark Felsenthal and Glenn Somerville, Reuters

Wed Apr 27, 6:49 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled on Wednesday that the U.S. central bank is in no rush to scale back its support for the economy with the labor market still in a “very, very deep hole.”

The Fed trimmed its forecast for 2011 economic growth in a nod to a weak start to the year and bumped up its projections for inflation, which caused some jitters in financial markets.

The central bank’s policy-setting committee said after a two-day meeting it will complete the purchase of $600 billion in bonds in June to support the economy’s recovery, and said it would keep its balance sheet, currently at $2.67 trillion, steady for a time to ensure its support does not fade.

24 Apple denies tracking iPhone customers

By Paul Thomasch, Reuters

Wed Apr 27, 5:00 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Steve Jobs, responding to growing public pressure, broke Apple Inc’s silence on Wednesday to defend the iPhone’s use of location data and stressed that it had never tracked the movements of its customers.

Jobs, who is on medical leave, sought to control a firestorm that has broken out over whether Apple is monitoring the whereabouts of its customers, promising to adjust the mobile software to store less location data.

Jobs denied that it was tracking the movements of its iPhone customers during interviews with AllThingsD, a blog owned by News Corp, and others. He also said the company would look forward to testifying before Congress and other regulators.

AP

25 Analysis: Obama had no choice in ‘birther’ fight

By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press

Thu Apr 28, 6:35 am ET

WASHINGTON – Confronting doubters who harbor questions about his place of birth, President Barack Obama chose to defy one of his White House’s own rules: Don’t get dragged into the news skirmish of the day.

This time, he decided he had to. In an extraordinary step, the White House produced a copy of his detailed Hawaii birth certificate Wednesday after obtaining a special waiver from the state to make it public.

For his allies and even many of his political critics, it was about time.

26 Some blacks see racism in ‘birther’ questions

By SONYA ROSS, Associated Press

46 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Shortly after President Barack Obama declared himself an American-born citizen with papers to prove it, Baratunde Thurston declared himself a disgusted black man.

“I find it hard to summarize in mere words the amount of pain and rage this incident has caused,” Thurston said.

“This” would be the nation’s first black president standing in the White House, blue power suit and all, going on TV to debunk, in more detail than before, the persistent, he-ain’t-really-an-American rumors fanned anew by Donald Trump, the developer and might-be presidential candidate.

27 In one stroke, a new Obama national security team

By ERICA WERNER and ROBERT BURNS, Associated Press

16 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Seeking to tame wars overseas and budget deficits at home, President Barack Obama announced a major remake of his national security team Thursday aimed at ensuring leadership continuity during a perilous time.

His own re-election approaching, Obama turned to a cast of familiar and respected officials for the most sweeping reworking of his national security team since the opening weeks of his presidency.

He nominated CIA Director Leon Panetta to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates when Gates makes his long-planned retirement this summer, and he proposed sending Iraq and Afghanistan war commander Gen. David Petraeus to head the CIA.

28 Gadhafi forces shell frontline city in west Libya

By BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press

25 mins ago

MISRATA, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi’s forces shelled the rebel-held city of Misrata on Thursday, killing nine people. Regime supporters and opponents battled on another front in western Libya for control of a crossing point along the Tunisian border, killing refugees as they fled.

Rockets and other artillery fire slammed into Misrata’s western Garara neighborhood, sending up deadly showers of shrapnel. At the city’s Hikma hospital, relatives shouting “God is great” collected the dead, each with the word “martyr” written in black marker on their white funeral shrouds.

The two-month battle has wrecked swaths of Libya’s third-largest city and prompted dire warnings of a humanitarian crisis. Gadhafi’s best trained forces are battling fiercely to try to uproot rebel fighters from their only major stronghold in the western half of Libya, which is home to the government’s power centers and the capital, Tripoli.

29 Cheaper eye drug proves as good as pricier one

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE, AP Medical Writer

6 mins ago

A much cheaper drug has proved just as good as a $2,000 monthly shot at treating a common eye disorder that can lead to blindness, a long-awaited study has found. It also shows that patients can be treated less often, sparing them a lot of pain and expense.

The results are expected to lead many doctors and patients to turn away from the pricier Lucentis and instead use $50 shots of Avastin for an age-related condition called wet macular degeneration.

Vision improvement after one year was the same for those given Avastin or Lucentis, the 1,200-patient study found.

30 Economy slowed by high gas prices, bad weather

By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer

1 hr 41 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The economy slowed sharply in the first three months of the year. High gas prices cut into consumer spending, bad weather delayed construction projects and the federal government slashed defense spending by the most in six years.

The 1.8 percent annual growth rate in the January-March quarter was weaker than the 3.1 percent growth in the previous quarter, the Commerce Department reported. And it was the worst showing since last spring when the European debt crisis slowed growth to a 1.7 percent pace.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other economists say the slowdown is a temporary setback. They generally agree that gas prices will stabilize and the economy will grow at a 3 percent pace in each of the next three quarters.

31 Exxon earns nearly $11B in 1Q, best since ’08

By CHRIS KAHN, AP Energy Writer

1 hr 41 mins ago

NEW YORK – Exxon earned nearly $11 billion in the first quarter, a performance likely to land it in the center of the national debate over high gasoline prices.

The world’s largest publicly traded company said Thursday that higher oil prices boosted profits 69 percent from a year ago. The result was Exxon’s best since earning a record $14.83 billion in 2008’s third quarter.

Wall Street had been expecting sharply higher earnings for oil companies. Oil prices rose 17 percent in the quarter. But huge oil profits will aggravate drivers with gasoline prices averaging $3.89 per gallon nationally. President Obama wants to cut into some of those earnings by eliminating $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies for oil companies.

32 Govt urging food companies to limit ads for kids

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press

36 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The government is pressuring food companies to cut back on marketing unhealthy foods to children, releasing guidelines Thursday that could phase out advertisements on television, in stores and on the Internet if companies agree to go along with them.

Under the voluntary guidelines, companies would be urged to only market foods to children ages 2 through 17 if they are low in fats, sugars and sodium and contain specified healthy ingredients. The proposal sets parameters that are stricter than many companies have set for themselves.

If companies agree, children could see much less of the colorful cartoon characters used to advertise cereals or other gimmicks designed to draw their attention. If the food manufacturers wanted to continue that advertising, they would have to reduce unhealthy ingredients in their products.

33 Terrorist attack hits cafe in Morocco, 14 dead

By HASSAN ALAOUI, Associated Press

50 mins ago

MARRAKECH, Morocco – A massive terrorist bombing tore through a tourist cafe in the bustling heart of Marrakech’s old quarter Thursday, killing at least 11 foreigners and three Moroccans in the country’s deadliest attack in eight years.

At least 23 people were wounded in the blast a few minutes before noon in Djemma el-Fna square, one of the top attractions in a country that depends heavily on tourism, Moroccan Interior Minister Taib Chergaoui said.

Government spokesman Khalid Naciri told the AP it was too soon to lay blame for what he called a terrorist attack but he noted that Morocco regularly dismantles cells linked to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and says it has disrupted several plots.

34 Unity among North Waziristan groups crumbles

By KATHY GANNON, Associated Press

Thu Apr 28, 6:35 am ET

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Crumbling unity among militants could provide the Pakistan army an opening to conduct a limited offensive against a particularly vicious Taliban group in a strategic tribal region, according to analysts and a senior military official.

The target of such an operation in North Waziristan would be the most violent factions within the so-called Pakistani Taliban. Their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, is believed to be increasingly isolated after executing a prominent former Pakistani official over the objections of senior militant leaders.

Although Mehsud has been linked to attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, his main focus appears to be in plotting carnage elsewhere in Pakistan. And that makes him a prime target for the army.

35 Ivorian warlord spox says he was beaten, killed

Associated Press

58 mins ago

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – The spokesman for Ivory Coast’s killed warlord says Ibrahim “IB” Coulibaly was beaten badly before being shot in the chest.

Spokesman Felix Anoble confirmed that photographs posted on the Internet of a bloody-faced man with an apparent bullet wound to the heart showed Coulibaly, 47, after he was killed Wednesday night.

A commander for Defense Minister Guillaume Soro had said Coulibaly appeared to have killed himself rather than surrender when Soro’s troops seized Coulibaly’s stronghold in Abidjan.

36 Afghan officer opens fire, kills 9 Americans

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press

Wed Apr 27, 10:00 pm ET

KABUL, Afghanistan – A veteran Afghan military pilot said to be distressed over his personal finances opened fire at Kabul airport after an argument Wednesday, killing eight U.S. troops and an American civilian contractor.

Those killed were trainers and advisers for the nascent Afghan air force. The shooting was the deadliest attack by a member of the Afghan security forces, or an insurgent impersonating them, on coalition troops or Afghan soldiers or policemen. There have been seven such attacks so far this year.

Although the individual circumstances may differ, the incidents of Afghans turning against their coalition partners seem to reflect growing anti-foreigner sentiment independent of the Taliban. Afghans are increasingly tired of the nearly decade-long war and think their lives have not improved despite billions of dollars in international aid.

37 DNA tests link Southern leprosy cases to armadillo

By ALICIA CHANG, AP Science Writer

Wed Apr 27, 9:17 pm ET

LOS ANGELES – With some genetic sleuthing, scientists have fingered a likely culprit in the spread of leprosy in the southern United States: the nine-banded armadillo.

DNA tests show a match in the leprosy strain between some patients and these prehistoric-looking critters – a connection scientists had suspected but until now couldn’t pin down.

“Now we have the link,” said James Krahenbuhl, who heads a government leprosy program that led the new study.

So the next time someone tells you it’s spread by “illegals” you tell them they’re full of shit.

38 NJ voters approve 80 percent of school budgets

By GEOFF MULVIHILL, Associated Press

2 hrs 6 mins ago

EVESHAM, N.J. – A year after an anti-tax revolt took its toll on school budgets, New Jersey voters have returned to their more generous ways in the state’s one-of-a-kind school tax elections.

According to an unofficial but complete tally by the New Jersey School Boards Association, 429 of the 538 budgets up for a vote – or 80 percent – were adopted in elections statewide Wednesday as a rigid new cap was put in place to control tax hikes.

Most years, fewer than one-fifth of the state’s voters participate in school elections. Besides voting for school board candidates, citizens in most towns can vote up or down the property tax bill for their school districts. It’s the best chance New Jersey citizens have to have a direct say on their property taxes, which average more than $7,000 a year – by far the nation’s highest.

39 UN fails to agree on condemning Syria

By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press

Wed Apr 27, 11:27 pm ET

UNITED NATIONS – The deeply divided U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a European and U.S.-backed statement condemning Syrian violence against peaceful protesters on Wednesday, with Russia saying security forces were also killed and the actions don’t threaten international peace.

“A real threat to regional security in our view could arise from outside interference in Syria’s domestic situation including attempts to push ready-made solutions or taking of sides,” Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Alexander Pankin warned the U.N.’s most powerful body during a public session that followed, saying this could lead to civil war.

“It is extremely important to focus all attempts on avoiding such a dangerous turn of events, especially as Syria is a cornerstone of the Middle East security architecture,” he said. “Destabilizing this significant link in the chain will lead to complications throughout the region.”

40 Mo. Gov. Nixon signs compromise dog-breeding bill

By CHRIS BLANK, Associated Press

Wed Apr 27, 10:06 pm ET

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri officials pushed through new regulations for the state’s dog breeders in a flurry of legislative activity Wednesday that started with Gov. Jay Nixon signing one bill repealing sections of a voter-approved dog-breeding law and ended with the governor signing another measure that implemented a deal between dog breeders and welfare groups.

The maneuvering was needed to pass a compromise on new rules for Missouri dog breeders that was brokered by Nixon’s administration and supported by several state-based agriculture and animal welfare groups. Nixon called the new legislation “a dramatic, important, significant step” that would improve the care of dogs while ensuring breeders can continue to operate. The industry has an estimated $1 billion impact in Missouri.

In the end, Nixon and lawmakers eliminated parts of the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act” passed last November by voters, including a limit of 50 breeding dogs per business. Other portions were changed. The new law sought potential middle ground on the specifics of the living-space requirements, and it gives breeders more time to comply with the new rules.

41 Blowout could spill 58 million gallons in Arctic

By DAN JOLING, Associated Press

Wed Apr 27, 9:24 pm ET

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The federal agency overseeing offshore drilling in Alaska says the worst-case scenario for a blowout in the Chukchi Sea lease could result in a spill of more than 58 million gallons of oil into Arctic waters.

That’s about a quarter of the Deepwater Horizon spill, which put 206 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. But it’s far more than Shell Oil – the major leaseholder in waters off Alaska’s northwest coast – says it could handle under its current response plan.

When applying for exploratory permits, Shell was required to prepare for a maximum spill of 231,000 gallons per day. The company says its fleet of on-site responders – including boats, barges, skimmers, and a tanker that can hold 21 million gallons of recovered liquids – can handle a spill of 504,000 gallons per day.

42 Judge rules against gag order in Idaho prison suit

By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

Wed Apr 27, 9:23 pm ET

BOISE, Idaho – A federal judge on Wednesday agreed with The Associated Press and rejected Correction Corporation of America’s request for a sweeping gag order in a lawsuit between Idaho inmates and the private prison company.

In the lawsuit, the Idaho Correctional Center inmates ask for class-action status and say the Boise-area prison is so violent that it’s called “Gladiator School.” They say the guards use brutal inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool and then deny injured prisoners adequate medical care. The Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA says prisoner safety is its top priority and that it works closely with state leaders to meet the standards set by the Idaho Department of Correction.

The case has garnered widespread media attention, and in January CCA attorneys asked the judge for a gag order barring attorneys, witnesses and others involved in the case from speaking to the news media. The company said one of the ACLU attorneys representing the inmates, Stephen Pevar, made inflammatory and prejudicial statements in press releases and interviews, and CCA maintained that continued news coverage of such statements would make it impossible to find an impartial jury.

43 Reid: US must compete with China to lead on energy

By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press

Wed Apr 27, 8:25 pm ET

WASHINGTON – The United States must step up its efforts on renewable energy to compete with China and other countries for global leadership, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday after returning from a nine-day, taxpayer-funded trip to Asia with nine of his colleagues.

The Nevada Democrat said the trip, his first visit to China in a quarter-century, offered “an unmistakable reminder just how hard we have to work to make America competitive with the rest of the world,” particularly on manufacturing and energy.

Reid said he used to be proud that he could see dozens of construction cranes in Las Vegas and other fast-growing areas in Nevada, but said that in China, “they have 26 cranes in one block. And they have block after block of cranes.”

44 Obama proposes broadening EPA’s power over water

By JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer

Wed Apr 27, 8:12 pm ET

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The Obama administration proposed new guidelines Wednesday that would boost the government’s ability to protect streams, wetlands and other sensitive waterways from pollution.

Business and property rights groups said the policy would stifle economic growth by generating more red tape for builders of homes and shopping centers, but environmentalists defended it as essential step to provide clean drinking water and protect waterfowl habitat.

Administration officials said their goal was to clarify which waters are subject to federal regulation under the 1972 Clean Water Act, a question that two Supreme Court rulings in the past decade have not resolved.

45 Federal judge rules Muslims can’t see FBI files

By AMY TAXIN, Associated Press

Wed Apr 27, 7:41 pm ET

SANTA ANA, Calif. – A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a group of Muslim activists and organizations cannot review additional records of FBI inquiries into their activities but berated the government for misleading the court about the existence of the files.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney said six Muslim groups and five individuals who sued in 2007 to gain access to records they believed the FBI was keeping do not have a right to much of the information because of national security concerns.

The ruling came amid a nearly five-year battle by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Muslim activists to obtain files they believe would show the FBI has been unlawfully targeting Muslims in Southern California.

46 For Fed chief, no news makes for a successful day

By PAUL WISEMAN and JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writers

Wed Apr 27, 6:39 pm ET

WASHINGTON – The script was repetitive. The lines were delivered without emotion. There wasn’t even a twist.

The reviews for Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke’s unusual press conference Wednesday would have sunk a Hollywood blockbuster. As the head of the famously vague central bank, though, he nailed it.

“I would give the chairman high grades for his performance today,” said Dana Saporta, an economist at Credit Suisse. “I was a little relieved.”

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