Monday, March 31, 2014

Lindsay Lohan Was Almost In The Avengers, According to Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan Was Almost In The Avengers, According to Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan Was Almost In The Avengers, According to Lindsay Lohan

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 11:21 AM PDT

Lindsay Lohan, whose most recent onscreen opuses ranged from The Canyons to Lifetime’s made-for-TV Elizabeth Taylor biopic, says that she could have had a different film fate. In the latest episode of her Oprah-produced reality television show, the wayward star talked about how she was almost cast in Marvel’s The Avengers.

Lohan said that since her manager didn’t “push” hard enough, her super secret role was given to an “unknown.”

This, of course, begs the question of who Lohan would have played in the likely blockbuster: there’s Pepper Potts, played by the recently “uncoupled” Gwyneth Paltrow. (Not an unknown.) There’s the Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson. (Definitely not unknown). And then there’s Agent Maria Hill, played by How I Met Your Mother’s Colbie Smulders. (Is this who Lilo is shading?)

The only other option was an unnamed NASA scientist played by Tina Benko. Not quite a leading role.

Lohan continued chronicling her casting concerns.

“If I don’t work in a film, he passes it to Vanessa Hudgens; [my manager] passes it one of his other clients,” Lohan said. “Every day I’m not on a film set, I’m wasting my talent because that’s what I was born, and live, to do.”

Maybe one day Lohan will fulfill the role she was born to play and finally be turned into an action figure. Perhaps this long-lost Lindsay Mattel doll needs a superhero revamp:

Healthcare Among Job Sectors With Highest Obesity Rates

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 11:20 AM PDT

It turns out jobs in public administration, utilities, and health care and social service have some of the highest populations of obese employees.

A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine analyzed data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey to determine Americans’ weight, height, occupation and general stress on the job. The researchers found that employees who worked over 40 hours a week or worked in a hostile work environments were significantly more likely to be obese.

People working in protective service, like cops and security guards were the most likely to be obese. But more surprising industries like health care had high numbers of obese workers as well, likely due to high stress and long hours. The study found that those who worked in healthcare customer service and support were far more likely to be obese than actual health care practitioners, suggesting, it said, “that the impact of working conditions on obesity may be especially harmful for lower-income workers.”

The researchers say jobs with long hours can lower workers’ opportunities to get exercise, and jobs with high levels of stress are associated with eating unhealthy and consuming more calories in general. Shift workers often deal with chronic stress, which can have biological effects on the body that contribute to obesity.

Since many employers are looking for ways to cut costs related to health care, knowing what type of work environments can impact obesity levels is valuable.

Here are the top 10 industries with the highest numbers of obese workers:

1. Public administration

2. Utilities

3. Information

4. Transportation and warehousing

5. Healthcare and social assistance

6. Manufacturing

7. Construction

8. Administrative support

9. Mining

10. Agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting


Iowa Expands Its ‘Do Not Rehire’ List

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 11:16 AM PDT

(IOWA CITY, Iowa) — Iowa’s executive branch maintains an internal “do not rehire” list that has grown to more than 1,400 people who are barred from returning to state employment after being fired previously.

A review by The Associated Press shows the two-decades-old list has grown under Gov. Terry Branstad even as the state lacks clear legal justification and policies for how workers’ names are added and removed.

Administrative law judges have ruled three times since 2009 that the Department of Administrative Services doesn’t have “the statutory or regulatory authority” to issue lifetime employment bans against fired workers.

At least 250 names have been added since Branstad returned to office in 2011, about twice the pace of his predecessor.

Iowa managers say they use the list to reject bad employees and save taxpayer money.

Manuel Valls Named As New French Prime Minister

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 11:15 AM PDT

(PARIS) — France’s president has named 51-year-old Socialist Manuel Valls as the country’s new prime minister.

In a prerecorded televised speech, Francois Hollande said Valls, the former interior minister, would lead a “combative government.”

Hollande admitted “it’s time to start a new stage,” just 24 hours after his Socialists suffered heavy losses in nationwide municipal elections.

Valls, who is consistently voted France’s most popular Socialist in opinion polls, is considered to be part of the right-wing side of the party and is also relatively popular with French conservatives.

Connie Britton Is Now On Twitter, Still Has the Best Hair

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 11:03 AM PDT

Important news! In a move Coach Taylor probably would not condone, Friday Night Lights favorite Connie Britton finally joined Twitter, sending her first oh-so characteristic tweet: “Hey y’all!’

The actress, who currently stars on ABC’s Nasvhille as Tami Taylor 2.0, racked up nearly 10.5 thousand followers in the 30 minutes since she sent her first tweet. (Typical.) Fans are bound to look to Britton for advice when in need of a pick-me-up after a football loss, or maybe just for life guidance.

But whether Britton will be sharing promotional teasers for upcoming projects or just insights on how to get perfect wavy hair, her followers are sure to have clear eyes and full hearts.

Say it with me again now: “Hey y’all!”

These March Madness Tickets Are Going for a Tiny Fraction of What They Should

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 10:58 AM PDT

College students can buy tickets for this weekend’s NCAA March Madness Final Four in Arlington, Texas, for just $40 apiece, a tiny fraction of the average seat price.

Will students turn around and flip their seats for profits of four, five, perhaps even ten or twenty times what they paid? Well, surely some will be tempted to do just that. After all, these are kids who will soon join the throngs that collectively owe $1 trillion in student loans. But it looks like the entrepreneurial students out there eager to make some cash on the secondary ticket market won't be able to cash in.

The ticket sales operation for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, one of the four teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, spell out a long list of rules and requirements for those seeking to purchase Final Four seats at the student rate. "Students may only purchase one Final Four ticket," is the first policy listed. And this one is the rule that makes it all but impossible for students hoping to sell their seats:

The credit card used to purchase tickets must be presented by the purchasing student to gain admission to AT&T Stadium, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. A credit card can only be used to purchase one student ticket, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Students will also be required to present their WISCARD to gain admission into AT&T Stadium

The rules are the same for students at the three other schools in the Final Four, the University of Florida, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Kentucky. Students who are eligible to purchase seats at the $40 rate should have already received emails explaining how to proceed, and there's a good chance all of the $40 tickets will be snatched up by Monday afternoon, if not sooner. For everyone else, the NCAA’s sales partner offers a host of pricey options, as do the universities, including travel packages running over $1,000 per person (sometimes not including tickets) and ticket packages for the upcoming semifinal and final game starting at $300, plus a fee of $10 or $15 per ticket. (Also available, curiously: foldable chairs used by UConn during the tournament for $150 apiece.)

Still, the $300 price for tickets is cheap compared to the going rate on the secondary market. The resale and ticket information site released data on Sunday indicating that the average price for "all sessions" tickets (entrance for both semifinal games on Saturday) was $1,367.55.

Tickets for the championship game on Monday night are cheaper, averaging $614 of late, with the cheapest "get-in" price going for $118, though of course at this point it's impossible to know which teams will be playing in the game. As with most sporting events, it appears wise to wait to buy, as it's expected prices will go down as game day nears. For the last three NCAA championship games, the average ticket price wound up under $500, and the cheap seats sold for under $100, according to TiqIQ.

U.S. Ambassador to India Resigns Amid Diplomatic Row

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 10:57 AM PDT

The U.S. ambassador to India said she submitted her resignation Monday, weeks after the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York City sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries.

A statement posted to the Embassy’s website did not give a reason for Ambassador Nancy J. Powell’s departure, but said she planned to retire in May after a 37-year career.

Powell has also been ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Nepal and Pakistan and previously served as director general of the Foreign Service.

U.S.-Indian relations floundered in December after police in New York City detained and allegedly strip-searched an Indian diplomat accused of submitting false documents on an application for her housekeeper to live and work in the U.S., and failing to pay the housekeeper a minimum wage.

A judge later dismissed the case against Devyani Khobragade citing diplomatic immunity and she returned to India. But a grand jury in New York indicted her again earlier this month.

Share Too Much? Facebook Is Giving ‘Privacy Checkups’ to Certain Users

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 10:42 AM PDT

Facebook, in an effort to educate about the different privacy options available on the social network, has begun rolling out a 'Privacy Checkup' initiative to select users of the site.

According to those familiar with the new feature, you'll only get a Privacy Checkup if your account is set to post publicly – that is, if your settings have you sharing beyond your immediate group of Facebook friends. Upon sharing with the public, your account may get the following advisory pop-up:

It reads: "Sorry to interrupt. You haven't changed who can see your posts lately, so we just wanted to make sure you're sharing this post with the right audience. (Your current setting is Public, though you can change this whenever you post.)" The pop-up then gives you the option to quickly change your privacy settings to limit the post to just your Facebook friends.

Facebook has no doubt learned that its customer base no longer wishes to share everything with the world. By making it easier to control who sees what you post, Facebook ensures you keep posting. Remember, what matters most to Facebook is not how much you share with your friends, but how much you share with the social network itself. The more Facebook knows about you, the more money it makes selling ads.

Regardless of whether your account is chosen for a Privacy Checkup, Techlicious recommends taking your family’s privacy in your own hands. Make a habit of reviewing your Facebook privacy settings once or twice a year. If you have kids, make a clear privacy policy for your family. Teach your kids what’s acceptable to be shared and with whom. Social media can be a lot of fun, but it's important to remember: One wrong status update could seriously damage you or your child's future.

To learn more about managing your privacy on Facebook, check out Techlicious’ just-updated comprehensive guide to Facebook privacy settings.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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Is Broadway Only for New Yorkers?

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 10:41 AM PDT

New Yorkers, especially New York theater critics, like to complain that Broadway is being taken over by tourists — the primary target for those big, brand-name musicals we're seeing more and more of. From my point of view, however, the bigger problem is just the opposite. Too many Broadway shows these days — mostly straight plays, but some musicals as well— are steeped in a New York state of mind, overly obsessed with the experiences, issues and in-jokes of the home-town crowd. Two good (bad) new examples have just arrived.

Terrence McNally's new play, Mothers and Sons, takes place in a well-appointed apartment on New York's Upper West Side, where Katharine, a Dallas widow, has just arrived for an unannounced visit to Cal, her son's former gay lover. It has been 20 years since her son died from AIDS, but Katharine is still dripping with bitterness and resentment — not just over his death, but over the fact that Cal has moved on and is now married to another man, with whom he is raising a six-year-old son.

The play is both didactic and dated, as it contrives to make familiar points about the prejudice still faced by gay people, even as the AIDS crisis has faded and gay marriage become the law of much of the land. The point may be valid and worth making, but almost everything in the play rings false: the implausible chip on Katharine's shoulder, her tone-deaf awkwardness in dealing with the gay couple, the idealized portrait of their marriage, complete with adorably outspoken six-year-old.

But the conflict is not just between the enlightened gay couple and a prejudiced old woman; it's between sophisticated, open-minded New Yorkers and those benighted folks who live west of the Hudson. The audience is meant to laugh knowingly at the cracks about East Siders and West Siders, and smirk condescendingly when Katherine confesses she doesn’t know what the AIDS quilt is, and has to be told that the Pines is a gay enclave on Fire Island. Katharine still insists that her son wasn't gay "until he came to New York," and she professes to be mystified at New Yorkers who call the place where they live a home. "It's an apartment," she says.

It doesn't help that Tyne Daly, giving a rare bad performance, is about as convincing playing a Dallas matron as Kim Kardashian would be playing Mother Teresa. But none of the actors have much luck trying to inhabit these cardboard characters, set up by a playwright preaching to the local choir.

The new musical If/Then is a more interesting, or at least more complicated, work. Created by the same team behind Next to Normal, winner of the 2009 Tony Award for Best Musical, it tells the story of Elizabeth, a thirtysomething divorcee, who arrives in New York from Phoenix to start a new life. Actually, two lives. In one scenario, Elizabeth lands a big job in the city planning department, has an affair with her boss, rises quickly, but can't find a mate. In an alternative life, she misses out on the city-planning job, becomes a teacher and winds up marrying an Army doctor. The gimmick is that we watch both her parallel lives unfold simultaneously.

The jump-cuts between her two lives are signaled by lighting changes and name cues: she's called Liz in one life, Beth in the other. Still, keeping them straight can be a challenge. So, alas, is keeping awake, since each of her lives seem like a collection of New York clichés. There are jokes about Brooklyn, about the inaudible announcements in New York City subways, about people from Phoenix. The Big Apple, meanwhile, is romanticized as a cozy small town, where people meet cute in parks and get offered great jobs that they have to be talked into accepting. Street crime and homelessness? Fuhgeddaboudit.

In a season of big musicals based on hit movies (Rocky, The Bridges of Madison County), the show’s intimate scale and soulful, if unmemorable, soft-rock score (by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey) have some appeal. So does star Idina Menzel (who has made the show a near sellout, thanks to John Travolta's mispronunciation of her name at the Oscars), though her industrial-strength voice and hard-edged manner don’t bring much warmth to the show.

Both she and co-star Anthony Rapp (who plays a bisexual friend who sleeps with Elizabeth in one of her lives — don't ask me which) had their career breakthroughs in Rent, which is sort of the original New York musical. Yet that show at least had some grit: there were drugs and tragedy, and people actually had to pay their rent. There's a tragedy and a near-tragedy in If/Then, but they happen only when people go out of town. Back home, it’s still a Yuppie paradise.

5 Killed In Blast In Somali Area Of Kenya Capital

Posted: 31 Mar 2014 10:35 AM PDT

(NAIROBI, Kenya) — Officials in Kenya say that an explosion in downtown Nairobi has killed at least five people.

The National Disaster Operation Center said on Twitter that explosions had occurred Monday evening in a neighborhood known for its large Somali population. Sometimes called Kenya’s “Little Mogadishu,” Eastleigh has seen several grenade attacks over the last year.

The agency said five people were killed and several injured. Officials did not immediately say what caused the blasts.

Kenya has suffered from a long string of grenade attacks presumed to be thrown by Somali militant sympathizes. Officials also recently discovered a large, undetonated car bomb in the coastal city of Mombasa.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Russia’s U.S. Ambassador: No Interest in Invading Eastern Ukraine

Russia’s U.S. Ambassador: No Interest in Invading Eastern Ukraine

Russia’s U.S. Ambassador: No Interest in Invading Eastern Ukraine

Posted: 30 Mar 2014 11:05 AM PDT

American lawmakers are showing concern over a Russian troop buildup along Ukraine’s border despite assurances from Russia that it will not invade the vulnerable eastern region of the country.

“We have said so many times we have no intent, no interest in crossing the border,” Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak said in an appearance on ABC’s This Week Sunday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a televised statement Saturday that Russia has “absolutely no intention of – or interest in – crossing Ukraine's borders.”

Russia’s statements did little to calm American lawmakers’ concerns over a potential invasion in eastern Ukraine. “There is no question there a 40,000-plus troops that they are staged in various areas,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, adding that the Russian troop formation looks like an invasion force.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Lavrov Sunday evening in Paris to discuss a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Another Apple-Samsung Skirmish Heads to Court

Posted: 30 Mar 2014 10:53 AM PDT

(SAN JOSE, Calif.) — The fiercest rivalry in the world of smartphones is heading back to court this week in the heart of the Silicon Valley, with Apple and Samsung accusing each other, once again, of ripping off designs and features.

The trial will mark the latest round in a long-running series of lawsuits between the two tech giants that underscore a much larger concern about what is allowed to be patented.

“There’s a widespread suspicion that lots of the kinds of software patents at issue are written in ways that cover more ground than what Apple or any other tech firm actually invented,” Notre Dame law professor Mark McKenna said. “Overly broad patents allow companies to block competition.”

The latest Apple-Samsung case will be tried less than two years after a federal jury found Samsung was infringing on Apple patents. Samsung was ordered to pay about $900 million but is appealing and has been allowed to continue selling products using the technology.

Now, jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in another round of litigation, with Apple Inc. accusing Samsung of infringing on five patents on newer devices, including Galaxy smartphones and tablets. In a counterclaim, Samsung says Apple stole two of its ideas to use on iPhones and iPads.

“Apple revolutionized the market in personal computing devices,” Apple attorneys wrote in court filings. “Samsung, in contrast, has systematically copied Apple’s innovative technology and products, features and designs, and has deluged markets with infringing devices.”

Samsung countered that it has broken technological barriers with its own ultra-slim, lightweight phones.

“Samsung has been a pioneer in the mobile device business sector since the inception of the mobile device industry,” Samsung attorneys wrote. “Apple has copied many of Samsung’s innovations in its Apple iPhone, iPod, and iPad products.”

In the upcoming case, Apple claims Samsung stole a tap-from-search technology that allows someone searching for a telephone number or address on the web to tap on the results to call the number or put the address into a map. In addition, Apple says Samsung copied “Slide to Unlock,” which allows users to swipe the face of their smartphone to use it.

Samsung countered that Apple is stealing a wireless technology system that speeds up sending and receiving data.

The most attention grabbing claim in the case is Apple’s demand that Samsung pay a $40 royalty for each Samsung device running software allegedly conceived by Apple, more than five times more than the amount sought in the previous trial and well above other precedents between smartphone companies. If Apple prevails, the costs to Samsung could reach $2 billion. Apple’s costs, if it lost, are expected to be about $6 million.

“You rarely get from the jury what you ask for, so companies aim high,” said German patent analyst Florian Mueller. “But in my opinion this is so far above a reasonable level the judge should not have allowed it.”

The problem, he said, is that each smartphone has thousands of patented ideas in it; Apple is challenging just five.

Throughout the three years of litigation, Samsung’s market share has grown. One of every three smartphones sold last year was a Samsung, now the market leader. Apple, with a typically higher price, was second, with about 15 percent of the global market.

Apple claims the following Samsung products now infringe on Apple patents: Admire, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note II, Galaxy SII, Galaxy SII Epic 4G Touch, Galaxy SII Skyrocket, Galaxy SIII, Galaxy Tab II 10.1, and Stratosphere.

Samsung claims the following Apple products infringe on Samsung patents: iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad mini, iPod touch (5th generation), iPod touch (4th generation), and MacBook Pro.

With the San Jose federal courtroom just a 15-minute drive from Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, even jury selection can be difficult. In the previous case, several prospective jurors were dismissed because of their ties to the company.

Kerry, Russian Counterpart Meet on Ukraine Crisis

Posted: 30 Mar 2014 10:32 AM PDT

(PARIS) — Russia on Sunday set out demands for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, saying the former Soviet republic should be unified in a federation allowing wide autonomy to its various regions as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Paris in another bid to calm tensions.

After a brief call on French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Kerry sat down with Lavrov at the residence of the Russian ambassador to France to go over Moscow’s response to a U.S. plan to de-escalate the situation as Russian troops continue to mass along the Ukrainian border.

The men said nothing of substance as they shook hands, although after Kerry ended the photo op by thanking assembled journalists, Lavrov cryptically added in English: “Good luck, and good night.”

Appearing on Russian television ahead of his talks with Kerry, Lavrov rejected suspicions that the deployment of tens of thousands of Russian troops near Ukraine is a sign Moscow plans to invade the country following its annexation of the strategic Crimean peninsula.

“We have absolutely no intention of, or interest in, crossing Ukraine’s borders,” Lavrov said.

Russia says the troops near the border are there for military exercises and that they have no plans to invade, but U.S. and European officials say the numbers and locations of the troops suggest something more than exercises.

And, despite the Russian assurances, U.S., European and Ukrainian officials are deeply concerned about the buildup, which they fear could be a prelude to an invasion or intimidation to compel Kiev to accept Moscow’s demands.

In his interview, Lavrov made clear that Moscow believes a federation is the only way to guarantee Ukraine’s stability and neutrality.

“We can’t see any other way to ensure the stable development of Ukraine but to sign a federal agreement,” Lavrov said, adding that he understood the United States was open to the idea.

U.S. officials have been coy about their position on a federation and insist that any changes to Ukraine’s governing structure must be acceptable to the Ukrainians. Ukrainian officials are wary of decentralizing power, fearing that pro-Russia regions would hamper its western aspirations and potentially split the country apart. However, they are exploring political reforms that could grant more authority to local governments.

The plan that Kerry and Lavrov are discussing covers Ukrainian political and constitutional reforms as well as the disarmament of irregular forces, international monitors to protect minority rights and direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine, according to U.S. officials, who say it has backing of Ukraine’s government.

Kerry and Lavrov have met several times in person and spoken by phone almost daily since the crisis began but have not yet been able to agree on a way forward. The pair met last week in The Hague, where Kerry presented Lavrov with the proposal, which was a response to ideas Lavrov gave him at a March 10 meeting in London.

Sunday’s meeting follows an hourlong phone call Friday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Obama urged Putin to withdraw his troops from the border with Ukraine. The Russian leader, who initiated the call, asserted that Ukraine’s government is allowing extremists to intimidate ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking civilians with impunity — something Ukraine insists is not happening.

That call did little to reassure U.S. officials that Russia is not planning to invade Ukraine after its annexation of Crimea that the west has condemned as illegal and a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on senior Russian officials in response, sparking reciprocal moves from Moscow.

In the interview with Russian television, Lavrov called the sanctions a “dead-end” strategy that would not achieve results and accused the west of hypocrisy. He said it was inconsistent for the west to refuse to recognize Crimea’s annexation, which followed a referendum on joining Russia that was overwhelmingly approved, while at the same time accepting the new government in Kiev, which was formed after the pro-Moscow president fled the country.

“If they are willing to accept the first event as legitimate, then surely they are obliged to acknowledge the second,” Lavrov told Russia’s Channel One television.

The two sides remain far apart, a situation underscored by the fact that the White House and the Kremlin offered starkly different summaries of the Obama-Putin call, which occurred while Obama was traveling in Saudi Arabia.

White House officials described the call as “frank and direct” and said Obama had urged Putin to offer a written response to a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis that the U.S. has presented. He urged Moscow to scale back its troop buildup on the border with Ukraine, which has prompted concerns in Kiev and Washington about a possible Russian invasion in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin, on the other hand, said Putin had drawn Obama’s attention to a “rampage of extremists” in Ukraine and suggested “possible steps by the international community to help stabilize the situation” in Ukraine.

Goalie Named ‘Quick’ Makes Craziest Save You’ll See This Season

Posted: 30 Mar 2014 09:52 AM PDT

He’s more scorpion than man.

Jonathan Quick, goalie for the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, just pulled out the most mind-blowing save of the season. The Kings haven’t scored much this season, but thanks to Quick, they haven’t been scored against much, either.

Belly on the ice after following a pass across the posts, the appropriately named Quick played the predator as Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets fired a rapid shot toward the net. Lifting his right leg into the air like a stinger, Quick deflected the puck back out into play, with nary a sidewards glance.

It must be seen to be believed.

Spanish Journalists Held Captive in Syria Are Freed

Posted: 30 Mar 2014 09:51 AM PDT

Two Spanish journalists who were kidnapped in Syria six months ago and freed on Saturday are now back home in Spain, the daily newspaper El Mundo reports.

Veteran war correspondent Javier Espinosa and Ricardo García Vilanova, an award-winning freelance photographer, were released to the Turkish military near Tal Abyad, a Syrian town close to where the pair was abducted on Sept. 16.

Espinosa’s wife, Mónica García Prieto, posted a tweet on Saturday that read Felicidad pura, or “Pure happiness.” After his return, Espinosa said, “Thanks to those who made ​​it possible for us to come home.”

The journalists were originally abducted alongside several Free Syrian Army fighters and held at a detention facility in Raqqa by a brigade of the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The group, which released the fighters after less than two weeks, is thought to be holding dozens more aid workers, religious figures and journalists.

Fears that Espinosa was in trouble began when his Twitter followers noticed his account went silent on Sept. 15. Word of his capture began to spread quietly, but a media blackout was imposed until El Mundo went public in December.

Syria is the most dangerous location in the world for journalists, press freedom groups say. The Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 29 journalists were killed there in 2013 and another 61 were detained. About 30 journalists are still believed to be held throughout the country.

Some of the more high-profile cases included that of American journalists Austin Tice, who went missing in August 2012 while reporting near Damascus, and James Foley, kidnapped three months later as he was leaving Syria. Families of both reporters initially chose not to publicize their cases but have since initiated massive support and information-gathering campaigns.

The French government has also been working for months to secure the release of reporter Didier Francois and photographer Edouard Elias, who disappeared in June.

[El Mundo]

Central African Republic: Soldiers Kill 30 civilians

Posted: 30 Mar 2014 09:20 AM PDT

(BANGUI, Central African Republic) — Officials say Chadian soldiers killed more than 30 civilians in Central African Republic’s strife-torn capital city.

Jean-Pierre Sadou, a gendarmerie official with the regional peacekeeping force, could not confirm the death toll from Saturday’s violence but said the Chadian soldiers’ actions were a “legitimate defense” after their convoy was attacked by grenades.

Odette Dombolo, a commune mayor in the PK12 neighborhood, said the soldiers opened fire on a large crowd, killing more than 20 and injuring more than 100.

Jean Claude Yamodo, an official in the Gobongo neighborhood, said the same soldiers killed four people there. Witnesses said eight more were killed near the airport.

Bangui has seen regular violence for nearly four months, with tensions mounting between peacekeepers and Christian militia fighters.

Kate O’Mara, Former Dynasty Star, Dies at 74

Posted: 30 Mar 2014 08:35 AM PDT

Kate O’Mara, the former star of the hit American soap opera Dynasty, died Sunday morning at the age of 74.

The actor played Alexis Colby’s scheming sister Cassandra “Caress” Morrell in Dynasty. She also had roles in British series Doctor Who, Howards’ Way and Triangle. Her agent said she died on Sunday morning in a Sussex nursing home after a short battle with an illness, the Guardian reports.

She appeared in the original run of Doctor Who along with Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy as renegade Time Lord The Rani.

O’Mara’s first television roles were in the 1960s, but she landed her biggest gigs in the 1980s.

[The Guardian]


Egypt Sets Presidential Vote for May 26 and 27

Posted: 30 Mar 2014 08:05 AM PDT

(CAIRO) — Egypt’s election commission says the first round of voting for the country’s new president will be held on May 26 and 27, with results expected in early June.

In a press conference Sunday, the commission said that if a second round is necessary, it would be held in mid-June with results expected June 26.

The country’s powerful former military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last summer, has announced his bid for office and is widely expected to win. The commission said that the window for nomination of candidates will open Monday until April 20. A three-week campaign period is slated to start in early May.

Egypt is bitterly divided over Morsi’s ouster, but el-Sissi has garnered wide support for his role in it.

Tucson Police Pepper Spray Rowdy Fans After Loss

Posted: 30 Mar 2014 08:05 AM PDT

Tuscon police arrested 15 people and used pepper spray on rowdy fans following the Arizona Wildcats’ NCAA tournament loss, police said.

Arizona lost in overtime to the Wisconsin Badgers 64-63 in the West Region final Saturday in Anaheim. Crowds leaving Tuscon bars and restaurants after watching their team’s narrow defeat didn’t disperse from the area despite police orders to do so, the Associated Press reports.

Police cruisers and baton-wielding officers that arrived on the scene were soon met with flying beer bottles, cans and firecrackers from the crowd.

Of the 15 people arrested in the fracas, 14 have been released.


2 Spanish Journalists Freed From Kidnap in Syria

Posted: 30 Mar 2014 07:42 AM PDT

(MADRID) — Two Spanish journalists who were freed after being kidnapped for six months in Syria by a rogue al-Qaeda group are flying back home Sunday, Spain’s Defense Ministry said.

Newspaper El Mundo reported earlier that its war correspondent Javier Espinosa made contact from Turkey, where he and photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova were under military protection.

A ministry spokesman said an aircraft was sent to pick up the journalists and was due in Madrid midafternoon Sunday.

It was not clear whether the journalists had escaped or were released by the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which abducted them Sept. 16.

Following news of their release, Monica Garcia Prieto, Espinosa’s partner, sent a Tweet saying: “Pure happiness.”

Syria remains the most dangerous conflict in the world for reporters, partially because of the risk of kidnapping by pro-government forces or rebels. The release of the two Spanish correspondents leaves at least another nine foreign correspondents missing in Syria as well as 10 Syrian reporters.

Press freedom groups say the Islamic State is believed to be responsible for many kidnappings and deaths since it muscled into northern and central Syria.

The Islamic State took the two Spaniards captive six months ago at a checkpoint in the town of Tal Abyad in the eastern province of Raqqa, where they are the dominant faction.

The Hanein Network, a militant website that carries al-Qaeda statements, issued a plea to the Islamic State in December to release Espinosa and Garcia Vilanova, describing them as “men who risked their lives to report the truth.”

Its home page shows the Spaniards in a soft-focus background. A masked militant of the Islamic State stands in the foreground, holding two cats, in an apparent appeal to the group’s sentimental side.

Another Spanish reporter who was seized by the Islamic State in September, Marc Marginedas, was released earlier this month.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Teen Has a Plan to Save The Government $400 Million

Teen Has a Plan to Save The Government $400 Million

Teen Has a Plan to Save The Government $400 Million

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 10:55 AM PDT

Remembering to pack lunch and catch the school bus on time? Sure, got it. Solving the federal deficit? Um, yeah, maybe.

That’s kind of what a day in the life of 14-year-old Suvir Mirchandani looks like. Mirchandani has figured out that by changing the standard typeface on government documents from Times New Roman to Garamond, the federal and state governments could save up to $400 million in ink costs.

That’s because Garamond uses far less ink than government-recommended fonts like Times New Roman and Century Gothic, according to Mirchandani. He published his findings in the peer-reviewed Journal for Emerging Investigators earlier in March.

With a federal government printing expenditure of $1.8 billion, and state government costs estimated at $1.3 billion, even a slight reduction in ink usage could save hundred of millions of dollars, says Mirchandani.

Other teens, meanwhile, are still changing the font size on periods throughout their papers to hit assignment page-length requirements.

Hard Task of Finding Slide Victims Stretches On

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 10:50 AM PDT

(ARLINGTON, Wash.) — Finding and identifying victims from one of the most lethal landslides in the nation’s history could stretch on for a very long time, officials warned in describing the arduous work of extracting and trying to identify the human remains.

“It’s a very, very slow process. It was miserable to begin with, and as you all know, it has rained heavily in the last few days, it’s made the quicksand even worse,” Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson said at a Friday evening briefing. “I cannot possibly tell you how long this will last, or when, or if they will find more bodies. We hope that we do, but right now there’s no telling.”

Crews may be finding more remains amid the destruction in the community of Oso northeast of Seattle, but Haakenson said the official death toll will remain at 17 until medical examiners can further complete their work.

Authorities have located at least eight other bodies in addition to the 17, and they previously said they expect the number of fatalities from the March 22 mudslide to rise substantially.

Ninety people were listed as missing, but hope for them began fading by midweek when they had not checked in with friends or relatives, and no one had emerged from the pile alive.

Leslie Zylstra said everybody in town knows someone who died, and the village was coming to grips with the fact that many of the missing may remain entombed in the debris.

“The people know there’s no way anybody could have survived,” said Zylstra, who used to work in an Arlington hardware store. “They just want to have their loved ones, to bury their loved ones.”

Haakenson described for the first time Friday the difficulty of the searchers’ task. When a body is found, the spot is marked for a helicopter pickup. That only happens when the helicopters are able to fly in the wind and rain that has pummeled the search area. The victim is then placed in a truck in a holding area.

At the end of the day, all the recovered victims are transported to the medical examiner’s office about 20 miles away in Everett.

“Autopsies are performed, the process of identification takes place — if possible,” Haakenson said. “The identification process has been very, very challenging.”

Authorities have had to rely heavily on dental records, Haakenson told The Seattle Times. In a few cases, medical examiner’s investigators have had to use DNA testing.

People who have reported relatives missing have been asked by the medical examiner’s staff to provide identifying information, such as eye color, hair color and possible tattoos, and to have the missing person’s dental office compile records, he said.

In addition to bearing the stress of the disaster, townspeople were increasingly frustrated by the lack of information from authorities, said Mary Schoenfeldt, a disaster traumatologist who has been providing counseling services at schools and for public employees and volunteers.

“The anger and frustration is starting to rise,” she said.

That’s normal for this phase of a disaster, as is the physical toll taken by not having eaten or slept normally in days, she said.

There were also signs of resilience. Handmade signs have appeared that say “Oso strong” and “530 pride” in reference to the stricken community and state Highway 530 that runs through it.

The catastrophe, which followed weeks of heavy rain, was shaping up to be one of deadliest landslides in U.S. history.

Previous slides triggered by storms included one that killed 150 people in Virginia in the wake of Hurricane Camille in 1969 and another that killed 129 when rain from Tropical Storm Isabel loosened tons of mud that buried the Puerto Rican community of Mameyes in 1985.

A dam in San Francisquito, Calif., collapsed in 1928, causing an abutment to give way and killing 500 people, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Crews that had worked for days in the rain and mud were getting some relief as replacements arrived. The Colorado National Guard sent 16 members of its fatality search-and-recovery team to Washington.

A new crew of volunteer diggers showed up in an Arlington school bus Friday and marched single file toward the debris pile.

Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert said the area appreciates the support during the hard, lengthy work at the debris site.

“They are searching for friends, and they are searching for families,” she said. “We ask that you continue to keep us in your hearts, this community will be healing for a very long time.”

Car Bomb Targets Lebanon Army Near Syria Border

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 10:42 AM PDT

(BEIRUT) — Lebanon’s state news agency says a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden car has targeted an army checkpoint near a town close to the Syrian border.

The National News Agency said the Saturday evening bombing just outside the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal killed several soldiers and wounded others. It did not immediately provide further details.

The bombing occurred hours after forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad routed rebels from two Syrian villages that lie near Arsal, which were part of an important rebel supply route.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. In the past extremist Sunni groups have claimed responsibility for attacking Lebanese soldiers, who they accuse of being partial to their rivals, the Shiite group Hezbollah.

Magnitude 5.1 Earthquake Strikes Los Angeles

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 09:34 AM PDT

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck Los Angeles Friday evening, breaking water mains in a local community and rattling neighborhoods in Southern California.

The earthquake struck at 9:09 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, centering about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles near La Habra, Reuters reports. No injuries or substantial structural damage were reported.

The quake was felt between Palm Springs in the east and Ventura County to the north, prompting Disneyland to halt park rides as a precaution. Several water mains in Fullerton ruptured, spilling water into the streets.

Friday night’s earthquake is the second major tremor to hit the area in two weeks, after a recent magnitude 4.4 quake hit north of Los Angeles.


NSA Targeted German Companies: Der Spiegel

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 09:18 AM PDT

The National Security Agency and the British Government Communications Headquarters spied on private German companies, according to a report based on documents revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

British spies surveilled employees of top German companies in order to develop “in-depth knowledge of key satellite [Internet Protocol] service providers in Germany,” German magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday.

Three companies listed in the report include Stellar, a satellite ground station operator which provided telecommunications for major clients including governments, as well as Stellar competitors Cetel and IABG. The latter was contracted by the German defense forces.

Der Spiegel’s report follows earlier allegations that the NSA spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel by tapping her personal phone. That report sparked outrage in Germany, chilling typically cordial relations between Washington and Berlin.

[Der Spiegel]

Egypt Court Sentences 2 Morsi Supporters to Death

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 09:09 AM PDT

(CAIRO) — Egypt’s state news agency says an Alexandria court has sentenced two supporters of President Mohammed Morsi to death in connection with violence that followed the ouster of the Islamist president.

The agency said the court Saturday found the men guilty of murder for throwing two people off a building in the coastal city during mass protests demanding Morsi’s reinstatement.

The incident came two days after Morsi’s July 3 ouster. Footage repeatedly aired on national TV showed one of the defendants roaming the roof raising a black flag often used by militants. At least 16 others were killed that day.

Authorities have since intensified a crackdown on Morsi supporters, dispersing protests and detaining thousands. Last week, a court sentenced 529 to death for killing a policeman.

Ukrainian Opposition Leader Klitschko Drops Presidential Bid

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 08:38 AM PDT

Prominent Ukrainian opposition leader and former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko announced Saturday he’s dropping his candidacy for president. Klitschko will instead throw his weight behind billionaire businessman Petro Poroshenko, who declared his candidacy Friday.

"The only way to win is by nominating a single candidate from the democratic ranks," Klitschko said at a meeting of the United Democratic Alliance for Reform, the Associated Press reports. "This should be a candidate with the greatest support from the people."

The former boxer isn’t dropping out of politics altogether — he said he’ll run for mayor of Kiev in a bid to turn the city into a “truly European capital,” the New York Times reports.

Before Ukraine’s recent turmoil, Klitschko was most widely recognized for his boxing stardom. He soon gained even more international notoriety after taking a major role in last year’s opposition protests in Kiev. His endorsement of Poroshenko could launch the billionaire to a leading place in the May 25 election.

Poroshenko is set to campaign against Yulia Tymoshenko, a charismatic and controversial veteran politician who spent more than two years in prison under deposed President Viktor Yanukovych. Tymoshenko declared her candidacy for president on Thursday.

Ukraine’s preparations for the May 25 elections take place amidst the greatest political crisis in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, following the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea. U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone Friday evening to discuss a possible diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine even as Russian troops amass on the Ukraine’s border.

[New York Times]

Report: NSA Had Over 300 Reports on German Chancellor Merkel

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 08:19 AM PDT

(BERLIN) — German magazine Der Spiegel has reported that the U.S. National Security Agency kept more than 300 reports on Chancellor Angela Merkel in a special databank about scores of foreign heads of state.

The magazine said Saturday the secret file about the surveillance of Merkel was part of a trove of documents obtained by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden. Other leaders listed in the databank include the heads of Peru, Somalia, Guatemala, Colombia and Belarus.

Earlier this month, German lawmakers agreed to launch an inquiry into surveillance conducted by the NSA and other foreign intelligence services, including the tapping of Merkel’s cellphone which was revealed in 2013.

German federal prosecutors are also mulling whether to open their own investigation into NSA activities.

First Couples Wed as Gay Marriage Becomes Legal in UK

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 07:45 AM PDT

The first same-sex marriages in Britain were held early Saturday morning after gay marriage became legal at midnight.

The move to legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales was lauded by politicians from both parties, the BBC reports. Rainbow-colored flags were flown over government buildings Saturday.

“Congratulations to the gay couples who have already been married – and my best wishes to those about to be on this historic day,” United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted Saturday morning.

The Church of England will drop its opposition to same-sex marriage after years of opposition, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said on Friday night. Polls show about two-thirds of people in the country support gay unions, the Associated Press reports.

Gay couples in England have been allowed to enter "civil partnerships," conferring the same legal rights as marriage, since 2005. Britain banned schools and authorities from “promoting” homosexuality until 2003.

Scotland passed a similar law in February that will allow same-sex marriages beginning in October.


4 Key Takeaways from New Census Data

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 07:37 AM PDT

U.S. Census population figures released Thursday provide a glimpse of the nation's hot (and cold) spots. In a three-year span from mid-2010 to mid-2013, the U.S. had a natural population increase of 4.7 million people (that is, the number of births minus the number of deaths). Coupled with a net migration increase of some 2.7 million people, the country's population jumped 7.4 million to an estimated 316 million. Not all metro areas are growing at the same clip, however. Some are pulling ahead by drawing more immigrants or by luring residents of other regions with the promise job opportunities. Which are the boomtowns? That depends on how you filter the data, but here are the highlights: North Dakota metros surge The state's oil boom has bolstered some metro areas by double-digit percent growth. With a 31% population increase, Williston, N.D., beat out all U.S. metros by percent change. Nearby, the Dickinson, N.D., metro area grew 16%. All other U.S. metro areas fell in line thereafter. "Any time before 2008, North Dakota had out-migration decade after decade," says Kevin Iverson, Manager of North Dakota Census office. "People were leaving for economic opportunities outside the state." But more recently, he says, the oil industry has bolstered both population and per-capita income in the western regions of the state. In the last three years, he adds, 38 of the state's 53 counties have grown. Roughly half of the influx is from Minnesota.

American Fact Finder/

Puerto Rico falls behind Where are residents moving away? Four of the ten U.S. metro areas with the greatest population losses (by number of people) are in Puerto Rico. Some of the population decline is attributed to lower birth rates on the island. But the more significant loss stems from a battered economy and pervasive crime – two factors that push out professionals, students and middle-class families to mainland states like Florida and Texas.

American Fact Finder/

Texas draws a crowd Slice population data by migration (who's moving in, domestically or internationally) and Texas metros top the charts. By total net migration, the Houston area drew some 205,000 people. Dallas came in third and Austin fifth among all U.S. metro areas. While foreign immigrants have bolstered the Lone Star state's headcount, U.S. residents from all over the country – lured by job opportunities and lower taxes – have contributed to the surge.

American Fact Finder/

Big metro areas stay on top By sheer influx of people, Houston, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles and Washington top the charts. Seven metro areas netted more than 200,000 people. San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix, among others, also saw six-digit growth in the last three years.

American Fact Finder/