Monday, November 28, 2011

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Automated ranked-choice a long shot for Mpls. in 2012 (Star Tribune)

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Beyonc?, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift sing a new message of girl power

In July I drove 1,800 miles with only the radio to keep me company.?What struck me were the overarching themes of female empowerment sung over the airwaves. Pop music is singing a new tune. Are girls taking the message to heart?

In July I drove 1,800 miles in a moving truck from Florida to Maine, and as my minimalist Budget rental had no iPod adapter, I spent dozens of hours listening to radio stations along the eastern edge of the United States.?

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I had just spent more than two years prior living in Egypt, where I was less exposed to western pop. One thing dawned on me, other than my resolve to promptly take my own life if I hear Bruno Mars?s ?The Lazy Song? one more time. What struck me were the overarching themes of female strength and resilience sung over the airwaves. They seemed to air one after another and were impossible to miss.

Much of the music of Pink, Lady GaGa, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Sara Haze, Beyonc?, and Taylor Swift?told listeners, ?Like everyone, I?m flawed. Deal with it. I?m good enough and worthy of respect.?

I?ve taken days-long trips across the US before, but I don?t remember such a recurring musical announcement of female self-worth. Songs titled ?Born this Way,? ?Lovely,? and ?[Expletive] Perfect? glorify self-acceptance. This latter song, by Pink, croons ?You?re so mean when you talk/ about yourself, you are wrong/ Change the voices in your head/ Make them like you instead.?

Female empowerment through music isn?t new, of course. Madonna built an empire by asserting her independence. But her tone was different. Her songs ?Material Girl? and ?Like a Virgin? communicated that she likes expensive things and time in the sheets.

Granted, the messages of today?s female pop stars aren?t always the stuff of enlightened self-respect. Katy Perry?s song ?Last Friday Night? celebrates vaguely recalled, alcohol-primed flings with multiple partners.

Similarly, the artist Rihanna seems to celebrate her libido much more than any self-efficacy she possesses. Esquire magazine wrote in November that her sensuality is such that ?Rihanna doesn?t really dance,? but rather how she moves on stage ?amounts to choreographed oozing.? Rihanna is Esquire?s 2011 ?Sexiest Woman Alive,? and she didn?t lure this laurel by being profound.

Still, it seemed during my drive to New England that there was less of the bubble gum of Brittany Spears and Jessica Simpson on the radio. There was some nourishment over the airwaves.

The New York Times wrote an October 2011 profile of ?Kelly Clarkson, a pop star proud in her own skin,? discussing her latest album, ?Stronger,? which details ?her own journey of empowerment, addressed directly to fans.?


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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Supercommittee failure complicates election year (AP)

WASHINGTON ? The failure of Congress' deficit-reduction supercommittee adds a new dimension to the 2012 political contests, drawing political battle lines around broad tax increases and massive spending cuts that now are scheduled to begin automatically in 2013.

President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger will be forced to debate alternatives for reducing deficits, made all the more urgent by the looming consequences of congressional inaction. The dividing lines already are sharply drawn, with Obama supporting deficit reduction that includes a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy, while Republicans have declared themselves averse to tax hikes.

An election that has been shaping up as a referendum on Obama's stewardship of the economy now will require the candidates to offer competing forward-looking deficit-reduction plans to avoid cuts and tax hikes that neither side wants to see materialize.

For Obama, that is a more favorable place to be, drawing contrasts with his opponent and arguing for higher taxes on the rich rather than defending his oversight of an economy that could still be suffering from high unemployment and slow growth next November.

Beginning in 2013, the federal government faces two oncoming trains. When the supercommittee was unable to find agreement by Wednesday, it triggered spending cuts of $1.2 trillion starting in January 2013 and extending over 10 years. Half of the cuts would come from defense spending, the other from education, agriculture and environmental programs, and, to a lesser extent, Medicare.

At the same time, tax cuts adopted during the presidency of George W. Bush will expire at the end of 2012, meaning an increase for every taxpayer.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would "tear a seam in the nation's defense."

Meanwhile, the tax increases would hit a still-fragile economy, endangering a recovery and raising prospects of another recession.

But while neither side wants those outcomes, Washington's recent history of tackling fiscal problems shows Congress does not act unless faced with a dire deadline. It extended Bush-era tax cuts in 2010 just days before they expired, it avoided a government shutdown by hours and it put off a debt crisis this summer in the face of a government default.

"The next big event, barring some movement from Congress, may just well be the 2012 election," said Kevin Madden, a former senior House leadership aide and an outside adviser to Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. "Then we look to either a new president and a new Congress, or the same president and the same Congress to restart it all."

Election years do not lend themselves to big legislative initiatives. Lawmakers are too busy seeking re-election to take potentially controversial stances that could cost them votes. Moreover, congressional leaders may well want to see how the elections affect Washington's balance of power before undertaking changes that require compromises.

An angry public could demand swift action. But even if Congress were to attempt to find common ground next year, the legislative maneuvering would unfold in the midst of the presidential contest, and White House aides acknowledge that it can't avoid becoming a part of the political debate.

They repeatedly point out that each of the eight Republican candidates have refused to endorse any deficit-reduction plan that contains any tax increases and that they reiterated that position en masse during a recent presidential debate.

"The very men and woman who would occupy the Oval Office stood up on a stage and all raised their hand and said they would not accept a deal that had as its foundation $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue," White House spokesman Jay Carney said this week.

While Republicans have criticized Obama for not engaging directly in the supercommittee negotiations, his hands-off approach was calculated, coming in the aftermath of his own failed attempts to strike a deficit deal with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. In a gridlocked Congress, Obama is more likely to lose if he gets deeply involved.

The detachment allows him to set a clear dividing line for voters, one in which he can cast Republicans as protecting the rich. It's a stance that for now has political appeal. A number of recent public opinion polls show that up to two-thirds of Americans support raising taxes on individuals earning more than $1 million, and about half favor raising taxes on families earning at least $250,000 a year.

Even if some Republicans were disposed to negotiate a new deficit-reduction plan, Obama's sharpening of the lines between the parties could drive them away.

"If the president has decided that he is now in full campaign mode, that's going to make things very difficult in terms of finding common ground," said David Winston, a GOP strategist who advises House Republican leaders.

Eager to maintain pressure on Congress, Obama this week issued a veto threat against any efforts to change the automatic spending cuts triggered by the supercommittee's inaction.

Aides said Obama did not prefer those cuts, but he made it clear that the threat of such cuts was essential to get Congress to act.

"There will be no easy off-ramps on this one," Obama said Monday. "We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not turn off the pressure. The only way these spending cuts will not take place is if Congress gets back to work and agrees on a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion."

Republicans pounced on the veto threat, portraying Obama as indifferent to deep Pentagon reductions.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, said he found the veto threat "reprehensible." He added: "If Leon Panetta is an honorable man, he should resign in protest."

But Democrats, and Obama in particular, don't feel as vulnerable on defense as the party once was. Aides point to foreign policy advances, the killing of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders, and the drawdown of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan as evidence that Obama has credibility on military issues.

But Carney this week also said that if critics worry about maintaining defense spending levels, "There is an easy way out here, which is be willing to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more in order to achieve this comprehensive and balanced deficit-reduction plan."


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Friday, November 25, 2011

PFT: Ejected Suh tries to defend stomp on Packer

Green Bay Packers v Detroit LionsGetty Images

In the past, when Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has supplied his version of an on-field incident that resulted in a penalty or a fine, he seemed persuasive.

After Thursday?s Haynesworthy performance against the Packers, Suh?s effort to talk his way out of trouble comes off as pathetic.

?What I did was remove myself from the situation the best way that I felt in me being held down in the situation that I was in,? Suh said, via ?My intentions were not to kick anybody, as I did not.? [I was] removing myself, as you see, I?m walking away from the situation.? And with that I apologize to my teammates, and my fans and my coaches for putting myself to be in position to be misinterpreted and taken out of the game.?

It gets better.? Or, for Suh, worse.

?I was on top of a guy being pulled down and trying to get up off the ground, which is why you see me pushing his helmet down,? Suh said.? ?As I?m getting up, I?m getting pushed so I?m getting myself unbalanced. . . .? With that a lot of people are going to interpret it as or create their own storylines, . . . but I know what I did, and the man upstairs knows what I did.?

What Suh did requires no interpretation.? He aggressively pushed the head of Evan Dietrich-Smith into the ground, and Suh stomped on Dietrich-Smith?s arm as Suh started to walk away.

?I understand in this world because of the type of player and type of person I am, all eyes are on me,? Suh said.? ?So why would I do something to jeopardize myself, jeopardize my team, first and foremost?? I don?t do bad things.? I have no intentions to hurt someone.? If I want to hurt him, I?m going to hit his quarterback as I did throughout that game.?

He needs to quit while he?s not ahead.

?If I see a guy stepping on somebody I feel like they?re going to lean into it and forcefully step on that person or stand over that person,? Suh said.? ?I?m going in the opposite direction to where he?s at.?

It?s an amazingly flimsy, and perhaps delusional, effort to explain what was obvious to anyone with eyes.? Apart from the ultimate penalty that will be imposed on Suh by the league office ? and plenty of people believe a suspension is coming ? Suh needs to be concerned about the impact of his behavior and his lame explanation of it on his marketability.? From Subway to Chrysler to any other company that has chosen to give Suh a lot of money to endorse its products, that money could be drying up, quickly.


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Justice Department sues Utah over immigration law (AP)

SALT LAKE CITY ? The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Utah's immigration enforcement law, arguing that it usurps federal authority and could potentially lead to the harassment and detention of American citizens and authorized visitors.

"A patchwork of immigration laws is not the answer and will only create further problems in our immigration system," said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement. "The federal government is the chief enforcer of immigration laws ... it is clearly unconstitutional for a state to set its own immigration policy."

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court after months of negotiations between Justice Department attorneys, state attorneys and elected leaders. Justice officials said they plan to continue those discussions despite the lawsuit.

Other federal agencies included in the lawsuit are Homeland Security and the State Department.

Even with the federal intervention, state officials remained confident the law would eventually be sustained.

"The Legislature worked diligently to craft a law that would pass constitutional muster," said Ally Isom, spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert. "We hope the courts do the right thing."

The Utah law, signed by Herbert in March, requires people to prove their citizenship if they're arrested for serious crimes ranging from certain drug offenses to murder. It also gives police discretion to check citizenship on traffic infractions and other lesser offenses.

Although the Utah law was modeled on Arizona's strict enforcement measure that was passed in 2010, lawmakers worked to address some of the biggest concerns. Chief among those was the requirement that police check the immigration status of anyone they arrest and the ability for police to verify the status of anybody they legally encounter.

Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit earlier this year, and a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order in May against the law, House Bill 497. A hearing on that lawsuit is scheduled for Dec. 2.

But that hearing may be delayed because of the federal lawsuit, National Immigration Law Center general counsel Linton Joaquin said. The NILC, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, is handling the original lawsuit against the state.

The federal lawsuit "reinforced the claims we've been making all along," Joaquin said. "The Utah law is preempted by federal law and is unconstitutional."

Utah's enforcement law was part of an immigration reform package signed by Herbert this year. Among those was a program that will allow illegal immigrants with jobs to live and work in the state that federal officials also argue is unconstitutional, but they are holding off on a lawsuit because it doesn't go into effect until 2013.

Originally, federal officials told Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff that they planned to include the guest worker law in their lawsuit. He said the fact they only focused on the enforcement measure in this lawsuit demonstrates their willingness to work with the state.

"We're now adversaries in the courtroom but we're going to continue to discuss this with them," Shurtleff said.

Three other states that have passed strict enforcement laws in the past two years have been sued by the Justice Department, including Arizona, South Carolina and Alabama.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal on an injunction against key parts of the state's law. Federal judges have also blocked parts of the South Carolina and Alabama laws.

The department is still reviewing laws passed earlier this year in Georgia and Indiana.


Josh Loftin can be reached at


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Larger Kindle Fire tablets set to hit in 2012: report

The Kindle Fire was launched this month by Amazon. But according to one tech site, Amazon is already prepping a pair of successors.?

The Kindle Fire, the new tablet released by Amazon this month, ships with a 7-inch touchscreen ? a couple inches smaller than the 9.7-inch display on the Apple iPad 2. But according to a new report, Amazon is poised to play catch-up. In an article published this week, DigiTimes, an extremely well-sourced Taiwanese tech publication, says Amazon is prepping two new Kindle Fires, one with a 10.1-inch screen, and the other with an 8.9-inch display.?

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DigiTimes sources the report to "supply chain makers for Amazon," and forecasts that the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire could hit as soon as the second quarter of 2012. That makes sense: Amazon is known for rapidly refining and rejiggering its devices. The big-screen Kindle DX, for instance, launched just a couple of months after the Kindle 2.?

In related news, this week the research firm ChangeWave called the Amazon Kindle Fire a "a shot across the bow at Apple," until recently the undisputed champ of the tablet market. ChangeWave reps said they had conducted a survey of?3,043 North American consumers ? a survey which demonstrated "an extraordinary level of initial demand for the Amazon tablet."?

"But the Amazon surge may also contain a silver lining for Apple, by damaging the tablet market hopes of the remaining competitors in the field," reps for ChangeWave wrote in a press release. "The most immediate impact of the Amazon device is on the rest of the competition, where the survey shows it wreaking a devastating blow to a range of second-tier tablet manufacturers, including Motorola, RIM, Dell, HTC, H-P and Toshiba."?

The Kindle Fire, which was released in the same general time frame as the Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet, has been received warmly by critics; sales reportedly remain strong.

Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester, recently told CNN that Amazon could unload between 3 and 5 million Fire units before the end of 2011.?"Amazon as a company appeals to a wider, more diverse customer base," she said. "Our studies show a lot of iPad owners live within driving distance of Apple stores ? meaning they're concentrated on the coast. This could be a red state/blue state thing."

For more on how technology intersects daily life, follow us on?Twitter @venturenaut.


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Thursday, November 24, 2011

HGH tests, restraints on amateur bonuses for MLB (AP)

NEW YORK ? Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and union head Michael Weiner smiled and exchanged handshakes while others in the room dug into knishes and pigs in a blanket.

Not exactly the kind of scene that played out in sports labor talks this year.

Baseball ensured itself of 21 consecutive years of peace at a time the NBA season might be canceled because of a lockout and the NFL still is recovering from its CBA negotiations.

"We've learned," Selig said Tuesday after players and owners signed an agreement for a five-year contract running until December 2016. "Nobody back in the '70s, '80s and the early '90s, 1994, would ever believe that we would have 21 years of labor peace."

The agreement makes MLB the first pro major league in North America to conduct blood tests for human growth hormone, allowing it during spring training and future offseasons but for now only studying whether it will be implemented during the regular season.

"MLB and the players union should be applauded for taking the strong step to implement the HGH test at the major league level to protect clean athletes," said Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. "This is great progress in MLB's effort to protect the integrity of baseball at every level."

The deal, which must be ratified by both sides and drafted into a formal contract, expands the playoffs from eight to 10 teams by 2013, lessens draft-pick compensation for free agents, expands salary arbitration by a few players and for the first time allows teams to trade some draft selections.

It also adds unprecedented restraints on signing bonuses for amateur players coming to the major leagues from high school, college and overseas, perhaps hurting MLB as it competes with the NFL and NBA for multisport talent.

"If I've got a great athlete, why am I going to go to baseball? I'm going to focus on the other sports," said agent Scott Boras, who has negotiated baseball's highest signing bonuses.

Following eight work stoppages from 1972-95, baseball reached its third consecutive agreement without an interruption of play. The agreement was signed three weeks before the current deal was to expire Dec. 11, the second straight time the sides reached a deal early.

Baseball seems to have learned the lessons of the 1994-95 strike, which wiped out the World Series for the first time in nine decades.

"I think our history is more important than what's happening in other sports," said Weiner, who took over from Donald Fehr as union head last year. "It took a while for the owners to appreciate that the union is not only here to stay, but that the union and its members can contribute positively to a discussion about the game ? about its economics, about the nature of the competition, about how it's marketed in every way."

Owners hope the changes will lessen the difference in spending by high- and low-revenue teams, much as the payroll luxury tax that began after the 2002 season.

"We feel that competitive balance is crucial to the product that we put on the field," said Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for labor relations. "Every time I took a proposal back to the commissioner, his bellwether on whether that proposal was good, bad or indifferent is what it did for competitive balance."

As players Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Carlos Villanueva and David Bush sat alongside the officials, the sides described other highlights that included: requiring players to play in the All-Star game unless injured or excused; expanding instant replay to include decisions on foul lines and traps, subject to an agreement with umpires; banning smokeless tobacco products during televised interviews by players, managers and coaches; requiring players arrested for DWI to undergo mandatory evaluation; and wearing improved batting helmets manufactured by Rawlings by 2013.

An initial positive test for HGH would result in a 50-game suspension, the same as a first positive urine test for a performance-enhancing substance. HGH testing in the minor leagues started late in the 2010 season.

"It meant a great deal to me personally, and a great deal to our sport," Selig said.

Random testing for HGH will take place during spring training and the offseason, but there is no agreement yet on random testing in-season. There can be testing at any time for cause.

Although the NFL has wanted to start HGH blood tests, its players' union has thus far resisted.

"The agreement to begin testing puts baseball ahead of other American professional sports leagues and is a credit to their leadership," Rep. Henry Waxman said. "It will be important that the testing be extended to the regular season to avoid creating a loophole in the new policy."

Weiner said scientists told MLB that the HGH test can detect the substance in the blood for 48-to-72 hours.

"We are sufficiently comfortable with the science to go ahead with testing, but we have preserved the right if there is a positive test for there to be a challenge ? if that's appropriate ? to the science at that point in time," he said.

Former union head Marvin Miller, who spoke to Weiner on Tuesday, praised much of the agreement but was critical of the HGH testing.

"It's the same as steroids. There's not a single test worldwide (proving) that it improves athletic performance, not one," he said. "I don't know if it does, and neither does anyone else."

The sides will explore in-season testing, but the union wants to make sure it's done in a way that doesn't interfere with players' health and safety.

"The players want to get out and be leaders on this issue, and they want there to be a level playing field," Weiner said. "The realities, though, are that baseball players play virtually every single day from Feb. 20 through October. And that's unlike any other athlete ? professional or amateur ? who's subject to drug testing. We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can on the HGH issue, but that it be consistent with not interfering with competition and not interfering with players health and safety."

In addition, the number of offseason urine tests will increase gradually from 125 currently to 250 before the 2015 season.

As for the playoffs, there will be an additional two teams that will give baseball 10 of 30 clubs in the postseason. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 advance.

The wild-card teams in each league ? the non-first place teams with the best records ? will meet in a one-game playoff, with the winners advancing to the division series. Manfred said a decision on whether the expanded playoffs would start next year likely will be made by the January owners' meeting.

"I think having a second wild-card team is great for the game," said NL MVP Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. "I think it adds intrigue, it adds excitement. If you look at what the wild card, the first wild card, has done for baseball over the last few years, it's made games late in the season relevant for everybody."

This agreement also calls for the Houston Astros to switch from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013, leaving each league with three five-team divisions and a new schedule format that's still being determined. It's baseball's first realignment since the Brewers went to the NL after the 1997 season.

Teams will be allowed to have 26 active players for day-night doubleheaders, provided they are scheduled with a day's notice in order to give clubs time to bring up someone from the minor leagues.

On the economics, the threshold for the luxury tax on payrolls will be left at $178 million in each of the next two seasons, putting pressure on high-spending teams such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies not to raise their spending even more. The threshold rises to $189 million for 2014-16.

And there is a new market disqualification test as an incentive for clubs to increase revenue, preventing teams from large markets from receiving revenue-sharing proceeds.

Both teams from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago will be ineligible to receive revenue sharing by 2016 along with Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas, Toronto and Washington, a person familiar with the agreement said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the teams were not announced. The proceeds will be given back to the teams paying in revenue-sharing, as long as they stay under the luxury-tax payroll threshold. A provision says Oakland will remain eligible as long as its ballpark situation remains unresolved.

The minimum salary reaches the $500,000 mark in 2014, and then there will be cost-of-living increases in both of the following two years. There also will be a new "competitive balance lottery" that gives small-market and low-revenue teams 12 extra selections in the amateur draft.

Major league free agent compensation will be completely revised in 2013, with a team having to offer its former players who became free agents the average of the top 125 contracts ? currently about $12.4 million ? to receive draft-pick compensation if a player signs with a new team. It eliminates the statistical formula that had been in place since the 1981 strike settlement.

In addition, the portion of players with 2-3 years of major league service who are eligible for salary arbitration will rise from 17 percent to 22 percent starting in 2013.

Owners achieved their goal of reining in spending on amateur players coming to the major leagues. For high school and college players taken in the June amateur draft, there will be four bands of penalties and major league contracts will be prohibited.

Boras, who negotiated Stephen Strasburg's record $15.1 million deal with Washington two years ago, praised the union for what it achieved but was critical of the draft changes.

"If I'm a person interested in buying a major league team, I believe I'm going to not be as anxious to provide an aggressive price because my ability to improve myself through scouting and development has been severely restrained," he said.

For international amateur signings from nations such as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, a luxury tax will begin with the July 2012-June 2013 signing season on amounts over $2.9 million. A study committee was established to study whether there should be an international draft starting in 2014.


AP National Writer Eddie Pells, AP Sports Writer Howie Rumberg and Associated Press writer Frederic J. Frommer contributed to this report.


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Nigeria president fires anti-corruption czar (AP)

LAGOS, Nigeria ? Nigeria's president unexpectedly fired the head of the lead anti-corruption agency Wednesday, removing an official accused of being controlled by the political elite in this graft-prone nation.

A statement from President Goodluck Jonathan's office only said Farida Waziri was "effectively relieved" of her duties as chairwoman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which once garnered international praise for its pursuit of corrupt politicians.

The statement gave no reason for her firing, though presidential spokesman Reuben Abati later told The Associated Press it was part of possible further reforms coming in the fight against government graft.

"The removal of the (chairwoman) is part of President Jonathan's determination to revitalize the fight against corruption," Abati said from Paris while on a presidential trip for an economic summit without elaborating further.

Waziri couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. She leaves an agency and a cause she herself appeared to grow weary of in recent weeks.

"The best any law enforcement agency can do is properly investigate cases and file charges," she said in a speech Tuesday. "The frustrations faced by law enforcement agencies within the tedious common law process ... must be voided."

Waziri still had at least another year in her tenure before Jonathan's sudden decision, agency spokesman Femi Babafemi said. Babafemi confirmed that Waziri had been fired, but said he didn't know the president's reasons for pushing Waziri out.

The anti-graft agency came into existence only a few years after Nigeria became a democracy in 1999. Its first chief, Nuhu Ribadu, claimed at one point that Africa's most populous nation likely lost more than $380 billion to graft between 1960 and 1999.

That post-independence period saw a string of military dictatorships and failed civilian governments. About $8 billion a year has been stolen in the time since, according to analysts.

Such thefts remain easy as government budgeting at every level remains opaque, and the nation pulls in billions of dollars from its joint ventures with foreign oil firms in its crude-rich southern delta.

The looting may be rising as crude oil prices have spiked in recent years, sending more unaccounted-for cash into one of the top suppliers to the U.S.

The nation's political class reigned with impunity until the agency's creation. Under Ribadu, who later became a failed presidential opposition candidate, the agency arrested powerful state governors and earned media praise.

However, the agency under Ribadu trampled on suspects' rights while avoiding targeting the allies of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo, Human Rights Watch said in a report released in August.

The rights group also said despite its headlines, the commission has only garnered four convictions against Nigeria's political elite since its creation in 2003, with those found guilty facing little or no prison time.

The administration of late President Umaru Yar'Adua forced Ribadu from the agency in 2008. Waziri, who took over the commission, has been criticized by U.S. diplomats in leaked diplomatic cables for being unprepared and for apparently being controlled by politicians.

Others have leveled corruption allegations against her and operatives of the commission, though none has been proven.

The commission under Waziri has charged several prominent bankers over the fraud that caused the near-collapse of the country's banks in 2009. It also recently arrested and charged former House Speaker Dimeji Bankole over corruption allegations ? the first major strike against the nation's political elite in many months.

Still, prosecutions by the agency have not risen since 2007, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report. The rights group said the commission's funding tripled during that period.

The president appointed agency deputy Ibrahim Lamurde as the commission's acting chairman, Babafemi said. Lamurde served as a trusted official under Ribadu, but later was sidelined following his departure.

The return of Lamurde could signal a more robust and aggressive pursuit of corruption in Nigeria, though it remains unclear whether he'll remain as the commission's top official.


Jon Gambrell can be reached at


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Gambia voters expected to re-elect longtime ruler

FILE - In this June 30, 2011 file photo, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh stands outside the Sipopo Conference Center in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, ahead of the opening session of the 17th African Union Summit. A movement to coronate President Jammeh as King of Gambia may have lost steam, but this ruler of 17 years who claims he can cure AIDS and infertility is all but certain to remain in power after a Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011 presidential vote. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, file)

FILE - In this June 30, 2011 file photo, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh stands outside the Sipopo Conference Center in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, ahead of the opening session of the 17th African Union Summit. A movement to coronate President Jammeh as King of Gambia may have lost steam, but this ruler of 17 years who claims he can cure AIDS and infertility is all but certain to remain in power after a Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011 presidential vote. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, file)

(AP) ? Gambia's president of 17 years vowed his work "will not be destroyed by anyone" as voters in this tiny country cast ballots Thursday in an election that the West African regional bloc has said cannot be considered fair.

President Yahya Jammeh already has proclaimed that neither an election nor a coup can shake his grip on power, and experts believe voter apathy is high as the outcome seems all but certain.

"Our 17 years' work will not be destroyed by anyone," the 46-year-old president told his supporters on the eve of the vote. "You ... are faithful to God, and this is why He will continue to help us."

Jammeh, who has drawn international criticism for his claim he can cure AIDS with an herbal body rub and bananas, first took power at the age of 29 after a 1994 coup. Last year, tribal chieftains toured the country of nearly 2 million to rally support for his coronation as king.

Supporters credit Jammeh with improving infrastructure across the country, best known as a beach holiday destination for Europeans. However, human rights groups and other observers say the Gambian government has cracked down hard on opponents and journalists.

On Wednesday, the regional bloc ECOWAS said Gambia's vote could not be free or fair, citing "an opposition and electorate cowed by repression and intimidation."

The bloc decided not to send election observers, saying instead that it hoped to work with the government "to create a level playing field for future elections." Observers from the African Union, Commonwealth and European Union are still monitoring Thursday's vote.

Despite the odds, leading opposition candidate Ousainou Darboe remained upbeat in the final hours of his campaign.

"We want change. Every Gambian needs development with dignity," he told thousands of his supporters.

Darboe has picked up some key endorsements recently, though the country's opposition is divided between two candidates. Prominent human rights lawyer Mai Fatty also returned from exile to support him, though Fatty said he's received death threats since coming home.

"They are threatening my life and said they are very mad with my campaign speeches. They are claiming to be security personnel," he told The Associated Press.

Jammeh drew swift condemnation from activists in 2007 after he insisted that patients stop taking their antiretroviral medications so his cure could have an effect. Earlier this year, he marked the fourth anniversary of his "herbal breakthrough."

In 2009, his administration rounded up nearly 1,000 people accused of being witches and forced them to drink an unidentified liquid. Some developed serious kidney problems and two people died, according to Amnesty International.

Jammeh also claims to have treated hundreds of infertile women this year alone.


Associated Press writer Abdoulie John in Banjul, Gambia contributed to this report.



Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's website:

Associated Press


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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two-Hour Greeting Cards

Hallmark Hall of Fame?s Brad Moore told me that, based on viewer feedback, a DVD of these extended spots would outsell Hallmark?s movies. The Screen Actors Guild contract under which the commercials are made rules out a DVD release, but perhaps that?s for the best. As the Girl Scouts realized long ago, in an overcrowded market, nothing succeeds like scarcity. If, as Moore put it, you want to see ?the beauty of human relationships when you take the time to be thoughtful,? you have just three chances a year to watch those ads. As far as I?m concerned, fast-forwarding past Mitch Albom is a small price to pay.


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Meet Michael Baumgartner, the 'pragmatic conservative' who plans to challenge Cantwell (Seattle Times)

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The Note?s Must-Reads for Monday, November 21, 2011 (ABC News)

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Analog Animated GIF Player Just Secured a Place on My Wall [Gifs]

It looks like Santa got the letter I sent that asked for an animated GIF of a kitten nodding off that I can hang on my wall. Animated kittens and crafts, always a winning combination. More »


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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spain new premier refuses to reveal plans (Reuters)

MADRID (Reuters) ? Prime Minister-elect Mariano Rajoy resisted pressure on Monday to disclose his plans for rescuing Spain from economic disaster, keeping anxious Spaniards and impatient investors on edge following his election triumph.

The landslide victory of his conservative People's Party's (PP) at the polls on Sunday failed to lift investors, who were desperate for some detail on his strategy to prevent Spain going the way of other euro zone members in taking an international bail-out.

Angry voters punished the outgoing Socialists for a crisis that has pushed unemployment in Spain to more than 20 percent, the highest in the European Union.

PP Secretary-General Dolores Cospedal said Rajoy, long known for his caution, would not name a cabinet or detail his strategy before he was sworn in just before Christmas -- a delay imposed by the Spanish constitution.

Briefing reporters after a meeting of the party leadership, she said Rajoy had told them he believed he had a mandate to bring in austerity measures.

The sovereign debt problem needed a coordinated European effort but Spain would meet its obligations, she added.

"The first thing to tell Spaniards is the truth. Society is mature enough to be aware of absolutely everything that's happening," Cospedal quoted Rajoy as saying.

"Rajoy has expressed his wish for the swearing-in debate and the naming of the new government to take place as soon as possible in line with the law and we shall work for the new government to be in place before Christmas Day," she said.

A party source, asked if Rajoy was concerned that inaction would be taken badly by investors, told Reuters: "He's worried but doesn't feel pressured."


Rajoy had built his election campaign on restoring economic confidence and the lack of detailed information on his policies on Monday was likely to dent markets which have so far taken little cheer from the widely predicted conservative victory.

Yields on Spanish government bonds and safe haven German bunds widened by more than 20 basis points on Monday to around 470. Ten-year yields were higher, hitting 6.58 percent and creeping closer to the perilous 7 percent level that forced Greece, Portugal and Ireland to seek bailouts.

"The need for immediate action from the new government is pressing, with Spain's bond yields at punishingly high levels," IHS Global Insight economist Raj Badiani said in a research note.

Spain's second recession in two years is looming and could be worsened by austerity measures planned by Rajoy, analysts say.

Funcas research foundation cut its growth outlook for next year to a negative 0.5 percent from a positive 1.0 percent, citing the effect of government spending cuts to meet deficit targets.

Ordinary Spaniards also worried about just how hard they would be hit by economic reforms.

"I think there will be people in the street when they see what they are going to do," said Jose Antonio Garcia, a 28-year-old left-wing voter.

Rajoy, a 56-year-old former Interior Minister, has indicated he plans labor market and a financial reforms as well as sweeping changes in the public sector, but in the election campaign gave no clear policy lines, relying instead on the Socialists' failings to propel him into power.

"The fact that investors have to wait another month for Mr Rajoy's cabinet to take the reins only adds to the uncertainty," said Nicholas Spiro of Spiro Sovereign Strategy.

The Spanish Treasury heads back to the markets with debt auctions on Tuesday and Thursday this week, the first key tests of confidence in Rajoy's leadership.


Spaniards are resigned to a battery of reforms to resuscitate the economy that could make things worse before they get better and at least initially increase unemployment, with 5 million people already out of work.

The PP won the biggest majority for any party in three decades, taking 186 seats in the 350-seat lower house.

But small leftist parties also enjoyed a premium from the Socialist rout, with many voters turning to them rather than the conservatives, who they fear will slash Spain's treasured national health and education systems.

Earlier this year tens of thousands of people dubbed "Indignados" (Indignants) occupied town squares across the country in demonstrations against their social and economic plight.

The rallies dropped off before the election but anger may well boil over again when Rajoy's measures become clear.

"The result is outstanding for the right... but it also reflects huge discontent. I think they will do what they like in parliament but people will be out on the street," said Madrid taxi driver Tomas Ruiz, 29.

The Socialists slumped to 111 seats from 169 in the outgoing parliament, their worst showing in 30 years. Voters blamed them for reacting too late to a collapsed housing boom which has left the nation sliding toward recession.

Spain is the fifth euro zone government to be toppled this year by a debt crisis that now seems out of the control of vulnerable individual countries. It followed Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Italy.

Economic gloom dominated the election campaign, with more than 40 percent of young Spaniards unable to find work and a million people at risk of losing their homes to the banks.

When the Socialists took power in 2004 Spain was riding a construction boom fueled by cheap interest rates, infrastructure projects and foreign demand for vacation homes on the country's sunny coastlines.

But the government, consumers and companies were engulfed in debt when the building sector collapsed in 2007, leaving the landscape dotted with vacant housing developments, empty airports and underused highways.

Many Spaniards saw no reason for joy over the election result.

Oscar Ortega, a 38-year-old building concierge, said: "I want to believe that they are going to help us but it seems to me to be a shame to celebrate a victory in the situation we are in. I don't know what those people in the street last night were celebrating. Let's do that when we have a solution."

(Additional reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary, Paul Day, Tomas Cobos, Emma Pinedo, Judy MacInnes; Writing by Angus MacSwan, Editing by Barry Moody)


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Analysis: Deficit deadlock may send chill through markets (Reuters)

NEW YORK (Reuters) ? A brutal year for global investors may get even worse this week if Congress proves yet again it is too bitterly divided to deliver on its promise to reduce the gaping U.S. budget deficit.

The congressional "super committee" created to slash $1.2 trillion in federal spending over 10 years was likely to concede failure in its efforts on Monday, congressional aides said.

While a breakthrough could still happen before the committee's Wednesday midnight deadline, it was considered unlikely that the group could bridge deep partisan differences over taxes and spending.

How financial markets will react to such a lack of progress is a tough call, partly because investors have been distracted by Europe's more immediate debt crisis.

For one thing, expectations could hardly be lower, especially with an election year looming and memories of this summer's ugly debate over raising the country's debt ceiling.

Also, any budget cuts would not take effect until 2013, so a failure would not trigger an immediate government shutdown or interrupt important services.

"I never expected they were going to reach an agreement and the market is clearly going to be disappointed but I think ... the market will find support at 1,200 because in the end the market really never thought they were going to do it," said Ken Polcari, managing director at ICAP Equities in New York, referring to the benchmark S&P 500 index.

"Therefore, as long as there is no news out of Europe, we will see a disappointed market but we won't implode," he said.

But a sharp sell-off in U.S. markets on Thursday afternoon was blamed in part on vague rumors that the talks to trim federal spending had stalled. After the impasse over raising the country's debt ceiling, the United States lost its triple-A credit rating, an event that is still fresh in investors' minds.

While Moody's Investors Service has said a failure by the committee to reach an agreement would not by itself lead to a rating change, Fitch Ratings has not ruled out a "negative rating action" on the United States if the economy grows less than expected or if the super committee fails to agree on at least $1.2 trillion in deficit-reduction measures.

Such an action would most likely be a revision of the U.S. rating outlook to negative from its current stable position. When Standard & Poor's downgraded the United States in August, it said at the time that U.S. fiscal plans fell short of what was necessary to stabilize debt dynamics.

"This thing is incredibly difficult to handicap," said Jacob Oubina, senior U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets. "But the last thing you want is to introduce another element of volatility into the markets, and that's exactly what these guys are going to do because they can't get their act together."

The biggest concern is not the cuts as such but the sense that Democrats and Republicans are simply unwilling or unable to compromise and make the tough decisions required to bring a deficit that's near 10 percent of gross domestic product under control.

"There are two diametrically opposed groups here, each against what the other side is trying to do, and both see benefit to failure because they can campaign on that," said Gregory Whiteley, who helps manage $19 billion at DoubleLine Capital in Los Angeles. "So expectations are pretty low."

Clashes between Democrats and Republicans over the right mix of spending cuts and tax hikes almost scuppered a deal to lift the debt ceiling in August, raising the threat of default and spurring Standard & Poor's to cut the United States' credit rating.


Some investors do fear that deadlock may imperil White House efforts to extend a temporary payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, and that would be another negative for growth at a time when the economy can least afford it.

RBC economists said that if those measures, along with some investment tax credits, expire at the end of this year, it could shave 1.2 percent from U.S. growth in 2012.

That could roil Wall Street stocks, which have been on a roller coaster ride since August and were on target Friday for their worst weekly showing in two months.

Stocks could lose 5 to 10 percent in the short run if anxiety about Washington policy gridlock really takes hold, said David D'Amico, president and chief strategist at Braver Capital in Boston.

"If they don't come out with anything and they force cuts and it becomes a political sideshow and the public and consumers become somewhat disgusted again with Washington, you could have a real sell-off in the marketplace," he said.


While not expected, a deal to cut the full $1.2 trillion would probably provoke a relief rally in markets, investors said.

Marc Doss, regional chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank in San Diego, said that could be a green light for hedge funds and other money managers who are underinvested in stocks because of recent market turmoil to kick off a year-end rally.

"Expectations are low after the debt ceiling debacle, but if they get to $1.2 trillion, it would instill some confidence in the political process," he said.

Bond investors say deadlock probably won't hurt the bond market, either, since Europe's problems should sustain a safe-haven bid for Treasuries.

Jack McIntyre, who helps manage a global fixed income portfolio at Philadelphia-based Brandywine Global, said that's why he remains overweight the dollar relative to the euro even as he favors currencies from faster-growing emerging markets over the greenback.

The 10-year Treasury note was yielding 2.01 percent on Friday. Among major developed markets, that was above comparable yields only in Germany and Japan.

And if stocks do wobble, another round of monetary easing from the Federal Reserve, which has toyed with the idea of pumping more money into the system by doing additional purchases of mortgage-backed debt, could help support asset prices.


In the long run, though, the parallels with Europe's most troubled countries becomes more striking and harder to ignore.

Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit said America is treading a path similar to the one that led Italy, Greece and others into trouble: borrowing money at low interest rates to boost short-term growth and swelling the debt burden.

As governments in Rome, Madrid and elsewhere found out in recent days when their borrowing costs spiked to euro-era highs, that can only go on for so long. "The U.S. is still running at full speed in the wrong direction," Bandholz said.

Additionally, about 71 percent of marketable U.S. debt will mature in the next five years, said Lawrence Goodman, president of the Center for Financial Stability in New York. That's well above the historical average and makes the country vulnerable to refinancing risk.

"Markets continue to give the U.S. a pass on its excessive deficit," he said. "But what's happening in Europe should be a powerful lesson, especially given our maturity profile."

(Additional reporting by Sam Forgione, Chuck Mikolajczak and Ryan Vlastelica in New York and Stella Dawson in Washington)


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Monday, November 21, 2011

Spain votes for change to combat crisis (Reuters)

MADRID (Reuters) ? Spaniards reeling from an economic crisis voted on Sunday in an election expected to throw out the ruling Socialists and bring in a center-right party which promises only harsher austerity measures.

A grim mood dominated as people went to the polls against a background of soaring unemployment, cuts in public spending and a debt crisis that has put Spain in the front line of the euro zone's fight for survival.

"Being a civil servant I'm not optimistic," said Jose Vasquez, 45, who was among the early voters in the capital Madrid.

"We can choose the sauce they will cook us in, but we're still going to be cooked."

Pre-election opinion polls gave the conservative People's Party (PP), led by Mariano Rajoy, an unassailable lead over the Socialists, who have led Spain from boom to bust in seven years.

Voters are angry with the Socialists for failing to act swiftly to prevent the slide in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy and then for belatedly bringing in austerity measures that have slashed wages, benefits and jobs.

Yet people now seem resigned to further cuts, including in health and education, in the midst of a European debt crisis that has toppled the governments of Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Italy and pushed Spain's borrowing costs to critical levels.

Spain's bleak economic outlook hung over the election campaign. One in five Spanish workers are without a job and its economy is threatening to slip into recession next year for the second time in three years.

"Something's got to change here in Spain, with 5 million people on the dole, this can't go on. People like us just want to work." Juan Antonio Fernandez, 60, an unemployed construction worker said as he voted in rain-swept Madrid.

Rajoy, who led his party in two previous failed parliamentary election campaigns, is likely to win an absolute majority giving him a clear mandate to enforce the deep and painful cuts seen as necessary to balance Spain's books.

"I'm prepared to do what Spaniards want," Rajoy said after he voted in the wealthy Madrid neighborhood of Aravaca.

The 56-year-old will not be sworn in until December but he is likely to swiftly lay out his plans during the government handover to reassure fraught markets.

Underlining the fragile situation, Spain's borrowing costs hit euro-era highs during the election campaign, almost reaching the 7 percent level at which other euro zone nations like Ireland and Greece sought international bail-outs. Growth has stalled.

"If we had not had an election in Spain, the markets would have changed the government as they did in Greece and Italy," said voter Antonio Diaz, 38, a local government administrator.

"The first problems the new government is going to confront are unemployment and the markets -- who are what governs us. It's going to be very complicated to solve Spain's problems."


Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero decided against running for a third term as his approval ratings sank. The Socialists then chose veteran politician Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba as their leader for the campaign, but he struggled to differentiate himself from Zapatero.

The left-wing party took power in a 2004 election held three days after an Islamist attack on Madrid commuter trains which killed 191 people. Conservative Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar wrongly blamed blamed Basque separatist group ETA, prompting a voter backlash. Rajoy was the unsuccessful PP candidate.

Sunday's election took place on the 36th anniversary of the death of dictator General Francisco Franco, who had ruled Spain since the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.

Following the restoration of democracy, Spain joined the European Union in 1986 and the euro in 1999, enjoying years of prosperity and a real estate boom driven by cheap credit.

When the property market crashed in 2007 the government, companies and consumers all found themselves over their heads in debt.

"The best social policy is to create jobs," said voter Luis Escobar, a 50-year-old hotel worker."

"The guys in power haven't done anything so if you want things to change you have to do something," he said, adding that he would vote for the People's Party.

The crisis has hit some regions, notably southern Andalucia, heartland of Spain's tourist industry, worse than others.

In the Basque Country, people were voting for the first time in years without the threat of violence, after ETA announced last month that it was giving up its armed struggle.

The traditionally prosperous northeastern region has been relatively unscathed by the economic storm and most voters were expected to back pro-independence parties.

"For the time being I've got a pretty good pension and the crisis hasn't affected me yet. Of course it will reach me," said 81-year-old Laureano Agirremota in the industrial city of Bilbao. "I've always voted the same, for the Basque Nationalist Party."

By mid-afternoon, on a day when rain swept the country, turn-out among Spain's 36 million potential voters was 59 percent, officials said.

(Additional reporting by Nigel Davies, Tomas Cobos, Fiona Ortiz, Sonia Dowsett in Madrid and Arantza Goyoaga in Bilbao, writing by Angus MacSwan, editing by Barry Moody)


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Union Pacific Railroad unveils Autoflex Convertible Rail Car production model

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Source: --- Saturday, November 19, 2011
Rail Car designed and built by UP Employees provides customers enhanced safety and service, superior security and flexibility. ...


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AP source: MLB players, owners reach verbal deal (AP)

NEW YORK ? Baseball players and owners have reached a tentative verbal agreement on a five-year labor contract and hope to have a signed deal by next week.

Negotiators reached an understanding when they met late Thursday at the InterContinental O'Hare in Rosemont, Ill., a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Friday because the agreement still was being drafted.

The sides hope to sign a memorandum of understanding in time to announce the agreement Monday or Tuesday. The last item to fall in place was the luxury tax on high payroll teams.

The agreement, the first for the union since Michael Weiner succeeded Donald Fehr as head last year, would replace the deal expiring Dec. 11 and would give baseball 21 years of labor peace since the 1994-95 strike.

Under the agreement, there will be a new restraint on the amount of money a team spends each year to sign selections from the amateur draft, with teams going over a threshold being penalized with a type of luxury tax.

In addition, there will be a separate restraint on the amount of money spent to sign international amateur free agents from nations such as the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba. There also will be a committee established to review the system for international signings, leaving open the possibility of a new system during the term of the deal.

Negotiators also worked to lower the percentage of major league free agents who require the highest form of draft pick compensation for the teams losing them.

As part of the deal, players and owners are agreeing to add an extra wild-card round to the playoffs. The extra round will be one game, winner take all.


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Britain up in arms, rest of world says little


AP Sports Writer

Associated Press Sports

updated 4:51 p.m. ET Nov. 18, 2011

LONDON (AP) -For two days, Britain has been up in arms over Sepp Blatter.

Senior government officials, players, coaches and newspapers have called for the FIFA president to resign as the head of world football's governing body, and coverage of his comments about racism in the game has been nearly around the clock on television.

Outside the country, the collective reaction has been muted or even nonexistent.

"I'm quite bemused by the response of the people in other parts of the world," said David Skinner, a sociology lecturer at the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. "There are certainly some parts of the world where it's deemed to be perfectly acceptable to racially abuse people."

From the top politician in Britain to David Beckham, Blatter has faced huge criticism in the country since claiming that racist abuse does not exist on the football field and that any racial incidents could be settled by a handshake at the end of a match.

Although Blatter said Friday that he was sorry if his words offended anyone, he stopped short of retracting what he said Wednesday night in a pair of television interviews.

And in the wake of Blatter's statements, many national football federations refused to even talk about the topic.

The Swedish football federation said it could not comment, while the Argentines also declined to speak. The Greek federation didn't even want to go on the record as saying "No comment," and the Germans held an internal meeting before deciding they wouldn't say anything, either.

Although many wanted to stress that they were against any form of racism, the respective media in a lot of those countries and others have also pushed the incident aside. Daily sports newspapers L'Equipe and La Gazzetta dello Sport barely covered the news that is making big headlines in Britain - and prompted both Beckham and British Prime Minister David Cameron to speak out.

"The comments were appalling. A lot people have said that," Beckham said in Los Angeles, where the Galaxy are preparing for the MLS championship game. "I don't think that the comments were very good for this game."

One prominent former player from mainland Europe refused to comment on Blatter's remarks, and refused to even go on the record as not commenting. The former great, who has competed in the World Cup, the European Championship and won more than one European Cup, told The Associated Press "I don't want to be involved in it."

Luis Aragones, the former Spain coach who led the team to the Euro 2008 title, also declined to comment.

In 2004, Aragones used a racist remark about France striker Thierry Henry to motivate one of his players. Soon after, monkey chants rained down on England's black players during a friendly against Spain in Madrid.

Some have spoken out, including black South African government minister who was pictured with Blatter on the FIFA website shortly after Wednesday's interviews.

"You can't wash it (racism) away with a handshake," said Sexwale, an anti-apartheid campaigner and former political prisoner on Robben Island. "Once you use a racial slur, it doesn't go away. You can't exchange it with a jersey. You can't mitigate it with a handshake."

Former France player Lilian Thuram, who is black and has often spoken out against racism in football, said he saw no reason why Blatter should resign over his comments.

"(Blatter) could have said it because he doesn't realize how much it hurts," Thuram said. "But, I have to say that I know Mr. Blatter and that he is against racism."

Reaction has also been muted from FIFA sponsors, who pay millions of dollars to have their names associated with the World Cup. Although some, including Coca-Cola and Visa, issued anti-racism statements, none spoke out against Blatter's comments.

There are several reasons why Blatter's latest gaffe has caused such an uproar in Britain.

For one, the country has worked hard to try and stamp racism out of the game since the 1980s. And for another, a pair of current investigations into alleged racial abuse by Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and Chelsea captain John Terry have also made headlines.

In addition, anti-Blatter sentiment has been high in Britain since England's failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup and a corruption scandal in the run-up to Blatter's re-election earlier this year which battered FIFA's reputation.

But Skinner said another reason why it's a bigger deal in Britain could be because people here sometimes relate the abuse on the field to something that could happen at anyone's workplace.

"If you racially abused a colleague there would be serious consequences associated with that and it would be seen as unacceptable," Skinner said. "Maybe that's a way of thinking that perhaps you wouldn't get in other parts of the world."

John Solomos, a sociology professor at City University in London, said the issue is bigger in Britain because of the years it took to tackle racism.

"I'm not sure the issue is not that important in other countries, but it seems to be there is not the same amount of intervention or activism in other countries, perhaps, as there has been in this country," Solomos said. "When you watch European football games and abuse is thrown at players, there seems to be less action taken against this than there would be in this country."

? 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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FIFA President Sepp Blatter apologizes, sort of, for offending people with his racism remarks but refuses to resign.


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