Australian brides' happiness threatened by AFL final The happiness of thousands of Australian brides is under threat after the country's football final was rescheduled for this Saturday, on one of the biggest wedding weekends of the year.
By Bonnie Malkin in Sydney Published: 11:23AM BST 30 Sep 2010
The Australian Football League grand final is between rival local teams Collingwood and St Kilda. Couples in the sport-mad city of Melbourne had carefully planned their spring weddings to avoid clashing with the Australian Football League (AFL) grand final between rival local teams Collingwood and St Kilda.
The match – the Australian equivalent of a Manchester City versus Manchester United FA cup final - brought the city to a standstill last Saturday, with thousands of die-hard fans glued to television screens in pubs across the city.
When the teams tied at 68 points, it was only the third time in the game's history that the final had ended in a draw, forcing match officials to schedule a replay for this weekend.
While the replay is good news for the AFL, which is set to earn an unexpected bonus of up to $20 million (£12m) from repeat ticket and merchandise sales, the surprise result has left the best-laid plans of brides and grooms in total disarray.
Scores of couples have reported that guests have pulled out of their weddings to watch the replay, which starts at 2pm on Saturday. One groom was even reported to have cancelled his nuptials so that he could attend the final with his friends instead.
Dally Messenger, principal of the International College of Celebrancy, said that thousands of couples faced the dilemma of whether to postpone their weddings or soldier on knowing that most of their guests who would rather be elsewhere.
"It really is terribly disruptive, it will upset a whole lot of plans," he said.
"There will be lots of people postponing weddings and there will be lots of people unwillingly going to weddings that they can't dodge.
"It really sends the whole wedding world into chaos."
Mr Messenger said that many guests would not think twice about putting the final first.
"It is very much a religion in this city and life revolves around it.
"People will say, I'm not coming, I'm going to the grand final and that will cause rifts in families." Amber Livingstone, who is due to marry her fiancé Steven Beck on Saturday, said that news of the replay had cast a pall over their big day.
"I was really upset, I had people ringing and texting saying can you move the wedding or can we have a big screen over the celebrant's head?" she said.
Miss Livingstone, 37, said that the couple had specifically chosen the weekend of Oct 2 because it did not clash with the original date of the final. But their preparations were in vain.
"Our MC is a mad Collingwood supporter and he was terribly upset that he would be missing the game, so I rang the reception venue and made sure they had a TV in their bar area," she said.
"So as soon as the ceremony is over I will be watching the select few running out of the door to the TV screen.
"I am also feel guilty that some of my guests will be itching to get out of there, it is a bit sad."
As well as thousands of weddings, the replay has caused havoc with property auctions, horse races and the opening night of Hairspray the musical in Melbourne.
The AFL, for its part, has acknowledged that the draw has caused problems for large parts of the community.
To ensure that there is a result the second time around, the organisation has brought in a special provision allowing for 10 minutes of extra time should the teams tie again.
A Habitable Exoplanet — for Real This Time By Lisa Grossman September 29, 2010 | 5:16 pm | Categories: Space
After years of saying habitable exoplanets are just around the corner, planet hunters have finally found one. Gliese 581g is the first planet found to lie squarely in its star’s habitable zone, where the conditions are right for liquid water.
“The threshold has now been crossed,” said astronomer R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, one of the planet’s discoverers, in a press briefing Sept. 29. “The data says this planet is at the right distance for liquid water, and the right mass to hold on to a substantial atmosphere.”
The discovery is both “incremental and monumental,” comments exoplanet expert Sara Seager of MIT, who was not involved in the new study. When a recent study predicted the first habitable world should show up by next May, Seager rightly said the real answer was more like “any day now.”
“We’ve found smaller and smaller planets that got closer and closer to the habitable zone,” she said. “But this is the first that’s in the habitable zone.”
The new planet is one of six orbiting the star Gliese 581, a red dwarf 20 light-years from Earth. Two of the planet’s siblings, dubbed planets C and D, have also been hailed as potentially habitable worlds. The two planets straddle the region around the star where liquid water could exist — 581c is too hot, and 581d is too cold. But 581g is just right. The discovery will be published in the Astrophysical Journal and online at arxiv.org.
The new planet is about three times the mass of Earth, which indicates it is probably rocky and has enough surface gravity to sustain a stable atmosphere. It orbits its star once every 36.6 Earth days at a distance of just 13 million miles.
The surface of a planet that close to our sun would be scorching hot. But because the star Gliese 581 is only about 1 percent as bright as the sun, temperatures on the new planet should be much more comfortable. Taking into account the presence of an atmosphere and how much starlight the planet probably reflects, astronomers calculated the average temperature ranges from minus 24 degrees to 10 degrees above zero Fahrenheit.
But the actual temperature range is even wider, says astronomer Steven Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who designed some of the instruments that helped find the planet. Gravity dictates that such a close-in planet would keep the same side facing the star at all times, the same way the moon always shows the same face to Earth.
That means the planet has a blazing-hot daytime side, a frigid nighttime side, and a band of eternal sunrise or sunset where water — and perhaps life — could subsist comfortably. Any life on this exotic world would be confined to this perpetual twilight zone, Vogt says, but there’s room for a lot of diversity.
“You can get any temperature you want on this planet, you just have to move around on its surface,” Vogt said. “There’s a great range of eco-longitudes that will create a lot of different niches for different kinds of life to evolve stably.”
Another advantage for potential life on Gliese 581g is that its star is “effectively immortal,” Butler said. “Our sun will go 10 billion years before it goes nova, and life here ceases to exist. But M dwarfs live for tens, hundreds of billions of years, many times the current age of the universe. So life has a long time to get a toehold.”
The discovery is based on 11 years of observations using the HIRES spectrometer at the Keck Telescope in Hawaii, combined with data from the HARPS (High-Accuracy Radial-velocity Planet Searcher) instrument at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile.
Both instruments looks for the small wobbles stars make as their planets’ gravity tugs them back and forth. The HIRES project started looking for planets 25 years ago, back “when looking for planets made you look like a nut,” Butler said. At first the instruments could detect changes in a star’s velocity that were 300 meters per second or larger. That’s why the first extrasolar planets discovered were almost exclusively hot Jupiters: These monstrous planets that sit roastingly close to their stars will exert a bigger gravitational pull.
Since then, techniques have improved so that changes as small as 3 meters per second can be seen. That wouldn’t be enough to see Earth from 20 light-years away, Butler says. Because red dwarfs are so small and their habitable zones so close, though, Earth-sized planets have enough gravitational oomph to make a difference.
“The excitement here is that by looking at stars that are small it’s much easier to find small planets,” said exoplanet expert David Charbonneau of Harvard, who is hunting for small planets that cross in front of dwarf stars. “I think it’s great news for those of us looking for this kind of thing around this kind of star.”
But finding them takes a long time. In all, 238 measurements of the star’s wobbles, went into the discovery, and each measurement took a full night of observing.
For Butler and Vogt, though, 11 years wasn’t so long to wait. He’s actually surprised that a potentially habitable planet showed up so quickly and so nearby.
“The fact that we found one so close and so early on in the search suggests there’s a lot of these things,” Butler says. Only about 100 other stars are as close to Earth as Gliese 581, and only 9 of them have been closely examined for planets. Odds are good that 10 to 20 percent of stars in the Milky Way have habitable planets, Vogt says.
Finding them won’t take a huge advance in technology, he adds. It will just take more telescope time.
“I have suggested that we build a dedicated automated planet finder to do this kind of work 365 nights a year,” he said. “If we had something equivalent to Keck that we could use every night, these things would be pouring out of the sky.”
Despite Clinton Pledge, State Dept. to Pay Out Billions More to Mercs By Spencer Ackerman September 29, 2010 | 5:31 pm | Categories: Mercs
Get ready to meet America’s new mercenaries. They could be the same as the old ones.
A new multibillion-dollar private security contract to protect U.S. diplomats is “about to drop” as early as this week, say two State Department sources, who requested anonymity because the contract is not yet finalized and they are not authorized to speak with the press.
So much for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s one-time campaign pledge to ban “private mercenary firms.”
Neither source would say which private security firms have won the four-year contract or how much it will ultimately be worth. The last Worldwide Protective Services contract, awarded in 2005, went to Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp. Rough estimates place that contract’s value at $2.2 billion.
This one is likely to be even more lucrative. That’s because this time, the reduction and forthcoming withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq is causing the State Department to splurge on private security.
A senior department official told the congressional Wartime Contracting Commission in June that the department requires “between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors” in Iraq, up from its current 2,700 armed guards. And that doesn’t even take into account those needed to guard the expanded U.S. civilian presence in Afghanistan.
Mo’ mercs, mo’ money. And mo’ danger: This year, for the first time, U.S. contractor deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeded troop deaths, ProPublica found.
But the mercs involved could be the same ones as last time. In a nod to open-government practices, State has pledged to pick six security companies to receive the Worldwide Protective Services contract, double the current three. But that doesn’t mean the firms who won the last time around can’t potentially re-up — including Blackwater.
The deadline to award the contract is Thursday, Sept. 30, but it’s unclear whether the department will meet its long-announced goal. State is finalizing the contract right now, so if it doesn’t drop Thursday — the last day of the fiscal year — it’ll be soon afterward.
A State Department official confirmed in April that “any company, including Xe Services [another name for Blackwater] and its subsidiary companies, [may] submit a proposal in response to an acquisition process established on the basis of full and open competition.”
Despite the slayings of civilians at Nisour Square in Iraq in 2007 — which got Blackwater de-certified by the Iraqi government — and on the road in Kabul in 2009, no federal acquisition official has ever recommended that Blackwater be barred from bidding on government contracts. That means it would violate federal law to prevent Blackwater from entering a bid.
A company spokeswoman told me last year that Blackwater intended to bid on the next round of Worldwide Protective Services, although it does not show up on the contract solicitation’s list of current vendors under any of its myriad business names.
And while the contract may almost be in place, its oversight won’t. Last week, the contracting commission’s co-chairman told a House panel that even if the State Department can afford its merc surge in Iraq, “it is not clear that it has the trained personnel to manage and oversee contract performance of a kind that has already shown the potential for creating tragic incidents and frayed relations with host countries.”
In other words, expect more wasted money — and the possibility of more Nisour Squares.
AIG, U.S. agree on plan for repayment of $100 billion in bailout money
By Jim Puzzanghera Los Angeles Times Staff Writer 5:43 AM PDT, September 30, 2010 Reporting from Washington
American International Group Inc. announced early Thursday that it had reached agreement in principle with government officials to repay the approximately $100 billion in taxpayer money it still owes, starting a process that would end one of the largest and most controversial bailouts of the financial crisis.
A key part of the plan, which has been the subject of weeks of negotiations, is for the Treasury Department to convert $49.1 billion in preferred shares purchased with money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program into common stock in AIG. The move will increase the U.S. ownership stake in the insurance giant from 80% to 92%, but allow the government to sell the shares over time in the open market to end the taxpayer support.
"This is a pivotal milestone as we deliver on our long-standing promise to repay taxpayers, and we thank the American people for their support," said AIG Chief Executive Robert H. Benmosche, who has been outspoken in asserting that taxpayers would not lose money from the bailout.
He said the agreement "vastly simplifies" the complex, multi-step bailout begun in September 2008, which involves the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. Benmosche said AIG now has "a clear path" to repay the approximately $20 billion it owes the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and "sets in motion the steps for the U.S. Treasury to exit its ownership of AIG over time."
AIG said it expects to repay the Fed and complete the issuance of stock to the Treasury by April. But whether taxpayers get back all the money they've pumped into AIG will depend on how well its stock price does over time.
AIG Chairman Steve Miller said at an analysts' conference Wednesday that the U.S. government could end up getting a "significant profit" on the bailout. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told Congress in June that he believed AIG would repay all it owes.
But the government's watchdog panel for the $700-billion TARP program said in a report in June that "taxpayers remain at risk for severe losses" from the AIG rescue.
In June, the oversight panel reported AIG still owed the government $132.3 billion and the Congressional Budget Office estimated the bailout would result in a $36-billion loss.
The Treasury Department said Thursday it welcomed AIG's restructuring plan.
"The exit strategy announced today dramatically accelerates the timeline for AIG's repayment and puts taxpayers in a considerably stronger position to recoup our investment in the company," said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. "While there is a lot of work ahead to execute the terms of this agreement, today we are much closer to seeing a clear path out. AIG's Board of Directors and new management team deserve credit for the substantial progress they've made to lower the company's risk profile, refocus it around core insurance businesses, and put it in a better position to pay back taxpayers."
Government officials did not have an immediate reaction to the announcement but were expected to comment later Thursday. The Obama administration has been pushing for a deal to end the AIG bailout ahead of the November congressional mid-term elections.
In the days following the collapse of investment bank Lehman Bros. in September 2008, the Federal Reserve swooped in to rescue the teetering AIG out of fears its failure could trigger financial chaos. AIG, then the world's largest insurance company, had sold insurance called credit default swaps on mortgage-backed securities to a slew of financial institutions.
In the coming months, the Fed and Treasury committed $182 billion to the bailout, taking an 80% ownership stake in the company and beginning a process in which AIG sold off key parts of its business to repay the money.
But the growing size of the bailout angered lawmakers. And AIG further inflamed tensions in early 2009 when it announced it was paying $165 million in bonuses to employees of the company's Financial Products Division, which sold the credit default swaps that nearly bankrupted the company.
AIG has been selling off those assets and using the money to reduce what it owes to the federal government. On Thursday, for example, AIG announced an agreement to sell its Japan-based life insurance subsidiaries, AIG Star Life Insurance Co. and AIG Edison Life Insurance Company to Prudential Financial Inc. for $4.8 billion.
Tony Curtis, whose good looks made him a Hollywood star well before he became an accomplished actor in movies such as The Sweet Smell of Success and Some Like It Hot, has died at his home in Nevada, ABC News reported. He was 85.
Curtis, one of the biggest box-office stars of the 1950s and one of Hollywood's busiest playboys during that time, died in bed at midnight in Henderson, Nevada, ABC said, citing his business manager and family spokesman, Preston Ahearn.
Curtis had a memorable role in the classic gladiator movie Spartacus in 1960 and received an Academy Award nominee for 1958's The Defiant Ones but his career got off to a rough start.
His first starring role was in The Prince Who Was a Thief in 1951 and critics were appalled as Curtis, playing an Arabian prince, proclaimed in a thick New York accent, "Yonduh lies de castle of de caliph, my fadder!"
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1378 on: Oct 1st, 2010, 08:33am »
New York Times
September 30, 2010 Foreclosures Slow as Document Flaws Emerge By DAVID STREITFELD
The foreclosure machinery that has forced millions of Americans out of their homes is beginning to seize up as some lenders and their lawyers are accused of cutting corners in their pursuit of rapid home repossessions.
Evictions are expected to slow sharply, housing analysts said, as state and national law enforcement officials shine a light on questionable foreclosure methods revealed by two of the country’s biggest home lenders in the last two weeks.
Even lenders with no known problems are expected to approach defaulting homeowners more cautiously and look more aggressively for resolutions short of outright eviction.
Despite the turmoil, some economists said the breakdown could ultimately lay the groundwork for a real estate recovery.
Stricken neighborhoods across the country, for example, could benefit. One big factor undermining home sales is fear of a large number of foreclosed homes coming to the market. If the foreclosures are delayed or never happen, housing prices might find a floor.
“Maybe this is like shock therapy,” said the economist Karl E. Case. “Maybe this will actually get the lenders to the table and encourage them to work out deals that are to the benefit of everybody.”
While such a happy ending is possible, the near term is more likely to produce paralysis and confusion.
As more defaulting homeowners become aware of the lenders’ problems, they are expected to hire lawyers and challenge the proceedings against them. And if completed foreclosures were not properly done, families who bought the troubled homes could be vulnerable to claims by the former owners.
Apparently alarmed about such a possibility, one of the major title insurance companies, Old Republic National Title, has sent a bulletin to agents saying that “until further notice” it would not insure title to properties foreclosed upon by GMAC Mortgage, the country’s fourth-largest home lender and one of the two big lenders at the center of the current controversy.
GMAC declined to comment, and Old Republic representatives did not return calls.
GMAC has acknowledged legal missteps in processing mortgages, and JPMorgan Chase has acknowledged the possibility of missteps, and both have suspended all foreclosures in the 23 states where they need a court’s approval. That’s 56,000 in the case of Chase alone; GMAC declined to provide a number.
Attorneys general in half a dozen states are demanding action or opening investigations. The Treasury Department said Thursday it was asking regulators to look into “these troubling developments.”
“We’re seeing a fundamental breakdown in the system, because no one cared that much about getting things right,” said Representative Alan Grayson, a Democrat of Florida, who unsuccessfully asked the Florida Supreme Court to halt all foreclosures in that state.
Wall Street was examining the impact the disclosures could have on the lenders. Moody’s Investors Service has placed the servicer ratings of GMAC and Chase on review for possible downgrade.
The federal government has been the majority owner of GMAC since supplying $17 billion to prevent the lender’s failure during the financial crisis.
Other lenders said Thursday that their foreclosure filings, including the crucial affidavits, had been properly done.
A Citigroup spokesman said the lender required “annual training for our foreclosure employees on the proper execution of affidavits, including having personal knowledge of the information in the affidavit.”
A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said “the affidavits we sign are accurate.” A spokesman for Bank of America, Rick Simon, said, “We do not have anything to tell you at this time.”
GMAC and Chase are in trouble because, overwhelmed with foreclosures, they tried to process them as quickly and cheaply as possible, defense lawyers say. The companies say they are reviewing their procedures to take care of any violations.
The missteps stemmed from the affidavits the lenders file as they seek a quick or summary judgment in thousands of foreclosure cases. The affidavits state certain facts about the case, including the amount owed, which the signer indicates he has personal knowledge of. Without the affidavit, the lender would have to prove the facts at trial.
In depositions taken by lawyers for homeowners, executives at GMAC and Chase said they or their teams signed 10,000 or more affidavits and related documents a month. That did not give them time to review the cases.
Defense lawyers say the disclosures are symptomatic of the carelessness, if not outright fraud, that lenders have been exhibiting for years in their rush to file cases. Many necessary documents have disappeared, with defense lawyers saying the lenders often do not even have standing to foreclose.
In a number of pending cases in Florida, defense lawyers there said, GMAC has already withdrawn affidavits. The lawyers said they would try to have the cases thrown out for possible fraud, although they acknowledged that might be difficult.
GMAC said it would refile the affidavits. Chase said it had not withdrawn any affidavits.
“The way the plaintiffs’ lawyers have handled this has corrupted our legal system,” said Thomas Cox, a Maine lawyer whose deposition of a GMAC executive in June helped prompt the current disclosures. “They tried to manufacture foreclosures the way you’d manufacture cars, on an assembly line. It can’t be done that way.”
Mr. Cox is representing pro bono a rural woman who is in foreclosure on a $82,000 mortgage. The plaintiff in the case is Fannie Mae, the mortgage holding company that failed during the financial crisis and is now under government conservatorship. GMAC serviced the loan for Fannie Mae.
This week, the judge in the case set aside his summary judgment in favor of Fannie when he read Mr. Cox’s deposition of a GMAC executive, Jeffrey Stephan, who said he never reviewed the file he had signed. The case will now go to trial.
“I don’t think they are going to give up easily,” said Mr. Cox.
As the foreclosure crisis has deepened, the length of time borrowers spend waiting for the end has lengthened.
In January 2009 the time between the owner’s first missed payment and eviction was 319 days, according to LPS Applied Analytics. By August it was 478 days.
Since spring, the data firm says, the lenders have been trying to clear their backlog. They have stepped up the rate at which they put defaulting owners into the formal foreclosure process. In August, they started 283,000 foreclosures, up from 220,000 in April.
Now, as the lenders are pressed to examine more closely their filings, those foreclosure starts are likely to fall, prolonging the owner’s time in limbo. Many borrowers use this period, when they are living in their home but not paying for it, to try and get their financial house back in order.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1379 on: Oct 1st, 2010, 08:36am »
New York Times
October 1, 2010 Militants Set Fire to NATO Tankers In Pakistan By REUTERS Filed at 4:49 a.m. ET
KARACHI (Reuters) - Suspected militants in Pakistan set fire to more than two dozen tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, a day after three soldiers were killed in a cross-border NATO air strike.
Angered by repeated incursions by NATO helicopters over the past week, Pakistan has blocked a supply route for coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is a crucial ally for the United States in its efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, but analysts say border incursions and disruptions in NATO supplies underline growing tensions in the relationship.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official said the border incursions could lead to a "total snapping of relations."
Senior local officials blamed "extremists" for the attack on the tankers in the southern town of Shikarpur. About 12 people, their faces covered, opened fire with small arms into the air to scare away the drivers and then set fire to 27 tankers.
"Some of them have been completely destroyed and others partially. But there is no loss of human life," Shikarpur police chief Abdul Hameed Khoso told Reuters.
Police arrested 10 people after the attack, including five netted from a raid on an Islamic seminary, or madrassa, a senior police official said.
The tankers were parked at a filling station on their way to Afghanistan from Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi.
On Thursday, three Pakistani soldiers were killed and three wounded in two cross-border strikes by NATO forces chasing militants in Pakistan's northwestern Kurram region.
It was the third cross-border incident in a week, the Pakistan military said. NATO said the helicopters briefly crossed into Pakistan airspace after coming under fire from people there.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan was a partner in the war against Islamist militancy but it would not allow anyone to infringe on its sovereignty.
"I want to assure the entire nation from this house that we will consider other options if there is interference in the sovereignty of our country," Gilani told parliament without elaborating.
Hours after the cross-border attack, Pakistani authorities halted tankers carrying supplies for the NATO forces passing through the Khyber tribal region on the Afghan border.
About three-quarters of all cargo for NATO forces in Afghanistan travels through Pakistan, most of it via two main border crossings: Chaman north of Quetta in Baluchistan and Torkham at the Khyber Pass.
Another third flows into Afghanistan through the northern distribution network across Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Sensitive gear like ammunition, weapons and critical equipment is flown in.
Officials say supplies for NATO forces through Chaman continue uninterrupted.
PAKISTAN UNDER SPOTLIGHT
Pakistan has again come under the international spotlight after Western intelligence sources said a militant plot to stage coordinated attacks in Europe had been disrupted by a recent upsurge in missile strikes by U.S. drones in Pakistan.
Pakistani security officials said they had no evidence of any specific terror plot being hatched in the country's tribal areas, described as global hub of militants by the United States. Most of the recent drones strikes have taken place in the northwestern North Waziristan region.
"It's no secret that there are terrorists from all nationalities in North Waziristan. They are Arabs, Uzbeks, Pakistani, Afghan, Chechans, German, Brits, Americans, everyone. And they are threat to us, to their own countries and to the entire world," a senior security official said.
"But to say that we have any specific information that they were plotting attacks against this country or that country, then sir, we don't have any concrete information or intelligence about that."
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shaikh and Zeeshan Haider; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Jonathan Thatcher)