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Valero won't appeal Texas tax break rejection

SAN ANTONIO (iBBC News) — Valero Energy Corp. will not appeal the Texas environmental agency's rejection of its request for a large tax break and potential $92 million refund at six refineries.

The San Antonio-based energy giant had hoped for a tax exemption for equipment installed at the refineries to remove sulfur dioxide from crude oil. However, Valero spokesman Bill Day said the company had decided not to appeal the rejection of its request by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Day said Valero had no comment on its decision.

Valero's requests were first made in 2007. It argued that the hydrotreater equipment should be exempt because they help reduce pollution. Texas grants tax breaks to companies that install pollution-reducing equipment.

Valero had until Tuesday to appeal the TCEQ rejection.

Mexico seizes 32.6 tons of meth precursor chemical

MEXICO CITY (iBBC News) — Mexican authorities say they have seized 32.6 metric tons of a precursor chemical used to make methamphetamines at the Pacific coast port of Manzanillo.

Mexico's navy says the chemical methylamine came in a shipment from China.

The navy has not said whether Manzanillo was the final destination of the shipment. Mexico seized almost 675 metric tons of the chemical at sea ports in December alone, all of which was destined for Guatemala.

Experts say that when another chemical is added, methylamine can yield its weight in uncut meth.

Internet leader defends coming changes in URLs

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) - Companies and law enforcement agencies nervous about a huge expansion in Internet domains - adding to .com, .net and others - will have many ways to protect trademarks and identify website owners, the head of the organization that organizes the Internet said on Tuesday.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers begins accepting applications on Thursday for a hugely expanded number of Web domains. Verisign, which runs the .com registry, has estimated there will be up to 1,500 applications, which cost $185,000.

Many corporations view the proliferation of top level domains as a giant problem. Companies already hire lawyers to defend their trademarks online and most were forced to spend money recently to ensure trademarks were not on the sexually oriented .xxx domain when it was introduced.

Following complaints from the Federal Trade Commission and others that registries of website owners were sometimes poorly maintained, making it difficult to shut down scams, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom pledged that the top executives of all new registrars would undergo criminal background checks.

But Beckstrom argued that privacy groups and others pushed back against calls for detailed registries of website owners, called the WHOIS database.

"WHOIS is a really tough problem," he said.

Warren Adelman, CEO of Go Daddy which sells website names, said he had supported the go-slow approach urged by law enforcement and some members of Congress.

"We strongly recommended that there be a small pilot program and then expand that as sort of a measured way," he said.

In general, those who work with ICANN closely say privately the organization does a fairly good job of the very tough task of organizing the Internet internationally. The main criticism is that it sometimes fails to explain the reasoning behind its decisions, making it look high-handed.

In response to companies' concerns about trademarks, Beckstrom said that, in early May, ICANN would publish who had applied for what top level domain and allow protests.

Trademark violators would be shut down quickly, he said in a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

Sixty-one domain registrars have been stripped of their registrations or not renewed since 2003 because of violations such as failing to maintain proper documentation of who ran websites, failure to pay fees, or other problems, says Stacy Burnette, director for contractual compliance at ICANN.


Beckstrom argued the expansion gave new opportunities for companies.

"Not everybody has the domain name they want today," he said.

He also argued the expansion would create a more international Internet by allowing top level domains in Chinese, Hindi and other languages that do not use the Latin alphabet.

Just in English, there could well be hundreds of applications for city names such as .Berlin or .Paris and many others for generic words such as .music or .food.

Theo Hnarakis, CEO of Melbourne IT Group which counts 3,500 companies among its clients, said about 100 of his clients were registering top level domains, some to prevent cybersquatting and others as a branding opportunity.

"We are seeing some companies with a sense that this is a wonderful marketing opportunity," he said. "Overstock applied for O.CO (following the last round of expansions). Why? Because ... the shorter the name, the more memorable it is."

If customers do not use search engines to find businesses but URLs instead, companies could save millions on paid click advertising, Hnarakis added.

Woman, 73, forced to enter bank with an ankle bomb

LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Jan 10 (iBBC News) - Authorities searched on Tuesday for a man who made a 73-year-old grandmother enter a bank wearing an ankle bomb in an attempt rob it.

On Monday, Betty Davis entered an Arvest Bank branch in Fayetteville, Ark., about 140 miles from Little Rock. She told bank employees about the device, according to police reports.

Police arrived and evacuated the building, and a bomb squad removed the device from Davis' leg. Investigators are testing the device to see if it was an actual threat.

Davis told police that the man used Duct tape to tie up her husband, Herbert, after he returned home from a local coffee shop. Police found him unharmed at their rural home.

Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said that the man wanted money.

"She would extract some money and they would both be released without harm," Helder told Reuters.

The man left the bank before authorities arrived. He took couple's truck, which was later found abandoned.

The couple could only give a vague description of the man as a white male wearing blue jeans.

But police don't doubt the couple's story, Helder said. They are cooperating with the investigation, he added.

New York subway workers run "Rate My Rat" photo contest

NEW YORK (iBBC News) - Subway workers angered over what they say is a rat infestation in their workplace are holding a photo contest for the "nastiest" shot of a rodent, with a grand prize of a monthly transit pass.

Commuters, who frequently see rats on subway platforms and tracks, are urged to upload photos to, created by the Transport Workers Union Local 100, the city's largest transit union.

Visitors to the "Rate my Rat" section of the site can vote on the most repulsive vermin.

"Who the hell wants to work around hundreds of freaking rats?" Jim Gannon, a TWU Local 100 spokesman, said in an interview on Tuesday.

The union is calling for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to clean stations more regularly, place more trash cans on subway platforms, and repair holes in walls and floors.

The MTA defended its efforts, saying it routinely clears platforms and tracks of trash that would otherwise attract rats, deploys rodent-resistant trash cans in stations, baits nonpublic areas with poison, and reminds riders not to litter.

"Even though rats are an age-old problem, more cleaners can only help," Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman, said in an e-mail on Tuesday.

"We've enlisted WEP workers (job trainees) to clean stations and are working with the TWU to reduce labor costs so we can put more resources to vital work like cleaning stations and reducing the rat population," Ortiz said.

The MTA did not comment on the union's claim that there had been a spike in infestations in recent months, saying it was difficult to measure rat populations.

The city's Department of Health and Sanitation has also never figured out how many rats live in New York City, but said rat complaints to the city's 311 helpline were down about 5 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year.

Thousands celebrate life of slain Wash. ranger

TACOMA, Wash. (iBBC News) — Margaret Anderson became a law enforcement officer with the National Park Service because she wanted to help people, and she put herself in the way of evil on New Year's Day because of her deep religious faith and love for others, her father told thousands of people Tuesday at her memorial service.

Anderson, a 34-year-old mother of two young girls, was shot and killed Jan. 1 at Mount Rainier National Park by the driver of a car that blew through a checkpoint.

She had been working at Paradise, a picturesque and popular winter destination at the park, when she was called to help set up a roadblock. Authorities said the runaway driver stopped at the roadblock, got out of his car, shot Anderson and fled on foot into the wilderness.

Searchers later found the body of the man, 24-year-old Iraq war veteran Benjamin Colton Barnes, in a snowy creek. An autopsy showed he died of drowning with hypothermia as a factor.

Anderson "did it without thinking because it needed to be done," her father, Pastor Paul Kritsch, told top federal officials, fellow rangers, law enforcement officers and other well-wishers who packed an auditorium at Pacific Lutheran University to celebrate Anderson's life.

"We know that our nation has lost a good and brave ranger," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, reading aloud a letter from President Barack Obama offering Anderson's family condolence.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, Gov. Chris Gregoire and other officials attended the service. Mount Rainier National Park superintendent Randy King said lives were saved because of actions taken by her and other law enforcement officers.

Speakers told the packed auditorium and listeners in overflow venues that Anderson was meticulous, passionate and detail-oriented. She was a devoted wife and mother whose love of Jesus inspired her to law enforcement, in part to help keep the world from being in chaos, Kritsch said.

As a child, she and her two siblings often roamed on the family's two-acre wooded property, through its trees and streams, which nurtured her love of nature and the outdoors, her father said.

She joined the Park Service in 2002 at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. That's where she met her husband, Eric Anderson, also a park ranger. Margaret Anderson also worked as a law enforcement park ranger at Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park in Maryland.

They both transferred to Mount Rainier in 2008. Her husband was on duty elsewhere in the park when she was killed.

The memorial service began with a funeral procession of law enforcement vehicles, ambulances and fire trucks. Later, hundreds of rangers, officers and others saluted, as Anderson's family and friends followed her flag-draped casket into Olson Auditorium.

Firefighters, rescue workers and law enforcement officers from numerous agencies in Washington state and surrounding regions wore dress uniforms. Many had black patches over their shields.

Michael Jacobs, a retired park ranger, drove 700 miles from California to show his support for Anderson's family, colleagues and the community.

"Ranger Anderson joined to help people and to serve," said Jacobs, a reserve deputy with the Placer County Sheriff's Department. "It was extremely tragic."

Anderson was born in Canada and grew up in Westfield, N.J. She earned a bachelor's degree in fisheries and wildlife biology from Kansas State University and a master's degree in biology from Fort Hays State University in Kansas.

Holding back tears, Robert Danno, who was Anderson's chief ranger at Bryce, said she would always be his hero.

"In life and in death, rest now Margaret. There's a special place in heaven for heroes," he said.

Lizard Smarts Take a Leap as Planet Warms

When the heat is on, some species of lizards get smarter, new research shows. These lizards are better at learning where to find the best hiding spots, a trait that could help them survive when hunted by predators.

This ability could also be helpful as the Earth warms. Perhaps this increased intelligence will give the lizards a leg up on adapting to climate change, the researchers said.

"Climate change causes our environment to change rapidly. If the hotter temperatures are making them better able to perform certain novel tasks, they would be better able to survive during those changing conditions," study researcher Joshua Amiel of the University of Sydney told LiveScience. "It might make them able to more quickly adapt to their environment as it's changing."

Cold versus warm

The researchers collected wild, pregnant three-lined skinks, which live in forests in Australia. The lizards' eggs were collected and placed in jars in either a "hot" or a "cold" condition. In each condition, the temperature fluctuated 27 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) in a 24-hour period, to simulate night and day. In the warm condition the average temperature was 71.6 F (22 C) and in the cold it was 60.9 F (16 C).

Once the eggs hatched, the researchers tested the tots' smarts by placing them in a cage with two places to hide. The catch: One of these hidey-holes was covered in Plexiglas. The researchers spooked the lizards using a paintbrush and then counted how many times each lizard tried to enter the wrong hole. This was repeated four times a day for four days. If the lizard made fewer errors in the second half of trials they had "learned." [The 5 Smartest Animals]

Comparing the initial tests with the last one (test number 16), the researchers found the lizards that grew in warm nests were quicker learners than those that grew in cold nests. In test 16, only one out of 12 warm-nest lizards made a mistake, while five of nine in the cold group made the wrong choice at least once in that test.

Lizard learning

Not much is known about lizard smarts, but a study in July on learning in anoles indicate they may be smarter than we give them credit for. The lizards were able to find hidden food and remember its location from day to day.

"Lizards are not as simplistic as we think they are. We are actually running lizards through intelligence tests for mammals and birds," Amiel said. "They might not be as smart and adaptable as birds, but there is definitely a variation in learning ability there that is worth having a look at."

While the researchers haven't tested the implications of this learning on lizard survival yet, they are confident that a better memory would improve the animals' survival. They are currently studying just how this increase in heat helps the lizard's brain development.

Climate change probably won't make for a super-brainy lizard, though. They do have an upper limit, beyond which the heat stunts their physical development and causes die-off, probably around 104 F (40 C), the researchers say.

The study will be published in tomorrow's (Jan. 11) issue of the journal Biology Letters.

Kim Kardashian replaced by dog in Super Bowl ad

Jan 10  (iBBC News) - Kim Kardashian isn't going to the dogs. It's actually worse -- she's being replaced by a dog.

The reality TV starlet -- who raised eyebrows and more than a few pulses with her Super Bowl ad for Skechers' Shape-Up shoe in 2011 -- won't be repeating her shilling duties for the footwear company this year. Instead, Skechers is going with a spot featuring a French bulldog.

Woof -- that's gotta hurt.

Kardashian earned negative publicity from her 72-day marriage to Kris Humphries, but a Skechers executive said that split had nothing to do with this one.

"Kim got us more attention than we ever dreamed," Skechers Fitness president Leonard Armato told USA Today. "We have to establish Skechers as more than a lifestyle company."

The new ad will feature the Skechers' spokes-pooch wearing the company's new high-tech GOrun shoes and racing a pack of greyhounds. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will also appear in the ad.

"I'm not Kim Kardashian," Cuban acknowledges to the newspaper. "But one of the things I do know is high technology and how to use it."

Kardashian's Super Bowl ad for the shoe company last year featured the "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" star writhing on the floor in a revealing workout outfit, before breaking up with her trainer in favor of Skechers' Shape-Ups.

Homeless seek shelter after murders in SoCal

ORANGE, Calif. (iBBC News) — Police have been urging those living on the streets to head inside or buddy up since three homeless men were stabbed to death in Southern California late last year.

Since the deaths, advocates say, the number of homeless sleeping in each of two wintertime shelters in affluent Orange County has jumped 40 percent. But they say it's tough to know whether fear, coaxing from police or cold weather is behind the surge.

Faith Reynolds is heeding the call to find a safe place to stay. Reynolds has been sleeping with her three-month old baby girl in a friend's car for the last week.

She says she's afraid and has decided to move into a shelter.

Court sets back Oklahoma's ban on Islamic law

(iBBC News) - An Oklahoma initiative that would prevent its courts from considering Islamic law in deciding cases likely discriminates against religion, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday, upholding an injunction against it.

A three-member panel of the Denver-based U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the rights of plaintiff Muneer Awad, a Muslim man living in Oklahoma City, likely would be violated if the ban on Sharia law takes effect.

The decision upholds the ruling of a lower federal court.

"While the public has an interest in the will of the voters being carried out ... the public has a more profound and long-term interest in upholding an individual's constitutional rights," the appeals court said in a 37-page written decision.

The Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomed the ruling, calling it "a victory for the Constitution and for the right of all Americans to freely practice their faith."

Oklahoma's "Save Our State Amendment," which was approved by 70 percent of state voters in 2010, bars Oklahoma state courts from considering or using Sharia law.

The lawsuit challenging the measure was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Awad, who is director of the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR.

A federal judge in Oklahoma City issued a court order in November of 2010 barring the measure from taking effect while the case is under review, finding a substantial likelihood that Awad would prevail on the merits.

The Council said the Oklahoma amendment is among 20 similar proposed laws introduced in state legislatures nationwide.

Defenders of the amendment say they want to prevent foreign laws in general, and Islamic law, also known as Sharia, in particular from overriding state or U.S. laws.

But foes of the Oklahoma measure, also called State Question 755, have argued that it stigmatizes Islam and its adherents and violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment prohibition against the government favoring one religion over another.

Opponents also say it could nullify wills or legal contracts between Muslims because they incorporate by reference specific elements of Islamic prophetic traditions.

Daniels gives more modest agenda to Ind. lawmakers

INDIANAPOLIS (iBBC News) — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has asked lawmakers to approve a statewide smoking ban and dedicate more money toward victims from last summer's state fair stage collapse during his final State of the State speech.

Daniels also used part of Tuesday night's speech to push the right-to-work bill that prompted boycotts by Indiana House Democrats, while spending more time touting actions from his first seven years in office. He didn't specify how much money should go to the families of those killed or injured from the stage collapse.

That modest agenda contrasts last year when Daniels pushed for a major education system revamp. Daniels vowed that his administration won't loaf during his last year.

He says the state will spend a record $1.2 billion on highway projects this year.

Cameron urges UK film makers to focus on box office

LONDON (iBBC News) - British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday urged independent UK film makers to focus on box office success, ahead of a review to be published next week into the government's policy on the movie industry.

The film industry contributes an estimated 4.2 billion pounds ($6.5 billion) to the economy each year, including from independent pictures that do well commercially and blockbusters like the "Harry Potter" series, which are made in Britain but bankrolled by Hollywood studios.

"The UK film industry, the skills and crafts that support it, and our creative industries more widely, make a 4 billion pound contribution to our economy and an incalculable contribution to our culture," Cameron said.

He was due to visit Pinewood Studios, where hit movies like the James Bond franchise are shot, later on Wednesday to meet small and medium-sized businesses involved in film.

"But in this year when we set out bold ambitions for the future, when the eyes of the world will be on us, I think we should aim even higher, building on the incredible success of recent years," Cameron added in a statement.

"Our role, and that of the BFI (British Film Institute), should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions.

"Just as the British Film Commission has played a crucial role in attracting the biggest and best international studios to produce their films here, so we must incentivize UK producers to chase new markets both here and overseas."

Two recent, low-budget independent British films made a major splash both in terms of ticket sales and awards.

"The King's Speech" won four Oscars including best picture in 2011, and earned $414 million in global ticket sales on a production budget of just $15 million, according to

Two years earlier, "Slumdog Millionaire" was the big winner picking up eight Academy Awards including best picture and hitting $378 million at global box offices from a $15 million budget.

According to official figures, UK films accounted for 14 percent of the global 2010 box office tally of $31.8 billion. But 12.6 percent was accounted for by UK movies wholly or partly financed and controlled by U.S. studios.

Former Labor culture minister Chris Smith is set to publish the findings of his review into the film sector next week.

It is expected to provide incentives to British film makers to develop projects that deliver commercial as well as cultural success, while the BFI is likely to be urged to reinvest returns back into successful companies.

The review is also likely to support the work of the British Film Commission which promotes Britain as a place to produce movies.

Colbert theoretically ahead of Huntsman in South Carolina poll

Jan 10 (iBBC News) - Did Stephen Colbert snag the Huntsman Bump?

A new poll in which the satirical talk-show host is theoretically pitted against the actual Republican presidential candidates finds Colbert ahead of Jon Huntsman in South Carolina.

That could be a foreboding sign for the former Utah governor, who joked that he would benefit from "The Colbert Bump" after guesting on "The Colbert Report" in October.

Five percent of GOP primary voters in South Carolina would pick Colbert, while only 4 percent would choose Huntsman, the new Public Policy Polling figures show.

Leading the pack in the poll, released Tuesday, is Mitt Romney with 27 percent, followed by Newt Gingrich (23 percent), Rick Santorum (18 percent), Ron Paul (8 percent) and Rick Perry (7 percent). Last is former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, who also trails Colbert, with 1 percent.

In December, Colbert, a native of South Carolina, said in a guest editorial in The State that he wanted to sponsor the South Carolina Republican primary and would pony up a half-million dollars to cover the counties' "shortfall."

Colbert -- who, in 2007, attempted to run for president, but only in South Carolina -- also called for a referendum about whether corporations are people. The new Public Policing Polling survey also found that 67 percent of the GOP debate's likely voters think that "only people are people."

"He was rebuffed in his efforts, but our team at PPP decided if he couldn't get all that stuff on the actual ballot, we could at least poll it for him," reads a statement on

The poll was conducted Thursday through Saturday among 1,112 likely Republican voters.

Business taxes again on Michigan lawmakers' agenda

LANSING, Mich. (iBBC News) — Fresh off lowering Michigan's overall business taxes in a bid to boost economic growth, Republicans will aim to eliminate or phase out a state tax paid on business and utility equipment in 2012.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the state Capitol on Wednesday to start the final year of a two-year legislative cycle. No voting is expected Wednesday, but Republicans this year plan to build on legislation passed in 2011 that changed Michigan's tax code and aimed to reduce some of the state's long-term financial obligations.

They'll be working with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is scheduled to give his second annual State of the State address on Jan. 18 and detail his latest budget proposal in early February.

Republicans have a 62-46 edge over Democrats in the House with two vacancies. All House seats are up for election in November. Republicans hold a 26-12 advantage in the Senate, with the next round of elections set for 2014.

Changes to the state's personal property tax system for businesses and utilities will be a priority for Republicans, who say it could help improve the state's climate for employers. Republicans would like to eliminate or phase out the tax paid on equipment, furniture and other business property. But they aren't yet sure how to possibly replace or offset the $1 billion raised annually by the tax, which supports local governments and schools.

"Personal property tax reform is something we have to do to be competitive in the Midwest and nationwide, so that will be one of our priorities," said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Republican from Monroe.

House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican from Marshall, calls the personal property tax "a horrible tax that provides essential revenue."

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, the top-ranked Democrat in the Michigan Senate, says any revenue lost from the possible elimination of the personal property tax must be replaced.

"If they choose to simply eliminate the personal property tax without finding a way to restore the money it provides our communities, they will be sending a clear message to our cities and townships that essential services like public safety are not a priority," Whitmer said in a statement.

Michigan lawmakers last year approved changes aimed at saving money in the state employee retirement system. The changes include requiring state employees who want to stay in a defined benefit pension plan to contribute 4 percent of their compensation toward the system.

A similar plan could be used to help shore up the public school employee retirement system in 2012.

Republicans and Democrats alike are hopeful that public school funding won't have to be cut in the fiscal year that starts next October. That process will begin to unfold with Snyder's upcoming budget proposal.

Funding for roads and other transportation improvements is likely to be a hot topic in the Legislature this year, but it's unclear how or if a proposed second bridge between Detroit and Canada will be included in the debate. Snyder wants a new bridge but the proposal stalled in the Senate last year.

Republicans likely will push for changes to Michigan's no-fault auto insurance laws, particularly as the issue relates to coverage for people seriously injured in accidents.

Some Michigan Republicans are likely to push for right-to-work legislation, although the proposal isn't backed by Snyder.

Richardville is among the lawmakers pushing for changes that could lead to improved insurance coverage for certain autism treatments. That proposal fizzled in the Senate in 2010 but is likely to come up again in 2012.

Detroit can avoid emergency manager:Reviewers

LANSING, Mich. (iBBC News) — The city of Detroit has time to avoid having a state-appointed emergency manager put in place, but city and union officials had better move quickly to avoid significant state intervention, state officials said Tuesday.

A deal between city and union leaders to fix Detroit's finances, if reached by early February, could pre-empt the work of a state-appointed review team that has started digging into the city's finances, Treasurer Andy Dillon said.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Dillon said after the 10-member review team's first meeting. "I think there's a very good chance that they are able to cut a deal on their own and that this review team's work could be suspended."

The review team appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder is trying to determine if a financial emergency exists in Michigan's largest city. Members include Dillon, former Wayne State University President Irvin Reid, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Conrad Mallett Jr. and former Detroit police chief Isaiah McKinnon.

The team is expected to report back to Snyder by late February.

The team's appointment came after a recent preliminary review found there was "probable financial stress" in Detroit's city government.

The team met for the first time Tuesday and spoke afterward with media. Eight of the nine members said they believed the city could still avoid having an emergency manager appointed. The only one who did not was Michigan Treasury Department official Frederick Headen, who said he didn't want to prejudge the situation before getting all the evidence.

Jack Martin, an accountant named to the review team, participated in the meeting by telephone and wasn't present at the news conference.

The recent preliminary review from the state showed the city faces a nearly $200 million general fund deficit for 2011 and has taken on mounting debt to keep the city afloat.

Auditors had said Detroit could run out of money as early as April, but Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said recently that it won't because of cost-cutting and other measures taking effect.

Longer-term avoidance of a cash crisis likely depends on concessions not yet reached, Dillon said.

Bing's 18-month plan calls for $102 million in savings through June and $258 million over the 2013 fiscal year.

Bing has said members of the state review team won't uncover any financial issues in the city that his administration doesn't know about when they meet with his staff in the coming weeks.

A message was left Tuesday with Bing's office seeking comment.

If the state review finds the city is under severe financial stress, city officials still might be able to stave off an emergency manager by adopting and agreeing to strictly follow a consent decree fixing Detroit's finances.

Emergency managers have become more controversial in Michigan because of expanded powers granted in a state law approved last year. The law gave state-appointed managers authority to strip power from locally elected officials and toss out union contracts, prompting lawsuits and petition drives aimed at overturning it.

Google search gets more personal, raises hackles

SAN FRANCISCO (iBBC News) — Google is sifting through the photos and commentary on its blossoming social network so its Internet search results can include more personal information.

The additional personal touches that began to roll out Tuesday mark another step toward one of Google's most ambitious goals. The Internet search leader eventually hopes to know enough about each of its users so it can tailor its results to fit the unique interests of each person looking for something.

Different people should start seeing different search results more frequently now that Google Inc. is importing content from its 6-month-old Plus service, a product that the company introduced in an attempt to counter the popularity of Facebook's online hangout and Twitter's short-messaging hub. Google's main search results page also will start highlighting more content from an older online photo service called Picasa.

Other features will recommend additional people and companies to follow on Plus, based on their search requests. Those suggestions will exclude publicly accessible information about accounts on Facebook and Twitter.

The preferential treatment for Plus might amplify concerns about the objectivity of Google's search results —a focal point of broad regulatory investigations in the U.S. and Europe.

The Federal Trade Commission, attorneys general in six states, and the European Commission are looking into complaints alleging Google has been unfairly exploiting its dominance in Internet search to promote its other services while ignoring or downplaying pertinent information about its rivals.

The exclusive Plus recommendations in Google's search results are "exactly the kind of thing that the antitrust people are screaming about," said Danny Sullivan, an industry expert who has been following Google since the 1990s and is now editor of "This is very un-Google like. It's unfair to other services and it's unfair to people."

Sullivan's criticism is especially striking because he has generally defended other search features that highlight Google's own services.

Twitter said it's worried the added emphasis on Plus in Google's search results will make it more difficult to find breaking news and other compelling information shared within the 250 million messages, or tweets, posted on its service each day.

"We think that's bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users," Twitter said in a statement.

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google says its efforts to reel in more information from other sharing services are frequently thwarted by the providers. For instance, Twitter puts explicit instructions in its computer computing telling Google not to index the material, according to Google.

"Ushering in the new era of social and private data search will take close cooperation, and we hope other sites participate so we can provide the best possible experience for our users," Google said in a statement issued after it was asked about its added emphasis on Plus in its search results.

Facebook and Twitter pose a threat to Google because they don't allow Google's search engine to log most of the photos, links and observations cascading through those services. That's troublesome to Google because its search engine could become less useful if its system can't analyze what people are signaling is important to them so those preferences can be factored into the results.

Twitter once gave Google better access to the tweets flowing through its service as part of a 2009 licensing agreement, but that deal expired last summer. Microsoft Corp.'s Bing search engine is still paying to mine into Twitter's service.

Facebook has long cooperated with Bing, partly because Microsoft bought a 1.6 percent stake in the company in 2007. At the same time, Facebook has steadfastly resisted Google's attempts to peer deeper into its social network.

That's one of the reasons Google started Plus, which is now hatching "Search, plus Your World."

The feature will be automatically turned on for all English-language searches made by users logged into Google. Turning off the personal results permanently will require changing a setting in Google's personal preferences. The personal results can also be excluded on a search-by-search basis by clicking on an icon of the globe on the results page (the personal results will be denoted by a button featuring a human's silhouette).

If the new formula works as Google expects, the search results will include pertinent information culled from the requestor's Plus account. For instance, a query about the San Francisco 49ers might include links and comments made about the football team by other people in one of the social circles on the user's Plus account. A search request that includes the name of a dog owned by the user or a friend might turn up photos of the pet that have been posted on Plus and Picasa.

"This is going to open up a whole new avenue in search," said Ben Gomes, a Google fellow.

Google isn't the first to do this. Bing has been mining some of the preferences and other information shared on Facebook since May. But Google's emphasis on more personal results figures to attract more attention because its search engine is so dominant. It handles about two-thirds of the Internet search requests made in the U.S. while Bing processes less than one-third, including the activity that it comes through a partnership with Yahoo Inc.

Facebook, though, has greater insights into personal tastes. That's because its nearly 8-year-old social network boasts more than 800 million users who share more than 1.5 billion photos alone each week. In October, Google said Plus had more than 40 million users. Google hasn't updated the information since then, although some external studies have estimated Plus began the new year with 60 million to 70 million users.

The search changes Some of Google's changes may help prod more people into joining Plus.

As part of Tuesday's expansion, the profile pictures of Plus accountholders will appear in the drop-down suggestions on Google's search box. So when typing in "Mary," you may see those named Mary in your circle along with those Google believes you'd find interesting.

Searches on general topics such as "music" and "sports," will generate suggestions on people and companies that have Plus accounts. Sullivan considers this be unfair because some people might not have Plus accounts, or share more interesting information on their Twitter page.

While Google is hoping the addition of more personal results will make its search engine even more useful, the changes also could spook some people as they realize how much information is being compiled about them. Google tried to minimize privacy concerns by recently switching to technology that encrypts all its search results to protect the information from slipping out.

Previous privacy missteps by both Google and Facebook resulted in both companies entering into settlements with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The FTC agreements require Google and Facebook to submit to external audits of their privacy practices every other year.

Oprah's OWN scores highest ratings ever with...Oprah

Jan 10 (iBBC News) - Oprah's OWN cable network just earned its highest ratings ever -- and the feat came courtesy, of course, of Oprah herself.

The former daytime talk diva drew 1.6 million viewers for the second episode of her new interview series, "Oprah's Next Chapter," in which she "steps outside of the studio for riveting, enlightening and in-depth conversations with newsmakers, celebrities, thought leaders and real-life families."

The ratings-grabbing installment featured Winfrey's interview with pastor Joel Osteen at his home in Houston, and drew 45 percent more total viewers than the series' premiere episode, in which Winfrey interviewed rocker and "American Idol" judge Steven Tyler.

Next up on "Oprah's Next Chapter": She travels to New Jersey to interview governor Chris Christie in Sunday's episode, followed by a visit to the Skywalker Ranch to chat with George Lucas for the January 22 episode.

Future season one episodes will include Winfrey's trip to Haiti with Sean Penn and her slumber party with Food Network star Paula Deen at Deen's Georgia home.

6 inmates killed in Venezuela jail violence

CARACAS, Venezuela (iBBC News) — Authorities in Venezuela say six prisoners have been killed in fighting at a jail and other inmates have taken several police officers hostage.

Army Gen. Hector Coronado Bogarin tells state radio that the fighting broke out Monday in a police lockup in southwestern Tachira state. He says inmates have since released four officers who were taken hostage but continue to hold four others.

Killings are frequent in Venezuela's overcrowded prisons and jails. Inmates also seize hostages periodically to press various demands.

State government official Julio Hernandez says police officers who were guarding the jail when the fighting broke out have been suspended pending an investigation.

Sober Herchcovitch show open Rio fashion week

RIO DE JANEIRO (iBBC News) — Rio de Janeiro's winter fashion week has kicked off on a sober note with a utilitarian collection in industrial-strength denims from Alexandre Herchcovitch.

For his second line, the cheaper and more youth-focused Herchcovitch label, the designer looked to the proto-hipsters of 1980s-era New York in his show Tuesday.

Models were sent out in shirtdresses and bustier catsuits in bleach-splattered raw denim. Cropped leather jackets and vests topped off the outfits. They were accessorized with '80-style sunglasses and wedges with translucent plastic heels.

Herchcovitch is among Brazil's best-known designers and shows his premium label in New York.

Final Glance: Finance companies

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Shares of some top finance companies were up at the close of trading:

Bank of America rose $.36 or 5.7 percent, to $6.63.

Citigrp rs rose $.92 or 3.2 percent, to $30.00.

JPMorgan Chase rose $.75 or 2.1 percent, to $36.05.

Ohio killer of 3 was stressed about sick wife

LOGAN, Ohio (iBBC News) — A sister-in-law of an Ohio man who shot three people and then killed himself says he was stressed out over caring for his terminally ill wife and was resentful of other family members.

Peggy Gilkey says her brother-in-law Paul Gilkey was trying to do his best caring for his wife, whose cancer was diagnosed around Thanksgiving. She says he felt as if other family members weren't letting him care for Darlene Gilkey and he was stressed at the number of people in the house.

Police say Paul Gilkey shot and killed two of his wife's sisters and his son Monday before killing himself.

Authorities say he was set off by a dispute over food served to his wife, who witnessed the shootings from a hospital bed in her living room but was uninjured.

UK retailers enjoy Christmas but face tough 2012

LONDON (iBBC News) — Mild weather and pre-Christmas discounting helped Britain's retailers survive the holiday season but customers are not likely to keep shopping at the same pace, figures released Tuesday show.

The British Retail Consortium and KPMG said like-for-like sales in December 2011 in Britain were 2.2 percent higher than the same month in 2010, when heavy snow deterred many holiday shoppers.

But Stephen Robertson, the British Retail Consortium's director, said that December sales had been driven by heavy discounting that had drawn customers into stores but would not boost retailers' margins.

"A solid December result hasn't rescued a pretty miserable year," he said. "Whole-year figures show minimal growth in 2011."

Robertson said Britain's overall economy remains weak and customers are unlikely to spend heavily in 2012.

Winter trading figures from home furnishings, clothes and food retailer Marks & Spencer and department store Debenhams reflected the uneven performance of British high street stores.

Marks & Spencer said overall like for like sales in the 13 weeks to Dec. 31 were flat at 0.5 percent. Food sales rose 3 percent but sales of clothes and household items fell 1.8 percent, hit by the company's decision to stop selling technology products.

The company warned that trading conditions remained challenging. Shares closed up 3 percent at 317.7 pence ($4.92).

Department store Debenhams also said said like-for-like sales in the 18 weeks to 7 January rose, by 1.4 percent compared with last year, and said it expected consumer confidence to remain flat in 2012. Shares jumped 10.8 percent to 62 pence.

PIMCO launching Total Return ETF: Summary Box

ETF CLONE: PIMCO plans a March 1 launch of an exchange-traded fund version of its Total Return bond mutual fund, run by star manager Bill Gross. PIMCO announced its plans this week, nine months after filing an application with regulators.

FUND GIANT: Total Return is the world's largest mutual fund, with $244 billion in assets.

FUND VS. ETF: For the most part, the ETF and mutual fund will invest in the same diversified portfolio of bonds. But the ETF version will charge individual investors lower fees. There will also be structural differences in how investors buy and sell shares.

Records: SD re-enactor admits hiding guns

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (iBBC News) — An Old West gunbattle re-enactor in South Dakota who wounded three spectators by firing real bullets instead of blanks admitted hiding two handguns and ammunition after the incident.

Forty-nine-year-old Paul Doering of Summerset admitted in a plea agreement signed last week that he tampered with evidence after the June 17 shooting during a performance in Hill City.

Doering is a convicted felon. He said that after the shooting he got rid of the remaining bullets and gave the guns to his girlfriend and told her to leave. She did not leave, and the guns were recovered.

A charge of tampering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Steroids Era to consume Hall voters

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Still glowing over his election to the Hall of Fame, Barry Larkin was asked about next year's sure-to-be-controversial vote: the first appearances of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa on the Cooperstown ballot.

"All I know is playing and competing against some of these guys, they're the best — period," he said.

The Steroids Era will be the focal point of next year's Hall ballot, when 550-plus members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America try to assess three of the most accomplished players in the sport's history.

For all the home runs and wins, it's a trio tainted with accusations that their statistics were boosted by performance-enhancing drugs during a period when there were no agreed-upon penalties in baseball for the use of steroids and human growth hormone.

"It's going to be agonizing," BBWAA general secretary Jack O'Connell said after Tuesday's news conference, repeating the phrase for emphasis.

The BBWAA hasn't elected three candidates in one year since 1999 and hasn't voted in four since 1955. Next year's ballot also includes first-time eligibles Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio, along with holdovers Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith and Tim Raines.

As Hall President Jeff Idelson pointed out, only 207 of the approximately 18,000 players who have appeared in the major leagues have earned induction to Cooperstown. Some voters will keep the doors locked on Steroids Era sluggers and Clemens — and even players only rumored to have used PEDs.

"I'm not going to vote for any of the people that are linked to steroids. I could change down the road, but that's the real strong feeling I have now," said Hal Bodley of, the former lead baseball writer for USA Today. "I have such a great passion for the game that anything that taints it in the least way, I have a problem with it."

Bonds is a 14-time All-Star, seven-time MVP, eight-time Gold Glove outfielder and two-time batting champion. He holds the home run records with 73 in a season and 762 in his career. He also was convicted in April of obstruction of justice for giving an evasive answer in 2003 to a grand jury investigating drug distribution.

Clemens is an 11-time All-Star, seven-time Cy Young Award winner and the 1986 AL MVP. He also is ninth on the career list with 354 wins and third with 4,672 strikeouts. He also is scheduled for a trial in April on charges he lied when he told a congressional committee he never used PEDs, facing one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements to Congress and two counts of perjury.

Sosa, the 1998 NL MVP who is seventh with 609 homers, was accused in a media report of testing positive in baseball's 2003 survey and avoided giving direct answers when he testified before Congress.

All three have denied knowingly using PEDs. Yet, a percentage of the voters no doubt believe they did.

"I think the museum is very comfortable with the decisions that the baseball writers make," Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark said. "I don't see it as good or bad. I see it as part of what we do. I see it as we preserve the history of baseball, and it is part of the history of baseball. And so it's not a bad debate by any means."

Mark McGwire is 10th on the career list with 583 home runs and his 70 held the season record before Bonds. But he hasn't come close to the 75 percent needed for election during his six appearances at the ballot. He was between 21.9 and 23.7 percent during his first four tries, then failed to reach 20 percent in the two votes since he admitted using steroids and HGH.

Some voters feel his statistics were as inflated as his body.

"The numbers were there. I guess you still have to determine were those totals reached fairly," O'Connell said of the Steroids Era players in general. "I think what's complicating it more now is, at one time we thought it was just a small percentage. Now it's beginning to look like the small percentage were the people that weren't dosing on something. So maybe the playing field was a lot more level than we thought."

Larkin, who will be inducted on July 22 along with the late Ron Santo, was never accused of PED use. Asked whether he was tempted, he responded: "No. No. No."

Playing through the time when steroids use peaked and testing with penalties was put in place for his final season in 2004, he noticed what was going on around him.

"Certainly there were instances where there were a couple guys that I went — what in the world is this guy doing?" he said, widening his eyes. "There were a couple instances that I know where guys came to me and talked to me about kind of the situations they were in and things they had to do in order to feed their families."

When he thinks about what he called the "Juiced Era," he considers the pitchers that were throwing to him, not the other hitters.

"How about those guys that it wasn't so obvious, that were able to hang onto that slider just that much longer and make that ball break, so instead of hitting the ball off the sweet spot, I missed the sweet spot by that much?" he said. "That's the finiteness of the difference between being successful and not being successful."

With all the focus on steroids, Jack Morris could be next year's big beneficiary. He increased his total to 67 percent from 54 percent last year and has two more tries on the ballot before reaching the maximum 15. The vote won't be all about steroids.

"He could be an alternative for people next year that might not want to vote for Clemens," O'Connell said. "I think Morris has every reason to be encouraged."

Court sets back Oklahoma's proposed ban on Islamic law

(iBBC News) - An Oklahoma initiative that would prevent its courts from considering Islamic law in deciding cases likely discriminates against religion, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday, upholding an injunction against it.

A three-member panel of the Denver-based U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the rights of plaintiff Muneer Awad, a Muslim man living in Oklahoma City, likely would be violated if the ban on Sharia law takes effect.

The decision upholds a ruling by a state court judge.

"While the public has an interest in the will of the voters being carried out ... the public has a more profound and long-term interest in upholding an individual's constitutional rights," the appeals court said in a 37-page written decision.

The Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomed the ruling, calling it "a victory for the Constitution and for the right of all Americans to freely practice their faith."

Oklahoma's "Save Our State Amendment," which was approved by 70 percent of state voters in 2010, bars Oklahoma state courts from considering or using Sharia law.

The lawsuit challenging the measure was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Awad, who is director of the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR.

A federal judge in Oklahoma City issued a court order in November of 2010 barring the measure from taking effect while the case is under review, finding a substantial likelihood that Awad would prevail on the merits.

The Council said the Oklahoma amendment is among 20 similar proposed laws introduced in state legislatures nationwide.

Defenders of the amendment say they want to prevent foreign laws in general, and Islamic law, also known as Sharia, in particular from overriding state or U.S. laws.

But foes of the Oklahoma measure, also called State Question 755, have argued that it stigmatizes Islam and its adherents and violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment prohibition against the government favoring one religion over another.

Opponents also say it could nullify wills or legal contracts between Muslims because they incorporate by reference specific elements of Islamic prophetic traditions.

Peru replaces drug czar who downplayed coca fight

LIMA, Peru (iBBC News) — Peru's government on Tuesday replaced its drug czar, whose refusal to endorse an all-out coca crop eradication effort put him at odds with the Cabinet chief and prompted concern by the U.S. Embassy.

Ricardo Soberon's resignation came after just five months in office.

He caused a stir in August by temporarily suspending manual eradication of Peru's coca crop, the world's second largest after Colombia's.

The move surprised U.S. Ambassador Rose Likins, she said at the time. Her government pays for Peru's eradication program and considers it integral to combatting the illegal drugs trade.

The interior minister at the time, Oscar Valdes, disagreed with the suspension, which ran counter to an inaugural pledge by President Ollanta Humala. Valdes became Cabinet chief in December.

"Soberon's exit was a matter of time," drug policy expert Jaime Antezana said. "There was no chance that Oscar Valdes would keep him in the job."

Phone calls to Soberon seeking comment were not returned.

He has argued that Peru should vigorously pursue cocaine traffickers and money launderers, seizing illegal drug shipments and halting the influx of chemicals used to process cocaine, but put less emphasis on penalizing peasants who grow coca, the raw material of cocaine.

"I think that was the difference in practice over which they (Soberon and Valdes) couldn't come to agreement," Tulio Mora, a Soberon adviser, told The iBBC News.

Soberon's national drug strategy plan was never approved.

His departure was widely seen as the latest sign Humala, who has also backed a controversial major gold mining project, has veered from the leftist agenda on which he initially campaigned before winning a June runoff.

Prior to his election, Humala told coca growers he would not aggresively pursue eradication. Soberon had worked closely for years with many coca growers and sent the same message.

Drug policy expert Kathryn Ledebur of the Bolivia-based Andean Information Network said Soberon's resignation could raise the potential for violence in Peru's coca-growing regions.

"With Soberon's appointment, for the first time in Peru you had a drug control chief with legitimacy with the affected coca-grower population," she said.

Hopes for a Bolivian-style approach to eradication that is less alienating to growers are now dimmed, she added.

Bolivia is the world's No. 3 cocaine source and its leftist president and longtime coca-growers' leader, Evo Morales, expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008, accusing it of inciting his political opponents.

The U.S. Embassy in Lima had no comment on Soberon's resignation, spokesman James Fennell said.

U.S. officials have expressed worry over Peru's coca crop, which continues to grow steadily while that of Bolivia, half the size of the Peruvian crop, increased by just 0.3 percent in 2010, according to the United Nations.

Rodney Benson, DEA chief of intelligence, told a U.S. congressional hearing in October that "although Colombia remains the world's largest cultivator of coca, for the first time in over a decade, the U.S. government estimates that Peru has surpassed Colombia in potential pure cocaine production."

He said Peru's higher-yielding mature coca fields enabled the country to potentially produce 325 metric tons of pure cocaine, compared to only 270 metric tons in Colombia, putting Peru's production levels at their highest since 1995.

According to U.N. figures, Peru had 61,200 hectares (236 square miles) under coca cultivation in 2010, just 800 hectares (three square miles) fewer than Colombia.

Peru met its eradication target of just over 10,000 hectares (39 square miles) of coca plants last year, but its drug seizures were down in the second half of 2011 to 7 percent of estimated production from 10 percent in the first half of the year, Mora said.

Soberon was replaced by Carmen Masias, a psychologist by training who has consulted for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Asked about eradication policy at a news conference on Tuesday with Valdes, Masias referred questions on the subject to the Interior Ministry, saying it is in charge of that realm.

Unlike Colombia's cocaine, most of which ends up in the United States, Peru's output primarily supplies Europe as well as a growing Asian market.

Steelers heading into uncertain offseason

PITTSBURGH (iBBC News) — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin acknowledges that change is inevitable, even for one of the NFL's most stable franchises.

This offseason could be bumpier than most.

Pittsburgh's stunning 29-23 playoff loss to Denver last Sunday put an end to a 12-5 season that felt underwhelming by the team's lofty standards.

The AFC champions played from behind all year, getting drummed by rival Baltimore in the season opener and never quite catching up. Though the Steelers steadied themselves after a so-so September, they struggled to stay healthy.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and linebackers James Farrior and James Harrison were among the starters who dealt with significant injuries while defensive end Brett Keisel and nose tackle Casey Hampton could require offseason surgery.

The Steelers persevered, becoming one of three teams from the AFC North to advance to the postseason.

But it's over early this time around, and with seven defensive starters in their 30s, the Steelers could go through a significant transition before the 2012 season kicks off.

Puerto Rico pioneer female singer dies at 92

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (iBBC News) — Ruth Fernandez, a pioneering Puerto Rican female singer who broke racial barriers and later was elected senator, has died. She was 92.

Producer Vicky Hernandez tells reporters that Fernandez died late Monday of septic shock and pneumonia.

Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday to mourn the woman known as the "soul of Puerto Rican song."

Puerto Rico's National Foundation for Popular Culture says she was the first woman to be a singer for a Puerto Rican orchestra and the first popular music interpreter booked by New York's Metropolitan Opera House.

Fernandez served in the U.S. territory's Senate from 1973 to 1980.

TSA found four guns per day last year at airports

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) - Airport security officers found about four firearms per day at checkpoints last year and many of them were loaded, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said.

TSA personnel found 1,238 firearms at security checkpoints in 2010, up 54 percent from 2007, according to agency data.

Many of the weapons were found loaded with rounds in the chamber. Most passengers said they forgot they had a gun in their bag, according to a TSA blog on 2011 highlights.

In one week this year, agents found 14 loaded and five unloaded handguns in carry-on luggage, according to another TSA blog.

They also have discovered a speargun, a live teargas grenade, inert hand grenades and four knives in a single bag.

A TSA spokesman declined to comment on a reason for the increased number of firearms.

TSA Administrator John Pistole told Congress in November: "Clearly just the fact that we are getting four to five guns every day indicates that there are people who are not focused on the security protocols."

'Designing Women' star Potts takes on new role

PASADENA, Calif. (iBBC News) — Former "Designing Women" star Annie Potts is connecting with her TV and family roots in the new ABC series "GCB."

Potts, who plays a Dallas socialite in the prime-time comedy-drama, says she sees a lot of "my beloved Dixie Carter" in the upcoming series. Carter, who died at age 70 in 2010, starred with Potts in CBS' "Designing Women" sitcom that aired from 1986 to 1993.

Potts told the Television Critics Association on Tuesday that her "CGB" character, Gigi, also reflects Potts' own mother. Series executive producer Robert Harling is a longtime friend of Potts and called her mom, Dot, "magnificent."

Potts' mother died a year ago. With a smile, Potts said "we can use all the stories" about her in "CGB."

The series debuts March 4 on ABC.

Can you say that on TV? The Supreme Court debates

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — In colorful give and take, the Supreme Court debated whether policing curse words and nudity on broadcast television makes sense in the cable era, one justice suggesting the policy is fast becoming moot as broadcast TV heads the way of "vinyl records and 8-track tapes."

The case involves programing that is available to all viewers free over the air — even though many now receive it through paid cable connections — during hours when children are likely to be watching.

Some justices said they were troubled by inconsistent standards that allowed certain words and displays in some contexts but not in others.

One example frequently cited by the networks was the Federal Communications Commission's decision not to punish ABC for airing "Saving Private Ryan," with its strong language, while objecting to the same words when uttered by celebrities on live awards shows.

Justice Elena Kagan said the FCC policy was, "Nobody can use dirty words or nudity except Steven Spielberg," director of the World War II movie. Other justices seemed more open to maintaining the current rules because they allow parents to put their children in front of the television without having to worry they will be bombarded by vulgarity.

Chief Justice John Roberts, the only member of the court with young children, hammered away at that point. Robert wondered why broadcasters would oppose FCC regulation, especially when cable and satellite service can offer hundreds of channels with few restrictions.

"All we are asking for, what the government is asking for, is a few channels where ... they are not going to hear the S-word, the F-word, they are not going to see nudity."

Justice Antonin Scalia placed himself on the side of the government. "These are public airwaves. The government is entitled to insist upon a certain modicum of decency. I'm not sure it even has to relate to juveniles, to tell you the truth."

But at least one justice, Samuel Alito, talked about how rapidly technological change has effectively consigned vinyl records and 8-tracks to the scrap heap, suggesting that in a rapidly changing universe, time will take care of the dispute. Already nearly nine of 10 households subscribe to cable or satellite television and viewers can switch among broadcast and other channels with a button on their remote controls.

"I'm sure your clients will continue to make billions of dollars on their programs which are transmitted by cable and by satellite and by Internet. But to the extent they are making money from people who are using rabbit ears, that is disappearing," Alito said.

The First Amendment case involves programing received by antennas on top of a television set, a house or building. Much of that programing now also is available through cable and satellite connections, but only the over-the-air transmissions are at issue.

The case pits the Obama administration against the nation's television networks. The material at issue includes the isolated use of expletives as well as fines against broadcasters who showed a woman's nude buttocks on a 2003 episode of ABC's "NYPD Blue."

The broadcasters want the court to overturn a 1978 decision that upheld the FCC's authority to regulate radio and television content, at least during the hours when children are likely to be watching or listening. That includes the prime-time hours before 10 p.m.

At the very least, the networks say the FCC's current policy is too hard to figure out and penalizes the use of particular words in some instances but not in others.

The administration said that even with the explosion of entertainment options, broadcast programing remains dominant. It also needs to be kept as a dependable "safe haven" of milder programing, the administration said.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said that if the court were to overrule its 33-year-old decision, "the risk of a race to the bottom is real."

But Carter Phillips, representing the networks in connection with the awards shows, said that little would change because broadcasters would remain sensitive to advertisers and viewers who don't want the airwaves filled with dirty words and nudity.

Phillips and former Solicitor General Seth Waxman, arguing on behalf of ABC, noted that broadcasters could face fines from thousands of pending complaints, including some relating to the broadcast of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The opening ceremonies "included a statue very much like some of the statues that are here in this courtroom, that had bare breasts and buttocks," Waxman said.

As some justices turned their gaze toward the sculpted marble panels at the top of the courtroom, Waxman pointed to the one above the bench and said, "Right over here, Justice Scalia."

No one mentioned that those sculptures don't appear on television, because the high court does not allow cameras.

The FCC policy under attack flowed from the court's 1978 Pacifica decision, which upheld the FCC's reprimand of a New York radio station for its mid-afternoon airing of a George Carlin monologue containing a 12-minute string of expletives.

For many years, the FCC did not take action against broadcasters for one-time uses of curse words. But, following several awards shows with cursing celebrities in 2002 and 2003, the FCC toughened its policy. It concluded that a one-free-expletive rule did not make sense as a way of keeping the airwaves free of indecency when children are likely to be watching television.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York declared the FCC policy unconstitutionally vague.

The Billboard Music Awards aired on Fox in both 2002 and 2003. Cher used the F-word the first year, and reality TV personality Nicole Richie uttered the F-word and S-word a year later. The FCC did not issue a fine in either case but said the broadcasts violated its policy.

The "NYPD Blue" episode led to fines only for stations in the Central and Mountain time zones, where the show aired at 9 p.m., a more child-friendly hour than the show's 10 p.m. time slot in the East.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor is not taking part in the case because she served on the appeals court during its consideration of some of the issues involved.

A decision is expected by late June.

The case is FCC v. Fox Television Stations, 10-1293.

Pfizer CEO focused on research revamp, partnering

TRENTON, N.J. (iBBC News) — Pfizer Inc.'s CEO said Tuesday that he favors small deals and research partnerships over another "mega-acquisition" as he restructures the drugmaker's research and finances.

Ian Read told analysts that's because, after Pfizer's $68 billion purchase of fellow drugmaker Wyeth two years ago, the company now has all the technology, geographic reach and expertise needed to be a leader in vaccines and biologic drugs as well as pills made from chemicals.

Read took the helm of the world's largest pharmaceutical company in December 2010. He's since been revamping internal research, cutting spending, appointing some new key executives and determining how best to use Pfizer's cash.

Speaking at the 30th Annual J.P. Morgan Global Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, Read said Pfizer's reduced research budget is now at the appropriate level, is sustainable and will produce growth. Meanwhile, Pfizer has been forging more partnerships with academic researchers in deals that give it rights to develop any promising compounds they discover.

"I'm very disinclined to be looking at the possibility of another mega-acquisition," Read told the analysts.

"We're only going to do bolt-on acquisitions or licensing deals that make sense financially," he added, referring to small- to mid-size purchases of companies that fit well with Pfizer's current businesses, and agreements to gain rights to market experimental medicines.

Read also said he's still considering whether to sell or spin off the animal and consumer health businesses acquired with Wyeth.

He said the New York-based company has five key drugs that will drive growth in the near term. Those include blockbuster pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar 13, which just got approval for use in adults age 50 and older, and Xalkori, the first new medicine approved in more than six years for deadly lung cancer.

The other three other drugs are awaiting approval: axitinib for advanced kidney cancer, tofacitinib for rheumatoid arthritis, and anti-clotting drug Eliquis, which Pfizer is jointly developing with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

Eliquis, or apixaban, was approved in Europe in May for preventing clots in patients getting hip or knee replacement surgery. The companies now hope to get it approved in the U.S. for stroke prevention — which would include millions more patients — after the Food and Drug Administration announced a priority review with a March 28 target date for a decision.

The amount of revenue those and other products in development generate is crucial for Pfizer. Its cholesterol-fighting blockbuster Lipitor, the top-selling drug in history, lost U.S. patent protection on Nov. 30, and revenue began plunging almost overnight.

Read's no-megadeal strategy is a big change for Pfizer. The company became, and has remained, the world's biggest drugmaker by revenue through a series of giant acquisitions. Since 2000 it has bought Warner-Lambert Co., Pharmacia Corp. and then Wyeth.

Each deal brought Pfizer important assets, from gaining ownership of Warner-Lambert's Lipitor to getting promising experimental drugs, biologic drug and vaccine businesses, and consumer and animal health products all with the Wyeth deal.

However, some analysts have said Pfizer's strategy just enabled it to boost profit temporarily through massive job and cost cuts after the deals, while its internal research operation has repeatedly had high-profile failures and produced few important drugs in recent years.

That problem and Pfizer's languishing stock price led to the ouster of Read's predecessor. Read has since been doing a top-to-bottom review of the business and reduced Pfizer's research budget by about $1 billion a year, to around $8.3 billion, partly by eliminating compounds and projects not expected to generate market-leading drugs.

Wis. Assembly could vote on mining next week

MADISON, Wis. (iBBC News) — The state Assembly is set to vote next week on a bill that pits the promise of hundreds of jobs against worries an iron ore mine would despoil a pristine area in northern Wisconsin near Lake Superior.

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said in a statement Tuesday that he hoped to vote on the bill Jan. 19. A public hearing on the proposal in Hurley, near where Gogebic Taconite hopes to open the mine, was set for Wednesday. It comes following criticism of the previous hearing being held near Milwaukee, about 300 miles away from where the mine would be.

The mine's backers say it would bring more than 700 mining jobs to an economically depressed area and create 2,000 ancillary jobs. But environmentalists and tribal leaders who live in the Penokee Hills area are worried about the long-term effects of mining for iron ore in one of the state's most pristine regions.

"This comes down to a choice between creating thousands of high paying jobs for Wisconsinites and bending to extreme environmental special interests," Fitzgerald said. "I know what side I am on."

But Amber Meyer Smith with the environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin said the bill should be scrapped.

Gogebic President Bill Williams said many people mistakenly believe passing the bill would allow the mine to open.

"This bill is not issuing a permit," Williams said. "This bill is issuing a process for the DNR to implement."

While the Assembly might vote on the bill next week, it is unclear when the Senate will take it up. Messages left with a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, were not immediately returned.

Passing the iron mining bill is one of the top priorities of Republicans who control the Legislature, as well as Gov. Scott Walker.

The prospect of jobs that the mine could bring would be welcome news and campaign fodder for Walker, who faces a possible recall election this spring or summer, and Republican lawmakers who hope to hang on to their majorities in the Senate and Assembly.

The mine would be located along a 4-1/2 mile stretch of the hills near Mellen, a city of about 900 people just south of the reservation for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior. Company officials say the first phase of the project would last at least 35 years and generate about $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue, creating 700 jobs for people in the area and 2,000 ancillary jobs for the region's service and transportation industries.

But it wouldn't come without costs.

The state Department of Natural Resources on Monday estimated its one-time costs, which would include an environmental impact study, at $400,000 to $3 million, and annual costs over the four years it's expected to take to for the mine to become operational at $150,000 to $800,000.

That would put the cost to taxpayers during the four-year period at $1 million to $6.2 million.

And those projections do not include long-term costs, such as oversight while the mine is in use and monitoring after the mine is closed. Those costs were not accounted for the in the estimate. Most of the expenses detailed by DNR are associated with reviewing mine permits, a process that involves studying the effects a mine could have on air, water and threatened species.

Mike Wiggins, chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said the cost estimates are providing a dose of reality to a bill that is "kind of pie in the sky."

"It's another signal to me that this bill was drafted by people with mining interests as their main priority," Wiggins said. "If there was a true effort to reflect balance or the environment or concerns about water, you would see a drastically different bill."

The Bad River band's reservation lies just north of the proposed mine site, and the tribe is worried a mine would ruin the regional water quality and destroy the sloughs the tribe uses for its traditional wild rice harvests.

The 183-page legislation subject to Wednesday's hearing would require the DNR to approve or deny an iron mine application within 360 days, eliminate challenges to DNR permitting decisions along the way and limit who could sue over permit violations. It also would ease standards for water withdrawals and redirect half of a state tax on ore sales that currently is earmarked for municipalities near mines back to the state.

Williams, Gogebic's president, downplayed environmental concerns.

"Is this the only beautiful area up here? I hope not," he said. "If this is the only pristine area, then there are issues the state has that go beyond mining. There are hundreds of areas like this up here and there still would be."

Larkin curious on fate of steroids-era Hall of Famers

New York (iBBC News) - Barry Larkin, baseball's newest Hall of Famer, is curious to see how some of the best known players of the so-called steroids era would be treated in next year's election.

Candidates for the class of 2013 include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, players with Hall of Fame credentials who have all been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

Players have to be retired for at least five years before they can be considered for enshrinement in the Cooperstown museum then they have to get 75 percent of votes cast in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

"It'll be really interesting to see what you guys (do)," former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Larkin told reporters.

"All I know is that playing with and competing with some of these guys, they are the best, period. I can't wait to see (about) their candidacies."

Larkin did not discuss individual cases but hinted he might speak out later about the candidates.

"All I can interject is what I felt about these guys as players, and if these guys in my opinion were the best during my era, I'll let that be known," he said.

"As far as their induction, I'll leave that up to the pros."

Bonds, MLB's career home run king and seven-time Most Valuable Player, and seven-time Cy Young winner Clemens have both been indicted by federal authorities in doping-related cases.

Sosa, whose 609 home runs put him seventh on MLB's all-time list, has been cited as one of the 104 players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in the game's 2003 survey testing that set the stage for a drug testing program.

Eligible players who have tested positive or admitted to using performance enhancers, including Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, have so far been shunned by voters.

Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the board of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and museum, distanced herself from the controversy about steroids-era players.

"I leave it to the baseball writers to shape our National Baseball Hall of Fame," she said after the news conference.

Clark said accomplishments of important players, whether enshrined or not, are represented in the museum even if their reputations have been tainted by the steroids scandal.

"They are in the Hall of Fame. Their plaques aren't on the wall yet, but their careers are certainly recognized throughout the museum. So they are part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame's museum because they are such a huge part of the history of baseball.

"I don't see it as good or bad," she added. "I see it as part of what we do. We preserve the history of baseball and it's part of the history of baseball."

Video game maker linked to US prisoner in Iran

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, the American sentenced to death by the Iranian government, is linked to a small New York company specializing in video games that recreate real-life conflicts in the Middle East and beyond.

The company, Kuma Games, makes a series of "Kuma(backslash)War" games that come in short, 10- to 15-minute episodes. The scenarios are usually nabbed from the news, and like documentary films, they seek to be as accurate as possible in chronicling real-life situations. Players can simulate events such as the killing of Osama Bin Laden, Afghan air strikes or the death of Moammar Gadhafi. There's also "Assault on Iran," about the country's nuclear ambitions.

"They are best known across academia, war hounds, people interested in war. Maybe soldiers or ex-soldiers," said Lindsay Grace, a professor who studies video games at Miami University in Ohio.

They are not "living-room games" like "Call of Duty", the popular shooter series by Activision Blizzard Inc., he said.

It's not the first time that video games have stirred up international barbs. Cuba denounced the 2010 version of "Call of Duty," in which U.S. special operations soldiers try to kill a young Fidel Castro. The country's state-run media said the game will turn American children into sociopaths. THQ Inc.'s "Homefront," meanwhile, had its cinematic opening scene changed in Japan, with references to North Korea's Kim Jong-Il and the country itself removed and replaced with "Northern Leader" and "A country to the North," respectively.

Iranian authorities accuse Hekmati of spying, but the U.S. —and Hekmati's family— said the charges are false. This week, he became the first American sentenced to death in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

The 28-year-old Hekmati was linked to the gaming company in December, when the former U.S. Marine interpreter was shown giving a purported confession in a video that was broadcast nationally in Iran.

In the video, Hekmati said he worked for New York-based Kuma Games, "a computer games company which received money from CIA to design and make special films and computer games to change the public opinion's mindset in the Middle East and distribute them among Middle East residents free of charge. The goal of Kuma Games was to convince the people of the world and Iraq that what the U.S. does in Iraq and other countries is good and acceptable," according to an account of his statements in the English-language Tehran Times.

Kuma did not respond to repeated email messages for comment on Monday and Tuesday, and a listed phone number for the New York-based company did not connect to anyone.

The website of the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research program lists an "Amir Hekmati" as the principal investigator for Kuma LLC with a Kuma email address, indicating that he worked for the company. The website says Kuma was awarded $95,920 for developing a second-language training program. The CIA was not listed among the agencies participating in the program, and it's unclear whether it has any connections to Kuma. The CIA declined to comment.

It is not unusual for a video game company to do side projects for the military, said Stephen Totilo, editor-in-chief of video game blog Kotaku, who visited the company's office in 2006 when he worked for MTV. Totilo said Kuma's CEO told him at the time that Kuma has done some work developing training software for the U.S. Army as a side project.

The office, he added, looked much like any other small game studio, with "a bunch of young guys, some just out of college," working with the same tools as creators of other shooter games.

Though many of Kuma's games are based on recent events in the Middle East, the company also makes games such as "DinoHunters," which lets players fight dinosaurs and "I, Predator," based on the Animal Planet series.

But the war games are getting much of the attention.

Are they propaganda?

"Obviously, they are biased, like anything," said Ian Bogost, a game designer and Georgia Tech professor who wrote about Kuma in his book, "Newsgames." ''But I think it would be pretty bad Western propaganda if you took Kuma's existing products and dropped them in Iran."

Propaganda, he says, would be less subtle than Kuma's games, which are "really quite modest. Let's take this thing in the news and recreate it."

That said, it's hard to say how players in the Middle East would respond to games created in the West, he added — just as it's hard to say how American players would react to games created from Iran's perspective.

Kuma's "Assault on Iran" episode seeks to offer players "the most plausible scenario to delaying or destroying Iran's nuclear arms capabilities," according to the company's website. It was released in 2005. Two years later, Kuma's CEO Keith Halper told video game blog Gamasutra that the game was downloaded "hundreds of thousands of times" in Iran.

"We put Iranian and American gamers face to face, playing and talking together in a virtual space in a way that still eludes our real-world politicians," Gamasutra quoted him as saying in May 2007.

On its website, Kuma describes its war games as an "interactive chronicle of the war on terror" and says the company is "very sensitive and respectful of American and coalition soldiers and the sacrifices they are making every day." It says it donates money to two veterans groups — the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the Vietnam Unit Memorial Monument fund.

"They want to sell you on the experience that you get to do the battle," Kotaku'sTotilo said. "You get to be the soldier."

He added that it would be easy to say that what Kuma is doing is "pro-U.S. military," in the sense that anyone who is recreating conflicts and letting people play from the American perspective is taking America's side.

"We have a whole host of movie directors and TV producers who, like Kuma, recreate real battles from an American perspective," he said. "And I haven't seen them as quickly accused of being a front for the CIA."

Alpha, W.Va. families settle wrongful death cases

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (iBBC News) — A lawyer for the estates of two Upper Big Branch miners says Alpha Natural Resources has settled wrongful death lawsuits with the families of all 29 victims of West Virginia's 2010 disaster.

Virginia-based Alpha didn't immediately confirm or comment on the settlements Tuesday.

Attorney Mark Moreland says the final deals were cut after a marathon mediation session in Daniels. He says Alpha also settled lawsuits with at least seven miners hurt in the blast.

Moreland won't disclose the terms, which will require court approval.

He says money is some compensation, but the losses in the nation's worst mining disaster in four decades can never be fully compensated. He says criminal prosecutions of mine managers would give families more closure.

Alpha inherited the lawsuits when it bought Massey Energy last summer.

FDA tests threaten Brazil orange juice imports

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) - Health regulators said they will stop imports of orange juice from top grower Brazil if they test positive for an illegal fungicide, sending orange juice futures soaring on Tuesday to an all-time high.

The Food and Drug Administration reported traces of the fungicide carbendazim in orange juice sold in the United States, in a letter to the Juice Products Association on Monday.

While low levels of the fungicide were not dangerous and it planned no juice recall, the FDA said it would stop all shipments at the border if it found more traces of carbendazim, which is banned in the United States.

The pesticide is legal in Brazil, which supplies more than one-tenth of U.S. orange juice.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates fungicides in the United States, conducted an initial risk assessment for the chemical and found it does not raise safety concerns, according to the FDA's letter.

Brands such as Tropicana, from PepsiCo Inc, and Minute Maid, from Coca-Cola Co, may use a mix of juices sourced from Brazil and the United States.

The FDA could not immediately comment on what level of carbendazim would be acceptable.

The EPA considers 80 parts per billion to be a health risk. The levels of the fungicide reported recently by a juice company to the FDA were below that level, the FDA said.

Orange juice futures jumped almost 11 percent to an all-time high on Tuesday, as fears spread that U.S. regulators could ban orange juice from Brazil, the world's largest orange juice exporter.

Christian Lohbauer, spokesman for CitrusBR, the association that represents Brazil's four main orange juice producers, said Brazil has been using the fungicide for more than 20 years. It is used to fight blossom blight and black spot, a type of mold that grows on orange trees.

"Any shipment (of orange juice) will test positive," he said. "I don't know what is the level that they will decide is the maximum level," he said. "Our interest now is that juice keeps entering the United States."

He said all Brazilian orange juice is routinely tested for this fungicide, but has never before been stopped by U.S. customs over this issue.

A juice company told the FDA two weeks ago that it had found low levels of the substance in orange juice sold in the United States. The FDA did not say which company had informed it about the fungicide.

Coke spokesman Dan Schafer referred reporters to the Juice Products Association for comment "as this is an issue that impacts every company that produces products in the U.S. containing orange juice from Brazil."

Association officials were not immediately available to comment. PepsiCo had no immediate comment.

Total frozen and fresh orange juice imports in 2010 came to nearly 1 billion liters, according to U.S. International Trade Commission data. Of that almost half, about 460 million liters, came from Brazil, with Mexico supplying about a third.

The FDA said in an email to Reuters that much of the orange juice tested did not have detectable levels of the fungicide. For those that did, the levels were between 10 and 35 parts per billion, less than half the 80 parts per billion level that would be considered a health risk by the EPA.

The EPA could not be immediately reached for comment.

Heart disease more likely in people with psoriasis

NEW YORK (iBBC News Health) - People who suffer from psoriasis may want to pay extra attention to heart risks, according to a new study that found they are at a greater risk for blocked arteries than those who don't have the skin disease.

The study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, also suggests the heart risks are higher in people who've had psoriasis longer.

"Our advice to patients with psoriasis is to make sure they get screened for their modifiable cardiovascular risk factors," said Dr. Joel Gelfand, a professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

According to Gelfand, who was not involved with the current study, those risk factors include smoking, a person's blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose levels and body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height.

Researchers used records of patients who had undergone a heart scan called coronary angiography to compare the results of patients with and without psoriasis.

Among the nearly 9,500 patients included in the analysis, just over 200 were diagnosed with psoriasis. Compared to the other patients who underwent the heart screening, they were more likely to have a history of high cholesterol and be heavier.

Overall, 84 percent of patients with psoriasis had narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart -- a condition called coronary artery disease -- compared to 75 percent of patients without the skin condition.

The researchers also found that patients had a higher risk of heart disease the longer they'd had psoriasis.

"One of the things that we've come to understand is that psoriasis is not a disease that's just limited to the skin," said Dr. April Armstrong of the University of California, Davis, who worked on the new study.

People with psoriasis have patches of thick, red and scaly skin, which are thought to be caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body's own cells.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, about 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis.

Although the study doesn't prove the condition causes heart disease, Armstrong told Reuters Health that the skin rash may be a sign that there is inflammation inside the body, too.

Dr. Richard Krasuski, director of Adult Congenital Heart Disease Services at the Cleveland Clinic, said the new findings fit with past studies that showed a connection between heart disease and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

"Certainly what they come up with makes biological sense," said Krasuski, who was not involved with the study.

But he cautioned that the increase in risk was not overwhelming and the findings are based on patients from only one medical center.

Krasuski said that treatment is usually left to doctors depending on their specialty. So a cardiologist won't treat an inflammatory disease even if it's linked to a heart condition.

Gelfand said patients with psoriasis can be treated a number of ways depending on how severe it is. Treatments can include topical creams, ultraviolet light therapy and oral medications. But he added that light treatments and newer biological medicines can be expensive.
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