Sunday, December 19, 2010

Today Ellen welcomed an amazing 6-year-old Hip-Hop dancer named Tanner Edwards to the show. He gave an amazing performance that only got better when Ellen surprised him with a special guest!

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) -- A Pakistani government official says militants have fired rockets at a NATO convoy carrying supplies to Afghanistan, destroying two oil tankers and wounding two people.

Iqbal Khan says traffic along the route has been suspended after Monday's attack in the Khyber tribal region.

He says two people traveling in the tankers sustained burns when the trucks were engulfed in flames.

Taliban militants occasionally attack trucks on NATO's main supply route through Pakistan, though the vast majority of the goods are untouched. Criminal gangs also sometimes destroy the vehicles.

A secret U.S. diplomatic cable released by the Wikileaks website reveals that for at least a week a facility housing radioactive material in Yemen was completely unprotected.

The cable, dated Jan. 9, cites an unnamed Yemeni official expressing concern to a U.S. embassy official about the storage facility after the lone guard was removed and the closed circuit camera had been broken for months.

Yemen's foreign minister told U.S. officials a week later that the material had been moved to Syria, according to the cable which was published Monday by the website of Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The cable said the material was used by local universities for agricultural research, Sanaa hospital and by international oil companies.

Yemen is home to a particularly active branch of al-Qaida.

Police say Alta Verapaz is a gateway for the drugs trade
Guatemala has given the army special powers to reclaim control of the northern province of Alta Verapaz, which officials say has been overtaken by Mexican drug traffickers.

The move allows troops to hold suspects and conduct searches without warrants.

Security forces are looking for members of the Zetas drug gang, which has been expanding its operations from Mexico.

All cars entering and leaving the provincial capital, Coban, were being inspected.

The special powers will remain in place for at least 30 days, government spokesman Ronaldo Robles says.
'Total impunity'

Mr Robles said the Zetas cartel took control of Alta Verapaz more than a year ago, spreading fear among the local population.

He said that the police force in the province had been "totally infiltrated by the Zetas", guaranteeing "total impunity" for criminals.

He told a news conference that the cities of Coban and Carcha had become a gateway for the drugs trade.

Guatemala is seen as a major transit point for cocaine smuggled from Colombia through Guatemala to Mexico and on to the US.

The Zetas gang is one of Mexico's most powerful and violent drug cartels.

Guatemalan law enforcement officials say the gang has increasingly moved its operations south since Mexican President Felipe Calderon stepped up his country's fight against the drugs trade

(CNN) -- U.S. gas prices increased over a two-week period, but on average stayed below the $3-a-gallon mark.

The latest Lundberg Survey of cities in the continental United States, conducted Friday, showed the national average price for a gallon of self-serve unleaded gasoline at $2.99, an increase of 7.6 cents from the last survey two weeks earlier, survey publisher Trilby Lundberg said.

What had been a steady rise in oil prices retracted slightly, making prices higher, but not as high as they could have been, Lundberg said.

Compared to a year ago, drivers are paying quite a premium at the pump, she said. A year ago, a gallon of gas costed 39 cents less than it does today.

"That's certainly a pinch to consumers," Lundberg said.

Crude oil prices will continue to be the biggest indicator of gas prices because other factors that affect price, such as supply, have been non-factors. There is no shortage of supply of gas in the United States.

"Even a slight move in crude oil can, at this time, quickly move the price of gasoline," Lundberg said.

The Lundberg Survey sampled prices at about 2,500 gas stations. The highest average price in the continental United States was in San Francisco, California, at $3.29 per gallon. The lowest price was in Denver, Colorado, at $2.68.

Average per-gallon prices in other cities:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The debate over gays in the military has been settled with a historic decision to allow them to serve openly, but big questions lie ahead about how and when the change will take place, how troops will accept it and whether it will hamper the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan and Iraq.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law this week the legislation that passed the Senate on Saturday, an act some believe will carry social implications as profound as President Harry S. Truman's 1948 executive order on racial equality in the military.

The new law probably won't go into practice for months. Obama and his top advisers must first certify that repealing the 1993 ban on gays serving openly will not damage U.S. troops' ability to fight. That ban, known as "don't ask, don't tell," has allowed gays to serve, but only if they kept quiet about their sexual orientation.

In the meantime, the restrictions will remain on the books, although it's unclear how fully they will be enforced. Some believe gay discharge cases will be dropped as soon as Obama signs the law.

The issue of gays in the military has been a contentious one for decades. Until 1993, all recruits had to state on a questionnaire whether they were homosexual; if they said "yes," they could not join. More than 13,500 service members were dismissed under the law.

In the years since the ban went into effect, views in the wider society have evolved. Gay marriage is now legal in five states and the District of Columbia. Opinion surveys say a majority of Americans think it's OK for gays to serve in uniform.

The repeal vote by Congress was a political victory for Obama, who campaigned on ending the ban. Even though opponents have made clear they will continue to argue against the change, Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who commanded a brigade in Iraq, said Sunday he believes the military - from top commanders to foot soldiers - will accept their new orders.

"Pretty much all the heated discussion is over and now it's a matter of the more mundane aspects of implementing the law," Mansoor, a professor of military history at Ohio State University, said in a telephone interview.

That begins, under terms of the legislation, with Obama's certification to Congress - for which there's no stated deadline. There is room for argument, however, about what certification must entail and how long it should take. Even after that, there will be a mandatory 60-day waiting period.

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said he expects the Pentagon to announce shortly that it needs a long time for training and education to prepare troops for the change - possibly lasting much of 2011.

In a statement Saturday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he will begin the certification process immediately. But any change in policy won't come until after careful consultation with military service chiefs and combatant commanders, he said.

Gates has supported Obama's push to repeal the 1993 ban, but stressed a go-slow approach.

"Successful implementation will depend upon strong leadership, a clear message and proactive education throughout the force," Gates said.

Some questions that Gates faces before providing certification have been answered in the recommendations of a yearlong Pentagon study on the impact of repealing the 1993 ban. The study said, for example, that no new standards of conduct are needed. It found that issues of sexual conduct and fraternization can be dealt with by using existing Defense Department rules and regulations, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The study, released Nov. 30, found that two-thirds of service members surveyed didn't think changing the law would have much of an effect on military effectiveness. Of those who did predict negative consequences, most were in combat elements such as the infantry. Their misgivings became ammunition for opponents of repeal, including the influential chiefs of the Army and Marine Corps.

Certifying to Congress also requires writing Pentagon policies and regulations to put in place the repeal law - and stating that the new policies are consistent with standards that allow the military to remain ready for combat, to fight effectively and to ensure cohesion in fighting units.

Elaine Donnelly, a leading opponent of repealing the 1993 law, said Sunday that the certification process is a "sham" because it will be done by three people who already have stated their support for the change: Obama, Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Donnelly also believes that passage and implementation of the repeal legislation will lead to a wave of lawsuits by gay troops seeking, for example, more military benefits for same-sex partners.

"The story is just beginning," she said in an interview.

Gay rights activists say the complications and uncertainties are being overblown.

"Only three steps are needed to assure a smooth and quick transition to open gay service," Belkin said. They are: an immediate executive order from Obama suspending all gay discharges; a few weeks to put new regulations in place; then immediate certification to Congress that the new law will work.

There remains, however, strong doubt among some that the way ahead will be smooth.

"The acceptance of open homosexuality and the creation and enforcement of new policies could be far more difficult to implement than repeal advocates ever envisioned," said Richard L. Eubank, a retired Marine and Vietnam combat veteran who leads the 2.1 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Richard Myers, a retired Air Forge general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that the degree of difficulty in the immediate future is hard to predict. "But in the long run I think we can" make the change without hurting military effectiveness.

Not without opposition, both inside and outside the military.

Bryan Taylor of Prattville, Ala., who served four years on active duty and in November was elected to the Alabama Senate, said Sunday in an interview that he sees difficulties ahead.

"I think this is going to pose a lot of challenges for the military," Taylor said. When a soldier openly declares he is gay, "it does create an unnecessary distraction."


Associated Press writer Bob Johnson in Montgomery, Ala., contributed to this report.



Pentagon study:

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

Information on the bill, H.R. 2965, can be found at

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Kerry Collins threw for two touchdowns and 237 yards and Chris Johnson ran for a TD and 130 yards as the Tennessee Titans snapped a six-game skid by beating the Houston Texans 31-17 on Sunday.

With the win and Indianapolis downing Jacksonville 34-24, the Titans (6-8) keep their anemic playoff hopes alive for another week with their first victory since Oct. 24.

The Houston Texans (5-9) have lost seven of their last eight and never really were in this one.

Most of the attention coming in was on Texans receiver Andre Johnson and Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan after they brawled three weeks ago in Houston's 20-0 shutout win. The only scuffle Sunday came between a couple of linemen as Tennessee took control from the start, scoring on its first three possessions for a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Backers of a bill in Congress to help people who became sick after working in the World Trade Center dust created by the Sept. 11 attacks said Sunday they're optimistic the Senate will approve the measure before the lame-duck session ends.

"We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Gillibrand and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are offering a less-costly alternative to the original bill to aid 9/11 responders and survivors, saying that they believe it will gain needed support from the GOP. They said the Senate was expected to consider the new bill once they finish dealing with the U.S.-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons.

"Barring a setback, we believe we are on the path to victory by the end of the week," Schumer said.

Supporters were three votes short of the 60 votes they needed for the original bill on a recent Senate test vote.

The House has passed the original bill but would have to consider any new version as the final days of the lame-duck session wear down. New York lawmakers are pressing House Democratic leaders to stay in session long enough to vote after the Senate acts on the new bill.

Republicans have raised concerns about the original bill's cost and how to pay for it. The new bill's cost is scaled back from $7.4 billion over 10 years to $6.2 billion.

The original bill would have required multinational companies incorporated in tax havens to pay taxes on income earned in the U.S. Bill supporters said that would close a tax loophole, but Republicans have branded it a corporate tax increase.

Instead, the new bill would be paid for with a fee on some foreign firms that get U.S. government procurement contracts. The bill also calls for extending fees on certain firms that rely on H-1B and L-1 visas. It would also extend fees on travelers who don't present visa travel documents at U.S. airports.

Schumer said he believed the new provisions to pay for the bill would be "noncontroversial" with other lawmakers.

New York and New Jersey lawmakers have waged a long, bitter fight for the measure, saying it is morally wrong not to do more for the health needs of ailing 9/11 responders and survivors.

Researchers have found that people exposed to the thick clouds of pulverized building materials at the trade center site have high rates of asthma and sinus problems. Doctors aren't sure, though, exactly how many people are ill, and scientific doubt persists about just how many of the hundreds of illnesses are actually linked to the trade center dust.

The legislation is named for James Zadroga, a police detective who died at age 34. His supporters say he died from respiratory disease contracted at ground zero, but New York City's medical examiner said Zadroga's lung condition was caused by prescription drug abuse.

Having recently made headlines over the release of her birthday bong smoking video, Miley Cyrus received the spoof treatment thanks to the folks on "Saturday Night Live".

The "Hannah Montana" star was played by actress Vanessa Bayer during a skit aired last night (December 18) in which she mockingly addressed the Salvia scandal during an edition of "The Miley Cyrus Show".

Among the highlights, Vanessa's version of Miley chatted about how the feeling of getting high is like dominoes falling over while adding to make sure that "your friend videotapes you when you're doing stuff."

Following the "getting high" chat, "Miley" then welcomed host Jeff Bridges onto "The Miley Cyrus Show" as he treated the audience to a laugh-inciting parody of actor Nick Nolte.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Heavy rain has drenched California from the mountains to the ocean, triggering scores of traffic accidents and a few minor mudslides in the Los Angeles area.

The storm, which arrived Saturday, was expected to continue through Monday in Southern California.

Rainfall totals Sunday ranged from 2 to 4 inches in flatland areas to as much as 7 inches in some mountain passes.

Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service says 3 more inches could fall before the storm departs Monday night.

A flash-flood watch is in effect in some areas, particularly those burned in recent years by brush fires.

Seto says some minor mudslides have occurred in mountain passes and burn areas.

LAWYERS for Julian Assange have expressed anger about an alleged smear campaign against the Australian WikiLeaks founder.

Incriminating police files were published in the British newspaper that has used him as its source for hundreds of leaked US embassy cables.

In a move that surprised many of Mr Assange's closest supporters on Saturday, The Guardian newspaper published previously unseen police documents that accused Mr Assange in graphic detail of sexually assaulting two Swedish women. One witness is said to have stated: "Not only had it been the world's worst screw, it had also been violent."

Bjorn Hurtig, Mr Assange's Swedish lawyer, said he would lodge a formal complaint to the authorities and ask them to investigate how such sensitive police material leaked into the public domain. "It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position," he told a colleague.

"I do not like the idea that Julian may be forced into a trial in the media. And I feel especially concerned that he will be presented with the evidence in his own language for the first time when reading the newspaper. I do not know who has given these documents to the media, but the purpose can only be one thing - trying to make Julian look bad."

Mr Assange is facing criminal allegations in Sweden over claims by two women that he sexually assaulted them while he was in the country earlier this year.

Another supporter close to the WikiLeaks founder said the leak appeared designed by the authorities in Sweden to jeopardise Mr Assange's defence. "There has been a selective smear through the disclosure of material. That material, in Swedish, was passed to a journalist at The Guardian," a source said. "The timing appears to have been cynically calculated to have the material published in the middle of the bail application and the appeal."

Mr Assange, 39, was arrested and held in custody at Wandsworth prison in south London after Sweden issued an extradition request. He was released on bail last week after a High Court judge dismissed an appeal by the British authorities, on behalf of the Swedes, to overturn an earlier decision to free him.

The Australian was told that he could walk free on a surety of £275,000 ($432,305). The money came from nine celebrity backers including Jemima Khan and Bianca Jagger.

In an editorial, The Guardian defended its decision to report on the incriminating police files. It said having been given access to the official papers, it had a duty to present a "brief summary" of the sex allegations against Mr Assange, together with his response.

Others were less enthused by The Guardian's treatment of its top source, pointing out that this is someone whom the newspaper has elevated into hero status as a campaigner for freedom of information. Some commentators point to the apparent hypocrisy of some of Mr Assange's supporters, such as the journalist John Pilger, bemoaning the Swedish police leaks, given their campaign for a man whose life is devoted to publishing confidential material. "Hoist by his own petard," said one observer.

Ever since the sex assault claims surfaced, Mr Assange has claimed that they are part of a conspiracy by the Swedes and the Americans to punish him for having masterminded the leak of the US cables. His lawyers, including Mark Stephens, are confident they can stop Mr Assange's extradition on both legal and human rights grounds. They point out that the offence of "minor rape", with which he may be charged, has no equivalent in British law because the accused can be guilty even if a woman consents.

A spokesman for The Guardian said: "Julian is not a confidential source. The argument that the papers involved with the WikiLeaks cables should not report criticism of him is one all journalists would find ridiculous."

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Security forces flooded Iran's capital in a warning against possible unrest as fuel prices surged 400 percent Sunday under plans to sharply cut government subsides and ease pressure on an economy struggling with international sanctions.

The so-called economic "surgery" has been planned for months, but was repeatedly delayed over worries of a repeat of gas riots in 2007 and serious political infighting during the standoff with the West over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.

But the timing for the first painful steps - just after a first round of nuclear talks with international powers and a second planned for early next year - suggests one of the world's leading oil producers is feeling the sting of tightened sanctions. And it might open more room for possible compromises with world powers, including the United States, in exchange for easing the economic squeeze.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iranians in a nationally televised speech Saturday that it was finally time to begin trimming the state subsidies that lowered the costs of bread and cooking oil and gave Iran some of the cheapest fuel pump prices in the world. He also noted that he saw "positive points" in talks earlier this month with six nations that hold important sway over sanctions: the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany.

"Iran's top leadership is puzzled about the tightening sanctions and their long-term implications on Iran's economy. Ahmadinejad has labeled those sanctions a joke, but the Iranian people are not laughing," said Ehsan Ahrari, an analyst based in Alexandria, Virginia.

The overnight price rises - gas rising fourfold in some cases - follows upheaval in the heart of Ahmadinejad's government. Last week, he abruptly dismissed longtime foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, while he was on a diplomatic mission to Africa in favor of interim replacement, nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi.

The move sends a message that Iran's leadership had tired of Mottaki's challenges to Ahmadinejad and sought a more unified government at a critical time. In his first public comment, Mottaki on Sunday called his blindside firing "un-Islamic, undiplomatic and offensive," according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency.

In Tehran, meanwhile, riot police took up posts around the major intersections as the subsidy cuts took effect. There were loud complaints by consumers, but no signs of the violence in 2007, when the government imposed limits on the purchase of subsidized gasoline.

Under the new system, each personal car receives 60 liters (16 gallons) of subsidized fuel a month costing 40 cents a liter ($1.50 a gallon) - up from the just 10 cents a liter. Further purchases of gas would run 70 cents a liter ($2.69 a gallon), up from just 40 cents.

Tehran says it is paying some $100 billion in subsidies annually, although experts believe the amount is far lower, closer to $30 billion. Iran had planned to slash subsidies before the latest round of sanctions took effect - Ahmadinejad and his allies have long insisted the country's oil-based economy could no longer afford the largesse.

But the latest rounds of sanctions have targeted the core of Iran's economy. Some top European and Asian companies have pulled out of the Iranian market. American embargoes also seek to block the import of pump-ready fuel to Iran - a weak point in a country with vast oil riches but a shortfall in refineries.

Angry taxi drivers complained as the price of fuel rose fourfold overnight.

"I don't know what to do," said one frustrated cab driver, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution by authorities. "I am not allowed to increase price of my service while I am paying five times more than yesterday."

A truck driver, Mansour Abbasi, said he paid 10 times more on Sunday for natural gas to fuel his vehicle - and complained he could not compensate by hiking his own transport fees.

"If I raise my prices, people will not be able to afford it. Or they may report me," said Abbasi, 43.

Despite the grumbling, there were no reports of clashes in Tehran or other major cities such as Tabriz, Kermanshah, Bandar Abbas, Kerman and Ahvaz. One resident of Ahvaz said some taxi fares doubled.

Economists say the unpopular plan to slash subsidies could stoke inflation already estimated to be more than 20 percent.

One lawmaker said he had expected the extent of price rises overnight to happen gradually over five years.

"I am surprised. We do not know what happened," the lawmaker told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. "The price of fuel was supposed to reach about international prices within the next five years and not this year."

Ahmadinejad also said his government was paying $4 billion in bread subsidies, which will also gradually be phased out.

Ahmad Bakhshayesh, a Tehran University professor of politics, said it was too soon to gauge the public reaction to the cuts, and popular unrest could still erupt.

"We have to wait and see how inflation will affect their lives," he told AP.

Opposition websites reported an economic analyst, Fariborz Raeis Dana, was detained after claiming the subsidy cuts were intended to allow Islamic leaders to spend more money on the military and security forces. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

After Ahmadinejad announced the cuts Saturday night - calling it the "biggest surgery" on Iran's economy in 50 years - long lines of cars formed at gas stations in Tehran as Iranians rushed to fill their tanks at subsidized prices before the new ones took effect at midnight. By Sunday, the lines were gone.

Economic analyst Saeed Laylaz said the cuts were in theory a positive move since they would reduce energy consumption, which is currently costing the country a quarter of its Gross National Product.

"However it is being implemented in an incomplete fashion because it's not accompanied by a greater liberalization of the economy," he said, adding that the cuts would probably not have much positive effect.

The government says it will return part of the money obtained from increased prices to the people through cash payments. It has already paid into accounts of some 20 million families as compensation ahead of the cuts.

Every family member will now receive $80 for to help them over the next two months.

Emboldened by months of phone calls to lawmakers, hunger strikes and sit-ins, a group of college students and graduates in Los Angeles say they plan to take their fight for immigrant rights to the states and the 2012 election after Senate Republicans blocked a key piece of legislation.

But it won't be easy.

The Senate vote Saturday to toss the proposal that would have granted young illegal immigrants a route to legal status dealt a harsh blow to student activists who will face an even steeper uphill battle in the next Congress.

Immigrants see rough times ahead in the next two years, with many Republicans vowing to push for tougher immigration enforcement, but they also say Latino voters are getting fed up with lawmakers at a time when they are accruing greater political clout.

"This is a movement," said Nancy Meza, a 23-year-old illegal immigrant and college graduate who wore a University of California, Los Angeles sweatshirt as she watched the vote on television. "We don't have lobbyists and paid staff. It's a movement by students."

In the hours after the vote, Meza and about 50 other student activists who had gathered at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center said they would remind Latinos who stood by them - and those who did not - in the next election cycle that they will push for access to financial aid and drivers' licenses in states more friendly to immigrants like California.

Few said the legislation, many referenced as the Dream Act, had a chance in the next two years with Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives and a shrinking Democratic majority in the Senate. But they said that wouldn't derail the networks they had set up across the country to support illegal immigrant students and help them reveal their status and learn to live unafraid.

Some at the UCLA center, including university student Leslie Perez, 22, wept as they watched the vote on a big screen.

But minutes after it was over, many donned jackets and umbrellas to take to the rainy streets of Los Angeles, chanting "undocumented and unafraid."

Republicans might consider some kind of measure to help the students, but it would probably be much narrower, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates stricter limits on immigration.

"This has a real demoralizing effect," Krikorian said of the student activists. "There's only so long you can keep up these hunger strikes and all this political theater they've been engaging in, especially if there's no specific target."

Another challenge is students could wind up feeling excluded when they can't work after graduation, despite their political activism.

"It may alienate the group we most want to incorporate," said Louis DeSipio, a professor of political science at University of California, Irvine.

Immigrant rights groups said they planned to turn up the pressure on the Obama administration to slow deportations, end local police enforce immigration laws and look out for the students, many who publicly revealed their immigration status over the last few months.

Students also said they planned to fight for immigration benefits - while not legalization - locally as they've seen anti-illegal immigration activists do in states like Arizona.

"They're winning by state, they're winning by region," said Cyndi Bendezu, a 25-year-old University of California, Los Angeles graduate who was brought to the United States from Peru when she was 4 years old. "We have to win smaller victories."

Bendezu, who had been an illegal immigrant when she started college, attained legal residency through a relative's petition. Now, she said she can't wait to become a citizen to be able to vote.

Students said Saturday that momentum they had gained in recent months was bigger than the legislative defeat.

The legislation would have provided a route to legal status for immigrants who were brought to the United States before age 16, have lived in the country for five years, graduated from high school or gained an equivalency degree and who joined the military or attend college.

It targeted the most sympathetic of the 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States - those brought to the country as children, and who in many cases consider themselves American, speak English and have no ties to their native countries.

Critics of the bill called it a backdoor to amnesty that would encourage more foreigners to sneak into the United States in hopes of being legalized eventually.

The Mexican-born Meza said the vote makes it harder for her to finance graduate school to get a doctorate in education policy and become a professor.

But Meza, who came to the country when she was 2, said she'll find a way - just as she did baby-sitting, tutoring and waiting tables to pay for college even though her degree now lies covered in dust in her living room, unused.

"It's not going to stop my educational goals," she said.

The legislation was proposed almost a decade ago. But it got its closest shot at getting passed this year after students stepped up their activism by making thousands of calls to lawmakers and leading marches and demonstrations. Several activists were arrested for refusing to leave Arizona Sen. John McCain's office.

The House of Representatives passed the measure earlier this month, but the Senate fell five votes short of the 60 needed to win its enactment.

Now, immigrant advocates who had touted the bill as a first push toward a broader legalization of immigrants will be working to deflect anticipated efforts by Republicans to ramp up restrictions on immigration.

"All of us are definitely preparing for much more defensive work," said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

Kobe Bryant, who suffered a sprained right pinkie finger Friday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, said he will play Sunday against the Toronto Raptors despite the injury.

Bryant was injured in the first quarter of the game against the 76ers, but he continued to play.

Bryant told the media after practice Saturday that he was not going to "miss a game for a pinkie."

New Laker Joe Smith as able to get in his first practice Saturday.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said he might even play Smith Sunday against the Raptors.
A recap of the past week in IT security news features Microsoft patches, a hack of Gawker Media and allegations against the FBI.

It was a busy week in IT security, starting with news that Gawker Media had been compromised.

The hack on Gawker Media's servers exposed e-mail addresses and passwords belonging to users of Gawker Media Websites, including Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Deadspin, and obviously itself. The incident highlighted issues of password security, as many people who used the same password for both their and Twitter Gawker accounts fell victim to a spam attack on Twitter.

According to an analysis by Duo Security, many of the passwords being used were simplistic; the most common passwords were “123456” an “password.”

“(The) No. 1 best practice is never use a word that can be found in the dictionary,” Richard Stiennon, chief research analyst at IT-Harvest, told eWEEK. “A simple way to create a hard-to-guess password is to use the first letter of each word in a phrase. ‘When IT Rains it Pours’ becomes WIRIP. Add a number to make it eight characters long - WIRIP421. Change the "I" to "!" and you have a pretty strong password you can remember: W!R!P421. Do that for sites you pay for and ones that are important to you.”

In response to the incident, Gawker said it would work with outside security pros to improve security and maintain "a reliable level of security."

While Gawker dealt with the fallout from the attack, the open source community dealt with some security controversy of its own. News broke this week that Gregory Perry, now CEO of GoVirtual Education, had accused the FBI in an e-mail to OpenBSD founder Theo de Raadt of putting backdoors and side-channel key leak mechanisms into the OpenBSD Cryptographic Framework roughly a decade ago. However doubt has been cast on his allegations, as at least one developer he accused of involvement denied having any ties to such a plot, and others called the accusations unlikely.

"I will state clearly that I did not add backdoors to the OpenBSD operating system or the OpenBSD crypto framework (OCF),” Jason L. Wright, one of the men Perry accused, wrote in an e-mail to the OpenBSD mailing list. “The code I touched during that work relates mostly to device drivers to support the framework. I don't believe I ever touched isakmpd or photurisd (userland key management programs), and I rarely touched the ipsec internals (cryptodev and cryptosoft, yes). However, I welcome an audit of everything I committed to OpenBSD's tree.”

In a message to the mailing list, de Raadt wrote that he released Perry’s e-mail so that anyone accused can defend themselves and those who use the code can audit it for any problems.

On the subject of defense, Microsoft closed out the year with another massive Patch Tuesday release, pushing out 17 security bulletins to cover 40 vulnerabilities. Only two of the bulletins were critical – one impacting Internet Explorer and the other addressing multiple vulnerabilities in Windows’ OpenType Font driver. The company also patched the final zero-day vulnerability associated with the Stuxnet worm.

“The most important bug this month is clearly the IE update that includes a fix for the outstanding zero-day bug discovered in early November,” said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle. “With more and more people shopping online this time of year, it’s important for everyone to patch their browsers.”

Google added a new layer of protection for Web surfers by putting a new notification in search engine results to prevent users from visiting compromised sites. When Google believes a site has been hacked, a sentence will appear under the search result that reads: "This site may be compromised." Google provides a similar warning to steer users away from sites found to be infected with malware.

Those involved in the site compromises tied to Operation Payback may have another form of detection to worry about. According to an analysis by researchers from the University of Twete in the Netherlands, the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) tool used in the pro-WikiLeaks attacks against sites like fails to protect the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of users, meaning people involved in the attacks may be traceable.

"The tool … does not attempt to protect the identity of the user, as the IP address of the attacker can be seen in all packets sent during the attacks," the researchers wrote. "Internet Service Providers can resolve the IP addresses to their client names, and therefore easily identify the attackers. Moreover, Web servers normally keep logs of all served requests, so that target hosts also have information about the attackers."

While the hackers involved in Operation Payback may have their own concerns about anonymity, the U.S. government meanwhile is concerned with privacy of another kind. Dec. 16, the U.S. Department of Commerce threw its hat into the ring in the debate about online privacy, suggesting the creation of a new policy framework as well as a Privacy Policy Office within the department. While applauding the report’s recognition of online privacy problems, some consumer advocates criticized the report for its talk of industry self-regulation and safe harbors against punitive action by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

“They talk about commercial data privacy," said John Simpson, consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog. "What we should be talking about is consumers' data and their right to privacy, not a business commodity. This is all about easing things for businesses. It’s in some sense I think an early Christmas gift to the data collection industry from the Obama administration.”
The Tourist' and 'Burlesque' are among poorly reviewed films up for awards
Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in 'The Tourist'
Wafting over the red carpets this awards season, amid the expensive cologne and forced smiles: a dubious whiff of scandal. The Golden Globes, supposedly Hollywood's second most prestigious awards event after the Oscars, is finding its often-criticised voting process at the centre of unwelcome controversy.

At issue is a decision by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), organisers of the annual exercise in back-patting, to shortlist two recently released but highly derided studio films – The Tourist and Burlesque – in the "Best Motion Picture (musical or comedy)" category for next month's event.

The move initially surprised pundits, since both films received unsympathetic reviews and hit cinemas to public apathy. Burlesque, which, according to the aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, got positive write-ups from only 38 per cent of critics, opened fourth in the box office charts and made back just $34m (£22m) of its $55m budget. The Tourist, panned by 79 per cent of reviewers, returned a mere $22m of its $100m budget. Disbelief later turned to mild outrage, however, after it emerged that Sony, the studio behind the clunker Burlesque, recently flew Golden Globes judges to Las Vegas for an all-expenses-paid trip which included luxury hotel accommodation, free meals and a private concert performed by the film's star, Cher.

It's always difficult to say where lobbying ends and flat-out bribery begins. But the junket can hardly have failed to help to persuade members of the HFPA to nominate the film, which was dubbed "achingly dull" by The New York Times, and described by Variety as "over-wrought" and "underwritten", as the best comedy or musical they had seen in the previous year.

The allegation is nothing new: throughout its history, the HFPA has been regarded as an organisation whose members are easily swayed by luxury goods and other treats. In 1999, Sharon Stone presented each member with a gold watch days before they received voting forms. She was duly nominated for the Best Actress award.

In 1981, most famously of all, the unknown Pia Zadora won a Best Newcomer award for her role in Butterfly, a film which had been universally derided. It later emerged that the movie's producer, who was also her husband, had flown the entire HFPA to Las Vegas for a weekend holiday immediately before they voted.

Part of the reason for criticism may be that, as a private organisation with only 81 members, the HFPA is beholden to no one and considered relatively easy to influence. To win a Globe, you need to charm only a few dozen voters. To win an Oscar, by contrast, you must lobby roughly 6,000 members of the Academy.

The other explanation for bizarre voting patterns at the Golden Globes – where the Best Drama has gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars only once in the past six years – lies with its status as a made-for-TV event. It makes roughly $6m a year for the HFPA, and about $27m in advertising revenue for its broadcaster, NBC.

Those figures are dependent on viewers bothering to watch, though. And many believe Globes judges deliberately nominate major A-listers so that they can guarantee the celebrity quota at their event.

Robert Licuria, editor at the awards tracking website Gold Derby, told reporters last week that the nominations were "hideous", adding that it was "the best example of how [the Golden Globes] tend to be in awe of the big celebrities, and are sometimes perceived to be driven by who they can invite to the party". In a move that lays bare the fact that not even recipients take the event too seriously, Angelina Jolie revealed that she had reacted to her nomination for The Tourist as a joke. "We were laughing because it's the first time that I've been in the comedic category so it's new for me."

BERLIN (AP) -- Britain's Prince Harry paid tribute Sunday to the people killed trying to escape communist East Germany across the Berlin Wall, and also made a private visit to the German capital's Holocaust memorial.

The 26-year-old prince laid a wreath at a memorial in the German capital's Bernauer Strasse, which contains one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall.

It was accompanied by a handwritten message that read: "For all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of freedom. Harry."

Researchers estimate that 136 people were killed while trying to cross the Berlin Wall between its building in 1961 and 1989, when East Germany opened its border.

Harry also spent more than an hour at the memorial to the Holocaust's 6 million Jewish victims - a field of 2,700 gray slabs, situated close to the capital's signature Brandenburg Gate, which opened to the public in 2005.

Harry toured the museum under the memorial, meeting staff and a Holocaust survivor, a spokesman for the prince said. He wanted to keep the visit private "given the poignancy of the place," he added.

The prince was in Berlin for a television fundraising gala Saturday night at which he was honored for his charity work.

On Sunday, he also visited the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Germany's Cold War division and its reunification.

The prince, the third in line to the British throne, has shed a party-loving, bad-boy image over recent years.

In January 2005, Harry apologized after being pictured in a newspaper at a costume party dressed as a Nazi, complete with a swastika armband.
GUNNISON, Colo. (AP) -- An 11-year-old girl was seriously injured and seven other passengers had moderate injuries after their tour bus veered off an icy mountain highway in central Colorado, the Colorado State Patrol said Sunday.

The 47-year-old driver, Fred Kornegay, was not hurt, but the 38 other passengers were taken to a hospital with minor injuries for precautionary reasons after the crash around 8:20 p.m. Saturday.

The tour bus was carrying a group from Trinity United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas, to the ski resort town of Crested Butte when it crashed on Highway 114, about eight miles southeast of Gunnison, the State Patrol said.

"The bus apparently failed to negotiate a curve, rolled off the road and onto its right side," Trooper Nate Reid told The Associated Press.

He described driving conditions as "bad," - icy and snowpacked and the stretch of highway had several curves. The National Weather Service had issued a winter storm warning for the area.

The bus was operated by Gotta Go Express Trail Ways. A phone message left at the company's office in Fort Worth early Sunday morning was not immediately returned.

According to U.S. Department of Transportation records, the company operates 33 vehicles and employs 71 drivers. The company holds a "satisfactory" rating from USDOT and has reported only one crash with an injury in the last two years.

The church did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment Sunday.
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli police found the body of a female American tourist, with multiple stab wounds and her hands bound behind her back, in a forest outside Jerusalem on Sunday in what authorities believe was a politically-motivated attack by two Arab men.

A friend of the slain woman survived, despite being knifed several times, and said the assailants at one point carefully removed her Star of David necklace and then stabbed her in the place it had rested on her chest.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld identified the slain woman as Christine Logan. He said she was American and 40 years old but did not have her hometown. The friend, Kaye Susan Wilson, a naturalized Israeli citizen originally from Britain, has been hospitalized with light wounds, officials said.

With a massive manhunt under way for the assailants, Rosenfeld said "the main lead line is that the attack was nationalistic, but we haven't ruled out the possibility that it was criminal."

Police said there were no signs that Wilson had been sexually assaulted or robbed.

Wilson told Israeli media that two Arab men approached her and Logan as they rested during a hike in the hills outside Jerusalem. She said the men asked them for water, and then she and her friend walked away. Thinking the men had left, the women headed back to the main trail when suddenly they were attacked.

"It all happened so fast. They came and attacked us," Wilson, 46, told reporters.

She said one of the men took out a knife that looked "like a bread knife with a serrated edge." Logan then "became hysterical" and the men began to stab them, Wilson said.

"It was clear that they came to kill," she added. "Who carries around a knife like that?"

At one point, Wilson said one of the assailants gently took a Star of David chain off her neck, "then turned me around and stabbed in the place where the Star of David had been."

Wilson said she pretended to be dead, even as she could hear her friend dying. She said she waited for two minutes, then made her way back to a parking lot several hundred yards (meters) away where she found help.

Hospital staff cut off the interview after about five minutes and refused to make her available for further comment.

After Wilson reported the incident, police and paramedics launched a large-scale hunt and located Logan's body early Sunday buried under some bushes, about 20 yards (meters) from where the attack was believed to have occurred. The site is inside Israel, not far from the frontier with the West Bank.

Around midday, Israeli police raided a hospital outside the nearby West Bank town of Bethlehem in search of suspects, believing the assailants might have been injured in the struggle.

"I saw there were ... jeeps and lots of soldiers surrounding the hospital," said Edmund Shehadeh, director of the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation.

He said the troops wanted a list of patients and interviewed some doctors and nurses during the half-hour investigation. But by nightfall, no arrests had been made.

There was no claim of responsibility, which Palestinian militants usually make after deadly attacks. That suggested that the attack, even if politically motivated, was not planned by a militant group.

Police spokeswoman Rosenfeld said he did not have Logan's hometown. The U.S. Embassy said it had no information on the case, but said it was in touch with Israeli authorities.

The killing occurred just ahead of Christmas - a peak tourist season for Israel and the Palestinians. Israel's Tourism Ministry declined comment.

Dr. Yuval Weiss, director of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, told Army Radio he expected Wilson to be released within several days.

This would not be the first time that hikers were attacked and killed.

In the 1990s, four Israeli hikers were killed in two separate attacks in the West Bank.