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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Burn Note lets you send self-destructing emails

Fictional spies aren't the only ones who can send and receive self-destructing messages. A new web service called Burn Note can do just that, and you don't even have to deal with exploding electronics once the countdown is over.

Burn Note lets you send password-locked messages that automatically get deleted after a few seconds. Its creator, Jacob Robbins, told AllThingsD that the service doesn't even keep backup copies of your messages. Since it's not exactly an email service in and of itself, you still need an email address to use it.

After you've registered for an account and can start sending notes, you'll notice that you can change a few settings at the bottom. This includes the amount of time you want to give the recipient before the message disappears forever.

Robbins sees potential use for Burn Note as a plug-in for online banking facilities. But as U.S. law requires financial institutions to keep all types of records, he admits that those who have legal obligations to preserve data can't use the service.

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Train Kills Pedestrian At Level Crossing

Train Kills Pedestrian At Level Crossing

A man has been killed after being struck by a train at a level crossing in Stoke-on-Trent, British Transport Police said.

The pedestrian was hit by a cross-country service on a crossing near Wedgwood station in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

A spokeswoman said: "Officers from British Transport Police and Staffordshire Police attended the incident, which was reported to police at 6.01pm and is currently being treated as non-suspicious."

Ambulance crews also attended but nothing could be done for the man, who has not been named, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The train involved was the 1.45pm service from Bournemouth to Manchester Piccadilly.

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Egypt sent back U.S. request to lift travel

Riot police stand guard as demonstrators take part in a protest against the newly-elected lawmakers in front of Egypt's parliament in Cairo January 31, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

Egypt's justice minister said on Tuesday he had sent back a letter from the U.S. ambassador that asked for an end to a travel ban on Americans being investigated for alleged illegal funding of pro-democracy groups.

U.S. officials have warned the escalating dispute could imperil some $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt's military, and Republican Senator John McCain said on Tuesday he planned to raise the issue with a visiting Egyptian delegation.

In Cairo, Justice Minister Adel Abdelhamid Abdallah said he returned the U.S. embassy letter, highlighting strains between Washington and its long-standing Arab ally since the overthrow last year of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.

Washington said several U.S. citizens working for civil society groups were banned from leaving Egypt and took refuge at its embassy in Cairo after the non-governmental organizations were raided by the military-led Egyptian authorities.

Abdallah said U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson's written request to lift the travel ban was sent to his home and he returned it to the U.S. embassy because it should have been sent to the investigating judges.

"In it were the names of the people banned from travel and it was asking for a cancellation of this decision to be considered, as their constitutional right," he said.

"I spoke to the embassy and I returned this letter and told them that this letter should be sent to the investigating judges and not to the minister of justice," he said.

Abdallah said only those concerned by the travel ban or their representatives were entitled to send such a letter.

In Washington, the State Department confirmed that Patterson sent the letter, describing it as one of a number of attempts to raise the travel ban issue with Egyptian authorities.

"It was the justice minister's prerogative to send this letter back. We're going to continue to engage on this," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a news briefing.

Toner said Washington would continue to press Egypt to allow the NGO staffers to leave.

"We believe that it's important that they be allowed to travel freely and that the conditions that have been placed on them are unfair," Toner said.

Parliament speaker Mohamed Saad al-Katatni, a leading figure in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood which now dominates the assembly's lower house, said Patterson's request was "interference by the American embassy that we do not accept."

The U.S. embassy in Cairo had no comment.

U.S. officials said they will raise the NGO issue when a senior Egyptian military delegation visits Washington this week.

The delegation of generals is expected to meet with officials at the State Department and Pentagon. McCain said he planned to meet the Egyptian delegation as well; an aide to McCain said this meeting would take place next week.

Asked whether U.S. military aid to Egypt - which must be approved by Congress - was in jeopardy, McCain said that would be a subject of the discussion.

"I'm saying that it's certainly a topic that's on the table, that they've put on the table," he told reporters outside the Senate.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a weekend call to the head of Egypt's ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, urged the Egyptians to lift the travel ban and expressed concern over restrictions placed on NGOs.

President Barack Obama also discussed the NGO issue with Tantawi in a phone call earlier this month.
Egypt's government says the number of NGOs violating the law on funding political activities had grown since the uprising against Mubarak.

Groups including the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute were raided in late December by judicial police, who took documents and equipment before sealing their offices shut.

Civil society groups said the military council had ordered the raids to defame and stigmatize activists, rights groups and others who were at the forefront of the anti-Mubarak revolt and are now demanding the army hand power immediately to civilians.

Among those prevented from leaving Egypt was the IRI's Egypt country director Sam LaHood, who is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

(This version corrects paragraph 16 where McCain aide says senator's meeting next week, not Wednesday)

Called from yahoo News

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Sunday, 29 January 2012

Florida highway pileup kills at least 10 people

A long line of cars and trucks collided one after another early Sunday on a dark Florida highway so shrouded in haze and smoke that drivers were instantly blinded. At least 10 people were killed.
When rescuers first arrived, they could only listen for screams and moans because the poor visibility made it difficult to find victims in wreckage that was strewn for nearly a mile, police said.

Authorities were still trying to determine what caused the pileup south of Gainesville on Interstate 75, which had been closed for a time before the accidents because of the mixture of fog and heavy smoke from a brush fire that may have been intentionally set. At least a dozen cars and six tractor-trailers were involved, and some burst into flames.

Steven R. Camps of Gainesville said he and some friends were driving home several hours before dawn when they were drawn into the pileup.

"You could hear cars hitting each other. People were crying. People were screaming. It was crazy," he said. "If I could give you an idea of what it looked like, I would say it looked like the end of the world."

Photographs of the scene taken hours later revealed an aftermath that resembled a Hollywood disaster movie. Twisted, burned-out vehicles were scattered across the pavement, with smoke still rising from the wreckage.

Cars appeared to have smashed into the big rigs and, in one case, a motor home. Some cars were crushed beneath the heavier trucks.

Reporters who were allowed to view the site saw bodies still inside a burned-out Grand Prix. One tractor-trailer was burned down to its skeleton, charred pages of books and magazines in its cargo area. And the tires of every vehicle had burned away, leaving only steel belts.

Before Camps hit the fog bank, a friend who was driving ahead of him in a separate vehicle called to warn of the road conditions. The friend said he had just seen an accident and warned Camps to be careful as he approached the Paynes Prairie area just south of Gainesville.

A short time later, Camps said, traffic stopped along the northbound lanes.

"You couldn't see anything. People were pulling off the road," he said.

Camps said he began talking about the road conditions to a man in the car stopped next to them when another vehicle hit the man's car.

The man's vehicle was crushed under a semi-truck stopped in front of them. Camps said his car was hit twice, but he and another friend were able to jump out. They took cover in the grass on the shoulder of the road.

All around them, cars and trucks were on fire, and they could hear explosions as the vehicles burned.
"It was happening on both sides of the road, so there was nowhere to go. It blew my mind," he said, explaining that the scene "looked like someone was picking up cars and throwing them."

Authorities had not released the names of victims Sunday evening, but said one passenger car had four fatalities and a "tour bus-like" vehicle also was involved in the pileup.
At least 18 people were taken to a hospital.

All six lanes of the interstate — which runs virtually the entire length of Florida — were closed most of Sunday afternoon as investigators surveyed the site and firefighters put out the last of the flames.
The northbound lanes of I-75 were reopened around 5:30 p.m. EST, but the southbound lanes remained closed.

"Our standard operating procedure is to get the road open as quickly as possible but let's not forget we have 10 people who are not with us today," said Lt. Patrick Riordan, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman. "So we are going to take our time assessing the situation."

It was not clear when the highway would fully reopen because part of the road melted, police said.
At some point before the pileup, police briefly closed the highway because of the fog and smoke. The road was reopened when visibility improved.

Riordan said he was not sure how much time passed between the reopening of the highway and the first crash.

Traffic was being diverted much of Sunday onto U.S. 301 and State Road 27, Riordan said.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Forest Service, Ludie Bond, said the fire began Saturday, and investigators were trying to determine whether the blaze had been intentionally set. She said there were no controlled burns in the area and no lightning.

Bond also said the fire had burned 62 acres and was contained but still burning Sunday. A similar fire nearby has been burning since mid-November because the dried vegetation is so thick and deep. No homes are threatened.

Four years ago, heavy fog and smoke were blamed for another serious crash.

In January 2008, four people were killed and 38 injured in a series of similar crashes on Interstate 4 between Orlando and Tampa, about 125 miles south of Sunday's crash. More than 70 vehicles were involved in those crashes, including one pileup that involved 40 vehicles.

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Sarkozy details measures for growth, jobs

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, seen in this still image taken from video, as he appears on French national TV in Paris, January 29, 2012 . Sarkozy was expected to announce new economic reforms to create more jobs, improve business competitiveness and convince voters he is the right leader to revive France's sputtering economy. French newspaper Le Monde reported on Saturday that Sarkozy would also announce a German-inspired "Social VAT" , raising French VAT by 1.6 percentage points from 19.6 to 21.2 percent.   REUTERS/France Television

 President Nicolas Sarkozy used a primetime television interview on Sunday to flesh out a flurry of measures to boost employment and competitiveness which he hopes to rush through France's parliament before a presidential election in April.

Sarkozy, who is running far behind Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in opinion polls for the election, said he would raise the VAT rate to 21.2 percent from 19.6 percent from October to fund a reduction in social charges on companies.

The move, which Sarkozy first alluded to in a New Year's speech, is aimed at narrowing a competitiveness gap with Germany that is weighing on French growth, but it risks angering voters.
Among other measures, Sarkozy said he would set up an industrial investment bank in February with a billion euros in capital that will lend to small and medium-sized businesses struggling to obtain financing in today's climate.

He also said companies with more than 250 employees would be obliged to take on interns to the level of 5 percent of total staff, as a way of helping reduce chronic youth unemployment.
Sarkozy said he had a duty as president to hold off announcing his re-election bid until as late as possible.

Yet his interview, broadcast live across eight TV channels, seemed timed to respond to a series of TV appearances and speeches last week by Hollande, who is campaigning at full throttle for the two-round election on April 22 and May 6.

"We have to protect employment, we have to defend it, value it," said Sarkozy, who has thrown his focus onto growth and jobs since it became clear late last year that his deficit-cutting efforts could not save France from a credit rating downgrade.

"I am convinced this decision will save jobs and that it's the only credible way to stop outsourcing," he said of his so-called "Social VAT" plan to ease firms' social contributions.

Sarkozy, who turned 57 on Saturday, said a financial transaction tax he is planning for August would set a tax of 0.1 percent on transactions in French securities.

He gave no detail on the tax, which France wants to be adopted across the European Union, but a government source later said it would target shares, not bonds, and could raise a billion euros annually.
Separately, Sarkozy announced a rise in taxes on individuals' financial income such as interest and dividends.


Sarkozy has worked hard in recent months to present a more austere and presidential demeanor following criticism of his informal and sometimes brash manner, and he stuck to a highly technical discourse on Sunday. He referred frequently to Germany as an economic model that France should be copying.

Setting the stage for what aides say will be an "honest" campaign that admits past mistakes yet seeks to show he is the safest pair of hands to steer France out of economic gloom, Sarkozy sounded a note of humility about his years in office.

"I accept the criticism," he said, adding that there had been "ups and downs" and things he regretted.
Opinion polls show Sarkozy could lose a runoff against Hollande by 10 percentage points, and some in his UMP party believe he is suffering from his decision to leave launching his campaign until close to a March 16 deadline.

Hollande put in an able performance last week in a TV debate against Alain Juppe, Sarkozy's foreign minister and one of the most talented politicians in his team, and he also unveiled a weighty and fiscally responsible economic plan.

In an attempt at one-upmanship, Sarkozy said France's public deficit for 2011 could come in as low as 5.4 or 5.3 percent of gross domestic product, well below a target of 5.7 percent.

Yet illustrating the economic challenge ahead, the source said that the government will soon revise down its 1.0 percent forecast for 2012 growth.

Both Hollande and Sarkozy are seizing on the euro zone crisis and what many fear is a descent into recession in France as their key focus for the 2012 election.

While Hollande blames France's woes on more than a decade of conservative leadership, Sarkozy is playing on his experience next to a man who has never been a government minister.

An Ifop poll published on Sunday showed, however, that many see Hollande as the best candidate to tackle debt reduction and unemployment, which is running at a more than 12-year high.

The poll found 46 percent of respondents trusted Hollande most to fight unemployment, versus 22 percent for Sarkozy, and 34 percent chose Hollande as the best to handle the public debt, versus 32 percent for Sarkozy.

Underlining a belief that Hollande could defeat Sarkozy, Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party said on Saturday that the German Chancellor plans to actively back Sarkozy in his campaign by making joint appearances with him.

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Canadian Lego Man Goes to Space

The Geo Quiz is going into space – by way of Toronto.
Two Canadian teenagers in Toronto made big headlines this week.
That’s because they successfully launched a man into space.
A man made of Lego blocks, that is.
This Lego man was attached to a homemade contraption, equipped with video camera, and tethered to a weather balloon.
After the two teenagers launched it, the balloon rose some 80,000 ft.
That’s within the layer of Earth’s atmosphere we want you to name.
It’s not as high as the thermosphere where the International Space Station orbits.
Nor is it as low as troposphere.
If you were standing on the summit of Mount Everest, for example, you’d be breathing the thin air of the troposphere.
The answer is the stratosphere. Lisa Mullins talks with Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammed about their science project.
Visualize tweets for this story: Click on the image below to see tweets
Spot: Lego man in space

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Republican Candidates Court Miami’s Cuban Vote

A popular campaign stop: Cafe Vesailles in Miami's Little Havana (Photo: Jason Margolis) 

There’s a political truism in Miami: Cuban Americans always vote Republican.
But four years ago, that voting bloc started to fray. Candidate Obama captured about a third of the Cuban vote in Miami.
Now the right-wing Miami Cuban establishment has a warning for their community: President Obama is soft on the Castro brothers.
Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spoke in Miami this week at a Mitt Romney campaign event. Switching between Spanish and English, Ros-Lehtinen said every time President Obama mentions Cuba it’s to explain why he’s giving further economic concessions to the Castro regime.
Ros-Lehtinen is referring to the Obama administration’s easing of travel restrictions and remittances to Cuba. Critics call the policies an economic boon for the Castros.
“So what you have now is an emboldened regime that feels that they can do whatever they want because they’re not facing any consequences,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC.
“There has to be consequences to certain bad actions: taking an American hostage, huge waves of repression. If they think they can do it, and they’re going to get this inflow of hard currency, then they’re going to increase the repression and continue doing so.”
Mauricio Claver-Carone introducing Mitt Romney in Miami (Photo: Jason Margolis)
The Republican presidential candidates are seizing on this. Mitt Romney spoke in downtown Miami this week.
“Negotiations are not a matter of giving and hope, they’re a matter of giving and getting in return. This president has done something which is characteristic of his presidency and that is he turns and gives. And says that everybody in the world has the same interest and so people will give back to us. He’s wrong.”
But polls suggest a majority of Cuban Americans actually favor the Obama administration policies toward Cuba.
Uva de Aragón likes the policies and visits the island. She was born in Cuba and left as a young girl. De Aragón recently retired as the associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.
“I think the more open Cuba is, the more people who travel to Cuba, the more money you send to Cubans: the more you empower them, the more they’re knowledgeable. The people who travel and who bring magazines or stories, or whatever are an important source of information. So I’m very favorable to anything that opens up the island.”
De Aragón sees a contradiction between what many Cuban-Americans say and what they do. For instance, she said when you ask them about remittances, they respond this way: “Yes, of course I’m in favor of the embargo.”
But De Aragón said when you ask the same people if they send their family money back in Cuba, they’ll say, “Of course, he’s my brother!”
Cuban American Joe Garcia doesn’t mince words about the hardliners on Cuban policy and the Republican candidates courting them.
“What you have going on here is a clown show and the audience is filled with clowns.”
Garcia ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 and 2010 as a Democrat. He says the president’s Cuba policies have been very effective assisting dissidents and expanding civil society. He said the hard-line hasn’t worked. Garcia called the rightwing position toward Cuba a religion, not a rational policy.
“Part of the problem is that we’re engaged in revenge politics, which of course feels very nice, right? There’s a warmth and a heat that is driven by the absolute loathing of the Castro regime, which I share in. But later in the week someone will call for the 82nd Airborne to invade Cuba and I’m sure Gingrich will up the ante by calling for a nuking of the Havana suburbs just to teach Fidel a lesson.”
That hasn’t happened. But Newt Gingrich did call this week for American support for a “Cuban Spring.”
David Cardenas, left, and Giancarlo Sopo, right (Photo: Jason Margolis)
Some in the under-30 crowd here say all the bad blood and bickering over travel restrictions and remittances is a distraction.
I met David Cardenas and Giancarlo Sopo for dinner in downtown Miami. Cardenas is active in the Republican party; Sopo is with the Democrats. They have small disagreements about travel restrictions, but they say it’s not worth arguing about.
“I think on the big issues relating to Cuba, in the final analysis, Cubans overwhelming agree with one and other,” said Sopo.
“I completely agree with that,” said Cardena. “I think Cubans are united as a community, united in their policy positions toward Cuba.”
The trade embargo has overwhelming bipartisan support here. And in Congress and the White House.
Cardenas and Sopo are able to break bread together, perhaps because Cuba is not the focus of their lives.
“I would say that Cuban Americans of our generation are not single-issue voters, much in the same way our grandparents and some of our parents are,” said Cardenas.
“I would agree with what David is saying,” said Cardenas. “Cuba was much closer to their lives. They had just left the country, many of them still had hopes of going back. I think David and I, we see Miami as our home.”
And that’s where their real disagreement begins: What domestic economic policies are best for their home?

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