Friday, February 17, 2012

New York Times correspondent Shadid dies in Syria

NEW YORK (AP) — New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who strove to capture untold stories in Middle East conflicts from Libya to Iraq, died Thursday in eastern Syria after slipping into the country to report on the uprising against its president.

Shadid, shot in the West Bank in 2002 and kidnapped for six days in Libya last year, apparently died of an asthma attack, the Times said. Times photographer Tyler Hicks was with him and carried his body to Turkey, the newspaper said.

"Anthony was one of our generation's finest reporters," Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger said in a statement. "He was also an exceptionally kind and generous human being. He brought to his readers an up-close look at the globe's many war-torn regions, often at great personal risk. We were fortunate to have Anthony as a colleague, and we mourn his death."

Shadid's father, Buddy Shadid, told The Associated Press on Thursday his son had asthma all his life and had medication with him.

"(But) he was walking to the border because it was too dangerous to ride in the car," the father said. "He was walking behind some horses — he's more allergic to those than anything else — and he had an asthma attack."

The Times reported that Shadid and Hicks recently were helped by smugglers through the border area in Turkey adjoining Syria's Idlib Province and were met by guides on horseback.

Hicks told the newspaper that Shadid suffered one bout of asthma the first night, followed by a more severe attack a week later on the way out.

"I stood next to him and asked if he was OK, and then he collapsed," Hicks told the Times.

Hicks said that Shadid was unconscious and that his breathing was "very faint" and "very shallow." He said that after a few minutes he could see that Shadid "was no longer breathing."

Shadid, a 43-year-old American of Lebanese descent, had a wife, Nada Bakri, and a son and a daughter. He had worked previously for the AP, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. He won Pulitzer Prizes for international reporting in 2004, when he was with the Post, and in 2010, when with the Times, for his Iraq coverage.

In 2004, the Pulitzer Board praised "his extraordinary ability to capture, at personal peril, the voices and emotions of Iraqis as their country was invaded, their leader toppled and their way of life upended."

Shadid also was the author of three books, including "House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East," in which he wrote about restoring his family's home in Lebanon, forthcoming next month from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Shadid was a native of Oklahoma City and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He joined the AP in Milwaukee in 1990, worked on the International Desk in New York and served as the AP's news editor in Los Angeles. He was transferred to Cairo in 1995, covering stories in several countries.

AP Senior Managing Editor John Daniszewski, who worked with Shadid in Baghdad during the U.S. invasion in 2003, called him "a brilliant colleague who stood out both for his elegant writing and for his deep and nuanced understanding of the region."

"He was calm under fire and quietly daring, the most admired of his generation of foreign correspondents," Daniszewski said.

Ralph Nader, the former third-party presidential candidate, called Shadid "a great, great reporter."

"His courage, stamina, intellect and extraordinary powers of observation respected his readers' intelligence while elevating his profession's standards," the longtime consumer advocate said in a statement.

Nader added in a phone call to the AP that he knew Shadid from his time at The Washington Post and had met his family.

"What a loss," he said.

Shadid had been reporting in Syria for a week, gathering information on the resistance to the Syrian government and calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, the Times said. The exact circumstances and location of his death were unclear, it said.

Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson sent a note to the newsroom Thursday evening, relaying the news of Shadid's death and remembering him.

"Anthony died as he lived — determined to bear witness to the transformation sweeping the Middle East and to testify to the suffering of people caught between government oppression and opposition forces," she wrote.

Shadid, long known for covering wars and other conflicts in the Middle East, was among four reporters detained for six days by Libyan forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi last March.

Speaking to an audience in Oklahoma City about a month after his release, he said he had a conversation with his father the night before he was detained.

"Maybe a little bit arrogantly, perhaps with a little bit of conceit, I said, 'It's OK, Dad. I know what I'm doing. I've been in this situation before,'" Shadid told the crowd of several dozen people. "I guess on some level I felt that if I wasn't there to tell the story, the story wouldn't be told."

When Shadid's wife was asked at the time whether she worried about him returning to writing about conflicts, she said as a journalist she understood that he might need to.

"At the end of the day, he's my husband, and the thought of going through life without him and raising our children alone is terrible," she said afterward.

Shadid's father, who lives in Oklahoma City, said a colleague tried to revive his son after he was stricken Thursday but couldn't.

"They were in an isolated place. There was no doctor around," Buddy Shadid said. "It took a couple of hours to get him to a hospital in Turkey."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Apple launches new legal attack on Samsung phones

(Reuters) - Apple Inc raised the stake in an intensifying global patent battle with Samsung Electronics by targeting the latest model using Google's fast growing Android software, a move which may affect other Android phone makers.

Apple has asked a federal court in California to block Samsung from selling its new Galaxy Nexus smartphones, which use Google's newest version of Android, called Ice Cream Sandwich, alleging four patent violations including new features such as a voice-command search function.

Galaxy Nexus, the official debut of which was delayed by Samsung in October to pay respect to Apple's co-founder Steve Jobs, is the first phone running on the newest Android version before the platform is widely adopted by hardware manufacturers such as HTC Corp and Motorola Mobility. HTC and Motorola are also in separate patent disputes with Apple.

In a lawsuit filed last week in San Jose, Apple said the Galaxy Nexus infringes on patents underlying features customers expect from Apple products. Those include the ability to unlock phones by sliding an image and to search for information by voice.

"Google cannot deny its undivided responsibility for any infringement findings. A preliminary injunction would not prohibit the sale of a Galaxy nexus just because it's called Galaxy Nexus or looks like one: it's all about which patents it infringes on," said independent patent expert Florian Meuller.

"I am absolutely certain that...for the preliminary injunction motion the Galaxy Nexus was singled out because it's so new, and important."

Samsung said in a statement on Monday that it is aware of the filing by Apple in the California court.

"We continue to assert our intellectual property rights and defend against Apple's claims to ensure our continued innovation and growth in the mobile communications business," Samsung said in a statement.

With the new lawsuit, Apple is opening up another legal assault on the South Korea-based company after taking Samsung to the same court in April of last year. In the earlier case, Apple alleged that Samsung illegally copied iPhone and iPad design features and the look of its screen icons. That case is still going on, although in December Apple lost a bid for a preliminary bar against Samsung for selling Galaxy phones and tablets.

Apple acknowledged the setback in the new action and said now it is suing over new products and different patents.

In addition to the California cases, Apple and Samsung are waging more than 20 legal fights in at least 10 countries in their war for global leadership of smartphone and tablet markets.

The new case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, is Apple Inc v. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, et a 12-00630.

(Reporting by David Henry in NEW YORK and Miyoung Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Matt Driskill)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

British police arrest five at Murdoch's Sun newspaper

LONDON (Reuters) - British police threw Rupert Murdoch's scandal-hit News Corporation into fresh turmoil on Saturday by arresting five senior staff at the top-selling daily The Sun in a probe into journalists paying police for tip-offs.

The move is part of a wider investigation into illegal news gathering practices that has rocked Britain's political, media and police establishments and last year prompted the closure of the Sun's sister Sunday title, the News of the World.

Saturday's arrests came after the company passed information to the police, a move that infuriated staff and sparked talk of a witch hunt amongst journalists by a proprietor who previously celebrated their work.

Murdoch is due in London next week and is set to meet staff, a source familiar with the situation said.

Four current and former Sun staff had already been arrested last month, and the latest detentions raise questions about the viability of Britain's best selling daily.

News International chief executive Tom Mockridge sent a memo to staff saying: "I have had a personal assurance today from Rupert Murdoch about his total commitment to continue to own and publish the Sun newspaper."

Sun editor Dominic Mohan said he was "as shocked as anyone by today's arrests" but determined to keep fulfilling the paper's "duty to serve our readers".

The source said the arrests included the Sun's deputy editor, picture editor, chief reporter and two other senior staff. Police said a serving police officer was among a total of eight people arrested on Saturday and later released on bail.

The source said a defense ministry employee and a member of the armed forces were the others. The ministry declined comment.


The current staff who were arrested in January have been suspended by the paper, and the same fate is likely to await those arrested on Saturday.

As no production staff have been arrested, the company should be able to get a paper published on Monday. Staff who were not due to work over the weekend volunteered their services to make sure the paper was produced, said a second source close to the situation.

Both sets of arrests resulted from information from News Corp's Management and Standards Committee (MSC), a fact-finding group the firm set up in a bid to rescue its reputation.

The MSC is working alongside up to 100 personnel from top law firms as well as forensic advisers and computer experts searching through more than 300 million emails, expense claims, phone records and other documents. Some 15 or 20 police are embedded with the team.

According to people familiar with the work of the MSC, the project could take at least another 18 months. Piles of paperwork that cannot fit in the offices are stored in warehouses at another, secret location.

"The MSC provided the information to the 'Elveden' investigation which led to today's arrests ... News Corporation remains committed to ensuring that unacceptable news gathering practices by individuals in the past will not be repeated," News Corp said in a statement.

Murdoch shut the hugely popular News of the World last year after a public outcry over revelations that its reporters hacked the voicemail messages of celebrities and victims of crime.

He had hoped the newspaper's closure would draw a line under allegations of malpractice, but the arrests of Sun staff have renewed speculation over the future of his newspapers, with rival publications warning of a "crisis" and "staff in uproar".


Steven Barnett, professor of communications at Westminster University, London, said Saturday's arrests were particularly damaging because they included senior current staff and were not related to historical actions by former employees.

"This is huge. It will raise some very serious questions about the viability of the Sun .... You then start to ask questions about the extent to which News Corp, and Murdoch in particular, may want to start getting out of newspapers altogether," he said.

Murdoch also owns Britain's Times, which this year admitted that one of its former reporters had hacked an e-mail account, as well as the Wall Street Journal and New York Post among a host of titles across the English-speaking world.

The octogenarian also has publishing, television and film interests in Asia, Britain, the United States and elsewhere.

U.S. authorities are stepping up investigations, including an FBI criminal inquiry, into possible violations by Murdoch media employees of a U.S. law banning corrupt payments to foreign officials such as police, law enforcement and corporate sources.

London police said 40 people had been arrested in connection with three police investigations into illegal news gathering practices, but that no one had yet been charged.

Allegations of widespread phone hacking at the News of the World prompted Britain's parliament, where many accuse Murdoch of wielding too much political influence through his media empire, to summon him and his executive son James to explain themselves last year.

James Murdoch took charge of News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp, only once the hacking had stopped but has been criticized for failing to stem the problem.

The scandal has already prompted the resignations of two top police officials, who resigned over the handling of initial investigations into media malpractice; of Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of Murdoch's London papers; and of Andy Coulson, a former Murdoch editor who became Prime Minister David Cameron's media adviser.

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Italy doesn't need firewalls, Europe does: Monti

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said Rome will not need bailout funds to overcome its debt crisis, but he reiterated that Europe should build large financial firewalls to "impress the market and take the perception of risk away."

Fears that Europe's current rescue funds are insufficient to contain a possible escalation of the euro-zone debt crisis have been roiling financial markets. Italy's 1.9 trillion debt load is about four times the size of a permanent bailout fund that EU leaders are set to sign at the beginning of March.

"I believe firewalls are necessary. The higher they are in terms of financial resources, the more likely it is that those financial resources will not have to be used," Monti said in an interview with CNBC on Friday.

"I don't say this because Italy might be in need because I don't believe that Italy, with the tough policies that we're pursuing, will be in need," he added.

Monti, who met President Barack Obama in Washington on Thursday, said he did not have a "clear expectation" on whether a deal to avoid a hard default by Greece will be soon reached.

"Once a deal is in reach, and badly needed, it tends to happen," he said.

Asked whether Italy would abandon the euro if Greece defaulted and ended up leaving the common currency, Monti said his interviewer was "going very fast."

"First of all, it's far from sure that there will be a Greek default. I believe there will not be. Secondly, default or not, I don't see Greece leaving the euro," he said.

In New York to meet with Wall Street investors, Monti tried to convey an upbeat message: "What's important is that this improved governance of the euro zone is almost there and the euro zone crisis is almost overcome, I believe".

Speaking at a news conference at Italy's mission to the United Nations, Monti said that he was warmly greeted by the financial community. At the New York Stock Exchange earlier on Friday he gave a speech to an audience of around 200 about Italy's effort to bring its public deficit under control.

"I heard public and private words about the present situation in Italy that were more positive than I had expected," he said at the conclusion of his 2-day visit to the United States, adding that to see the impact on financial markets would take time.

"The markets talk more by buying and selling than with words," he said.

(Reporting By Tiziana Barghini, Walter Brandimarte; Editing by Gary Crosse, Andrew Hay and Richard Chang)

Barclays warns may miss profit goal

LONDON (Reuters) - British bank Barclays warned it may miss its medium-term profitability target after it ended 2011 with its worst quarter for three years as the euro zone debt crisis hit bond trading, dragging its annual profit down on the year before.

Chief Executive Bob Diamond set the return on equity target as part of a strategic review just last year.

"Thirteen percent remains absolutely the right target and its very achievable, but we may not achieve it in 2013 given the impact of the external environment," he said on Friday.

The bank's shares fell 1.8 percent in early trading.

Barclays said it had cut bonuses at investment banking division Barclays Capital (BarCap) by 32 percent from the year before, and incentive awards across the group were down 26 percent.

It is the first of the big British banks to report results and has come under pressure to rein in pay for bankers, and for Diamond, after a bad year for the industry and as jobs continue to be cut and the economy wobbles.

Diamond, who became chief executive a year ago after a decade building up BarCap, has for years been one of Europe's best paid bank executives and has faced calls to forgo his bonus.

He refused to comment on whether he would be awarded a bonus or what he planned to do.

The average bonus for BarCap's 24,000 staff was 64,000 pounds ($101,400), and across the group the average bonus was 15,200 pounds. The cash bonus for BarCap staff will be capped at 65,000 pounds this year.

Barclays, Britain's fourth-biggest bank by market value, reported a pretax profit of 5.9 billion pounds for 2011, down 3 percent on the year and below analysts' forecast of 6.1 billion, according to a company poll.

Income at BarCap fell to 1.8 billion pounds in the fourth quarter, down 19 percent on the previous three months and down almost half from a year ago.

A slump in bond trading and advisory work hammered all banks late last year, and BarCap fared worse than some U.S. rivals but not as badly as Credit Suisse .

Its return on equity slumped to 5.8 percent for the year, from 7.2 percent in 2010 and less than half its target of 13 percent.

"We are not satisfied with the return on equity we delivered in 2011 and are committed to delivering steady improvement moving forwards," Diamond said.

"We expect the economic and regulatory environment to continue to be challenging in 2012," he added.

Barclays said losses on bad loans fell by a third from 2010 to 3.8 billion pounds.

($1 = 0.6312 British pounds)

(Additional reporting by Sarah White and Sudip Kar-Gupta, Editing by Jane Merriman and Mark Potter)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

GOP targets child tax break for illegal immigrants

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans are looking to deny child tax credits to illegal immigrants, refund checks averaging $1,800 a family, in an effort that has roused anger among Hispanics and some Democratic lawmakers.

The proposal, which would require people who claim the federal credit to have Social Security numbers to prove they are working legally, is being offered as a way to help pay for extending the Social Security tax cut for most American wage-earners. It would trim federal spending by about $10 billion over a decade.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the proposal unfairly goes after the children of poor Hispanic workers. Such kids often are U.S. citizens, even when their parents are not, because they were born in this country.

Says Leticia Miranda, senior policy adviser of the Latino rights organization National Council of La Raza: "People who are making close to the minimum wage and are raising children in this country — and we're asking them to pay for the payroll tax cut?" She says, "It's outrageous and it's crazy."

Illegal immigrants have been barred from other refundable tax credits — in which low-income workers not only don't owe income taxes but receive payments from the government — such as the earned income tax credit. Such credits are a popular anti-poverty tool in part because a recipient has to hold a job to receive the benefit.

But a 1997 law enacting a $500 per-child tax credit does not specifically exclude illegal immigrants from collecting. It was significantly expanded in 2001 to gradually reach $1,000, and rules were eased so that many more people could get it on a refundable basis. It was made more generous in 2009 so that more taxpayers could claim the credit or claim a larger amount. On the other side, Republicans and some Democrats say what is crazy is even having a debate over whether the government should be cutting checks to people who have sneaked into the country illegally.

"We have rules about tax credits and benefits, and it seems to me they need to be applied fairly and across the board," said Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is facing a difficult re-election bid in Missouri. "If there are rules, they need to be enforced. I think it's just that simple. I don't think it's complicated."

"Although the law prohibits aliens residing without authorization in the United States from receiving most federal public benefits, an increasing number of these individuals are filing tax returns claiming this refundable credit," Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, said when the House debated the payroll tax cut measure in December. "Illegal immigrants bilked $4.2 billion from the U.S. taxpayers (in 2010). I think that it's time that we fixed it."

The situation has Democrats in a box. If they fight the Republican effort to cut back payments of the tax credit, they will be favoring the delivery of refunds to people who not only do not owe income taxes but are not supposed to be in the country in the first place.

What's more, closing the loophole would raise real money — an estimated $10 billion over 10 years under the approach favored by House Republicans.

The Treasury Department says that in the 2010 filing year more than $4 billion in child credit refunds went to 2.3 million people who filed tax returns but did not have Social Security numbers to prove they were citizens or legal workers. That was a fourfold increase over five years earlier.

On the other side are politically influential Hispanic groups, a vital Democratic-friendly constituency. Opponents of tightening eligibility for the child tax credit point out that six of every seven affected families are Hispanic, with an average household income of about $21,000. Tax credits of up to $1,000 per child and make a huge difference at such income levels.

Hispanics point out that in many instances the tax credit goes to workers who are not citizens but whose children are, because they were born in the country and have their own Social Security numbers. They say such children should reap the benefit of the tax credit just like other children in comparable economic circumstances.