Noordin laptop videos show bomb planning

Indonesian police have released a series of files from slain terror leader Noordin Mohammed Top’s laptop showing detailed and chillingly nonchalant planning behind the July bombings in Jakarta.

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Videos on the computer seized in the Central Java raid this month that killed Noordin, 41, show suicide bombers and other militants discussing and making preparations for the July 17 attacks, which killed seven people.

In one video, the two suicide bombers, Dani Dwi Permana, 18, and Nana Ikhwan Maulana, 28, are seen doing stretches near an empty lot in front of the targeted JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.

In another video, the bombers and hotel florist Ibrohim — who police say helped stage the attack from the inside — picnic on biscuits and apples on the grass in front of the hotels.

Syaifudin Jaelani, a fourth militant still on the run from police, says off camera: “America, destroyed; Australia, destroyed; Indonesia, destroyed.”

In yet another clip, teenage bomber Dani is seen in front of the hotels saying: “This is not suicide, this is a good deed.”

“We see how they are preparing themselves, how they have filmed their plans and their surveys of targets through their own eyes,” police spokesman Nanan Soekarna told reporters.

“We see how they really did prepare themselves, that this isn’t just something the police have been saying.”

“We found the laptop on Noordin’s back,” he said.

Other files found on Noordin’s laptop included videos showing shopping and discussions of the impending attacks, as well as letters by Jaelani intended for his family that describe the operation’s organisational structure.

“We’re an organisation with efficient leadership, there are administrators, those who manage funding… those who look after the families of holy warriors, those who find transport, look for explosives, look for weapons, handle internal and overseas affairs,” Jaelani wrote.

Detective Tito Karnavian said police still regard the network Noordin built as a potent threat despite his death.

“This network has the capability to build new cells — for example, Syaifudin’s (Jaelani’s) cell, which has not been destroyed yet,” Karnavian said.

“The targets previously were the far enemy (such as the United States and Australia) but now they are also targeting the Indonesian government which they say is promoting democracy, which is being pushed by the West,” he said.

Noordin, a Malaysian who headed a violent splinter faction of the radical Jemaah Islamiyah network, was killed along with three of his militants during a September 17 raid on a village house outside Solo city.

Noordin headed an organisation he dubbed “Al-Qaeda in the Malay Archipelago” and was one of Asia’s most wanted men for allegedly masterminding attacks including a 2003 bombing of the Marriott that killed 12 people.

He was also wanted for the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta and 2005 attacks on tourist restaurants on the holiday island of Bali.

Gates makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates flew into Kabul for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and commanders about Washington’s new strategy to send 30,000 extra troops to fight the Taliban.

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It is the first official US visit since President Barack Obama last week announced he would boost the the US deployment in Afghanistan to 100,000 to counter an increasingly virulent Taliban insurgency.

The Pentagon has said the first wave of 1,500 extra US Marines will begin arriving in southern Afghanistan next week as the top military officer said there was a short window to seize back the initiative from the Taliban.

Open to talks

“We want to talk with President Karzai and (Defence) Minister Wardak about the president’s decision and the implementation of that decision, how we will use our troops and the additional troops from our allies in partnership with the Afghan national security forces,” Gates told journalists.

The Pentagon chief said he would raise the issue of stepping up the training and retention of Afghanistan’s fledgling army and police, a cornerstone of Obama’s strategy which hopes to bring a quick end to the war.

In an interview with CNN, Karzai said Afghans wanted to be in charge of security “sooner, rather than later” but said it would take two years to train Afghan forces to the point where they can lead operations in many areas.

Concerns mount for Afghan youth

Experts warn that Afghanistan lacks literate young men, veterans with leadership skills, facilities for training and money for weapons.

A senior NATO commander has warned that the current police force of around 68,000 is prone to corruption. Out of 94,000 soldiers trained so far, 10,000 have defected and 15 percent of the armed forces are drug addicts.

Obama’s plan to start withdrawing US troops in July 2011 has sparked major concern in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan that the Taliban could sit out the surge, regroup and attack a pared down US force in 18 months’ time.

Gates said he was seeking to reassure Kabul of the long-term US commitment, despite strenuous domestic opposition to the war back home.

“Another major message will be the importance of a long-term relationship between the United States, ISAF (the NATO-run multinational force based in the country) and Afghanistan,” he told reporters.

Karzai delayed cabinet

Karzai, who faces huge pressure to form a transparent government after his fraud-tainted re-election in August, has postponed the unveiling of his long-awaited cabinet until Saturday at the earliest, a parliament spokesman said.

Washington has warned Karzai to fight corruption or see his cabinet bypassed in favour of lower level officials to provide services to Afghans as part of the sweeping new war strategy.

Gates emphasised “the importance for us of capable, honest ministers in areas that are critical for our success, such as defence and interior” — calling both the current incumbents “very capable people”.

The Pentagon chief will also hold talks with top US and NATO commanders, but not the overall commander on the ground, US General Stanley McChrystal, who is due to appear before Congress in Washington later Tuesday.

NATO boosts troops

NATO allies have agreed to support the US surge by dispatching another 7,000 troops, which are expected to swell the ranks of foreign forces in Afghanistan next year to 150,000.

With military commanders, Gates is due to discuss the logistical challenges facing the influx of reinforcements after signing deployment orders for the first wave of 17,000 more US troops that will arrive early next year.

“It’s going to require a lot of efforts,” Gates told reporters.

Gates’ visit to Kabul comes four days after more than 1,000 US Marines, British troops and Afghan forces launched a major offensive in the southern province of Helmand, a Taliban heartland and primary opium-growing area.

Most of the first wave of extra US troops will be going to Helmand and neighbouring province Kandahar, the spiritual capital of the Taliban and the scene of the worst fighting since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban.

Soaring violence has made this year the deadliest since the Taliban fell from power, killing record numbers of civilians, Afghan and foreign troops.

Cardinals rally around Pope at Easter

Pope Benedict XVI steered clear of the paedophile priest scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church in his high-profile Easter speech, while top prelates closed ranks around him.

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“The people of God are with you and do not allow themselves to be impressed by the idle chatter of the moment,” said the dean of the Vatican’s College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano.

The unusual gesture just before Benedict began celebrating Easter mass in St Peter’s Square echoed the embattled pope’s own remarks a week ago when he urged Christians “not be intimidated by the idle chatter of prevailing opinions.”

The pope, in his much-anticipated “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message on Sunday, made no mention of the scandals.

Humankind is in a ‘profound crisis’: Pope

However the pontiff made a broad call for a “spiritual and moral conversion” and said humankind was in a “profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences.”

In contrast, leading bishops in both Belgium and Germany issued forthright condemnations of the Church’s role in covering up for predator priests.

Belgium’s Andre Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, said in his Easter homily that the Church had mismanaged the crisis “with a guilty silence.”

Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, for his part, said: “Today particularly we must set out together and examine inconceivable events, awful crimes, the Church’s dark aspects as well as our shadowy sides.”

Concerns mount over scandal

Vatican expert Bruno Bartoloni said the Church was going through its “hardest period since the publication (in 1968) of the ‘Humanae Vitae’ (Of Human Life)” — a papal encyclical by pope Paul VI that attacked use of the birth control pill as a mortal sin.

“At that time the crisis was as deep, with personal attacks against the pope and the Church in general,” Bartoloni told AFP.

Many of the pilgrims among the tens of thousands huddled under umbrellas for the rain-drenched Easter mass here defended the pope.

Edgar Meier of Germany accused the media of blowing up the affair, saying: “It’s not a typical thing of the Church. Journalists are making it something bigger than it really is.”

Calls for resignation

But another German in the crowd, Claudia Binion, said the pope “should resign because he is too implicated” in the crisis, which she called a “huge problem.”

“For those who have these tendencies, the Church is the best place to go because they are with children and are hidden and protected,” she charged.

The US group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said the victims still seek concrete action from the pope.

“When we speak up and tell how our childhood innocence was shattereed by sexual assaults by priests it is not ‘petty gossip’,” said SNAP president Barbara Blaine. “Lofty statements from Vatican officials do not change the facts.”

Easter mass at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral did not go as smoothly as protesters hung pairs of children’s shoes on the railings to represent the victims of predator priests.

Abuse survivors heckled Archbishop Diarmuid Martin as he went inside, and protesters held placards reading: “Hypocrites for Jesus. Catholic Church rapes, abuses, destroys children and covers it up, covers it up, covers it up.”

In his homily, Martin said: “The spotlight of media and public opinion is focused on the failures and the betrayals of Church leaders and a damaging culture which has grown up in the Church.

“The truth will set the Church free, even if the truth is hard to digest,” he said.

Scandals trace back to 1930s

Predominantly Catholic Ireland has been rocked by three judicial reports in the past five years detailing child sex abuse and cover-ups going back to the 1930s.

The pope last month addressed a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics expressing “shame and remorse” over predator priests in Ireland and chided Irish bishops for making “serious mistakes” in responding to allegations.

The scandals have cast a pall over Easter, normally the most joyous day in the Christian calendar, commemorating the day when Jesus Christ is believed to have been resurrected.

In the United States on Saturday, fresh allegations emerged in court documents that Cardinal William Levada — now the head of the Vatican department in charge of disciplining predator priests — had reassigned an alleged child molester in the 1990s without warning his parishioners.

The pope headed the same department — the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — from 1981 to 2005, and himself faces allegations that he helped to protect predator priests both in that role and when he was archbishop of Munich.

Washington state approves marijuana rules

Washington has became the second US state to adopt rules for the recreational sale of marijuana, setting what advocates hope will become a template for the drug’s legalisation around the world.

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“We feel very proud of what we’re doing,” said Sharon Foster, chairwoman of the Washington Liquor Control Board, as she and her two colleagues approved the rules on Wednesday.

“We are making history.”

Washington and Colorado last year legalised the possession of up to an ounce (28 grams) of cannabis by adults over 21, with voters deciding to set up systems of state-licensed growers, processors and sellers.

The measures put state officials in the difficult position of crafting rules for a fledgling industry barred by federal law for more than seven decades.

The liquor board devised Washington’s rules after nearly a year of research, debate and planning, including public hearings that drew hundreds of people around the state.

They cover everything from the security at and size of licensed marijuana gardens, to how many pot stores can open in cities across the state.

Sales are expected to begin by the middle of next year, with supporters hoping taxed pot might bring the state tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, with much of the revenue directed to public health and drug-abuse prevention.

“What the Liquor Control Board has done is build a template for the responsible regulation of marijuana,” said Alison Holcomb, the Seattle lawyer who drafted Washington’s marijuana initiative.

“This is a template that is going to be reviewed by other states, and already is being reviewed by other countries,” including Mexico, Uruguay and Poland.

Colorado approved its pot industry rules last month, and sales are expected to start in some cities there at the beginning of 2014.

The two states’ rules are largely similar, although Colorado will allow stores to sell recreational and medical marijuana. Both states will require such measures as seed-to-store tracking, background checks for license applicants, and child-resistant packaging.

Washington liquor board members said they tried to strike a balance between making marijuana accessible enough that legal pot would undermine the black market, but not so accessible that it would threaten public health or safety.

The board hopes the sale of legal pot will capture about one-quarter of the total pot market in the state, for starters.

The federal government announced earlier this year it would not sue Washington, Colorado or other states over plans to tax and regulate marijuana sales for adults over 21, provided they address eight federal law enforcement priorities, including keeping marijuana off the black market and keeping it away from kids

Farina backs Australian Socceroos’ coach

Frank Farina says it’s a good thing a home-grown coach is set to return to the Socceroos’ helm.

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Farina held the top job for six years before his axing in 2005 ushered in an era of three foreign coaches – Guus Hiddink, fellow Dutchman Pim Verbeek and German Holger Osieck.

With the glow of Hiddink’s great performance with the team at the 2006 World Cup a distant memory and Osieck sacked on Saturday, Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy has indicated the role will go to one of three leading A-League coaches – Graham Arnold, Ange Postecoglou and Tony Popovic.

While not willing to comment on the Socceroos’ recent woes, Farina said he was pleased the governing body was looking at the leading Australian coaches.

“I don’t want to talk about the national team, I’m not interested in making any comments,” the Sydney FC coach Farina said after training on Thursday.

“I’m sure the FFA will make the right decision and I’m looking forward to whoever it may be when they do.

“I think it’s good yes (that they are looking to appoint an Australian).”

Farina, who was chosen over many candidates in 1999 including then caretaker coach Raul Blanco – who had replaced Terry Venables – departed in June 2005 after his team lost all three games at the Confederations Cup.

Despite a short stint as Papua New Guinea national coach in 2011, he has been an A-League coach ever since, first with Brisbane from 2006 then Sydney FC from early last season.

He said that’s where he intended to remain and he was in no way surprised his name hadn’t been linked to the current Socceroos vacancy.

“From my personal perspective, no I’m not surprised or unhappy (that I haven’t been mentioned),” he said.

“I had six years and I think the body is still a bit too warm to even be reconsidered for that.

“I’ve got a big enough task here with Sydney FC, it’s a huge club with huge demands, so I’ve got enough in my plate.

We’re ready for any rough stuff: Davey

Vice-captain Aaron Davey says his indigenous All Stars team might be smaller than Ireland but if there’s any rough stuff in the international rules series “we aren’t just going to stand back”.

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Past Irish teams have complained about Australia’s physical style of play but this year they’ll be the side with the size advantage.

“This Irish team will be the bigger team,” Australia’s assistant coach Tadhg Kennelly told AAP ahead of Saturday’s first Test at Cavan (Sunday morning AEDT).

“They’ve got some big guys that are 6’6″ and 6’7”.

“These boys will be a lot bigger than our indigenous side.”

Kennelly was a key member of the Irish squad which outclassed Australia 2-0 in the 2011 series.

He’s played 12 international rules matches for Ireland over six series.

But his close friend and Australian coach Michael O’Loughlin convinced the former Sydney Swans star to swap sides in 2013.

Kennelly insists amateur Gaelic footballers are pretty much professionals except “they’re not getting paid”.

“The amount of time and energy they’ve spent in the sports science of Gaelic football is enormous.”

Davey, however, isn’t fazed by the potential for a bruising encounter.

“We might be smaller but if the Irish are going to come out a bit more physical I can tell you now we aren’t just going to stand back,” the recently-retired Melbourne forward told AAP.

“Quite clearly we are going to be out-sized in height and some of these guys are real athletic.

“But our speed is our biggest strength.”

Australia played a combined Dublin universities team on Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s match and scored a comprehensive win at Parnell Park.

Afterwards Davey stated: “I don’t think I’ve ever played in a quicker team.”

“I reckon now that it’s all up and going a lot of people are going to sit back in Australia and be glued to the TV and watch the game.”

Kennelly – the only man to have won an AFL premiership and an All-Ireland Gaelic football title – says Australia will rely on being quick and agile to put pressure on Ireland.

The plan is to give the hosts less time to dispose of the ball.

The assistant coach thinks the Irish could struggle to tackle the All Stars who plan to keep the ball out in the open.

The indigenous team, on the other hand, will be tenacious, Kennelly said.

“Their whole careers they’ve been playing against blokes that are bigger than them. Now it’s no different playing against the Irish.

“You don’t have to be the biggest player in the world to tackle (and) we’ve also got some big boys that can throw their weight around.”

The 32-year-old expects Ash McGrath will likely to be Australia’s keeper in the first Test.

Kennelly has done a lot of work with the Brisbane Lions defender who was “super” during Wednesday’s practice match.

“He made some really good saves and his kicking is very good,” Kennelly said.

“Ash is a deep defender, he’s kicked out an awful lot in the AFL, so it’s not a foreign position to him.

“The only foreign thing to him is obviously stopping and goal keeping.”

And, of course, dealing with the round ball.

NSW truckies lied to ICAC about kickbacks

Three truck drivers who lied to the NSW corruption watchdog about paying off a heavy vehicle assessor to obtain a truck licence could now face prosecution.

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The Independent Commission Against Corruption is inquiring into allegations that former heavy vehicle competency assessor Christopher Binos received kickbacks for falsifying log books.

The inquiry has heard Mr Binos, who worked on behalf of Roads and Maritime Services, received up to $1800 from truck drivers to make false log book entries.

The entries made it appear applicants had passed a driving competency test.

It’s alleged Mr Binos falsely certified 91 people as competent to drive heavy vehicles despite spending no driving time with them.

Alexander Daubney told the second day of the inquiry he paid $1500 to Mr Binos last year to have him fill out his log book.

He said Mr Binos told him he could do the assessment – the final step in obtaining the licence in NSW – two ways.

“(He said) you can actually do the test or not do the test and he’d fill out my forms,” Mr Daubney said on Thursday.

Mr Daubney admitted to counsel assisting ICAC, David McLure, that he gave false evidence during an initial examination.

“You knew that when you were giving evidence to the commission that it was an offence to give false or misleading evidence?” Mr McLure asked.

“Correct,” Mr Daubney replied.

Mr Daubney later told ICAC Commissioner David Ipp he did not realise the seriousness of the case and panicked.

“I was a bit intimidated because I use my licence on a daily basis,” he said.

Fellow truck driver Mark McDonagh also admitted to lying when he was first brought before ICAC.

Mr McDonagh told the inquiry on Thursday he paid Mr Binos $1800, gave him his log books and collected them later when the pair met at Burger King in Hoxton Park.

Shane Florio, who gave evidence at the inquiry on Wednesday, also admitted to giving incorrect information initially.

His lawyer told Mr Ipp his client had panicked, but on reflection, realised that was wrong.

Mr Ipp will consider whether to refer the drivers for prosecution over giving false statements to ICAC.

He said had the truck drivers told the truth, a public inquiry may not have been needed.

“So these two days have been spent because they lied,” he said.

Mr Ipp said it had been a waste of money for ICAC, a matter very close to his “heart”.

The inquiry has concluded and a report will be prepared.

Comment: Upvote armies and legions of likes

A television show you’ve never heard of is currently the next big thing in the US.

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It’s a fly-on-the-wall reality show about a family of shootin’ huntin’ fishin’ Southerners who became wealthy from their duck hunting business, and the third season is breaking television viewing records.

I know a fair amount about Duck Dynasty, and yet I have never watched a minute of it. I doubt I ever will. But it is part of the cultural fabric of the US and the American-focused web milieu, and my understanding of human culture is more comprehensive for knowing about it.

I learnt about Duck Dynasty from a podcast, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. PCHH saves me a lot of time – one hour a week, and I’m up to date with a range of pop culture references that I would likely never have encountered otherwise. I’m leveraging the critical cultural apparatus of talking heads to diversify my investment in cultural capital.

My tendency to rely on outsourcing a lot of my cultural consumption is not unique. It’s indicative of a wider social movement. We are faced with such an overabundance of content that there is no time to read, watch, consume and participate in everything – and it has always been thus, but not to such a huge extent.

Reliance on review culture is not new, but it is evolving. The depth of review coverage has lessened to a large degree, as the breadth of available content stretches thin our attention. We’re faced with recommendation culture, and have become more discerning about what we consume in full, and what we merely glimpse – like Duck Dynasty.

Now, enough valuable time reading about recommendation culture, let me recommend some cultural recommendation systems.

Slate podcasts – the original and still often the best marker of what has captured the zeitgeist in any given week, these podcasts are discussions covering the most interesting happenings in their designated field – politics, culture, sport. They also have Spoiler Specials and Book Club podcasts, particularly handy for quick and dirty cliffnotes on that movie or book that everyone is talking about.

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour – a weekly conversation about entertainment and pop culture events, with the podcast hosts sourced from the National Public Radio’s culturally-attuned writers and presenters. PCHH closes every week with a segment called ‘What’s Making Us Happy’, which is useful for cultural tip-offs ranging from the San Fermin album to the newest Broadway adaptation.

Vulture – there are a lot of entertainment news sites, but New York Magazine’s Vulture is frequently the informed, diverse and witty. Not only do they have the most up-to-date pop culture news, insider gossip and review coverage, but the style is playful and often more entertaining than the ‘entertainment’ it covers.

Book Riot – one of the most fun book sites, their tag line ‘Always books. Never boring’ is a succinct but accurate description. Their ‘Critical Linkage’ posts are particularly useful as a concise and amusing round-up of news from the world of books.

Slashfilm – this movie review site, and particularly their podcast /filmcast, features movie nerds talking about films in great depth, with background knowledge and differing perspectives. You’ll never need to see a movie again – but in case you want to, they break their podcast into two segments, clearly signposting the spoiler-laden coverage in the latter half of the recording.

What are your recommendation recommendations? Come tell me on that one recommendation engine to rule them all, twitter @annetreasure.

Anne Treasure is a recent survivor of the book industry.

Vic man to stand trial for baby car kidnap

A man dumped a baby outside a Melbourne hair salon after he realised the infant was sleeping in the back seat of the car he had stolen.

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Gassam Chehade, 42, stole the car when a couple left it unattended and with the keys in the ignition outside their workplace in Campbellfield.

Melbourne Magistrates Court heard Chehade realised the baby was in the back seat seconds after he began speeding from the scene.

Prosecutor Karen Argiropoulos said he drove 2.7km before dumping the baby boy, still strapped into his capsule, outside the salon and fleeing in the car in June.

Chehade, of Heidelberg West, has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, child stealing and reckless conduct endangering life, but guilty to car theft.

Chehade told police he had initially contemplated returning the baby to his parents but feared they would attack him.

His lawyer Tara Hartnett told his committal hearing he wanted to ensure the baby and his parents would be reunited.

“He does not want to leave the child in an unsafe place, for example by the side of the road,” she said.

Chehade left the couple’s mobile phone, which had been in the car, beside the baby to make it easier to locate the parents, Ms Hartnett said.

“He made eye contact with the woman behind the (salon) counter who was on the phone, he put the capsule down and pointed to it,” she said.

The parents collected their child from the salon about 10 minutes later.

Ms Hartnett asked Magistrate Cathy Lamble to drop the kidnapping charge given it implied force had been used in the offending.

But Ms Argiropoulos argued the act of separating the parent and child constituted force.

“A jury could find that continuing to drive a car with a baby in the back seat away from the parents and without the permission of the parents constituted force,” she said.

Ms Lamble ordered Chehade to face a Victorian County Court trial at a date to be fixed.

Zoe’s law ‘misogyny’, say NSW protesters

Decriminalising abortion in NSW will be harder if controversial changes to the Crimes Act, known as Zoe’s law, are passed, critics say.

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A small band of protesters gathered outside NSW parliament on Thursday, as the bill was debated.

They waved banners emblazoned with various slogans, including “Men against misogyny” and “my body is not your temple”.

Speaking at the protest, Labor MP Helen Westwood said the bill would make it harder for pro-choice campaigners to decriminalise abortion, which still comes under the Crimes Act.

“Once you give a foetus personhood, then it is a great threat to reproductive rights, but it is also a great way to control women’s behaviour while we are pregnant.”

The bill, which is being put to a conscience vote, is named in honour of the unborn baby of Brodie Donegan, who was hit by a drug-affected driver on Christmas Day in 2009.

Under the changes, a foetus that is either 20 weeks or 400 grams would be treated as a living person, allowing someone to be charged for its harm.

It would not apply to anything done with a pregnant woman’s consent or during a medical procedure.

But independent MP Alex Greenwich told parliament he believed anti-abortionists could use the laws to prosecute women.

It was “not a given” that abortions would constitute a medical procedure, he said.

“I understand that in an overseas law, recognition in the status of a foetus has been used against pregnant women who have addiction problems,” he added.

Liberal MP Ray Williams supported the bill, however, arguing: “Any normal woman would not only feel the pain of the accident that was suffered but also the anguish of losing her child”.

US economy hurt by budget showdown

The US economy and consumer confidence have taken significant hits from a two week federal government shutdown, economists say, and a major dent to already sluggish American growth is expected.

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Even as stock markets rebounded with gusto on Wednesday, analysts said there was clear evidence of damage, and warned that a revival of political battles in January could inflict more pain.

The credit rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s estimated that the partial closure of the government from October 1 would slice 0.5-0.6 percentage points from annualised growth in the fourth quarter.

S&P said the shutdown took $US24 billion ($A25.20 billion) from the economy, as hundreds of thousands of government workers stayed at home unsure of getting paid, government contracts were delayed and national parks that drive crucial tourist industries were closed.

Because of that, several economists cut their forecasts for fourth quarter growth to around 2 per cent, barely enough to generate the jobs needed to pull down unemployment.

Many said they expected the Federal Reserve would see the need to keep its stimulus in place through the end of the year, if not longer, to mitigate the drag from the crisis.

“The bottom line is the government shutdown has hurt the US economy,” S&P said.

Jim O’Sullivan of High Frequency Economics, added: “Even without an extreme outcome being realized, some damage has been done.”

Democrats and Republicans in Congress were expected to pass legislation late Wednesday to end the impasse by funding the government for the first part of fiscal 2014, which began on October 1, and increasing the debt ceiling.

The eleventh hour deal soothed worries that the Treasury could be forced to default on payments, including the debt, in the coming days.

Furloughed government workers are expected back at work on Thursday, and will collect back pay for the time spent laid off.

The deal sparked a strong rally on Wall Street on Wednesday, with gains of nearly 1.4 per cent. The markets were helped by still-buoyant profits in corporate America, with the results from the first releases of the third-quarter reporting season beating forecasts on average.

That left the S&P 500 index less than 1 per cent shy of its peak, struck in mid-September.

Even so, the shutdown exacerbated what already appeared to be a weak spot in the economy, with higher interest rates from the Fed’s expected tightening of its stimulus beginning to slow activity in sectors such as real estate.

The Fed saw vulnerability when in September it decided not to begin reducing its $US85 billion a month in bond purchases, though it also cited the dangers of the looming shutdown and debt ceiling fight.

But just how the economy performed last month remains unclear, because publication of key government data, especially the job creation and unemployment report for September, were canceled.

The Fed’s Beige Book survey of regional economic activity, released Wednesday, showed slowing in some areas since the September 4 report.

In addition, it noted “an increase in uncertainty” due mainly to the shutdown and fears over the frozen debt ceiling.

Most analysts expect a rebound in consumer activity as the country heads into the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season.

But the details of the deal struck in Congress will continue to weigh over markets and the economy. The deal only budgets the government through January 15, and caps the debt again on February 7, opening the prospect for renewed brinksmanship over fiscal issues in Congress.

That could make consumers and businesses more cautious about investment, spending and hiring, holding back growth.

“Many problems remain unsolved,” said Mark Hopkins of Moody’s Analytics.

“The bill sets the stage for negotiations over long-term deficit reduction by December 13, but previous attempts to achieve such a grand bargain have failed.”

S&P said: “The short turnaround for politicians to negotiate some sort of lasting deal will likely weigh on consumer confidence, especially among government workers that were furloughed.

“If people are afraid that the government policy brinkmanship will resurface again, and with it the risk of another shutdown or worse, they’ll remain afraid to open up their cheque books. That points to another Humbug holiday season.”

Jane back as All Blacks make three changes

Gently does it is not usually the Cory Jane way.

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Yet All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wants exactly that when the 30-year-old makes his remarkable return to Test rugby in Dunedin on Saturday.

When Jane wrenched his knee at Hurricanes pre-season training in January, he was regarded an outside chance to return for New Zealand’s year-end tour of Europe.

Instead, he will start the third Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia, having done enough in a game-and-a-half of provincial rugby to convince Hansen he is close to his former status as one of the world’s premier wingers.

“He hasn’t lost any form while he’s been injured. What he has lost is time in the jersey,” Hansen said.

“Cory needs to not do everything at 100 miles an hour. Just be patient and trust his instincts particularly, because they’re very, very good.”

The 43-Test veteran is one of three changes and a positional switch from the side which started the 38-27 win over South Africa at Johannesburg two weeks ago.

Jane’s return, made possible by Ben Smith’s shift to centre to replace Conrad Smith – who has begun a four-month break from rugby – were signposted by Hansen.

More unexpected are the promotion of lock Jeremy Thrush and hooker Keven Mealamu for their first starts of the season in place of in-form pair Brodie Retallick and Andrew Hore.

Thrush’s three bench appearances in his debut international year have totalled just 24 minutes.

Hansen says Retallick was in need of break, while Thrush has the chance to prove himself.

“He’s had some little cameos off the bench and done well. It’s time for us to find out a little bit more about Jeremy and the way we can do that is by starting him.

“He’s earned the right to have a crack.”

Mealamu’s 108th Test follows five bench appearances this year, with Dane Coles retained as reserve hooker and Hore dropped completely.

Hansen says 34-year-old Mealamu is better-suited to the mobile game of the Wallabies while 35-year-old Hore is ideal against the more confrontational Springboks.

Jane’s return and the promotion of Thrush is bad news for Auckland youngsters Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua, who have stood out in their debut seasons but can’t make the bench this week.

Three members of a grizzled All Blacks starting pack have played more than 100 Tests, with Mealamu lining up alongside captain Richie McCaw (120 caps) and prop Tony Woodcock (104).

New Zealand are seeking a 10th straight win this year under coach Steve Hansen and a clean sweep of the Bledisloe Cup series after winning the first two Tests in Sydney (47-29) and Wellington (27-16) in August.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Jeremy Thrush, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Tom Taylor.

Billionaire Mark Cuban cleared of insider trading, blasts U.S. government

Cuban, 55, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, lashed out at the U.

南宁桑拿

S. government and lead prosecutor Jan Folena after the verdict, saying the government had tried to bully him.

“Jan Folena, who represents the United States of America, stood up there and lied,” an angry Cuban told reporters after the nine-member jury read its decision.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world, and I’m glad I could stand up to them,” he said.

Estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of $2.5 billion, Cuban was accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of trading on non-public information when he sold his 600,000 shares in Internet search company Mamma.com – worth $7.9 million – and avoided a $750,000 loss.

George Canellos, the co-director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said Cuban’s comments were inappropriate.

“Mr. Cubans’ comments are without merit and uncalled for. Our lawyers acted in the finest traditions of government counsel and entirely appropriately in strongly advocating the position of the government in this matter,” he said in a statement.

The SEC brought the civil lawsuit against Cuban in November 2008. A judge dismissed the suit in 2009 but an appeals court revived the case the following year.

Cuban refused to settle and went to trial, even though he said on Wednesday that he had spent more on fees for lawyers than the possible fines for admitting to insider trading. He could have faced up to $2 million in fines, his lawyers said.

“It’s personal. You take all these years of my life, it’s personal,” Cuban said.

SEC lawyers rushed from the court after the verdict without making extensive comments. The agency later issued a short statement saying it was disappointed by the outcome.

“We respect the jury’s decision,” SEC spokesman John Nester said in Washington.

“While the verdict in this particular case is not the one we sought, it will not deter us from bringing and trying cases where we believe defendants have violated the federal securities laws.”

BLOW TO SEC

The decision in the Cuban case was a blow to the SEC, which was still riding high after it won a blockbuster case against former Goldman Sachs vice president Fabrice Tourre this summer.

The SEC argued that Tourre had committed fraud in a failed mortgage securities deal during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. In August, a jury agreed and found Tourre liable on six of seven counts.

At the two-week trial of Cuban, prosecutors argued that he sold his stake soon after learning from Mamma.com Chief Executive Guy Faure that the Montreal-based company was planning a private placement that would dilute his holdings in the company.

Mamma.com shares dropped 9.3 percent on the morning after the offering was announced. By that time, Cuban had already sold his shares.

Cuban, who rose to prominence before the dot-com crash by selling his company, Broadcas南宁夜生活,m, in 1999 to Yahoo Inc for $5.7 billion, said he did nothing wrong when he sold his 6.3 percent stake in Mamma.com.

Cuban testified during the two-week trial that there were many reasons for selling his shares, including the private placement and Mamma.com’s possible association with a known stock swindler.

His lawyers suggested that word of the private placement had leaked into the market because potential investors were being contacted to participate in the private placement.

“This case should have never been brought to trial,” Cuban’s defence lawyer Stephen Best said after the verdict on Wednesday in federal court in Dallas.

In addition to his ownership of a professional basketball team, Cuban is one of the stars of the popular television show “Shark Tank,” which features financiers analyzing and deciding whether to invest in new products presented by entrepreneurs.

“I know I’m a target,” Cuban said of his high profile. “I recognize that when I do things people pay attention.”

(Reporting by Jana Pruet; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Greg McCune, Bernard Orr and Lisa Shumaker)