Sabtu, 17 Desember 2011

HTC Rezound (Verizon Wireless) Review

HTC puts audio quality front and center with the Rezound, the company's first smartphone for the U.S. with integrated Beats Audio. When paired with the bundled earphones, the technology makes music sound like it was originally intended instead of a compressed mess. This $299 Verizon 4G Android phone is also the first for the carrier to feature a sharp 720p HD display. Does the Rezound do enough to make you forget about the Droid RAZR and the Galaxy Nexus?

Android and HTC Sense fans alike will certainly appreciate the Rezound's software. The phone runs the company's latest iteration of Sense UI, version 3.5, on top of Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread. Sense 3.5 adds the ability to delete home screens plus an updated browser with a cleaner look.

Like on the HTC Rhyme and HTC Sensation, a new lock screen displays a digital clock with time and date plus icons for Camera, Mail, Messages, and Phone. Pulling a virtual ring from the bottom to the center of the screen wakes up the handset. Dragging any of the icons directly into the ring launches that specific app.

There are seven customizable home screens to choose from, and swiping left or right flips through them. A finger pinch opens an aerial view of all seven screens for fast navigation. The notification drawer includes a couple of features you won't find on standard Android handsets. There's a list of recent apps up top for switching between programs, and a tab for Quick Settings down below for engaging airplane mode and toggling other settings.

The App menu on this and other HTC Sense phones looks dated to us, with unnecessary Downloaded, Frequent, and Verizon Wireless tabs at the bottom of the screen. It's time for HTC to modernize this menu.

Besides the typical bundle of Verizon software such as VZ Navigator, VCAST Music, and VCAST videos, the HTC Rezound includes Kindle for Blockbuster movie rentals and Kindle for purchasing and reading eBooks. Polaris Office lets users open and edit common file formats, such as Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, and an app called Scan reads QR codes using the Rezound's camera.

As per usual, HTC adds its own software to the mix. For instance, the FriendStream widget combines all your social media updates into one feed. And the HTC Watch app provides access to video titles including movies and TV shows. For example, Transformers: Dark Side of The Moon costs $3.99 to rent and $14.99 to buy.

Carrier Verizon Wireless
Form Factor : Candybar Touchscreen
Operating System : Android 2.3.4
Networks : LTE 700MHz (band 13); CDMA 800/1900MHz
Data : LTE
CPU : 1.5-GHz Qualcomm MDM9600
Internal Memory : 16GB
Memory Expansion Type : microSD Card
Display (main) : 4.3-inch 720p, 1280 x 720
Display (secondary)
GPS : Yes
Bluetooth Type : Bluetooth 3.0
Wi-Fi : 802.11 a/b/g/n
Front Camera Resolution : 2MP
Camera Resolution : 8 MP
Audio formats supported : AAC; AAC+; AMR-NB; MIDI; MP3; OGG; WAV; WMA
Photo formats supported : GIF; JPEG; PNG
Talk / Standby Time : 404 minutes usage/261 hours standby
Ports : 3.5mm headphone; microUSB
Size : 5 x 2.6 x 0.54 inches
Weight : 6 ounces
SAR Rating (Head)
SAR Rating (Body)

US charges ex-Fannie, Freddie CEOs with fraud

WASHINGTON (AP) - Two former CEOs at mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Friday became the highest-profile individuals to be charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis.

In a lawsuit filed in New York, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil fraud charges against six former executives at the two firms, including former Fannie CEO Daniel Mudd and former Freddie CEO Richard Syron.

The executives were accused of understating the level of high-risk subprime mortgages that Fannie and Freddie held just before the housing bubble burst.

"Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives told the world that their subprime exposure was substantially smaller than it really was," said Robert Khuzami, SEC's enforcement director.

Khuzami noted that huge losses on their subprime loans eventually pushed the two companies to the brink of failure and forced the government to take them over.

The charges brought Friday follow widespread criticism of federal authorities for not holding top executives accountable for the recklessness that triggered the 2008 crisis.

Before the SEC announced the charges, it reached an agreement not to charge Fannie and Freddie. The companies, which the government took over in 2008, also agreed to cooperate with the SEC in the cases against the former executives.

The Justice Department began investigating the two firms three years ago. In August, Freddie said Justice informed the company that its probe had ended.

Many legal experts say they don't expect the six executives to face criminal charges.

"If the U.S. attorney's office was going to be bringing charges, they would have brought it simultaneously with the civil case," said Christopher Morvillo, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Manhattan.

Robert Mintz, a white-collar defense lawyer, says he doubts any top Wall Street executives will face criminal charges for actions that hastened the financial crisis, given how much time has passed.

Mudd, 53, and Syron, 68, led the mortgage giants in 2007, when home prices began to collapse. The four other top executives also worked for the companies during that time.

In a statement from his attorney, Mudd said the government reviewed and approved all the company's financial disclosures.

"Every piece of material data about loans held by Fannie Mae was known to the United States government and to the investing public," Mudd said. "The SEC is wrong, and I look forward to a court where fairness and reason - not politics - is the standard for justice."

Syron's lawyers said the term "subprime had no uniform definition in the market" at that time.

"There was no shortage of meaningful disclosures, all of which permitted the reader to assess the degree of risk in Freddie Mac's" portfolio, the lawyers said in a statement. "The SEC's theory and approach are fatally flawed."

According to the lawsuit, Fannie and Freddie misrepresented their exposure to subprime loans in reports, speeches and congressional testimony.

Fannie told investors in 2007 that it had roughly $4.8 billion worth of subprime loans on its books, or just 0.2 percent of its portfolio. That same year, Mudd told two congressional panels that Fannie's subprime loans represented didn't exceed 2.5 percent of its business.

The SEC says Fannie actually had about $43 billion worth of products targeted to borrowers with weak credit, or 11 percent of its holdings.

Freddie told investors in late 2006 that it held between $2 billion and $6 billion of subprime mortgages on its books. And Syron, in a 2007 speech, said Freddie had "basically no subprime exposure," according to the suit.

The SEC says its holdings were actually closer to $141 billion, or 10 percent of its portfolio in 2006, and $244 billion, or 14 percent, by 2008.

Syron also authorized especially risky mortgages for borrowers without proof of income or assets as early as 2004, the suit alleges, "despite contrary advice" from Freddie's credit-risk experts. He rejected their advice, "in part due to his desire to improve Freddie Mac's market share."

Fannie and Freddie buy home loans from banks and other lenders, package them into bonds with a guarantee against default and then sell them to investors around the world. The two own or guarantee about half of U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million loans.

During the financial crisis, the two firms verged on collapse. The Bush administration seized control of them in September 2008.

So far, the companies have cost taxpayers more than $150 billion - the largest bailout of the financial crisis. They could cost up to $259 billion, according to their government regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Administration.

Mudd was paid more than $10 million in salary and bonuses in 2007, according to company statements. He was fired from Fannie after the government took over. He's now the chief executive of the New York hedge fund Fortress Investment Group.

Syron made more than $18 million in 2007, according to company statements. His compensation increased $4 million from 2006 because of bonuses he received - part of them for encouraging risky subprime lending, according to company filings. It's not clear what portion of the bonuses was for his efforts to promote subprime lending.

Syron resigned from Freddie in 2008. He's now an adjunct professor and trustee at Boston College.

The other executives charged were Fannie's Enrico Dallavecchia, 50, a former chief risk officer, and Thomas Lund, 53, a former executive vice president; and Freddie's Patricia Cook, 58, a former executive vice president and chief business officer, and Donald Bisenius, 53, a former senior vice president.

Lund's lawyer, Michael Levy, said in a statement that Lund "did not mislead anyone." Lawyers for the other defendants declined to comment Friday.

Based on the outcomes of similar cases, the lawsuit might not yield much in penalties against the former executives.

In July, Citigroup paid just $75 million to settle similar civil charges with the SEC. Its chief financial officer and head of investor relations were accused of failing to disclose more than $50 billion worth of potential losses from subprime mortgages. The two executives charged paid $100,000 and $80,000 in civil penalties.

Fines against executives charged in SEC civil cases can reach up to $150,000 per violation. SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro has asked Congress to raise the limit to $1 million.

The SEC has brought other cases related to the financial crisis since it began a broad investigation into the actions of Wall Street banks and other financial firms about three years ago.

Goldman Sachs & Co., for example, agreed last year to pay $550 million to settle charges of misleading buyers of a complex mortgage investment. JPMorgan Chase & Co. resolved similar charges in June and paid $153.6 million.

Citigroup Inc. agreed to pay $285 million to settle similar charges, though that settlement was recently struck down by a federal judge in New York City.

Most cases, however, didn't involve charges against prominent top executives.

An exception was Angelo Mozilo, the co-founder and CEO of failed mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. He agreed to a $67.5 million settlement with the SEC in October 2010 to avoid trial on civil fraud and insider trading charges that he profited from doling out risky mortgages while misleading investors about the risks.

Associated Press writers Marcy Gordon in Washington and Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.

Arrests as Occupy Protest Turns to Church

From his spot at the center of Duarte Square in Lower Manhattan, Matt Sky watched on Saturday as hundreds of protesters streamed into the public areas of the triangle-shaped space at the center of an ideological tug of war between onetime allies turned adversaries: Occupy Wall Street and Trinity Church.

That began a long day of demonstrations and marches that extended to Midtown and resulted in at least 50 arrests.

By noon, protesters had streamed into the square from all directions under cold, cloudy skies to reinforce the vibrancy of a movement swept last month from another space, Zuccotti Park, and signal a resolve against ecclesiastical leaders resisting their wish to set up an encampment on property owned by the venerable Episcopal church.

“Everything about this movement is momentum,” said Mr. Sky, 27, an Internet consultant from the East Village. “We need to show people that we are still relevant.”

Since the earliest moments after they were displaced on Nov. 15, many protesters drifted north to the park at Canal Street and Avenue of the Americas. Trinity embraced them, giving them hot chocolate and blankets. But when the Occupy movement expressed an interest in setting up an organizing camp in Trinity’s private space, beside the public park, the church said no.

The Occupy Wall Street forces then aimed their skills on the church. In familiar fashion, police officers converged on the area, standing around the perimeter.

A flier distributed by protesters summed up their mood: “While the event may include a reoccupation, the event itself is a broader celebration and expansion of Occupy Wall Street,” it said. It also advised people to bring backpacks, warm clothes and sleeping bags.

About 3 p.m., several hundred people began to slowly march along the blocks around the park. They went about five blocks north, then circled back. They were carrying homemade wooden ladders, draped with yellow banners. At Grand Street, the protesters made a move: They threw a ladder fashioned into a portable staircase against a chain-link fence separating the sidewalk from the church’s property.

Many people went over the fence that way. Others lifted the fence from the bottom, allowing protesters to squeeze into the space. The protesters were joined by a few clerics, including one man dressed in a long, purple vestment.

Within minutes, police officers began taking people into custody. About 4:15 p.m., the man in the purple vestment was led into a police van. His identity, and possible role in the church, was not immediately clear.

On the sidewalk, other officers pushed into a line of protesters, ordering them to disperse.

But hundreds of demonstrators marched up Seventh Avenue on Saturday evening, in the street and on the sidewalk — and against traffic.

Police vehicles — cars, scooters, vans — followed, and there were more arrests.

“Is there a problem?” said one protester, who was on a bicycle, as a police officer grabbed him on West 29th Street, near Seventh Avenue.

“The problem is you’re under arrest,” an officer replied.

Earlier in the day, the Rev. Stephen Chinlund, 77, an Episcopal priest who retired seven years ago, held a placard reading: “Trinity Hero of 9/11. Be a Hero Again.”

The mission of the church was to help those in need, he said.

The church’s rector, the Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, expressed sadness over the protesters’ actions on Saturday.

“O.W.S. protestors call out for social and economic justice; Trinity has been supporting these goals for more than 300 years,” Dr. Cooper said in a statement. “We do not, however, believe that erecting a tent city at Duarte Square enhances their mission or ours.”

Rescue bid as migrant boat sinks off Indonesia

A rescue operation is under way after a boat carrying hundreds of asylum seekers sank off the Indonesian island of Java.

Strong waves wrecked the wooden boat about 90km (55 miles) out to sea, rescue officials said.

At least 250 people were said to be on board, although some reports put the number nearer to 400.

The boat was believed to be heading for Australia carrying asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Turkey and Iran.

"The boat sank Saturday evening and the national search and rescue team has already moved out to sea to start the search," rescue team member Brian Gauthier told state-run news agency Antara.

"It is somewhat difficult to go on with the search because extreme weather has caused reduced visibility."

Police told Antara that the vessel appeared to have been carrying more than twice its capacity.

Survivor Esmat Adine, a 24-year-old Afghan migrant, told the agency that the ship had started rocking violently from side to side, triggering panic among the tightly packed passengers.

"That made the boat even more unstable and eventually it sank," he said.

He added that he and others clung to parts of the broken vessel until they were rescued by local fishermen.

He estimated that more than 40 children were on the boat.

Thousands of asylum seekers try to reach Australia by sea every year, many paying people-smugglers in Indonesia to transport them.

Australia's policy of dealing with illegal migrants has been the subject of heated political debate in the country.

Opponents of Prime Minister Julia Gillard say her lack of action has emboldened the people smugglers to try to send as many to Australia as possible.

Australia's asylum policy has been in crisis since a court ruled a plan to swap refugees with Malaysia unlawful.

Assad says Syria positively dealt with all suggestions, AL gives Damascus new deadline

DAMASCUS, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Saturday that Syria "has positively dealt with all suggestions" presented to it, as the Arab League (AL) gave Damascus till Wednesday to allow in observers, otherwise it will take the Arab peace proposal on Syria to the United Nations Security Council.

Syria's state-run SANA news agency quoted President Assad as saying that Syria "has positively dealt with all suggestions presented to it, because it's her interest that the world knows the reality of what is going on in light of the (media) distortion and the turning of facts upside down that aims at foiling any horizon for solution."

Assad made the remarks during a meeting with an Iraqi delegation, headed by Iraqi National Security Advisor Falah al- Fayadh and the Iraqi parliamentarian Izzat al-Shahbander, who flew in Saturday to sound out the Syrian government on ways of ending the ten-month-old crisis, amid confirmation from the AL of receiving "positive signs" from Damascus over an Arab-sponsored plan to help end the crisis.

Assad "expressed his appreciation of the sincere efforts exerted by some Arab countries, especially Iraq, to assist Syria to get out of what it's currently going through," said SANA.

Iraqi leadership has recently announced that the delegation would convey to Syrian official a peace initiative that would suggest conducting a dialogue between Syrian government and the Syrian opposition to reach a compromise satisfactory for both sides.

The Iraqi delegation's visit coincided with an AL ministerial meeting on Syria in Qatar's capital Doha, at which the AL gave Syria till Wednesday to allow observers into the country or it will take the Arab peace proposal on Syria to the UN Security Council.

"If the Syrian crisis is not solved within two weeks, the matter would be beyond the control of Arab countries," Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al- Thani, who also chairs an Arab ministerial committee in charge of handling the Syrian crisis, said at a televised press conference after the meeting.

The AL would refer the peace proposal to the Security Council on Wednesday, but would not seek any military action against Syria, Sheikh Hamad said.

The AL's latest decision comes after Russia proposed a new draft resolution on Syria at the UN Security Council last Thursday. Western countries have expressed willingness to consider and negotiate the proposal.

After Syria failed to sign the protocol over the visit of an AL observer mission last month, the pan-Arab body suspended Syria's membership on Nov. 16, and imposed sanctions against it on Nov. 27.

Death Toll Rises From Clashes in Cairo

CAIRO — Egypt’s military rulers escalated a bloody crackdown on street protesters on Saturday, chasing down and beating unarmed civilians, even while the prime minister was denying in a televised news conference that security forces were using any force.

The contradiction in the military-led government’s statements and actions appeared to represent a shift in strategy by the military council. After trying for months to preserve some credibility and collaboration with the Egyptian political elite, the ruling generals on Saturday scarcely acknowledged the demands made by their newly appointed civilian advisory council the night before that the military cease its violence and apologize to demonstrators.

Instead, as the crackdown entered its second day, the military council appeared to be playing to those Egyptians impatient with the continuing protests and eager for a return to stability. Crowds of supporters turned out downtown on Saturday morning to cheer on the military police, hand them drinks of water and help them close off Tahrir Square from demonstrators massing to get in.

Protesters, for their part, charged that the military rulers were provoking the clashes to derail or discredit the continuing election of a new Parliament that could challenge their power. “The military council is responsible for everything that happens,” Ziad el-Elaimy, a newly elected member of Parliament who was beaten Friday by the military police, said in a television interview.

The prime minister, Kamal Ganzouri, issued his denial that the military had or would use force in a news conference on Saturday morning after more than 24 hours of street fighting in front of the military-occupied Parliament building that left 10 dead from gunshots and hundreds wounded. For most of the previous day and night, men in plain clothes, accompanied by a few in uniform, stood on top of the “people’s assembly” and hurled chunks of concrete and stone taken from inside the building down at the crowd of demonstrators several stories below. A few men in uniform were seen with them.

On Saturday morning, a parliamentary building on Tahrir Square that houses a historical archive burst into flames. It was unclear who started the blaze; the military-led government blamed the protesters, while they blamed the military.

Around the same time, several witnesses said, hundreds of military police officers in riot gear finally chased the demonstrators from in front of the Parliament building into Tahrir Square and then out into the side streets. They burned down a small tent city, leaving the square in flames for hours and sending a thick plume of black smoke curling over downtown.

As they charged, soldiers used clubs to beat anyone they could catch. A video shown on a private Egyptian television network in the morning showed several military police officers using batons to beat civilians as they lay on the ground of Tahrir Square, and one appeared to be unconscious.

Several videos on the Internet and Egyptian television showed soldiers tearing the clothes off women as they beat them in Tahrir Square. At least one of the women was wearing the traditional hijab veil and covering before she was stripped; she lay unmoving while a soldier lifted his boot to kick her bare midriff.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading liberal and former United Nations atomic energy chief, addressed a public message to the military council over the Internet: “Did you see the pictures of the military police dragging girls and stripping them of their clothes? Aren’t you ashamed? Let me remind you: justice is above power.”

Passers-by were caught up as well. A young woman getting off a bus and trying to catch a taxi to work was grabbed by soldiers and thrown to the ground, before a group of people rescued her and tucked her into a passing vehicle.

As the military police were charging the square, Mr. Ganzouri, the military-appointed prime minister and a former prime minister under the ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, was declaring at his televised news conference that the only acts of violence were arson and vandalism committed by the protesters. Contradicting the accounts of civilian witnesses, he said that soldiers had come out on Friday only to protect the Parliament and cabinet buildings.

Typhoon floodwaters kill more than 430 in Philippines

REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- More than 430 people were killed Saturday in the southern Philippines after a tropical storm devastated two coastal cities with flash flooding that drowned victims in their sleep and drove others to rooftops.

Authorities said that Tropical Storm Washi struck the northern coast of Mindanao Island with heavy rains in a region not accustomed to typhoons, causing rivers to burst their banks, sweeping many residents out to sea.

The cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro were transformed into mud-filled waterways choked with vehicles and downed trees, Philippine army officials said.

Officials said many victims were asleep when floodwaters poured down off mountainsides following the late-season tropical storm. Rescuers in boats rushed offshore to save people swept out to sea, and more than 10,000 national troops rushed to the scene.

Ayi Hernandez, a former congressman, told the Associated Press that he and his family were resting in their home in Cagayan de Oro late Friday when they heard a loud "swooshing sound" and water quickly rose ankle-deep inside, driving him to a neighbor's two-story house.

"It was a good thing, because in less than an hour the water rose to about 11 feet," filling his home to the ceiling, he said.

At least 435 people are dead, according to the Philippine Red Cross. As many as 215 died in Cagayan de Oro -- a city of 500,000 residents, and 144 in nearby Iligan, with 300,000 inhabitants. Others died in several other southern and central provinces.

Many of the bodies were unclaimed after nearly 24 hours, suggesting that entire families had died in a storm that dumped more than a month's worth of average rains in just 12 hours, officials said.

Philippines television showed a man floating in an inner tube in muddy water littered with plastic buckets, pieces of wood and other debris. Elsewhere, nearly a dozen people stood on the sloping roof of one home, waiting for rescuers as water flooded the lower floors.

Benito Ramos, chief of the government's Civil Defense Office, told reporters that the high casualty rate in Mindanao was due “partly to the complacency of people because they are not in the usual path of storms,” despite four days of warnings that one was approaching.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement that the Obama administration offered "deepest condolences" for the devastation in the southern Philippines and was prepared to assist authorities.

Military Hearing Resumes in Manning Leak Case

FORT MEADE, Md. -- The military court case against the young soldier blamed for the largest leak of classified material in American history resumed Saturday after an Army appeals court rejected a defense effort to remove the presiding officer.

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was back in a military courtroom Saturday, his 24th birthday, to hear prosecutors begin presenting their case against him as the source for the WikiLeaks website's collection of U.S. military and diplomatic secrets.

The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to bring Manning to trial. Manning's lawyers tried to oust Lt. Col. Paul Almanza as the presiding officer because of alleged bias, but an Army appeals court rejected their request late Friday.

Separately, lawyers for WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange are asking the Army Court of Criminal Appeals to guarantee them two seats in the courtroom at Fort Meade.

Manning, a one-time intelligence analyst stationed in Baghdad, is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive items including Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, State Department cables and a classified military video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver.

The Obama administration says the released information has threatened valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America's relations with other governments.

Friday was Manning's first appearance in public after 19 months in detention. He appeared slight but serious in his Army camouflage fatigues and dark-rimmed glasses, taking notes during the proceedings and answering straightforwardly when called upon by Almanza.

Manning, a native of Crescent, Okla., is relying on a defense that will argue much of the classified information posed no risk.

In addition to claims of partiality, his lawyer, David Coombs, argued that Almanza wrongly denied the defense's request to call as witnesses the officials who marked as secret the material WikiLeaks later published. Instead, the officer accepted unsworn statements from those people, Coombs said.

Friday's tangling, however, centered primarily on Almanza's Justice Department job. "I don't believe I'm biased," Almanza said, explaining that his government work concerns child exploitation and obscenity. He said he hasn't talked about WikiLeaks or Manning with anyone in the department or FBI.

The Justice Department has a separate criminal investigation into Assange. A U.S. grand jury is weighing whether to indict Assange on espionage charges, even as he is in Britain fighting a Swedish request that he be extradited because of rape allegations.

Manning's hearing at this Army post outside Washington is open to the public, with limited seating. Assange's lawyer filed a request Friday with the Army appeals court seeking two guaranteed seats in the Fort Meade courtroom, one for the attorney representing the Wikileaks organization and the other for Assange's non-U.S. attorney.

Inside the courtroom, no civilian recording equipment is allowed. Instead of a judge, a presiding officer delivers a recommendation as to whether prosecutors have enough evidence to bring a suspect to trial. A military commander then makes the final decision.

The case has spawned an international support network of people who believe the U.S. government has gone too far in seeking to punish Manning, and a few dozen showed up outside Fort Meade on Friday to rally on his behalf.

"I plan to march all night tonight and bring as much attention as I can to put the entire country on notice that we have a hero who's standing trial for nothing more than telling the truth," said Dan Choi, a gay West Point graduate discharged from the military for revealing his sexual orientation.

He wore a bright orange "Bradley Manning Support Network" sticker on the lapel of his uniform jacket.

Others were less supportive.

"That man did something very wrong," said Mandie Stanley, a 19-year-old who lives on the Army post with her husband, a member of the Air Force. She spotted the protesters and decided to come out with a sign that said: "Don't leak classified information, stupid!"

Panetta makes first visit to Libya since fall of Kadafi

Tripoli— Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, on his first visit to Libya since the fall of Moamar Kadafi, warned that its government faced "a long and difficult transition" as it seeks to bring militias and tribes under government control.
The transitional government in Tripoli has struggled since the end of the eight-month uprising to disarm the disparate forces that ousted Kadafi with NATO backing and to impose government control especially in cities and towns outside the capital.
It is a tall order for a country whose institutions withered under Kadafi and whose government buildings were widely damaged in the uprising, including by NATO bombing.
"There is no doubt that you will confront some serious and difficult challenges bringing together all of the revolutionary forces that fought from west to east," Panetta told Libyan Prime Minister Abd al-Raheem Al-Keeb at a joint press conference.
Fearful that Libya could descend into further factional fighting, U.S. and European officials have urged the transitional government to secure weapons strockpiles, build a national army and professionalize the police, but those tasks have stalled in many towns where armed fighters have balked at giving up their arms.
Panetta's four-hour stop in the Libyan capital -- the first by a U.S. defense secretary -- was aimed at offering encouragement more than specific assistance, U.S. officials said.
Panetta pledged to provide whatever assistance Libya needed, but he said there was no discussion of arms sales or any other specific aid.
Al-Keeb said his government would unveil a program soon to encourage militia members to disarm. "We realize it's not as simple as saying, 'okay, put down your arms,'" he said.
In his private talks, Panetta raised U.S. concerns that terror groups could take advantage of continued instability, but Libyan officials played down that possibility, according to a U.S. official.
Panetta later mentioned the need for Libya to "confront terrorism," in his press conference remarks.
The White House announced Friday that it had lifted most of the economic sanctions imposed on Kadafi's regime and released around 30 billion dollar in frozen Libyan government assets in the U.S.
Panetta's motorcade from Tripoli airport took him past the Kadafi compound that was struck repeatedly by NATO warplanes.
The Obama administration took a secondary role in the NATO effort, providing Predator drones while largely leaving the airstrikes to allies.
But it has embraced the new Libyan government, arguing that Kadafi's ouster without major U.S. military involvement or forces on the ground was a success of American policy.
Panetta told reporters before landing in Tripoli that the U.S. ability to influence events in Libya was limited.
"The last thing you want to do is to try to impose something on a country that has just gone through what the Libyans have gone through," he said.
He added: "They have earned the right to work through the issues that they're going to have to confront."

Two military defectors slain in Syria, activists say

A pair of military defectors died in clashes between rebel forces and the Syrian army Saturday, two of at least 22 people slain by government security forces cracking down on anti-regime elements, an activist group said.

The defectors died in the Damascus province town of Zabadani, where civilians protesting the Bashar al-Assad regime have conducted a general strike, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, which represents activists across the country.

Two were members of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel force of army defectors who are taking up arms against the government. The LCC identified one of the soldiers as Lt. Col. Alaa Yahya.

Security forces, including snipers, have been opening fire on houses and private vehicles in the town, said the LCC, which represents a network of activists across Syria.

The nine-month long government crackdown on peaceful protests has resulted in more than 5,000 deaths, the United Nations said. World powers have deplored the activity, and they are looking for ways to rein in violence and contain the threat of civil war, reflected from the emergence of the armed defector force. The Free Syrian Army struck government forces this week and killed 27 of them Thursday in a southern province, anti-government sources said.

Activists say fighting has raged virtually every day and unrest also rippled across the country. Eight people died in Homs province and six each were killed in Idlib and Daraa provinces, said the LCC. Among the deaths were three children and a woman. The group said military and security forces also stormed towns in Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian government's repression of unrest has triggered criticism as well as from the Arab League, which expelled Syria last month and has been pushing to send monitors into Syria. Sanctions against Syria have been initiated by the United States, the European Union, Turkey and the league.

Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, took a stab at resolving the issue at the United Nations.

Moscow introduced a draft resolution this week that, it says, "considerably strengthens" previous drafts "with regard to the interest in violence, with regard to the need to uphold human rights, with regard to expediting reforms."

The resolution "strongly condemns" violence "coming from all parties, including disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities." It also would "give a strong message to the Arab League that we encourage them to continue their efforts, and working together with the government of Syria, and to carry out its plans to deploy the monitoring mission in Syria," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Thursday at the United Nations.

Itar -Tass, the Russian state news agency, reported that Syria's Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa was to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday to discuss ways to forge peace. But Interfax, a Russian news agency, later said Lavrov denied reports about the talks and quoted a Syrian official in Moscow as saying he knows nothing about the possible time of the visit.

Meanwhile, the Arab League is trying to persuade Syria to accept a plan for monitors to observe the situation in Syria.

And, Iraq has sent a delegation to Damascus with a peace proposal, Iraqi state media reported Saturday.

Flooding Kills Scores in Southern Philippines

MANILA — Flash floods in the southern Philippines on Saturday sent water gushing into homes, killing more than 400 people and surprising families who fled to rooftops clutching children, officials said.

“The rivers flooded and washed through villages,” said Col. Leopoldo Galon, a military spokesman. “Soldiers conducting search-and-rescue operations are finding bodies in all areas, in homes, rivers, off shore, in the street. Casualties are everywhere.”

The flooding was set off by tropical storm Washi, which hit the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on Friday with winds of up to 56 miles an hour and heavy rain. By early Saturday, the storm had caused flooding in the towns of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan city, officials said.

The heavy rain sent water pouring down mountains and into already swollen rivers that quickly engulfed areas in the northern part of Mindanao. Fast-rising waters poured into homes after 2 a.m., when most people were sleeping, said Benito Ramos, a civil defense official, during a news briefing in Manila.

By Saturday night, the Philippine Red Cross had counted 436 bodies, including 215 in Cagayan de Oro and 144 in Iligan city, and said that 181 were still missing.

Washi is the 19th storm to hit the country this year, but Mr. Ramos said typhoons and tropical storms usually strike farther north; this one took a path that officials had never seen before. As a result, many residents were caught off guard by the water’s speed and ferocity. Local officials confirmed his assessment.

“This area is not on the usual path for violent typhoons and doesn’t get this type of severe flooding,” said Colonel Galon, the military spokesman. “This storm took a different path, and it surprised people.”

He noted that soldiers in the area were preparing for Christmas celebrations with their families when they were called in for emergency operations that quickly turned into the grim and grisly task of collecting bodies. “We’re not complaining,” he said. “It’s our job.”

Residents in the area expressed similar sentiments, noting that Christmas trees had been erected in parks in Cagayan de Oro, a popular tourist town, and residents had begun going to church nightly in preparation for the holidays.

“This Christmas is going to be imprinted in everybody’s memories,” said Stephanie Caragos, 34. “We are seeing trucks pass by filled with dead bodies, and people are buying in bulk to give away to those who need it. This will be in our minds for a long time.”

Reached by telephone Ms. Caragos, a lifelong resident of the city, said she had lost an uncle in the flooding and found that funeral parlors in the area were inundated with victims.

“We knew there was a storm coming, but we had no idea it would be this bad,” she said. “When we woke up, whole parts of the city were flooded. There were areas where the water was so strong that even the rescuers could not get it in.”

The storm was expected to leave the Philippines on Sunday, after striking the western island of Palawan, according to the national weather service.

The country was hit by tropical storm Banyan in October, which killed eight people. In September, two typhoons, Nesat and Nalgae, struck in quick succession and killed more than 100 people.

Senate Votes to Extend Payroll Tax Cut

WASHINGTON — In the ultimate cap to a year of last-minute, half-loaf legislation, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to extend a payroll tax cut for two months, with the chamber’s leaders and the White House proclaiming victory, even as they pushed the issue of how to extend the tax cut and unemployment benefits into the new year.

In the unusual Saturday vote, the Senate approved a $30 billion package to extend unemployment benefits, a payroll tax holiday for millions of American workers and avoided cuts in payments to doctors who accept Medicare through February, when Congress will once again be locked in battle over whether and how to further extend those provisions.

The agreement - should it get through the House — mirrors a series of 11th-hour deals devised by the 112th Congress that appear to solve an impending crisis, but simply push the issues forward, most notably the agreement last summer to raise the debt ceiling. That created a 12-member Congressional committee whose job was to complete the deficit-reduction goals that Congress failed to achieve. That group achieved nothing, necessitating the legislation that Congress is wrangling with now.

A failure to even extend a modest tax break for 160 million Americans for a single year — something both sides would love as political feather’s in their election-year caps — is particularly remarkable in a Congress charged with far more significant items.

“Today is an important day for our country,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, as he explained from the Senate floor Saturday why his chamber would be voting on a bill, conceived Friday in private between Senate leaders to extend the tax cut for only two months. “We are doing today exactly what the founding fathers thought we would do,” and passage of the bills is “an accomplishment important for the American people.”

The measure, which passed 89 to 10, would also speed the decision process for the construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

While this provision is necessary to win over Republicans who opposed the tax break, the White House moved furiously to portray that concession, which President Obama threatened to veto just a week ago, as a boon for Democrats, because the legislation calls for a tight deadline on the approval process, easing his ability to stop the project more quickly.

“This is an important step towards enacting a key provision of the President’s American Jobs Act and a significant victory for the American people and the economy,” said Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, late Friday. “Because as independent analysts have said, failing to extend this tax cut would have had a damaging effect on our recovery and job growth.”

But Democratic aides said this concession would have the effect of killing the project because the Obama administration has said it would not grant approval on a truncated timeline.

Republicans, who have spent much of the year saying that tax breaks for Americans should not require offsets, also celebrated.

“The main thing that Republicans were fighting for and got,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, also on the Senate floor, was the Keystone provision. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill reduces the deficit by about $3 billion.

With House members back in their districts and not expected back in the Capitol until next week, it was not clear that the legislation will even pass muster in that chamber. Many Republicans are loath to give President Obama another few months — overlapping his State of the Union address — to beat up on their party over the extension of the payroll tax cut, which many rank-and-file members dislike in principle.

While House Speaker John A. Boehner and other Republican leaders in the House were briefed on the Senate plan Friday, they could not commit the support of the Republican conference. “We have not signed off on anything at this point,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, “and no decisions will be made until we talk to our members.”

FDA approves first heart pump for children

WASHINGTON — Federal health regulators have approved the first heart pump for children with heart failure, offering an important treatment option for patients who are too small to receive adult implants.

The Food and Drug Administration said Friday the device from Germany-based Berlin Heart will be used to keep children alive until they can receive a heart transplant. Very few medical devices are designed specifically for children, posing major challenges to doctors and surgeons who treat pediatric cases of life-threatening diseases.

Heart failure is rare in children, and the device was approved under a special program for diseases that affect fewer than 4,000 patients per year. Among infants, the typical wait time for a heart transplant is more than four months. Nearly a quarter of all infants die while waiting for a transplant, according to the FDA. And up to 17 percent of all children die while on the wait list for a transplant.

The Excor Pediatric System heart device comes in various sizes to accommodate patients ranging from infants to teenagers.

The device was studied in a trial of 48 patients, which showed that those implanted with the Excor device survived longer than those using a device similar to a heart-lung machine. The trial was supported by three FDA grants totaling $1.2 million.

Soyuz launches sharp-eyed Pleiades satellite

A Russian Soyuz rocket has launched from French Guiana - only the second such vehicle to fly out of the territory's new Sinnamary spaceport.

The Soyuz put six satellites in orbit, including France's new Pleiades-1 high-resolution imaging spacecraft.

This satellite is designed to take pictures that resolve features on the ground as small as 50cm across.

The capability will put it on a par with the leading US commercial systems operated by GeoEye and DigitalGlobe.

Lift-off occurred on schedule at 23:03 local time, Friday (02:03 GMT, Saturday), with Pleiades-1 being dropped off in its 700km-high polar orbit some 55 minutes later.

The 970kg satellite is the result of a near-decade-long programme in the French space agency (Cnes) to develop one of the most powerful Earth observation systems in the world.

The spacecraft's sensor actually has a resolution of 70cm, but image processing will recover detail that is around the half-metre mark.

Pleiades carries gyroscopes that allow it to swivel its telescope in quick time, enabling it to acquire a strip, or mosaic, of images around its target in a single pass overhead.

The Pleiades spacecraft has been assembled by Astrium, Europe's largest space company, with its instrument supplied by Thales Alenia Space (France).

It will have both a civilian and military role, and a number of European countries (Austria, Belgium, Spain and Sweden) have part-funded the project to get access to its pictures.

Pleiades-1 will be followed by Pleiades-2 on a separate Soyuz launch in 2012.

"The fact that we will have two, twin satellites operating in a phased orbit separated by 180 degrees will give us something very powerful - a daily re-visit capacity. It means we will be able to gather information every day on any part of the globe," explained Charlotte Gabriel Robez, Pleiades project manager with Astrium Geo-information Services.

"This is key because it allows us to tackle applications such as rescue or crisis management, in the aftermath of an earthquake for example," she told BBC News.

The commercial market for very high resolution imagery has become dominated in recent years by the American companies GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, which benefit from multi-billion-dollar contracts with the US intelligence agencies.

Astrium Geo-information Services is hoping these agencies' voracious appetite for pictures will leave a productive hole in the market for Pleiades' products.

The Soyuz rocket flew its inaugural mission from Europe's Sinnamary spaceport in October. A dedicated new launch pad has been constructed in the Guianese jungle for the Russian vehicle.

By operating closer to the equator, the rocket receives a bigger boost from the Earth's rotation, meaning it can lift nearly double the mass of a comparable payload at its traditional home in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz' five other "passengers" included a high-resolution imaging satellite for the Chilean military called SSOT; and four radar eavesdropping spacecraft developed for the French military. All six satellites were manufactured by Astrium.

iPad who? Tablets try again at CES

2011 was the year when Android tablets broke loose and ran rampant over the annual Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. It was here that Motorola showed off the world's first Android 3.0 tablet and lookalike Android 2.x devices seemed to pop out of every booth.

The year that followed has been a tumultuous one for tablets. Big players like Hewlett-Packard and RIM released major products that quickly found their way to the bargain bin. Apple sent everyone back to the drawing board after the release of the ultrathin iPad 2. And Amazon reset everyone's expectations of what a tablet should cost, and what features consumers could live without.

What will 2012 have in store for tablets? There's no way of knowing for sure, but here are some trends I expect to see at CES 2012.

Thinner designs
With the iPad 3 release still months away, the competition still has some time to show off designs that are thinner and lighter than the current iPad. It's a particularly tough engineering challenge for Android tablet manufacturers, as Android fans have come to expect features such as microSD expansion and HDMI output, which bulk up the design. You also have to account for the thickness of LCD panel technology and the rechargeable battery pack.

Android 4.0
What Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) was to CES 2011, Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) will be to CES 2012. The first question that will be asked of any tablet unveiled at CES will be whether or not the device is capable of running Google's latest operating system.

But unlike last year, no one company will be able to claim Android 4.0 exclusively. Google has already released the code into the wild and manufacturers should be able to demonstrate some basic functionality on the tablets.

Windows 8 tablets
Considering that Microsoft introduced Windows 8 at CES 2011, we're bound to hear about its progress at CES 2012. Much has been made of the software's suitability for use on tablets, but we haven't been able to get hands-on with yet. Perhaps we'll hear some official product announcements about Windows 8 compatible tablets.

Higher resolutions
One of the most expected features of the iPad 3 is a higher-resolution display that can rival the Retina Display used on Apple's iPhone 4 and iPod Touch.

Rumor has it that manufacturers are now capable of making tablet-size QXGA resolution (2,048x1,536 pixels) touch-screen panels with a pixel density of 264ppi, which is twice that of the iPad 2.

Flexible displays
Nokia's future phone concepts

We've seen companies like Sony and Samsung show off flexible OLED screen technologies in years past, but never yet on a product they had any intention of making available. Perhaps 2012 will be the year we see this technology become viable.

Recently, Nokia has been showing off its Kinetic concept device, which allows users to navigate through menus and zoom in and out of images by twisting and bending the screen. If a manufacturer at CES could demonstrate a similar concept on a larger, tablet-worthy screen, it would make quite a story.

Different sizes
The success of the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet have show that the 7-inch tablet isn't the dud form-factor we thought it was. Samsung has clearly shown a willingness to try different screen sizes, such as its Galaxy Player 5 and Galaxy Tab 8.9. Maybe we'll finally see a tablet that dares to venture into larger 12-inch or even 15-inch sizes.

As noted in CNET's laptop predictions for CES, the worlds of tablets and laptops are showing signs of collision.

One of the hottest tablets on CNET currently, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime employs a detachable keyboard dock that makes it practically indistinguishable from a modern laptop. The release of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system, and its suitability for both laptops and tablets, will surely blur the line further.

The Asus Eee Pad Slider is a tablet with a full slide-out keyboard that blurs the line between tablet and laptop.
(Credit: Josh Miller)

Because compatibility with high-speed 4G cellular networks is one of those features that the iPad doesn't have, we expect that it will continue to be used as a selling point for an increasing number of tablets. Whether or not tablet shoppers really want the contracts and fees that come along with 4G service, remains to be seen.

E-ink gets colorful
The color e-ink display is another one of those technologies that has popped up at CES year after year, but has yet to make it to a mainstream device. Perhaps this year we will see a more mature version of color e-ink that will help bridge the gap between black and white e-readers and tablets.

Will BlackBerry survive 2012?

Troubled BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion has announced further delays to its new phones - now analysts and commentators are making their complaints ever more loudly.

It seems that every month BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion has more bad news to announce. In November it paid a $365million charge for unsold PlayBook tablets; yesterday it announced that crucial new phones would now be delayed to the latter half of 2012, rather than being out by March.

Co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis charitably cut their pay to just a $1 each, but analysts and critics argued they’re still overpaid. One writer on the respected blog PaidContent blog said the pair should have been “fired months, if not years ago”.

At the heart of BlackBerry’s problems lie its troubled transition to a new operating system: in order to compete with the iPhone and with Google’s Android phones, the Canadian company has had to rebuild its software from the ground up. So far, the only product using a new version is the underwhelming PlayBook.

Yesterday, announcing RIM’s results, Lazridis delivered the bad news almost casually. The new OS will power a new generation of phone, but in order to compete RIM had earlier changed its mind on which chips to use. Now he said RIM could not get enough of them and that delays were unavoidable.

Lazaridis compounded the disappointment for investors by cutting the firm’s prediction of sales to between 11 and 12 million smartphones in the current Christmas quarter, down from 14.8 million over the same time last year. Others companies’ sales are rising at his expense.

Last month, analyst Ian Fogg said that “if you look at RIM’s track record they have a history of missing launch dates; that doesn’t bode well.” He warned ominously that “If they fail to ship quality products we’ll see a slow decline,” and it would appear that Fogg’s predictions are already coming true.

With rather dry understatement, however, Lazaridis said in a statement that "It may take some time to realise the benefits of the platform transition that we are undertaking, but we continue to believe that RIM has the right set of strengths and capabilities to maintain a leading role in the mobile communications industry”. When he claimed that people tell him “every day” that BlackBerry is the best communications device around, commentators immediately said he was listening to the wrong people.

RIM's share of the smartphone market in the US fell to 9.2 per cent in the third quarter from 24 per cent in the same period last year, according to research group Canalys. Increasing numbers of analysts across the board now find one conclusion inescapable: RIM doesn’t just need customers – it needs a buyer.