Australia to invest $31 billion in broadband partnership

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Australia’s government will build a A$43 billion ($31 billion) high-speed broadband network, leading a new private-public company, after rejecting bids by companies that it said failed to offer value for money.

In a surprise move, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the government would ask private companies to join the country’s biggest infrastructure project to build a network that would be up to 100 times faster than the current network.

Australia has slower and more expensive Internet services than many developed countries, raising concerns about competitiveness, but the project will be made more difficult by the country’s vast distances and inhospitable terrain.

It’s time for us to bite the bullet on this. The initiative announced today is a historic nation-building investment focused on Australia’s long-term national interest,” Rudd told reporters at parliament.

The center-left government would sell its majority stake five years after the network, which still requires parliamentary approval, was fully operational.

It took the Great Depression/WW2 to kick-start many national governments into reaching for the future, building for their citizens.

Not that they all got it right. Mussolini made the trains run on time and George Bush presided over the rebirth of torture as an instrument of diplomacy. And vice versa.

Priest stole church money for plastic surgery, botox

The former pastor of a prominent North Shore Episcopal church stands accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from his parish to pay for plastic surgery and Botox injections, as well as prescription drugs.

The Rev. William Blasingame, 66, who resigned in January as pastor of historic St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Stapleton, stole a total of $84,537 over the three years starting in January 2005, authorities contend.

He could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted at trial of the two felonies with which he is charged, second-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of stolen property.

Father Blasingame manipulated the church’s bank accounts to pocket money from two funds, authorities allege — the Friends of St. Paul’s foundation, which was established to fund the maintenance, upkeep and beautification of the church grounds, and a discretionary fund he oversaw that was meant to provide small stipends to parishioners in need…

Father Blasingame used the money to pay for club memberships, plastic surgery, Botox injections, car insurance for his personal vehicle and expensive clothes, a law enforcement source said.

A man of the people, surely. Just the wrong people.

Vermont Legislature legalizes same-sex marriage – again!

Daylife/AP Photo

The Vermont Legislature today overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto of a bill allowing gay couples to marry, mustering one more vote than needed to preserve the measure.

Approval had been expected in the Senate, where the vote was 23 to 5. But the outcome in the House of Representatives was not clear until the final moments of a long roll call, when Rep. Jeff Young, a Democrat who voted against the bill last week, reversed his position. In the end the vote was 100 to 49, just slightly more than the required two-thirds majority of members present.

After the final tally, cheers erupted in both legislative chambers of the State House and in the hallways outside, and several lawmakers on both sides of the debate looked stunned.

It’s a great day for equality,” said State Representative Margaret Cheney, a Democrat from Norwich. “People saw this as an equality issue, and we’re proud that Vermont has led the way without a court order to provide equal benefits.”

Reactionaries who have focused on this as a single-issue plan for a neocon resurgence are mumbling in the corner looking for someone to blame.

I’m willing to bet most Vermonters are bright enough, well-enough educated to see the virtue in supporting Republicans as well as Democrats who believe in civil rights.

Airplane chase starts in Canada – ends on Missouri dirt road

Daylife/AP Photo

The chase began with a stolen plane from a Canadian flight school, meandered through three states with U.S. fighter jets hot on the trail and forced the evacuation of the state Capitol in Wisconsin…

“He just came in, got a Gatorade, tried to get a beef jerky, didn’t have enough money, went over and sat down and just kind of watched people come and go,” said Tammy Bailey of Simmons Grocery & Hardware in Ellsinore in southern Missouri.

Authorities said there, they caught up with the man — identified by U.S. immigration officials as Yavuz Berke, also known as Adam Dylan Leon — after his 783-mile journey in the stolen Cessna 172 aircraft Monday.

F-16 fighter jets, which intercepted the plane near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula border with Wisconsin, tried repeatedly to draw the pilot’s attention.

During the pursuit, Wisconsin evacuated the Capitol in Madison for less than an hour as a precaution.

Eventually, the man landed the four-seater plane on a road in southern Missouri, parking it under what appeared to be a bridge or culvert — apparently to hide it, a federal law enforcement source said.

The pilot ran from the scene, prompting a brief manhunt. The search led authorities to Simmons Grocery & Hardware, where they found their suspect.

No doubt, the dude is a looneybird. I hope the F-16’s were armed and dangerous – prepared to fire.

Pre-summer Arctic ice lacking more old ice than ever before

The Arctic ice is the thinnest on record as it heads into the summer, say scientists charting the “very precarious” state of the planet’s icy dome.

Less than 10 per cent of the polar ice cap is now made of thick, multi-year ice, down from 30 per cent, NASA and its partners at the University of Colorado reported.

“What we’re finding is that the ice is now thinner than ever,” Thomas Wagner, of NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Program.

The ice reaches its maximum extent and thickness just as spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere. This year’s maximum was on Feb. 28, with more ice than four of the last five years.

But it’s still the fifth-lowest maximum on record since 1979, and more than 90 per cent of the ice is only one or two years old. It’s also more prone to summer melt than older, thicker ice, report the scientists who are increasingly concerned about the “profoundly important” polar ice cap.

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A Young Pulsar Shows its Hand

* Chandra’s getting lots of traffic on this. May take forever to load. Sorry!

A small, dense object only twelve miles in diameter is responsible for this beautiful X-ray nebula that spans 150 light years. At the center of this image made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is a very young and powerful pulsar, known as PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short. The pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star which is spewing energy out into the space around it to create complex and intriguing structures, including one that resembles a large cosmic hand. In this image, the lowest energy X-rays that Chandra detects are red, the medium range is green, and the most energetic ones are colored blue. Astronomers think that B1509 is about 1700 years old and is located about 17,000 light years away.

Neutron stars are created when massive stars run out of fuel and collapse. B1509 is spinning completely around almost 7 times every second and is releasing energy into its environment at a prodigious rate – presumably because it has an intense magnetic field at its surface, estimated to be 15 trillion times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field.

The combination of rapid rotation and ultra-strong magnetic field makes B1509 one of the most powerful electromagnetic generators in the Galaxy. This generator drives an energetic wind of electrons and ions away from the neutron star. As the electrons move through the magnetized nebula, they radiate away their energy and create the elaborate nebula seen by Chandra.

Chandra is a true favorite for so many astronomy buffs. Including yours truly.

Judge rules that Mounties have right to unionize

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s 22,000 members have the right to unionize, an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled in Toronto.

In a 25-page ruling, Justice Ian McDonnell struck down the more than century-old policy of disallowing union activity among the Mounties, The Globe and Mail reported.

The suit against the force was filed by the Mounted Police Association of Ontario, one of the RCMP’s various associations that straddle the country, with officers who serve as municipal, provincial and federal police.

“Why does the wider jurisdiction of the RCMP or its status as a unique Canadian institution make the labor relations modes in place for other police forces inappropriate?” MacDonnell said in his ruling, referring to the RCMP’s status as the only non-unionized force in Canada.

The right to strike isn’t part of the suit’s goal, as all Canadian police associations give up the right to do so, the Globe said.

The ruling gave the federal government 18 months to have a unionization mechanism established for the force.


Federal task force to crack down on mortgage scams
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

A multiagency federal-state effort will crack down on scam artists targeting people seeking help to avoid foreclosure, three U.S. departments said Monday.

The new effort will match up responses from federal law enforcement agencies, state investigators and prosecutors, civil enforcement entities and the private sector to protect homeowners seeking help under the Obama’s administration’s Making Home Affordable program from predators, the Justice Department said in a news release filed jointly with the Treasury Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Trade Commission…

Exploitative behavior by lenders has jeopardized homeownership for millions of Americans, Attorney General Eric Holder said.

“The Department of Justice’s message is simple: If you discriminate against borrowers or prey on vulnerable homeowners with fraudulent mortgage schemes, we will find you and we will punish you,” Holder said.

“We’re enforcing the law against these scam artists who are deceiving consumers while they’re down,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, “and we’re working with other government agencies, non-profits and mortgage servicers to reach out to our neighbors in distress with the details of how and where to get help.”

There’s a link under that photo of Leibowitz, Geithner and Holder. It takes you the government website designed first-of-all to help you qualify yourself for assistance in sorting mortgage loan problems. Within that site is a special link to help you fight against scam artists trying to rip you off.

Gates budget plan to reshape Pentagon’s strategic priorities

Sec’y Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman, Gen. James Cartwright
Daylife/AP Photo

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has announced a major reshaping of the Pentagon budget with deep cuts in many traditional weapons systems but new billions of dollars for others, along with more troops and new technology to fight the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The decisions are expected to set off a vigorous round of lobbying over the priorities embroidered into the Defense Department’s half-trillion dollars of annual spending. They represent the first broad rethinking of American military strategy under the Obama administration, which plans to shift more money to counterterrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan while spending less on preparations for conventional warfare against large nations like China and Russia.

Mr. Gates announced cuts in missile defense programs, the Army’s expensive Future Combat Systems and Navy shipbuilding operations. He would kill controversial programs to build a new presidential helicopter and a new communications satellite system, delay the development of a new bomber and order only four more of the advanced F-22 fighter jets.

But he also said plans to increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, while halting reductions in Air Force and Navy personnel, would cost an additional $11 billion. He also announced an extra $2 billion for intelligence and surveillance equipment, including new Predator and Reaper drones, the remote-controlled vehicles currently used in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq for strikes against militants, and more spending on special forces and training foreign military units.

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