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Did you share the $448 million Powerball jackpot? 3 winning tickets sold in Minnesota, NJ

8 Aug


At least three people in two states have beaten astronomical odds to become the nation’s latest Powerball millionaires.

Sue Dooley, senior drawing manager production coordinator for the Multi-State Lottery Association, said late Wednesday night that three tickets matched the winning numbers and will split the lottery’s latest massive jackpot: $448 million.

“We had three grand prize winners,” Dooley said. “One was in Minnesota and two were in New Jersey.”

The winning numbers drawn Wednesday night were: 05, 25, 30, 58, 59 and Powerball 32.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. reported early Thursday that a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Lottery said that one of the multimillion-dollar tickets was purchased at a supermarket in South Brunswick, N.J., and the other ticket was sold in Little Egg Harbor, N.J.

Information on the Minnesota ticket was not available early Thursday.

The allure of capturing the latest massive Powerball jackpot had players in a buying frenzy, further confirming a trend that lottery officials say has become the big ticket norm: Fatigued Powerball players, increasingly blase about smaller payouts, often don’t get into the game until the jackpot offers big bucks.

During Wednesday night’s telecast, Powerball officials announced the jackpot that previously in the day was pegged at $425 million had grown to an estimated $448 million.

Meghan Graham, a convenience store worker from Brookline, Mass., has purchased nearly a dozen Powerball tickets in recent months thanks to the huge jackpots, and the third largest-ever pot was enough reason to buy again.

“The more it keeps increasing, that means nobody is winning … a lot of people are gonna keep buying tickets and tickets and tickets and you never know, you just might get lucky if you pick the right numbers,” she said.

A recent game change intended to build excitement about the lottery increased the frequency of huge jackpots, and Wednesday’s jackpot drawing comes only a few months after the biggest Powerball jackpot in history — a $590 million pot won in Florida by an 84-year-old widow. The second largest Powerball jackpot was won in November and split between two tickets from Arizona and Missouri.

And New Jersey’s two new winners join Passaic resident Pedro Quezada, who was the lone winner of the March 23 Powerball drawing. The 44-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic claimed a lump-sum payment worth $221 million, or about $152 million after taxes.

With a majority of the top 10 Powerball jackpots being reached in the last five years, lottery officials acknowledge smaller jackpots don’t create the buzz they once did.

“We certainly do see what we call jackpot fatigue,” said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association. “I’ve been around a long time, and remember when a $10 million jackpot in Illinois brought long lines and people from surrounding states to play that game.”

Tom Romero, CEO of the New Mexico Lottery and chairman of the Powerball Group, agreed.

“Many years ago, $100 million was really exciting and people would immediately buy more, occasional players would start buying,” he said. “Then the threshold was $200 million. Now, we see here in New Mexico, we’re approaching the $300 million mark.”

The revamp of Powerball in January 2012 changed the price of a ticket from $1 to $2, a move that upped the chances of the game reaching a major jackpot. There was a loss in the number of players, but the new game — which also created more chances to win smaller, $1 million and $2 million prizes — has brought in 52 percent more in sales, Strutt said. Sales were $5.9 billion in the fiscal year that ended in June.

Still, the way casual players define a major jackpot has changed. Behavioral economist George Loewenstein, who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University, said people judge things in relative terms.

“We compare things,” he said. “If there are a lot of jackpots, even though they’re all enormous numbers, people are going to start comparing them and if there are billion dollar jackpots, then 100 million jackpots that used to feel enormous are going to seem much smaller, even though in terms of the impact on your life of winning 100 million or 1 billion, it probably isn’t all that different.”

Though Lisa Ravenell, of Philadelphia, said the higher jackpot catches her attention. She also noted the frequency of announcements about winners from the area, which she feels contributes to her wanting to buy.

“The 400 million is appealing” the 47-year-old said. “I think deep down inside, more or less, I’d buy it because it’s a big amount.”

So when jackpots swell, people still line up for their chance at a life-changing payoff, even though their chances at winning the top prize are the same if there is a small jackpot.

Bill Palumbo, 56, of Bellmore, NY, is a frequent player who also doesn’t wait for a particularly sizable jackpot.

“I’m always in it,” he said. “Any way to retire a day early.”

The next drawing is scheduled for Wednesday night.


Obama cancels Moscow summit with Putin: US official

7 Aug

– U.S. President Barack Obama is cancelling his planned meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for next month in Moscow, an administration official said on Wednesday.

The Obama administration has repeatedly expressed disappointment after Moscow granted asylum to former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, rejecting U.S. pleas to hand him over to face espionage charges.Obama cancels Moscow summit with Putin: US official

Malala Yousafzai speech in full

12 Jul



Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai has addressed the United Nations as part of her campaign to ensure free compulsory education for every child.


She marked her 16th birthday by delivering the speech on Friday at the UN headquarters in New York.


Taliban gunmen shot Malala on her school bus last October following her campaign for girls’ rights.


“I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child,” she said.

Canada train blast: Blame game over Lac-Megantic disaster

9 Jul

_68606400_68606399It is feared the crash could be Canada’s worst rail disaster in 50 years

A rail firm and fire department appear to be pointing the finger at one another over a Canada oil train blast that has killed at least 13 people. Investigators say the tragedy may have been caused by a chain of events stemming from an earlier fire.

Shortly after fire crews put out a blaze on the train, it experienced brake failure, ran away and exploded in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic. About 40 people remain missing in the disaster zone. Some 1,200 of the 2,000 people evacuated from Lac-Megantic are being allowed home on Tuesday.

‘Focal point’

The coroner’s office has asked families of the missing to provide items such as toothbrushes and combs that might offer DNA samples to help identify the bodies. Eyewitnesses say the streets “were filled with fire”

The train, carrying 72 cars of crude oil, was parked shortly before midnight on Friday in the town of Nantes.

An engineer apparently left the train with four of its five locomotives shut down, but kept the final one on to ensure the brakes were engaged.

Officials in Nantes then received a call about a fire on the train. Transportation Safety Board investigator Donald Ross said: “The extent to which [the fire] played into the sequences of events is a focal point of our investigation.”

Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert said that while his crews tackled that blaze, the final locomotive was shut down. He said this was the standard operating procedure agreed with the train’s US owner, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA).

MMA says the decision to shut off the locomotive to put out the fire could have disabled the brakes. Shortly afterwards, the driverless train rolled downhill seven miles (11km) before derailing and exploding in Lac-Megantic. Fire officials said they notified a regional dispatcher for the train company immediately after the initial blaze was put out.

Chief Lambert told reporters: “We told them what we did and how we did it. There was no discussion of the brakes at that time. “We were there for the train fire. As for the inspection of the train after the fact, that was up to them.” But MMA’s chief executive, Ed Burkhardt, said firefighters should have called an engineer to ensure the train was secure after the blaze.

“If they had actually talked to an engineer he would’ve known immediately what to do about that,” Mr Burkhardt said. The Chicago-based rail executive is expected this week to visit Lac-Megantic, where he could face a hostile reception. Media reports quote him as saying he has received a number of hate messages.

At least 30 buildings were destroyed by the fireball that resulted from Saturday morning’s explosion, including a store and the public library. Maude Verrault, a waitress at the Musi-Cafe, a nightspot razed by the blast, was outside smoking when she spotted the runaway train.

“I’ve never seen a train moving so fast in my life, and I saw flames,” she told the Associated Press news agency. “Then someone screamed, ‘the train is going to derail!’ And that’s when I ran.”


Berlusconi verdict opens volatile new phase for Italy government

25 Jun

People of Freedom (PDL) party member and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wipes his forehead as he attends the Upper house of the parliament in Rome

Silvio Berlusconi’s conviction on charges relating to underage prostitution has opened an unpredictable chapter for Italy’s fragile coalition government just as signs of uncertainty have returned to euro zone financial markets.

The 76-year-old leader of the centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party, already fighting a four-year jail sentence and a ban on holding public office for tax fraud, meets Prime Minister Enrico Letta for discussions on Tuesday.

His furious reaction to the “incredible” seven-year sentence handed down on Monday for paying for sex with former teenaged nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, alias “Ruby” and for abuse of office to cover up the affair, suggests a rocky time ahead.

Although he is not expected to withdraw support for Letta’s left-right coalition of traditional rivals, at least for now, the tensions that already exist over economic policy are likely to widen, bringing a risk that even modest reforms get stalled.

Berlusconi’s PDL and Letta’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) are already at odds over the centre-right’s demand for the scrapping of a housing tax introduced by former prime minister Mario Monti, despite pressure on strained public finances and the need to keep within European Union borrowing limits.

Andrea Mazziotti, justice affairs spokesman for Monti’s Civic Choice party, which also backs Letta’s government, said the policy disagreements could be used as a weapon in the battle over Berlusconi’s future.

“It’s obvious that he would never bring the government down using this as a justification but there are already those in the PDL who are preparing the excuse of economic policy to fight Letta,” he said.

While the creaking wheels of the Italian justice system are expected to guarantee at least two years of appeals during which the “Rubygate” sentence will remain in suspension, Berlusconi faces other legal battles that could be an even greater threat.

The tax fraud conviction, linked to his Mediaset broadcasting empire, could see him driven from parliament and barred from holding public office if the final appeal, expected by the end of the year, goes against him.

Judges in Naples are also due to hold a preliminary hearing this week on charges that Berlusconi bribed a senator to change sides to undermine the centre-left government of then-prime minister Romano Prodi in 2006.


Letta, grappling with Italy’s longest postwar recession and a youth unemployment rate of more than 40 percent, has kept quiet so far, unwilling to risk the future of a government that was born only after weeks of bitter wrangling.

But the latest bout of uncertainty has come at a particularly difficult time, just as a period of stability on financial markets seems to be drawing to an end.

Investors are on edge over the U.S. Federal Reserve’s indications that it will withdraw monetary stimulus programs. An auction of two-year Italian bonds on Tuesday saw borrowing costs at their highest level since September.

That is still some way off the genuinely dangerous levels seen at the height of the euro zone crisis in 2011 but enough to underline the risks posed by more political uncertainty.

President Giorgio Napolitano, who oversaw the formation of the Letta government following last February’s deadlocked national elections, warned on Tuesday that “political agitation” was at a danger level and called for calm.

But the parties themselves are badly fractured, with the PD facing growing strains over whether to maintain its alliance with the scandal-plagued Berlusconi and the PDL increasingly angry at what it sees as persecution by leftwing magistrates.

“No one understands, not Letta, not Napolitano nor the left the moral and political drama we are going through, we parliamentarians in the PDL,” Sandro Bondi, a senior party official, said in a statement on Tuesday. “We all feel the need to do something, we’re just not sure what.”

Longtime Berlusconi enemies, such as former anti-corruption magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, are gnawed by a suspicion that the man who has dominated Italian politics for the past two decades will engineer yet another escape.

“It’s obvious that the next move will be the usual, specially tailored personal law to save this individual from his legal problems,” he wrote in his blog.

So far, there has been no suggestion of any serious move in this direction and the uproar that would cause would probably bring down any government that included the centre-left.

But any hopes of more substantial reforms requiring concerted political support may be just as unrealistic.

By Reuters

Azerbaijan chief paints rosy picture on EU visit

22 Jun


European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso gave Azerbaijan chief Ilham Aliyev an easy ride on human rights in Brussels on Friday (21 June).

Speaking at a joint press briefing, Aliyev claimed there are no political prisoners in his country.

“None of my political opponents is in prison. This is absolutely the wrong information … Let me tell you, there are absolutely no political prisoners in Azerbaijan,” he said.

“Freedom of assembly is fully provided for. Freedom of media also,” he noted.

He invited EU monitors for presidential elections in October.

But he added: “We fully comply with all our obligations with respect to democratic development.”

The picture he painted is far from reality.

One political prisoner is Ilgar Mammadov.

The 43-year-old presidential candidate was arrested in February for “inciting a riot” after he went to an anti-Aliyev protest in Ismailly, a small town.

He is in pre-trial detention and he is unlikely to get out before the vote.

A family friend, who asked not to be named, told EUobserver: “There are other political prisoners, but Ilgar is symbolic: He was already nominated [for the election]. He is demanding Western values. He is the candidate for Western values.”

NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, say around 20 people are in detention for their political views.

Khadija Ismayilova, a Baku-based journalist with the RFE/RFL news service, noted that dozens more go in and out of cells, but the “revolving door” tactic makes them hard to count.

She said Azerbaijan bears a striking resemblance to Belarus, an international pariah.

Belarus also imprisons presidential candidates.

Both regimes have recent cases of unsolved murders of government critics.

Both control TV, radio and print media, but both have struggled to contain popular dissent on the Internet and on the street.

In Ismayilova’s case, state security services last year put hidden cameras in her home then uploaded a video on the web of her having sex with her boyfriend in an attempt to demoralise her.

“I am a journalist. I hate being put in the shoes of an activist. But we have to fight for our rights, so we are put in those shoes,” she said.

Unlike Azerbaijan, Belarus, which is under a pile of EU sanctions, does not have oil or gas, however.

Aliyev on Friday noted he will “next week” decide which one of two gas pipeline projects to the EU he aims to back.

“We have more than 2 trillion cubic metres of proven reserves … This will change the energy map of Europe,” he said, referring to EU attempts to reduce dependence on Russia.

For his part, Barroso declined to challenge Aliyev’s statement on political prisoners.

He said “we in Europe are also not perfect.”

He noted that Azerbaijan is a young country which is more free today than it was in Soviet times just 20-or-so years ago.

He also said: “I am personally convinced … President Aliyev is committed to the modernisation of his country and that he cares very much about the image and reputation of his country.”

The meeting’s sole purpose was to create a feel-good factor: No EU-Azerbaijan agreements were signed. No decisions were made.

Ismayilova said she felt “insulted” when Barroso implied that post-Soviet Azerbaijan is not mature enough, politically, to be more free.

But for Mammadov’s friend, Barroso was right to err on the side of caution.

“Aliyev has a nervous temperament and Mammadov is still behind bars. If Barroso had mentioned the case in public, you never what might happen to him,” she said.

Meanwhile, EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele summed up the state of play in EU-Azerbaijan relations in a letter to German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok on 23 May.

The memo – seen by EUobserver – said there is an “overall worsening” on human rights in the run-up to elections, but Aliyev also denies it in private.

Fuele noted that unlike Armenia or Georgia, Azerbaijan does not care about EU integration because “it is self-confident due to its energy reserves.”

But he added that it does want Western help to protect itself from Iran and Russia.

“He [Aliyev] made clear that his country’s relations with Russia have deteriorated and that he counts on the support of the EU to be able to balance the forces at play in the Caspian region,” the commissioner said.

He also said Baku wants a “Strategic Modernisation Partnership” treaty with the EU – a move that would give Aliyev prestige on the international stage.

“A draft of this document was presented to Azerbaijan [in May] and is open for consultation with member states,” he noted.

Richard Morningstar: Continue to support civil society

11 Jun



The American edition “Foreign Policy” published an article criticizing the USAID for providing a million grant for the pro-governmental NGO in Azerbaijan, which prepares a reactionary amendments restricting rights and freedoms.

    How to explain the allocation of funds for measures to restrict democracy? Answering this question  from Turan, the  U.S. Ambassador, Richard Morningstar, said that all grants are given with a single purpose – to support democracy. However in this case the talk is not about it, it is about the effectiveness and implementation of these grants.
   No one is saying that the development of democracy  is a simple process. “I can say that we will continue to work actively with civil society towards the development and promotion of democracy. We also continue to work with the government in this direction,” he said.
  Being asked about the fate of the National Institute for Democracy (NDI), the ambassador said he had already spoken on this topic a few days ago.
  “The Azerbaijani authorities have  told me  that the question on NDI has been solved,  and this organization will continue to support civil society. I gave this response after clarification of how the million dollars  were spent,” said the ambassador.