March 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When your film franchise has gotten tired — the Fast aren't quite as Furious, the Mummy needs a reason to Return — Dwayne Johnson is the guy to call.

The 40-year-old actor has become a savior of stale film series, injecting new life into "Fast Five," ''The Mummy Returns," ''Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" and now "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." The former professional wrestler rocks established franchises by joining them on the second or subsequent installment and boosting the property's box office.

"Fast & Furious 6" and "Journey 3" are on the way, and Johnson's "Mummy" character got his own spinoff film, "The Scorpion King."

"We call him franchise Viagra," said "Retaliation" director Jon M. Chu. "He comes in and he elevates everything, not just physically, but energy-wise... He was the only one in our minds that could reinvent G.I. Joe and carry the franchise forward."

In "Retaliation," Johnson takes over for Channing Tatum, the star of 2009's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." Tatum plays a smaller role in the sequel as Johnson introduces moviegoers to Roadblock, a character from the G.I. Joe universe who's built like a tank but always served second in command.

"He was the glue who held all the G.I. Joes together, but he was happily in the shadows," Johnson said. "To bring him to life and then try to help elevate the franchise with that character is pretty cool."

Johnson grew up playing with G.I. Joe action figures, so he was especially excited to be a part of Joe's second cinematic outing.

"It would be like if George Lucas called me and said, 'Hey, want to be in Star Wars?" the actor said.
In fact, he's open to joining any film franchise he might be able to help.

"If I can create a character that audiences will really like and love going on a journey with — whether it's 'Fast Five' or 'G.I. Joe' or even 'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,' or everything else we have coming up — then I jump at that opportunity," Johnson said, noting the creative challenge. "How do you elevate something that's already successful? What do you do? How do you make it different? How do you make it fun? How do you make it cool?"
The Associated Press asked Johnson what role he might play in some of the top-grossing movie franchises of all time, including a few that may seem finished. The Rock, tongue firmly in cheek, is willing to revive them.

— STAR WARS: "That could happen. I only say that because of my love for the mythology of 'Star Wars.' ... Boba Fett could work. But it can't be the Boba Fett as we know. We can't hide my magic (gestures to his face). This is magic, my friend (laughs). There's got to be a cross between a Sith and a Jedi. What is that? Don't know what that is yet. We've got to create it."

— JAMES BOND: "I love that franchise. Daniel Craig has been great. You know my grandfather was a baddie in 'You Only Live Twice' with Sean Connery. They had this awesome fight scene. So he kind of opened up the doors in my mind a little bit at least. So yeah, absolutely — me chasing down Daniel Craig. But here's the thing. Here's my idea. Chase down Daniel Craig and then become the new Bond. That's what we do ... That's never going to happen, OK, but go ahead."

— BATMAN: "Um. Let's take a crack at it. I love that. 'Batman.' Do I say that? 'I'm Batman.'"

— SHREK: "With 'Shrek' we create a five-legged Brahma bull with three horns.. He's neutral. And sometimes he stutters."

— TWILIGHT: "We would introduce the biggest, baddest, most manliest vampire the world has ever seen or will ever see. Go to Kristen Stewart, grab her by the back of the head, pull her in closely. Here comes Pattinson. Pie-face him out of the way. Look at her before I kiss her: 'We're doing away with boyhood things.' Push him out of the way. Give her the kiss. Change her life. Then I'd bite her; rip her face off (laughs)."

— PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: "We have Johnny Depp on one side, that pirate, then we have myself on another side. I'm a pirate — don't believe in drinking, don't believe in cussing. A clean pirate who happens to be boring. Yes, yes, that's it. How exciting is that? You're lining up. Everyone's lining up to see it."

— INDIANA JONES: "I would be a professor at the University of Miami of course, naturally ... who stumbles upon something that is considered the fountain of youth. Give it to the real Indy. We go back in time. He becomes Indy from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' Then we both set off."

By SANDY COHEN | Associated Press
AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson contributed to this report.

October 17, 2012

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested a 21-year-old Bangladeshi man in New York on Wednesday after he allegedly attempted to detonate what he thought was a thousand-pound bomb at the Federal Reserve Bank in lower Manhattan.

The man, Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, was arrested after he bought and attempted to use explosives that were "rendered inoperable" by agents working undercover for the bureau's New York Field Office's Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI said, adding that the public was never in danger.

Nafis, who had been living in Queens, faces charges of "attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda," the FBI said. He was scheduled to make an initial court appearance in Brooklyn on Wednesday afternoon.

According to the criminal complaint filed on Wednesday in the Eastern District of New York, Nafis traveled to the United States in January 2012 "for the purpose of conducting a terrorist attack on U.S. soil."

Working alone, Nafis attempted to recruit individuals to form a terrorist cell inside the United States, according to the complaint. He "actively sought out al Qaeda contacts within the United States to assist him in carrying out an attack." One of those inviduals was an FBI source, the bureau said, and an investigation was launched by both the FBI and NYPD.

The complaint alleges that Nafis initially considered several targets for his attack, including "a high-ranking U.S. official and the New York Stock Exchange" before settling on the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan's financial district.

The FBI said it confiscated a note Nafis wrote saying he wanted to "destroy America" and referred to "our beloved Sheikh Osama bin Laden."

Early Wednesday, Nafis and an undercover agent "assembled what he believed to be a 1,000-pound bomb" inside a van, and then drove to the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

Nafis and the undercover agent parked the van next to the New York Federal Reserve Bank, exited the van, and walked to a nearby hotel. There, Nafis recorded a video statement to the American public that he intended to release in connection with the attack. During this video statement, Nafis stated, "We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom." Nafis then repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, attempted to detonate the bomb, which had been assembled using the inert explosives provided by the undercover agent. JTTF agents arrested Nafis immediately after he attempted to detonate the bomb. Throughout the morning, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, working with the JTTF, closely monitored the movements of Nafis as he attempted to implement the attack, including assuring that the van was not stopped by NYPD counterterrorism units active in lower Manhattan.

Here's a separate statement from New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly:
Al Qaeda operatives and those they have inspired have tried time and again to make New York City their killing field. We are up to 15 plots and counting since 9/11, with the Federal Reserve now added to a list of iconic targets that previously included the Brooklyn Bridge, the New York Stock Exchange and Citicorp Center. After 11 years without a successful attack, it's understandable if the public becomes complacent. But that's a luxury law enforcement can't afford. Vigilance is our watchword now and into the foreseeable future. That's why we have over 1,000 NYPD officers assigned to counterterrorism duties every day and why we built the domain awareness system. I want to commend the NYPD detectives and FBI agents of the Joint Terrorism Task Force for the work they did in the case.

If convicted, Nafis faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

January 9, 2013

The fire began at about 11:00 local time

An oil depot in the port area of the Nigerian city of Lagos has been hit by a major explosion and fire.

The blast, which shook buildings in the Apapa area, happened during a transfer of fuel, the National Emergency Management Agency (Nema) said.

Firefighters have been at the scene and four people were wounded in the blast, AFP news agency reports.

Many tankers dock at jetties in the port in Lagos to load and unload petroleum products.

Willem Auret, who witnessed the blast from a ship on its way to Snake Island in Apapa, said he saw a tanker barge catch fire at about 11:00 local time (10:00 GMT).

"The fire started slowly and then expanded into chaos, exploding more than once," he told the BBC.

"After the initial explosion, which I caught on camera, there was a secondary explosion," he said.

It took about an hour and a half for the port authorities to arrive on the scene, he said.

"First one tugboat arrived... then several others joined it in an attempt to extinguish the fire. They seem to have the fire under control now."

Nema's Akande Iyiola told the BBC that the oil depot at Tin Can Island port where the explosion occurred was owned by the petroleum company MRS Oil.

"I felt the explosion from where we are," Charles Osagie, who works at an import-and-export office in the district, told AFP.

Nigeria is one of the world's biggest oil producers, but imports refined petrol.

July 8, 2013

Lamar Odom could be staying in Los Angeles for next season, but it might not be with the Clippers. The 33-year-old has reportedly gained the interest of his former team which could lead to a reunion with Kobe Bryant.

According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, the Lakers have reached out to Odom though their interest in the player is still unknown.

Times have been rough in Los Angeles this past week as Dwight Howard decided to take his talents to the Houston Rockets. A move for Odom surely won’t fill the void left by Howard, but it could bring back a vital piece to the team’s string of NBA championships in the recent past.

Odom won back-to-back rings with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010, but his role with the team vanished by 2011 before he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Since the trade, Odom was dealt again in 2012 to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Lamar Odom was very popular among Lakers’ fans and bringing him back seems to be a legitimate possibility. Kobe Bryant wants another ring or two and he’ll need all the support he can get.

Odom is a solid shooter who’s worked well with Bryant in the past. His game has fallen off little by little over the years, but age is never an issue in the playoffs.

The more experience the better and Odom is certainly no stranger to big games. The Lakers need to make a splash in the free agent market this offseason and bringing in their former star would add another piece to the puzzle.

Last season, Odom appeared in all 82 games for the Clippers. He finished with an average of four points a game, which is the lowest of his career.

His numbers over the past few seasons may push the Lakers away, but the thought of a return is quickly picking up steam.

Could you see Lamar Odom back with the Los Angeles Lakers next season?

January 7, 2015

The price of Brent crude oil has fallen below $50 a barrel for the first time since May 2009.

It fell more than a dollar to $49.92 a barrel in early trading on Wednesday before edging back above the $50 mark.

Slowing global growth and increased supply of oil and gas have pushed prices sharply lower in recent weeks.

The price of oil traded in the United States, known as West Texas Intermediate crude, has already fallen below $50.

Many observers expect the price of oil to fall further as North American shale producers continue to supply increasing quantities of oil and gas, and the oil-producing group Opec resists calls for cuts in production to support prices.

"With no sign that Opec will do anything about over-production, it seems likely that we could well see further declines towards $40 in the coming weeks," said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

Saudi Arabia has again insisted that it will not cut production to prop up oil prices in the short term

Analysis by Mark Lobel, business reporter, Dubai:
Oil industry insiders tell me they think it will be a year or two until prices return to around $80 - $90 per barrel.

A senior oil executive thinks Brent crude will drop to $45 per barrel, while an engineer suggested it could drop further.

Despite this, the Saudi King used a speech, delivered by the Crown Prince on Tuesday, to again insist the oil giant will not cut production, despite themselves having to decrease discounts to Asian customers as the low prices bite.

There are other signs Saudi Arabia may be feeling the pinch a little too hard, despite its large foreign reserves and cheap production costs.

The Kingdom's main oil company has suspended a major clean fuels plant and several new rigs.

Gulf economies are now budgeting for an assumed oil price of around $60 a barrel this year but insist that they will continue spending regardless, to build and diversify their economies, incurring a deficit if needs be.

Iraq however is suffering badly. With major security challenges there, they are already budgeting for a huge deficit.

Brent Crude Oil Futures $/barrel

Producers suffer

Whilst many consumers and businesses welcome a drop in the cost of fuel, oil producing countries including Russia and Venezuela have been hit as the price of their main export falls.

The oil price has now fallen by more than half since June when the price stood at $110 per barrel.

"All the net exporters of oil are the ones that are suffering at the moment," said Iain Armstrong, oil market analyst at investment management firm Brewin Dolphin.

"Unless you're lucky enough to be tied to the dollar, your currency is going to be in big trouble, i.e. just like Russia."

Pump price

In the UK politicians have called for more of the fall in oil prices to be passed on to consumers.

On Monday, Chancellor George Osborne tweeted that it was "vital this is passed on to families at petrol pumps, through utility bills and air fares".

Speaking BBC Radio 5 Live Sainsbury's chief executive, Mike Coupe said fuel prices could eventually fall below a pound a litre:

"We have certainly seen prices chased down, mainly by the supermarkets," he said.

"You could feasibly see fuel prices fall below the £1 barrier."

All the major supermarkets have reduced fuel prices this week.

September 22, 2012
The IRS can impose a number of penalties and interest charges. It can even throw you in jail if you don't file your tax returns. It doesn't matter if you are a big Hollywood star or a country singer, you can get in trouble with the IRS. Here are five celebrities who found themselves on the wrong end of a tax audit.

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson's long history with the IRS began in 1984 when the agency chose to review his tax returns back to 1972. The extensive audit stretched out for years and the IRS presented him with a bill for more than $6 million in underpaid taxes. He also owed over $10 million in interest and penalties. Nelson's accounting firm had filed for the singer every year, but it had claimed tax shelters that the IRS disallowed. The IRS seized most of Nelson's assets and sold them at auction. Most were purchased by friends and supporters who gave them back to the singer. The settlement was negotiated down further and Nelson ended up paying it off. He later sued Price Waterhouse, now PricewaterhouseCoopers, and settled with the accounting firm for an undisclosed amount.

Wesley Snipes

Wesley Snipes is currently contemplating his actions behind bars. Snipes was charged with felony tax evasion for not filing returns or reporting over $14 million in income earned between 1999 and 2001. He was also charged with filing false information to receive tax refunds. Snipes was connected to a group that contends that federal taxation is illegal and unconstitutional. Although Snipes was acquitted of the felony charges, he was convicted on three misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns. He was sentenced to three years in jail.

Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz, the American photographer famous for capturing celebrity moments, found herself in front of cameras in 2009 when she was at risk of losing all of her assets, including the rights to her photographs, because she could not repay a loan. Part of the need for the loan was a debt to the IRS of $1.4 million plus interest and penalties for not reporting income earned between 2004 and 2007. Leibovitz also struggled to pay the estate taxes on her home and other properties. Leibovitz has since restructured the loan and is no longer at risk of losing her assets.

Sophia Loren

Snipes is not the only celebrity to have to cool his heels in prison. In 1982, Italian actress Sophia Loren was ordered to jail for 30 days for underreporting income in 1970 to the tune of 5 million lira (about $20,000 USD in 1970). She served 17 days of the sentence before being released under a court order. She has had no public tax troubles since that time.

Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill, who has won eight Grammy awards in her career, is one of the most recent celebrities to face tax problems. She was charged with three counts of failure to file tax returns because she did not file between 2005 and 2007. She currently owes the IRS $1.5 million plus penalties and interest. Hill faces a maximum one-year sentence on each count and will be sentenced this November. According to Hill, she willingly did not file after she left the music industry so she could protect her children. Hill has said that she will elaborate on her reasoning further at her sentencing hearing.

The Bottom Line:
Income taxes are a reality for everyone, including the rich and famous. The IRS, and other tax authorities, can send tax evaders to jail on top of assessing penalties and interest on unpaid taxes. No one escapes the tax man, especially not those who are always in the spotlight.

May 25, 2013
Now this is a story all about how… Will Smith revisited his Fresh Prince of Bel Air roots on The Graham Norton Show this week, bringing two special friends along for the ride down memory lane.

Appearing on the BBC talker with son Jaden to promote their father-son space movie After Earth, Smith grabbed a mic, introduced longtime collaborator DJ Jazzy Jeff and launched into a sing-along-with-me reprise of the Fresh Prince theme. UPDATE: Apparently this was a follow-up to Smith’s year-ago appearance on Graham Norton

Smith then segued (at the 3:45 mark) straight into Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual,” setting the stage for onetime cast mate Alfonso Ribeiro‘s cameo, doing a full-on, take-no-prisoners rendition of The Carlton, his Fresh Prince alter ego’s spastic dance perhaps only rivaled on TV by The Elaine.

April 11, 2015

PANAMA CITY (AP) — President Barack Obama and Cuba's Raul Castro sat down together Saturday in the first formal meeting of the two country's leaders in a half-century, pledging to reach for the kind of peaceful relationship that has eluded their nations for generations.

In a small conference room in a Panama City convention center, the two sat side by side in a bid to inject fresh momentum into their months-old effort to restore diplomatic ties. Reflecting on the historic nature of the meeting, Obama said he felt it was time to try something new and to engage with both Cuba's government and its people.

"What we have both concluded is that we can disagree with a spirit of respect and civility," Obama said. "And over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries."

Castro, for his part, said he agreed with everything Obama had said — a stunning statement in and of itself for the Cuban leader. But he added the caveat that they had "agreed to disagee" at times. Castro said he had told the Americans that Cuba was willing to discuss issues such as human rights and freedom of the press, maintaining that "everything can be on the table."

"We are disposed to talk about everything — with patience," Castro said in Spanish. "Some things we will agree with, and others we won't."

And nothing is static, he added, noting that disagreements today could turn into areas of agreement tomorrow. "The pace of life at the present moment in the world — it's very fast."

US President Barack Obama with Cuban President Raul Castro during their meeting at the Summit of the …
Not since 1958 have a U.S. and Cuban leader convened a substantial meeting. Dwight Eisenhower and Fulgencio Batista met that year, and the following year, former Cuban President Fidel Castro met with Richard Nixon, who was vice president at the time.

But relations quickly entered into a deep freeze amid the Cold War, and the U.S. spent decades trying to either isolate or actively overthrow the Cuban government.

In a stroke of coincidence, Eisenhower's meeting with Batista in 1958 also took place in Panama, imbuing Saturday's session between Obama and Castro with a sense of having come full circle.

The historic gathering played out on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, which this year included Cuba for the first time. Although the meeting wasn't publicly announced in advance, White House aides had suggested the two leaders were looking for an opportunity to meet while in Panama and to discuss the ongoing efforts to open embassies in Havana and Washington, among other issues.

In his brief remarks to reporters at the start of the meeting, Obama acknowledged that Cuba, too, would continue raising concerns about U.S. policies — earning a friendly smirk from Castro.

Raw: Leaders Gather for Summit of the AmericasPlay videoRaw: Leaders Gather for Summit of the Americas
"We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future, and leave behind some of the circumstances of the past that have made it so difficult for our countries to communicate," Obama said.

The flurry of diplomacy, which kicked off Friday evening with an historic handshake between Obama and Castro, was aimed at injecting fresh momentum into their delicate plan to restore normal relations between their countries. The two presidents sent shockwaves throughout the hemisphere in December when they announced the plan for rapprochement, and their envoys have spent the ensuing months working through thorny issues such as sanctions, the re-opening of embassies and Cuba's place on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Although earlier in the week Obama suggested a decision to remove Cuba from the list was imminent, he didn't say Saturday whether he would move ahead with that step. The U.S. State Department recently concluded a review recommending Cuba be taken off the list, fueling speculation that Obama would use the occasion of the summit to announce the move.

Removal from the terror list is a top priority for Castro because it would not only purge a stain on Cuba's pride, but also ease its ability to conduct simple financial transactions.


June 13, 2012
Homeless man allowed to keep $77,000 he stumbled upon
By Jason Sickles | The Sideshow – 3 hrs ago

A homeless man is $77,000 richer after being awarded the cash and gold coins he stumbled upon in a Texas park earlier this year.

Timothy Yost, 46, reportedly discovered the loot in January while going to wash his feet in the Colorado River. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Yost told police he kicked a bag he'd spotted and it jingled. Inside was a mound of wet cash and South African coins.

A bank teller called police after he tried to swap the damp dough for fresh bills. Yost showed officers where he made the discovery, but the city of Bastrop kept the money so police could investigate whether a crime had occurred and try to find the owner.

"Under common law in Texas, typically if it is buried and we are not able to find the rightful owner for the funds within the prescribed time period, then the finder of the funds can petition to be awarded those funds," Bastrop Police Chief Michael Blake told Austin's Your News Now.

On Tuesday night, the City Council voted unanimously to give the bounty back to Yost.
"It is a great day for Bastrop; it is a great day for Mr. Yost," his attorney, Aleta Peacock, told the American-Statesman.

Yost was not present. The newspaper reports he's since been jailed for public intoxication and criminal trespass.
But he told Austin's Fox 7 last month that his first purchase would be a car.
"I've been walking for so long," he said.

Here's hoping he makes bail and is behind the wheel of a new ride soon.