2012 review: The year in health science









































Read more: "2013 Smart Guide: 10 ideas that will shape the year"











The first half of 2012 will be remembered for the saga over whether or not to publish controversial research involving versions of the H5N1 bird flu virus engineered to spread more easily in mammals. In the end openness won out, and both contentious studies did finally see the light of day.












This was also the year that saw the battle to eradicate polio reach its crucial endgame – just as another problem, in the form of totally drug resistant tuberculosis, reared its head.












Away from infectious disease, 2012 brought us a theory on the link between Tutankhamun, epilepsy and the first monotheistic religion, and an insight into the perils of premature ageing in Italy's ominously named Triangle of Death. Here are 10 more of the year's memorable stories.












Babies are born dirty, with a gutful of bacteria
Far from being sterile, babies come complete with an army of bacteria. The finding could have implications for gut disorders and our health in general












Forensic failure: 'Miscarriages of justice will occur'
Our survey of UK forensic scientists reveals that many are concerned that closure of the Forensic Science Service will lead to miscarriages of justice












Scandal of an underfunded and undertreated cancer
Lung cancer in those who have never smoked is on the rise – but they face the same stigma as their smoking counterparts












Ovarian stem cells discovered in humans
Stem cells capable of forming new eggs could promise limitless eggs for IVF treatments, and the rejuvenation of older eggs












Paralysis breakthrough: spinal cord damage repaired
An implant helping paralysed people stand unaided suggests the spinal cord is able to recover function years after severe damage












A real fMRI high: My ecstasy brain scan
Graham Lawton reports the highs, lows and psychedelic purple doors involved in taking MDMA while having his brain scanned












You may carry cells from siblings, aunts and uncles
Male cells found in the umbilical cord blood of baby girls with older brothers suggests fetal cells cross between mother and baby more than once thought












Can we deter athletes who self-harm to win?
The Paralympics may encourage a debate on a dangerous practice – and potential ways to prevent it












First non-hormonal male 'pill' prevents pregnancy
A non-hormonal drug that temporarily reverses male fertility appears to have few side effects in mice












Mining MRSA genetic code halts superbug outbreak
Whole genome sequencing of an MRSA outbreak has identified the person who unwittingly spread the bacteria around a hospital, stopping further infection

















































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'Fiscal cliff' deal talk, Apple lift US stocks at year-end






WASHINGTON: US markets closed out the year on Monday with a sharp jump on news that Congress was close to a deal to avert the fiscal cliff - but also on a 4.4 percent gain by market giant Apple.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 166.03 points (1.28 percent) at 13,104.14.

The broad-market S&P 500 gained 23.79 points (1.69 percent) at 1,426.19, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite surged 59.20 points (2.00 percent) to 3,019.51.

The gains reversed losses of the previous week when cliff worries were strong, and left the main indices with respectable gains for the year: 7.3 percent for the Dow, 13.4 percent for the S&P 500, and 15.9 percent for the Nasdaq.

With a midnight deadline looming to avert the sharp tax hikes and spending cuts aimed at slashing the fiscal deficit - but which could force a recession - the White House and congressional leaders said a deal was nigh that would mitigate the worst effects.

Nothing was certain: while the Senate was expected to pass the compromise legislation after it is finalised, possibly before the midnight Monday deadline, in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where resistance could be tougher, the vote would not be before Tuesday.

But the markets pushed higher in expectation that the immediate threat of more than $400 billion in tax increases would mostly be avoided.

"A compromise over taxes and spending would be an important step that supports economic growth in the year ahead," said Gary Thayer, strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors.

Major shares were nearly all in the green, led by Apple's surge.

The world's most valuable company by market capitalisation - an even $500 billion at the end of trade on Monday - was a major driver of the markets ruing the year. Even though its price at Monday's close, $532.17, was well below the year's high of $705.07, Apple shares still racked up a 25.8 percent gain for 2012.

Other major gainers on Monday included ExxonMobil, up 1.8 percent; General Electric (2.6 percent); and Caterpillar (2.8 percent).

Bond prices fell. The 10-year US Treasury yield rose to 1.76 percent from 1.71 percent Friday, while the 30-year moved to 2.95 percent from 2.88 percent. Bond prices and yields move inversely.

- AFP/de



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'Overwhelmed' mother admits drowning her autistic son



Autism
A 37-year-old San Diego woman, sobbing uncontrollably, pleaded guilty Thursday to 2nd-degree murder for drowning her 4-year-old autistic son in the bathtub of the family home.


Patricia Corby was so overwhelmed by the task of caring for her son that she decided to kill him and then commit suicide, prosecutors said. Her attempt to drown herself in the tub failed.


After drowning the child on March 31, Corby drove to a neighborhood police station and admitted to police what she had done. The body of Daniel Corby, wrapped in a wet blanket, was found in the family's sport-utility vehicle.


Corby faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison when sentenced Jan. 28 in San Diego County Superior Court. The victim's father, Duane Corby, was in the court when his wife pleaded guilty.


ALSO:


L.A. city official hands new victory to Chinatown Wal-Mart


Flowers, candles honor homeless woman set on fire in Van Nuys


Warning: Celebratory gunfire for New Year's could land you in prison

--Tony Perry in San Diego


Photo: Patricia Corby in court. Credit: Fox-5 San Diego




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Space Pictures This Week: Ice “Broccoli,” Solar Storm









































































































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State Department made "grievous mistake" over Benghazi: Senate report


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The State Department made a "grievous mistake" in keeping the U.S. mission in Benghazi open despite inadequate security and increasingly alarming threat assessments in the weeks before a deadly attack by militants, a Senate committee said on Monday.


A report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee on the September 11 attacks on the U.S. mission and a nearby CIA annex, in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans died, faulted intelligence agencies for not focusing tightly enough on Libyan extremists.


It also faulted the State Department for waiting for specific warnings instead of improving security.


The committee's assessment, "Flashing Red: A Special Report On The Terrorist Attack At Benghazi," follows a scathing report by an independent State Department accountability review board that resulted in a top security official resigning and three others at the department being relieved of their duties.


Joseph Lieberman, an independent senator who chairs the committee, said that in thousands of documents it reviewed, there was no indication that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had personally denied a request for extra funding or security for the Benghazi mission. He said key decisions were made by "midlevel managers" who have since been held accountable.


Republican Senator Susan Collins said it was likely that others needed to be held accountable, but that decision was best made by the Secretary of State, who has the best understanding "of how far up the chain of command the request for additional security went."


The attacks and the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens put diplomatic security practices at posts in risky areas under scrutiny and raised questions about whether intelligence on militant activity in the region was adequate.


The Senate report said the lack of specific intelligence of an imminent threat in Benghazi "may reflect a failure" by intelligence agencies to focus closely enough on militant groups with weak or no operational ties to al Qaeda and its affiliates.


"With Osama bin Laden dead and core al Qaeda weakened, a new collection of violent Islamist extremist organizations and cells have emerged in the last two to three years," the report said. That trend has been seen in the "Arab Spring" countries undergoing political transition or military conflict, it said.


NEED FOR BETTER INTELLIGENCE


The report recommended that U.S. intelligence agencies "broaden and deepen their focus in Libya and beyond, on nascent violent Islamist extremist groups in the region that lack strong operational ties to core al Qaeda or its main affiliate groups."


Neither the Senate report nor the unclassified accountability review board report pinned blame for the Benghazi attack on a specific militant group. The FBI is investigating who was behind the assaults.


President Barack Obama, in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, said the United States had "very good leads" about who carried out the attacks. He did not provide details.


The Senate committee said the State Department should not have waited for specific warnings before acting on improving security in Benghazi.


It also said it was widely known that the post-revolution Libyan government was "incapable of performing its duty to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel," but the State Department failed to fill the security gap.


"Despite the inability of the Libyan government to fulfill its duties to secure the facility, the increasingly dangerous threat assessments, and a particularly vulnerable facility, the Department of State officials did not conclude the facility in Benghazi should be closed or temporarily shut down," the report said. "That was a grievous mistake."


The Senate panel reviewed changing comments made by the Obama administration after the attack, which led to a political firestorm in the run-up to the November presidential election and resulted in U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice withdrawing her name from consideration to replace Clinton, who is stepping down early next year.


Rice had said her initial comments that the attack grew out of a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islam film were based on talking points provided by intelligence agencies.


Lieberman said it was not the job of intelligence agencies to formulate unclassified talking points and they should decline such requests in the future.


The report said the original talking points included a line saying "we know" that individuals associated with al Qaeda or its affiliates participated in the attacks. But the final version had been changed to say: "There are indications that extremists participated," and the reference to al Qaeda and its affiliates was deleted.


The report said that while James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, had offered to provide the committee with a detailed chronology of how the talking points were written and evolved, this had still not been delivered to Capitol Hill because the administration had spent weeks "debating internally" whether or not it should turn over information considered "deliberative" to Congress.


(Editing by Warren Strobel and David Brunnstrom)



Read More..

Today on New Scientist: 28 December 2012







Best videos of 2012: Rare view of Challenger tragedy

Watch a rare amateur video of the Challenger explosion, our most-viewed video of the year



Strong jet stream super-charged US Christmas storms

Record snowfall and dozens of tornadoes snarled holiday travel as a powerful winter storm plowed across much of the US, while rainstorms battered the UK



2012 review: The year in life science

The year's biggest stories in life science, including James Cameron's descent into the Mariana trench and efforts to break into Antarctica's buried lakes



Superstorm lessons for adapting to climate change

As the post-Sandy rebuild gets under way, coastal cities around the world will be watching



Best videos of 2012: First MRI movie of childbirth

Watch a unique view of a baby's birth, at number 2 in our countdown of the year's top science videos



Fleadom or death: Reviving the glorious flea circus

The parasite-based sideshows were almost done for by the domestic vacuum cleaner - but they are bouncing back, finds Graham Lawton



Approval for gene-modified salmon spawns controversy

Apparently months late, US regulators have declared genetically engineered fish safe to farm and eat, but final approval could be some way off



Best videos of 2012: New aircraft flies inside out

Watch a novel flying machine use a unique mechanism to propel itself, at number 3 in our countdown of the top videos of the year



2012 review: The year in technology

The year's biggest stories in technology, including Kinect devices that may spot signs of autism and controlling a robot by the power of thought



Superdoodles: The science of scribbling

Far from being a distraction, doodling has an important purpose - and you can harness it



2013 Smart Guide: Wave goodbye to the mouse

The Leap, a 3D motion control device set to launch next year, will let you control your computer with touch-free hand and finger movements





Read More..

E. Timor bids farewell to peacekeepers after 13 years






DILI: The UN ends its peacekeeping mission in East Timor Monday after 13 years of boots on the ground in Asia's youngest nation following a bloody transition to independence.

The mission, which saw the presence of some 1,500 UN troops and police, will take down its flag and send home the last of its peacekeepers, including five Portuguese officers, while a "liquidation team" of 79 will remain to tie up loose ends.

The mission began withdrawing troops in earnest in October when national police resumed responsibility for security, following the peaceful election of a new president and parliament.

"The Timorese people and its leaders have shown courage and unswerving resolve to overcome great challenges," United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) chief Finn Reske-Nielsen said in a statement.

"Although there remains much work ahead, this is an historic moment in recognising the progress already made."

Reske-Nielsen said the withdrawal did not mark an end to the partnership between the UN and the country, officially called Timor-Leste, as "challenges still remain".

"As peacekeepers depart, we look forward to a new phase in this relationship focusing on social and economic development."

Observers say there is little indication that there will be renewed violence in the short term, but public institutions, including the police force and judiciary, remain weak.

There are also concerns that rampant poverty, high unemployment rates among the youth and a fast-growing population could lead to future unrest.

Government critics have highlighted the economy's heavy reliance on significant but depleting offshore oil and gas reserves that they say benefit urban Timorese more than the regional poor.

The UN played a key role in the birth of East Timor, organising the 1999 vote that ended Indonesia's 24-year occupation, in which around 183,000 people -- then a quarter of the population -- died from fighting, starvation or disease.

It oversaw East Timor until 2002, when an independent government took over.

UN peacekeepers streamed in again in 2006, when a mass desertion among the armed forces prompted fighting between military factions and police, and street violence left at least 37 people dead and tens of thousands displaced.

The only major violence since was a failed assassination attempt on then-President Jose Ramos-Horta in 2008.

- AFP/jc



Read More..

Charlie Sheen caught on tape making homophobic slur




Sheen


Actor Charlie Sheen was caught on video using a homophobic slur Friday night while hosting the grand opening of a new rooftop bar at a seaside hotel in Mexico.


“How we doing?” Sheen says to the crowd as he takes the stage to introduce some musical acts, according to the video posted on TMZ’s website Sunday. “Lying bunch of ... how we doing?”


Sheen later issued an apology, according to the entertainment website.


“I meant no ill will and intended to hurt no one and I apologize if I offended anyone,” Sheen said. “I meant to say maggot but I have a lisp."


On Friday, Sheen promoted on Twitter the opening of Epic Bar on the rooftop of the four-story El Ganzo hotel in San Jose del Cabo, near Cabo San Lucas, on the southern tip of Baja California. Sheen later tweeted a photo of himself with an arm around Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, touting the mayor's visit to the grand opening.


"From Boyle Heights 2 Mayor of LA..! .... Antonio Villaraigosa knows how to party!" Sheen tweeted at 8:18 a.m. Saturday, showing a photo of the grinning actor in a tight-fitting button-up shirt, with his left arm slung around the mayor. Villaraigosa, flashing a toothy smile, was in a dark blazer with the top of his white shirt unbuttoned.


A flier on the hotel's Twitter page said Sheen was to present Slash, former lead guitarist of Guns N' Roses, at 9 p.m. Friday. David Sanchez, a hotel concierge, confirmed that Sheen was at the hotel to host the event Friday night.


Sheen promoted the bar opening all day Friday. "Ready for EPIC..!" he tweeted that night, just before the opening party. Earlier, he wrote, "Chilling @hotelelganzo and this place is amazing!! Can't wait to launch the Club Epic tonight.... What a party!"


Peter Sanders, the mayor's press secretary, confirmed that Villaraigosa was in Cabo and is scheduled to remain in Mexico until Jan. 2. The City Council's president, Herb Wesson, is acting mayor until then.


Sheen was fired last year from the hit show "Two and a Half Men" after he became critical of the show's co-creator, Warner Bros., and CBS. He now stars in the FX comedy "Anger Management."


Villaraigosa, who is term-limited, is in his final year as mayor of Los Angeles. The two-term mayor leaves office June 30.


ALSO:


McDonald's hit by thieves stealing cooking oil


Delta passengers may not have noticed lightning strike


Officials' Rose Parade advice: Don't bring a tent, wear a jacket


-- Rong-Gong Lin II and Carlos Lozano


Photo: Screengrab from Charlie Sheen's Twitter page



Read More..

How to Banish That New Year's Eve Hangover


For those of us who enjoy the occasional cocktail, the holiday season would be incomplete without certain treats of the liquid variety. Some look forward to the creamy charms of rum-laced eggnog; others anticipate cupfuls of high-octane punch or mugs of warm, spiced wine.

No matter what's in your glass, raising one as the year winds down is tradition. What could be more festive? The problem is, one drink leads to two, then the party gets going and a third is generously poured. Soon, the music fades and the morning arrives—and with it, the dreaded hangover. (Explore a human-body interactive.)

Whether it's a pounding headache, a queasy stomach, sweating, or just general misery, the damage has been done. So now it's time to remedy the situation. What's the quickest way to banish the pain? It depends who you ask.

Doctors typically recommend water for hydration and ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. Taking B vitamins is also good, according to anesthesiologist Jason Burke, because they help the body metabolize alcohol and produce energy.

Burke should know a thing or two about veisalgia, the medical term for hangover. At his Las Vegas clinic Hangover Heaven, Burke treats thousands of people suffering from the effects of drinking to excess with hydrating fluids and medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"No two hangovers are the same," he said, adding that the unfavorable condition costs society billions of dollars-mostly from lost productivity and people taking sick days from work.

Hot Peppers for Hangovers?

So what's the advice from the nonmedical community? Suggestions range from greasy breakfasts to vanilla milkshakes to spending time in a steamy sauna. A friend insists hot peppers are the only way to combat a hangover's wrath. Another swears by the palliative effects of a bloody mary. In fact, many people just have another drink, following the old "hair of the dog that bit you" strategy.

Whether such "cures" actually get rid of a hangover is debatable, but one thing's for sure: the sorry state is universal. The only people immune to hangovers are the ones who avoid alcohol altogether.

So for those who do indulge, even if it's just once in awhile, see our interactive featuring cures from around the world (also above). As New Year's Eve looms with its attendant excuse to imbibe, perhaps it would be wise to stock your refrigerator with one of these antidotes. Pickled herring, anyone?


Read More..

Body of India rape victim cremated in New Delhi


NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The body of a woman, whose gang rape provoked protests and rare national debate about violence against women in India, arrived back in New Delhi on Sunday and was cremated at a private ceremony.


Scuffles broke out in central Delhi between police and protesters who say the government is doing too little to protect women. But the 2,000-strong rally was confined to a single area, unlike last week when protests raged up throughout the capital.


Riot police manned barricades along streets leading to India Gate war memorial - a focal point for demonstrators - and, at another gathering point - the centuries-old Jantar Mantar - protesters held banners reading "We want justice!" and "Capital punishment".


Most sex crimes in India go unreported, many offenders go unpunished, and the wheels of justice turn slowly, according to social activists, who say that successive governments have done little to ensure the safety of women.


The unidentified 23-year-old victim of the December 16 gang rape died of her injuries on Saturday, prompting promises of action from a government that has struggled to respond to public outrage.


The medical student had suffered brain injuries and massive internal injuries in the attack and died in hospital in Singapore where she had been taken for treatment.


She and a male friend had been returning home from the cinema, media reports say, when six men on a bus beat them with metal rods and repeatedly raped the woman. The friend survived.


New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, police figures show. Reported rape cases rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011, according to government data.


Six suspects were charged with murder after her death and face the death penalty if convicted.


In Kolkata, one of India's four biggest cities, police said a man reported that his mother had been gang-raped and killed by a group of six men in a small town near the city on Saturday.


She was killed on her way home with her husband, a senior official said, and the attackers had thrown acid at the husband, raped and killed her, and dumped her body in a roadside pond.


Police declined to give any further details. One officer told Reuters no criminal investigation had yet been launched.


"MISOGYNY"


The leader of India's ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, was seen arriving at the airport when the plane carrying the woman's body from Singapore landed and Prime Minister Mannmohan Singh's convoy was also there.


A Reuters correspondent saw family members who had been with her in Singapore take her body from the airport to their Delhi home in an ambulance with a police escort.


Her body was then taken to a crematorium and cremated. Media were kept away but a Reuters witness saw the woman's family, New Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, and the junior home minister, R P N Singh, coming out of the crematorium.


The outcry over the attack caught the government off guard. It took a week for the prime minister to make a statement, infuriating many protesters. Last weekend they fought pitched battles with police.


Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and female infanticide rarely enter mainstream political discourse.


Analysts say the death of the woman dubbed "Amanat", an Urdu word meaning "treasure", by some Indian media could change that, though it is too early to say whether the protesters can sustain their momentum through to national elections due in 2014.


U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon added his voice to those demanding change, calling for "further steps and reforms to deter such crimes and bring perpetrators to justice".


Commentators and sociologists say the incident earlier this month has tapped into a deep well of frustration many Indians feel over what they see as weak governance and poor leadership on social issues.


Newspapers raised doubts about the commitment of both male politicians and the police to protecting women.


"Would the Indian political system and class have been so indifferent to the problem of sexual violence if half or even one-third of all legislators were women?" the Hindu newspaper asked.


The Indian Express said it was more complicated than realizing that the police force was understaffed and underpaid.


"It is geared towards dominating citizens rather than working for them, not to mention being open to influential interests," the newspaper said. "It reflects the misogyny around us, rather than actively fighting for the rights of citizens who happen to be female."


(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin and Diksha Madhokin New Delhi and Sujoy Dhar in Kolkata; Editing by Louise Ireland)



Read More..

Today on New Scientist: 28 December 2012







Best videos of 2012: Rare view of Challenger tragedy

Watch a rare amateur video of the Challenger explosion, our most-viewed video of the year



Strong jet stream super-charged US Christmas storms

Record snowfall and dozens of tornadoes snarled holiday travel as a powerful winter storm plowed across much of the US, while rainstorms battered the UK



2012 review: The year in life science

The year's biggest stories in life science, including James Cameron's descent into the Mariana trench and efforts to break into Antarctica's buried lakes



Superstorm lessons for adapting to climate change

As the post-Sandy rebuild gets under way, coastal cities around the world will be watching



Best videos of 2012: First MRI movie of childbirth

Watch a unique view of a baby's birth, at number 2 in our countdown of the year's top science videos



Fleadom or death: Reviving the glorious flea circus

The parasite-based sideshows were almost done for by the domestic vacuum cleaner - but they are bouncing back, finds Graham Lawton



Approval for gene-modified salmon spawns controversy

Apparently months late, US regulators have declared genetically engineered fish safe to farm and eat, but final approval could be some way off



Best videos of 2012: New aircraft flies inside out

Watch a novel flying machine use a unique mechanism to propel itself, at number 3 in our countdown of the top videos of the year



2012 review: The year in technology

The year's biggest stories in technology, including Kinect devices that may spot signs of autism and controlling a robot by the power of thought



Superdoodles: The science of scribbling

Far from being a distraction, doodling has an important purpose - and you can harness it



2013 Smart Guide: Wave goodbye to the mouse

The Leap, a 3D motion control device set to launch next year, will let you control your computer with touch-free hand and finger movements





Read More..

Obama, top lawmakers meet on cliff edge






WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama Friday sought a late deal to stop the US economy tumbling off a "fiscal cliff" next week, gathering top congressional leaders for crunch White House talks.

Obama is trying to broker a deal to avert huge tax increases and spending cuts due to come into force as the year turns on Tuesday, as dysfunctional Washington reluctantly works through a disrupted holiday period.

A sense of building crisis was exacerbated by sliding stock prices on Wall Street as the political stalemate threatened a set off chain reactions that could drive America back into recession and rattle the global economy.

Obama met top Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and top Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in the Oval Office.

But with time so short, the last-ditch talks to head off a $500 billion fiscal time bomb due to detonate on January 1 appeared unlikely to forge a permanent solution on a long-term deficit reduction deal.

Instead, Obama, now banking on a stopgap solution after talks on a grand debt and tax bargain with Boehner failed, wants taxes on American families earning more than $250,000 a year to go up but to spare the middle class.

Obama will not make a new offer to Republicans, a source familiar with the meeting said, adding that the president would ask for an extension of expiring unemployment insurance for two million people.

He will also tell Republicans that if they cannot come up with a counter-proposal to avert the fiscal cliff they must allow his plan to come up for a vote in both chambers of Congress, the source said.

Such a scenario would leave Republicans in a tough political spot as if they refuse, it would be easy for the White House to blame them for the economy toppling over the cliff.

It is not clear whether the Obama plan would avert massive spending cuts due to come into force on January 1, and does not deal with his request to raise the $16 trillion ceiling on government borrowing.

Republicans want to extend George W. Bush-era tax cuts due to expire on Tuesday for everyone and accuse the president of failing to offer meaningful spending cuts in a bargain in return for them agreeing to raise revenues.

Some top lawmakers clung to hope.

"Sometimes, it's darkest before the dawn," said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer on NBC, saying McConnell's role could be a catalyst for action.

But Republican Senator Bob Corker complained Obama and Democrats in Congress had balked at cutting spending on key social programs weighing on the budget, and inflating the deficit, accusing them of a "total dereliction of duty."

"We're going to end up with a small, kick-the-can-down-the-road bill that creates another fiscal cliff to deal with this fiscal cliff. How irresponsible is that?" Corker told reporters.

Retiring Democratic Senator Ben Nelson warned: "If this meeting is not successful in achieving a proposal, I think you need to get a parachute."

Obama broke off his vacation in Hawaii in search of a last-minute deal and Boehner called the House back to work on Sunday.

The president's scaled-down solution calls for an extension of tax cuts for people earning less than $250,000, and an extension of unemployment benefits before a wider effort to trim the deficit next year.

But it is doubtful the package could pass the House as restive conservatives last week rebuked Boehner by rejecting his fallback plan which would have raised taxes on people earning $1 million.

While each side must for the sake of appearances be seen to be seeking a deal, the easiest way out of the mess might be to allow the economy to go over the cliff, but to fix the problem in the first few days of next year.

In that scenario, Republicans, who are philosophically opposed to raising taxes, could back a bill to lower the newly raised rates on almost all Americans, thus sidestepping the stigma of raising taxes.

Recent polls show a majority of Americans back Obama's handling of the crisis, and would blame Republicans for a failure to fix it, so the president could get a short-term political boost from an early deal next year.

Should the stalemate linger however, the crisis would cloud the early months of Obama's second term, would dent his popularity and could detract from his key political goals like immigration reform and gun control.

-AFP/ac



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'Terminator' actor arrested for lewd conduct at adult movie store





















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Body Under British Parking Lot May Be King Richard III


For centuries, William Shakespeare seemed to have the last word. His Richard III glowered and leered from the stage, a monster in human form and a character so repugnant "that dogs bark at me as I halt by them." In Shakespeare's famous play, the hunchbacked king claws his way to the throne and methodically murders most of his immediate family—his wife, older brother, and two young nephews—until he suffers defeat and death on the battlefield at the hands of a young Tudor hero, Henry VII.

(Related: "Shakespeare's Coined Words Now Common Currency.")

To shed new light on the long vilified king, a British scientific team has tracked down and excavated his reputed burial spot and exhumed skeletal remains that may well belong to the long-lost monarch. The team is conducting a CSI-style investigation of the body in hopes of conclusively identifying Richard III, a medieval king who ruled England for two brief years before perishing at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Results on the investigation are expected in January.

But the much maligned monarch is not the only historical heavyweight to be exhumed.  Since the 1980s, forensic experts have dug up the remains of many famous people—from Christopher Columbus (video) and Simón Bolívar to Jesse James, Marie Cure, Lee Harvey Oswald, Nicolae Ceausescu, and Bobby Fischer. Just last month, researchers in Ramallah (map) disinterred the body of Yasser Arafat, hoping to new glean clues to his death in 2004. Rumors long suggested that Israeli agents poisoned the Palestinian leader with a fatal dose of radioactive polonium-210.

(Read more about poisoning from National Geographic magazine's "Pick Your Poison—12 Toxic Tales.")

Indeed, forensic experts have disinterred the legendary dead for a wide range of reasons—including to move their remains to grander tombs befitting their growing fame, collect DNA samples for legal cases, and obtain data on the medical conditions that afflicted them. Such exhumations, says anatomist Frank Rühli at the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zurich, always raise delicate ethical issues. But in the case of early historical figures, scientists can learn much that is of value to society. "Research on ancient samples provides enormous potential for understanding [questions concerning our] cultural heritage and the evolution of disease," Rühli notes in an emailed response.

Franciscan Resting Place?

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester began actively searching for the burial place of Richard III this past August. According to historical accounts, Tudor troops carried Richard's battered corpse from the Bosworth battlefield and displayed it in the nearby town of Leicester before local Franciscan fathers buried the body in their friary choir. With clues from historic maps, the archaeological team located foundations of the now vanished friary beneath a modern parking lot, and during excavation, the team discovered the skeleton of an adult male interred under the choir floor—exactly where Richard III was reportedly buried.

The newly discovered skeleton has scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that may have resulted in a slightly lopsided appearance, and this may have inspired Shakespeare's exaggerated depiction of Richard as a Quasimodo-like figure. Moreover, the body bears clear signs of battle trauma, including a fractured skull and a barbed metal arrowhead embedded in the vertebrae. And even the burial place points strongly to Richard. English armies at the time simply left their dead on the field of battle, but someone carted this body off and interred it in a place of honor.

Taken together, these early clues, says Jo Appleby, the University of Leicester bioarchaeologist studying the remains, strongly suggest that the team has found the legendary king. Otherwise, she observes, "I think we'd have a hard time explaining how a skeleton with those characteristics got buried there."

But much work remains to clinch the case. Geneticists are now comparing DNA sequences from the skeleton to those obtained from a modern-day Londoner, Michael Ibsen, who is believed to be a descendant of Richard III's sister. In addition, forensic pathologists and medieval-weapons scholars are poring over signs of trauma on the skeleton to determine cause of death, while a radiocarbon-dating lab is helping to pin down the date. And at the University of Dundee in Scotland, craniofacial identification expert Caroline Wilkinson is now working on a reconstruction of the dead man's face for a possible match with historic portraits of Richard III.  All this, says Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on the project, "will help us put flesh on the bones, so to speak."

Digging Up History

Elsewhere, teams digging up the historic dead have contented themselves with more modest goals. In Texas, for example, forensic experts opened the grave of Lee Harvey Oswald in October 1981 to identify beyond doubt the man who shot President John F. Kennedy. A British lawyer and author had claimed that a Soviet agent impersonated Oswald and assassinated the American president. To clarify the situation, the forensic experts compared dental x-rays taken during Oswald's stint in the United States Marine Corps to a record they made of the body's teeth. The two matched well, prompting the team to announce publicly that "the remains in the grave marked as Lee Harvey Oswald are indeed Lee Harvey Oswald."

More recently, in 2010, Iceland's supreme court ordered forensic experts to exhume the body of the late world chess champion Bobby Fischer from his grave in Iceland in order to obtain DNA samples to determine whether Fischer was the father of one of the claimants to his estate. (The tests ruled this out.) And that same year, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez ordered forensic experts to open the casket of Simón Bolívar, the renowned 19th century Venezuelan military leader who fought for the independence of Spanish America from colonial rule. Chavez believes that Bolívar died not from tuberculosis, as historians have long maintained, but of arsenic poisoning, and has launched an investigation into the cause of his death.

For some researchers, this recent spate of exhumations has raised a key question: Who should have a say in the decision to disinter or not? In the view of Guido Lombardi, a paleopathologist at Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, investigators should make every effort to consult descendants or family members before proceeding. "Although each case should be addressed individually," notes Lombardi by email. "I think the surviving relatives of a historical figure should approve any studies first."

But tracking down the descendants of someone who died many centuries ago is no easy matter. Back in Leicester, research on the remains found beneath the friary floor is proceeding. If all goes according to plan, the team hopes to announce the results sometime in January. And if the ancient remains prove to be those of Richard III, the city of Leicester could be in for a major royal event in 2013: The British government has signalled its intention to inter the long-maligned king in Leicester Cathedral.


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Syria opposition leader rejects Moscow invitation


ALEPPO PROVINCE, Syria/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's opposition leader has rejected an invitation from Russia for peace talks, dealing another blow to international hopes that diplomacy can be resurrected to end a 21-month civil war.


Russia, President Bashar al-Assad's main international protector, said on Friday it had sent an invitation for a visit to Moaz Alkhatib, whose six-week-old National Coalition opposition group has been recognized by most Western and Arab states as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people.


But in an interview on Al Jazeera television, Alkhatib said he had already ruled out such a trip and wanted an apology from Moscow for its support for Assad.


"We have clearly said we will not go to Moscow. We could meet in an Arab country if there was a clear agenda," he said.


"Now we also want an apology from (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov because all this time he said that the people will decide their destiny, without foreign intervention. Russia is intervening and meanwhile all these massacres of the Syrian people have happened, treated as if they were a picnic."


"If we don't represent the Syrian people, why do they invite us?" Alkhatib said. "And if we do represent the Syrian people why doesn't Russia respond and issue a clear condemnation of the barbarity of the regime and make a clear call for Assad to step down? This is the basic condition for any negotiations."


With the rebels advancing steadily over the second half of 2012, diplomats have been searching for months for signs that Moscow's willingness to protect Assad is faltering.


So far Russia has stuck to its position that rebels must negotiate with Assad's government, which has ruled since his father seized power in a coup 42 years ago.


"I think a realistic and detailed assessment of the situation inside Syria will prompt reasonable opposition members to seek ways to start a political dialogue," Lavrov said on Friday.


That was immediately dismissed by the opposition: "The coalition is ready for political talks with anyone ... but it will not negotiate with the Assad regime," spokesman Walid al-Bunni told Reuters. "Everything can happen after the Assad regime and all its foundations have gone. After that we can sit down with all Syrians to set out the future."


BRAHIMI TO MOSCOW


Russia says it is behind the efforts of U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, fresh from a five-day trip to Damascus where he met Assad. Brahimi, due in Moscow for talks on Saturday, is touting a months-old peace plan for a transitional government.


That U.N. plan was long seen as a dead letter, foundering from the outset over the question of whether the transitional body would include Assad or his allies. Brahimi's predecessor, Kofi Annan, quit in frustration shortly after negotiating it.


But with rebels having seized control of large sections of the country in recent months, Russia and the United States have been working with Brahimi to resurrect the plan as the only internationally recognized diplomatic negotiating track.


Russia's Middle East envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who announced the invitation to Alkhatib, said further talks were scheduled between the "three B's" - himself, Brahimi and U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns.


Speaking in Damascus on Thursday, Brahimi called for a transitional government with "all the powers of the state", a phrase interpreted by the opposition as potentially signaling tolerance of Assad remaining in some ceremonial role.


But such a plan is anathema to the surging rebels, who now believe they can drive Assad out with a military victory, despite long being outgunned by his forces.


"We do not agree at all with Brahimi's initiative. We do not agree with anything Brahimi says," Colonel Abdel-Jabbar Oqaidi, who heads the rebels' military council in Aleppo province, told reporters at his headquarters there.


Oqaidi said the rebels want Assad and his allies tried in Syria for crimes. Assad himself says he will stay on and fight to the death if necessary.


In the rebel-held town of Kafranbel, demonstrators held up cartoons showing Brahimi speaking to a news conference with toilet bowls in front of him, in place of microphones. Banners denounced the U.N. envoy with obscenities in English.


DIPLOMATS IMPOTENT


Diplomacy has largely been irrelevant to the conflict so far, with Western states ruling out military intervention like the NATO bombing that helped topple Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year, and Russia and China blocking U.N. action against Assad.


Meanwhile, the fighting has grown fiercer and more sectarian, with rebels mainly from the Sunni Muslim majority battling Assad's government and allied militia dominated by his Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.


Still, Western diplomats have repeatedly touted signs of a change in policy from Russia, which they hope could prove decisive, much as Moscow's withdrawal of support for Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic heralded his downfall a decade ago.


Bogdanov said earlier this month that Assad's forces were losing ground and rebels might win the war, but Russia has since rowed back, with Lavrov last week reiterating Moscow's position that neither side could win through force.


Still, some Moscow-based analysts see the Kremlin coming to accept it must adapt to the possibility of rebel victory.


"As the situation changes on the battlefield, more incentives emerge for seeking a way to stop the military action and move to a phase of political regulation," said Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.


Meanwhile, on the ground the bloodshed that has killed some 44,000 people continues unabated. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain, 150 people were killed on Thursday, a typical toll as fighting has escalated in recent months.


Government war planes bombarded the town of Assal al-Ward in the Qalamoun district of Damascus province for the first time, killing one person and wounding dozens, the observatory said.


In Aleppo, Syria's northern commercial hub, clashes took place between rebel fighters and army forces around an air force intelligence building in the Zahra quarter, a neighborhood that has been surrounded by rebels for weeks.


(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Dominic Evans in Beirut and Steve Gutterman and Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood)



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Today on New Scientist: 27 December 2012









Best videos of 2012: Spiderman skin stops a bullet

Watch reinforced skin stop a speeding bullet, at number 4 in our countdown of the top videos of the year



Gastrophysics: Some said 'more', others said 'meh'

Network theorists model everything from internet traffic to disease spread. But can they tease out titillating new taste combos? New Scientist gets cooking



Best videos of 2012: Sea lice reduce pig to bones

Watch a microscopic mob devour a pig carcass underwater, as we reach number 5 in our best videos of the year.



2012 review: The year in space

A Mars rover's daredevil landing, a private space-flight boom, and a man leaping from the stratosphere were among the top space news events this year



Photo puzzle: Can you make the connection?

Correctly match up 16 pairs of science-inspired images and enter a draw to win a state-of-the-art Olympus E-PL5 digital camera



Shiver me timbers: The coolest warship ever made

Unsinkable and bulletproof, battleships made from icebergs were the great hope of the second world war, says Stephen Battersby



2013 Smart Guide: Next-generation video games

The upcoming round of consoles promises to deliver a far more immersive video-gaming experience, with super-high-definition and multi-screen action



Dangerous liaisons: Animals' tangled love lives

The surprising mate choices of certain animals are forcing us to reconsider our views of evolutionary theory



Three gods: The hardest logic puzzle ever

Tackle this logisticians' parlour game and you may be a bit closer to understanding the nature of truth itself, says Richard Webb



2012 review: The year in environment

From the devastation wrought by superstorm Sandy to vanishing Arctic sea ice, we round up the biggest environment stories of the year



Feast for the senses: Cook up a master dish

Trick your dinner guests into thinking you're a master chef by manipulating all their senses



2013 Smart Guide: Hot computing for a cool billion

Six mega-projects, from a supercomputer brain simulation to a real-life SimCity on a global scale, are vying for two prizes, each worth $1 billion



New Scientist 2012 holiday quiz

Anatomical incongruities, why men are like fruit flies, a boson by any other name, and much more in our end-of-year quiz



2013 Smart Guide: Supercomet to outshine the moon

A gas cloud crashing into the black hole at the centre of the galaxy and a naked-eye comet promise celestial fireworks in 2013



Dangerous liaisons: Fatal animal attractions

Humans aren't the only animals that can run into trouble when choosing a mate, discovers David Robson



2012 review: Zoologger's 12 beasts of Christmas

Zoologger is our weekly column highlighting extraordinary animals - and occasionally other organisms - from around the world. Here are this year's 12 best



Prehistoric cinema: A silver screen on the cave wall

With cartoon frescoes, shadow theatre and a rudimentary form of animation, our ancestors knew how to bring their stories to life, says Catherine Brahic



Review of 2012: The year's biggest news at a glance

Halt to bird flu experiments, Greece's economic crisis, the Stuxnet computer worm, Curiosity arrives on Mars, and more



How does a traffic cop ticket a driverless car?

Rapid progress means self-driving cars are in the fast lane to consumer reality. Is the law up to speed too, asks legal expert Bryant Walker Smith




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Oil prices decline on 'fiscal cliff' deal doubts






NEW YORK: Oil prices declined Thursday amid doubts that an 11th-hour deal on the "fiscal cliff" crisis could be reached by a rapidly approaching end-of-year deadline.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for February delivery, slipped 11 cents to settle at $90.87 a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for February delivery dipped 27 cents to $110.80 a barrel in London trade.

With the clock ticking, the White House and Republican lawmakers have yet to reach a deal to keep the United States from falling off the so-called fiscal cliff, a combination of steep tax hikes and drastic spending cuts set to kick in next month.

President Barack Obama cut short his family Christmas break in Hawaii to return to Washington in a last-ditch attempt at reaching a compromise.

But the situation remained tense, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, saying Thursday "it looks like" the US economy will hurtle over the fiscal cliff because House Speaker John Boehner and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were stalling.

Crude oil prices were "being taken down on what appears to be the growing eventuality that the US is going to go over the fiscal cliff," said analyst John Kilduff of Again Capital.

There was "no doubt that the tax hikes and the spending cuts that will roll automatically will be a real drag on the economy for the us," he added.

Experts warn that going over the "fiscal cliff" could take the United States back into recession. And that could hurt oil demand in the world's biggest consumer of crude.

-AFP/ac



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Numerous women sexually assaulted by taxi driver, police say




123046shenoudabookingManhattan Beach Police released the photo of a taxi driver suspected of sexually assaulting multiple women in the South Bay region.


Torrance resident Sameh Shenouda, 38, was arrested in November on charges of sexually assaulting a woman in August, according to Manhattan Beach Det. Michael Rosenberger.


“The victim did not initially report the crime until she saw a news report of a similar offense occurring in Redondo Beach,” Rosenberger said.


News of Shenouda’s arrest prompted other women to come forward with information.


Rosenberger said Shenouda would offer rides to women who were walking in the evening. He would open the front passenger door so they would sit up front with him, making it easier to assault them, he said.


The United Taxi, Shenouda’s employer, has been “very cooperative with investigators,” Rosenberger said.


Manhattan Beach police are asking that if anyone has been assaulted or touched inappropriately by a taxi driver in the South Bay in the last year to contact detectives at (310) 802-5127.


ALSO:


Submit your photos


Quiz: Test your photography knowledge


Southern California Moments: Best of November


-- Dalina Castellanos


Photo: Sameh Shenouda. Credit: Manhattan Beach Police Department.



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How to Live to a Ripe Old Age


Cento di questi giorni. May you have a hundred birthdays, the Italians say, and some of them do.

So do other people in various spots around the world—in Blue Zones, so named by National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner for the blue ink that outlines these special areas on maps developed over more than a decade. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

In his second edition of his book The Blue Zones, Buettner writes about a newly identified Blue Zone: the Greek island of Ikaria (map). National Geographic magazine Editor at Large Cathy Newman interviewed him about the art of living long and well. (Watch Buettner talk about how to live to a hundred.)

Q. You've written about Blue Zones in Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoa, Costa Rica and Okinawa, Japan. How did you find your way to Ikaria?

A. Michel Poulain, a demographer on the project, and I are always on the lookout for new Blue Zones. This one popped up in 2008. We got a lead from a Greek foundation looking for biological markers in aging people. The census data showed clusters of villages there with a striking proportion of people 85 or older. (Also see blog: "Secrets of the Happiest Places on Earth.")

In the course of your quest you've been introduced to remarkable individuals like 100-year-old Marge Jetton of Loma Linda, California, who starts the day with a mile-long [0.6-kilometer] walk, 6 to 8 miles [10 to 13 kilometers] on a stationary bike, and weight lifting. Who is the most memorable Blue Zoner you've met?

Without question it's Stamatis Moraitis, who lives in Ikaria. I believe he's 102. He's famous for partying. He makes 400 liters [100 gallons] of wine from his vineyards each year, which he drinks with his friends. His house is the social hot spot of the island. (See "Longevity Genes Found; Predict Chances of Reaching 100.")

He's also the Ikarian who emigrated to the United States, was diagnosed with lung cancer in his 60s, given less then a year to live, and who returned to Ikaria to die. Instead, he recovered.

Yes, he never went through chemotherapy or treatment. He just moved back to Ikaria.

Did anyone figure out how he survived?

Nope. He told me he returned to the U.S. ten years after he left to see if the American doctors could explain it. I asked him what happened. "My doctors were all dead," he said.

One of the common factors that seem to link all Blue Zone people you've spoken with is a life of hard work—and sometimes hardship. Your thoughts?

I think we live in a culture that relentlessly pursues comfort. Ease is related to disease. We shouldn't always be fleeing hardship. Hardship also brings people together. We should welcome it.

Sounds like another version of the fable of the grasshopper and the ant?

You rarely get satisfaction sitting in an easy chair. If you work in a garden on the other hand, and it yields beautiful tomatoes, that's a good feeling.

Can you talk about diet? Not all of us have access to goat milk, for example, which you say is typically part of an Ikarian breakfast.

There is nothing exotic about their diet, which is a version of a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables, beans, fruit, olive oil, and moderate amounts of alcohol. (Read more about Buettner's work in Ikaria in National Geographic Adventure.)

All things in moderation?

Not all things. Socializing is something we should not do in moderation. The happiest Americans socialize six hours a day.

The people you hang out with help you hang on to life?

Yes, you have to pay attention to your friends. Health habits are contagious. Hanging out with unhappy people who drink and smoke is hazardous to your health.

So how has what you've learned influenced your own lifestyle?

One of the big things I've learned is that there's an advantage to regular low-intensity activity. My previous life was setting records on my bike. [Buettner holds three world records in distance cycling.] Now I use my bike to commute. I only eat meat once a week, and I always keep nuts in my office: Those who eat nuts live two to three more years than those who don't.

You also write about having a purpose in life.

Purpose is huge. I know exactly what my values are and what I love to do. That's worth additional years right there. I say no to a lot of stuff that would be easy money but deviates from my meaning of life.

The Japanese you met in Okinawa have a word for that?

Yes. Ikigai: "The reason for which I wake in the morning."

Do you have a non-longevity-enhancing guilty pleasure?

Tequila is my weakness.

And how long would you like to live?

I'd like to live to be 200.


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Russia's Putin signals he will sign U.S. adoption ban


MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin signaled on Thursday he would sign into law a bill barring Americans from adopting Russian children and sought to forestall criticism of the move by promising measures to better care for his country's orphans.


In televised comments, Putin tried to appeal to people's patriotism by suggesting that strong and responsible countries should take care of their own and lent his support to a bill that has further strained U.S.-Russia relations.


"There are probably many places in the world where living standards are higher than ours. So what, are we going to send all our children there? Maybe we should move there ourselves?" he said, with sarcasm.


Parliament gave its final approval on Wednesday to the bill, which would also introduce other measures in retaliation for new U.S. legislation which is designed to punish Russians accused of human rights violations.


For it to become law Putin needs to sign it.


"So far I see no reason not to sign it, although I have to review the final text and weigh everything," Putin said at a meeting of federal and regional officials that was shown live on the state's 24-hour news channel.


"I intend to sign not only the law ... but also a presidential decree that will modify the support mechanisms for orphaned children ... especially those who are in a difficult situation, by that I mean in poor health," Putin said.


Critics of the bill say the Russian authorities are playing political games with the lives of children, while the U.S. State Department repeated its "deep concern" over the measure.


"Since 1992 American families have welcomed more than 60,000 Russian children into their homes, and it is misguided to link the fate of children to unrelated political considerations," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement.


Ventrell added that the United States was troubled by provisions in the bill that would restrict the ability of Russian civil society organizations to work with U.S. partners.


Children in Russia's crowded and troubled orphanage system - particularly those with serious illnesses or disabilities - will have less of a chance of finding homes, and of even surviving, if it becomes law, child rights advocates say.


They point to people like Jessica Long, who was given up shortly after birth by her parents in Siberia but was raised by adoptive parents in the United States and became a Paralympic swimming champion.


However, the Russian authorities point to the deaths of 19 Russian-born children adopted by American parents in the past decade, and lawmakers named the bill after a boy who died of heat stroke in Virginia after his adoptive father left him locked in a car for hours.


Putin reiterated Russian complaints that U.S. courts have been too lenient on parents in such cases, saying Russia has inadequate access to Russian-born children in the United States despite a bilateral agreement that entered into force on November 1.


NATIONAL IDENTITY


But Putin, who began a new six-year term in May and has searched for ways to unite the country during 13 years in power, suggested there were deeper motives for such a ban.


"For centuries, neither spiritual nor state leaders sent anyone abroad," he said, indicating he was not speaking specifically about Russia but about many societies.


"They always fight for their national identities - they gather themselves together in a fist, they fight for their language, culture," he said.


The bid to ban American adoptions plays on sensitivity in Russia about adoptions by foreigners, which skyrocketed as the social safety net unraveled with the 1991 Soviet collapse.


Families from the United States adopt more Russian children than those of any other country.


Putin had earlier described the Russian bill as an emotional but appropriate response to the Magnitsky Act, legislation signed by President Barack Obama this month as part of a law granting Russia "permanent normal trade relations" (PNTR) status.


The U.S. law imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russians accused of human rights violations, including those linked to the death in a Moscow jail of Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-graft lawyer, in 2009.


The Russian bill would impose similar measures against Americans accused of violating the rights of Russian abroad and outlaw some U.S.-funded non-governmental groups.


(Reporting By Alexei Anishchuk; additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Steve Gutterman; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Doina Chiacu)



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Three gods: The hardest logic puzzle ever


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Pakistan to mark five years since Bhutto murder






LARKANA, Pakistan: Pakistan Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, with her son expected to launch his political career with a speech in the family's ancestral home town.

Bhutto, twice elected prime minister, was killed in a gun and suicide attack after an election rally in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of Pakistan's army, on December 27, 2007. No one has ever been convicted of her murder.

Thousands are expected to gather at the Bhutto family mausoleum at Larkana in the southern province of Sindh and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Benazir and of President Asif Ali Zardari, is to make his first major public speech.

The Bhutto family has been a force in Pakistani politics for almost all of the country's 65-year history.

Benazir's father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto led the country from 1971 until he was ousted in a military coup in 1977. He was hanged in 1979 after being convicted of authorising the murder of a political opponent.

With a general election due in the spring, analysts say the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is eager to introduce a third generation of the dynasty to the public.

"It appears to be the formal launching of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari into politics," political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.

"Bilawal has symbolic value in the Bhutto family and Zardari would like this link to be used as symbolism in the election."

As head of state President Zardari, who came to power in elections held a month after his wife's murder, is barred from leading the PPP election campaign. He is also hugely unpopular, tainted by years of corruption allegations.

Though the 24-year-old Bilawal will be too young to stand if elections go ahead as expected in the spring -- the lower age limit is 25 -- Askari said he could provide a fresh new figurehead for the PPP campaign.

Bilawal, co-chairman of the PPP with his father, in May accused former military ruler Pervez Musharraf of "murdering" his mother by deliberately sabotaging her security.

A UN report in 2010 also said the murder could have been prevented and accused Musharraf's government of failing to protect Bhutto properly.

The Musharraf regime blamed the assassination on Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who denied any involvement and was killed in a US drone attack in August 2009.

There has been a surge in terror attacks in Pakistan in the past weeks. Brigadier Saad Khan, a former officer with the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, warned the Taliban may continue their campaign with an attack on events marking the anniversary.

-AFP/ac



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Girlfriend denies helping actor kill college students




A woman accused of helping her former fiance cover up two gruesome murders pleaded not guilty Wednesday to three felonies she faces in connection with the crime.


Prosecutors say aspiring actress Rachel Buffett, 25, lied to police and repeated a fabricated account that Daniel Wozniak, 28, initially told detectives.


Wozniak is charged in the 2010 murders of Orange Coast College students Samuel Herr, 26, and Julie Kibuishi, 23.


At the time of the killings, Wozniak and Buffett were starring in a community theater production of the musical "Nine."


Prosecutors allege that on May 21, 2010, Wozniak lured Herr, his neighbor, to a theater facility at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, then shot him twice in the head before stealing his ATM, wallet and cellphone.


Later that evening, Wozniak allegedly used Herr's cellphone to send a text message to Kibuishi, a friend of Herr's, to lure her to his apartment.


Authorities believe Wozniak shot Kibuishi twice in the head, and then removed some of her clothing to make it look like she was sexually assaulted.


Prosecutors say Wozniak later returned to the theater, where he allegedly cut off Herr's head, left arm and right hand before dispersing the body parts at a theater and in a local park.






Wozniak was arrested on May 26, 2010, at his bachelor party in Huntington Beach, after police traced money taken from Herr's account to him.


Prosecutors say that Wozniak wanted to steal Herr's savings account to pay for his wedding to Buffett and their honeymoon.


Wozniak has pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of special-circumstances murder and is still awaiting trial. He faces the death penalty if convicted.


Buffett was arrested Nov. 20 on suspicion of being an accessory to murder after the fact.


She faces three felony counts of accessory after the fact and is currently free on $1 million bail. Buffett could get a maximum of four years in state prison if convicted.


ALSO:


Horse rescued from hayloft after wandering upstairs


Planned avalanche turns deadly, killing ski patrol veteran


Volunteers can still help with Glendale Rose Parade float


-- Times Community News


Video: At a news conference in Long Beach earlier this month, Rachel Buffett discusses the charges she's facing. Credit: Ruben Vives / Los Angeles Times


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