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

















































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.


If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.








Read More..

No House vote before US 'fiscal cliff' deadline






WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives will not vote on Monday on an 11th-hour proposal to prevent the country from tottering over the so-called "fiscal cliff," a senior Republican source told AFP.

US markets will not immediately feel the shock of the failure as January 1 is a public holiday, giving lawmakers a short breathing space in which to hammer out a stop-gap deal and pass it through the Senate and House on Tuesday.

Lawmakers worked feverishly through the night to hammer out a deal that would raise tax rates on the wealthy but preserve tax breaks for the middle class and maintain some key stimulus benefits like unemployment insurance.

At the end of the day Monday, while President Barack Obama and lawmakers acknowledged they were close, there was still no finalised deal between Senate Republicans and Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden who is now playing a key part in negotiations.

"We don't have anything to vote on," the senior House Republican source said, referring to the lack of any bill in the Senate.

There was "no chance they pass something early enough that we could (vote) before midnight, even if we wanted to," he said.

Another House Republican source sought to downplay the fact that lawmakers were missing their self-imposed deadline.

"If a deal is reached, there's little difference between a vote tonight or tomorrow to give members a chance to review," the source said.

Some would argue there is a very clear distinction.

Passing a measure on New Year's Eve would mean Republicans - who by and large oppose raising taxes on anyone - vote for a tax hike on the wealthy.

If they wait until January 1, when the tax cuts first enacted under president George W. Bush expire and rates go up on everyone, Republicans could then turn around and vote to reduce taxes on the middle class.

As for whether the Senate could get it together to at least present a bipartisan deal before the year end, the number-two Republican in the chamber was non-committal.

"I don't know" if a Monday night vote was still possible, Senator Jon Kyl told AFP.

The Republican caucus was going to "try to get together here before long, and at least review the bidding and see where we are," he said.

"A lot of progress has been made, and I think it's obvious that we either have to have something finished here very soon or it's not going to happen."

- AFP/de



Read More..

Obama wants gun violence measures passed in 2013


WASHINGTON (AP) — Recalling the shooting rampage that killed 20 first graders as the worst day of his presidency, President Barack Obama pledged to put his "full weight" behind legislation aimed at preventing gun violence.


Obama voiced skepticism about the National Rifle Association's proposal to put armed guards in schools following the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The president made his comments Saturday in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."


Instead, the president vowed to rally the American people around an agenda to limit gun violence, adding that he still supports increased background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity bullet magazines. He left no doubt it will be one of his top priorities next year.


"It is not enough for us to say, 'This is too hard so we're not going to try,'" Obama said.


"I think there are a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there who recognize that we can't have a situation in which somebody with severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high capacity weapons that this individual in Newtown obtained and gun down our kids," he added. "And, yes, it's going to be hard."


The president added that he's ready to meet with Republicans and Democrats, anyone with a stake in the issue.


The schoolhouse shootings, coming as families prepared for the holidays, have elevated the issue of gun violence to the forefront of public attention. Six adult staff members were also killed at the elementary school. Shooter Adam Lanza committed suicide, apparently as police closed in. Earlier, he had killed his mother at the home they shared.


The tragedy immediately prompted calls for greater gun controls. But the NRA is strongly resisting those efforts, arguing instead that schools should have armed guards for protection. Some gun enthusiasts have rushed to buy semiautomatic rifles of the type used by Lanza, fearing sales may soon be restricted.


Obama seemed unimpressed by the NRA proposal. "I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools," he said. "And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem."


The president said he intends to press the issue with the public.


"The question then becomes whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here that it does not just become another one of these routine episodes where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away," Obama said. "It certainly won't feel like that to me. This is something that - you know, that was the worst day of my presidency. And it's not something that I want to see repeated."


Separately, a member of the president's cabinet said Sunday that rural America may be ready to join a national conversation about gun control. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the debate has to start with respect for the Second Amendment right to bear arms and recognition that hunting is a way of life for millions of Americans.


But Vilsack said Newtown has changed the way people see the issue. "I really believe that this is a different circumstance and a different situation," Vilsack said on CNN.


Vilsack said he thinks it's possible for Americans to come together. "It's potentially a unifying conversation," he said. "The problem is that these conversations are always couched in the terms of dividing us. This could be a unifying conversation, and Lord knows we need to be unified."


Besides passing gun violence legislation, Obama also listed deficit reduction and immigration as top priorities for 2013. A big deficit reduction deal with Republicans proved elusive this month, and Obama is now hoping Senate Democratic and Republican leaders salvage a scaled-back plan that avoids tax increases for virtually all Americans.


In addition, he issued a defense of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has been mentioned as one of the leading candidates to replace Leon Panetta as defense secretary.


Hagel supported the 2002 resolution approving U.S. military action in Iraq, but later became a critic of the war. He has been denounced by some conservatives for not being a strong enough ally of Israel. Also, many liberals and gay activists have banded against him for comments he made in 1998 about an openly gay nominee for an ambassadorship.


Obama, who briefly served with Hagel in the Senate, stressed that he had yet to make a decision but called Hagel a "patriot."


Hagel "served this country with valor in Vietnam," the president said. "And (he) is somebody who's currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job."


Obama noted that Hagel had apologized for his 14-year-old remark on gays.


Read More..

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









































































































');

























































































































 $'+ doc.ngstore_price_t +'';
html += ' $'+ doc.ngstore_saleprice_t +'';
} else {
html += ' $'+ doc.ngstore_price_t +'';
}
html += '
';

$("#ecom_43331 ul.ecommerce_all_img").append(html);




o.totItems++;

}// end for loop
} // end if data.response.numFound != 0

if(o.totItems != o.maxItems){
if(o.defaultItems.length > 0){
o.getItemByID(o.defaultItems.shift());
} else if(o.isSearchPage && !o.searchComplete){
o.doSearchPage();
} else if(!o.searchComplete) {
o.byID = false;
o.doSearch();
}
}// end if
}// end parseResults function

o.trim = function(str) {
return str.replace(/^\s\s*/, '').replace(/\s\s*$/, '');
}

o.doSearchPage = function(){
o.byID = false;

var tempSearch = window.location.search;
var searchTerms ="default";
var temp;

if( tempSearch.substr(0,7) == "?search"){
temp = tempSearch.substr(7).split("&");
searchTerms = temp[0];
} else {
temp = tempSearch.split("&");
for(var j=0;j 0){
o.getItemByID(o.defaultItems.shift());
} else if(o.isSearchPage){
o.doSearchPage();
} else {
o.doSearch();
}

}// end init function

}// end ecommerce object

var store_43331 = new ecommerce_43331();





store_43331.init();









































































































































































Read More..

Clinton's Blood Clot Could've Been Life Threatening













Hillary Clinton's latest health update -- cerebral venous thrombosis -- is a rare and potentially "life-threatening" condition, according to medical experts, but one from which the globe-trotting secretary of state is likely to recover from.


In an update from her doctors, Clinton's brain scans revealed a clot had formed in the right transverse venous sinus, and she was being successfully treated with anticoagulants.


"She is lucky being Hillary Clinton and had a follow-up MRI -- lucky that her team thought to do it," said Dr. Brian D. Greenwald, medical director at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Center for Head Injuries. "It could have potentially serious complications."


The backup of blood flow could have caused a stroke or hemorrhage, according to Greenwald.


"Imagine this vein, where all the cerebral spinal fluid inside the head and spine no longer flows through this area," he said. "You get a big back up and that itself could cause a stroke. In the long-term … the venous system can't get the blood out of the brain. It's like a Lincoln Tunnel back up."


A transverse sinus thrombosis is a clot arising in one of the major veins that drains the brain. It is an uncommon but serious disorder.






Morne de Klerk/Getty Images











Hillary Clinton Has Blood Clot From Concussion Watch Video









Members of Hillary Clinton's State Department Team Resign Watch Video









Hillary Clinton's Concussion: Doctor Orders Rest Watch Video





According to Greenwald, the clot was most likely caused by dehydration brought on by the flu, perhaps exacerbated by a concussion she recently suffered.


"The only time I have seen it happen is when people are severely dehydrated and it causes the blood to be so thick that it causes a clot in the area," said Greenwald. "It's one of the long-term effects of a viral illness."


Drs. Lisa Bardack of the Mt. Kisco Medical Group and Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi of George Washington University discovered the clot during a routine follow-up MRI on Sunday.


"This is a clot in the vein that is situated in the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear," they said in a statement today. "It did not result in a stroke, or neurological damage. To help dissolve this clot, her medical team began treating the secretary with blood thinners. She will be released once the medication dose has been established."


Clinton is "making excellent progress," according to her doctors. "She is in good spirits, engaging with her doctors, her family, and her staff."


Clinton, 65, was hospitalized at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Sunday. She suffered a concussion earlier this month after she hit her head when she fainted because of dehydration from a stomach virus, according to an aide.


Dehydration can also precipitate fainting, according to Dr. Neil Martin, head of neurovascular surgery at University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center.


He agreed that the condition could potentially have caused a brain hemorrhage or stroke and been fatal.


"In patients with no symptoms after many days, full recovery is the norm," said Martin. "However, some cases show extension of the thrombus or clot into other regions of the cerebral venous sinuses, and this can worsen the situation considerably -- thus the use of anticoagulants to prevent extension of the thrombus."


But, he said, anticoagulants can be a "double-edged sword." With even a tiny injury within the brain from the concussion, these medications can cause "symptomatic bleed," such as a subdural or intracerebral hemorrhage.


The clot location is not related to the nasal sinuses, but are rather large venous structures in the dura or protective membrane covering the brain, which drains blood from the brain.






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..

Brazil, Mexico have most Latin American billionaires






MEXICO CITY: Brazil and Mexico have the most billionaires in Latin America but earn the least from estate taxes, according to a new study from a regional economic group.

Brazil tops the billionaires list with 30, followed by Mexico, with 11, said this month's report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mexico's Carlos Slim is the richest in the world according to the annual Forbes magazine ranking.

Yet between 2005 and 2007, Mexico earned just 0.18 per cent of its GDP from estate taxes, and Brazil only 0.44 per cent, according to the report on economic elites, inequality and taxation.

That put them behind several other Latin American countries with far fewer billionaires, such as Colombia, which has three billionaires and earned 0.54 per cent from estate taxes.

And income disparities are vast.

More than two billion people live on less than US$2 a day worldwide, "revealing the extreme disparities in the global economy," wrote study authors Andres Solimano and Juan Pablo Jimenez.

The sharp concentration of income and wealth in the hands of a few "reduces the legitimacy of capitalism," they said.

The wide gap between the haves and the have-nots also undermines democracy, the authors added, because "winning an election requires financing, giving an advantage to those who have resources."

Earlier this year, the United Nations called for a "billionaires tax" of 1.0 per cent that could raise more than US$40 billion a year, as part of a package of global taxes that could help raise hundreds of billions of dollars for development.

- AFP/jc



Read More..

Senate leaders offer dour take on 'cliff' talks


WASHINGTON (AP) — A Capitol Hill deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" was proving elusive Sunday as a deadline to avert tax hikes on virtually every American worker and block sweeping spending cuts set to strike the Pentagon and other federal agencies grew perilously near.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell remained at odds on such key issues as the income threshold for higher tax rates and how to deal with inheritance taxes, among other issues. McConnell complained that Reid had yet to respond to a GOP offer made Saturday evening and reached out to Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime friend, in hopes of breaking the impasse.


One sign of progress came as Republicans withdrew a long-discussed proposal to slow future cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients as part of a compromise to avoid the cliff. Democrats said earlier Sunday that proposal had put a damper on the talks, and Republican senators emerging from a closed-door GOP meeting said it is no longer part of the equation.


"I was really gratified to hear that Republicans have taken their demand for Social Security benefit cuts off the table. The truth is they should never have been on the table to begin with," Reid said late Sunday afternoon. "There is still significant distance between the two sides, but negotiations continue."


At stake are sweeping tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect at the turn of the year. Taken together, they've been dubbed the fiscal cliff, and economists warn the one-two punch — which leaders in both parties have said they want to avoid — could send the still-fragile economy back into recession. Tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 expire at midnight Monday, and $109 billion in across-the-board cuts in federal spending this year would also begin this week.


Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the two sides remained at odds over the income threshold for higher tax rates and tax levels on large estates. Republicans said that Democratic demands for new money to prevent a cut in Medicare payments to doctors and renew jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed should be financed with cuts elsewhere in the budget. Republicans also balked at a Democratic proposal to use new tax revenues to shut off the across-the-board spending cuts, known as a sequester in Washington-speak.


President Barack Obama, in a televised interview, blamed Republicans for putting the nation's shaky economy at risk.


"We have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over," Obama said in the interview that was taped Saturday and aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''They have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers."


"The mood is discouraged," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who caucuses with Democrats. "The parties are much further apart than I hoped they'd be by now."


The pessimistic turn came as the House and Senate returned to the Capitol for a rare Sunday session. Reid and McConnell had hoped to have a blueprint to present to their rank and file by mid-afternoon.


"I'm concerned with the lack of urgency here. There's far too much at stake," McConnell said. "There is no single issue that remains an impossible sticking point — the sticking point appears to be a willingness, an interest or courage to close the deal."


McConnell and Reid were hoping for a deal that would prevent higher taxes for most Americans while letting rates rise at higher income levels, although the precise point at which that would occur was a sticking point.


Obama had wanted to raise the top tax rate on individuals making more than $200,000 a year and families making more than $250,000 from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. In talks with Republican House Speaker John Boehner, he offered to raise that threshold to $400,000.


The estate tax issue was particularly tricky since several Democrats, including veterans like Max Baucus of Montana, disagree with Obama's proposal to increase the top estate tax rate from 35 percent to 45 percent.


Republicans said Democrats pressed to turn off more than $200 billion in the across-the-board spending cuts over the coming two years. This so-called sequester is the punishment for last year's deficit "supercommittee" failure to strike a deal.


Hopes for blocking across-the-board spending cuts were fading and Obama's proposal to renew the 2-percentage-point payroll tax cut wasn't even part of the discussion.


Obama pressed lawmakers to start where both sides say they agree — sparing middle-class families from looming tax hikes.


"If we can get that done, that takes a big bite out of the fiscal cliff. It avoids the worst outcomes. And we're then going to have some tough negotiations in terms of how we continue to reduce the deficit, grow the economy, create jobs," Obama said in the NBC interview.


Gone is the talk of a grand deal that would tackle broad spending and revenue demands and set the nation on a course to lower deficits. Obama and Boehner were once a couple hundred billion dollars apart on a deal that would have reduced the deficit by more than $2 trillion over 10 years.


Republicans have complained that Obama has demanded too much in tax revenue and hasn't proposed sufficient cuts or savings in the nation's massive health care programs.


Obama upped the pressure on Republicans to negotiate a fiscal deal, arguing that GOP leaders have rejected his past attempts to strike a bigger and more comprehensive bargain.


"The offers that I've made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me," Obama said.


Boehner disagreed, saying Sunday that the president had been unwilling to agree to anything "that would require him to stand up to his own party."


The trimmed ambitions of today are a far cry from the upbeat bipartisan rhetoric of just six weeks ago, when the leadership of Congress went to the White House to set the stage for negotiations to come.


But the deal under discussion Sunday appeared unlikely to settle other outstanding issues, including the sequester, which would total more than $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years, divided equally between the Pentagon and other government agencies. And off the table completely is an extension of the nation's borrowing limit, which the government is on track to reach any day but which the Treasury can put off through accounting measures for about two months.


That means Obama and the Congress are already on a new collision path. Republicans say they intend to use the debt ceiling as leverage to extract more spending cuts from the president. Obama has been adamant that unlike 2011, when the country came close to defaulting on its debts, he will not yield to those Republican demands.


Meanwhile, a senior defense official said if the sequester were triggered, the Pentagon would soon begin notifying its 800,000 civilian employees that they should expect some furloughs — mandatory unpaid leave, not layoffs. It would then take some time for the furloughs to begin being implemented, said the official, who requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the internal preparations.


Lawmakers have until the new Congress convenes to pass any compromise, and even the calendar matters. Democrats said they had been told House Republicans might reject a deal until after Jan. 1, to avoid a vote to raise taxes before they had technically gone up, and then vote to cut taxes after they had risen.


___


Associated Press writers David Espo, Robert Burns, Julie Pace, Jim Kuhnhenn and Michele Salcedo contributed to this report.


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..

Fiscal Cliff-Hanger: No Vote Tonight, Reid Says













With less than two days remaining for Congress to reach a budget agreement that would avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," a senior White House official tells ABC News that President Obama is still "modestly optimistic" that a deal can be struck to prevent middle class taxes from increasing on New Year's Day.


But a resolution to the ordeal won't come tonight.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid adjourned his chamber just before 6 p.m., ensuring a potential deal could not be voted on before senators return to business Monday morning.


The Nevada lawmaker vowed despite the recess, the parties' leadership would continue negotiations throughout the night.


Vice President Biden has now re-emerged as a key player, back in Washington and playing "a direct role" in trying to make a deal with Senate Republicans. Biden has been tapped because of his long-standing relationship with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.


A Democratic source says that McConnell seems to be genuinely interested in getting an agreement. The news dovetails with reports that the GOP has backed off a key Social Security measure that had stalled negotiations.


According to sources, the row was sparked when the GOP offered a proposal that included a new method of calculating entitlement benefits with inflation. Called the "chained consumer price index," or Chained CPI, the strategy has been criticized by some Democrats because it would lower cost of living increases for Social Security recipients.


"We thought it was mutually understood that it was off the table for a scaled-back deal," a Democratic aide said. "It's basically a poison pill."


Obama has floated chained CPI in the past as part of a grand bargain, despite opposition from the AARP and within his own party.


Also in the Republican plan brought today: An extension of the current estate tax and no increase in the debt ceiling. Higher income earners would see their taxes increase, but at levels "well above $250,000," the sources said.


That "major setback" in the talks was evident on the floor of the Senate this afternoon.


"I'm concerned about the lack of urgency here, I think we all know we are running out of time," McConnell said, "I want everyone to know I am willing to get this done, but I need a dance partner."


McConnell, R-Ky., said he submitted the Republican's latest offer to Reid, D-Nev., at 7:10 p.m. Saturday and was willing to work through the night. Reid promised to get back to him at 10 this morning, but has yet to do so.


Why have the Democrats not come up with a counteroffer? Reid admitted it himself moments later.


"At this stage we're not able to make a counteroffer," Reid said noting that he's had numerous conversations with Obama, but the two parties are still far apart on some big issues, "I don't have a counteroffer to make. Perhaps as the day wears on I will be able to."


McConnell said he believes there is no major issue that is the sticking point but rather, "the sticking point appears to be a willingness, an interest, or frankly the courage to close the deal."






J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo











Sens. Charles Schumer and Jon Kyl on 'This Week' Watch Video











Fiscal Cliff Negotiations: Could Economy Slip Back into Recession? Watch Video





Reid said late this afternoon that the fiscal cliff negotiations were getting "real close" to falling apart completely.


"At some point in the negotiating process, it appears that there are things that stop us from moving forward," he said. "I hope we're not there but we're getting real close and that's why I still hold out hope that we can get something done. But I'm not overly optimistic but I am cautiously optimistic that we can get something done."


Reid said there were serious difference between the two sides, starting with Social Security. He said Democrats are not willing to cut Social Security benefits as part of a smaller, short-term agreement, as was proposed in the latest Republican proposal.


"We're not going to have any Social Security cuts. At this stage it just doesn't seem appropriate," he said. "We're open to discussion about entitlement reforms, but we're going to have to take a different direction. The present status will not work."


Reid said that even 36 hours before the country could go over the cliff, he remains "hopeful" but "realistic," about the prospects of reaching an agreement.


"The other side is intentionally demanding concessions they know we are not willing to make," he said.


The two parties were met separately at 3 p.m., and before going in Reid said he hoped there would be an announcement to make on a way forward afterwards. But as of this evening there was no agreement and no counterproposal.


McConnell said earlier today he placed a call to Vice President Biden to see if he could "jump start the negotiations on his side."


In an interview aired this morning -- well before the breakdown -- Obama suggested that a smaller deal remained the best hope to avoid the perilous package of spending cuts and tax increases.


On NBC's "Meet the Press" the president said if Republicans agreed to raising taxes on top income earners it should be enough to avoid the triggers that would execute the $607 billion measure. Economists agree that going over the cliff would likely put the country back in recession.


"If we have raised some revenue by the wealthy paying a little bit more, that would be sufficient to turn off what's called the sequester, these automatic spending cuts, and that also would have a better outcome for our economy long-term," he said.


Saying the "pressure is on Congress to produce," the president did not specify what income level his party would deem acceptable as the cutoff for those who would see their tax rates remain at current levels.


The president has called for expiration of the "Bush-era" tax cuts to affect household earnings over $250,000 since the campaign, but has reportedly floated a $400,000 figure in past negotiations.


House Speaker John Boehner once offered a $1 million cut-off in his failed "Plan B" proposal, which failed to garner enough support among the House Republicans.


"It's been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit as part of an overall deficit reduction package," the president said.


Domestic programs would lose $55 billion in funding should sequestration pass, including $2 billion to Medicare and unemployment benefits. The Pentagon would take a $55 billion loss as well, or 9 percent of its budget.


Repeating remarks he made Friday after a meeting with congressional leaders,
Obama said that should negotiations fail he has asked Reid to introduce a stripped-down proposal to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote -- if it isn't blocked.


"If all else fails, if Republicans do in fact decide to block so that taxes on the middle class do in fact go up on Jan. 1, then we'll come back with a new Congress on Jan. 4, and the first bill that will be introduced on the floor will be to cut taxes on middle-class families," he said of the worst-case scenario. "I don't think the average person is going to say, 'Gosh, you know, that's a really partisan agenda.'"


The interview with the president was taped Saturday while Reid and McConnell scrambled to their offices for a solution behind closed doors. Press staking out Capitol Hill reported little public activity from the leaders or their surrogates. If negotiations are successful, the lawmakers could introduce a bill for vote this afternoon.


The Republican leaders immediately bit back at the president's remarks. In a written statement Boehner said casting blame was "ironic, as a recurring theme of our negotiations was his unwillingness to agree to anything that would require him to stand up to his own party. "






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..

Yen rebounds slightly against dollar






NEW YORK: The yen edged higher against the dollar Friday after days of declines on expectations Japan would implement more monetary easing under its new prime minister.

The dollar stood at 85.98 yen around 2200 GMT, down from 86.09 late Thursday.

In Asian trade earlier in the day, the yen sat at more than two-year lows against the greenback.

Investors have been selling the yen on expectations newly-elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will carry out his promises of more aggressive monetary easing and big government spending to lift inflation and kickstart the economy.

While noting that Abe and members of his government have "made it abundantly clear" that they won't back away from their promises, BK Asset Management noted that "dollar/yen appears to be nearing exhaustion and a move down to 85 is likely."

"After climbing to a fresh 2-year high overnight, dollar/yen staged a sharp intraday reversal that left the pair near the day's lows," they said.

The euro also slipped slightly against the yen around 2200 GMT, reaching 113.62 yen around 2200 GMT, compared to 113.97 yen a day earlier.

The common European currency lost a little ground to the dollar, standing at $1.3217 after hitting $1.3235 late Thursday.

In other currencies, the dollar inched up to 0.9134 Swiss francs, while the pound rose to $1.6167.

-AFP/ac



Read More..

Last ditch effort to avoid fiscal cliff under way


WASHINGTON (AP) — The end game at hand, the White House and Senate leaders took a final stab at compromise Friday night to prevent middle-class tax increases from taking effect at the turn of the new year and possibly prevent sweeping spending cuts as well.


"I'm optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time," President Barack Obama said at the White House after meeting for more than an hour with congressional leaders.


Surprisingly, after weeks of postelection gridlock, Senate leaders sounded even more bullish.


The Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he was "hopeful and optimistic" of a deal, adding he hoped a compromise could be presented to rank-and-file lawmakers as early as Sunday, a little more than 24 hours before the year-end deadline.


Said Majority Leader Harry Reid: "I'm going to do everything I can" to prevent the tax increases and spending cuts that threaten to send the economy into recession. He cautioned, "Whatever we come up with is going to be imperfect."


Officials said there was a general understanding that any agreement would block scheduled income tax increases for middle class earners while letting rates rise at upper income levels.


Democrats said Obama was sticking to his campaign call for increases above $250,000 in annual income, even though in recent negotiations he said he could accept $400,000.


The two sides also confronted a divide over estate taxes.


Obama favors a higher tax than is currently in effect, but one senior Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, said he's "totally dead set" against it. Speaking of fellow GOP lawmakers, he said they harbor more opposition to an increase in the estate tax than to letting taxes on income and investments rise at upper levels.


Also likely to be included in the negotiations are taxes on dividends and capital gains, both of which are scheduled to rise with the new year. Also the alternative minimum tax, which, if left unchanged, could hit millions of middle- and upper-income taxpayers for the first time.


In addition, Obama and Democrats want to prevent the expiration of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, and there is widespread sentiment in both parties to shelter doctors from a cut in Medicare fees.


The White House has shown increased concern about a possible spike in milk prices if a farm bill is not passed in the next few days, although it is not clear whether that issue, too, might be included in the talks.


One Republican who was briefed on the White House meeting said Boehner made it clear he would leave in place spending cuts scheduled to take effect unless alternative savings were found to offset them. If he prevails, that would defer politically difficult decisions on government benefit programs like Medicare until 2013.


Success was far from guaranteed in an atmosphere of political mistrust — even on a slimmed-down deal that postponed hard decisions about spending cuts into 2013 — in a Capitol where lawmakers grumbled about the likelihood of spending the new year holiday working.


In a brief appearance in the White House briefing room, Obama referred to "dysfunction in Washington," and said the American public is "not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. Not right now."


If there is no compromise, he said he expects Reid to put legislation on the floor to prevent tax increases on the middle class and extend unemployment benefits — an implicit challenge to Republicans to dare to vote against what polls show is popular.


The guest list for the White House meeting included Reid, McConnell, Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.


The same group last met more than a month ago and emerged expressing optimism they could strike a deal that avoided the fiscal cliff. At that point, Boehner had already said he was willing to let tax revenues rise as part of an agreement, and the president and his Democratic allies said they were ready to accept spending cuts.


Since then, though, talks between Obama and Boehner faltered, the speaker struggled to control his rebellious rank and file, and Reid and McConnell sparred almost daily in speeches on the Senate floor. Through it all, Wall Street has paid close attention, and in the moments before the meeting, stocks were trading lower for the fifth day in a row.


The core issue is the same as it has been for more than a year, Obama's demand for tax rates to rise on upper incomes while remaining at current levels for most Americans. He made the proposal central to his successful campaign for re-election, when he said incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples should rise to 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent.


Boehner refused for weeks to accept any rate increases, and simultaneously accused Obama of skimping on the spending cuts he would support as part of a balanced deal to reduce deficits, remove the threat of spending cuts and prevent the across-the-board tax cuts.


Last week, the Ohio Republican pivoted and presented a Plan B measure that would have let rates rise on million-dollar earners. That was well above Obama's latest offer, which called for a $400,000 threshold, but more than the speaker's rank and file were willing to accept.


Facing defeat, Boehner scrapped plans for a vote, leaving the economy on track for the cliff that political leaders in both parties had said they could avoid. In the aftermath, Democrats said they doubted any compromise was possible until Boehner has been elected to a second term as speaker when the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3.


Further compounding the year-end maneuvering, there are warnings that the price of milk could virtually double beginning next year.


Congressional officials said that under current law, the federal government is obligated to maintain prices so that fluid milk sells for about $20 per hundredweight. If the law lapses, the Department of Agriculture would be required to maintain a price closer to $36 of $38 per hundredweight, they said. It is unclear when price increases might be felt by consumers.


______


Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.


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..

'Cliff' Summit Brings Hope for a Deal













Washington brinkmanship appears to have created a last minute chance for the White House and Congress to agree on a plan to avoid sending the country over the fiscal cliff.


President Obama emerged from a White House summit this evening to say "we had a constructive meeting today" and that he was "optimistic" that they could devise a proposal ahead of a Jan. 1 deadline that would otherwise automatically trigger a wide range of higher taxes and steep budget cuts. Economists fear that such a combination could throw the country into a recession.


The president lamented that a deal is coming down to the final hours.


"The American people are watching what we do... (their) patience is already thin," the president said. "It's deja vu all over again."


He added later that for Americans the repeated last second efforts to dodge economic crises "is mind boggling to them. It has to stop."


After leaving the summit, the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders announced on the Senate floor that they're aiming to have a proposal on the fiscal cliff drawn up by Sunday, with the potential to put it on the Senate floor that afternoon.






Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images











Sen. Harry Reid Says 'US Headed Over Fiscal Cliff' Watch Video









Fiscal Cliff: Congressional Leaders Squabble at the Last Minute Watch Video







"We had a good meeting down at the White House," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. "We are engaged in discussions, the majority leader, myself and the White House in the hopes that we can come forward as early as Sunday and have a recommendation that I can make to my conference and the majority leader can make to his conference."


McConnell said that he is "hopeful and optimistic" and they'll be "working hard" over the next 24 hours "to see if we can get there."


Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., echoed those sentiments.


"We certainly hope something will come from that," Reid said of today's White House meeting. "The Republican leader and I and our staffs are working to see what we can come up with. We shouldn't take a long time to do that."


The Senate will come in at 1 p.m. on Sunday. There will be a caucus meeting in the afternoon. Reid says he hopes by that time on Sunday there will be a determination if a proposal can be brought to the floor.


"There was not a lot of hilarity in the meeting. Everyone knows how important it is, it was a very serious meeting," Reid said on today's White House meeting.


Reid warned that whatever they come up with it will be "imperfect."


"Some people aren't going to like it," Reid said. "Some people will like it less but that's where we are. And I feel confident that we have an obligation to do the best we can, and that was made very clear at the White House."



Read More..

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




Read More..

Egypt's Mubarak back in hospital as health worsens






CAIRO: Egypt's state prosecutor on Thursday ordered imprisoned former dictator Hosni Mubarak transferred to a military hospital after his health deteriorated, a source at the prosecutor's office said.

Mubarak, serving a life sentence over the killings of protesters, was briefly taken to hospital on December 19 for scans after he fell in his prison bathroom and hurt his head.

Mubarak, 84, will be returned to prison after he is treated, the source said.

A court sentenced the veteran strongman to life in June for failing to prevent the killings of protesters during the 18-day revolt that ended his three-decade rule in February 2011. Some 850 people died in the uprising.

Since his fall from power, Mubarak's health has appeared to deteriorate significantly, and he has suffered repeated health scares.

He spent nearly a month in hospital after he fell unconscious on June 19, with state media declaring him clinically dead on arrival. Medical sources however said he appeared to have fallen into a temporary coma.

During his time in power, the subject of his health was very much off-limits.

In 2004, he underwent surgery in Germany for a slipped disc, and he returned to Germany in March 2010 for the removal of his gall bladder and a growth on the small intestine.

During his time in power, he survived 10 attempts on his life.

-AFP/ac



Read More..

McConnell: Obama to meet Hill leaders on Friday


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate's top Republican says President Barack Obama has asked congressional leaders to convene at the White House for last-minute talks on a deal that avoids automatic tax increases and broad spending cuts.


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the leaders are expected to meet with the president Friday, just four days before the government goes over the so-called "fiscal cliff" if Congress and Obama don't act.


The meeting would be the first time Obama has huddled with all four leaders since Nov. 16 and would represent that last hope for a deal before the new year. Obama spoke to each leader individually Wednesday before returning from vacation in Hawaii.


Obama and congressional Democrats want a deal that would let tax rates rise for the wealthiest taxpayers.


Read More..

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.


Read More..

Utah Teachers Flock to Gun Training













The perception of schools as sanctuaries from violence has been "blown up" by recent events and some believe it's time for educators to literally take the situation into their own hands and carry guns.


"We've had this unwritten code, even among criminals, that schools are off limits. Those are our kids. You don't mess with that," Utah Shooting Sports Council (USSC) Chairman Clark Aposhian told ABCNews.com today.


"That perception has been blown away now," he said. "It's been shattered and if there's one thing that parents across the country are united on, it's that they are committed to and serious about protecting their kids."


Aposhian spoke shortly before opening a weapons training class for teachers and school employees that drew more than 200 Utah educators organized by the USSC, a leading gun lobby group that believes that teachers should be able to fight back when faced with an armed intruder.


"One firearm in the hands of one teacher could have made the difference at Sandy Hook or Columbine, but they weren't allowed to carry in those schools," Aposhian said.


The USSC is waiving its normal $50 training fee today for teachers who wish to attend. Aposhian said the 200 person course was filled to capacity and said he plans on holding another session for people he may have to turn away today.


INFOGRAPHIC: Gun in America: By The Numbers


"We trust these teachers to be with our kids for 8 to 10 hours a day every day," Aposhian said. "I don't think it's a far reach to think that we could think that they would act responsibly and with decorum in protecting their own lives and the lives of the kids under their care."












Gun Owners Give Back: LA Residents Return Guns After Newtown Tragedy Watch Video





The idea of armed teachers has been part of a fiery debate on gun control following the rampage at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six adults dead on Dec. 14.


Utah is one of only a handful of states, including Oregon, Hawaii and New Hampshire, that allow people to carry licensed concealed weapons into public schools. It is not known how many Utah teachers carry guns in public schools because the records are not public.


But Aposhian said that he tells detractors that Utah has not had any school shootings or accidental shootings in the approximately 12 years the law has been in effect.


In Ohio, the Buckeye Firearms Association is launching a pilot armed teacher training program in which 24 teachers will be selected to attend a three-day training class.


Arizona's Attorney General Tom Horne has proposed a state law amendment that would allow one educator in each school to carry a gun.


During today's six-hour training session, the educators will be taught about gun safety, loading and unloading, manipulating the firearm, how to clear malfunctions, use of force laws and state and federal firearm laws.


The training sessions normally draw about 15 to 20 people, Aposhian said, but many of the teachers who have signed up for today have expressed strong feelings about attending the class.


"I think it runs the gamut from passive desire to get a permit because they thought about it here and there to a fervor given the recent events," Aposhian said. "Perhaps they've had an epiphany of sorts and realized that that sanctuary they work in, or at least the perceived sanctuary, isn't all that safe."


The Utah State Board of Education Chair Debra Roberts released the following statement today on the matter:


"The Utah State Board of Education expresses sympathy to all involved in the recent school shooting in Connecticut. In the face of this terrible tragedy, as schools move forward in taking measures to ensure the safety of students and school personnel, we urge caution and thoughtful consideration."


The statement noted that its schools have emergency plans to handle such situations.


Carol Lear, the board's director of school law and legislation, was more blunt about Aposhian's gun training, telling the Associated Press, "It's a terrible idea...It's a horrible, no-good, rotten idea."






Read More..

Three gods: The hardest logic puzzle ever


* Required fields






















Password must contain only letters and numbers, and be at least 8 characters






Read More..

Toyota reaches US$1.1b deal with US owners over recalls






CHICAGO: Toyota has agreed to pay about $1.1 billion to settle a class action lawsuit launched by US vehicle owners affected by a series of mass recalls, the Japanese automaker said Wednesday.

Toyota did not accept any blame but agreed to compensate owners who argued that the value of about 16.3 million vehicles took a hit from dozens of deadly accidents allegedly caused by Toyota vehicles speeding out of control in 2009.

The deal will cover the cost of installing a free brake override system in about 2.7 million vehicles.

It will also provide cash payments to those who sold their vehicles in the wake of the recalls or who own vehicles ineligible for the override system.

Once lauded for its safety standards, Toyota was forced into damage control mode in recent years after recalling millions of vehicles over a series of serious defects.

Earlier this year it added two models to the controversial 2009-2010 recalls launched after it was discovered that floor mats were trapping the accelerator pedals.

Toyota's mishandling of the initial problem and other reports of sudden, unintended acceleration led to a US congressional probe, more than $50 million in fines from US regulators and public apologies by its chief.

Just two weeks ago, the company agreed to pay a record $17.35 million fine for failing to promptly notify US authorities that the floor mats could also be trapped under the accelerators of 2010 Lexus models.

Toyota has worked hard to regain its reputation for safety, while at the same time fighting off the impact of the economic crisis, a strong yen and the devastating 2011 quake-tsunami disaster.

The settlement helps Toyota avoid a lengthy and risky court battle with angry owners who also argued that Toyota's technology -- not the trapped floormats -- were behind the deadly instances of sudden, unintended acceleration.

"This was a difficult decision -- especially since reliable scientific evidence and multiple independent evaluations have confirmed the safety of Toyota's electronic throttle control systems," Christopher Reynolds, Toyota Motor North America's chief legal officer, said in a statement.

"However, we concluded that turning the page on this legacy legal issue through the positive steps we are taking is in the best interests of the company, our employees, our dealers and, most of all, our customers."

Earlier Wednesday Toyota forecast a 22 percent jump in worldwide sales this year to 9.7 million units, driven by surging demand that may help it regain the top spot in the global auto market.

Those figures could put Toyota ahead of General Motors and Volkswagen as the world's biggest automaker, a title it held between 2008 and 2010 but lost last year after a slump in sales and production.

Japan's biggest automaker also said it expects to sell about 9.91 million vehicles in 2013, up two percent on-year.

The settlement, which was filed in a California federal court Wednesday, must still be approved by a judge.

It includes $250 million for owners who've sold their vehicles, $250 million for owners whose vehicles are ineligible for the brake override system and $30 million for safety research.

Toyota will also provide free repairs for certain components linked to the recall.

Toyota said it would take a $1.1 billion charge to cover the estimated costs of the settlement and two other cases.

A lead attorney for the plaintiffs told the Wall Street Journal that Wednesday's deal could end up costing Toyota as much as $1.4 billion.

-AFP/ac



Read More..

Cliff looms: Kicking the Can, Washington-style


WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to the nation's budget challenges, congressional leaders are fond of saying dismissively they don't want to kick the can down the road.


But now, a deadline hard ahead, even derided half-measures are uncertain as President Barack Obama and lawmakers struggle to avert across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that comprise an economy-threatening fiscal cliff.


Congressional officials said Wednesday they knew of no significant strides toward a compromise over a long Christmas weekend, and no negotiations have been set.


After conferring on a conference call, House Republican leaders said they remain ready for talks, urged the Senate to consider a House-passed bill that extends all existing tax cuts, but gave no hint they intend to call lawmakers back into session unless the Senate first passes legislation.


"The lines of communication remain open, and we will continue to work with our colleagues to avert the largest tax hike in American history, and to address the underlying problem, which is spending," the leadership said in a statement.


A short while later Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. countered that the House leadership should allow action on a Senate-passed bill that lets income tax rates rise only on incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. The measure could "pass tomorrow" if put to a vote, he said.


The Senate is due in session Thursday, although the immediate agenda includes legislation setting the rules for government surveillance of suspected spies and terrorists abroad, including Americans, as well as a measure providing $60 billion for victims of Superstorm Sandy.


Obama decided to cut short his Hawaii vacation for an overnight flight expected to get him back to the White House on Thursday.


Apart from the cliff, other financial challenges loom for divided government, where political brinkmanship has become the norm. The Treasury disclosed during the day it would take accounting measures to avoid reaching the government's borrowing limit of $16.4 trillion by year's end. The changes will provide about two months of additional leeway.


Separately, spending authority for much of the government will expire on March 27, 2013.


After weeks of negotiations, the president urged lawmakers late last week to scale back their ambitions for avoiding the fiscal cliff and send him legislation preventing tax cuts on all but the highest-earning Americans and extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. Longer, term, he said he still supports deficit cuts that were key to the earlier talks.


"Everybody's got to give a little bit in a sensible way," he said at the White House.


The House has no plans to convene, following last week's rebellion in which conservatives torpedoed Speaker John Boehner's legislation to prevent scheduled tax increases on most, while letting them take effect on million-dollar wage earners.


"How we get there, God only knows," the Ohio Republican said of efforts to protect the economy — and taxpayers — from the tax increases and spending cuts.


"Now is the time to show leadership, not kick the can down the road," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said a little over a week ago after Boehner announced he would shift his own focus from bipartisan talks to the approach that eventually was torpedoed by his own rank and file.


It's a phrase that political leaders use when they want to suggest others want to avoid tackling major problems, and one that Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and even Obama as well as Reid have used.


"We have a spending problem. We have to address it, And we're not going to address it by kicking the can down the road," the speaker said at a news conference late last week when he was asked about setting a vote on a plan that Democrats find acceptable.


Cantor recently used the same approach in challenging Obama to agree to savings from Medicare and other benefit programs. "This has to be a part of this agreement or else we just continue to dig the hole deeper, asking folks to allow us to kick the can down the road further and that we don't want to do," he said on Nov. 28.


In fact, it's a phrase that has been in use for over a year as Obama and Republicans jockey for position on pocketbook issues.


In July 2011, when he was struggling with Republicans over the threat of a first-ever government default, Obama said he had "heard reports that there may be some in Congress who want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term. But then wants to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem, our deficit."


A few months later, an extension of a payroll tax cut was the issue, and Boehner was insisting on a year-long renewal rather than the temporary plan that passed the Senate with votes from lawmakers in both parties.


"How can you do tax policy for two months?" he asked on Dec. 18, 2011. "I believe that two months is just kicking the can down the road.


"The American people are tired of that."


At issue now is series of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to kick in with the new year that economists caution could send the economy into a recession.


___


AP Economics Writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.


Read More..