Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing



































IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.












Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.












Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"


















































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.









































































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








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Football: Defeated Barcelona rage over Real 'favouritism'






MADRID: Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has claimed that Real Madrid tend to get the big decisions from referees after his side were denied a last minute penalty in their 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid.

Sergio Ramos' header nine minutes from time proved to be the winner after Karim Benzema and Lionel Messi had exchanged goals in the first-half.

But Pique and his teammates were left aggrieved after Ramos appeared to fell Adriano inside the box with Barca keeper Victor Valdes even receiving a red card for his protests after the final whistle had been blown.

"We said to the referee that it seemed clear to us, but we already know how these things go. Against Real Madrid, if the game is close, just by chance things tend to go in their favour," said Pique.

"We are left with the feeling that a draw would have been a fair result if we had been given the penalty, but we cannot make this excuse because this team has too much quality to depend on refereeing decisions to win games."

The defeat was Barca's third defeat in four games and Pique admits they are struggling to find their best form.

"You can't maintain this level for 12 months. In the last four years we have always had moments in which our level of performance has dropped.

"However, it is clear that we have had three of four bad games and this is serious because Barcelona always have to win."

On the other hand victory came as even more of a welcome surprise for the hosts after manager Jose Mourinho made seven changes to the side that had beaten Barca 3-1 in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday with star-man Cristiano Ronaldo starting only on the bench.

However, even without their talisman they made the perfect start as Benzema tapped home Alvaro Morata's cross before Messi brought Barca level with a trademark left-footed finish 12 minutes later.

Ronaldo's introduction after the break though sparked the game into life and after Valdes had produced fine saves to beat away the Portuguese's free-kick and deny Morata when he was clean through, Ramos left the Barca keeper helpless as he rose highest to power home Luka Modric's corner.

Madrid's victory keeps their very slim hopes of retaining their title alive as it cuts Barca's lead over the champions to 13 points, but as Mourinho's team selection indicated of more immediate importance is Tuesday's make or break Champions League tie with Manchester United with the tie level at 1-1.

And Ramos believes that two victories against Barca is the perfect way to prepare for their trip to Old Trafford.

"It's clear that these victories are great for the confidence of the group because now we face a difficult match in the Champions League," he said.

"After the two Clasicos we are going to Manchester convinced that we can win, although with a lot of respect for the opponent who are a great team."

Elsewhere, Valencia missed the opportunity to move into fourth as Jose Barkero's late equaliser gave Levante a share of the spoils as the Valencia derby ended 2-2.

Vicente Iborra had headed Levante into an early lead before Jonas and Roberto Soldado replied for the hosts, but a slip by Jeremy Mathieu three minutes from time allowed Barkero in to salvage a point for Juan Ignacio Martinez's men.

At the bottom Deportivo la Coruna remain rooted to the foot of the table after they could only manage a 0-0 draw at home to Rayo Vallecano, but Athletic Bilbao eased their relegation fears with a hard-fought 1-0 win away to Osasuna thanks to Markel Susaeta's second-half strike.

- AFP/jc



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Spending cut debate casts pall over Obama's second-term agenda


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Just hours after across-the-board spending cuts officially took effect, President Barack Obama pressed Congress on Saturday to work with him on a compromise to halt a fiscal crisis that threatens the economy and his broader domestic policy agenda.


The failure by Obama and Republicans to agree to halt the $85 billion 'sequester' cuts virtually guaranteed that fiscal issues would remain center stage in Washington for weeks, crowding out Obama's proposals to reform immigration, tighten gun laws and raise the minimum wage.


The economic effects of the spending cuts may take time to kick in, but political blowback has already begun and is hitting Obama as well as congressional Republicans.


A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Friday showed neither Republicans on one side nor Obama and his fellow Democrats escaping blame.


Obama's approval rating dropped to 47 percent in a Gallup poll on Friday, down from 51 percent in the previous three-day period measured.


While most polls show voters blame Republicans primarily for the fiscal mess, Obama could see himself associated with the worst effects of sequestration like the looming furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal workers.


He signed an order on Friday night that started putting the cuts into effect.


In his weekly radio address, Obama appealed for Republicans to work with Democrats on a deal, saying Americans were weary of seeing Washington "careen from one manufactured crisis to another."


But he offered no new ideas to resolve the recurring fiscal fights, and there was no immediate sign of any negotiations.


"There's a caucus of common sense (in Congress)," Obama said in his address. "And I'm going to keep reaching out to them to fix this for good."


At the heart of Washington's persistent fiscal showdowns is disagreement over how to slash the budget deficit and the $16 trillion national debt, bloated over the years by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and government stimulus for the ailing economy.


The Democratic president wants to close the fiscal gap with spending cuts and tax hikes - what he calls a "balanced approach." But Republicans do not want to concede again on taxes after doing so in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" at the New Year.


As Obama and his aides have done for weeks, the president in offered a litany of hardships he said would flow from the forced spending cuts.


"Beginning this week, businesses that work with the military will have to lay folks off. Communities near military bases will take a serious blow. Hundreds of thousands of Americans who serve their country - Border Patrol agents, FBI agents, civilians who work for the Defense Department - will see their wages cut and their hours reduced," he said.


'IT'S CALLED LEADERSHIP'


Critics said Obama should have held meaningful talks with congressional leaders long before Friday's last-minute meeting at the White House, which failed to prevent the automatic cuts written into law during a previous budget crisis in 2011.


"The president should call the senior representatives of the parties together to Camp David - or any place with a table, chairs, and no TV cameras - for serious negotiations on replacing the sequester with firm, enforceable beginnings of a comprehensive long-term debt stabilization agreement," said former Republican Senator Pete Domenici and fiscal expert Alice Rivlin.


The budget veterans, who lead the Bipartisan Policy Center's Debt Reduction Task Force, called on Obama and congressional Republican leaders to "be willing to tell those on the polar extremes of their parties that a central majority consensus will govern. It's called leadership."


After months of silence on political issues, Obama's Republican opponent in last November's election resurfaced to take a swipe at the Democrat's handling of the sequestration mess.


"No one can think that that's been a success for the president," Mitt Romney said in an interview to air on "Fox News Sunday."


The former Massachusetts governor accused Obama of "flying around the country and berating Republicans and blaming and pointing," instead of striking a budget deal.


Twenty-eight percent of Americans blame Republicans for the lack of a deal to halt sequestration, while 22 percent hold either Obama or the Democrats in Congress responsible, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll. Thirty-seven percent blame them all.


The budget standstill has overshadowed Obama's aggressive set of policy goals ranging from boosting pre-school education to fighting climate change and reforming America's immigration system.


Obama vowed in a news conference on Friday that the fiscal troubles would not prevent him from advocating for those proposals.


"I think there are other areas where we can make progress even with the sequester unresolved. I will continue to push for those initiatives," he said.


(Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)



Read More..

We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.


In the story of how the dog came in from the cold and onto our sofas, we tend to give ourselves a little too much credit. The most common assumption is that some hunter-gatherer with a soft spot for cuteness found some wolf puppies and adopted them. Over time, these tamed wolves would have shown their prowess at hunting, so humans kept them around the campfire until they evolved into dogs. (See "How to Build a Dog.")

But when we look back at our relationship with wolves throughout history, this doesn't really make sense. For one thing, the wolf was domesticated at a time when modern humans were not very tolerant of carnivorous competitors. In fact, after modern humans arrived in Europe around 43,000 years ago, they pretty much wiped out every large carnivore that existed, including saber-toothed cats and giant hyenas. The fossil record doesn't reveal whether these large carnivores starved to death because modern humans took most of the meat or whether humans picked them off on purpose. Either way, most of the Ice Age bestiary went extinct.

The hunting hypothesis, that humans used wolves to hunt, doesn't hold up either. Humans were already successful hunters without wolves, more successful than every other large carnivore. Wolves eat a lot of meat, as much as one deer per ten wolves every day-a lot for humans to feed or compete against. And anyone who has seen wolves in a feeding frenzy knows that wolves don't like to share.

Humans have a long history of eradicating wolves, rather than trying to adopt them. Over the last few centuries, almost every culture has hunted wolves to extinction. The first written record of the wolf's persecution was in the sixth century B.C. when Solon of Athens offered a bounty for every wolf killed. The last wolf was killed in England in the 16th century under the order of Henry VII. In Scotland, the forested landscape made wolves more difficult to kill. In response, the Scots burned the forests. North American wolves were not much better off. By 1930, there was not a wolf left in the 48 contiguous states of America.  (See "Wolf Wars.")

If this is a snapshot of our behavior toward wolves over the centuries, it presents one of the most perplexing problems: How was this misunderstood creature tolerated by humans long enough to evolve into the domestic dog?

The short version is that we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish. But essentially, far from the survival of the leanest and meanest, the success of dogs comes down to survival of the friendliest.

Most likely, it was wolves that approached us, not the other way around, probably while they were scavenging around garbage dumps on the edge of human settlements. The wolves that were bold but aggressive would have been killed by humans, and so only the ones that were bold and friendly would have been tolerated.

Friendliness caused strange things to happen in the wolves. They started to look different. Domestication gave them splotchy coats, floppy ears, wagging tails. In only several generations, these friendly wolves would have become very distinctive from their more aggressive relatives. But the changes did not just affect their looks. Changes also happened to their psychology. These protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures.

As dog owners, we take for granted that we can point to a ball or toy and our dog will bound off to get it. But the ability of dogs to read human gestures is remarkable. Even our closest relatives-chimpanzees and bonobos-can't read our gestures as readily as dogs can. Dogs are remarkably similar to human infants in the way they pay attention to us. This ability accounts for the extraordinary communication we have with our dogs. Some dogs are so attuned to their owners that they can read a gesture as subtle as a change in eye direction.

With this new ability, these protodogs were worth knowing. People who had dogs during a hunt would likely have had an advantage over those who didn't. Even today, tribes in Nicaragua depend on dogs to detect prey. Moose hunters in alpine regions bring home 56 percent more prey when they are accompanied by dogs. In the Congo, hunters believe they would starve without their dogs.

Dogs would also have served as a warning system, barking at hostile strangers from neighboring tribes. They could have defended their humans from predators.

And finally, though this is not a pleasant thought, when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply. Thousands of years before refrigeration and with no crops to store, hunter-gatherers had no food reserves until the domestication of dogs. In tough times, dogs that were the least efficient hunters might have been sacrificed to save the group or the best hunting dogs. Once humans realized the usefulness of keeping dogs as an emergency food supply, it was not a huge jump to realize plants could be used in a similar way.

So, far from a benign human adopting a wolf puppy, it is more likely that a population of wolves adopted us. As the advantages of dog ownership became clear, we were as strongly affected by our relationship with them as they have been by their relationship with us. Dogs may even have been the catalyst for our civilization.

Dr. Brian Hare is the director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center and Vanessa Woods is a research scientist at Duke University. This essay is adapted from their new book, The Genius of Dogs, published by Dutton. To play science-based games to find the genius in your dog, visit www.dognition.com.


Read More..

US Seeks to Confirm Report of Terror Leader's Death











American military and intelligence officials said today they are attempting to confirm a report from the Chadian military of the death of al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the alleged mastermind of the deadly attack on an Algerian natural gas facility in January.


If the new report is confirmed, Belmokhtar's death would be a significant victory against a growing al Qaeda threat in northern Africa.


Belmokhtar's killing was announced on Chadian national television by armed forces spokesperson Gen. Zacharia Gobongue, who said Chadian troops "operating in northern Mali completely destroyed a terrorist base."


"The [death] toll included several dead terrorists, including their leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar," he said.


However, an unidentified elected official in Mali told The Associated Press he doubted Belmokhtar had actually been killed and said he suspected the Chadian government of pushing the story to ease the loss of dozens of Chadian troops in operations in northern Africa.






SITE Intel Group/AP Photo







Belmokhtar is known as Mr. Marlboro because of the millions he made smuggling cigarettes across the Sahara, but in the last few months the one-eyed terrorist leader has become one of the most sought after terrorists in the world. The attack on the plant near In Amenas in eastern Algeria left dozens of Westerns and at least three Americans dead.


Belmokhtar had formed his own al Qaeda splinter group and announced he would use his wealth to finance more attacks against American and Western interests in the region and beyond.


The U.S. has badly wanted Belmokhtar stopped and actively helped in the search by French and African military units to find him, as well as another top al Qaeda leader who was reported killed yesterday.


After the Chadian announcement, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said Belmokhtar's death, if confirmed, "would be a hard blow to the collection of jihadists operating across the region that are targeting American diplomats and energy workers."


Steve Wysocki, a plant worker who survived the attack in In Amenas thanked "military forces from around the world," especially the Chadian military, for bringing "this terrorist to an expedient justice."


"My family and I continue to mourn for our friends and colleagues who didn't make it home and pray for their families," Wysocki told ABC News.


The CIA has been after Belmokhtar since the early 1990s, Royce's statement said.


ABC News' Clayton Sandell contributed to this report.



Read More..

Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing



































IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.












Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.












Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"


















































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..

Obama to visit Russia in September






WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama will visit Saint Petersburg for September's G20 summit and will also hold a meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland in June.

The White House made the announcement Friday after the leaders spoke by phone to discuss the Syria crisis amid testy relations between Russia and the United States, which have deteriorated since Obama's first term.

Russia had hoped that Obama would pay an official visit to the country last year, his first since Putin returned to the presidency, but Washington's ties with Moscow have been uneasy, and the visit never took place.

Obama's announcement means that he will also not travel to Russia before the G20 summit, in another disappointment to the Kremlin.

Washington and Moscow have been especially at odds over Syria, and Russia's role in vetoing UN Security Council action to censure President Bashar al-Assad for his crackdown on an opposition revolt that has killed 70,000 people.

"The two presidents agreed on the need to advance a political transition to end the violence as soon as possible," said a White House statement, referring to Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will continue to work together on the issue following their meeting in Berlin on Tuesday, the White House said.

A statement issued earlier from the Kremlin said that Putin noted the need to end "military activities" in Syria as soon as possible.

Russia also denounced a new US pledge to provide direct aid, but no arms, to Syrian rebel fighters, saying it will fuel more violence in the nearly two-year war.

Despite the tensions, Obama vowed in his State of the Union address in February to work with the Kremlin to reduce both Russian and American stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have been especially harmed by the Obama administration's criticism of Moscow's deteriorating human rights record under Putin.

There has also been tension over adoptions of Russian orphans by US nationals in recent weeks.

The spat started after the US Congress passed a bill last year targeting Russian officials with sanctions over the prison death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Russia retaliated with a ban on all US adoptions, saying Russian children in the United States were abused and even murdered by their adoptive parents.

One of Obama's major foreign policy achievements of his first term was a "reset" of relations with Russia engineered with former president Dmitry Medvedev, but the return of Putin has soured the mood.

-AFP/ac



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U.S. lurches into new budget crisis, spending cuts imminent


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government stumbled headlong on Friday toward spending cuts that could dampen the economy and curb military readiness, after President Barack Obama and congressional leaders failed to find an alternative budget plan.


Put in place during a bout of deficit-reduction fever in 2011, the automatic cuts can only be halted by agreement between Congress and the White House.


As expected, a deal proved elusive in talks on Friday, meaning that government agencies will now begin to hack a total of $85 billion from their budgets between Saturday and October 1. Financial markets in New York shrugged off the stalemate in Washington.


Democrats predict the cuts, known as "sequestration," could soon cause air-traffic delays, furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal employees and disruption to education.


New U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the cuts, half of which will fall on the Pentagon, put at risk "all of our missions."


While the International Monetary Fund warned that the belt-tightening could slow U.S. economic growth by at least 0.5 of a percentage point this year, that is not a huge drag on an economy that is picking up steam.


Obama was resigned to government budgets shrinking.


"Even with these cuts in place, folks all across this country will work hard to make sure that we keep the recovery going, but Washington sure isn't making it easy," he said after meeting Republican and Democratic congressional leaders.


At the heart of Washington's persistent fiscal crises is disagreement over how to slash the budget deficit and the $16 trillion national debt, bloated over the years by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and government stimulus for the ailing economy.


Obama wants to close the fiscal gap with spending cuts and tax hikes, but Republicans do not want to concede again on taxes after doing so in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" at the New Year.


"The discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It's about taking on the spending problem," House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said on leaving the meeting.


The full brunt of the automatic cuts will be borne over seven months. Congress can stop them at any time if the two parties agree on how to do so.


No matter how Obama and Congress resolve the 2013 battle, this round of automatic spending cuts is only one of a decade's worth of annual cuts totaling $1.2 trillion mandated by the sequestration law.


Given the absence of a deal, Obama will issue an order to federal agencies by midnight on Friday to reduce their budgets. The White House budget office must send a report to Congress detailing the spending cuts.


The Justice Department has already sent notices of furloughs that will begin April 21 at the earliest to some 115,000 workers, including at the FBI.


Unlike previous fiscal dramas, the sequestration fight is not rattling Wall Street.


U.S. stocks rose moderately on Friday, with the Dow Industrials closing up 35 points, as data showed manufacturing expanded at its fastest pace in 20 months in February. Despite the market being up more than 7 percent this year, and near a record high, the discord in Washington has not prompted traders to cash in gains.


"Most of us believe that sequestration is not something that will make us fall off the cliff, since the cuts will be worked in relatively slowly," said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Wealth Management in Philadelphia.


CANADA FRUSTRATED


Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty expressed rare public frustration with the United States for lurching from crisis to crisis.


Flaherty said he was confident Canada would not suffer too badly from the fiscal troubles its biggest trading partner is suffering from. "It is regrettable, though, that the U.S. continues to move from crisis to crisis in fiscal terms," he told reporters.


Another influential minister in Canada's Conservative government, House Leader Peter Van Loan, took a swipe at the United States, saying it was up to its ears in debt because of big-spending, left-wing policies.


One reason for the inaction in Washington is that both parties still hope the other will either be blamed by voters for the cuts or cave in before the worst effects predicted by Democrats come into effect.


A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday showed 28 percent of Americans blamed congressional Republicans for the sequestration mess, 18 percent thought Obama was responsible and 4 percent blamed congressional Democrats. Thirty-seven percent blamed them all, according the online poll.


The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts 750,000 jobs could be lost in 2013, and federal employees throughout the country are looking to trim their own costs.


"The kids won't go to the dentist, the kids might not go to the doctor, we won't be spending money in local restaurants, local movie theaters," said Paul O'Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council, which represents 2,500 workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.


After weeks of White House warnings about the cuts causing air-traffic chaos, threatening cancer research and keeping law enforcement officers off the streets, Obama acknowledged it might be a while before effects fully kicked in.


"We will get through this. This is not going to be an apocalypse," he told journalists in the White House.


"Not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away. The pain though will be real. Beginning this week, many middle-class families will have their lives disrupted in significant ways," Obama said.


In the absence of any deal at all, the Pentagon will be forced to slice 13 percent of its budget between now and September 30.


In his first Pentagon news conference since he was sworn in on Wednesday, Hagel struck a more moderate tone than many defense officials who have said the spending reductions would be devastating or could turn the U.S. military into a second-rate power.


"America ... has the best fighting force, the most capable fighting force, the most powerful fighting force in the world," he said. "The management of this institution, starting with the Joint Chiefs, are not going to allow this capacity to erode."


Most non-defense programs, from NASA space exploration to federally backed education and law enforcement, face a 9 percent reduction.


Moving to head off a new budget crisis later this month, Boehner said the Republican-led House would move a "continuing resolution" to fund government through the rest of the fiscal year, thus hopefully averting a government shutdown.


(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton and Deborah Zabarenko in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Peter Cooney)



Read More..

Black Hole Spins at Nearly the Speed of Light


A superfast black hole nearly 60 million light-years away appears to be pushing the ultimate speed limit of the universe, a new study says.

For the first time, astronomers have managed to measure the rate of spin of a supermassive black hole—and it's been clocked at 84 percent of the speed of light, or the maximum allowed by the law of physics.

"The most exciting part of this finding is the ability to test the theory of general relativity in such an extreme regime, where the gravitational field is huge, and the properties of space-time around it are completely different from the standard Newtonian case," said lead author Guido Risaliti, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and INAF-Arcetri Observatory in Italy. (Related: "Speedy Star Found Near Black Hole May Test Einstein Theory.")

Notorious for ripping apart and swallowing stars, supermassive black holes live at the center of most galaxies, including our own Milky Way. (See black hole pictures.)

They can pack the gravitational punch of many million or even billions of suns—distorting space-time in the region around them, not even letting light to escape their clutches.

Galactic Monster

The predatory monster that lurks at the core of the relatively nearby spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is estimated to weigh in at about two million times the mass of the sun, and stretches some 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) across-more than eight times the distance between Earth and the moon, Risaliti said. (Also see "Black Hole Blast Biggest Ever Recorded.")

Risaliti and colleagues' unprecedented discovery was made possible thanks to the combined observations from NASA's high-energy x-ray detectors on its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) probe and the European Space Agency's low-energy, x-ray-detecting XMM-Newton space observatory.

Astronomers detected x-ray particle remnants of stars circling in a pancake-shaped accretion disk surrounding the black hole, and used this data to help determine its rate of spin.

By getting a fix on this spin speed, astronomers now hope to better understand what happens inside giant black holes as they gravitationally warp space-time around themselves.

Even more intriguing to the research team is that this discovery will shed clues to black hole's past, and the evolution of its surrounding galaxy.

Tracking the Universe's Evolution

Supermassive black holes have a large impact in the evolution of their host galaxy, where a self-regulating process occurs between the two structures.

"When more stars are formed, they throw gas into the black hole, increasing its mass, but the radiation produced by this accretion warms up the gas in the galaxy, preventing more star formation," said Risaliti.

"So the two events—black hole accretion and formation of new stars—interact with each other."

Knowing how fast black holes spin may also help shed light how the entire universe evolved. (Learn more about the origin of the universe.)

"With a knowledge of the average spin of galaxies at different ages of the universe," Risaliti said, "we could track their evolution much more precisely than we can do today."


Read More..

Sequester Begins But Govt. Shutdown Looks Unlikely





Mar 1, 2013 4:13pm


ap obama boehner split nt 121231 wblog Sequester Begins But Government Shutdown Looks Unlikely

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Imag


It may not be readily obvious from the blizzard of news out there today on the “sequester,” but a government shutdown became significantly less likely today, even as the automatic budget cuts barreled ahead toward reality.


What happened? Both sides – Republicans and Democrats – basically seem to have agreed that as they will continue to fight out the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts starting to take effect today, they will not allow that disagreement to jeopardize full funding for the federal government. That funding is now scheduled to expire March 27.


RELATED: President Obama, Congressional Leaders Fail to Avert Sequester Cuts


After the White House meeting this morning, House Speaker John Boehner said he would have the House vote next week to fund the full government – what’s known as a “continuing resolution.”


Boehner: “I did lay out that the House is going to move a continuing resolution next week to fund the government past March 27th, and I’m hopeful that we won’t have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we’re dealing with the sequester at the same time. The House will act next week, and I hope the Senate will follow suit.”


READ MORE: 6 Questions (and Answers) About the Sequester


Boehner’s office provided this read-out of the meeting: “The president and leaders agreed legislation should be enacted this month to prevent a government shutdown while we continue to work on a solution to replace the president’s sequester.”


The president was asked at his mini-news conference whether he would definitely sign such a bill, even if it keeps government going at the new, lower spending levels as this fight is resolved (or not).


RELATED: 57 Terrible Consequences of the Sequester


Obama’s response: “With respect to the budget and keeping the government open – I’ll try for our viewing audience to make sure that we’re not talking in Washington gobbledygook. What’s called the continuing resolution, which is essentially just an extension of last year’s budget into this year’s budget to make sure that basic government functions continue, I think it’s the right thing to do to make sure that we don’t have a government shutdown. And that’s preventable.”


So even as we moved toward the brink of sequester, the nation’s leaders took a step back from another, much larger cliff.



SHOWS: World News







Read More..

Mystery ring of radiation briefly encircled Earth









































What were you doing last September? The charged particles that dance around Earth were busy. Unbeknown to most earthlings, a previously unseen ring of radiation encircled our planet for nearly the whole month – before being destroyed by a powerful interplanetary shock wave.












We already knew that two, persistent belts of charged particles, called the Van Allen radiation belts, encircle Earth. The discovery of a third, middle ring by NASA's twin Van Allen probes, launched in August 2012, suggests that these belts, which have puzzled scientists for over 50 years, are even stranger than we thought. Working out what caused the third ring to develop could help protect spacecraft from damaging doses of radiation.












Charged particles get trapped by Earth's magnetic field into two distinct regions, forming the belts. The inner belt, which extends from an altitude of 1600 to 12,900 kilometres, is fairly stable. But the outer belt, spanning altitudes ranging from 19,000 to 40,000 kilometres, can vary wildly. Over the course of minutes or hours, its electrons can be accelerated to close to the speed of light, and it can grow to 100 times its usual size.











Mystery acceleration













No one is sure what causes these "acceleration events", although it seems to have something to do with solar activity interacting with the Earths' magnetic field.












"That's one of the key things the probes are in place to understand," says Dan Baker of the University of Colorado, Boulder. "How does this cosmic accelerator, operating just a few thousand miles above our head, accelerate electrons to such extraordinarily high energies?"












When the Van Allen probes started taking data on 1 September 2012, one of these mysterious events was already under way. "We came in the middle of the movie there," Baker says. But otherwise, he says, "What we expected was what we saw when we first turned on: two distinct belts, separated."












That changed a day later when, to the team's surprise, an extra ring developed between the inner and outer ones. "We watched it develop right before our eyes," Baker says. The new, middle ring was relatively narrow, and its electrons had energies between 4 and 7.5 megaelectronvolts - about the same as in the outer Van Allen belt during an acceleration event.












Although the outer ring displayed its characteristic inconstancy, the new middle ring barely budged for nearly four weeks. Then a shock wave, probably linked to a burst of solar activity, wiped it out in less than an hour on 1 October.











Spacecraft malfunctions













It's not clear where the middle ring came from, Baker says, although it was probably related to the acceleration event. The electrons could have been stripped from the outer Van Allen belt, funnelled back towards the Earth and got trapped in the middle on the way, or they could have been energised from closer to Earth and shot up to higher altitudes.











Figuring out what happened could be important to protecting spacecraft from radiation damage, says Yuri Shprits of the University of California in Los Angeles, who was not involved in the observations but is crafting a theoretical explanation that he hopes to publish soon. "It truly presents us with a very important question, and very important puzzles," he says.













There were no specific spacecraft malfunctions during September that can be directly linked to the new belt, says Shprits. However satellite operators will want to know if such belts are common and if they pose more of a risk.












With no other examples of a transient belt caught so far, it's too soon to answer all those questions, Baker says. "We only have one in captivity," he says. "We're still trying to figure out exactly how it works."












Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1233518


















































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Polls close in crucial British by-election






LONDON: Polls closed in the southern English town of Eastleigh on Thursday in a by-election for a new member of parliament in a tight contest that threatens serious repercussions for Britain's main parties.

The election pits Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party against its junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, while the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) is hoping to capitalise on voter disillusionment. First results are expected around 0200 GMT.

The election was sparked by the resignation of disgraced former energy minister Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat who has pleaded guilty to trying to avoid a speeding fine.

Nick Clegg, the embattled deputy prime minister and Lib Dem leader, has called it a "two-horse race" between his party and the Conservatives, while UKIP leader Nigel Farage predicted a "big" swing to his party.

The Lib Dems have been damaged by an ongoing sex scandal surrounding the party's former chief executive Chris Rennard, and the vote looks set to cause ructions within an already strained coalition, whatever the result.

On the eve of polling, Cameron urged Conservatives to back candidate Maria Hutchings, who vowed to help "get the country back on its feet" if she won.

But senior Conservative David Davis warned that a loss for the party would place serious doubt over Cameron's leadership of the party.

"If we came third it would be a crisis," Davis told BBC television. "And if it's a close second with UKIP on our tail it will also be uncomfortable."

More than 79,000 people were eligible to vote for one of the 14 candidates, and residents have been subjected to incessant campaigning since the election was called after Huhne's resignation on February 5.

Clegg visited Eastleigh on Wednesday to pledge his support for candidate Mike Thornton, saying he was on the "cusp of a great, great victory".

Addressing supporters at Lib Dems headquarters, Clegg called the race the "most exciting and closely contested by-elections" that he could remember.

Farage backed his candidate, Diane James, to "come up on the rails" and cause a major shock.

"If you gave me evens on us gaining more than 20 percent in this by-election I would have a very big bet," he said. "This is the campaign that has got momentum."

John O'Farrell, the candidate for the main opposition Labour party, is fighting not to finish in fourth place, and said he hoped voters would register their dissatisfaction at living standards by voting for his party.

-AFP/ac



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Blame game gets louder with budget cuts looking inevitable


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A day before sweeping budget cuts begin, the White House and Republicans blamed each other on Thursday for failure to prevent a fiscal crisis which the International Monetary Fund warned could slow the U.S. and world economies.


Absent a highly unlikely last-ditch deal, the $85 billion in cuts across federal government agencies start on Friday.


While Democrats and Republicans disagree about how severe the damage will be to public services like air traffic control and law enforcement, the IMF said the economic recovery would likely be harmed by the automatic spending cuts known as "sequestration."


"We will see what happens on Friday, but everybody is assuming that sequestration is going to take effect," IMF spokesman William Murray said. "What it means is that we are going to have to reevaluate our growth forecasts for the United States and other forecasts," he added.


The full brunt of the automatic cuts will be borne over seven months and Congress can stop them at any time if the two parties agree on how to do so.


That makes it difficult to say how the belt tightening will hit ordinary Americans. President Barack Obama's administration is warning that Navy ships could lie idle and children would lose out on vaccinations if the cuts are not halted.


The IMF likely would shave at least 0.5 percentage point off its 2013 U.S. economic growth forecast of 2 percent if sequestration is fully implemented.


Put into law in 2011 as part of a bipartisan solution to an earlier fiscal emergency, sequestration is unloved by both parties because of the economic pain it will cause.


Few believed two years ago that the cuts would come into force but, unable to agree on any other way to reduce the budget deficit, political leaders are pointing fingers at each other now that the spending reductions appear inevitable.


"It is the president's sequester. It was his team that insisted upon it," Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said.


White House spokesman Jay Carney said Republicans' refusal to compromise by agreeing to close tax loopholes on the wealthy was one reason why the cuts might be unavoidable.


"Compromise represents willingness to accept policies that aren't 100 percent of what you want. The president has done that again and again. Unfortunately, Republicans seem to be unwilling to do that when it comes to the sequester, so the sequester may take place," he told reporters.


Obama wants to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies and the lower "carried interest" tax rate enjoyed by hedge funds.


Carney said both sides had agreed to the spending cuts, half of which will come from the defense budget and half from non-defense domestic programs.


"It was designed as policy that would never come into effect. Because it was so onerous for both sides, it would compel Congress to reach a compromise," Carney said.


SOME AMERICANS WELCOME CUTS


Obama will meet congressional leaders in the White House on Friday for last-minute budget talks but hopes were low for a deal.


"Tomorrow I will bring together leaders from both parties to discuss a path forward. As a nation, we can't keep lurching from one manufactured crisis to another. Middle-class families can't keep paying the price for dysfunction in Washington," Obama said in a statement.


While Washington politicians have tried to disown any responsibility for the cuts, recent polls show that many Americans welcome lower government spending.


An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Wednesday showed 53 percent of Americans preferred the planned cuts or even greater spending cuts than no cuts at all.


Neil Whitman, 62, who runs Dunhill Staffing, an employment company based in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, said Washington had just authorized spending of around $60 billion in relief for Superstorm Sandy.


"We spent that in a blink of an eye," he said. "You take $85 billion from somewhere else. So what?"


Whitman said he doubted the horror stories emerging from Washington of public services decimated by sequestration.


"To me, it's political," he said. "I think we need to control spending, but we need to stop telling the American people, 'I don't know if we can guarantee your safety on the airplanes.'"


But U.S. government workers normally unfazed by political gridlock are angry that they will be disproportionately hurt.


"It's like a bull's eye," said Jay Matthews, who works in the chief counsel's office at the Internal Revenue Service in Washington. "They target us because they think we make too much money. And they target us because they think we're lazy."


The cuts threaten to puncture the affluence of the U.S. capital and its suburbs, where incomes and house prices have benefited from secure government jobs with good salaries. The area is home to 375,000 federal workers.


Debate over the run-up to sequestration is at the root of a dispute between the White House and famed Washington journalist Bob Woodward, who is known for his groundbreaking reporting of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.


Woodward this week accused one of Obama's senior economic officials, Gene Sperling, of threatening him in an email for reporting that the White House was "moving the goal posts" in the budget talks.


The Senate voted on Thursday against plans by both Democrats and Republicans to replace the cuts.


The Republican plan would have let the cuts go into effect on Friday, but required Obama to submit an alternative $85 billion spending reduction plan to Congress by March 15, thus allowing more flexibility on how the cuts would be carried out.


The Democratic proposal would have replaced the across-the-board cuts mainly with tax increases on the rich coupled with spending cuts. Some of those would be achieved by eliminating crop subsidies for large agricultural companies. More savings would be through minor defense cuts in later years.


(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson and Anna Yukhananov in Washington and by Samuel P. Jacobs in New York, Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jim Loney)



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Scarred Duckbill Dinosaur Escaped T. Rex Attack


A scar on the face of a duckbill dinosaur received after a close encounter with a Tyrannosaurus rex is the first clear case of a healed dinosaur wound, scientists say.

The finding, detailed in the current issue of the journal Cretaceous Research, also reveals that the healing properties of dinosaur skin were likely very similar to that of modern reptiles.

The lucky dinosaur was an adult Edmontosaurus annectens, a species of duckbill dinosaur that lived in what is today the Hell Creek region of South Dakota about 65 to 67 million years ago. (Explore a prehistoric time line.)

A teardrop-shaped patch of fossilized skin about 5 by 5 inches (12 by 14 centimeters) that was discovered with the creature's bones and is thought to have come from above its right eye, includes an oval-shaped section that is incongruous with the surrounding skin. (Related: "'Dinosaur Mummy' Found; Have Intact Skin, Tissue.")

Bruce Rothschild, a professor of medicine at the University of Kansas and Northeast Ohio Medical University, said the first time he laid eyes on it, it was "quite clear" to him that he was looking at an old wound.

"That was unequivocal," said Rothschild, who is a co-author of the new study.

A Terrible Attacker

The skull of the scarred Edmontosaurus also showed signs of trauma, and from the size and shape of the marks on the bone, Rothschild and fellow co-author Robert DePalma, a paleontologist at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History in Florida, speculate the creature was attacked by a T. rex.

It's likely, though still unproven, that both the skin wound and the skull injury were sustained during the same attack, the scientists say. The wound "was large enough to have been a claw or a tooth," Rothschild said.

Rothschild and DePalma also compared the dinosaur wound to healed wounds on modern reptiles, including iguanas, and found the scar patterns to be nearly identical.

It isn't surprising that the wounds would be similar, said paleontologist David Burnham of the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, since dinosaurs and lizards are distant cousins.

"That's kind of what we would expect," said Burnham, who was not involved in the study. "It's what makes evolution work—that we can depend on this."

Dog-Eat-Dog

Phil Bell, a paleontologist with the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative in Canada who also was not involved in the research, called the Edmontosaurus fossil "a really nicely preserved animal with a very obvious scar."

He's not convinced, however, that it was caused by a predator attack. The size of the scar is relatively small, Bell said, and would also be consistent with the skin being pierced in some other accident such as a fall.

"But certainly the marks that you see on the skull, those are [more consistent] with Tyrannosaur-bitten bones," he added.

Prior to the discovery, scientists knew of one other case of a dinosaur wound. But in that instance, it was an unhealed wound that scientists think was inflicted by scavengers after the creature was already dead.

It's very likely that this particular Edmontosaurus wasn't the only dinosaur to sport scars, whether from battle wounds or accidents, Bell added.

"I would imagine just about every dinosaur walking around had similar scars," he said. (Read about "Extreme Dinosaurs" in National Geographic magazine.)

"Tigers and lions have scarred noses, and great white sharks have got dings on their noses and nips taken out of their fins. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and [Edmontosaurus was] unfortunately in the line of fire from some pretty big and nasty predators ... This one was just lucky to get away."

Mysterious Escape

Just how Edmontosaurus survived a T. rex attack is still unclear. "Escape from a T. rex is something that we wouldn't think would happen," Burnham said.

Duckbill dinosaurs, also known as Hadrosaurs, were not without defenses. Edmontosaurus, for example, grew up to 30 feet (9 meters) in length, and could swipe its hefty tail or kick its legs to fell predators.

Furthermore, they were fast. "Hadrosaurs like Edmontosaurus had very powerful [running] muscles, which would have made them difficult to catch once they'd taken flight," Bell said.

Duckbills were also herd animals, so maybe this one escaped with help from neighbors. Or perhaps the T. rex that attacked it was young. "There's something surrounding this case that we don't know yet," Burnham said.

Figuring out the details of the story is part of what makes paleontology exciting, he added. "We construct past lives. We can go back into a day in the life of this animal and talk about an attack and [about] it getting away. That's pretty cool."


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Obama Admin to Court: End Calif. Gay Marriage Ban











Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, plans to file a brief today with the Supreme Court in favor of challengers of Prop. 8, according to an administration source.


It would mark the first time that the Obama administration has come out in court against the California ballot initiative that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.


As far back as 2008, the president said that he thought Prop 8 was "divisive and discriminatory," but his Justice Department has never opined on its constitutionality. Because the DOJ is not a party to the case, it is not required to file a "friend of the court" brief, but the deadlines for briefs supporting the challengers to Prop 8 is tonight at midnight.






Justin Sullivan/Getty Images







Theodore Olson, one of the lead lawyers challenging Prop 8, told reporters last week that he hoped the DOJ lawyers would take the opportunity to set down a legal position.


In Depth: Obama's Prop 8 Decision


"However," Olson added, "whether they do or not, the president of the United States made it very clear in his inaugural address that we cannot rest in America until all civilians have equal rights under the law so, in a sense, the president has made that statement already."


Today, 39 states have laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. This number includes voter-approved constitutional amendments in 30 states barring same sex marriage. Nine states allow gay marriage.


Related: Eric Holder Says Gay Marriage is the Next Civil Rights Issue


Related: Republican Moderates Join Legal Fight for Gay Marriage



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Quantum skyfall puts Einstein's gravity to the test



































DIVIDING a falling cloud of frozen atoms sounds like an exotic weather experiment. In fact, it's the latest way to probe whether tiny objects obey Einstein's theory of general relativity, our leading explanation for gravity.












General relativity is based on the equivalence principle, which says that in free fall, all objects fall at the same rate, whatever their mass, provided the only force at work is gravity. That has been proven for large objects: legend has it that Galileo did it first by dropping various balls from the Tower of Pisa. Whether equivalence holds at quantum scales, where gravity's effects are not well understood, isn't clear. Figuring it out could help create a quantum theory of gravity, one of the biggest goals of modern physics.

















Creating a quantum equivalent of Galileo's test isn't easy. In 2010 a team led by Ernst Rasel of the University of Hannover in Germany monitored a quantum object in free fallMovie Camera, by tossing a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) – a cloud of chilled atoms that behaves as a single quantum object and so is both particle and wave – down a 110-metre tall tower. Now they have split and recombined the wave – all before the BEC, made of rubidium atoms, reached the bottom. This produces an interference pattern that records the path of the falling atoms and can be used to calculate their acceleration (Physical Review Letters, doi.org/km6). The next step is to do the same experiment on a different kind of atom, with a different mass, to see if the equivalence principle holds.













The BEC can only be split for 100 milliseconds in the tower before hitting the bottom, so to allow tiny differences between the atom types to emerge, the work must be repeated in space, where the waves can be split for longer. By showing that a matter-wave can be split and recombined while falling, Rasel's result is a "major step" towards the space version, says Charles Wang of the University of Aberdeen, UK.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Quantum skyfall tests Einstein's gravity"




















































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AIM not bidding for PAP town councils' tender






SINGAPORE: Action Information Management (AIM), which runs the People's Action Party (PAP) town councils' computer systems, will no longer operate the systems when its contract expires on April 30. It said on Wednesday that it will not participate in the latest tender exercise.

The arrangement between AIM, a company fully owned by the PAP, and the PAP town councils had caused controversy even though both parties had explained that the process by which the open tender was awarded to AIM was above board.

AIM Chairman S Chandra Das said: "Given that AIM had helped prepare the tender documents, it decided not to participate in the tender."

When contacted, Dr Teo Ho Pin, who is the Coordinating Chairman of the PAP town councils, confirmed the news: "AIM should not bid for this tender as they are involved in the tender specification preparation."

Dr Teo declined to reveal how many parties had collected the tender documents "as tendering is in progress".

In media reports last week, Mr Das declined to say whether AIM had - or would - bid for the tender, which was put up by the PAP town councils on February 4 and will close on Monday. Dr Teo had also said the latest tender was for developing a new town council management system. The previous tender - which was won by AIM in 2010 - was to sell and lease back computer software to the PAP town councils.

The saga began on December 14 after Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) Chairman Sylvia Lim explained the town council's less-than-stellar performance in a management report.

Ms Lim, part of the Workers' Party team which took over management of the town council after the General Election in 2011, blamed the AHTC's poor performance on the need to develop new IT systems within two months of the PAP-owned AIM terminating its contract last August.

Her explanation was followed by a series of statements by the AHTC and AIM. Among other things, questions were raised about the termination of the contract and the fact that AIM won a tender to manage the computer systems used by the town councils.

Last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Ministry of National Development will review the transaction. Among other things, the review will re-examine the fundamental nature of town councils, after much public debate about whether the town councils are public institutions or political organisations.

- TODAY



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Senate approves Lew as new Treasury chief


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday confirmed Jack Lew as President Barack Obama's new Treasury secretary, putting the former White House chief of staff in the middle of a bitter political fight over the government's budget.


Senators backed Lew with a 71-26 vote. All of the chamber's 53 Democrats voted for him. Some Republicans had expressed misgivings about Lew's perks from previous employers Citigroup and New York University.


Lew's most pressing task will be to find a compromise to lessen the economic blow from $85 billion in government spending cuts that are set to kick in on Friday.


But two more budget deadlines will quickly follow. Funds for most government operations expire on March 27, and the national debt will hit the U.S. government's borrowing limit on May 19, setting the stage for a default unless an agreement can be secured to raise the ceiling again.


Lew, who served as Obama's chief of staff before the president named him to succeed Timothy Geithner at the Treasury, has spent much of his career in Washington in public service.


He was previously White House budget director under both Obama and former President Bill Clinton.


By choosing him for the administration's top economic post, Obama signaled the importance he places on Washington's budget battles.


Now that he is confirmed, Lew is expected take the lead on difficult negotiations with Congress on how to trim U.S. budget deficits and keep a lid on $16.6 trillion U.S. national debt.


"If confirmed, we'll be entrusting Mr. Lew to oversee America's economic policy," said Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee that vetted Lew for the job. "It is a great responsibility, one I believe Mr. Lew will live up to."


(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov and Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)



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Why African Rhinos Are Facing a Crisis


The body count for African rhinos killed for their horns is approaching crisis proportions, according to the latest figures released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

To National Geographic reporter Peter Gwin, the dire numbers—a rhinoceros slain every 11 minutes since the beginning of 2013—don't come as a surprise. "The killing will continue as long as criminal gangs know they can expect high profits for selling horns to Asian buyers," said Gwin, who wrote about the violent and illegal trade in rhino horn in the March 2012 issue of the magazine.

The recent surge in poaching has been fueled by a thriving market in Vietnam and China for rhino horn, used as a traditional medicine believed to cure everything from hangovers to cancer. Since 2011, at least 1,700 rhinos, or 7 percent of the total population, have been killed and their horns hacked off, according to the IUCN. More than two-thirds of the casualties occurred in South Africa, home to 73 percent of the world's wild rhinos. In Africa there are currently 5,055 black rhinos, listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, and 20,405 white rhinos. (From our blog: "South African Rhino Poaching Hits New High.")

Trying to snuff out poaching by itself won't work, said Gwin. The South African government is fighting a losing battle on the ground to gangs using helicopters, dart guns, high-powered weapons—and lots of money. (National Geographic pictures: The bloody poaching battle over rhino horn [contains graphic images].)

"Every year they get tougher on poaching, but rhino killings continue to rise astronomically," said Gwin. "Somehow they have to address the demand side in a meaningful way. This means either shutting down the Asian markets for rhino horn, or controversially, finding a way to sustainably harvest rhino horns, control their legal sale, and meet what appears to be a huge demand. Either will be a formidable endeavor."

Hope and Hurdles

The signing in December of a memorandum of understanding between South Africa and Vietnam to deal with rhino poaching and other conservation issues raises hope for some concrete action. Observers say the next step is for the two governments to follow through with tangible crime-stopping efforts such as intelligence sharing and other collaboration. The highest hurdle to stopping criminal trade, though, is cultural, Gwin believes. "In Vietnam and China, a lot of people simply believe that as a traditional cure, rhino horn works." (Related: "Blood Ivory.")

The recent climb in rhino deaths threatens what had been a conservation success story. Since 1995, due to better law enforcement, monitoring, and other actions, the overall rhino numbers have steadily risen. The poaching epidemic, the IUCN warns, could dramatically slow and possibly reverse population gains.

The population growth is also being stymied by South Africa's private game farmers, who breed rhinos for sport hunting and tourism and for many years have helped rebuild rhino numbers. Many of them are getting out of the business due to the high costs of security and other risks associated with the poaching invasions.

Those who still have rhinos on their farms will often pay a veterinarian to cut the horns off—under government supervision—to dissuade poachers, but the process costs more than $2,000 and has to be repeated when the horns grow back every two years. Even then the farmers are stuck with horns that are illegal to sell—and which criminals seek to obtain.

Room for Debate

Rhino killings and the trade in their horns will be a major topic at a high-profile conference, the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which opens in Bangkok March 3. What won't surprise Gwin is if the issue of sustainably harvesting rhino horns from live animals comes up for discussion.

"It's an idea that seems to be gaining traction among some South African politicians and law enforcement circles," he said, noting that the international conservation community strongly opposes any talk of legalizing the trade of rhino horn, sustainably harvested or not. The bottom line for all parties in the discussion is clear, said Gwin: "The slaughter has to stop if rhinos are to survive."


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Holder Says Sequester Makes America Less Safe












The looming budget sequestration will make Americans less safe, Eric Holder says—and anyone who says otherwise isn't telling the truth.


"This is something that is going to have an impact on the safety of this country," the U.S. attorney general told ABC's Pierre Thomas on Wednesday in a wide-ranging, exclusive interview.


"And anybody that says otherwise is either lying or saying something that runs contrary to the facts," Holder said.


In his interview with ABC News, Holder reiterated warnings that if automatic spending cuts are triggered on Friday, the Justice Department will be handicapped in some of its most vital missions to prevent terrorist attacks and crime.


"The Justice Department is going to lose nine percent of its budget between now and September 30th. We're going to lose $1.6 billion. There are not going to be as many FBI agents, ATF agents, DEA agents, prosecutors who are going to be able to do their jobs," Holder said. "They're going to be furloughed. They're going to spend time out of their offices, not doing their jobs."


Portions of the interview will air Wednesday, February 27 on "ABC World News"






Patrick Semansky/AP Photo











Eric Holder Says Homegrown Terror Threat Equals International: Exclusive Watch Video









Eric Holder Remembers Newtown, His Worst Day on the Job: Exclusive Watch Video







President Obama's Cabinet members have been warning for weeks that budget sequestration, which will begin Friday unless Obama and Republicans reach a deficit-reduction deal to avoid it, will leave their agencies shorthanded and could bring about disastrous consequences. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have both appeared at the White House press briefing room to warn that furloughs for border-patrol agents, TSA agents and air-traffic controllers will mean weakened border and port security, longer waits in airport security lines, and logjammed air travel.


Holder, for his part, warned in a Feb. 1 letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee that cuts to the FBI, the ATF, the U.S. Marshals Service, and U.S. Attorneys would limit the department's capacity to investigate crimes. Cuts at the Bureau of Prisons, Holder wrote, would mean lockdowns and potential violence, with fewer staff members on hand. In a separate letter, FBI Director Robert Mueller warned that counterterrorism operations would be affected, with the possible elimination of some joint terrorism task forces with state and local police. Limited surveillance and slower response times would mean unwatched targets and the possibility that individuals on terrorism watch lists could gain entry to the U.S.


"FBI's ability to proactively penetrate and disrupt terrorist plans and groups prior to an attack would be impacted," Mueller wrote.


To Holder, the problem is simple.


"If you don't have prosecutors and agents doing what we expect them to do, and we won't if this thing actually takes place, we are going to be a nation that is going to be less safe. And that is simple fact," Holder said.


Some Republicans have claimed the Obama administration is exaggerating the sequester's purported consequences as a ploy to campaign for tax hikes. On "Fox News Sunday" this week, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., posited that federal agencies enjoy enough flexibility to avoid the worst consequences of the cuts.


On Wednesday, Holder acknowledged that the Justice Department will do what it can to avoid compromised security, while maintaining that furloughs can't be avoided.






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Newly spotted comet to buzz Mars in 2014



Lisa Grossman, physical sciences reporter

mars-sunset-comet.jpg


A Martian sunset, as seen by NASA's Spirit rover in 2005.
(Image: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Texas A&M, Cornell, JPL, NASA)


There's a new comet in town, and it is making a beeline for Mars. If projections of its orbit are correct, the icy visitor will buzz the Red Planet in October 2014.


Dubbed C/2013 A1, the comet was discovered on 3 January by prolific comet hunter Robert McNaught at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Colleagues at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona found images of the comet in their catalogue that date back to 8 December 2012, giving additional information about its movements.





These observations allowed astronomers to trace the comet's likely path around the sun. The calculated trajectory has C/2013 A1 crossing Mars' orbit on 19 October 2014, according to Australian blogger Ian Musgrave.


That doesn't necessarily mean a collision will occur. The best estimates right now have the comet passing a safe distance of 900,000 kilometres from the Martian surface. Asteroid 2012 DA14 got much closer to Earth last week, skimming by at a distance of 34,400 kilometres. But with so little data in hand, the calculations are not precise. It's possible the comet will miss Mars by as much as 36 million kilometres - or it could smack right into the planet. "An impact can't be ruled out at this stage," Musgrave wrote.


From Earth, we should be able to see the comet and Mars sitting side by side through small telescopes. And from Mars, the comet could be as spectacular as the expected "supercomet" ISON, which will come into view this year and could outshine the full moon.


Assuming the comet's orbit brings it close enough - but not too close - to Mars, the object should be visible either by rovers on the surface or the armada of Mars-orbiting satellites, which have a history of snapping spectacular shots of the Red Planet and its neighborhood.




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Dollar edges higher as Bernanke confirms stimulus






NEW YORK: The dollar edged higher Tuesday against the euro after Ben Bernanke confirmed the US Fed's stimulus program would continue, while the yen traded flat ahead of the nomination of a new Bank of Japan chief.

At 2200 GMT the euro was at $1.3061, compared to $1.3065 late Monday. The euro remained under pressure after Italy's inconclusive election, which some fear could lead to more political trouble and policy stalemate in the country.

"Political uncertainty has increased in Italy following the election results weighing upon the euro and risk assets," said Lee Hardman, currency analyst at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in London.

In Washington, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke quelled speculation of an early end to quantitative easing when he told a Senate panel that the Fed's stimulus program was having an impact and was still needed.

He said inflation remained subdued and the Fed was keeping its eye on any potentially risky behavior in the market due to low-interest rates.

The Fed policy board "remains confident that it has the tools necessary to tighten monetary policy when the time comes to do so," he added.

The yen was barely changed against the dollar at 91.93, and the euro was at 120.08 yen compared to 120.12 yen late Monday.

Markets were waiting for confirmation of who would be named to head the bank of Japan, after newspapers reported Monday that Asian Development Bank chief Haruhiko Kuroda, an advocate of a lower yen, would be named.

The British pound fell further, to $1.5126 from $1.5166 late Monday. The dollar was little changed on the Swiss franc, at 0.9315 francs.

-AFP/ac



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White House, Congress face cuts; details lacking


WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House and Congress won't be immune to the automatic cuts in federal spending scheduled to kick in Friday. But for all the grim warnings the Obama administration has been detailing about the effect on everything from meat packing plants to airports, the consequences of the cuts on the politicians who concocted the idea are much sketchier.


To be sure, the legislative branch and the executive office of the president will take a hit if, as expected, $85 billion in across-the-board reductions begin to take effect in three days. As with other agencies, the impact won't necessarily be immediate.


White House spokesman Jay Carney said this week that White House personnel, like other non-exempt agencies of government, will experience reductions in pay and "there will be furloughs." But he said he had no breakdown of those numbers. Other government agencies have said they will spread out their furloughs so that workers will have to take one or two days off without pay per pay period.


President Barack Obama himself won't be among those affected. Included in the law's long list of exemptions to the cuts, in there along with Social Security benefits and food stamps, is the compensation of the president. Also exempt are the pensions of former presidents and payments to the widows and heirs of deceased members of Congress.


Still, there will be pain at both ends of Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue. According to a document prepared last September and modified in December by the White House Office of Management and Budget, most of the White House accounts, including the $113 million in salaries and expenses in the office of administration, would take an 8.2 percent trim. Likewise, the $396 million budgeted for senators' personnel and office expense accounts and the $1.226 billion budgeted for House salaries and expenses would take the same cut.


Those figures and percentages, however, were calculated before Congress took steps to delay the effective date of the reductions from Jan. 1 to March 1. As a result, the cuts might be slightly smaller.


Each congressional office operates independently and will determine how to find the reductions. The offices are not required to make public their plans to implement the reductions.


Other administration departments, acting to pressure Congress to change the cuts, have been eager to spell out the details.


Last week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appeared in the White House briefing room to say that more than $600 million of Transportation Department cuts would come from the Federal Aviation Administration and that the agency's nearly 47,000 employees would have to be furloughed for about a day per pay period until the end of September. On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the White House press corps that the cuts would be equal to 5,000 fewer Border Patrol agents.


White House officials said the budget office is still working on how the cuts might specifically affect White House operations and personnel.


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A History of Balloon Crashes


A hot-air balloon exploded in Egypt yesterday as it carried 19 people over ancient ruins near Luxor. The cause is believed to be a torn gas hose. In Egypt as in many other countries, balloon rides are a popular way to sightsee. (Read about unmanned flight in National Geographic magazine.)

The sport of hot-air ballooning dates to 1783, when a French balloon took to the skies with a sheep, a rooster, and a duck. Apparently, they landed safely. But throughout the history of the sport, there have been tragedies like the one in Egypt. (See pictures of personal-flight technology.)

1785: Pioneering balloonist Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and pilot Pierre Romain died when their balloon caught fire, possibly from a stray spark, and crashed during an attempt to cross the English Channel. They were the first to die in a balloon crash.

1923: Five balloonists participating in the Gordon Bennett Cup, a multi-day race that dates to 1906, were killed when lightning struck their balloons.

1924: Meteorologist C. LeRoy Meisinger and U.S. Army balloonist James T. Neely died after a lightning strike. They had set off from Scott Field in Illinois during a storm to study air pressure. Popular Mechanics dubbed them "martyrs of science."

1995: Tragedy strikes the Gordon Bennett Cup again. Belarusian forces shot down one of three balloons that drifted into their airspace from Poland. The two Americans on board died. The other balloonists were detained and fined for entering Belarus without a visa. (Read about modern explorers who take to the skies.)

1989: Two hot air balloons collided during a sightseeing trip near Alice Springs, Australia. One balloon crashed to the ground killing all 13 people on board. The pilot of the other balloon was sentenced to a two-year prison term for "committing a dangerous act." Until today, this was considered the most deadly balloon accident.

2012: A balloon hit a power line and caught fire in New Zealand, killing all 11 on board. Investigators later determined that the pilot was not licensed to fly and had not taken  proper safety measures during the crash, like triggering the balloon's parachute and deflation system.

2012: A sightseeing balloon carrying 32 people crashed and caught fire during a thunderstorm in the Ljubljana Marshes in Slovenia. Six died; many other passengers were injured.


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