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..

China village defies officials to demand democracy






SHANGPU, China: Villagers in southern China were locked in a stand-off with authorities on Sunday and were demanding democratic polls after a violent clash with thugs linked to a local official over a land transfer.

Just over a week ago, residents of Shangpu in Guangdong province fought with scores of attackers whom they claimed were sent by the village communist party chief and a business tycoon after they protested against a land deal.

Police are blockading the settlement to outsiders while residents refuse to let officials inside, days before the annual meeting of the country's legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC).

The situation recalls a similar episode in Wukan, also in Guangdong and around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Shangpu, which made headlines worldwide 15 months ago.

At the main entrance of the village of 3,000 people, 40 police and officials stood guard, barring outside vehicles from entering. Not far away, a cloth banner read: "Strongly request legal, democratic elections."

Shangpu's two-storey houses and low-slung family-run workshops are surrounded by fields awaiting spring planting. But the main street is lined with the wrecks of cars damaged in the clash, with glass and metal littering the ground.

Residents said they should have the right to vote both for the leader who represents them and on whether to approve a controversial proposal to transform rice fields into an industrial zone.

"This should be decided by a vote by villagers," said one of the protest leaders, adding: "The village chief should represent our interests, but he doesn't."

Locals fear that once the NPC -- which starts on Tuesday -- ends, authorities will move in with force.

Chinese leaders have repeatedly ruled out Western-style democracy for the country.

"For the purpose of maintaining stability, they (authorities) don't want to use forceful measures before the meetings," another villager said. "We are afraid of them coming back."

The unidentified attackers, some of whom wore orange hard hats and red armbands, drove into the village and turned on residents with shovels and other weapons.

Villagers drove the interlopers off by hitting them with bamboo poles and throwing bricks from a nearby construction site, according to first-hand accounts and video of the incident provided to AFP.

They said they then vented their fury on the attackers' cars, overturning and smashing as many as 29 vehicles.

Residents claimed some of the group had knives and a gun. A video showed a man firing a handgun into the air and villagers said he was a plainclothes police officer trying to intercede. At least eight villagers were injured.

In Wukan in late 2011, a protest by residents against a land grab by local officials accused of corruption escalated after one of their leaders died in police custody.

Villagers barricaded roads and faced off against security forces for 10 days, until authorities backed down and promised them rare concessions. Residents were later allowed to hold open village elections -- a first in Wukan.

The people of Shangpu had heard of Wukan indirectly, and had similar demands: free elections for their leader.

They claim the current village chief Li Baoyu, who is also the party head, was foisted on them by higher authorities.

Residents allege Li fraudulently obtained signatures to support the transfer of 33 hectares (82 acres) of farmland to the Wanfeng Investment Co, backed by businessman Wu Guicun, to be used for factories producing electrical cables.

The village's ruling committee will receive compensation based on the yield of rice that would have been planted on the land. But residents fear they themselves will not be paid and say the compensation does not reflect the true value.

"Village cadres have illegally dealt in land and leased land at a low price," they said in a petition to higher officials.

In the government's only official statement on the case, Jiexi county, which administers the village, pledged to pursue those responsible for the attack and bring criminal prosecutions.

No one from Wanfeng Investment Co could be reached for comment.

- AFP/xq



Read More..

Rescuers end effort to find body of man presumed dead in sinkhole









SEFFNER, Florida -- Florida rescue workers have ended their efforts to recover the body of a man who disappeared into a sinkhole that swallowed his bedroom while he slept in a suburban Tampa home, and the house will be demolished, a public safety official said on Saturday.


Jeff Bush, 36, who is presumed dead, was asleep when the other five members of the household who were getting ready for bed on Thursday night heard a loud crash and Jeff screaming.


Authorities have not detected any signs of life after lowering listening devices and cameras into the hole.








"Our data has come back, and there is absolutely no way we can do any kind of recovery without endangering lives of workers," said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Dam.


The sinkhole also has compromised the house next door, officials said Saturday.


Officials planned to let family members, accompanied by firefighters, into the threatened  home for about 20 minutes to gather some  belongings, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Ronnie Rivera told reporters Saturday.


She said demolition of the home would begin early on Sunday.


Bush's body hadn’t been removed by Saturday afternoon and the ground near the home was still "very, very unsafe," Rivera said at a televised press conference Saturday.


"At this time we did some testing and we determined that the house right next to the house that’s actually damaged is also compromised by the sinkhole," Rivera said.


Jeff's brother, 35-year-old Jeremy Bush, jumped into the hole and furiously kept digging to find his brother.


"I really don't think they are going to be able to find him," Jeremy said on Saturday. He "will be there forever."


A small memorial of balloons and flowers for his brother had formed near the house on Saturday morning.


"I thank the Lord for not taking my daughter and the rest of my family," he said.


Jeremy himself had to be rescued from the sinkhole by the first responder to the emergency call, Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. When Duvall entered Jeff Bush's bedroom, all he saw was a widening chasm but no sign of Jeff.


"The hole took the entire bedroom," said Duvall. "You could see the bed frame, the dresser, everything was sinking," he said.


Norman Wicker, 48, the father of Jeremy's fiancee who also lived in the house, ran to get a flashlight and shovel.


"It sounded like a car ran into the back of the house," Wicker said.


"There is a very large, very fluid mass underneath this house rendering the entire house and the entire lot dangerous and unsafe," Bill Bracken, the head of an engineering company assisting fire and rescue officials, told the news conference late on Friday.


"We are still trying to determine the extent and nature of what's down there so we can best determine how to approach it and how to extricate," Bracken said.


After suspending the search overnight, it resumed at daylight on Saturday, with engineering consultants trying to determine the extent of the collapse so that a perimeter boundary can be established for setting up heavy equipment for future excavation.


Several nearby homes were evacuated in case the 30-foot wide sinkhole got larger but officials said Friday it only appeared to be getting deeper. Soil samples showed that the sinkhole has compromised the ground underneath a home next door, engineers said Saturday.


The residents of that house were allowed 20 minutes in their home on Saturday to gather belongings. Firefighters and residents formed an assembly line to move items out of the house into SUVs and trucks.


Rescue officials said that in addition to soil samples, they were focusing on engineering analysis, ground penetration radar and other techniques to determine the extent of the ongoing collapse. Listening devices were being used to detect any evidence of life although Bush was presumed dead.


The Bush brothers worked together as landscapers, according to Leland Wicker, 48, one of the other residents of the house.


The risk of sinkholes is common in Florida due to the state's porous geological bedrock, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. As rainwater filters down into the ground, it dissolves the rock, causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns, which cause sinkholes when they collapse.

Reuters





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..

Man's Body Recovery Effort Ends; Sinkhole 'Unstable'












Authorities have discontinued the rescue effort for a Florida man who was swallowed by a sinkhole when his home's foundation collapsed and said it is unlikely his body will ever be recovered.


"We feel we have done everything we can," Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrell said at a news conference this afternoon. "At this point, it's not possible to recover the body."


Merell said officials would bring in heavy equipment to begin demolishing the home on Sunday.


"We're dealing with a very unusual sinkhole," he said. "It's very deep. It's very wide. It's very unstable."


Jeff Bush was in his bedroom when a sinkhole opened up and trapped him underneath his home at 11 p.m. Thursday.


Two homes next door to Bush's residence were evacuated today after authorities said they had been compromised by the growing sinkhole.


With the assistance of rescuers, the homeowners will be allowed to enter their home for only 30 minutes to gather valuables, authorities said.


Rescuers returned to the site in Seffner, Fla., early this morning to conduct further testing, but decided it was too dangerous for the family initially affected by the sinkhole to enter their home, which was declared condemned.








Florida Sinkhole Opens Up Beneath Man's Home Watch Video









Florida Man Believed Dead After Falling into Sinkhole Watch Video









Florida Sinkhole Swallows House, Man Trapped Inside Watch Video





While the sinkhole was initially estimated to be 15 feet deep on Thursday night, the chasm has continued to grow. Officials now estimate it measures 30 feet across and is up to 100 feet deep.


The Hillsborough County Fire Rescue has set up a relief fund for all families affected by the growing sink hole.


MORE: How Sinkholes Can Develop


Rescue operations were halted Friday night after it became too dangerous to approach the home.


Bill Bracken, an engineer with Hillsborough County Urban Search and Rescue team said the house "should have collapsed by now, so it's amazing that it hasn't."


RELATED: Florida Man Swallowed by Sinkhole: Conditions Too Unstable to Approach


Using ground penetrating radar, rescuers have found a large amount of water beneath the house, making conditions even more dangerous for them to continue the search for Bush.


Hillsborough County lies in what is known as Florida's "Sinkhole Alley." More than 500 sinkholes have been reported in the area since 1954, according to the state's environmental agency.


Meanwhile, Bush's brother, Jeremy Bush, is still reeling from Thursday night.


Jeremy Bush had to be rescued by a first responder after jumping into the hole in an attempt to rescue his brother when the home's concrete floor collapsed, but said he couldn't find him.


"I just started digging and started digging and started digging, and the cops showed up and pulled me out of the hole and told me the floor's still falling in," he said.


"These are everyday working people, they're good people," said Deputy Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County sheriff's office. "And this was so unexpected, and they're still, you know, probably facing the reality that this is happening."



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..

3 dead in new Bangladesh war crimes protests: police






CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh: Bangladesh police on Saturday opened fire at Islamists protesting the conviction for war crimes of one of their leaders, killing three people outside the port city of Chittagong.

The deaths brought the total number killed since a war crimes tribunal delivered its first verdict on January 21 to at least 56, according to police figures.

The number includes 40 who have died in the last three days, since Jamaat-e-Islami party vice president Delwar Hossain Sayedee was sentenced to death, police said.

Sayedee was found guilty on Thursday of murder, religious persecution and rape during the 1971 independence war, triggering violent clashes between rampaging Jamaat supporters and police across the country.

The 73-year-old firebrand preacher was the third person to be convicted by the war crimes tribunal, whose verdicts have been met by outrage from Islamists.

The Islamists say the process is more about settling scores than delivering justice.

The latest violence came a day after the United States called for calm in the impoverished South Asian nation.

"While engaging in a peaceful protest is a fundamental democratic right, we believe violence is never the answer," US State Department deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters in Washington.

But he stressed the United States believes "it is important to bring justice to those who have committed war crimes and atrocities" while ensuring that the trials be "free, fair, transparent".

In the new clashes, police said they fired live rounds after hundreds of student activists of Jamaat barricaded a key highway and attacked officers with stones and sticks as they tried to clear the road.

"We were forced to open fire. Three people were killed in the clashes," senior Chittagong police official Rabiul Islam told AFP, adding 10 people, including policemen, were wounded.

The war crimes trials of a dozen Jamaat and main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders have opened old wounds and divided the nation.

The opposition has accused the government of staging a witchhunt.

The government, which says the war claimed three million lives, rejects the claims and accuses Jamaat leaders of being part of pro-Pakistani militias blamed for much of the carnage during the 1971 independence war.

Independent estimates put the death toll from the war in which Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan at a much lower figure of 300,000 to 500,000.

- AFP/ck



Read More..

Redflex execs out as scandal grows in red light camera firm









The president, chief financial officer and top lawyer for Chicago's red light camera company resigned this week amid an escalating corruption scandal that has cost Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. its lucrative, decadelong relationship with the city.


The resignations came as Redflex said it was winding down a company-funded probe into allegations of an improper relationship between the company and the former city transportation manager who oversaw its contract until 2011, a relationship first disclosed by the Tribune in October. A longtime friend of that city manager was hired by Redflex for a high-paid consulting deal.


The company recently acknowledged it improperly paid for thousands of dollars in trips for the former city official, the latest in a series of controversial revelations that have shaken Redflex from its Phoenix headquarters to Australia, the home of parent company Redflex Holdings Ltd.








Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration banned the company from competing for the upcoming speed camera contract and went further last month by announcing that Redflex would lose its red light contract when it expires in June. The Chicago program, with more than 380 cameras, has been the company's largest in North America and is worth about 13 percent of worldwide revenue for Redflex Holdings. Since 2003 it has generated about $100 million for Redflex and more than $300 million in ticket revenue for the city.


In an email addressed to all company employees, Redflex Holdings CEO and President Robert T. DeVincenzi announced the resignations of three top executives in Phoenix: Karen Finley, the company's longtime president and chief executive officer; Andrejs Bunkse, the general counsel; and Sean Nolen, the chief financial officer. Their exits follow those of the chairman of the board of Redflex Holdings, another Australian board member and the company's top sales executive who Redflex has blamed for much of its Chicago problems.


"Today's announcement of executive changes follows the conclusion of our investigation in Chicago and marks the dividing line between the past and where this company is headed," said DeVincenzi, who took over as CEO of the Phoenix company. "This day, and each day going forward, we intend to be a constructive force in our industry, promoting high ethical standards and serving the public interest."


The company also held town hall meetings in Arizona to unveil reforms, including new requirements to put all company employees through anti-bribery and anti-corruption training, hiring a new director of compliance to ensure that employees adhere to company policies and establishing a 24-hour whistle-blower hotline.


The resignations and a second consecutive halt to public trading of the company's stock are the latest in a string of events that followed Tribune reports last year regarding 2-year-old internal allegations of corruption in the Chicago contract that the company previously said were investigated and discounted.


The scandal now enveloping the company centers on its relationship to former Chicago transportation official John Bills, who retired in 2011 after overseeing the company's contract since it began in 2003.


A whistle-blower letter obtained by the Tribune said Bills received lavish vacations directly on the expense report of a company executive and raised questions about improper ties between Bills and a Redflex consultant who received more than $570,000 in company commissions.


Bills and the consultant, a longtime friend, have denied wrongdoing.


The company told the Tribune in October that its investigation into the 2010 letter found only one instance of an inadvertent expenditure for Bills, a two-day hotel stay at the Arizona Biltmore expensed by the executive. Redflex lawyer Bunkse told the newspaper that the company responded by sending the executive to "anti-bribery" training and overhauling company expense procedures.


But after additional Tribune reports, the company hired a former Chicago inspector general, David Hoffman, to conduct another investigation. Hoffman made an interim report of his findings to company board members this month. That report prompted the company officials to acknowledge a much deeper involvement with Bills, including thousands of dollars for trips to the Super Bowl and White Sox spring training over many years.


The chairman of the company's Australian board of directors resigned, trading on company stock was temporarily suspended and the company acknowledged that it is sharing information with law enforcement.


Trading was halted again this week pending more details about the company's latest actions.


dkidwell@tribune.com





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..

Obama Signs Order to Begin Sequester Cuts












President Obama and congressional leaders today failed to reach a breakthrough to avert a sweeping package of automatic spending cuts, setting into motion $85 billion of across-the-board belt-tightening that neither had wanted to see.


President Obama officially initiated the cuts with an order to agencies Friday evening.


He had met for just over an hour at the White House Friday morning with Republican leaders House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic allies, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Vice President Joe Biden.


But the parties emerged from their first face-to-face meeting of the year resigned to see the cuts take hold at midnight.


"This is not a win for anybody," Obama lamented in a statement to reporters after the meeting. "This is a loss for the American people."


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


Officials have said the spending reductions immediately take effect Saturday but that the pain from reduced government services and furloughs of tens of thousands of federal employees would be felt gradually in the weeks ahead.








Sequestration Deadline: Obama Meets With Leaders Watch Video











Sequester Countdown: The Reality of Budget Cuts Watch Video





Federal agencies, including Homeland Security, the Pentagon, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education, have all prepared to notify employees that they will have to take one unpaid day off per week through the end of the year.


The staffing trims could slow many government services, including airport screenings, air traffic control, and law enforcement investigations and prosecutions. Spending on education programs and health services for low-income families will also get clipped.


"It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the crisis" that would have been caused by the so-called fiscal cliff, Obama said. "But people are going to be hurt. The economy will not grow as quickly as it would have. Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have. And there are lives behind that. And it's real."


The sticking point in the debate over the automatic cuts -- known as sequester -- has remained the same between the parties for more than a year since the cuts were first proposed: whether to include more new tax revenue in a broad deficit reduction plan.


The White House insists there must be higher tax revenue, through elimination of tax loopholes and deductions that benefit wealthier Americans and corporations. Republicans seek an approach of spending cuts only, with an emphasis on entitlement programs. It's a deep divide that both sides have proven unable to bridge.


"This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over," Boehner told reporters after the meeting. "It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington."


Boehner: No New Taxes to Avert Sequester


Boehner says any elimination of tax loopholes or deductions should be part of a broader tax code overhaul aimed at lowering rates overall, not to offset spending cuts in the sequester.


Obama countered today that he's willing to "take on the problem where it exists, on entitlements, and do some things that my own party doesn't like."


But he says Republicans must be willing to eliminate some tax loopholes as part of a deal.


"They refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit," Obama said. "We can and must replace these cuts with a more balanced approach that asks something from everybody."


Can anything more be done by either side to reach a middle ground?


The president today claimed he's done all he can. "I am not a dictator, I'm the president," Obama said.






Read More..

Space gold rush should not be a free-for-all






















We need a consensus on regulations surrounding space mining if it’s to enrich us all
















EVER since we took our first steps out of Africa, human exploration has been driven by the desire to secure resources. Now our attention is turning to space.












The motivation for deep-space travel is shifting from discovery to economics. The past year has seen a flurry of proposals aimed at bringing celestial riches down to Earth. No doubt this will make a few billionaires even wealthier, but we all stand to gain: the mineral bounty and spin-off technologies could enrich us all.












But before the miners start firing up their rockets, we should pause for thought. At first glance, space mining seems to sidestep most environmental concerns: there is (probably!) no life on asteroids, and thus no habitats to trash. But its consequences – both here on Earth and in space – merit careful consideration.












Part of this is about principles. Some will argue that space's "magnificent desolation" is not ours to despoil, just as they argue that our own planet's poles should remain pristine. Others will suggest that glutting ourselves on space's riches is not an acceptable alternative to developing more sustainable ways of earthly life.












History suggests that those will be hard lines to hold, and it may be difficult to persuade the public that such barren environments are worth preserving. After all, they exist in vast abundance, and even fewer people will experience them than have walked through Antarctica's icy landscapes.











There's also the emerging off-world economy to consider. The resources that are valuable in orbit and beyond may be very different to those we prize on Earth (see "Space miners hope to build first off-Earth economy"). Questions of their stewardship have barely been broached – and the relevant legal and regulatory framework is fragmentary, to put it mildly.













Space miners, like their earthly counterparts, are often reluctant to engage with such questions. One speaker at last week's space-mining forum in Sydney, Australia, concluded with a plea that regulation should be avoided. But miners have much to gain from a broad agreement on the for-profit exploitation of space. Without consensus, claims will be disputed, investments risky, and the gains made insecure. It is in all of our long-term interests to seek one out.


















This article appeared in print under the headline "Taming the final frontier"


















































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.


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Bertelsmann buys out KKR in music rights business BMG






FRANKFURT: German media giant Bertelsmann said Friday it has agreed to buy out the US investment fund KKR in their jointly-owned music rights management company BMG for an undisclosed sum.

Bertelsmann said in a statement it will acquire the 51-percent stake that KKR has held in BMG since 2009, finally bringing the unit back under full ownership.

BMG was originally set up in 2008 and KKR acquired its 51-percent stake in 2009.

According to the Financial Times last week, the estimated cost of the deal is around 500 million euros ($654 million).

The deal is still subject to regulatory approval, but is scheduled to close "during the first half of this year," the statement said.

Bertelsmann said BMG manages the rights to more than one million songs, including works by such artists as Bruno Mars, Duran Duran, Gossip, Johnny Cash, and Will.i.am.

It also represents the master rights -- composition and recording -- of artists such as Brian Ferry, Nena and Anastacia.

"This is a great day for Bertelsmann. We are bringing the music home to our group. We are happy to have BMG as our own company again," said Bertelsmann chief executive Thomas Rabe.

Rabe said KKR had been a good partner, but taking full ownership of BMG was "an important step in putting Bertelsmann's growth strategy into practice," Rabe said.

-AFP/sb



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Tax on pack of cigarettes sold in Chicago up $1 to $6.67









On the eve of a $1-per-pack Cook County cigarette tax increase, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle stood in the glow of X-rays showing damaged lungs, surrounded by some of Stroger Hospital's top pulmonary specialists as she discussed how smoking shortens people's lives.

The setting and talking points made clear the message Preckwinkle wanted to convey Thursday: This is a public health problem, one she plans to fight by giving smokers an incentive to quit and teens a reason not to start.

But the county's tax increase is more than just a campaign to protect people from emphysema and lung cancer. Preckwinkle is counting on $25.6 million this year from the move to help balance the budget. The history of cigarette tax increases suggests the county will be lucky to get that much in 2013 and should expect diminishing returns in the years ahead.

Smokes are a financial well that public officials have gone to repeatedly to shore up shaky finances at the local and state level. When the county tax increase takes effect Friday, a pack of cigarettes purchased in Chicago will come with $6.67 tacked on by the city, county and state. That's just behind New York City's nation-leading $6.86 in taxes per pack. It will also push the cost of a pack of cigarettes in Chicago to as much as $11.

Recent cigarette tax increases have had only a short-term benefit to the government bottom line. Some people quit, while others buy cigarettes online or outside the county or state.

When the county last raised the cigarette tax — by $1 per pack in 2006 — collections initially shot up by $46.5 million, hitting $203.7 million, county records show. But by 2009, the county collected $20.4 million less than it had in 2005.

Mayor Richard M. Daley bumped up the city of Chicago's share of the cigarette tax by 32 cents in 2005 and another 20 cents in 2006, to 68 cents per pack. He saw collections rise from $15.6 million in 2004 to $32.9 million in 2006, according to a city report. But city cigarette tax revenue fell to $28.4 million in 2007, and continued dropping to $18.7 million by 2011, records show.

At the state level, Quinn pushed through a $1-a-pack hike in June.

Before that, state lawmakers and Gov. George Ryan agreed on a 40-cent increase in 2002. Cigarette tax proceeds went up by more than $178 million in 2003, to $643.1 million, and rose to $729.2 million in 2004. The revenue then fell steadily to $549 million by 2010 before edging back up to $580 million last year, according to state records.

The county is preparing for the windfall from the $1 increase to be strong this year, then decline. County officials project that after bringing in $25.6 million for the remainder of this budget year, the increase will net about $29 million for 2014, $21 million in 2015, $15 million in 2016 and just $9 million in 2017.

Preckwinkle says that's OK with her.

"My hope would be that over the long run this is no longer a way in which governments look to raise money, because fewer and fewer people are smoking," she said. "So I would hope that we have the effect of reducing our revenue because more people quit."

The county could end up saving money as cigarette tax revenue falls because uninsured people with ailments related to smoking are such a heavy financial burden to the public hospital system, Preckwinkle said.

In the meantime, Preckwinkle pledged to hire more staff this year to crack down on stores selling untaxed packs and large-scale tobacco smuggling from surrounding states. "We anticipate that there may be some noncompliance, as there always is when you institute an increase like this," she said.

Preckwinkle also acknowledged that the higher tax rate will push some smokers into surrounding counties or Indiana to pick up their packs, but she predicted such cross-border runs will not last.

"While people may initially, when the prices rise, go to other states — Indiana, Wisconsin or wherever — over time that trek gets very tiresome and time-consuming, and they return to their former habits of buying their cigarettes nearby," Preckwinkle said.

But David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said he thinks the cigarette taxes in Cook County are now so high compared with surrounding areas that smokers will continue to make the longer drive, and Illinois stores near jurisdictions with lower taxes will struggle even more.

"You might see people return to their old patterns if we were talking about a slight disparity, say 25 cents a pack," Vite said. "But now we're talking about a difference of nearly $3 a pack compared to Indiana, almost $30 a carton. You're going to see guys working in factories saying, 'It's my week to make a run,' heading to Indiana and coming back with $1,500 worth of cigarettes for all their co-workers."

jebyrne@tribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne



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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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Sequestration: Surrender is in the Air












The budget ax is about to fall, and there's little lawmakers in Washington are doing to stop it.


Despite a parade of dire warnings from the White House, an $85 billion package of deep automatic spending cuts appears poised to take effect at the stroke of midnight on Friday.


The cuts – known in Washington-speak as the sequester – will hit every federal budget, from defense to education, and even the president's own staff.


On Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats and Republicans each staged votes Thursday aimed at substituting the indiscriminate across-the-board cuts with more sensible ones. Democrats also called for including new tax revenue in the mix. Both measures failed.


Lleaders on both sides publicly conceded that the effort was largely for show, with little chance the opposing chamber would embrace the other's plan. They will discuss their differences with President Obama at the White House on Friday.


"It isn't a plan at all, it's a gimmick," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said today of the Democrats' legislation.


"Republicans call the plan flexibility" in how the cuts are made, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "Let's call it what it is. It is a punt."


The budget crisis is the product of a longstanding failure of Congress and the White House to compromise on plans for deficit reduction. The sequester itself, enacted in late 2011, was intended to be so unpalatable as to help force a deal.








Eric Holder Says Sequester Makes America Less Safe Watch Video









Eric Holder Sounds Sequester Alarm: Exclusive Watch Video









Sequestration: Democrats, Republicans Play Blame Game Watch Video





Republicans and Democrats, however, remain gridlocked over the issue of taxes.


Obama has mandated that any steps to offset the automatic cuts must include new tax revenue through the elimination of loopholes and deductions. House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP insist the approach should be spending cuts-only, modifying the package to make it more reasonable.


"Do we want to close loopholes? We sure do. But if we are going to do tax reform, it should focus on creating jobs, not funding more government," House Speaker John Boehner said, explaining his opposition to Obama's plan.


Boehner, McConnell, Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will huddle with Obama at the White House on Friday for the first face-to-face meeting of the group this year.


"There are no preconditions to a meeting like this," White House spokesman Jay Carney said today. "The immediate purpose of the meeting is to discuss the imminent sequester deadline and to avert it."


Even if the leaders reach a deal, there's almost no chance a compromise could be enacted before the deadline. Lawmakers are expected to recess later today for a long weekend in their districts.


What will be the short-term impact of the automatic cuts?


Officials say it will be a gradual, "rolling impact" with limited visible impact across the country in the first few weeks that the cuts are allowed to stand.


Over the long term, however, the Congressional Budget Office and independent economic analysts have warned sequester could lead to economic contraction and possibly a recession.


"This is going to be a big hit on the economy," Obama said Wednesday night.


"It means that you have fewer customers with money in their pockets ready to buy your goods and services. It means that the global economy will be weaker," he said. "And the worst part of it is, it's entirely unnecessary."


Both sides say that if the cuts take effect, the next best chance for a resolution could come next month when the parties need to enact a new federal budget. Government funding runs out on March 27, raising the specter of a federal shutdown if they still can't reach a deal.


"As we anticipate an across-the-board budget cuts across our land, we still expect to see your goodness prevail, O God, " Senate Chaplain Barry Black prayed on the Senate floor this morning, "and save us from ourselves."



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Bacteria defeat antibiotics they have never met before



































BACTERIA that resist antibiotics are a growing problem worldwide, but one we thought we could limit or even reverse by better control of the drugs. This may be a forlorn hope: some bacteria that have never seen an antibiotic can evolve resistance, and even thrive on it.











Bacteria usually become resistant if they are exposed to drug levels too low to kill them off, but high enough to favour the survival of resistant mutants. Such resistance is growing and could make TB and other diseases untreatable again.













The prevailing notion was that bacteria acquire and maintain resistance genes at a cost. So by carefully controlling antibiotics, resistance should not emerge by itself – and should die out as soon as the antibiotic is withdrawn and resistance is no longer an advantage.












Maybe not. Olivier Tenaillon at Denis Diderot University, Paris, and colleagues were studying bacterial evolution by exposing Escherichia coli to high temperatures and little food. Unexpectedly, some bacteria spontaneously became resistant to the antibiotic rifampicin, even though they had never encountered it. The mutation that helped them deal with environmental stress just happened to confer resistance to the drug, used to treat TB and meningitis (BMC Evolutionary Biology, doi.org/kks).


















"Our work suggests that selective pressure other than antibiotics may drive resistance," says Tenaillon.












Moreover, bacteria with the mutation grew 20 per cent faster than otherwise-identical bacteria – a first for a resistance mutation.












It only had this beneficial effect in the heat-adapted strain, says Arjan de Visser of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the study. But, he adds, "these results are a cautionary tale for the use of antibiotics – resistance may come without costs [to bacteria]".












This article appeared in print under the headline "Bacteria defeat antibiotics they have never met"




















































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Sony sells Tokyo office building for US$1.2b






TOKYO: Sony said on Thursday it has sold one of its main buildings in Tokyo for US$1.2 billion as the embattled Japanese electronics giant offloads assets to help repair its tattered balance sheet.

The news comes after the company in January announced the sale of its US headquarters in Manhattan for more than US$1.0 billion while this month it also sold part of its online medical services unit.

Sony said its had sold the 25-storey central Tokyo building, which houses its television unit, to Nippon Building Fund and an unnamed Japanese institutional investor for 111 billion yen (US$1.2 billion) and would earn it a profit of 41 billion yen.

"Sony is transforming its business portfolio and reorganising its assets in an effort to strengthen its corporate structure," the company said in a statement. "This sale was conducted as a part of this reorganisation."

Sony said it would remain in the central Tokyo building for five years under a leasing agreement.

Earlier this month, the firm said it would book a US$1.2-billion gain from selling part of an online medical services unit, as it eyes a full-year profit after four years in the red.

Sony has announced a massive corporate overhaul that includes thousands of job cuts, the sale of a chemical division and an investment in Olympus to tap the camera and medical equipment maker's strong foothold in the global market for endoscopes.

The maker of Bravia televisions and PlayStation games consoles lost 456.66 billion yen in the last fiscal year, but says it is on track for a 20-billion-yen net profit in the year to March.

Last week, Sony announced it would launch its PlayStation 4 system as it faces increasing competition from cheap -- or sometimes free -- downloadable video games for smartphones and tablets.

The company's hard times saw its stock value tumble below 1,000 yen a share last year, for the first time since the era of the Walkman.

The stock has since come back, with Sony shares up 3.56 per cent at 1,338 yen on Thursday in Tokyo.

Japan's electronics sector has suffered a myriad of problems, including a strong yen, slowing demand in key export markets, fierce competition especially in the struggling TV division and strategic mistakes.

The industry has been awash in huge losses and credit rating downgrades, with rival Sharp saying last year it would put up real estate as collateral for bank loans -- including its Osaka headquarters -- to stay afloat.

- AFP/xq



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Chicago archdiocese to close 5 schools in cost-cutting move









Budget cuts announced Wednesday by the Archdiocese of Chicago signal that the area's Roman Catholics are entering a period of austerity when there will be less money for their parishes and schools.


The cuts, which were officially announced as Cardinal Francis George and other leaders of the church gathered at the Vatican to select a new pope, include closing five schools, eliminating 75 positions at the archdiocese's headquarters and placing a moratorium on loans to parishes from the archdiocese bank for three years. Other changes include creating stricter guidelines for local parishes applying for subsidies and reducing the number of the agencies in the archdiocese.


George, who spoke publicly about the cuts when asked by reporters in Rome, said they are needed to address the archdiocese's chronic financial problems. The archdiocese has run deficits of more than $30 million annually over the last four years, including being $40 million in the red for the fiscal year ending in June 2012.








All told, the measures will save tens of millions of dollars over the next few years, officials said.


“The expenses have gone up, and the income is pretty well flat,” George said after a news conference in Rome about Pope Benedict XVI's last audience Wednesday in St. Peter's Square. “We tried to ride out the recession without making any changes — and we can't do that. We're giving more grants to parishes and schools that need more money. The budget is not balanced. Not just layoffs, but a lot of other things being done, other ways to use the resources we have.”

The archdiocese sold $150 million in bonds in 2012 that helped it get through a cash-flow problem, but ultimately that wasn't enough, George said. He hopes the cuts will enable the archdiocese to balance its budget in two years.

Although the cardinal's announcement made headlines, the archdiocese's financial situation has been no secret to its priests. Several clergymen said they knew the archdiocese had planned to scale back loans to parishes.

“We have already made adjustments,” said the Rev. Dennis Ziomek of St. Barbara Parish in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. “We have to be responsible stewards with the money.”

In a letter posted on the archdiocese website, the cardinal thanked parishioners for their generosity and asked them to pray for the employees now out of a paycheck.

At the archdiocese's Pastoral Center headquarters on Wednesday, people funneled in and out of the building during their lunch breaks but declined comment on the layoffs. Before the announcement, staffers received memos asking them to report to their desks early Wednesday.

Of the 75 positions, 55 were full-time jobs. Sixty people were let go, while the remaining posts had been vacant. Those cuts are expected to save $11 million to $13 million annually by fiscal 2015, George wrote in his letter.

Employees who received pink slips will get job counseling, extended health benefits and generous severance packages.

“We're keeping up counseling for helping people find jobs, looking for places where they might look for jobs,” George said.

Along with the layoffs, the archdiocese will reduce the number of capital loans and grants it gives parishes, while creating “stricter criteria” for them to qualify for the financial assistance.

A Parish Transformation initiative in the works for at least two years will also try to save money by laying out measures to provide more financial stability, though the letter did not give details.

Those cuts are expected to save an additional $13 million to $15 million annually by fiscal 2015, the letter states.

By next year, the archdiocese will reduce its aid to Catholic schools by $10 million. It plans to give scholarships to children affected by the five school closings so they can attend nearby Catholic schools. Officials said low enrollment was a key factor for closing the schools: St. Gregory the Great High, St. Paul-Our Lady of Vilna Elementary and St. Helena of the Cross Elementary in Chicago, plus St. Bernardine in Forest Park and St. Kieran in Chicago Heights.

Now, Catholic schools will start relying on scholarships for student financial aid instead of grants from the archdiocese to make tuition affordable, Superintendent Sister Mary Paul McCaughey said.

She pointed to a new partnership with the Big Shoulders Fund, a charity supporting urban Catholic schools, that will help families pay for school with scholarships.

McCaughey did not expect tuition at other Catholic schools to immediately rise because grants from the archdiocese have been reduced. About two-thirds of schools already have posted their tuition rates for the upcoming school year, she added.

“Although things are challenged, I think (Chicago) is a Catholic community that's always supported its schools,” McCaughey said. “I think the support will be there.”

Outside of St. Bernardine Elementary in west suburban Forest Park, one of the schools that will close this summer, Maria Maxham said she was devastated when she heard last month that she'd have to send her children, one in second grade and the other in fourth grade, to a different school.

Maxham, who lives in Forest Park, said she is not sure the two will attend another local Catholic school because some lack what she thought was St. Bernardine's strength.

“There is so much diversity at St. Bernardine, and that's part of what makes it so fantastic,” Maxham said. “It was a special place and a second family for us.”

The school, which has been open since 1915, has about 100 students currently enrolled in its preschool-through-eighth-grade classrooms.

Administrators, teachers and parents were notified of the closing in January, when McCaughey led a meeting at the school and explained the large amount of money that the archdiocese needed to reduce from the schools budget, Principal Veronica Skelton Cash said.

One family left the school shortly after hearing the news, she added.

Cash, who joined the school in the fall, said there was much frustration among staff members afterward. Many believed they would have at least a few years to turn things around.

“I could see a lot of things changing for the better at this school,” Cash said. “The culture of the community is changing, and we were getting more and more inquiries about the school. There was momentum going forward.”

Current employees were given guidance on severance and benefits by the archdiocese's human resources officials, Cash said. Teachers without jobs will also be placed on a priority list for future employment with the archdiocese, she said.

“I'm incredibly disheartened,” said Daniel Kwarcinski, who hopes to find a job at another private school after teaching art for seven years at St. Bernardine. “There's a need for a school like this where we are at.”

In Rome, George said the decisions to let people go and reduce aid were not easy. But he reiterated that the archdiocese's financial situation drove the decision.

“We have to balance the budget, especially if it's precarious,” he said. “The growth being very slow means we can no longer ignore the kinds of deficit situations that have been imposed on us. We have to take action.”


Tribune reporter Manya A. Brachear reported from Rome, with Tribune reporters Bridget Doyle and Jennifer Delgado in Chicago.


mbrachear@tribune.com


bdoyle@tribune.com


jmdelgado@tribune.com



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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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Arias Prosecutor Too Combative, Experts Say












He has barked, yelled, been sarcastic and demanded answers from accused murderer Jodi Arias this week.


And in doing so, prosecutor Juan Martinez and his aggressive antics may be turning off the jury he is hoping to convince that Arias killed her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander in June 2008, experts told ABCNews.com today.


"Martinez is his own worst enemy," Mel McDonald, a prominent Phoenix defense attorney and former judge, told ABC News. "He takes it to the point where it's ad nauseam. You have difficulty recognizing when he's driving the point home because he's always angry and pushy and pacing around the courtroom. He loses the effectiveness, rather than build it up."


"He's like a rabid dog and believes you've got to go to everybody's throat," he said.


"If they convict her and give her death, they do it in spite of Juan, not because of him," McDonald added.


Martinez's needling style was on display again today as he pestered Arias to admit that she willingly participated in kinky sex with Alexander, though she previously testified that she only succumbed to his erotic fantasies to please him.


Arias, now 32, and Alexander, who was 27 at the time of his death, dated for a year and continued to sleep together for another year following their break-up.


Arias drove to his house in Mesa, Ariz., in June 2008, had sex with him, they took nude photos together and she killed him in his shower. She claims it was in self-defense. If convicted, Arias could face the death penalty.








Jodi Arias, Prosecutor Butt Heads in Cross-Examination Watch Video









Jodi Arias Maintains She 'Felt Like a Prostitute' Watch Video









Jodi Arias Admits to Killing Man, Lying to Police Watch Video





Martinez also attempted to point out inconsistencies in her story of the killing, bickering with her over details about her journey from Yreka, Calif., to Mesa, Ariz., including why she borrowed gas cans from an ex-boyfriend, when she allegedly took naps and got lost while driving, and why she spontaneously decided to visit Alexander at his home in Mesa for a sexual liaison.


"I want to know what you're talking about," Arias said to Martinez at one point.


"No, I'm asking you," he yelled.


Later, he bellowed, "Am I asking you if you're telling the truth?"


"I don't know," Arias said, firing back at him. "Are you?"


During three days of cross examining Arias this week, Martinez has spent hours going back and forth with the defendant over word choice, her memory, and her answers to his questions.


"Everyone who takes witness stand for defense is an enemy," McDonald said. "He prides himself on being able to work by rarely referring to his notes, but what he's giving up in that is that there's so much time he wastes on stupid comments. A lot of what I've heard is utterly objectionable."


Martinez's behavior has spurred frequent objections of "witness badgering" from Arias' attorney Kirk Nurmi, who at one point Tuesday stood up in court and appealed to the judge to have a conference with all of the attorneys before questioning continued. Judge Sherry Stephens at one point admonished Martinez and Arias for speaking over one another.


Andy Hill, a former spokesperson for the Phoenix police department, and Steven Pitt, a forensic psychiatrist who has testified as an expert witness at many trials in the Phoenix area, both said that despite his aggressive style, Martinez would likely succeed in obtaining a guilty verdict.


"When it comes to cross examination, one size does not fit all," said Pitt. "But if you set aside the incessant sparring, what the prosecutor I believe is effectively doing is pointing out the various inconsistencies in the defendant's version of events."






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We need a piece of Mars to continue search for life


































THERE'S no need to cry over spilt chemicals. Thanks to an accident inside one of its instruments, NASA's Curiosity rover has detected the presence of a substance called perchlorate in Martian soil (see "Curiosity's spills add thrills to the Mars life hunt").












Not exactly earth-shattering, you might think. But it adds a new twist to the most controversial chapter in Martian history: did the Viking landers detect life?













This is a question that has divided the Viking missions' researchers for almost three decades. One group has resolutely stuck to its guns that the landers detected signs of life. Equally adamant is a second group who say they absolutely did not – a view that has always been the official version of events.












The unexpected discovery of perchlorate supplies a legitimate reason to reopen the debate. Perchlorate is an oxidising agent that destroys organic molecules. Its presence could finally explain the disputed results.












The episode highlights another important issue. Curiosity is a sophisticated machine, but there is only so much soil chemistry we can do from millions of kilometres away. A sample return mission must be a priority.












This article appeared in print under the headline "We need a piece of Mars"


















































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Australian cyclone crossing Western Australian coast






SYDNEY: A tropical cyclone hit Australia's resource-rich northwest coast Wednesday, bringing winds of up to 165 kilometres (102 miles) an hour as it crossed the shore near the tiny community of Pardoo.

Severe tropical cyclone Rusty had been sitting offshore for several days, slowly intensifying as it edged towards the Pilbara coast and bringing heavy rain and gale-force winds to the iron ore region.

"It is in the process of crossing," Neil Bennett from Australia's Bureau of Meteorology told AFP just after 0700 GMT, adding it was too soon to say whether it had caused any damage.

"Wind gusts in excess of 165 kilometres an hour are in that area."

Bennett said the storm had been downgraded from a category 4 storm, just one notch short of the top category, to a category 3.

The bureau had expected Rusty to make landfall close to Port Hedland, 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) north of Perth, but Bennett said the major iron ore port appeared to have escaped the full brunt of the storm.

"It looks as if Hedland has dodged the bullet, so to speak, because the worst of the winds are away from Hedland," he said.

"Hedland though has been experiencing a constant period of gale-force winds for over 36 hours now. And that's unprecedented (for that area)."

While the storm has been downgraded, its eye has also contracted from being about 80 kilometres wide on Tuesday to about 50 kilometres by the time it crossed land.

Authorities had warned residents to move out of the storm's path or seek shelter. Resident Ian Badger said he was seeking refuge at the Pardoo Roadhouse, about 120 kilometres from Port Hedland.

"It's just a matter of hanging on," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"The amount of water that's around is a bit worrying. The ground is very sodden, very soft. As soon as you get a get a bit of strong wind, trees start going over."

The weather bureau expects the cyclone to move slowly in a south-southeasterly direction, gradually downgrading to a category 1 storm by Thursday afternoon and a tropical low the following day.

Australia's major iron ore export ports have been shut for several days anticipating Rusty's approach. Hundreds of people have been forced to evacuate their homes in the sparsely populated but cyclone-prone area.

Global iron ore giants including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group have all shut down or scaled back operations due to the storm.

-AFP/fl



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