UAE pardons political activists

The ruler of the United Arab Emirates has pardoned five political activists who were sentenced to prison, the government announced Monday.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan ordered the release of the five detainees as part of a decree marking the upcoming 40th National Day of the UAE, state news agency WAM reported.

On Sunday, the country's supreme court sentenced Ahmed Mansour to three years in prison. Four other defendants -- Nasser Bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq and Hassan Ali Al Khamis -- were each sentenced to two years.

The five men, whom police detained in April, faced charges of public insult against the president of the UAE and other top officials, according to human rights groups. They were also charged with undermining the public order and opposing the government system.

Samer Muscati of Human Rights Watch called the trial and sentences "a complete mockery of justice."

But pro-government demonstrators outside the courthouse Sunday voiced their support for the verdict.

"I'm happy that this situation is finished," Abelkarim Maatouq said. "Maybe it will be (that) everybody knows that in the future, there is a limit to the opinions ... there are limits to how you (say) your opinion."

World Aids Day: the disease that changed the world

red-london_1776249b In June 1981, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia issued a landmark report about five young gay men in Los Angeles who had died from a mysterious condition that had destroyed their immune systems.

Within two years, Aids (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was changing the world. Any disease with the capacity to infect and kill millions will have a profound effect, but this modern ‘plague’ was different. It was an odd, horrible disease; a collection of separate illnesses. Chest infections, typically Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) were a common indicator, as was Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a rare form of skin cancer. But most sufferers were swamped by a tide of common, usually trivial bacterial, viral and fungal infections that overwhelmed their weakened bodies.

The advent of Aids would forever alter the way we think and talk about sex and sexuality; it would bring previously taboo subjects out into the open. It involved issues of race and celebrity, wealth and poverty, highlighting as never before the inequalities between the rich West and the developing world.

Miley Cyrus Jokes About Smoking 'Too Much Weed' at 19th Birthday Party

It’s apparently a high-flying party in the USA whenever Miley Cyrus is around!

Cyrus stunned well-wishers at her 19th-birthday party, happily telling them she’s a pot-loving “stoner.”

“You know you’re a stoner when your friends make you a Bob Marley cake,” said the “Hannah Montana” star during her the bash last week at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel.

“You know you smoke way too much f--king weed!” she exclaims on footage from the birthday bash obtained and first aired yesterday by the iPad newspaper The Daily.

But her rep insisted "It's all been taken out of context."

Russia's Putin Accepts Presidential Nomination

ap_russia_putin_eng_480_27nov11 Russia's Vladimir Putin has formally accepted his ruling party's nomination to return to the presidency, in an address in which he warned the West against funding his political opponents.

Putin, who became prime minister in 2008 after two presidential terms, spoke Sunday in Moscow to a televised congress of his United Russia party.  He accused unnamed foreign countries of bankrolling opposition efforts to influence the outcome of next week's parliamentary elections and presidential polls set for March.

Colombia's FARC Rebels Execute 4 Captives

AP_FARC_Hostages_11_26_2011 Colombia's government said Saturday the country's main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, (FARC) executed four security force members who were captured more than a decade ago.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said the hostages were killed during a mission to free them.  He said all four men were shot; three with shots to the head and one with two shots to the back.

Among them was the longest-held captive, Sergeant Major Jose Libio Martinez, who was seized by the rebels almost 14 years ago.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the murders were another demonstration of the FARC's cruelty.  He called the killings "an atrocious crime."

Troops launched the operation in southern Caqueta province 45 days ago after a tip that the captives were being held in the area.

The incident took place less than two weeks after FARC rebels named Timoleon Jimenez, better known as Timochenko, as their new leader.

Egyptians Clash Ahead of Elections

AP_Egypt_Cairo_clashes_26nov11_480 New clashes have erupted in Cairo's Tahrir Square where protesters are pressing their demand for the resignation of the country's military rulers.

Egyptian security forces fired tear gas at crowds of stone-throwing protesters on Saturday. At least one person was killed after being run over by a security vehicle. Egyptian officials say the incident was an accident.

On Friday, security forces and protesters clashed in Alexandria. At least 42 people have been killed in protest-related clashes across the country over the past week.

The unrest is unfolding as Egypt prepares to begin parliamentary elections on Monday, the first polling since former President Hosni Mubarak resigned in February.

On Saturday, the ruling military council held separate talks with two presidential hopefuls, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa. The Reuters news agency says Moussa and military rulers discussed ways to end the current political crisis.

Exhibit Traces Horse's Impact on Tribal Life

VOALogueHorse480diffangle The image of a Native American warrior, racing across the Western plains on horseback, is an iconic one. "A Song for the Horse Nation," at the National Museum of the American Indian, looks at the history behind the image.

According to curator Emil Her Many Horses, Native Americans can thank Europeans for introducing the animal.

“Forty million years ago there were horses here, and they die out about 10,000 years ago. The horses we know today that we always think have been here, actually were brought back by Columbus.”

That was in 1493. Other horses came with other Europeans. Within 300 years, they had changed every aspect of tribal life from trade to warfare, and especially, to travel.

“Before horses were introduced, the only domesticated animal that the native people had were dogs,” Her Many Horses says. “When horses were introduced they were able to move much quicker and other items became bigger.”

As the horse became more important, it began to appear in imagery, sometimes as pure decoration, often in depictions of specific events.

Teen Dies After North Carolina Shooting Bringing Death Toll to 6

NCshooting A 17-year-old shot by his aunt died on Friday, bringing the death toll from a weekend massacre outside Greensboro to six, including the shooter, authorities said.

Richard Brian Suttles, who had been shot on Sunday along with four other minors and one adult by Mary Ann Holder, died shortly before 1 p.m. Friday, Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes said.

Along with Suttles, Holder killed her two sons, eight-year-old niece, and the 15-year-old girlfriend of one of her sons before killing herself. She also shot her married lover in the shoulder, and police say he's expected to recover.

The 36-year-old woman had been having an affair with Randall Lamb, 40, for almost four years, but it was coming to an end after months of bitter accusations between Holder, Lamb and Lamb's wife, including allegations of stalking and harassment.

Holder shot Lamb Sunday morning at a community college parking lot, and then drove away to pick up her son, 14-year-old Zachary Smith. Within a half-hour, a sheriff's deputy found Holder dead inside her SUV with a gun in her lap and her son mortally wounded in the back seat.

New Post-Accident Chevy Volt Engine Fires Prompt Investigation

chevyvoltengine New fires involving the lithium-ion batteries in General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet Volt have prompted an investigation to assess the risk of fire in the electric car after a serious crash, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday.

One Volt battery pack that was being closely monitored following a government crash test caught fire Thursday, the safety administration said in a statement. Another recently crash-tested battery emitted smoke and sparks, the statement said.

GM, which was informed of the investigation on Friday, said in a statement that the Volt "is safe and does not present undue risk as part of normal operation or immediately after a severe crash."

The latest fires are in addition to a battery fire in a crash-tested Volt six months ago.

NHTSA learned of a possible fire risk involving damaged Volt batteries when a fire erupted in a Volt that was being stored in a parking lot a test facility in Burlington, Wis. The fire was severe enough to cause several other vehicles parked nearby to catch fire as well.

The call centre that knows when you're angry

phone_1508042a The new technology could be used in automated call centres to route enquiries differently according to the anxiety level of the caller.

Scientists at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and the Universidad de Granada (UGR) said “the system created can be used to automatically adapt the dialogue to the user’s situation, so that the machine’s response is adequate to the person’s emotional state.”

“Thanks to this new development, the machine will be able to determine how the user feels and how the caller intends to continue the dialogue”, claimed one of its creators, David Grill, a professor in UC3M’s Computer Science Department.

Ganzouri regains PM job amid rival protests in Cairo

Kamal Ganzouri, who once served as prime minister under President Hosni Mubarak, regained the post Friday as competing protests drew tens of thousands of demonstrators in the capital.

"We are here to serve our nation," Ganzouri said.

Ganzouri told reporters that Hussein Tantawi, field marshal of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Egypt's dominant force since Mubarak's ouster in February, "made it clear to me he is no longer willing to stay in power. If he told me otherwise, I'd not have accepted to take this role."

Ganzouri said he had asked for time to form a Cabinet "that will be accepted by everyone."

Ganzouri took the job after Egypt's military rulers asked him to form a government of "national salvation."

The development came days after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his government quit en masse and days before parliamentary elections, scheduled to begin Monday. The high military council decided Friday to extend voting to two days for each stage of the election, which will take several months, according to state-run Egypt TV.

Sandi Toksvig ponders power in numbers

Being of small stature, I’m not too keen on a crowd. The word itself comes from the Old English “cruden” meaning “to press” or “to crush”, and being pressed or crushed into a taller person’s armpit is low on my list of fun things to do. Lately, however, the crowd has become de rigueur for anyone thinking the world is being run with anything less than perfect skill. There have been chanting crowds in Tahrir Square, camping crowds at St Paul’s and decamped crowds on Wall Street. Protest, however, is not the only arena where the crowd is becoming king.

In these days of the great inter-web, many a problem is solved through “crowd sourcing”, in which a tricky issue such as a design challenge is broadcast to an unknown group of solvers. This “crowd” is usually made up of people (geeks) who dwell in online communities, which are just like regular communities but without the social life. They apply their amateur expertise to help find the answer or to select the best solution from other people’s answers. They do this for free and in lieu of having anything better to do.

UN Investigator Calls On N. Korea to Improve Human Rights

The United Nations’ human rights investigator for North Korea is speaking out about the treatment of prisoners in the country, days after the General Assembly’s human rights committee adopted a resolution condemning the nation for its human rights policies.

A record number of nations voted in favor of a non-binding resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights record on Monday. Speaking Friday in Seoul, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, Marzuki Darusman, says this indicates the international community’s growing concern with the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, the North’s official name.

Darusman repeated the resolution’s requests.

“I urge the government of the DPRK to overhaul the prison system, the criminal justice system and related detention policies in camps that give rise to a plethora of abuses, including torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Darusman.

Pyongyang has dismissed the new resolution as a smear campaign orchestrated by the United States.

Human rights groups say hundreds of thousands of North Koreans languish in labor camps.

Kobo aims to take on Amazon Kindle with new Vox tablet ereader

jet-black_2064481b Walk in to any branch of WH Smith’s and you’ll see huge banner adverts offering the Kobo eReader Touch or the much more advanced Kobo Vox.

These devices, made by Canadian company Kobo, have not yet had the wild sales success that Amazon’s £89 Kindle has, but in their different ways both do considerably more. The Kobo bookstore claims to be the largest in the world, offering 2.5million titles and more than a million free ones. The standard Kobo Touch, too, offers a touchscreen where Amazon’s UK equivalent relies on buttons to turn the pages; the Vox is in fact a full-colour tablet that is geared towards reading but also offers email, movies and everything Google can offer, plus a decent selection of apps too. At just £169, it’s almost a mini-iPad, and a rival to the Amazon Kindle Fire, which is currently only available in America.

US Republican Presidential Candidates Tackle Foreign Policy Issues

Republican candidates who want to replace President Barack Obama sparred in Washington Tuesday night in one of the few televised debates centered on foreign policy issues. 

The candidates gathered just a few blocks away from the White House - where they each hope to spend the next four years. 

Two former governors - Jon Huntsman of Utah and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts - clashed over Afghanistan.

First, Romney asked Hunstman, "Are you suggesting, governor that we just take all our troops out next week? What's your proposal?"

"Did you hear what I just said?  I said, 'We should draw down from 100,000.'  We don't need 100,000 troops," said Hunstman. "We don't need 100,000 troops, many of whom can't even cross the wire [engage the enemy]."

But the Heritage Foundation's Jim Carafano says global issues will change before any of these candidates can become president.

"The most important thing in the debate is listening less to say 'What would I do if I were president today' - which is irrelevant - to what kind of character do they have," said Carafano. "What kind of commander-in-chief they are going to be.  Are they going to put what's right over what's easy."

Military police try to halt Cairo skirmishes

111123034414-egypt-tear-gas-nov-23-story-top Military police poured into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Wednesday in hopes of stopping clashes between protesters and police, as the Egyptian government said a truce had been declared through a group of clerics.

The truce lasted about three hours.

CNN saw military police lined up, separating protesters from the police.

But after a period of calm, some protesters began throwing rocks at soldiers. Riot police responded with tear gas; the unrest continued late Wednesday.

Some army soldiers tried to stop security forces from shooting tear gas, but they were outnumbered.

On state-run TV, the government said religious scholars were on their way "to form a human shield between the protesters and the security forces."

CNN saw no sign of a human shield of clerics. But along the barricades separating protesters from security forces, some clerics were talking to protesters, trying to negotiate.

Egypt's grand mufti, the country's highest religious official, called on police to put down their weapons and "never aim" firearms at the Egyptian people. In an audio message aired by Egyptian state TV, he called for a "peaceful protest for Egypt's sake."

Councils lose sensitive data 1,000 times

memoryStick_1465931c The compromised data included the details of children and vulnerable people in care.

Big Brother Watch, the campaign group that carried out the research, said 132 local authorities admitted to a total of 1,035 data losses and thefts between 2008 and 2011. Only nine incidents resulted in staff being fired, however.

“This research highlights a shockingly lax attitude to protecting confidential information across nearly a third of councils,” said Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch.

“The fact that only a tiny fraction of staff have been dismissed brings into question how seriously managers take protecting the privacy of their service users and local residents,”

At least 244 laptops, 98 memory sticks and 93 mobile devices went missing.

Automatic US Spending Cuts Loom

Under current U.S. law, automatic cuts to domestic programs and national defense will begin in 2013, because a congressional committee failed to agree on trimming America’s federal deficit. Already, many lawmakers say they want to shield favored federal programs from the budget ax, despite a veto threat from President Barack Obama.

A budget deal earlier this year specified there would be $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts, known as a "sequester," if a special “supercommittee” failed to trim the deficit by an equal amount over a 10-year period. The supercommittee’s failure leaves the sequester in place, at least for now.

President Obama says austerity is on the way. “One way or another, we will be trimming the deficit," he said.

That means major cuts to a range of programs, from farm subsidies to transportation to payments to medical providers for treating the elderly. It also means deep cuts for the defense budget.

The looming sequester angers lawmakers across the ideological spectrum.  Many Democrats oppose cuts to infrastructure and other domestic programs.

Turkish prime minister tells Syria's president to step down or risk tragic end

111122090608-sot-erdogan-turkey-00000730-story-top Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a stern warning to Syria's president Tuesday, saying that he risks facing the same fate as Libya's slain Moammar Gadhafi if he does not step down.

Erdogan condemned President Bashar al-Assad for remarks he reportedly made over the weekend that he would fight to the death to resist foreign forces, saying al-Assad is battling his own people.

"For God's sake, who are you fighting against?" Erdogan said in remarks to party members in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

"To fight against your own people till you die is not heroism; it is cowardice. If you want to see someone who has fought until death against his own people, just look at Nazi Germany, just look at Hitler, at Mussolini, at Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania.

"If you cannot draw any lessons from these, then look at the Libyan leader who pointed weapons against his own people, used the same terms you use and who was killed just 32 days ago in a way that none of us wished.

"Without shedding more blood, just leave that seat."

Greece, Spain Face New Debt Pressures

ap_greece_eu_economy_22nov11_eng_480 Greece and Spain faced new pressure Tuesday from the European debt crisis.

The European Union bluntly told the Athens government it would not receive its next $11 billion installment from last year's bailout unless its fractious political leaders sign a written statement committing to new austerity measures to cut the country's debt. Greece needs the money to avoid a default next month, but conservative leader Antonis Samaras says his verbal consent to the unpopular austerity plan should be sufficient and has refused to sign a written pledge.

A key EU financial leader, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, told new Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos that without the written commitment, the release of the funds "of course could not take place."

Google Chromebooks: one in 10 computer sales in a year’s time

The prediction, made by Mark Slater, the computing category director at Dixons Retail, will provide a boost to Google’s ambitions for its innovative Chrome operating system.

The new operating system, which was launched on its own devices in May, is based on Google’s Chrome web browser but has not yet gained major attention because of a lack of laptops that have appealed to consumers.

Slater told the Telegraph, “We see computing evolving as we go into next year with the emergence of Chrome as an operating system and the ease of use of cloud storage making it a credible alternative to the established world of Microsoft and Apple”.

Dixons has launched the world’s first Google shop, in a branch of its PC World subsidiary. Slater said "I believe that Chrome could be circa 10 per cent of our computing business this time next year with the right mix of hardware partners and a much greater consumer push with regards to the benefits”.

More sore throats seen in acne patients taking antibiotics

Sore-throats-for-those-on-acne-meds-NRKGRFT-x College students who take oral antibiotics to keep their acne in check have more sore throats than their peers who don't take antibiotics, researchers have found.

But the authors of a new study published online Nov. 21 in the Archives of Dermatology didn't find any more bacteria in the antibiotic group, indicating that the rise in sore throats, or pharyngitis, probably wasn't due to antibiotic resistance.

"Those with acne who were on tetracyclines were about two to four times more likely to report a bout of upper respiratory tract infection or pharyngitis or sore throat . . . (but) I can't tell you why we're finding what we're finding," said study lead author Dr. David Margolis, a professor of dermatology and epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Previous studies have also found that people taking antibiotic pills for acne had a higher incidence of sore throats.

These authors surmised that antibiotic use would decrease the number of Streptococcus salivarius, bacteria that are known to keep colonization of group A streptococcus bacteria in the throat in check.

Remakes of Pippa Middleton's Bridesmaid's Dress Sell Out in Hours

pippa-middleton-640 Pippa Middleton replica bridesmaid dresses sell out within hours
Replicas of Pippa Middleton's figure-hugging bridesmaid's dress, which stole some of the limelight at her sister Catherine's marriage to Prince William, were selling out Tuesday just hours after the fashion house of Alexander McQueen put them on sale.

Copies of the cowl-neck, silk-crepe ivory gown went on sale Monday on priced at £1,195 ($1,867) -- a fraction of the £20,000 the original dress was thought to cost.

HOT SHOTS: Pippa Middleton

The dress already sold out of its tiniest size, an Italian size 36, equivalent to a US size zero.
Middleton's original dress was designed by Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton, who also designed the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding gown.

"Beautifully cut, elegant and timeless, Alexander McQueen's silk-crepe gown will make an exquisite choice for your wedding day," the website read. "The signature accentuated shoulders and draped neckline are effortlessly flattering -- style a clean silhouette with swept-back hair and drop earrings for radiant, understated appeal."

2 killed in football stampede in Indonesia

111122102452-indonesia-football-stampede-story-top Two people were killed Monday in a stampede while Indonesia and Malaysia played their final football match at the Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta, police said.

Eight others were injured when the large crowd of fans jostled to get into the stadium as the second half of the game started, Jakarta police spokesman Baharudin Djafar said.

The crowd also knocked down part of a fence, Djafar said. Most in the group had tickets but were having difficulty getting into the game.

Obama Blames Republicans for Deficit Committee Failure

ap_Barack_Obama_eng_21nov11 President Barack Obama makes a statement at the White House after the congressional debt supercommittee failed to reach an agreement on debt reduction, Nov. 21, 2011.

President Barack Obama blamed opposition Republicans in Congress on Monday for the failure of a special deficit committee to reach a compromise on $1.2 trillion in additional federal government spending cuts during the next 10 years.

Obama spoke after the so-called "supercommittee" acknowledged its inability to reach an agreement, saying its members could not bridge "significant differences."

The president said Americans overwhelmingly support "balanced" deficit reduction.  And he said Republicans trying to protect tax cuts for the wealthy are the main "stumbling block" to an agreement.

"There are still too many Republicans in Congress who have refused to listen to the voices of reason and compromise that are coming from outside of Washington," said President Obama.

Missing Arizona Girl's Mom Arrested, Police Call Her the Main Focus

arizmissing Police said Monday they've arrested the mother of a missing 5-year-old Arizona girl on child abuse charges.

Jerice Hunter was arrested on child abuse charges "directly related to Jhessye," Glendale Police Sgt. Brent Coombs said. Jhessye (JES'-ee) Shockley has been missing since Oct. 11.

Coombs said Monday investigators don't believe they'll find the girl alive and that Hunter "is our No. 1 focus."

Hunter's apartment was surrounded by police tape Monday as investigators in white jumpsuits searched inside. Police declined to say what investigators were doing.

Police have said they believed Jhessye wandered from her Glendale apartment while Hunter was running an errand. The girl's three older siblings were the last to see her.

Police have repeatedly said they had no evidence, suspects or promising leads.

State Child Protective Services removed Hunter's four other children, including a newborn, from her home last month but declined to say why, and police said they had no involvement in the decision to take them away.

Natalie Wood Mystery: Witness Says She Heard Woman Scream 'Help Me, I'm Drowning'

nataliewoodroberwagner640 A new witness has come forward to share chilling details on the night actress Natalie Wood died thirty years ago.

“Help me, someone please help me, I’m drowning,” Marilyn Wayne said she heard repeatedly from her sailboat on the night of Nov. 29, 1981, according to multiple reports.

Wayne, a former stockbroker, was aboard the Capricorn in the waters near Catalina Island in Southern California with boyfriend, John Payne, when the couple heard a disturbing scene.

“A woman’s voice, crying for help from drowning awakened John, and he awakened me,” Wayne said in a sworn statement to investigators. “Alarmed, I called out to my son, who also heard the cries, and looked at his new digital watch: it was just minutes after 11:00 P.M.”

Wood died while she was boating on the yacht Splendour with her husband, Robert Wagner, and actor Christopher Walken. Her body was found the next morning, floating in the water about a mile away from the yacht. According to police and autopsy reports, she had dozens of bruises on her body and injuries to her face and arms.

The official cause of death was listed as accidental drowning, and there was no determination of foul play. Police recently reopened the investigation of Wood’s drowning death, citing “additional information” in the case.

After hearing the woman’s cries for help, Payne said she turned on a spotlight and searched the dark waters, while Wayne went up onto the deck to try and look for the victim.

Pakistan Postpones Texting Censorship

REUTERS_text_censor_480_21nov11 Pakistani officials are denying they ordered the country's mobile phone operators to block certain text messages sent by customers.

A free speech advocacy group plans to sue the government over a list containing hundreds of so-called obscene words and phrases, which has since been widely mocked by ordinary Pakistanis on social media. According to a letter signed by the chief of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority dated November 14, the order to block text messages containing prohibited words was ordered to go into effect on Monday.

The letter orders mobile phone service providers to block text messages containing any of more than 1,600 words and phrases -- more than 1,000 of them in English, the rest in Urdu. The letter says the move is designed "to protect the interests of consumers" and requires telecom companies to report the number of blocked messages back to the authority monthly.

Since the letter and list became public last week, social media services like Twitter have exploded with derisive ridicule from Pakistanis. Few would disagree most of the words on the list are vulgar, but some of the words included are viewed as more innocuous and occasionally bizarre. "Sex," "condom," and "nude" are all on the list. So are the words "Jesus Christ," "deposit," "drunk," and, perhaps the most frequently ridiculed, "monkey crotch."

UN: AIDS epidemic stabilizing, still work to do

UN-AIDS-epidemic-stabilizing-1VKBVJB-x LONDON – The AIDS epidemic is leveling off and the number of people newly infected with the virus that causes it has remained unchanged since 2007, the United Nations said in a report Monday.

Critics say that the body's aim of wiping out the disease is overly optimistic, however, considering there is no vaccine, millions remain untreated and donations have slumped amid the economic crisis.

There were 2.7 million new HIV infections last year, approximately the same figure as in the three previous years, said the report from UNAIDS, the joint United Nations program on HIV and AIDS. The figures largely confirm earlier findings released by the group in June.

At the end of last year, there were about 34 million people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. While that is a slight rise from previous years, experts say that's due to people surviving longer. Last year, there were 1.8 million AIDS-related deaths, down from 1.9 million in 2009.

The outbreak continues to hit hardest in southern Africa. But while the number of new infections there has fallen by more than 26 percent since the peak in 1997, the virus is surging elsewhere.

Natalie Wood Had Eerie, Lifelong Connection to Water

111811_ent_lana_640 Long before the mysterious drowning death of actress Natalie Wood in 1981, the star and her husband Robert Wagner had a history of memorable moments involving water.

In his 2008 memoir, “Pieces of My Heart,” Wagner recalled how he had fallen in love with Wood on board a boat he owned.

“I remember the instant I fell in love with her. One night on board a small boat I owned, she looked at me with love, her dark brown eyes lit by a table lantern. That moment changed my life,” he said.

The couple wed in 1957, but split in 1962.

After years apart, the two reunited in 1972. Following a hectic storm at sea while en route from New York to London on the Queen Elizabeth II, the couple announced they were planning to remarry.

That July, the couple remarried aboard a friend’s yacht off Catalina Island, in Southern California.

The next year, Wagner recalled that his wife sent him a note on Easter saying “Dearest, here’s to smooth sailing for us from now on!”

According to Wagner, their reunion also provided them with “renewed appreciation of how much we loved the ocean. We bought a 60ft boat which we called the Splendor, after one of Natalie’s films.”

Wood, however, had a well-documented fear of water. So strong was her fear that the actress would not even go in her own swimming pool.

Half of Congress Enjoys Millionaire Status, Study Shows

US-Capitol-With-Flag A new study shows about half the lawmakers in Congress are millionaires, and that their net worth has risen steadily since 2008 despite the financial crash.

The analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics found that 250 members of Congress have an estimated net worth of at least $1 million. Though some members of Congress have tried to cozy up to the Occupy Wall Street protests and their message of representing 99 percent of America, assets of more than $1 million would easily put those lawmakers in the top 1 percent.

And as it turns out, wealth knows no party.

According to the report, 37 Senate Democrats and 30 Senate Republicans are worth more than $1 million. In the House, 110 Republicans and 73 Democrats enjoy the same status.

UN Members Condemn Alleged Iranian Plot on Saudi Official

ap_us_iran_plot_suspect_300_november2011 The U.N. General Assembly has overwhelmingly condemned Iran for an alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington.

It sounded like something out of a novel. Last month U.S. officials charged that agents linked to Iran’s powerful Al Quds force were plotting to kill Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, at a Washington restaurant.

One of the men charged in the scheme - an Iranian with U.S. citizenship - was arrested and has pleaded not guilty. A second man is believed to be in Iran and has not been apprehended.

The two allegedly hired a man they believed to be a member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the attack - either through a bombing or gunning the ambassador down. But the would-be assassin also was an informant on the payroll of U.S. authorities and told them the details of the plot, stopping it before it could play out.

Famine Subsides in Somalia, Starvation Risk Remains

Reut_Somalifamine_18nov11-resizedpx480 The United Nations reports that famine in southern Somalia has subsided in three regions, due in part to the success of humanitarian intervention.  Despite the improvement, the U.N. warns that nearly 250,000 people are still at risk of starvation.

The U.N. Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and a U.S. famine warning network known as FEWS NET have confirmed that a famine no longer exists in the areas of Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle.

The agencies say humanitarian assistance helped improve access to food in the regions and to bring down rates of death from malnutrition.

However, famine conditions still persist in three other regions - in Middle Shabelle, Afgooye and among the population of displaced people living in Mogadishu.

Famine is a technical term, indicating a certain statistical level of food deficit, malnutrition and death.

Aid agencies working in the area are cautioning that, just because the famine has technically subsided, this does not mean people are not still in need of urgent assistance.

19 Million New STD Infections Reported Annually, CDC Says

Chlamydia-tops-STD-infection-rates-6KJU8IH-x The 19 million new cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia diagnosed in the United States each year cost the nation's health care system $17 billion annually, according to an annual report released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are treatable but can cause serious, life-long consequences, such as infertility, if they aren't detected.

"STDs are one of the most critical health challenges facing the nation today," CDC researchers said in their report.

Reported cases of chlamydia steadily increased for the past 20 years and reached 1.3 million in 2010. The increase stems from expanded screening efforts, not an actual rise in the number of people infected with chlamydia.

However, a majority of chlamydia infections still go undiagnosed, and fewer than half of sexually active young women undergo annual screening as recommended by the CDC.

After North's Rebuff, S. Korea Looks Elsewhere to Donate Aid

Reuters N Korea children floods 18Nov11 480 South Korea says it is looking to donate baby formula originally intended for North Korea to countries in Africa and elsewhere hit by disasters. The formula was part of a bigger aid shipment that was never accepted by Pyongyang.

The South Korean government says consultations are underway with other countries and charity groups about where to donate nearly 300,000 packs of baby food.

The infant formula is among $4.5 million worth of aid Seoul attempted to donate to North Korean flood victims. But the government here says it never received a response from Pyongyang about the offer. Instead North Korea asked for rice and cement.

Park Hyun-seok, the Secretary-General of the NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea says Pyongyang desires items which would actually aid those affected by the recent floods.

Park criticizes specific items South Korea proposed to send. He says even South Koreans want to avoid eating ramen instant noodles because the ingredients are unhealthy and Choco-Pie (chocolate marshmallow) snacks are not helpful to promote growth of children.

Super Mario: Family Man

C__807_2052625b For family gaming, Mario is something of a lucky charm. But, unbeknown to most families he is actually living a double life. The bastion of accessible non-violent gameplay is actually the forerunner of the hardcore gaming revolution.

Super Mario Brothers, both in its original arcade and NES incarnations, was super difficult, packed full of insider secrets and not at all family friendly. Compare this to the modern day Super Mario 3D Land and things couldn’t be more different. Not only is the difficulty bar much lower, the game also jumps in to help if you get stuck with free Tanooki power-ups and invincibility powers.

While many would bemoan what has become of their beloved mascot, there is actually something much more interesting atplay here. Many of the traits that made Mario games so good for core gamers back in the 80’s are the very same things that makes him well suited for those green to gaming today.

The most endearing of all Mario’s facets is that, like any well rounded individual, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. From the magical moment you break through the ceiling in world 1-2 of Super Mario Brothers to the absurdity of tail power flight when donning the Tanooki suite to popping a Koopa from his shell in Super Mario World and even taking to the skies with a water powered jetpack in Super Mario Sunshine, Mario’s tongue is firmly in his cheek.

Estela Welldon: 'I speak my mind. Patients take that very well'

Estela-Welldon-on-Brighto-007 We sit down to talk about serious subjects, sobering subjects, but my first meeting with Estela Welldon soon takes on a faintly hysterical hue. This pioneering forensic psycho- therapist, an Argentinian who has spent her life guiding criminals through psychoanalysis, talking through their cobwebbed unconscious, has just been giving a lecture to colleagues, and her voice is depleted, distinctly croaky. In a Brighton restaurant, over lunch, I have to lean in closely to hear her theories.

"Perversions are all really, symbolically speaking, attacks against the [pregnant] woman's body," she is saying. "Let's not talk any more about penis envy, envy to the breast, envy to the womb. Envy is towards the pregnant body. A fecund woman represents an erected penis, sperm flowing." Our waiter blanches as he approaches, and Welldon addresses him, without pause. "Do we have any sauce with this?" She gestures to our tandoori chicken. "Because I will need some sauce. Nice virgin olive oil?" He nods meekly. "That would be great!"

She turns to me. "Over the last five years I have had so many cancers. I have had one of my epiglottis, and in chemotherapy, a lot of the salivary glands have gone, so I need some lubrication. But so!" She takes a slug of wine. "We were talking about women, and there is something so appealing about a pregnant woman, but they are also the most vulnerable to attacks, even from their husbands or partners." All manner of crimes can be understood, symbolically, from this perspective, she explains. "In any attack against a house, for instance, taking things away from it, or shitting on it, it's always a representation of the mother's body that's being attacked".

Iran 'has a case to answer,' nuclear watchdog says

111117060909-iaea-director-general-yukiya-amano-has-said-organisation-wants-to-send-a-high-level-delegation-to-iran-story-top Iran "has a case to answer" about its nuclear program following a critical report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, the agency's director said Thursday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency wants to send a high-level delegation to Iran to clear up questions about whether the country's nuclear development is truly peaceful, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano told reporters in Vienna.

Iran has repeatedly insisted its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian energy purposes only. But a November 8 report by the IAEA found "credible" information that Tehran has carried out work toward nuclear weapons, including tests of possible bomb components.

Former Rwandan Mayor Found Guilty of Genocide Charges

The former mayor of a Rwandan town has been convicted on genocide charges in connection with the 1994 massacre of some 2,000 people in his district.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced Gregory Ndahimana to 15 years in prison on Thursday, after finding him guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors had accused Ndahimana of helping to plan and carry out the slaughter of ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda's Kivumu district in April 1994.

The judges dismissed those allegations, saying the massacre resulted from broad coordination by local authorities.

Judges noted that Ndahimana was present at the scene of the crime, however, and failed to exercise control over the police.

Most of the Tutsis died when Hutu militants bulldozed a church where the Tutsis had taken refuge from Hutu attacks. Hutu militants killed an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates during the Rwandan genocide.

Greece Braces for Annual Protest March

RTR2U4KA_Reuters_Greece_17NOV11 Greece has deployed thousands of police officers in Athens to prevent violence during an annual protest march Thursday.

The march to the U.S. embassy is expected to include demonstrators upset about the new interim government's austerity measures.

These demonstrations come a day after the government overwhelmingly won a vote of confidence in a parliamentary vote.

Pilot Locked in Bathroom Causes Terror Scare on New York-Bound Plane

111711_childers_pilot2 He was caught with his pants down.

A pilot who accidentally locked himself in the bathroom of his LaGuardia-bound plane caused a terror scare last night when a helpful passenger with an accent tried to come to his rescue by banging on the cockpit door.

The embarrassing comedy of errors began when the captain of a Chatauqua Airlines flight from Asheville, N.C., decided to take a bathroom break before landing.

But when he tried to get out of the men’s room, the door jammed, trapping him in the tight quarters.

Desperate to get out and land the plane — which was in a holding pattern above the airport — he pounded his fists on the door to attract attention.

Benetton Backpedals Over Ads Featuring World Leaders Kissing

benetton_ad2_afp Italian fashion company Benetton is backpedaling after launching an ad campaign that showed world leaders, including the pope and an imam, kissing one another -- and not on the cheek.

The company had to quickly take down an ad featuring a fake photo of Pope Benedict XVI kissing a top Egyptian imam on the lips after the Vatican denounced it as an unacceptable provocation.

That wasn't the only startling image in the campaign. One showed President Obama in a lip-lock with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez; another showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas smooching; another showed Obama kissing Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Benetton says its campaign, which launched Wednesday, is aimed at fostering tolerance and "global love."

But the photo of the pope kissing Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb of Cairo's al-Azhar Institute, the pre-eminent theological school of Sunni Islam, was pulled about an hour after the Vatican's protest.
Al-Azhar suspended interfaith talks with the Vatican earlier this year after Benedict called for greater protections for Egypt's minority Christians.

A Benetton spokesman confirmed that the pope-imam ad was no longer part of the campaign. But the rest of the ad campaign remains in doubt.

Operation follow-up appointments cut to save money

doctor-patient_2056797c Across England the number of such appointments, routinely offered to check for problems, dropped by 1.2 million between 2009-10 and 2010-11, from 23.4 to 22.2 million, a five per cent fall.

In one trust, Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, the number of such appointments dropped by 38 per cent; while at Ealing Hospital NHS Trust they fell by 27 per cent.

Doctors are concerned the reductions, revealed by Pulse, a magazine for GPs, jeopardise patient care.

The situation seems to be affecting the whole country, with some health authorities instigating percentage cuts to the number of follow-up appointments they are prepared to fund.

NHS Gloucestershire has told doctors it will be funding 900 fewer rheumatology follow-ups, with dermatology, urology and other departments also affected, according to the county's local medical committee (LMC). The trust has refused to say what they amount to in percentage terms.

For a new look, repurpose vintage items

Repurpose-vintage-items-for-new-looks-LLJDT6F-x Salvage — repurposing rescued house parts, like doors, windows and decorative elements — is easier than it seems. All you need is a good eye and a bit of imagination.

"It's really satisfying to able to hang something on the wall that you made yourself and has a lot more character and style than you find in a store," says Amy R. Hughes, author of Salvage-Style Projects. "Plus, it's a lot easier than starting a carpentry project from scratch."

Here's a simple project from Hughes to help inspire your own salvaging:

Look for a vintage multi-pane wood window.

Try salvage yards and antique shops … Make sure the glass isn't cracked and the panes are secure. (If the paint is chipped, strip it or seal it under a clear coat of polyurethane to guard against lead.)

Clean the window.

Parkinson's link to cleaning chemical

Use of trichloroethylene (TCE) - often known as 'trike' - was strictly curtailed across the European Union after 2001, following the discovery that it could cause cancer.

But until then it was widely used by mechanics, particularly to degrease car parts like brakes.

It is still used as an ingredient in paints, inks and varnishes, although in low concentrations.

Now a study of 99 pairs of identical twins has found a "significant association" between exposure to TCE and development of the disease.

One of each twin pair had developed Parkinson's, the other had not.

Researchers studied information about the twins' lifetime exposures to six solvents previously associated with Parkinson's.

Studying identical twins is useful in such studies because it rules out the possibility of genetic differences and allows scientists to see how differences in lifestyle contribute to disease development.

They found exposure to TCE resulted in a more than six-fold increase in the likelihood of developing the disease, which can cause limb tremors, slurred speech and difficulty moving.

Judge: Norway terror suspect is not insane

111114070540-norway-breivik-story-top There is no reason to believe that Norway mass murder suspect Anders Behring Breivik is insane, District Court Judge Torkjel Nesheim said Monday.

There is also no evidence he had accomplices in the bomb and gun rampage in which he is accused of killing 77 people this summer, the judge said.

The judge ordered him held in custody for a further 12 weeks, with visits and correspondence controlled by the authorities for the first eight, and a ban on media for the first four.

More than 500 people packed into a court in Oslo, Norway, to see the suspect's first public appearance, said Irene Ramm, head of press for the Oslo court.

A woman whose daughter was killed in the massacre said she could not understand "how a human being could do something like that."

"That's why I had to be here today. I don't understand, so I had to see, had to be here," said the woman, who was identified only as "Carina" on Norway's TV2. "He looked cold, completely cold," she said.

He was not allowed to deliver a speech he had prepared, the station reported.

Breivik said he did not recognize the authority of the court on the grounds that he opposes the multi-cultural society it is part of, TV2 said.

Michael Moore's Michigan Mansion Makes Him a '1 Percenter,' Report Says

MichaelMoore640 During an exchange with talk show host Piers Morgan, Michael Moore denied he was in the “1 percent” the anti-greed protesters have targeted.

“I’m not,” Moore insisted. “I am devoting my life to those who have less and who have been crapped upon by the system.”

Well Moore may dress like a slob and claim to speak for working stiffs, but his luxurious home proves Moore is a lot closer to the 1 percent than the other 99.

Tax records show the liberal documentary filmmaker owns an eye-popping lakefront property in Michigan in one of the country’s most exclusive neighborhoods -- in addition to his luxury Park Avenue pad in Manhattan.

Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart exposed the details of Moore’s spacious mansion on Michigan’s Torch Lake, noting that the outspoken Occupy Wall Street supporter’s neighbors include Hollywood bigs Bruce Willis, Tim Allen and Madonna.

The blog MichiganView reported the liberal icon’s neighbors also include millionaires such ex-Chrysler Chairman Bob Eaton and boat mogul John Winn -- exactly the types of fat cats the rotund agitator regularly skewers in his work.

Time Running Out For US Deficit Reduction Deal

ap_us_debt_Toomey_file_13nov11_eng_large-resizedpx480q100dpi96shp8 U.S. lawmakers say time is running out for a congressional super committee to identify $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction during the next 10 years. Partisan disagreements remain on how best to improve America’s fiscal health, despite a softening of rigid ideological positions.

Members of the bipartisan, bicameral deficit reduction committee insist a deal is still possible before the November 23 deadline established in a budget deal signed into law earlier this year. 

"The clock is running out, but it has not run out yet.  We still have time, but we have no time to waste," said Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Toomey spoke on the U.S. television program, "Fox News Sunday."  Also appearing on Fox was another super committee member, Democratic Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina.

"We have got 10 days to do this, and I really believe that all of the ingredients for a good resolution are there.  We just need to develop the will," he said.

Should the committee fail, automatic budget cuts would be triggered that would fall on domestic spending championed by Democrats and defense spending championed by Republicans.

Obama to Push Free Trade at APEC Summit

ap_us_obama_apec_12Nov_11-resized U.S. President Barack Obama formally opens a summit in Hawaii of Asia-Pacific leaders on Sunday, one day after securing agreement on the outlines of a deal to create a huge Pacific Rim free trade zone.

Obama will hold talks with the leaders of 20 other nations that make up the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.  A summit statement due late in the day is expected to praise the outline agreement and give voice to concerns that Europe's festering debt crisis could destabilize Asia-Pacific economies.

In a joint statement Saturday, the U.S. president and leaders of eight other nations called the burgeoning Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) outline a milestone toward the goal of linking Asia-Pacific economies.

Hours later, the White House said Obama used a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao to pressure Beijing on currency policy and the protection of intellectual property rights.

Gaffe-free GOP presidential hopefuls stay on-message at South Carolina debate: Down with Obama!

Grand-Old-Party The GOP presidential contenders unloaded on President Obama’s efforts to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in Saturday night’s debate — while avoiding any major gaffes or fiery exchanges.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivered a particularly piercing blow against Obama after calling the President’s handling of Iran’s weapons program his “greatest failing from a foreign policy standpoint.”

Romney and the other candidates seized on a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency warning that the rogue nation may be seeking to build a nuke.

“If we reelect President Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon,” Romney told the crowd of conservatives assembled at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. “If we elect Mitt Romney . . . they will not have a nuclear weapon.”

Restless legs syndrome not linked to Parkinson's

Parkinsons-not-linked-to-restless-legs-JPJ35S6-x People with early Parkinson's disease are not more likely to have restless legs syndrome, but many people with Parkinson's do report leg motor restlessness, according to the results of a new Norwegian study.

People with restless legs syndrome, or RLS, have an overwhelming urge to move their legs. This typically occurs at night during rest, and the sensation is relieved by movement. By contrast, leg motor restlessness is characterized by the urge to move the legs throughout the day, and this sensation does not improve with movement.

Both RLS and Parkinson's disease, which is a chronic and progressive movement disorder that affects nearly 1 million people in the United States, do respond to the same drugs, but that is where their connection ends. Medications that boost levels of the brain chemical dopamine treat both conditions.

To better understand the relationship between RLS and Parkinson's, Michaela Gjerstad of Stavanger University Hospital in Norway and colleagues compared leg symptoms among 200 people who were recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and had not started taking any medication to those of 173 people who did not have Parkinson's. Previous studies that have shown a link between the two conditions looked mainly at people with advanced Parkinson's who had been taking dopamine drugs for years.

Twitter 'has profound social implications', claims chief

cost_1772333c Talking at the annual Monaco Media Forum, Dick Costolo said: “The fascinating thing about Twitter to me is that it’s reducing the distance between people...not just the physical geographical distance, but all these artificial barriers that exist between people - some based on status, some on celebrity and non celebrity, and some on politician and citizen.

‘They [these barriers] are innumerable and the thing that Twitter that it flattens the landscape and shortens the distance between us so that we can see each other...which has profound social implications.”

He used the specific example of the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame who he said would “happily reply to anyone who tweets him’ as a case to illustrate how Twitter can let anyone talk to anyone else, regardless of their position in society.

“Otherwise good luck having a conversation with the President of Rwanda,” Costolo, a former comedian, quipped.

Being interviewed on stage at the annual conference by one of Twitter’s investors, Yuri Milner, the head of Digital Sky Technologies, which also has significant shares in Facebook and Zynga, Costolo also said that Twitter could learn a lot from the way Google operates.

New Greek PM vows to bring in austerity package

111110012000-lucas-papademos-story-top Greece's new prime minister, Lucas Papademos, pledged Thursday to implement a bailout package agreed to with European leaders last month, as the country seeks to regain its footing after a week of turmoil.

The appointment of Papademos, a former banker and European Central Bank vice president, as the country's interim prime minister followed four days of intense political wrangling.

Papademos told reporters the chief task of the transitional government was to bring in the controversial bailout package agreed to on October 26 and the austerity measures attached to it.

He said the government's formation would allow Greece to "face the problems in the near future in the best possible way."

The country is "at a critical crossroads," he said, and the choices it makes and policies it implements "will have a crucial importance for the welfare of the Greek people."

Papademos' appointment followed days of negotiations over the make-up of a national unity government needed to restore political stability in Greece, and after several days of turmoil that have unnerved global financial markets.

It is not yet clear who will fill important roles such as finance minister in the new government.

New bedside test finds awareness in vegetative brains

Test-to-find-awareness-in-vegetative-0CIVREC-x NEW YORK – In recent years, scientists have learned that some patients believed to be in a vegetative state actually have some awareness and that they might be able to communicate. Now, a new study suggests a portable brain monitor can detect signs of this, perhaps making it possible someday for doctors to easily double-check the diagnosis at the bedside.

Researchers used an EEG machine to examine brain waves and found that three of 16 vegetative patients could understand what they heard and follow instructions.

EEG machines are far more common and less expensive than the large functional MRI scanners that have shown awareness in some vegetative patients in previous studies. So they could be set up in a patient's room, avoiding logistical problems that can make it dangerous or impossible to have a vegetative patient scanned at an fMRI facility, researchers said.

"We can take this assessment out into the community, to the patients. … We can go to that bedside and find out what level of awareness they still have," said Damian Cruse, of the University of Western Ontario in Canada, an author of the report.

The technique might also provide a way for some vegetative patients to communicate. That could enable them to participate in their treatment planning, express whether they're in pain, and allow researchers to explore what other mental abilities they have, Cruse and colleague Adrian Owen said in a telephone interview.

But Owen stressed the technique needs further development before it can be used routinely.

The research was published online Wednesday by the journal Lancet.

Italy a nation unable to unleash its talent

111110054126-italy-girl-flag-story-top The resignation of Silvio Berlusconi as Italy's prime minister does not mark his end, but the beginning of the end.

He will not disappear from the stage anytime soon. Through his vast public and private sector networks, Berlusconi's influence on Italian affairs will continue for the foreseeable future and beyond.

However, despite making several successful comebacks, any further attempt will be far less effective. While Berlusconi's credibility abroad is irreparably damaged, his legitimacy at home consistently sags. As a rapidly aging figure, he is increasingly disconnected from political reality.

Time is of the essence and necessity determines a technocratic government that must last until 2013, when elections are formally due. During this period, Italy's problems will not be resolved. The objectives must be to stabilize the status quo, place Italy on a clear path to reform and provide a respectable degree of certainty for international markets.

Time has run out for Italy to determine the process and pace of reform. Past failures have caught up. Greater collective sacrifices are now required.

A new government must firmly make the often unpopular decisions required. The crucial need for structural reform and greater deregulation is accompanied by the need to boost competitiveness and growth -- indispensable elements to long-term success.

While Italy's long-standing challenges remain unresolved, the deep level of political polarization continues, as does Italy's failure to adapt to an increasingly globalized world.

Democrats Push to Repeal Defense of Marriage Act

Marriage_640 Senate Democrats who back gay marriage have decided now is the time to repeal a federal law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

The Democrats may satisfy their gay marriage supporters, but the bill won't get very far.

The repeal was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but the next stop -- the full Senate -- could be a long way off. The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says she doesn't have the votes for Senate passage, and the bill would have no chance in a House controlled by Republican conservatives.

The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., defended the timing of the panel's vote on the Defense of Marriage Act. "It is never the wrong time to right an injustice," he said.

Feinstein's bill has 31 Senate sponsors, all Democrats. Most Republicans fiercely oppose the repeal.

"Traditional marriage between a man and a woman has been the foundation of our society for 6,000 years," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel. "The Defense of Marriage Act protects this sacred institution, which I believe in, and attempts to dismantle this law are likely to be met with a great deal of resistance."

Lacking enough votes in the House or Senate, Grassley said the Democratic effort in the Judiciary Committee "makes it no more than a cynical political gesture to the Democrats' base."

General: Ashes from service members' remains went to landfill

111108103425-dover-air-force-base-casket-story-top The ashes of cremated body parts from some of the nation's war dead were dumped in landfills until 2008, unbeknownst to their survivors, an Air Force general acknowledged Wednesday.

The practice was stopped, and remains from cremated body parts now are disposed of at sea, Air Force Chief of Public Affairs Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick said.

The landfill disposal of the ashes was first reported in The Washington Post.

Kodlick issued a statement describing instances prior to 2008 when families had authorized portions of remains to be disposed of. Another Air Force official, speaking on background, emphasized that these situations did not involve bodies but "parts of bone and other DNA material."

Military escorts accompanied the remains to a crematorium near Dover Air Force Base Mortuary, which processes remains of service members killed overseas, the statement said.

Private firm to run NHS hospital

Private-firm-to-run-hospi-007 A private company, listed on the stock market, has been given the right to deliver a full range of hospital services for the first time in the history of the NHS, reigniting a debate about the use of business in the health sector.

Circle Healthcare, a John Lewis-style partnership valued at around £120m, will manage the debt-laden Hinchingbrooke hospital in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, from February after the government signed off on a decade-long contract on Wednesday.

Although private sector firms already operate units within the NHS – such as hip replacement centres – Circle, one of Britain's most prominent healthcare providers, is the first to take over an entire hospital.

The takeover is not considered a full privatisation as the buildings will remain in public hands and the employees retain their pay and pension on existing terms.

Silver surfers going mobile

computer-elderly_1722300c Data from Nielsen shows that smartphone penetration among users who are around retirement age jumped by five per cent in the last three months alone. That rate of increase is outstripped only by those aged 18-24.

Older people are still only likely to have a modern mobile phone in three out of every ten cases, the research indicates. Nearly two-thirds of those aged 25-34, by contrast, own a device likely to be powered by software from Apple, Google, BlackBerry or Microsoft.

On the Nielsen blog, the company wrote that “while only 43 per cent of all US mobile phone subscribers own a smartphone, the vast majority of those under the age of 44 now have smartphones”.

The firm said that “62 per cent of mobile adults aged 25-34 report owning smartphones. And among those 18-24 and 35-44 years old the smartphone penetration rate is hovering near 54 per cent”.

NHS 'among best health care systems in the world'

The Commonwealth Fund survey consistently ranks the NHS highly on a range of measures looking at how health systems deal with people with chronic and serious illness.

It finds people in Britain have among the fastest access to GPs, the best co-ordinated care, and suffer from the among the fewest medical errors, of 11 high income countries surveyed.

The countries examined were: the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Britain and Switzerland were consistently among the best performers, found the analysis of answers from over 18,000 adults with chronic and serious illness.

For example, the Washington DC based organisation reported: "UK and Swiss patients reported more positive health care experiences than sicker adults in the other countries: they were more likely to be able to get a same- or next-day appointment when sick and to have easy access to after-hours care, and they were less likely to experience poorly coordinated care."

The success of the NHS stands out despite the fact that per capita health spending in the UK is the third lowest of the 11, at £2,170 per head, compared with £3,200 in Switzerland and £4,950 in the US.

Passion, Pride Flourish in Miami's Little Haiti

Little Havana is a well known neighborhood in Miami, Florida.  But Cubans are not the only immigrants with an area of the city all their own.

A walk through one Miami neighborhood, could leave you thinking you're in another country.

"Little Haiti," is one of the largest Haitian enclaves outside the Caribbean nation. In this neighborhood, residents speak Creole, roosters roam freely and once a month, Haitians gather to celebrate and share their culture.

“It’s just like bringing a little piece of home here. I think it brings that island flavor to the middle of Miami, said Marie Vickles, visual arts coordinator at the Little Haiti Cultural Center in the heart of the neighborhood. The center partnered with a South Florida group, the Rhythm Foundation, to launch the Big Night in Little Haiti event.

The celebration features art, entertainment and food.

“It kind of reunites everybody, and I wish that more people knew about it,” said South Florida Jacques Deverson.

Getting more people to know about Little Haiti is a wish organizers share.

What will your pet find under the Christmas tree?

Pets-get-presents-for-holidays-too-T4IM4LQ-x LOS ANGELES – Just over half of American pet owners will buy gifts for their pets this holiday season, and they'll spend an average of $46 on their animals, with toys and treats topping the list, according to a new poll.

Sixty-eight percent of pets getting gifts can look forward to a toy, 45 percent to food or another treat, 8 percent new bedding, 6 percent clothing, 3 percent a leash, collar or harness and 3 percent new grooming products, the poll showed. (Some pets will get more than one gift.)

"Christmas is about the pets," said Gayla McCarthy, 58, of Kekaha, Hawaii, whose Australian shepherd, Echo, will find a toy under the tree. McCarthy even got a shirt for her husband as a gift to him from the dog, and she'll be giving collapsible bowls that she ordered online to all their friends' dogs.

Although the average budget for pet gifts among those surveyed was $46, 72 percent of those polled said they'd spend $30 or less. Those who bought gifts for their pets last year said they spent $41 on average.

Overall, 51 percent of those polled this year said they would buy holiday gifts for their pets, a figure that's been relatively stable in the last few polls. It was 53 percent last year, 52 percent in 2009 and 43 percent in 2008.

Income does matter. Those making $50,000 or more say they plan to spend an average $57 on their pets. Those making under $50,000 say it will be $29.

Democracy Candidates Barred from Beijing Elections

AFP_ChinaPolitics_8Nov11-resizedpx480q100dpi96shp8 Pro-democracy candidates hoping to take part in a round of district-level elections in the Chinese capital Beijing Tuesday have been barred from running. The central government has showcased the grassroots elections as proof that its tight grip on China's political process is being gradually loosened.

The Chinese government often claims to the world it is gradually introducing democracy to its people at grassroots level.

An increasing number of political office seekers have responded by launching bids as independent candidates. Factory workers, housewives, students and journalists have tried to run for office in local elections and challenge the ruling Communist Party’s practice of hand-picking candidates.

In in Beijing’s municipal elections this week, independent candidates complained that authorities are cracking down on their campaign by erasing their names from ballots, preventing them from taking part.

Independent candidate Ye Jinghuan is among 13 people who campaigned and applied to participate in the ballot.

She says despite applying, she and the other members of the group have been told by the authorities they are not allowed to run for office.