U.S. Weighs Releasing Taliban Commander From Gitmo as Part of Peace Talks

taliban_ceremony_122811 The U.S. is considering a proposal to transfer a top Taliban commander out of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay as part of a potential step toward peace talks with the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

A senior U.S. official confirmed to Fox News that Mullah Mohammed Fazl is among the prisoners being considered for release. Held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, Fazl was suspected in sectarian killings of Shiite Muslims before the U.S. invasion that toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001.

The U.S. alleges he was a top Taliban official who at one point commanded thousands of troops.

According to Reuters, WikiLeaks documents also placed him at the scene of a 2001 prison riot where CIA officer Johnny Micheal Spann was killed, though it's unclear whether Fazl was involved.

'Synthetic' Marijuana Use Becoming Problem for U.S. Military

122911spicemilitary U.S. troops are increasingly using an easy-to-get herbal mix called "Spice," which mimics a marijuana high and can bring on hallucinations that last for days.

The abuse of the drug has so alarmed military officials that they've launched an aggressive testing program that this year has led to the investigation of more than 1,100 suspected users, according to military figures.

So-called "synthetic" pot is readily available on the Internet and has become popular nationwide in recent years, but its use among troops and sailors has raised concerns among the Pentagon brass.

"You can just imagine the work that we do in a military environment," said Mark Ridley, deputy director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, adding, "you need to be in your right mind when you do a job. That's why the Navy has always taken a zero tolerance policy toward drugs."

Source: Al Qaeda leader sends veteran jihadists to establish presence in Libya

111230124637-ayman-al-zawahiri-al-qaeda-story-top Al Qaeda's leadership has sent experienced jihadists to Libya in an effort to build a fighting force there, according to a Libyan source briefed by Western counter-terrorism officials.

The jihadists include one veteran fighter who had been detained in Britain on suspicion of terrorism. The source describes him as committed to al Qaeda's global cause and to attacking U.S. interests.

The source told CNN that the al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, personally dispatched the former British detainee to Libya earlier this year as the Gadhafi regime lost control of large swathes of the country.

The man arrived in Libya in May and has since begun recruiting fighters in the eastern region of the country, near the Egyptian border. He now has some 200 fighters mobilized, the source added. Western intelligence agencies are aware of his activities, according to the source.

Another al Qaeda operative, of dual European-Libyan nationality, was arrested in an unnamed country on his way to Libya from the Afghan-Pakistan border region.

China Warns of Slowing Economic Growth Rates

AP_ChinaEconomy_29dec11-resizedpx480q100shp8 As China looks ahead to 2012, Chinese economists are cautioning that the country is likely to have lower rates of economic growth than the nine percent expected for this year. They say the government also should be preparing the public for the possibility of more inflation.

China's economic boom

During the past few years of global financial gloom, China has remained one of the world's economic bright spots.

At a recent ceremony to mark China's first decade in the World Trade Organization, President Hu Jintao stressed that a strong Chinese economy is good for the world.

Hu vowed that China will continue to follow a path of peaceful development and is committed to what he described as a win-win strategy. He added that China is  committed to the common development of the world by realizing its own development.

China's economy has grown at an annual rate of about 10 percent for more than three decades.

Different reasons for slowdown

Brazil Overtakes Britain as World's 6th Largest Economy

CN_BrazilBritainEcon_WEB4X3_640x480_2181446021 A leading economic research group says Brazil has overtaken Britain as the world's sixth-largest economy. The London-based Center for Economics and Business Research says Britain lost out to the South American country in 2011 and will likely slide further as faster-growing economies such as Russia and India surge ahead.

After a tough recession and a banking crash, Great Britain has fallen to 7th place, behind larger and faster-growing Brazil.

The South American country expanded at a three percent rate in 2011 and is projected to grow five percent in 2012.

Economist Armando Castelar says the new ranking is unimportant, but he adds it is a confidence builder for Brazil.

US Will Not 'Tolerate' Disruption of Vital Oil Strait Traffic

reuters_iran_strait_sayyari_480_28dec2011 For the second time in two days, Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz.  Iranian officials warned they would shut down the world’s strategic oil passageway if the West imposes sanctions on Iran's oil shipments.  Now the U.S. has responded that it would answer any blockade forcefully.  The controversy revolves around Iran’s nuclear capabilities. 

More than a third of the world's oil flows through this narrow passageway called the Strait of Hormuz. But now, the channel is emerging as a bargaining chip in a war of threats, increasing in intensity.  The latest, the U.S. military says it will not tolerate any Iranian disruptions of oil shipments in the Strait of Hormuz.  The Bahrain-based U.S. Fifith Fleet told VOA that the navy is ready to "counter malevolent actions" to ensure freedom of navigation.

Indian activist calls off fast as anti-graft bill heads to upper house

111228022635-anna-hazare-breaks-fast-story-top Ailing crusader Anna Hazare called off his three-day hunger strike Wednesday but pledged a campaign against politicians who rejected his version of a landmark bill aimed at fighting endemic corruption.

Advised by doctors to end his fast, Hazare, 74, told his supporters at a Mumbai fairground that he was deeply disappointed with the version of the anti-graft legislation that was approved in the Lok Sabha or lower house of Parliament Tuesday and is now scheduled for a vote in the Rajya Sabha or upper house Thursday.

In order for the anti-corruption bill to become a law, it has to be approved by both chambers with a majority vote.

The legislation proposes a nine-member citizen ombudsman or Lokpal panel that would serve as a watchdog and have the power to prosecute politicians for corruption.

However, lawmakers defeated a key federal motion to accord constitutional powers to the new watchdog.

Hazare and other critics of India's scandal-tainted government said the legislation was watered down to the point where it would not make much of a difference.

Textbooks 'being replaced by smartphones and e-readers'

school_classroom_1624276c Handheld technology is changing the way education is delivered because it allows children to learn "anywhere, anytime, any place", it was claimed.

Louise Robinson, incoming president of the Girls' Schools Association, said pupils were more inspired by the “magic” of using hand Ipads and other tablet computers than reading a book.

The comments come after figures showed a six-fold rise in the number of e-books – editions downloaded from the internet onto electronic devices – sold over the last 12 months. Amazon now sells almost 2.5 books via its Kindle reading device for every one hard copy.

Mrs Robinson, the headmistress of Merchant Taylors' Girls' School in Crosby, Liverpool, said the shift was having a knock-on effect in the classroom.

U.S. decision on Yemen risks worsening violence

111227034100-saleh-yemen-treatment-new-york-story-top Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh will be allowed to come to the United States for medical treatment in New York, a senior Obama administration official said Tuesday.

While the White House hopes the move could ease tensions in Yemen, analysts said it could incite further violence, weaken U.S. standing, and potentially help empower al Qaeda.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner, meanwhile, said no decision has been made, and that officials were "adjudicating " the request solely on the merits of Saleh's request for medical treatment.

But the Obama administration source, who was not authorized to speak on the record because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the decision was made. The official also acknowledged a debate within the administration.

The United States does not want to come across as providing safe haven to a dictator responsible for a violent, deadly crackdown on an uprising, the source said.

Russia's Putin Accuses Opposition of Lacking Goals, Leaders

AP_Russia_Putin_12_26_2011_2222222222_480 Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says the opposition lacks goals and leaders, and he has rejected demands for a rerun of Russia's recent parliamentary elections.

In comments to his supporters Tuesday, Putin said the opposition has no unified program, no clear way of reaching its aims and nobody who can achieve something "concrete."

Putin also said he wants Russia's March presidential election to be absolutely transparent and insisted he does not need vote rigging to win the poll.

Alleged voter fraud in the December 4 Russian parliamentary elections has spurred the largest protests since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.

Al Qaeda in Iraq claims responsibility for recent attacks

111226111750-lkl-damon-iraq-interior-min-suicide-bomb-00015016-story-top Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Tuesday for a string of attacks that killed almost 70 people and wounded more than 200.

The seemingly coordinated explosions Thursday struck during the height of morning rush hour, hitting a number of Baghdad's primarily mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods. Nine car bombs, six roadside bombs and a mortar round all went off in a two-hour period, targeting residential, commercial and government districts in the Iraqi capital, police said.

"The series of special invasions launched, under the guidance of the Ministry of War in the Islamic State of Iraq, to support the weak Sunnis in the prisons of the apostates and to retaliate for the captives who were executed," the group said on an al Qaeda website.

Facebook Leads Police to Captive Woman, Child

kidnapper_facebook Police said a woman’s cry for help in a post on Facebook helped police rescue her and her disabled son after being held captive for about five days, Fox 13 reported.

On Friday, the woman posted a message on Facebook saying she feared that she would be “dead by morning.” Her friends on the site informed the police after reading the post, Sandy Police Sgt. Jon Arnold told Fox 13.

Officers then went to her home and encountered Troy Critchfield, 33. After finally being allowed to talk to the woman, the police officers discovered that she had been held captive in the house for the past four of five days. She also displayed signs of assault from the bruises on her face.

Mexico says it captures drug-lord's top lieutenant

111226091410-pkg-romo-mexico-el-chapo-arrest-00001926-story-top Mexican army special forces have arrested a top lieutenant for alleged drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the Defense Ministry said Monday.

Troops arrested Felipe Cabrera Sarabia on Friday in "a surgical operation in Cuiliacan" in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, said Ricardo Trevilla Trejo, a Defense Ministry spokesman.

Cabrera, who was responsible for the activities of the Pacific Cartel in Durango and the southern part of the state of Chihuahua, was detained after fleeing from Durango, Trevilla told reporters.

"The analysis of his behavior permitted (us) to find the building where he was hiding" and Cabrera was taken into custody without violence, Trevilla said. Firearms, computer equipment and other documentation were seized, too, he said.

Cabrera, who appeared Monday in the office of a prosecutor who specializes in organized crime, was responsible for Guzman's security in Durango, the state-run Notimex news agency said.

Suicide bomber strikes fortified Iraqi compound

111226111750-lkl-damon-iraq-interior-min-suicide-bomb-00015016-story-top A suicide car bomber passed through six security checkpoints before detonating at the main entrance to Iraq's heavily fortified Interior Ministry compound in central Baghdad Monday.

The bombing killed at least five people and wounded 39 others, police said.

The attack follows a weekend meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and senior security officials to review last week's string of deadly bombings that killed almost 70 people and wounded more than 200.

Al-Maliki said at that session that security and stability must be the country's top priorities.

Hackers 'steal US data in Christmas-inspired assault'

lulzsec_1926506b One alleged hacker said the goal was to use the credit data to steal a million dollars – including, apparently, from individuals' accounts – and give the money away as Christmas donations. Images posted online claimed to show the receipts.

A Twitter account tied to Anonymous posted a link to what they said was Stratfor's tightly-guarded, confidential client list. Among those on the list: The US Army, the US Air Force and the Miami Police Department.

The rest of the list, which the hacking movement said was a small slice of its 200 gigabytes worth of plunder, included banks, law enforcement agencies, defence contractors and technology firms such as Apple and Microsoft.

"Not so private and secret anymore?" the group taunted in a message on the microblogging site.

Austin, Texas-based Stratfor provides political, economic and military analysis to help clients reduce risk, according to a description on its YouTube page. It charges subscribers for its reports and analysis, delivered through the web, emails and videos.

Lt Col John Dorrian, public affairs officer for the Air Force, said that "for obvious reasons" the Air Force doesn't discuss specific vulnerabilities, threats or responses to them.

13 more deaths reported in Syrian unrest

111225045701-pkg-lister-syria-homs-siege-00020026-story-top On the eve of the planned arrival of Arab League observers, 13 people died and scores were injured in volatile Syria on Sunday, according to the opposition movement.

Activists described worsening conditions in cities and towns amid what they called an intensifying government offensive. This comes at a time when security forces and allied militia fighters are supposed to be withdrawing in order to end the violence involving more than nine months of protest against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Abu Omar, an activist in the embattled city of Homs, told CNN on Sunday that attacks by government forces began Friday and were continuing non-stop in some besieged neighborhoods. He said the gunmen are shooting at anything and everything.

"You can't cross the street because of the snipers," Omar said. "They are cutting the electricity. Now I'm walking by a generator. There is no water or satellite phone. There is no more food and we have missing the most important thing, which is the bread. There is no more bread ... for children."

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria, an opposition activist network that goes by the acronym LCC, reported 13 deaths, including three children, around the country. It said five died in Homs, where government forces have besieged neighborhoods that are hotbeds of opposition to al-Assad.

Christmas Day Bombings Sweep Nigeria, At Least 39 Dead

ap_nigeria_blast_25Dec11-resized It was a bloody Christmas in Nigeria where at least four bomb blasts killed 39 people, including dozens at a Catholic church near Abuja.

The radical Islamic group Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sinful," claimed responsibility for what appeared to have been coordinated attacks.

The deadliest bombing took place near Saint Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, where worshipers celebrated a Christmas Day mass. Angry youths, furious at the bloodshed, set up burning barricades near the church, prompting police to fire shots into the air.

Another bomb exploded near an evangelical Christian church in the central city of Jos, where clashes between Muslims and Christians are frequent. Officials say a police officer guarding the area was fatally shot around the time of the explosion.

In the northeastern state of Yobe, residents in Gadaka say a bomb blew up near a church during Christmas services. There were no immediate reports of deaths. A fourth attack took place in the Yobe capital of Damaturu, where a car bomb killed three near secret police headquarters.

Authorities: 3 Americans among Mexico victims

111224115946-juarez-violence-story-top Three of the seven victims of a highway attack this week in the Mexican state of Veracruz were American citizens, officials said.

A mother and her two daughters, dual Mexican-U.S. citizens who lived in Fort Worth, Texas, were aboard one of three buses that were attacked by gunmen in the city of Panuco, in the northern part of Veracruz.

"We express our deepest condolences to their family and friends during this difficult time," State Department spokeswoman Neda Brown said.

A Mexican official in the state of Hidalgo, the hometown of the mother, identified the Americans as Maria Sanchez Hernandez and her two daughters, Karla, 19, and Cristina, 13.

Privacy Group Sues DHS Over Social Media Monitoring Program

napolitano_janet_120211 A privacy advocacy group is suing the Department of Homeland Security for information about an emerging program designed to monitor social media activity.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, claiming the "legal authority for the DHS program remains unclear," went to federal court in Washington, D.C., this past week to try and compel the department to turn over documents on the initiative.

Though still in development, DHS is looking to establish a system for monitoring "forums, blogs, public websites and message boards." The idea is to gather and analyze publicly available information, and then use that information to help officials respond to disasters and other situations.

Asia Pacific Region Faces Rising Costs From Storms, Disasters

Backhoe_at_flood_recovery_work_in_Muang_Ake_Bangkok_VOA_Photo_Credit_R_Corben-resizedpx480q100shp8 Climate and disaster risk experts say the Asia Pacific region faces rising costs from storms and disasters often tied to climate change, creating new challenges for regions as they try to prepare and recover from such events. Warning comes as Thailand and the Philippines attempt to bounce back from recent disasters and the region gets ready to mark the seventh anniversary of the devastating 2004 Indonesian earthquake and tsunami.

The backhoe lifts piles of discarded rubbish left from flood-stricken homes and businesses in the Muang Ake community on the outskirts of Bangkok.

The community, in Pathum Thani province, was hard hit during the recent floods, with waters of up to two meters inundating the area for over six weeks.

On a drive through, the community is a scene of devastation.  Furniture and wall panels lay discarded, as people go about cleaning up from the most severe floods in Thailand in over 50 years.

On Saturday, Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra was reported to have declared that the flood waters have receded from the area.

Angry Mourners Bury Damascus Bomb Victims

reuters_syria_bombing_mourners_480_24dec2011 The Syrian government organized an elaborate funeral Saturday for victims of the bombings that killed more than 40 people in a Damascus suburb. Government media blame al-Qaida for the blasts, but opposition figures claim the government itself was responsible for the attack.

Syria's minister for religious affairs, Mohammed Abdel Sattar Sayyed, read the Islamic prayer for the dead for all victims of two powerful explosions that erupted Friday near government security compounds.

Syrian state TV broadcast the funeral at Damascus' historic Omayyid mosque, with Christian, Muslim and Druze religious leaders taking part. Massed coffins of the victims were draped in Syrian flags. Many relatives wept openly; others kept a stoic silence.

Sunni Muslim cleric Mohammed Ramadan al-Bouti told the gathering those who perpetrated the crimes are “enemies of God and of mankind.” He blamed the Syrian opposition and its top leader, Burhan Ghalioun, for the bombings, and warned mourners either to support the government or face further strife.

Britain's Prince Philip Taken to Hospital

Britain Prince Philip_Carm Palace officials say Queen Elizabeth II's husband has had a coronary stent put in after experiencing chest pains.

A spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said Prince Philip will remain in hospital for a "short time" for observation.

She added that it was a "very minimally invasive procedure."

Prince Philip, 90, was taken from Sandringham, the queen's sprawling estate in rural Norfolk, to the cardiac unit at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge for "precautionary tests," a spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said.

She declined to comment further and spoke on customary condition of anonymity. A hospital spokeswoman referred all calls back to the palace.

Philip is known for his good health and rarely misses royal engagements. Upon his 90th birthday in June, he announced plans to cut back his official duties.

Pakistan Rejects US Findings on Border Attack

Pakistan's military has rejected the findings of a U.S. inquiry into last month's coalition attack that killed 24 Pakistan soldiers at Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. 

The army said Friday the investigation's findings were "short on facts" and that it would give a detailed response once the formal report is received.

U.S. defense officials Thursday blamed inadequate coordination by both Pakistani and U.S.-led forces for last month's attack.  

Brigadier General Stephen Clark, a U.S. Air Force officer who led the investigation, said "an overarching lack of trust" between the two countries prevented each side from receiving specific details on troops and combat locations. 

Pentagon spokesman George Little said the investigation found that U.S. forces, given the information they had available to them at the time, acted "in self-defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon."

Hospitals being charged 'extortionate' sums by PFI sums to carry out basic DIY jobs

and_1893342c Under private finance initiative schemes contractors meet the costs of building and running new public assets like hospitals, schools and roads, recouping the money from the taxpayer over many years.

Official figures show that taxpayers are committed to pay £229 billion under for new hospitals, schools and other projects with a capital value of just £56 billion. Much of the additional spending goes on expensive maintenance contracts.

Last night Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, condemned the charges. He said: "[Hospitals are] being forced to spend extortionate sums on private contractors rather than spending that money on helping sick patients get better.

“Unless we take action, these post-dated cheques left to us by Labour could seriously impact on patients.

"That is why this Government is working with trusts with PFI related financial problems. We will not make the sick pay for Labour's debt crisis.”

Figures released under Freedom of Information show that North Staffordshire NHS trust paid £242 to put a padlock while North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS trust paid £466 to replace a light fitting and £75 for an air freshener. A trust in Salisbury paid £15,000 to “install a laundry door following feasibility study”.

Congressional Leaders Announce Payroll Tax Cut Deal, as Boehner Gets Behind Two-Month Stopgap

122211_sr_emanuel Congressional leaders announced Thursday that they've struck a deal to ensure the payroll tax rate does not rise at the beginning of next year, potentially ending a stalemate that had put House Speaker John Boehner in a politically uncomfortable position.

Following a day of political grandstanding by members of both parties, as well as private talks in pursuit of an agreement, Boehner said at a news conference late Thursday that the House plans to vote on a new version of the Senate-passed bill -- which would extend the payroll tax cut for another two months -- despite earlier opposing a short-term extension.

In exchange, the Senate will appoint negotiators who will meet with House lawmakers to next hammer out an extension of the tax cut for the rest of 2012.

The deal still has to clear both chambers, and rank-and-file Republicans already are expressing concern about the terms Boehner outlined. But the agreement was modeled after a solution Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell proposed earlier Thursday.

McConnell's statement, as well as a very public campaign by the White House to lambaste House Republicans for holding up a deal, had put pressure on Boehner to find a way out of the impasse, and fast. Without a deal, the payroll tax rate is set to rise from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent on Jan. 1, which would mean about $40 less a paycheck for a family making $50,000.

Ahead of Huge Moscow Protest, Medvedev Offers Reform

Reuters Russia Pres Dmitry Medvedev speech 480 Russia’s biggest protest yet is expected this weekend in Moscow. With an ear to Russia’s discontent on the street, President Dmitry Medvedev has unveiled changes to widen democracy in Russia.

In his last state-of-the-nation speech as president, Medvedev promised direct elections for governors, a politically independent state-run TV channel, and drastically eased rules for the registration of new political parties and presidential candidates.

No new genuine opposition party has been allowed in Russia since now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was elected president in 2000.

An aide said legislation would be submitted within days to Russia’s Kremlin-controlled parliament, the Duma. He predicted it would be passed into law within the six months remaining in President Medvedev’s term.

Speaking as Prime Minister Putin sat impassively in the front row of a red carpet and gold-leaf hall in the Kremlin, Russia’s president extended an olive branch to Russia’s restive middle class.

Increase in resting heart rate may signal higher death risk

Increased-heart-rate-linked-to-mortality-FEOFEGR-x People whose heart rates increased from under 70 beats per minute to more than 85 beats per minute over 10 years had a 90 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease compared to people whose heart rates stayed around 70 beats per minute, according to the large study.

"Resting heart rate is one of the simplest measures in medicine and everyone can do that by themselves at home. From cross-sectional studies, it is known that a person's resting heart rate is related to the relative risk of premature cardiovascular disease and death. However, it has not, before now, been associated with an increased risk of premature cardiovascular death," said study senior author Ulrik Wisloff, director of the K.G. Jebsen Center of Exercise in Medicine in Trondheim, Norway.

"Our observations suggest that resting heart rate may be an important prognostic marker for ischemic heart disease and total mortality," said Wisloff, who added that changes in resting heart rate may signal the need for lifestyle changes.

Results of the study are published in the Dec. 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Wisloff said that factors that can influence heart rate include genetics, age, activity level, diet and whether or not someone smokes.

Man Wins Then Crashes $380G Lamborghini

lambo A Utah man who won a $380,000 Lamborghini in a convenience store chain's contest crashed the sports car six hours after he got it.

The lime green Murcielago Roadster was set to leave for a Las Vegas body shop Wednesday for repairs, just days after Santaquin resident David Dopp won it in Maverik stores' "Joe Schmo to Lambo" contest.

"Yeah, I got it on Saturday and I wrecked it on Saturday," Dopp told KSL-TV.

Read: 2012 Lamborghini Aventador Review

He said he was taking friends and family on joy rides that evening on the outskirts of town. He said he took a curve at 40 or 50 mph when the vehicle hit ice or loose gravel and started spinning.

The car crashed through some fence posts before coming to rest in a field.

Dopp wasn't injured, but his wife said she was shocked.

Chinese Officials Offer Concessions to End Village Protest

AP_WukanVillageProtest_21dec11-resizedpx480q100shp8 Residents in the rebellious southern Chinese village Wukan have ended their mass protest against local authorities after officials offered concessions to resolve their grievances. The villagers were protesting the seizure of their farmland and the death of a fellow resident who died while in government custody.

The most recent troubles in Wukan started in September. At first, angry residents held loud protests against local authorities, whom they accused of confiscating their farmland for development.

Syria Sets Death Penalty for Terrorist Arms Smugglers

ap_syria_homs_20dec11_eng_480 Syria's state-run news agency says President Bashar al-Assad has issued a new law allowing for a death sentence for anyone found to be distributing arms to terrorists.

Tuesday's announcement comes a day after Syria agreed to allow observers to monitor whether the government is following a peace plan designed to stop a crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Assad's government has blamed the months of unrest on "armed terrorist groups."

Rights activists say deadly violence continued across Syria on Monday despite the signing of the Arab League plan.

The activists said government security forces gunned down as many as 70 army deserters Monday as they fled their posts along the Turkish border, while another 30 people were killed in other parts of Syria.

The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution Monday condemning the violence. The U.N. says at least 5,000 people have been killed during the nine-month uprising.

Turkish-Syrian Border Becomes Haven for Syrian Opposition

reuters_turkey_syria_protest_480_11dec2011 The Turkish-Syrian border has become a key conduit for the Syrian opposition, including defectors in the Free Syria Army who have set up an underground network of bases.

A couple of kilometers over the border: A cellphone video captures Syrian soldiers firing on people trying to flee across to Turkey.

Locals say the Syrian army now has deployed snipers and units all along the frontier. Dozens of people have been killed in the last month.

They include Dr. Ibrahim Othman, one of the leading figures in the organization ‘Damascus Doctors,’ which ran an underground network of clinics to treat wounded protesters. Fellow activists say he was shot dead while crossing the border.

The Syria-Turkey frontier has become a key conduit for the opposition. At a refugee camp in the village of Yayladagi, one former soldier described how he defected and fled to Turkey.

Five ways to combat wrinkle weather

skincare11x-inset-community All summer long we slather on sunscreen, so when cold weather arrives, you'd think Mother Nature would give us a break. But no -- fine lines that weren't there in June sprint into town along with cold crisp air. Our skin feels dry all the time and tight when we wash it. It looks matte even when our makeup isn't. Here are five ways to get back the glow and moisture of warmer months.


You need a truly serious moisturizer with humectants – ingredients that attract moisture to the skin and hold it there like hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate, glycerin, propylene glycol or urea. They plump up wrinkles and lines (which do look more noticeable when your skin is dry) for a firmer texture. You also want emollient ingredients called lipids which protect and strengthen the barrier layer of the skin and lock in moisture. Look for shea butter, avocado butter, omega 3 and omega 6 or ceramides on the label. Tap some moisturizer on lightly right over your makeup during the day to refresh the texture. This will help eliminate break-through dry patches and flakes.

ICC orders the release of an alleged Rwandan rebel leader

The International Criminal Court has dismissed charges against Callixte Mbarushimana, an alleged Rwandan rebel leader, and ordered his release.

Mbarushimana was arrested in France last year under an ICC warrant involving allegations of mass rape and other crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Prosecutors had argued he was a senior member of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) -- a group that the ICC blames for instigating war in Congo as part of its efforts to topple the government in neighboring Rwanda.

But ICC judges declined to confirm the charges and ordered Mbarushimana's release. Their decision is open to appeal.

They "found that there was not sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Callixte Mbarushimana could be held criminally responsible ... for the eight counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity brought against him by the Prosecutor," according to a statement from the ICC.

Taliban must have clear representative for peace talks, Karzai says

111207054038-afghan-karzai-story-top Afghanistan's government can't hold peace talks with its Taliban insurgents until the Islamic militia identifies a representative with the authority to negotiate, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview that aired Sunday.

Karzai told CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" in an exclusive interview that Afghanistan also needs the help of neighboring Pakistan for any talks to succeed.

Karzai said the September assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who had attempted to meet with Taliban representatives, showed that "we were actually talking to nobody."

"A man who came in the name of a messenger for peace turned out to be a suicide bomber," Karzai said. "Therefore, we have now clearly said that we will welcome a Taliban address, but that address must have the clarity that this representative is authorized and is representing the Taliban movement as we see it."

Third Day of Violence Rocks Cairo

ap_egypt_cairo_protests_18dec11_eng_480 Egyptian anti-government activists and security forces have engaged in a third day of street battles in Cairo. Protesters are demanding that the country's military rulers hand power to a civilian administration.

The anti-government activists threw rocks at security forces Sunday on a road leading from Tahrir Square to the seat of government. Egyptian soldiers set up concrete barriers on the road as riot police confronted the protesters. Egyptian security personnel in civilian clothes threw stones at the protesters from rooftops.

Egyptian state television said rocks and gasoline bombs thrown by rioters injured 24 police. There were no other reports of casualties.

On Sunday, the United Nations and the United States expressed concern about the violence in Egypt.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office said he was "highly alarmed by the excessive use of force employed by the security forces against the protesters."

How can I value my items before putting them on eBay?

pantiques1_1112512b I have some unusual items that I would like to sell but I have no idea if it is worth putting them on ebay. It would be useful to know how much similar items have sold for in the past, so I can price them appropriately: is there a way of accessing this information?
Tony Rickard, by email

US Government Funding Wins Final Congressional Approval

reu_senate_shutdown_480_17dec11 The U.S. Senate has voted to fund the federal government through September of next year, the final legislative action needed to avoid a threatened partial government shutdown.

The congressional upper chamber also voted to extend a cut in taxes that fund Social Security, a federal program that provides income to retirees.

For most of the year, U.S. lawmakers follow political, and often partisan, imperatives when conducting the nation’s business.

But in late December, a different imperative emerges: a desire to wrap up legislation so that lawmakers can get home ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays. The end result is sudden and swift compromise, producing last-minute bills that get voted on with a minimum of debate, often before lawmakers even have a chance to fully read the legislation.

The Senate’s top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, spoke Saturday moments before the chamber approved close to $1 trillion to fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year - a bill more than a thousand pages long.

Obama Praises US Mission in Iraq, Thanks Troops

President Barack Obama says the U.S. mission in Iraq is an "extraordinary achievement" that sets an example for how Americans should work together to solve the country's domestic issues.

During his weekly address Saturday, Mr. Obama expressed gratitude to the 1.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq since 2003, and to the families of the 4,500 members of the military who died there.

U.S. troops are completing their handover of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces ahead of a December 31 deadline for all U.S. troops' withdrawal.

Turkey Playing Increasing Role in Iraq

ReutersTurkeyIraqBorder16Dec2011-resizedpx480q100dpi96shp8 The U.S. secretary of defense is visiting NATO ally Turkey. He arrived in the Turkish capital, Ankara, after attending a withdrawal ceremony Thursday in Bagdad of American troops all of whom are due to leave by the end of the month. With the U.S. withdrawal, Turkey is now being seen by Washington as playing a potential key role in Iraq.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is spending two days in Turkey meeting the country's political leadership, with Iraq expected to be a key topic on the agenda.

The NATO allies are already increasingly cooperating in the region.

Last month, the U.S. transferred drones from Iraq to the Turkish airbase of Incirlik close to the Iraqi border.

International relations expert Soli Ozel of Kadir Has University says with U.S. forces pulling out of Iraq at the end of the month, that cooperation will only deepen.

New Breast Cancer Treatment Shows Great Promise

new_breast_cancer_treatment_480_16dec2011 There's some promising news about breast cancer treatment. In clinical trials at Johns Hopkins Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland, doctors report they successfully pumped cancer-fighting medicine directly into a breast tumor. Early results show the treatment not only kills the tumor, but spares the patients disfiguring surgery and the side effects of more radical treatments.

The earliest stages of breast cancer are usually discovered during a mammogram. Right now, the standard treatment when tumors are found is surgery, followed by radiation therapy and then hormone treatment. Some women who have a high risk of getting breast cancer even opt to have mastectomies - the surgical removal of one or both breasts - just to reduce their risk.

At Johns Hopkins Cancer Center in Baltimore, one oncologist has been studying a less radical approach.

"Since most cancers originate within the breasts and the cells that line the milk ducts within the breasts, can we possibly eliminate those dangerous cells, and by doing so, eliminate breast cancer?" asks Dr. Vared Sterns.

US House Passes Massive Spending Bill to Avert Government Shutdown

AFP_Former_House_speaker_Nancy_Pelosi_16dec11-480 The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a massive $1 trillion dollar spending bill to fund the federal government until next October, averting a partial government shutdown just hours before current funding was set to expire.  The U.S. Senate is also expected to pass the spending legislation Saturday, and Senate leaders from both major parties have assured Americans there will be no government shutdown.

After a roller-coaster week of tension and partisan bickering between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives passed a sweeping funding bill with solid bipartisan support - 296 lawmakers voted for it and 121 voted against it.  Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland appealed to lawmakers to vote for the bill.

“And I therefore urge all my colleagues to support this bill," said Hoyer. "Yes, it will keep government open, which is essential.  But it will also do the most fundamental job that this Congress has to do every year, and that is to fund appropriately the priorities that this Congress puts before the country.”

Scores held in European pedophilia investigation

111216055112-computer-user-close-up-story-top An investigation into an online pedophile ring spanning 22 countries has resulted in 112 arrests and the identification of 269 suspects, following an international investigation. Countless unidentified children are the victims, according to European police services.

The material confiscated in Europol's Operation Icarus is disturbing and, for many, simply horrifying: images and video showing the sexual abuse of babies and toddlers, uploaded onto the Internet and passed around.

Europol Director Rob Wainwright explained: "It's the first time that we have tackled a particular phenomenon on the Internet. File-sharing networks and peer-to-peer services make it much easier for child sex abuse suspects to exchange large quantities of material on the Internet."

Pakistan Army Chief: Memo Scandal Attempt to Lower Morale

apPakistanMemoAmabssador16Dec2011-resizedpx300X480q100dpi96shp8 Pakistan's army chief says a recent memo that accused the military of plotting to overthrow the president was an attempt to lower the military's morale.

In a statement filed with Pakistan's supreme court, General Ashfaq Kayani said the memo had "impacted national security." He called on the court to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding the memo's origins and who wrote it.

General Kayani, and Pakistani intelligence chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha both say they accept evidence provided by Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who has  accused former Ambassador Hussain Haqqani of writing the unsigned memo.

Haqqani has denied any connection with the memo, but the scandal led to his resignation last month as Pakistan's ambassador the United States.

168 dead after drinking toxic moonshine in eastern India

Police have arrested 10 suspects in the sale of toxic, illegally brewed liquor that has left at least 168 people dead in the Indian state of West Bengal, an official said Friday.

Hundreds were sickened from the contaminated moonshine and 100 people remain hospitalized, said Narayan Swamy Nigam, chief of a district south of the city of Kolkata in eastern India.

Methanol was detected in the bodies of the victims, mainly poor villagers who flooded hospitals after drinking the hooch.

They bought the 200-milliliter (less than 7-fluid-ounce) pouches of moonshine for about 10 cents each, Nigam said. The cheapest brands of liquor produced legitimately cost about 70 cents for a 600-milliliter bottle.

Japan marks nuclear reactors milestone

111216104553-hancocks-japan-fukushima-shutdown-00010311-story-top Japan's Prime Minister said Friday that a "cold shutdown" has been achieved at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a symbolic milestone that means the plant's crippled reactors have stayed at temperatures below the boiling point for some time.

The announcement is a turning point in the crisis but experts say it will take years -- perhaps decades -- to fully clean up the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The plume of radioactive particles that spewed from Fukushima Daiichi -- where reactor cooling systems failed in the aftermath of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in March -- displaced about 80,000 people who lived within a 20-kilometer (12.5-mile) radius of the plant, as well as residents of one village as far as 40 kilometers to the northwest. The government has yet to determine when those evacuated can return to their homes.

Significant work -- with significant risks -- remains to be done at the plant.

"This is far from over, and the work will go on for a long time," Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Toshio Nishizawa told CNN this week.

Citing government sources, Japan's Kyodo News agency reported Thursday that scrapping crippled reactors at the plant could take up to 40 years.

Chinese village claim villager was killed by police

111216072830-china-village-cry-story-top Thousands of residents gathered in Wukan village in southern China on Friday morning to mourn the loss of a fellow villager who died under police custody amid protest over land seizures.

Residents and family members remembered 42-year-old Xue Jinbo in a peaceful ceremony on Friday. They say Xue was beaten to death while in police custody last weekend and demand the government to return his body for investigation into the cause of death.

"We will always remember what a great guy he was," said a local farmer who gave only his surname, Huang, for fear of being identified. "The government has refused to give the body back because they know we'll find out that there was foul play. "

More than 10,000 residents of the fishing village in Guangdong province claim land has been seized illegally and then sold by the local government to developers for the past decade.

News of one recent sale of nearly 1,000 acres of land to developers prompted protests by villagers who say they have not received any compensation and rely on the land for their livelihood.

Obesity drops among NYC K-8 students overall

Obesity-drops-among-NY-students-overall-C6NDE3R-x NEW YORK – Obesity rates have declined among New York City's public schoolchildren in kindergarten through eighth grade over the past five years, said a government study published Thursday.

The study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said obesity dropped from 22 to 21 percent overall between the 2006-2007 and 2010-11 school years.

The report called it the biggest documented decline in childhood obesity in a large U.S. city.

City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the report validates public health policies aimed at combating the decades-long rise in obesity rates among children. "That ever-rising tide of obesity is finally beginning to ebb," he said.

Victoria's Secret Accused of Using Materials From Farms Relying on Child Labor

vsgals640 Victoria has another secret.

Despite labels that certified its sleek panties and racy thongs were made from “pesticide-free, 10 percent rain-fed cotton,” the lingerie giant was using fiber picked from farms that relied on abused child laborers, according to a shocking new report.

“Good for women. Good for the children who depend on them” was the tagline Victoria’s Secret used to market a special lingerie line in 2008 that the company boasted was made from “fair-trade” cotton.

The company even went so far as to boast that each purchase improved the lives of women and children in Burkina Faso the destitute African nation where the cotton is picked.

Grand Theft Auto III released for iOS and Android

GTA3-1_2076858b To mark the game's 10th anniversary, Rockstar games has released a version of the game for Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod touch and for certain Android phones and tablets.

The game, which costs £2.99 is the complete console version of the title, which was a huge hit when it was released on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2001.

GTA III was a groundbreaking example of so-called 'open world' games, which allow the player to explore the environment and pick and choose their path through the game. It built on the success of a franchise that began in 1997 on the original PlayStation and on the Game Boy Colour.

Rockstar says that the mobile version of the game has better graphics than the original console version, as well as new auto-save and mission replay features.

China's Ambassador to Burma Meets Aung San Suu Kyi

AFPBurmaSuuKYI19aug2011-resizedpx300X480q100dpi96shp8Tease A Chinese official has held a rare meeting with Burmese opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin says Aung San Suu Kyi has asked several times to meet with Chinese officials.

Liu says the Chinese ambassador met her in response to her request, and listened to her opinions.

When asked when the meeting actually took place, the Chinese spokesman said the date is not important.

In Burma, officials with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party said the two met on December 8. They did not release details of the talks, but indicated it was a friendly meeting that did not include much discussion about politics.

China, which has been criticized by Western countries for its own harsh treatment of outspoken Chinese dissidents, has been one of the Burmese government's closest diplomatic allies. It also strongly backed the military regime that kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for a total of nearly 15 years.

GOP Candidates Looking to 'Close the Deal' in Last-Chance Iowa Debate

newt_romneysplit The Republican presidential candidates will have one last chance on the national stage Thursday night to make their case to voters before the frantic season of caucuses and primaries gets underway. At the Fox News debate in Sioux City, Iowa, everybody but front-runner Newt Gingrich is looking to shake up the race in a big way.

In a primary campaign replete with gaffes and other "oops" moments, the candidates are under pressure to give a steady performance -- they don't want another public misstep hanging in the cold Iowa air for the three remaining weeks before the caucuses. For the middle-of-the-pack candidates, the debate is a chance to demonstrate why caucus-goers should give them a second look. For Gingrich and Mitt Romney, it's a chance to lock down notoriously fickle and straying support.

"This is a clean-up debate," said Steffen Schmidt, political science professor at Iowa State University. "It's sort of the county fair right before the state fair ... where they want to see whether that pony is lame or not."

Lawmakers Express Optimism for Deal on Budget, Tax Cut

Harry-Reid-With-Dems Shifting from confrontation to cooperation, congressional leaders expressed optimism Thursday that agreement was near on extending this year's payroll tax cut, renewing unemployment benefits and averting a federal shutdown.

"We can extend payroll tax relief for American workers and create new jobs and keep the government running and, frankly, we can do it in a bipartisan way," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters, a turnabout from weeks of partisan sniping from both sides.

"No more show votes," Boehner said after praising earlier remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that lingering disagreements on a mammoth spending bill could be easily resolved. "It's just time to legislate."

Reid opened the Senate's morning session by saying he and the chamber's top Republican have held talks to resolve remaining disputes. With lawmakers itching to return home before the holidays, Reid said he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hope they can reach a deal "that would get us out of here in a reasonable time, in the next few days."

Standing just across the aisle, McConnell agreed with Reid -- a stark contrast to recent days, when the two have fired sharp partisan volleys at each other.

CDC study shows 'widespread' sexual violence in U.S.

Sexual violence is a widespread problem in the USA that strikes the majority of its victims early in life, according to a major government study released Wednesday.

Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men report being raped in their lifetime, says the study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study is the first to examine the prevalence of rape, sexual violence other than rape, stalking and intimate partner violence, and to report the damaging health consequences that last a lifetime. It calls for prevention efforts "that should start early."

Among female victims, 30% reported being first raped when they were between 11 and 17 years old; 12% were 10 or younger. Among males, 28% of male victims were first raped when they were 10 or younger.

"The finding of this happening at an early age has huge policy implications," says Howard Spivak, director of the CDC's division of violence prevention. "We need to focus on children, not (just) teens or adults. There's already a significant number of individuals affected by the time they are teens or adults."

Study: Statins reduce flu death risk by half

Statins-reduce-flu-death-risk-by-half-ESN6JED-x Statins, the drugs that can dramatically lower cholesterol levels, may one day also prove useful in combating serious cases of the flu.

A preliminary study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases finds that patients hospitalized with influenza were less likely to die if they were taking a statin, compared with their peers who weren't taking one of the drugs. The effect held even after adjusting for heart disease.

But it's far too soon to consider adding statins to the existing anti-flu armamentarium, the authors stated.

"At this point, statins should not become the standard of care for people hospitalized with the flu," cautioned study co-author Dr. Ann Thomas, a public health physician with the Oregon Public Health Division in Portland. "We would like to see more studies, [and] I think it would be worthwhile to do these studies."

Pearl Harbor Survivors Say 'Hawaii Five-O' Show Disrespected Graves While Filming

121411_ff_hawaii2_640 A group of Pearl Harbor survivors say they were disrespected by the crew of the CBS drama "Hawaii Five-O" during a visit to Honolulu's National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

The Denver-based Greatest Generations Foundation took 23 veterans to the Punchbowl cemetery last week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The veterans found it offensive that the crew members didn't stop production while the national anthem and taps were played and that they were walking on graves, said Steffan Tubbs, a foundation board member and co-host of KOA-AM's morning news show in Denver.

Tubbs visited the cemetery with the group, which conducted a small ceremony there.

The crew was filming a scene involving a lead character visiting his father's grave, "which in reality was surrounded by the real graves of WWII heroes," Tubbs said Tuesday. "It didn't seem right."

Cemetery Director Gene Castagnetti said the filming was approved beforehand. He added walking on graves is unavoidable and not considered disrespectful if done carefully.