College presidents alarmed over Obama's cost-control plan

Fuzzy math, Illinois State University's president called it. "Political theater of the worst sort," said the University of Washington's head.

President Obama's new plan to force colleges and universities to contain tuition or face losing federal dollars is raising alarm among education leaders who worry about the threat of government overreach. Particularly sharp words came from the presidents of public universities; they're already frustrated by increasing state budget cuts.

The reality, said Illinois State's Al Bowman, is that simple changes cannot easily overcome deficits at many public schools. He said he was happy to hear Obama, in a speech Friday at the University of Michigan, urge state-level support of public universities. But, Bowman said, given the decreases in state aid, tying federal support to tuition prices is a product of fuzzy math.

Illinois has lowered public support for higher education by about one-third over the past decade when adjusted for inflation. Illinois State, with 21,000 students, has raised tuition almost 47 percent since 2007, from $6,150 a year for an in-state undergraduate student to $9,030.

Wounded Syrians Treated at Secret Clinic in Lebanon

Syria_-_Lebanon_Hospital-fixed-x264-Platform_YTHQFull_640x480_2191021675 Syrians injured in the crackdown on anti-government protests are crossing into Lebanon to seek treatment. They can’t get treatment in Syria because they say hospitals there are often raided by security forces looking for protesters. One secret clinic in the Lebanese city of Tripoli has patients of all ages with horrific injuries from the fighting.

Amran, 6, is one of the youngest patients in this hospital. He has difficulty walking. When he shows his leg, it’s easy to see why. A chunk is missing from his shin. The hole is surrounded by red scar tissue.

"I’m here because they shot me,” Amran said. He was fleeing Syria with his mother when security forces opened fire. His mother survived unscathed. Amran will be disabled for life.

There are many other injured Syrian children at this private Tripoli clinic. The doctors asked us not to identify its whereabouts.

Karzai and Cameron pledge to work toward Afghan future

111207054038-afghan-karzai-story-top Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to work toward lasting stability in Afghanistan in talks Saturday in the United Kingdom.

The pair signed a long-term agreement on the future of Afghanistan, as they met at Cameron's official country residence, Chequers.

"The United Kingdom and Afghanistan have a strong relationship and the two countries have been working together to create a strong and stable Afghanistan," Cameron said.

Cameron said British combat forces would remain in Afghanistan well into 2014, when NATO's International Security and Assistance Force, or ISAF, is due to hand over security to Afghan forces and withdraw.

Britain has about 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second-biggest contributor to ISAF after the United States, which has about 90,000 troops there.

Russia Clashes with Europeans, Arabs Over Syria UN Resolution

PNN_Vitaly-Churkin_480X300 European and Arab nations are calling on the U.N. Security Council to back a resolution supporting the Arab League’s plan to end the 10-month-old political crisis in Syria. But, Russia has expressed concerns about the new text.

Following a lengthy closed-door discussion Friday afternoon on a draft resolution proposed by council members Morocco, Britain and France, Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that the new text ignores what he called Moscow’s “red lines” where they could not go.

“The red lines included any indications of sanctions, the red lines included any sort of imposition of arms embargo - because we know how in real life arms embargo means you supply arms to illegal groups but you cannot supply weapons to the government - we cannot accept that," he said. "Unfortunately, the draft we saw today did not only ignore our red lines but also added some new elements which we find unacceptable as a matter of principle.”

Biden claims Panetta was only Obama adviser urging a 'go' on bin Laden raid

situation_roomubl Vice President Biden claimed Friday that Leon Panetta was the only member of the inner circle who definitively urged President Obama to green-light the raid on Usama bin Laden's compound, as Biden discussed new details about the behind-the-scenes deliberations.

Biden, speaking to the House Democratic Issues Conference in Maryland, candidly admitted that he told the president not to go forward with the mission. Biden said at the time he thought the administration should do more to find out whether bin Laden was actually inside the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Describing the scene when Obama sought the advice of his top officials on whether to go ahead, Biden said most advisers -- aside from himself and Panetta, the defense secretary who was CIA chief at the time -- didn't offer a clear opinion.

Demi Moore 911 call released: 'She smoked something' and is 'having convulsions'

ent_rehab_012712 The 911 call placed on the night of Demi Moore’s hospitalization was released on Friday, and if her friend on the phone is to be trusted, it appears the actress’ adverse reaction came from smoking an unnamed substance.

“We need an ambulance here as soon as possible,” the female caller tells the ambulance dispatcher. “She smoked something, it’s not marijuana, but it’s similar to incense, and she seems to be having convulsions of some sort.”

The call begins with a great deal of confusion as to which department should be handling the call. The phone is passed between several people, all expressing concern and frustration as to why the ambulance was taking so much time. 

The dispatcher also seems frustrated at times with the caller, telling her “ma'am, listen to what I’m asking you, pay attention, ok?”

The female caller, who is unaware of Moore’s age initially, describes her as “semi conscious” and “barely” awake. Moore’s breathing is initially described as “not so normal” and says Moore, 49, is “burning up.”

South Africans most avid Twitter users in Africa

portland_2121817b The interesting report, ‘How Africa Tweets’, compiled by Portland Communications and media service, Tweetminster, found that South Africa, Africa’s largest economy, produced the most amount of tweets (more than five million) over a three month period.

The study analysed more than 11.5 million tweets from across the continent during the final three months of 2011.

Kenya came in second place, generating 2.48 million tweets – followed by Nigeria (1.67 million), Egypt (1.21 million) and Morocco (0.75 million).

The average age of an African tweeter ranges from 20 to 29 years old, which is significantly younger than the global average of 39.

Suspect in murder of Connecticut jeweler found hanged in Spanish jail cell

robertlevene640 An American man accused of killing a jewelry store owner in Connecticut and stealing $300,000 in diamonds before fleeing to Europe was found hanged in his prison cell in Spain, authorities said.

Andrew Robert Levene, 41, was found dead Thursday in the Modelo prison in Barcelona, where he was recently arrested after an international manhunt, the justice department of Catalonia said.

An investigation into the death was under way, but all signs indicated he committed suicide by hanging himself with a sheet, a spokeswoman said.

Levene, also known as Robert Thomas, had been charged with federal murder, robbery and firearm offenses in the Dec. 8 shooting of Yekutiel Zeevi, owner of the Y.Z. Manufacturers store in Westport, Conn. Extradition proceedings in Spain had not yet begun.

Car Bomb Targets Baghdad Shi'ite Neighborhood

AP Iraq Bagdad car bombing 27Jan12 480 Iraqi officials say at least 31 people were killed Friday when a car bomb exploded near a funeral procession in a mainly Shi'ite neighborhood of the Iraqi capital.

Hospital workers say at least 60 people were wounded in the suicide bombing in the neighborhood of Zafaraniyah.

The blast went off near where mourners had gathered for the funeral of a real estate agent who was killed by gunmen a day earlier.

Witnesses said the massive blast shattered windows and engulfed nearby buildings in flames for hours.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility. But authorities blame Sunni insurgents for escalating violence since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December.

Campaign attacks follow Romney, Gingrich into last debate before Florida primary

Santorum_Gingrich_Romney_Paul_Florida Mitt Romney, armed with a string of polished comebacks, aggressively sparred with Newt Gingrich on Thursday in the last debate before the Florida primary as he tried to puncture his opponent’s criticism on key issues – including Romney’s immigration stance and personal wealth.

Romney called Gingrich’s criticism over-the-top and “repulsive.”

The former House speaker mostly kept his cool on the debate stage in Jacksonville, as he was pressed repeatedly to engage Romney. Still, Gingrich stood by a claim that Romney is the most anti-immigrant candidate in the race. And, perhaps trying to reprise the blockbuster moment from last week’s debate, Gingrich at one point accused the moderator of focusing on “nonsense” issues.

Opinion polls indicate the race is close, with two other contenders, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, trailing far behind.

Final Florida push begins after contentious debate

120127010512-jacksonville-debate-intro-story-top Republican presidential hopefuls headed into the homestretch of the critical Florida primary campaign Friday after a riveting debate that analysts believe gave Mitt Romney a boost over fellow front-runner Newt Gingrich.

Florida voters will decide Tuesday who gets the biggest delegate haul so far of the GOP presidential race, and the CNN/Republican Party of Florida debate provided the four candidates with their final chance to face one another on the same stage in the increasingly vitriolic contest.

Romney and Gingrich entered Thursday's debate in a statistical dead-heat for the lead, according to recent polling, with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul trailing well back.

Paul, who concedes he has no chance of victory in Florida's winner-take-all primary, heads to more moderate Maine on Friday to campaign for the caucus that begins February 4, while Romney, Gingrich and Santorum all planned events in Florida to begin their final push for Tuesday's primary.

UN Tries to Revive Faltering Cyprus Peace Talks

RTR2WU79_480_UN_Cyprus_26JAN12 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has acknowledged U.N. talks on Cyprus have ended with little tangible progress, but added he may call an international conference in late April or early May on a settlement to resolve the division of the island.

This latest trilateral summit between Ban Ki-moon and the leaders of divided Cyprus was supposed to have been the high point in the U.N. effort to push the long-bickering foes forward with their sluggish peace talks.

Negotiations between President Demetris Christofias, who heads the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government, and Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu have effectively stalled, and are in jeopardy of collapse.

South African AU Chair Nomination Raises Eyebrows

reuters_south_africa_Dlamini_Zuma_file_26jan12_eng_300 South Africa has broken with African Union (AU) tradition and nominated Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as a candidate for chairperson of the AU Commission to replace incumbent Jean Ping. Analysts say the move could be divisive at this week's AU summit.

Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the independent Institute for Security Studies, says the move is potentially divisive given that South Africa’s relations with some countries on the continent are strained.

“South African [policy] positions have created some tensions in the continent particularly around Cote d’Ivoire, and to a lesser extent around Libya, where the country has not acted in support of its traditional allies, and its most important partner and competitor is Nigeria,” said Cilliers.

Suicide Bomber Attacks Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan

AFP_Afghanistan_Bomb_Helmand_01_26_2012_480 Afghan officials say a suicide car bomber has killed four civilians in an attack on a NATO-affiliated provincial reconstruction team in southern Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the governor of Helmand province said Thursday's attack took place in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

Officials say the bomber hit a convoy of armored vehicles passing near the education department building.

A child was among those killed in the attack.  Officials says some 31 others were wounded, including three foreigners:  two men and a woman.

Libyan detainees died after torture, human rights group says

120126074209-el-keib-afp-gi-story-body Several detainees in Libya have died after being tortured in recent weeks, the human rights group Amnesty International said Thursday.

The humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders said it was halting its work in detention centers in Misrata because detainees are "tortured and denied urgent medical care."

The agency, known by its French acronym MSF, said it has treated 115 people with torture-related wounds from interrogation sessions.

Christopher Stokes, general director of MSF, told CNN that two detainees died -- one in October and another in November -- within 30 minutes of being interrogated. Autopsies were not carried out, so the cause of death is unknown, he said.

In a statement, Amnesty described "widespread torture and ill-treatment of suspected pro-Gadhafi fighters and loyalists," a reference to those who fought for the regime of leader Moammar Gadhafi until his ouster and death.

Head of Papua New Guinea military freed after mutiny

The head of the Papua New Guinea military has been freed from detention by rebel soldiers, the Australian government said Thursday, as an attempted mutiny appeared to unravel.

Yaura Sasa, a rebel commander, had earlier claimed that he had seized control of the Papua New Guinea Defense Force, confining its leader, Brig. Gen. Francis Agwi, and another senior officer to their residences.

The Australian government -- which has a significant presence in Papua New Guinea, a country it used to administer -- said that Agwi had subsequently been released. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement that it was important that "order is fully restored" in the Papua New Guinea armed forces.

The unrest in the military came amid controversy in Papua New Guinea over who the rightful prime minister is.

Sasa claimed he had taken control of the defense force in order "to restore the integrity and respect for the constitution and judiciary."

Gingrich attacks on Obama resurrect Saul Alinsky

alinsky He died in 1972, at the age of sixty-three, a marginalized figure in his own obscure field and seldom mentioned outside of it.

But to close followers of the topsy-turvy GOP presidential primary, the late Saul Alinsky is suddenly becoming a household word. This is due, in large measure, to the mantra-like repetition of the name by Newt Gingrich, who invokes it every day on the campaign trail as part of his stump-speech indictment of President Obama.

“We need somebody who is a conservative and who can stand up to him and debate and who can clearly draw the contrast between the Declaration of Independence and the writings of Saul Alinsky,” Gingrich told a large crowd outside the Wings Plus restaurant in Coral Springs, Florida Wednesday.

Lost Nantucket boat found years later near Spain

boat_spain A Massachusetts fishing boat lost at sea in rough waters in August 2008 was discovered thousands of miles away floating along the northern coast of Spain, according to a Nantucket newspaper.

The Inquirer and Mirror reported that Scott Douglas and his brother-in-law, Rich St. Pierre, were tossed from the 26-foot boat by a large wave and swam to shore, leaving the boat to drift away.

More than three years later, the Spanish coast guard has found the fishing boat about 20 miles off the coast of the small port town Llanes. The Massachusetts Environmental Police and U.S. Coast Guard confirmed to the paper that the vessel was in fact the same one lost by the two Massachusetts men.

Iraqi outrage over U.S. Marine's plea deal in Haditha killings

120125031708-iraq-marine-sentenced-wuterich-story-top Iraqis reacted with outrage Wednesday to news of a plea deal for a U.S. Marine squad leader charged in connection with the deaths of 24 people, in which he received a rank reduction and pay cut but avoided jail time.

The November 2005 killings in Haditha, Iraq, constituted one of the worst attacks on civilians by U.S. troops during the Iraq war. The deaths enraged Iraqis, put a spotlight on the conduct of the U.S. military and was compared to Vietnam's My Lai massacre by one congressman.

On Tuesday, Staff Sgt. Frank G. Wuterich was sentenced to a maximum of 90 days in prison, but avoided any time in the brig because of a plea deal. The military judge was obligated to abide by the arrangement between prosecutors and defense attorneys, which amounts to a reduction in rank -- to private -- and a pay cut.

National DNA database needed for personalised medicine drive

genome_1748527a In the future everybody's details could be included on it, although he said such a scenario was a very long way off.

"Will people at birth get their genome sequenced? I have absolutely no doubt that at some point in the future that will happen, but not in the foreseeable future," he said.

The cost of mapping an individual's whole genome, known as sequencing, was coming down so fast that he said it would soon be cheaper to do that rather than test for specific genetic anomalies.

He believed predictions that it would soon cost just $1,000 (£650) adding that it could soon fall to "practically nothing".

However, even if that becomes the case, the cost of building what the strategy group termed a "central repository for storing genomic and genetic data" could be considerable.

Next-gen Xbox promises six times the power

720z The next generation Xbox will ship to retailers in 2013 with six times the processing power of the Xbox 360, sources close to the project have told IGN.

Following initial reports from tech blogs Fudzilla and SemiAccurate, IGN's sources have confirmed that mass production of the system's graphics processing unit (GPU) will indeed begin by the end of 2012 but will not, however, be based on Advanced Micro Devices' 7000 series Southern Islands GPU.

Gingrich dismisses Pelosi claim she knows 'something'

pelosi_newtsplit2 Newt Gingrich challenged Nancy Pelosi to "bring it out" if she's got any damaging information about his past, after the House Democratic leader for the second time suggested she was sitting on information that could imperil his presidential candidacy.

"I think if she knows something, she ought to say it, and if she doesn't know something, she ought to quit saying it," Gingrich told Fox News on Wednesday. "But this is baloney."

Pelosi said earlier on CNN that Gingrich, who is surging in polls in Florida and nationally following his South Carolina primary win, will "never" be president.

"That's not going to happen. Let me just make my prediction and stand by it -- it isn't going to happen," Pelosi said.

Asked why she's so sure, Pelosi answered: "There's something I know. The Republicans, if they choose to nominate him, that's their prerogative."

After three years, it's time to admit President Obama has failed

Obama-State-of-the-Union In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama hammered away on two resounding themes—fairness and the economy.

Both of them rang hollow from a president who has failed on the job.

He has not kept his promise to get the economy going again, and inequities in income and opportunities have hardened during his tenure. Scratch the surface of his largely reworked proposals, and too much political opportunism and hypocrisy emerges.

Once again, he promised to tax the wealthy and lambasted oil companies, and offered the vision of an economy where every American has a decent shot at success through education and hard work. Yet, too many of his tax proposals are intended to punish his opponents and protect his friends, and his education proposals simply won’t help the unemployed if the economy is creating too few new jobs each month.

The big fairness problem with taxes is that wage and salary incomes are taxed at much higher effective rates than capital gains and carried interest in partnerships—the latter include the income managing partners and employees receive for running private equity firms and hedge funds.

Militants target Pakistani troops

Militants killed six Pakistani soldiers and wounded four others during an attack in the northwest tribal region Wednesday, a senior government official said -- part of a recent spike in attacks targeting security forces.

About 50 militants attacked security forces who were conducting a search operation, said Shahab Ali Shah, a senior government official in the area.

Shah said troops killed 10 militants in the clashes, which occurred in the area of Jogi in Kurram Agency, one of seven districts of Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

The soldiers are among more than 50 Pakistani security forces killed in attacks throughout the country since January 1, according to a CNN tally. The increase in attacks comes after a relative lull late last year.

Issa cries foul after key player in Fast and Furious scandal refuses to testify

Issa-at-hearing As Arizona state officials open their own probe into Operation Fast and Furious, the head of the House panel investigating the gunrunning scandal is crying foul over a key player's move Tuesday to assert his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions.

Patrick Cunningham, the chief of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona, was excused from a deposition after refusing to give more than his name and title, Fox News has learned.

Cunningham informed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee through his attorney that he would use the Fifth Amendment protection after being subpoenaed last week to testify in front of congressional investigators regarding his role in the operation that sent more than 2,000 guns to the Sinaloa drug cartel. Guns from the failed operation were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in 2010.

Arab League: Syria Observers Need More Time

apSyriaArabLeageObservers-resizedpx480q100shp8 The Arab League says its observer mission to Syria will continue as long as Damascus agrees to it. But Gulf Arab states say they were pulling their observers out of the country.

Arab League official Ahmed Ben Helli told journalists the organization hopes to continue its observer mission to Syria, despite a decision Tuesday by Gulf Arab states to pull their observers. Damascus, however, must agree to extend the mission.

At least 110 Arab observers remain in Syria after 55 others from the Gulf states have withdrawn. Saudi Arabia first indicated it was withdrawing its observers at an Arab League meeting Sunday. The observer mission began on December 19.

Defiant Obama challenges Congress on sticky issues

120125063801-sotu-bts-best-of-00014109-story-top President Barack Obama launches a three-day swing through key election states Wednesday after declaring in what could be his final State of the Union address that the nation was strengthening but must confront the defining issue of preserving the American dream.

In the speech Tuesday night to a joint sitting of Congress, Obama offered both his administration's priorities for the coming year and his campaign messaging for his re-election bid in November.

He defended a long list of his trademark policies -- tax increases on the wealthy, Wall Street reform, health care reform, government stimulus spending -- to applause from fellow Democrats while also offering proposals of interest to Republicans, such as corporate tax breaks and expanded oil and gas development.

Utah boy dies after accidentally shooting himself with replica cannon

A 14-year-old boy from Utah died after accidentally shooting himself in the head with a small replica cannon, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Robby Ostberg is believed to have been playing with the 18th-century replica cannon in the living room of his home in Tremonton, Utah, when it went off Monday morning.

The teenager was left with massive head injuries and died in his home.

Cops investigating the incident initially thought the cannon, which has a 6-inch barrel, was decorative, but they discovered that it was designed to fire a .50-caliber round, Tremonton police chief David Nance said.

"It's something that can be used as a noisemaker or actually shoot a projectile," Nance told the newspaper. "We don't know exactly what was in it or if there was a projectile."

Tokyo sees high quake probability, scientists warn

120124082037-tokyo-skyline-story-top Tokyo faces the possibility of being hit by a massive earthquake within the next four years, according to Japanese researchers.

The University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute predicts there is a 70% probability that the capital's metropolitan area will experience a magnitude-7 quake within four years and a 98% probability within the next 30 years.

Nearly one year ago, a magnitude 9.0 quake struck off Japan's central Pacific coast, triggering a devastating tsunami and aftershocks that left more than 15,700 dead, according to a government report in December on Japan's recovery from the catastrophe. About 4,500 were listed as missing.

Nearly 700 aftershocks registering magnitude 5 or greater followed last year's quake, the government report said.

The March 11 earthquake -- dubbed "Tohoku" after the region in which it occurred -- also damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station, where three reactors experienced full meltdowns, creating a nuclear crisis for a country already grappling with disaster.

EU to lift travel restrictions on Myanmar leaders

120124052812-clinton-myanmar-story-top European foreign ministers said Monday that they would loosen travel restrictions on senior members of the Myanmar government in recognition of the Southeast Asian country's recent efforts at political reform after decades of military rule.

Describing the Myanmar government's program of changes as "remarkable," the foreign ministers said they had decided to suspend a visa ban on the country's president, vice presidents, Cabinet members and speakers of Parliament. The European Union ministers met in Brussels to discuss Myanmar and other issues.

In recent weeks, the Myanmar regime has pardoned hundreds of political prisoners, approved the participation of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party in April elections and pledged to pursue a peace deal with an ethnic rebel group.

Western governments have applauded the effort, with the United States announcing this month that it would exchange ambassadors with Myanmar for the first time since 1988. That came after a visit to the country last month by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the first top U.S. diplomat in the nation in more than five decades.

Twitter is the most fun you can have with the telly on

twitter_2117459c The other day, as I slumped in front of the telly, I felt the strangest sensation. I was getting twitchy, distracted, uncomfortable. Almost without my realising it, my arm started to reach towards my laptop.

Was I suffering from an undiagnosed case of ADHD? Not really – I simply wanted to see what Twitter thought. Rare is the programme, these days, that’s compelling enough to watch on its own. Instead, I find myself glancing down at my phone or computer – the “Twitter machines”, as Sir Tom Stoppard called them this week – to see what my friends, and their friends, are making of it.

When I mentioned this phenomenon to one of my colleagues, he was horrified. A year ago, I’d have been with him. But then I found myself at a friend’s while The X Factor was on. I said something not particularly funny about one of the glitter-strewn mediocrities on screen, and someone tweeted it. Offended, I whipped out my phone to reclaim authorship of the gag. Soon, the room resounded to the sound of clacking keys, as all of us took to the Twittersphere to share our bons mots, joining in the vast communal bitching session.

RIM chiefs step down as BlackBerry attempts comeback

blackberrry-heins_2117393b Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis will relinquish their positions immediately, in a move that sees little-known German executive Thorsten Heins take the helm at the troubled company.

Having made BlackBerry the indispensable device for business executives, lawyers and bankers who wanted to check their emails when not at their computers, the past five years have seen the Canadian company fail to fight back against competition from Apple and Google.

That, in turn, left Mr Balsillie and Mr Lazaridis under pressure from investors. RIM's shares fell 75pc last year.

"This marks the beginning of a new era for RIM," Mr Lazaridis told Bloomberg. "It was a bit of a bumpy ride. We've done it as best we could." The duo's departure comes a week before RIM's deadline for publishing a management review.

China Starts Lunar New Year of the Dragon

Reut_ChineseLunarNewYear_23jan12-resizedpx300X480q100dpi96shp8 This week millions of Chinese travel back to their family homes to celebrate the New Year holiday.  Although the time is traditionally celebrated as a time of happy homecomings, an official survey indicates most people are reluctant to go home.

Social workers coordinated by the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs queried migrant workers in China's six biggest cities and found that 70 percent are hesitant to go home.

The issue is hotly debated online, where the week preceding Chunjie, as the New Year holiday is called, the term "afraid to go home" ranked third on the popular search engine

Part of the apprehension is about the journey, itself. Transportation authorities anticipate that more than three billion trips will be made during this year's holiday.

Facebook friends can't be relied on in a crisis

The poll by Macmillan Cancer Support found that the average young adult has 237 Facebook friends, but only two they could turn to for real support.

The survey, of 1,000 people aged 18 to 35, found two-thirds of respondents said they had two or fewer really close friends.

It also found that one in eight (13 per cent) admitted they did not have even a single person they considered to be a good enough friend to rely on, if life got very hard.

Men (16 per cent) were more likely than women (12 per cent) to have no one to turn to.

Jeannie Wilkinson, a Relate counsellor who is funded by the cancer charity, said: "It is surprising and concerning that people confide in such a small number of friends and family – and more so that others may not confide in anyone."

Syria Rejects Arab League Call for Power Transfer

reuters_syria_protester_480_23jan2012 Syria has rejected a new Arab League initiative for President Bashar al-Assad to step down and allow the formation of a national unity government.

The plan agreed to by Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo Sunday requires Mr. Assad to transfer power to a deputy and allow the formation of a unity government with the opposition within two months. The country's new leaders would be responsible for organizing parliamentary and presidential elections under Arab and international supervision.

Syrian state media denounced the plan Monday as a "flagrant" violation of Syrian sovereignty. Qatar said the Arab League will ask the United Nations Security Council to support the initiative.

European envoys at the United Nations swiftly hailed the plan. Germany's U.N. ambassador welcomed it as a potential "game changer."

US Urges Burma to Ensure Free By-Elections

ap_burma_thein_sein_us_mccain_22Jan12-resized A key U.S. senator says the United States is pleased with recent progress toward democratic reforms in Burma, but says the country's new, nominally civilian government must ensure "free and fair" by-elections in April.

John McCain, the senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke Sunday in Rangoon, after meeting with President Thein Sein and separately with opposition leader and democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi. 

He said he told the president the government must also resolve Burma's long standing ethnic conflicts and strengthen the rule of law before Washington would consider lifting economic sanctions imposed on the military junta that stepped aside last year.

Christie sets ambitious agenda in New Jersey amid 2016 speculation

christie_chris_011812 After tackling pensions and health care benefits, Chris Christie is setting his sights on taxes and education reform -- all as the New Jersey governor signals interest in a 2016 presidential run despite sitting out this year's race.

Christie, who is getting a taste of presidential politics this season as a high-profile surrogate for Mitt Romney, used his State of the State address earlier this week to unveil his ambitious plans, as he heralded the arrival of the "New Jersey comeback."

Whether or not the state is experiencing a renaissance, the charismatic and YouTube-ready governor may still be poised to use New Jersey as a lab of sorts for some of his party's boldest ideas. Should his experiments succeed, there's little question the notches on his political belt will serve him well in a presidential run.

"It's hard to run for national office if you've had an unsuccessful governorship," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "(Christie is) moving toward accomplishing a great deal in the first term."

Bird Flu Researchers Postpone Work Amid Bioterrorism Concern

apH5N1BirdFlu21Jan2011-resizedpx480q100shp8 Two separate teams of scientists trying to develop a vaccine for the H5N1 strain of bird flu have agreed to temporarily postpone their research because of growing concern that a highly-infectious version of the virus the researchers are working with could fall into the hands of terrorists or trigger a deadly pandemic.

The laboratory-altered strain the scientists are working with is a potent airborne variety of H5N1 that easily could spread among humans.  The original H5N1 strain of avian influenza has killed 340 people worldwide since it was first detected in 2003. 

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin in the United States and at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands say they are voluntarily halting their work for 60 days.  They say the two months will give governments, international organizations and the scientific community time to determine whether the research can be conducted safely.

Analysts Say Partisan Bickering Could Be Good for US

WashGridlockUSConstitutionWEBSDYTHQFull_640x480_2188781330 Poll after poll shows Americans disgusted by partisan paralysis. It is what is often referred to as "Washington gridlock". Yet some political scientists argue, as frustrating as congressional inaction may be, it shows that the system envisioned by America’s founding fathers in the 1700s is alive and well.

“Compromise is not a nasty word. It is how we get things done,” one person who stopped to answer VOA's questions said.

“I would rather see compromise to the better interest of people that are struggling,” another bystander added.

Americans demand bipartisanship, yet they are voting fewer moderates and more hardline ideologues into Congress, resulting in a more polarized legislature. While berating congressional inaction, voters often opt for divided government. The last president to enjoy a Congress of the same party for the duration of his tenure was Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.

For bills to become law, they must pass both houses of Congress. Senate passage usually requires three-fifths backing, giving the minority party a virtual veto.

Man convicted of killing Georgia girl found dead in apparent suicide, prison official says

12311missinggeorgiagirl A 20-year-old maintenance worker who this week pleaded guilty to molesting and killing a 7-year-old girl was found dead of an apparent suicide in his prison cell Thursday, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Ryan Brunn was found unresponsive at 4:15 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson, said spokeswoman Kristen Stancil. Brunn was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:37 p.m., Stancil said in an email to The Associated Press.

Brunn pleaded guilty on Tuesday to killing Jorelys Rivera on Dec. 2. Her body was found in a trash compactor at the Canton apartment complex where she lived and he worked. At the hearing, Brunn explained his actions in chilling detail before apologizing to

Canadian skier Sarah Burke dies from injuries sustained in superpipe accident

Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke died Thursday, nine days after crashing at the bottom of the superpipe during a training run in Utah.

Burke, who lived near Whistler in British Columbia, was 29. She was injured Jan. 10 while training at a personal sponsor event at the Park City Mountain resort.

Tests revealed Burke sustained "irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest," according to a statement released by Burke's publicist.

A four-time Winter X Games champion, Burke crashed on the same halfpipe where snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury during a training accident on Dec. 31, 2009.

Statins 'could treat breast cancer' in future

Scientists have found evidence that women with breast cancer who carry a particular gene mutation could benefit from statin therapy.

Although they emphasised the research was at much too early a stage to make any "definitive conclusions", they said it had "great implications".

The research centres on a gene called p53, which usually suppresses cancerous cells. However, very frequently the gene mutates, giving it new erroneous functions that promote cancer formation, resulting in disorganised, invasive growth of cells.

It is already known that more than half of all human cancers carry mutations of the p53 gene, according to the authors, writing in the journal Cell.

Apple reinvents textbooks with new publishing platform

011912_tech_ibooks Apple Inc. on Thursday launched its attempt to make the iPad a replacement for a satchel full of textbooks by starting to sell electronic versions of a handful of standard high-school books.

The electronic textbooks, which include "Biology" and "Environmental Science" from Pearson and "Algebra 1" and "Chemistry" from McGraw-Hill, contain videos and other interactive elements.

But it's far from clear that even a company with Apple's clout will be able to reform the primary and high-school textbook market. The printed books are bought by schools, not students, and are reused year after year, which isn't possible with the electronic versions. New books are subject to lengthy state approval processes.

Relieved users welcome Wikipedia's return after 24-hour blackout

Wikipedia blackout The lights have come back on at Wikipedia, following a 24-hour blackout that affected millions of users around the world.

At midnight Wednesday ET, Wikipedia's English language website was up and running again, accompanied by the message, "Thank you for protecting Wikipedia. (We're not done yet.)"

"More than 150 million people saw our message asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge. You said no. You shut down Congress' switchboards. You melted their servers. Your voice was loud and strong. Millions of people have spoken in defense of a free and open internet," Wikipedia said in a statement.

The return of the online free information provider was welcomed by users who took to Twitter to express their relief the blackout was over.

YouTube film festival to send amateur filmmakers to Venice

life2_1911247b The Google Inc.-owned video site announced Thursday that Your Film Festival will take submissions of short films up to 15 minutes in length between Feb. 2 and March 31. Fifty semi-finalists will be selected by Scott Free Productions, Ridley and Tony Scott's production company.

Those 50 films will form a channel on YouTube: There, users will be able to view the films and vote for their favorites.

The 10 finalists will be flown to the 69th annual Venice Film Festival, where their films will be screened in August. Ridley Scott will lead a jury in selecting a winner, who will receive a $500,000 grant from YouTube to produce a work with Scott Free.

"Through this program, YouTube will give filmmakers the opportunity to reach a vast audience, screen their work during the Venice Film Festival and potentially be rewarded in a career-changing way," Robert Kyncl, global head of content at YouTube, said in a statement.

Pakistani PM: President is immune from charges anywhere

120119071430-pakistan-pm-court-gilani-story-top Pakistan's prime minister was called before the country's Supreme Court Thursday in a battle over corruption cases facing the president and other officials.

"We have the height of respect for the judiciary, but there is full immunity for the president -- not only in Pakistan, but in the entire world, too," said Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

It was the latest twist in a nearly decade-long battle.

The Pakistani Supreme Court had sent Gilani a contempt notice and ordered the hearing for him to explain why he refuses to reopen lingering cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and others.

Members of the cabinet and the leaders of allied political parties joined Gilani in court Thursday.

His attorney asked for more time to look through records pertaining to the case, and the court adjourned until February 1. Gilani will not have to appear at that hearing.

US Navy aids another Iranian fishing boat

For the third time this month, the U.S. Navy has come to the rescue of distressed Iranian fishermen -- at the same time Iran has threatened to disrupt a key oil route off its coast.

Guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey rendered aid to the crew of a sinking Iranian fishing dhow in the central Arabian Sea, according to a Navy press release. 

A helicopter from the Maritime Strike Squadron 71 spotted the fishing boat Wednesday morning reportedly with one person on board. 

"Our first priority was to make sure that all of the crew (of the fishing vessel) was safe," Lt. Will Jourdan, pilot of the helicopter, said in the press release. 

After the the vessel had been identified, it was reported back to the Dewey's crew, who then moved in to help the fisherman who had fled the boat and boarded another. 

IRS keeps mileage reimbursement rate at near-historic high

traffic_fresno_082311 Finally, an upside to high gas prices, though perhaps not for the government's coffers.

The IRS has announced that it will keep its mileage reimbursement rate at 55.5 cents a mile, at least for now, after initially approving the increase last summer.

The rate, which has been north of 50 cents a mile since 2008, was raised in June in response to the spike in gas prices. The result is a rate that continues to be worth far more than the actual cost of gasoline.

Take, for instance, the gas costs for a new Honda Accord. With its 27-miles-per-gallon fuel economy, it costs roughly 12.5 cents per mile to drive. Yet businesses that use the IRS rate, as many do, can reimburse their employees 55.5 cents per mile -- an expense that is tax deductible.

Wikipedia Sopa blackout won't solve the problem

wikipedia_2112303b Today Wikipedia has shut down for 24 hours as part of a now highly public protest against proposed internet piracy laws in the US.

The likes of Google and Craigslist then added their voices to the dissent with the search giant opting to blackout its logo on its US site and the popular online classifieds service suspending its American operation for a day.

Hundreds of other websites, including Reddit, WordPress and Flickr, have also joined the protest against two proposed pieces of legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa).

Sopa and Pipa are attempts to deal with the problem of online filesharing by granting authorities powers to close down websites that are making material, such as films, music and television programmes, available without the permission of the rights holder.

Following a complaint by a rights holder, these acts would allow website domains to be seized. If the website in question is not a US site or is not hosted in the US, then supporters of the bills want the power to force US search engines to remove links to the website and for US payment networks and advertisers to stop doing business with the site.

Gunmen killed local Iraqi leader, his 3 sons

Gunmen stormed a home in a small town south of Baghdad early Wednesday, killing a local leader and three of his sons, police said.

Sabbar Mohammed, the leader of Al-Boasaj, was fatally shot while he was sleeping, according to police.

The attackers wounded a fourth son, who is a member of the local Awakening Council.

Awakening Councils, also known as the Sons of Iraq, mainly comprise Sunni Arab fighters who turned against al Qaeda in late 2006. The U.S.-backed movement is credited as among the main factors that contributed to a drop in violence.

Council members have become targets for jihadists.

Over the past two weeks, hundreds of Iraqis have been killed and wounded in violence across the country, raising concerns about the ability of security forces to do their job.

More accustomed to rain, Seattle braces for snow

Seattle, a city more accustomed to rain than snow, prepared Tuesday for a potentially major snowstorm to hit as the city's mayor urged residents to stay off roads.

Many school districts in the western part of the state, including Seattle, canceled classes for Wednesday, when the area was expected to get several more inches of snow.

Snow has been falling steadily in parts of western Washington and Oregon since the weekend, but National Weather Service meteorologists said the biggest amounts could come on Wednesday. The new round of snow was expected to start falling just before the morning rush hour in the Seattle area, meteorologist Doug McDonnal said.

"Wednesday is going to be a good day to stay at home," said Brad Colman, another Weather Service meteorologist in Seattle. "The road is going to be treacherous."

Syria's Religious Minorities Wary of Uprising

DSC06300 As pressures mount on the Syrian government, those at the center of power are working hard to keep whatever allies they have close at hand. Those so far seem to include many of the nation's religious minorities.

Syrian religious leaders put on a show of solidarity for Arab League peace mission monitors, highlighting the country's long history of tolerance among disparate beliefs.

At a meeting in the capital Tuesday, the Mufti of Damascus, Abdel Bari Atwan, said Muslims, Christians and all other sects are "united 'as one hand.'"  There is no bias, he added, since "we are all under the protection of the homeland."

The deputy of the Roman Catholic patriarchate, Bishop Louka el Khoury, agreed, saying the tolerance practiced in Syria takes a special place in the world.

When Muslims first came to Syria, el Khoury said Christians did not fight them, and the two have been living together as brothers every since.

Italian Coast Guard: Captain Refused Orders to Return to Cruise Ship

ap_italy_cruise_ship_divers_480_17jan2012 An audio recording of an angry exchange between the Italian Coast Guard and the captain of a capsized cruise ship reveals that the captain refused orders to get back on his stricken boat.

Coast Guard Captain Gregory De Falco demanded that Captain Francesco Schettino use a ladder to climb back onto the damaged Costa Concordia and report how many people were still on board. 

But Schettino responded that he was not going anywhere, complaining that it was too dark on the boat. He said he was coordinating the rescue from a lifeboat. A furious Captain De Falco bellowed that he was now in charge and he ordered Schettino back on the boat - warning him that he was "going to pay" for his actions.

Rare Mars rocks fell in Africa

mrockz Scientists are confirming a recent and rare invasion from Mars: meteorite chunks from the red planet that fell in Morocco last July.

This is only the fifth time scientists have confirmed chemically Martian meteorites that people witnessed as they fell. The fireball was spotted in the sky six months ago, but the rocks were not discovered on the ground in North Africa until the end of December.

This is an important and unique opportunity for scientists trying to learn about Mars' potential for life. So far, no NASA or Russian spacecraft has returned bits of Mars, so the only Martian samples scientists can examine are those that come here in meteorite showers.

Scientists and collectors of meteorites are ecstatic, and already the rocks are fetching big money because they are among the rarest things on Earth, rarer even than gold.

US Senators Support Philippines in S. China Sea Dispute

Four U.S. senators visiting Manila have been discussing the South China Sea territorial dispute and touting their support for the Philippines.

Arizona Senator John McCain reiterated the U.S. stance that there is no need to have any sort of confrontation with China over issues related to the South China Sea.  But he also said it is important to strengthen U.S. ties with Manila.

"We think that it's important for us and other ASEAN nations as well as the Philippines to emphasize that we will do whatever we need to do in order to protect the principle of freedom of navigation, particularly in the West Philippine Sea," McCain said.

McCain and the other senators used the preferred local name when referring to the disputed sea, which has some of the world's most heavily traveled sea lanes. The region is believed to have vast oil and gas reserves and also provides abundant fishing.  China says it owns practically the entire sea based on a centuries-old map. But the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to part or all of the sea.

Stress divides the genders

Stress-divides-the-genders-Q0RKU8A-x Stressed women know it, live it and spend time trying to do something about it. Stressed men, not so much.

That may well be the perception — that women are more aware of feelings than men — and in the wake of new survey results released this week, numbers support the stereotype.

The American Psychological Association's annual Stress in America survey finds that women historically have reported higher levels of stress than men and did so again in 2011. Over the past year, on a 1-10 scale of little-to-no stress to a great deal of stress, women report stress at a level of 5.4 and men at 4.8. But the gender divide is more pronounced when it comes to dealing with the stress or even wanting to own up to it.

"I honestly think women are more attuned to it," says Pat Chang, 66, of Indianapolis, who was among those surveyed. "I don't think they really feel it more, but men bottle things up more and are less likely to express their real feelings."

Syrian official defects, says regime will fight at all costs

120117065606-lee-syria-new-defector-00023303-story-top Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will fight at all costs to crush the revolt seeking his ouster, a member of the Syrian Parliament who defected to Egypt said Tuesday.

"There is an open budget allocated to the crackdown on the popular uprising and revolution," said Imad Ghalioun, who was a member of Parliament from the embattled city of Homs before he escaped to Egypt.

"There is no budget for the country but only money to serve the regime's security forces and its 'ghost hit men,'" he said, making a reference to snipers.

The uprising, which is seeking al-Assad's resignation, reforms and democratic elections, is in its tenth month. It has prompted a bloody government crackdown that has claimed at least 5,000 lives since in began in March, according to the United Nations. Opposition groups put the toll at more than 6,000.

Five million 'second tablets' to be bought in 2012

ipad_2096321b According to the annual predictions for technology industry by Deloitte, more and more people are going to own more than one tablet device. Despite the first major successful tablet, Apple’s iPad, having only gone on sale in 2010, the trend for tablet-style computers is set to continue and grow.

Jolyon Barker, global lead for Deloitte's Technology, Media and Telecommunications department, said: “The tablet explosion has shown little sign of slowing down since hitting the market in 2010 and is set to take the mantle of the most rapid multiple market penetration in history.

FBI seeks land owners' help finding Montana teacher's body, as details emerge on suspects

missing teacher Authorities renewed calls Monday for landowners near the northern North Dakota-Montana border to look for signs of a missing Montana teacher's buried body, while documents revealed one of the two suspects in her disappearance has spent time in prison.

At a news conference Monday, authorities asked that "landowners and landowners only" help look for the body of 43-year-old Sherry Arnold, a math teacher from Sidney, Mont., who has been missing since Jan. 7 and is presumed dead.

"We don't want the public out there running around in the countryside," Williston Police Chief Jim Lokken said. "The landowners know their land and their property. If they see anything that has been disturbed, we want them to check it out."

Authorities said little of the two men believed to be involved in Arnold's disappearance: 47-year-old Lester Vann Waters Jr. and 22-year-old Michael Keith Spell, both of Parachute, Colo.

Markets Calm After European Credit Downgrades

RTR2WDG9_480_Reuters_EUMarkets_16JAN12 European markets reacted nonchalantly Monday after credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded nine countries, including France and Austria, late Friday. The widely followed agency also reduced the ratings of Italy, Spain and Portugal, as well as Cyprus, Malta, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Far from the sharp drop some had expected, Europe’s major market indexes stayed close to their Friday closing levels for much of the day, finally closing up slightly. The main stock price averages in Germany and Britain were both up - the German by more than one percent.  Even in France, which suffered the small downgrade from its top credit rating Friday, the market was up nearly a full percentage point.

Economist Zsolt Darvas at the Bruegel Institute in Brussels said despite Friday’s big news from Standard & Poor’s, Monday’s market calm did not shock him.

Pakistan Supreme Court orders PM to face contempt hearing

Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to face a contempt of court hearing this week, officials said, setting up a potential showdown between the nation's judicial and political leaders.

The Pakistani leader responded Monday night by saying he has "always respected the courts, and I will present before the court." At the same time, he pushed back against the military and the judiciary branch in the name of "democracy."

"The army and the judiciary, they both have to protect democracy in Pakistan," Gilani said in a televised speech Monday night. "They can't remove democracy. They can't pack up the system."

The notice was issued for the government's failure to reopen thousands of corruption cases against politicians and bureaucrats, including President Asif Ali Zardari.

"Ultimately it's the prime minister who is responsible for carrying out the court's order and he has not. I think the court has lost its patience," said Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, the head of the Islamabad-based political think tank the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency.

Hackers zap Zappos: Info from 24 million users stolen

Hackers Popular online shoe retailer said late Sunday that hackers had accessed its network, stealing customer account information from as many as 24 million customers.

Credit card information was not stolen, company CEO Tony Hsieh said in a statement sent to users, but email addresses, billing and shipping addresses, phone numbers, the last four digits from credit cards -- and more -- may have been compromised.

"We were recently the victim of a cyberattack by a criminal who gained access to parts of our internal network and systems through one of our servers in Kentucky," reads a statement posted on the company's blog. "We are cooperating with law enforcement to undergo an exhaustive investigation."

The company stressed that credit cards were not affected, and that it has already reset the passwords for existing customers to prevent abuse of the stolen data.