Amazon to open market in second-hand MP3s and e-books

A new market for second-hand digital downloads could let us hold virtual yard sales of our ever-growing piles of intangible possessions

WHY buy second-hand? For physical goods, the appeal is in the price – you don't mind the creases in a book or rust spots on a car if it's a bargain. Although digital objects never lose their good-as-new lustre, their very nature means there is still uncertainty about whether we actually own them in the first place, making it tricky to set up a second-hand market. Now an Amazon patent for a system to support reselling digital purchases could change that.

Amazon's move comes after last year's European Union ruling that software vendors cannot stop customers from reselling their products. But without technical support, the ruling has had no impact. In Amazon's system, customers will keep their digital purchases – such as e-books or music – in a personal data store in the cloud that only they can access, allowing them to stream or download the content.

This part is like any cloud-based digital locker except that the customer can resell previous purchases by passing the access rights to another person. Once the transaction is complete, the seller will lose access to the content. Any system for reselling an e-book, for example, would have to ensure that it is not duplicated in the transaction. That means deleting any copies the seller may have lying around on hard drives, e-book readers, and other cloud services, since that would violate copyright.

Amazon may be the biggest company to consider a second-hand market, but it is not the first. ReDigi, based in Boston, has been running a resale market for digital goods since 2011. After downloading an app, users can buy a song on ReDigi for as little as 49 cents that would costs 99 cents new on iTunes.

When users want to sell an item, they upload it to ReDigi's servers via a mechanism that ensures no copy is made during the transfer. Software checks that the seller does not retain a copy. Once transferred, the item can be bought and downloaded by another customer. ReDigi is set to launch in Europe in a few months.

Digital items on ReDigi are cheaper because they are one-offs. If your hard drive crashes and you lose your iTunes collection you can download it again. But you can only download an item from ReDigi once – there is no other copy. That is the trade-off that makes a second-hand digital market work: the risk justifies the price. The idea has ruffled a few feathers – last year EMI sued ReDigi for infringement of copyright. A judge denied the claim, but the case continues.

Used digital goods can also come with added charm. ReDigi tracks the history of the items traded so when you buy something, you can see who has owned it and when. ReDigi's second-hand marketplace has grown into a social network. According to ReDigi founder John Ossenmacher, customers like seeing who has previously listened to a song. "It's got soul like an old guitar," he says. "We've introduced this whole feeling of connectedness."

It could be good for business too if the original vendors, such as iTunes, were to support resale and take a cut of the resell price. Nevertheless, Amazon's move bucks the industry trend. Microsoft's new Xbox, for example, is expected not to work with second-hand games.

But the market could change rapidly now that Amazon's weight is behind this, says Ossenmacher. "The industry is waking up."

This article appeared in print under the headline "Old MP3, one careful owner"

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Berlusconi slams Europe's 'lords of austerity'

ROME: Italy's Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday said Europe's "lords of austerity" had tried to get rid of him, speaking in apparent breach of rules for candidates to stay silent the day before elections.

"I contradicted the lords of austerity who are now trying to get rid of me," Berlusconi was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying in Milan in an interview with Greek television.

Leftist candidate Antonio Ingroia asked for sanctions against the billionaire tycoon but Berlusconi's office said the interview had been given only with the explicit agreement that it be released on Monday after polls close.

The comments were then widely quoted by Italian media.

In the interview, the scandal-tainted Berlusconi said outgoing prime minister Mario Monti was "subservient and always on his knees in front of Mrs Merkel (German Chancellor Angela Merkel) and now she does not want to lose him".

"The same thing would happen with (centre left leader and poll favourite Pier Luigi) Bersani. But I would give her a run for her money," he said.

"Austerity increases the public debt and lead to a recessionary spiral that pushes up unemployment and can result in the loss of social calm," he added.

Berlusconi, who is currently a defendant in two trials for tax fraud and for having sex with an underage prostitute, also said prosecutors were "a worse mafia than the Sicilian mafia".

Italians take to the polls on Sunday and Monday, Berlusconi expected to come a close second after Bersani.

- AFP/jc

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Governors: Looming cuts threaten economic gains

WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington's protracted budget stalemate could seriously undermine the economy and stall gains made since the recession, exasperated governors said Saturday as they tried to gauge the fallout from impending federal spending cuts.

At the annual National Governors Association meeting, both Democrat and Republican chief executives expressed pessimism that both sides could find a way to avoid the massive, automatic spending cuts set to begin March 1, pointing to the impasse as another crisis between the White House and Congress that hampers their ability to construct state spending plans and spooks local businesses from hiring.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a former congressman, noted that the cuts — known in Washington-speak as "the sequester" — could lead to 19,000 workers laid off at Pearl Harbor, site of the surprise attack in 1941 that launched the United States into World War II. Today, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam supports Air Force and Navy missions.

"That will undermine our capacity for readiness at Pearl Harbor. If that doesn't symbolize for the nation ... what happens when we fail to meet our responsibilities congressionally, I don't know what does," Abercrombie said.

The budget fight came as many states say they are on the cusp of an economic comeback from the financial upheaval in 2008 and 2009. States expect their general fund revenues this year to surpass the amounts collected before the Great Recession kicked in. An estimated $693 billion in revenues is expected for the 2013 budget year, nearly a 4 percent increase over the previous year.

"It's a damn shame," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat. "We've actually had the fastest rate of jobs recovery of any state in our region. And this really threatens to hurt a lot of families in our state and kind of flat line our job growth for the next several months."

At their weekend meetings, governors were focusing on ways to boost job development and grow their state economies, measures to restrict gun violence and implement the new health care law approved during Obama's first term.

Some Republican governors have blocked the use of Medicaid to expand health insurance coverage for millions of uninsured while others have joined Democrats in a wholesale expansion as the law allows. The Medicaid expansion aims to cover about half of the 30 million uninsured people expected to eventually gain coverage under the health care overhaul.

Yet for many governors, the budget-cut fight remains front-and-center and fuels a pervasive sense of frustration with Washington.

"My feeling is I can't help what's going on in Washington," Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, said in an interview Saturday. "I can't help the fact that there's no leadership here, and it's all politics as usual and gridlock. But I can do something about the way we do things in the state of Iowa."

Indeed, right now no issue carries the same level of urgency as the budget impasse.

Congressional leaders have indicated a willingness to let the cuts take effect and stay in place for weeks, if not much longer.

The cuts would trim $85 billion in domestic and defense spending, leading to furloughs for hundreds of thousands of workers at the Transportation Department, Defense Department and elsewhere.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces.

The looming cuts were never supposed to happen. They were intended to be a draconian fallback intended to ensure a special deficit reduction committee would come up with $1 trillion or more in savings from benefit programs. It didn't.

"We should go back and remember that sequestration was originally designed by both the administration and Congress as something so odious, so repellent, that it would force both sides to a compromise. There can't be any question, this is something that nobody wants," said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

Obama has stepped up efforts to tell the public about the cuts' negative impact and pressure Republicans who oppose his approach of reducing deficits through a combination of targeted savings and tax increases. House Republicans have said reduced spending needs to be the focus and have rejected the president's fresh demand to include higher taxes as part of a compromise.

Governors said they are asking the Obama administration for more flexibility to deal with some of the potential cuts.

"We're just saying that as you identify federal cuts and savings, allow the states to be able to realize those savings, too," said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican and the association's vice chairwoman.


Follow Steve Peoples at: and Ken Thomas at:



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Elderly Abandoned at World's Largest Religious Festival

Every 12 years, the northern Indian city of Allahabad plays host to a vast gathering of Hindu pilgrims called the Maha Kumbh Mela. This year, Allahabad is expected to host an estimated 80 million pilgrims between January and March. (See Kumbh Mela: Pictures From the Hindu Holy Festival)

People come to Allahabad to wash away their sins in the sacred River Ganges. For many it's the realization of their life's goal, and they emerge feeling joyful and rejuvenated. But there is also a darker side to the world's largest religious gathering, as some take advantage of the swirling crowds to abandon elderly relatives.

"They wait for this Maha Kumbh because many people are there so nobody will know," said one human rights activist who has helped people in this predicament and who wished to remain anonymous. "Old people have become useless, they don't want to look after them, so they leave them and go."

Anshu Malviya, an Allahabad-based social worker, confirmed that both men and women have been abandoned during the religious event, though it has happened more often to elderly widows. Numbers are hard to come by, since many people genuinely become separated from their groups in the crowd, and those who have been abandoned may not admit it. But Malviya estimates that dozens of people are deliberately abandoned during a Maha Kumbh Mela, at a very rough guess.

To a foreigner, it seems puzzling that these people are not capable of finding their own way home. Malviya smiles. "If you were Indian," he said, "you wouldn't be puzzled. Often they have never left their homes. They are not educated, they don't work. A lot of the time they don't even know which district their village is in."

Once the crowd disperses and the volunteer-run lost-and-found camps that provide temporary respite have packed away their tents, the abandoned elderly may have the option of entering a government-run shelter. Conditions are notoriously bad in these homes, however, and many prefer to remain on the streets, begging. Some gravitate to other holy cities such as Varanasi or Vrindavan where, if they're lucky, they are taken in by temples or charity-funded shelters.

In these cities, they join a much larger population, predominantly women, whose families no longer wish to support them, and who have been brought there because, in the Hindu religion, to die in these holy cities is to achieve moksha or Nirvana. Mohini Giri, a Delhi-based campaigner for women's rights and former chair of India's National Commission for Women, estimates that there are 10,000 such women in Varanasi and 16,000 in Vrindavan.

But even these women are just the tip of the iceberg, says economist Jean Drèze of the University of Allahabad, who has campaigned on social issues in India since 1979. "For one woman who has been explicitly parked in Vrindavan or Varanasi, there are a thousand or ten thousand who are living next door to their sons and are as good as abandoned, literally kept on a starvation diet," he said.

According to the Hindu ideal, a woman should be looked after until the end of her life by her male relatives—with responsibility for her shifting from her father to her husband to her son. But Martha Chen, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University who published a study of widows in India in 2001, found that the reality was often very different.

Chen's survey of 562 widows of different ages revealed that about half of them were supporting themselves in households that did not include an adult male—either living alone, or with young children or other single women. Many of those who did live with their families reported harassment or even violence.

According to Drèze, the situation hasn't changed since Chen's study, despite the economic growth that has taken place in India, because widows remain vulnerable due to their lack of education and employment. In 2010, the World Bank reported that only 29 percent of the Indian workforce was female. Moreover, despite changes in the law designed to protect women's rights to property, in practice sons predominantly inherit from their parents—leaving women eternally dependent on men. In a country where 37 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line, elderly dependent relatives fall low on many people's lists of priorities.

This bleak picture is all too familiar to Devshran Singh, who oversees the Durga Kund old people's home in Varanasi. People don't pay toward the upkeep of their relatives, he said, and they rarely visit. In one case, a doctor brought an old woman to Durga Kund claiming she had been abandoned. After he had gone, the woman revealed that the doctor was her son. "In modern life," said Singh, "people don't have time for their elderly."

Drèze is currently campaigning for pensions for the elderly, including widows. Giri is working to make more women aware of their rights. And most experts agree that education, which is increasingly accessible to girls in India, will help improve women's plight. "Education is a big force of social change," said Drèze. "There's no doubt about that."

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Fiery Last-Lap Daytona Crash Injures 15 Fans

A fiery last-lap crash at the Daytona International Speedway injured a number of spectators today, who were seen being carried away from the stands on stretchers.

Fifteen spectators were taken to the hospital, according to ESPN, with one on the way to surgery with head trauma.

The 12-car crash happened moments before the end of the Nationwide race, and on the eve of the Daytona 500, one of NASCAR's biggest events.

The crash was apparently triggered when driver Regan Smith's car, which was being tailed by Brad Keselowski on his back bumper, spun to the right and shot up the track. Smith had been in the lead and said after the crash he had been trying to throw a "block."

Rookie Kyle Larson's car slammed into the wall that separates the track from the grandstands, causing his No. 32 car to go airborne and erupt in flames.

When a haze of smoke cleared and Larson's car came to a stop, he jumped out uninjured.

His engine and one of his wheels were sitting in a walkway of the grandstand.

"I was getting pushed from behind," Larson told ESPN. "Before I could react, it was too late."

Driver Michael Annett was taken to the hospital after he slammed head-on into a barrier during the chaos. NASCAR officials told ESPN the driver was awake and alert.

Tony Stewart pulled out the win, but in victory lane, what would have been a celebratory mood was tempered by concern for the injured fans.

"We've always known this is a dangerous sport," Stewart said. 'But it's hard when the fans get caught up in it."

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Rusty rocks reveal ancient origin of photosynthesis

SUN-WORSHIP began even earlier than we thought. The world's oldest sedimentary rocks suggest an early form of photosynthesis may have evolved almost 3.8 billion years ago, not long after life appeared on Earth.

A hallmark of photosynthesis in plants is that the process splits water and produces oxygen gas. But some groups of bacteria oxidise substances like iron instead – a form of photosynthesis that doesn't generate oxygen. Evolutionary biologists think these non-oxygen-generating forms of photosynthesis evolved first, giving rise to oxygen-generating photosynthesis sometime before the Earth's atmosphere gained oxygen 2.4 billion years ago (New Scientist, 8 December 2012, p 12).

But when did non-oxygen-generating photosynthesis evolve? Fossilised microbial mats that formed in shallow water 3.4 billion years ago in what is now South Africa show the chemical fingerprints of the process. However, geologists have long wondered whether even earlier evidence exists.

The world's oldest sedimentary rocks – a class of rock that can preserve evidence of life – are a logical place to look, says Andrew Czaja of the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. These rocks, which are found in Greenland and date back almost 3.8 billion years, contain vast deposits of iron oxide that are a puzzle. "What could have formed these giant masses of oxidised iron?" asks Czaja.

To investigate, he analysed the isotopic composition of samples taken from the oxidised iron. He found that some isotopes of iron were more common than they would be if oxygen gas was indiscriminately oxidising the metal. Moreover, the exact isotopic balance varied subtly from point to point in the rock.

Both findings make sense if photosynthetic bacteria were responsible for the iron oxide, says Czaja. That's because these microbes preferentially oxidise only a small fraction of the dissolved iron, and the iron isotopes they prefer vary slightly as environmental conditions change (Earth and Planetary Science Letters, His findings suggest that this form of photosynthesis appeared about 370 million years earlier than we thought.

It is "the best current working hypothesis for the origin of these deposits", says Mike Tice of Texas A&M University in College Station – one of the team who analysed the 3.4-billion-year-old microbial mats from South Africa.

William Martin at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany, agrees. "Anoxygenic photosynthesis is a good candidate for the isotope evidence they see," he says. "Had these fascinating results been collected on Mars, the verdict of the jury would surely remain open," says Martin Brasier at the University of Oxford. "But [on Earth] opinion seems to be swinging in the direction of non-oxygen-generating photosynthesis during the interval from 3.8 to 2.9 billion years ago."

This article appeared in print under the headline "Photosynthesis has truly ancient origins"

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US budget cuts can be avoided: Obama

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama insisted Friday that mandatory government budget cuts set to kick in on March 1 -- known as the sequester -- were not "inevitable."

The cuts to defence and domestic spending were mandated in an agreement between Obama and his Republican foes to end a previous budget battle.

"I never think that anything is inevitable, we always have the opportunity to make the right decisions," Obama told reporters following a White House meeting with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"Hope springs eternal."

The consequences of the threatened sequester were supposed to be so punishing that Democrats and Republicans would have no choice but to reach a deal to reduce the deficit.

Obama also attempted to reassure financial markets in case the cuts do go forward.

"Unlike issues like the debt ceiling, the sequester going into effect will not threaten the world financial system, it's not the equivalent of the US defaulting on its obligations," Obama said.

"What it does mean though is that if the US is growing slower, other countries are growing slower."

Obama wants to use a "balanced" mix of spending cuts and tax revenue increases achieved by closing loopholes used by the wealthy to cut the US deficit, and says he will not sign a bill that harms the middle class.

Republicans, who lost a previous showdown with Obama over raising tax rates for the rich, say the debate over hiking taxes is closed.

They say they are willing to close loopholes, but only in the context of a sweeping reform of the tax code, and maintain that Obama wants to use proceeds from any immediate revenue rises for more bloated government spending.

Hundreds of thousands of public employees and private contractors are threatened by the cuts.

- AFP/jc

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Court lets stand Obama's China wind farm ban

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge said Friday she can't overturn President Barack Obama's decision to revoke a Chinese company's purchase of four wind farm projects in the vicinity of a U.S. naval facility's restricted airspace.

However, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the Ralls Corporation has a right to a hearing over whether the White House should be forced to explain its decision.

In his September decision, Obama ordered Ralls Corporation, a company owned by Chinese nationals, to divest its interest in the wind farms it purchased earlier this year in Oregon. The wind farm sites are all in the vicinity of restricted air space near the Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility Boardman. The administration cites unspecified national security risks as the reason for blocking the transaction.

Ralls sued. Its CEO, Wu Jialiang, said in Beijing in October that his company would "never do anything that threatens U.S. national security."

Jackson said the federal courts don't have the power to get involved in the president's decision-making on this issue.

The law "is not the least bit ambiguous about the role of the courts: 'The actions of the president . . . and the findings of the president . . . shall not be subject to judicial review,'" she said.

However, Jackson said the courts can hold hearings on whether the government deprived Ralls of its property without due process of law. Ralls argued that the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment entitles it to an opportunity to be heard and to hear the reasons for Obama's decision, she said.

"It is true that the finality provision will bar the court from hearing any attack on the president's findings," Jackson said. "But there is a difference between asking a court to decide whether one was entitled to know what the president's reasons were and asking a court to assess the sufficiency of those reasons."

Jackson said she will hear arguments on that issue later.

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Businessman Dennis Tito Financing Manned Mission to Mars

Jane J. Lee

An announcement this week that a group led by the world's first space "tourist," Dennis Tito, plans to send a manned mission to flyby Mars in 2018 has lit up the Internet.

A press advisory from the new group, the Inspiration Mars Foundation, made no mention about whether there would be humans onboard.

But reports from NewSpace Journal say that there will be two crew members making the journey.

The Inspiration Mars Foundation, founded by Tito, plans to start its mission in January 2018, taking advantage of a rare launch window. Earth and Mars will be aligned in such a way that a trip that would normally take between two to three years would last about a year and a half, or 501 days.

The next such opportunity will occur in 2031, according to a Scientific American blog post.

Tito's foundation will hold a press conference on February 27 in Washington, presumably to offer more details about the trip.

The National Geographic Society is in talks with Inspiration Mars Foundation about a potential partnership around the 2018 mission.

The man behind the private Mars push is no stranger to the red planet.

In 2001 Tito paid $20 million to become the first "tourist" to rocket into space. He spent six days on the International Space Station. (Related: "7 Ways You Could Blast Off by 2023.")

Though Tito made his fortune in finance, he has a master's degree in engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

While at JPL, Tito worked on Mariner 4 and 9, which flew to the red planet in the 60s and 70s respectively. Mariner 4 was the first successful flyby of Mars in 1965, beaming back the first pictures of another planet from deep space. (Watch a video about exploring Mars.)

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Jodi Arias' Friends Believe in Her Innocence

Accused murderer Jodi Arias believes she should be punished, but hopes she will not be sentenced to death, two of her closest friends told ABC News in an exclusive interview.

Ann Campbell and Donavan Bering have been a constant presence for Arias wth at least one of them sitting in the Phoenix, Ariz., courtroom along with Arias' family for almost every day of her murder trial. They befriended Arias after she first arrived in jail and believe in her innocence.

Arias admits killing her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander and lying for nearly two years about it, but insists she killed Alexander in self defense. She could face the death penalty if convicted of murder.

Jodi Arias Testimony: Prosecution's Cross-Examination Watch Video

Jodi Arias Remains Calm Under Cross-Examination Watch Video

Jodi Arias Doesn't Remember Stabbing Ex-Boyfriend Watch Video

Nevertheless, she is aware of the seriousness of her lies and deceitful behavior.

The women told ABC News that they understand that Arias needs to be punished and Arias understands that too.

"She does know that, you know, she does need to pay for the crime," Campbell said. "But I don't want her to die, and I know that she has so much to give back."

Catching Up on the Trial? Check Out ABC News' Jodi Arias Trial Coverage

The lies that Arias admits she told to police and her family have been devastating to her, Bering said.

""She said to me, 'I wish I didn't have to have lied. That destroyed me,'" Donovan said earlier this week. "Because now when it's so important for her to be believed, she has that doubt. But as she told me on the phone yesterday, she goes, 'I have nothing to lose.' So all she can do is go out there and tell the truth."

During Arias' nine days on the stand she has described in detail the oral, anal and phone sex that she and Alexander allegedly engaged in, despite being Mormons and trying to practice chastity. She also spelled out in excruciating detail what she claimed was Alexander's growing demands for sex, loyalty and subservience along with an increasingly violent temper.

Besides her two friends, Arias' mother and sometimes her father have been sitting in the front row of the courtroom during the testimony. It's been humiliating, Bering said.

"She's horrified. There's not one ounce of her life that's not out there, that's not open to the public. She's ashamed," she said.

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Mood-sensing smartphone tells your shrink how you feel

PEOPLE with anxiety, depression or stress are often asked to record their mood changes throughout the day, helping psychologists fine-tune their treatment. But they often forget, recording only sparse information at best. Now an emotion-sensing smartphone app that automatically generates someone's "mood diary" could give psychologists all the data they need.

It's the brainchild of Matt Dobson and Duncan Barclay, founders of speech recognition firm EI Technologies, based in Saffron Walden, UK. Instead of relying on people writing diaries, the app, called Xpression, listens for telltale changes in a person's voice that indicate whether they are in one of five emotional states: calm, happy, sad, angry or anxious/frightened. It then lists a person's moods against the times they change, and automatically emails the list to their psychologist at the end of the day.

To work, the app has to be always on, listening out for the user's voice once every second, whether they are talking to family, friends, colleagues or even pets. It also listens in on phone calls. If the user is silent, the app does nothing. Crucially for the users' privacy, it doesn't record their words, instead seeking out telltale acoustic features – like pitch – that are indicative of emotional state.

This kind of emotion recognition via voice pattern already works well and is a "hot area" of research, says Stephen Cox, head of the speech processing lab at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, who is scientific adviser for the firm.

Initially, Xpression will send 200-millisecond-long acoustic snapshots to a remote server where a machine-learning system will work out a person's emotional state before sending it back to the app for storage. Factors like voice loudness, intensity, changes in pitch and speaking pace allow the system to accurately estimate somebody's emotional state. "We extract acoustic features and let the machine-learning system work it out," says Cox. This ability will be built into the app itself eventually, says Dobson.

There's a strong need for this kind of technology, says Adrian Skinner, a clinical psychologist with the UK's National Health Service in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. "With conditions like depression, people tend to stop doing things like filling in mood diaries. If this app gives us more complete diaries it could help us better find the day-to-day triggers that raise or lower a patient's mood," he says.

The firm is a finalist in a UK government competition to identify the nation's top mobile tech company, to be judged on 26 February. An insurance company has already expressed an interest in using the app to ensure the workplace stress therapy it pays for is effective. Clinical trials are due to take place later this year.

This article appeared in print under the headline "We know how you really feel"

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

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Singapore trade expands 1.1% in 2012

SINGAPORE: Singapore's total external trade rose by 1.1 per cent in 2012, a contrast to the 8.0 per cent rise seen in the previous year.

The trade growth is lower than the previously projected range of between 3.0 and 4.0 per cent, said IE Singapore in its news release on Friday.

This, IE Singapore said, is due to poor trade performance in 4Q 2012.

Total trade reached S$984.9 billion in 2012, higher than the previous year's achievement of S$974.4 billion.

On a year-on-year basis, Singapore's total trade dropped by 2.9 per cent in 4Q 2012, following the previous quarter's decrease of 2.2 per cent due to decreases in both oil and non-oil trade.

Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) rose by 0.5 per cent in 2012, following the preceding year's increase of 2.2 per cent, due to higher shipments of non-electronic exports.

IE Singapore said the 0.5 per cent growth is lower than their projected 2012 growth of 2.0 to 3.0 per cent. This is due to a worse than expected NODX's performance in 4Q 2012.

Looking ahead, IE Singapore said projected total trade for 2013 is maintained at between 3.0 and 5.0 per cent while projected NODX growth for 2013 is kept at between 2.0 and 4.0 per cent.

- CNA/fa

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GOP senators are treading carefully with tea party

WASHINGTON (AP) — Twice burned, Republicans are treading carefully around tea party groups as they pursue a Senate majority that slipped through their fingers in 2010 and 2012.

"You'd have to be an idiot not to prepare" for primary election challenges from the right, no matter the state, says Rob Jesmer, who was executive director of the GOP Senate campaign committee when flawed, conservative candidates captured primaries, only to lose winnable races in the fall.

While incumbents work to ward off or repel challenges from within their party, a Republican tempest already is flaring in Georgia, where GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss is stepping down. Party officials also look apprehensively toward Iowa, where Sen. Tom Harkin's decision to retire down opens up a seat long in Democratic hands.

The developments come at a time the Republican Party nationally is involved in a well-chronicled period of introspection after failing to win the White House last fall. President Barack Obama's support reached 53 percent among women who cast ballots, 60 percent among voters under 30, some 71 percent among Hispanics and 93 percent among blacks. Numerous officials have said the party must find a way to broaden its appeal rather than continue to steer rightward.

Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Republicans, said consternation about a replay of recent politically damaging primaries "at least for the moment, doesn't seem to be an issue" for the GOP. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who chairs the campaign committee, declined a request for an interview.

Yet the divisions that pit the party establishment against insurgents and self-styled grass-roots groups show no signs of abating.

Karl Rove, a prominent strategist with deep ties to the Republican establishment, recently disclosed creation of a Conservative Victory Fund with the stated goal of backing electable conservatives in party primaries.

But when Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a longtime conservative and possible Senate contender, was quoted in the National Review as saying he didn't oppose the objectives espoused by Rove's group, he drew a slap from a rival organization with close tea party ties.

"The Republican establishment is becoming increasingly hostile to the conservative movement, and Congressman Price should openly and aggressively oppose their efforts, not defend them," blogged Matt Hoskins, head of the Senate Conservatives Fund, an organization founded by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.

Price's office declined comment.

Steven Law, head of the Conservative Victory Fund, said it was too early to predict which races it would become involved in. He said the organization hopes to "work with other groups that share that mission to see if we can ensure more rigorous evaluation of candidates, find consensus where possible and perhaps most importantly prevent the Democrats from picking our nominees for us."

Incumbent Republicans seem eager to avoid antagonizing groups that have helped elect tea party favorites such as Sens. Mike Lee in Utah, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Marco Rubio in Florida and Ted Cruz in Texas in recent years.

Even before the beginning of the year, the party's Senate leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, hired the campaign manager who guided Paul to his establishment-upending victory in 2010.

The party's second-ranking leader, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, was one of only three Senate Republicans to oppose John Kerry's confirmation as secretary of state. He has said he expects a primary challenge and Democrats recently accused him of being on "Cruz control," as he seeks a new term.

Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Cornyn disputed the claim while stressing the second-term lawmaker "is proud to have Ted Cruz in the Senate."

Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a veteran senator with an independent streak, has been at the forefront of efforts to derail several of Obama's high-level nominees. He is preparing to face voters in a state where the tea party has notched numerous triumphs.

In all, Republicans must gain six seats to win a majority in the 100-member Senate in 2014, and can ill afford the sort of turmoil that led to unexpected defeats in Nevada, Colorado and Delaware in 2010 and in Missouri and Indiana last year.

In four of those races, tea party-based insurgents defeated establishment candidates for the party nomination, only to lose the general election. In Missouri, then-Rep. Todd Akin won his primary with an assist from Democrats, then lost in the fall after saying women's bodies were able to avoid pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."

The promising news for Republicans is that Democrats must defend 21 of the 35 Senate seats on the ballot next year. Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana and North Carolina are among them, states that Obama lost and where incumbents will be seeking new terms.

Much of the early attention has focused on Iowa and Georgia.

Georgia last elected a Democrat to the Senate nearly two decades ago, and the party is in search of a top-rank contender. At the same time, officials claim renewed interest.

Among Republicans, Rep. Paul Broun has announced he will run, and Price and other members of the state's delegation are also considering candidacies.

All are conservatives, although Broun in particular has drawn attention for some of his remarks since coming to Congress five years ago.

He has said that evolution and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell," and said before Obama took office he feared the then president-elect would establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship.

Broun's target voters are plain as he embarks on his statewide campaign. In a poke at potential primary challengers, his campaign website says that since 2007 the congressman has sponsored "more legislation to reduce federal spending that any other member of Congress from Georgia." It adds he has never voted to raise taxes or the government debt ceiling, never supported earmarks, opposed all bailout deals and authored a balanced budget amendment.

In Iowa, a political swing state, public opinion polls indicate Republican Rep. Tom Latham would be the stronger Republican candidate in a fall matchup with Rep. Bruce Braley, the only announced Democrat so far.

But early surveys also suggest a second Republican, Rep. Steve King has an advantage among potential primary voters.

Latham is a low-key congressional veteran, a close friend of Speaker John Boehner and the chairman of an Appropriations Committee panel that sets spending for transportation programs.

With an outspoken style, King is best known for his strenuous opposition to citizenship for illegal immigrants and his penchant for incendiary remarks.

Neither man has announced plans to run, but King has staked out his ground.

"I'm no stranger to outlandish attacks like this," he said in an emailed request for donations after officials with Rove's group cited some of his past comments as possibly problematic.

"Nobody can bully me out of running for the U.S. Senate, not even Karl Rove and his hefty war chest."

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Turbulence Ahead for Weather Satellites

Jane J. Lee

Like a celestial version of Pixar's industrious robot Wall-E, environmental-monitoring satellites continually whiz overhead, quietly performing their allotted tasks of taking data and beaming the information down to climate researchers and weather forecasters.

But a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report highlights the fact that this monitoring network—which weather forecasters and climate researchers rely on—is in trouble.

That's because these U.S.-owned satellites are aging, and there are serious concerns about whether their replacements will be ready by the time they start to break down, said J. Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society and a professor at the University of Georgia in Athens. (Read about the history of satellites.)

The replacement program, known as the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), has suffered under ballooning budgets, mismanagement, and political wrangling. That's partly what prompted the GAO to put weather data on its list of government operations at high risk.

The report stated that "potential gaps in environmental-satellite data beginning as early as 2014 and lasting as long as 53 months have led to concerns that future weather forecasts and warnings—including warnings of extreme events such as hurricanes, storm surges, and floods—will be less accurate and timely."

"But even a 17-month gap, [the shortest estimate for a potential data gap], dramatically affects weather forecast ability, which could lead to challenges to protecting life and property," Shepherd said.

If European models of superstorm Sandy—well known for their accuracy in predicting the monster storm's path—hadn't had information from polar-orbiting satellites, for instance, they would've shown Sandy staying harmlessly out to sea rather than turning inland toward New York and New Jersey. (Read about "Weather Gone Wild" in the September 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.)

Basic research would also suffer from the loss of data, said Scott Rayder, senior adviser to the president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. "Long-term weather data is climate data, so these [satellite] sensors are important in figuring out how the atmosphere works."

Cause for Concern

Information forecasters incorporate into their models comes from two sets of satellites run by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA—geostationary satellites and polar-orbiting satellites, the American Meteorological Society's Shepherd explained.

Onboard instruments measure environmental factors including atmospheric moisture, sea surface temperature, and atmospheric ozone. This helps scientists keep tabs on things like precipitation and the health of the planet's ozone layer.

The current concern is focused on replacements for polar-orbiting satellites.

Traveling 517 miles (833 kilometers) above the Earth in a pole-to-pole direction every 90 minutes, NOAA's current crop of Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) are nearing the twilight of their life cycles, Shepherd said.

The POES satellites were built with a two- to three-year operational lifetime in mind, said James Gleason, of NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland.

"And they've lasted a long time, some [for] more than a decade," he said. The most recent POES satellite, NOAA-19, was launched in 2009.

Dire Situation

NOAA has another polar-orbiting satellite, called Suomi NPP, that's also taking weather data. Launched in 2011, it was supposed to be a proof of concept in order to test instruments slated to fly on JPSS, said Shepherd.

But due to repeated delays in the JPSS program, NOAA is using Suomi NPP as an operational satellite. "It's working swimmingly," he said.

"We're pretty sure [Suomi] NPP will last until 2016," said NASA's Gleason, senior project scientist for JPSS.

But JPSS isn't scheduled to launch until early 2017—and that depends on what happens to funding in the federal budget and whether the sequester kicks in, Gleason said.

NOAA is currently working on a plan to bridge any gap, should it occur, in data from their satellites. One possibility includes using a fleet of satellites owned by the U.S. military, called the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, to gather needed weather data.

The agency put out a call last year asking for suggestions on how the community could deal with a gap.

But as it stands right now, the situation is dire, said Shepherd.

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Las Vegas Shooting Launches Multi-State Manhunt

An argument in the valet area of a Las Vegas hotel led to a deadly drive-by shooting on the occupants of a Maserati on Vegas' glitzy strip, initiating a multi-state manhunt for the black Range Rover from which the shots were fired.

Three people were left dead in the attack, including two who died when their taxi was struck by the careening sports car and exploded into flames.

"What happened is not just tragic, but underscores the level of violence we see sometimes here in Las Vegas as well as across America," Las Vegas Metropolitan Sheriff Doug Gillespie said at a news conference today. "Clearly, the suspects in this shooting have no regard for the lives and safety of others."

The altercation took place in the valet area of the Aria resort and casino. Gillespie said there is currently "no indication" what the squabble was about.

Gillespie said that authorities do not know how many people are in the SUV, but that they are considered armed and dangerous. He warned members of the public to stay away from it.

"You should not take action," he said. "Instead, call your local police department and alert them to the whereabouts of the suspect vehicle."

Authorities in Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California are all on alert for the car.

"These individuals will be found," Gillespie said. "They will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun/AP Photo

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Dallas Courthouse Shooting Manhunt Intensify Watch Video

The Range Rover SUV shot at two people in the Maserati, which caused a multi-car crash. Police have not released the model of the Maserati, but the price of a new Maserati ranges from $123,000 to $142,000.

Police said that they believe a group of men riding in a black Range Rover Sport SUV pulled up alongside the Maserati around 4:20 a.m. today and fired shots into the car, striking the driver and passenger, according to Officer Jose Hernandez of the Las Vegas Metropolitan police department.

The Maserati then swerved through an intersection, hitting at least four other cars. One car that was struck, a taxi with a driver and passenger in it, caught on fire and burst into flames, trapping both occupants, Hernandez said.

The SUV then fled the scene, according to cops.

Gillespie said investigators are in the process of gathering video footage from hotels, casinos and the taxi cabs that were at the intersection.

The driver of the Maserati died from his gunshot wounds at University Medical Center shortly after the shooting, according to Sgt. John Sheahan.

The driver and passenger of the taxi both died in the car fire.

At least three individuals, including the passenger of the Maserati, were injured during the shooting and car crashes and taken to UMC hospital for treatment.

Authorities said the Maserati passenger, identified only as a man, sustained only a minor injury to his arm. He is speaking to and cooperating with police.

They do not yet know whether the cars had local plates or were from out of state.

No bystanders were hit by gunfire, Hernandez said.

"We're currently looking for a black Range Rover Sport, with large black rims and some sort of dealership advertising or advertisement plates," Hernandez said. "This is an armed and dangerous vehicle."

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority had no immediate comment about the safety of tourists in the wake of the shooting today.

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Higgs may spell doom, unless supersymmetry saves us

Lisa Grossman, physical sciences reporter


(Image: CERN)

Is the Higgs boson a herald of the apocalypse? That's the suggestion behind a theory, developed more than 30 years ago, that is back in the headlines this week. According to physicists, the mass of the Higgs-like particle announced last summer supports the notion that our universe is teetering on the edge of stability, like a pencil balanced on its point.

"It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable," Joseph Lykken, of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, said on Monday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "At some point, billions of years from now, it's all going to be wiped out."

Physicists have been wringing their hands about this scenario since 1982, when theorists Michael Turner and Frank Wilczek published a paper about it in Nature, NBC News points out. The pair showed that the vacuum of space can be in different energy states, and it will be most stable at its lowest energy. Trouble arises if we're not there yet, and we're inhabiting a temporarily stable state that should ultimately collapse.

"The universe wants to be in a different state, so eventually to realize that, a little bubble of what you might think of as an alternate universe will appear somewhere, and it will spread out and destroy us," Lykken said at AAAS.

Enter the Higgs boson, the particle form of the field that gives mass to several fundamental particles. The Higgs field permeates the vacuum of space, which means the mass of the boson and the stability of the vacuum are closely intertwined. Theory predicted that if the Higgs boson is heavier than about 129 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), the universe should be on safe footing.

But in July 2012 physicists at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland announced that a particle closely matching the Higgs had been found by experiments in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The much celebrated particle has a mass of about 126 GeV - light enough to raise fears of instability.

There is still hope for the universe as we know it. Some theorists pointed out that the relationship between the Higgs mass and the vacuum of space depends on the mass of a particle called the top quark. If the top quark's mass is different than we think it is, stability might reign.

There are also anomalies with the Higgs measurement, like the fact that it decays into photons more often than predicted. That hints we may yet find particles from the theory of supersymmetry, which says each ordinary particle has heavier "superpartners". If the Higgs has such a relative, it might save us from destruction. But some of these predicted particles, particularly the superpartners of the top quark, can push the universe back into instability.

The worries may remain unconfirmed for a while. The LHC is shutting down for a two-year break so engineers can prepare the machine to shoot higher-energy particle beams, which are needed to probe for superpartners.

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Qantas reports sharp rise in first-half profits

SYDNEY: Australian flag carrier Qantas on Thursday reported that first-half net profit more than doubled to A$111 million (US$114 million), also announcing an upgrade to its fleet.

The result in the six months to December 31 was up 164 percent on the same period in the previous year and in line with guidance, "despite challenging conditions in international and domestic air travel markets."

Underlying profit before tax -- the airline's preferred measure of financial performance -- was A$223 million, up 10 percent.

Qantas also announced an order for five new Boeing 737-800s and the upgrade of 20 Airbus A330-200s and 10 A330-300s.

The additional Boeing 737-800 aircraft are for the flag carrier's domestic service and for delivery during 2014, the company said in a statement, adding that leases on two existing B737-800s would be extended this year.

"The refurbished aircraft will give Qantas International a truly world-class product in global aviation's most dynamic and competitive market," chief executive Alan Joyce told a press conference.

"Growing with Asia is a major priority for the Qantas Group and this investment underpins our commitment to the region."

Joyce said: "Older narrow body Boeing 737-400s will be phased out by the end of 2013 and Boeing 767s by mid-2015.

"We are simplifying our fleet and making better use of the greater flexibility and higher frequencies that the B737-800s provide, while investing in what will be the best domestic onboard product anywhere in the world with the A330s."

The A330 reconfigurations and new orders will not affect planned capital expenditure of A$1.6 billion in 2012/13 and A$1.5 billion in 2013/14.

However, Qantas International reported an underlying before-tax loss of A$91 million in the six-month period, an improvement of A$171 million.

"Qantas International is well advanced in its turnaround plan," Joyce said.

"The 65 per cent improvement in Qantas International's underlying EBIT is testament to the steps taken to remove cost from the businesses, from closing down loss-making routes to retiring aircraft and consolidating operations."

Qantas is planning to broaden its reach in Asia as part of a strategy to turn around its struggling international arm.

The move is a consequence of its global alliance with Dubai-based Emirates, which means services to Asia will no longer be tied to onward links to Europe.

New direct destinations from Australia being considered include Beijing, Seoul, Mumbai, Delhi and Tokyo-Haneda at the same time as increasing capacity and frequency of flights to Hong Kong and Singapore.

Australia's competition watchdog last month gave Qantas and Emirates permission to launch their alliance in which the airlines will coordinate ticket prices and flight schedules.

Qantas will shift its hub for European flights to Dubai from Singapore and end a partnership with British Airways. The tie-up is seen as vital to the sustainability of Qantas, which last year posted its first annual deficit since privatisation in 1995 due to tough regional competition and high fuel costs.

- AFP/ac

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Jesse Jackson Jr. pleads guilty in campaign case

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., holding back tears, entered a guilty plea Wednesday in federal court to criminal charges that he engaged in a scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items. He faces 46 to 57 months in prison, and a fine of $10,000 to $100,000, under a plea deal with prosecutors.

A few hours later, his wife, Sandra Jackson, pleaded guilty to filing false joint federal income tax returns that knowingly understated the income the couple received. She faces one to two years in prison and a fine of $3,000 to $40,000.

In a 17-page prosecution document, Jackson's wife admitted that from mid-2006 through mid-October of last year, she failed to report $600,000 in income that she and her husband earned from 2005 to 2011.

Before entering the plea to a conspiracy charge, Jesse Jackson told U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins, "I've never been more clear in my life" in his decision to plead guilty.

Later, when Wilkins asked if Jackson committed the acts outlined in court papers, the former congressman replied, "I did these things." He added later, "Sir, for years I lived in my campaign," and used money from the campaign for personal use.

Jackson dabbed his face with tissues, and at point a court employee brought some tissues to Jackson's lawyer, who gave them to the ex-congressman. Jackson told the judge he was waiving his right to trial.

"In perfect candor, your honor, I have no interest in wasting the taxpayers' time or money," he said.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen called the guilty plea "so tragic because it represents such wasted potential" and that Jackson used his campaign as "his own personal piggybank." He said that Jackson could have been the voice of a new generation.

Machen credited Jackson for coming in early and telling the truth. "But today is his day of reckoning," the prosecutor said.

The fraud, perpetuated over seven years, was "not a momentary lapse of judgment," Machen said.He called Jackson's victims the American people and said that Jackson betrayed the trust of contributors who "donated their hard-earned money."

Machen declined to say what launched the investigation, but he said it did not stem from the House Ethics Committee investigation into Jackson's dealings with Rod Blagojevich when he was governor. Blagojevich is serving a prison sentence for trying to sell President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

Jackson had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned last November. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 28, and his wife on July 1. Wilkins, who presided over both guilty pleas, is not bound by the terms of the plea agreements. Both Jacksons are free until sentencing.

Since last June, Jesse Jackson has been hospitalized twice at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for treatment of bipolar disorder and other issues, and he stayed out of the public eye for months, even during the November elections. His attorney said after the court appearance that Jackson's health is "not an excuse" for his actions, "just a fact."

Jackson entered the courtroom holding hands with his wife and looking a bit dazzled as he surveyed the packed room. He kissed his wife and headed to the defense table.

Jackson's father, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, sat in the front row. Before the hearing started, he wrote notes on a small piece of paper. When the proceedings started, he sat expressionless and virtually motionless, hands folded. As he made his way back to the courtroom for Sandra Jackson's hearing, he took in a deep breath and let out a sigh. Several other family members also attended.

Jesse Jackson Jr., wearing a blue shirt and blue-patterned tie and dark suit, answered a series of questions from the judge, mostly in a muffled tone. When the judge asked if he had consumed any drugs or alcohol in the previous 24 hours, Jackson said he had a beer Tuesday night.

As the proceedings wound up, Jackson sat at the defense table, furrowed his brow and shook his head, in what looked like an expression of disbelief. After the hearing was adjourned, he walked over to his wife, grabbed her hand, and then was greeted by his father. Jackson Jr. patted his father on the back a few times.

"Tell everybody back home I'm sorry I let them down, OK?" Jackson told Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet, according to her Tweet from the scene.

Sandra Jackson, 49, wearing a black pantsuit, sobbed visibly during her court hearing, as her husband watched from the row behind the defense table. Sandi, as she's known, was a Chicago alderman before she resigned last month during the federal investigation.

Jesse Jackson Jr., 47, used campaign money to buy items including a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch and $9,587.64 worth of children's furniture, according to court papers filed in the case. His wife spent $5,150 on fur capes and parkas, the court documents said. Under the plea deal, Jackson must forfeit $750,000, plus tens of thousands of dollars' worth of memorabilia items and furs. Sandi Jackson must also pay $168,000 in restitution.

More details emerged in a 22-page statement compiled by prosecutors, filed Wednesday, in which Jackson admitted that he and his wife used campaign credit cards to buy 3,100 personal items worth $582,772.58 from 2005 through April of last year. Personal expenditures at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges cost $60,857.04. Personal expenditures at sports clubs and lounges cost $16,058.91, including maintaining a family membership at a gym. Personal spending for alcohol cost $5,814.43. Personal spending for dry cleaning cost $14,513.42.

Among the individual purchases made with campaign credit cards:

—A $466 dinner for two of "a personal nature" at Mandarin Oriental's CityZen restaurant.

—A washer, a dryer, a range and a refrigerator for the Jacksons' Chicago home.

—Multiple flat-screen televisions, multiple Blu-Ray DVD players and numerous DVDs for their Washington, D.C., home.

—A five-day health retreat for one of Mrs. Jackson's relatives.

—Stuffed animals and accessories for them.

—Goods at Costco, from video games to toilet paper.

According to the prosecution's court papers, Jackson even arranged for the use of campaign money to buy two mounted elk heads for his congressional office. Last summer, as the FBI closed in, a Jackson staffer identified only as "Person A" tried to arrange for the sale of the elk heads, but the FBI was one step ahead. The bureau had an undercover FBI employee contact the staffer, claiming to be an interior designer who had received the person's name from a taxidermist and inquiring whether there were elk heads for sale. They agreed on a price of $5,300.

Jackson's wife, knowing that the elk heads had been purchased with campaign funds, directed the staffer to move the elk heads from Washington to Chicago and to instruct the sale contact to wire the proceeds to her husband's personal account.

Over the years, the unidentified "Person A" provided significant help to the Jacksons in carrying out the scheme. Jackson used the aide for many different bill-paying activities, including paying construction contractors for work on Jackson's Washington home.

From 2008 through last March, Jackson's re-election campaign issued $76,150.39 in checks to the staff member, who was entitled to only $11,400 for work done for the campaign. The aide spent the remainder of the funds from the campaign for the Jacksons.

Machen, the U.S. attorney, said that prosecutors could have come up with more severe charges against Sandi Jackson.

"They do have children. We're sensitive to that," he said. "We utilized our discretion."

One of Jesse Jackson Jr.'s lawyers, Reid H. Weingarten, told reporters after the hearing that there's reason for optimism.

"A man that talented, a man that devoted to public service, a man who's done so much for so many, has another day. There will be another chapter in Jesse Jackson's life," he said.

Weingarten said that his client has "serious health issues. And those health issues are directly related to his present predicament. That's not an excuse, that's just a fact. And Jesse's turned the corner there as well. There's reason for optimism here too. Jesse's gotten great treatment, he's has great doctors, and I think he's gotten his arms around his problem."

As the hearing for Jackson got under way Wednesday, newly filed court papers disclosed that the judge had offered to disqualify himself from handling the cases against Jackson and his wife.

As a Harvard Law School student, Wilkins said he had supported the presidential campaign of Jackson's father and that as an attorney in 1999, Wilkins had been a guest on a show hosted by Jackson's father.

Prosecutors and lawyers for the couple said they were willing to proceed with the cases with Wilkins presiding. Judicial ethics require that a judge disqualify himself if his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.


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The True Story of History's Only Known Meteorite Victim

The Russian meteorite, whose sonic boom damaged buildings and injured more than a thousand last week, is not the first to shatter a human life. (See pictures: "Meteorite Hits Russia.")

Take the true story of Ann Hodges, the only confirmed person in history to have been hit by a meteorite.

On a clear afternoon in Sylacauga, Alabama (see map), in late November 1954, Ann was napping on her couch, covered by quilts, when a softball-size hunk of black rock broke through the ceiling, bounced off a radio, and hit her in the thigh, leaving a pineapple-shaped bruise.

Ann's story is particularly rare because most meteorites usually fall into the ocean or strike one of Earth's vast, remote places, according to Michael Reynolds, a Florida State College astronomer and author of the book Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors & Meteorites.

"Think of how many people have lived throughout human history," Reynolds said.

"You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time."

Out of This World

Before the meteorite slammed into Ann's living room, people in tiny Sylacauga and across eastern Alabama had reported seeing "a bright reddish light like a Roman candle trailing smoke," according to the web publication "The Day the Meteorite Fell in Sylacauga," which was produced by the Alabama Museum of Natural History in 2010.

Others saw "a fireball, like a gigantic welding arc," accompanied by tremendous explosions and a brown cloud. (See video: "Predicting Meteorite Impacts.")

A government geologist working in a nearby quarry was called to the scene and determined the object was a meteorite, but not everyone in town was so sure, according to the museum publication. Many thought a plane had crashed—others suspected the Soviets.

So many people flocked to Hodges's house that when her husband Eugene Hodges, a utility worker, returned home from work, he had to push gawkers off the porch to get inside.

Ann was so overwhelmed by the crowd that she was transferred to a hospital. With Cold War paranoia running high, the Sylacauga police chief confiscated the black rock and turned it over to the Air Force.

After the Air Force confirmed it was a meteorite, the question then was what to do with it. The public demanded the space rock be returned to Ann, and she agreed.

"I feel like the meteorite is mine," she said, according to the museum. "I think God intended it for me. After all, it hit me!"

Simple Country People

But there was a hitch. Ann and Eugene were renters, and their landlady, a recently widowed woman named Birdie Guy, wanted the meteorite for herself.

Guy obtained a lawyer and sued, claiming the rock was hers since it had fallen on her property. The law was actually on her side, but public opinion wasn't.

Guy settled out of court, giving up her claim to the meteorite in exchange for $500. Eugene was convinced the couple could make big money off the rock and turned down a modest offer from the Smithsonian.

But no one bit, and so the Hodges donated the meteorite to the natural history museum in 1956, where it's still on display. (Related: "Meteorites: Best Places to See Them Up Close.")

Ann later suffered a nervous breakdown, and in 1964 she and Eugene separated. She died in 1972 at 52 of kidney failure at a Sylacaugan nursing home.

Eugene suspects the meteorite and frenzy that followed had taken its toll on Ann. He said "she never did recover," according to the museum.

Ann "wasn't a person who sought out the limelight," added museum director Randy Mecredy. "The Hodges were just simple country people, and I really think that all the attention was her downfall."

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Armstrong Snubs Offer From Anti-Doping Officials

Lance Armstrong has turned down what may be his last chance at reducing his lifetime sporting ban.

Armstrong has already admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey to a career fueled by doping and deceit. But to get a break from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, all he had to do was tell his story to those who police sports doping. The deadline was today, and Armstrong now says he won't do it.

"For several reasons, Lance will not participate in USADA's efforts to selectively conduct American prosecutions that only demonize selected individuals while failing to address the 95 percent of the sport over which USADA has no jurisdiction," said Tim Herman, Armstrong's longtime lawyer. "Lance is willing to cooperate fully and has been very clear: He will be the first man through the door, and once inside will answer every question, at an international tribunal formed to comprehensively address pro cycling."

But the "international tribunal" Armstrong is anxious to cooperate with has one major problem: It doesn't exist.

The UCI, cycling's governing body, has talked about forming a "truth and reconciliation" commission, but the World Anti-Doping Agency has resisted, citing serious concerns about the UCI and its leadership.

READ MORE: Armstrong Admits to Doping

Livestrong, Elizabeth Kreutz/AP Photo

READ MORE: Lance Armstrong May Have Lied to Winfrey: Investigators

WATCH: Armstrong's Many Denials Caught on Tape

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency officials seemed stunned by Armstrong's decision simply to walk away.

"Over the last few weeks, he [Armstrong] has led us to believe that he wanted to come in and assist USADA, but was worried of potential criminal and civil liability if he did so," said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. "Today, we learned from the media that Mr. Armstrong is choosing not to come in and be truthful and that he will not take the opportunity to work toward righting his wrongs in sport."

Armstrong's ongoing saga plays out amid a backdrop of serious legal problems.

Sources believe one reason Armstrong wants to testify to an international tribunal, rather than USADA, is because perjury charges don't apply if Armstrong lies to a foreign agency, they told ABC News.

While Armstrong has admitted doping, he has not given up any details, including the people and methods required to pull off one of the greatest scandals in all of sport.

Armstrong is facing several multimillion-dollar lawsuits right now, but his biggest problems may be on the horizon. As ABC News first reported, a high-level source said a criminal investigation is ongoing. And the Department of Justice also reportedly is considering joining a whistleblower lawsuit claiming the U.S. Postal Service was defrauded out of millions of dollars paid to sponsor Armstrong's cycling team.

READ MORE: 10 Scandalous Public Confessions

PHOTOS: Olympic Doping Scandals: Past and Present

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Today on New Scientist: 19 February 2013

Doctors would tax sugary drinks to combat obesity

Hiking the price of fizzy drinks would cut consumption and so help fight obesity, urges the British Academy of Medical Royal Colleges

Space station's dark matter hunter coy about findings

Researchers on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which sits above the International Space Station, have collected their first results - but won't reveal them for two weeks

Huge telescopes could spy alien oxygen

Hunting for oxygen in the atmospheres of distant exoplanets is a tough job, but a new wave of giant telescopes should be up to the task

Evolution's detectives: Closing in on missing links

Technology is taking the guesswork out of finding evolution's turning points, from the first fish with legs to our own recent forebears, says Jeff Hecht

Moody Mercury shows its hidden colours

False-colour pictures let us see the chemical and physical landscape of the normally beige planet closest to the sun

LHC shuts down to prepare for peak energy in 2015

Over the next two years, engineers will be giving the Large Hadron Collider the makeover it needs to reach its maximum design energy

Insert real news events into your mobile game

From meteor airbursts to footballing fracas, mobile games could soon be brimming with news events that lend them more currency

3D-printing pen turns doodles into sculptures

The 3Doodle, which launched on Kickstarter today, lets users draw 3D structures in the air which solidify almost instantly

We need to rethink how we name exoplanets

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Football: LionsXII impress Fandi in 2-2 draw with Johor

SINGAPORE: Fandi Ahmad was left shocked and impressed after his star-studded Johor Darul Takzim were forced to share the spoils at a packed Larkin Stadium, as they drew 2-2 with an impressive LionsXII side in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) on Tuesday night.

Fandi told reporters after the match that he and his players were shocked that the LionsXII had opted to go on the offensive from the start, saying that he had expected V Sundramoorthy's side to adopt "a more counterattacking strategy".

"This has been the best I've seen the LionsXII play," praised Fandi. "I'm also quite puzzled why my players couldn't rise to the occasion tonight and perform."

Indeed, there was a very different look to the LionsXII on Tuesday as they refused to sit back in the first half and often pressed forward in numbers in search of goals.

The LionsXII hardly looked in awe of Johor - who boast the likes of former Lazio player Simone Del Nero and former Spanish international Daniel Guiza - and impressed with fluid passing and hard tackling.

Their desire to draw first blood did not take long to pay dividends when Hariss Harun - who was playing his first match since he suffered a broken fibula in November - blasted the visitors into the lead after four minutes.

The Larkin Stadium was thoroughly silenced by the midfield lynchpin, but it was only for a moment.

Just six minutes later, Johor's livewire midfielder Nurul Azwan lost his marker and sent a low cross into the area which Del Nero superbly headed past goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud to score his first club goal.

Eager to reclaim the initiative, Sundram's charges continued to attack and were rewarded in the 37th minute when Baihakki Khaizan scored with a spectacular diving header following a free-kick.

The match continued to be played at a frenetic pace even after the restart and Fandi soon brought on even more firepower in Safee Sali.

With Safee, Guiza and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha now in attack, the LionsXII found themselves pegged back and digging deep to defend.

Fandi's decision to overload the attack eventually paid off as Norshahrul shrugged off tired LionsXII defenders and fired home Johor's equaliser from 20 yards out.

Despite not bagging the win, Sundram was satisfied with the result, praising his players for the tenacity they displayed.

He said: "I'm very happy the players fought for every ball tonight. The MSL is a very physical league and we've got to be able to fight hard on the field. Player to player, I'm very pleased that our boys can compete against Fandi's."


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White House tries to keep immigration on track

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House sought to keep delicate immigration negotiations on track Tuesday as a key Republican senator further distanced himself from a draft bill President Barack Obama's aides are readying in case congressional talks crumble.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's office said Obama's plan "injected additional partisanship into an already difficult process." The White House, following the weekend leak of its draft legislation, insisted the president wants the bipartisan Senate group of which Rubio is a member to propose its own bill instead.

Obama spoke with Rubio on Tuesday to reiterate his commitment to the Senate process, but to make clear that he had his own legislation ready, the White House said. The president also called Republicans Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, two other GOP lawmakers involved in the immigration negotiations.

"It is, by far, the president's preference that the Senate process move forward, that the bipartisan group of eight have success, and that they produce a bill that wins the support of Democrats and Republicans in Senate," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Senate aides said privately that bipartisan negotiations are in a good place and did not feel as though the disclosure of details in Obama's draft bill would disrupt their progress. In fact, Obama's backup bill could end up spurring GOP lawmakers to rally behind a similar congressional plan rather than support legislation attached to the president.

While they differ on some key details, both sides are contemplating legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S., tighten border security, crack down on businesses that employ illegal workers and strengthen the legal immigration system.

Rubio, a rising Republican star and favorite of his party's conservative wing, has particular incentive to disown Obama's proposals.

As one of his party's leading voices on immigration, Rubio will be called on to sell other conservatives on any deal and knows that doing so will be harder if that deal has the president's name attached to it. He'll also have to convince Republicans that a bipartisan Senate agreement would be more conservative than what Obama would propose on his own.

Rubio's office, trying to further distance itself from the White House, insisted that the senator's team had not been in talks with the administration on immigration. But Rubio spokesman Alex Conant later backed away from that statement after senior administration officials said representatives from Rubio's office had been part of five bipartisan immigration meetings with the White House.

The White House has insisted it did not intentionally leak details of its immigration plan, which circulated widely at key government agencies. Top Obama aides tried to clear up the mess over the weekend, making apologetic calls to the offices of the eight senators at the center of the Capitol Hill negotiations.

Obama officials say the documents represent draft proposals, not a final bill. The president and his aides have repeatedly said publicly that the White House was readying legislation and would submit it to Congress if the Senate process stalls.

The draft White House proposal and the principles outlined by the Senate group overlap in many areas, though there are some key differences.

The administration's draft proposal would create a visa for those in the country illegally and allow them to become legal permanent residents within about eight years as part of a broader pathway to citizenship. The Senate group is looking at a 10-year timeline before people already in the U.S. illegally could get green cards.

While Obama's proposal calls for more funding for securing the border, it does not make border security a pre-condition for opening a pathway to citizenship. The Senate group's principles would require a border security trigger, though it's unclear how they would define a secure border.

Rubio's office has also criticized the president's proposals for not including a guest worker program or a plan for dealing with the future flow of immigrants.

Officials say the White House has not set a deadline for when the president would choose to abandon the Senate process and send his bill to Capitol Hill. Senate lawmakers have raised the prospect of drafting a bill next month.

Hanging over the entire immigration debate in Washington is a changed political landscape that gives Hispanics more influence in national politics than ever before. Hispanics made up 10 percent of the electorate in the November presidential election and Obama won more two-thirds of their votes, causing many Republican lawmakers to rethink their opposition to immigration reform.

Immigration advocates have vowed to keep reminding GOP lawmakers of the growing political power of Hispanic voters.

"You can choose not to do it, you can choose inaction, but keep in mind that the Latino community is not going to forget," said Eliseo Medina, an immigration advocate and labor leader at the Service Employees International Union.

"If the Senate blocks it, then get prepared for 2014," he added, referring to next year's congressional elections.


Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.


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