Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing



































IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.












Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.












Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"


















































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There is need to look at factors holding corporate women back: minister






SINGAPORE: Law and Foreign Minister K Shanmugam said there is a need to look at the factors that are holding women back from doing well in the corporate sector to see what can be done.

Mr Shanmugam was speaking to Channel NewsAsia on Saturday after a closed-door women's dialogue in his constituency Nee Soon GRC, in the lead-up to International Women's Day on 8 March.

He said while the labour force participation rate for women in Singapore is good, the board representation of women is "very low", at seven per cent. In addition, he noted the representation of women in executive committees in Singapore companies is 15 per cent.

He said women have done well in the professional sectors such as law and medicine, but their performance in the corporate sector has been held back by the "usual factors", such as having to juggle family and work as well as gender bias.

He said these issues which hold women back from reaching the very top are particularly relevant.

A resident suggested lowering the foreign domestic levy for more households - other than those with dependents - as a way to encourage more women to return to the workforce.

Mr Shanmugam said: "We want to reduce the growth of foreign workers, which would include house help, maids. If we liberalise this sector, the numbers will go up, and the overall number of foreigners here, which includes nurses, construction workers, maids - we have about 200,000 maids in Singapore - that number will go up as well.

"I think it's a conversation we have to have with Singaporeans to say in which areas it can go up, by how much and yet take into account the overall public sentiment that you want foreign worker participation to go down."

In its recent Budget announcement, the government reduced the levy to S$120, from S$170, for families with dependents such as children and elderly parents.

- CNA/xq



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Redflex execs out as scandal grows in red light camera firm









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


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


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








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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


dkidwell@tribune.com





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Black Hole Spins at Nearly the Speed of Light


A superfast black hole nearly 60 million light-years away appears to be pushing the ultimate speed limit of the universe, a new study says.

For the first time, astronomers have managed to measure the rate of spin of a supermassive black hole—and it's been clocked at 84 percent of the speed of light, or the maximum allowed by the law of physics.

"The most exciting part of this finding is the ability to test the theory of general relativity in such an extreme regime, where the gravitational field is huge, and the properties of space-time around it are completely different from the standard Newtonian case," said lead author Guido Risaliti, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and INAF-Arcetri Observatory in Italy. (Related: "Speedy Star Found Near Black Hole May Test Einstein Theory.")

Notorious for ripping apart and swallowing stars, supermassive black holes live at the center of most galaxies, including our own Milky Way. (See black hole pictures.)

They can pack the gravitational punch of many million or even billions of suns—distorting space-time in the region around them, not even letting light to escape their clutches.

Galactic Monster

The predatory monster that lurks at the core of the relatively nearby spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is estimated to weigh in at about two million times the mass of the sun, and stretches some 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) across-more than eight times the distance between Earth and the moon, Risaliti said. (Also see "Black Hole Blast Biggest Ever Recorded.")

Risaliti and colleagues' unprecedented discovery was made possible thanks to the combined observations from NASA's high-energy x-ray detectors on its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) probe and the European Space Agency's low-energy, x-ray-detecting XMM-Newton space observatory.

Astronomers detected x-ray particle remnants of stars circling in a pancake-shaped accretion disk surrounding the black hole, and used this data to help determine its rate of spin.

By getting a fix on this spin speed, astronomers now hope to better understand what happens inside giant black holes as they gravitationally warp space-time around themselves.

Even more intriguing to the research team is that this discovery will shed clues to black hole's past, and the evolution of its surrounding galaxy.

Tracking the Universe's Evolution

Supermassive black holes have a large impact in the evolution of their host galaxy, where a self-regulating process occurs between the two structures.

"When more stars are formed, they throw gas into the black hole, increasing its mass, but the radiation produced by this accretion warms up the gas in the galaxy, preventing more star formation," said Risaliti.

"So the two events—black hole accretion and formation of new stars—interact with each other."

Knowing how fast black holes spin may also help shed light how the entire universe evolved. (Learn more about the origin of the universe.)

"With a knowledge of the average spin of galaxies at different ages of the universe," Risaliti said, "we could track their evolution much more precisely than we can do today."


Read More..

Sequester: What Will Happen, What Won't Happen












When it comes to critical elements of the sequester timeline, not much is known -- because federal agencies have been tight lipped.


Asked when specific effects will be felt, officials at three federal departments declined to discuss the timing of sequester cuts and their consequences. Some departments were waiting for President Obama's Friday night sequester order and subsequent guidance they expected to receive from the Office of Management and Budget before talking about what would and wouldn't happen and when.


Read more: 57 Terrible Consequences of the Sequester


"There's no calendar of dates for specific actions or cuts on specific dates," Department of Health and Human Services public affairs officer Bill Hall told ABC News. "Again, these cuts need to be applied equally across all agency programs, activities and projects. There will be wide variation on when impacts will occur depending on a given program."


Some cuts won't be felt for a while because they have to do with government layoffs, which require 30 days notice, in most cases.


For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration won't begin layoffs until at least April 7, one FAA official estimated.


But some cuts don't involve furloughs, and could conceivably be felt immediately.


The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the timeline of layoffs to cybersecurity contractors and first responders funded through states, as well as limited Coast Guard operations and cuts to FEMA disaster relief.


The Department of Housing and Urban Development said it could not comment on cuts to housing vouchers, rent assistance for AIDS patients, maintenance for housing projects.






Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Imag











Sequestration Deadline: Obama Meets With Leaders Watch Video











Sequester Countdown: The Reality of Budget Cuts Watch Video





The Department of Health and Human Services declined to discuss the specific timing of cuts to Head Start services, low-income mental-health services, AIDS/HIV testing, and inpatient substance-abuse treatment.


Read More: Automatic Cuts Could Hurt on Local Level


So even as the sequester hits, we still don't know when some of its worst effects will be felt.


Here's what we do know:


What Will Happen Saturday


      Air Force Training. At a briefing Friday, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned that "effective immediately, Air Force flying hours will be cut back."


More from Carter, via ABC News' Luis Martinez: "What does that mean for national security? What it means is that as the year goes on, apart from Afghanistan, apart from nuclear deterrence through two missions we are strictly protecting, the readiness of the other units to respond to other contingencies will gradually decline. That's not safe. And that we're trying to minimize that in every way we possibly can."


      Closed Doors at the Capitol. ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports that Capitol Police issued a memo announcing it would have to close some entrances to the Capitol, writing: "At this time it is anticipated that the U.S. Capitol Police will be required to close some entrance doors and exterior checkpoints, and either suspend or modify the hours of operation for some of the U.S. Capitol Complex posts located inside and outside of the CVC and Office Buildings."


      Capitol Janitor Furloughs. After President Obama warned that janitors at the Capitol will be furloughed, ABC News' Sunlen Miller reported that was not entirely true: The Senate sergeant at arms, Terrance Gainer, told ABC News that no full-time salaried Capitol Police officers would face furloughs or layoffs at this time. They will, however, see a "substantial reduction in overtime," Gainer told ABC News.


      Delayed Deployment for USS Truman Aircraft Carrier. This has already happened, the Associated Press reported Friday morning: "One of the Navy's premiere warships, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, sits pier-side in Norfolk, Va., its tour of duty delayed. The carrier and its 5,000-person crew were to leave for the Persian Gulf on Feb. 8, along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg."






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






















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
















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












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












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












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












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











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













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


















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


















































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British PM under pressure after election rout






EASTLEIGH, United Kingdom: British Prime Minister David Cameron was under pressure on Friday after his Conservatives were beaten into third place in a key election by his scandal-hit coalition partners and a eurosceptic party.

Cameron admitted it was a "disappointing" night for his party after the Liberal Democrats held the parliamentary seat of Eastleigh in southern England in a contest billed as the most important British by-election in a generation.

The Conservatives had hoped at least to come in second but they were condemned to third place by the anti-European Union and anti-immigration UK Independence Party, which registered its best ever performance.

The vote was sparked by the resignation of disgraced former energy minister Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat who has pleaded guilty to trying to avoid a speeding fine.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whose own position as Lib Dem leader had been on the line after a collapse in the party's poll ratings, said the "stunning victory" showed they "can be a party of government and still win".

UKIP leader Nigel Farage insisted the party's best ever result in a British election was not a "protest vote".

Cameron said he was "confident" the Conservatives could win back support at the next general election, which is due in 2015.

"It is a disappointing result for the Conservative party but it's clear that in mid-term by-elections people want to register a protest," the prime minister told the BBC.

The returning officer announced shortly after 0200 GMT on Friday that Lib Dem candidate Mike Thornton had secured 13,342 votes, 1,771 more than UKIP representative Diane James.

Tory nominee Maria Hutchings limped in third with 10,559 votes in a seat that the Conservatives held as recently as 1994, while the main opposition Labour party's candidate John O'Farrell was fourth with 4,088.

The Lib Dems overcame not only the Huhne scandal, but also an ongoing row surrounding the party's handling of claims that its former chief executive Chris Rennard molested female party members.

A jubilant Clegg told supporters in Eastleigh that they had won the election in "exceptionally difficult circumstances" and that "our opponents have thrown everything at us".

"Two and a half years ago when we entered into coalition with the Conservatives our critics said we were going to lose our soul. Last night, we proved those critics are emphatically wrong," Clegg told supporters.

The coalition has brought in a series of unpopular austerity measures to tackle Britain's record deficit, but it is the centrist Lib Dems who have taken a far bigger hit in opinion polls than the centre-right Conservatives.

UKIP's James said her second-place finish was a "humongous shock" that showed the party was now a major force in British politics.

Farage -- a member of the European parliament who had reportedly considered standing in Eastleigh himself before backing out -- said he was confident UKIP would win seats in the 2015 general election.

"If the Conservatives hadn't split our vote we would have won," he told the BBC.

He said Cameron had alienated voters by "talking about gay marriage, wind turbines, unlimited immigration from India (and) he wants Turkey to join the European Union."

Senior Conservative David Davis had earlier warned that third place for the party would be a "crisis" that would place serious doubt over Cameron's leadership.

But Cameron rejected the claims and dismissed talk that the party would now lurch to the right.

The result came despite Cameron's pledge in January to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the European Union and then put British membership of the bloc to a referendum by the end of 2017.

The vow was supposed to head off both the threat from UKIP and the increasingly noisy eurosceptic wing of his own Conservative party, but appeared not to have resonated with voters.

- AFP/al



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









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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preckwinkle says that's OK with her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jebyrne@tribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne



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Scarred Duckbill Dinosaur Escaped T. Rex Attack


A scar on the face of a duckbill dinosaur received after a close encounter with a Tyrannosaurus rex is the first clear case of a healed dinosaur wound, scientists say.

The finding, detailed in the current issue of the journal Cretaceous Research, also reveals that the healing properties of dinosaur skin were likely very similar to that of modern reptiles.

The lucky dinosaur was an adult Edmontosaurus annectens, a species of duckbill dinosaur that lived in what is today the Hell Creek region of South Dakota about 65 to 67 million years ago. (Explore a prehistoric time line.)

A teardrop-shaped patch of fossilized skin about 5 by 5 inches (12 by 14 centimeters) that was discovered with the creature's bones and is thought to have come from above its right eye, includes an oval-shaped section that is incongruous with the surrounding skin. (Related: "'Dinosaur Mummy' Found; Have Intact Skin, Tissue.")

Bruce Rothschild, a professor of medicine at the University of Kansas and Northeast Ohio Medical University, said the first time he laid eyes on it, it was "quite clear" to him that he was looking at an old wound.

"That was unequivocal," said Rothschild, who is a co-author of the new study.

A Terrible Attacker

The skull of the scarred Edmontosaurus also showed signs of trauma, and from the size and shape of the marks on the bone, Rothschild and fellow co-author Robert DePalma, a paleontologist at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History in Florida, speculate the creature was attacked by a T. rex.

It's likely, though still unproven, that both the skin wound and the skull injury were sustained during the same attack, the scientists say. The wound "was large enough to have been a claw or a tooth," Rothschild said.

Rothschild and DePalma also compared the dinosaur wound to healed wounds on modern reptiles, including iguanas, and found the scar patterns to be nearly identical.

It isn't surprising that the wounds would be similar, said paleontologist David Burnham of the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, since dinosaurs and lizards are distant cousins.

"That's kind of what we would expect," said Burnham, who was not involved in the study. "It's what makes evolution work—that we can depend on this."

Dog-Eat-Dog

Phil Bell, a paleontologist with the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative in Canada who also was not involved in the research, called the Edmontosaurus fossil "a really nicely preserved animal with a very obvious scar."

He's not convinced, however, that it was caused by a predator attack. The size of the scar is relatively small, Bell said, and would also be consistent with the skin being pierced in some other accident such as a fall.

"But certainly the marks that you see on the skull, those are [more consistent] with Tyrannosaur-bitten bones," he added.

Prior to the discovery, scientists knew of one other case of a dinosaur wound. But in that instance, it was an unhealed wound that scientists think was inflicted by scavengers after the creature was already dead.

It's very likely that this particular Edmontosaurus wasn't the only dinosaur to sport scars, whether from battle wounds or accidents, Bell added.

"I would imagine just about every dinosaur walking around had similar scars," he said. (Read about "Extreme Dinosaurs" in National Geographic magazine.)

"Tigers and lions have scarred noses, and great white sharks have got dings on their noses and nips taken out of their fins. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and [Edmontosaurus was] unfortunately in the line of fire from some pretty big and nasty predators ... This one was just lucky to get away."

Mysterious Escape

Just how Edmontosaurus survived a T. rex attack is still unclear. "Escape from a T. rex is something that we wouldn't think would happen," Burnham said.

Duckbill dinosaurs, also known as Hadrosaurs, were not without defenses. Edmontosaurus, for example, grew up to 30 feet (9 meters) in length, and could swipe its hefty tail or kick its legs to fell predators.

Furthermore, they were fast. "Hadrosaurs like Edmontosaurus had very powerful [running] muscles, which would have made them difficult to catch once they'd taken flight," Bell said.

Duckbills were also herd animals, so maybe this one escaped with help from neighbors. Or perhaps the T. rex that attacked it was young. "There's something surrounding this case that we don't know yet," Burnham said.

Figuring out the details of the story is part of what makes paleontology exciting, he added. "We construct past lives. We can go back into a day in the life of this animal and talk about an attack and [about] it getting away. That's pretty cool."


Read More..

Sequester Set to Trigger Billions in Cuts











Nobody likes the sequester.


Even the word is enough to send shivers of fiscal panic, or sheer political malaise, down the spines of seasoned politicians and news reporters. And today, the sequester will almost certainly happen, a year and a half after its inception as an intentionally unpalatable event amid the stalemate of the debt-limit crisis in 2011.


Automatic budget cuts will be triggered across federal agencies, as President Obama will be required to order sequestration into effect before midnight Friday night. The federal bureaucracy will implement its various plans to save the money it's required to save.


Now that the sequester will probably happen, here are some questions and answers about it:


1. HOW BIG IS IT?


The cuts were originally slated for $109 billion this year, but after the fiscal-cliff deal postponed the sequester for two months by finding alternate savings, the sequester will amount to $85 billion over the remainder of the year. Over the rest of the year, nondefense programs will be cut by nine percent, and defense programs will be cut by 13 percent.


If carried out over 10 years (as designed), the sequester will amount to $1.2 trillion in total.


2. WHAT WILL BE CUT, SPARED?


Most government programs will be cut, including both defense and nondefense spending, with the cuts distributed evenly (by dollar amount) over those two categories.




Some vital domestic entitlements, however, will be spared. Social Security checks won't shrink; nor will Veterans Administration programs. Medicare benefits won't get cut, but payments to providers will shrink by two percent. The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), food stamps, Pell grants, and Medicaid will all be shielded from the sequester.


But lots of things will get cut. The Obama administration has warned that a host of calamities will befall vulnerable segments of the population.


3. WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO BAD?


Questions persist over whether or not it really does.


The sequester will mean such awful things because it forces agencies to cut things indiscriminately, instead of simply stripping money from their overall budgets.


But some Republicans, including Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, have suggested that federal agencies have plenty of flexibility to implement these cuts while avoiding the worst of the purported consequences. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal accused President Obama of trying to "distort" the severity of the sequester. The federal government will still spend more money than it did last year, GOP critics of sequester alarmism have pointed out.


The White House tells a different story.


According to the Office of Management and Budget, the sequestration law forces agency heads to cut the same percentage from each program. If that program is for TSA agents checking people in at airports, the sequester law doesn't care, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano can't do anything about it.


Agency heads do have some authority to "reprogram" funds, rearranging their money to circumvent the bad effects. But an OMB official told ABC News that "these flexibilities are limited and do not provide significant relief due to the rigid nature of the way in which sequestration is required by law to be implemented."


4. WHEN WILL THE WORST OF IT START?


Not until April -- but some of the cuts could be felt before then.






Read More..