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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Iran’s Ahmadinejad Visits Egypt, Signaling Realignment

Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began today a historic visit to Egypt, where no Iranian head of state had gone since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the two nations broke off diplomatic relations. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former president and an ally to the U.S. and Israel, stood in the region against Iran’s influence. New President Mohamed Morsi, who was elected as the candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood, welcomed Ahmadinejad on a red carpet, saluting him with a kiss on each cheek. The images suggest a thawing of the relations between the two nations and may cause concern to U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration as well as the newly-elected coalition government of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Morsi and Ahmadinejad discussed Syria’s civil war and “ways to strengthen relations” between their countries.

Obama Calls for Temporary Spending Cuts to Head off Sequester

Acknowledging there is little chance the U.S. Congress will pass a budget before March 1, President Barack Obama called today for “a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms” to prevent $85 billion in automatic government spending reductions that may damage the economy. “There is no reason that the jobs of thousands of Americans who work in national security or education or clean energy—not to mention the growth of the entire economy—should be put in jeopardy,” said Obama at a press conference. His request for more taxes met with immediate resistance from the Republican party, who balked at the thought of looking for more revenues a month after they agreed to increase marginal tax rates on high earners. The news came on the same day the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected an $845 billion deficit for this fiscal year ending September 30, after four years of deficits above $1 trillion. Even so, the CBO warned the deficit would balloon by $3 trillion above last August’s projections because many Bush era tax cuts were made permanent in the last fiscal cliff negotiations.

France President Warns U.K. There Will Be No “a la Carte Europe”

French President François Hollande called today for a “multi-faceted Europe which would be neither a two-speed Europe nor an à la carte Europe” in remarks directed at U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. This comes days after Cameron vowed to either renegotiate his country’s membership conditions to the European Union (EU) or call for an “EU: in or out” referendum by 2015. Hollande’s comments were part of a speech he gave at the EU Parliament today before a summit that is sure to turn into a showdown over a new seven-year EU budget. While Britain and Germany are asking for spending cuts, Hollande is hoping to protect the common agricultural policy, which represents 40 percent of the budget and of which France is the largest beneficiary. EU leaders will meet Thursday and Friday to try to find an agreement, a task that may prove difficult. “I’m told that can’t happen with the United Kingdom,” said Hollande. “But why should one country decide for the other 26?”

Same-Sex Marriage Passes U.K. Lower House

Britain’s House of Commons approved today a bill that aims at legalizing same-sex marriage by 400 to 175. Proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron’s conservative group, the legislative project faced fierce resistance coming from within the party, with a greater number of Tories voting against it (134) than in favor (126). The debates prompted pundits to call it a “grassroots rebellion,” fueled by the Church of England and the Catholic Church.  Even so, the win is overwhelming and was deemed a “landmark for equality in Britain” by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, the centrist group that is part of the governing coalition. The bill must now go through a committee stage, during which Members of Parliament will take evidence from outside experts, debate, and propose amendments. It will then go to the nation’s upper house, the House of Lords, to officially become law.

Learning from Urchins to Capture CO2

Urchins use nickel to turn carbon dioxide into their exoskeletons, a trick that could help create a new technique to capture the gas that has contributed to increasing the greenhouse effect. Researchers at Newcastly University, who published their findings in the journal Catalysis Science and Technology, showed nickel particles completely removed CO2 from a water solution. “You bubble CO2 through the water in which you have nickel nanoparticles and you are trapping much more carbon than you would normally—and then you can easily turn it into calcium carbonate,” Lidija Siller from Newcastle University told BBC News. “It seems too good to be true, but it works.” Many underwater species such as clams and oysters have the ability to turn CO2 into calcium carbonate, which they then use to build their shells.

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