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OK, we've checked the date, and it's April 2, but this story from the Pacific island nation of Samoa left us scratching our heads: Samoa Air says it's charging passengers based on what they weigh.

Polio is on the verge of being eliminated. Last year there were just over 200 cases of polio, and they occurred in just two remote parts of the world — northern Nigeria and the rugged Afghan-Pakistan border region.

A new $5.5 billion plan being pushed by the World Health Organization strives to eliminate polio entirely, phase out vaccination campaigns and secure polio vaccine stockpiles in case the virus somehow manages to re-emerge.

If the effort is successful, polio would be just the second disease in human history, after smallpox, to be eliminated by medical science.

How Close Is Doomsday?

Apr 2, 2013

How close are we to the end? How close are we to being among the last humans to ever live? Depending on who you are — your religion, politics, relative degree of pessimism or optimism — that question is bound to bring up images of some particular kind of cataclysm. It could be an all-out nuclear exchange or a climate change-driven mass extinction. But what if there was a way of answering the doomsday question in the most generic way possible.

The federal criminal complaint against New York politicians arrested after an FBI sting was a reminder of how often real-life political scandals can read like the imaginings of Hollywood screenwriters.

More than 1 million people are dying prematurely every year from air pollution in China, according to a new analysis.

"This is the highest toll in the world and it really reflects the very high levels of air pollution that exist in China today," says Robert O'Keefe of the Health Effects Institute in Boston, who presented the findings in Beijing this week.

We told you on Monday about the death of one of the stars of the MTV reality show Buckwild. The Kanawha County, W.Va., Sheriff's Office said there were no signs of foul play in the death of Shain Gandee, 21, his uncle David Gandee, 48, and a third, unidentified person.

An obscure tax code provision crafted for drug dealers is giving state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries a headache.

In Colorado, federal income tax rates for dispensaries can soar as high as 70 percent because of a tax code section that does not allow businesses to claim certain deductions.

The section is known as 280E, and it was originally written for illegal drug traffickers. But today it's a thorn in the side of licensed dispensary owners like Erica Freeman.

The Alawites of Syria were a poor, little-known Shiite minority until longtime dictator Hafez Assad, a member of the sect, rose to power in 1970. His son, President Bashar Assad, is now fighting to maintain that power in a country that has risen up against him. Now, even some Syrian Alawites say they are willing to denounce the regime, despite the risks.

A recent gathering in Cairo was much like other conferences hosted by the Syrian opposition — a flurry of activity in the hotel lobby, late-night conversations and lots of cigarettes.

Tuareg bands are natural rockers. These desert nomads have a history of harsh physical challenges, long separations, nostalgia and rebellion — elements that give their music gritty authenticity. There's something about their ambling, tuneful songs that fits perfectly with the bite and snarl of electric guitars.

The daughter of Florida political legend Bob Graham has announced she will run for Congress next year, taking on incumbent Republican Steve Southerland.

Gwen Graham, a lawyer and administrator in the Leon County school district, made the announcement Tuesday morning. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Congress is a dysfunctional mess," Graham wrote on her campaign website.

Could Wind Turbines Be Toxic To The Ear?

Apr 2, 2013

The U.S. is embracing wind energy, with wind turbines making up half of the new electricity added to the power grid last year. But a smattering of people who live near the turbines say they're a nuisance — and making them ill.

Update at 8:41 p.m. ET Sanford Wins Runoff

Former Gov. Mark Sanford, whose political career was derailed four years ago by his admission of an extramarital affair, has won the GOP nomination for the U.S. House seat he once held, reports The Associated Press. Note at 8:10 a.m. Wednesday: Sanford won with about 57 percent of the vote. (We mistakenly said earlier that he won "by" about 57 percent.)

The devastating drought in the Midwest last summer is a story often told by the numbers, with statistics on large crop failures, days without rain and thousands of parched acres.

This story is also about a tree — a bur oak in rural Columbia, Mo., that everyone calls "The Big Tree." Although it's survived all kinds of punishments during its 350 years on the prairie, last year's record drought was especially tough.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev appears increasingly isolated from the centers of power surrounding President Vladimir Putin.

Analysts say Medvedev is the target of a campaign to wreck his reputation and drive him from office. It's a risky situation for the former president, who was once regarded as Putin's partner.

The attacks have come from many directions. One of the harshest was an anonymous, documentary-style film that was posted on the Internet in January.

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Gone are the days of serving up tater tots and French toast sticks to students. Here are the days of carrot sticks and quinoa.

New nutritional guidelines, announced in 2012, require public school lunchrooms to offer more whole grains, low-fat milk and fewer starchy sides like french fries. But short of stationing grandmothers in every cafeteria, how do you ensure that students actually eat the fruits and veggies they're being offered?

Kacey Musgraves is something of an anomaly. A Texas native in her mid-20s, she fits most easily into the contemporary "country" category, but the work she co-writes with a variety of collaborators is really a throwback to an earlier era of singer-songwriters — as much influenced by rock and folk as by country.

The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the first U.N. treaty to regulate the estimated $60 billion global arms trade on Tuesday.

The goal of the Arms Trade Treaty, which the U.N. has sought for over a decade, according to The Associated Press, is to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters and organized crime.

The vote on the treaty was 154-3, with 23 abstentions.

You may best know the guinea pig as a nervous little pet that lives in a cage and eats alfalfa pellets.

Now, the rodents are increasingly showing up on plates in the United States.

"After nearly half a century of research in planetary and climate science for NASA, James E. Hansen is retiring on Wednesday to pursue his passion for climate activism without the hindrances that come with government employment," The New York Times' Dot Earth blog writes.

Spaniards wary of trusting their life savings to their country's shaky banking system can now buy a mattress that has an armored safe equipped with a keypad combination lock hidden in one end.

A task force launched by the National Rifle Association after the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., has come back with a report that recommends the creation of programs that give additional weapons training to school resource officers as well as "selected and designated school personnel" who could then carry arms.

Born in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1984, photographer Farzana Wahidy was only a teenager when the Taliban took over the country in 1996. At age 13 she was beaten in the street for not wearing a burqa, she recalls, and she describes those years as a "very closed, very dark time." To carry a camera would have been unthinkable.

Health plan deductibles keep getting higher — the proportion of workers with a deductible that topped $1,000 for single coverage nearly tripled in the past five years, to 34 percent.

For Women, No Straight Road To Success

Apr 2, 2013

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New York State Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, was led from his Queens home in handcuffs Tuesday morning after being arrested for allegedly trying to buy his way on to the Republican ticket in this year's New York City mayoral election.

Also arrested Tuesday: City Councilman Daniel Halloran, a Republican, and four other local politicians (also Republicans) from the New York metropolitan area, who stand accused of conspiring with Smith.

Adding some details to an initiative he announced during his latest State of the Union address, President Obama on Tuesday said that federal agencies plan to spend $100 million to jump start an effort to map the human brain. It's research that could lead to breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of brain disorders.

The government-controlled mortgage giant Fannie Mae, which needed a $116 billion federal bailout after the housing bubble burst in 2007, said Tuesday that it earned a record $7.6 billion in fourth-quarter 2012 and $17.2 billion for the year.

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