Senin, 19 Desember 2011

Google hands out custom Galaxy Nexus to workers

Apparently, all the folks that work for Google in the London and Zurich offices are getting a really nice Christmas gift from the search giant. The workers in the locations are being given a customized version of the Galaxy Nexus smartphone. The customization isn’t just software on the phone. The custom Google phones have a special back plate that has Android and G+ icons all over it.

All the workers had to get in a line to get hands on their new smartphones. I wonder if Google is covering the mobile service as well. It’s not clear at this point if all Google employees everywhere are getting the Galaxy Nexus, but that is the assumption.

The backplate is extra geeky. I wonder how many of these smartphones will turn up on eBay in a few months. These are cool Christmas gifts, yet another reason working at Google would be really cool.

Windows 8 to feature image sign-on system

Using Windows 8 devices could involve signing on by tapping, circling or touching images.

Microsoft has revealed details of a login system for the next version of Windows based around pictures a user stores on a touchscreen device.

Only when parts of an image are tapped or touched in the right order will a user be able to access a device.

Experts said it might stop people using weak passwords but could lead to other loopholes that are harder to solve.
Press here

Microsoft aired the idea of using images to sign on to a device via a blog written by engineers working on Windows 8 - the next version of the Windows operating system expected to be released in late 2012.

Windows 8 is designed for touchscreen devices such as tablets and the novel sign-on systems makes use of the sensitive displays they are likely to sport.

The familiar process of getting to use a desktop PC or laptop by typing in a password made of up lower and upper case letters as well as numbers was felt to be too "cumbersome" for tablets, wrote Microsoft engineer Zach Pace on the blog.

The replacement system proposed by Microsoft employs a picture chosen by a user from their collection of images on a device.

On this image, users are encouraged to tap on, underline or circle the parts that are important to them. The sequence of gestures, including start and end positions and orientation act as a key to unlock the device.
'Interesting and cute'

User-testing suggests that the image-based system can grant access to a portable gadget far faster than was possible through text-based passwords, wrote Mr Pace.

He stressed that the system would work alongside text-based passwords rather than replace them. If a user failed to properly reproduce the correct gestures fives times in a row they would be prompted for the password they set up when they first used the device.

Graham Cluley, senior security researcher at Sophos, said the research was "interesting and cute" but may introduce more security problems than it solves.

It could, he said, make people vulnerable to "shoulder surfing" - a practice better known from cash machines where crooks try to spot a victim's Pin number as they tap it into a number pad.

"With normal password entry, what you're doing is asterisked on the screen," said Mr Cluley. "With this gesture input, folks may find it easier to see the movements you are making."

There might be more value in operating systems encouraging people to use stronger passwords by refusing to let them use dictionary words or ones that are easy to crack, he added.

Smoking linked to skin cancer in women

If you're a woman who smokes and you are looking for another reason to quit, consider this: A new study has found a link between tobacco use and skin cancer.

Those women who smoked at least 20 years were twice as likely to develop squamous cell skin cancer, a less aggressive form of skin cancer than melanoma.

The study found that women who had squamous cell skin cancer were more likely to have smoked than those who were free from the disease. And those who smoked at least 20 years were twice as likely to develop squamous cell skin cancer, a less aggressive form of skin cancer than melanoma.

Men who smoked had a modest risk for the two types of non-melanoma skin cancer -- basal cell and squamous cell cancer -- but the results weren't statistically significant, the study authors noted.

"We don't know why," said study lead author Dana Rollison, referring to the difference between women's and men's risk. Both men and women get a lot of exposure to the sun, the main risk factor for skin cancer, she noted.

But lung cancer research may offer a clue, said Rollison, an associate member in the Moffitt Cancer Center department of cancer epidemiology, in Tampa, Fla. Hormonal differences affecting the metabolization of nicotine and the body's ability to repair damage to lung DNA caused by smoking have been noted before, suggesting that the female hormone estrogen may play a role, she said.

The study, published online in the journal Cancer Causes Control, was done at the Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of South Florida, also in Tampa.

For the study, 383 patients with skin cancer were compared to 315 people without the disease. The participants were asked how much they smoked, when they picked up the habit and the total number of years they'd smoked. A total of 355 men and 343 women were included in the study. All were white, the group most at risk for skin cancer. Risks for both types of non-melanoma skin cancer were analyzed separately, compensating for the presence of other risk factors.

The researchers found that the more people smoked, the more likely they were to have skin cancer, Rollison said. Men who had basal cell skin cancer were significantly more likely to have smoked for at least 20 years than men with no cancer, the study authors noted.

While the study found an association between smoking and skin cancer risk, it did not prove a cause and effect.

Despite the elevated smoking-related risk among women, men overall are more likely to get skin cancer, Rollison noted. She said that "it is possible men's skin is more sensitive to sun exposure than women's."

But another skin cancer expert suggested that men may be less inclined to use sunscreen or other protection when outdoors.

"Although it could just be a genetic difference (between men and women), men tend to have more unprotected sun exposure in their lives," said Dr. Jeffrey Dover, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University Medical School.

Dover said the study findings weren't surprising because "we know cigarette smoke contains carcinogens" and smokers are "blowing the smoke and ash around their faces all day."

The study is important, he added, because "although we have done well, we can do even better" at eliminating smoking as a cause of disease. "This adds more fuel to the idea that smoking has no place in our society."

Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, where about 2 million cases are treated annually, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Squamous cell cancer occurs in the epidermis, the top layer of skin, and can spread to other organs. Basal cell skin cancer occurs in the dermis, the skin layer beneath the epidermis. While it does not spread to other organs, it is far more common than squamous cell cancer, according to the government agency.

More information: To learn more about skin cancer, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute,

Study: Significant Number of Young Americans Get Arrested

By age 23, up to 41 percent of American adolescents and young adults have been arrested at least once for something other than a minor traffic violation, according to a new study published today in the journal Pediatrics.

The study gives no indication of how many of these young people committed violent crimes versus how many were rounded up for more minor infractions, such as disturbing the peace. But the study's authors say such a high percentage of arrests may point to a host of potential health and behavioral problems that put young people at risk for criminal activity.

"An arrest usually happens in context. There are usually other things going on in a kid's life," said study author Robert Brame, professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

In the study, Brame and his colleagues analyzed responses to a national survey of more than 7,000 young people between 1997 and 2008. They found that between 25 and 41 percent of the respondents reported one arrest by the age of 23; 16 to 27 percent of the respondents reported being arrested by age 18.

Not all of the young people remained in the study for all 11 years, accounting for the uncertainty reflected in the wide ranges of the study's findings.

But even at the lowest ends of these ranges, the study's findings were higher than projections of youth arrests made in 1965, the last time scientists studied this topic.

"Those are alarmingly high numbers," said Dr. Eugene Beresin, a child psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School. "There are social, economic, educational and family risks associated with arrests. And we all have to be worried about that."

Although an arrest doesn't necessarily mean a child, teen or young adult is a criminal, previous research has connected run-ins with the law with other problems -- drug addiction, physical or emotional abuse and poverty, to name a few.

Beresin said a high number of arrests could also indicate a high rate of untreated psychiatric disorders, another factor that has been linked to criminal activity. According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, a nonprofit group, between 50 to 75 percent of incarcerated young people have diagnosable mental health problems.

Whatever the cause of the arrests, the study's authors suggest that pediatricians are primely placed to observe and confront potential problems with their young patients, with an ability to counsel children and their parents and direct them to services that can help.

"Pediatricians should be aware that these arrests are a high prevalence occurrence," Brame said. "A report of an arrest could be a gateway to a broader conversation about what's going on."

A pediatrician's authority and relationship with troubled patients may be ideal, but their ability to actually help patients out of a cycle of criminal activity is less certain. Due to physician shortages in primary care, many pediatricians are overwhelmed by patient loads or undertrained to confront problems such as psychiatric disorders. In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for better training for all pediatricians in helping their young patients with mental health issues.

Even if a pediatrician tries to help a patient with a criminal record, Beresin notes that the services that are meant to help troubled youth are limited, and budget belt-tightening in many states is making them even scarcer.

"It's like Ghostbusters, who are you going to call? There are very few people to call." Beresin said. "We're really asleep at the wheel right now when it comes to these problems with our young people."

Giant Plumes of Gurgling Methane Could Fast-Track Planetary Warming

Layer after layer of plant debris that has not yet decomposed lies trapped in arctic and subarctic permafrost. As global temperatures rise and this perennial ice begins to melt, previously frozen organic matter will thaw out and decompose, releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases into our already saturated atmosphere.

This may not seem like such an earth-shattering phenomenon, but scientists are deeply troubled since there’s a strong chance that methane (CH4) will be released – as it does in anaerobic wetland conditions – which does not bode well for planetary warming since it is 21 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Nearly 1/4 of the northern hemisphere is underlain by permafrost that contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere, wrote The New York Times. This amounts to nearly 2 trillion tons of carbon in soils of the northern regions, 88 percent of which is “locked in permafrost,” according to Canadian scientist Charles Tarnocai and colleagues.

Meanwhile, Yahoo news reports that Russian scientists have discovered “hundreds of plumes of methane gas, some 1,000 meters in diameter, bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean.” Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences told the UK Independent that thousands more of these giant gurgling methane pots could be lurking in the ice between the Russian mainland and the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Having more heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere will exacerbate many of the climate change problems we are already beginning to face, include rising temperatures, biodiversity loss, drought and famine, water scarcity, and an upsurge in the expense and intensity of certain natural disasters.

But here’s the good news: if we can scale back human-caused carbon emissions and therefore reduce the rate at which the planet is heating up, most researchers believe we can slow down the rate at which this methane will be released into the atmosphere.

Justin Bieber never believed in Santa

Justin Bieber sure isn’t a Scrooge, but he isn’t an Old Saint Nick believer either.

In an interview with AOL, the 17-year-old superstar said he never believed in Santa growing up, and his mother was the reason why.

“My mom always told me there wasn’t a Santa,” Bieber said.

He defended his mother’s logic, saying it was her strong faith in Christianity that pushed her to tell her the truth instead of the childhood fairytale.

“She thought if I grew up knowing about Santa then finding out he wasn’t real, that it would be like she was lying to me. And then when she told me about God, I maybe wouldn’t believe her,” he said.

Despite his mother being “straight-up and honest” with him growing up, the “Under the Mistletoe” singer said he never ruined Christmas for his friends.

“I didn’t tell my friends or ruin it for anyone,” he said. “I was a good kid!”

For Christmas this year, Bieber will be spending time with his mother on Christmas Eve and heading over to his father’s for Christmas Day to spend time with his younger brother and sister, Us Magazine reported.

As for his own Christmas wishes, he said he hopes people will listen to and enjoy his new Christmas album.
Justin Bieber performs on The Today Show.

'Sherlock Holmes' Mistake Turns Into Action Highlight

There's a lot to like about Guy Ritchie's big-screen versions of the adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous literary hero Sherlock Holmes, the latest of which, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," just arrived in theaters. One of the most likable elements is that Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is a bit of a badass, which Ritchie has showcased with as many action sequences as possible.

Those who've seen "A Game of Shadows" know that the "forest escape" scene is the most impressive of the bunch. In a nutshell, Holmes, Watson (Jude Law) and Madam Sim (Noomi Rapace) are running through a forest, trying not to get hit by the sniper pursuing them or one of the many bombs being hurled their way. The sequence has that patented Ritchie finesse. It features a mix of real-time action and slow motion so the audience can fully invest in all the stunning detail, even if that detail is people being blown to bits.

When MTV News caught up with Downey and Ritchie, we asked how that sequence — which was written simply as "they run through the forest" in the script — came to be.

"It was the height of the winter, and there was a phantom camera on essentially a remote-controlled, high-speed track," Downey recalled of the setup. "So we were trying to sync ourselves with the remote-controlled track. It's really interesting stuff. I think Guy really had an idea for how he wanted [it] to look and feel, and we accomplished it, thank God. It was freezing out there!"

Ritchie revealed that although he had planned every detail to make the scene as big as it could be, a technician's blunder forced him to make some unplanned changes that actually improved the sequence.

"I threw a lot of moving parts at it. We had ideas, and all in all, it came together in a way I hoped it was going to come together. One of the technicians missed one of the shots, which was the most fundamental shot of Robert and Jude running through the woods. I've only got one shot of them doing that, because the guy forgot to record the rest of it," he said. "So I string this shot out, but what it meant is that I could scream at someone else and realize there was a lot more that could be extracted from this scene, so I went back for three or four more days and absolutely wrung its neck," Ritchie explained of stretching the one shot of Downey and Law to fill time. " ... Somewhere, some poor technician got fired somewhere because he forgot to record it, but really, I'm indebted to him."

Apple Continues to Plot Assault on TV

CUPERTINO, Calif. – Apple is moving forward with its assault on television, following up on the ambitions of its late co-founder, Steve Jobs.

In recent weeks, Apple executives have discussed their vision for the future of TV with media executives at several large companies, according to people familiar with the matter.

Apple is also working on its own television that relies on wireless streaming technology to access shows, movies and other content, according to people briefed on the project.

In the recent meetings with media companies, the Apple executives, including Senior Vice President Eddy Cue, have outlined new ways Apple's technology could recognize users across phones, tablets and TVs, people familiar with the talks said.

In at least one meeting, Apple described future television technology that would respond to users' voices and movements, one of the people said. Such technology, which Apple indicated may take longer than some of its other ideas, might allow users to use their voices to search for a show or change channels.

Apple is still saying little about what specific software and devices it is working on. The people familiar with the meetings said the Cupertino, Calif., company was "vague" and that Apple hasn't made proposals to license shows for any new product offering.

Still, the talks -- some of which were made at the request of media companies seeking an update on Apple's plans -- suggest that Apple's TV strategy is advancing. The technology company often keeps its products and ideas, close to the vest until as late as possible.

Apple executives have given some specifics in its talks with media companies. The company, for example, has discussed new ways they could stream media companies' content, allowing a user to watch a video on a TV set, then pick up another device, such as a smartphone, and keep watching the video on the move, one of the people familiar said.

Another person familiar with the talks said the types of new services Apple and the media companies are discussing could be done with Apple's existing technologies, which include its Apple TV set-top box.

Around three months after it started selling a new, $99 version of the set-top box last year, Apple said it had sold more than a million but hasn't provided sales figures since.

Apple's uptick in talks with its media partners is part of the company's strategy to change the way consumers watch TV, just as the company transformed the music and cell phone industries. Jobs envisioned building a TV that would be controlled by Apple's mobile devices in order to be easier to use and more personalized, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company has worked on prototypes for years. Before his death in October, Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he had "finally cracked it," according to Isaacson's book.

The TV device Apple is working on would use a version of Apple's wireless-streaming technology AirPlay to allow users to control it from iPhones and iPads, according to people briefed on the matter. When the company plans to start selling such a device and whether it would receive traditional broadcast or cable signals remains unclear, said these people, who say Apple may change its plans.

The technology could allow users to stream video from mobile devices to their televisions, without a set-top box. That process is already possible through its Apple TV set-top box, but it is cumbersome and some media companies, such as Time Warner Inc.'s cable channel HBO, prevent their apps from using the technology because they want closer control of how and where their content appears. An HBO spokesman says it hopes to use AirPlay once it is comfortable with the anti-piracy protection.

When it comes to Facebook apps, Android wins

The Facebook for Android app has just leapfrogged ahead of Facebook for iPhone in the number of daily active users.

The latest report from shows that the Android app is the more popular mobile Facebook option, making it the first time that has been the case.

To be specific, as of December 2011, Facebook for iPhone has 57.6 million daily active users while Facebook for Android has 58.8 million.

This metric is just the latest in a growing set of statistics that show Android is a more widely used platform than the iPhone.

When it comes to monthly active users, Facebook for iPhone is still the leader, but Android will assumedly catch up on that statistic over time as well.

Comparing numbers like this between the iPhone and Android has always come with a footnote, since Android is available throughout all carriers and on a wide range of devices, while the iPhone is carrier-restricted and only counts a handful of different models.

So it has become pretty black-and-white that Android is the more popular platform, but any one of the iPhones is a much more popular phone.

Twitter Wins $300 Million Alwaleed Investment Amid Site Revamp

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Twitter Inc., the microblogging service with more than 100 million users, won a $300 million investment from Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal as it pushes through a redesign of its site to attract advertisers.

Alwaleed and his investment company agreed to buy a “strategic stake,” Kingdom Holding said today, without giving details. Alwaleed is the largest individual investor in Citigroup Inc. and his other investments include holdings in Apple Inc. and General Motors Co. Riyadh-based Kingdom Holding jumped as much as 8.9 percent on the local exchange.

Twitter, which lets its users send 140-character messages, is revamping the site to make it faster and simpler to navigate. The San Francisco-based company may boost ad revenue by 86 percent next year as it attracts more international advertisers, according to EMarketer Inc. Alwaleed’s investment comes as Facebook Inc., the most-popular social networking site with more than 800 million users, is said to consider raising about $10 billion from an initial public offering.

“Twitter are looking to give themselves some more running space,” said Jeff Mann, an analyst at Gartner in Amsterdam. “Their strategy has always been first get big, they’re still holding reasonably close to that. Having a big audience is more important than a short-term revenue stream.”

‘Strategic Asset’

Twitter confirmed the investment in an e-mail, declining to give additional comments.

Demand for technology IPOs reignited in November after a summer lull, setting the stage for Groupon Inc., Zynga Inc., the largest maker of games for Facebook, and Angie’s List Inc. to go public. Facebook may file for an IPO before the end of the year, a person with knowledge of the matter said last month. The sale may value the company at more than $100 billion, twice as high as it was in January, when the company announced a $1.5 billion investment from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other backers.

Alwaleed’s investment may value Twitter at $10 billion, said Jack Neele, a fund manager at Robeco Groep NV, which had about $194 billion under management at the end of June. DST Global, the technology fund managed by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and an investor in Facebook, led an $800 million financing round in Twitter in August. That investment valued the short-messaging service at $8 billion, people with knowledge of the plan said at the time.

“Twitter is seen as a strategic asset within the social media space, given its large user base,” Neele said. “But the business model in its current form isn’t ready for the public market.”


Twitter is seeking to speed up its ad rollout program, its main source of revenue. The microblogging service’s revamp will feature tabs at the top of the screen that let users more easily access their home pages, connect with others and discover new content. EMarketer cut its estimate for 2011 ad revenue to $139.5 million from $150 million in September because Twitter has been slow to roll out some services.

Twitter is also facing the loss of its two of its co- founders. Both Evan Williams and Biz Stone have lessened their involvement under Chief Executive Officer Dick Costolo, who took the reins in October 2010. Mike Abbott, a vice president in charge of engineering, also has stepped down.

The agreement followed “several months of negotiations,” Kingdom Holding said its statement. The company, controlled by Alwaleed, a nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, added 5.1 percent to 8.25 riyals at 3:39 p.m. in Riyadh. Before today, the stock had lost 4.3 percent this year.

‘Savvy Investor’

“Kingdom realizes the importance of social networks like Twitter and their future growth prospects, and decided to benefit from this trend,” said Samer Darwiche, an analyst at Gulfmena Investments in Dubai.

The prince was ranked the richest Arab businessman this year by Arabian Business magazine with assets valued at $21.3 billion. Kingdom Holding, 95 percent owned by the prince, is building the tallest tower in the world in Jeddah at a cost of 4.6 billion riyals ($1.23 billion).

Alwaleed “is a savvy investor and the hot thing in the I.T. world is social networking,” said Nabil Farhat, a partner at Abu Dhabi-based Al Fajer Securities in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Congress Set for Payroll-Tax Fight as Republicans Balk at Deal

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Congress is bracing for a final fight over fiscal policy this year, with the fate of a payroll tax cut for 160 million U.S. workers on the line, after House Republicans balked at a deal worked out in the Senate.

The House of Representatives returns to Washington today to either change a Senate-passed bill extending the tax cut through February or seek a House-Senate meeting to resolve differences between the two chambers. The Senate passed its plan by 89-10 two days ago. The 2-percentage- point cut in the payroll tax will expire Dec. 31 if Congress doesn't agree to extend it.

"Two months is just kicking the can down the road," House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday. "The American people are tired of that. I think -- frankly, I'm tired of it."

House Republicans were surprised that Senate Republicans led by Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, who have the procedural ability to block Democratic legislation, didn't get a better deal, Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican said.

"People were flabbergasted this was all the stand-up Republicans could give us," Kingston said in a telephone interview yesterday. "We thought McConnell was hanging out for something stronger." Republican lawmakers wanted to include changes to the unemployment insurance program, he said.

Partisan Brinkmanship

The showdown over the payroll-tax cut is the latest in a series of partisan congressional standoffs that lawmakers have taken to the brink this year. The Republican- controlled House, spurred by 87 new members, many elected with Tea Party support, clashed with President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate over spending and the federal debt limit. The agreements reached have left both sides unsatisfied.

If Congress can't agree, workers will see their take- home pay decrease in January, benefits will begin disappearing for the long-term unemployed and doctors who care for Medicare patients will experience a 27 percent cut in reimbursements.

Senate leaders attempted Dec. 16 to negotiate a yearlong extension of the payroll tax cut and other expiring provisions after the House passed a $202.4 billion bill on Dec. 13. Those talks collapsed because they couldn't agree on how to pay the cost of the proposal.

Instead, Senate Democratic and Republican leaders agreed on the $33 billion, two-month stopgap extension including Republican-backed language requiring Obama to make a decision within 60 days on a permit for TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline.

'Here Over Christmas'

House Republicans' irritation with the Senate has been growing all year, Kingston said.

"You have serious reformers in the Republican conference" who are frustrated by the inability to advance their agenda in the series of spending compromises reached this year, Kingston said. Lawmakers told leaders on a Dec. 17 conference call that "we will be here over Christmas, if that's what it takes," he said.

Democrats seized on the Republican complaints and attempted to blame them for the tax cut's potential expiration.

"It is inexcusable to do anything less than extend this tax cut for the entire year, and Congress must work on a one-year deal," Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said in a statement yesterday. "But they should pass the two-month extension now to avoid a devastating tax hike from hitting the middle class."

Surprised the White House

House Republicans' reaction surprised White House officials, who had been told Boehner had signed off on the compromise and would deliver votes from his members, said an administration official familiar with the negotiations. The official didn't say specifically who offered the White House that assurance.

The tax cut took effect at the beginning of this year and reduces employees' share of the Social Security payroll tax to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent. Obama had sought to shrink the tax to 3.1 percent for 2012 and expand a version of it to employers. The tax will be imposed next year on the first $110,100 of wages.

Senate Democrats said they are prepared to negotiate the details of a year-long agreement -- after the short- term extension becomes law.

"Speaker Boehner says he does not want to 'kick the can down the road,'" Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, said in a statement. "His stubborn refusal to accept this bipartisan approach will endanger a tax cut and kick America's middle class off the road."

Pay Freeze

The differences between the House and Senate bills are significant and go beyond whether the expiring provisions should be extended for two months or for all of 2012.

The House bill included spending cuts that Democrats oppose, such as a pay freeze for federal civilian workers, higher premiums for high-income Medicare recipients and changes to the tax credit formula underlying insurance subsidies in the 2010 health-care law.

The bill would cut the maximum length of unemployment benefits to 79 weeks from 99 weeks and impose a gradual reduction to 59 weeks. The House also voted to let states perform drug tests on people who receive unemployment benefits.

Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, said Democrats resisted Republicans' changes to unemployment benefits and health care. As a result, the Montana Democrat told reporters Dec. 17, negotiators couldn't reach a year-long deal or an 11-month deal that was also under discussion.

The Senate bill that passed would raise $35.7 billion by increasing the guarantee fees that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration charge to lenders for new home mortgages. That proposal was also in the House bill.

Republican House leaders haven't said what changes they would seek to put back in the bill if they choose to change the Senate bill rather than seek a House-Senate conference committee.

Cairo Clashes: 3 More Protesters Killed

(CAIRO) — Egypt's Health Ministry says at least three more protesters have been killed in clashes with army soldiers in central Cairo, bringing the four-day death toll to at least 14.

A doctor at a field hospital in Cairo's Tahrir Square puts the toll from Monday's violence at six. Ahmed Saad says all of them were killed by gunshots.

The discrepancy could not be immediately reconciled.

The clashes have been raging since Friday in and around Tahrir, which served as the epicenter of the popular uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in February.(See more on the clashes in Cairo.)

The heavy handed crackdown on protesters demanding the ruling military council to step down and hand power to a civilian government is unprecedented.

The ruling generals described the clashes as part of a "conspiracy" against Egypt.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

CAIRO — Egypt's ruling military and the revolutionaries who demand they immediately step down battled for a third day in the streets on Sunday — and competed fiercely for the support of a broader public that has grown tired of turmoil since the fall of Hosni Mubarak 10 months ago.

The generals appear to be winning the fight for the public, despite a heavy-handed crackdown on protesters around Cairo's Tahrir Square using a roughness that rivaled even that of Mubarak's widely hated police force.

Before dawn Monday, security forces mounted a charge and cleared hundreds of demonstrators away from the area, according to videos posted on the internet. Earlier, a man died in custody, a lawyer said.(See more on rivalries playing out in Egypt.)

The protesters have tried to drum up Egyptians' anger at the military by spreading videos and photos of military police savagely beating young men and women to the ground with sticks and truncheons — and the resonant scene of a woman in a conservative headscarf being stripped half naked by soldiers who stomp on her chest.

But so far their efforts to win public sympathy don't seem to be gaining traction in the face of the military's campaign to depict the crowds of hundreds in the streets as hooligans and vandals, not the idealistic activists who succeeded in bringing down Mubarak. At least 10 protesters have been killed and 441 others wounded in the three days of violence, according to the Health Ministry.

"The military has failed in everything except for its stunning success in making people hate the revolution, its history and its revolutionaries," prominent columnist Ibrahim Eissa wrote in an editorial in the independent pro-revolution newspaper, Al-Tahrir.

Led by a general who served for 20 years as Mubarak's defense minister, the military has been methodically seeking to discredit the revolutionaries, accusing them of illegally receiving foreign funds and being part of a plot hatched abroad to destabilize Egypt. The generals have in the meantime sought to portray themselves as key players in the 18-day revolt that toppled Mubarak's 29-year rule and hence have earned the right to rule.

In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the ruling military council on Sunday called the clashes part of a "conspiracy" against Egypt. It said its forces had the right to defend the "property of the great people of Egypt."

Seeking to depict the protesters as hooligans — and apparently to counter the widely published images of protesters being beaten or dragged on the ground — it also posted on the page footage of young men throwing rocks at a basement window of the parliament building and of at least one man trying to set the place ablaze.

The generals' campaign plays on Egyptians' frustration with continued instability and economic woes since Mubarak's fall. Many are now more focused on the multistage parliamentary elections that began last month and continue through March. Islamist parties have so far overwhelmingly dominated the vote, with liberals and secular parties far behind.

That trend continued with the announcement Sunday of results from the second of three rounds of voting, held last week. Out of around 160 seats up for grabs in the second round, the Muslim Brotherhood won 29 and another more conservative Islamic party, Al-Nour, won 23. Two liberal groups — the Wafd Party and the Egyptian Bloc — won nine and seven seats, respectively. The rest will be determined in a run-off vote to be held later this week.

The Islamists have been staying clear of the recent violence, fearing that they could jeopardize their electoral gains by taking part in the protests. Their stance has prompted many activists to accuse them of political opportunism.

The military has meanwhile been using the state media and sympathetic private TV stations to market an image of itself as the protector of the nation, filling its statements with patriotic rhetoric and grave warnings if turmoil persists.

The revolutionaries who led the protests against Mubarak accuse the military of mismanaging the transition since then, of seeking to hold on to power and of using the same autocratic ways as the ousted leader. They demand that the military hand over power to civilians immediately — and some have begun demanding that presidential elections scheduled for the middle of next year be moved up to January to pick a civilian head of state to take the generals' place.

"The military is looking down at us and handling everything from a security perspective," said Shady el-Ghazali Harb, a prominent activist and an icon of the anti-Mubarak uprising. "It is trying to make the point that its way of handling things is what will be applied and nothing else."

The latest deadly clashes began Friday, when one of several hundred peaceful protesters staging a sit-in outside the Cabinet offices near parliament was detained and beaten by troops. The protesters began their sit-in three weeks ago to demand that the military immediately step down.

In Sunday's clashes, protesters and troops battled on two main streets off Tahrir Square, trading volleys of stones and firebombs around barriers that the military set up to block the two central avenues. The army also used water canons.

Human rights lawyer Ahmed Ragheb said the man who died Sunday, Mohammed Mohie Hussein, was among some 200 people being held in a Cairo court after being arrested at the clashes. Within an hour of his interrogation in the presence of several defense lawyers, he died, Ragheb said.

"His condition deteriorated in custody. He was already wounded when he got there," he said.

Activists have flooded social network sites and sympathetic media with photos and video from the troops' brutal assaults the past two days.

The photo of the woman protester half-stripped by soldiers ran on the front page of the Al-Tahrir newspaper, emblazoned with a headline in red, "Liars," referring to repeated denials by the military council and military-appointed Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri that no force or live ammunition were used against the protesters.

The presenter of a political talk show on a private TV station sarcastically praised the soldiers for their bravery in wrestling the woman down.

"She is more of a man than 300,000 men put together, including me," said Youssef al-Hussein on ONTV.

Other widely circulating footage show an army officer firing a pistol at protesters — though it is not clear whether he was using live ammunition — and soldiers dragging women by the hair and ferociously beating, kicking and stomping on protesters cowering on the ground.

Still, many Egyptians complain the revolutionaries have gone too far and that, almost a year after ousting Mubarak, they should now go home and let the military run the country or wait for the next parliament to decide the country's future.

Such sentiments are not surprising given that the military has been the most powerful institution in Egypt since army officers seized power in a 1952 coup that toppled the monarchy.

Nearly 60 years later, the military continues to have the last word on policies, a position of power that has left many activists not entirely certain that the generals who succeeded Mubarak would voluntarily return to their barracks.

"The military council uses every opportunity to show itself as the land's strongest institution," said Mohammed Abbas, an activist who defected from the Muslim Brotherhood to side with youth groups more active in protests. "We are making it easier for the generals by our divisions and isolation."

Syria signs deal to allow Arab League monitors

The Syrian government has signed an agreement to let international monitors into the country, finally accepting the last requirement of an Arab League deal to end the violence wracking Syria.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad signed the agreement at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on Monday, according to both a Reuters witness and an Arab League diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity, reports Haaretz.

The Associated Press writes that Syria likely agreed to Arab League proposal to avoid UN involvement in the country's upheaval, though regime critics argue that it is only a delaying tactic by President Bashar al-Assad while Syrian forces attempt to crush anti-government resistance.

Syria had previously agreed to the plan, which includes withdrawal of its army from Syrian towns and cities, the release of thousands of political prisoners, and opening dialogue with the opposition. But Damascus subsequently balked on terms requiring Syria to open its borders to Arab League monitors, and instead continued to attack protesters. The UN last week estimated that at least 5,000 people have now been killed during the upheaval, which began in March.

As a result of Syrian recalcitrance, Arab League officials implemented sanctions against Syria last month. They were set to meet on Wednesday to discuss a proposal that the UN take action against Syria.

Bloomberg writes that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said that Syria agreed to sign the deal after Arab League officials changed the original text of the document as Syria requested. “If our amendments were not included, we wouldn’t have signed,” he said. “The signing of the protocol is the beginning of cooperation with the Arab League and we will welcome the observers.” Mr. Moallem did not discuss the details of the agreements.

As the terms of the deal were being discussed in Cairo, hundreds of people held a pro-government rally in Damascus, expressing support for the Assad regime and countries that have opposed intervention in the Syrian crackdown. Agence France-Presse reports that huge Russian and Chinese flags, as well as the colors of Syrian regional allies Iran and Hezbollah, decorated office buildings in Sabaa Bahrat Square, where the rally was held.

Elsewhere in Syria, the conflict showed little sign of ending. The Daily Telegraph writes that armed rebels in the flashpoint city of Homs, including soldiers who have defected, have warned that they will seek retribution if government forces execute 21 rebels they captured. The Syrian Army says that it has learned that the captured rebels, believed to have been seized during an attack on government posts in Deraa earlier this month, are scheduled to be executed sometime today.

"I have a personal message for the Army: If the Army executes these men, there will be a very harsh retaliation against them here in Homs," Abdul-Razaq Tlas, commander of one of two rebel battalions in the city, told the Daily Telegraph.

But in at least one positive step, Syrian officials released blogger Razan Ghazzawi after 15 days in a Syrian prison, reports Amira Al Hussaini of Global Voices, an umbrella site for citizen bloggers from around the world. Ms. Ghazzawi, a US-born human rights advocate, was seized and charged with “establishing an organization that aims to change the social and economical entity of the state” and “weakening the national sentiment, and trying to ignite sectarian strife," according to Lebanon's Daily Star.

Automaker Saab files for bankruptcy in Sweden

STOCKHOLM – Saab Automobile filed for bankruptcy on Monday, giving up a desperate struggle to stay in business after previous owner General Motors (GM) blocked takeover attempts by Chinese investors.

Saab CEO Victor Muller personally handed in the bankruptcy application to a court in southwestern Sweden, ending his two-year effort to revive the carmaker that over more than six decades has become known for its rounded sedans and quirky design features.

The Vanersborg District Court was expected to approve the application later Monday.

"This is the most unwelcome Christmas gift I could have imagined," said Fredrik Almqvist, 36, who has worked at Saab's assembly line for nearly 17 years.

While experts say the company is likely to be chopped up and sold in parts, local officials in the town of Trollhattan, where Saab employs more than 3,000 people, were holding out hope that a new buyer would emerge to salvage the brand.

"Our absolute hope is that the bankruptcy administrator will aim for a solution where the company is sold in its entirety," Trollhattan Mayor Paul Akerlund said in a statement.

Muller, a Dutchman, used his luxury sports car maker Spyker Cars to buy Saab from GM in 2010, promising to restore its Swedish identity, but the company ran out of money just a year later.

Even as production stopped and salary payments were delayed, Muller fended off bankruptcy by selling the company's real estate and lining up financing deals with investors in Russia and China. He bought time by placing the company in a reorganization process under bankruptcy protection.

But the deals fell through, blocked by regulators or by GM, which still owns some technology licenses for Saab. The U.S. automaker was concerned that its technology would end up in the hands of Chinese competitors.

The final Chinese suitor, Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co., said it pulled out after the last proposal for a solution was rejected by GM over the weekend.

"We were supporting them to the last moment, even up to 1 a.m. this morning we were discussing possible solutions by telephone, but due to GM's position, in the end Sweden's Saab filed for bankruptcy this morning," said Rachel Pang, an executive director of a subsidiary company of Youngman and daughter of Youngman's founder, Pang Qingnian.

Swedish lawyer and reconstruction expert Peter Smedman said the prospects of selling Saab during bankruptcy proceedings would depend on GM.

"The licenses that GM has are crucial for the value of the company," Smedman said. "If GM doesn't want to let anyone in because they are scared of competition in China, then there is probably not much (value) left."

Originally an aircraft maker, Saab entered into the auto market after World War II with the first production of the two-stroke-engine Saab 92. It soon became a household name in Sweden and in the 1970's it released its first turbocharged model — the landmark Saab 99.

To auto enthusiasts, Saab was known for its quirks, such as placing the ignition lock between the front seats and becoming the first car to have heated seating in 1971.

GM bought a 50% stake and management control of Saab in 1989, and gained full ownership in 2000. The aircraft and defense company with the same name remained an independent entity, building fighter jets and weapons systems.

Saab Automobile's sales peaked at 133,000 cars in 2006. After that, sales dwindled to 93,000 cars in 2008 and just 27,000 in 2009, as GM — itself in bankruptcy protection following the financial crisis — prepared to wind down the Swedish brand.

Muller stepped in after a takeover attempt by a consortium led by Swedish sports car maker Koenigsegg failed. Analysts expressed doubt over Saab's chances of survival under Spyker, which later changed its name to Swedish Automobile.

Spyker manufactured only a few dozen high-priced cars a year. Without support from other investors, Muller's plans didn't seem credible, critics said.

Concerns mounted as Saab failed to pay suppliers early this year. Production was stopped in March, restarted, then halted again as the liquidity crisis deepened.