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China December inflation eases to 15-month low

BEIJING (iBBC News) - China's annual inflation eased to 4.1 percent December, the lowest level in 15 months, giving the government more room to tilt economic policy away from restraining prices and towards supporting sagging growth.

The annual rate of headline consumer price inflation was slightly ahead of expectations of 4.0 in the benchmark Reuters poll of economists, but below November's 4.2 percent, reinforcing the view of many that the central bank is poised to ease monetary policy.

"The month-on-month CPI was lower than the same month in the past few years. That means inflation is no longer a main concern for policymakers," said Zhiwei Zhang, an economist at Nomura, in Hong Kong. "China is more worried about an economic slowdown now and will continue the policy easing cycle."

Beijing cut the ratio of cash banks are required to hold as reserves by 50 basis points in November to 21 percent, the first such cut in three years, in a move to boost corporate credit lines and help firms counter faltering demand at home and abroad.

The December figures was the closest that inflation came in 2011 to hitting the official target of 4 percent for the year, leaving the average rate above 5 percent.

That's still too hot for China's conservative policymakers, who are reluctant to shift policy settings too quickly towards all-out growth mode and argue that fine-tuning is all that is required to keep the economy on a stable expansion path.

But evidence of slower economic growth is mounting, even while inflation is still not yet as tame as Beijing might like.

The country's customs agency said on Tuesday that China's exports and imports grew at their slowest pace in more than two years in December, fresh evidence of cooling domestic and global economic conditions that could push Beijing towards a more pro-growth policy stance.

China's annual economic growth in the fourth quarter of 2011 may have slowed to 8.7 percent from 9.1 percent in Q3, according to the latest Reuters poll.

The National Bureau of Statistics is due to publish GDP and other economic activity data at 0200 GMT on January 17.

In month-on-month terms, the consumer price index rose 0.3 percent in December from November, after a 0.2 percent fall in November. The figure is not seasonally adjusted.

The latest data also showed that food prices, a major source of inflationary pressure in China, rose 9.1 percent in December from a year earlier, compared with an increase of 8.8 percent in the year to November.

US woman, pet kangaroo moving over city spat

TULSA, Oklahoma (iBBC News) — A woman who keeps a partially paralyzed kangaroo as a therapy pet said Wednesday that she is moving to another city over a spat with local officials, even though they insist they haven't told her to go or threatened to seize the animal.

Christie Carr, who says she has been diagnosed with depression, plans to take Irwin the kangaroo from Broken Arrow to McAlester to stay with her parents because of the fuss. Carr said she hastily packed what she could in her car Wednesday afternoon because she could "no longer trust" city officials.

"I don't know if I'll ever go back to Broken Arrow," Carr said as she made the two-hour drive to McAlester. "I don't know if I can even drive through there and feel safe."

But Broken Arrow spokeswoman Stephanie Higgins said no threats were made to seize the animal and that Carr failed to turn in the proper paperwork that would have allowed her to keep Irwin.

"She was given a draft proposal of the application last year, and she is saying she has not received anything," Higgins said Wednesday. "We have documented that we sent her the application."

Higgins said that the city re-delivered the application by hand on Wednesday, and that Carr still has until later this month to complete the necessary paperwork.

But Carr remained unconvinced, and said she was waiting for the city to send an official version of the paperwork.

"They have dragged their feet on everything," Carr said.

Last year, Broken Arrow's city council voted to create an exotic animal ordinance exemption that allowed Carr to keep Irwin within city limits under certain conditions. The permit required exotic animal owners to have a $50,000 liability insurance policy for any injuries inflicted by the animal, certification that the animal has adequate housing for its health and meet all federal and state guidelines for licensing, among other provisions.

Carr had been devastated because she couldn't afford to buy the insurance policy for Irwin, but an anonymous donor paid for Irwin's insurance last year.

Carr, who was unable to work because of her health, first found comfort in the companionship of Irwin after meeting him while volunteering at a local animal sanctuary on the advice of her therapist.

Irwin fractured his neck and suffered brain damage when he ran into a fence, and Carr offered to take him home and nurse him back to health. Irwin cannot stand or walk on his own, although he can hop with assistance.

At first, Broken Arrow city officials feared that the red kangaroo could present a risk to public safety. Native to Australia, healthy male great red kangaroos can grow up to 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall, weigh more than 200 pounds (90 kilograms) and bound 25 feet (7.6 meters) in a single leap.

But veterinarians said Irwin would probably not grow larger than 50 pounds (22 kilograms) because of his injury and because he has been neutered. Carr's therapist had certified the animal as a therapy pet under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Caring for Irwin is almost a full-time job for Carr: she changes his diaper several times a day, feeds him salad, raw vegetables and popcorn and dresses him up each time he leaves the house. The clothes — a little boy's shirt cut and sewed to accommodate his neck, sometimes a tie, and jeans or slacks with a hole cut for the tail — are necessary for therapeutic reasons and to protect him against germs, she said.

Carr said she had contacted animal control workers in McAlester and she said employees told her that the city had no ordinance banning kangaroos and that she and her pet were welcome in the city.

"I have to protect him," Carr said. "I have to get him out of there because they are not taking him. I haven't taken this paralyzed kangaroo and taught him to hop again for Broken Arrow to come in and remove him."

Groups offer $30,000 to solve monk seal killings

HONOLULU (iBBC News) — Animal protection groups concerned about the recent slayings of three Hawaiian monk seals offered up to $30,000 on Wednesday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects.

The mysterious series of killings of the critically endangered species prompted the announcement of the reward, believed to be the highest ever in Hawaii in a wildlife case.

Less than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals are left in the world, and scientists say the species is on course to vanish in 50 to 100 years.

"I'm sure someone knows something out there," said William Aila, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Since November, two seals were found bludgeoned to death on the remote island of Molokai, and a slain seal was recently found on Kauai. Up to $10,000 is being offered in each of the killings. A fourth possible killing on Molokai is also under investigation.

"We're all struggling with the 'why?'" Aila said. "Why would anyone do this to such social, fun-loving animals in Hawaii that have a close relationship with not only with Native Hawaiians but the local population?"

Hawaiian monk seals were hunted in the late 19th century and their population has been impacted by humans since then through killings, marine debris, entanglement in fishing gear, disease and loss of habitat.

Aila said the seals are vital to Hawaii's marine ecosystem and called the killings "inexcusable environmentally and culturally." It's also a federal and state crime to kill or harm one of the animals. Under state law, those found guilty face up to $50,000 in fines and five years in prison.

"This barbaric treatment of these warm animals is something that we cannot continue to do," he said. "We're going to have to find a way to co-exist with Hawaiian monk seals. There is no other option on the islands right now."

The money was put up by several groups and an anonymous local donor.

The Humane Society of the United States has pledged up to $2,500 for each case, or $7,500 total, while the Conservation Council for Hawaii, Center for Biological Diversity and the Marine Conservation Institute are collectively offering $7,500.

The remaining $15,000 has been offered by an anonymous donor.

"The Humane Society of the United States is very concerned because research has long demonstrated that those who are cruel to animals are often times cruel and also commit violent acts against people," said Inga Gibson, Hawaii director of the group.

She hopes the reward serves as a deterrent and "bring these perpetrators to justice" or have them turn themselves in.

The killings of the seals, which are endemic to Hawaii, have stunned this island state. They are coming as the federal government steps up its efforts to protect the seals, leading to simmering resentment among some fishermen who fear new regulations will trample upon their right to fish. The killings are also happening as the misguided notion spreads that the animals aren't native to Hawaii and don't belong here.

Aila said people need to put their differences, misinformation and misconceptions aside.

"We have to move forward and understand that the world is changing due to climate change issues, due to population issues," he said. "The monk seals are, have been and will continue to be a part of our existence here in Hawaii."

No. 13 Michigan edges Northwestern 66-64 in OT

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (iBBC News) — Trey Burke scored 19 points — including Michigan's last eight of overtime — to help the 13th-ranked Wolverines hold off Northwestern 66-64 on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats trailed 66-63 when Alex Marcotullio was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining. He missed the first of his three free throws and after making the second, he had to intentionally miss the third. Northwestern (11-5, 1-3 Big Ten) was unable to tip in the rebound.

Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 19 points for Michigan (14-3, 4-1), but it was his foul that put Marcotullio on the line.

John Shurna had 21 points for Northwestern and Drew Crawford added 20.

Mexico sends 70 squatters back home to Guatemala

MEXICO CITY (iBBC News) — Mexican immigration officials say they have returned 70 Guatemalan squatters to their home country.

The Guatemalans had been living in tents on a Mexican communal farm near the border since August, after being evicted from a squatters camp in a Guatemalan forest reserve.

Officials say they removed them from the Mexican camp on Monday because of unhealthy and unsafe conditions there, and after Mexican farmers asked for their land back.

The National Immigration Institute said Wednesday that the 25 adults and 45 children have been sent back to Guatemala, where they were to be housed at a shelter.

The Guatemalans had reportedly refused to return to their country until they have guaranteed housing and land there.

China's December inflation eases to 4.1 percent

BEIJING (iBBC News) — China's December inflation rate eased slightly to 4.1 percent, giving Beijing more room to stimulate its slowing economy.

The government said Thursday consumer prices overall rose 4.1 percent in December, down from November's 4.2 percent. Inflation in food prices accelerated to 9.1 percent from November's 8.8 percent.

Lower inflation could clear the way for Beijing to take more steps to stimulate slowing economic growth if necessary. But higher food costs are politically sensitive and could force Chinese leaders to be more cautious.

Police: Handcuffed man who took cruiser still gone

INDIANAPOLIS (iBBC News) — A handcuffed drug suspect who stole and wrecked a police cruiser in northwest Indiana is still on the loose, but he did not take any loaded weapons from the car, authorities said Wednesday.

William Francis Blankenship stole the car Tuesday from a local officer in the Porter County town of Kouts and then used the police radio to ask where to find the car's cigarette lighter — and a key to unlock himself, police said.

"There was a conversation between him and one of our officers," Porter County Sheriff's Sgt. Larry LaFlower said. The sheriff's deputy did not tell Blankenship how to remove the handcuffs or use the cigarette lighter, and instead tried to talk Blankenship into pulling over and giving himself up, LaFlower said.

Police found the town cruiser Wednesday morning "wrecked and submerged in water" in a drainage ditch in nearby LaPorte County, but Blankenship, 22, of Knox, was no longer with the vehicle, LaFlower said. Police say no other vehicles were involved and they are investigating how the cruiser got there.

LaFlower said loaded weapons — a handgun, shotgun and a rifle — that had been left in the vehicle were still there when the wreck was discovered. Police had reported earlier that Blankenship should be considered armed and dangerous.

The sole police officer on duty Tuesday evening in Kouts arrested Blankenship on drug charges. The officer pulled Blankenship over in a convenience store parking lot in the town about 50 miles southeast of Chicago, and then placed the handcuffed suspect in the back of the patrol car while he went to search the man's car, LaFlower said.

"He was doing an inventory search when his car was taken," LaFlower said.

Authorities are trying to determine how Blankenship got out of the back seat of the patrol car. It's not clear if he had been locked inside the car. The officer did leave the car keys in the ignition, LaFlower said.

LaFlower said he doesn't know exactly when the officer knew Blankenship was fleeing, but said the officer used his portable radio immediately to let the Porter County Sheriff's Department know what happened and asked for assistance. The officer, who wasn't injured, had his service revolver with him.

LaFlower didn't explain the nature of the drug allegations. "That's still under investigation," he said.

Kouts Town Marshal David Freeland declined comment and referred questions to the sheriff's department.

The search for Blankenship has focused on the town of Knox, about 20 miles east of Kouts, where he has family and friends. The Porter County prosecutor's office obtained an arrest warrant Wednesday charging Blankenship with car theft, Chief Deputy Matt Frost said.

LaFlower said the sheriff's department planned to seek help in the search from the U.S. Marshal Service.

Beyonce baby complaints at NY hospital dismissed

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — New York health officials have reviewed and dismissed complaints patients in a hospital neonatal unit were mistreated while Beyonce was giving birth there to her and Jay-Z's daughter.

Health department spokesman Jeffrey Gordon says they received two complaints about Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital. He says both were dismissed by Wednesday night.

Beyonce gave birth to the couple's daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, on Saturday.

Media reports said the couple paid $1 million to take over a floor and their security guard blocked parents from the neonatal unit for hours. The hospital denied the reports, saying the couple paid the standard rate for an executive suite without disclosing what that is.

But hospital spokeswoman Barbara Osborn says the hospital's executive director is conducting an inquiry into the complaints about treatment of neonatal unit patients.

South Carolina governor defends Romney, free market

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (iBBC News) - Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, got some help from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on Wednesday in pushing back against charges from his rivals that he was a corporate raider.

Romney launched his campaign for South Carolina ahead of the state's January 21 primary by appealing for the support of conservatives worried about President Barack Obama's handling of the economy. Romney has won the first two contests in the state-by-state battle for his party's nomination to face Obama, a Democrat, on November 6.

He came to South Carolina under fire from rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry for his work at Bain Capital, a private equity firm that bought and restructured companies, sometimes resulting in the loss of jobs.

Gingrich used the closing days of the New Hampshire primary, which Romney won soundly on Tuesday, to denounce Romney as a heartless corporate raider who enjoyed cutting jobs while amassing a fortune as a private equity executive.

It is a theme he and Perry are using to try to stop Romney from making South Carolina his third consecutive victory, which would put the former Massachusetts governor on a path to winning the nomination.

Haley, who endorsed Romney weeks ago to the chagrin of rivals who had courted her, denounced what she called an assault against America's free enterprise system.

Haley introduced Romney at the first rally of a 10-day sprint to the primary.

"I'm proud of all of our Republican candidates," she said. "But we have a real problem when we have Republicans talking like dang Democrats against the free market," she said.

"We believe in the free market," she said to cheers from several hundred people gathered for the event.

Romney presented himself as the best candidate with the chance to defeat Obama in November's election, a theme he sounded in his New Hampshire victory speech on Tuesday night.

"I love this country," Romney told several hundred people. "I have to tell you I know we're going through tough times, and that's because of the failure of one man. That's why he's got to go."

Ticking off the country's economies, high unemployment and rising debt, Romney said: "I think you have to say this has been a failed presidency. I don't think he has tried to make it bad. I just think he doesn't know what to do."

In the audience was Cari Thompson, 40, a substitute teacher, who said she is attracted to Romney because of his business experience rather than social conservative issues that Perry and Rick Santorum are emphasizing.

"I like social issues, but its about the economy. I'm not so worried about social issues right now," she said.

The most recent CNN/Time poll gives Romney at lead in South Carolina of 37 percent, with Santorum at 19 percent and Gingrich at 18 percent.

Romney, who has been criticized by some conservatives as a political moderate, has conceded that he will face a tough fight in the reliably Republican state, where he fared poorly during his 2008 presidential campaign.

"Clearly I face more of an uphill battle in South Carolina than I do in New Hampshire ... With regards to South Carolina, last time I came in fourth. Our team recognizes this is going to be a challenge," Romney said before flying to South Carolina on Wednesday.

Penguins' Crosby takes another step towards return

(iBBC News) - Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby took a step towards returning from concussion-like symptoms on Wednesday with coach Dan Bylsma saying he had joined them on their road trip and that he would shortly begin skating on his own.

Crosby, who has played just eight games since suffering a concussion a year ago, was with the Penguins for Wednesday's game against the Washington Capitals and will skate when the road trip continues in Florida with games on Friday and Sunday.

There is no timetable for his return.

"He will be skating during this trip. He also will at some point in time address the media as well. No set plan, but this will happen in the next few days," Bylsma said in a report on the team's website.

Crosby has been working out in the weight room and on an exercise bike, Bylsma said.

The NHL's biggest draw card returned to the Pittsburgh lineup last November after missing more than 10 months with post-concussion symptoms but was ruled out after experiencing more symptoms eight games into his comeback.

Crosby, who suffered the initial injury after taking hits to the head in successive games last January, had 12 points in his return, including two goals and two assists in his first game.

Wife: Charged Penn State administrator has cancer

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (iBBC News) — A Penn State administrator charged with failing to report an allegation of child sex abuse involving a former assistant football coach has been diagnosed with a recurrence of lung cancer.

Athletic Director Tim Curley's wife said Wednesday that doctors are monitoring his condition after an illness first diagnosed in June 2010 flared up again.

Melinda Curley said in a statement doctors had removed half of one lung after discovering a malignant tumor but neither chemotherapy nor radiation was required. She thanked well-wishers and requested privacy.

"During this difficult time, Tim did not want his health to be a distraction and has been dealing with this privately," she said. "We are thankful for all the love and support he has received from family and friends and continue to hope for a full recovery."

Tim Curley, who is on administrative leave, also is charged with lying to a grand jury investigating former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. A former vice president, Gary Schultz, faces the same charges. Both have denied the allegations and await trial.

Sandusky is charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. He has acknowledged showering with boys but says he never molested them. He has pleaded not guilty.

Tim Curley's lawyer Caroline Roberto said her client doesn't want his health to minimize or overshadow the serious legal issues.

"However, despite his illness, Mr. Curley has remained totally focused on doing whatever is necessary to demonstrate that he is not guilty of the crimes with which he has been charged," she said in the statement.

Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno also is fighting what his family has called a treatable form of lung cancer. Trustees fired Paterno on Nov. 9 amid mounting pressure on school leaders from critics who said they should have done more about allegations of sexual abuse.

Paterno has described the scandal as one of the great sorrows of his life and has said he wishes he had done more.

He has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. Relatives and friends have said he is doing well.

Samsung no longer interested in Olympus: source

SEOUL (iBBC News) - Samsung Electronics has decided not to bid for Japan's Olympus Corp because it saw little synergy from the combination in terms of technology and branding, a source at the South Korean company told Reuters on Thursday.

The source said that Olympus approached Samsung and that Samsung considered the purchase, but decided against it.

"We are not interested in any Japanese camera makers except Canon and Nikon. But those two are not on sale," the official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Uruguay will question Haitian about alleged abuse

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (iBBC News) — A Supreme Court official promised Wednesday that Uruguay's justice system will reach out to a young Haitian man who has accused six U.N. peacekeepers from Uruguay of sexually abusing him.

Justice officials said earlier that they had been unable to obtain the man's testimony and that charges might have to be dropped as a result.

But The Associated Press called the 19-year-old's cellphone and found him in Haiti's capital. He said Monday night that no one had ever asked him to testify.

"They know where to find me ... if they take me, I will go," he said.

Supreme Court minister Jorge Chediak noted the man's comments in an interview with Channel 10 television and said the courts would act once their January vacation ends.

"Now that we know he is apparently interested in testifying, he will surely be found, and surely after the recess ends the competent authorities will take the steps needed to have a videoconference," he said.

The Haitian man told AP on Wednesday night that he hadn't been contacted by his attorney or other authorities since the AP's report two days earlier.

Uruguay's vice minister of defense, Jorge Menendez, said officials had tried repeatedly to obtain the man's testimony, either by bringing him to Uruguay or having him answer questions remotely. But, he said, they had not heard from the alleged victim since his lawyer demanded a $5 million settlement.

The AP is not identifying the man by name because of the sexual nature of the charges.

On Wednesday, Chediak said justice officials still didn't have the man's address in Haiti, but since the AP had managed to locate him and he expressed a willingness to testify, Uruguayan authorities would take the necessary steps to find him. He insisted that "the last time we couldn't take his declaration because he couldn't be found."

The former peacekeepers were freed last week pending a military trial on charges of violating rules against fraternizing with civilians inside military bases.

A separate civilian investigation into the abuse charges could go to trial only with the man's cooperation, prosecutor Eduardo Fernandez Dovat said early this week.

Dovat said a video of the incident by itself could not prove that the Haitian man was sexually penetrated, and the case would have to be dropped if he didn't testify.

One of the peacekeepers recorded the rowdy scene on a cellphone, showing the accuser being pinned down on a mattress as a partially clothed soldier simulated rape.

The soldiers initially called it a prank that got out of hand, but it angered many Haitians and gave ammunition to those who have been demanding a departure by the U.N. mission.

Harbaugh turns 49ers into instant winners

(iBBC News) - There is a tendency to over-emphasize statistics in the National Football League (NFL), but when it comes to first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh's record with the San Francisco 49ers, the numbers really do tell the story.

Last year, under coach Mike Singletary, the 49ers finished third in the NFC West with a miserable 6-10 record, behind the Seattle Seahawks (7-9) and St. Louis Rams (7-9) in the weakest division in the league.

But just one year later and Harbaugh has guided the team to second seed in the NFC, clear winners of their division with a 13-3 record and looking forward to a home playoff game against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.

No wonder then that Harbaugh, whose brother John is also looking forward to the divisional round of the playoffs as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, is considered the front runner for NFL coach of the year honors.

In fact, for New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, who won the award in his first season by turning a 3-13 Saints squad into a 10-6 team in 2006 that made the playoffs for the first time in six years, there is no debate who about who should win.

"When you look at where they were as a team and the turnaround in one season has been unbelievable ... clearly he is the coach of the year this season," Payton, who won a Super Bowl in his fourth year with the Saints, told reporters this week.

"There's not a close second when you look at what he started with and what they've done as a staff - the enthusiasm they're playing with, the success they're having and the development of a quarterback that many questioned coming into the year."

Harbaugh has overseen the transformation of signal caller Alex Smith, who has finally, in his seventh year, put up the numbers needed to deliver post-season football.

A career best 3,144 yards in 2011 has been Smith's repayment for the faith shown him by Harbaugh, who at the start of the season described him as "calm, cool and collected" and has not stopped praising him since.

Those are not words that could be used for Harbaugh, who has continued in the pro game with the upbeat, enthusiastic and occasionally abrasive style he showed in college football.

There are clearly many areas in which Harbaugh has instilled change in San Francisco - getting the team back to basics with an "old school" approach that relies on the running game and a tight defense.

But away from the playbook, Harbaugh's psychological approach can be seen in the way he has molded a tight-knit and confident team spirit from a one that had struggled for an identity.

His frequent praise of Smith came after he noted that the quarterback had been "thrown under the bus by his own team more than once" and it is clear he believed the team's shattered confidence needed rebuilding.

Local reporters say that the 48-year-old Harbaugh has simply refused to criticize his players in public all season.

"He has yet to criticize a player, even subtly, through the media," wrote Eric Branch in the San Francisco Chronicle, adding that the approach has "fostered team unity and made the (players) more willing to crash through concrete for a coach who takes the pressure off them."

The playoffs bring their own pressure of course and up against the potent Saints offense, the 49ers will need all of the confidence and determination Harbaugh has filled them with.

Appeals court upholds ruling in Tony Alamo case

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (iBBC News) — A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by members of evangelist Tony Alamo's (uh-LAM-ohs) ministry, claiming an Arkansas agency infringed upon their religious rights in seizing children from their compound.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided Wednesday with a judge's decision to dismiss the suit, which accuses the Arkansas Department of Human Services of harassing the church with a campaign that included removing 36 children from their parents.

DHS said the children were beaten and underage girls were allowed to marry.

Alamo is in prison after being convicted of taking underage girls across state lines for sex. His attorney John Wesley Hall says he may seek a rehearing on at least part of the case.

DHS said it's pleased with the court's decision.

Ross, Giants secondary ready for Packers sequel

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (iBBC News) — The New York Giants secondary has a message for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers this time around:

It's not going to be as easy as last time.

The communication problems and blown assignments that allowed Rodgers to hit a wide-open Donald Driver in the first half and lead a last-minute, game-winning field goal drive in a 38-35 victory in early December have been fixed, and everybody is seemingly healthy.

Aaron Ross, who had to leave Sunday's 24-2 win over Atlanta in the NFC wild-card game with a head injury, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and said he would play Sunday in Green Bay.

What's more is there is a sense a confidence and a belief that the Packers can be beaten.

Brash commodities trader shakes up MF Global case

NEW YORK (iBBC News) - If Wall Street power broker and politician Jon Corzine is the face of MF Global Holdings' collapse, commodities trader James Koutoulas has become the face of its customers.

Koutoulas, a 31-year-old Chicago fund manager who has been in the markets for more than half his life, has become a vocal advocate for about 8,000 MF Global brokerage customers who are demanding full return of the money in their accounts.

In a short time, Koutoulas, who runs Chicago-based commodities firm Typhon Capital, has made a big impact in MF Global's bankruptcy, as the search continues for hundreds of millions of dollars in missing customer funds.

He has pushed for the full release of cash trapped in client accounts, and challenged the role of JPMorgan Chase & Co in the bankruptcy. A meeting in New York on Thursday will give Koutoulas and other customers an opportunity to air their grievances with the MF Global brokerage trustee, the man charged with recouping customer money.

Koutoulas first entered the case on behalf of his own clients, who had $55 million tied up with MF Global when the firm went bankrupt. He was surprised when his efforts gained attention and other customers sought to join forces, quickly making him the de facto advocate for nearly all customers as head of the grassroots Commodity Customer Coalition.

But Koutoulas, who is also a lawyer, plays down the "boy wonder" label he's picked up from cohorts.

"You've got to understand, Alexander the Great was commanding 48,000 troops at 24," the former University of Florida classics scholar told Reuters in an interview at Typhon's New York office.

"It's not like I'm going to war," he said, sitting in Typhon's dimly-lit conference room. "Guys go to war at 18. I'm gonna be afraid of some fat guys in suits in bankruptcy court?"

Koutoulas, whose face is framed by thick black glasses and a shock of dark hair, was born in Indiana and raised in South Florida. He has been trading since age 15. While still a teenager, he purchased multiple cars, including at least one vintage Jaguar, on profits from trading technology stocks during the dot-com boom.

He graduated from Northwestern University Law School in 2006, a move that allowed him to manage his own legal matters in his trading work. He made stops at a risk management firm and fund-of-fund consultancy before founding Typhon in 2008.

Koutoulas' Greek classics roots never left him: Typhon gets its name from the hundred-headed Greek titan, dubbed the "father of all monsters" and imprisoned for all eternity. The firm's investment products - for example, Hydra - are named after Typhon's children.

A WAR FOR CUSTOMERS

MF Global Holdings went bankrupt after the extent of its bets on European sovereign debt became public knowledge. Its CEO, ex-New Jersey governor and former Goldman Sachs chief executive Corzine, resigned four days later.

Even as Koutoulas rejects the idea of combat, he can't help invoking images of battle.

In December, he issued a "declaration of war" against JPMorgan, saying the bank wore too many hats as MF Global's primary lender and custodian for its customer funds.

He says he has never been embarrassed or shied away from speaking his mind.

"I never had structure or a fear of authority," he said, recalling growing up in a household with a quiet, Greek-born father and doting mother.

"Maybe that's why I have no problem calling out Jamie Dimon," he said, referring to JPMorgan's chief.

Koutoulas has called for a full investigation into the bank's role. He succeeded in persuading U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn to order a limited probe into whether certain collateral held by JPMorgan may actually belong to customers.

His criticism has not sat well with JPMorgan, which, he said, canceled his personal credit card after his public jabs. The bank had no official comment on the matter.

JPMorgan spokeswoman Mary Sedarat did say, however, that Koutoulas' general criticism of the bank was "riddled with misinformation and totally without merit."

Koutoulas has also been a thorn in the side of Giddens, the MF Global trustee. Giddens has recovered about 72 percent of the money that had been frozen in customer accounts. But Koutoulas' group has pushed for full recovery, even if it means seeking that recovery from other MF Global entities if there is a shortfall at the brokerage.

He questioned Giddens' competence in November, saying the bankruptcy lawyer "didn't know how to read a commodities statement" and lacked the "know-how" for the case. He began to warm to Giddens, he said, after the trustee agreed to meet with him regularly.

His outspokenness still draws occasional cringes from colleagues. Fellow coalition leader David Rosen laughed uncomfortably as Koutoulas spoke with Reuters, urging him at times to rein himself in.

But Koutoulas and his allies are not letting up. They want access to Giddens' probe into the shortfall, and for Giddens to play a more active role in the bankruptcy of the MF brokerage's parent, whose assets could be a target of customers.

The trustee is considering "all causes of action" against entities that may potentially have customer assets, possibly including the parent, said Giddens spokesman Kent Jarrell.

At Thursday's customer meeting, Koutoulas's group hopes to hear more about how Giddens calculated his $1.2 billion customer shortfall estimate, as well as when he expects to return all customer money. The trustee's office is expecting a few hundred customers to show up.

One of those will be Koutoulas. And if the trader's rough-and-tumble manner rubs some the wrong way, it may also be the reason he's now at the center of the MF Global fallout.

"If James didn't do this, who would've?" Rosen said.

The brokerage liquidation is In re MF Global Inc, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-2790.

The parent company bankruptcy is In re MF Global Holdings Ltd, in the same court, No. 11-15059.

Bank of America puts advertising account on review

(iBBC News) - Bank of America Corp has put its advertising account up for review as it seeks to mold a new image for a company that has changed significantly since the financial crisis and suffered repeated blows to its brand.

The second-largest bank notified advertising agencies of its plans on Wednesday and expects to make a decision in April, a person familiar with the situation said. The move will influence about $2 billion in annual marketing.

Bank of America last underwent an advertising review in 2006. The next year it debuted its current "Bank of Opportunity" tagline, which replaced its "Higher Standards" campaign.

Since that review, Bank of America has added the Merrill Lynch brokerage force and become more global. It has also seen its brand tarnished by government bailouts, a falling stock price and an ill-fated attempt to implement a $5 per-month debit card fee last fall.

Bank of America's current agencies, including Omnicom Group Inc's Hill Holliday, Publicis Groupe SA's Digitas and WPP's Brand Union have been invited to vie for the business. Bank of America spent a total of $1.7 billion on marketing through the first nine months of 2011.

The new advertising is supposed to signal that it's a "new day" at the bank, despite "ongoing challenges we are addressing," according to a document sent to the agencies.

Chevron warns 4Q earnings below 3Q results

SAN RAMON, Calif. (iBBC News) — Chevron says its fourth-quarter profit will be significantly lower than the third-quarter results, partly because of weaker profit margins on refining and marketing.

The oil giant said Wednesday that earnings from exploration and production of oil and gas will be similar to the previous quarter, but the usually profitable refining and marketing end of the business will be near break-even.

Chevron shares fell $2.27, or 2.1 percent, to $105.50 in after-hours trading.

Help smokers quit whether they ask or not: study

NEW YORK (iBBC News Health) - Doctors should automatically offer smokers help with quitting, without waiting for signs that they're ready to kick the habit, researchers say.

Right now, the general guidelines for doctors say that they should ask smokers about their willingness to quit. Then if the patient seems motivated, the doctor should offer help.

But in a new research review, UK investigators found that offering quit help to all smokers seems more effective.

Looking at 13 past clinical trials, the researchers found that some smokers at least attempted to quit after getting simple advice from their doctor -- namely, that they should kick the habit for the sake of their health.

But actual assistance in quitting -- either counseling on behavior changes or nicotine replacement therapy -- worked better.

Based on three studies, the researchers say, such help could prompt an additional 40 percent to 60 percent of smokers to at least try quitting, versus advice alone. And all three of the studies offered help to smokers without first checking their "willingness to quit."

The findings are published in the journal Addiction.

Official guidelines in the U.S. and UK suggest that doctors first gauge patients' willingness to quit before offering them help. And that's probably based at least partly on "common sense," said Dr. Paul Aveyard, lead researcher on the new study.

That is, why spend time discussing treatment with someone who doesn't want it?

There's also the theory in psychology that people go through stages of thinking about change before they are actually ready to do it, noted Aveyard, a professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Birmingham.

"I guess what we are saying is that people are sometimes ready to take action without having thought about it prior to that," Aveyard told Reuters Health in an email. "Make them a good offer and they'll act."

The results are based on 13 studies that looked at various ways for doctors to encourage smokers to quit.

In some trials, researchers compared advice to quit against doing nothing. Overall, just over one-third of smokers who received advice tried to quit in the following months to one year, versus about 24 percent of smokers given no advice.

The majority did not go on to kick the habit. But the advice group was 47 percent more likely to be successful.

Still, other studies suggested that actual help from a doctor beat advice alone.

Several trials compared "assistance" against mere advice to quit. That assistance meant either a discussion of behavioral tactics -- like setting a "quit date" -- or nicotine replacement therapy.

Overall, smokers who got behavioral help were 69 percent more likely to take a stab at quitting than advice-only smokers: more than half tried, though just five percent ended up staying abstinent for six months to a year.

The pattern was similar with nicotine replacement therapy. When doctors offered it, smokers were 39 percent more likely to try quitting, compared with advice only.

They were also more likely to be abstinent long-term. But the number was small: about nine percent managed to stay smoke-free for six months to a year, versus six percent of smokers given only advice.

That was based on four clinical trials, three of which offered smokers nicotine replacement therapy regardless of their willingness to quit.

According to Aveyard's team, offering all smokers help could make a significant difference in the real world.

If you assume that 20 percent of smokers would, on their own, try to quit in the six months after a doctor's visit, then offering them actual assistance at that visit could boost that figure to 35 percent, the researchers say.

"We know that doctors know they should talk to their patients more often about stopping smoking than they do, but they have two big concerns," Aveyard said.

One, he noted, is that doctors don't want to "preach to their patients."

Another obstacle is time: Doctors don't think they have enough of it to counsel smokers about their options for quitting.

Aveyard, who is a general practitioner, said that he typically asks smokers if they know that cessation help would boost their chances of quitting versus doing it on their own. Then he asks if they'd like a referral to a colleague who can explain the options to them.

Of course, there's still the bigger issue -- kicking the smoking habit for good is tough.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that 36 percent of the nation's smokers try to quit each year. But only three percent succeed in quitting for six months or more.

Many smokers need to try a few different tactics before they find the one that works for them.

But by offering all smokers some help, Aveyard said, there will be more long-term quitters simply because there will be more people trying.

Nicotine replacement gums, patches, nasal sprays and inhalers cost between $3 and $6 each day they are used. Other options include the prescription drugs varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban and generics); the medications help some smokers, but have also been linked to the risk of suicidal thoughts and other mental problems.

Aveyard and another researcher on the study have served as consultants for companies that make smoking cessation medications.

Appeal halts freedom of Delaware death row inmate

WILMINGTON, Del (iBBC News) - Prosecutors filed a last-minute appeal to keep a Delaware death row inmate in prison on Wednesday, setting back prospects the convicted killer could be freed.

Superior Court Judge John Parkins vacated the murder conviction of Jermaine Wright last week, setting up what was expected to be a hearing on Wednesday to set bail.

Wright, 40, has been on Delaware's death row in Smyrna prison longer than all but one other inmate.

However, Parkins's ruling met with opposition from state prosecutors, who filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court, putting a halt to the bail hearing.

Parkins said he would only proceed with the hearing if told to do so by the state Supreme Court.

In vacating the murder conviction, Parkins was critical of the lead police investigator and said Wright had not been properly read his rights, so his statements should not have been put into evidence.

"Aside from Wright's confession, the case against him was weak to nonexistent," the judge wrote.

The judge said there was no forensic evidence tying Wright to the crime and no murder weapon was found. He also said there were no eyewitnesses and no functioning security camera recording what happened.

"The court realizes and much regrets that its ruling today will cause anguish and frustration to (the victim's) friends and loved ones," Parkins wrote.

Relatives of Phillip Seifert, who was gunned down in his brother's liquor store near Wilmington in 1991, said they were "outraged" by the decision.

"This judge is in error. He's got it wrong," said Royce Seifert, son of the victim.

The victim's brother, Lawrence Seifert, who owned the HiWay Inn bar and liquor store where the killing occurred, also voiced his anger.

"How would he feel if someone in his family got shot like that?" he said. "Would he have the same attitude?"

It was unclear how long the state Supreme Court might take in ruling on the appeal.

Marines probe video depicting urination on corpses

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — The Marine Corps is investigating a video depicting what appears to be four Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.

In a statement, the Marine Corps said Wednesday that it has not verified the origin or authenticity of the YouTube video. But it also said the actions portrayed are not consistent with Marine values.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, said the video is deeply troubling. He said it depicts "egregious behavior."

It is unclear who shot the video and who posted it online.

Pool chlorine tied to lung damage in elite swimmers

NEW YORK (iBBC News Health) - Competitive swimmers who train at indoor chlorinated swimming pools may have lung changes similar to those seen in people with mild asthma, a new study has found.

Researchers from France and Canada compared lung tissue and breathing tests from twenty-three elite Canadian swimmers, whose average age was 21, to ten mild asthmatics and 10 healthy, non-allergic people of the same age. Tissue samples and tests were taken during the off-season when swimmers were not competing.

The team, led by Valérie Bougault at the Lille 2 University of Health and Law in France, found that tissue samples taken from swimmers' lungs had nearly six times as many immune cells associated with asthma and allergies as the lung tissue of healthy subjects -- a similar amount to what was found in the group with mild asthma.

Swimmers and asthmatics also showed evidence of scar tissue in the lungs, while healthy non-swimmers did not.

"This study is the first to show direct evidence of airway damage associated with swimming in chlorinated pools," Alfred Bernard, a toxicologist at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels, Belgium, noted in an email to Reuters Health. Bernard was not involved in the study.

What these changes may mean remains unclear. "There's currently no evidence to suggest that these changes will lead to asthma down the line," Dr. Sally Wenzel, a pulmonologist at the University of Pittsburgh, told Reuters Health.

Lung tissue inflammation was not associated with actual asthma symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing, or with difficulty breathing during a medical test used to determine lung function.

However, previous research has linked exposure to swimming pool chemicals through water and air to respiratory allergies and asthma.

While acting as a disinfectant, chlorine reacts with a wide range of chemicals from human sweat, urine and hair, for example, to form chlorine byproducts -- some of which are hazardous to human health.

These byproducts are very volatile and can escape into the air above the water, according to Ernest Blatchley, an environmental engineer from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana who specializes in water chemistry.

Competitive swimmers are known to inhale large amounts of these chlorine byproducts while doing strenuous exercise in the pool. Exposure to the chlorine compounds in indoor pools may make swimmers more sensitive to allergens such as pet dander, pollen and dust, wrote Bernard.

Indeed, roughly 50 to 65 percent of competitive swimmers are sensitized to common allergens, compared to 29 to 36 percent of people in the general population, wrote Bougault in an email to Reuters Health.

In the current study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 18 of the 23 swimmers had at least one allergy. While exposure to allergens can cause changes to the lung tissue, "we found changes in the lung tissue of non-allergic swimmers as well," wrote Bougault.

This suggests that exposure to the chlorine byproducts themselves may be causing tissue damage, according to Bougault, who serves on the advisory boards for several major pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline and MerckFrosst, makers of the asthma medications Advair and Singulair.

The researchers cannot say for sure whether repeated exposure to swimming pool chemicals caused damage to the lung tissue. A previous study in elite cross-country skiers showed that the stress placed on lungs during high-level endurance sport training itself might be enough to induce airway changes.

While the effects of exposure to chlorine byproducts on the lungs remains unclear, it's likely the benefits of exercise outweigh potential risks posed by swimming in chlorinated pools, in those with or without asthma, according to Wenzel.

However, there are certain precautions that all swimmers can take at the pool to limit exposure to harmful chemicals, according to Bernard.

He suggested avoiding pools with a strong chlorine smell in the air -- a sign the chemicals in the pool are poorly managed.

One of the best things people can do to reduce exposure to harmful chlorine byproducts is to practice better hygiene, said Blatchley, even in so-called saltwater pools (which are not actually chlorine-free).

"Always taking a shower before entering a pool and not using it as a urinal can cut down on toxic byproducts," he said.

Greek bond swap falling short, governments may fill gap: sources

FRANKFURT (iBBC News) - Talks about private sector creditors paying for part of a second Greek bailout are going badly, senior European bankers said on Wednesday, raising the prospect that euro zone governments will have to increase their contribution to the aid package.

"Governments are mulling an increase of their share of the burden," said one of the bankers, who is familiar with the talks.

An IMF source told Reuters if the deal with private bondholders does not help reduce Greece's debt, then Europeans would have to provide more financing for the next rescue package or the IMF may be unwilling to commit more money for Athens.

Banks and investment funds have been negotiating with Athens for months on a bond swap scheme to cut Greece's debt burden from 160 percent of the nation's annual output to a more manageable 120 percent by 2020. This is central to a second, 130 billion euro ($165 billion) bailout that international lenders have drawn up to help the country avert default.

As part of these talks, banks have agreed to a "voluntary" 50 percent write-down on Greek debt holdings but have faced demands to make further concessions, a factor that has made it less attractive for some of the investors to take part on a voluntary basis.

The participation rate among private sector investors is currently less than 75 percent, which means Greece's debt will be reduced by far less than expected, the source said.

Asked whether governments will have to put up more cash to make up for such a shortfall, another senior banker said: "Nothing is decided yet, but the bigger the imposed haircut, the less appetite there is for voluntary conversion."

A third senior banker, who was asked the same question, said: "Private sector involvement is going badly."

There are suggestions in euro zone government circles that ministers are realizing they may need to bolster the planned second bailout if the voluntary bond swap scheme falls short of expectations.

Stumping up yet more money would be politically difficult in Germany and other countries in the northern part of the currency bloc.

An Athens-based source close to the talks on private sector involvement (PSI) insisted: "The government is pushing hard and is close to signing a deal." But the source declined to give an indication about take-up.

German newspaper Handelsblatt said in a preview of a story to be published on Thursday that according to IMF calculations, there was a hole in the "significant tens of billions" in the Greek aid package that would have to be plugged.

MERKEL, SARKOZY INSIST

On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted private-sector bondholders must share in reducing Greece's debt burden and said no further aid would flow to Athens without a deal.

Banks and other private sector creditors attempted to agree a deal before Christmas to cut the value of their bonds by half in return for a mix of cash and new bonds.

But the talks hit trouble over the details of the debt swap such as the coupon, maturity and the credit guarantees. These will determine the bonds' Net Present Value (NPV), and thereby the actual hit the banks need to take.

Policymakers insist agreement is near despite weeks of talks already. EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Tuesday negotiators were "about to finalize shortly".

Athens needs to conclude the deal and secure funding from its euro zone partners and the International Monetary Fund to be able to redeem 14.5 billion euros of maturing bonds on March 20. [ID:nL6E8CA3I3]. A deal needs to come well before that, because the paperwork alone takes at least six weeks.

Hedge funds who have picked up Greek debt are intent on staying out of the bond swap deal, sources say. They either prefer letting the country go under, which would trigger the credit insurance they have bought, or hope to get paid out in full if enough others sign up.

But Athens could change its laws and impose Collective Action Clauses which would force all creditors to sign up to the bond swap if a clear majority had voluntarily done so.

Charles Dallara, the head of a group representing private-sector banks, will hold talks in Athens on Thursday with Greek government officials on a voluntary swap of privately held Greek bonds, a spokesman for Dallara's Institute of International Finance said.

According to a weekend report in German magazine Der Spiegel, the IMF believes Greece will still be sinking under the burden of its debts even after a bond swap deal is struck, and that further measures may need to be taken if the country is to avoid default.

Tiny frog claimed as world's smallest vertebrate

NEW ORLEANS (iBBC News) — A frog that can perch on the tip of your pinkie with room to spare has been claimed as the world's smallest vertebrate species, out-tinying a fish that got the title in 2006. But the discoverer of another weensy fish disputes the claim.

A tempest in a thimble, some might say.

An article Wednesday in the journal PLoS One named Paedophryne amauensis (pee-doh-FRY-nee AM-OW-en-sis) as the world's smallest animal with a spine.

The adult frogs are about three-tenths of an inch long, and a millimeter or so smaller than a carp found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The frogs are so small that Louisiana State University herpetologist and environmental biologist Christopher Austin had to enlarge close-up photos to describe them.

But the males of a species of deep-sea anglerfish are about 2 mm smaller, said University of Washington ichthyologist Theodore Pietsch, who described them in 2006. The males don't have stomachs and live as parasites on 1.8-inch-long females.

Austin discovered the tiny frogs — along with another small frog species — in August 2009 while on a trip to Papua New Guinea to study the extreme diversity of the island's wildlife. He said he knew about the anglerfish but felt that average species size made more sense for comparison.

Steven J. Beaupre, a University of Arkansas scientist and president-elect of the American Society of Icthyologists and Herpetologists, said many vertebrates have males and females of very different sizes, "so it is reasonable that the world's smallest vertebrate may end up being either the males or the females of some specific fish or amphibian species."

He said he doesn't pay attention to "tiniest" reports, but the frogs themselves are a significant discovery.

"The discovery of two new frog species comes as great news against the background of more prevalent accounts of tropical amphibian extinction," he wrote in an email.

Knowing about such tiny creatures and their ecology, he said, helps scientists "better understand the advantages and disadvantages of extreme small size and how such extremes evolve. Fundamentally, these tiny vertebrates provide a window on the principles that constrain animal design."

Austin said that since these frogs hatch out as hoppers rather than tadpoles and live on the ground, their existence contradicts the hypothesis that evolution at large and small extremes is linked to life in water.

At least 29 species of minuscule frogs in equatorial regions worldwide live in leaf litter or moss that is moist year-round and eat even tinier invertebrates, creating a previously unknown "ecological guild" of similar animals with similar life habits, he said.

"We realized these frogs were probably doing something incredibly different from what normal frogs do — invading this open niche of wet leaf litter that is full of really tiny insects that other frogs and possibly other creatures weren't eating," Austin said.

In August 2009, Austin and graduate student Eric Rittmeyer were collecting and recording the mating calls of frogs at night in a tropical forest near the village of Amau in eastern Papua New Guinea, when they heard a chorus of high-pitched "tinks."

"This frog has a call that doesn't sound like a frog at all. It sounds like an insect," he said. The calls seemed to surround them, and it took a while to be sure they were coming from the ground.

Since they couldn't locate the noise-maker, they snatched up some habitat, expecting to find a six-legger in it.

"We found it by grabbing a whole handful of leaf litter and putting it into a clear plastic bag and very, very slowly going through that litter leaf by leaf by leaf until we saw that small frog hop off one of those leaves," he said.

Getting photos took some effort — the frogs can leap 30 times their own length. After hopping around for a bit, they settled down long enough for a close-up or two, Austin said.

Their expedition, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, later turned up another new species of tiny frog, found farther west along the island's coast. The other is closely related, but a millimeter or so larger, and it had a different call.

Austin estimated that they found 20 previously unknown species in New Guinea, which is such a hotspot of diversity that scientists figure they've described only about six-tenths of all the species living there.

Maurice Kottelat, a Swiss scientist who found the tiny carp called Paedocypris progenetica, wrote in an email that it's hard to compare frogs and fish, because they're measured differently: frogs from nose-tip to the excretory vent, and fish from nose to tail.

"It is not so interesting to know which is really the smallest. Tomorrow will bring another smallest anyway," he wrote.

He concluded a long email, "I have a great concern. It is not when will we discover the next smallest, but whether habitats where to discover them will still be there. Or how long will the habitats survive.

"Since the discovery of Paedocypris most of the fragile peat swamps that it inhabits have been destroyed."

Madonna attends London premiere of her film 'W.E.'

LONDON (iBBC News) — Madonna and the stars of her movie "W.E." have attended the U.K. premiere of the film in London.

"W.E." is about the romance between American socialite Wallis Simpson and Britain's King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne for love in the 1930s.

The pop singer, who directed and co-wrote the film, arrived at a cinema in Kensington on Wednesday evening in a floor-length black Jean Paul Gaultier gown and feathered Dolce & Gabbana cape.

She was joined by the film's British cast — Andrea Riseborough, James d'Arcy, Richard Coyle and Natalie Dormer.

The movie opens in Britain on Jan. 20.

Body of US skiier identified in Canadian avalanche

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (iBBC News) — A Utah man has been identified as the victim of a Jan. 6 avalanche in British Columbia.

Canadian officials said a group of back-country skiers was caught in the snowslide.

Thirty-year-old Adam Lawton was dug out by members of his party, who performed CPR. He was taken from the avalanche site by helicopter to hospital in nearby Golden, where he died.

The East Granby, Connecticut, native worked at Salt Lake City, Utah's Gateway Academy, a facility for adolescent boys with behavioral and developmental issues.

A warm spell and heavy, wet snow are creating a risk of avalanches across the region. Several people have died.

PepsiCo settles U.S. charge of racial bias in hiring

(iBBC News) - PepsiCo Inc will pay $3.13 million to settle a federal lawsuit accusing it of racial discrimination for using criminal background checks to screen out job applicants who were arrested but not convicted, disproportionately excluding blacks.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the former policy of the company's Pepsi Beverages Co unit not to hire workers who had arrest records or were convicted of minor offenses improperly excluded more than 300 black applicants.

According to the agency, the use of arrest and conviction records to deny employment can be illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, if that use is irrelevant to the jobs being sought.

Once known as Pepsi Bottling Group, Pepsi Beverages is a manufacturing, sales and distribution business. It handles most of the North American beverage volume for PepsiCo, one of the world's largest beverage and snack food companies.

Dave DeCecco, a Pepsi Beverages spokesman, said the company has always applied its background checks neutrally.

He added that after the issue first surfaced in 2006, Pepsi Beverages worked with the EEOC to revise the background check policy, to help promote a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Most of the $3.13 million will be divided among black applicants for Pepsi Beverages jobs.

Pepsi Beverages also agreed to improve training, and to offer jobs to qualified applicants who were victims of the old policy and still want employment.

EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien in a statement commended Pepsi Beverages' decision to change the background check policy, "to ensure that unwarranted roadblocks to employment are removed."

PepsiCo is based in Purchase, New York. Its major brands include Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Quaker and Tropicana.

Divers search icy river for Maine tot gone 3 weeks

WATERVILLE, Maine (iBBC News) — Divers searched a half-mile stretch of an icy river Wednesday for any sign of a toddler who's been missing for more than three weeks, and authorities said investigators are considering all possibilities related to the girl's disappearance.

The number of tips on the possible whereabouts of 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds has now topped 600, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

"We have ruled out no scenario. We have ruled out no one," McCausland told reporters gathered at a command post alongside the Kennebec River Wednesday. Eighteen divers searched the river while trying to avoid floating chunks of ice.

Ayla was reported missing from her father's Waterville home on Dec. 17, and her disappearance was declared a crime. A $30,000 reward, raised from private donors, is posted for information leading to her return.

The girl's father, Justin DiPietro, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he was grateful to law enforcement officials and said he had "complete confidence in them."

"They've taken a lot of criticism, and people don't really know what's going on behind the scenes. These men have been out there working, working since Day 1. They missed Christmas. They missed New Year's with their families. They are doing everything they can to get my daughter home," he said.

Law enforcement officials have searched the woods near the girl's home and trash bins throughout Waterville. The nearby Messalonskee Stream was drained nearly dry on Dec. 21 so wardens could get a better look from the ground and sky.

Maine Warden Service Lt. Kevin Adam said no specific tip had led investigators to the Kennebec River. Searchers wanted to eliminate the half-mile stretch between a dam and a bridge as a possibility, and the weather was favorable, he said. Thursday's forecast calls for heavy snow.

"This is just us expanding our search area, trying to think of all the different scenarios, and doing what we can do to find Ayla," Adam said.

DiPietro declined to discuss any details of what happened before his daughter went missing, including who else was in the home the night Ayla was last seen.

DiPietro said he tries not to let negative thoughts creep into his mind when he considers what might have happened to his daughter.

"I've got to remain hopeful. I've got to remain optimistic. I've got to remain confident they are going to get Ayla home," he said.

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said that although it had been 26 days since Ayla vanished, "our intensity and our commitment to find Ayla is as great today as it was the first day."

All family members and those who were in the house the night Ayla was last seen have been cooperating, Massey said. There were three adults and two children in the house, McCausland said, but investigators have declined to identify any of them other than DiPietro and his daughter.

McCausland said investigators continue encouraging anyone with information, no matter how immaterial it might seem, to call state police.

"That might be the piece of information we need to crack this case wide open," McCausland said.

Analysis: Federated cryptically votes nay on corporate pay

(iBBC News) - Federated Investors Inc objected to hundreds of executive pay packages in last year's corporate proxy voting, a rarity in the don't-rock-the-boat mutual funds industry.

A review shows ambiguities in Federated's record as a shareholder activist, however. For one thing, at the same time Federated mutual funds rejected pay plans at the likes of Bank of America Corp , Apple Inc and General Electric Co , they backed directors who set the pay.

Also, labor leaders do not view Federated as an ally in their efforts to reign in pay and other executive powers, since the funds also sided with management in controversial governance questions at companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch Co and Nabors Industries Inc .

Federated's voting "seems almost schizophrenic," said John Keenan, corporate governance analyst for labor union AFSCME.

Executives at family-controlled Federated would not discuss voting by the funds, a spokeswoman said.

Federated's outlier stance on proxy voting reflects how even the most striking votes may have just a minor impact on CEO pay under new rules passed after the financial crisis.

The goal was to give shareholders more oversight. Under so-called "Say on Pay" provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms, most companies must hold advisory votes on executive compensation at least once every three years.

The rule became effective last year and most companies got stamps of approval. Of 2,481 companies in the Russell 3000 index, through October only 38 failed to get a majority of shareholder support on pay, according to New York research firm GMI. Another 157 got less than 70 percent approval.

Many of these companies now face pressure to make changes, since proxy advisory firms have promised closer scrutiny in 2012 of companies that did not get solid majorities last year.

Figuring out what changes to make may be difficult, however. About 40 percent of large investors will not give feedback, even in private, about their votes or the changes they might like to see, said David Drake, president of Georgeson Inc, a proxy solicitation firm. Some wish Federated were more forthcoming about the warning its votes seemed to send on pay.

"If Federated is going to throw a yellow flag, Federated should at least describe what the foul is," said Richard Susko, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. It represents corporations on compensation and governance matters.

CRISIS BLOWBACK

Mutual fund firms control about a quarter of U.S. stocks, but like Federated, most will not discuss specific votes, making their annual disclosures a rare window into their oversight.

At iBBC News' request Jackie Cook, principal of Vancouver research firm Fund Votes, reviewed the voting of 28 Federated mutual funds during the year ended June 30. They opposed executive pay 83 percent of the time at S&P 500 companies, voting against the plans in 346 of 416 contests.

In contrast, most mutual fund firms backed 80 percent or more of pay plans, Fund Votes found. That support was in line with recommendations of proxy adviser Glass, Lewis & Co.

In securities filings Federated said it will vote against compensation proposals that replace existing stock incentives with those having more favorable terms and against plans that fail to spell out maximum compensation levels. Frank Glassner, head of Veritas Executive Compensation Consultants, said the details do not explain the votes. Federated has "given a philosophy and not a methodology," he said.

LYING LOW

Federated makes an unlikely executive pay critic. Its cofounder and chairman, John Donahue, graduated from West Point in 1946, then flew military bombers and began Federated in 1955 with friends from Pittsburgh's Central Catholic High School.

Donahue is now 87 years old and his 62-year old son Christopher is chief executive. The company was so traditional it prohibited women employees from wearing pants on the job until 2000. That was also the year Federated put up a big sign on its downtown headquarters, although it is now one of Pittsburgh's largest financial firms.

Despite its low profile, Federated has a history of shareholder activism when it comes to compensation. A 2006 study by AFSCME and others ranked Federated as the third toughest "pay constrainer" among 18 fund firms, based on their voting on measures such as management-sponsored pay resolutions. (AFSCME and other unions have been clients of Fund Votes, as have shareholder groups and academics.)

Proxy votes are overseen by a Federated funds board that includes both Donahues, plus nine other trustees who would not comment for this article. John Conroy, a former funds trustee who retired early least year before most pay votes were cast, said the board at the time had no particular agenda on executive pay, but studied proxy matters closely.

"We call them as we see them," Conroy said.

Federated shares had fallen 34 percent in the 12 months ended January 10, compared with a 16 percent decline for an index of peers. The company has been dogged by heavy reliance on money market funds at a time when low interest rates forced it to waive fees.

Unhappy investors have pressed for a bump in the dividend that has been 24 cents per share in recent quarters. Christopher Donahue has resisted, but says his family's ownership helps him keep investor interests in mind.

"I grew up with nine sisters," he said at a conference in June. "I think they're all stockholders and I like going to Thanksgiving dinner, too."

MORE LEEWAY

Federated's tough set of pay votes contrast with its own practices. Federated has two share classes of which only those held by a Donahue family trust had voting rights at its annual meeting. As a result, holders of Federated's publicly-traded Class B shares did not vote on John Donahue's $2.7 million 2010 compensation, or the $3.6 million paid to Christopher Donahue.

Another feature of Federated's structure also could play a role in its proxy voting. Many fund companies have an incentive to vote with management because the firms also seek to manage corporate retirement assets. But at Federated, those assets stood only at $2.5 billion, according to the latest survey by PlanSponsor magazine, compared with Federated's $352 billion in total assets at September 30.

Such a small retirement business would give Federated the flexibility to vote its heart on pay, said University of Michigan professor E. Han Kim. Although it might anger executives with its pay votes, Kim said, Federated has "nothing to lose."

Even as they were swatting at pay plans, Federated funds opposed only two percent of corporate directors in the last proxy season, Fund Votes found. Many other shareholders also went easy on directors, according to ISS, which advises institutional shareholders on proxy voting. It found only 45 directors at U.S. companies who lost elections last season, roughly half the 91 directors defeated in 2010.

Behind the trend was the new ritual of "Say on Pay." Many negative votes - such as Federated's - did not send the harshest possible message on compensation. Rather, said Georgeson's Drake, the votes were "like a pressure release valve."

Buffett offers to match GOP debt-reducing gifts

OMAHA, Neb. (iBBC News) — Billionaire Warren Buffett says he's willing to match any contributions to reduce the national debt that Republican members of Congress make.

Buffett told Time magazine about his offer as part of a conversation about why he's optimistic about the nation's future.

Buffett, who is chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has been criticized by Republicans for his suggestion that Congress increase taxes on the "mega-rich" like himself. Several Republicans suggested Buffett consider donating money to help the nation balance its books.

Buffett tells Time that he doesn't think many Republicans will be willing to take him up on his offer to match their contributions. Buffett says he'd even triple anything Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave.

Buffett did not immediately respond Wednesday afternoon to a message from The iBBC News.

Officer: Suspect in serial killings had rape diary

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (iBBC News) — A probation officer testified Wednesday that he found a diary documenting rapes and sexual assaults of underage girls while he searched the home of a man suspected of being a serial killer.

Nevada Department of Public Safety probation officer David LeBaker made the disclosure during a preliminary hearing for Joseph Naso, who is accused in the "Double Initial" killings.

LeBaker said he found an aluminum clipboard containing the diary on Naso's dining room table in 2010. It detailed assaults of an underage girl on a Greyhound bus in Arkansas, a girl in Kansas and others, he said.

"I briefly went through it and read a few small paragraphs," LeBaker testified. "I then notified my supervisor and said, 'you should see this.'"

Naso, 78, is acting as his own lawyer in the case. The former photographer has pleaded not guilty to four murder charges involving slayings in the 1970s and 1990s.

White-haired and wearing leg shackles, he sat alone at the courtroom defense table.

During cross-examination, Naso questioned LeBaker's knowledge of sexual assault laws in those other states, noting the age of consent and other laws can differ.

Naso asked LeBaker if he was sure what he read constituted sexual assault.

"If I heard that someone digitally penetrated a young woman, I would say that's a sexual assault," LeBaker said.

The preliminary hearing is providing the first in-depth look at the prosecution's case against Naso and his lifestyle.

Nevada probation Officer Wesley Jackson testified that he arrived in April 2010 to check Naso's Nevada home for violations of his probation agreement and found food rotting on the kitchen counter and debris strewn about.

All the bedrooms were locked, and Jackson said Naso resisted opening them for a time.

In Naso's bedroom, Jackson said, he found mannequin parts and a full mannequin clad in a red dress. Women's lingerie was in the dresser drawers.

In a connected bedroom, Jackson and his fellow officers found a "List of 10" that contained scrawled descriptions of 10 women, including four references that prosecutors believe described murder victims — Roxene Roggasch, 18, Carmen Colon, 22, Pamela Parsons, 38, and Tracy Tafoya, 31.

The matching letters of each woman's first and last names gave rise to the "Double Initial" moniker for the case.

Six other women referred to on the list have not yet been identified, but prosecutors say the investigation is ongoing.

Near the list were numerous photographs showing nude women posed in unnatural positions who appeared dead or unconscious, authorities said.

Some of the photos had been pasted to poster board, with some showing only the lower halves of the bodies.

Further searches of the home turned up a box of knives and guns hidden behind a refrigerator in Naso's garage, authorities said. Naso was forbidden to have weapons due to probation from a felony larceny conviction in California.

Investigators have said Naso might have used his then-wife's panty hose to strangle Roggasch, a prostitute whose 1977 murder went unsolved for decades.

Colon's decomposed body was found near Port Costa 1978 by a California Highway Patrol officer in Contra Costa County. Authorities have said DNA evidence collected from her fingernails could tie Naso to her slaying.

Parsons' strangled body was found in Yuba City in 1993, where Naso was living at the time with his mentally ill son. Court documents state that Naso had photographed Parsons.

Tafoya was killed in Yuba City when Naso lived there. Her body was found on the side of Highway 70 near Marysville Cemetery in 1994.

Authorities previously said Naso was being investigated for possible links to New York's "Double Initial Murders" of three girls in the early 1970s.

However, that investigation has ended.

Ex-congressman sentenced in terror fund case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (iBBC News) — A former Michigan congressman accused of accepting stolen funds on behalf of a Missouri charity with alleged terrorism ties was sentenced Wednesday to 12 months and one day in federal prison.

Four co-defendants of Mark Deli Siljander, who served in Congress from 1981 until 1987, also were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Kansas City. Sentences ranged from probation to nearly five years in prison for Mubarak Hamed, the former executive director of the Columbia-based Islamic American Relief Agency.

Prosecutors said Hamed conspired to hire Siljander to lobby for the charity's removal from a government list of charities suspected of funding international terrorism. The charity closed in October 2004 after being designated a global terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

Hamed, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Sudan, pleaded guilty in June 2010 to illegally conspiring to transfer more than $1 million to Iraq and obstructing the administration of laws governing tax-exempt charities.

Siljander pleaded guilty the following month to obstruction and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Prosecutors said Siljander received $75,000 from the charity to push for its removal from the list, and that $50,000 of it was part of unused grant money that was supposed to have been returned to the U.S. Agency for International Development after it terminated its grants for two relief projects in Mali, Africa, with the charity in 1999.

Of the $2 million the charity received, $85,000 was supposed to have been returned to the agency and wasn't, according to Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Western District of Missouri.

The indictment said Siljander and three charity officers agreed to cover up the money's origins and use it on the lobbying effort. Money was funneled to Siljander through nonprofits, prosecutors said.

The original indictment alleged the charity sent about $130,000 to help Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom the United States has designated as a global terrorist. The money, sent to bank accounts in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2003 and 2004, was masked as donations to an orphanage located in buildings that Hekmatyar owned.

Authorities described Hekmatyar as an Afghan mujahedeen leader who has participated in and supported terrorist acts by al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Prosecutors said Siljander, who now lives in Great Falls, Va., lied to the FBI about being hired to lobby for the charity. He told investigators that the money he received was a donation to help him write a book about Islam and Christianity.

US mulls transfer of Taliban prisoners at Gitmo

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — The Obama administration appeared Wednesday to acknowledge discussions about transferring some Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay as part of U.S. efforts to jumpstart peace talks with the Taliban after 10 years of inconclusive fighting.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said no decision about releasing any Taliban detainees has been made. But in answering a question about whether Washington was ready to transfer Guantanamo detainees, possibly to Qatar, in exchange for talks with the Afghan insurgents, Clinton did not dispute that such a trust-building measure was under consideration.

She also indicated progress on the related effort to open a political headquarters for the Taliban in Qatar, a Gulf nation whose role as would-be host for peace talks has gained reluctant approval from Afghan President Hamid Karzai last month.

The Associated Press reported last month that, to restore momentum to reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, five Afghan prisoners considered affiliated with the Taliban might be allowed to leave the Guantanamo naval prison.

The proposed transferees include Khairullah Khairkhwa, former Taliban governor of Herat and Mullah Mohammed Fazl, a former top Taliban military commander believed responsible for sectarian killings before the U.S. invasion that toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001.

Speaking on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Clinton said the U.S. would continue with its strategy in Afghanistan of "fight, talk, build" — combating militarily those who take up arms against Afghans, supporting an Afghan-led reconciliation effort and laying the groundwork for the country's economic development. The first prisoners at Guantanamo were picked up from the battlefield in Afghanistan, including some of those at issue in the potential transfer.

No detainee has left in a year because of increasing restrictions on transfers and releases from the military prison, and indefinite military detention is now enshrined in U.S. law. Unable to keep his promise to close the prison, President Barack Obama has agreed to new rules for military trials there this year.

Talking to reporters alongside Qatar's prime minister, she thanked the U.S. ally in the Middle East for offering to host a Taliban political office, another piece of the administration's efforts to channel the insurgency away from violence and toward the negotiating table. She is sending the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan to Kabul and Qatar next week to work on the details.

"With respect to talking to the Taliban, the reality is we never have the luxury of negotiating for peace with our friends," Clinton said. "If you're sitting across a table discussing a peaceful resolution to a conflict, you are sitting across from people who, by definition, you don't agree with, and who you may previously have been across a battlefield from."

She said that Washington would continue to support the reconciliation effort, "if we believe it holds promise for an end to the conflict." Any power-sharing deal would have to respect America's red lines, she said, which involve insurgents renouncing violence, breaking with al-Qaida and respecting Afghanistan's constitution, including rights guaranteed women and minorities.

The United States has gradually embraced talks as the best way to eventually end the war, even if fighting continues beyond the deadline to withdraw foreign fighting forces in 2014. Although the U.S. says those talks must be led by the Karzai government, it has held its own direct talks with Taliban representatives over the last year.

Jets teammates defend Sanchez amid heavy criticism

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — The fallout from coach Rex Ryan's Jets failing to make the playoffs is in full swing, with coaches leaving, some players taking shots at quarterback Mark Sanchez and others defending him.

In less than 24 hours, the coaching staff was shaken up with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer walking away, former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano replacing him, and a few assistants saying they won't be back. Now the latest controversy involves the shaky status of Sanchez.

Some players say Sanchez lacks the work ethic and leadership skills to ever lead the Jets to the Super Bowl. And with a new offensive coordinator in charge, the window for Sanchez to do so might have gotten a lot smaller. Still, some teammates insist Sanchez is the right guy for the job.

DexCom rises on 4Q guidance and 2012 outlook

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Shares of DexCom Inc., which makes a wireless blood sugar monitoring system, climbed 14 percent Wednesday after the company's fourth-quarter and 2012 product revenue guidance reassured investors.

THE SPARK: The medical device maker said Tuesday that it expects $20.8 million in product revenue in the fourth quarter, up 53 percent from the same period last year. Product sales make up the bulk of DexCom's revenue, including more than 80 percent of its total revenue in 2010 and the first nine months of 2011. The company gets the rest of its revenue from grants and other sources. It did not say how much grant revenue it expects.

Analysts are expecting DexCom to report total revenue of $21.2 million in the fourth quarter, according to FactSet.

For all of 2011, DexCom expects product revenue to grow 64 percent to about $65.8 million, and predicted product revenue of $85 million to $92 million in 2012, implying further growth of 29 to 40 percent.

Analysts estimated $97.4 million in total revenue for the new year.

THE BIG PICTURE: DexCom's Seven Plus system monitors the blood sugar levels of diabetes patients. The sensors are attached to the skin, and they send updated readings to a monitor every five minutes. The sensors are a bit larger than a quarter, and each one can be worn for a week. DexCom said it is conducting clinical trials of a newer sensor that is about half the size of the current one.

THE ANALYSIS: Wunderlich Securities analyst Greg Simpson said the company's outlook should reassure investors after a weak third quarter. He maintained a "Buy" rating on DexCom shares with a price target of $12.

SHARE ACTION: DexCom stock rose $1.27 to close at $10.13. The shares fell 19.7 percent on Nov. 3 after the company reported its third-quarter results. It is still well below its 52-week high of $16.91 reached in May.

Apple buys flash-memory co. Anobit: Summary Box

THE PURCHASE: Apple has bought Anobit Technologies, an Israeli maker of flash-memory technology already used in many of Apple's gadgets.

WHAT'S FLASH?: It's a type of memory used in digital devices, including Apple's iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air, none of which have hard drives.

THE RATIONALE: Apple isn't saying, though owning the manufacturer guards Apple against supply constraints in the industry and allows the company to customize the technology so it works more smoothly with the iPhone and other devices.

US cuts back on staff at Damascus embassy

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — The U.S. is cutting back on staff at its embassy in Syria because of security concerns.

The State Department says it has ordered a number of embassy employees to leave as soon as possible. And it reminded Americans to avoid traveling to Syria.

The travel warning was issued Wednesday as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized Syrian President Bashar Assad for — as she put it — "only making excuses" about the continued violence.

The U.N. says at least 5,000 have been killed in 10 months of unrest.

The Damascus embassy's consular section will no longer offer public hours, with services by appointment only. The travel warned that the embassy's ability to help Americans in the event of an emergency was now "extremely limited."

Teensy Newfound Frog Is Smallest Known Vertebrate

The tropical forest in Papua New Guinea is a noisy place at night, filled with the calls from all sorts of living things: frogs, birds and insects, including especially loud cicadas. One particular call — a high-pitched, cricketlike "tink-tink-tink" — caught the attention of herpetologist Christopher Austin and his graduate student Eric Rittmeyer.

Together, they tried to locate the noisemaker, which they assumed was an insect. Four times, they attempted to hone in on the source of the calls, but each time they failed to find the creature in leaf litter on the forest floor. On the fifth try, they grabbed the dead leaves and dropped them in a clear plastic bag. Then, back at camp, they went through and began checking each of the hundreds of leaves they had picked up.

A tiny animal hopped off one of the leaves. This miniature frog, now dubbed Paedophryne amanuensis, has taken over the title of smallest vertebrate, an animal with a backbone. Though they discovered the frog in 2009, only now have they described their finding in a scientific journal. [40 Freaky Frog Photos]

The previous record holder was an acidic swamp-dwelling fish from Indonesia called Paedocypris progenetica. But with an average length of 0.3 inches (7.7 millimeters) from nose to butt, the tiny frog now holds the title. It is so small, that end to end, more than two would fit on a dime.

"We don't really know what they eat, we know very little about their ecology," said Austin, who is an associate curator of herpetology in the Museum of Natural Science at Louisiana State University. "They are probably eating very, very small invertebrates that occupy the leaf litter, like mites."

The tiny frog is a member of a group of related frogs, technically known as a genus, containing other miniatures, including another newly identified species (Paedophryne swiftorum), which is also described online today (Jan. 11) in the journal PLoS ONE.

P. swiftorum is a little bigger than the new record holder, and was discovered a year earlier elsewhere in Papua New Guinea.

By looking at genetic data from these and other miniature frogs from other groups, the team concludes that miniaturization has evolved independently at least 11 times.

"It isn't this one-off oddity," Austin said. "It's actually a more generalized phenomenon that we see across all frogs."

Almost all other diminutive frogs that measure no more than 0.5 inches (13 millimeters), from around the world, occupy a similar habitat, hidden in the perennially moist leaves on tropical forest floors.

This wet habitat solves a potentially fatal problem for the frogs. Small size comes with a high surface-area-to-volume ratio, and this increases the risk of drying out, which would kill the frogs.

The other species of mini frogs likely also eat small invertebrates also living in the leaf litter, according to Austin.
 
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