EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 1, 2014

2014 welcomed around the world


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — With fireworks, dancing and late-night revelry, millions around the world welcomed 2014 on Tuesday, gathering for huge displays of jubilation and unity as the new year arrived.

Dubai, a Persian Gulf city known for glitz, glamour and over-the-top achievements like the world’s tallest skyscraper, sought to break another record by creating the largest fireworks show.

In Ukraine, anti-government protesters hoped to set their own record for the most people to sing a national anthem at the same time.

Crowds heading to New York City’s Times Square could expect the traditional ball drop but no mayor this year. The new year was to be rung in by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor instead.

The Dubai skyline was a canvas for a dazzling 30-minute show capping off with six minutes of fireworks that engulfed the city’s man-made, palm-shaped island, with its fronds and trunk shimmering in thousands of lights.

More glitches loom as health coverage begins

WASHINGTON (AP) — All things good, bad and unpredictable converge with the new year for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul as the law’s major benefits take effect, along with an unpopular insurance mandate and a risk of more nerve-wracking disruptions to coverage.

The changes bring big improvements for some, including Howard Kraft of Lincolnton, N.C. A painful spinal problem left him unable to work as a hotel bellman. But he’s got coverage because federal law now forbids insurers from turning away people with health problems.

What’s good for millions like Kraft is secured through what others see as an imposition: requiring virtually every American to get covered, either through an employer, a government program, or by buying a plan directly.

But the health care headlines early this year could come from continued unpredictable consequences of the insurance program’s messy rollout.

Thousands of police, troops tighten security in Russian city hit by 2 suicide bombings

VOLGOGRAD, Russia (AP) — Eerily empty buses lumbered through the streets, police weighed down with body armor warily watched pedestrians near a fast-food restaurant, and members of Cossack units stood guard at bus stops. Volgograd was an ominous and jittery city Tuesday after two suicide bombings in two days killed 34 people.

Volgograd authorities canceled mass events for New Year’s Eve, one of Russia’s most popular holidays, and asked residents not to set off fireworks. All movie theaters were closed until Thursday.

“People are afraid it will happen again. They’re trying not to go outside if they don’t have to,” said 20-year-old Yulia Kuzmina, a student. “We get a feeling that a war has started.”

That is a worry that extends far beyond Volgograd.

Although there has been no claim of responsibility for the bombing of the city’s main railway station and a trolley bus, suspicion has fallen on Islamist insurgents, whose leader ordered his adherents over the summer to do all they could to derail the Winter Olympics, which start Feb. 7 in the Russian resort city of Sochi.

Slovakia takes last 3 Uighur Guantanamo prisoners after other countries refused

MIAMI (AP) — Three members of a persecuted ethnic minority from China have been released from Guantanamo Bay and sent to the Central European country of Slovakia, officials said Tuesday, resolving a diplomatic dilemma that had kept the men imprisoned long after a judge had ordered their release.

The three men were the last three ethnic Uighurs held at the U.S. base in Cuba and their release after months of intense diplomatic efforts comes amid a renewed effort by President Barack Obama to close down the prison.

Slovakia had accepted three other Guantanamo prisoners in 2009 and allowed the resettlement of the Uighurs after other countries refused because of pressure from the Chinese government, which has sought to take custody of the men.

“Slovakia deserves a lot of credit because they were willing to do what large countries like the United States, Canada and Germany were unwilling to do, which was to resist diplomatic pressure from China and the stigma of Guantanamo,” said Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights who worked for years trying to secure the men’s release.

The Pentagon identified the men as Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper. All three are in their 30s and were captured in late 2001.

All-clear coming for North Dakota town near explosive oil train derailment

CASSELTON, N.D. (AP) — A southeastern North Dakota town narrowly escaped tragedy when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded nearby, the mayor said Tuesday, calling for changes in how the fuel is transported across the U.S.

No one was hurt in Monday’s derailment of the mile-long train that sent a great fireball and plumes of black smoke skyward about a mile from the small town of Casselton. The fire had been so intense as darkness fell that investigators couldn’t get close enough to count the number of burning cars.

Worries about the smoke plume prompted officials to ask Casselton’s 2,400 residents to voluntarily evacuate Monday evening, and most did. The recommendation was lifted Tuesday afternoon, but officials were urging residents south of the derailment to remain vigilant about changing conditions, Cass County Commissioner Ken Pawluk said.

Residents said the blasts endured for hours after the derailment, shaking their homes and businesses. A BNSF spokeswoman said 18 tanker cars burned.

Pawluk estimated that the fire was about 80 to 90 percent burned out by Tuesday afternoon.

S&P 500 logs best year since 1997 as Federal Reserve keeps stimulus going

NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market was unstoppable in 2013.

A U.S. government shutdown, fear of a default, the threat of military action in Syria, big budget cuts, and a European country looking for a bailout — any number of events might have derailed the stock market. But they didn’t.

And if skittish investors jumped out of stocks, they lost out.

“2013 would have been good year to wear noise-cancelling headphones,” says Dean Junkans, chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank. “There were a lot of things that happened and the market kept moving higher.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 had its best year since 1997, ending up 29.6 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average also turned in a stellar performance: It closed up 26.5 percent, its best gain since 1995. Combined, the two indexes closed at record highs on 97 occasions.

Alzheimer’s hope: Vitamin E may slow decline in mild, moderate dementia, veterans study finds

Researchers say vitamin E might slow the progression of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease — the first time any treatment has been shown to alter the course of dementia at that stage.

In a study of more than 600 older veterans, high doses of the vitamin delayed the decline in daily living skills, such as making meals, getting dressed and holding a conversation, by about six months over a two-year period.

The benefit was equivalent to keeping one major skill that otherwise would have been lost, such as being able to bathe without help. For some people, that could mean living independently rather than needing a nursing home.

Vitamin E did not preserve thinking abilities, though, and it did no good for patients who took it with another Alzheimer’s medication. But those taking vitamin E alone required less help from caregivers — about two fewer hours each day than some others in the study.

“It’s not a miracle or, obviously, a cure,” said study leader Dr. Maurice Dysken of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. “The best we can do at this point is slow down the rate of progression.”

Small improvement for Michael Schumacher after 2nd surgery, but doctors can’t predict recovery

GRENOBLE, France (AP) — Michael Schumacher underwent a second surgery after a brain scan showed small, “surprising” signs of improvement, but grim doctors said Tuesday they could offer no insight into the prognosis for the Formula One champion.

Schumacher, who turns 45 on Friday, suffered critical head injuries when he fell and struck a rock Sunday while skiing on a family vacation in the French Alps. His manager confirmed that the accident cracked his helmet, which doctors credited for giving him a chance at survival.

Schumacher’s condition stabilized somewhat after the second surgery, but he remains in a medically induced coma — and doctors gave no prediction on how long that would last.

“We cannot tell you any more about the future,” said Gerard Saillant, a surgeon and friend of the family who is in Grenoble. Saillant said it would be “stupid” to make any predictions about Schumacher’s recovery.

Schumacher and his 14-year-old son were skiing in the French Alpine resort of Meribel, where the family has a chalet, when he fell and hit the right side of his head on a rock. He was taken first to a local hospital, then to Grenoble University Hospital, which is recognized as having one of France’s best neurology teams.