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When Thursday dawned in Washington, some things seemed certain: The fiscal cliff fight would continue; the National Christmas Tree would be aglow by evening, and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina would continue to be the Senate's most important Tea Party voice.

So much for Washington certainties.

With his surprise announcement that he was exiting the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation think tank, a job that paid his predecessor $1 million annually, DeMint brought to an end his role as the Tea Party's godfather in the Senate.

As Syrian fighting intensifies in Syria, diplomatic efforts are also heating up.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the main international envoy to Syria were all in Dublin for an international gathering Thursday. The meeting came as Syria's opposition tries to get better organized to offer a real alternative to President Bashar Assad's regime.

White House spokesman Jay Carney put an end to intense speculation Thursday about whether President Obama would do an end run around Congress with one simple line: "This administration does not believe the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling — period."

Some Democrats had been urging Obama to unilaterally raise the debt limit — a bold move that would take away Republican leverage in the ongoing negotiations over taxes and spending.

We all know that nobody's perfect. But now scientists have documented that fact on a genetic level.

Researchers discovered that normal, healthy people are walking around with a surprisingly large number of mutations in their genes.

It's been well known that everyone has flaws in their DNA, though, for the most part, the defects are harmless. It's been less clear, however, just how many mistakes are lurking in someone's genes.

The Nigerian government has been slow to fulfill a promise it made last spring. And, its sluggishness is putting kids at risk for lead poisoning, the advocacy group Humans Rights Watch says.

Last May, the Nigerian government pledged roughly $5 million to clean up lead contamination around illegal gold mines in northwest Nigeria. But so far, that money hasn't been released.

For the past decade, Spelman College, a historically black women's school in Atlanta, has fielded NCAA teams in basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball and other sports. But when its small Division III conference started dwindling, college President Beverly Tatum says the school decided it was time to change focus.

"We have to ask ourselves: What is the cost of the program and who is benefiting? How many people are benefiting? Is the benefit worth the cost?" Tatum asks.

Editor's Note: Throughout the Syrian uprising, the government has allowed few foreign journalists and other outsiders into the country. In this report, a Syrian citizen describes life in the capital, Damascus. For security reasons, NPR is not identifying the author.

As the Syrian military struggles against rebel fighters, it seems the army has not been paying a lot of attention to winning the hearts and minds of civilians.

Police arrested several protesters and they sprayed irritants at a crowd gathered at the Michigan State House today.

As the Detroit Free Press reports, State Police used "chemical munitions" when the crowd tried to rush the Senate floor.

History was made at midnight in Washington on two fronts last night: Bans on both gay marriage and recreational marijuana use were lifted.

As you might expect, as the sun set and the clock struck 12, there were scenes of celebration across the state's biggest city. The pictures tell the story, so with that here are five photographs from Seattle.

The earthy smell of a fresh beet may spark delicious thoughts for us, but for a fruit fly, that smell screams danger.

Geosmin, a naturally occurring chemical that gives beets, fresh soil and corked wine their distinctive smell, is also cranked out by bacteria deadly to fruit flies. And it turns out that the tiny flies have a direct pathway from nose to brain made just to detect that smell — and avoid the toxic microbes that produce it.

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