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10 things you need to know today: March 8, 2012
A high-ranking Syrian official defects, a massive solar storm heads toward Earth, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making news and driving opinion
A member of Free Syrian Army burns a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad: Roughly 6,000 people have been killed during Syria's nearly-year-long uprising.
A member of Free Syrian Army burns a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad: Roughly 6,000 people have been killed during Syria's nearly-year-long uprising.
Alessio Romenzi/Corbis

1. SYRIAN OFFICIAL DEFECTS, JOINS OPPOSITION
In a YouTube video that surfaced Thursday and is still being confirmed, Syria's deputy oil minister, Abdo Husameddine, announced he was defecting because of the government's "brutal" crackdown on the pro-democracy opposition and "joining the dignified people's revolution." U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos visited the Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday and described parts of the city as being "completely devastated." Former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan heads to Damascus on Saturday and will likely meet with President Bashar al-Assad. [USA Today]
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2. STRONG SOLAR STORM TO HIT EARTH
The strongest geomagnetic storm in nearly six years is expected to hit Earth on Thursday. Power grids, airplane routes, satellites, oil pipelines, and GPS systems could all be disrupted by the large cloud of charged particles the Sun has flung our way. Scientists say the particle cloud was created by a pair of massive solar flares. [Reuters]
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3. IRAN APPEARS TO BE CLEANING UP NUKE SITES
Diplomats say satellite images indicate that Iran may be attempting to clean up radioactive traces at the Parchin military site, where foreign leaders suspect Iran has been conducting nuclear weapon-related testing. The images show large trucks and other vehicles at the site, suggesting an attempted cleanup. Iran has a history of mopping up suspected nuclear sites. [Associated Press]
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4. APPLE UNVEILS NEW AND IMPROVED IPAD
Apple launched a new version of the iPad, simply called the iPad — not the iPad 3 or iPad HD — on Wednesday. The latest incarnation of the popular tablet has a sharper "retina display" screen, a faster chip with improved graphics, and a 4G LTE connection, all packed in a body similar to previous iPads. The improvements are expected to widen Apple's already healthy lead in the tablet market. [Bloomberg]
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5. ROMNEY LAGS IN GRASSROOTS DONORS
The big-spending campaign of cash-flush Mitt Romney could be facing some financial challenges as big-ticket donors hit their maximum contribution limits and Romney struggles to harness enthusiasm, and dollars, from grassroots donors who typically donate in much smaller amounts. [New York Times]
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6. FEDS TO SUE E-BOOK PUBLISHERS, APPLE
The U.S. Justice Department has reportedly warned Apple and five of the country's largest publishers — Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Penguin, Macmillan, and Harper Collins — that it plans to sue them for allegedly conspiring to raise the prices of electronic books. At the core of the case is a deal Apple made with publishers to change the e-book pricing model before the launch of the first iPad at the beginning of 2010. [Wall Street Journal]
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7. VIRGINIA GOV SIGNS ULTRASOUND ABORTION BILL
On Wednedsay, Virginia's Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bill that will require women seeking abortions to undergo an abdominal ultrasound. The bill sparked national outrage and ridicule when an earlier version required women wanting abortions to submit to intrusive vaginal ultrasounds. [Associated Press]
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8. KONY VIDEO GOES VIRAL
A 30-minute video about the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and his Uganda rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army, has gone viral. Since advocacy group Invisible Children released the video on Monday, it has garnered more than 21 million views on YouTube. "Kony is a monster. He deserves to be prosecuted and hanged," a spokesman for Uganda's military says. [Associated Press]
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9. STEM CELLS MAY OFFER TRANSPLANT BREAKTHROUGH
A new study has found that stem cells could alleviate the need for organ-transplant patients to take dangerous anti-rejection drugs throughout their lives. Preliminary research suggests that patients receiving an organ that's not a perfect match could be protected against rejection by also receiving a transplant of their imperfect donor's stem cells. [Los Angeles Times]
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10. SNOOKI PREGNANCY COULD END JERSEY SHORE
With the pregnancy of Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi confirmed, MTV says the fate of Jersey Shore is uncertain. The finale of the show's fifth season airs on March 15. "No decision has been made yet on a sixth season of Jersey Shore," an MTV rep says of the channel's highest-rated series. [The Wrap]

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