Wall Street ends sour week with 5th straight decline

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks fell for a fifth straight day on Friday, dropping 1 percent and marking the S&P 500's longest losing streak in three months as the federal government edged closer to the "fiscal cliff" with no solution in sight.


President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders met at the White House to work on a solution for the draconian debt-reduction measures set to take effect beginning next week. Stocks, which have been influenced by little else than the flood of fiscal cliff headlines from Washington in recent days, extended losses going into the close with the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 each losing 1 percent, after reports that Obama would not offer a new plan to Republicans. The Dow closed below 13,000 for the first time since December 4.


"I was stunned Obama didn't have another plan, and that's absolutely why we sold off," said Mike Shea, managing partner at Direct Access Partners LLC in New York. "He's going to force the House to come to him with something different. I think that's a surprise. The entire market is disappointed in a lack of leadership in Washington."


In a sign of investor anxiety, the CBOE Volatility Index <.vix>, known as the VIX, jumped 16.69 percent to 22.72, closing at its highest level since June. Wall Street's favorite fear barometer has risen for five straight weeks, surging more than 40 percent over that time.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> dropped 158.20 points, or 1.21 percent, to 12,938.11 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> lost 15.67 points, or 1.11 percent, to 1,402.43. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> fell 25.59 points, or 0.86 percent, to end at 2,960.31.


For the week, the Dow fell 1.9 percent. The S&P 500 also lost 1.9 percent for the week, marking its worst weekly performance since mid-November. The Nasdaq finished the week down 2 percent. In contrast, the VIX jumped 22 percent for the week.


Pessimism continued after the market closed, with stock futures indicating even steeper losses. S&P 500 futures dropped 26.7 points, or 1.9 percent, eclipsing the decline seen in the regular session.


All 10 S&P 500 sectors fell during Friday's regular trading, with most posting declines of 1 percent, but energy and material shares were among the weakest of the day, with both groups closely tied to the pace of growth.


An S&P energy sector index <.gspe> slid 1.8 percent, with Exxon Mobil down 2 percent at $85.10, and Chevron Corp off 1.9 percent at $106.45. The S&P material sector index <.gspm> fell 1.3 percent, with U.S. Steel Corp down 2.6 percent at $23.03.


Decliners outnumbered advancers by a ratio of slightly more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, while on the Nasdaq, two stocks fell for every one that rose.


"We've been whipsawing around on low volume and rumors that come out on the cliff," said Eric Green, senior portfolio manager at Penn Capital Management in Philadelphia, who helps oversee $7 billion in assets.


With time running short, lawmakers may opt to allow the higher taxes and across-the-board federal spending cuts to go into effect and attempt to pass a retroactive fix soon after the new year. Standard & Poor's said an impasse on the cliff wouldn't affect the sovereign credit rating of the United States.


"We're not as concerned with January 1 as the market seems to be," said Richard Weiss, senior money manager at American Century Investments, in Mountain View, California. "Things will be resolved, just maybe not on a good timetable, and any deal can easily be retroactive."


Trading volume was light throughout the holiday-shortened week, with just 4.46 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT on Friday, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares. On Monday, the U.S. stock market closed early for Christmas Eve, and the market was shut on Tuesday for Christmas. Many senior traders were absent this week for the holidays.


Highlighting Wall Street's sensitivity to developments in Washington, stocks tumbled more than 1 percent on Thursday after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that a deal was unlikely before the deadline. But late in the day, stocks nearly bounced back when the House said it would hold an unusual Sunday session to work on a fiscal solution.


Positive economic data failed to alter the market's mood.


The National Association of Realtors said contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes rose in November to their highest level in 2-1/2 years, while a report from the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago showed business activity in the U.S. Midwest expanded in December.


"Economic reports have been very favorable, and once Congress comes to a resolution, the market should resume an upward trend, based on the data," said Weiss, who helps oversee about $125 billion in assets. "All else being equal, we see any further decline as a buying opportunity."


Barnes & Noble Inc rose 4.3 percent to $14.97 after the top U.S. bookstore chain said British publisher Pearson Plc had agreed to make a strategic investment in its Nook Media subsidiary. But Barnes & Noble also said its Nook business will not meet its previous projection for fiscal year 2013.


Shares of magicJack VocalTec Ltd jumped 10.3 percent to $17.95 after the company gave a strong fourth-quarter outlook and named Gerald Vento president and chief executive, effective January 1.


The U.S.-listed shares of Canadian drugmaker Aeterna Zentaris Inc surged 13.8 percent to $2.47 after the company said it had reached an agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on a special protocol assessment by the FDA for a Phase 3 registration trial in endometrial cancer with AEZS-108 treatment.


(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Jan Paschal)



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NHL makes new offer; lockout enters critical stage


NEW YORK (AP) — The NHL made a new offer to the players' association, hoping to spark talks toward ending the long lockout and saving the hockey season.


Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Friday the league presented its proposal Thursday and was waiting for a response. The sides haven't met in person since a second round of talks with a federal mediator broke down Dec. 13.


The lockout has reached its 104th day, and the NHL said it doesn't want a season of less than 48 games. That means a deal would need to be reached mid-January.


"We delivered to the union a new, comprehensive proposal for a successor CBA," Daly said in a statement Friday. "We are not prepared to discuss the details of our proposal at this time. We are hopeful that once the union's staff and negotiating committee have had an opportunity to thoroughly review and consider our new proposal, they will share it with the players. We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible."


A person familiar with key points of the offer told The Associated Press that the league proposed raising the limit of individual free-agent contracts to six years from five — seven years if a team re-signs its own player; raising the salary variance from one year to another to 10 percent, up from 5 percent; and one compliance buyout for the 2013-14 season that wouldn't count toward a team's salary cap but would be included in the overall players' share of income.


The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the new offer were not being discussed publicly.


The NHL maintained the deferred payment amount of $300 million it offered in its previous proposal, an increase from an earlier offer of $211 million. The initial $300 million offer was pulled off the table after negotiations broke off earlier this month.


The latest proposal is for 10 years, running through the 2021-22 season, with both sides having the right to opt out after eight years.


A conference call with the players' association's negotiating committee and its executive board was scheduled for Friday afternoon and was expected to last several hours.


The lockout has reached a critical stage, threatening to shut down a season for the second time in eight years. All games through Jan. 14, plus the Winter Classic and the All-Star game already have been called off. The next round of cuts could claim the entire schedule.


The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, losing the 2004-05 campaign to a lockout. A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January.


It is still possible this dispute could eventually be settled in the courts if the sides can't reach a deal on their own.


The NHL filed a class-action suit this month in U.S. District Court in New York in an effort to show its lockout is legal. In a separate move, the league filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, contending bad-faith bargaining by the union.


Those moves were made because the players' association took steps toward potentially filing a "disclaimer of interest," which would dissolve the union and make it a trade association. That would allow players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL.


Union members voted overwhelmingly to give their board the power to file the disclaimer by Jan. 2. If that deadline passes, another authorization vote could be held to approve a later filing.


Negotiations between the NHL and the union have been at a standstill since talks ended Dec. 6. One week later, the sides convened again with federal mediators in New Jersey, but still couldn't make progress.


The sides have been unable to reach agreement on the length of the new deal, the length of individual player contracts, and the variance in salary from year to year. The NHL is looking for an even split of revenues with players.


The NHL pulled all previous offers off the table after the union didn't agree to terms on its last proposal without negotiation.


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Photos: Blizzard Hits Indiana the Day After Christmas






SHELBYVILLE, Ind. — All of our five kids, along with their spouses and grandchildren, were at our house celebrating Christmas. Two families were getting ready to leave for Ohio and Virginia when the TV show was interrupted with a warning from the National Weather Service.


Central Indiana was now under a Blizzard Warning with the snow to start that night. Up to one foot of snow was predicted along with blowing and drifting. Well, the snow started early the next morning. My husband and I heard the wind howling outside when we woke up. It had already snowed over six inches by 7:30 that morning! Near whiteout conditions continued until mid afternoon.






Our daughter and son-in-law from Seattle were still with us, along with our son back from college and two of our grandkids. We were definitely snowed in, as the pictures show. We had a ball eating leftovers and making soups and smoothies. We also played all kinds of games. It was actually a fun day as we watched over 12 inches of snow pile up in our yard.


Weather News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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2013: A year for big issues in the courts












By Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Legal Analyst


December 27, 2012 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)







Chief Justice John Roberts re-administers the oath of office to Barack Obama at the White House on January 21, 2009.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Jeffrey Toobin: 2013 will see pivotal decisions in several key areas of law

  • He says Supreme Court could decide fate of same-sex marriage

  • Affirmative action for public college admissions is also on Court's agenda

  • Toobin: Newtown massacre put gun control debate back in the forefront




Editor's note: Jeffrey Toobin is a senior legal analyst for CNN and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, where he covers legal affairs. He is the author of "The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court."


(CNN) -- What will we see in 2013?


One thing for sure: The year will begin with Chief Justice John Roberts and President Obama getting two chances to recite the oath correctly.



Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin



After that, here are my guesses.


1. Same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court. There are two cases, and there are a Rubik's Cube-worth of possibilities for their outcomes. On one extreme, the court could say that the federal government (in the Defense of Marriage Act) and the states can ban or allow same-sex marriage as they prefer. On the other end, the Court could rule that gay people have a constitutional right to marry in any state in the union. (Or somewhere in between.)





CNN Opinion contributors weigh in on what to expect in 2013. What do you think the year holds in store? Let us know @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook/CNNOpinion


2. The future of affirmative action. In a case pending before the Supreme Court, the Court could outlaw all affirmative action in admissions at public universities, with major implications for all racial preferences in all school or non-school settings.


3. Gun control returns to the agenda. The Congress (and probably some states) will wrestle with the question of gun control, an issue that had largely fallen off the national agenda before the massacre in Newtown. Expect many invocations (some accurate, some not) of the Second Amendment.




4. The continued decline of the death penalty. Death sentences and executions continue to decline, and this trend will continue. Fear of mistaken executions (largely caused by DNA exonerations) and the huge cost of the death penalty process will both accelerate the shift.


5. Celebrity sex scandal. There will be one. There will be outrage, shock and amusement. (Celebrity to be identified later.)


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeffrey Toobin.











Part of complete coverage on







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)



Aaron Carroll says most of the changes in 2013 will be in preparation for 2014 when the Affordable Care Act really kicks into effect.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1351 GMT (2151 HKT)



Don't look for dramatic change in the troubled politics of the Middle East, says Aaron Miller.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)



Sheril Kirshenbaum says natural gas fracking, climate change and renewables are likely to drive discussions of energy in the new year.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)



Former CIA director Michael Hayden says the controversy over the film is one of two Washington debates in which politics obscures the real role of intelligence agencies.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1344 GMT (2144 HKT)



Even for someone who has written more than 2,000 columns over the last 20 years, sometimes the words come out wrong, says Ruben Navarrette.








Get the latest opinion and analysis from CNN's columnists and contributors.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 0307 GMT (1107 HKT)



Kerry Cahill and Keely Vanacker, whose father was shot dead at Fort Hood, say the nation must address problems that lead to massacres.







December 27, 2012 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)



Gayle Tzemach Lemmon says it's vital that the withdrawal of NATO forces by 2014 doesn't endanger the progress Afghan women have made.







December 27, 2012 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)



Jeffrey Toobin says key rulings will likely be made regarding same-sex marriage and affirmative action for public college admissions.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 0041 GMT (0841 HKT)



Frida Ghitis says that after years in which conservative views dominated the nation, there's now majority support for many progressive stances.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 0316 GMT (1116 HKT)



John MacIntosh says gun manufacturer Freedom Group should be acquired by public-spirited billionaires and turned into a company with ethical goals.







December 26, 2012 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)



Dean Obeidallah says "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Promised Land" present hot button issues that fire up people from the left and right.







December 22, 2012 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)



David Gergen says the hope for cooperation is gone in the capital as people spar over fiscal cliff, gun control, and nominations


















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Senate leaders to make last-ditch 'fiscal cliff' effort










WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and U.S. congressional leaders agreed on Friday to make a final effort to prevent the United States from going over the "fiscal cliff," setting off intense bargaining over Americans' tax rates as a New Year's Eve deadline looms.

With only days left to avoid steep tax hikes and spending cuts that could cause a recession, two Senate veterans will try to forge a deal that has eluded the White House and Congress for months.

Obama said he was "modestly optimistic" an agreement could be found. But neither side appeared to give much ground at a White House meeting of congressional leaders on Friday.

What they did agree on was to task Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, and Mitch McConnell, who heads the chamber's Republican minority, with reaching a budget agreement by Sunday at the latest.

"The hour for immediate action is here. It is now. We're now at the point where in just four days, every American's tax rates are scheduled to go up by law. Every American's paycheck will get considerably smaller. And that would be the wrong thing to do," Obama told reporters.

A total of $600 billion in tax hikes and automatic cuts to government spending will start kicking in on Tuesday - New Year's Day - if politicians cannot reach a deal. Economists fear the measures will push the U.S. economy into a recession.

Pessimism about the fiscal cliff helped push U.S. stocks down on Friday for a fifth straight day. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 158.20 points, or 1.21 percent. Retailers are blaming worries about the "fiscal cliff" for lackluster Christmas season shopping.

Under the plan hashed out on Friday, any agreement between McConnell and Reid would be backed by the Senate and then approved in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives before the end of the year.

But the House could well be the graveyard of any accord.

A core of fiscal conservatives there strongly opposes Obama's efforts to raise taxes for the wealthiest as part of a plan to close America's budget deficit. House Republicans also want to see Obama commit to major spending cuts.

Talks between Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner collapsed last week when several dozen Republicans defied their leader and rejected a plan to raise rates for those earning $1 million and above.

A Democratic aide said Boehner stuck mainly to "talking points" in Friday's White House meeting, with the message that the House had acted on the budget and it was now time for the Senate to move.

TALKS ON 'BIG NUMBERS'

The two Senate leaders and their aides will plunge into talks on Saturday that will focus mainly on the threshold for raising income taxes on households with upper-level earnings, a Democratic aide said. Analysts say both sides could agree on raising taxes for households earning more than $400,000 or $500,000 a year.

The pair will also discuss whether the estate tax should be kept at current low levels or allowed to rise, the aide said.

Democrat Reid warned of tough talks.

"It's not easy, we're dealing with big numbers, and some of that stuff we do is somewhat complicated," he said.

McConnell described Friday's White House summit, also attended by Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as "a good meeting."

"So we'll be working hard to try to see if we can get there in the next 24 hours. So I'm hopeful and optimistic," he said.

If things cannot be worked out between the Senate leaders, Obama said he wanted both chambers in Congress to vote on a backup plan that would increase taxes only for households with more than $250,000 of annual income.

The plan would also extend unemployment insurance for about 2 million Americans and set up a framework for a larger deficit reduction deal next year.

There are signs in the options market that investor fear is taking hold. The CBOE Volatility Index, or the VIX, the market's favored anxiety indicator, has remained at relatively low levels throughout this process, but it moved on Friday above 22, the highest level since June.

But some in the market were resigned to Washington going beyond the New Year's Day deadline, as long as a serious agreement on deficit reduction comes out of the talks in early January.

"Regardless of whether the government resolves the issues now, any deal can easily be retroactive. We're not as concerned with January 1 as the market seems to be," said Richard Weiss, a senior money manager at American Century Investments.

Another component of the "fiscal cliff" - $109 billion in automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs - is set to kick in on Wednesday.

S&P rating agency said on Friday the fiscal cliff impasse did not affect the U.S. sovereign rating.

That lifted the immediate threat of a downgrade from the agency, which cut the United States' triple-A rating in August, 2011 in an unprecedented move after a similar partisan budget fight.

(Additional reporting by David Lawder, Thomas Ferraro, Rachelle Younglai and Mark Felsenthal; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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India gang rape victim dies in Singapore hospital


SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The Indian gang rape victim whose assault in New Delhi triggered nationwide protests died of her injuries on Saturday in a Singapore hospital, potentially threatening fresh protests in India where her case is a rallying point for women's rights.


The 23-year-old medical student, severely beaten, raped and thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi two weeks ago, had been flown to Singapore in a critical condition by the Indian government on Thursday for specialist treatment.


"We are very sad to report that the patient passed away peacefully at 4:45 a.m. on Dec 29, 2012 (3:45 p.m. ET Friday). Her family and officials from the High Commission (embassy) of India were by her side," Mount Elizabeth Hospital Chief Executive Officer Kelvin Loh said in a statement.


Most rapes and other sex crimes in India go unreported and offenders are rarely punished, women's rights activists say. But the brutality of the December 16 assault sparked public outrage and calls for better policing and harsher punishment for rapists.


The case has received blanket coverage on cable television news channels. The woman has not been identified but some Indian media have called her "Amanat", an Urdu word meaning "treasure".


"We are saddened to learn that she has succumbed to her injuries, and would like to extend our deepest condolences to her family during this time of bereavement," Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.


Earlier on Friday, the hospital had reported that the woman's condition had taken a turn for the worse. It said that her family had been informed and were by her side.


T.C.A. Raghavan, the Indian High Commissioner to Singapore, said after her death that the family had expressed a desire for her body to be flown back to India. Moments later, the woman's body was loaded into a van and driven away.


Talking to reporters earlier on Saturday, Raghavan declined to comment on reports in India accusing the government of sending her to Singapore to minimize the possible backlash in the event of her death.


Some Indian medical experts had questioned the decision to airlift the woman to Singapore, calling it a risky maneuver given the seriousness of her injuries. They had said she was already receiving the best possible care in India.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been battling criticism that it was tone-deaf to the outcry and heavy handed in its response to the protests in the Indian capital.


"It is deeply saddening and just beyond words. The police and government definitely have to do something more," said Sharanya Ramachandran, an Indian national working as an engineer in Singapore.


"They should bring in very severe punishment for such cases. They should start recognizing that it is a big crime."


"SIGNIFICANT BRAIN INJURY"


The Singapore hospital said earlier that the woman had suffered "significant brain injury" and was surviving against the odds. She had already undergone three abdominal operations before being flown to Singapore.


Protests over the lack of safety for women erupted across India after the attack, culminating last weekend in pitched battles between police and protesters in the heart of New Delhi.


New Delhi has been on edge since the weekend clashes. Hundreds of policemen have been deployed on the streets of the capital and streets leading to the main protest site, the India Gate war memorial, have been shut for long periods, severely disrupting traffic in the city of 16 million.


Commentators and sociologists say the rape has tapped into a deep well of frustration that many Indians feel over what they see as weak governance and poor leadership on social and economic issues.


Many protesters have complained that Singh's government has done little to curb the abuse of women in the country of 1.2 billion. A global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found that India was the worst place to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery.


New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011.


(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin in New Delhi and Saeed Azhar and Edgar Su in Singapore; Editing by Michael Roddy and Mark Bendeich)



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Wall Street rebounds on House session, but off for 4th day

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks fell for a fourth day on Thursday, but recovered most of their losses after the House of Representatives, in the barest sign of progress, said it would come back to work on avoiding the "fiscal cliff" this weekend.


It was a jittery session for stocks, with shares falling more than 1 percent after Senate Majority Harry Reid warned a deal was unlikely before the deadline, only to rebound merely on the news that the House would reconvene Sunday, a day before the December 31 "cliff" deadline.


"There's no conviction in the move or the overall market, based on the across-the-board reduction we've seen in volume ... but there will be continued weakness until there's sustained positive direction coming from our leaders," said Joseph Cangemi, managing director at ConvergEx Group, in New York.


The market has been prone to quick reactions to headlines and those moves have sometimes seemed more dramatic because of reduced trading volume. About 5.18 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, well below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares.


Investors are looking for any hint that lawmakers will avert the $600 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts that will start to take effect next week and could push the U.S. economy into recession.


"Markets turned around in a heartbeat, as the House session is the first announcement of anything getting done," said Randy Bateman, chief investment officer of Huntington Asset Management, in Columbus, Ohio, which oversees $14.5 billion in assets. "I'm not convinced it will result in a deal, but you could get enough concessions by both parties to at least avoid the immediacy of going over the cliff."


In a sign of the anxiety, the CBOE Volatility Index <.vix>, or VIX, rose above 20 for the first time since July, suggesting rising worries, but ended up finishing the day down 0.4 percent as the stock market rebounded.


Stocks in the materials and the financial sectors, which are more vulnerable to the economy's performance, bore the brunt of the selling before recovering. Shares of Bank of America fell 0.6 percent to $11.47 while Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold fell 0.7 percent to $33.68.


Some of 2012's biggest gainers bucked the broader trend and rallied, a sign of year-end "window dressing." Expedia Inc was the S&P 500's top percentage gainer, climbing 4.1 percent to $60.30. The price of the online travel agency's stock has doubled this year.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> slipped 18.28 points, or 0.14 percent, to 13,096.31 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> declined 1.73 points, or 0.12 percent, to end at 1,418.10. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> dropped 4.25 points, or 0.14 percent, to close at 2,985.91.


Marvell Technology Group fell 3.5 percent to $7.14 after it said it would seek to overturn a jury's finding of patent infringement. The stock had fallen more than 10 percent in the previous session after a jury found the company infringed on patents held by Carnegie Mellon University and ordered the chipmaker to pay $1.17 billion in damages.


The four-day decline marked the S&P 500's longest losing streak in three months. The index has lost 1.8 percent over the period as investors grapple with the possibility that a deal may not be reached until next year.


President Barack Obama arrived back in Washington from Hawaii to restart stalled negotiations with Congress. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders were to hold a conference call with Republican lawmakers. The expectation was that lawmakers would be told to get back to Washington quickly if the Senate passed a bill.


Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced the first of a series of measures that should push back the date when the U.S. government will hit its legal borrowing authority - a limit known as the debt ceiling - by about two months.


Economic data seemed to confirm worries about the impact of the fiscal cliff on the economy.


The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer confidence in December fell to 65.1 as the budget crisis dented growing optimism about the economy. The gauge fell more than expected from 71.5 in November.


However, the job market continues to mend. Initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 last week and the four-week moving average fell to the lowest since March 2008.


Decliners outnumbered advancers on the New York Stock Exchange by a ratio of about 8 to 7, while on the Nasdaq, about 14 stocks fell for every 11 that rose.


(Editing by Jan Paschal)



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Net loss: Brooklyn fires coach Avery Johnson


NEW YORK (AP) — Coach of the month in November, out of a job by New Year's.


The Brooklyn Nets have elevated expectations this season, and a .500 record wasn't good enough. Coach Avery Johnson was fired Thursday, his team having lost 10 of 13 games after a strong start to its first season in Brooklyn.


"We don't have the same fire now than we did when we were 11-4," general manager Billy King said at a news conference in East Rutherford, N.J. "I tried to talk to Avery about it and we just can't figure it out. The same pattern kept on happening."


Assistant P.J. Carlesimo will coach the Nets on an interim basis, starting Friday night with a home game against Charlotte. King said the Nets might reach out to other candidates, but for now the job was Carlesimo's. The GM wouldn't comment on a report that the team planned to get in touch with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.


King said the decision to dismiss Johnson was made by ownership after a phone discussion Thursday morning. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov had expressed faith in Johnson before the season.


"With the direction we were going we felt we had to make a change," King said.


Johnson was in the final year of a three-year, $12 million contract.


"It's a really disappointing day for me and my family. It's my wife's birthday. It's not a great birthday gift," Johnson said. "I didn't see this coming. But this is ownership's decision. It's part of the business. Fair or unfair, it's time for a new voice and hopefully they'll get back on track."


The Nets have fallen well behind the first-place New York Knicks, the team they so badly want to compete with in their new home. But after beating the Knicks in their first meeting Nov. 26, probably the high point of Johnson's tenure, the Nets went 5-10 and frustrations have been mounting.


"Our goal is to get to the conference finals," King said. "We started out good and then we stumbled. We have to get back to playing winning basketball. It's the entire team. It's not like golf, where Tiger Woods can blame the caddie. It takes five guys on the court and they're all struggling. We have to figure out the ways to get back to winning. I don't know what happened. I'm not sure. But unfortunately, it did happen."


The Nets were embarrassed by Boston on national TV on Christmas, then were routed by Milwaukee 108-93 on Wednesday night for their fifth loss in six games.


Star guard Deron Williams recently complained about Johnson's offense, and Nets CEO Brett Yormark took to Twitter after the loss to Celtics to voice his displeasure with the performance.


King said the change was not made because Williams was unhappy, and he added the point guard himself has to play better.


Johnson also stood by Williams.


"From Day One, I always had a really good relationship with him. I don't think it's fair for anyone to hang this on Deron," Johnson said. "We were just going through a bad streak, a bad spell. It's not time for me to be down on one player. That would be the easy way."


Brooklyn started the season 11-4, winning five in a row to end November, when Johnson was Eastern Conference coach of the month. But he couldn't do anything to stop this slump, one the Nets never anticipated after a $350 million summer spending spree they believed would take them toward the top of their conference.


Johnson has been the Nets' coach for a little more than two seasons. He went 60-116 with the Nets, who moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn to start the season. Johnson coached the Dallas Mavericks to a spot in the NBA Finals in 2006.


"You don't always get a fair shake as a coach," Johnson said. "I'm not the owner. If I were the owner, I wouldn't have fired myself today. But life is not always necessary fair. It's a business and in this business, the coach always gets blamed."


This is the NBA's second coaching change this season following the dismissal of Mike Brown by the Los Angeles Lakers.


Johnson arrived in New Jersey with a 194-70 record, a .735 winning percentage that was the highest in NBA history, but had little chance of success in his first two seasons while the Nets focused all their planning on the move to Brooklyn.


They looked to make a splash this summer when they re-signed Williams and fellow starters Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries, traded for Atlanta All-Star Joe Johnson, and added veteran depth with players such as Reggie Evans, C.J. Watson and Andray Blatche.


Johnson didn't have a contract beyond this season but seemed to have the confidence of Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who before the season said he had faith in "the Avery defense system."


Some thought the Nets would finish as high as second in the East behind defending champion Miami, and the predictions seemed warranted when the Nets started quickly amid much fanfare. But all the good publicity faded in recent weeks once the losing started.


Williams, who has struggled this season, stirred the waters when he expressed his preference for the offense he ran under Jerry Sloan in Utah before a loss to the Jazz. Williams and Johnson, nicknamed "Brooklyn's Backcourt" and expected to be one of the best in the NBA, have shot poorly and rarely meshed.


The Nets were embarrassed near the end of their 93-76 loss to Boston, when fans exited early amid a chant of "Let's go Celtics!"


"Nets fans deserved better," Yormark tweeted after the game. "The entire organization needs to work harder to find a solution. We will get there."


Not under Johnson, though.


The Nets should be able to entice a big-name coach with Prokhorov's billions and the chance to play in a major market at Barclays Center, the $1 billion arena that has drawn praise in the city and from visiting teams.


Carlesimo has previous NBA head coaching experience in Portland, Golden State and Seattle/Oklahoma City. He has a career coaching record of 204-296 in the regular season and 3-9 in the playoffs.


"Right now, P.J. is our coach and I told him to coach the team like he'll be here for the next 10 years," King said.


___


AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford and AP freelancer Jim Hague contributed to this report.


Read More..

Astronaut Records 1st Original Song on Space Station






Call him the space guitar hero: An astronaut living in orbit has penned a musical ode to Earth in what he’s billing as the first original song recorded on the International Space Station.


The song, called “Jewel in the Night,” is a holiday-themed tune recorded by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield just days after arriving at the space station last week, just in time for Christmas.  






Hadfield and two crewmates docked at the space station on Friday, Dec. 21. On Sunday (Dec. 23), he recorded the tune and then posted it online on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) via YouTube, Twitter and soundcloud.com.


“Here’s some of the first original music written for and performed on the international space station,” Hadfield wrote on Twitter, where he is chronicling his spaceflight under the name @Cmdr_Hadfield. [Hear the Song: 'Jewel in the Night' Video]


Hadfield performed “Jewel in the Night” on LarrivĂ©e Parlor acoustic guitar (made in Vancouver) that has been aboard the space station for years. The tune has a folk song feel and starts off:


So bright,
Jewel in the night,
There in my window below.


So bright,
Dark as the night,
with all of our cities aglow.


It’s long been our way,
To honor this day,
And offer goodwill to men.


And though,
Where ever we go,
It’s come round to Christmas again.


Hadfield, 53, is a veteran astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency and currently serves as a flight engineer with the station’s current Expedition 34 crew. He will be the first Canadian space station commander when he takes charge of the outpost’s Expedition 35 phase next year.


Music has a special place in Hadfield’s heart and is among his passions. Before launch, he had a special guitar pick made to resemble his Expedition 35 mission patch.


“I play guitar in a couple bands and sing. I’ve fronted bands here in Houston for 20 years, and it’s just a natural extension for me to play music no matter where I am, whether it’s at Star City or Tsukuba, Japan, or on board the space station; I played guitar on board Mir when I was there back in 1995,” Hadfield said in a preflight NASA interview. “I thought, since I’m there long enough; why not write music about the experience of traveling in space.”


Hadfield said that early pioneers, sailors and miners all created songs about the exploration of new frontiers on Earth. So it is only natural for the tradition to continue as humanity expands into the cosmos.


Since arriving at the International Space Station this month, Hadfield has posted several photos of the guitar he is using and himself playing music in space. On Christmas Day, he strummed the guitar as his five Expedition 34 crewmates (two Americans and three Russians) serenaded Mission Control flight controllers with traditional Christmas carols.


“I’m not by any means the world’s best musician, but I love it and I’ve had lots of people to play music with,” said Hadfield, who will return to Earth in May 2013. “To be able to do that on space station is fairly new in the human experience and I want to make the most of it.”


You can follow SPACE.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter @tariqjmalikFollow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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2013: A year for big issues in the courts












By Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Legal Analyst


December 27, 2012 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)







Chief Justice John Roberts re-administers the oath of office to Barack Obama at the White House on January 21, 2009.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Jeffrey Toobin: 2013 will see pivotal decisions in several key areas of law

  • He says Supreme Court could decide fate of same-sex marriage

  • Affirmative action for public college admissions is also on Court's agenda

  • Toobin: Newtown massacre put gun control debate back in the forefront




Editor's note: Jeffrey Toobin is a senior legal analyst for CNN and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, where he covers legal affairs. He is the author of "The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court."


(CNN) -- What will we see in 2013?


One thing for sure: The year will begin with Chief Justice John Roberts and President Obama getting two chances to recite the oath correctly.



Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin



After that, here are my guesses.


1. Same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court. There are two cases, and there are a Rubik's Cube-worth of possibilities for their outcomes. On one extreme, the court could say that the federal government (in the Defense of Marriage Act) and the states can ban or allow same-sex marriage as they prefer. On the other end, the Court could rule that gay people have a constitutional right to marry in any state in the union. (Or somewhere in between.)





CNN Opinion contributors weigh in on what to expect in 2013. What do you think the year holds in store? Let us know @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook/CNNOpinion


2. The future of affirmative action. In a case pending before the Supreme Court, the Court could outlaw all affirmative action in admissions at public universities, with major implications for all racial preferences in all school or non-school settings.


3. Gun control returns to the agenda. The Congress (and probably some states) will wrestle with the question of gun control, an issue that had largely fallen off the national agenda before the massacre in Newtown. Expect many invocations (some accurate, some not) of the Second Amendment.




4. The continued decline of the death penalty. Death sentences and executions continue to decline, and this trend will continue. Fear of mistaken executions (largely caused by DNA exonerations) and the huge cost of the death penalty process will both accelerate the shift.


5. Celebrity sex scandal. There will be one. There will be outrage, shock and amusement. (Celebrity to be identified later.)


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeffrey Toobin.











Part of complete coverage on







December 27, 2012 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)



Jeffrey Toobin says key rulings will likely be made regarding same-sex marriage and affirmative action for public college admissions.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 0041 GMT (0841 HKT)



Frida Ghitis says that after years in which conservative views dominated the nation, there's now majority support for many progressive stances.







December 27, 2012 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)



John MacIntosh says gun manufacturer Freedom Group should be acquired by public-spirited billionaires and turned into a company with ethical goals.







December 27, 2012 -- Updated 0237 GMT (1037 HKT)



Bassam Gergi and Ali Breland says we should mourn for Newtown's victims, but also take steps to stop the slaughter of young people in inner cities








Get the latest opinion and analysis from CNN's columnists and contributors.







December 26, 2012 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)



Tseming Yang says the 25 major carbon emitters should come to an agreement just among themselves about fighting climate change.







December 25, 2012 -- Updated 1252 GMT (2052 HKT)



David Frum says the National Rifle Association's "Death Wish" style vision of America as a land of armed civilians fending off criminals is a fantasy.







December 27, 2012 -- Updated 0207 GMT (1007 HKT)



Lawrence Krauss says the nation must grieve with the families of Newtown after such a tremendous loss, but religion is not the right framework







December 26, 2012 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)



Jonathan Batiste says jazz is a complex, traditional and utterly contemporary art -- the language that we use to state our deepest, truest feelings







December 26, 2012 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)



Dean Obeidallah says "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Promised Land" present hot button issues that fire up people from the left and right.







December 26, 2012 -- Updated 1344 GMT (2144 HKT)



MADD started as a small grass-roots movement that grew and radically changed society's views on drunk driving, says Candace Lightner.







December 22, 2012 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)



David Gergen says the hope for cooperation is gone in the capital as people spar over fiscal cliff, gun control, and nominations







December 19, 2012 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)



William Bennett says having armed and trained people could help protect schools and other vulnerable places from gun violence


















Read More..

Gulf War General Schwarzkopf dies










WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., the hard-charging U.S. Army general whose forces smashed the Iraqi army in the 1991 Gulf War, has died at the age of 78, a U.S. official said on Thursday.

The highly decorated four-star general died at 2:22 p.m. EST at his home in Tampa, Florida, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Schwarzkopf, a burly Vietnam War veteran known as Stormin' Norman, commanded more than 540,000 U.S. troops and 200,000 allied forces in a six-week war that routed Hussein's army from Kuwait in 1991, capping his 34-year military career.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who built the international coalition against Iraq, said he and his wife "mourn the loss of a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation," according to a statement released by Bush's spokesman.

Bush has been hospitalized in Houston since late November.

Some experts hailed Schwarzkopf's plan to trick and outflank Hussein's forces with a sweeping armored movement as one of the great accomplishments in military history. The maneuver ended the ground war in only 100 hours.

Schwarzkopf was a familiar sight on international television during the war, clad in camouflage fatigues and a cap. He conducted fast-paced briefings and toured the lines with a purposeful stride and a physical presence of the sort that clears barrooms.

Little known before Iraqi forces invaded neighboring Kuwait, Schwarzkopf made a splash with quotable comments. At one briefing he addressed Saddam's military reputation.

"As far as Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist," he said, "he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he's a great military man, I want you to know that."

Schwarzkopf returned from the war as a hero and there was talk of him running for public office. Instead he wrote an autobiography titled "It Doesn't Take a Hero" and served as a military analyst.

He also acted as a spokesman for the fight against prostate cancer, which he was diagnosed with in 1993.

SERVED IN VIETNAM

Schwarzkopf was born August 22, 1934, in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf Sr., the head of the New Jersey State Police. At the time, the older Schwarzkopf was leading the investigation of the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant son, one of the most infamous crimes of the 20th century.

The younger Schwarzkopf graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1956. He also earned a masters degree in guided-missile engineering from the University of Southern California and later taught engineering at West Point.

Schwarzkopf saw combat twice - in Vietnam and Grenada - in a career that included command of units from platoon to theater size, training as a paratrooper and stints at all the blue-ribbon Army staff colleges.

He led his men in firefights in two Vietnam tours and commanded all U.S. ground forces in the 1983 Grenada invasion. His chestful of medals included three Silver and three Bronze Stars for valor and two Purple Hearts for Vietnam wounds.

In Vietnam, he won a reputation as an officer who would put his life on the line to protect his troops. In one particularly deadly fight on the Batangan Peninsula, Schwarzkopf led his men through a minefield, in part by having the mines marked by shaving cream.

In 1988, Schwarzkopf was put in charge of the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, with responsibility for the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. In that role, he prepared a plan to protect the Gulf's oil fields from a hypothetical invasion by Iraq. Within months, the plan was in use.

A soldier's soldier in an era of polished, politically conscious military technocrats, Schwarzkopf's mouth sometimes got him in trouble. In one interview, he said he had recommended to Bush that allied forces destroy Iraq's military instead of stopping the war after a clear victory.

Schwarzkopf later apologized after both Bush and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney fired back that there was no contradiction among military leaders to Bush's decision to leave some of Saddam's military intact.

After retirement, Schwarzkopf spoke his mind on military matters. In 2003, when the United States was on the verge of invading Iraq under President George W. Bush, Schwarzkopf said he was unsure if there was sufficient evidence that Iraq had nuclear weapons.

He also criticized Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense at the time, telling the Washington Post that during war-time television appearances "he almost sometimes seems to be enjoying it."

(Reporting by David Alexander and Ian Simpson; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Paul Simao)

Read More..

CAR appeals for French help against rebels, Paris balks


BANGUI (Reuters) - The president of the Central African Republic appealed on Thursday for France and the United States to help push back rebels threatening his government and the capital, but Paris said its troops were only ready to protect French nationals.


The exchanges came as regional African leaders tried to broker a ceasefire deal and as rebels said they had temporarily halted their advance on Bangui, the capital, to allow talks to take place.


Insurgents on motorbikes and in pickup trucks have driven to within 75 km (47 miles) of Bangui after weeks of fighting, threatening to end President Francois Bozize's nearly 10-year-stint in charge of the turbulent, resource-rich country.


French nuclear energy group Areva mines the Bakouma uranium deposit in the CAR's south - France's biggest commercial interest in its former colony.


The rebel advance has highlighted the instability of a country that has remained poor since independence from Paris in 1960 despite rich deposits of uranium, gold and diamonds. Average income is barely over $2 a day.


Bozize on Thursday appealed for French and U.S. military support to stop the SELEKA rebel coalition, which has promised to overthrow him unless he implements a previous peace deal in full.


He told a crowd of anti-rebel protesters in the riverside capital that he had asked Paris and Washington to help move the rebels away from the capital to clear the way for peace talks which regional leaders say could be held soon in Libreville, Gabon.


"We are asking our cousins the French and the United States, which are major powers, to help us push back the rebels to their initial positions in a way that will permit talks in Libreville to resolve this crisis," Bozize said.


France has 250 soldiers in its landlocked former colony as part of a peacekeeping mission and Paris in the past has ousted or propped up governments - including by using air strikes to defend Bozize against rebels in 2006.


But French President Francois Hollande poured cold water on the latest request for help.


"If we have a presence, it's not to protect a regime, it's to protect our nationals and our interests and in no way to intervene in the internal business of a country, in this case the Central African Republic," Hollande said on the sidelines of a visit to a wholesale food market outside Paris.


"Those days are over," he said.


Some 1,200 French nationals live in the CAR, mostly in the capital, according to the French Foreign Ministry, where they typically work for mining firms or aid groups.


CEASEFIRE TALKS


The U.N. Security Council issued a statement saying its members "condemn the continued attacks on several towns perpetrated by the 'SELEKA' coalition of armed groups which gravely undermine the Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement and threaten the civilian population."


U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the U.S. embassy had temporarily suspended operations and the U.S. ambassador and other embassy personnel had left the country.


Officials from around central Africa are due to meet in Bangui later on Thursday to open initial talks with the government and rebels.


A rebel spokesman said fighters had temporarily halted their advance to allow dialogue.


"We will not enter Bangui," Colonel Djouma Narkoyo, the rebel spokesman, told Reuters by telephone.


Previous rebel promises to stop advancing have been broken, and a diplomatic source said rebels had taken up positions around Bangui on Thursday, effectively surrounding it.


The atmosphere remained tense in the city the day after anti-rebel protests broke out, and residents were stocking up on food and water.


Government soldiers deployed at strategic sites and French troops reinforced security at the French embassy after protesters threw rocks at the building on Wednesday.


In Paris, the French Foreign Ministry said protecting foreigners and embassies was the responsibility of the CAR authorities.


"This message will once again be stressed to the CAR's charge d'affaires in Paris, who has been summoned this afternoon," a ministry spokesman said.


He also said France condemned the rebels for pursuing hostilities and urged all sides to commit to talks.


Bozize came to power in a 2003 rebellion that overthrew President Ange-Felix Patasse.


However, France is increasingly reluctant to directly intervene in conflicts in its former colonies. Since coming to power in May, Hollande has promised to end its shadowy relations with former colonies and put ties on a healthier footing.


A military source and an aid worker said the rebels had got as far as Damara, 75 km (47 miles) from Bangui, by late afternoon on Wednesday, having skirted Sibut, where some 150 Chadian soldiers had earlier been deployed to try and block a push south by a rebel coalition.


With a government that holds little sway outside the capital, some parts of the country have long endured the consequences of conflicts in troubled neighbors Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo spilling over.


The Central African Republic is one of a number of nations in the region where U.S. Special Forces are helping local forces try to track down the Lords Resistance Army, a rebel group responsible for killing thousands of civilians across four African nations.


(Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas and Louis Charbonneau; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Paul Simao)



Read More..

Wall Street drops in thin session, led by retailers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks fell for a third straight day on Wednesday, dragged lower by retail stocks after a report showed consumers spent less in the holiday shopping season than last year.


Trading was light, with volume at a mere 4.01 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, well below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares. The day's volume was the lightest full day of trading so far in 2012. Many senior traders were still on vacation during this holiday-shortened week and major European markets were closed for the day.


Many investors said concerns about the "fiscal cliff" kept shoppers away from stores, suggesting markets may struggle to gain any ground until that issue is resolved. The CBOE Volatility Index <.vix> or VIX, Wall Street's favorite barometer of investor anxiety, rose 4.46 percent, closing above 19 for the first time since November 7.


A number of 2012's strongest performers advanced, a sign that portfolio managers may be engaging in "window dressing," a practice where market participants buy securities with big gains to improve the appearance of their holdings before presenting the results to clients. Bank of America Corp , which has more than doubled in 2012, added 2.6 percent to $11.54 on Wednesday.


Holiday-related sales rose 0.7 percent from October 28 through December 24, compared with a 2 percent increase last year, according to data from MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse. The Morgan Stanley retail index <.mvr> skidded 1.8 percent while the SPDR S&P Retail Trust slipped 1.7 percent.


"With the 'fiscal cliff' hanging over our heads, it was hard to convince people to shop, and now it's hard to convince investors that there's any reason to buy going into year-end," said Rick Fier, director of trading at Conifer Securities in New York, which has about $12 billion in assets under administration.


President Barack Obama is due back in Washington early Thursday for a final effort to negotiate a deal with Congress to bridge a series of tax increases and government spending cuts set to begin next week, the so-called "fiscal cliff" many economists worry could push the U.S. economy into recession if it takes effect.


Coach Inc fell 5.9 percent to $54.13 as the S&P 500's biggest decliner, followed by Amazon.com , down 3.9 percent at $248.63, and Abercrombie & Fitch , off 3.5 percent at $45.44. Ralph Lauren Corp , Limited Brands and Gap Inc also ranked among the S&P 500's biggest decliners.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> slipped 24.49 points, or 0.19 percent, to 13,114.59 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> shed 6.83 points, or 0.48 percent, to 1,419.83. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> dropped 22.44 points, or 0.74 percent, to 2,990.16.


J.C. Penney Co was a notable exception to the weakness in retail stocks, surging 4.4 percent to $20.75 as the S&P 500's biggest gainer. It was followed closely by Bank of America and Genworth Financial , which each gained nearly 3 percent for the day.


"People want to show they own names like these, making them prime 'window dressing' candidates," said Wayne Kaufman, chief market analyst at John Thomas Financial in New York.


"Bank of America keeps going up even though it's overbought and you'd expect a pullback at these levels. No one wanted it when it was under $10 a share, but they want it now."


The S&P 500 has fallen 1.5 percent over the past three sessions, the worst three-day decline since mid-November. The Dow Jones Transportation Average <.djt>, viewed as a proxy for business activity, fell 0.6 percent.


A Republican plan that failed to gain traction last week triggered the S&P 500's recent drop, highlighting the market's sensitivity to headlines centered on the budget talks.


During the last five trading days of the year and the first two of next year, it's possible for a "Santa rally" to occur. Since 1928, the S&P 500 has averaged a gain of 1.8 percent during that period and risen 79 percent of the time, according to data from PrinceRidge.


"While it's unlikely there could be a budget deal at any time, no one wants to get in front of that trade," said Conifer's Fier. "Investors can easily make up for any gains when there's more action in 2013."


Data showed U.S. single-family home prices rose in October, reinforcing the view that the domestic real estate market is improving, as the S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas gained 0.7 percent in October on a seasonally adjusted basis.


Decliners outnumbered advancers on the New York Stock Exchange by a ratio of about 2 to 1, while on the Nasdaq, more than five stocks fell for every three that rose.


(Editing by Jan Paschal)



Read More..

Peyton Manning, Peterson make Pro Bowl


NEW YORK (AP) — Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson want to cap their sensational comebacks with Super Bowl appearances. For now, they can be proud of Pro Bowl spots.


So can Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, one of two rookies chosen Wednesday for the Jan. 27 NFL all-star game.


Manning missed all of the 2011 season with neck and back problems that required several operations. He then signed with Denver as a free agent and has led the Broncos on a 10-game winning streak to take the AFC West.


"I know there's great players out there in the NFL, but there's some great players on this team this year that deserve to go," said Manning, whose 12th Pro Bowl is a record for quarterbacks. He ranks fourth in league passing this year, has thrown 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.


Four other Broncos made the AFC roster: DE Elvis Dumervil, linebacker Von Miller, CB Champ Bailey and tackle Ryan Clady. Bailey's 12th appearance is a record for defensive backs.


"My goal has always been to go out and help the team win and play at a high level," Manning added. "Anything that comes along with that, like being honored as a Pro Bowl selection, is very humbling."


Minnesota's Peterson tore up his left knee on Christmas Eve last year, underwent major surgery, then was back for the season opener. He's gone from uncertain to unstoppable, running away with the rushing title with a career-high 1,898 yards and lifting the Vikings toward an NFC wild card.


"Coming into the season after going through the rehab process, I just told myself that I wanted to lead my team to a championship and make sure that I contribute and do my part," Peterson said. "I've been doing it."


Griffin is one of three rookie QBs who had superb debut seasons, along with Andrew Luck of Indianapolis and Russell Wilson of Seattle. Luck and Wilson weren't voted to the Pro Bowl by players, coaches and fans, although their teams are in the playoffs; Griffin can get to the postseason if Washington beats Dallas on Sunday.


"You can't play down those kind of things," Griffin said. "I've always said my whole football career that you don't play for awards. They just come. You don't say you're going to win the Heisman. You don't say you're going to win MVP. You go out and you prove it on the field, and if everyone feels that way then they'll give you that award."


San Francisco had the most players selected, nine, including six from its second-ranked defense. Houston was next with eight, six on offense.


Kansas City, despite its 2-13 record that is tied with Jacksonville for worst in the league, had five Pro Bowlers, including RB Jamaal Charles, who like Peterson is coming back from a torn ACL.


One other rookie, Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh, was chosen. Walsh has nine field goals of at least 50 yards, an NFL mark.


The AFC kicker is at the other end of the spectrum: Cleveland's Phil Dawson earned his first selection in his 14th NFL season.


"I deliberately tried not to know," Dawson said. "We wanted to watch the show with my kids. I had a really good idea what was going on, but it was a pretty priceless moment when we saw the name flash up on the screen. My kids went nuts 'cause my wife went nuts. That makes these 15 years of waiting worth it."


Another record setter will be heading to Honolulu: Detroit WR Calvin Johnson.


Johnson broke Jerry Rice's single-season yards receiving record and has 1,892 yards with a game left.


Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez set the record for Pro Bowls at his position by being chosen for the 13th time.


The league's top two sackmasters, DEs Aldon Smith of San Francisco and J.J. Watt of Houston, were first-time selections. Watt has 20 1-2 sacks, one ahead of Smith; the NFL record is 22 1-2.


Other newcomers, along with Griffin, Walsh and Dawson, were AFC players tackle Duane Brown and guard Wade Smith of Houston; safety LaRon Landry of the Jets; kick returner Jacoby Jones of Baltimore; and punter Dustin Colquitt of Kansas City.


For the NFC, first-timers were Giants WR Victor Cruz; Atlanta WR Julio Jones; Seattle tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger; San Francisco guard Mike Iupati, linebacker NaVorro Bowman and safety Donte Whitner; Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings and defensive tackle Henry Melton; Washington tackle Trent Williams and special teamer Lorenzo Alexander; Minnesota fullback Jerome Felton; Tampa Bay DT Gerald McCoy; and New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead.


Eight teams had no Pro Bowl players: Carolina, Philadelphia and St. Louis in the NFC, Tennessee, Buffalo, Jacksonville, San Diego and Oakland in the AFC.


___


Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL


Read More..

No Bullies: Kind Kids Are Most Popular






As the holidays call for good will toward men, new research indicates that kids who are kinder are also happier and more popular. This finding suggests that simple and brief acts of kindness might help reduce bullying, the researchers say.


At the top of parents’ wish lists is for their children to be happy, to be good and to be well-liked, and past research has suggested these goals may be not only compatible but complementary. The link between happiness and prosocial behavior such as kindness toward others apparently goes both ways: Not only do happy people often do good for others, but being more prosocial increases people’s sense of well-being.






Based on this prior research, scientists carried out what they say was the first long-term experiment analyzing kindness in pre-teens. The investigators followed more than 400 “tweens”  –  kids age 9 to 12  –  attending Vancouver, Canada, elementary schools.


The students were randomly assigned to two groups. Half the students were asked by teachers to keep track of pleasant places they visited, such as playgrounds, baseball diamonds, shopping centers or a grandparent’s house. The other students were asked to perform acts of kindness, such as sharing their lunch or giving their mom a hug when she felt stressed by her job.


“We gave them examples of acts of kindness, but we left it up to the kids to decide what was a kind act,” said researcher Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, a developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.


The students were asked to report how happy they were and identify classmates they would like to work with in school activities. After four weeks, both groups said they were happier, but the kids who had performed acts of kindness reported experiencing greater acceptance from their peers  –  they were chosen most often by other students as children the other students wanted to work with. [10 Scientific Tips for Raising Happy Kids]


“You can do this very simple intervention that not only increases happiness but makes kids like each other more in the classroom,” Schonert-Reichl told LiveScience.


According to Schonert-Reichl, bullying often increases in grades 4 and 5. By asking students to briefly and regularly act kindly to those around them, “hopefully we can get kids to get along in the classroom and reduce instances of the bullying and teasing that we see, especially around this age group,” Schonert-Reichl said.


“One thing we haven’t done yet that I think would be fascinating would be to see what kind acts kids in this age group do,” she added. “Another would be seeing if this actually can be an intervention for bullying — will it decrease bullying in the classroom? And we did this in classrooms; what happens if you did it on the whole school level?”


The scientists detailed their findings online Dec. 26 in the journal PLoS ONE.


Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We’re also on Facebook & Google+.


Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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The forgotten victims of gun violence




Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, center, and other area officials call for stronger gun regulations at a news conference last week.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • While America was mourning Newtown victims, guns were claiming lives elsewhere in U.S.

  • Authors: Media focus on mass shootings, but continuing violence also needs coverage

  • They say inner cities suffer an epidemic of gun killings, and young are particularly vulnerable

  • Authors: There is a day-by-day slaughter of children that must be stopped




Editor's note: Bassam Gergi is studying for a master's degree in comparative government at St. Antony's College, Oxford, where he is also a Dahrendorf Scholar. Ali Breland studies philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin.


(CNN) -- On the Sunday after the Newtown massacre, President Barack Obama traveled to Connecticut to comfort the grieving community. As the president offered what he could to the town, other American communities, in less visible ways, were grappling with their own menace of violence.


In Camden, New Jersey -- a city that has already suffered 65 violent deaths in 2012 , surpassing the previous record of 58 violent deaths set in 1995 -- 50 people turned out, some bearing white crosses, to mourn a homeless woman known affectionately as the "cat lady" who was stabbed to death (50 of the deaths so far this year resulted from gunshot wounds.)



Bassam Gergi

Bassam Gergi



In Philadelphia, on the same Sunday, city leaders came together at a roundtable to discuss their own epidemic of gun violence; the year-to-date total of homicides is 322. Last year, 324 were killed. Of those victims, 154 were 25 or younger. A councilman at the roundtable asked, "How come as a city we're not in an outrage? How come we're not approaching this from a crisis standpoint?"



Ali Breland

Ali Breland



The concerns go beyond Philadelphia. In the week following the Newtown massacre, there were at least a dozen gun homicides in Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and St. Louis alone. In a year of highly publicized mass shootings, inner-city neighborhoods that are plagued by gun violence have continued to be neglected and ignored.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, large metropolitan areas account for more than two-thirds of deaths by gun violence each year, with inner cities most affected. The majority of the victims are young, ranging in age from their early teens to mid-20s, and black.


To track these violent deaths, many communities and media organizations have set up agonizing online trackers -- homicide watches or interactive maps -- that show each subsequent victim as just another data point. These maps are representative of a set of issues far larger than the nameless dots suggest.


In the immediate aftermath of Newtown, as politicians and public figures across America grapple with the horrible truths of gun violence, far less visible from the national spotlight is the steady stream of inner-city victims.




Illegal firearms confiscated in a weapons bust in New York's East Harlem is on display at an October news conference.



The media is fixated, and with justification, on the string of high-profile massacres that have rocked the nation in Aurora, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona; Virginia Tech; and now in Newtown. Yet in many of America's neighborhoods most affected by the calamity of gun violence, there is a warranted exasperation -- residents are tired, tired of the ubiquity of guns, tired of fearing for their children's safety, tired of being forgotten.




Critiquing a narrow media focus doesn't deny the horrible, tragic nature of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School; mass shootings, however, make up only a small fraction of America's shockingly high level of gun crime.




In his study "American Homicide," Randolph Roth showed that while the overall risk of being murdered is higher in America than it is in any other first-world democracy, homicide rates vary drastically among groups.




According to Roth, if current trends are maintained, one out of every 158 white males born today will be murdered, but for nonwhite males it is likely one of every 27 born today will be murdered.




The stark difference in these racial trends can be traced to the high levels of racial segregation in America's cities, which have created a spatial barrier between poor inner-city youths of color and more mainstream America -- a barrier that is often responsible for the lack of media and political attention paid to inner-city problems.


Many experts claim that actually it is the spectacular nature of mass shootings that naturally magnifies media coverage and explains the resonance of these tragedies to the broader public. Inner-city violence on its own, however, does not suffer from a lack of awful, spectacular violence and calamity. In fact, the gruesome nature of violence in inner cities has contributed to widespread social desensitization to gun violence. How then do we explain the differing public responses?



An indicator of the difference of attention levels lies in the tone of the public rhetoric in the wake of mass shootings: "This was supposed to be a safe community," and "This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen here."


These statements imply that in America's leafy-green small towns and suburbs, gun violence is a shocking travesty; it strikes against America's perception of what is acceptable. In contrast, gun violence in the American metropolis has been normalized, and the public and media display a passive indifference toward the lives of inner-city youths.


This normalization of inner-city violence is due in part, to the isolation and segregation of America's ghettos from wider America, but it is also due to a sense that the victims of inner-city violence are responsible for their own condition.


As Robert Sampson, a professor at Harvard University, has highlighted, the gun violence in American cities is born out of neighborhood characteristics such as poverty, racial segregation and lack of economic opportunity. This shortened explanation for the high levels of inner-city violence has often been mistaken to imply that it is the direct choice of inner-city residents to remain either in poverty or in their segregated community that leads to their victimization.


In reality, the victims of inner-city gun violence are the victims of a dual tragedy. The first is that the poverty and segregation, which play a crucial role in spurring the downward cycle of crime, are the result of social arrangements predicated on longstanding oppression and prejudice.


Through a complex mix of violence, institutional arrangements and exploitation, black Americans were pressured into ghettos, which are the hotbeds of contemporary gun violence. Their inability to escape their conditions is not a choice but rather the byproduct of continued structural discrimination. Slowing the tide of inner-city deaths through gun control is therefore a modern-day civil rights issue.


If the refusal of America's national politicians to move on gun control before Newtown represents a political failure and a paucity of American will, then the disregard for the lives of inner-city youths stricken by gun violence on a daily basis is an illustration of the limits of American compassion.


The slaughter of young children en masse should be a moment of reckoning for any society, but there is a day-by-day, child-by-child slaughter occurring in America that has gone on too long and is yet to be reckoned with.


If Newtown should teach us anything, it is that all of us in America share this same short moment of life, and that we all seek to ensure safety, security and prosperity for our children.


As Vice President Joe Biden and the presidential task force meet to negotiate about what new gun laws to recommend, they must look to Sandy Hook Elementary and beyond. We need to protect the children of Newtown from the threat of future gun violence, but the children of Chicago and Camden and Detroit deserve the same long-term security.


We may not be able to ensure absolute security for America's children, but through smarter policy America can surely save more of its children from gun violence.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.






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