"Cliff" concerns give way to earnings focus

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investors' "fiscal cliff" worries are likely to give way to more fundamental concerns, like earnings, as fourth-quarter reports get under way next week.


Financial results, which begin after the market closes on Tuesday with aluminum company Alcoa , are expected to be only slightly better than the third-quarter's lackluster results. As a warning sign, analyst current estimates are down sharply from what they were in October.


That could set stocks up for more volatility following a week of sharp gains that put the Standard & Poor's 500 index <.spx> on Friday at the highest close since December 31, 2007. The index also registered its biggest weekly percentage gain in more than a year.


Based on a Reuters analysis, Europe ranks among the chief concerns cited by companies that warned on fourth-quarter results. Uncertainty about the region and its weak economic outlook were cited by more than half of the 25 largest S&P 500 companies that issued warnings.


In the most recent earnings conference calls, macroeconomic worries were cited by 10 companies while the U.S. "fiscal cliff" was cited by at least nine as reasons for their earnings warnings.


"The number of things that could go wrong isn't so high, but the magnitude of how wrong they could go is what's worrisome," said Kurt Winters, senior portfolio manager for Whitebox Mutual Funds in Minneapolis.


Negative-to-positive guidance by S&P 500 companies for the fourth quarter was 3.6 to 1, the second worst since the third quarter of 2001, according to Thomson Reuters data.


U.S. lawmakers narrowly averted the "fiscal cliff" by coming to a last-minute agreement on a bill to avoid steep tax hikes this weeks -- driving the rally in stocks -- but the battle over further spending cuts is expected to resume in two months.


Investors also have seen a revival of worries about Europe's sovereign debt problems, with Moody's in November downgrading France's credit rating and debt crises looming for Spain and other countries.


"You have a recession in Europe as a base case. Europe is still the biggest trading partner with a lot of U.S. companies, and it's still a big chunk of global capital spending," said Adam Parker, chief U.S. equity strategist at Morgan Stanley in New York.


Among companies citing worries about Europe was eBay , whose chief financial officer, Bob Swan, spoke of "macro pressures from Europe" in the company's October earnings conference call.


REVENUE WORRIES


One of the biggest worries voiced about earnings has been whether companies will be able to continue to boost profit growth despite relatively weak revenue growth.


S&P 500 revenue fell 0.8 percent in the third quarter for the first decline since the third quarter of 2009, Thomson Reuters data showed. Earnings growth for the quarter was a paltry 0.1 percent after briefly dipping into negative territory.


On top of that, just 40 percent of S&P 500 companies beat revenue expectations in the third quarter, while 64.2 percent beat earnings estimates, the Thomson Reuters data showed.


For the fourth quarter, estimates are slightly better but are well off estimates for the quarter from just a few months earlier. S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.8 percent while revenue is expected to have gone up 1.9 percent.


Back in October, earnings growth for the fourth quarter was forecast up 9.9 percent.


In spite of the cautious outlooks, some analysts still see a good chance for earnings beats this reporting period.


"The thinking is you need top line growth for earnings to continue to expand, and we've seen the market defy that," said Mike Jackson, founder of Denver-based investment firm T3 Equity Labs.


Based on his analysis, energy, industrials and consumer discretionary are the S&P sectors most likely to beat earnings expectations in the upcoming season, while consumer staples, materials and utilities are the least likely to beat, Jackson said.


Sounding a positive note on Friday, drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co said it expects profit in 2013 to increase by more than Wall Street had been forecasting, primarily due to cost controls and improved productivity.


(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Scores by Harris, Kuhn put Packers up 17-3 at half


GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn had short touchdown runs, and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers took a 17-3 lead over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night in their NFC wild-card playoff game.


Christian Ponder was inactive for the Vikings because of a right elbow injury so Joe Webb started at quarterback for the first time all season, and Rodgers made the passing gap between the two teams even wider. Rodgers went 14 for 18 for 205 yards, leading scoring drives of 82 and 62 yards.


With Adrian Peterson being boxed in by a fired-up Packers defense that he gashed for 409 yards rushing over the previous two meetings this season, Webb had to go to work in his first start of the season. The early results weren't pretty. Webb tripped over Clay Matthews to give the Packers star an easy sack, and he was called for intentional grounding while being swarmed behind the line of scrimmage on the next play.


Webb ran four times for 43 yards, but he completed only three of his 12 attempts before halftime for a measly 22 yards. Peterson gained 48 yards on 12 carries.


Rodgers, who entered the game with the NFL's best postseason passer rating in history at 105.5 after seven previous playoff appearances, was in prime form. After a fourth straight punt by the Vikings, Rodgers got the Packers from their 38-yard line to the Minnesota 3 in three plays. He rolled right and threw a zinger to Jordy Nelson in the final minute of the first half to set up Kuhn's plunge.


On the previous drive, Rodgers found Greg Jennings open on fourth-and-5, and Jennings spun around Chris Cook to sprint up the sideline and reach the Vikings 2. Mason Crosby's field goal pushed the lead to 10-3.


Rodgers went 4 for 4 on the first scoring drive for the Packers, who used their hurry-up, no-huddle scheme they weren't able to make work in the noisy Metrodome last Sunday. The Vikings won that game 37-34 to force the rematch, the third time these border rivals have met in a five-week span.


The Vikings used a 33-yard field goal by rookie Blair Walsh on the opening possession to get in front early. Webb ran for 17 yards on third-and-3 to keep the drive alive, but his underthrow to Michael Jenkins bounced well short on third down to set up the kick.


Rodgers had his top four receivers healthy together for the first time since September, with Jennings, Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones all set to go against a Vikings secondary that had trouble keeping up in their game last week after veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield left with a broken right hand. Winfield returned for this one, but his ability to play his usual physical style was in question.


Rodgers focused more on his running backs early. Harris caught two passes for 28 yards and Ryan Grant had a 16-yard reception to put the Packers in position to take the lead. The on-field ruling on the scoring run by Harris was that he was down at the 1, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play, and the call was reversed.


For Rodgers, this game was another benchmark in his stellar career. Despite leading the Packers to a Super Bowl championship after the 2010 season, he had yet to win a playoff game at Lambeau Field. After rolling through the regular season at 15-1 in 2011, the Packers were upset here in their first postseason game by the eventual champion New York Giants. But Rodgers, despite all the injuries to his receivers this year, posted the NFL's best passer rating for the second year in a row.


Webb became the first quarterback in 20 years to start a playoff game without starting any games during that regular season since Frank Reich did so for Buffalo, according to STATS. Reich led the Bills to their famous comeback victory over Houston that year.


These teams squared off for the second time in seven days, so there wasn't much either side could do to surprise the other — except, perhaps, make a quarterback switch just before the game.


After preparing all week for Ponder, whose second-year struggles peaked in a loss here on Dec. 2 when he threw two interceptions inside the Green Bay 20-yard line, the Packers defense suddenly faced a totally different player in Webb.


The 6-foot-4, 220-pound sixth-round draft pick in 2010 was athletic enough to play some wide receiver at Alabama-Birmingham and even take a few turns there with the Vikings last year before becoming a full-time quarterback this season as the backup to Ponder.


Webb had three starts over his first two NFL seasons, the first coming at Philadelphia on Dec. 28, 2010. The Vikings beat the playoff-bound Eagles that night 24-14, and Webb passed for 195 yards and ran for a touchdown.


Ponder was hurt last Sunday when Packers safety Morgan Burnett delivered a jarring hit on a blitz, but he finished the game with a career-high 120.2 passer rating and three touchdowns in the 37-34 win. His elbow just didn't improve enough during the week, however, for the Vikings to put him in.


___


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


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Here, Bella! Top Pet Names for 2012






Move over, Rover, there’s a new top dog in town, and her name is Bella. For 2012, the “Twilight Saga”-inspired moniker was the most popular for dogs and second-most popular for cats, according to a survey by one veterinary organization. For dogs, Max took second place.


The survey gathered names of 2.5 million dogs and cats at the Banfield Pet Hospital, a veterinary network in Portland, Ore.






The top names resemble those from years past, said Laura Wattenberg, a baby-name expert and the creator of babynamewizard.com


“Max in particular has been the top name for male dogs for a number of years now,” Wattenberg told LiveScience. 


Cuddly fur babies


In general, pets have been given much more humanlike names over the past generation, Wattenberg said. That reflects a change in society, in which owners see their fur babies more as family members than animals, she said. [What Your Dog's Breed Says About You]


The names people choose for their pets also reflect a sweet, nostalgic innocence.


“There’s a particular slice of human names that have risen for baby names as well, but they’re particularly popular for pets. That’s the cute, cuddly names of the early 20th century.”


These names, such as Max and Lucy, tend to crop up frequently as heroes or heroines in kids’ picture books, Wattenberg said. For instance, the hero in “Where the Wild Things Are” was named Max. These names may reflect how people see their pets.


“They’re like children who never have to grow up,” she said.


Old and new


Pop-culture trends also influenced the popularity of pet names found in the survey. Aside from the top-ranked Bella, Katniss also saw wide use, becoming 18 times more popular for dogs and 14 times more popular for cats, compared with 2011, following the release of the “Hunger Games” in March.  Reality TV stars also got their due, with Honey Boo Boo (a 6-year-old beauty pageant star of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo“) and Purrfect (the name of Cee Lo Green’s cat on “The Voice”) rising in the ranks.


Still, for dog and cat names alike, familiar can still win out over hip. Perennial favorites like Max and Buddy took the second and third slots for dogs, while the perhaps unimaginative Kitty was the most popular name for cats.


Cats vs. dogs


Interestingly, more humanlike names, such as Charlie or Lucy, were popular for dogs, while unisex monikers like Smokey, Shadow and Tigger describing physical traits like color ranked high for felines in 2012.


That may reflect how much people project a human role onto their pets. For instance, one study showed that animals kept in the house are more likely to get human names, Wattenberg said.


“You could infer from this that people feel a little bit more attached or feel like they have a more personal relationship with their dogs,” she said. “Obviously cat lovers will howl at that, but that’s what the names say.”


In general, pet names overlapped very little with baby names. While the trend toward nostalgic, 20th century names carried over from baby naming trends, formal names ruled for human tots. But cuddly, affectionate nicknames took precedence for pets. From the list of pet names, only Chloe made the list of most popular girl names in 2011.


For instance, pet names like Coco or Rocky are more intensely retro than Ava or Jacob (which are more likely to be given to babies). That suggests, as a society, “we’re more willing to push the style to the extreme with pets and maybe even live out the naming fantasies that we wouldn’t quite be able to give to our children,” Wattenberg said.


Here are the top ten names for dogs and cats in order of more to less popular:


Top Dog Names:


  1. Bella

  2. Max

  3. Buddy

  4. Daisy

  5. Bailey

  6. Coco

  7. Lucy

  8. Charlie

  9. Molly

  10. Rocky

Top Cat Names:


  1. Kitty

  2. Bella

  3. Tiger

  4. Max

  5. Smokey

  6. Shadow

  7. Tigger

  8. Lucy

  9. Chloe

  10. Charlie

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


Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Storm over Depardieu's 'pathetic' move






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed Russian citizenship on actor Gérard Depardieu

  • For Depardieu, a public war of words erupted, with many in France disgusted by his move

  • Depardieu more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit, says Agnes Poirier

  • Majority of French people disapprove of his action but can't help loving him, she adds




Agnes Poirier is a French journalist and political analyst who contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and TV in the UK, U.S., France, Italy. Follow her on Twitter.


Paris (CNN) -- Since the revelation on the front page of daily newspaper Libération, on December 11, with a particularly vicious editorial talking about France's national treasure as a "former genius actor," Gérard Depardieu's departure to Belgium, where he bought a property just a mile from the French border, has deeply divided and saddened France. Even more so since, as we have learnt this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed the actor Russian citizenship.


Back in mid-December, the French media operated along political lines: the left-wing press such as Libération couldn't find strong enough words to describe Depardieu's "desertion" while right-wing publications such as Le Figaro, slightly uneasy at the news, preferred to focus on President François Hollande's punishing taxes which allegedly drove throngs of millionaires to seek tax asylum in more fiscally lenient countries such as Belgium or Britain. Le Figaro stopped short of passing moral judgement though. Others like satirical weekly Charlie hebdo, preferred irony. Its cover featured a cartoon of the rather rotund-looking Depardieu in front of a Belgian flag with the headline: "Can Belgium take the world's entire load of cholesterol?" Ouch.


Quickly though, it became quite clear that Depardieu was not treated in the same way as other famous French tax exiles. French actor Alain Delon is a Swiss resident as is crooner-rocker Johnny Halliday, and many other French stars and sportsmen ensure they reside for under six months in France in order to escape being taxed here on their income and capital. Their move has hardly ever been commented on. And they certainly never had to suffer the same infamy.



Agnes Poirier

Agnes Poirier



For Depardieu, a public war of words erupted. It started with the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and many members of his government, showing their disdain, and talking of Depardieu's "pathetic move." In response the outraged actor penned an open letter to the French PM in which he threatened to give back his French passport.


The backlash was not over. Fellow thespian Phillipe Torreton fired the first salvo against Depardieu in an open letter published in Libération, insulting both Depardieu's protruding physique and lack of patriotism: "So you're leaving the ship France in the middle of a storm? What did you expect, Gérard? You thought we would approve? You expected a medal, an academy award from the economy ministry? (...)We'll get by without you." French actress Catherine Deneuve felt she had to step in to defend Depardieu. In another open letter published by Libération, she evoked the darkest hours of the French revolution. Before flying to Rome to celebrate the New Year, Depardieu gave an interview to Le Monde in which he seemed to be joking about having asked Putin for Russian citizenship. Except, it wasn't a joke.


In truth, French people have felt touched to their core by Depardieu's gesture. He, more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit. He has been Cyrano, he has been Danton; he, better than most, on screen and off, stands for what it means to be French: passionate, sensitive, theatrical, and grandiose. Ambiguous too, and weak in front of temptations and pleasures.



In truth, French people have felt touched to their core by Depardieu's gesture. He, more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit
Hugh Miles



For more than two weeks now, #Depardieu has been trending on French Twitter. Surveys have showed France's dilemma: half the French people understand him but there are as many who think that paying one's taxes is a national duty. In other words, a majority of French people disapprove of his action but can't help loving the man.


Putin's move in granting the actor Russian citizenship has exacerbated things. And first of all, it is a blow to Hollande who, it was revealed, had a phone conversation with Depardieu on New Year's Day. The Elysées Palace refused to communicate on the men's exchange. A friend of the actor declared that Depardieu complained about being so reviled by the press and that he was leaving, no matter what.


If, in their hearts, the French don't quite believe Depardieu might one day settle in Moscow and abandon them, they feel deeply saddened by the whole saga. However, with France's former sex symbol Brigitte Bardot declaring that she too might ask Putin for Russian citizenship to protest against the fate of zoo elephants in Lyon, it looks as if the French may prefer to laugh the whole thing off. Proof of this: the last trend on French Twitter is #IWantRussianCitizenship.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Agnes Poirier.






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Englewood shooting victim dies









An afternoon shooting in the Englewood neighborhood left a man dead on Saturday, a day in which at least nine people have been shot since 12 a.m., according to authorities.


At 3:10 p.m. someone shot a male victim multiple times in the abdomen in the 5500 block of South Loomis Boulevard, News Affairs Officer Daniel O’Brien said.

The victim, a man in his 20s, was taken from the scene of the shooting in the Englewood neighborhood to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, where he was pronounced dead at 3:52 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.


Saturday evening about 7:10 p.m., two people were injured in a shooting in the 5100 block of West Oakdale Avenue, O'Brien said.





A male was taken in critical condition to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center with a gunshot wound to the back, O'Brien said. The other victim was taken to the same hospital in good condition with a gunshot wound to the wrist, O'Brien said.


The shooting happened in the Cragin neighborhood on the Northwest Side. Further details were not immediately available.


Late Saturday morning, a shooting in the Back of the Yards neighborhood left another victim shot in the abdomen and seriously wounded.


Someone shot the male in the abdomen at 11:48 a.m. in the 4500 block of South Marshfield Avenue, according to Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Michael Sullivan.


He was taken to John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County in serious condition, Sullivan said.


The circumstances surrounding the shooting were not known immediately but Sullivan said no one was arrested.


Earlier Saturday, four people were shot in two separate incidents before the sun rose, and a fifth man was killed in a West Side shooting.


chicagobreaking@tribune.com


Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking





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Venezuela lawmakers elect Chavez ally as Assembly chief


CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan lawmakers re-elected a staunch ally of Hugo Chavez to head the National Assembly on Saturday, putting him in line to be caretaker president if the socialist leader does not recover from cancer surgery.


By choosing the incumbent, Diosdado Cabello, the "Chavista"-dominated legislature cemented the combative ex-soldier's position as the third most powerful figure in the government, after Chavez and Vice President Nicolas Maduro.


"As a patriot ... I swear to be supremely loyal in everything I do, to defend the fatherland, its institutions, and this beautiful revolution led by our Comandante Hugo Chavez," Cabello said as he took the oath, his hand on the constitution.


He had earlier warned opposition politicians against attempting to use the National Assembly to "conspire" against the people, saying they would be "destroyed" if they tried.


Thousands of the president's red-clad supporters gathered outside parliament hours before the vote, many chanting: "We are all Chavez! Our comandante will be well! He will return!"


If Chavez had to step down, or died, Cabello would take over the running of the country as Assembly president and a new election would be organized within 30 days. Chavez's heir apparent, Maduro, would be the ruling Socialist Party candidate.


Chavez, who was diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer in his pelvic area in mid-2011, has not been seen in public nor heard from in more than three weeks.


Officials say the 58-year-old is in delicate condition and has suffered multiple complications since the December 11 surgery, including unexpected bleeding and severe respiratory problems.


Late on Friday, Maduro gave the clearest indication yet that the government was preparing to delay Chavez's inauguration for a new six-year term, which is scheduled for Thursday.


'CHAVEZ IS PRESIDENT'


Maduro said the ceremony was a "formality" and that Chavez could be sworn in by the Supreme Court at a later date.


The opposition says Chavez's absence would be just the latest sign that he is no longer fit to govern, and that new elections should be held in the South American OPEC nation.


Brandishing a copy of the constitution after his win in the Assembly, Cabello slammed opposition leaders for writing a letter to foreign embassies in which they accused the government of employing a "twisted reading" of the charter.


"Get this into your heads: Hugo Chavez was elected president and he will continue to be president beyond January 10. No one should have any doubt ... this is the constitutional route," he said as fellow Socialist Party lawmakers cheered.


The opposition sat stony-faced. One of their legislators had earlier told the session that it was not just the head of state who was ill, "the republic is sick."


Last year, Chavez staged what appeared to be a remarkable comeback from the disease to win re-election in October, despite being weakened by radiation therapy. He returned to Cuba for more treatment within weeks of his victory.


Should the president have to step down after 14 years in office, a new vote would probably pit Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state.


Capriles lost to Chavez in October's presidential election.


"I don't think Maduro would last many rounds in a presidential race. He's not fit for the responsibility they have given him," Capriles said after the vice president's appearance on state television.


Chavez's condition is being watched closely by leftist allies around Latin American who have benefited from his oil-funded generosity, as well as investors attracted by Venezuela's lucrative and widely traded debt.


The country boasts the world's biggest crude reserves. Despite the huge political upheaval Chavez's exit would cause, the oil industry is not likely to be affected much in the short term, with an extension of "Chavismo" keeping projects on track, while a change in parties could usher in more foreign capital.


(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Vicki Allen)



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S&P 500 finishes at 5-year high on economic data

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index ended at a five-year high on Friday, lifted by reports showing employers kept up a steady pace of hiring workers and the vast services sector expanded at a brisk rate.


The gains on the S&P 500 pushed the index to its highest close since December 2007 and its biggest weekly gain since December 2011.


Most of the gains came early in the holiday-shortened week, including the largest one-day rise for the index in more than a year on Wednesday after politicians struck a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff."


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 43.85 points, or 0.33 percent, to 13,435.21. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> rose 7.10 points, or 0.49 percent, to 1,466.47. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> edged up 1.09 points, or 0.04 percent, to 3,101.66.


For the week, the S&P gained 4.6 percent, the Dow rose 3.8 percent and the Nasdaq jumped 4.8 percent to post their largest weekly percentage gains in more than a year.


The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, a measure of investor anxiety, dropped for a fourth straight session, giving the index a weekly decline of nearly 40 percent, its biggest weekly fall ever. The close of 13.83 on the VIX marks its lowest level since August.


In Friday's economic reports, the Labor Department said non-farm payrolls grew by 155,000 jobs last month, slightly below November's level. Gains were distributed broadly throughout the economy, from manufacturing and construction to healthcare.


Also serving to boost equities was data from the Institute for Supply Management showing U.S. service sector activity expanding the most in 10 months.


With the S&P 500 index at a five-year closing high, analysts said any gains above the index's intraday high near 1,475 in September may be harder to come by.


"We are getting to a point where we need a strong catalyst, which could be earnings, it could be three months of good economic data, it could be a variety of things," said Adam Thurgood, managing director at HighTower Advisors in Las Vegas, Nevada.


"What is going on right now is this conflicting view of fundamentals look pretty good and improving, and then you've got these negative tail risks that could blow everything up," Thurgood said.


He referred to "a fiscal superstorm brewing" of issues still left unresolved in Washington, including tough federal budget cuts and the need to raise the government's debt ceiling all within a couple of months.


The rise in payrolls shown by the jobs data did not make a dent in the U.S. unemployment rate still at 7.8 percent.


A Reuters poll on Friday of economists at Wall Street's top financial institutions showed that most expect the Fed in 2013 to end the program with which it bought Treasury debt in an effort to stimulate the economy.


A drop in Apple Inc shares of 2.6 percent to $528.36 kept pressure on the Nasdaq.


Adding to concerns about Apple's ability to produce more innovative products, rival Samsung Electronics Co Ltd is expected to widen its lead over Apple in global smartphone sales this year with growth of 35 percent. Market researcher Strategy Analytics said Samsung had a broad product lineup.


Eli Lilly and Co was among the biggest boost's to the S&P, up 3.7 percent to $51.56 after the pharmaceuticals maker said it expects its 2013 earnings to increase to $3.75 to $3.90 per share, excluding items, from $3.30 to $3.40 per share in 2012.


Fellow drugmaker Johnson & Johnson rose 1.2 percent to $71.55 after Deutsche Bank upgraded the Dow component to a "Buy" from a "Hold" rating. The NYSEArca pharmaceutical index <.drg> climbed 0.6 percent.


Shares of Mosaic Co gained 3.3 percent to $58.62. Excluding items, the fertilizer producer's quarterly earnings beat analysts' expectations, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.


Volume was modest with about 6.07 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE MKT and Nasdaq, slightly below the 2012 daily average of 6.42 billion.


Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,287 to 701, while on the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners 1,599 to 866.


(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Kenneth Barry)



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AP Source: Browns close to deal with Kelly


CLEVELAND (AP) — Chip Kelly is close to taking his fast-paced offense to the NFL.


A person familiar with the negotiations says the Cleveland Browns are nearing a deal with Oregon's offensive mastermind to be their next coach.


The Browns interviewed Kelly on Friday and the Ducks coach was supposed to meet with Philadelphia in Arizona. However, a person familiar with the interviews says the Eagles are "heading in another direction" because Kelly is nearing a deal with Cleveland.


That person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team isn't discussing its negotiations publicly, said the Eagles planned to interview several other candidates regardless of any conversations with Kelly.


The Eagles were granted permission Friday to interview Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and are scheduled to meet with Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Sunday.


Following Oregon's win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night, the 49-year-old Kelly said he wanted to get the interview process over "quickly."


He turned down an offer from Tampa Bay last year to return for his fourth season at Oregon, where he is 46-7. He has boosted the school's national profile — flashy uniforms helped — with a high-powered offense capable of turning any game into a track meet.


"It's more a fact-finding mission, finding out if it fits or doesn't fit," Kelly said after the Ducks beat No. 7 Kansas State 35-17. "I've been in one interview in my life for the National Football League, and that was a year ago. I don't really have any preconceived notions about it. I think that's what this deal is all about for me. It's not going to affect us in terms of we're not on the road (recruiting). I'll get an opportunity if people do call, see where they are.


"I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be."


Kelly has been at the top of the Browns' list of candidates since the team fired Pat Shurmur, who went 9-23 in two seasons. Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have been conducting interviews in Arizona all week, searching for the team's sixth coach since 1999.


The Browns, who have only made the playoffs once in 14 seasons, have declined comment on any interviews.


Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton confirmed he interviewed with Cleveland earlier this week. The Browns have reportedly met with former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone and Penn State's Bill O'Brien, who removed himself from any consideration on Thursday night and intends to stay at the school.


Kelly doesn't have any NFL coaching experience, but aspects of his up-tempo offense are already being used by some teams.


Kelly wouldn't say if he was leaning one way or another following the Ducks' bowl win.


"I said I'll always listen, and that's what I'll do," he said. "I know that people want to talk to me because of our players. The success of our football program has always been about our guys. It's an honor for someone to say they'd want to talk to me about maybe moving on to go coach in the National Football League. But it's because of what those guys do. I'll listen, and we'll see."


Oregon could be facing possible NCAA sanctions for the school's use of recruiting services, but Kelly indicated he isn't running from anything.


"We've cooperated fully with them," he said. "If they want to talk to us again, we'll continue to cooperate fully. I feel confident in the situation."


Oregon's players gave Kelly a Gatorade bath as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Thursday night's game, and afterward a few of the Ducks seemed resigned to their coach moving on.


"We'll have to see," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "Whatever he decides to do, we're all behind him. He's an unbelievable coach. He's not only a football coach, but he's someone that you can look to and learn a lot of life lessons from. Whatever happens, happens. But we're all behind him.


"We'll see where it takes us."


___


AP Football Writer Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this report.


___


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


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Neil Armstrong Didn’t Lie About ‘One Small Step’ Moon Speech, Historian Says






Let’s get one thing straight right now: Neil Armstrong was not a liar. But that’s the outrageous accusation made about him in screaming headlines following a new BBC documentary on his life.


The controversy stems from a comment made by Armstrong’s brother Dean, who says in the film that Neil shared his famous “one small step” quotation with him shortly before the mission. The problem, in some people’s minds, is that this seems to conflict with Neil’s own statements over the last 40 years about when and where he composed what became an immortal sentence when he took his first step onto the moon. So let’s look at the facts.






The very first public statement Neil made about the subject was at the post-flight press conference on Aug. 12, 1969, following his return from Apollo 11. Asked by a reporter when he came up with the quote, Armstrong answered as follows:


“I did think about it. It was not extemporaneous, neither was it planned. It evolved during the conduct of the flight and I decided what the words would be while we were on the lunar surface just prior to leaving the LM.”


In the Aug. 22, 1969, issue of LIFE magazine, Armstrong elaborated a bit more. “I had thought about that a little before the flight,” he wrote, “mainly because so many people had made such a big point of it. I had also thought about it a little on the way to the moon, but not much. It wasn’t until after landing that I made up my mind what to say.”


This is the story Neil told me when I interviewed him in 1988 for my book “A Man on the Moon” (even though I did not specifically ask the question, knowing he was probably tired of answering it). It was also the story Armstrong told his biographer James Hansen in 2003. It is simply not true, as several recent news articles have claimed, that Armstrong always said he composed the quote “spontaneously.” It would have been completely out of character for Armstrong, who was thoughtful about nearly everything he said and did, to have offered such an important quote without thinking it through beforehand.


Nothing in Neil’s post-flight statements rules out the possibility that he thought up the “one small step” line before leaving Earth. He didn’t say “I thought up the quote after we landed;” he said, “I decided what I would say after we landed.”


Dean Armstrong‘s story just adds a little ambiguity. Maybe Neil had more than one quote in mind at that point, and only shared one of them with his brother. Or maybe the quote he showed his brother was an early draft, but after all these years, Dean remembers seeing the final version.


We’ll probably never know the answer.


What it does not mean is that somehow Armstrong “fibbed” or “lied” to the public for 40 years. Everyone who knew Neil well has described him as extraordinarily principled. That was certainly the man I saw when I interviewed him, and in the years that followed, as we became friends.


And it’s worth remembering that Neil Armstrong went to the moon, above all, as a consummate engineering test pilot. As he told me in 1988, making the first lunar landing was the greatest technical challenge, and before the flight, he thought he and Buzz Aldrin had only a 50-50 chance of pulling it off.


Stepping onto the surface was far less central in his focus, and coming up with a quote for the first step was way down on his list of priorities when faced with the awesome challenge of his mission. And yet, he understood its importance, and he gave us a quote worthy of the moment, one that will live forever.


And that’s the point: Neil Armstrong did right by history. And now we should do right by him.


Space journalist Andrew Chaikin is an Apollo historian and author of “Man on the Moon,” “A Passion for Mars” and co-author (with Victoria Kohl) of “Voices From the Moon” and the children’s book “Mission Control, This is Apollo.” You can find him at: www.andrewchaikin.com.


Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Space and Astronomy News Headlines – Yahoo! News




Read More..

Myanmar: Evolution, not revolution




Tourists walk around the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon in April. The tourism industry is set for expansion.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Myanmar is undergoing incremental change, welcomed by all, says Parag Khanna

  • But he says people still tread lightly, careful not to overstep or demand too much

  • Myanmar has survived succession of natural and man-made ravages, Khanna adds

  • With sanctions lifted, foreign investment is now pouring in from Western nations




Editor's note: Parag Khanna is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and Senior Fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. His books include "The Second World," "How to Run the World," and "Hybrid Reality."


Yangon, Myanmar (CNN) -- Call it a case for evolution instead of revolution. While the Arab world continues in the throes of violence and uncertainty, Myanmar is undergoing incremental change -- and almost everyone seems to want it that way.


The government is lightening up: holding elections, freeing political prisoners, abolishing censorship, legalizing protests, opening to investment and tourists and welcoming back exiles. But the people still tread lightly, careful not to overstep or demand too much. Still, the consensus is clear: Change in Myanmar is "irreversible."


Read more: Aung San Suu Kyi and the power of unity


As the British Raj's jungle frontier, Burma was a key Asian battleground resisting the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia during World War II. As with many post-colonial countries, the euphoria of independence and democracy in 1948 gave way in just over a decade to the 1962 coup in which General Ne Win nationalized the economy and abolished most institutions except the army.



Parag Khanna

Parag Khanna



Non-alignment gave way to isolationism. Like Syria or Uzbekistan, Myanmar became an ancient Silk Road passageway that almost voluntarily choked itself off, choosing the unique path of a Buddhist state conducting genocide, slavery, and human trafficking.


Watch: Myanmar in grip of economic revolution


The military junta began its increasingly cozy rapproachment with Deng Xiaoping's China in the 1970s, just as China was opening to the world, and used cash from its Golden Triangle drug-running operations to pay for Chinese weapons.


Mass protests, crackdowns and another coup in 1988 led to a rebranding of the junta as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and the country's official renaming as the Union of Myanmar.


Terrorized, starving and homeless: Myanmar's Rohingya still forgotten


The 1990 elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a majority of the seats, were annulled by the SLORC, which continued to rule until 2011 when it was formally disbanded. Most international sanctions on Myanmar have now been lifted.






Read more: Myanmar: Is now a good time to go?


In just the past few years, Myanmar has survived a succession of natural and man-made ravages, from the brutal crackdown on the Saffron Revolution of 2007 (led by Buddhist monks but more widely supported in protest against rising fuel prices and economic mismanagement), to Cyclone Nargis (which killed an estimated 200,000 people in 2008) to civil wars between the government's army and ethnic groups such as the Kachin in the north and Shan and Karen in the east, and communal violence between the Muslim Rohingya (ethnic Bengalis) and Buddhist Rakhine in the west.


There are still approximately 150,000 Karen refugees in Thailand (and over 300,000 total refugees on the Thai-Burmese border) and more than 100,000 displaced Rohinya living in camps in Sittwe. So difficult is holding Myanmar together that even Aung San Suu Kyi, who helps lead the national reconciliation process, ironically advocated the use of the army (which kept her under house arrest for almost two decades) to pacify the rebellions.


Though sectarian conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine underscores the Myanmar's tenuous search for national unity, the genuine efforts at religious pluralism are reminiscent of neighboring India: Every religion is officially recognized, and days are given off for observance. Surrounding Yangon's downtown City Hall is not only the giant Sule Pagoda but also a mosque, synagogue, church and Jain temple. The roundabout is therefore a symbol of the country's diversity -- but also the place where protesters flock when the government doesn't live up to promises.


Q&A: What's behind sectarian violence in Myanmar?


Scarred from decades of oppressive and ideological rule and still beset by conflict, it is therefore against all odds that Myanmar would become the most talked about frontier market of the moment, a top Christmas holiday destination and a case study in democratic transitions. Myanmar's political scene is now a vibrant but cacophonous discourse involving the still-powerful army; upstart parliament; repatriated civilian advisers; flourishing civil society, including human rights groups, ambitious business community, the Buddhist religious community, and a feisty media (especially online).


The parliament is pushing for accountability in telecom and energy contracts, and its speaker, Shwe Mann, is already maneuvering to challenge the chairman of his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) -- current president Thein Sein -- in the 2015 elections.


In the meantime, however, the establishment in Yangon and the new capital of Napyidaw need to focus much more on building capacity. Thein Sein, who traded in his uniform for indigenous attire in 2011, has reshuffled the Cabinet to make room for functional experts in the energy and economic portfolios. He's even spearheaded an anti-corruption drive, admitting recently that Myanmar's "governance falls well below international standards." By many accounts he is also very open to advice on investment and other reforms.


He will need it, as Myanmar faces crucial tests of its international credibility in the coming years. In 2013, Myanmar will play host to the World Economic Forum (WEF) as well as the Southeast Asian Games. In 2014 it will chair the ASEAN regional group, and in 2015 it is expected to enter a new ASEAN Free Trade Area.


The military's power is still pervasive, placing it somewhere on the spectrum between Indonesia, where military influence has been rolled back, and Pakistan, where the military still dominates. On the streets, it's often difficult to know who is in charge.


One numerological fetish led to the driving side being unilaterally changed, making Myanmar the rare place where the steering wheel is (mostly) on the right, and cars drive (mostly) on the right. At least a dozen official and private newspapers (though private daily papers are not allowed yet) are on offer from meandering street hawkers, while you inch through Yangon's increasingly dense daily traffic jams.


At this time of year, visitors to Burma enjoy crisp, smoky morning air and dry, starry nights. Yangon is undergoing a construction boom, with faded colonial embassies turned into bustling banks, the national independence column being refurbished and redesigned with a park, and tycoons building columned mansions near downtown -- and seeking Buddhist blessings by pledging lavish donations for the construction of even more monasteries and pagodas.


By 2020, the population of Yangon could easily double from the current 5 million, at which point it may look like a mix of Calcutta and Kuala Lumpur.


Thant Myint-U, the grandson of former U.N. Secretary-General U Thant and noted historian of modern Burma, now wears several hats related to ethnic reconciliation, foreign donor trust funds and urban conservation. He says that as foreign aid flows grow from trickles into a flood, they have to be systematically focused on sustainable employment creation and infrastructure. USAID has pledged to spend more than $150 million in Myanmar in the next three years.



Myanmar's opening, however, is strongly motivated by an anti-Chinese sentiment that is part of a much wider global blowback against China's commercial and strategic encroachment
Parag Khanna



Outside of Yangon, the pace of Burmese society slows to a timeless pace -- as do Internet connections. On village roads, cycle rickshaws and monks with parasols amble by fruit vendors and car part stalls. Whether at the Dhammayazika Pagoda in Bagan or Mandalay Hill in that city, locals enjoy watching sunrises and sunsets as much as tourists.


Traveling around Myanmar, one observes the paradox of a country that has massive potential yet still needs just about everything. Yangon's vegetable market is a maze of tented alleys overflowing with cabbage, pineapples, eggplant and flowers, but they are still transported by wheelbarrows and bicycles. Ox-drawn ploughs still power farming in much of the country, meaning agricultural output of rice, beans and other staples could grow immensely through mechanization.


Similarly, the British-era light-rail loop circling Yangon takes about three hours to ride once around, with no linking bus services into downtown. But with cars already clogging the city, a major transport overhaul is essential. The communications sector actually needs to be re-invented. At present, the country's Internet and mobile phone penetration are only just growing; both are still governed by India's 1886 Telegraph Act. Mobile penetration is only 3 million but could easily grow to 30 million (half the population) within the next couple of years, as the price of SIM cards come down (so far from $2,000 to about $200), and foreign telecoms are allowed in to provide data coverage.


With sanctions lifted, foreign investment is now pouring in from Western nations, in addition to the players who have been making inroads for years such as China, Thailand and Singapore. The paradox, however, is that Myanmar lacks the infrastructure (physical and institutional) to absorb all the investor interest.


Major nations have thus focused on special economic zones that they themselves effectively run. The way Japan has moved into Myanmar, one would think that its World War II imperialism has been forgotten. After their major bet on the Thilawa special economic zone south of Yangon, Japanese contractors have plans to deepen the Yangon River's estuary so that cargo ships can sail directly up to the city's shores and offload more containers of cars that are already being briskly snapped up at busy dealerships.


Besides natural gas and agriculture, everyone agrees that tourism will comprise an ever-larger share of the country's GDP. Especially with much of the country off-limits to foreigners due to security restrictions and the military's economic operations, tourists already clog all existing suitable hotels in Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay, meaning a massive upgrade is needed in the hospitality sector.


Annual tourist visits are climbing 25% annually to an estimated 400,000 for 2012. Daily flights arrive packed from around the region, with longer-haul routes beginning from as far afield as Istanbul and Doha.


Still, Myanmar is a traveler's dream come true. In Bagan, you can walk or take a sunrise jog around countless pagodas that feel like they haven't been touched in 800 years -- some actually haven't. There is also the sacred and enchanting Golden Rock; the pristine beaches of Ngwe Saung, which rival the best of Thailand and the Philippines; the temperate climate of Inle Lake; the Himalayan foothills near Putao in far northern Kachin state where one can trek; the rich dynastic history of Mandalay; and the languorous Irrawaddy River cruises that harken to George Orwell's "Burmese Days."


Yangon has a pleasant charm and gentle energy, with vast gardens and riverside walks, the grandeur of centuries-old monuments such as the Shwedegon Pagoda, a fast-growing cultural scene of art galleries and music performances, and a melting pot population of all Myanmar's tribes as well as industrious overseas Indians and Chinese, who make up 5% of the nation's population.


Mandalay in particular is where one feels the depth of China's demographic penetration into Myanmar, owing not only to recent decades of commercial expansion from gems trading to real estate but also centuries of seasonal migrations across the rugged natural border with Yunnan province. Some have begun to call the Shan region "Yunnan South."


The combination of the Saffron Revolution, civil strife, sanctions, its economic lag behind the rest of ASEAN, and the status of becoming a captive resource supplier to China all played crucial roles in Myanmar's opening. China has traditionally been a kingmaker in isolated and sanctioned countries and well-placed to capitalize on the infrastructural and extractive needs of emerging economies as well.


For China, Myanmar represents a crucial artery to evade the "Malacca trap" represented by its dependence on shipping transit through the Straits of Malacca. In 2011 China was still far and away the largest foreign investor in Myanmar, bringing in $5 billion (of a total of $9 billion) across their 2,000-kilometer (1250-mile)-long border. The massive ongoing investments include 63 hydropower projects, a 2,400-kilometer (1500-mile) Sittwe-to-Kunming oil pipeline from the Bay of Bengal and a proposed gas pipeline to China's Yunnan beginning at Myanmar's Ramree Island -- not to mention an entire military outfitted with Chinese tanks, helicopters, boats and planes.


Myanmar's opening, however, is strongly motivated by an anti-Chinese sentiment that is part of a much wider global blowback against its commercial and strategic encroachment. Even well-kept generals are fundamentally Burmese nationalists and awoke to the predicament of total economic and strategic dependence on China. The government has taken major steps to correct this excessive tilt, suspending a major hydroelectric dam project at Myitsone and re-evaluating Wanbao Mining company's giant copper mine concession near Monywa.


Myanmar is now deftly playing the same multi-alignment game mastered by countries such as Kazakhstan in trying to escape the Soviet-Russian sphere of influence: courting all sides and gaining whatever one can from multiple great powers and neighbors while giving up as little autonomy as possible.


India sees Myanmar as the crucial gateway for its "Look East" policy and is offering substantial investments in oil and gas as well as port construction and information technology; Europe has become a larger investor, especially Great Britain; Russia is being courted as a new arms supplier; Japan is viewing Myanmar as its new Thailand for automobile production; and of course, U.S. President Barack Obama visited in December, paving the way not only for greater U.S. investment but even for Myanmar to potentially participate in the Cobra Gold military exercises held annually with America's regional allies.


Obama was not only the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar but also the first to call it by that name, conceding ground in a long-running dispute. The administration hopes that North Korea, Asia's still frozen outcast, will learn the lessons from Myanmar's steady but determined opening.


But countries that are playing multi-alignment don't have to thaw domestically -- witness Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. Myanmar is simultaneously undergoing political liberalization and international rehabilitation -- a tricky and laudable feat for sure but not one North Korea is likely to emulate entirely. What the two do have in common, however, is the growing realization that having China as a neighbor is both a blessing and a curse.


During my visit to the "Genius Language School," where university students go for professional English tutoring, I asked the assembled round table whether they were happy that Obama came to visit and whether they considered America a friend. All giggled and chanted: "Yes."


Then I asked, "Are you afraid of China?" And the answer came in immediate, resounding unison: "Yes!"


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Parag Khanna.






Read More..

Escapee's mother: 'I'm glad it's over'

Chicago Tribune reporter Jason Meisner on the recent arrest of Kenneth Conley, a convicted bank robber who escaped from federal jail in December. (Posted on: Jan. 4, 2013.)









The second inmate who made a daring escape last month from a high-rise federal jail in the South Loop was captured today in South Suburban Palos Hills, according to FBI officials.


Kenneth Conley, a convicted bank robber, was awaiting sentencing when he and cellmate Joseph “Jose” Banks scaled down the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Dec. 18 with a rope fashioned from bedsheets.


FBI Spokeswoman Joan Hyde said Conley was apprehended at an apartment complex at about 4 p.m. by Palos Hills police.








Palos Hills Police Deputy Chief James Boie said officers apprehended Conley with the help of two maintenance men working in the 10200 block of South 86th Terrace, who called police at about 3:30 p.m. to report a “suspicious person” walking down the street.

Responding personnel found a man dressed in an overcoat and pretending to use a cane. He had a dark hat pulled down low over his head and appeared to be trying to look older than he actually was, Boie said. Another police official said he also was wearing glasses as part of the disguise.

“Our officers stopped to talk to him and he said he was just visiting,” Boie said. “He gave them a phony name, and while they’re trying to run the information, he got wise that they were going to figure it out and he pushed one of the officers down and took off running.”

Boie said two additional officers responding to the scene caught the man -- later identified as Conley -- about a block away as he was trying to force his way into an apartment at a complex. He was wrestled down but did not offer any other resistance. Conley and one officer were taken to Palos Community Hospital for observation, he said. 


When police were called about the suspicious person, a lieutenant, a sergeant and an officer initially went to check it out, said police Chief Paul J. Madigan.

When Conley could not provide identification a struggle broke out, with Conley taking a swing at one of the officers before fleeing into one of the buildings, Madigan said.

Conley was finally apprehended when he tried to break into someone’s apartment, Madigan said.

Conley told police he injured his arm during the struggle and he was taken to the hospital. He remains in the custody of federal authorities, Madigan said.

The multi-unit complex is made up of clusters of 2-story, brick buildings, with a wooded area behind it. Madigan said local police have a “history” with Conley that dates back to 2004, but would not elaborate.

Police found a BB pistol in Conley’s pocket. He had no money, ID or other weapons, Boie said.

Boie said that U.S. Marshals had been in the area days earlier after getting a tip that Conley had knocked on the door of a former acquaintance.


Conley’s mother, Sandra, answered the phone at her Tinley Park home this evening and said she had heard of her son’s arrest but had no details or comment.


“I’m just glad it’s over. That’s my only comment,” she said.


Banks was apprehended late at night on Dec. 20 less than five miles from the jail in the home of a boyhood friend on the North Side.


Banks and Conley were last accounted for during a routine bed check, authorities said. About 7 a.m. the next day, jail employees arriving for work saw ropes made from bedsheets dangling from a hole in the wall near the 15th floor and down the south side of the facade.

The two had put clothing and sheets under blankets in their beds to throw off guards making nighttime checks and removed a cinder block to create an opening wide enough to slide through, authorities said.

The FBI said a surveillance camera a few blocks from the jail showed the two, wearing light-colored clothing, hailing a taxi at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue. They also appeared to be wearing backpacks, according to the FBI.

The daring escape was an embarrassment for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and a rarity for the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where the only previous successful escape took place in 1985.


A high-ranking employee in the facility told the Tribune that video surveillance had captured the men making their descent, but that the guard who was supposed to be watching the video monitors for suspicious activity may have been called away on other duties.


Tribune reporters Carlos Sadovi and Terrence Antonio James contributed.


asweeney@tribune.com


jmeisner@tribune.com





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Abbas sees Palestinian unity as Fatah rallies in Gaza


GAZA (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Abbas predicted the end of a five-year split between the two big Palestinian factions as his Fatah movement staged its first mass rally in Gaza with the blessing of Hamas Islamists who rule the enclave.


"Soon we will regain our unity," Abbas, whose authority has been limited to the Israeli-occupied West Bank since the 2007 civil war between the two factions, said in a televised address to hundreds of thousands of followers marching in Gaza on Friday, with yellow Fatah flags instead of the green of Hamas.


The hardline Hamas movement, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, expelled secular Fatah from Gaza during the war. It gave permission for the rally after the deadlock in peace talks between Abbas's administration and Israel narrowed the two factions' ideological differences.


The Palestinian rivals have drawn closer since Israel's assault on Gaza assault in November, in which Hamas, though battered, claimed victory.


Egypt has long tried to broker Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, but past efforts have foundered over questions of power-sharing, control of weaponry, and to what extent Israel and other powers would accept a Palestinian administration including Hamas.


An Egyptian official told Reuters Cairo was preparing to invite the factions for new negotiations within two weeks.


Israel fears grassroots support for Hamas could eventually topple Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.


"Hamas could seize control of the PA any day," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.


The demonstration marked 48 years since Fatah's founding as the spearhead of the Palestinians' fight against Israel. Its longtime leader Yasser Arafat signed an interim 1993 peace accord that won Palestinians a measure of self rule.


Hamas, which rejected the 1993 deal, fought and won a Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006. It formed an uneasy coalition with Fatah until their violent split a year later.


Though shunned by the West, Hamas feels bolstered by electoral gains for Islamist movements in neighboring Egypt and elsewhere in the region - a confidence reflected in the fact Friday's Fatah demonstration was allowed to take place.


"The success of the rally is a success for Fatah, and for Hamas too," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "The positive atmosphere is a step on the way to regain national unity."


Fatah, meanwhile, has been riven by dissent about the credibility of Abbas's statesmanship, especially given Israel's continued settlement-building on West Bank land. The Israelis quit Gaza unilaterally in 2005 after 38 years of occupation.


"The message today is that Fatah cannot be wiped out," said Amal Hamad, a member of the group's ruling body, referring to the demonstration attended by several Abbas advisers. "Fatah lives, no one can exclude it and it seeks to end the division."


In his speech, Abbas promised to return to Gaza soon and said Palestinian unification would be "a step on the way to ending the (Israeli) occupation".


(Editing by Dan Williams, Alistair Lyon and Jason Webb)



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Asian shares drop on Fed minutes, dollar extends gain

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares fell on Friday, tracking overnight weakness in global equities, but the dollar gained as U.S. debt yields rose after several Federal Reserve officials expressed concerns about continuing to expand stimulative bond buying.


Minutes from the Fed's December policy meeting released on Thursday showed some voting members of the Federal Open Market Committee were increasingly concerned about the potential risks of the Fed's asset purchases on financial markets, even if it look set to continue an open-ended stimulus program for now.


The Fed's asset buying policy has been a crucial factor underpinning investor risk appetite and supporting global equities, so the more hawkish Fed minutes unnerved financial markets on Thursday, driving benchmark U.S. Treasury yields up to a near eight-month high and weighing on equities and oil, while bolstering the dollar.


The dollar extended gains early in Asia on Friday, hitting its highest since July 2010 against the yen at 87.78 while the euro fell to a three-week low of $1.3022. The U.S. dollar <.dxy> hit a near four-week high against a basket of major currencies on Thursday.


"The minutes have added a fresh degree of uncertainty into the investment climate, which is likely to mean a steeper yield curve. But equity investors should take heart from the fact that the Fed's perception is qualified on an improving economy," Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York, said in a note to clients.


MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> fell 0.4 percent, after scaling its highest since August 2011 on Thursday.


Australian shares <.axjo> slipped 0.5 percent, with investors pulling back after a sharp two-day rally which took shares to their highest in more than 19 months on Thursday.


"U.S. equities were due for a correction at any rate ... and the same is true of the KOSPI. Investors would do well to buy while shares are easing," Lee Seung-woo, an analyst at KDB Daewoo Securities, said of South Korean shares <.ks11>, which opened down 0.1 percent.


Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average <.n225> opened sharply higher, up 2 percent, to its highest since March 2011 on the back of the tumbling yen. Japanese markets were closed from December 31 to January 3 for the new year's holidays. The Nikkei ended 2012 with the sharpest yearly gain since 2005. <.t/>


U.S. lawmakers earlier this week narrowly avoided falling off a "fiscal cliff" of automatic higher taxes and spending cuts, which had been set to kick in at the start of the year and threatened to derail the U.S. economy, providing an immediate boost for financial markets.


But U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans face tough talks on spending cuts and an increase in the nation's debt limit as the hard-fought deal to avert the fiscal cliff covered only taxes and delayed decisions on expenditures until March 1.


Investor sentiment was, on the other hand, supported by recent data showing activity in China's services sector and at U.S. factories expanded in December, which brightened the outlook for global growth.


The U.S. jobs market remained on a recovery track, with data on Thursday showing U.S. private-sector employers shrugged off the budget wrangling and stepped up hiring in December, heightening hopes for a strong nonfarm payrolls report due later on Friday.


The U.S. economy likely added 150,000 jobs in December, according to a Reuters survey of economists, up from 146,000 in November. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 7.7 percent.


Resolution of the U.S. fiscal cliff crisis could spell trouble for some Asian assets that are coming off a stellar 2012 as investors could start to shift some money out of overpriced Asian investments in favour of the U.S. on a view that the fiscal deal manages to avert a U.S. recession and so boosts the prospects for American stocks.


U.S. crude inched down 0.2 percent to $82.78 a barrel.


(Additional reporting by Somang Yang in Seoul; Editing by Eric Meijer)



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Oregon up 15-7 over K-State at Fiesta Bowl


GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — DeAnthony Thomas returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and scored on a 23-yard pass, helping No. 5 Oregon take an early 15-7 lead over No. 7 Kansas State at the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night.


Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein scrambled for a TD run shortly into the second quarter to keep Kansas State close.


Teams that had that national title aspirations end on the same day, Oregon and Kansas State ended up in the desert for a marquee matchup billed as a battle of styles: The fast-flying Ducks vs. the execution-is-everything Wildcats.


Thomas offered the first flash of speed, crossing into the end zone like a sprinter taking the finish-line tape after picking up a couple of blocks and racing past Oregon's bench for a touchdown on the opening kickoff. The Ducks, are they are apt to do, went for 2 on the point-after and converted on a trick play to go up 8-0 in the game's first 12 seconds.


It was the second straight day a BCS bowl began with a quick strike. On the first play in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night, Louisville returned an interception for a touchdown against Florida.


Thomas hit the Wildcats again late in the first quarter, breaking a couple of tackles and dragging three Wildcats into the end zone for a catch-and-run TV that put the Ducks up 15-0.


It's nothing new for Oregon's sophomore sensation: He had touchdown runs of 91 and 64 yards in the 2012 Rose Bowl.


Kansas State had a hard time matching Oregon's quick-strike capabilities early.


The Wildcats turned the ball over on downs at the Oregon 39 on their first drive and had to punt after Klein was sacked by Oregon linebacker Michael Clay on the second.


Last year's Fiesta Bowl was an offensive fiesta, with Oklahoma State outlasting Stanford 41-38 in overtime.


The 2013 version was an upgrade: Nos. 4 and 5 in the BCS, two of the nation's best offenses, dynamic players and superbly successful coaches on both sides.


Oregon has become the standard for go-go-go football under Chip Kelly, its fleet of Ducks making those shiny helmets — green like Christmas tree bulbs for the Fiesta Bowl — and flashy uniforms blur across the grassy landscape.


Their backfield of Thomas, Kenjon Barner and Marcus Mariota made up a three-headed monster of momentum, each one capable of turning a single play into a scoring drive of 60 seconds or less.


Mariota has been the show-running leader, a question mark before the season who ably ran Oregon's octanated offense as the first freshman quarterback to start for the Ducks since Danny O'Neil in 1991.


Oregon won the Rose Bowl for the first time in 95 years last season and was in position for a spot in the BCS title game this year before losing a heartbreaker to Stanford on Nov. 17.


Whether Kelly leaves for the NFL or not, he had a good run, leading the Ducks to four straight trips to BCS bowls.


Kansas State had gone through its second revival under Bill Snyder, the studious coach who never lost touch with the game or players young enough to be his grandchildren during a three-year retirement.


The 73-year-old followed up the Manhattan Miracle by returning to lead the Wildcats back to national prominence with his attention-to-detail ways.


Klein has led K-State's meticulous march this season, a fifth-year senior who plays in the mold of the college version of Tim Tebow: Gritty, humble, finds a way to win, whatever it takes.


Like the Ducks, the Wildcats had their national-title hopes stamped out on Nov. 17, blown out by Baylor with a rare letdown on both sides of the ball.


Both ended up with a nice consolation prize, playing each other in one of the most anticipated games of the bowl season.


Read More..

Battle Over Wind Subsidy Leaves Industry Bruised






The battle to get Congress to renew the wind-energy production tax credit before year’s end strained relationships among utilities, splintered support within the industry’s biggest trade group and is setting up the industry—and its supporters in Congress—for a 2013 even more contentious than 2012.


Many utilities, environmental groups and lawmakers from both parties are cheering the news that the PTC was extended by one year as part of the fiscal cliff deal. But the bruising fight over the last year doesn’t bode well for the sector as it must now agree on how to ramp down the tax subsidy that was first created 21 years ago.






Xcel Energy, which is among the top 10 biggest utilities in the country and had the largest wind capacity of any utility in 2011, is reviewing its membership in AWEA largely because of how the trade group handled the PTC debate. A final decision from the company is expected soon about what, if anything, it plans to do.


“We are in the process of reviewing our relationship with AWEA,” Xcel lobbyist John O’Donnell told NJ. “It’s our concern that they continue to represent the interests of developers to the exclusion of customers.”


O’Donnell is referring to both individual households and businesses whose electricity bills from utilities are affected by the production tax credit either directly or indirectly. O’Donnell doesn’t think extending the PTC, which is a tax credit that goes to wind-energy developers, benefits customers paying electricity bills or the utilities buying wind from renewable-energy generators. He went so far to say that because Congress extended the PTC without any additional policies to benefit customers, the Minnesota-based Xcel may not buy more wind.


“As the largest provider of wind to customers by far, we feel this action doesn’t nearly enough for customers, and throws into immediate question any further plans we have to buy more wind on their behalf,” O’Donnell said.


Another bruise from last year’s fight that will wear on into 2013 is lobbying by Exelon, the country’s biggest nuclear generator, to eliminate the PTC altogether. The Chicago-based Exelon, which is also the 11th-ranked utility in terms of wind generation, has aggressively lobbied lawmakers to end right away the tax credit because the policy distorts electricity market prices and hurts the company’s bottom line.


Exelon spent $ 6.4 million on lobbying through October (fourth-quarter lobbying numbers are due out later this month). In response to Exelon’s lobbying push, which was first reported by National Journal in August, AWEA kicked the company out of its group in September. Exelon is going to keep up its push against the policy now that Congress renewed it.


“In the coming months Exelon will work with legislators to inform them of the unintended negative consequences to power markets and investments in other sources of generation from the continuation of the PTC,” Exelon lobbyist David Brown told National Journal in an e-mail.


The lobbying power of Exelon, whose position against the PTC aligns the company with deep-pocketed conservative tea-party groups like Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy Alliance, could be even more concerning to the wind industry moving forward.


“Most people supportive of renewable energy are concerned about all the money they’re putting into this,” said one wind-energy lobbyist who would speak on the condition of anonymity only. “The renewable energy and wind energy specifically need to come up with a much better defense and push back…You’re going to see industry hit back harder now.”


But for now, AWEA is regrouping. Amid internal claims that the group’s leadership on the PTC was lacking, its CEO and president of the past four years, Denise Bode, announced last month she was resigning to return to the private sector as a tax attorney. AWEA’s top lobbyist, Rob Gramlich, will serve as interim CEO as the group finds a new one.


AWEA spent $ 1.81 million on lobbying through October, which is much less than Exelon and a $ 1 million less than NextEra Energy, the biggest renewable-energy generator that was the most outspoken company supporting the PTC. NextEra, whose lobbyists have clashed with Exelon executives over the PTC, did not immediately have a comment in response to this article.


AWEA has publicly announced it supports phasing out the tax credit, but consensus within the industry doesn’t exist (yet) about how and for how long that should happen.


Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who is the most outspoken supporter of the policy in Congress and gave almost 30 floor speeches on the issue over the last several months, said he remains committed on a way forward.


“I plan on pushing my colleagues this year to pursue a multiyear extension in conjunction with a well-crafted phase-out,” Udall said to National Journal. “Such a phase-out would need to provide market certainty, and I believe that is the direction we need to head.”


Toward the end of last year, Xcel lobbied lawmakers on a proposal that would have replaced the production tax credit with a combination of an investment tax credit and a customer renewable credit.


The investment tax credit would be given to renewable-energy developers to help finance projects, and the customer renewable credit would be awarded to utilities that integrate more wind and solar onto the grid in order to incentivize such renewable-energy integration. The two credits combined would cost the government between $ 6 billion and $ 7 billion over 10 years. The one-year extension will cost taxpayers about $ 12 billion over 10 years.


“There is some merit to that,” said the wind-energy lobbyist about Xcel’s proposal. “Maybe that is a way to compromise and get utilities more supportive of tax credits for renewable energy.”


Udall expressed initial support for the proposal last month, but at that point he—and all other congressional wind backers—was focused chiefly on extending the PTC.


Another big problem lurking in the background for the wind industry is what, if any, legislative vehicle they can use to advance their proposal, if and when the industry can agree on a way forward. But that’s a fight for another day.


Energy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Why U.S. lives under the shadow of 'W'




Julian Zelizer says former President George W. Bush's key tax and homeland security policies survive in the age of Obama




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Julian Zelizer: For all the criticism Bush got, two key policies have survived

  • He says fiscal cliff pact perpetuates nearly all of Bush's tax cuts

  • Obama administration has largely followed Bush's homeland security policy, he says

  • Zelizer: By squeezing revenues, Bush tax cuts will put pressure on spending




Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of "Governing America."


Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- Somewhere in Texas, former President George W. Bush is smiling.


Although some Democrats are pleased that taxes will now go up on the wealthiest Americans, the recent deal to avert the fiscal cliff entrenches, rather than dismantles, one of Bush's signature legacies -- income tax cuts. Ninety-nine percent of American households were protected from tax increases, aside from the expiration of the reduced rate for the payroll tax.



Julian Zelizer

Julian Zelizer



In the final deal, Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to preserve most of the Bush tax cuts, including exemptions on the estate tax.


When Bush started his term in 2001, many of his critics dismissed him as a lightweight, the son of a former president who won office as result of his family's political fortune and a controversial decision by the Supreme Court on the 2000 election.



But what has become clear in hindsight, regardless of what one thinks of Bush and his politics, is that his administration left behind a record that has had a huge impact on American politics, a record that will not easily be dismantled by future presidents.


The twin pillars of Bush's record were counterterrorism policies and tax cuts. During his first term, it became clear that Obama would not dismantle most of the homeland security apparatus put into place by his predecessor. Despite a campaign in 2008 that focused on flaws with the nation's response to 9/11, Obama has kept most of the counterterrorism program intact.


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In some cases, the administration continues to aggressively use tactics his supporters once decried, such as relying on renditions to detain terrorist suspects who are overseas, as The Washington Post reported this week. In other areas, the administration has expanded the war on terrorism, including the broader use of drone strikes to kill terrorists.










Now come taxes and spending.


With regard to the Bush tax cuts, Obama had promised to overturn a policy that he saw as regressive. Although he always said that he would protect the middle class from tax increases, Obama criticized Bush for pushing through Congress policies that bled the federal government of needed revenue and benefited the wealthy.


In 2010, Obama agreed to temporarily extend all the tax cuts. Though many Democrats were furious, Obama concluded that he had little political chance to overturn them and he seemed to agree with Republicans that reversing them would hurt an economy limping along after a terrible recession.


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With the fiscal cliff deal, Obama could certainly claim more victories than in 2010. Taxes for the wealthiest Americans will go up. Congress also agreed to extend unemployment compensation and continue higher payments to Medicare providers.


But beneath all the sound and fury is the fact that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, for most Americans, are now a permanent part of the legislative landscape. (In addition, middle class Americans will breathe a sigh of relief that Congress has permanently fixed the Alternative Minimum Tax, which would have hit many of them with a provision once designed to make sure that the wealthy paid their fair share.)


As Michigan Republican Rep. Dave Camp remarked, "After more than a decade of criticizing these tax cuts, Democrats are finally joining Republicans in making them permanent." Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the new legislation will increase the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.


The tax cuts have significant consequences on all of American policy.


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Most important, the fact that a Democratic president has now legitimated the moves of a Republican administration gives a bipartisan imprimatur to the legitimacy of the current tax rates.


Although some Republicans signed on to raising taxes for the first time in two decades, the fact is that Democrats have agreed to tax rates which, compared to much of the 20th century, are extraordinarily low. Public perception of a new status quo makes it harder for presidents to ever raise taxes on most Americans to satisfy the revenue needs for the federal government.


At the same time, the continuation of reduced taxes keeps the federal government in a fiscal straitjacket. As a result, politicians are left to focus on finding the money to pay for existing programs or making cuts wherever possible.


New innovations in federal policy that require substantial revenue are just about impossible. To be sure, there have been significant exceptions, such as the Affordable Care Act. But overall, bold policy departures that require significant amounts of general revenue are harder to come by than in the 1930s or 1960s.


Republicans thus succeed with what some have called the "starve the beast" strategy of cutting government by taking away its resources. Since the long-term deficit only becomes worse, Republicans will continue to have ample opportunity to pressure Democrats into accepting spending cuts and keep them on the defense with regards to new government programs.


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With his income tax cuts enshrined, Bush can rest comfortably that much of the policy world he designed will remain intact and continue to define American politics. Obama has struggled to work within the world that Bush created, and with this legislation, even with his victories, he has demonstrated that the possibilities for change have been much more limited than he imagined when he ran in 2008 or even in 2012.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Julian Zelizer.






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