Wall Street Week Ahead: Earnings, money flows to push stocks higher

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With earnings momentum on the rise, the S&P 500 seems to have few hurdles ahead as it continues to power higher, its all-time high a not-so-distant goal.


The U.S. equity benchmark closed the week at a fresh five-year high on strong housing and labor market data and a string of earnings that beat lowered expectations.


Sector indexes in transportation <.djt>, banks <.bkx> and housing <.hgx> this week hit historic or multiyear highs as well.


Michael Yoshikami, chief executive at Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California, said the key earnings to watch for next week will come from cyclical companies. United Technologies reports on Wednesday while Honeywell is due to report Friday.


"Those kind of numbers will tell you the trajectory the economy is taking," Yoshikami said.


Major technology companies also report next week, but the bar for the sector has been lowered even further.


Chipmakers like Advanced Micro Devices , which is due Tuesday, are expected to underperform as PC sales shrink. AMD shares fell more than 10 percent Friday after disappointing results from its larger competitor, Intel . Still, a chipmaker sector index <.sox> posted its highest weekly close since last April.


Following a recent underperformance, an upside surprise from Apple on Wednesday could trigger a return to the stock from many investors who had abandoned ship.


Other major companies reporting next week include Google , IBM , Johnson & Johnson and DuPont on Tuesday, Microsoft and 3M on Thursday and Procter & Gamble on Friday.


CASH POURING IN, HOUSING DATA COULD HELP


Perhaps the strongest support for equities will come from the flow of cash from fixed income funds to stocks.


The recent piling into stock funds -- $11.3 billion in the past two weeks, the most since 2000 -- indicates a riskier approach to investing from retail investors looking for yield.


"From a yield perspective, a lot of stocks still yield a great deal of money and so it is very easy to see why money is pouring into the stock market," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.


"You are just not going to see people put a lot of money to work in a 10-year Treasury that yields 1.8 percent."


Housing stocks <.hgx>, already at a 5-1/2 year high, could get a further bump next week as investors eye data expected to support the market's perception that housing is the sluggish U.S. economy's bright spot.


Home resales are expected to have risen 0.6 percent in December, data is expected to show on Tuesday. Pending home sales contracts, which lead actual sales by a month or two, hit a 2-1/2 year high in November.


The new home sales report on Friday is expected to show a 2.1 percent increase.


The federal debt ceiling negotiations, a nagging worry for investors, seemed to be stuck on the back burner after House Republicans signaled they might support a short-term extension.


Equity markets, which tumbled in 2011 after the last round of talks pushed the United States close to a default, seem not to care much this time around.


The CBOE volatility index <.vix>, a gauge of market anxiety, closed Friday at its lowest since April 2007.


"I think the market is getting somewhat desensitized from political drama given, this seems to be happening over and over," said Destination Wealth Management's Yoshikami.


"It's something to keep in mind, but I don't think it's what you want to base your investing decisions on."


(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos, additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak and Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Armstrong's enemies find vindication, sadness


First shunned, then vilified by Lance Armstrong, Mike Anderson had to move to the other side of the world to get his life back.


Now running a bike shop outside of Wellington, New Zealand, Armstrong's former assistant watched news reports about his former boss confessing to performance-enhancing drug use with only mild interest. If Anderson never hears Armstrong's voice again, it would be too soon.


"He gave me the firm, hard push and a shove," Anderson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Made my life very, very unpleasant. It was an embarrassment for me and my family to be portrayed as liars, to be called a disgruntled employee, implying there was some impropriety on my part. It just hurt. It was completely uncalled for."


Anderson is among the dozens, maybe hundreds, of former teammates, opponents and associates to receive the Armstrong treatment, presumably for not going along with the party line — that the now-disgraced, seven-time Tour de France cyclist didn't need to cheat to win.


The penalties for failing to play along were punitive, often humiliating, and now that Armstrong has admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he's a doper, a liar and a bully, many of those who saw their lives changed, sometime ruined, are going through a gamut of emotions.


Some feel vindicated, others remain vengeful. Some are sad, while many others are simply wrung out.


"He's damaged a lot of people's lives," said Betsy Andreu, whose husband, Frankie, was culled from Armstrong's team for not agreeing to dope. "He has damaged the sport of cycling. Frankie was fired for not getting on the program. I never thought this day would come but it's so incredibly sad."


Before his interview with Winfrey aired, Armstrong reached out to the Andreus to apologize but the planned reconciliation did not work. In fact, Armstrong's interview only made things worse, when he refused to confirm what the Andreus testified to under oath — that they had heard the cyclist admit to doping while meeting with doctors treating him for cancer at an Indiana hospital in 1996.


Regardless of whether Armstrong says more about that, there's no denying that life for the Andreus changed when they refused to go along.


"Frankie's career was definitely cut short. His career was ruined early," Betsy Andreu said. "You have riders out there whose careers never happened" because of Armstrong.


And some whose careers were cut short.


Filippo Simeoni was a talented, young rider who dared admit to doping and told authorities he received his instructions from physician Michele Ferrari, who also advised Armstrong during his career. After that 2002 testimony, Armstrong branded Simeoni a liar. He went so far as to humiliate Simeoni at the 2004 Tour de France, when he chased down the Italian rider during a breakaway and more or less ordered him to fall back in line. Later in the race, and with a TV camera in his face, Armstrong put his finger to his lips in a "silence" gesture. After the stage, he said he was simply protecting the interests of the peloton.


Simeoni received a different message.


"When a rider like me brushed up against a cyclist of his caliber, his fame and his worth — when I clashed with the boss — all doors were closed to me," Simeoni said. "I was humiliated, offended, and marginalized for the rest of my career. Only I know what that feels like. It's difficult to explain."


Anderson certainly can.


In a story he wrote for Outside Magazine last August, Anderson detailed a business relationship with Armstrong that began in 2002 with an email from Armstrong promising he would finance Anderson's bike shop when their work together was done. Anderson, a bike mechanic working in Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas, essentially became the cyclist's personal assistant, his responsibilities growing as the years passed. One of his tasks was making advance trips to Armstrong's apartment in Spain to prepare it for his arrival.


Anderson says the relationship began to sour after he came upon a box in Armstrong's bathroom labeled "Androstenedione," the banned substance most famously linked to Mark McGwire. The box, Anderson wrote, was mysteriously gone the next time he entered the apartment.


Time passed. Anderson bore witness to more and more things that didn't feel right. Armstrong, sensing his employee's discomfort, became more and more distant. Finally, Anderson wrote, Armstrong severed ties, asking Anderson to sign a nondisclosure agreement "that would have made me liable for a large sum of money if I even mentioned ever having worked for Armstrong."


Anderson's refusal to do that led to lawyers and lawsuits — with Armstrong accusing Anderson of extortion and Anderson accusing Armstrong of wrongful dismissal, breach of contract, and defamation. The cases were eventually settled for undisclosed terms.


But Anderson took his share of hits along the way.


"Austin was not a comfortable place for me after that," he said. "It had been my home for some years. I had enjoyed a very good reputation. I couldn't get a job in the bicycle business, certainly not one that was a fair placement for my skill and experience."


He ended up in New Zealand, where his wife's brother has roots, and is doing fine, now.


"I got a fair shake from some local investors who believe in me and we've been at it for four years," Anderson said. "The kids are clothed and fed and I don't really have any complaints."


Stories such as these — about the havoc Armstrong unleashed on people's lives — come from seemingly every corner: bike mechanics, multimillionaire businessmen, trainers, masseuses, wives, cyclists both at the front and back of the peloton.


Tyler Hamilton was among Armstrong's key teammates during his first three Tour de France victories. His tell-all interview on "60 Minutes" in 2011, combined with his testimony and a book he wrote last year, played a key part in the unraveling of the Armstrong myth.


Hamilton watched Armstrong's confession with little emotion but with a modicum of hope.


"It's been a sad story for a lot of people," Hamilton said. "But I think we'll look back on this period and, hopefully not too far down the road, we can say it was, in the end, a good thing for the sport of cycling."


___


AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.


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Latest Inaugural Forecast: Bit Warmer Than in 2009






Consider it the first fact check of a Barack Obama campaign pledge for his second term: Will he, or Mother Nature, deliver on promised warmer Inauguration Day weather?


It’s shaping up as a close call.






In September, while campaigning in Colorado, Obama was talking to a potential voter who mentioned he had been one of the hundreds of thousands of people outdoors at Obama‘s bone-chilling first inaugural in 2009, when the noontime temperature was 28 degrees. Obama promised: “This one is going to be warmer.”


Scientifically, the president doesn’t have control of day-to-day weather. While his policies can lessen or worsen future projected global warming on a large scale, they cannot do anything about Washington‘s daily temperature on Jan. 21.


Still, it’s a promise that for a long time looked close to a sure thing. The history of local weather was on Obama’s side.


On average, the normal high is 43 degrees and the normal low is 28, but that’s just around dawn. There have been 19 traditional January inaugurations and only two were colder. Ronald Reagan‘s second in 1985 was a frigid 7 with subzero wind chills and John F. Kennedy‘s in 1961 was a snow-covered 22. Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration also was 28.


Then there was the general warming trend Washington had been stuck in. The last time the nation’s capital stayed below freezing all day was Jan. 22, 2011. The city has gone a record 700-plus days since it had 2 inches or more of snow.


An Arctic cold front looks to be racing toward the mid-Atlantic, so it will be cooler than normal on Monday, but probably not cooler than 2009, said Nikole Listemaa, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va., that oversees forecasts for the capital area.


Look for highs around 40 degrees with noon temperatures in the mid- to upper 30s, Listemaa said Saturday. That would keep Obama’s pledge.


There’s also a 30 percent chance of light snow showers for Monday. But the Arctic cold front won’t arrive until Monday night into Tuesday, Listemaa added.


Extreme cold on Inauguration Day, folklore says, can be a killer.


In 1841, newly elected president William Henry Harrison stood outside without a coat or hat as he spoke for an hour and 40 minutes. He caught a cold that day and it became pneumonia and he died one month after being sworn in.


Twelve years later, outgoing first lady Abigail Fillmore got sick from sitting outside on a cold wet platform as Franklin Pierce was inaugurated and she died of pneumonia at the end of the month. Doctors now know that pneumonia is caused by germs, but prolonged exposure to extreme cold weather may hurt the airways and make someone more susceptible to getting sick.


There’s one thing Washington‘s history shows. Bad weather generally creates bad traffic jams.


Kennedy found that out in his 1961 inauguration when 8 inches of snow fell overnight and crippled the city for what at that time was Washington‘s worst traffic jam. Thousands of cars were abandoned in the snow.


———


Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears


Also Read
Weather News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Why Africa backs French in Mali





























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STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • French intervention in Mali could be turning point in relationship with Africa, writes Lansana Gberie

  • France's meddling to bolster puppet regimes in the past has outraged Africans, he argues

  • He says few in Africa would label the French action in Mali as 'neo-colonial mission creep'

  • Lansana: 'Africa's weakness has been exposed by the might of a foreign power'




Editor's note: Dr. Lansana Gberie is a specialist on African peace and security issues. He is the author of "A Dirty War in West Africa: The RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone." He is from Sierra Leone and lives in New York.


(CNN) -- Operation Serval, France's swift military intervention to roll back advances made by Jihadist elements who had hijacked a separatist movement in northern Mali, could be a turning point in the ex-colonialist's relationship with Africa.


It is not, after all, every day that you hear a senior official of the African Union (AU) refer to a former European colonial power in Africa as "a brotherly nation," as Ambroise Niyonsaba, the African Union's special representative in Ivory Coast, described France on 14 January, while hailing the European nation's military strikes in Mali.


France's persistent meddling to bolster puppet regimes or unseat inconvenient ones was often the cause of much outrage among African leaders and intellectuals. But by robustly taking on the Islamist forces that for many months now have imposed a regime of terror in northern Mali, France is doing exactly what African governments would like to have done.



Lansana Gberie

Lansana Gberie



This is because the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansar Dine and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are a far greater threat to many African states than they ever would be to France or Europe.


See also: What's behind Mali instability?


Moreover, the main underlying issues that led to this situation -- the separatist rebellion by Mali's Tuareg, under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who seized the northern half of the country and declared it independent of Mali shortly after a most ill-timed military coup on 22 March 2012 -- is anathema to the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).


Successful separatism by an ethnic minority, it is believed, would only encourage the emergence of more separatist movements in a continent where many of the countries were cobbled together from disparate groups by Europeans not so long ago.










But the foreign Islamists who had been allies to the Tuaregs at the start of their rebellion had effectively sidelined the MNLA by July last year, and have since been exercising tomcatting powers over the peasants in the area, to whom the puritanical brand of Islam being promoted by the Islamists is alien.


ECOWAS, which is dominated by Nigeria -- formerly France's chief hegemonic foe in West Africa -- in August last year submitted a note verbale with a "strategic concept" to the U.N. Security Council, detailing plans for an intervention force to defeat the Islamists in Mali and reunify the country.


ECOWAS wanted the U.N. to bankroll the operation, which would include the deployment a 3,245-strong force -- to which Nigeria (694), Togo (581), Niger (541) and Senegal (350) would be the biggest contributors -- at a cost of $410 million a year. The note stated that the objective of the Islamists in northern Mali was to "create a safe haven" in that country from which to coordinate "continental terrorist networks, including AQIM, MUJAO, Boko Haram [in Nigeria] and Al-Shabaab [in Somalia]."


Despite compelling evidence of the threat the Islamists pose to international peace and security, the U.N. has not been able to agree on funding what essentially would be a military offensive. U.N. Security Council resolution 2085, passed on 20 December last year, only agreed to a voluntary contribution and the setting up of a trust fund, and requested the secretary-general "develop and refine options within 30 days" in this regard. The deadline should be 20 January.


See also: Six reasons events in Mali matter


It is partly because of this U.N. inaction that few in Africa would label the French action in Mali as another neo-colonial mission creep.


If the Islamists had been allowed to capture the very strategic town of Sevaré, as they seemed intent on doing, they would have captured the only airstrip in Mali (apart from the airport in Bamako) capable of handling heavy cargo planes, and they would have been poised to attack the more populated south of the country.



Africa's weakness has, once again, been exposed by the might of a foreign power.
Lansana Gberie



Those Africans who would be critical of the French are probably stunned to embarrassment: Africa's weakness has, once again, been exposed by the might of a foreign power.


Watch video: French troops welcomed in Mali


Africans, however, can perhaps take consolation in the fact that the current situation in Mali was partially created by the NATO action in Libya in 2010, which France spearheaded. A large number of the well-armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists had fought in the forces of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and then left to join the MNLA in northern Mali after Gadhafi fell.


They brought with them advanced weapons, including shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles from Libya; and two new Jihadist terrorist groups active in northern Mali right now, Ansar Dine and MUJAO, were formed out of these forces.


Many African states had an ambivalent attitude towards Gadhafi, but few rejoiced when he was ousted and killed in the most squalid condition.


A number of African countries, Nigeria included, have started to deploy troops in Mali alongside the French, and ECOWAS has stated the objective as the complete liberation of the north from the Islamists.


The Islamists are clearly not a pushover; though they number between 2,000 and 3,000 they are battle-hardened and fanatically driven, and will likely hold on for some time to come.


The question now is: what happens after, as is almost certain, France begins to wind down its forces, leaving the African troops in Mali?


Nigeria, which almost single-handedly funded previous ECOWAS interventions (in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, costing billions of dollars and hundreds of Nigerian troops), has been reluctant to fund such expensive missions since it became democratic.


See also: Nigerians waiting for 'African Spring'


Its civilian regimes have to be more accountable to their citizens than the military regimes of the 1990s, and Nigeria has pressing domestic challenges. Foreign military intervention is no longer popular in the country, though the links between the northern Mali Islamists and the destructive Boko Haram could be used as a strategic justification for intervention in Mali.


The funding issue, however, will become more and more urgent in the coming weeks and months, and the U.N. must find a sustainable solution beyond a call for voluntary contributions by member states.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lansana Gberie.






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Blackhawks throttle Kings 5-2

The Blackhawks beat the Kings 5-2 on Saturday.









LOS ANGELES — The Kings owned the moments before the drop of the puck on the 2013 season as they received their Stanley Cup championship rings and watched as a banner was raised to the rafters of the Staples Center commemorating their '12 title.


The Blackhawks owned pretty much every moment thereafter as they throttled the Kings 5-2 Saturday in front of an initially jubilant and then stunned crowd of 18,545.


Marian Hossa had two goals and an assist, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each had a goal and an assist and Michael Frolik also scored as the Hawks spoiled the Kings' party.





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    Video: Hossa on opening season with a win







































  • Leg injury could sideline Hawks' Carcillo significant time




    Carcillo (leg) could miss significant time







































  • Photos: Blackhawks game action





    Photos: Blackhawks win season opener






































  • Box score: Hawks 5, Kings 2





    Box score: Hawks 5, Kings 2





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  • STAPLES Center, 1111 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, California 90015, USA














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It was Kane's early goal with the Hawks holding a two-man advantage that helped ease some concerns from last season, including an anemic power play and some inconsistent play from goaltender Corey Crawford. When Kane stepped into a one-timer after a pass from Hossa and rifled it past Jonathan Quick from a low angle, the Hawks had their first power-play goal and Crawford had a lead with which he could work. Not long after, the Hawks had a three-goal cushion on scores by Hossa and Frolik and ended the first period in complete control.


"That's a huge part of the game when you get a five-on-three early," Kane said. "We had a couple of chances when we could have scored but it didn't work in our favor, and then (we had) nice motion and got a goal."


It was a huge boost to a power-play unit that finished tied for 25th last season with a 15.2 percent success rate.


"We have to get a little chemistry and move it around a little bit," Kane said. "It's a good start. Hopefully, it will come better than last year. With the focus we have on it this year and how important it's going to be, it's definitely something we need to improve, and I think we will throughout the year."


When Toews scored early in the second to stake Crawford to a four-goal lead, the goalie took advantage. He allowed only scores to Rob Scuderi when screened and to Jordan Nolan while he was down on the ice after a scramble.


"That's the best start you can ask for, for a first game like that," Crawford said. "All around everyone battled hard and it was just a solid game. I was seeing the puck really well and was focused. On scrambles I felt like I was following the puck well and moving side to side."


The Hawks also got off to a nice start on the penalty kill — another problematic area in '11-12 — by blanking the Kings on all five of their opportunities with a man advantage.


"All areas of our game were pretty solid," coach Joel Quenneville said. "And our special teams were definitely better than we saw last year."


Added Kane: "You have to be happy with the way everyone played. That's probably the perfect game teamwise to start the year."


ckuc@tribune.com


Twitter @ChrisKuc





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Algeria ends desert siege with 23 hostages dead


ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria (Reuters) - Algerian troops ended a siege by Islamist militants at a gas plant in the Sahara desert where 23 hostages died, with a final assault which killed all the remaining hostage-takers.


Believed to be among the 32 dead militants was their leader, Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, a Nigerien close to al Qaeda-linked commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, presumed mastermind of the raid.


An Algerian interior ministry statement on the death toll gave no breakdown of the number of foreigners among hostages killed since the plant was seized before dawn on Wednesday.


Details are only slowly emerging on what happened during the siege, which marked a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces are ratcheting up a war against Islamist militants in neighboring Mali.


Algeria's interior ministry said on Saturday that 107 foreign hostages and 685 Algerian hostages had survived, but did not give a detailed breakdown of those who died.


"We feel a deep and growing unease ... we fear that over the next few days we will receive bad news," said Helge Lund, Chief Executive of Norway's Statoil, which ran the plant along with Britain's BP and Algeria's state oil company.


"People we have spoken to describe unbelievable, horrible experiences," he said.


British Prime Minister David Cameron said he feared for the lives of five British citizens unaccounted for at the gas plant near the town of In Amenas, which was also home to expatriate workers from Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp and others.


One American and one British citizen have been confirmed dead. Statoil said five of its workers, all Norwegian nationals, were still missing. Japanese and American workers are also unaccounted for.


The Islamists' attack has tested Algeria's relations with the outside world, exposed the vulnerability of multinational oil operations in the Sahara and pushed Islamist radicalism in northern Africa to center stage.


Some Western governments expressed frustration at not being informed of the Algerian authorities' plans to storm the complex. Algeria, scarred by a civil war with Islamist insurgents in the 1990s which claimed 200,000 lives, had insisted there would be no negotiation in the face of terrorism.


President Barack Obama said on Saturday the United States was seeking from Algerian authorities a fuller understanding of what took place, but said "the blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out."


Official sources had no immediate confirmation of newspaper reports suggesting some of the hostages may have been executed by their captors as the Algerian army closed in for the final assault on Saturday.


One source close to the crisis said 16 foreign hostages were freed, including two Americans and one Portuguese.


BP's chief executive Bob Dudley said on Saturday four of its 18 workers at the site were missing. The remaining 14 were safe.


PLANNED BEFORE FRENCH LANDED IN MALI


The attack on the heavily fortified gas compound was one of the most audacious in recent years and almost certainly planned long before French troops launched a military operation in Mali this month to stem an advance by Islamist fighters.


Hundreds of hostages escaped on Thursday when the army launched a rescue operation, but many hostages were killed.


Before the interior ministry released its provisional death toll, an Algerian security source said eight Algerians and at least seven foreigners were among the victims, including two Japanese, two Britons and a French national. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.


The U.S. State Department said on Friday one American, Frederick Buttaccio, had died but gave no further details.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said nobody was going to attack the United States and get away with it.


"We have made a commitment that we're going to go after al Qaeda wherever they are and wherever they try to hide," he said during a visit to London. "We have done that obviously in Afghanistan, Pakistan, we've done it in Somalia, in Yemen and we will do it in North Africa as well."


Earlier on Saturday, Algerian special forces found 15 unidentified burned bodies at the plant, a source told Reuters.


Mauritanian news agencies identified the field commander of the group that attacked the plant as Nigeri, a fighter from one of the Arab tribes in Niger who had joined the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in early-2005.


That group eventually joined up with al Qaeda to become Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It and allied groups are the targets of the French military operation in Mali.


The news agencies described him as "one of the closest people" to Belmokhtar, who fought in Afghanistan and then in Algeria's civil war of the 1990s. Nigeri was known as a man for "difficult missions", having carried out attacks in Mauritania, Mali and Niger.


NO NEGOTIATION


Britain, Japan and other countries have expressed irritation that the Algerian army assault was ordered without consultation.


But French President Francois Hollande said the Algerian military's response seemed to have been the best option given that negotiation was not possible.


"When you have people taken hostage in such large number by terrorists with such cold determination and ready to kill those hostages - as they did - Algeria has an approach which to me, as I see it, is the most appropriate because there could be no negotiation," Hollande said.


The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the country's outwardly tough security measures.


Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site.


Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a preoccupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.


The most powerful Islamist groups operating in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in the civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.


(Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi in Oslo, Estelle Shirbon and David Alexander in London, Brian Love in Paris; Writing by Giles Elgood and Myra MacDonald)



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Consumer sentiment at year low; fiscal debate weighs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Consumer sentiment unexpectedly deteriorated for a second straight month to its lowest in over a year in January, with many consumers citing fallout from the recent "fiscal cliff" debate in Washington, a survey released on Friday showed.


The sharp drop in sentiment over the last two months coincides with rancorous federal budget negotiations that have led to higher taxes for many Americans.


Just weeks after that deal, President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers are expected to enter another tough round of negotiations over spending cuts, which could dent consumer confidence still further.


"The handling of the fiscal cliff talks and the realization that paychecks are going to be smaller due to the sunset of the payroll tax holiday are probably weighing on consumer attitudes at the moment," said Thomas Simons, a money market economist at Jefferies & Co. in New York.


While most of the scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts forming the fiscal cliff were avoided when Congress struck a deal on January 1, most U.S. workers saw their take-home salary diminished by the expiry of two percentage-point cut in payroll taxes.


"With the debt ceiling yet to be tackled and more political acrimony on the way, we suspect that confidence has room to deteriorate further," Simons said.


The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary reading on the overall index of consumer sentiment came in at 71.3, down from 72.9 the month before. The index was at its lowest since December 2011. It was also below the median forecast of 75 among economists polled by Reuters.


"The most unique aspect of the early January data was that an all-time record number of consumers - 35 percent - negatively referred to the fiscal cliff negotiations," survey director Richard Curtin said in a statement.


"Importantly, the debt ceiling debate is still upcoming and could further weaken confidence," he said.


House Republicans have signaled they might support a short-term extension of U.S. borrowing authority when the government exhausts that capacity sometime between mid-February and early March. A failure by Congress to raise this debt ceiling could result in a market-rattling government default.


On Friday, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the House would consider a bill next week to extend the debt limit by three months in order to force the Senate to pass a budget.


U.S. stocks remained little changed after the data. The S&P 500 <.spx> hit a five-year high in the last session. But on Friday, a weak outlook from Intel offset encouraging data out of China and a fourth-quarter profit at Morgan Stanley .


So far there has been a disconnect between what consumers say and do. U.S. retail sales increased a better-than-expected 0.5 percent in December. But given the recent weakening in sentiment investors will be watching for any signs that spending is starting to slip.


"The impact on consumers will be from the hike in the social security tax. That is undoubtedly going to hit discretionary spending. So this may be a signal of things to come," said Michael Woolfolk, a senior currency strategist at BNY Mellon in New York.


The consumer survey's barometer of current economic conditions fell to 84.8 from 87.0 and was below a forecast of 88.0. The gauge hit its lowest since July.


The survey's gauge of consumer expectations also slipped, hitting its lowest since November 2011 at 62.7 from 63.8, and was below an expected 65.2.


The survey's one-year inflation expectations rose to 3.4 percent from 3.2 percent, while the survey's five-to-10-year inflation outlook was unchanged at 2.9 percent.


(Additional reporting by Steven C. Johnson and Ellen Freilich; Editing by Andrea Ricci)



Read More..

Armstrong turns emotional in 2nd part of interview


CHICAGO (AP) — Lance Armstrong finally cracked.


Not while expressing deep remorse or regrets, though there was plenty of that in Friday night's second part of Armstrong's interview with Oprah Winfrey.


It wasn't over the $75 million in lost sponsorship deals, nor when Armstrong was forced to walk away from the Livestrong cancer charity he founded and called his "sixth child." It wasn't even about his lifetime ban from competition.


It was another bit of collateral damage that Armstrong said he wasn't prepared to deal with.


"I saw my son defending me and saying, 'That's not true. What you're saying about my dad is not true,'" Armstrong recalled.


"That's when I knew I had to tell him."


Armstrong was near tears at that point, referring to 13-year-old Luke, the oldest of his five children. He blinked, looked away from Winfrey, and with his lip trembling, struggled to compose himself.


It came just past the midpoint of the hourlong program on Winfrey's OWN network. In the first part, broadcast Thursday, the disgraced cycling champion admitted using performance-enhancing drugs when he won seven straight Tour de France titles.


Critics said he hadn't been contrite enough in the first half of the interview, which was taped Monday in Austin, but Armstrong seemed to lose his composure when Winfrey zeroed in on the emotional drama involving his personal life.


"What did you say?" Winfrey asked.


"I said, 'Listen, there's been a lot of questions about your dad. My career. Whether I doped or did not dope. I've always denied that and I've always been ruthless and defiant about that. You guys have seen that. That's probably why you trusted me on it.' Which makes it even sicker," Armstrong said.


"And uh, I told Luke, I said," and here Armstrong paused for a long time to collect himself, "I said, 'Don't defend me anymore. Don't.'


"He said OK. He just said, 'Look, I love you. You're my dad. This won't change that."


Winfrey also drew Armstrong out on his ex-wife, Kristin, whom he claimed knew just enough about both the doping and lying to ask him to stop. He credited her with making him promise that his comeback in 2009 would be drug-free.


"She said to me, 'You can do it under one condition: That you never cross that line again,'" Armstrong recalled.


"The line of drugs?" Winfrey asked.


"Yes. And I said, 'You've got a deal,'" he replied. "And I never would have betrayed that with her."


Armstrong said in the first part of the interview that he had stayed clean in the comeback, a claim that runs counter to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report. And that wasn't the only portion of the interview likely to rile anti-doping officials.


Winfrey asked Armstrong about an interview in which USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said a representative of the cyclist had offered a donation that the agency turned down.


"Were you trying to pay off USADA?" she asked.


"No, that's not true," he replied, repeating, "That is not true."


Winfrey asks the question three more times, in different forms.


"That is not true," he insisted.


___


AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.


Read More..

Apple looking for developer to help make Siri more ‘engaging, funny’






Apple (AAPL) is apparently looking to give Siri a personality boost. 9to5Mac has found a new Apple job posting looking for “a uniquely creative individual to help us evolve and enrich Siri” for future updates. More specifically, Apple wants to hire “someone who combines a love for language, wordplay, and conversation with demonstrated experience in bringing creative content to life within an intense technical environment.” The post notes that Siri is “known for ‘her’ wit, cultural knowledge, and zeal to explain things in engaging, funny, and practical ways,” so it’s safe to assume that the new hire will be responsible for enhancing those aspects of Siri’s “personality.” The real question, though, is whether Apple can make Siri realistic enough to date Notre Dame linebacker Manti T’eo.


[More from BGR: Cable companies called ‘monopolies that stifle competition and innovation’]






This article was originally published on BGR.com


Green News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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U.S. 'needs tougher child labor rules'




Cristina Traina says in his second term, Obama must address weaknesses in child farm labor standards




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Cristina Traina: Obama should strengthen child farm labor standards

  • She says Labor Dept. rules allow kids to work long hours for little pay on commercial farms

  • She says Obama administration scrapped Labor Dept. chief's proposal for tightening rules

  • She says Labor Dept. must fix lax standards for kid labor on farmers; OSHA must enforce them




Editor's note: Cristina L.H. Traina is a Public Voices Op Ed fellow and professor at Northwestern University, where she is a scholar of social ethics.


(CNN) -- President Barack Obama should use the breathing space provided by the fiscal-cliff compromise to address some of the issues that he shelved during his last term. One of the most urgent is child farm labor. Perhaps the least protected, underpaid work force in American labor, children are often the go-to workers for farms looking to cut costs.


It's easy to see why. The Department of Labor permits farms to pay employees under 20 as little as $4.25 per hour. (By comparison, the federal minimum wage is $7.25.) And unlike their counterparts in retail and service, child farm laborers can legally work unlimited hours at any hour of day or night.


The numbers are hard to estimate, but between direct hiring, hiring through labor contractors, and off-the-books work beside parents or for cash, perhaps 400,000 children, some as young as 6, weed and harvest for commercial farms. A Human Rights Watch 2010 study shows that children laboring for hire on farms routinely work more than 10 hours per day.


As if this were not bad enough, few labor safety regulations apply. Children 14 and older can work long hours at all but the most dangerous farm jobs without their parents' consent, if they do not miss school. Children 12 and older can too, as long as their parents agree. Unlike teen retail and service workers, agricultural laborers 16 and older are permitted to operate hazardous machinery and to work even during school hours.


In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that child farm laborers are exposed to dangerous pesticides; have inadequate access to water and bathrooms; fall ill from heat stroke; suffer sexual harassment; experience repetitive-motion injuries; rarely receive protective equipment like gloves and boots; and usually earn less than the minimum wage. Sometimes they earn nothing.


Little is being done to guarantee their safety. In 2011 Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis proposed more stringent agricultural labor rules for children under 16, but Obama scrapped them just eight months later.


Adoption of the new rules would be no guarantee of enforcement, however. According to the 2010 Human Rights Watch report, the Department of Labor employees were spread so thin that, despite widespread reports of infractions they found only 36 child labor violations and two child hazardous order violations in agriculture nationwide.


This lack of oversight has dire, sometimes fatal, consequences. Last July, for instance, 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an employee at a small family farm near Deer Grove, Illinois, died when he fell off the piece of heavy farm equipment he was operating, and it crushed him. According to the Bureau County Republican, he was the fifth child in fewer than two years to die at work on Sauk Valley farms.


If this year follows trends, Curvin will be only one of at least 100 children below the age of 18 killed on American farms, not to mention the 23,000 who will be injured badly enough to require hospital admission. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries. It is the most dangerous for children, accounting for about half of child worker deaths annually.


The United States has a long tradition of training children in the craft of farming on family farms. At least 500,000 children help to work their families' farms today.


Farm parents, their children, and the American Farm Bureau objected strenuously to the proposed new rules. Although children working on their parents' farms would specifically have been exempted from them, it was partly in response to worries about government interference in families and loss of opportunities for children to learn agricultural skills that the Obama administration shelved them.






Whatever you think of family farms, however, many child agricultural workers don't work for their parents or acquaintances. Despite exposure to all the hazards, these children never learn the craft of farming, nor do most of them have the legal right to the minimum wage. And until the economy stabilizes, the savings farms realize by hiring children makes it likely that even more of them will be subject to the dangers of farm work.


We have a responsibility for their safety. As one of the first acts of his new term, Obama should reopen the child agricultural labor proposal he shelved in spring of 2012. Surely, farm labor standards for children can be strengthened without killing off 4-H or Future Farmers of America.


Second, the Department of Labor must institute age, wage, hour and safety regulations that meet the standards set by retail and service industry rules. Children in agriculture should not be exposed to more risks, longer hours, and lower wages at younger ages than children in other jobs.


Finally, the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must allocate the funds necessary for meaningful enforcement of child labor violations. Unenforced rules won't protect the nearly million other children who work on farms.


Agriculture is a great American tradition. Let's make sure it's not one our children have to die for.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.



The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cristina Traina.






Read More..

Players suspended after Simeon-Morgan Park incident









Simeon principal Sheldon House told the Tribune on Friday that access to a game between the Wolverines and Julian at the high school was limited and that the media was not allowed inside the gym.


House said he made that decision in light of what happened Wednesday at Chicago State University, where 17-year-old Morgan Park student Tyrone Lawson was shot and killed in a parking lot outside the gym after a game between Morgan Park and Simeon.


Just before Lawson was killed, players from Simeon and Morgan Park were involved some pushing and shoving during the postgame handshake inside the gym. Police arrested two suspects and recovered a gun shortly after Lawson was shot in the back.





House said he made the decision to limit access to Friday’s game in light of those events, and “so they don't have to deal with questions and articles about the situation the other night.”


Three Chicago Police cars sat in the lot outside of the gym at the school Friday.


A Chicago Public Schools spokesman told the Tribune that the decision was up to the school.
“The school felt very strongly they did not want media in the school today,” the spokesman said. “I can’t tell them how to run their school.”


The CPS spokesman said House “was very insistent that no media be allowed.”
Simeon coach Robert Smith told the Tribune by phone Friday afternoon that he was instructed not to speak with the media by CPS and House on Thursday morning.


Triton College coach Steve Christiansen said he was in gym for the game, which was won by Simeon 67-36 behind 27 points and nine rebounds from Duke-bound senior Jabari Parker.


“About 100 people were in the gym. I almost didn't get let in,” Christiansen said. “They didn't let a lady in behind me. It seemed like just family members.”


Vernell Pondexter, a dean at Julian, said family members of Julian players were allowed in the gym and that there were some Simeon students in attendance. He added that his school doesn’t allow fans from opposing teams to attend games.


“I think it’s a good idea. We do it at our school,” Pondexter said. “We only allow family members and our students to come to the game.”


According to a CPS official, two players were suspended for one game each for their involvement in Wednesday’s altercation.


Per Chicago Public Schools policy, a spokesman did not name the students who have been suspended. The CPS official said the Public League will make crowd control adjustments as needed for upcoming games. Communications regarding sportsmanship and mentoring are being sent to athletic directors and coaches, he said.


The location of the Jan. 26 meeting between Simeon and Young, likely to draw several thousand fans, is being reviewed, according to the official. The game was originally set to be played at Chicago State. Sites for the Public League semifinals and final also will be examined.





Read More..

Foreigners still trapped in Sahara hostage crisis


ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria (Reuters) - More than 20 foreigners were captive or missing inside a desert gas plant on Saturday, nearly two days after the Algerian army launched an assault to free them that saw many hostages killed.


The standoff between the Algerian army and al Qaeda-linked gunmen - one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades - entered its fourth day, having thrust Saharan militancy to the top of the global agenda.


The number and fate of victims has yet to be confirmed, with the Algerian government keeping officials from Western countries far from the site where their countrymen were in peril.


Reports put the number of hostages killed at between 12 to 30, with possibly dozens of foreigners still unaccounted for - among them Norwegians, Japanese, Britons, Americans and others.


State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed on Friday the death of one American, Frederick Buttaccio, in the hostage situation, but gave no further details.


Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among the seven foreigners confirmed dead in the army's storming, the Algerian security source told Reuters. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.


A U.S. official said on Friday that a U.S. Medevac flight carrying wounded of multiple nationalities had left Algeria.


By nightfall on Friday, the Algerian military was holding the vast residential barracks at the In Amenas gas processing plant, while gunmen were holed up in the industrial plant itself with an undisclosed number of hostages.


Scores of Westerners and hundreds of Algerian workers were inside the heavily fortified compound when it was seized before dawn on Wednesday by Islamist fighters who said they wanted a halt to a French military operation in neighboring Mali.


Hundreds escaped on Thursday when the army launched an operation, but many hostages were killed in the assault. Algerian forces destroyed four trucks holding hostages, according to the family of a Northern Irish engineer who escaped from a fifth truck and survived.


Leaders of Britain, Japan and other countries have expressed frustration that the assault was ordered without consultation and officials have grumbled at the lack of information. Many countries also withheld details about their missing citizens to avoid releasing information that might aid the captors.


An Algerian security source said 30 hostages, including at least seven Westerners, had been killed during Thursday's assault, along with at least 18 of their captors. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian, with the nationalities of the rest of the dead still unclear, he said.


Algeria's state news agency APS put the total number of dead hostages at 12, including both foreigners and locals.


The base was home to foreign workers from Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil and Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp and others.


Norway says eight Norwegians are still missing. JGC said it was missing 10 staff. Britain and the United States have said they have citizens unaccounted for but have not said how many.


The Algerian security source said 100 foreigners had been freed but 32 were still unaccounted for.


"We must be prepared for bad news this weekend but we still have hope," Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.


The attack has plunged international capitals into crisis mode and is a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.


"We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part," British Prime Minister David Cameron told his parliament.


"(The army) is still trying to achieve a ‘peaceful outcome' before neutralizing the terrorist group that is holed up in the (facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still being held," Algeria's state news agency said on Friday, quoting a security source.


MULTINATIONAL INSURGENCY


Algerian commanders said they moved in on Thursday about 30 hours after the siege began, because the gunmen had demanded to be allowed to take their captives abroad.


A French hostage employed by a French catering company said he had hidden in his room for 40 hours under the bed before he was rescued by Algerian troops, relying on Algerian employees to smuggle him food with a password.


"I put boards up pretty much all round," Alexandre Berceaux told Europe 1 radio. "I didn't know how long I was going to stay there ... I was afraid. I could see myself already ending up in a pine box."


The captors said their attack was a response to the French military offensive in neighboring Mali. However, some U.S. and European officials say the elaborate raid probably required too much planning to have been organized from scratch in the single week since France first launched its strikes.


Paris says the incident proves its decision to fight Islamists in neighboring Mali was necessary.


Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a preoccupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.


The most powerful Islamist groups operating in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in a civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of Al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.


Al Qaeda-linked fighters, many with roots in Algeria and Libya, took control of northern Mali last year, prompting the French intervention in that poor African former colony.


The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the value of outwardly tough Algerian security measures.


Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those responsible would be hunted down: "Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere. ... Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide."


(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti in Cairo, Eamonn Mallie in Belfast, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Mohammed Abbas in London, Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries in Dublin, Andrew Quinn and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Philippa Fletcher and Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche, Tom Pfeiffer and Jackie Frank)



Read More..

Housing, job data push S&P to five-year high; Intel down late

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stronger-than-expected data on housing starts and jobless claims lit a fire under stocks on Thursday, pushing the S&P 500 to a five-year high and its third day of gains.


A pair of economic reports lifted investors' sentiment. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low last week and housing starts jumped last month to the highest since June 2008.


Strength in the housing and labor markets is key to sustained growth and higher corporate profits, helping to bring out buyers even on a day when earnings reports were mixed.


Gains were tempered by weakness in the financial sector, with Bank of America down 4.2 percent to $11.28 and Citigroup off 2.9 percent to $41.24 after their results.


In other negative earnings news, shares of chipmaker Intel fell 5.2 percent to $21.49 in extended-hours trading after the company forecast quarterly revenue that fell short of analysts' expectations. Intel had ended the regular session up 2.6 percent at $22.68.


The S&P 500 ended at its highest since December 2007 and now sits just 5.6 percent from its all-time closing high of 1,565.15.


"Having consolidated really for the last two weeks, the fact that we broke out, I think that that is sucking in quite a bit of money," said James Dailey, portfolio manager of TEAM Asset Strategy Fund in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 84.79 points, or 0.63 percent, at 13,596.02. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 8.31 points, or 0.56 percent, at 1,480.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 18.46 points, or 0.59 percent, at 3,136.00.


Better-than-expected earnings and revenue reported by online marketplace eBay late Wednesday helped the stock gain 2.7 percent to $54.33.


In the housing sector, PulteGroup Inc shares gained 4.9 percent to $20.29 and Toll Brothers Inc advanced 3.1 percent to $35.99. The PHLX housing sector index <.hgx> climbed 2.4 percent, reaching its highest close since August 2007.


Semiconductor shares <.sox> rose 2 percent to the highest close in eight months.


Financials were the only S&P 500 sector to register a slight decline for the day.


Bank of America's fourth-quarter profit fell as it took more charges to clean up mortgage-related problems. Citigroup posted $2.32 billion of charges for layoffs and lawsuits.


Energy shares led gains on the Dow as U.S. crude oil prices jumped more than 1 percent. Shares of Exxon Mobil were up 0.8 percent at $90.20 while shares of Chevron were up 0.7 percent at $114.75.


S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter, Thomson Reuters data showed. Expectations for the quarter have fallen considerably since October when a 9.9 percent gain was estimated.


Volume was roughly 6.5 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.


Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by about 22 to 7 and on the Nasdaq by about 2 to 1.


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



Read More..

Armstrong admits doping in interview with Oprah


CHICAGO (AP) — He did it. He finally admitted it. Lance Armstrong doped.


He was light on the details and didn't name names. He mused that he might not have been caught if not for his comeback in 2009. And he was certain his "fate was sealed" when longtime friend, training partner and trusted lieutenant George Hincapie, who was along for the ride on all seven of Armstrong's Tour de France wins from 1999-2005, was forced to give him up to anti-doping authorities.


But right from the start and more than two dozen times during the first of a two-part interview Thursday night with Oprah Winfrey, the disgraced former cycling champion acknowledged what he had lied about repeatedly for years, and what had been one of the worst-kept secrets for the better part of a week: He was the ringleader of an elaborate doping scheme on a U.S. Postal Service team that swept him to the top of the podium at the Tour de France time after time.


"At the time it did not feel wrong?" Winfrey asked.


"No," Armstrong replied. "Scary."


"Did you feel bad about it?" she pressed him.


"No," he said. "Even scarier."


"Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?"


"No," Armstrong paused. "Scariest."


"I went and looked up the definition of cheat," he added a moment later. "And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."


Wearing a blue blazer and open-neck shirt, Armstrong was direct and matter-of-fact, neither pained nor contrite. He looked straight ahead. There were no tears and very few laughs.


Whether his televised confession will help or hurt Armstrong's bruised reputation and his already-tenuous defense in at least two pending lawsuits, and possibly a third, remains to be seen. Either way, a story that seemed too good to be true — cancer survivor returns to win one of sport's most grueling events seven times in a row — was revealed to be just that.


Winfrey got right to the point, asking for yes-or-no answers to five questions.


Did Armstrong take banned substances? "Yes."


Was one of those EPO? "Yes."


Did he do blood doping and use transfusions? "Yes."


Did he use testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone? "Yes."


Did he take banned substances or blood dope in all his Tour wins? "Yes."


Along the way, Armstrong cast aside teammates who questioned his tactics, yet swore he raced clean and tried to silence anyone who said otherwise. Ruthless and rich enough to settle any score, no place seemed beyond his reach — courtrooms, the court of public opinion, even along the roads of his sport's most prestigious race.


That relentless pursuit was one of the things that Armstrong said he regretted most.


"It's a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. And it's inexcusable. And when I say there are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that. I do."


Read More..

Cameras Capture Falling Snowflakes in 3D






A gadget that can snap photos of individual snowflakes in freefall could lead to more accurate weather predictions.


Researchers at the University of Utah have developed the Multi Angle Snowflake Camera (MASC), which uses three high-speed cameras triggered by infrared sensors to shoot flakes as they float to the ground, with exposures as quick as 1/25000 of a second. The device also measures the flakes’ fall speed, all without touching them, which would disturb the measurements.






“You’ve probably seen gorgeous pictures of snowflakes that have been collected on glass slides and put under a microscope. These pictures, while beautiful, are pictures of snowflakes that are exceedingly rare,” said University of Utah atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett. Most snowflakes in nature are complex clumps of many flakes stuck to each other; putting one of those on a slide to photograph would destroy it.


The images could be used to better understand snowfall and create a more accurate model of winter storms. One of the things weather simulations are not currently good at is predicting snowfall accurately. “The reason they do so badly is because they don’t represent snowflakes very well, because they are based on measurements of snowflakes that were done, painstakingly, by hand in the 1970s,” Garrett explained. “They were able to collect maybe a few thousand snowflakes. I knew the guy who did it and he felt he needed to get glasses because of this project.”


In contrast, MASC can photograph and measure tens of thousands of snowflakes in a single night, Garrett said. Already, two MASC cameras in use at the Alta Ski Area are generating results that suggests wind and snow interact differently than weather models predict.


Garrett and Cale Fallgatter have formed a spin-off company to sell MASCs to interested parties. Fallgatter Technologies, officially spun-off six months ago, has already sold a camera to the U.S. Army, which is using it to improve avalanche prediction.


Besides being useful, the camera is also just plain fun to use. “It’s very exciting to be able to look at the snowflakes every day as they’re falling. I saw some fog up in the mountains, and wondered what kind of snowflakes this fog would produce,” Garrett said.


Then he logged on to Alta’s live feed and found out. While that day the snow was producing very regular, six-sided snowflakes, “the range is tremendous,” he said. “When people say no two snowflakes are alike, that is very true. They are dissimilar in ways that I did not imagine prior to starting this project. The range of possibilities is immense.”


This story was provided by TechNewsDaily, sister site to LiveScience.


Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Why U.S. needs tougher child labor rules




Cristina Traina says in his second term, Obama must address weaknesses in child farm labor standards




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Cristina Traina: Obama should strengthen child farm labor standards

  • She says Labor Dept. rules allow kids to work long hours for little pay on commercial farms

  • She says Obama administration scrapped Labor Dept. chief's proposal for tightening rules

  • She says Labor Dept. must fix lax standards for kid labor on farmers; OSHA must enforce them




Editor's note: Cristina L.H. Traina is a Public Voices Op Ed fellow and professor at Northwestern University, where she is a scholar of social ethics.


(CNN) -- President Barack Obama should use the breathing space provided by the fiscal-cliff compromise to address some of the issues that he shelved during his last term. One of the most urgent is child farm labor. Perhaps the least protected, underpaid work force in American labor, children are often the go-to workers for farms looking to cut costs.


It's easy to see why. The Department of Labor permits farms to pay employees under 20 as little as $4.25 per hour. (By comparison, the federal minimum wage is $7.25.) And unlike their counterparts in retail and service, child farm laborers can legally work unlimited hours at any hour of day or night.


The numbers are hard to estimate, but between direct hiring, hiring through labor contractors, and off-the-books work beside parents or for cash, perhaps 400,000 children, some as young as 6, weed and harvest for commercial farms. A Human Rights Watch 2010 study shows that children laboring for hire on farms routinely work more than 10 hours per day.


As if this were not bad enough, few labor safety regulations apply. Children 14 and older can work long hours at all but the most dangerous farm jobs without their parents' consent, if they do not miss school. Children 12 and older can too, as long as their parents agree. Unlike teen retail and service workers, agricultural laborers 16 and older are permitted to operate hazardous machinery and to work even during school hours.


In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that child farm laborers are exposed to dangerous pesticides; have inadequate access to water and bathrooms; fall ill from heat stroke; suffer sexual harassment; experience repetitive-motion injuries; rarely receive protective equipment like gloves and boots; and usually earn less than the minimum wage. Sometimes they earn nothing.


Little is being done to guarantee their safety. In 2011 Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis proposed more stringent agricultural labor rules for children under 16, but Obama scrapped them just eight months later.


Adoption of the new rules would be no guarantee of enforcement, however. According to the 2010 Human Rights Watch report, the Department of Labor employees were spread so thin that, despite widespread reports of infractions they found only 36 child labor violations and two child hazardous order violations in agriculture nationwide.


This lack of oversight has dire, sometimes fatal, consequences. Last July, for instance, 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an employee at a small family farm near Deer Grove, Illinois, died when he fell off the piece of heavy farm equipment he was operating, and it crushed him. According to the Bureau County Republican, he was the fifth child in fewer than two years to die at work on Sauk Valley farms.


If this year follows trends, Curvin will be only one of at least 100 children below the age of 18 killed on American farms, not to mention the 23,000 who will be injured badly enough to require hospital admission. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries. It is the most dangerous for children, accounting for about half of child worker deaths annually.


The United States has a long tradition of training children in the craft of farming on family farms. At least 500,000 children help to work their families' farms today.


Farm parents, their children, and the American Farm Bureau objected strenuously to the proposed new rules. Although children working on their parents' farms would specifically have been exempted from them, it was partly in response to worries about government interference in families and loss of opportunities for children to learn agricultural skills that the Obama administration shelved them.






Whatever you think of family farms, however, many child agricultural workers don't work for their parents or acquaintances. Despite exposure to all the hazards, these children never learn the craft of farming, nor do most of them have the legal right to the minimum wage. And until the economy stabilizes, the savings farms realize by hiring children makes it likely that even more of them will be subject to the dangers of farm work.


We have a responsibility for their safety. As one of the first acts of his new term, Obama should reopen the child agricultural labor proposal he shelved in spring of 2012. Surely, farm labor standards for children can be strengthened without killing off 4-H or Future Farmers of America.


Second, the Department of Labor must institute age, wage, hour and safety regulations that meet the standards set by retail and service industry rules. Children in agriculture should not be exposed to more risks, longer hours, and lower wages at younger ages than children in other jobs.


Finally, the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must allocate the funds necessary for meaningful enforcement of child labor violations. Unenforced rules won't protect the nearly million other children who work on farms.


Agriculture is a great American tradition. Let's make sure it's not one our children have to die for.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cristina Traina.






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Former Chicago businessman gets 14 years in terror case









Throughout Thursday's sentencing, Tahawwur Rana's children appeared nervous, his college student son bouncing his leg rapidly and his daughter, a high schooler, leaning forward with her hands clasped tightly.


After all, their father, a former doctor and businessman who was convicted in one of Chicago's most significant terrorism cases, now faced up to 30 years in prison for aiding and abetting a plot to slay and behead Danish newspaper staffers because of cartoons the paper published of the Prophet Muhammad. Rana also had been convicted of providing support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani terrorist organization.


But at the end of the 90-minute hearing, the brother and sister left the crowded courtroom appearing much relieved — their faces visibly softened — after U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber sentenced Rana to 14 years in prison, a little less than half of the maximum.





After court, Rana's attorneys expressed satisfaction with the sentence after arguments from federal prosecutors that Rana, 52, should serve the full 30-year term.


"I thought we had the law on our side, frankly," said Rana's attorney, Patrick Blegen. "But obviously it's a scary proposition when the government asks for such a lengthy sentence. And his family was very concerned."


Rana's trial drew international media attention because he also was charged with supporting Lashkar's terrorist attacks in 2008 that killed more than 160 people in Mumbai, India's largest city. Rana was acquitted, however, of those charges.


David Coleman Headley, Rana's childhood friend who pleaded guilty in both the Danish and Mumbai cases, was the government's star witness at the three-week trial. Headley's testimony about the inner workings of Lashkar provided a rare insight into an international terrorist network. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced next week.


At trial, evidence showed that Rana supported the Danish plot by letting Headley pose as an employee of Rana's Far North Side immigration business while Headley scouted the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Copenhagen in advance of the attack. The plot was never carried out.


Rana, a Pakistan native, immigrated to the United States from Canada. He worked as a doctor before settling into Chicago, where he set up several businesses and raised three children with his wife. She did not attend Thursday's sentencing because immigration officials stopped her earlier this month when she tried to re-enter the U.S. after a family trip to Canada, according to Rana's lawyers.


At the hearing, the defense reiterated its position at trial that Rana had been drawn into the plot by a more conniving Headley.


But the sentencing also turned on whether Rana's plotting constituted an act of terrorism against the Danish government. That would have required a stiffer penalty under federal sentencing guidelines.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Collins argued for the so-called terror enhancement, saying that in statements to authorities after his arrest, Rana admitted supporting Lashkar as well as knowing that the terrorist group had targeted India in the Mumbai attack.


As for the other scheme, Collins said the plotters hoped to draw the Danish forces into a "fight to the death" after storming the newspaper and planned to make "martyr videos."


"It was not just the newspaper," Collins told the judge. "It was much broader."


But Rana's attorney disagreed, saying evidence at trial showed that Rana wanted to punish only the staff of the newspaper for cartoons that had been deemed offensive to Muslims.


Leinenweber ultimately rejected the government's argument and lowered the maximum faced by Rana to 14 years under the federal sentencing guidelines, leading Collins to make one further attempt at convincing the judge to sentence Rana to the maximum 30 years in prison.


"Defendants who want to think they can avoid detection by sitting at a safe distance need to understand there will be significant penalties when they are caught," the prosecutor said.


Blegen argued for mercy by insisting that Rana's crimes were an aberration for a man who has spent most of his life helping others and raising children who are all in school with plans to contribute to society — a sharp contrast to Headley, who testified at trial about teaching military drills to his young child at city parks.


In the end, Leinenweber noted Rana's seemingly contrasting personalities — an intelligent man convicted in a "dastardly" plot to behead a newspaper staff — and settled on 14 years in prison.


"This is about as serious as it gets," the judge said. "It only would have been more serious if it had been carried out."


asweeney@tribune.com



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