"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.


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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Houston beats Bengals 19-13 in wild-card playoff

HOUSTON (AP) — Arian Foster ran for 140 yards and a touchdown, and the Houston Texans used a stifling defense for a 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday in an AFC wild-card playoff game.

The Texans will next play at New England on Jan. 13.

Foster became the first player in NFL history to have 100-yard games in each of his first three playoff games.

The Texans (13-4) had trouble finishing drives all day and mustered only three field goals by Shayne Graham in the first half. Houston struck first after the break, with Foster scoring the game's only offensive touchdown on a 1-yard run in the third quarter to make it 16-7.

In his first playoff start, Matt Schaub had an interception returned for a touchdown by Leon Hall before halftime.

Johnathan Joseph had an interception and J.J. Watt had a sack as the Texans beat the Bengals (10-7) in the wild-card round for the second straight year. Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game since 1991, the league's longest current streak.

Foster's touchdown and another Graham field goal gave the Texans to 16-10 lead after three quarters. Even though Houston dominated, the game was up for grabs throughout because Pro Bowler Schaub made one bad mistake. His sideline pass was intercepted by Hall and returned for a 21-yard touchdown, the cornerback's second score in three games.

Houston piled up 351 yards and held the ball for 32 minutes through three quarters, but got into the end zone only once.

By contrast, Cincinnati's Andy Dalton had a horrid time. He completed 4 of 10 passes for 3 yards in the first half. With Watt's sack added in, the Bengals had minus-6 yards passing and only 53 yards overall.

His 45-yard pass to A.J. Green got Cincinnati moving in the third quarter and set up Josh Brown's 34-yard field goal. When Dalton tried to go to Green again, Joseph intercepted and got the Texans in scoring range again as the quarter ended.

After swatting down one of Dalton's passes at the line, Watt wagged his finger at the quarterback.

Nothing was going to come easy.

For the second season in a row, the Bengals opened the playoffs at Houston looking for their first playoff win since the 1990 season, a 21-year drought that was tied for ninth-longest in NFL history. They lost 31-10 last season, with the then-rookie Dalton throwing three interceptions.

The main difference in this one: Schaub was back in charge for Houston. Rookie T.J. Yates filled in after Schaub hurt his foot last season, got the Texans a win in their first-ever playoff game, but couldn't take then any farther.

Their franchise quarterback started a playoff game for the first time in his career. He came into the game in a slump, with the Texans losing three of their last four games while the offense sputtered.

The second time the Texans got the ball, they got going. Schaub completed an 18-yard pass, Foster had a 17-yard run and Keshawn Martin went 16 yards on a reverse, setting up Graham's field goal.

It became a pattern — move the ball down the field, settle for three points. The fans started booing the familiar, come-up-short endings.

And Schaub did the one thing he wanted to avoid: Let Cincinnati's high-scoring defense get its hands on the ball. Hall anticipated Schaub's throw, stepped in front and returned it untouched for the defense's fourth touchdown in the last four games.

Hall also ran back an interception 17 yards for the only Bengals touchdown in a 13-10 win over Pittsburgh that clinched a playoff spot. It was the first interception return for a touchdown against the Texans this season.

Like the Texans, the Bengals ended the season by hitting a wall on offense — one touchdown in the last two games.

A lot was on Dalton, who grew up in suburban Katy and had a dreadful playoff debut as a rookie last year in his hometown. He threw three interceptions, including one that Watt returned for a game-turning touchdown just before halftime.

He had to be better if the Bengals were going to end their notable playoff drought. Through three quarters, it wasn't even close.


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


  • 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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No pension deal as Quinn, leaders meet


Illinois' pension crisis, at once vilified as the nation's most indebted government worker retirement system and trivialized by likening it to a cartoon python, moves to the forefront Sunday when the House returns to the Capitol to conclude a lame-duck session.

Hot-button issues like gay marriage and gun control largely fell by the wayside when the Illinois Senate failed to vote on them, then left town. Fixes to a pension system that's $96.8 billion short remain elusive.

On Saturday, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and the four legislative leaders met for two hours in Chicago to discuss an outline of pension reform proposals but came to no agreement. That makes it questionable whether senators will return before the clock runs out Wednesday.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago called the meeting "productive" and said work would continue to try to meet the Wednesday deadline, but acknowledged serious differences remain. Asked why he thought progress was made, Madigan joked, "Well, we weren't throwing punches at each other."

Several major hurdles remain in trying to quickly put together a comprehensive pension overhaul before a new General Assembly is inaugurated -- not the least of which is how a Democratic-led state government would alter benefits for members of unions that traditionally are powerful Democratic allies.

Another impediment is finding a resolution that meets the state Constitution's requirement that pensions are a contractual benefit that cannot be "diminished or impaired."

Public employee unions have warned that filing a lawsuit could be an option unless lawmakers make certain concessions that do not place the brunt of resolving the pension mess on employees who for years paid their share of retirement contributions while politicians failed to pay the state's share of costs.

The meeting among Quinn and the leaders of the state House and Senate marked the first visible efforts in months by the state's top politicians to come to grips with resolving a pension burden that threatens to eat up an increasing share of state tax dollars at the expense of other services while Illinois' fiscal position remains precarious.

An August special legislative session that Quinn ordered to deal with pensions was a bust. Afterward, he promised a robust effort to mobilize public support on the importance of fixing the mess. The governor launched it shortly after the Nov. 6 election of the new Legislature, a push that was best known for a Web video that sought to equate the growing annual squeeze of taxpayer dollars diverted for pensions to an orange cartoon character called "Squeezy, the Pension Python," its tail tightening around the Statehouse.

For at least the past two weeks, representatives for Quinn, Madigan and House Republican leader Tom Cross have been holding nearly daily meetings to try to reach an agreement.

Also helping advance the issue was a bipartisan pension proposal unveiled early last month by Reps. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, and Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, that also represented the discontent that rank-and-file lawmakers had with the progress made by Quinn and their legislative leaders.

The talks on Saturday were spurred by Madigan's decision to lift his demand that any reform legislation shift the cost of suburban and Downstate teacher pensions away from the state and onto local school districts. Republicans and some suburban and Downstate Democrats had labeled Madigan's requirement a non-starter and warned it could lead to higher property taxes.

Madigan said he made the offer "in the spirit of trying to help the passage of a bill," but maintained the cost-shifting of teacher pension costs onto local districts "must be addressed" by lawmakers at some point.

The outline under discussion Saturday was aimed at fully funding the state's pension systems in 30 years. It included requiring employees to pay an additional 2 percentage points toward retirement in exchange for a guarantee that the state could be sued if it failed to make its share of pension funding contributions.

Also discussed were plans to deal with cost-of-living adjustments that retirees receive. Currently, state retirees get a 3 percent annual increase that is compounded -- a factor many lawmakers say has led to a rapid increase in the state's pension debt.

The talks also included freezing those increases for as long as six years, raising the age for when the increases kick in to 67 and basing the bumps on only the first $25,000 of benefits for workers who do not receive Social Security -- namely, teachers who are the bulk of the state's pensioners. Also, lawmakers could limit the amount of salary on which a pension is based.

The state has $5.7 billion devoted to pension funding this year and $6.7 billion for the next budget year, but Nekritz said the plans under discussion could reduce the state's share of contributions by nearly $2 billion in the new budget.

Asked Saturday what the impediments are to reaching a deal, Madigan basically recited each of the proposals. "It's all the issues that you've all heard, and the question is, 'Can you bring these all together and get a bill that can pass and be signed by the governor?'" the House speaker said.

In May, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Senate GOP leader Christine Radogno of Lemont put together bipartisan support to pass a bill that would alter the pension plans for lawmakers and rank-and-file state workers.

Cullerton's position is that a change in public pensions must be accompanied by a choice for employees, such as opting between keeping the cost-of-living increase and giving up health care, or taking a smaller annual increase but keeping health benefits. Cullerton staunchly believes that his approach is the only way to work around the state Constitution's guarantee that a person's pension cannot be diminished once it is set. But not everyone agrees with his approach.

Following the meeting, Cullerton, in a statement from an aide, said he was "encouraged," but still urged the House "to follow the Senate's lead." Radogno, however, called the meeting only "marginally productive" and noted Democratic leaders were at odds over whether any pension legislation should include changes being sought by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to deal with Chicago's municipal pensions.

"We will vote on what Democrat leaders decide to put up on the board," said Radogno, who did not take questions. "And some of the issues, they can't even decide if Chicago is going to be in or out of this program. So they have thinking to do before we have an opportunity to vote."

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor "obviously" wants pension reform completed before the new legislature is sworn in Wednesday, saying it is "very urgent that we act now." She acknowledged negotiators are searching for "common ground" on how to ensure any legislation is constitutional.

Representatives of the state's major public employee unions have offered to have workers pay an increased share of pension costs, but only if lawmakers guaranteed future state payments and put $2 billion more into the system through new taxes and ending certain corporate tax deductions. Union leaders have asked for a seat at the table but weren't part of the Saturday negotiations.

Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, said any pension bill that might come out in the next few days would be rushed and a threat to state employee rights.

"Anything could happen in Springfield," Bayer said. "Anyone who's been here before knows how fast something can happen." Garcia reported from Chicago.

rap30@aol.com mcgarcia@tribune.com rlong@tribune.com Twitter @rap30

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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.


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) — A person familiar with the negotiations says the Cleveland Browns are close to a deal with Oregon's Chip Kelly to become their next coach.

The Browns interviewed Kelly on Friday and the Ducks coach was supposed to meet with Philadelphia. 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 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 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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Court faults EPA for Bush-era soot regulations

WASHINGTON (AP) — An appeals court is siding with environmental groups that had challenged Environmental Protection Agency regulations on soot as too weak.

The three-judge panel ruled Friday that the EPA regulated soot of a certain size under weaker cleanup requirements than it should have.

The environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, had challenged two rules dating back to the George W. Bush administration. The court sent the rules back to the EPA with instructions to strengthen them.

Soot, or fine particulate matter, is microscopic pollution released from smokestacks, diesel trucks and other sources. Breathing it can cause lung and heart problems, contributing to heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks.

Two of the three judges were appointed by Republican presidents, the third by a Democrat.

Energy News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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Myanmar: Evolution, not revolution

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


  • 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.

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FBI: Second escaped bank robber caught in Palos Hills

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.

Two officers 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.

“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 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.

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 reporter Carlos Sadovi contributed.



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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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Saban, Kelly lead Bama and ND out of darkness

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — There were some dark days at Notre Dame and Alabama, dark years really, during which two of college football's proudest programs flailed and foundered.

Notre Dame won the national championship in 1988, then spent much of the next two decades running through coaches — four if you count the guy who never coached a game — and drifting between mediocre and pretty good.

Alabama won the national championship in 1992, then spent the next 15 years running through coaches — four if you count the guy who never coached a game — and drifting between mediocre and pretty good.

As the 21st century dawned, the Fighting Irish and the Crimson Tide were old news, stodgy remnants of a glorious past, not moving fast enough to keep up with the times, and searching for someone to lead them back to the top.

"It parallels Notre Dame to a tee," said Paul Finebaum, who has covered Alabama as a newspaper reporter and radio show host for more than 30 years. "The attitude was 'We're Alabama. We don't have to do what others are doing. We'll win because of our tradition.' Finally everyone passed Alabama."

And Notre Dame.

Then along came Nick Saban and Brian Kelly to knock off the rust, fine tune the engines and turn the Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish into the sharpest machines in college football again.

No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama meet Monday night in Miami in a BCS championship between two titans not all that far removed from tough times.

"The pendulum swings," said former Alabama coach Gene Stallings, the last Tide coach before Saban to bring home a national title. "You don't stay good forever. You don't stay bad forever."

Of course, Alabama and Notre Dame fans aren't real comfortable with the first part of that statement. The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish were perennial national championship contenders for decades.

For Alabama, replacing Bear proved difficult. Paul Bryant won six national championships in 25 years as the coach in Tuscaloosa, and when he stepped down the Crimson Tide felt compelled to bring back one of his boys to replace him. Ray Perkins was hired away from the New York Giants, and spent four years at Alabama before going back to the NFL.

Alabama tried going outside the family and hired Bill Curry. He lasted three years, before leaving for Kentucky.

"You follow somebody like Coach Bryant, it's an extremely difficult situation," Stallings said.

Stallings played for Bryant at Texas A&M, coached under him at Alabama and even sounded a bit like the Bear with his baritone drawl. He found success and relative peace in seven seasons as coach of the Tide.

"I told Coach Bryant stories. I wasn't in competition with Coach Bryant," Stallings said. "I think that's one of the reasons I was, quote, accepted by the Alabama people."

After Stalling left in 1996, things started to get ugly at Alabama. School leaders tried again to keep their most highly prized job in the family, hiring Mike DuBose, a former defensive lineman for Bryant. That didn't work, so Alabama swung the other direction by hiring Dennis Franchione, who skipped town after two seasons for Texas A&M, and Mike Price, who brought a whole new level of embarrassment to Alabama. Not long after he was hired away from Washington State, Price was fired after a night of drunken partying became public.

Alabama reverted back to old form, going with one of its own in former Tide quarterback Mike Shula. Like DuBose, he wasn't up to the task. On top of everything else, the NCAA slammed Alabama, wiping all its victories from the 2005 and '06 seasons off the books.

Meanwhile, over the years, Alabama had fallen behind others in the Southeastern Conference when it came to facilities and support staff. Big-time college football is an arms race of sorts, and the Crimson Tide weren't investing like the competition — like LSU had while winning a national title under Saban, for example.

"The program lost its compass," Finebaum said.

When it came time to hire another coach in 2006, Alabama courted Saban and Steve Spurrier. Spurrier wasn't interested and Saban had an NFL season to finish. When the Tide was turned down by Rich Rodriguez, who opted instead to stay with West Virginia, it was rock bottom.

"It was the darkest moment I can ever remember in Alabama history," Finebaum said. "Alabama fans gave up that day.

As it turned out, it was one of the best things to ever happen to Alabama.

"You've got to have some luck," Stallings said.

As luck would have it, Saban was ready to get back to college football.

Alabama lured him away from the NFL with a $4 million a year contract that made him the highest-paid coach in college football — and gave him the power and support to run the program the way he wanted, not the way it had been run before.

"Alabama finally hired someone who has not afraid to tell everybody to get out of the way," Finebaum said.

For Notre Dame, it is a similar tale. Lou Holtz won that championship in 1988 and made the Fighting Irish a regular title contender, but by the end of his tenure, Notre Dame started to slip and the people in charge were resistant to the types of changes needed to keep up with the competition.

The Irish promoted Bob Davie to take over for Holtz. In five seasons he never won more than nine games and went 0-3 in bowls.

Davie, now the coach at New Mexico, doesn't make excuses for his record at Notre Dame, but he does note that the school has been willing to make the type of changes in recent years that he sought back in the late 1990s.

"Their facilities have gone from being poor to cutting edge in college football," he said. "Their salaries for coaches are competitive with everybody in the country. They are accepting early graduates (from high school).

"I know the dynamics there very well and there's a lot of people who think you don't have to do that at Notre Dame. It's proven now that you do have to do those things."

Former athletic director Kevin White was the catalyst for many of those changes, but he was also the man who hired George O'Leary, who was caught fibbing on his resume and stepped down, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis. The Weis hiring in 2004 was especially telling.

Notre Dame wanted Urban Meyer, who was then at Utah and the hottest commodity on the coaching market. Meyer worked at Notre Dame under Holtz and had called being Fighting Irish coach his dream job.

And he turned it down to coach Florida because he realized it would be easier to win national championship with the Gators than with the Irish. He won two with Florida in six years.

The Irish hired Weis, the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator who had never been a head coach but did graduate from Notre Dame. He was gone in five years.

This time when Notre Dame went looking for a coach, the hottest candidate on the market was Kelly, who climbed the coaching ladder slowly, winning big every step of the way. The difference was the hottest commodity also wanted Notre Dame, and White's successor, Jack Swarbrick, scooped him up quickly.

Kelly has continued to push Notre Dame into the 21st century, implementing a training table to make it easier for the players to eat healthy. He pushed for music to be pumped through the PA system at Notre Dame Stadium to rouse a fanbase that over the years had started to sit on its hands.

"It's flashier," Davie said. "They are a lot more like everybody else is but that's what's making them competitive."

Now what separates both Notre Dame and Alabama from the competition is their coaches.

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Lawsuit claims horses mistreated on HBO’s “Luck”

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An animal-rights advocate who oversaw working conditions on the canceled HBO series “Luck” has sued the network and the American Humane Association, claiming horses on the show were grossly mistreated.

Barbara Casey‘s lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles claims underweight, sick and drugged horses were used to film the series focused on the horse racing industry.

The series starring Dustin Hoffman was canceled in March after four horses died while in production.

Casey was working for the American Humane Association overseeing the well-being of the horses and says she was wrongfully fired after complaining about inhumane conditions on the show.

The association declined comment, citing the pending lawsuit.

HBO told The Hollywood Reporter that it took every precaution to ensure the horses’ safety on the show.

Animal and Pets 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


  • 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.

Opinion: The real issue is runaway spending

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.

Opinion: Time to toot horn for George H.W. Bush

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.

Opinion: Christie drops bomb on GOP leaders

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.

Politics: Are the days of Congress 'going big' over?

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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