Wall Street ends 2012 riding high on "cliff" deal optimism

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks closed out 2012 with their strongest day in more than a month, putting the S&P 500 up 13.4 percent for the year, as lawmakers in Washington closed in on a resolution to the "fiscal cliff" negotiations.


The S&P 500's gain for the year marks its best performance since 2009, as stocks navigated through debt crises in Europe and the United States that dominated the headlines. Still, with numerous issues involving budget talks unresolved, markets could still be open to a shock should the deal break down unexpectedly.


Fittingly, in the last session of the year, stocks bounced back and forth on the headlines out of Washington, as both President Barack Obama and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell issued statements indicating a deal to avert the cliff was close.


"The worst news could have been the president coming out and saying, 'We don't have a deal and we've giving up,' and he didn't say that," said Ron Florance, managing director of investment strategy for Wells Fargo Private Bank, based in Scottsdale, Arizona.


"My personal skepticism, I don't trust anything out of Washington until it is signed, sealed and delivered, and it is not signed, sealed and delivered."


While a deal on the cliff is not yet official, investors may be ready to take on more risk next year in hopes of a greater reward.


McConnell said an agreement had been reached with Democrats on all of the tax issues in the potential deal, removing a large hurdle in the talks. An agreement is needed in order to avert a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts that many believe could push the U.S. economy into recession.


A source familiar with the matter said an emerging deal, if adopted by Congress and President Barack Obama, would raise $600 billion in revenue over the next 10 years by increasing tax rates for individuals making more than $400,000 and households earning above $450,000 annually.


Despite the uncertainty, the market encountered only occasional bouts of volatility this year. For the first time since 2006, the CBOE Volatility Index or VIX <.vix>, the market's favored indicator of anxiety, did not surpass the 30 level, a threshold that usually signals heightened worry among investors.


"Given all the threats in 2012, the VIX was relatively tranquil," said Bill Luby, the author of the VIX and More blog in San Francisco, citing the crises in Spain and Greece, along with constant intervention from the Federal Reserve.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 166.03 points, or 1.28 percent, to end at 13,104.14. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> gained 23.76 points, or 1.69 percent, to finish at 1,426.19. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> gained 59.20 points, or 2.00 percent, to close at 3,019.51.


Monday's gains enabled the S&P 500 to snap a five-day losing streak, its longest skid since September.


The S&P 500 closed out 2012 with a 13.4 percent gain for the year, compared with a flat performance in 2011. The Dow rose 7.3 percent in 2012 and the Nasdaq climbed 15.9 percent.


Financials <.gspf> were the strongest of the S&P's 10 industry sectors this year, gaining more than 26 percent, led by Bank of America , which more than doubled in 2012, and was the best performer of the Dow industrials.


Of the S&P's 10 sectors, only defensively oriented utilities <.gspu> ended the year lower, falling 2.9 percent.


Gains in Apple Inc , the most valuable U.S. company, helped lift the Nasdaq. The stock rose 4.4 percent to $532.17, lifting the S&P information technology sector index <.gspt> up 2.2 percent. For the year, Apple rose 31.4 percent, ending with a market value of about $501.4 billion.


Each of the Dow's 30 components finished the session in positive territory, led by a 3.2 percent climb in Caterpillar Inc to $89.58.


Volume was modest, with about 6.06 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, slightly below the daily average of 6.42 billion.


Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of 6 to 1, while on the Nasdaq, four stocks rose for every one that fell.


(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)



Read More..

Redskins win NFC East, Broncos get top seed in AFC


RG3 and the Washington Redskins are heading to the playoffs as NFC East champions.


By winning their seventh straight game, the Redskins rolled to their first division title in 13 years with a 28-18 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. Next up for Robert Griffin III & Co.: a home playoff matchup next Sunday with the Seahawks — the third straight postseason game for Washington against Seattle.


"It's just a mindset change," the rookie quarterback said. "When you have all these guys coming to work every day, putting it on the line, we knew we couldn't afford to lose one game, we made sure we didn't"


Thanks to Houston's late-season slump, Denver and New England will have byes when the AFC playoffs begin next week.


The Texans fell from first to third in the conference Sunday when they lost 28-16 at Indianapolis, which welcomed back coach Chuck Pagano after nearly three months of treatments for leukemia.


AFC West champion Denver won its 11th straight game, 38-3 over Kansas City to secure the top seed. New England blanked Miami 28-0 for the second spot.


Minnesota edged Green Bay 37-34 to grab the final NFC wild card, sinking the Packers to the third seed. Those teams will meet again next Saturday night at Lambeau Field.


The other NFC matchup will have Seattle (11-5), which beat St. Louis 20-13, at Washington on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.


Cincinnati (10-6) will be at Houston on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET, and Indianapolis (11-5) goes to at Baltimore (10-6) on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the AFC wild-card rounds.


The divisional round games will be hosted by Denver on Saturday, Jan. 12, followed by San Francisco (11-4-1) at night. On Sunday, Jan. 13, Atlanta (13-3) will host the early game, followed by New England (12-4).


Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns as Denver (13-3) routed the Chiefs. New England got the second seed despite having the same record as Houston because it beat the Texans, who lost three of their final four games.


Adrian Peterson had 199 yards against the Packers, finishing with 2,097 — Dickerson's single-season rushing mark in 2,105. But it was rookie kicker Blair Walsh who won it with a 29-yard field goal as time expired.


"Ultimately we got the 'W,'" Peterson said. "I told myself to come into this game focused on one thing, and that's winning."


Green Bay would have been seeded second in the NFC by beating Minnesota.


"The road got a little tougher having to play on opening weekend, but we've got a home game and that's why you win the division," Aaron Rodgers said. "We get to go back home, and the game will be different. They won't have home-crowd advantage, and hopefully that will make a difference."


Baltimore Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed is looking forward to a reunion with Pagano. He wishes it would come a little later in the postseason.


"Chuck's like a dad to me," Reed said "He means a lot to me. I would have much rather seen them in the AFC championship game than the first game."


But Reed will see him next week at Baltimore.


The Ravens had a chance to move up to the AFC's third seed with a win and a New England loss. But Baltimore lost at Cincinnati as both teams played backups for much of the game.


Pagano coached the Ravens' secondary for three seasons and was promoted to coordinator last year. Players and coaches in Baltimore have kept in touch, offering encouragement as he fought through the cancer treatments.


"Going back to Baltimore, obviously there's some familiarity there," Pagano said. "We had four great years there as a family. It's a top-notch organization, you know, really good football club. It's a great challenge and they have a great team and they have great players all over the place."


The Colts were 2-14 last season and chose quarterback Andrew Luck with the top selection in the draft. Luck and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who stepped in as interim coach with Pagano sidelined, led the turnaround.


Next week, Pagano goes up against former boss John Harbaugh.


"I love his family, and he's one of my closest personal friends in coaching," Harbaugh said. "What he's been through is phenomenal, but we're all competitors so that gets set aside."


Houston beat Cincinnati in the opening round of last year's playoffs.


"I think it will be good," said Bengals QB Andy Dalton, who grew up in suburban Houston. "We played there last year and know the atmosphere and what it's going to be like. The experience last year will definitely help us."


The defending Super Bowl champion Giants are out of contention. When Chicago beat Detroit 26-24, the Giants (9-7) were eliminated, even though they routed Philadelphia 42-7.


"It hurts," said Eli Manning. "Each year you want to make the playoffs to give yourself an opportunity to win a championship; 9-7 last year was good enough. It wasn't good enough this year and we knew it wouldn't be."


Minnesota's win eliminated Chicago.


___


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


Read More..

In 2013, nothing more important than protecting hopes for democracy






Across the range of international concerns today the one common theme is urgency. Debt. Climate change. The spread of nuclear weapons. These are all serious issues requiring earnest, immediate responses. Yet nothing will be more important to international stability and human progress in 2013 than advancing the aspirations of people who are upending authoritarian rule in the pursuit of self-government and a fair shot at success.


From the Middle East to Asia to Africa to Latin America, people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds are agitating for change. Although democratization has been going on almost constantly since the end of the cold war, the stakes are different today for three reasons.






OPINION: Arab Spring: now begins the education of Islamist politicians


First, the greater Middle East is faced with burgeoning youth populations and complex regional tensions. Emerging democracies there have little margin for error.


Second, transnational terrorism and insurgency warfare have altered the security conditions in many of the places where democracy is budding – endangering new freedoms and posing an international security threat.


Third, the past three decades of democratization have brought many valuable lessons, but they have also raised expectations.


People do not just wake up one morning as democrats. The norms and practices of democracy, the understanding of rights and how to both act on and protect them, must be cultivated across society. That mainly involves the patient growing of trust between the governing and the governed – a trust that’s rooted in good democratic soil (a representative constitution, a free media, a fair court system, etc.) and watered with a continuous, wide stream of public input.


The unfolding experience in three countries – Egypt, Myanmar (Burma), and Malawi – highlights the importance, and difficulty, of getting the right mix of soil and water.


THE MONITOR’S VIEW: Egypt’s big lesson in democracy


If the revolution falters in the Arab world’s most populous country – Egypt – it may well be because of not enough public buy-in.


Emerging from six decades of authoritarian rule, the country quickly developed a lively discourse in the public square. But the constitutional process, culminating recently in a national referendum, was imbalanced toward the ruling party and its Islamist allies. The Supreme Administrative Court had dissolved the body charged with drafting the new national charter for being unrepresentative. When the panel was reconstituted, similar charges quickly emerged. The constitution passed the popular referendum with 64 percent in favor; but voter turnout was low, only 33 percent, and the run-up to the ballot was marked by boycotts and street protests.


A vital opportunity to engender credibility was needlessly jeopardized.


OPINION: Obama and Myanmar (Burma): 4 points about conflict there


Myanmar, long one of the most sealed-off countries on earth, is making credible strides toward democracy after decades of harsh military rule. Celebrated opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held under house arrest for 15 of the 20 years prior to her release in 2010, was elected to the national legislature last April. That election was monitored by foreign observers and media enjoying the freest access to the country in years.


But the foundation for a democracy doesn’t really exist yet. True, a recent cabinet reshuffle replaced old-guard conservatives with technocrats and the first woman minister. However, the national legislature is still overwhelmingly controlled by the ruling military party, and political rivals cannot reach accord on power-sharing terms in a new draft constitution.


And while a greater diversity of voices is being heard, some are being willfully and dangerously ignored. Human rights abuses and ethnic violence continue almost unimpeded in sensitive areas of the country.


National reconciliation is a prime concern ahead of the 2015 elections, which, if free and fair, would almost certainly elevate Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party to power. A truth commission, such as the one that helped South Africa after apartheid, could investigate the history of human rights abuses and underpin a new constitutional system in Myanmar.


THE MONITOR’S VIEW: Africa as muse, not mess


Other than being one of Africa‘s most persistently impoverished countries, Malawi seldom garners attention, even on the African continent. But last April something significant happened. It began with the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, an economist and the country’s third president. The late leader’s brother and supporters saw an opening to take over, but the military stepped in to prevent them from circumventing the Constitution and ensured the legal succession of Joyce Banda.


As political scientists Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst observe, simply the operation of the Malawi Constitution under stress is encouraging on a continent once plagued by military coups d’├ętat. They write that Malawi’s successful succession during a time of political upheaval shows why “even the partial liberalization of most African countries, still falling well short of institutionalized democracy, is such an important development.”


In the coming months and years, countries such as Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe will arrive at the threshold of democratic reforms. The choices they make and the processes they follow will be influenced and reinforced by events in neighboring countries and lessons from farther afield.


OPINION: Four things Syria must do after Bashar al-Assad


Building democracies is slow work. It is an imperfect project. But it can be mutually affirming. Twenty-five years ago, strongman rulers dominated Africa. Today no leader can avoid at least the language and motions of democracy. Will similar progress take root in the Middle East? Shortcuts don’t pay off. Inclusiveness in building strong institutions and durable constitutions is vital to success.


Kurt Shillinger is a former political reporter for The Christian Science Monitor. He also covered sub-Saharan Africa for The Boston Globe.


ALSO BY THIS WRITER: How civility can come to Washington (+video)


Related stories


Read this story at csmonitor.com


Become a part of the Monitor community


Weather News Headlines – Yahoo! News





Title Post: In 2013, nothing more important than protecting hopes for democracy
Rating:
100%

based on 99998 ratings.
5 user reviews.
Author: Fluser SeoLink
Thanks for visiting the blog, If any criticism and suggestions please leave a comment




Read More..

13 key stories to watch for in 2013




Among the few virtual certainties of 2013 is the ongoing anguish of Syria and the decline of its president, Bashar al-Assad.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Look for more unrest amid power transitions in the Middle East

  • Disputes and economic worries will keep China, Japan, North Korea in the news

  • Europe's economy will stay on a rough road, but the outlook for it is brighter

  • Events are likely to draw attention to cyber warfare and climate change




(CNN) -- Forecasting the major international stories for the year ahead is a time-honored pastime, but the world has a habit of springing surprises. In late 1988, no one was predicting Tiananmen Square or the fall of the Berlin Wall. On the eve of 2001, the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan were unimaginable. So with that substantial disclaimer, let's peer into the misty looking glass for 2013.


More turmoil for Syria and its neighbors


If anything can be guaranteed, it is that Syria's gradual and brutal disintegration will continue, sending aftershocks far beyond its borders. Most analysts do not believe that President Bashar al-Assad can hang on for another year. The more capable units of the Syrian armed forces are overstretched; large tracts of north and eastern Syria are beyond the regime's control; the economy is in dire straits; and the war is getting closer to the heart of the capital with every passing week. Russian support for al-Assad, once insistent, is now lukewarm.


Amid the battle, a refugee crisis of epic proportions threatens to become a catastrophe as winter sets in. The United Nations refugee agency says more than 4 million Syrians are in desperate need, most of them in squalid camps on Syria's borders, where tents are no match for the cold and torrential rain. Inside Syria, diseases like tuberculosis are spreading, according to aid agencies, and there is a danger that hunger will become malnutrition in places like Aleppo.


The question is whether the conflict will culminate Tripoli-style, with Damascus overrun by rebel units; or whether a political solution can be found that involves al-Assad's departure and a broadly based transitional government taking his place. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has not been explicit about al-Assad's exit as part of the transition, but during his most recent visit to Damascus, he hinted that it has to be.









2012: The year in pictures










































































HIDE CAPTION





<<


<





1




2




3




4




5




6




7




8




9




10




11




12




13




14




15




16




17




18




19




20
























































>


>>












"Syria and the Syrian people need, want and look forward to real change. And the meaning of this is clear to all," he said.


The international community still seems as far as ever from meaningful military intervention, even as limited as a no fly-zone. Nor is there any sign of concerted diplomacy to push all sides in Syria toward the sort of deal that ended the war in Bosnia. In those days, the United States and Russia were able to find common ground. In Syria, they have yet to do so, and regional actors such as Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran also have irons in the fire.


Failing an unlikely breakthrough that would bring the regime and its opponents to a Syrian version of the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war, the greatest risk is that a desperate regime may turn to its chemical weapons, troublesome friends (Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Kurdish PKK in Turkey) and seek to export unrest to Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.


The Syrian regime has already hinted that it can retaliate against Turkey's support for the rebels -- not by lobbing Scud missiles into Turkey, but by playing the "Kurdish" card. That might involve direct support for the PKK or space for its Syrian ally, the Democratic Union Party. By some estimates, Syrians make up one-third of the PKK's fighting strength.


To the Turkish government, the idea that Syria's Kurds might carve out an autonomous zone and get cozy with Iraq's Kurds is a nightmare in the making. Nearly 800 people have been killed in Turkey since the PKK stepped up its attacks in mid-2011, but with three different sets of elections in Turkey in 2013, a historic bargain between Ankara and the Kurds that make up 18% of Turkey's population looks far from likely.


Many commentators expect Lebanon to become more volatile in 2013 because it duplicates so many of the dynamics at work in Syria. The assassination in October of Lebanese intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan -- as he investigated a pro-Syrian politician accused of obtaining explosives from the Syrian regime -- was an ominous portent.


Victory for the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels in Syria would tilt the fragile sectarian balance next door, threatening confrontation between Lebanon's Sunnis and Hezbollah. The emergence of militant Salafist groups like al-Nusra in Syria is already playing into the hands of militants in Lebanon.


Iraq, too, is not immune from Syria's turmoil. Sunni tribes in Anbar and Ramadi provinces would be heartened should Assad be replaced by their brethren across the border. It would give them leverage in an ever more tense relationship with the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. The poor health of one of the few conciliators in Iraqi politics, President Jalal Talabani, and renewed disputes between Iraq's Kurds and the government over boundaries in the oil-rich north, augur for a troublesome 2013 in Iraq.


More worries about Iran's nuclear program


Syria's predicament will probably feature throughout 2013, as will the behavior of its only friend in the region: Iran. Intelligence sources say Iran continues to supply the Assad regime with money, weapons and expertise; and military officers who defected from the Syrian army say Iranian technicians work in Syria's chemical weapons program. Al-Assad's continued viability is important for Iran, as his only Arab ally. They also share sponsorship of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which, with its vast supply of rockets and even some ballistic missiles, might be a valuable proxy in the event of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program.


Speaking of which, there are likely to be several more episodes in the behind-closed-doors drama of negotiations on Iran's nuclear sites. Russia is trying to arrange the next round for January. But in public, at least, Iran maintains it has every right to continue enriching uranium for civilian purposes, such as helping in the treatment of more than 1 million Iranians with cancer.


Iran "will not suspend 20% uranium enrichment because of the demands of others," Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said this month.


International experts say the amount of 20% enriched uranium (estimated by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November at 297 pounds) is more than needed for civilian purposes, and the installation of hundreds more centrifuges could cut the time needed to enrich uranium to weapons-grade. The question is whether Iran will agree to intrusive inspections that would reassure the international community -- and Israel specifically -- that it can't and won't develop a nuclear weapon.


This raises another question: Will it take bilateral U.S.-Iranian talks -- and the prospect of an end to the crippling sanctions regime -- to find a breakthrough? And will Iran's own presidential election in June change the equation?


For now, Israel appears to be prepared to give negotiation (and sanctions) time to bring Iran to the table. For now.


Egypt to deal with new power, economic troubles


Given the turmoil swirling through the Middle East, Israel could probably do without trying to bomb Iran's nuclear program into submission. Besides Syria and Lebanon, it is already grappling with a very different Egypt, where a once-jailed Islamist leader is now president and Salafist/jihadi groups, especially in undergoverned areas like Sinai, have a lease on life unimaginable in the Mubarak era.



The U.S. has an awkward relationship with President Mohamed Morsy, needing his help in mediating with Hamas in Gaza but concerned that his accumulation of power is fast weakening democracy and by his bouts of anti-Western rhetoric. (He has demanded the release from a U.S. jail of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted of involvement in the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.)


The approval of the constitution removes one uncertainty, even if the opposition National Salvation Front says it cements Islamist power. But as much as the result, the turnout -- about one-third of eligible voters -- indicates that Egyptians are tired of turmoil, and more concerned about a deepening economic crisis.


Morsy imposed and then scrapped new taxes, and the long-expected $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund is still not agreed on. Egypt's foreign reserves were down to $15 billion by the end of the year, enough to cover less than three months of imports. Tourism revenues are one-third of what they were before street protests erupted early in 2011. Egypt's crisis in 2013 may be more about its economy than its politics.


Libya threatens to spawn more unrest in North Africa


Libya's revolution, if not as seismic as anything Syria may produce, is still reverberating far and wide. As Moammar Gadhafi's rule crumbled, his regime's weapons found their way into an arms bazaar, turning up in Mali and Sinai, even being intercepted off the Lebanese coast.


The Libyan government, such as it is, seems no closer to stamping its authority on the country, with Islamist brigades holding sway in the east, tribal unrest in the Sahara and militias engaged in turf wars. The danger is that Libya, a vast country where civic institutions were stifled for four decades, will become the incubator for a new generation of jihadists, able to spread their influence throughout the Sahel. They will have plenty of room and very little in the way of opposition from security forces.


The emergence of the Islamist group Ansar Dine in Mali is just one example. In this traditionally moderate Muslim country, Ansar's fighters and Tuareg rebels have ejected government forces from an area of northern Mali the size of Spain and begun implementing Sharia law, amputations and floggings included. Foreign fighters have begun arriving to join the latest front in global jihad; and terrorism analysts are seeing signs that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria are beginning to work together.


There are plans for an international force to help Mali's depleted military take back the north, but one European envoy said it was unlikely to materialize before (wait for it) ... September 2013. Some terrorism analysts see North Africa as becoming the next destination of choice for international jihad, as brigades and camps sprout across a vast area of desert.


A bumpy troop transition for Afghanistan


The U.S. and its allies want to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another haven for terror groups. As the troop drawdown gathers pace, 2013 will be a critical year in standing up Afghan security forces (the numbers are there, their competence unproven), improving civil institutions and working toward a post-Karzai succession.



In November, the International Crisis Group said the outlook was far from assuring.


"Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections (in Afghanistan in 2014) could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out," the group said.


Critics have also voiced concerns that the publicly announced date of 2014 for withdrawing combat forces only lets the Taliban know how long they must hold out before taking on the Kabul government.


U.S. officials insist the word is "transitioning" rather than "withdrawal," but the shape and role of any military presence in 2014 and beyond are yet to be settled. Let's just say the United States continues to build up and integrate its special operations forces.


The other part of the puzzle is whether the 'good' Taliban can be coaxed into negotiations, and whether Pakistan, which has considerable influence over the Taliban leadership, will play honest broker.


Private meetings in Paris before Christmas that involved Taliban envoys and Afghan officials ended with positive vibes, with the Taliban suggesting they were open to working with other political groups and would not resist girls' education. There was also renewed discussion about opening a Taliban office in Qatar, but we've been here before. The Taliban are riven by internal dissent and may be talking the talk while allowing facts on the ground to work to their advantage.


Where will North Korea turn its focus?


On the subject of nuclear states that the U.S.-wishes-were-not, the succession in North Korea has provided no sign that the regime is ready to restrain its ambitious program to test nuclear devices and the means to deliver them.



Back in May 2012, Peter Brookes of the American Foreign Policy Council said that "North Korea is a wild card -- and a dangerous one at that." He predicted that the inexperienced Kim Jong Un would want to appear "large and in charge," for internal and external consumption. In December, Pyongyang launched a long-range ballistic missile -- one that South Korean scientists later said had the range to reach the U.S. West Coast. Unlike the failure of the previous missile launch in 2009, it managed to put a satellite into orbit.


The last two such launches have been followed by nuclear weapons tests -- in 2006 and 2009. Recent satellite images of the weapons test site analyzed by the group 38 North show continued activity there.


So the decision becomes a political one. Does Kim continue to appear "large and in charge" by ordering another test? Or have the extensive reshuffles and demotions of the past year already consolidated his position, allowing him to focus on the country's dire economic situation?


China-Japan island dispute to simmer


It's been a while since East Asia has thrown up multiple security challenges, but suddenly North Korea's missile and nuclear programs are not the only concern in the region. There's growing rancor between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea, which may be aggravated by the return to power in Japan of Shinzo Abe as prime minister.


Abe has long been concerned that Japan is vulnerable to China's growing power and its willingness to project that power. Throughout 2012, Japan and China were locked in a war of words over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, with fishing and Coast Guard boats deployed to support claims of sovereignty.


In the days before Japanese went to the polls, Beijing also sent a surveillance plane over the area, marking the first time since 1958, according to Japanese officials, that Bejing had intruded into "Japanese airspace." Japan scrambled F-15 jets in response.


The islands are uninhabited, but the seas around them may be rich in oil and gas. There is also a Falklands factor at play here. Not giving in to the other side is a matter of national pride. There's plenty of history between China and Japan -- not much of it good.


As China has built up its ability to project military power, Japan's navy has also expanded. Even a low-level incident could lead to an escalation. And as the islands are currently administered by Japan, the U.S. would have an obligation to help the Japanese defend them.


Few analysts expect conflict to erupt, and both sides have plenty to lose. For Japan, China is a critical market, but Japanese investment there has fallen sharply in the past year. Just one in a raft of problems for Abe. His prescription for dragging Japan out of its fourth recession since 2000 is a vast stimulus program to fund construction and other public works and a looser monetary policy.


The trouble is that Japan's debt is already about 240% of its GDP, a much higher ratio than even Greece. And Japan's banks hold a huge amount of that debt. Add a shrinking and aging population, and at some point the markets might decide that the yield on Japan's 10-year sovereign bond ought to be higher than the current 0.77%.


Economic uncertainty in U.S., growth in China


So the world's third-largest economy may not help much in reviving global growth, which in 2012 was an anemic 2.2%, according to United Nations data. The parts of Europe not mired in recession hover close to it, and growth in India and Brazil has weakened. Which leaves the U.S. and China.


At the time of writing, the White House and congressional leadership are still peering over the fiscal cliff. Should they lose their footing, the Congressional Budget Office expects the arbitrary spending cuts and tax increases to be triggered will push the economy into recession and send unemployment above 9%.



A stopgap measure, rather than a long-term foundation for reducing the federal deficit, looks politically more likely. But to companies looking for predictable economic policy, it may not be enough to unlock billions in investment. Why spend heavily if there's a recession around the corner, or if another fight looms over raising the federal debt ceiling?


In September, Moody's said it would downgrade the U.S. sovereign rating from its "AAA" rating without "specific policies that produce a stabilization and then downward trend in the ratio of federal debt to GDP over the medium term." In other words, it wants action beyond kicking the proverbial can.


Should the cliff be dodged, most forecasts see the U.S. economy expanding by about 2% in 2013. That's not enough to make up for stagnation elsewhere, so a great deal depends on China avoiding the proverbial hard landing.


Until now, Chinese growth has been powered by exports and infrastructure spending, but there are signs that China's maturing middle class is also becoming an economic force to be reckoned with. Consultants PwC expect retail sales in China to increase by 10.5% next year -- with China overtaking the U.S. as the world's largest retail market by 2016.


Europe's economic outlook a little better


No one expects Europe to become an economic powerhouse in 2013, but at least the horizon looks a little less dark than it did a year ago. The "PIGS' " (Portugal, Ireland/Italy, Greece, Spain) borrowing costs have eased; there is at least rhetorical progress toward a new economic and fiscal union; and the European Central Bank has talked tough on defending the Eurozone.


Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, fended off the dragons with the declaration in July that "Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough."



Draghi has promised the bank has unlimited liquidity to buy sovereign debt, as long as governments (most likely Spain) submit to reforms designed to balance their budgets. But in 2013, the markets will want more than brave talk, including real progress toward banking and fiscal union that will leave behind what Draghi likes to call Europe's "fairy world" of unsustainable debt and collapsing banks. Nothing can be done without the say-so of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, renowned for a step-by-step approach that's likely to be even more cautious in a year when she faces re-election.


Elections in Italy in February may be more important -- pitching technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti against the maverick he replaced, 76-year old Silvio Berlusconi. After the collapse of Berlusconi's coalition 13 months ago, Monti reined in spending, raised the retirement age and raised taxes to bring Italy back from the brink of insolvency. Now he will lead a coalition of centrist parties into the election. But polls suggest that Italians are tired of Monti's austerity program, and Berlusconi plans a populist campaign against the man he calls "Germano-centric."


The other tripwire in Europe may be Greece. More cuts in spending -- required to qualify for an EU/IMF bailout -- are likely to deepen an already savage recession, threatening more social unrest and the future of a fragile coalition. A 'Grexit' from the eurozone is still possible, and that's according to the Greek finance minister, Yannis Stournaras.


Expect to see more evidence of climate change


Hurricane Sandy, which struck the U.S. East Coast in November, was the latest indicator of changing and more severe weather patterns. Even if not repeated in 2013, extreme weather is beginning to have an effect -- on where people live, on politicians and on the insurance industry.


After Sandy, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that after "the last few years, I don't think anyone can sit back anymore and say, 'Well, I'm shocked at that weather pattern.' " The storm of the century has become the storm of every decade or so, said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences at Princeton.


"Climate change will probably increase storm intensity and size simultaneously, resulting in a significant intensification of storm surges," he and colleagues wrote in Nature.


In the U.S., government exposure to storm-related losses in coastal states has risen more than 15-fold since 1990, to $885 billion in 2011, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The Munich RE insurance group says North America has seen higher losses from extreme weather than any other part of the world in recent decades.


"A main loss driver is the concentration of people and assets on the coast combined with high and possibly growing vulnerabilities," it says.


Risk Management Solutions, which models catastrophic risks, recently updated its scenarios, anticipating an increase of 40% in insurance losses on the Gulf Coast, Florida and the Southeast over the next five years, and 25% to 30% for the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states. Those calculations were done before Sandy.



Inland, eyes will be trained on the heavens for signs of rain -- after the worst drought in 50 years across the Midwest. Climatologists say that extended periods of drought -- from the U.S. Midwest to Ukraine -- may be "the new normal." Jennifer Francis at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University has shown that a warmer Arctic tends to slow the jet stream, causing it to meander and, in turn, prolong weather patterns. It's called Arctic amplification, and it is probably aggravating drought in the Northwest United States and leading to warmer summers in the Northern Hemisphere, where 2012 was the hottest year on record.


It is a double-edged sword: Warmer temperatures may make it possible to begin cultivating in places like Siberia, but drier weather in traditional breadbaskets would be very disruptive. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that stocks of key cereals have tightened, contributing to volatile world markets. Poor weather in Argentina, the world's second-largest exporter of corn, may compound the problem.


More cyber warfare


What will be the 2013 equivalents of Flame, Gauss and Shamoon? They were some of the most damaging computer viruses of 2012. The size and versatility of Flame was unlike nothing seen before, according to anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab.



Gauss stole online banking information in the Middle East. Then came Shamoon, a virus that wiped the hard drives of about 30,000 computers at the Saudi oil company Aramco, making them useless. The Saudi government declared it an attack on the country's economy; debate continues on whether it was state-sponsored.


Kaspersky predicts that in 2013, we will see "new examples of cyber-warfare operations, increasing targeted attacks on businesses and new, sophisticated mobile threats."


Computer security firm McAfee also expects more malware to be developed to attack mobile devices and apps in 2013.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is more concerned about highly sophisticated attacks on infrastructure that "could be as destructive as the terrorist attack on 9/11."


"We know that foreign cyber actors are probing America's critical infrastructure networks. They are targeting the computer control systems that operate chemical, electricity and water plants and those that guide transportation throughout this country," he said in October.


Intellectual property can be stolen, bought or demanded as a quid pro quo for market access. The U.S. intelligence community believes China or Chinese interests are employing all three methods in an effort to close the technology gap.


In the waning days of 2012, the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States said "there is likely a coordinated strategy among one or more foreign governments or companies to acquire U.S. companies involved in research, development, or production of critical technologies."


It did not name the country in its unclassified report but separately noted a growing number of attempts by Chinese entities to buy U.S. companies.


Who will be soccer's next 'perfect machine'?



There's room for two less serious challenges in 2013. One is whether any football team, in Spain or beyond, can beat Barcelona and its inspirational goal machine Lionel Messi, who demolished a record that had stood since 1972 for the number of goals scored in a calendar year. (Before Glasgow Celtic fans start complaining, let's acknowledge their famous win against the Spanish champions in November.)


Despite the ill health of club coach Tito Vilanova, "Barca" sits imperiously at the top of La Liga in Spain and is the favorite to win the world's most prestigious club trophy, the European Champions League, in 2013. AC Milan is its next opponent in a match-up that pits two of Europe's most storied clubs against each other. But as Milan sporting director Umberto Gandini acknowledges, "We face a perfect machine."


Will Gangnam give it up to something sillier?



Finally, can something -- anything -- displace Gangnam Style as the most watched video in YouTube's short history? As of 2:16 p.m. ET on December 26, it had garnered 1,054,969,395 views and an even more alarming 6,351,871 "likes."


Perhaps in 2013 the YouTube audience will be entranced by squirrels playing table tennis, an octopus that spins plates or Cistercian nuns dancing the Macarena. Or maybe Gangnam will get to 2 billion with a duet with Justin Bieber.







Read More..

Congress unlikely to meet midnight deadline on 'fiscal cliff'









Agonizingly close to a New Year's Eve compromise, the White House and congressional Republicans agreed Monday to block across-the-board tax increases set for midnight, but held up a final deal as they haggled away the final hours of 2012 in a dispute over spending cuts.


"It appears that an agreement to prevent this New Year's tax hike is within sight," President Barack Obama said in an early-afternoon status report on negotiations. "But it's not done," he added of legislation that redeems his campaign pledge to raise taxes on the wealthy while sparing the middle class.


Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell — shepherding final talks with Vice President Joe Biden — agreed with Obama that an overall deal was near. In remarks on the Senate floor, he suggested Congress move quickly to pass tax legislation and "continue to work on finding smarter ways to cut spending" next year.











The White House and Democrats initially declined the offer, preferring to prevent the cuts from kicking in at the Pentagon and domestic agencies alike. Officials said they might yet reconsider, although there was also talk of a short-term delay in the reductions.


Even if agreement could be reached to have a Senate vote before the midnight deadline, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was unlikely to call a vote in the House until Tuesday.


While the deadline to prevent tax increases and spending cuts was technically midnight, passage of legislation by the time a new Congress takes office at noon on Jan. 3, 2013 — the likely timetable — would eliminate or minimize any inconvenience for taxpayers.


The scene at both ends of historic Pennsylvania Avenue was remarkable, even for a government grown accustomed to gridlock. As darkness fell on the last day of the year, Obama, Biden and their aides were at work in the White House, while the lights burned in the House and Senate.


For now, more than the embarrassment of a gridlocked Congress working through New Year's Eve in the Capitol was at stake.


Economists in and out of government have warned that a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts could trigger a new recession, and the White House and Congress have spent the seven seeks since the Nov. 6 elections struggling for a compromise to protect the economy.


Even now, with time running out, partisan agendas were evident.


Obama used his appearance to chastise Congress, and to lay down a marker for the next round of negotiations early in 2013 when Republicans intend to seek spending cuts in exchange for letting the Treasury to borrow above the current debt limit of $16.4 trillion.


"Now, if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone — and you hear that sometimes coming from them ... then they've got another think coming. ... That's not how it's going to work at least as long as I'm president," he said.


"And I'm going to be president for the next four years, I think," he added.


Officials in both parties said agreement had been reached to prevent tax increases on most Americans, while letting rates rise on individual income over $400,000 and household earnings over $450,000 to a maximum of 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent. That marked a victory for Obama, who campaigned successfully for re-election on a platform of requiring the wealthy to pay more.


Any agreement would also raise taxes on the value of estates exceeding $5 million to 40 percent, as well as extend expiring jobless benefits for two million unemployed, prevent a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients and likely avoid a near-doubling of milk prices.


Much or all of the revenue to be raised through higher taxes on the wealthy would help hold down the amount paid to the Internal Revenue Service by the middle class.


In addition to preventing higher rates for most, any agreement would retain existing breaks for families with children, for low-earning taxpayers and for those with a child in college.


In addition, the two sides agreed to prevent the Alternative Minimum Tax from expanding to affect an estimated 28 million households for the first time in 2013, with an average increase of more than $3,000. The law was originally designed to make sure millionaires did not escape taxes, but inflation has gradually exposed more and more households with lower earnings to its impact.


To help businesses, the two sides also agreed to extend an existing research and development tax credit as well as other breaks designed to boost renewable energy production. Details on those provisions were sketchy.


Obama's remarks irritated some Republicans.





Read More..

Bombs kill 23 across Iraq as sectarian strife grows


BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At least 23 people were killed and 87 wounded in attacks across Iraq on Monday, police said, underlining sectarian and ethnic divisions that threaten to further destabilize the country a year after U.S. troops left.


Tensions between Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni factions in Iraq's power-sharing government have been on the rise this year. Militants strike almost daily and have staged at least one big attack a month.


The latest violence followed more than a week of protests against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by thousands of people from the minority Sunni community.


No group claimed responsibility for any of Monday's attacks, which targeted government officials, police patrols and members of both the Sunni and Shi'ite communities.


Seven people from the same Sunni family were killed by a bomb planted near their home in the town of Mussayab, south of Baghdad.


In the Shi'ite majority city of Hilla, also in the south, a parked car bomb went off near the convoy of the governor of Babil province, missing him but killing two other people, police said.


"We heard the sound of a big explosion and the windows of our office shattered. We immediately lay on the ground," said 28-year-old Mohammed Ahmed, who works at a hospital near the site of the explosion.


"After a few minutes I stood up and went to the windows to see what happened. I saw flames and people lying on the ground."


In the capital Baghdad, five people were killed by a parked car bomb targeting pilgrims before a Shi'ite religious rite this week, police and hospital sources said.


Although violence is far lower than during the sectarian slaughter of 2006-2007, about 2,000 people have been killed in Iraq this year following the withdrawal last December of U.S. troops, who led an invasion in 2003 to overthrow Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.


SUNNIS PROTEST


Violence also hit Iraq's disputed territories, over which both the central government and the autonomous Kurdish region claim jurisdiction.


Three militants and one Kurdish guard were killed in the oil-producing, ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, where militants driving a car packed with explosives tried to break into a Kurdish security office.


Earlier on Monday, two policemen were killed in Kirkuk when a bomb they were trying to detonate exploded prematurely. An army official and his bodyguard were also killed in a drive-by shooting in the south of the city.


Kirkuk lies at the heart of a feud between Baghdad and Kurdistan over land and oil rights, which escalated last month when both sides deployed their respective armies to the swath of territory along their contested internal boundary.


Efforts to ease the standoff stalled when President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd seen as a steadying influence, suffered a stroke and was flown abroad for medical care in December.


Maliki then detained the bodyguards of his Sunni finance minister, which ignited anti-government protests in the western province of Anbar, a Sunni stronghold on the border with Syria.


A lecturer in law at Baghdad University said the protests could help create the conditions for militant Islamist groups like al Qaeda to thrive.


"Raising tension in Anbar and other provinces with mainly Sunni populations is definitely playing into the hands of al Qaeda and other insurgent groups," Ahmed Younis said.


More than 1,000 people protested in the city of Samarra on Monday and rallies continued in Ramadi, center of the protests, and in Mosul, where about 500 people took to the streets.


In the city of Falluja, where protesters have also staged large rallies and blocked a major highway over the past week, gunmen attacked an army checkpoint, killing one soldier.


Protesters are demanding an end to what they see as the marginalization of Sunnis, who dominated the country until the U.S.-led invasion. They want Maliki to abolish anti-terrorism laws they say are used to persecute them.


On Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, himself a Sunni, was forced to flee a protest in Ramadi when demonstrators pelted him with stones and bottles.


The civil war in neighboring Syria, where majority Sunnis are fighting to topple a ruler backed by Shi'ite Iran, is also whipping up sectarian sentiment in Iraq.


"The toppling of President Bashar al-Assad and empowerment of Sunnis (in Syria) will definitely encourage al Qaeda to regain ground," Younis said.


(Reporting by Ali al-Rubaie in Hilla, Mustafa Mahmoud and Omar Mohammed in Kirkuk, Ali Mohammed in Baquba and Ahmed Rasheed and Aseel Kami in Baghdad; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Alison Williams)



Read More..

Stock futures edge higher as "cliff" talks continue

(Reuters) - Equity futures were slightly higher on Sunday night as talks continued in Washington over resolving the "fiscal cliff."


While the Senate will not vote Sunday night on any bill to avoid a series of $600 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts, as many had hoped, negotiations continued between lawmakers and the White House.


The Senate will reconvene on Monday after the open of equity trading. In order for a deal to take effect, it would also have to be passed by the House of Representatives.


Despite the gain indicated by futures, stocks still could end up falling on Monday when the cash markets open if lawmakers are unable to come to an agreement to avoid the cliff, which many fear could push the economy into recession.


"There is always a chance for a massive stalemate, and we could see a lot more volatility if we get to a point where there's no more hope. Right now there's still hope," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of Sarhan Capital in New York.


Midnight on Monday marks the deadline for a deal, though the government can pass legislation in 2013 that retroactively prevents going over the cliff, an option that is viewed as politically easier.


"At some point, someone will have to blink, or Congress will just come in early in 2013 and vote for a tax cut," Sarhan said. "Something will be done to resolve this."


S&P 500 futures were up 5.4 points, or 0.4 percent, at 1,389 in electronic trading. Still, futures were about 7 points below the fair value level of 1,397.19. Fair value is a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Despite the rise, if futures remain below fair value, cash markets will open lower.


Dow and Nasdaq futures were also slightly higher, though below fair value.


Stocks fell sharply on Friday, with significant losses in the last minutes of trading, as prospects for a deal worsened at the beginning of the weekend.


The rise in the futures market does not necessarily augur for a rally on Monday, however. The cash market and futures markets closed with a wide gulf on Friday, by virtue of the extra 15 minutes of trading in futures.


The S&P 500 closed at 1,402.43 at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, down 1.1 percent, but futures continued to fall before closing 15 minutes later with a loss of 1.9 percent. S&P futures and the S&P cash index don't match point-by-point, but that kind of disparity points to a weak opening in stocks on Monday.


One hour before they had hoped to present a plan on Sunday, Democratic and Republican Senate leaders said they were still unable to reach a compromise.


Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," said investors could begin to show greater concerns in the new year.


"If people start seeing that on January 1st this problem still hasn't been solved ... then obviously that's going to have an adverse reaction in the markets," he said,


Investors have remained relatively sanguine about the process, believing that it will eventually be solved. In the past two months markets have not shown the kind of volatility that was present during the fight to raise the debt ceiling in 2011.


The Dow industrials and the S&P 500 each lost 1.9 percent last week, after stocks fell for five straight sessions, which marked the S&P 500's longest losing streak in three months. Equities have largely performed well in the last two months despite constant chatter about the fiscal cliff, but the last few days shows a bit of increased worry.


The CBOE Volatility Index <.vix> rose to its highest level since June on Friday, closing at 22.72.


(Additional reporting by David Gaffen; Editing by Jan Paschal)



Read More..

Peterson, Vikings top Pack 37-34 to make playoffs


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Adrian Peterson came within 9 yards of Eric Dickerson's rushing record on Sunday, finishing with 199 yards and powering the Minnesota Vikings into the playoffs, 37-34 over Green Bay.


That forced a rematch with the Packers next weekend in a wild-card game.


Peterson rushed for 36 yards on the last drive, plenty for rookie Blair Walsh's 29-yard field goal as time expired to put the Vikings (10-6) in the postseason. The Packers (11-5) fell to the NFC's No. 3 seed.


Aaron Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns and no turnovers, connecting with Jordy Nelson from 2 yards to tie the game with 2:54 remaining. But Christian Ponder threw for three scores, including one to Peterson.


___


Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP


___


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


Read More..

Nobel scientist Levi-Montalcini dies in Rome, 103






ROME (AP) — Rome‘s mayor says biologist Rita Levi-Montalcini, who conducted underground research in defiance of Fascist persecution, and went on to win a Nobel Prize for helping unlock the mysteries of the cell, has died at her home in the city. She was 103.


Italy’s so-called “Lady of the Cells,” who died on Sunday, lived through anti-Semitic discrimination and Nazi invasion, becoming one of her country’s leading scientists and sharing the medicine prize for her groundbreaking research in the United States.






Her research increased the understanding of many conditions, including tumors, developmental malformations, and senile dementia.


Science News Headlines – Yahoo! News





Title Post: Nobel scientist Levi-Montalcini dies in Rome, 103
Rating:
100%

based on 99998 ratings.
5 user reviews.
Author: Fluser SeoLink
Thanks for visiting the blog, If any criticism and suggestions please leave a comment




Read More..

Stories for 2013: Syria to 'post-Gangnam'




Among the few virtual certainties of 2013 is the ongoing anguish of Syria and the decline of its president, Bashar al-Assad.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Look for more unrest amid power transitions in the Middle East

  • Disputes and economic worries will keep China, Japan, North Korea in the news

  • Europe's economy will stay on a rough road, but the outlook for it is brighter

  • Events are likely to draw attention to cyber warfare and climate change




(CNN) -- Forecasting the major international stories for the year ahead is a time-honored pastime, but the world has a habit of springing surprises. In late 1988, no one was predicting Tiananmen Square or the fall of the Berlin Wall. On the eve of 2001, the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan were unimaginable. So with that substantial disclaimer, let's peer into the misty looking glass for 2013.


More turmoil for Syria and its neighbors


If anything can be guaranteed, it is that Syria's gradual and brutal disintegration will continue, sending aftershocks far beyond its borders. Most analysts do not believe that President Bashar al-Assad can hang on for another year. The more capable units of the Syrian armed forces are overstretched; large tracts of north and eastern Syria are beyond the regime's control; the economy is in dire straits; and the war is getting closer to the heart of the capital with every passing week. Russian support for al-Assad, once insistent, is now lukewarm.


Amid the battle, a refugee crisis of epic proportions threatens to become a catastrophe as winter sets in. The United Nations refugee agency says more than 4 million Syrians are in desperate need, most of them in squalid camps on Syria's borders, where tents are no match for the cold and torrential rain. Inside Syria, diseases like tuberculosis are spreading, according to aid agencies, and there is a danger that hunger will become malnutrition in places like Aleppo.


The question is whether the conflict will culminate Tripoli-style, with Damascus overrun by rebel units; or whether a political solution can be found that involves al-Assad's departure and a broadly based transitional government taking his place. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has not been explicit about al-Assad's exit as part of the transition, but during his most recent visit to Damascus, he hinted that it has to be.









2012: The year in pictures










































































HIDE CAPTION





<<


<





1




2




3




4




5




6




7




8




9




10




11




12




13




14




15




16




17




18




19




20
























































>


>>












"Syria and the Syrian people need, want and look forward to real change. And the meaning of this is clear to all," he said.


The international community still seems as far as ever from meaningful military intervention, even as limited as a no fly-zone. Nor is there any sign of concerted diplomacy to push all sides in Syria toward the sort of deal that ended the war in Bosnia. In those days, the United States and Russia were able to find common ground. In Syria, they have yet to do so, and regional actors such as Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran also have irons in the fire.


Failing an unlikely breakthrough that would bring the regime and its opponents to a Syrian version of the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war, the greatest risk is that a desperate regime may turn to its chemical weapons, troublesome friends (Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Kurdish PKK in Turkey) and seek to export unrest to Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.


The Syrian regime has already hinted that it can retaliate against Turkey's support for the rebels -- not by lobbing Scud missiles into Turkey, but by playing the "Kurdish" card. That might involve direct support for the PKK or space for its Syrian ally, the Democratic Union Party. By some estimates, Syrians make up one-third of the PKK's fighting strength.


To the Turkish government, the idea that Syria's Kurds might carve out an autonomous zone and get cozy with Iraq's Kurds is a nightmare in the making. Nearly 800 people have been killed in Turkey since the PKK stepped up its attacks in mid-2011, but with three different sets of elections in Turkey in 2013, a historic bargain between Ankara and the Kurds that make up 18% of Turkey's population looks far from likely.


Many commentators expect Lebanon to become more volatile in 2013 because it duplicates so many of the dynamics at work in Syria. The assassination in October of Lebanese intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan -- as he investigated a pro-Syrian politician accused of obtaining explosives from the Syrian regime -- was an ominous portent.


Victory for the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels in Syria would tilt the fragile sectarian balance next door, threatening confrontation between Lebanon's Sunnis and Hezbollah. The emergence of militant Salafist groups like al-Nusra in Syria is already playing into the hands of militants in Lebanon.


Iraq, too, is not immune from Syria's turmoil. Sunni tribes in Anbar and Ramadi provinces would be heartened should Assad be replaced by their brethren across the border. It would give them leverage in an ever more tense relationship with the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. The poor health of one of the few conciliators in Iraqi politics, President Jalal Talabani, and renewed disputes between Iraq's Kurds and the government over boundaries in the oil-rich north, augur for a troublesome 2013 in Iraq.


More worries about Iran's nuclear program


Syria's predicament will probably feature throughout 2013, as will the behavior of its only friend in the region: Iran. Intelligence sources say Iran continues to supply the Assad regime with money, weapons and expertise; and military officers who defected from the Syrian army say Iranian technicians work in Syria's chemical weapons program. Al-Assad's continued viability is important for Iran, as his only Arab ally. They also share sponsorship of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which, with its vast supply of rockets and even some ballistic missiles, might be a valuable proxy in the event of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program.


Speaking of which, there are likely to be several more episodes in the behind-closed-doors drama of negotiations on Iran's nuclear sites. Russia is trying to arrange the next round for January. But in public, at least, Iran maintains it has every right to continue enriching uranium for civilian purposes, such as helping in the treatment of more than 1 million Iranians with cancer.


Iran "will not suspend 20% uranium enrichment because of the demands of others," Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said this month.


International experts say the amount of 20% enriched uranium (estimated by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November at 297 pounds) is more than needed for civilian purposes, and the installation of hundreds more centrifuges could cut the time needed to enrich uranium to weapons-grade. The question is whether Iran will agree to intrusive inspections that would reassure the international community -- and Israel specifically -- that it can't and won't develop a nuclear weapon.


This raises another question: Will it take bilateral U.S.-Iranian talks -- and the prospect of an end to the crippling sanctions regime -- to find a breakthrough? And will Iran's own presidential election in June change the equation?


For now, Israel appears to be prepared to give negotiation (and sanctions) time to bring Iran to the table. For now.


Egypt to deal with new power, economic troubles


Given the turmoil swirling through the Middle East, Israel could probably do without trying to bomb Iran's nuclear program into submission. Besides Syria and Lebanon, it is already grappling with a very different Egypt, where a once-jailed Islamist leader is now president and Salafist/jihadi groups, especially in undergoverned areas like Sinai, have a lease on life unimaginable in the Mubarak era.



The U.S. has an awkward relationship with President Mohamed Morsy, needing his help in mediating with Hamas in Gaza but concerned that his accumulation of power is fast weakening democracy and by his bouts of anti-Western rhetoric. (He has demanded the release from a U.S. jail of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted of involvement in the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.)


The approval of the constitution removes one uncertainty, even if the opposition National Salvation Front says it cements Islamist power. But as much as the result, the turnout -- about one-third of eligible voters -- indicates that Egyptians are tired of turmoil, and more concerned about a deepening economic crisis.


Morsy imposed and then scrapped new taxes, and the long-expected $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund is still not agreed on. Egypt's foreign reserves were down to $15 billion by the end of the year, enough to cover less than three months of imports. Tourism revenues are one-third of what they were before street protests erupted early in 2011. Egypt's crisis in 2013 may be more about its economy than its politics.


Libya threatens to spawn more unrest in North Africa


Libya's revolution, if not as seismic as anything Syria may produce, is still reverberating far and wide. As Moammar Gadhafi's rule crumbled, his regime's weapons found their way into an arms bazaar, turning up in Mali and Sinai, even being intercepted off the Lebanese coast.


The Libyan government, such as it is, seems no closer to stamping its authority on the country, with Islamist brigades holding sway in the east, tribal unrest in the Sahara and militias engaged in turf wars. The danger is that Libya, a vast country where civic institutions were stifled for four decades, will become the incubator for a new generation of jihadists, able to spread their influence throughout the Sahel. They will have plenty of room and very little in the way of opposition from security forces.


The emergence of the Islamist group Ansar Dine in Mali is just one example. In this traditionally moderate Muslim country, Ansar's fighters and Tuareg rebels have ejected government forces from an area of northern Mali the size of Spain and begun implementing Sharia law, amputations and floggings included. Foreign fighters have begun arriving to join the latest front in global jihad; and terrorism analysts are seeing signs that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria are beginning to work together.


There are plans for an international force to help Mali's depleted military take back the north, but one European envoy said it was unlikely to materialize before (wait for it) ... September 2013. Some terrorism analysts see North Africa as becoming the next destination of choice for international jihad, as brigades and camps sprout across a vast area of desert.


A bumpy troop transition for Afghanistan


The U.S. and its allies want to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another haven for terror groups. As the troop drawdown gathers pace, 2013 will be a critical year in standing up Afghan security forces (the numbers are there, their competence unproven), improving civil institutions and working toward a post-Karzai succession.



In November, the International Crisis Group said the outlook was far from assuring.


"Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections (in Afghanistan in 2014) could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out," the group said.


Critics have also voiced concerns that the publicly announced date of 2014 for withdrawing combat forces only lets the Taliban know how long they must hold out before taking on the Kabul government.


U.S. officials insist the word is "transitioning" rather than "withdrawal," but the shape and role of any military presence in 2014 and beyond are yet to be settled. Let's just say the United States continues to build up and integrate its special operations forces.


The other part of the puzzle is whether the 'good' Taliban can be coaxed into negotiations, and whether Pakistan, which has considerable influence over the Taliban leadership, will play honest broker.


Private meetings in Paris before Christmas that involved Taliban envoys and Afghan officials ended with positive vibes, with the Taliban suggesting they were open to working with other political groups and would not resist girls' education. There was also renewed discussion about opening a Taliban office in Qatar, but we've been here before. The Taliban are riven by internal dissent and may be talking the talk while allowing facts on the ground to work to their advantage.


Where will North Korea turn its focus?


On the subject of nuclear states that the U.S.-wishes-were-not, the succession in North Korea has provided no sign that the regime is ready to restrain its ambitious program to test nuclear devices and the means to deliver them.



Back in May 2012, Peter Brookes of the American Foreign Policy Council said that "North Korea is a wild card -- and a dangerous one at that." He predicted that the inexperienced Kim Jong Un would want to appear "large and in charge," for internal and external consumption. In December, Pyongyang launched a long-range ballistic missile -- one that South Korean scientists later said had the range to reach the U.S. West Coast. Unlike the failure of the previous missile launch in 2009, it managed to put a satellite into orbit.


The last two such launches have been followed by nuclear weapons tests -- in 2006 and 2009. Recent satellite images of the weapons test site analyzed by the group 38 North show continued activity there.


So the decision becomes a political one. Does Kim continue to appear "large and in charge" by ordering another test? Or have the extensive reshuffles and demotions of the past year already consolidated his position, allowing him to focus on the country's dire economic situation?


China-Japan island dispute to simmer


It's been a while since East Asia has thrown up multiple security challenges, but suddenly North Korea's missile and nuclear programs are not the only concern in the region. There's growing rancor between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea, which may be aggravated by the return to power in Japan of Shinzo Abe as prime minister.


Abe has long been concerned that Japan is vulnerable to China's growing power and its willingness to project that power. Throughout 2012, Japan and China were locked in a war of words over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, with fishing and Coast Guard boats deployed to support claims of sovereignty.


In the days before Japanese went to the polls, Beijing also sent a surveillance plane over the area, marking the first time since 1958, according to Japanese officials, that Bejing had intruded into "Japanese airspace." Japan scrambled F-15 jets in response.


The islands are uninhabited, but the seas around them may be rich in oil and gas. There is also a Falklands factor at play here. Not giving in to the other side is a matter of national pride. There's plenty of history between China and Japan -- not much of it good.


As China has built up its ability to project military power, Japan's navy has also expanded. Even a low-level incident could lead to an escalation. And as the islands are currently administered by Japan, the U.S. would have an obligation to help the Japanese defend them.


Few analysts expect conflict to erupt, and both sides have plenty to lose. For Japan, China is a critical market, but Japanese investment there has fallen sharply in the past year. Just one in a raft of problems for Abe. His prescription for dragging Japan out of its fourth recession since 2000 is a vast stimulus program to fund construction and other public works and a looser monetary policy.


The trouble is that Japan's debt is already about 240% of its GDP, a much higher ratio than even Greece. And Japan's banks hold a huge amount of that debt. Add a shrinking and aging population, and at some point the markets might decide that the yield on Japan's 10-year sovereign bond ought to be higher than the current 0.77%.


Economic uncertainty in U.S., growth in China


So the world's third-largest economy may not help much in reviving global growth, which in 2012 was an anemic 2.2%, according to United Nations data. The parts of Europe not mired in recession hover close to it, and growth in India and Brazil has weakened. Which leaves the U.S. and China.


At the time of writing, the White House and congressional leadership are still peering over the fiscal cliff. Should they lose their footing, the Congressional Budget Office expects the arbitrary spending cuts and tax increases to be triggered will push the economy into recession and send unemployment above 9%.



A stopgap measure, rather than a long-term foundation for reducing the federal deficit, looks politically more likely. But to companies looking for predictable economic policy, it may not be enough to unlock billions in investment. Why spend heavily if there's a recession around the corner, or if another fight looms over raising the federal debt ceiling?


In September, Moody's said it would downgrade the U.S. sovereign rating from its "AAA" rating without "specific policies that produce a stabilization and then downward trend in the ratio of federal debt to GDP over the medium term." In other words, it wants action beyond kicking the proverbial can.


Should the cliff be dodged, most forecasts see the U.S. economy expanding by about 2% in 2013. That's not enough to make up for stagnation elsewhere, so a great deal depends on China avoiding the proverbial hard landing.


Until now, Chinese growth has been powered by exports and infrastructure spending, but there are signs that China's maturing middle class is also becoming an economic force to be reckoned with. Consultants PwC expect retail sales in China to increase by 10.5% next year -- with China overtaking the U.S. as the world's largest retail market by 2016.


Europe's economic outlook a little better


No one expects Europe to become an economic powerhouse in 2013, but at least the horizon looks a little less dark than it did a year ago. The "PIGS' " (Portugal, Ireland/Italy, Greece, Spain) borrowing costs have eased; there is at least rhetorical progress toward a new economic and fiscal union; and the European Central Bank has talked tough on defending the Eurozone.


Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, fended off the dragons with the declaration in July that "Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough."



Draghi has promised the bank has unlimited liquidity to buy sovereign debt, as long as governments (most likely Spain) submit to reforms designed to balance their budgets. But in 2013, the markets will want more than brave talk, including real progress toward banking and fiscal union that will leave behind what Draghi likes to call Europe's "fairy world" of unsustainable debt and collapsing banks. Nothing can be done without the say-so of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, renowned for a step-by-step approach that's likely to be even more cautious in a year when she faces re-election.


Elections in Italy in February may be more important -- pitching technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti against the maverick he replaced, 76-year old Silvio Berlusconi. After the collapse of Berlusconi's coalition 13 months ago, Monti reined in spending, raised the retirement age and raised taxes to bring Italy back from the brink of insolvency. Now he will lead a coalition of centrist parties into the election. But polls suggest that Italians are tired of Monti's austerity program, and Berlusconi plans a populist campaign against the man he calls "Germano-centric."


The other tripwire in Europe may be Greece. More cuts in spending -- required to qualify for an EU/IMF bailout -- are likely to deepen an already savage recession, threatening more social unrest and the future of a fragile coalition. A 'Grexit' from the eurozone is still possible, and that's according to the Greek finance minister, Yannis Stournaras.


Expect to see more evidence of climate change


Hurricane Sandy, which struck the U.S. East Coast in November, was the latest indicator of changing and more severe weather patterns. Even if not repeated in 2013, extreme weather is beginning to have an effect -- on where people live, on politicians and on the insurance industry.


After Sandy, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that after "the last few years, I don't think anyone can sit back anymore and say, 'Well, I'm shocked at that weather pattern.' " The storm of the century has become the storm of every decade or so, said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences at Princeton.


"Climate change will probably increase storm intensity and size simultaneously, resulting in a significant intensification of storm surges," he and colleagues wrote in Nature.


In the U.S., government exposure to storm-related losses in coastal states has risen more than 15-fold since 1990, to $885 billion in 2011, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The Munich RE insurance group says North America has seen higher losses from extreme weather than any other part of the world in recent decades.


"A main loss driver is the concentration of people and assets on the coast combined with high and possibly growing vulnerabilities," it says.


Risk Management Solutions, which models catastrophic risks, recently updated its scenarios, anticipating an increase of 40% in insurance losses on the Gulf Coast, Florida and the Southeast over the next five years, and 25% to 30% for the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states. Those calculations were done before Sandy.



Inland, eyes will be trained on the heavens for signs of rain -- after the worst drought in 50 years across the Midwest. Climatologists say that extended periods of drought -- from the U.S. Midwest to Ukraine -- may be "the new normal." Jennifer Francis at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University has shown that a warmer Arctic tends to slow the jet stream, causing it to meander and, in turn, prolong weather patterns. It's called Arctic amplification, and it is probably aggravating drought in the Northwest United States and leading to warmer summers in the Northern Hemisphere, where 2012 was the hottest year on record.


It is a double-edged sword: Warmer temperatures may make it possible to begin cultivating in places like Siberia, but drier weather in traditional breadbaskets would be very disruptive. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that stocks of key cereals have tightened, contributing to volatile world markets. Poor weather in Argentina, the world's second-largest exporter of corn, may compound the problem.


More cyber warfare


What will be the 2013 equivalents of Flame, Gauss and Shamoon? They were some of the most damaging computer viruses of 2012. The size and versatility of Flame was unlike nothing seen before, according to anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab.



Gauss stole online banking information in the Middle East. Then came Shamoon, a virus that wiped the hard drives of about 30,000 computers at the Saudi oil company Aramco, making them useless. The Saudi government declared it an attack on the country's economy; debate continues on whether it was state-sponsored.


Kaspersky predicts that in 2013, we will see "new examples of cyber-warfare operations, increasing targeted attacks on businesses and new, sophisticated mobile threats."


Computer security firm McAfee also expects more malware to be developed to attack mobile devices and apps in 2013.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is more concerned about highly sophisticated attacks on infrastructure that "could be as destructive as the terrorist attack on 9/11."


"We know that foreign cyber actors are probing America's critical infrastructure networks. They are targeting the computer control systems that operate chemical, electricity and water plants and those that guide transportation throughout this country," he said in October.


Intellectual property can be stolen, bought or demanded as a quid pro quo for market access. The U.S. intelligence community believes China or Chinese interests are employing all three methods in an effort to close the technology gap.


In the waning days of 2012, the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States said "there is likely a coordinated strategy among one or more foreign governments or companies to acquire U.S. companies involved in research, development, or production of critical technologies."


It did not name the country in its unclassified report but separately noted a growing number of attempts by Chinese entities to buy U.S. companies.


Who will be soccer's next 'perfect machine'?



There's room for two less serious challenges in 2013. One is whether any football team, in Spain or beyond, can beat Barcelona and its inspirational goal machine Lionel Messi, who demolished a record that had stood since 1972 for the number of goals scored in a calendar year. (Before Glasgow Celtic fans start complaining, let's acknowledge their famous win against the Spanish champions in November.)


Despite the ill health of club coach Tito Vilanova, "Barca" sits imperiously at the top of La Liga in Spain and is the favorite to win the world's most prestigious club trophy, the European Champions League, in 2013. AC Milan is its next opponent in a match-up that pits two of Europe's most storied clubs against each other. But as Milan sporting director Umberto Gandini acknowledges, "We face a perfect machine."


Will Gangnam give it up to something sillier?



Finally, can something -- anything -- displace Gangnam Style as the most watched video in YouTube's short history? As of 2:16 p.m. ET on December 26, it had garnered 1,054,969,395 views and an even more alarming 6,351,871 "likes."


Perhaps in 2013 the YouTube audience will be entranced by squirrels playing table tennis, an octopus that spins plates or Cistercian nuns dancing the Macarena. Or maybe Gangnam will get to 2 billion with a duet with Justin Bieber.







Read More..