Wall Street opens down before talks on "cliff" deal


NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks fell at the open on Friday as President Barack Obama and top lawmakers planned to make a last-ditch attempt at a budget deal to prevent the United States from going over the "fiscal cliff."


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> dropped 76.30 points, or 0.58 percent, to 13,020.01. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> dropped 8.93 points, or 0.63 percent, to 1,409.17. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> dropped 19.94 points, or 0.67 percent, to 2,965.97.


(Reporting By Edward Krudy; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Wade suspended game for action against Sessions


NEW YORK (AP) — Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade was suspended one game without pay by the NBA on Thursday for flailing his leg and making contact with the groin of Charlotte Bobcats' Ramon Sessions.


The incident happened with 8:12 left in the fourth quarter of the Heat's 105-92 victory over the Bobcats on Wednesday night. Sessions was called for a foul on the play. Wade will serve the suspension Friday night when the Heat visit the Detroit Pistons, and return Saturday night in Milwaukee.


"I'm far from being a dirty player, (plus) my intent was never 2 kick Ramon Sessions. I just reacted to the contact that I got from him," Wade tweeted Thursday night. "More than anything, I think of my boys watchin me be4 retaliating 2ward any player."


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Temple – Detroit-Mercy Basketball Game Postponed Due to Weather






 Temple – Detroit Mercy Basketball Game Postponed Due to Weather

(File photo by Mitchell Leff, provided)





.






By Harry Donahue



PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Temple basketball fans may be disappointed for a while: tonight’s basketball game against Detroit-Mercy, at the Liacouras Center, has been postponed.


Temple officials say the Detroit team was unable to get to Philadelphia in time for the game, due to yesterday’s rain, snow, and high winds which caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights in and out of Philadelphia (see related news story).


No makeup date for the game was immediately announced, but Temple indicated it could be as soon as tomorrow, so ticketholders should watch the Temple Basketball web site for updates.


More CBS Philly Sports




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2013: A year for big issues in the courts












By Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Legal Analyst


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







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




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


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

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

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

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




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


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


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



Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin



After that, here are my guesses.


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





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


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


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




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


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


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











Part of complete coverage on







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



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







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



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







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



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







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



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








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







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



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



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







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



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







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 HKT)



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







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



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







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



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







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



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


















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Putin signs ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children










MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Friday that bans Americans from adopting Russian children and imposes other sanctions in retaliation for a new U.S. human rights law that he says is poisoning relations.

The law, which has ignited outrage among Russian liberals and child rights' advocates, takes effect on January 1. Washington has called the law misguided and said it ties the fate of children to "unrelated political considerations."

It is likely to deepen a chill in U.S.-Russian relations and deal a blow to Putin's image abroad.

Fifty-two children whose adoptions by American parents were underway will remain in Russia, Interfax news agency cited Russia's child rights commissioner, Pavel Astakhov, as saying.

The law, whose text was issued by the Kremlin, will also outlaw some non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. funding and impose a visa ban and asset freeze on Americans accused of violating the rights of Russians abroad.

Pro-Kremlin lawmakers initially drafted the bill to mirror the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars entry to Russians accused of involvement in the death in custody of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other alleged rights abuses.

The restrictions on adoptions and non-profit groups were added to the legislation later, going beyond a tit-for-tat move and escalating a dispute with Washington at a time when ties are also strained by issues such as the Syrian crisis.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Magnitsky Act had "seriously undermined" the "reset" -- the moniker for the effort U.S. President Barack Obama launched early in his first term to improve relations between the former Cold War foes.

Putin has backed the hawkish response with a mix of public appeals to patriotism, saying Russia should care for its own children, and belligerent denunciations of what he says is the U.S. desire to impose its will on the world.

Seeking to dampen criticism of the move, Putin also signed a decree ordering an improvement in care for orphans.

Critics of the Russian legislation say Putin has held the welfare of children trapped in an crowded and troubled orphanage system hostage to political maneuvering.

"He signed it after all! He signed one of the most shameful laws in Russia history," a blogger named Yuri Pronko wrote on the popular Russian site LiveJournal.

BLOW TO RUSSIA'S IMAGE

The acquittal on Friday of the only person being tried over Magnitsky's death will fuel accusations by Kremlin critics that the Russian authorities have no intention of seeking justice in a case that has blackened Russia's image.

A Russian court on acquitted Dmitry Kratov, a former deputy head a jail where Magnitsky was held before his death in 2009 after nearly a year in pre-trial detention, after prosecutors themselves dropped charges against him.

Lawyers for Magnitsky's family said they will appeal and called for further investigation.

Magnitsky's colleagues say he is the victim of retribution from the same police investigators he had accused of stealing $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax refunds -- the very same crimes with which he was charged.

The case against Magnitsky was closed after his death but then was reopened again in August 2011.

In an unprecedented move, Russia is trying Magnitsky posthumously for fraud, despite protests from his family and the lawyers that it is unconstitutional to try a dead man. A preliminary hearing is scheduled next month.

Magnitsky's death triggered an international outcry and Kremlin critics said it underscored the dangers faced by Russians who challenge the authorities. The Kremlin's own human rights council said Magnitsky was probably beaten to death.

The adoption ban may further tarnish Putin's international standing at a time when the former KGB officer is under scrutiny over what critics say is a crackdown on dissent since he returned to the Kremlin for a six-year third term in May.

"The law will lead to a sharp drop in the reputation of the Kremlin and of Putin personally abroad, and signal a new phase in relations between the United States and Russia," said Lilia Shevtsova, an expert on Putin with the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

"It is only the first harbinger of a chill."

(Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing By Steve Gutterman, Andrew Osborn and Roger Atwood)

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Syria opposition leader rejects Moscow invitation


ALEPPO PROVINCE, Syria/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's opposition leader has rejected an invitation from Russia for peace talks, dealing another blow to international hopes that diplomacy can be resurrected to end a 21-month civil war.


Russia, President Bashar al-Assad's main international protector, said on Friday it had sent an invitation for a visit to Moaz Alkhatib, whose six-week-old National Coalition opposition group has been recognized by most Western and Arab states as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people.


But in an interview on Al Jazeera television, Alkhatib said he had already ruled out such a trip and wanted an apology from Moscow for its support for Assad.


"We have clearly said we will not go to Moscow. We could meet in an Arab country if there was a clear agenda," he said.


"Now we also want an apology from (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov because all this time he said that the people will decide their destiny, without foreign intervention. Russia is intervening and meanwhile all these massacres of the Syrian people have happened, treated as if they were a picnic."


"If we don't represent the Syrian people, why do they invite us?" Alkhatib said. "And if we do represent the Syrian people why doesn't Russia respond and issue a clear condemnation of the barbarity of the regime and make a clear call for Assad to step down? This is the basic condition for any negotiations."


With the rebels advancing steadily over the second half of 2012, diplomats have been searching for months for signs that Moscow's willingness to protect Assad is faltering.


So far Russia has stuck to its position that rebels must negotiate with Assad's government, which has ruled since his father seized power in a coup 42 years ago.


"I think a realistic and detailed assessment of the situation inside Syria will prompt reasonable opposition members to seek ways to start a political dialogue," Lavrov said on Friday.


That was immediately dismissed by the opposition: "The coalition is ready for political talks with anyone ... but it will not negotiate with the Assad regime," spokesman Walid al-Bunni told Reuters. "Everything can happen after the Assad regime and all its foundations have gone. After that we can sit down with all Syrians to set out the future."


BRAHIMI TO MOSCOW


Russia says it is behind the efforts of U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, fresh from a five-day trip to Damascus where he met Assad. Brahimi, due in Moscow for talks on Saturday, is touting a months-old peace plan for a transitional government.


That U.N. plan was long seen as a dead letter, foundering from the outset over the question of whether the transitional body would include Assad or his allies. Brahimi's predecessor, Kofi Annan, quit in frustration shortly after negotiating it.


But with rebels having seized control of large sections of the country in recent months, Russia and the United States have been working with Brahimi to resurrect the plan as the only internationally recognized diplomatic negotiating track.


Russia's Middle East envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who announced the invitation to Alkhatib, said further talks were scheduled between the "three B's" - himself, Brahimi and U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns.


Speaking in Damascus on Thursday, Brahimi called for a transitional government with "all the powers of the state", a phrase interpreted by the opposition as potentially signaling tolerance of Assad remaining in some ceremonial role.


But such a plan is anathema to the surging rebels, who now believe they can drive Assad out with a military victory, despite long being outgunned by his forces.


"We do not agree at all with Brahimi's initiative. We do not agree with anything Brahimi says," Colonel Abdel-Jabbar Oqaidi, who heads the rebels' military council in Aleppo province, told reporters at his headquarters there.


Oqaidi said the rebels want Assad and his allies tried in Syria for crimes. Assad himself says he will stay on and fight to the death if necessary.


In the rebel-held town of Kafranbel, demonstrators held up cartoons showing Brahimi speaking to a news conference with toilet bowls in front of him, in place of microphones. Banners denounced the U.N. envoy with obscenities in English.


DIPLOMATS IMPOTENT


Diplomacy has largely been irrelevant to the conflict so far, with Western states ruling out military intervention like the NATO bombing that helped topple Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year, and Russia and China blocking U.N. action against Assad.


Meanwhile, the fighting has grown fiercer and more sectarian, with rebels mainly from the Sunni Muslim majority battling Assad's government and allied militia dominated by his Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.


Still, Western diplomats have repeatedly touted signs of a change in policy from Russia, which they hope could prove decisive, much as Moscow's withdrawal of support for Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic heralded his downfall a decade ago.


Bogdanov said earlier this month that Assad's forces were losing ground and rebels might win the war, but Russia has since rowed back, with Lavrov last week reiterating Moscow's position that neither side could win through force.


Still, some Moscow-based analysts see the Kremlin coming to accept it must adapt to the possibility of rebel victory.


"As the situation changes on the battlefield, more incentives emerge for seeking a way to stop the military action and move to a phase of political regulation," said Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.


Meanwhile, on the ground the bloodshed that has killed some 44,000 people continues unabated. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain, 150 people were killed on Thursday, a typical toll as fighting has escalated in recent months.


Government war planes bombarded the town of Assal al-Ward in the Qalamoun district of Damascus province for the first time, killing one person and wounding dozens, the observatory said.


In Aleppo, Syria's northern commercial hub, clashes took place between rebel fighters and army forces around an air force intelligence building in the Zahra quarter, a neighborhood that has been surrounded by rebels for weeks.


(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Dominic Evans in Beirut and Steve Gutterman and Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood)



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Wall Street flat as "fiscal cliff" talks eyed

To a black ESPN sports analyst, this is the critical question: Is Robert Griffin III, aka RG III, the black rookie sensation Washington Redskins quarterback, "a brother, or is he a cornball brother?" What has RG III done or said to raise a suspicion about his bona fides as a black person? More importantly, what does this have to do with appreciating — or choosing not to appreciate — Griffin as an athlete?
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Peyton Manning, Peterson make Pro Bowl


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


___


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


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US Airways Waives Change Fee For Customers Affected By Winter Weather






 US Airways Waives Change Fee For Customers Affected By Winter Weather

file photo (Chip Somdelvilla/Getty Images)





CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — US Airways is waiving the change fee for customers who must alter their flights due to severe Christmas weather.






The airline is canceling the $ 150 charge for changing flights to and from 25 cities where there are flight delays and cancellations. The offer is available to travelers scheduled to fly Wednesday and Thursday. They must keep the same flight origin and destination. Their rescheduled flights must be by New Year’s Day.



The affected airports are in Canada, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.


Travelers can change their trip online at http://www.usairways.com/manageyourtrip or call 800-428-4322.


Severe thunderstorms are forecast for the Carolinas while a line of blizzard and winter storm warnings stretched from Arkansas up the Ohio River to New York and on to Maine.


(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)




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A gunmaker ripe for an ethical takeover




Several .223 caliber rounds near a Bushmaster XM-15; the manufacturer's owner is putting its gun companies up for sale.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • The owner of America's largest gunmaker is putting firm up for sale

  • John MacIntosh says billionaires should lead effort to acquire the gun manufacturer

  • He says they should change corporate practices to discourage violence

  • MacIntosh: One leading company could push gun industry in a more ethical direction




Editor's note: John MacIntosh was a partner at Warburg Pincus, a leading global private equity firm, where he worked from 1994 to 2006 in New York, Tokyo and London. He now runs a nonprofit in New York.


(CNN) -- In the 1970s and '80s, when corporate America was plagued with inefficiency, a new class of financially motivated takeover investor emerged to prey on the fattest in the corporate herd and scare the rest into line.


Today, as pockets of corporate America are plagued with immorality, we need a new class of socially motivated takeover investor to prey on the sociopaths in the corporate herd, turn them around and perhaps scare (or shame) others into line.



John MacIntosh

John MacIntosh



The upcoming sale by Cerberus Capital of the Freedom Group, the largest gun manufacturer in the United States, is a perfect opportunity to usher in this new era of muscular, socially responsible capitalism:


First, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, David Geffen and the like should establish a nonprofit SPAC (Special-Purpose-Acquisition-Company) called BidForFreedom.org (BFF) with a mission to reduce needless deaths through gun violence in the United States and encourage the passage of sensible gun control regulations.



They should appoint George Clooney, Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon to the fundraising committee and recruit a loud-mouthed, poison-penned, but good-hearted activist hedge fund titan as chief investment officer (Bill Ackman? Dan Loeb?).


Opinion: Forgotten victims of gun violence


To be credible, BFF will probably need to start with at least $250 million in cash and commitments (no problem given the billionaire status of the sponsors) with additional firepower raised as needed from well-heeled individuals, foundations and through a broad-based Internet solicitation to an outraged-by-Newtown public.


Second, BFF should lobby all public pension funds that are part owners of the Freedom Group (by virtue of their investment in Cerberus) to roll their investment into BFF to reduce the need for outside funding, naming and shaming any unwilling public investors.


Newtown shooter's guns








Third, BFF should pay "whatever it takes" to acquire control of the Freedom Group in the upcoming auction by Cerberus (which has a fiduciary obligation to sell to the highest bidder) and then immediately implement a "moral turnaround" plan under which the Freedom Group:


(i) Appoints a high-profile CEO with impeccable credentials as a hunter and/or marksman who is nevertheless in favor of gun-control.


Opinion: Guns endanger more than they protect


(ii) Elects a new board of directors including representatives from the families of victims killed in Newtown (and/or other massacres perpetrated with Freedom Group weapons), military veterans and trauma surgeons with real experience of human-on-human gunfire, and law enforcement and mental health professionals.


(iii) Operates the business as if sensible gun laws were in place (this may turn out to be a wise investment in future-proofing the company): discontinuing sales of the most egregious assault weapons and modifying others as necessary so they cannot take huge-volume clips; offering to buy back all Freedom Group assault weapons in circulation; micro-stamping weapons for easy tracking; and providing price discounts for buyers willing to go through a background check and register in a database available to law enforcement.


(iv) Voluntarily waives its rights to support the NRA and other lobbying groups.


(v) Creates a fund to compensate those who, despite its best efforts, are killed or wounded by its weapons.


(vi) Agrees that if the effort to provide moral leadership in the weapons industry doesn't succeed within a year, BFF should consider corporate euthanasia, even though it entails a risk of allowing more retrograde manufacturers to fill the void in the market left by the then-deceased company.


Opinion: The case for gun rights is stronger than you think


In the face of horrors like Newtown, BFF would recognize that it's time to take a stand by acknowledging the impossibility of reaching closure after such a monstrous act while an unreconstructed Freedom Group continues to sell a huge volume of guns and ammunition rounds each year even if it is operating under new owners.


Like any Trojan Horse strategy, this is a long shot, but it must be tried. History suggests that only after the first company "turns" will an industry gradually return to the realm of the human (think of big tobacco). And without the tacit agreement, if not the outright support, of at least one important insider, policymakers seem utterly unable to pass tough regulations in the face of the predictable, but withering, assault by industry lackeys shrieking that any such regulation would be "impossible, impractical or too expensive."


In the face of a recalcitrant industry, we have to acknowledge that it is only the market for corporate control -- the real possibility that an outsider will take over one of the companies -- that puts limits on the behavior of board members and executives who, while perhaps decent enough in their family lives, display a limitless tolerance for the "banality of evil" at the office.


Opinion: Not man enough? Buy a gun


We must accept that the conventional, kid-gloves approach to socially responsible investing -- divesting shares in "bad" companies that nevertheless continue to exist -- is too weak an instrument to force change and its well-meaning practitioners too soft to enter the fray when emotionally and politically charged battles need to be fought.


And regardless of the viability of socially motivated takeovers in general, the Freedom Group looks like a great target. Cerberus is a motivated seller, the political macros look favorable, and it's a bite-sized company compared with many of the larger sociopaths in the corporate herd.


I'm even cautiously optimistic that the current impasse over gun regulation is a bad-equilibrium that few consumers actually want, and that a reconstructed Freedom Group, fighting for sensible change as a fifth column from within the industry, might well find that many people -- even a significant portion of the NRA's members -- would buy from a truly responsible (and high quality) gun maker if given the chance.


All in all, it's a pretty exciting deal, so if Mike and George are up for it, count me in.



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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John MacIntosh.






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Hundreds of flights canceled as storm pounds Northeast

A powerful winter storm is hitting the Northeast, one day after it hammered the Midwest and plains. Snowfall could top a foot in some areas.










WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A powerful winter storm that has dumped a foot of snow on parts of the United States forced the cancellation of 457 flights on Thursday and threatened more havoc as it hit the New England states with fierce winds.

The heaviest snow was falling on Pennsylvania, New York and New England, and winter storm warnings continued over a majority of the U.S. Northeast, the National Weather Service said.






The massive storm system touched off tornadoes in the South and produced snow in Texas before barreling down on the densely populated Northeast.

The service forecast 12 to 18 inches of snow for northern New England after the storm moved northeast out of the lower Great Lakes, where it left more than a foot of snow on parts of Michigan.

The storm front was accompanied by freezing rain and sleet, creating hazards on the highways and at airports.

A Southwest Airlines jet skidded off the runway at Long Island MacArthur Airport, about 50 miles east of New York City, as it taxied for takeoff, Suffolk County police said.

None of the 134 people aboard Tampa-bound flight No. 4695 was injured, police said.

"It's been undetermined at this time if weather was a factor," a police spokeswoman said.

Snow was due to fall in northern New York, Vermont and New Hampshire at up to 2 inches an hour, with winds gusting to 30 miles per hour (48 km per hour), the weather agency said.

So far, 457 U.S. airline flights scheduled for Thursday had been canceled, according to FlightAware.com, a website that tracks flights.

American Airlines had the most canceled at 55. A total of about 1,500 U.S. flights were canceled on Wednesday.

New York state activated its Emergency Operations Center late on Wednesday to deal with the first major storm of the season.

Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the heads of seven utilities they would be held accountable for their performances. Utilities near New York City were criticized for lingering outages after Superstorm Sandy devastated the region in October.

New York state has seen little snow during autumn and winter. Buffalo, New York, was 23 inches below normal for the season before the storm, said Bill Hibbert, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

"We're short and even this big snow isn't going to make it up for us," he said.

The storm dumped record snow in north Texas and Arkansas before it swept through the U.S. South on Christmas Day and then veered north.

The system spawned tornadoes and left almost 200,000 people in Arkansas and Alabama without power on Wednesday.

At least five people were killed in road accidents related to the bad weather, police said.

(Additional reporting by Dan Burns and Neale Gulley; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Dale Hudson)

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Peace envoy Brahimi, Syria diplomats in Moscow talks


MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will host Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi this week after Syrian officials held talks in Moscow on Thursday as part of a diplomatic drive to try to agree a plan to end the 21-month-old conflict, Russia's foreign ministry said.


Talks have moved to Moscow, a long-time Syria ally, after a flurry of meetings Brahimi held in Damascus this week, but the international envoy has disclosed little about his negotiations.


Brahimi, who saw Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday and is planning to hold a series of meetings with Syrian officials and dissidents this week, is trying to broker a peaceful transfer of power.


More than 44,000 Syrians have been killed in a revolt against four decades of Assad family rule, a conflict that began with peaceful protests in March last year, but which has descended into civil war.


Past peace efforts have floundered, with world powers divided over what has become an increasingly sectarian struggle between mostly Sunni Muslim rebels and Assad's security forces, drawn primarily from his Shi'ite-rooted Alawite minority.


Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad and an aide held talks for less than two hours on Thursday with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Mikhail Bogdanov, the Kremlin's envoy for Middle East affairs, but declined to disclose details of their visit.


Syrian and Lebanese sources said Makdad had been sent to Moscow to discuss the details of a peace plan proposed by Brahimi.


Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich played down the idea that a specific new proposal was on the table in Moscow talks, at least one agreed by Moscow and Washington.


Asked about rumors of a Russian-American plan to resolve the conflict, he said: "There has not been and is no such plan."


'TRYING TO FEEL A WAY OUT'


"In our talks with Mr. Brahimi and with our American colleagues, we are trying to feel a way out of this situation on the basis of our common plan of action that was agreed in Geneva in June," Lukashevich told reporters at a weekly briefing.


Setting the scene for a planned Russian meeting with Brahimi on Saturday, he said, "We plan to discuss a range of issues linked to a political and diplomatic settlement in Syria, including Brahimi's efforts aimed at ending the violence and the launch of a comprehensive national dialogue."


World powers believe Russia, which has given Assad military and diplomatic aid to help him weather the uprising, has the ear of Syria's government and must be a key player in peace talks.


Moscow has tried to distance itself from Assad in recent months and has said it is not propping him up, but Lukashevich reiterated its stance that Assad's exit from power could not be a precondition for negotiations.


Setting such a condition, he said, would violate the terms of an agreement reached by world powers in Geneva on June 30 that called for a transitional government in Syria.


Lukashevich said Russia continued to believe there was "no alternative" to the Geneva Declaration and repeated accusations that the United States has reneged on it.


"Our American colleagues and some others ... have turned sharply from this position, by 180 degrees, supporting the opposition and conducting no dialogue with the government - putting the opposition in the mood for no dialogue with the authorities but for overthrowing the authorities," he said.


"The biggest disagreement ... is that one side thinks Assad should leave at the start of the process - that is the U.S. position, and the other thinks his departure should be a result of the process - that would be the Russian position," Dmitry Trenin, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, told Reuters.


But Trenin said battlefield gains made by the Syrian rebels were narrowing the gap between Moscow and Washington.


On Saturday, Lavrov said that neither side would win Syria's civil war and that Assad would not quit even if Russia or China told him to. Bogdanov had earlier acknowledged that Syrian rebels might win.


Lavrov has said this month that Russia had no intention of offering Assad asylum and would not act as messenger for other nations seeking his exit.


(Additional reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Andrew Osborn)



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Wall Street inches up as Obama to return to "cliff'"debate


NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks edged higher on Wednesday as President Barack Obama cut short his vacation and readied to return to Washington a day ahead of last-minute talks to avert a series of tax increases and government spending cuts set to begin next week.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 22.33 points, or 0.17 percent, to 13,161.41. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> gained 1.68 points, or 0.12 percent, to 1,428.34. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> dropped 0.30 points, or 0.01 percent, to 3,012.30.


(Reporting By Edward Krudy; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)



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James leads Heat over Thunder in Finals rematch


MIAMI (AP) — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to score 54 points, more than any set of teammates had managed in a game against Miami all season.


Oklahoma City needed them to score at least three more.


That didn't happen, and an NBA Finals rematch went just as last year's title series did — to the Heat.


LeBron James had 29 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, Dwyane Wade scored 21, and the Heat survived a frantic finish to beat the Thunder 103-97 on Tuesday night, a game where Durant and Westbrook both missed potential tying 3-pointers in the final seconds.


"A great game to play," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, "and a great game to coach."


For the Heat, it was just a little greater.


Mario Chalmers scored a season-high 20 for the Heat, who were 19 for 19 from the foul line, the second-best effort in franchise history behind only a 30-for-30 game in Boston on March 24, 1993. Chris Bosh added 16 points for Miami, which has beaten the Thunder five straight times dating to last June's title series.


"Felt a little bit like a different month," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Regardless of what your script is coming into the game, when you play this team, it's not going to go according to script. They're too good."


It's the first losing streak of the season for the Thunder, who had been 4-0 after losses. Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin each scored 15 for Oklahoma City.


The game had a little of everything — a fast start by the reigning champions, a one-handed dunk by James on an offensive rebound that will be added to his copious highlight reel, a scrum after a hard foul that led to double-technicals on Wade and Ibaka early in the fourth, an easy rally by the Thunder from an early double-digit deficit, and even workout partners in Durant and James barking back and forth in the final minutes.


Such was the intensity that James slumped over the scorer's table with 1:08 left, exhausted.


"I'm tired as hell right now," James said — and that was more than an hour after the game ended.


With good reason. On an emotional day, there was a wild finish.


Wade lost the ball on an ill-advised, behind-the-back dribble, and the turnover set up Durant for a two-handed dunk that got the Thunder within 96-95 with 44.1 seconds remaining.


Needing a stop on the next trip, the Thunder instead forgot to play defense. Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka both were confused on the ensuing Miami possession, and Bosh was left alone to take a pass from James and throw down a dunk that restored Miami's three-point edge.


"We went over and helped," Durant said. "We just needed to help on the backside. There was miscommunication but we still had a chance to go into overtime."


Two chances, actually.


Oklahoma City got within one when Durant made a jumper over James, but no closer. Ray Allen's two free throws with 15.6 seconds left made it 100-97, and Miami's last three points came from the line. Durant missed a 3-pointer that James contested, Westbrook wound up with a second chance that Wade defended, and the Thunder guard smacked a nearby table arguing that he was fouled.


"Part of the game," Westbrook said.


While the stars were stars, the Heat got help from one unexpected source. Chalmers was making everything, even unintended plays. Allen lost possession on what looked to be a pass to no one, but Chalmers picked up the bouncing ball on the right wing, whirled and made a 3-pointer — putting Miami up 86-79 with 8:14 left.


In the end, that cushion was necessary.


"I got going early," Chalmers said, "and I stuck with it."


The Heat came out flying, opening a quick 13-2 lead after making six of their first seven shots. About all that didn't go right for the Heat early on was James committing a foul, the first time he was called for a personal since Dec. 8.


It happened 4:03 into the game — 254 minutes and 7 seconds of on-court time since his last one — when James fouled Ibaka on a dunk attempt.


Chalmers had 12 points, matching his season high, in the opening quarter alone, and that was also Miami's lead after his layup for a 15-3 edge. When Durant headed to the bench after being called for his second personal, plus a technical, with 2:08 left in the first, the Heat led 27-16.


But even with Durant out, Oklahoma City scored the last eight points of the quarter, six coming from the line. The Thunder shot 17 of the game's first 18 free throws and finished with a 38-19 edge in tries from the stripe.


The Heat were held to two points in the first 5:05 of the third, and the Thunder grabbed the lead for the first time. Durant connected on a baseline jumper while falling out of bounds and getting fouled by James. The resulting free throw gave Oklahoma City a 58-56 edge.


With that, the back-and-forth began, and Miami found a way.


"Both teams really played up to the billing," Wade said. "An excellent basketball game."


NOTES: James scored at least 20 points for the 30th straight regular-season game and 46th overall. ... Wade is 7-1 on Christmas, and James has won six straight on the holiday. ... Miami's Mike Miller became the 48th active player to reach 10,000 points. ... The Thunder have used the same starting lineup for all 27 games. ... James passed Bernard King for 39th on the NBA career scoring list. ... Attendance was 20,300, the largest crowd for a Heat home game since they moved into AmericanAirlines Arena.


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Erratic Environment May Be Key to Human Evolution






At Olduvai Gorge, where excavations helped to confirm Africa was the cradle of humanity, scientists now find the landscape once fluctuated rapidly, likely guiding early human evolution.These findings suggest that key mental developments within the human lineage may have been linked with a highly variable environment, researchers added.


Olduvai Gorge is a ravine cut into the eastern margin of the Serengeti Plain in northern Tanzania that holds fossils of hominins — members of the human lineage. Excavations at Olduvai Gorge by Louis and Mary Leakey in the mid-1950s helped to establish the African origin of humanity.






The Great Drying?


To learn more about the roots of humanity, scientists analyzed samples of leaf waxes preserved in lake sediments at Olduvai Gorge, identifying which plants dominated the local environment around 2 million years ago. This was about when Homo erectus, a direct ancestor of modern humans who used relatively advanced stone tools, appeared.


“We looked at leaf waxes, because they’re tough, they survive well in the sediment,” researcher Katherine Freeman, a biogeochemist at Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement.


After four years of work, the researchers focused on carbon isotopes — atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons — in the samples, which can reveal what plants reigned over an area. The grasses that dominate savannasengage in a kind of photosynthesis that involves both normal carbon-12 and heavier carbon-13, while trees and shrubs rely on a kind of photosynthesis that prefers carbon-12. (Atoms of carbon-12 each possess six neutrons, while atoms of carbon-13 have seven.)


Scientists had long thought Africa went through a period of gradually increasing dryness — called the Great Drying — over 3 million years, or perhaps one big change in climate that favored the expansion of grasslands across the continent, influencing human evolution. However, the new research instead revealed “strong evidence for dramatic ecosystem changes across the African savanna, in which open grassland landscapes transitioned to closed forests over just hundreds to several thousands of years,” researcher Clayton Magill, a biogeochemist at Pennsylvania State University, told LiveScience. [Know Your Roots? Take Our Human Evolution Quiz]


The researchers discovered that Olduvai Gorge abruptly and routinely fluctuated between dry grasslands and damp forests about five or six times during a period of 200,000 years.


“I was surprised by the magnitude of changes and the rapid pace of the changes we found,” Freeman told LiveScience. “There was a complete restructuring of the ecosystem from grassland to forest and back again, at least based on how we interpret the data. I’ve worked on carbon isotopes my whole career, and I’ve never seen anything like this before.”


Losing water


The investigators also constructed a highly detailed record of water history in Olduvai Gorge by analyzing hydrogen isotope ratios in plant waxes and other compounds in nearby lake sediments. These findings support the carbon isotope data, suggesting the region experienced fluctuations in aridity, with dry periods dominated by grasslands and wet periods characterized by expanses of woody cover.


“The research points to the importance of water in an arid landscape like Africa,” Magill said in a statement. “The plants are so intimately tied to the water that if you have water shortages, they usually lead to food insecurity.”


The research team’s statistical and mathematical models link the changes they see with other events at the time, such as alterations in the planet’s movement. [50 Amazing Facts About Earth]


“The orbit of the Earth around the sun slowly changes with time,” Freeman said in statement. “These changes were tied to the local climate at Olduvai Gorge through changes in the monsoon system in Africa.”


Earth’s orbit around the sun can vary over time in a number of ways — for instance, Earth’s orbit around the sun can grow more or less circular over time, and Earth’s axis of spin relative to the sun’s equatorial plane can also tilt back and forth. This alters the amount of sunlight Earth receives, energy that drives Earth’s atmosphere. “Slight changes in the amount of sunshine changed the intensity of atmospheric circulation and the supply of water. The rain patterns that drive the plant patterns follow this monsoon circulation. We found a correlation between changes in the environment and planetary movement.”


The team also found links between changes at Olduvai Gorge and sea-surface temperatures in the tropics.


“We find complementary forcing mechanisms — one is the way Earth orbits, and the other is variation in ocean temperatures surrounding Africa,” Freeman said.


These findings now shed light on the environmental shifts the ancestors of modern humans might have had to adapt to in order to survive and thrive.


“Early humans went from having trees available to having only grasses available in just 10 to 100 generations, and their diets would have had to change in response,” Magill said in a statement. “Changes in food availability, food type, or the way you get food can trigger evolutionary mechanisms to deal with those changes. The result can be increased brain size and cognition, changes in locomotion and even social changes — how you interact with others in a group.”


This variability in the environment coincided with a key period in human evolution, “when the genus Homo was first established and when there was first evidence of tool use,” Magill said.


The researchers now hope to examine changes at Olduvai Gorge not just across time but space, which could help shed light on aspects of early human evolution such as foraging patterns.


Magill, Freeman and their colleague Gail Ashley detailed their findings online Dec. 24 in two papers in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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


Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Climate change: No consensus needed




Lake Cachet II in Aysen, Chilean Patagonia, disappeared because of rising temperatures driven by climate change, experts say.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Tseming Yang: Result of Doha climate change conference less than desirable

  • Yang: It's time to abandon the myth that a consensus solution is the best approach

  • He says the 25 major carbon emitters should work out an agreement among themselves

  • Yang: Smaller, focused discussions may be better than large, U.N.-style gatherings




Editor's note: Tseming Yang, former deputy general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency, is professor of law at Santa Clara University Law School.


(CNN) -- The Doha climate change conference this year was the most significant in nearly 20 years of gatherings under the U.N. Framework Convention process aimed at staving off future global warming disaster.


Since carbon dioxide emission limits agreed to under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol were to expire at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2012, it was critical that the international community agreed to extend those obligations and to continue talks about future emission cuts.


But the outcome fell far short of what will be necessary to keep the world's average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius in the foreseeable future.


Under the Doha arrangement, 17 of the 25 biggest carbon emitting countries (including China, the United States, Russia and India) did not commit to any legally binding emission limits. The countries that did agree to extend and deepen their Kyoto emission reductions, including the European Union, Australia and Eastern Europe, make up only about 15% of the world's emissions. That seems like a rather meager return on the investment of time and effort over the past years.


But there is one silver lining.



The world's top 20 carbon emitters together make up about 77% of emission and account for about 4.3 billion people, which is about 62% of the global population. The remaining 170 or so countries account for just over 20% of emissions.


As often is the case, these negotiations over climate have come to symbolize epic David and Goliath struggles pitting poor developing countries against recalcitrant government officials from rich countries. Lobbying efforts, shaming tactics, and staging public demonstrations have been the slingshots of choice. One result is that more people are paying attention to environmental issues.


Nonetheless, it is time to abandon the myth that a consensus solution is necessarily the best approach. The unfortunate reality is that little can get done right now. It's like having hundreds of cooks with hundreds of different recipes attempting to prepare one meal in the same small kitchen. After two decades of hard work, it is time to consider reducing the number of cooks.








A better alternative to a United Nations-style conference would be for the 25 major emitters to come to an agreement just among themselves about their mutual commitments to deal with climate change effectively.


In other words, get the 25 cooks to work together on the main meal. The hundreds of other cooks ought to step out of the kitchen.


Some smaller, focused discussions have already started, such as in the Major Economies Forum. Imagine what kind of deals on cutting emissions would be possible just among China, India and the United States -- the top three emitters in the world respectively. Imagine a deal involving emission sources in China, which has some of the world's most polluting coal-fired power plants, and California, which is on a course to become one of the most stringently controlled states in carbon emissions.


Of course, there are no guarantees for success. But discussions within such a smaller group would allow government leaders to confront the realities of climate change and engage in direct horse-trading without the static of thousands of other voices desiring to load their issues into the deal.


Let's face it -- we are way beyond the time for finding an ideal solution. Every year the world waits to take further concrete steps to cut emissions, the atmosphere will be loaded with millions of tons more carbon dioxide that will stay for a century. And the job of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius will be more out of reach.


At the best, gatherings like the one in Doha dangle a tantalizing mirage of achieving a sustainable future. At the worst, they give cover to governments that would rather avoid the hard choices they ultimately will have to make.


After one more expensive and time-consuming round of talks, it's time to be honest with what can really be accomplished in these U.N.-style gatherings.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tseming Yang.






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Tornadoes, snow hit the South

A heavy snowstorm that blanketed Texas and Oklahoma is moving northeast on Wednesday. Gulf Coast states are recovering from heavy winds and twisters. (Dec. 26)










MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - A major winter storm system swept through the southern United States on Tuesday, spawning tornadoes in several states and killing two people in weather-related road accidents.

The National Weather Service (NWS) said a tornado struck Mobile, Alabama, home to about 200,000 people, at about 5 p.m. local time (2300 GMT). There were reports of damage to trees and widespread power outages, along with some structural damage, but no injuries or fatalities.






Tornadoes also touched down in Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, flattening houses and causing some injuries, according to the NWS.

The wild Christmas weather was expected to continue into early Wednesday - the NWS' Storm Prediction Center forecasted the development of "a few strong tornadoes and thunderstorm wind damage over parts of the southeast" this evening and overnight.

It warned that tornadoes at night at this time of year can be particularly dangerous because they are usually fast-moving and obscured by rain and darkness. Areas mostly likely to be hit by strong storms include southern and eastern Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and southwest Georgia, the NWS warned.

Tuesday's storms also contributed to a 21-vehicle pile-up that shut down a major highway in Oklahoma City and tens of thousands of power outages.

A Texas man died after an accident involving a tree in the road, and another person died in a weather-related accident on I-44 in Oklahoma, according to local authorities.

The storm was expected to evolve into a blizzard from Arkansas to southern Illinois on Tuesday night, with snowfall of up to a foot in some areas, according to Accuweather.com.

Accuweather.com senior meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski warned on the website that travel will be "extremely treacherous, if not impossible, as the snow clogs roads, such as interstates 24, 55 and 57, and the blowing snow severely lowers visibility."

The Indiana governor's office issued an advisory Tuesday evening that "non-essential employees" who live in areas where snow emergencies have been declared do not have to come to work.

The snowstorm will shift on Wednesday to the eastern Great Lakes and northeastern region, with a blizzard warning in effect for Cleveland starting at 7 a.m. on Wednesday (1200 GMT), forecasters said. Cleveland could get up to a foot of snow, according to the NWS.

Southern Indiana is under a blizzard warning starting early Wednesday morning, according to NWS meteorologist Crystal Pettet. Indianapolis could see its biggest snowfall in four years, with a possibility of 10 to 12 inches of snow.

"Conditions should be pretty bad in time for rush hour," Pettet said.

CHRISTMAS SNOWFALL

In the town of McNeill in southern Mississippi, an apparent tornado destroyed 12 homes and injured eight people, though none of the injuries appear life-threatening, said Danny Manley, director of the Pearl River County Emergency Management Agency.

Manley said the homes could not be rebuilt, as some had lost roofs and their top stories and one was smashed by a tree.

Another apparent tornado hit Centreville, Mississippi, in the southwestern part of the state, injuring one person, destroying a trailer and heavily damaging other homes and buildings, according to Tim Destri, a NWS meteorologist in New Orleans.

A tornado destroyed a building 13 miles southeast of Crockett, Texas, and a bank lost a section of its roof, according to Accuweather.com.

Freezing drizzle overnight led to 10 separate collisions on Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City early on Tuesday, said Betsy Randolph, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. The city also got a rare Christmas snowfall.

The 21-vehicle pile-up included three tractor-trailers and shut down the westbound lanes for about five hours, she said. Twelve people were taken to hospitals, and troopers were checking on the severity of their injuries.

Ahead of the storm's path, parts of eastern West Virginia are under a winter storm warning. Ice accumulations of up to half an inch are expected in higher elevations, the NWS said.

(Reporting by Kaija Wilkinson, Ian Simpson and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Sandra Maler, Todd Eastham and Paul Simao)

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Syria to discuss Brahimi proposals with Russia


BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dispatched a senior diplomat to Moscow on Wednesday to discuss proposals made by envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to end the conflict convulsing his country, Syrian and Lebanese sources said.


Brahimi, who met Assad on Monday as part of a series of planned talks with Syrian officials and dissidents in Damascus this week, is trying to arrange a peaceful transfer of power, but has disclosed little about how this might be achieved.


More than 44,000 Syrians have died in the revolt against four decades of Assad family rule, a conflict that began with peaceful protests but which has descended into civil war.


Past peace efforts have floundered, with world powers divided over what has become an increasingly sectarian struggle between mostly Sunni Muslim rebels and Assad's security forces, drawn primarily from his Shi'ite-rooted Alawite minority.


Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad flew to Moscow to discuss the details of the talks with Brahimi, said a Syrian security source, who would not say if a deal was in the works.


However, a Lebanese official close to Damascus said Makdad had been sent to seek Russian advice on a possible agreement.


He said Syrian officials were upbeat after talks with Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, who met Foreign Minister Walid Moualem on Tuesday a day after his session with Assad, but who has not outlined his ideas in public.


"There is a new mood now and something good is happening," the official said, asking not to be named. He gave no details.


Russia, which has given Assad diplomatic and military aid in the 21-month-old uprising, has said it is not protecting him, but has fiercely criticized any foreign backing for rebels and, with China, has blocked U.N. Security Council action on Syria.


On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syria's civil war had reached stalemate and international efforts to persuade Assad to quit would fail.


Assad's opponents insist the Syrian president must go, given the scale of bloodshed and destruction they blame on him.


Moaz Alkhatib, head of the internationally recognized Syrian National Coalition opposition, has criticized any notion of a transitional government in which Assad would stay on as a figurehead president stripped of any real powers.


SHELLING KILLS 20


The comments on Alkhatib's Facebook page on Monday suggested that the opposition believed this was among Brahimi's ideas.


"We have told every official we have met: the government and its president cannot stay on in power, with or without their powers. This is unacceptable to Syrians," Alkhatib wrote.


"The coalition leadership has told Lakhdar Brahimi directly that this type of solution is rejected."


While Brahimi was striving to bridge the vast gaps between Assad and his foes, fighting raged on across the country and a senior Syrian military officer defected to the rebels.


Syrian army shelling killed about 20 people, at least eight of them children, in the northern province of Raqqa, a video posted by opposition campaigners showed.


The video published by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights showed rows of blood-stained bodies laid out on blankets. The sound of crying relatives could be heard in the background.


The shelling hit the province's al-Qahtania village, but it was unclear when the attack had occurred.


Rebels re-launched their assault on the Wadi Deif military base in the northwestern province of Idlib, in a critical battle for a major army base and fuel storage and distribution point.


Activist Ahmed Kaddour said rebels were firing mortars and had attacked the base with an explosives-rigged vehicle.


The British-based Observatory, which uses a network of contacts in Syria to monitor the conflict, said a rebel commander was among several killed in Wednesday's fighting, which it said was among the heaviest there for months.


As violence has intensified in recent weeks, with Assad using his air power and artillery to contain rebel advances, daily death tolls have climbed. At least 190 were killed across the country on Tuesday alone, the Observatory said.


The head of Syria's military police changed sides and declared allegiance to the anti-Assad revolt.


"I am General Abdelaziz Jassim al-Shalal, head of the military police. I have defected because of the deviation of the army from its primary duty of protecting the country and its transformation into gangs of killing and destruction," the officer said in a video published on YouTube.


A Syrian security source confirmed the defection, but said Shalal was near retirement and had only defected to "play hero".


Syrian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar left Lebanon for Damascus after being treated in Beirut for wounds sustained in a rebel bomb attack this month.


(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Alistair Lyon)



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Yen on defensive on U.S. fiscal worry, helps Nikkei

TOKYO (Reuters) - Uncertainty over whether U.S. lawmakers will strike a deal by an end-of-year deadline to avert a severe fiscal retrenchment undermined the yen and bolstered Japanese shares on Tuesday in low volume, with many participants away on Christmas holiday.


The dollar rose to a 20-month high of 84.965 yen early on Tuesday in Asia, as Japanese markets caught up with global investors who had reacted overnight to incoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's weekend comments that raised the pressure on the Bank of Japan.


During a meeting on Tuesday with officials from Japan's major business lobby, Keidanren, Abe reiterated calls on the BOJ to conduct bold monetary easing to beat deflation by setting an inflation target of 2 percent.


The head of Abe's coalition partner said on Tuesday the coalition party and Abe had agreed to set a 2 percent inflation target and compile a large stimulus budget to help the economy return to growth and overcome deflation.


The yen has come under pressure as a result of expectations that the BOJ will be compelled to adopt more drastic monetary stimulus measures next year.


The dollar was expected to stay firm this week as investors repatriate dollars, and as the U.S. fiscal impasse is likely to continue to sap investor appetite for risky assets and raise the dollar's safe-haven appeal.


"The dollar is seen relatively well bid, with all focus on the fiscal cliff," said Yuji Saito, director of foreign exchange at Credit Agricole in Tokyo.


"Negotiations may be carried over the weekend, but markets still expect a deal to be struck by December 31. It is unthinkable that the U.S. will risk driving its economic growth sharply lower by not agreeing to avoid it."


U.S. lawmakers and President Barack Obama were on Christmas holiday and talks were unlikely to resume until later in the week.


House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner failed to gain support for a tax plan at the end of last week, raising fears that the United States may face the "fiscal cliff" of some $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to start on January 1.


Japan's Nikkei stock average <.n225> resumed trading after a three-day weekend with a 1.1 percent gain, recapturing the key 10,000 mark it ceded on Friday after Boehner's failure sparked a broad market sell-off and the Tokyo benchmark closed down 1 percent. The Nikkei was likely to be supported as long as the yen stayed weak. <.t/>


"Ongoing optimism about the weak yen is lifting hopes that exporters' earnings will be better than expected," said Hiroichi Nishi, general manager at SMBC Nikko Securities.


Analysts say a near-term correction may be possible as the index is now in "overbought" territory after gaining 16.2 percent over the last six weeks, hitting a nine-month high last Friday. Its 14-day relative strength index was at 72.34, above the 70 level that signals an overbought condition.


MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> nudged up 0.1 percent, driven higher by surging Shanghai shares, as most Asian bourses were shut for Christmas.


The Shanghai Composite Index <.ssec> soared over 2 percent to five-month highs as investors bought property stocks on mounting optimism about the sector. Taiwan shares <.twii> jumped 1.3 percent on gains in technology and financial shares.



Asset performance in 2012: http://link.reuters.com/muc46s


2012 commodities returns: http://link.reuters.com/faz36s


^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>


U.S. HOLDS 2013 KEY


Goro Ohwada, president and CEO at Japan-based fund of hedge funds Aino Investment Corp, said investors were likely to focus on economic fundamentals and the United States for cues on investment direction in 2013.


"There is a feeling that an investment strategy based on economic fundamentals may finally work next year, with asset prices more closely reflecting fair value. The problem is, we don't know yet which asset is a better bet than others," Ohwada said, adding that oil and gold appeared to be near their highs.


Naohiro Niimura, a partner at research and consulting firm Market Risk Advisory, said commodities and energy prices will likely move in tight ranges in 2013, with investors eyeing political events, including the U.S. fiscal cliff outlook, Italian parliamentary election set for February 24-25, and Germany's elections in September.


"The macroeconomic policies taken this year around the world to support growth are expected to result in a moderate recovery in 2013 to reduce an excessive downside risk to prices. This will likely keep commodities, gold and energy prices near their highs," Niimura said.


(Additional reporting by Ayai Tomisawa in Tokyo; Editing by Edmund Klamann and Daniel Magnowski)



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Pagano back to coach Colts after cancer treatment


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chuck Pagano stepped to the podium Monday, hugged his team owner, thanked his family for its support and wiped a tear from his eye.


He might, finally, turn out the lights in his office, too.


Nearly three months to the day after being diagnosed with leukemia, the Colts' first-year coach returned to a team eager to reunite with a boss healthy enough to go back to work.


"I told you my best day of my life was July 1, 1989," Pagano said, referring to his wedding date. "Today was No. 2. Getting to pull up, drive in, get out of my car, the key fob still worked. I was beginning to question whether it would or not. When I asked for Bruce to take over, I asked for him to kick some you-know-what and to do great. Damn Bruce, you had to go and win nine games? Tough act to follow. Tough act to follow. Best in the history of the NFL. That's what I have to come back to."


The comment turned tears into the laughter everyone expected on such a festive occasion.


For Pagano and the Colts, Monday morning was as precious as anyone could have imagined when Pagano took an indefinite leave to face the biggest opponent of his life, cancer.


In his absence, all the Colts was win nine of 12 games, make a historic turnaround and clinch a playoff spot all before Sunday's regular-season finale against Houston, which they pegged as the day they hoped to have Pagano back. If all goes well at practice this week, Pagano will be on the sideline for the first time since a Week 3 loss to Jacksonville.


Pagano endured three rounds of chemotherapy to put his cancer in remission.


That Pagano's return came less than 24 hours after Indy (10-5) locked up the No. 5 seed in the AFC and the day before Christmas seemed fitting, too.


"I know Chuck is ready for this challenge. In speaking to his doctor multiple times, I know that the time is right for him to grab the reins, get the head coaching cap on and begin the journey," owner Jim Irsay said. "It's been a miraculous story. It really is a book. It's a fairytale. It's a Hollywood script. It's all those things but it's real."


The reality is that he's returning to a vastly different team than the one he turned over to Arians, his long-time friend and first assistant coaching hire.


Back then, the Colts were 1-2 and most of the so-called experts had written them off as one of the league's worst teams. Now, they're ready to show the football world that they can be just as successful under Pagano as they were under Arians, who tied the NFL record for wins after a midseason coaching change.


Pagano also has changed.


The neatly-trimmed salt-and-pepper hair and trademark goatee that were missing in November have slowly returned, and the thinner man who appeared to be catching his breath during a postgame speech in early November, looked and sounded as good as ever Monday.


He repeatedly thanked fans for their prayers and letters, the organization and his family for their unwavering help and promised to provide comfort and support to other people who are facing similar fights. During one poignant moment that nearly brought out tears again, Pagano even recounted a letter sent to him by a 9-year-old child who suggested he suck on ice chips and strawberry Popsicles in the hospital and advised him to be nice to the nurses regardless of how he felt — and he never even paused.


"I feel great, my weight is back, my energy is back and again, it's just a blessing to be back here," Pagano said.


In the minds of Colts players and coaches, Pagano never really left.


He continually watched practice tape and game film on his computer, used phone calls and text messages to regularly communicate with players and occasionally delivered a pregame or postgame speech to his team.


"He texted me and called me so much, it was like he was standing there in my face every day," said receiver Reggie Wayne, who has been friends with Pagano since the two were working together at the University of Miami.


But the Colts found plenty of other ways to keep Pagano's battle in the forefront.


They began a fundraising campaign for leukemia research, calling it Chuckstrong. Players had stickers with the initials CP on their locker room nameplates, and Arians wore an orange ribbon on his baseball cap during games. Orange is the symbolic color for leukemia. At one point, nearly three dozen players shaved their heads to show their ailing coach they were with him.


That's not all.


Arians and first-year general manager Ryan Grigson decided to leave the lights on in Pagano's office until he returned. Pagano noted the team even installed plastic clips to make sure those lights were not mistakenly turned off while he was gone. Those clips were removed when Pagano arrived Monday morning.


And Arians said nobody sat in the front seat of the team bus.


"He's always been our head coach," Arians said.


So after getting medical clearance from his oncologist, Dr. Larry Cripe, to return with no restrictions, Pagano couldn't wait to get to the office Monday morning.


Arians arrived at 7 a.m., three hours early for the scheduled team meeting. By then, Pagano had already driven past the inflatable Colts player with the words "Welcome Back Chuck" printed on its chest and was back in his office preparing for the Texans.


Players showed up a couple of hours later, and when the torch was passed from Arians back to Pagano, players gave their returning coach a standing ovation that Wayne said was well-deserved.


All Pagano wants to do now is emulate the success Arians and his players have had this season.


"I asked him (Arians) if he would lead this team and this ballclub and this organization and take over the reins," Pagano said. "What a masterful, masterful job you did Bruce. You carried the torch and all you went out and did was win nine ballgames. You got us our 10th win yesterday and you got us into the playoffs. You did it with dignity and you did it with class. You're everything that I always knew you were and more."


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