Japan defeats Brazil 5-3 in World Baseball Classic

FUKUOKA, Japan (AP) — Two-time defending champion Japan had to rally to beat Brazil 5-3 on Saturday in its opening game of the World Baseball Classic.

Japan trailed 3-2 before adding three runs in the top of the eighth inning in front of a crowd of 28,181 at the Fukuoka Dome.

Hirokazu Ibata came off the bench to tie the game with a single to right that scored Seiichi Uchikawa from second. Japan took a 4-3 lead when Ibata scored from third on a fielder's choice and added an insurance run on Nobuhiro Matsuda's single to center that scored Hisayoshi Chono.

Brazil looked set to pull off a major upset when it took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning on a double by Leonardo Reginatto that scored Paulo Orlando from second.

Read More..

U.S. evolves on same-sex marriage


  • The president and the nation have shifted perspectives on same-sex marriage

  • Supreme Court ruling on California's same-sex marriage ban a critical test

  • Growing public support for gay marriage give proponents hope for change

Washington (CNN) -- The nation's growing acceptance of same-sex marriage has happened in slow and painstaking moves, eventually building into a momentum that is sweeping even the most unlikely of converts.

Even though he said in 2008 that he could only support civil unions for same-sex couples, President Barack Obama nonetheless enjoyed strong support among the gay community. He disappointed many with his conspicuously subdued first-term response to the same-sex marriage debate.

Last year, after Vice President Joe Biden announced his support, the president then said his position had evolved and he, too, supported same-sex marriage.

So it was no small matter when on Thursday the Obama administration formally expressed its support of same-sex marriage in a court brief weighing in on California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex weddings. The administration's effort was matched by at least 100 high-profile Republicans — some of whom in elections past depended on gay marriage as a wedge issue guaranteed to rally the base — who signed onto a brief supporting gay couples to legally wed.

Obama on same-sex marriage: Everyone is equal

Then there are the polls that show that an increasing number of Americans now support same-sex marriage. These polls show that nearly half of the nation's Catholics and white, mainstream Protestants and more than half of the nation's women, liberals and political moderates all support same-sex marriage.

According to Pew Research Center polling, 48% of Americans support same-sex marriage with 43% opposed. Back in 2001, 57% opposed same-sex marriage while 35% supported it.

In last year's presidential election, same-sex marriage scarcely raised a ripple. That sea change is not lost on the president.

"The same evolution I've gone through is the same evolution the country as a whole has gone through," Obama told reporters on Friday.

Craig Rimmerman, professor of public policy and political science at Hobart and William Smith colleges says there is history at work here and the administration is wise to get on the right side.

"There is no doubt that President Obama's shifting position on Proposition 8 and same-sex marriage more broadly is due to his desire to situate himself on the right side of history with respect to the fight over same-sex marriage," said Rimmerman, author of "From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States."

"I also think that broader changes in public opinion showing greater support for same-sex marriage, especially among young people, but in the country at large as well, has created a cultural context for Obama to alter his views."

For years, Obama had frustrated many in the gay community by not offering full-throated support of same-sex marriage. However, the president's revelation last year that conversations with his daughters and friends led him to change his mind gave many in that community hope.

Last year, the Obama administration criticized a measure in North Carolina that banned same-sex marriage and made civil unions illegal. The president took the same position on a similar Minnesota proposal.

Obama administration officials point to what they see as the administration's biggest accomplishment in the gay rights cause: repealing "don't ask, don't tell," the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian members serving in the forces.

Then there was the president's inaugural address which placed the gay community's struggle for equality alongside similar civil rights fights by women and African-Americans.

"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well," Obama said in his address after being sworn in.

In offering its support and asserting in the brief that "prejudice may not be the basis for differential treatment under the law," the Obama administration is setting up a high stakes political and constitutional showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court over a fast-evolving and contentious issue.

The justices will hear California's Proposition 8 case in March. That case and another appeal over the federal Defense of Marriage Act will produce blockbuster rulings from the justices in coming months.

Beyond the legal wranglings there is a strong social and historic component, one that has helped open the way for the administration to push what could prove to be a social issue that defines Obama's second term legacy, Rimmerman said.

The nation is redefining itself on this issue, as well.

Pew survey: Changing attitudes on gay marriage

The changes are due, in part, to generational shifts. Younger people show a higher level of support than their older peers, according to Pew polling "Millennials are almost twice as likely as the Silent Generation to support same-sex marriage."

"As people have grown up with people having the right to marry the generational momentum has been very, very strong," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a gay rights organization.

That is not to say that there isn't still opposition.

Pew polling found that most Republicans and conservatives remain opposed to same-sex marriage. In 2001, 21% of Republicans were supportive; in 2012 that number nudged slightly to 25%.

Conservative groups expressed dismay at the administration's same-sex marriage support.

"President Obama, who was against same-sex 'marriage' before he was for it, and his administration, which said the Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional before they said it was unconstitutional, has now flip-flopped again on the issue of same-sex 'marriage,' putting allegiance to extreme liberal social policies ahead of constitutional principle," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement.

But there are signs of movement even among some high profile Republican leaders

Top Republicans sign brief supporting same-sex marriage

The Republican-penned friend of the court brief, which is designed to influence conservative justices on the high court, includes a number of top officials from the George W. Bush administration, Mitt Romney's former campaign manager and former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.

It is also at odds with the Republican Party's platform, which opposes same-sex marriage and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Still, with White House and high-profile Republican support, legal and legislative victories in a number of states and polls that show an increasing number of Americans support same sex-marriage, proponents feel that the winds of history are with them.

"What we've seen is accelerating and irrefutable momentum as Americans have come to understand who gay people are and why marriage matters," Wolfson said. "We now have a solid national majority and growing support across every demographic. We have leaders across the spectrum, including Republicans, all saying it's time to end marriage discrimination."

CNN's Peter Hamby, Ashley Killough and Bill Mears contributed to this report.

Read More..

Man slain on way to dialysis treatment: police

South Side shooting

Police at the scene of a fatal shooting early Saturday at Homicide at Eberhart and 95th Streets.
(Peter Nickeas / Chicago Tribune / March 2, 2013)

A 72-year-old man was shot and killed in his gangway on the Far South Side early Saturday morning as he left a home for dialysis treatment.

The man's grandson was inside and heard the shots that killed his grandfather, who was identified by family as William Strickland, of the 400 block of East 95th Street.

The man was shot about 3:30 a.m. and pronounced dead about 4 a.m., according to authorities.

The motive appears to be robbery, police said, but detectives are still investigating.

Detectives remained at the scene, across from Chicago State University, into the morning.

Police taped off the northeast corner of 95th Street and Eberhart Avenue, surrounding the two houses between which the man was killed.

Check back for more information.

Twitter: @peternickeas

Read More..

Wall Street slips on weak global data

PARIS, March 1 (Reuters) - Alex Ferguson's philosophy is behind the longevity of Manchester United's homegrown players, says Paris St Germain midfielder David Beckham. The former England captain and United player is still active at 37, having joined PSG on a five-month loan at the end of January. Former team mate Phil Neville, 36, plays at Everton and the 39-year-old Ryan Giggs, who started his youth career at Manchester City but ended it at United, is still at Old Trafford after signing his first professional contract there in 1990. ...
Read More..

Leaving NKorea, Rodman calls Kims 'great leaders'

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Ending his unexpected round of basketball diplomacy in North Korea on Friday, ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman called leader Kim Jong Un an "awesome guy" and said his father and grandfather were "great leaders."

Rodman, the highest-profile American to meet Kim since he inherited power from father Kim Jong Il in 2011, watched a basketball game with the authoritarian leader Thursday and later drank and dined on sushi with him.

At Pyongyang's Sunan airport on his way to Beijing, Rodman said it was "amazing" that the North Koreans were "so honest." He added that Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founder, "were great leaders."

"He's proud, his country likes him — not like him, love him, love him," Rodman said of Kim Jong Un. "Guess what, I love him. The guy's really awesome."

At Beijing's airport, Rodman pushed past waiting journalists without saying anything.

Rodman's visit to North Korea began Monday and took place amid tension between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test just two weeks ago, making clear the provocative act was a warning to the United States to drop what it considers a "hostile" policy toward the North.

Rodman traveled to Pyongyang with three members of the professional Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy and a production crew to shoot an episode on North Korea for a new weekly HBO series.

Kim, a diehard basketball fan, told the former Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls star that he hoped the visit would break the ice between the United States and North Korea, said Shane Smith, founder of the New York-based VICE media company.

Dressed in a blue Mao suit, Kim laughed and slapped his hands on a table during the game at Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium as he sat nearly knee to knee with Rodman. Rodman, the man who once turned up in a wedding dress to promote his autobiography, wore a dark suit and dark sunglasses, but still had on his nose rings and other piercings. A can of Coca-Cola sat on the table before him in photos shared with AP by VICE.

Smith, after speaking to the VICE crew in Pyongyang, said Kim and Rodman "bonded" and chatted in English, though Kim primarily spoke in Korean through a translator.

Thursday's game ended in a 110-110 tie, with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans. After the game, Rodman addressed Kim in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands of North Koreans and told him, "You have a friend for life," VICE spokesman Alex Detrick told AP.

At an "epic feast" later, the leader plied the group with food and drinks and round after round of toasts were made, Duffy said in an email to AP.

Duffy said he invited Kim to visit the United States, a proposal met with hearty laughter from the North Korean leader.

Kim said he hoped sports exchanges would promote "mutual understanding between the people of the two countries," the official Korean Central News Agency said.

North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of the three-year Korean War, which ended in a truce in 1953. The foes never signed a peace treaty, and do not have diplomatic relations.

Rodman's trip is the second attention-grabbing American visit this year to North Korea. Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a four-day trip in January to Pyongyang, but did not meet the North Korean leader.

The Obama administration had frowned on the trip by Schmidt, who was accompanied by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, but has avoided criticizing Rodman's outing, saying it's about sports.

Read More..

Syria war is everybody's problem

Syrians search for survivors and bodies after the Syrian regime attacked the city of Aleppo with missiles on February 23.


  • Frida Ghitis: We are standing by as Syria rips itself apart, thinking it's not our problem

  • Beyond the tragedy in human terms, she says, the war damages global stability

  • Ghitis: Syria getting more and more radical, jeopardizing forces of democracy

  • Ghitis: Peace counts on moderates, whom we must back with diplomacy, training arms

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- Last week, a huge explosion rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds. The victims of the blast in a busy downtown street were mostly civilians, including schoolchildren. Each side in the Syrian civil war blamed the other.

In the northern city of Aleppo, about 58 people -- 36 of them children -- died in a missile attack last week. Washington condemned the regime of Bashar al-Assad; the world looked at the awful images and moved on.

Syria is ripping itself to pieces. The extent of human suffering is beyond comprehension. That alone should be reason enough to encourage a determined effort to bring this conflict to a quick resolution. But if humanitarian reasons were not enough, the international community -- including the U.S. and its allies -- should weigh the potential implications of allowing this calamity to continue.

Frida Ghitis

Frida Ghitis

We've all heard the argument: It's not our problem. We're not the world's policeman. We would only make it worse.

This is not a plea to send American or European troops to fight in this conflict. Nobody wants that.

But before we allow this mostly hands-off approach to continue, we would do well to consider the potential toll of continuing with a failed policy, one that has focused in vain over the past two years searching for a diplomatic solution.

U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry has just announced that the U.S. will provide an additional $60 million in non-lethal assistance to the opposition. He has hinted that President Obama, after rejecting suggestions from the CIA and previous Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to arm Syrian rebels, might be ready to change course. And not a day too soon.

The war is taking longer than anyone expected. The longer it lasts, the more Syria is radicalized and the region is destabilized.

If you think the Syrian war is the concern of Syrians alone, think about other countries that have torn themselves apart over a long time. Consider Lebanon, Afghanistan or Somalia; each with unique circumstances, but with one thing in common: Their wars created enormous suffering at home, and the destructiveness eventually spilled beyond their borders. All of those wars triggered lengthy, costly refugee crises. They all spawned international terrorism and eventually direct international -- including U.S. -- intervention.

The uprising against al-Assad started two years ago in the spirit of what was then referred to -- without a hint of irony -- as the Arab Spring. Young Syrians marched, chanting for freedom and democracy. The ideals of equality, rule of law and human rights wafted in the air.

Al-Assad responded to peaceful protests with gunfire. Syrians started dying by the hundreds each day. Gradually the nonviolent protesters started fighting back. Members of the Syrian army started defecting.

The opposition's Free Syrian Army came together. Factions within the Syrian opposition took up arms and the political contest became a brutal civil war. The death toll has climbed to as many as 90,000, according to Kerry. About 2 million people have left their homes, and the killing continues with no end in sight.

In fairness to Washington, Europe and the rest of the international community, there were never easy choices in this war. Opposition leaders bickered, and their clashing views scared away would-be supporters. Western nations rejected the idea of arming the opposition, saying Syria already has too many weapons. They were also concerned about who would control the weaponry, including an existing arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, after al-Assad's fall.

These are all legitimate concerns. But inaction is producing the worst possible outcome.

The moderates, whose views most closely align with the West, are losing out to the better-armed Islamists and, especially, to the extremists. Moderates are losing the ideological debate and the battle for the future character of a Syria after al-Assad.

Radical Islamist groups have taken the lead. Young people are losing faith in moderation, lured by disciplined, devout extremists. Reporters on the ground have seen young democracy advocates turn into fervent supporters of dangerous groups such as the Nusra Front, which has scored impressive victories.

The U.S. State Department recently listed the Nusra Front, which has close ties to al Qaeda in Iraq and a strong anti-Western ideology, as a terrorist organization.

Meantime, countries bordering Syria are experiencing repercussions. And these are likely to become more dangerous.

Jordan, an important American ally, is struggling with a flood of refugees, as many as 10,000 each week since the start of the year. The government estimates 380,000 Syrians are in Jordan, a country whose government is under pressure from its own restive population and still dealing with huge refugee populations from other wars.

Turkey is also burdened with hundreds of thousands of refugees and occasional Syrian fire. Israel has warned about chemical weapons transfers from al-Assad to Hezbollah in Lebanon and may have already fired on a Syrian convoy attempting the move.

Lebanon, always perched precariously on the edge of crisis, lives with growing fears that Syria's war will enter its borders. Despite denials, there is evidence that Lebanon's Hezbollah, a close ally of al-Assad and of Iran, has joined the fighting on the side of the Syrian president. The Free Syrian Army has threatened to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon if it doesn't leave Syria.

The possible outcomes in Syria include the emergence of a failed state, stirring unrest throughout the region. If al-Assad wins, Syria will become an even more repressive country.

Al-Assad's survival would fortify Iran and Hezbollah and other anti-Western forces. If the extremists inside the opposition win, Syria could see factional fighting for many years, followed by anti-democratic, anti-Western policies.

The only good outcome is victory for the opposition's moderate forces. They may not be easy to identify with complete certainty. But to the extent that it is possible, these forces need Western support.

They need training, funding, careful arming and strong political and diplomatic backing. The people of Syria should know that support for human rights, democracy and pluralism will lead toward a peaceful, prosperous future.

Democratic nations should not avert their eyes from the killings in Syria which are, after all, a warning to the world.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

Read More..

Chicago State trustees meet in midst of leadership turmoil

Chicago State University's board of trustees is meeting this morning to settle the question of who is president at the South Side campus, capping a tumultuous week.

On Monday, the board announced that Wayne Watson, president since 2009, would take a yearlong sabbatical and then was expected to retire. It also said that provost Sandra Westbrooks would be the acting president.

But Watson stayed in his office this week and has maintained that he is still the president. Watson’s attorney said he viewed the sabbatical as equivalent to a vacation, not an end to his presidency. Watson’s contract goes until 2014.

The sabbatical arrangement, which Watson requested, was intended to allow him to exit without drama after the trustees decided they wanted new leadership. He was to be paid his $250,000 salary during the sabbatical, during which time he said he planned to care for his elderly father and conduct research on effective leadership at minority-serving institutions.

The board called the meeting to order shortly after 8 a.m. this morning and then recessed into a closed executive session to discuss what was described on the published agenda as employment matters, legal matters and approval of legal and consultant services. It is then expected to reconvene in an open session.

Before the meeting began, Chicago leaders well known in the African-American community crowded into the library waiting area, including former Sen. Emil Jones and Jonathan Jackson from Rainbow Push Coalition.

Jones, who walked the room with Watson, said: “He should be president, no question about that, because of his interest in the education of the students who go here.”

The mood among the crowd was pleasant despite the differences in opinion on how the university should be lead.

"We're on the good side," said Victor P. Henderson, Watson's attorney.

Watson said: "I'm standing for the right thing."

Board Chairman Gary Rozier told the Tribune earlier this week that trustees had decided it was “time to look for new leadership.” They were disappointed with the decline in enrollment and the faculty’s no-confidence vote on Watson.

Henderson has defended Watson’s tenure.

“I have not seen one iota of information which would justify changing the president’s status at the university,” Henderson said earlier this week.

Earlier this week, Watson sent a letter to trustees alleging that some board members are retaliating against him because he won’t accede to their pressures to hire and reward their friends.

In a four-page letter dated Feb. 26 and obtained by the Tribune, Watson told trustees that the “real motivation” behind the board’s efforts to replace him was his refusal “to capitulate to the incessant requests” from Rozier and Vice Chairman Z. Scott to “either hire, promote or give salary increases to their friends and associates.”

Langdon Neal, the board’s attorney, replied: “We are going to rise above this and deal with the matters that affect the students of the university and the university itself. We are not going to comment on the personal accusations.”

In the letter to trustees, Watson also wrote that there are now no financial improprieties at an institution that was plagued by fiscal mismanagement for years.


Read More..

Wall Street advances, on track for third day of gains

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Thursday, pointing to a third straight day of gains in the wake of some strong economic data, though a further advance may be limited with major averages near multi-year highs.

While some data released Thursday were rosy, a read on economic growth was weaker than expected, and analysts said a pullback may be in store a day after major equity indexes posted their biggest daily advance since early January.

Over the past two sessions, the S&P 500 has gained 1.9 percent, rising back above the closely watched level of 1,500. The Dow Jones industrial average moved within striking distance of an all-time high.

"The market is looking choppy, and I think investors should use this as an opportunity to sell into strength," said Matt McCormick, a money manager at Cincinnati-based Bahl & Gaynor. "This seems like an environment where someone should be conservative instead of aggressive."

The U.S. economy grew 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, a weaker pace than expected, although a slightly better performance in exports and fewer imports led the government to scratch an earlier estimate of an economic contraction.

Separately, the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, while the February Chicago Purchasing Managers Index unexpectedly rose to an 11-month high.

While equity markets suffered steep losses earlier in the week on concerns over European debt, they have since recovered, with the gains fueled by strong data and recent comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that showed continued support for the Fed's economic stimulus policy.

"Growth is still anemic and there are still issues with Europe. People seem to be ignoring the signs that would otherwise give them cause for concern," said McCormick, who helps oversee $8.2 billion in assets.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 27.27 points, or 0.19 percent, at 14,102.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 5.13 points, or 0.34 percent, at 1,521.12. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 13.75 points, or 0.43 percent, at 3,176.01.

The benchmark S&P 500 has gained 1.4 percent in February, the Dow is up 1.7 percent and the Nasdaq has added 1 percent.

J.C. Penney Co Inc slumped 18 percent to $17.32 as the S&P's biggest decliner after the department store reported a steep drop in sales on Wednesday. Groupon Inc also slumped on weak revenue, with the stock off 25 percent at $4.50.

Mylan Inc jumped 6.5 percent to $30.45 on the Nasdaq after the generic drugmaker posted a 25 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit.

Investors were keeping an eye on the debate in Washington over sequestration - U.S. government budget cuts that will take effect starting on Friday if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on spending and taxes. President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders arranged to hold last-ditch talks to prevent the cuts, but expectations were low that any deal would be produced.

With 93 percent of the S&P 500 companies having reported results so far, 69.5 percent have beaten profit expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 6.2 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Read More..

Low-key departure as Pope Benedict steps down

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict slips quietly from the world stage on Thursday after a private last goodbye to his cardinals and a short flight to a country palace to enter the final phase of his life "hidden from the world".

In keeping with his shy and modest ways, there will be no public ceremony to mark the first papal resignation in six centuries and no solemn declaration ending his nearly eight-year reign at the head of the world's largest church.

His last public appearance will be a short greeting to residents and well-wishers at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence south of Rome, in the late afternoon after his 15-minute helicopter hop from the Vatican.

When the resignation becomes official at 8 p.m. Rome time (02.00 p.m. EST), Benedict will be relaxing inside the 17th century palace. Swiss Guards on duty at the main gate to indicate the pope's presence within will simply quit their posts and return to Rome to await their next pontiff.

Avoiding any special ceremony, Benedict used his weekly general audience on Wednesday to bid an emotional farewell to more than 150,000 people who packed St Peter's Square to cheer for him and wave signs of support.

With a slight smile, his often stern-looking face seemed content and relaxed as he acknowledged the loud applause from the crowd.

"Thank you, I am very moved," he said in Italian. His unusually personal remarks included an admission that "there were moments ... when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping".


Once the chair of St Peter is vacant, cardinals who have assembled from around the world for Benedict's farewell will begin planning the closed-door conclave that will elect his successor.

One of the first questions facing these "princes of the Church" is when the 115 cardinal electors should enter the Sistine Chapel for the voting. They will hold a first meeting on Friday but a decision may not come until next week.

The Vatican seems to be aiming for an election by mid-March so the new pope can be installed in office before Palm Sunday on March 24 and lead the Holy Week services that culminate in Easter on the following Sunday.

In the meantime, the cardinals will hold daily consultations at the Vatican at which they discuss issues facing the Church, get to know each other better and size up potential candidates for the 2,000-year-old post of pope.

There are no official candidates, no open campaigning and no clear front runner for the job. Cardinals tipped as favorites by Vatican watchers include Brazil's Odilo Scherer, Canadian Marc Ouellet, Ghanaian Peter Turkson, Italy's Angelo Scola and Timothy Dolan of the United States.


Benedict, a bookish man who did not seek the papacy and did not enjoy the global glare it brought, proved to be an energetic teacher of Catholic doctrine but a poor manager of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy that became mired in scandal during his reign.

He leaves his successor a top secret report on rivalries and scandals within the Curia, prompted by leaks of internal files last year that documented the problems hidden behind the Vatican's thick walls and the Church's traditional secrecy.

After about two months at Castel Gandolfo, Benedict plans to move into a refurbished convent in the Vatican Gardens, where he will live out his life in prayer and study, "hidden to the world", as he put it.

Having both a retired and a serving pope at the same time proved such a novelty that the Vatican took nearly two weeks to decide his title and form of clerical dress.

He will be known as the "pope emeritus," wear a simple white cassock rather than his white papal clothes and retire his famous red "shoes of the fisherman," a symbol of the blood of the early Christian martyrs, for more pedestrian brown ones.

(Reporting By Tom Heneghan; editing by Philip Pullella and Giles Elgood)

Read More..

Minnesota takes down No. 1 Indiana 77-73

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Retaining that No. 1 national ranking has been elusive throughout this wild season in college basketball, and Indiana was the latest to lose at the top — again.

Most important and maybe more challenging for the Hoosiers, however, is holding on to first place in the tough-as-ever Big Ten.

Trevor Mbakwe had 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting and 12 rebounds to help Minnesota take down top-ranked Indiana 77-73 on Tuesday night, the seventh time the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll has lost this season. Three of those losses were by the Hoosiers, who were No. 1 when they fell to Butler and Wisconsin earlier this season. All three opponents were unranked at the time.

Indiana (24-4, 12-3) has held the No. 1 ranking for 10 of the 17 polls by the AP this season, including the last four, and that will likely change next week. But fending off Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin is what's on the minds of the Hoosiers, who'll take a one-game lead in the conference race into Saturday's game against Iowa.

"Winning the Big Ten was going to be tough whether we won today or lost," said star guard Victor Oladipo, who had 16 points. "We knew it was going to be tough from the jump. Now it's even tougher. But I think my team is ready for it. We just have to go back and see what we did wrong and correct it."

Andre Hollins added 16 points for the Gophers (19-9, 7-8), who outrebounded Cody Zeller and the Hoosiers by a whopping 44-30 and solidified their slipping NCAA tournament hopes with an emphatic performance against the conference leader. The fired-up fans swarmed the court as the last seconds ticked off, the first time that's happened here since a 2002 win over Indiana.

"There were just too many times when that first shot went up and they were there before we were because we didn't get into their bodies," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. "We weren't physical enough on the glass. That's the bottom line."

Zeller, the second-leading shooter in the Big Ten, went 2 for 9. He had nine points with four turnovers. Minnesota had 40 points in the paint to Indiana's 22.

Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior, had a lot to do with that. While positing his conference-leading seventh double-double of the season, the 24-year-old Mbakwe was a man among boys in many ways in this game, dominating both ends of the court when the Gophers needed him most. He grabbed six of Minnesota's 23 offensive rebounds, two of them to keep a key possession alive. His off-balance put-back drew contact for a three-point play with 7:22 left that gave the Gophers a 55-52 lead.

Mbakwe was called for a loudly questioned blocking foul, his fourth, with 4:39 remaining on Zeller's fast-break layup and free throw that put the Hoosiers up 59-58. But Austin Hollins answered with a pump-fake layup that drew a foul for a three-point play and a two-point advantage for the Gophers.

The Hoosiers didn't lead again, and Joe Coleman's fast-break dunk with 2:35 left gave Minnesota a 68-61 cushion that helped it withstand a couple of 3-pointers by Christian Watford and one by Jordan Hulls in the closing minutes. That was the only basket Hulls made after halftime. He had 17 points.

"Just the way we bounced back is unbelievable. We showed that we can beat one of the best teams in the country. Now we have to build off this," said Mbakwe, whose team lost eight of its previous 11 games starting with an 88-81 loss at Indiana on Jan. 12. The Gophers were ranked eighth then. They didn't even receive a vote in the current poll. That could change next week.

The Hoosiers are still in position for their first outright Big Ten regular-season championship since 1993. With another home game against Ohio State on March 5, Indiana could still clinch the title before the finale at Michigan on March 10.

For now, though, the Hoosiers have to regroup and re-establish their inside game after the trampling in the post they endured here.

"They were relentless on the glass. We just didn't do a great job of boxing them out," Oladipo said.


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

Read More..

Benedict: Pope aware of his flaws?

Pope Benedict XVI delivers his last Angelus Blessing to thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square on February 24.


  • Sister Mary Ann Walsh: Pope Benedict acknowledged that he made mistakes

  • Walsh: In firestorm over scholarly quotes about Islam, he went to great lengths to atone

  • Walsh: Similarly, he quickly reversed a decision that had angered Jews and repaired ties

  • Even his stepping down is a nod to his humanity and his love of the church, she says

Editor's note: Sister Mary Ann Walsh is director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Regional Community. She is a former foreign correspondent at Catholic News Service (CNS) in Rome and the editor of "John Paul II: A Light for the World," "Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on his Papacy," and "From Pope John Paul II to Benedict XVI."

(CNN) -- One of the Bible's paradoxical statements comes from St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians: "Power is made perfect in infirmity."

The poetic statement proclaims that when we are weak, we are strong. Pope Benedict XVI's stepping down from what many consider one of the most powerful positions in the world proves it. In a position associated with infallibility -- though that refers to formal proclamations on faith and morals -- the pope declares his weakness.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Sister Mary Ann Walsh

His acceptance of frailty speaks realistically about humanity: We grow old, weaken, and eventually die. A job, even one guided by the Holy Spirit, as we Roman Catholics believe, can become too much for us.

Acceptance of human frailty has marked this papacy. We all make mistakes, but the pope makes them on a huge stage.

He was barely into his papacy, for example, when he visited Regensburg, Germany, where he once taught theology. Like many a professor, he offered a provocative statement to get the conversation going. To introduce the theme of his lecture, the pope quoted from an account of a dialogue between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an unnamed Muslim scholar, sometime near the end of the 14th century -- a quote that was misinterpreted by some as a condemnation of Mohammed and Islam.

Opinion: 'Gay lobby' behind pope's resignation? Not likely

Twice, the pope emphasized that he was quoting someone else's words. Unfortunately, the statement about Islam was taken as insult, not a discussion opener, and sparked rage throughout the Muslim world.

The startled pope had to explain himself. He apologized and traveled two months later to Istanbul's Blue Mosque, where he stood shoeless in prayer beside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul. Later he hosted Muslim leaders at the Vatican at the start of a Catholic-Muslim forum for dialogue. It was a human moment -- a mistake, an apology and atonement -- all round.

A similar controversy erupted when he tried to bring the schismatic Society of St. Pius X back into the Roman Catholic fold.

In a grand gesture toward reconciliation, he lifted the excommunication of four of its bishops, unaware that one, Richard Williamson, was a Holocaust denier. This outraged many Jews. Subsequently the Vatican said the bishop had not been vetted, and in a bow to modernity said officials at least should have looked him up on the Internet.

In humble response, Benedict reiterated his condemnation of anti-Semitism and told Williamson that he must recant his Holocaust views to be fully reinstated. Again, his admission of a mistake and an effort to mend fences.

News: Scandal threatens to overshadow pope's final days

Pope Benedict XVI came from a Catholic Bavarian town. Childhood family jaunts included trips to the shrine of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Altotting. He entered the seminary at the age of 13. He became a priest, scholar and theologian. He lived his life in service to the church. Even in resigning from the papacy, he embraces the monastic life to pray for a church he has ever loved.

With hindsight, his visit to the tomb of 13th century Pope Celestine V, a Benedictine monk who resigned from the papacy eight centuries before, becomes poignant.

In 2009, on a visit to Aquila, Italy, Benedict left at Celestine's tomb the pallium, a stole-like vestment that signifies episcopal authority, that Benedict had worn for his installation as pope. The gesture takes on more meaning as the monkish Benedict steps down.

We expect the pope to be perfect. Catholics hold him to be the vicar of Christ on earth. He stands as a spiritual leader for much of the world. Statesmen visit him from around the globe. He lives among splendid architecture, in the shadow of the domed St. Peter's Basilica. All testify to an almost surreal omnipotence.

Complete coverage of the pope's resignation

In this world, however, walked a vulnerable, human person. And in a paradox of life, his most human moment -- giving up the power of office -- may prove to be his most potent, delivering a message that, as St. Paul noted many centuries ago, "Power is made perfect in infirmity."

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mary Ann Walsh.

Read More..

Illinois House committee advances gay marriage bill

The proposal, approved on a 6-5 vote in the House Executive Committee shortly before 10 p.m., is coming under increasingly heavy fire from church organizations who say same-sex marriage violates moral and religious principles. But advocates have ratcheted up calls for swift action.

Sponsoring Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said the bill is needed “because we need to treat all Illinois families equally under the law” but the status of people in civil unions is often misunderstood.

Under the measure, marriage in Illinois would be allowed between two people rather than only a man and a woman. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has vowed to sign the legislation, a move that would make Illinois the 10th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage. The Senate passed the legislation with only one Republican vote on Valentine’s Day.

Advocates said the proposal would allow ministers to refuse to perform same-sex marriages if it’s against their beliefs and would not require church officials to make their buildings or parish halls available if they don’t wish it. But opponents have questioned if the protections are strong enough.

The House has held close votes on same-sex issues over the years. The latest movement to support gay marriage in Illinois has evolved quickly. It’s been less than two years since the first civil union certificates were issued for gay and straight couples.

But with the Democrats increasing their majorities in both the House and the Senate during last fall’s elections, the gay marriage issue gained traction. Advocates tried to pass the measure in the brief, lame-duck legislative session in January, but they called off the bid and refocused on passing the bill in the newly seated General Assembly.

The late-night committee hearing was held following an hours-long debate on concealed carry gun legislation in the full House. Witnesses who came to Springfield just to weigh in on the marriage bill quickly presented their testimony before the committee voted shortly before 10:30 p.m.

Kellie Fiedorek, an official with the Alliance Defending Freedom, argued against the bill. She said it failed to protect the religious freedoms of all Illinoisans because it "advances religious intolerance and discrimination towards Illinois citizens with sincerely held religious beliefs."

Backing for the proposal came from the Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, the former church of President Barack Obama.

Moss told the committee that all people come from different backgrounds of faith, traditions and ethnicities, but he called on lawmakers to remember they all belong to the "cathedral of democracy."

Read More..

Iran upbeat on nuclear talks, West wary

ALMATY (Reuters) - Iran gave an upbeat assessment of two days of nuclear talks with world powers that ended on Wednesday, but Western officials said Tehran must start taking concrete steps to ease mounting concerns about its atomic activity.

The first negotiations between Iran and six world powers in eight months ended without a breakthrough in Almaty, but they agreed to meet again at expert level in Istanbul next month and resume political discussions in the Kazakh city on April 5.

Israel, assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, is watching the talks closely. It has strongly hinted it might attack Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran denies any such aim.

Iran's foreign minister said he was optimistic an agreement could be reached with the powers - the United States, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and China - on the country's disputed nuclear program.

"Very confident," Ali Akbar Salehi told Reuters when asked on the sidelines of a U.N. conference in Vienna how confident he was of a positive outcome.

The six powers offered at the February 26-27 Almaty meeting to lift some sanctions if Iran scaled back nuclear activity that the West fears could be used to build a bomb.

Tehran, which says its program is entirely peaceful, did not agree to do so and the sides did not appear any closer to a deal to resolve a decade-old dispute that could lead to another war in the Middle East if diplomacy fails.

But Iran still said the talks were a positive step in which the six powers tried to "get closer to our viewpoint".

Western officials had made clear they did not expect major progress in Almaty, aware that the closeness of Iran's presidential election in June is raising political tensions in Tehran and makes significant concessions unlikely.

"I hope the Iranian side is looking positively on the proposal we put forward," said European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the talks on behalf of the powers. "We have to see what happens next."

The United States did not expect a breakthrough and "the result was clearly in line with those expectations," a senior U.S. official said.

The meeting was "useful" as the two sides agreed dates and venues for follow-up talks but there was a need for progress on confidence building measures, the official added.


The West's immediate priority is that Iran halts higher-grade uranium enrichment and closes an underground facility, Fordow, where this work is carried out. The material is a relatively short technical step from bomb-grade uranium.

"What we care about at the end is concrete results," the U.S. official said.

One diplomat in Almaty said the Iranians appeared to be suggesting at the negotiations that they were opening new avenues, but that it was not clear if this was really the case.

Both sides said experts would meet for talks in the Turkish city of Istanbul on March 18 and that political negotiators would return to Almaty on April 5-6.

Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov confirmed that the powers had offered to ease sanctions on Iran if it stops enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile purity - a short technical step from weapons grade - at the Fordow underground site where it carries out its most controversial uranium enrichment work.

Western officials said the offer of sanctions relief included a resumption of trade in gold and precious metals.

One diplomat said that lifting an embargo on imports of Iranian petrochemical products to Europe, if Iran responded, was also on the table. But a U.S. official said the world powers had not offered to suspend oil or financial sanctions.

The sanctions are hurting Iran's economy and its chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, suggested Iran could discuss its production of higher-grade nuclear fuel, although he appeared to rule out shutting Fordow.

In comments in Persian translated into English, Jalili told a news conference Fordow was under the supervision of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and there was no justification for closing it.


Asked about the production of 20-percent enriched fuel, he reiterated Iran's position that it needed this for a research reactor and had a right to produce it.

Iran says its enrichment program is aimed solely at fuelling nuclear power plants so that it can export more oil, and that Israel's assumed nuclear arsenal is the main threat to peace in the region.

But Jalili did indicate that Iran might be prepared to talk about the issue, saying: "This can be discussed in the negotiations ... in view of confidence building."

Iran has also previously suggested that 20-percent enrichment was up for negotiation if it received the fuel from abroad instead. It also wants sanctions lifted.

"While an agreement to meet again may not impress skeptics of diplomacy, an important development did occur," said Trita Parsi, an expert on Iran. "The parties began searching for a solution by offering positive measures in order to secure concessions from the other side.

Another expert, Dina Esfandiary of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "I note that the mood is more optimistic and that's great, but a deal still hasn't been reached and in my view its unlikely to be reached before the Iranian elections have come and gone."

(Additional reporting Fredrik Dahl in Almaaty, Georgina Prodhan in Vienna, Zahra Hosseinian in Zurich, Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Marcus George in Dubai; Writing by Timothy Heritage and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Jon Hemming)

Read More..

Wall Street opens higher after drop on Italian vote

DEAR ABBY: "Harold" and I have been married for more than 20 years and have three children ranging in age from teen to toddler. We are both college graduates and held middle-management jobs until recently.Two years ago, Harold was offered a temporary job in an exotic location in another country. We jumped at the chance. I can't work due to the regulations here, but the money is good.Now that I'm not working, Harold suddenly believes he has the right to tell me what to do, how to manage daily activities, how to care for the children, etc. ...
Read More..

AP source: Tom Brady gets 3-year extension

Tom Brady will be a Patriot until he is 40 years old.

Brady agreed to a three-year contract extension with New England on Monday, a person familiar with the contract told The Associated Press. The extension is worth about $27 million and will free up nearly $15 million in salary cap room for the team, which has several younger players it needs to re-sign or negotiate new deals with.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the extension has not been announced.

Sports Illustrated first reported the extension.

The 35-year-old two-time league MVP was signed through 2014, and has said he wants to play at least five more years.

A three-time Super Bowl champion, Brady will make far less in those three seasons than the going rate for star quarterbacks. Brady currently has a four-year, $72 million deal with $48 million guaranteed.

Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks, at an average of $20 million and $18 million a year, respectively.

Brady has made it clear he wants to finish his career with the Patriots, whom he led to Super Bowl wins for the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, and losses in the big game after the 2007 and 2011 seasons. By taking less money in the extension and redoing his current contract, he's hopeful New England can surround him with the parts to win more titles.

Among the Patriots' free agents are top receiver Wes Welker and his backup, Julian Edelman; right tackle Sebastian Vollmer; cornerback Aqib Talib; and running back Danny Woodhead.

Brady has been the most successful quarterback of his era, of course, as well as one of the NFL's best leaders. His skill at running the no-huddle offense is unsurpassed, and he's easily adapted to the different offensive schemes New England has concentrated on through his 13 pro seasons.

The Patriots have gone from run-oriented in Brady's early days to a deep passing team with Randy Moss to an offense dominated by throws to tight ends, running backs and slot receivers.

Brady holds the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season with 50 in 2007, when the Patriots went 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the Giants. He has thrown for at least 28 touchdowns seven times and led the league three times.

Last season, Brady had 34 TD passes and eight interceptions as the Patriots went 12-4, leading the league with 557 points, 76 more than runner-up Denver.

Read More..

Vatican 'Gay lobby'? Probably not


  • Benedict XVI not stepping down under pressure from 'gay lobby,' Allen says

  • Allen: Benedict is a man who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of government

  • However, he says, much of the pope's time has been spent putting out fires

Editor's note: John L. Allen Jr. is CNN's senior Vatican analyst and senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

(CNN) -- Suffice it to say that of all possible storylines to emerge, heading into the election of a new pope, sensational charges of a shadowy "gay lobby" (possibly linked to blackmail), whose occult influence may have been behind the resignation of Benedict XVI, would be right at the bottom of the Vatican's wish list.

Proof of the Vatican's irritation came with a blistering statement Saturday complaining of "unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories," even suggesting the media is trying to influence the papal election.

Two basic questions have to be asked about all this. First, is there really a secret dossier about a network of people inside the Vatican who are linked by their sexual orientation, as Italian newspaper reports have alleged? Second, is this really why Benedict XVI quit?

John L. Allen Jr.

John L. Allen Jr.

The best answers, respectively, are "maybe" and "probably not."

It's a matter of record that at the peak of last year's massive Vatican leaks crisis, Benedict XVI created a commission of three cardinals to investigate the leaks. They submitted an eyes-only report to the pope in mid-December, which has not been made public.

It's impossible to confirm whether that report looked into the possibility that people protecting secrets about their sex lives were involved with the leaks, but frankly, it would be surprising if it didn't.

There are certainly compelling reasons to consider the hypothesis. In 2007, a Vatican official was caught by an Italian TV network on hidden camera arranging a date through a gay-oriented chat room, and then taking the young man back to his Vatican apartment. In 2010, a papal ceremonial officer was caught on a wiretap arranging liaisons through a Nigerian member of a Vatican choir. Both episodes played out in full public view, and gave the Vatican a black eye.

Pope Benedict XVI


























In that context, it would be a little odd if the cardinals didn't at least consider the possibility that insiders leading a double life might be vulnerable to pressure to betray the pope's confidence. That would apply not just to sex, but also potential conflicts of other sorts too, such as financial interests.

Vatican officials have said Benedict may authorize giving the report to the 116 cardinals who will elect his successor, so they can factor it into their deliberations. The most immediate fallout is that the affair is likely to strengthen the conviction among many cardinals that the next pope has to lead a serious house-cleaning inside the Vatican's bureaucracy.

It seems a stretch, however, to suggest this is the real reason Benedict is leaving. For the most part, one should probably take the pope at his word, that old age and fatigue are the motives for his decision.

That said, it's hard not to suspect that the meltdowns and controversies that have dogged Benedict XVI for the last eight years are in the background of why he's so tired. In 2009, at the height of another frenzy surrounding the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop, Benedict dispatched a plaintive letter to the bishops of the world, voicing hurt for the way he'd been attacked and apologizing for the Vatican's mishandling of the situation.

Even if Benedict didn't resign because of any specific crisis, including this latest one, such anguish must have taken its toll. Benedict is a teaching pope, a man who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of government, yet an enormous share of his time and energy has been consumed trying to put out internal fires.

It's hard to know why Benedict XVI is stepping off the stage, but I doubt it is because of a "gay lobby."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John L. Allen Jr.

Read More..

Porch collapses on 2 firefighters battling extra-alarm blaze

Two firefighters were hurt in an extra-alarm fire on the South Side early this morning

Two firefighters were hurt when a porch collapsed at an extra-alarm fire in Gresham on the South Side this morning, sending them through the floor into the basement, officials said.

The collapse trapped both firefighters and officials called a mayday as firefighters scrambled to free them. They were finally able to reach the two by breaking through a side window, and the injured firefighters were taken to Little Company of Mary Hospital.

The firefighters, both veterans of the department, suffered relatively minor injuries but the situation "could have been a lot worse," said Deputy Fire Commissioner John McNicholas.

"Had we had fire in that basement, things could have been a different story here," he said.

The firefighters were brought to safety within minutes, according to Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

"Whenever you've got a mayday, you've got a tense situation," he said. “They went in right away and got them."

By 8:15 a.m., one firefighter had been released from the hospital. The other was expected to be released shortly, according to Langford.

The 2-11 alarm fire broke out about 3:40 a.m. in vacant home in the 8800 block of South Parnell Avenue, spreading to a house next door.   A family of five was living in the second home but escaped uninjured.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Tribune photographer John J. Kim contributed.


Twitter: @AdamSege

Read More..

Italy faces post-vote stalemate, spooking investors

ROME (Reuters) - The Italian stock market fell and state borrowing costs rose on Tuesday as investors took fright at political deadlock after a stunning election that saw a comedian's protest party lead the poll and no group secure a clear majority in parliament.

"The winner is: Ingovernability" ran the headline in Rome newspaper Il Messaggero, reflecting the stalemate the country would have to confront in the next few weeks as sworn enemies would be forced to work together to form a government.

In a sign of where that might lead, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi indicated his center-right might be open to a grand coalition with the center-left bloc of Pier Luigi Bersani, which will have a majority in the lower house thanks to a premium of seats given to the largest bloc in the chamber.

Results in the upper house, the Senate, where seats are awarded on a region-by-region basis, indicated the center-left would end up with about 119 seats, compared with 117 for the center-right. But 158 are needed for a majority to govern.

Any coalition administration that may be formed must have a working majority in both houses in order to pass legislation.

Comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement won the most votes of any single party, taking 25 percent. He shows no immediate inclination to cooperate with other groups.

Despite talk of a new election, the main established parties seem likely to try to avoid that, fearing even more humiliation.

World financial markets reacted nervously to the prospect of a stalemate in the euro zone's third largest economy with memories still fresh of the crisis that took the 17-member currency bloc to the brink of collapse in 2011.

In a clear sign of worry at the top over what effect the elections could have on the economy, Prime Minister Mario Monti, whose austerity policies were repudiated by voters, called a meeting with the governor of the central bank, the economy minister and the European affairs minister for later on Tuesday.

Other governments in the euro zone sounded uneasy. Allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel made no secret of disappointment at Monti's debacle and urged Rome to continue with economic reforms Berlin sees as vital to stabilizing the common currency.

France's Socialist finance minister also expressed "worry" at the prospect of legislative deadlock in Italy but said that Italians had rejected austerity and hoped Bersani's center-left could form a stable government to help foster growth in Europe.


Fabio Fois, an economist at Barclays bank, said: "Political instability is likely to prevail in the near term and slow the implementation of much needed structural reforms unless a grand coalition among center-left, center-right and center is formed."

Berlusconi, a media magnate whose campaigning all but wiped out Bersani's once commanding opinion poll lead, hinted in a telephone call to a morning television show that he would be open to a deal with the center-left - but not with Monti, the technocrat summoned to replace him in a crisis 15 months ago.

"Italy must be governed," Berlusconi said, adding that he "must reflect" on a possible deal with the center-left. "Everyone must be prepared to make sacrifices," he said of the groups which now have a share of the legislature.

The Milan bourse was down more than four percent and the premium Italy pays over Germany to borrow on 10-year widened to a yield spread of 338.7 basis points, the highest since December 10.

At an auction of six-month Treasury bills, the government's borrowing costs shot up by more than two thirds. Investors demanded a yield of 1.237 percent, the highest since October and compared to just 0.730 percent in a similar sale a month ago.

Berlusconi, who was forced from office in November 2011 as borrowing costs approached levels investors feared would become unsustainable, said he was "not worried" about market reaction to the election and played down the significance of the spread.

The poor showing by Monti's centrist bloc reflected a weariness with austerity that was exploited by both Berlusconi and Grillo; only with the help of center-left allies did Bersani beat 5-Star, by just 125,000 votes, to control the lower house.

The worries immediately went beyond Italy's borders.

"What is crucial now is that a stable functioning government can be built as swiftly as possible," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. "This is not only in the interests of Italy but in the interests of all Europe."

The euro skidded to an almost seven-week low against the dollar in Asia on fears about the euro zone's debt crisis. It fell as far as $1.3042, its lowest since January 10.


Commentators said all Grillo's adversaries underestimated the appeal of a grassroots movement that called itself a "non-party", particularly its allure among young Italians who find themselves without jobs and the prospect of a decent future.

The 5-star Movement's score of 25.5 percent in the lower house was just ahead of the 25.4 percent for Bersani's Democratic Party, which ran in a coalition with the leftist SEL party, and it won almost 8.7 million votes overall - more than any other single party.

"The 'non-party' has become the largest party in the country," said Massimo Giannini, commentator for Rome newspaper La Repubblica, of Grillo, who mixes fierce attacks on corruption with policies ranging from clean energy to free Internet.

Grillo's surge in the final weeks of the campaign threw the race open, with hundreds of thousands turning up at his rallies to hear him lay into targets ranging from corrupt politicians and bankers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In just three years, his 5-Star Movement, heavily backed by a frustrated generation of young Italians increasingly shut out from permanent full-time jobs, has grown from a marginal group to one of the most talked about political forces in Europe.


"It's a classic result. Typically Italian," said Roberta Federica, a 36-year-old office worker in Rome. "It means the country is not united. It is an expression of a country that does not work. I knew this would happen."

Italy's borrowing costs have come down in recent months, helped by the promise of European Central Bank support but the election result confirmed fears of many European countries that it would not produce a government strong enough to implement effective reforms.

A long recession and growing disillusionment with mainstream parties fed a bitter public mood that saw more than half of Italian voters back parties that rejected the austerity policies pursued by Monti with the backing of Italy's European partners.

Monti suffered a major setback. His centrist grouping won only 10.6 percent and two of his key centrist allies, Pier Ferdinando Casini and lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini, both of parliamentarians for decades, were booted out.

"It's not that surprising if you consider how much people were let down by politics in its traditional forms," Monti said.

Berlusconi's campaign, mixing sweeping tax cut pledges with relentless attacks on Monti and Merkel, echoed many of the themes pushed by Grillo and underlined the increasingly angry mood of the Italian electorate.

Even if the next government turns away from the tax hikes and spending cuts brought in by Monti, it will struggle to revive an economy that has scarcely grown in two decades.

Monti was widely credited with tightening Italy's public finances and restoring its international credibility after the scandal-plagued Berlusconi, who is currently on trial for having sex with an under-age prostitute.

But Monti struggled to pass the kind of structural reforms needed to improve competitiveness and lay the foundations for a return to economic growth, and a weak center-left government may not find it any easier.

(Additional reporting by Barry Moody, Gavin Jones, Catherine Hornby, Lisa Jucca, Steven Jewkes, Steve Scherer and Naomi O'Leary; Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

Read More..

Johnson back on top with 2nd Daytona 500 victory

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson went two years without a title and suddenly became an afterthought at the Daytona 500.

All the attention went to Danica Patrick and a handful of other drivers.

Not that it mattered Sunday, because look who pulled into Victory Lane.

Five-time is back. Not that he ever went away.

Johnson won his second Daytona 500 on Sunday, a year after he completed just one lap in the race and three months after falling short in his bid for a sixth Sprint Cup title. That so-called drought had made him something of a no-name during Speedweeks.

"In my mind, I didn't feel like I was under the radar," he said. "I felt like we were working hard to put the best product on the track. I guess I was quiet in the overall spectrum of things from the media side. I think people in the garage, people knew we were sitting on a lot of speed and had a very good race car."

But in winning the biggest race of the year, the No. 48 team wasn't sending a message to the competitors.

"I don't think we went anywhere; anybody in the garage area, they're wise to all that," Johnson said.

Johnson's win came on the same day that Patrick, who became the first woman in history to start a Sprint Cup race from the pole, again made history as the first woman to lead laps in the Daytona 500.

She ran inside the top 10 almost the entire race, kept pace with the field and never panicked on the track.

Her only mistakes were on pit road, where she got beat on the race back to the track, and on the final lap, when she was running third but got snookered by the veterans and faded to eighth. That's going to stick with Patrick for some time.

"I would imagine pretty much anyone would be kicking themselves about what they coulda, shoulda have done to give themselves an opportunity to win," she said. "I think that's what I was feeling today, was uncertainty as to how I was going to accomplish that."

There were several multicar crashes, but no one was hurt and none of them approached the magnitude of the wreck that injured more than two dozen fans in the grandstand at the end of the second-tier Nationwide Series race on the same track a day earlier. Daytona International Speedway workers were up until 2 a.m repairing the fence that was damaged in the accident, and track officials offered Sunday morning to move any fans who felt uneasy sitting close to the track.

Several drivers said the accident and concern for the fans stuck with them overnight and into Sunday morning, and Johnson was quick to send his thoughts from Victory Lane.

"I just want to give a big shout-out to all the fans, and I also want to send my thoughts and prayers out to everybody that was injured in the grandstands," Johnson said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose father was killed in this race 12 years ago, was involved in Saturday's accident but refocused and finished second to Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

"Me personally, I was just really waiting to get the news on how everybody was, how all the fans were overnight, just hoping that things were going to improve," Earnhardt said, adding that he "wasn't really ready to proceed until you had some confirmation that things were looking more positive."

The race itself, the debut for NASCAR's new Gen-6 car, was quite similar to all the other Cup races during Speedweeks in that the cars seemed to line up in a single-file parade along the top groove of the track. It made the 55th running of the Daytona 500 relatively uneventful.

When the race was on the line, Johnson took off.

The driver known as "Five-time" raced past defending NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski on the final restart and pulled out to a sizeable lead that nobody challenged over the final six laps.

Johnson and Keselowski went down to the wire last season in their race for the Sprint Cup title, with Johnson faltering in the final two races as Keselowski won his first Cup championship.

Although it was a bit of an upset that stuck with Johnson into the offseason, it gave him no extra motivation when he found himself racing with Keselowski late Sunday for the Daytona 500.

"As far as racing with Brad out there, you really lose sight of who is in what car," Johnson said. "It's just somebody between you and the trophy. It could have been anybody."

Once Johnson cleared Keselowski on the last restart he had a breakaway lead with Greg Biffle and Patrick behind him. But as the field closed in on the checkered flag, Earnhardt finally made his move, just too late and too far behind to get close enough to the lead.

Earnhardt wound up second for the third time in the last four years. But with all the crashes the Hendrick cars have endured in restrictor-plate races — teammate Kasey Kahne was in the first accident Sunday — team owner Rick Hendrick was just fine with the finish.

"We have a hard time finishing these races. Boy, to run 1-2, man, what a day," Hendrick said. Jeff Gordon, who was a contender early, faded late to 20th.

And Johnson considered himself lucky to be the one holding the trophy at the end.

"Man, it's like playing the lottery; everybody's got a ticket," he said. "I've struck out a lot at these tracks, left with torn-up race cars. Today we had a clean day."

Mark Martin was third in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Keselowski, who overcame two accidents earlier in the race, wound up fourth in Penske Racing's new Ford. Ryan Newman was fifth in a Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing and was followed by Roush-Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle, who was second on the last lap but was shuffled back with Patrick to finish sixth.

Regan Smith was seventh for Phoenix Racing, while Patrick, Michael McDowell and JJ Yeley rounded out the top 10.

Patrick was clearly disappointed with her finish. When the race was on the line, she was schooled by Earnhardt, who made his last move and blocked any chance she had.

Still, Patrick became the first woman in history to lead laps in the 500 when she passed Michael Waltrip on a restart on Lap 90. She stayed on the point for two laps, then was shuffled back to third. She ended up leading five laps, another groundbreaking moment for Patrick, who as a rookie in 2005 became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and now is the 13th driver to lead laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500.

"Dale did a nice job and showed what happens when you plan it out, you drop back and get that momentum. You are able to go to the front," Patrick said. "I think he taught me something. I'm sure I'll watch the race and there will be other scenarios I see that can teach me, too."

Earnhardt was impressed, nonetheless.

"She's going to make a lot of history all year long. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch her progress," he said. "Every time I've seen her in a pretty hectic situation, she always really remained calm. She's got a great level head. She's a racer. She knows what's coming. She's smart about her decisions. She knew what to do today as far as track position and not taking risks. I enjoy racing with her."

Johnson, one of three heavyweight drivers who took their young daughters to meet Patrick — "the girl in the bright green car" — after she won the pole in qualifications, tipped his cap, too.

"I didn't think about it being Danica in the car," Johnson said. "It was just another car on the track that was fast. That's a credit to her and the job she's doing."

The field was weakened by an early nine-car accident that knocked out race favorite Kevin Harvick and sentimental favorite Tony Stewart.

Harvick had won two support races coming into the 500 to cement himself as the driver to beat, but the accident sent him home with a 42nd place finish.

Stewart, meanwhile, dropped to 0-for-15 in one of the few races the three-time NASCAR champion has never won.

"If I didn't tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed, I'd be lying to you," Stewart said.

That accident also took former winner Jamie McMurray, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kasey Kahne out of contention.

The next accident — involving nine cars — came 105 laps later and brought a thankful end to Speedweeks for Carl Edwards. He was caught in his fifth accident since testing last month, and this wreck collected six other Ford drivers.

The field suddenly had six Toyota drivers at the front as Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing drivers took control of the race. But JGR's day blew up — literally — when the team was running 1-2-3 with Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch setting the pace.

Kenseth, who led a race-high 86 laps, went to pit road first with an engine problem, and Busch was right behind him with a blown engine. Busch was already in street clothes watching as Hamlin led the field.

"It's a little devastating when you are running 1-2-3 like that," Busch said.

Hamlin's shot disappeared when he found himself in the wrong lane on the final restart. He tried to hook up with Keselowski to get them back to Johnson, but blamed former teammate Joey Logano for ruining the momentum of the bottom lane.

Hamlin offered a backhanded apology to Keselowski on Twitter, posting that he couldn't get close enough because "your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time."

Read More..