Wall Street Week Ahead: Attention turns to financial earnings

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After over a month of watching Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Avenue, Wall Street can get back to what it knows best: Wall Street.


The first full week of earnings season is dominated by the financial sector - big investment banks and commercial banks - just as retail investors, free from the "fiscal cliff" worries, have started to get back into the markets.


Equities have risen in the new year, rallying after the initial resolution of the fiscal cliff in Washington on January 2. The S&P 500 on Friday closed its second straight week of gains, leaving it just fractionally off a five-year closing high hit on Thursday.


An array of financial companies - including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase - will report on Wednesday. Bank of America and Citigroup will join on Thursday.


"The banks have a read on the economy, on the health of consumers, on the health of demand," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.


"What we're looking for is demand. Demand from small business owners, from consumers."


EARNINGS AND ECONOMIC EXPECTATIONS


Investors were greeted with a slightly better-than-anticipated first week of earnings, but expectations were low and just a few companies reported results.


Fourth quarter earnings and revenues for S&P 500 companies are both expected to have grown by 1.9 percent in the past quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.


Few large corporations have reported, with Wells Fargo the first bank out of the gate on Friday, posting a record profit. The bank, however, made fewer mortgage loans than in the third quarter and its shares were down 0.8 percent for the day.


The KBW bank index <.bkx>, a gauge of U.S. bank stocks, is up about 30 percent from a low hit in June, rising in six of the last eight months, including January.


Investors will continue to watch earnings on Friday, as General Electric will round out the week after Intel's report on Thursday.


HOUSING, INDUSTRIAL DATA ON TAP


Next week will also feature the release of a wide range of economic data.


Tuesday will see the release of retail sales numbers and the Empire State manufacturing index, followed by CPI data on Wednesday.


Investors and analysts will also focus on the housing starts numbers and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve factory activity index on Thursday. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment numbers are due on Friday.


Jim Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis, said he expected to see housing numbers continue to climb.


"They won't be that surprising if they're good, they'll be rather eye-catching if they're not good," he said. "The underlying drive of the markets, I think, is economic data. That's been the catalyst."


POLITICAL ANXIETY


Worries about the protracted fiscal cliff negotiations drove the markets in the weeks before the ultimate January 2 resolution, but fear of the debt ceiling fight has yet to command investors' attention to the same extent.


The agreement was likely part of the reason for a rebound in flows to stocks. U.S.-based stock mutual funds gained $7.53 billion after the cliff resolution in the week ending January 9, the most in a week since May 2001, according to Thomson Reuters' Lipper.


Markets are unlikely to move on debt ceiling news unless prominent lawmakers signal that they are taking a surprising position in the debate.


The deal in Washington to avert the cliff set up another debt battle, which will play out in coming months alongside spending debates. But this alarm has been sounded before.


"The market will turn the corner on it when the debate heats up," Prudential Financial's Krosby said.


The CBOE Volatility index <.vix> a gauge of traders' anxiety, is off more than 25 percent so far this month and it recently hit its lowest since June 2007, before the recession began.


"The market doesn't react to the same news twice. It will have to be more brutal than the fiscal cliff," Krosby said. "The market has been conditioned that, at the end, they come up with an agreement."


(Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; editing by Rodrigo Campos)



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Adrian Peterson, J.J. Watt unanimous All-Pros


NEW YORK (AP) — It's unanimous, on both sides of the ball.


Vikings 2,000-yard man Adrian Peterson and Texans pass-swatting end J.J. Watt were unanimous choices for The Associated Press All-Pro team announced Saturday.


Peterson, who came within 9 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, and Watt, who led the NFL with 20 1-2 sacks, were selected by all 50 members of a nationwide panel of media members who cover the league.


Peterson is a three-time All-Pro, while Watt represents lots of new blood. He's among 17 players making their All-Pro debuts.


"Obviously it's a huge honor, especially for being such a young guy," said Watt, a second-year pro. "It's crazy to even think about. It's very humbling and very motivating. It makes me want to do it again and again."


Peyton Manning made his sixth team, the previous five while quarterbacking Indianapolis. He led Denver to the AFC's best record, 13-3.


Also chosen for the sixth time was Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, who this season moved into second place on the career receptions list. San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis made it for the fifth time in his six pro seasons.


The 49ers had the most All-Pros, six: Willis, fellow LBs NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, guard Mike Iupati, safety Dashon Goldson and punter Andy Lee.


"As an organization, we take great pride in the success and recognition of our players," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. "This type of acknowledgement only comes from hard work and a team-first mentality, which all six of these men exhibit on a daily basis. They play the game the way it was meant to be played, and are very deserving of this honor."


Seattle was next with RB Marshawn Lynch, center Max Unger, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas. All were selected for the first time.


Sherman was incensed when he didn't make the Pro Bowl. He was thrilled with the news he made the All-Pro team "because that's comparing the whole league."


" That is taking individuals and saying they are the best in the NFL at that position and that's what I wanted to be," Sherman said. " The Pro Bowl is taking three from each side, it's more of a popularity contest. The All-Pro, you're the best at your position. It doesn't matter if you're a fifth-rounder or fourth-rounder or undrafted. If you play the best, you're All-Pro."


Denver had three All-Pros: LB Von Miller, tackle Ryan Clady and Manning. No other team had more than two.


The NFC had 17 players and only 10 made it from the AFC.


One rookie, Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh, was chosen.


Also on offense were Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach, making it for the third straight year; Detroit WR Calvin Johnson and Chicago WR Brandon Marshall; Houston tackle Duane Brown; New Orleans guard Jahri Evans, making his fourth consecutive appearance; Baltimore kick returner Jacoby Jones; Miami DE Cameron Wake; Cincinnati DT Geno Atkins and New England DT Vince Wilfork; and Chicago CB Charles Tillman.


___


AP Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle, Janie McCauley in San Francisco and Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this story.


___


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


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Ancient Pompeians Could Go Upstairs to Pee






The residents of the ancient city of Pompeii weren’t limited to street-level plumbing, a new study finds. In fact, many in the city may have headed upstairs when nature called.


Most second floors in the Roman city are gone, claimed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii in A.D. 79. But vertical pipes leading to lost second stories strongly suggest that there were once toilets up there, according to a new analysis by A. Kate Trusler, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Missouri.






“We have 23 toilets that are connected, that are second-story preserved, that are connected to these downpipes,” Trusler told LiveScience on Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle, where she presented her research.


Traces of toilets


Trusler became interested in Pompeii’s latrines six years ago while doing fieldwork in the city. Previous researchers and works on Pompeii often stated that there was a toilet in almost every house. But Trusler found that statement confusing. Walking around the city, she said, it was clear that some spots were chock full of homes with private latrines, while other areas seemed to be toilet deserts.


“And,” Trusler added, “there are all of these downpipes that are part of that picture that no one is really considering.” [Image Gallery: A Look at Pompeii's Toilets]


So Trusler decided to conduct a plumbing survey of sorts, mapping latrine and downpipe locations around the city. One residential district, known to archaeologists as Region 6, does indeed have toilets on the ground story of almost every home, she said. But other blocks have few toilets. In total, 43 percent of homes in the city had latrines on the ground floor, Trusler found.


Downpipes provide the other half of that picture. These vertical, usually terracotta pipes are concentrated in the oldest part of the city, where there were many workshops and small businesses crammed into close quarters. A total of 286 pipes run down the walls of these buildings, leading to the mostly lost second floors. In 23 cases, however, the second story remains, and the same types of pipes lead to latrines.


In addition, Trusler said, unpublished research on scrapings from the insides of the pipes revealed fecal material and traces of intestinal parasites, good signs of a toilet.


The plumbing of Pompeii


The upstairs plumbing offers a window into daily Pompeii life, Trusler said.


“The sanitation features can tell us a lot about what people are doing on upper floors and above these little shops,” she said. “What they suggest is that people are living there.”


Most of the downpipes were likely installed in the first century B.C. into the first century A.D., Trusler said, the same time that the city developed its pumped-water system. Residents of apartments above shops would have been able to get water from public fountains installed in the streets.


“You really have a picture of urban development going on in Pompeii,” Trusler said.


Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas or LiveScience @livescience. We’re also on Facebook & Google+.


Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Notre Dame's Kelly taking Eagles, NFL interest to brink








If Brian Kelly and his camp are using an NFL flirtation as a bargaining ploy, they may be pushing it to the absolute brink.

The Notre Dame coach interviewed with the Eagles on Tuesday and has a second meeting with the team set for this weekend, according to a published report. Meanwhile, Kelly continued to confer with NFL people about what it's like to coach at that level, a league source said early Saturday.

Kelly was on vacation the past few days -- though it was not believed to be a European jaunt, as multiple outlets have reported -- and the New York Daily News reported that "the Eagles and Kelly have agreed to revisit talks when he returns this weekend."

Comcast SportsNet Chicago reported that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie's private jet is in Chicago, though no specific reason was given. But the NFL Network's Albert Breer may have quashed the notion of a Kelly meeting by reporting the Eagles will interview Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley on Saturday in Atlanta.


The conversations with NFL folks have been set up via Kelly's camp and began before his interview with the Eagles last week, but a league source told the Tribune they continued into the weekend. It doesn't preclude Kelly's return to Notre Dame at all, but it suggests more than a passing fancy with the idea of coaching at the next level.

There has been precious little in the way of enlightenment from South Bend, Ind., during Kelly's apparent dalliance. And all of it indeed may be a way to strong-arm Notre Dame into meeting the demands of a head coach just a few days removed from a championship game appearance -- a disastrous championship game appearance, but a shot at a title nonetheless.

Athletic director Jack Swarbrick sent word through a spokesman that he would have no comment. There are people close to Kelly who had not been updated about the situation a few days into it, and there are team members who as of Friday night who had not received any communication at all from staffers on the subject.

One person familiar with the Eagles' view of the first interview says there was "strong mutual interest" between the two parties, and the Tribune's David Haugh reported Thursday that Kelly previously had reached out to an NFL coach to see how professional jobs differ from college gigs.

None of that precludes a return to Notre Dame with a new contract and more money for Kelly and his assistants, which for most of the week seemed the most likely scenario -- and still may be -- though the reported second meeting with the Eagles is an intriguing complication.

Notre Dame begins classes on Tuesday and the Irish were believed to have a team meeting of some kind set for Monday. That seemingly would put an imperative on Kelly to make a decision and get a deal done, with either side, within 24 or 48 hours.

The Eagles, meanwhile, had more interviews set with more head coaching candidates into next week. That doesn't preempt a spate of cancellations, of course, if they found their man in Kelly.

bchamilton@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribHamilton






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Obama, Karzai accelerate end of U.S. combat role in Afghanistan


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed on Friday to speed up the handover of combat operations in Afghanistan to Afghan forces, raising the prospect of an accelerated U.S. withdrawal from the country and underscoring Obama's determination to wind down a long, unpopular war.


Signaling a narrowing of differences, Karzai appeared to give ground in talks at the White House on U.S. demands for immunity from prosecution for any American troops who stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, a concession that could allow Obama to keep at least a small residual force there.


Both leaders also threw their support behind tentative Afghan reconciliation efforts with Taliban insurgents, endorsing the establishment of a Taliban political office in Qatar in hopes of bringing insurgents to inter-Afghan talks.


Outwardly, at least, the meeting appeared to be something of a success for both men, who need to show their vastly different publics they are making progress in their goals for Afghanistan. There were no signs of the friction that has frequently marked Obama's relations with Karzai.


Karzai's visit came amid stepped-up deliberations in Washington over the size and scope of the U.S. military role in Afghanistan once the NATO-led combat mission concludes at the end of 2014.


"By the end of next year, 2014, the transition will be complete," Obama said at a news conference with Karzai standing at his side. "Afghans will have full responsibility for their security, and this war will come to a responsible end."


The Obama administration has been considering a residual force of between 3,000 and 9,000 troops - far fewer than some U.S. commanders propose - to conduct counterterrorism operations and to train and assist Afghan forces.


A top Obama aide said this week that the administration does not rule out a complete withdrawal after 2014, a move that some experts say would be disastrous for the weak Afghan central government and its fledgling security apparatus.


Obama on Friday left open the possibility of that so-called "zero option" when he several times used the word "if" to suggest that a post-2014 U.S. presence was far from guaranteed.


Insisting that Afghan forces were "stepping up" faster than expected, Obama said Afghan troops would take over the lead in combat missions across the country this spring, rather than waiting until the summer as originally planned. NATO troops will then assume a "support role," he said.


"It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty," Obama said.


Obama said final decisions on this year's troop cuts and the post-2014 U.S. military role were still months away, but his comments suggested he favors a stepped-up withdrawal timetable.


There are some 66,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan. Washington's NATO allies have been steadily reducing their troop numbers as well despite doubts about the ability of Afghan forces to shoulder full responsibility for security.


'WAR OF NECESSITY'


Karzai voiced satisfaction over Obama's agreement to turn over control of detention centers to Afghan authorities, a source of dispute between their countries, although the White House released no details of the accord on that subject.


Obama once called Afghanistan a "war of necessity." But he is heading into a second term looking for an orderly way out of the conflict, which was sparked by the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by an al Qaeda network harbored by Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.


He faces the challenge of pressing ahead with his re-election pledge to continue winding down the war while preparing the Afghan government to prevent a slide into chaos and a Taliban resurgence once most NATO forces are gone.


Former Senator Chuck Hagel, Obama's nominee to become defense secretary, is likely to favor a sizable troop reduction.


Karzai, meanwhile, is eager to show he is working to ensure Afghans regain full control of their territory after a foreign military presence of more than 11 years.


Asked whether the cost of the war in lives and money was worth it, Obama said: "We achieved our central goal ... or have come very close to achieving our central goal, which is to de-capacitate al Qaeda, to dismantle them, to make sure that they can't attack us again."


He added: "Have we achieved everything that some might have imagined us achieving in the best of scenarios? Probably not. This is a human enterprise, and you fall short of the ideal."


Obama made clear that unless the Afghan government agrees to legal immunity for U.S. troops, he would withdraw them all after 2014 - as happened in Iraq at the end of 2011.


Karzai, who criticized NATO over civilian deaths, said that with Obama's agreement to transfer detention centers and the planned withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghan villages, "I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity" in a bilateral security pact being negotiated.


Addressing students at Georgetown University later in the day, the Afghan leader predicted with certainty that the United States would keep a limited number of troops in Afghanistan after 2014, in part to battle al Qaeda and its affiliates.


"One of the reasons the United States will continue a limited presence in Afghanistan after 2014 in certain facilities in Afghanistan is because we have decided together to continue to fight against al Qaeda," Karzai said. "So there will be no respite in that."


Many of Obama's Republican opponents have criticized him for setting a withdrawal timetable and accuse him of undercutting the U.S. mission by reducing troop numbers too quickly.


Karzai and his U.S. partners have not always seen eye to eye, even though the American military has been crucial to preventing insurgent attempts to oust him.


In October, Karzai accused Washington of playing a double game by fighting the war in Afghan villages instead of going after insurgents who cross the border from neighboring Pakistan.


In Friday's news conference, Karzai did not back down from his previous comments that foreigners were responsible for some of the official corruption critics say is rampant in Afghanistan. But he acknowledged: "There is corruption in the Afghan government that we are fighting against."


Adding to tensions has been a rash of deadly "insider" attacks by Afghan soldiers and police against NATO-led troops training or working with them. U.S. forces have also been involved in a series of incidents that enraged Afghans, including burning Korans, which touched off days of rioting.


(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Mark Felsenthal, Jeff Mason, Phil Stewart, Tabassum Zakaria, David Alexander; Editing by Warren Strobel and Will Dunham)



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Wall Street to open firm after Thursday's gains, Wells Fargo results


NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks were set to firm at the open on Friday after the S&P 500 climbed to a five-year high a day earlier, as record profit from Wells Fargo failed to excite investors who awaited fresh trading incentives.


"The bigger news lies ahead of us in terms of earnings and also reports on Christmas sales, which seem to be poor so far," said Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in Jersey City, New Jersey.


Wells Fargo , the first major U.S. bank to post earnings this season, reported a higher fourth-quarter profit as it set aside less money to cover bad loans and made more fees from mortgages. While shares dropped 1.1 percent to $35 in premarket trading, the stock had climbed 2 percent Thursday ahead of the results, and is up 3.6 percent this month so far.


Best Buy shares were volatile in premarket trading after it reported flat holiday sales at established U.S. stores. Shares were last up 5.7 percent at $12.91.


Basic materials shares could be pressured after China's annual consumer inflation rate picked up to a seven-month high, narrowing the scope for the central bank to boost the economy by easing monetary policy.


Meckler said that in the absence of major news, the market will continue to absorb some of the money that comes in from institutional investors at the start of the year. This could give equities an upside bias.


S&P 500 futures were flat and were slightly above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures added 3 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 2 points.


American Express said it would take a $600-million quarterly charge relating to 5,400 job cuts and payment of legal bills, a move likely to halve its net income. Its shares dipped 0.5 percent in premarket trading to $60.51.


Boeing's 787 Dreamliner jet was dogged by further incidents that tested confidence in the new plane. It suffered a cracked cockpit window and an oil leak on separate flights in Japan on Friday. The US Department of Transportation said the jet would be subject to a review of its critical systems by regulators. Boeing shares fell 1.5 percent to $75.90 in premarket trading.


Dendreon Corp shares jumped 14.9 percent to $5.86 after Sanford C. Bernstein upgraded the stock to "outperform" from "market-perform" and said the drugmaker could be one of the best performers in 2013.


U.S.-traded shares of India's No.2 software services provider Infosys Ltd jumped 15.2 percent premarket after the company raised its revenue forecast.


In a move that could support US equities and boost the global economic outlook, the Japanese government approved a massive $117 billion of spending to revive the world's third-largest economy in the biggest stimulus plan since the financial crisis.


(Editing by Bernadette Baum)



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Browns name Rob Chudzinski new coach


CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns hauled their coaching search to Arizona and back. They talked to high-profile college coaches, NFL assistants and a fired pro coach who took a team to a Super Bowl.


None of them was hired.


Instead, Rob Chudzinski became their pick.


With no experience as a head coach at any level, Chudzinski was hired Thursday night by the Cleveland Browns, the team he cheered for as a kid. This is Chudzinski's third stint with the team, but this time around he's the guy in charge.


Chudzinski, who spent the past two seasons calling plays as Carolina's offensive coordinator, is the Browns' sixth full-time coach since 1999 and 14th in team history.


Just as it appeared the Browns might be going in another direction, the team selected the 44-year-old Chudzinski to revive a team that has made the playoffs just once in the past 14 years.


Chudzinski will be introduced Friday at an 11 a.m. news conference, where owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner likely will be asked how they selected Banner after speaking to at least seven other candidates and flirting with Chip Kelly before he returned to Oregon.


"Chud," as he's known to players and friends, Chudzinski worked as the Browns' tight ends coach in 2004 and was their offensive coordinator in 2007, when the team won 10 games — their most since an expansion rebirth in 1999.


A lifelong Browns fan who grew up in Toledo, Ohio, Chudzinski replaces Pat Shurmur, another first-time coach when he was hired, who was fired on Dec. 31 after a 5-11 season. For the past two years, Chudzinski has worked with talented Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and resuscitated Carolina's offense, which was one of the league's worst before he arrived.


When Haslam and Banner embarked on their coaching search as 2013 began, the pair vowed they would wait as long as necessary to find "the right coach" for Cleveland. They promised to give their new coach final say over the roster and planned to pair him with an executive to help pick players.


Chudzinski wasn't seen by many as an option.


And then he became the choice.


Chudzinski interviewed with the team on Wednesday, when the club also visited with Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Chudzinski appeared to be a long shot for the job, not because he wasn't qualified, but because it was thought Haslam wanted to make a big splash with his first coaching hire.


However, Chudzinski wowed Haslam and Banner during his meeting and the team decided it was time to end its search in its second week.


It's not yet known whom Chudzinski will bring in as coordinators. There are reports he may hire former San Diego coach Norv Turner to run his offense. Chudzinski worked for Turner with the Chargers.


In his first season in Carolina, Chudzinski turned Newton, the No. 1 overall draft pick, loose and the Panthers set club records for total yards (6,237) and first downs (345). Carolina also scored 48 touchdowns after getting just 17 in the season before Chudzinski arrived. The Panthers jumped from last in the league in total yardage to seventh, the biggest improvement since 1999.


Following the season, Chudzinski interviewed for head coaching jobs with St. Louis, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay before returning to Carolina.


In getting the Browns' job, Chudzinski was picked over Zimmer, Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman, fired Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt and Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Whisenhunt was in Cleveland for a second interview on Thursday, and appeared to be the front-runner. The Browns also were expected to interview Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.


Newton continued to develop in his second season with Chudzinski, and the QB's development may have helped his case since the Browns are hoping Brandon Weeden will improve this year after his uneven rookie season.


After his first stint on Cleveland's staff, Chudzinski spent two seasons as San Diego's tight ends coach, working with perennial Pro Bowl standout Antonio Gates.


Taking over the Browns' offense in 2007, Chudzinski helped the Browns go 10-6. They barely missed the playoffs, but four players, including quarterback Derek Anderson, made the Pro Bowl. However, in 2008, the Browns struggled on offense and a six-game losing streak led to a 4-12 finish and Romeo Crennel's firing.


Chudzinski's hiring may not be popular with Cleveland fans, many of whom at fantasies about Nick Saban or Jon Gruden or Kelly brining his supersonic offense to the NFL.


But his selection is in keeping with at least one of Banner's past moves. When he was in Philadelphia's front office, Banner went outside the box and hired Green Bay assistant Andy Reid, a relative unknown who spent 14 seasons with the Eagles.


Now that they've got their coach, the Browns can focus on finding a GM to replace Tom Heckert, fired after three seasons.


___


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


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NY Gov. proposes “Green Bank” to spur clean energy






ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to create a “Green Bank” to spur private investment in clean energy projects.


In his State of the State address Wednesday, Cuomo says various state entities now collect and spend $ 1.4 billion a year on renewables and energy efficiency, with 80 percent of the spending in the form of one-time subsidies.






He said his proposal would encourage more private market activity in clean energy, create jobs, and reduce consumer prices for renewable and energy efficient energy sources.


Energy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Why global labor reforms are vital






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Saudi authorities beheaded Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan woman

  • She was convicted of killing a baby of the family employing her as a housemaid

  • This was despite Nafeek's claims that the baby died in a choking accident

  • Becker says her fate "should spotlight the precarious existence of domestic workers"




Jo Becker is the Children's Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch and author of 'Campaigning for Justice: Human Rights Advocacy in Practice.' Follow Jo Becker on Twitter.


(CNN) -- Rizana Nafeek was a child herself -- 17 years old, according to her birth certificate -- when a four-month-old baby died in her care in Saudi Arabia. She had migrated from Sri Lanka only weeks earlier to be a domestic worker for a Saudi family.


Although Rizana said the baby died in a choking accident, Saudi courts convicted her of murder and sentenced her to death. On Wednesday, the Saudi government carried out the sentence in a gruesome fashion, by beheading Rizana.



Jo Becker

Jo Becker



Read more: Outrage over beheading of Sri Lankan woman by Saudi Arabia


Rizana's case was rife with problems from the beginning. A recruitment agency in Sri Lanka knew she was legally too young to migrate, but she had falsified papers to say she was 23. After the baby died, Rizana gave a confession that she said was made under duress -- she later retracted it. She had no lawyer to defend her until after she was sentenced to death and no competent interpreter during her trial. Her sentence violated international law, which prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed before age 18.


Rizana's fate should arouse international outrage. But it should also spotlight the precarious existence of other domestic workers. At least 1.5 million work in Saudi Arabia alone and more than 50 million -- mainly women and girls -- are employed worldwide according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).


Read more: Indonesian maid escapes execution in Saudi Arabia






Again according to the ILO, the number of domestic workers worldwide has grown by more than 50% since the mid-1990s. Many, like Rizana, seek employment in foreign countries where they may be unfamiliar with the language and legal system and have few rights.


When Rizana traveled to Saudi Arabia, for example, she may not have known that many Saudi employers confiscate domestic workers' passports and confine them inside their home, cutting them off from the outside world and sources of help.


It is unlikely that anyone ever told her about Saudi Arabia's flawed criminal justice system or that while many domestic workers find kind employers who treat them well, others are forced to work for months or even years without pay and subjected to physical or sexual abuse.




Passport photo of Rizana Nafeek



Read more: Saudi woman beheaded for 'witchcraft and sorcery'


Conditions for migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia are among some of the worst, but domestic workers in other countries rarely enjoy the same rights as other workers. In a new report this week, the International Labour Organization says that nearly 30% of the world's domestic workers are completely excluded from national labor laws. They typically earn only 40% of the average wage of other workers. Forty-five percent aren't even entitled by law to a weekly day off.


Last year, I interviewed young girls in Morocco who worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for a fraction of the minimum wage. One girl began working at age 12 and told me: "I don't mind working, but to be beaten and not to have enough food, this is the hardest part."


Many governments have finally begun to recognize the risks and exploitation domestic workers face. During 2012, dozens of countries took action to strengthen protections for domestic workers. Thailand, and Singapore approved measures to give domestic workers a weekly day off, while Venezuela and the Philippines adopted broad laws for domestic workers ensuring a minimum wage, paid holidays, and limits to their working hours. Brazil is amending its constitution to state that domestic workers have all the same rights as other workers. Bahrain codified access to mediation of labor disputes.


Read more: Convicted killer beheaded, put on display in Saudi Arabia


Perhaps most significantly, eight countries acted in 2012 to ratify -- and therefore be legally bound by -- the Domestic Workers Convention, with more poised to follow suit this year. The convention is a groundbreaking treaty adopted in 2011 to guarantee domestic workers the same protections available to other workers, including weekly days off, effective complaints procedures and protection from violence.


The Convention also has specific protections for domestic workers under the age of 18 and provisions for regulating and monitoring recruitment agencies. All governments should ratify the convention.


Many reforms are needed to prevent another tragic case like that of Rizana Nafeek. The obvious one is for Saudi Arabia to stop its use of the death penalty and end its outlier status as one of only three countries worldwide to execute people for crimes committed while a child.


Labor reforms are also critically important. They may have prevented the recruitment of a 17 year old for migration abroad in the first place. And they can protect millions of other domestic workers who labor with precariously few guarantees for their safety and rights.


Read more: Malala, others on front lines in fight for women


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jo Becker.






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Couple fighting South Korea to keep 7-month-old girl




















Jinshil and Christopher Duquet were in the process of adopting a baby from South Korea when complications arose with the Korean government. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune)






















































An Evanston family will appear in federal court today as they try to keep a South Korean baby they adopted in June from being returned to her home country.

Sehwa Kim, now 7 months old, has spent most of her life with Jinshil and Christopher Duquet, who say they were misled by a Korean lawyer who provided them with bad information and documents for what they believed to be a legal private adoption.

Korean officials accuse the family of criminal action, saying they didn’t follow the country’s procedures for adoption, and question funds the family gave on behalf of the child to a shelter and the child’s birth mother.

The family believes their case is being used as a political pawn in what is really Korea’s objection to all U.S. adoptions.
After hearings this week in which the family tried to prove they are the legal guardians, a Cook County Circuit Court judge declared that they didn’t have standing.  A federal judge today may order the child removed from the family’s custody. 

The birth mother’s intention to put her baby up for adoption is not in dispute. She and the baby’s grandparents signed papers agreeing to renounce their parental rights so that the child could be adopted by the Duquets.

The number of international adoptions in South Korea and elsewhere has plummeted after years of growth. According to State Department data, almost 23,000 Americans in 2004 looked to other countries to build their families. By 2011, the figure had dwindled to 9,300 adoptions.


Read more about the family's struggle HERE.


lblack@tribune.com
brubin@tribune.com







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Syria rebels seize base as envoy holds talks


BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters) - Rebels seized control of one of Syria's largest helicopter bases on Friday, opposition sources said, in their first capture of a military airfield used by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.


Fighting raged across the country as international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi sought a political solution to Syria's civil war, meeting senior U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva.


But the two world powers are still deadlocked over Assad's fate in any transition.


The United States, which backs the 21-month-old revolt, says Assad can play no future role, while Syria's main arms supplier Russia said before the talks that his exit should not be a precondition for negotiations.


Syria is mired in bloodshed that has cost more than 60,000 lives and displaced millions of people. Severe winter weather is compounding their misery. The U.N. children's agency UNICEF says more than 2 million children are struggling to stay warm.


The capture of Taftanaz air base, after months of sporadic fighting, could help rebels solidify their hold on northern Syria, according to Rami Abdelrahman, head of the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


TACTICAL, NOT STRATEGIC GAIN


But Yezid Sayigh, at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, said it was not a game-changer, noting that it had taken months for the rebels to overrun a base whose usefulness to the military was already compromised by the clashes around it.


"This is a tactical rather than a strategic gain," he said.


In Geneva, U.N.-Arab League envoy Brahimi's closed-door talks began with individual meetings with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. He later held talks with both sides together.


A U.S. official said negotiations would focus on "creating the conditions to advance a political solution - specifically a transitional governing body".


Six months ago, world powers meeting in Geneva proposed a transitional government but left open Assad's role. Brahimi told Reuters on Wednesday that the Syrian leader could play no part in such a transition and suggested it was time he quit.


Responding a day later, Syria's foreign ministry berated the veteran Algerian diplomat as "flagrantly biased toward those who are conspiring against Syria and its people".


Russia has argued that outside powers should not decide who should take part in any transitional government.


"Only the Syrians themselves can agree on a model or the further development of their country," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.


REFUGEE MISERY


But Syrians seem too divided for any such agreement.


The umbrella opposition group abroad, the Syrian National Coalition, said on Friday it had proposed a transition plan that would kept government institutions intact at a meeting with diplomats in London this week. But the plan has received no public endorsement from the opposition's foreign backers.


With no end to fighting in sight, the misery of Syrian civilians has rapidly increased, especially with the advent of some of the worst winter conditions in years.


Saudi Arabia said it would send $10 million worth of aid to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, where torrential rain has flooded hundreds of tents in the Zaatari refugee camp.


A fierce storm that swept the region has raised concerns for 600,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries, as well as more than 2.5 million displaced inside Syria, many of whom live in flimsy tents at unofficial border camps.


Opposition activists report dozens of weather-related deaths in Syria in the last four days. UNICEF said refugee children are at risk because conditions have hampered access to services.


Earlier this week, another United Nations agency said around one million Syrians were going hungry. The World Food Programme cited difficulties entering conflict zones and said that the few government-approved aid agencies allowed to distribute aid were stretched to the limit.


The WFP said it supplying rations to about 1.5 million people in Syria each month, far short of the 2.5 million deemed to be in need.


(Additional reporting by Alexander Dzsiadosz in Beirut and Raissa Kasolowsky in Abu Dhabi; Editing by Alistair Lyon)



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Wall Street climbs at open on China data


NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks advanced at the open on Thursday as stronger-than-expected exports in China, the world's second-biggest economy, raised hopes for a more robust recovery in the global economy this year.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 51.22 points, or 0.38 percent, to 13,441.73. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> climbed 8.01 points, or 0.55 percent, to 1,469.03. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> rose 21.80 points, or 0.70 percent, to 3,127.61.


(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Bernadette Baum)



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NFL player Junior Seau had brain disease CTE


Junior Seau, one of the NFL's best and fiercest players for nearly two decades, had a degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide last May, the National Institutes of Health told The Associated Press on Thursday.


Results of an NIH study of Seau's brain revealed abnormalities consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).


"The brain was independently evaluated by multiple experts, in a blind fashion," said Dr. Russell Lonser, who oversaw the study. "We had the opportunity to get multiple experts involved in a way they wouldn't be able to directly identify his tissue even if they knew he was one of the individuals studied."


The NIH, based in Bethesda, Md., conducted a study of three unidentified brains, one of which was Seau's. It said the findings on Seau were similar to autopsies of people "with exposure to repetitive head injuries."


Seau's family requested the analysis of his brain.


Seau was a star linebacker for 20 NFL seasons with San Diego, Miami and New England before retiring in 2009. He died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound.


He joins a list of several dozen football players who had CTE. Boston University's center for study of the disease reported last month that 34 former pro players and nine who played only college football suffered from CTE.


"I was not surprised after learning a little about CTE that he had it," Seau's 23-year-old son Tyler said. "He did play so many years at that level. I was more just kind of angry I didn't do something more and have the awareness to help him more, and now it is too late.


"I don't think any of us were aware of the side effects that could be going on with head trauma until he passed away. We didn't know his behavior was from head trauma."


That behavior, according to Tyler Seau and Junior's ex-wife Gina, included wild mood swings, irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia and depression.


"He emotionally detached himself and would kind of 'go away' for a little bit," Tyler Seau said. "And then the depression and things like that. It started to progressively get worse."


He hid it well in public, they said. But not when he was with family or close friends.


The NFL faces lawsuits by thousands of former players who say the league withheld information on the harmful effects concussions can have on their health.


"We appreciate the Seau family's cooperation with the National Institutes of Health," the league said in an email statement to the AP. "The finding underscores the recognized need for additional research to accelerate a fuller understanding of CTE.


"The NFL, both directly and in partnership with the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and other leading organizations, is committed to supporting a wide range of independent medical and scientific research that will both address CTE and promote the long-term health and safety of athletes at all levels."


NFL teams have given a $30 million research grant to the NIH.


Seau is not the first former NFL player who killed himself, then was found to have CTE. Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling are others.


Duerson, a former Chicago Bears defensive back, left a note asking for his brain to be studied for signs of trauma before shooting himself. His family filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL, claiming the league didn't do enough to prevent or treat the concussions that severely damaged his brain.


Easterling played safety for the Falcons in the 1970s. After his career, he suffered from dementia, depression and insomnia, according to his wife, Mary Ann. He committed suicide last April.


Mary Ann Easterling is among the plaintiffs who have sued the NFL.


"It was important to us to get to the bottom of this, the truth," Gina Seau said, "and now that it has been conclusively determined from every expert that he had obviously had it, CTE, we just hope it is taken more seriously.


"You can't deny it exists, and it is hard to deny there is a link between head trauma and CTE. There's such strong evidence correlating head trauma and collisions and CTE."


Tyler Seau played football through high school and for two years in college. He says he has no symptoms of any brain trauma.


Gina Seau's son Jake, now a high school junior, played football for two seasons, but has switched to lacrosse and has been recruited to play at Duke.


"Lacrosse is really his sport and what he is passionate about," she said. "He is a good football player and probably could continue. But especially now watching what his dad went through, he says, 'Why would I risk lacrosse for football?'


"I didn't have to have a discussion with him after we saw what Junior went through."


Her 12-year-old son, Hunter, has shown no interest in playing football.


"That's fine with me," she said.


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Killer Whales Trapped Under Sea Ice






ABC News’ Bethany Owings reports:


Canadian residents in a Quebec village are pleading for help to save group of killer whales trapped under thick arctic sea ice and left with only one small hole for oxygen.






Residents in the remote village of Inukjuak have been watching helplessly as at least 12 whales, also known as orcas, struggle to breathe out of a hole slightly bigger than a pickup truck in a desperate bid to breathe.


The community has asked the Canadian government for help in freeing the killer whales, believed to be an entire family. The government denied a request to bring icebreakers Wednesday, saying they were too far away to help. Inukjuak, about 900 miles north of Montreal, is ill-equipped to jump into action.


Residents have turned to the Internet and posted the video of the killer whales, hoping someone could help free the trapped orcas.


The video shows some whales calmly taking turns, while other whales jump several feet out of the water through the air for oxygen. They hold their breath under water and breathe above water through blowholes on the top of their heads.


“I don’t know how far it is to the next air hole, but I don’t imagine they do either,” Joe Gaydos, a director and chief scientist at the SeaDoc Society in Eastsound, Wash., told ABC News. “That’s why they are coming up and looking with that spy-hopping behavior that they’re showing.”


The growing international chorus has reached all the way to Wisconsin’s Greg Ferrian, who has experience in these kinds of situations.


Last year’s movie “Big Miracle,” starring Drew Barrymore, was inspired by Ferrian and others who used special ice-fishing equipment to help rescue three whales trapped in Alaska in 1988.


“We just saw [the video] and figured we know what they need. We’ve been through it before,” Ferrian told ABC News affiliate KSTP-TV in Minnesota.


The whales are in a race against time because the hole they’re using to breathe through is rapidly closing as temperatures continue to drop, the U.S. Coast Guard said.


A hunter first spotted the pod of trapped whales Tuesday. It is believed the whales swam into the waters north of Quebec during recent warm weather. Temperatures suddenly dropped, freezing the water in Hudson Bay.


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Terror group fills Syria rebels' space






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • U.S. declared a key opposition group in Syria a terrorist organization

  • New report says it is the most effective group in the opposition, with 5,000 fighters

  • Nada Bakos: The group has ties to al Qaeda but also seeks to provide social services

  • She says the chances are slim that it could be persuaded to give up radical goals




Editor's note: Nada Bakos is a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst.


(CNN) -- In the midst of the struggle against Bashar al-Assad's government stands Jabhat al-Nusra, recently designated by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization.


A new report by the Quilliam Foundation in London says the organization is the most effective arm of the Syrian insurgency and now fields about 5,000 fighters against the Assad regime.


Practically speaking, the terrorist designation means little that is new for the immediate struggle in Syria. Shortly after al-Nusra claimed credit for one of its early suicide bombings in January 2012, the Obama administration made known al-Nusra's connection to al Qaeda in Iraq, a group with which I was intimately familiar in my capacity as an analyst and targeting officer at the Central Intelligence Agency.



Nada Bakos

Nada Bakos



The administration's position was reinforced when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper one month later testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee that "...we believe al-Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria."


Analysis: Study shows rise of al Qaeda affiliate in Syria


Al-Nusra is filling a power vacuum through charitable efforts to galvanize local support and generating influence among Syrians. In light of al-Nusra's influence in Syria, the real question is not so much about the scope and scale of al-Nusra currently, but rather how should the United States respond to its rise, particularly after al-Assad's eventual exit?



Historically, the U.S. government seemed to believe that as soon as people are given the chance, they will choose and then create a Jeffersonian democracy. Then we are surprised, if not outraged, that people turn to organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood in electoral contests. These organizations often provide the basic necessities that people need to survive: food, water, medical care, education and security.


As ideologically distasteful as we might find them, they are often doing things corrupt, weak or failing governments do not: providing the basic necessities that people need to survive (let alone create the conditions that enable people to aspire to thrive).


Why does al-Nusra keep quiet about its ties to al Qaeda in Iraq? The documents pulled from the Abottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden shed light on his awareness that the al Qaeda brand had been deteriorating.








Bin Laden urged regional groups, "If asked, it would be better to say there is a relationship with al Qaeda, which is simply a brotherly Islamic connection, and nothing more," according to CNN. Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri had criticized the Jordanian-born founder and leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, for his killing of civilians and lack of political acumen to win public support.


Talk about al Qaeda seems distant. It was a bogeyman made real in 1993 when it unsuccessfully attacked the World Trade Center and terrifyingly tangible in 2001 when its operatives succeeded in destroying the twin towers and expanded their attacks to the Pentagon and the air over Pennsylvania. Its looming shadow has since faded from the public eye, particularly with the death of bin Laden. Its vision and ideology, however, continue to have a strong appeal.


Now that al Qaeda central has a less visible role, what makes players like al-Nusra and al Qaeda in Iraq threats? Even today, after Zarqawi's death, al Qaeda in Iraq has managed to continue to wreak havoc in Iraq and in the region through an autonomous, adaptable structure.


Al-Nusra has declared itself a player in the fight for a global jihad, a bold statement for what is today a localized group . Even small groups, however, have the potential to disrupt regional stability and complicate America's pursuit of its national security objectives—a fact I learned firsthand tracking and trying to stem the rise, influence and efficacy of al Qaeda in Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.


Zarqawi, until his death in 2006, was able to confound U.S. forces and attack Jordan by attracting recruits from North Africa (including Libya), Central Europe, Jordan and Syria.


Some of Zarqawi's earliest recruits were veterans of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that lashed out against the Syrian government during the 1980s. Captured records from a raid near the city of Sinjar, Iraq, indicated that during the 2006-2007 time frame, 8% of al Qaeda in Iraq operatives were Syrians. The percentage likely ebbed and flowed as the group formed, became influential and waned, but it suggests that there was no shortage of recruits amenable to engage in religious conflict in Syria as recently as 5-10 years ago.


The most striking thing about the captured records, however, is that it appears almost every foreign fighter entering Iraq to join al Qaeda in Iraq came through Syria. As a targeter, I can tell you that facilitation networks are key: they are the means by which groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq are funded, supplied and sustained. During the Iraq war, Zarqawi's top aides in Syria played a critical role in recruiting, funding and operational planning outside Iraq.


One of the things U.S. officials and the international media should watch for is how al-Nusra uses its terrorist designation: If it seeks to use the declaration to burnish its jihadist credentials, it might be able to bolster the image of the organization in the eyes of the extremist community and parlay that recognition into larger, or steadier, streams of funding—a development that will make the group more viable over the long-term or allow it to expand its operations or influence in the short- to mid-term.


An important differentiator between al Qaeda in Iraq and al-Nusra is one of its tactics: Zarqawi made a practice of indiscriminately killing Iraqi civilians, effectively terrorizing the Iraqi population, especially the Shiite minority. Zarqawi, despite identifying with al Qaeda, had a much thinner theological basis than al Qaeda central.


Key figures at al Qaeda central such as bin Laden and Zawahiri argued with Zarqawi over his tactics, complaining that alienating mainstream Muslims would not help achieve the over-arching goal of instilling Sharia law.


Al-Nusra is using some of the same tactics as al Qaeda in Iraq (e.g., suicide bombings, kidnappings and car bombs), but it appears to be trying to strike a balance Zarqawi was unwilling to make: Not only does it seem to be avoiding alienating—if not antagonizing—the larger population, but it also is providing the people of Syria with a range of goods and services such as food, water and medical care—basic necessities that people need to survive in the best of times, let alone when their country is in the throes of a civil war.


If this becomes a trend, it might signal that al-Nusra aspires to be more like Hezbollah or Hamas, organizations that defy neat categorization based on the range of social, political and military activities they engage in and the resultant legitimacy they have in the eyes of their constituencies.


In the Syrian uprising, the opportunity for meaningful U.S. intervention might have passed: Exhaustion from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken their toll on the U.S. military, have taxed the national treasury, and sapped political will, especially as the state of the economy remains at the center of the debate in Washington.


Our absence from the fight is going to cost us if the al-Assad regime fails, leaving rebel groups like al-Nusra dictating the direction, pace and scope of a new Syria.


Given that managing affairs in the Middle East has never been one of our strong suits, the question at this point should be how can the United States, particularly the Department of State, best engage groups that might be inimical to U.S. values but necessary to our interests in the Middle East? For that, I am not sure there is a clear or simple answer.


One opportunity would be if the United States uses its designation of al-Nusra as both a stick and carrot, cajoling and encouraging it to enter into mainstream politics when (or if) the Assad regime falls.


My read of al-Nusra, however, is that, like Zarqawi, it does not aspire to be a political player and is unlikely to settle for a political role in the new government. Instead, it may aim to play the spoiler for any transitional government and use its resources and political violence to empower and encourage other like-minded extremists. With time and opportunity, al-Nusra could not only add to regional instability in the Middle East, but also rekindle global jihad.



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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nada Bakos.






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'Lincoln' leads Academy Award contenders with 12 nominations








With a conspicuous diss of Kathryn Bigelow, the un-nominated director of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the Academy Awards nominations were announced Thursday morning.


“Zero Dark Thirty” was one of nine films given the best picture nomination nod. The others: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; “Silver Linings Playbook”; “Lincoln”; “Les Miserables”; “Life of Pi”; “Amour”; “Django Unchained”; and “Argo.” With 12 nominations total, director Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” led this year’s pack, unusually full of films that have reached a broad mainstream audience. “Life of Pi” came in with 11 nominations; “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Les Miserables” received eight.


The best actress Oscar nominees include the oldest-ever performer in that category (Emmanuelle Riva, 85, for “Amour”) as well as the youngest (Quvenzhane Wallis, 9, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”). They’ll compete for the Feb. 24 Oscars against Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”), Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”).






To the surprise of no one on this planet or any other, Daniel Day-Lewis led the best actor competition for “Lincoln.” His fellow nominees: Denzel Washington, “Flight”; Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”; Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”; and in the year’s most unsettling performance, Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master.”


“Silver Linings Playbook” fared well, against some predictions, scoring a supporting actor nomination for Robert De Niro and a supporting actress nod for Jacki Weaver. Other supporting actors nominated include Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”; Alan Arkin, “Argo”; and Tommy Lee Jones,” Lincoln.” All have won Oscars before.


Along with Weaver, Sally Field received a supporting actress nomination, hers for “Lincoln.” The competition: Anne Hathaway, singing her guts out all the way to the podium on Feb. 24 (I’m guessing) for “Les Miserables”; Helen Hunt for “The Sessions” (more of a leading role, in fact); and Amy Adams as the Lady Macbeth of the action in “The Master.”


It’s a huge showing for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” whose director, Benh Zeitlin, goes toe to toe against his fellow directing nominees David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”), Michael Haneke (“Amour”) and Spielberg. Along with “Zero Dark Thirty” director Bigelow, “Argo” helmer Ben Affleck, widely expected to be nominated ... wasn’t.






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NATO official says more missiles launched in Syria


BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A short-range ballistic missile was fired inside Syria on Wednesday, following similar launches last week, a NATO official said on Thursday.


The official condemned as "reckless" the missile launches, which U.S. officials called an escalation of the 21-month-old Syrian civil war when their use was first spotted last month.


"The use of such indiscriminate weapons shows utter disregard for the lives of the Syrian people," he said.


The official said NATO had detected the launch of an unguided, short-range ballistic missile inside Syria on Wednesday, following similar launches on January 2 and 3. All the missiles were fired from inside Syria and landed in northern Syria, he said.


The description of the missiles fits the Scuds that are in the Syrian military's armory, but the official said NATO could not confirm the type of missile used.


The NATO official was responding to a report from a Syrian opposition activist living near the Qaldoun army base, 50 km (30 miles) north of Damascus, who said four large rockets, apparently Scuds, were fired from the base overnight.


NATO has agreed to send Patriot anti-missile batteries to protect its member Turkey from possible missile attack from Syria.


(Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Rex Merrifield and Sebastian Moffett)



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Wall Street edges up at open after Alcoa results


NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks opened slightly higher on Wednesday after Alcoa got the earnings season under way with better-than-expected revenue and an encouraging outlook for the year.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 36.93 points, or 0.28 percent, to 13,365.78. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> rose 2.64 points, or 0.18 percent, to 1,459.79. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> advanced 7.35 points, or 0.24 percent, to 3,099.15.


(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Redskins' RG3 has surgery on torn knee ligament


WASHINGTON (AP) — Robert Griffin III had surgery Wednesday morning to repair a torn ligament and to determine whether there was any other damage in his ailing right knee.


A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the procedure was expected to last about two hours. The person said orthopedist James Andrews planned to repair a torn lateral collateral ligament and examine the state of Griffin's ACL.


The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Redskins had not made an announcement about the latest details surrounding the rookie quarterback's injury.


A torn LCL requires a rehabilitation period of several months, possibly extending into training camp and the start of next season. A torn ACL is a more severe injury, typically requiring nine to 12 months of recovery, although Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson made a remarkable return this season some eight months after tearing an ACL — and nearly broke the NFL's single-season rushing record


Griffin was optimistic before he entered surgery, tweeting early Wednesday: "Thank you for your prayers and support. I love God, my family, my team, the fans, & I love this game. See you guys next season."


Griffin reinjured his knee at least twice in Sunday's playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, prompting a national debate over whether coach Mike Shanahan endangered Griffin's career by not taking his franchise player out of the game sooner.


The first major injury to his knee came in 2009, when Griffin tore the ACL in the third game of the season while playing for Baylor. Griffin missed the rest of the year but returned in 2010 and won the Heisman Trophy in 2011.


Griffin sprained the LCL last month when he was hit by Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata at the end of a 13-yard scramble. Griffin missed one game and returned to play three more with a knee brace, his mobility clearly hindered.


Then, on Sunday, Griffin hurt the knee again as he fell awkwardly while throwing a pass in the first quarter against the Seahawks. He remained in the game, with Shanahan saying he trusted Griffin's word that all was OK.


Griffin finally departed in the fourth quarter, after the knee buckled while he was trying to field a bad shotgun snap.


The No. 2 overall pick in last year's draft, Griffin was one of several rookie quarterbacks to make an instant impact on the NFL this season. He set the league record for best season passer rating by a rookie QB and led the Redskins to their first NFC East title in 13 years.


But he also had to leave three games early due to injuries — two because of his knee and one because of a concussion — and missed a fourth altogether because of the knee.


___


Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP


___


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


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US seared during hottest year on record by far






WASHINGTON (AP) — America set an off-the-charts heat record in 2012.


A brutal combination of a widespread drought and a mostly absent winter pushed the average annual U.S. temperature last year up to 55.32 degrees Fahrenheit, the government announced Tuesday. That’s a full degree warmer than the old record set in 1998.






Breaking temperature records by an entire degree is unprecedented, scientists say. Normally, records are broken by a tenth of a degree or so.


“It was off the chart,” said Deke Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., which calculated the temperature records.


Last year, he said, will go down as “a huge exclamation point at the end of a couple decades of warming.”


The data center’s figures for the entire world won’t come out until next week, but through the first 11 months of 2012, the world was on pace to have its eighth warmest year on record.


Scientists say the U.S. heat is part global warming in action and natural weather variations. The drought that struck almost two-thirds of the nation and a La Nina weather event helped push temperatures higher, along with climate change from man-made greenhouse gas emissions, said Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. She said temperature increases are happening faster than scientists predicted.


“These records do not occur like this in an unchanging climate,” said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “And they are costing many billions of dollars.”


Global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — which sends heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the air, changing the climate, scientists say.


What’s happening with temperatures in the United States is consistent with the long-term pattern of “big heat events that reach into new levels of intensity,” Arndt said.


Last year was 3.2 degrees warmer than the average for the entire 20th century. Last July was the hottest month on record. Nineteen states set yearly heat records in 2012, though Alaska was cooler than average.


U.S. temperature records go back to 1895 and the yearly average is based on reports from more than 1,200 weather stations across the Lower 48 states.


Several environmental groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, took the opportunity to call on the Obama Administration to do more to fight climate change.


According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 also had the second-most weather extremes on record after hurricane-heavy 1998, based on a complex mathematical formula that includes temperature records, drought, downpours, and land-falling hurricanes.


Measured by the number of high-damage events, 2012 ranked second after 2011, with 11 different disasters that caused more than $ 1 billion in damage, including Superstorm Sandy and the drought, NOAA said.


The drought was the worst since the 1950s and slightly behind the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, meteorologists said. During a drought, the ground is so dry that there’s not enough moisture in the soil to evaporate into the atmosphere to cause rainfall, which leads to hotter, drier air. This was fed in the U.S. by La Nina, which is linked to drought.


Scientists say even with global warming, natural and local weather changes mean that temperatures will go up and down over the years. But overall, temperatures are climbing. In the United States, the temperature trend has gone up 1.3 degrees over the last century, according to NOAA data. The last year the U.S. was cooler than the 20th-century average was 1997.


The last time the country had a record cold month was December 1983.


What has scientists so stunned is how far above other hot years 2012 was. Nearly all of the previous 117 years of temperature records were bunched between 51 and 54 degrees, while 2012 was well above 55.


“A picture is emerging of a world with more extreme heat,” said Andrew Dessler, a Texas A&M University climate scientist. “Not every year will be hot, but when heat waves do occur, the heat will be more extreme. People need to begin to prepare for that future.”


___


Online:


National Climatic Data Center summary of US weather in 2012, http://1.usa.gov/UHhwpx


NCDC chart showing 2012 versus other years, http://1.usa.gov/13eHTrJ


___


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


Science News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Karzai's U.S. visit a time for tough talk




The last time Presidents Obama and Karzai met was in May in Kabul, when they signed a pact regarding U.S. troop withdrawal.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Afghan President Karzai meeting with President Obama in Washington this week

  • Felbab-Brown: Afghan politics are corrupt; army not ready for 2014 troop pullout

  • She says Taliban, insurgents, splintered army, corrupt officials are all jockeying for power

  • U.S. needs to commit to helping Afghan security, she says, and insist corruption be wiped out




Editor's note: Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. Her latest book is "Aspiration and Ambivalence: Strategies and Realities of Counterinsurgency and State-Building in Afghanistan."


(CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai is meeting this week with President Obama in Washington amid increasing ambivalence in the United States about what to do about the war in Afghanistan.


Americans are tired of the war. Too much blood and treasure has been spent. The White House is grappling with troop numbers for 2013 and with the nature and scope of any U.S. mission after 2014. With the persisting corruption and poor governance of the Afghan government and Karzai's fear that the United States is preparing to abandon him, the relationship between Kabul and Washington has steadily deteriorated.


As the United States radically reduces its mission in Afghanistan, it will leave behind a stalled and perilous security situation and a likely severe economic downturn. Many Afghans expect a collapse into civil war, and few see their political system as legitimate.


Karzai and Obama face thorny issues such as the stalled negotiations with the Taliban. Recently, Kabul has persuaded Pakistan to release some Taliban prisoners to jump-start the negotiations, relegating the United States to the back seat. Much to the displeasure of the International Security Assistance Force, the Afghan government also plans to release several hundred Taliban-linked prisoners, although any real momentum in the negotiations is yet to take place.



Vanda Felbab-Brown

Vanda Felbab-Brown



Washington needs to be careful that negotiations are structured in a way that enhances Afghanistan's stability and is not merely a fig leaf for U.S. and NATO troop departure. Countering terrorism will be an important U.S. interest after 2014. The Taliban may have soured on al Qaeda, but fully breaking with the terror group is not in the Taliban's best interest. If negotiations give the insurgents de facto control of parts of the country, the Taliban will at best play it both ways: with the jihadists and with the United States.


Negotiations of a status-of-forces agreement after 2014 will also be on the table between Karzai and Obama. Immunity of U.S. soldiers from Afghan prosecution and control over detainees previously have been major sticking points, and any Afghan release of Taliban-linked prisoners will complicate that discussion.










Karzai has seemed determined to secure commitments from Washington to deliver military enablers until Afghan support forces have built up. The Afghan National Security Forces have improved but cannot function without international enablers -- in areas such as air support, medevac, intelligence and logistical assets and maintenance -- for several years to come. But Washington has signaled that it is contemplating very small troop levels after 2014, as low as 3,000. CNN reports that withdrawing all troops might even be considered.


Everyone is hedging their bets in light of the transition uncertainties and the real possibility of a major security meltdown after 2014. Afghan army commanders are leaking intelligence and weapons to insurgents; Afghan families are sending one son to join the army, one to the Taliban and one to the local warlord's militia.


Patronage networks pervade the Afghan forces, and a crucial question is whether they can avoid splintering along ethnic and patronage lines after 2014. If security forces do fall apart, the chances of Taliban control of large portions of the country and a civil war are much greater. Obama can use the summit to announce concrete measures -- such as providing enablers -- to demonstrate U.S. commitment to heading off a security meltdown. The United States and international security forces also need to strongly focus on countering the rifts within the Afghan army.


Assisting the Afghan army after 2014 is important. But even with better security, it is doubtful that Afghanistan can be stable without improvements in its government.


Afghanistan's political system is preoccupied with the 2014 elections. Corruption, serious crime, land theft and other usurpation of resources, nepotism, a lack of rule of law and exclusionary patronage networks afflict governance. Afghans crave accountability and justice and resent the current mafia-like rule. Whether the 2014 elections will usher in better leaders or trigger violent conflict is another huge question mark.


Emphasizing good governance, not sacrificing it to short-term military expediencies by embracing thuggish government officials, is as important as leaving Afghanistan in a measured and unrushed way -- one that doesn't jeopardize the fledgling institutional and security capacity that the country has managed to build up.


Karzai has been deaf and blind to the reality that reducing corruption, improving governance and allowing for a more pluralistic political system are essential for Afghanistan's stability. His visit provides an opportunity to deliver the message again -- and strongly.


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The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Vanda Felbab-Brown.






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Poisoned lottery winner's wife has 'nothing to hide,' attorney says









The widow of a West Rogers Park man who died of cyanide poisoning weeks after winning a $1 million lottery jackpot was questioned extensively by Chicago police last month after the medical examiner's office reclassified the death as a homicide, her attorney told the Tribune on Tuesday.

Authorities investigating the death of Urooj Khan also executed a search warrant at the home he had shared with his wife, Shabana Ansari, according to Steven Kozicki, her attorney. Ansari later was interviewed by detectives for more than four hours, answering all their questions, the attorney said.






"She's got nothing to hide," Kozicki said.

The mystery surrounding Khan's death — first reported by the Tribune Monday — has sparked international media interest.

Cook County authorities said Tuesday that they plan to go to court in the next few days for approval to exhume Khan's remains at Rosehill Cemetery. In a telephone interview Tuesday, Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina said he sent a sworn statement to prosecutors laying out why the body must be exhumed.

"I feel that a complete autopsy is needed for the sake of clarity and thoroughness," Cina said.

Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, confirmed that papers seeking the exhumation would be filed soon in the Daley Center courthouse.

Khan, who owned a dry cleaning business on the city's North Side, died unexpectedly in July at 46, just weeks after winning a million-dollar lottery prize at a 7-Eleven store near his home. Finding no trauma to his body and no unusual substances in his blood, the medical examiner's office declared his death to be from natural causes and he was buried without an autopsy.

About a week later, a relative told authorities to take a closer look at Khan's death. By early December, comprehensive toxicology tests showed that Khan had died of a lethal amount of cyanide, leading the medical examiner's office to reclassify the death a homicide and prompting police and prosecutors to investigate.

While a motive has not been determined, police have not ruled out that Khan was killed because of his big lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune. He died before he could collect the winnings — about $425,000 after taxes and because he decided to take a lump-sum payment.

According to court records obtained by the Tribune, Khan's brother has squabbled with Ansari over the money in probate court. The brother, Imtiaz, raised concern that because Khan left no will, his 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage would not get "her fair share" of her father's estate. Khan and Ansari did not have children.

Al-Haroon Husain, an attorney for Ansari in the probate case, said the money was all accounted for and the estate was in the process of being divided up by the court. Under Illinois law, the estate typically would be split evenly between the surviving spouse and Khan's only child, he said.

Kozicki, Ansari's criminal defense attorney, said his client adored her husband and had no financial interest in seeing harm come to him.

"Now in addition to grieving her husband, she's struggling to run the business that he essentially ran while he was alive," Kozicki said. "Once people analyze it, they (would) realize she's in a much worse financial position after his death than she was before."

Reached by phone Tuesday evening at the family dry cleaners, Ansari denied reports that she had fed her husband a traditional Indian meal of ground beef curry before he died. She said he wasn't feeling well after awakening in the middle of the night. She said he sat in a chair and soon collapsed. She then called 911.

Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, speaking Tuesday at an unrelated news conference, remarked that he had never seen a case like this in 32 years in law enforcement.

"So I'll never say that I've seen everything," he told reporters.

jmeisner@tribune.com

jgorner@tribune.com

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