Stocks end higher for sixth straight week, tech leads

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Nasdaq composite stock index closed at a 12-year high and the S&P 500 index at a five-year high, boosted by gains in technology shares and stronger overseas trade figures.


The S&P 500 also posted a sixth straight week of gains for the first time since August.


The technology sector led the day's gains, with the S&P 500 technology index <.splrct> up 1.0 percent. Gains in professional network platform LinkedIn Corp and AOL Inc after they reported quarterly results helped the sector.


Shares of LinkedIn jumped 21.3 percent to $150.48 after the social networking site announced strong quarterly profits and gave a bullish forecast for the year.


AOL Inc shares rose 7.4 percent to $33.72 after the online company reported higher quarterly profit, boosted by a 13 percent rise in advertising sales.


Data showed Chinese exports grew more than expected, a positive sign for the global economy. The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in December, suggesting the U.S. economy likely grew in the fourth quarter instead of contracting slightly as originally reported by the U.S. government.


"That may have sent a ray of optimism," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co in Lake Oswego, Oregon.


Trading volume on Friday was below average for the week as a blizzard swept into the northeastern United States.


The U.S. stock market has posted strong gains since the start of the year, with the S&P 500 up 6.4 percent since December 31. The advance has slowed in recent days, with fourth-quarter earnings winding down and few incentives to continue the rally on the horizon.


"I think we're in the middle of a trading range and I'd put plus or minus 5.0 percent around it. Fundamental factors are best described as neutral," Dickson said.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> ended up 48.92 points, or 0.35 percent, at 13,992.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 8.54 points, or 0.57 percent, at 1,517.93. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 28.74 points, or 0.91 percent, at 3,193.87, its highest closing level since November 2000.


For the week, the Dow was down 0.1 percent, the S&P 500 was up 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq up 0.5 percent.


Shares of Dell closed at $13.63, up 0.7 percent, after briefly trading above a buyout offering price of $13.65 during the session.


Dell's largest independent shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management, said it plans to oppose the buyout of the personal computer maker, setting up a battle for founder Michael Dell.


Signs of economic strength overseas buoyed sentiment on Wall Street. Chinese exports grew more than expected in January, while imports climbed 28.8 percent, highlighting robust domestic demand. German data showed a 2012 surplus that was the nation's second highest in more than 60 years, an indication of the underlying strength of Europe's biggest economy.


Separately, U.S. economic data showed the trade deficit shrank in December to $38.5 billion, its narrowest in nearly three years, indicating the economy did much better in the fourth quarter than initially estimated.


Earnings have mostly come in stronger than expected since the start of the reporting period. Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies now are estimated up 5.2 percent versus a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data. That contrasts with a 1.9 percent growth forecast at the start of the earnings season.


Molina Healthcare Inc surged 10.4 percent to $31.88 as the biggest boost to the index after posting fourth-quarter earnings.


The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, was down 3.6 percent at 13.02. The gauge, a key measure of market expectations of short-term volatility, generally moves inversely to the S&P 500.


"I'm watching the 14 level closely" on the CBOE Volatility index, said Bryan Sapp, senior trading analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "The break below it at the beginning of the year signaled the sharp rally in January, and a rally back above it could be a sign to exercise some caution."


Volume was roughly 5.6 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.


Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by nearly 2 to 1 and on the Nasdaq by almost 5 to 3.


(Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski, Kenneth Barry and Andrew Hay)



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Norway's Svindal wins downhill at Alpine worlds


SCHLADMING, Austria (AP) — Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won the men's downhill title at the Alpine skiing world championships Saturday after a powerful run down the Planai course that no one came close to matching.


Watched by 33,000 spectators, Svindal kept a near-perfect line down the icy and bumpy 3.33-kilometer course despite foggy conditions that caused problems for several other skiers.


The Norwegian finished in 2 minutes, 1.32 seconds to win by nearly half a second and secure his second world downhill title, after also winning the marquee event in 2007. It was his fifth world title overall, to go with an Olympic gold in super-G.


Dominik Paris of Italy, who leads this season's World Cup downhill standings, trailed Svindal by 0.46 in second. David Poisson of France finished third, 0.97 behind.


"I knew I could not have skied better here," said Svindal, who raised both arms in the air and shouted out in celebration immediately after his run. "I took a lot of risks. It was a tough race. Visibility wasn't good and the course was difficult. At the finish, I was exhausted, in my head as well."


The rest of the field, led by Klaus Kroell of Austria in fourth, finished more than a second off Svindal's winning time.


The Norwegian had to settle for bronze in Wednesday's super-G, a discipline he has dominated on the World Cup this season, and said that gave him extra motivation for the downhill.


"Winning bronze was nice but I was also a bit frustrated," Svindal said. "I really pushed hard today and avoided major mistakes."


He was about the only one to do so, as most of his rivals struggled to maintain their racing line on the turning and icy bottom section.


The low final right turn seemed to cause the most problems, as many skiers had to slow down to make the final gate before the finish.


Andreas Romar of Finland, who started seventh, became the first to master that section flawlessly and was in the lead until Poisson came down.


When it was Svindal's turn, the Norwegian stretched his lead at every split time and was also near-perfect in the finish section.


Paris, who won the downhill races in Bormio and Kitzbuehel this season, lost time to the Norwegian toward the end but said he had "a great race."


"I tried to go for a medal but I didn't think I could do it," Paris said. "I saved energy in the upper part because I knew I needed it for that difficult finish section."


Poisson had never been on the podium on the World Cup or at a major championship before earning France a second medal this week, following Gauthier De Tessieres' silver in the super-G.


"This is really perfect. Gauthier started the week well for us," Poisson said. "I am proud of my run, I was fast and I went to my limits."


Kroell's fourth place left the home nation without a gold medal in a speed event of any major championship since the 2003 worlds, when Michael Walchhofer won the downhill and Stephan Eberharter the super-G.


Walchhofer's silver medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics downhill was the last speed medal for Austria.


"I am very disappointed," said Kroell, last season's World Cup downhill champion. "I had a big mistake early on and I didn't find my flow because of all the bumps. I just couldn't keep the line."


The women's downhill is Sunday.


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How Obama can end Congo conflict












Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • President Obama can help end the Congo conflict for good, says Vava Tampa

  • Obama has asked Rwanda to end all support to armed groups in the Congo

  • FDLR militia gang is a threat to stability and must leave Congo

  • Obama must push for change in Congolese government, argues Tampa




Editor's note: Vava Tampa is the founder of Save the Congo, a London-based campaign to tackle "the impunity, insecurity, institutional failure and the international trade of minerals funding the wars in Democratic Republic of the Congo." Follow Vava Tampa on twitter: @VavaTampa


(CNN) -- Now that President Obama has taken a public stand on the warlords and militia gangs tyrannizing DR Congo, there is a sense that the next chapter in the human tragedy that has been raging there over the past decade and half is about to be written -- or so we can hope.


In the DRC -- Africa's largest sub-Saharan country -- invasions, proxy wars and humanitarian crises have senselessly shut down millions of lives, displaced millions more from their homes and left countless women and young girls brutally raped with the world barely raising an eyebrow.


The latest murderous attempt by the M23 militia gang to besiege Goma, the strategic regional capital of Congo's eastern province of North Kivu, seems to have backfired.



Vava Tampa

Vava Tampa



The United Nations says Rwanda has helped to create and militarily supported M23. Although Rwandan President Paul Kagame denies backing M23, the accusation has taken off some of the international gloss he had long enjoyed in the West, and precipitated cuts and suspension of aid money that goes directly to the Kagame regime by the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Britain and the European Union.


The United States, which gives no money directly to the Rwandan government, suspended its military aid. In a baffling expression of a refinement of the U.S. position, President Obama made a rare telephone call to Kagame to emphasize "the importance of permanently ending all support to armed groups in the DRC." That set a firm red line on the situation in that region, the first one by President Obama since becoming president in 2008.
















Watch video: Kagame on Congo


This was certainly right and good. Kagame is no fool; the diplomatic but emphatic content of that telephone call, monitored by White House's National Security staff and published thereafter for public consumption, speaks volumes. He clearly understood the implicit threat. But it was not good enough.


Left unsaid is that withholding aid money that goes directly to the Kagame regime has not changed many realities on the ground -- a painful reminder of the limits of what previous half-hearted, ambivalent international attempts to halt the crisis in that country had achieved.


However, the situation is not hopeless. President Obama can help to halt the wars engulfing the Congo. It is both economically and politically affordable.


Here is my suggestion -- a three-point road map, if you like, for President Obama, should he choose to put the weight of the United States squarely on the side of the Congolese and engage much more robustly to help end the world's bloodiest war and human tragedy.


Read more: Why the world is ignoring Congo war


1. Changes in Kinshasa


If we are to be blunt with ourselves, Congo's major problem today -- the chief reason that country remains on its knees -- is its president Joseph Kabila. Paul Kagame is just a symptom, at least in theory.


The crisis of leadership in the capital Kinshasa, the disastrous blend of lack of political legitimacy and moral authority, mixed with poor governance and vision deficiency, then compounded with dilapidated state institutions, has become the common denominator to the ills and wrongs that continues to overwhelm the Congo.


In other words, peace will never be secured in Congo, if the moribund status quo is still strutting around Kinshasa.


Obama's minimum objective in regard to ending the wars and human tragedy engulfing the Congo should be to push for changes in Kinshasa. He must make this one of the "10 Commandments" of the Obama Doctrine.


Circumstances demand it to re-energize Congo's chance of success and to enable the renaissance of a "New Africa." And given the effects of Congo's mounting death toll and the speed at which HIV/AIDS is spreading because of the use of rape as a weapon of war, the sooner the better.


2. Keep Kagame in the naughty corner


The wars and human tragedy engulfing the Congo have many fathers and many layers. Rwanda, and to some extent Uganda -- run by Africa's two dearest autocratic but staunchly pro-American regimes -- are, as they have been many times in the past, despite their denials, continuing to provide support to warlords and militia gangs terrorizing the Congolese people.


This is not an apocryphal claim, it's an open secret in Kinshasa, Kampala and Kigali as much as it is in Washington or White Hall, and as real as Charles Taylor's role in Sierra Leone or Iran's support to Hezbollah.



If President Obama is remotely serious about saving lives in Congo, then fracturing Rwanda's ability to directly or indirectly harbor warlords ... is critical.
Vava Tampa, Save the Congo



Indeed, reporters across Congo and across the region would testify to this. Kigali has been, one can safely argue, the sole shareholder in the M23 militia gang -- and its elder sisters CNDP and RCD-Goma.


It cannot wash its hands in Pontius Pilate fashion of either the ICC-wanted M23 warlord Bosco Ntaganda, also known as The Terminator, or Laurent Nkunda, who is wanted by the Congolese government for war crimes and is under house arrest in Kigali.


Read more: Prosecutor seeks new Congo war crimes warrants


If President Obama is remotely serious about saving lives in Congo, then fracturing Rwanda's ability to directly or indirectly harbor warlords, support militia gangs, militarize or ethnicize the wars in Congo for control of Congo's easily appropriable but highly valuable natural resources is critical, however politically disgruntling it may be to some in the State Department.


It would reduce the scale, scope and intensity of the killing, raping and uprooting of the Congolese, it would crush Kinshasa's ability to use external support to warlords and militia gangs as an alibi for a lack of progress and, above all, decrease the growing unease of the Congolese towards Rwanda over the crimes of FDLR and the role played by their government in Congo.


3. FDLR


The continued existence in Congo of FDLR, a Rwandan militia gang made up largely of Hutus -- whose leadership took part in the 1994 genocide of Tutsi -- remains one of the most persistent and serious threats to stability in Congo and the region.


Addressing this crisis is of significant importance from both a political and humanitarian viewpoint.


Though there are no definitive statistics on the exact numbers of FDLR fighters, the good news is that experts tell us that the vast majority of its rank and file are in their 20s and early 30s, which means they were too young to have taken part in the genocide in 1994.


The United States, together with the U.N., the EU and African Union, should appoint a special envoy for the African Great Lakes region to midwife a conducive political arrangement in Kigali that could see them returning home -- and see their leaders and fundraisers in Europe arrested.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Vava Tampa.






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Michelle Obama expected at Hadiya Pendleton funeral today









First lady Michelle Obama is expected to attend Hadiya Pendleton’s funeral this morning at Greater Harvest Baptist Church in the Washington Park neighborhood, about two miles from where the 15-year-old girl was gunned down last month.


Hadiya was a majorette for King College Prep's band and performed during President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities just days before she was slain, shot in the back while hanging out with friends at a North Kenwood neighborhood park.


The shooter was after someone else, police said. No one is in custody.








Michelle Obama's plan to come to the funeral puts Chicago solidly in the middle of a national debate over gun violence that has polarized Congress and forced President Obama to take his gun control initiatives on the road to garner more public support.


The first lady's visit is being seen not only as a gesture of condolence to the family but as part of an effort to draw attention and support for the president's gun initiatives.


As of 7 a.m. there were already about ten people lined up outside the church, 5141 S. State St.


A hearse arrived shortly before 8 a.m. with a police escort.


Uniformed Secret Service officers, before the arrival of the 15-year-old's body, were moving people through metal detectors, though the public won't be allowed in for about an hour. 

Media and a select few others are using a separate entrance, also manned by uniformed Secret Service officers. 


City and Secret Service officers' K-9 unit dogs sniffed through camera bags before camera crews were allowed inside. 


The church is surrounded by an iron fence and all of the openings -- a pedestrian gate in the front, front and side doors to the church, and a driveway to the north  -- are guarded by city police or men in white shirts, ties and long black coats.

The early arrivals were being held outside the gate while security officers move portable barriers toward the front entrance.


Chicago police vehicles - two wagons, a handful of squads and SUVs - are guarding the outside of the church. Two more vehicles are circling the block.


Chicago police staffing the event are wearing dress blues -- a blue overcoat with pockets that allow access to the duty belt, creased navy pants, and a hat.


To the south of the church is a child-parent center and behind it, a boarded up three-story brick apartment building.


chicagobreaking@tribune.com
Twitter: @chicagobreaking 





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Protests erupt as India executes man for 2001 parliament attack


NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India hanged a Kashmiri man on Saturday for an attack on the country's parliament in 2001, sparking clashes in Kashmir between protesters and police who wielded batons and fired teargas. Dozens of people were injured.


President Pranab Mukherjee rejected a mercy petition from Mohammad Afzal Guru and he was hanged at 8 a.m. (0230 GMT) in Tihar jail in the capital, New Delhi. Security forces anticipating unrest had imposed a curfew in parts of insurgency-torn Kashmir and ordered people off the streets.


Guru, from the Indian part of divided Kashmir, was convicted of helping organize arms for the gunmen who made the attack and a place for them to stay. He always maintained his innocence.


India blamed the attack on the parliament of the world's largest democracy on militants backed by Pakistan, targeting the prime minister, interior minister and legislators in one of the country's worst ever militant attacks.


Pakistan denied any involvement and condemned the attack but tension rose sharply and brought the nuclear-armed rivals dangerously close to their fourth war. Nearly a million soldiers were mobilized on both sides of the border and fears of war only dissipated months later, in June 2002.


The hanging was ordered less than three months after India executed the lone surviving gunman of a 2008 attack in the city of Mumbai in which 166 people were killed.


Saturday's execution could help the ruling Congress party deflect opposition criticism of being soft on militancy as it gears up for a series of state elections this year and a general election due by 2014, while grappling with an economic slowdown.


"Congress has decided to be more proactive in view of the elections, not only in terms of economic policy but also matters like the hanging," said political analyst Amulya Ganguli.


"The Congress has now deprived the BJP of a propaganda plank," he said, referring to the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.


Government officials dismissed suggestions that electoral politics played a role in the decision to execute Guru.


In major towns of Indian Kashmir, where security forces have battled a Muslim separatist insurgency for decades, barricades were erected and hundreds of police and paramilitary force members were deployed.


"The hanging of Afzal Guru is a declaration of war by India," said Hilal Ahmad War, leader of a separatist faction.


Thirty-six people including 23 policemen were injured in protests, said police spokesman Manoj Sheeri, with most of the violence in Guru's home district.


Authorities shut down internet services to try to stop news of the hanging and unrest spreading. The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Omar Abdullah, made a televised appeal for calm.


Scuffles also broke out in New Delhi between Hindu activists and demonstrators who gathered at a city-centre protest site to condemn the execution, a Reuters witness said.


WARNING


Five militants stormed the parliament complex in New Delhi on December 13, 2001, armed with grenades, guns and explosives, but security forces killed them before they could enter the main chamber. Ten other people, most of them security officers, were killed.


Guru said he never got a fair trial and his brother reiterated that on Saturday, adding that authorities had not warned the family of his execution.


"At least the government should have given the family a chance to meet him," said the brother, Ajaz Ahmad Guru. "He didn't get a fair trial. His wife is in deep shock."


India said the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group was responsible for the parliament attack. The group fights Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir.


The hanging last year of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani militant involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, after a long lull in executions, prompted speculation that India would move quickly to execute Guru.


But unlike Kasab's execution, which sparked celebrations in the streets, Guru's case was seen as more divisive.


Some Kashmiri leaders warned that hanging Afzal would fuel the revolt in India's part of the Himalayan region in which tens of thousands of people have been killed since 1989.


Curfews were imposed in Srinagar, the region's summer capital in the Kashmir valley, and major towns including Baramulla, Guru's home town.


Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, both of which claim the region in full and rule it in part. They have fought two of their three wars over the region.


In Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, more than 250 people took to the streets to protest against the hanging, shouting "Down with India" and burning an Indian flag.


India has long accused Muslim Pakistan of arming and funding militants to fight Indian forces in Kashmir. Pakistan says it only provides moral support to the fellow-Muslim people of Kashmir, who, Pakistan says, face harsh Indian rule.


The dispute, a legacy of the division of the sub-continent at the end of British rule, is the main factor souring relations between the neighbors.


(Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari, Mansi Thapliyal, Ashok Pahalwan, Abu Arqam Naqash, Arnika Thakur and Satarupa Bhattacharjya; Editing by Ross Colvin and Robert Birsel)



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Wall Street opens modestly higher after data


NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks opened slightly higher on Friday after a trio of positive economic data points, and further gains were expected to be modest with the benchmark S&P index near five-year highs.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 18.97 points, or 0.14 percent, at 13,963.02. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 3.05 points, or 0.20 percent, at 1,512.44. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 13.59 points, or 0.43 percent, at 3,178.72.


(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Bernadette Baum)



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Illini buzzer-beater upsets No. 1 Hoosiers, 74-72


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — At this rate, no one will want to be No. 1.


Indiana became the fifth straight top-ranked men's college basketball team to lose, falling to unranked Illinois 74-72 on a buzzer-beater by Tyler Griffey on Thursday night.


The senior forward took an inbounds pass with 0.9 seconds to play and made a wide-open layup. And, just like that, the Hoosiers — who moved into the top spot by beating then-No. 1 Michigan just a few days ago — went down.


Indiana coach Tom Crean, whose team has been No. 1 for a total of seven weeks this season after opening there, doesn't know why the top spot is suddenly so hard to hang on to.


"I can't answer that. I'm not sure," Crean said. "I just know that these games are 40-minute games. We played at a high level for most of the game."


The Hoosiers (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten) were in charge until the final 3 1/2 minutes when the Illini (16-8, 3-7 Big Ten) finally put together a run to take and then retake the lead.


"I know this: When we turn the ball over, we're not very good," Crean said. "And the biggest difference tonight was 28 points off turnovers to our 16."


Hoosiers guard Jordan Hulls said flatly that the top rank had nothing to do with Thursday's loss, even for a team that some worried might be looking past unranked, slumping Illinois to a meeting Sunday with No. 10 Ohio State.


"We just didn't execute when we needed to," he said.


If Indiana falls from No. 1 on Monday, No. 2 Florida might not be a candidate to replace the Hoosiers after the Gators' loss this week to Arkansas. That could put No. 3 Michigan back on top if they can make it to Monday without a loss.


For the Hoosiers, nothing could have been worse than the way Thursday's game ended.


With 0.9 seconds, Griffey left defenders Cody Zeller and Christian Watford behind on an inbounds play from the baseline, took the pass from Brandon Paul and delivered the uncontested buzzer-beater.


The shot sent hundreds of students onto the court, though they waited as officials checked the replay to make sure the clock hadn't beaten Griffey. Once the basket was upheld, Paul and fellow guard D.J. Richardson hugged and teared up in relief.


Illinois had endured an awful run since starting 12-0. The Illini had since lost eight of 11 and fallen to 10th in the 12-team Big Ten.


Griffey, who had struggled as bad as any Illini player, seemed surprised at how easily the winning shot came.


"I just made a simple curl cut and left two guys behind me, and Brandon got off a heck of a pass," he said. "Zeller and Watford were both right in front of me and just kind of stayed there."


Crean said the play was a lot like the other breakdowns in the Hoosiers' game that let Illinois climb back from a 12-point halftime deficit.


"We didn't communicate," he said.


Indiana's loss drops them into a three-way tie for first in the Big Ten with Michigan and Michigan State. The win moves the Illini up into a ninth-place tie with Iowa but, more importantly, provides a potential lifeline ahead of a meeting Sunday at No. 18 Minnesota.


"It was good to get back to having that toughness and togetherness and trust that we needed," Illinois coach John Groce said.


Illinois also added a plank to what may be one of the oddest resumes of any team in the country trying to make the NCAA tournament. Illinois has lost to Purdue, Northwestern and twice to Wisconsin. But coming into Thursday night, the Illini had already beaten three teams now in the top 15: No. 6 Gonzaga, No. 10 Ohio State and No. 14 Butler.


Before Thursday, Illinois hadn't beaten a No. 1 team since a win over Wake Forest in 2004.


Richardson had 23 points for Illinois, Paul had 21 and Griffey finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.


Zeller led Indiana with 14 points, while Will Sheehey had 13, Watford 12 and Hulls 11.


Indiana shot 50 percent from the field (25 of 50), 52.9 percent from 3-point range (9 of 17) and 93 percent from the free throw line (13 of 14). The Hoosiers led by an eight- to 10-point margin for most of the second half.


When 6-foot-11 Nnanna Egwu fouled out with just under 5 minutes to play, Indiana appeared in control. Watford made both free throws and, at 69-59, the Illini looked done.


But Richardson went on a one-man run, first burying back-to-back 3-pointers and then hitting a midrange jumper on the run to tie it at 70 with 1:17 to play.


With the clock under 30 seconds and the game tied at 72, Indiana had the ball for what would have been a last shot but Victor Oladipo coughed up the ball. Richardson picked it up and tried a breakaway layup that Oladipo just swatted out of bounds to set up the final play.


Groce credited Richardson for providing a spark.


"I thought he was absolutely terrific on both ends of the floor," Groce said. "He battled, he fought."


Griffey was benched several weeks ago after a blowout loss at Wisconsin. On a team that had lost its shooting touch, the senior forward had especially struggled. And, though one of Illinois' bigger players at 6-9, he wasn't adding much to the inside presence the Illini desperately needed.


Groce said that, even after he benched Griffey, he never gave up on him.


"I just have told him numerous times here I believe in him," the first-year Illinois coach said. "I do."


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Why I dread Chinese New Year




Kids see Chinese New Year through rose-tinted glasses.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Zoe Li: As an adult, Chinese New Year is an annual nightmare

  • It's a time when relatives have the right to be judgmental

  • Superstitious Chinese New Year foods often aren't that tasty




(CNN) -- For me, Chinese New Year used to be fun.


When I was a kid, I was excited during Chinese New Year when I got lai see and I could stay up late. I even had access to candy, a once-a-year treat while living under the roof of my Tiger Mom.


Riding strong on the sugar highs, I always thought to myself, this is what it must feel like to be an adult. I was flush, free and giddy.


Then at some point in my twenties, Chinese New Year became a chore. Not any garden variety chore, but a cold-sweat-inducing family obligation that I try hard to avoid.


As an adult, Chinese New Year is an annual nightmare, for the following reasons:


1. I find it sucks when you are single




Single twenty-something? Smile while you can until the interrogation begins.



Relatives feel that they have a right to judge you because you do share bits of DNA, so, really, it's almost like they're judging themselves.


Typically, the extended family gathers for Chinese New Year and spends an inordinate amount of time together, during which people get bored and focus their restlessness on judging the younger generation, particularly those who are single.


Singledom means a lack of responsibilities and responsibility-free people need to be reined in by the wisdom of elders, or they will be reckless with their directionless lives.


Here are some unavoidable conversations at Chinese New Year. By "conversations" I really mean monologues by one Wise Elder or another, fired away at a particular Single Younger in a trance-like manner:


"Why don't you have a boyfriend? If you have a boyfriend, why don't you get married?"


"Why are you not dieting at least a little bit? Second Cousin Yong Yong will have to start bringing clothes from America for you."


"What happened to your hair? Blue is not such a good color for us Chinese people."






"Are you saving up for an apartment? Why not? The most important thing in life is to have a roof over your head. You don't want to be homeless, do you? What if the economy collapses again? At least you will have an apartment."


"Why don't you get a better paid job? You are wasting your talent. You will regret your life."


2. I am employed


I loved the great Chinese tradition of gifting lai see. Getting HK$20 for no reason other than tradition really rocked my seven-year-old world.


I have an income now, so twenty bucks here and there doesn't make a huge difference, but I still retain that childhood anticipation for the red packets. It's just a bit disappointing when I open up an envelope and it isn't concealing a massive check.


And it's the guilt from feeling disappointed that makes me really hate Chinese New Year for making me hate myself.


It's just like being unable to conceal your letdown expression when unwrapping that pair of socks at Secret Santa parties.


Gifting is a heartwarming tradition. It's the thought that counts. I am not supposed to care. I am a bad person.


There's even worse.


Chinese New Year gambling is just out of hand.


Now that I have a job, I'm expected to bet real money at The Mahjong Table, a no man's land filled with hidden agendas, treacherous scheming and Janus-faced traitors.


If you beat your elder relatives at mahjong one too many times, beware their wrath. It really hurts when you get hit by a mahjong tile.


If you lose on purpose to your elders and are unable to skillfully conceal your purposefulness, you risk looking patronizing.


It will put them in a bad mood and lead to a vengeful "what are you doing with your life" interrogation later. See point number one.


If you're simply crap at the game, you lose a load of money and will probably be judged for being not very intelligent. See point number one again.


3. I like good food




Chinese New Year cake is good only when it's homemade.



When foreigners make jokes about Chinese eating weird foods, I cringe.


When Chinese New Year comes around, I'm the one making the damn jokes.


At this time of year, we do get some incredible festive dishes.


And then there are those odd ones that make you feel like the taste, texture and nutritional content of food have all become irrelevant -- we only eat for superstitions.


Lots of Chinese New Year foods are auspicious in meaning, but atrocious in taste. I propose that we at least get rid of these three that are now out of touch with our lives:


Chinese New Year cake


Called "leen go" in Cantonese ("niangao" in mainland China), the name sounds auspicious and means "to progress more and reach higher every year."


The cake is made from glutionous rice, sugar and flavored with red bean paste or jujubes. Cut into thin slices, dip into beaten eggs and pan fry until it's gooey on the inside and crisp on the outside.


The problem is, no one makes these at home anymore and the store-bought version is bland and stodgy, like eating slices of caulking.


Since glutinous rice is considered difficult to digest for the elderly, us Single Youngers who have nothing to lose are forced to finish the plateful.


Sugared lotus seeds


Back in the day -- before globalization brought us jelly beans and Sugus, before the invention of Coca-Cola, before Christopher Columbus brought cocoa beans to the Old World -- eating sugar-coated lotus seeds during Chinese New Year seemed like a good idea.


Today, we have so many more delicious ways to feed our sweet tooth, so why do people still buy sugared lotus seeds?


They look like mothballs, taste one dimensional and feel like a marble of sand broken upon the tongue.


The name "leen tsi" sounds like "to birth sons each year." No one in the family likes to eat them and most of them already have kids, which means us Single Youngers have to swallow.


Gok tsai


These are deep-fried sweet dumplings. The skin is a thick, lifeless pastry made from lard, the filling is a mind-numbingly sweet blend of sugar and nuts.


Its shape and color makes it, somewhat, resemble a gold ingot. Eating these symbolize prosperity for the new year.


If I had to run a marathon, I might appreciate the fat bomb. But the only thing that I run are scripts on my browser.


That point, like the others in this post, is lost on the Wise Elders, wise as they are.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Zoe Li. A former CNN employee, Zoe is a Hong Kong resident and edits the Hong Kong section of BLOUIN ARTINFO.






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Bblizzard packing more than 2 feet of snow reaches East Coast









A powerful storm expected to bring driving winds and more than 2 feet of snow to the Northeast, along with the potential for coastal flooding, touched down early Friday morning, canceling thousands of flights in its wake.


Blizzard warnings were in effect from New Jersey through southern Maine, with Boston expected to bear the brunt of the massive storm that could set records. The day began with light snow and winds that were due to pick up with much heavier snowfall by afternoon.

Officials urged residents to stay home, rather than risk getting stuck in deep drifts or whiteout conditions.

Boston and surrounding communities said schools would be closed on Friday, and city and state officials told nonessential city workers to stay home. Businesses were urged to let staff work from home or shorten schedules.

"Accumulation is expected to be swift, heavy and dangerous," Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told reporters. "I am ordering all nonessential state workers to work from home (Friday). I am strongly urging private employers to take the same precautions." Officials across the region echoed his recommendations, telling residents to prepare for any power outages and consider checking on elderly or disabled neighbors who might need help.


In New York City, still not fully recovered from the effects of October's devastating Hurricane Sandy, officials said they had 1,800 Sanitation Department trucks equipped with snow plows ready to be deployed. In New Jersey, also hit hard by Sandy, state officials expected major coastal flooding, high winds, and possible blizzard conditions in the northeastern section of the state.








"This is a dangerous storm, and we ask motorists to be careful while driving. There is also the potential for downed trees and wires because of wind conditions," said Colonel Rick Fuentes, director of the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management. "(The) evening commute will be treacherous throughout much of New Jersey."

The National Weather Service, warning of a "major, maybe even historic, snowstorm," said Boston and much of New England could get up to three feet of snow on Friday and Saturday, its first heavy snowfall in two years. Winds could gust as high as 60 miles to 70 mph. If more than 18.2 inches of snow falls in Boston, it will rank among the city's 10 largest snowfalls. Boston's record snowfall, 27.6 inches, came in 2003.


Cities from Hartford, Connecticut, to Portland, Maine, were expected to see at least one foot of snow. Airlines have already canceled nearly 2,500 flights for Friday, according to website FlightAware.com, with the largest number of cancellations at airports in Newark, New Jersey; New York City; Chicago and Boston.


"This is really serious," said FOX CT meteorologist Joe Furey. "This is a storm that can cripple all of southern New England," Furey said. "A blizzard is not about the amounts of snow. A blizzard is about sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 mph or higher over three hours or longer."


Boston's Logan International Airport warned that once the storm roars in, all flights would likely be grounded for 24 hours.

United Continental Holdings Inc, JetBlue Airways Corp and Delta Air Lines Inc all reported extensive cancellations.


ECHOES OF '78


For some in the Boston area, the forecast brought to mind memories of the blizzard of 1978, which dropped 27.1 inches, the second largest snowfall recorded in the city's history. That storm started out gently and intensified during the day, leaving many motorists stranded during the evening commute.

Dozens of deaths were reported in the region after that storm, many from people touching downed electric lines.

Officials warned of a high risk of extensive power outages across the region due to the combination of heavy snow and high winds. Residents were also at risk of losing heat at a time when temperatures would dip to 20 Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius).

Across the region, store shelves were picked clean of food and storm-related supplies such as shovels and salt as residents scrambled to prepare.

Some big employers said they were considering pleas by officials to let workers stay home, including State Street Corp, one of Boston's largest employers in the financial sector.


Reuters and the Hartford Courant





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Violence mars funeral of slain Tunisian opposition leader


TUNIS (Reuters) - Police and mourners clashed at the mass funeral on Friday of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose assassination has plunged Tunisia deeper into political crisis.


Braving chilly rain, at least 50,000 people turned out to honor Belaid in his home district of Jebel al-Jaloud in the capital, chanting anti-Islamist and anti-government slogans.


It was Tunisia's biggest funeral since the death of Habib Bourguiba, independence leader and first president, in 2000.


Violence erupted near the cemetery as police fired teargas at demonstrators who threw stones and set cars ablaze. Police also used teargas against protesters near the Interior Ministry, a frequent flashpoint for clashes in the Tunisian capital.


Tunisia, cradle of the Arab uprisings, is riven by tensions between dominant Islamists and their secular opponents, and by frustration at the lack of social and economic progress since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January 2011.


Belaid's assassination has shocked a country which had hitherto experienced a relatively peaceful political transition.


"The people want a new revolution," shouted mourners in Tunis, who also sang the national anthem.


Crowds surged around an open army truck carrying Belaid's coffin, draped in a red and white Tunisian flag, from a cultural center in Jebel al-Jaloud towards the leafy Jallaz cemetery, as a security forces helicopter flew overhead.


"Belaid, rest in peace, we will continue the struggle," mourners chanted, holding portraits of the politician killed near his home on Wednesday by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle.


Some demonstrators denounced Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party. "Ghannouchi, assassin, criminal," they chanted. "Tunisia is free, terrorism out."


Police fired teargas to disperse anti-government protesters throwing stones and petrol bombs in the southern mining town of Gafsa, a stronghold of support for Belaid, witnesses said.


Crowds there had chanted "The people want the fall of the regime", a slogan first used against Ben Ali.


CRADLE OF REVOLT


In Sidi Bouzid, the southern town where the revolt against the ousted strongman began, about 10,000 marched to mourn Belaid and shout slogans against Ennahda and the government.


Banks, factories and some shops were closed in Tunis and other cities in response to a strike called by unions in protest at Belaid's killing, but buses were running normally.


Tunis Air suspended all its flights because of the strikes, a spokesman for the national airline said. Airport sources in Cairo said EgyptAir had canceled two flights to Tunisia after staff at Tunis airport joined the general strike.


After Belaid's assassination, Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali, an Islamist, said he would dissolve the government and form a cabinet of technocrats to rule until elections could be held.


But his own Ennahda party and its secular coalition partners complained they had not been consulted, casting doubt over the status of the government and compounding political uncertainty.


No one has claimed responsibility for the killing of Belaid, a lawyer and secular opposition figure.


His family have blamed Ennahda but the party has denied any hand in the shooting. Crowds have attacked several Ennahda party offices in Tunis and other cities in the past two days.


"Hope still exists in Tunisia," Fatma Saidan, a noted Tunisian actor, told Reuters at Belaid's funeral. "We will continue to struggle against extremism and political violence."


She called for national unity, saying: "We are ready to accept Islamists, but they don't accept us."


SECULAR SYMBOL


While Belaid had only a modest political following, his criticism of Ennahda policies spoke for many Tunisians who fear religious radicals are bent on snuffing out freedoms won in the first of the revolts that rippled through the Arab world.


Secular groups have accused the Islamist-led government of a lax response to attacks by ultra-orthodox Salafi Islamists on cinemas, theatres and bars in recent months.


The economic effect of political uncertainty and street unrest could be serious in a country which has yet to draft a new constitution and which relies heavily on the tourist trade.


Mohamed Ali Toumi, president of the Tunisian Federation of Travel Agencies, described the week's events as a catastrophe that would have a negative impact on tourism, but he told the national news agency TAP no cancellations had been reported yet.


France, which had already announced the closure of its schools in Tunis on Friday and Saturday, urged its nationals to stay clear of potential flashpoints in the capital.


The cost of insuring Tunisian government bonds against default rose to its highest level in more than four years on Thursday and ratings agency Fitch said it could further downgrade Tunisia if political instability continues or worsens.


(For an interactive look at Tunisia please click on http://link.reuters.com/tub85t)


(Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz in Cairo and Brian Love in Paris; Editing by Jon Boyle)


ꀀᥘ


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Wall Street flat after claims data, retailers' sales

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks were little changed on Thursday after data showed modest improvement in the labor market and retailers posted mixed monthly sales.


Weekly initial jobless claims dipped last week, with the four-week moving average falling to its lowest level since March 2008, signaling the economy continues to recover slowly.


A separate report said fourth-quarter productivity registered its biggest drop in nearly two years, while unit labor costs jumped 4.5 percent, more than economists expected.


"Claims didn't look too exciting. They are pretty much in line. The bigger surprise was the jump in unit labor costs that was pretty substantial," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois.


"Overall the market took the whole thing in stride."


Recent data has pointed to a slow improvement in the economy, but one without enough strength to cause the Federal Reserve to abandon its easy monetary policy, which has helped the benchmark S&P index to climb 6 percent this year.


"We are probably in a pretty stable policy regime from the Fed standpoint, certainly until midyear, then as we get later in the year if we are seeing the economy picking up, then maybe they start taking their foot off the accelerator a little bit," said Jankovskis.


Several U.S. retailers reported mixed January sales results, as consumers faced a hit to their take-home pay from higher payroll taxes. The S&P retail index <.spxrt> gained 0.3 percent.


Macy's Inc rose 1.4 percent to $40.04 after reporting January same store sales rose 11.7 percent.


But Ann Inc dropped 7.9 percent to $30.20 after forecasting fourth-quarter sales below analysts' expectations.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> dropped 13.90 points, or 0.10 percent, to 13,972.62. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> dropped 0.43 points, or 0.03 percent, to 1,511.69. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> dropped 3.04 points, or 0.10 percent, to 3,165.43.


Fund manager David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital on Thursday said it has sued Apple Inc and said the company needs to do more to unlock value for shareholders. Apple shares gained 1 percent to $459.27.


Akami Technologies Inc lost 17.8 percent to $34.17 as the worst performer on the S&P 500 after the Internet content delivery company forecast current-quarter revenue below analysts' expectations.


According to Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning, of 317 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 69 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies rose 5 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


The European Central Bank held its main interest rate unchanged at 0.75 percent, as expected.


(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Kenneth Barry)



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Signing Day: Ole Miss muscles in on power programs


Alabama. Ohio State. Michigan. Florida. Notre Dame. Mississippi?


Ole Miss muscled in on the powerhouses that usually dominate national signing day, landing some of the most sought-after prospects in the country on college football's annual first-Wednesday-in-February frenzy.


The Rebels, coming off a promising 7-6 season in their first season under coach Hugh Freeze, had the experts swooning by signing three of the bluest chips still on the board and building a well-rounded class otherwise.


"I do think (this class) has the possibility of being a program changer," Freeze said. "But it's all on paper right now.


The day started with defensive end Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville, Ga., rated the No. 1 recruit in the country by just about everyone who ranks them, deciding to join his brother, Denzel, in Oxford, Miss.


"I feel like it's the right place for me," Nkemdiche said after slipping on a red Ole Miss cap. "I feel like they can do special things and they're on the rise. I feel like going to play with my brother, we can do something special."


Nkemdiche originally committed to Clemson last year, then backed off that and narrowed his picks down to LSU, Florida and Mississippi — and the Rebels beat the big boys.


They weren't done. Coaches in the Ole Miss war room were exchanging hugs and high-fives again a couple hours later when Laremy Tunsil, a top-rated offensive tackle from Lake City, Fla., picked the Rebels over Florida State and Georgia.


"Tunsil to Ole Miss I think was the biggest surprise of the whole (recruiting season)," said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247Sports.com.


And, as if the Ole Miss needed more good news, highly touted defensive back Antonio Conner from nearby Batesville, Miss., chose the Rebels over national champion Alabama.


Ole Miss also landed Laquon Treadwell from Crete, Ill., one of the best receiver prospects in the country. He made a verbal commitment to the Rebels back in December, and sealed the deal Wednesday, the first day high school players can sign binding letters of intent.


The end result was a class good enough to even catch the attention of LeBron James.


"Ole Miss ain't messing around today! Big time recruits coming in. SEC is crazy," the NBA MVP posted on his Twitter account.


Crazy good. While the Rebels racked up, it's important to remember they still have plenty of ground to gain on the rest of their conference.


Nick Saban reloaded the Crimson Tide with a class that Rivals.com ranked No. 1 in the country.


SEC powers Florida, LSU and Georgia pulled in typically impressive classes. SEC newcomer Texas A&M cracked the top 10 of several rankings. Even Vanderbilt, coming off a nine-win season, broke into the top 25.


It's the cycle of life in the SEC, which has won seven straight BCS championships. Stock up on signing day and scoop up those crystal footballs at season's end.


___


SLIPPING AWAY FROM USC


Signing day didn't do much to soothe the scars left from a difficult season for Southern California.


NCAA sanctions limited the number of scholarships coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans could hand out this year, and then as signing day approached USC had several players who had given verbal commitments change their minds.


The most notable defection on signing day was five-star defensive back Jalen Ramsey of Brentwood, Tenn., who flipped to Florida State. Defensive end Jason Hatcher from Louisville, Ky., bailed on USC and signed with Kentucky, and defensive end Torrodney Prevot from Houston not only reneged on his USC commitment, but he landed at Pac-12-rival Oregon.


"People expected (Prevot) to flip from USC, but they thought it would be to Texas A&M," Shurburtt said.


USC's class won't be lacking blue chippers. Quarterback Max Browne from Washington is considered the next in a long line of topflight Trojans quarterbacks, and Kenny Bigelow from Maryland is rated among the best defensive linemen in the nation.


Kiffin will be banking on quality to make up for the lack of quantity, but that's a precarious way to play a game as uncertain as recruiting.


____


IF MOMMA'S NOT HAPPY ...


Alex Collins, a top running back prospect out of Plantation, Fla., announced on Monday night that he was going to Arkansas instead of Miami.


It was considered a huge victory for new Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema.


But on Wednesday morning, when it was time to make it official, Collins' letter of intent didn't come spinning through the fax machine in Fayetteville, Ark.


There were some odd reports about Collins' mother not being happy with her son's decision to go so far from home.


College coaches aren't allowed to talk about specific players before they sign, but Bielema did acknowledge during his signing day news conference that Arkansas' class of 22 players could "grow by one."


___


THE BIG TWO


Ohio State and Michigan received two thumbs up from experts on their signing day classes. They all had the Buckeyes and Wolverines around top five in the country.


After that, there was a drop off. Nebraska received solid grades and Penn State, despite NCAA sanctions that limited its class to 17 signees, held up pretty well.


"That's a tribute to the job (Penn State coach) Bill O'Brien and the staff did," Shurburtt said.


But signing day 2013 signaled that Urban Meyer's Buckeyes and Brady Hoke's Wolverines are primed to pull away from most of the Big Ten, and maybe — just maybe — give the league a team or two that can challenge those SEC teams for a national title.


___


BUILT TO LAST


Notre Dame followed up its best season in more than two decades with a recruiting class that coach Brian Kelly hopes can keep the Fighting Irish contending for more national titles.


The class includes a famous name in Torii Hunter Jr., the son of the All-Star outfielder. Hunter Jr. is a top-notch receiver prospect, though he broke his leg during an All-Star game and it could be a while before he's back on the football field.


Linebacker Jaylon Smith from Fort Wayne, Ind., is generally regarded as the jewel of a class that experts have ranked among the best in the country.


"I love agreeing with experts," Kelly said.


___


BASEBALL OR FOOTBALL?


Oklahoma hopes it has found the next Sam Bradford in Cody Thomas, a pocket passer from Colleyville, Texas.


One small problem. Thomas is also a big-time baseball player who could draw interest in the major league draft this summer.


"We wouldn't have pursued him if we didn't feel there was a great chance he'd be playing football," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.


___


QUOTABLE


South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said recruiting classes "don't always pan out. Of course, they always seem to pan out at Alabama."


___


AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., and Associated Press Writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., contributed.


___


Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap


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Bring drones out of the shadows?






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • John Brennan's confirmation hearing is a chance to ask about drone program, author says

  • Sarah Holewinski: Brennan is one of a few officials who knows full story on drones

  • She says senators need to ask about damage drone program does to civilians, U.S. reputation

  • Holewinski: CIA should hand over drone program to Defense Department




Editor's note: Sarah Holewinski is executive director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, which advocates protections for civilians affected by armed conflict. She was a member of the White House AIDS policy team in President Bill Clinton's second term.


(CNN) -- The president's pick for CIA director -- John Brennan -- is one of a handful of U.S. officials who understands America's covert drone campaign inside and out.


Nearly everyone else is in the dark about the whos, wheres and whys of the program, including most members of Congress. But Brennan is also one of the few U.S. officials who's stood in front of a public audience and tried to explain the targeting of terrorists outside recognized battlefields. And while overseeing a massive use of lethal force, Brennan is also known inside the administration as a moderating voice in the fight against terrorism.



Sarah Holewinski

Sarah Holewinski



The fact is, Brennan's personal views are as opaque as the drone campaign itself. He may assume leadership of the CIA and decide a clandestine agency should not conduct what is an obvious military operation (a stance I and many others would fully support); after all, a veteran of the CIA may believe the agency should get back to gritty intelligence gathering.


Or, maybe Brennan believes that when it comes to the fight against al Qaeda, the public and its Congress should trust the executive office to protect the American people by whatever means it sees fit.


One way or the other, this week's Senate confirmation hearings should be an opportunity to bring Brennan's views out of the shadows, along with the basic attributes and justifications of the covert drone campaign. The man, the machine and the policy are inextricably linked.


Bergen: John Brennan, America's drone warrior



U.S. officials have consistently claimed that offering too many details about the covert drone program could threaten national security. Fair enough; some classification for national security is understandable. But the secrecy surrounding covert drone use is unduly excessive and not in keeping with the transparent government President Barack Obama promised.


Since the bulk of Brennan's hearing will be behind closed doors, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has no reason to shy away from asking tough questions about the drone program. It matters that Congress is there to represent the American people. On their behalf, Congress has a duty to ensure the use of lethal force beyond our borders is being considered and carried out responsibly, with due consideration for the harm it may inflict on civilian populations.


Talk Back: Should U.S. be able to kill American terrorist suspects without trial?


Senators might ask a very basic question to Brennan, one that is seldom clearly answered by the administration: "What impact is the drone campaign against al Qaeda and its associates having?"




John Brennan, President Barack Obama's choice for CIA director, has been deeply involved in the U.S. drone program.



This is a fundamental question of accountability any U.S. official involved in setting or carrying out counterterrorism policy should be able to answer. That answer may describe a dwindling kill list, but it must also put forward facts about what impact drones are having on civilians living under them.


U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq learned that the positive or negative impacts of an operation on the local population are an important metric of mission effectiveness. Commanders worked hard to reverse anti-American sentiment caused by a seemingly callous U.S. attitude toward civilian deaths and injuries. In the case of counterterrorism operations, palpable anger toward America would be antithetical to the goal of decreasing the number of terrorists and those who support their cause.


As it stands, it's unclear whether anyone, including Brennan, knows what negative consequences are emerging on the ground because of remote drones.


Rather, claims of low civilian casualties and drone precision capabilities paint a picture of extreme effectiveness in taking out terrorists while sparing civilians. It's true that a drone is precise, meaning it will hit what it is aimed at -- a building, a bunker or a person. But there are valid concerns about whether the target hit is the right one.


Opinion: When are drone killings illegal?


Remote drones likely rely on sources that may be questionable such as video and cell phone intercepts to identify a target. Civilians may be mistakenly targeted as combatants and counted as such because there are no ground troops to conduct a battle damage assessment, interview witnesses or properly identify bodies.


Civilians may also get caught up in so-called "signature strikes" in which operators target individuals based on behavior, not on known identity. This is legally questionable but also has real ramifications for civilians living under drones.


If a civilian in Pakistan doesn't know what behavior makes him a target for U.S. drones, he cannot fully protect himself and his family. If a drone harms his family, even mistakenly, our research shows they won't receive an apology, explanation or any help from the United States. Certainly there will be no love lost for America.


Any deaths and injuries are compounded by psychological trauma, displacement and fear and suspicion among neighbors. One Pakistani told us, "We fear that the drones will strike us again. ... My aged parents are often in a state of fear. We are depressed, anxious and constantly remembering our deceased family members."


Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, recently noted, "What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world. ... (T)he resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."


The drone program needs to come out of the shadows, with explanations about who is a civilian, who is a target, and how drone operators distinguish between the two.


The CIA should get out of the drone operation business, handing it over to the Defense Department, which has a culture of learning lessons, accountability to Congress and a new openness about civilian protection after 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Drone operators should be trained in civilian protection best practices, and any civilian harmed should receive recognition and help for their losses, in accordance with the values American policymakers have espoused about humanity even during times of war.


The Senate may confirm Brennan as head of the CIA. It should also confirm where he stands on government accountability for lethal force and the CIA's role in the remote drone program.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sarah Holewinski.






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Ex-L.A. police officer suspected in cop killing, other shootings

A manhunt is under way for a double murder suspect, himself a former LAPD officer, after three officers were shot overnight, one fatally.









A massive manhunt is under way for a double murder suspect in California, himself a former Los Angeles police officer, after three cops were shot overnight, one fatally.


The suspect was already wanted for allegedly killing the daughter of a former Los Angeles Police Department captain as well as the woman’s fiance in Irvine, Calif., over the weekend.


The three new shootings occurred in Riverside County, Calif. One LAPD officer was grazed east of Los Angeles, in the area of Magnolia and the 15 Freeway in Corona, law enforcement sources said. Then sometime later, two Riverside Police Department officers were shot in Riverside. One of those officers died, sources said.








Police have launched a manhunt for the suspect, Christopher Jordan Dorner, 33.


Police said they are searching for Dorner, whose last known address is in La Palma, and said he drives a blue 2005 Nissan Titan pickup with California license 7X03191. He is described as a 6-foot tall African American man weighing about 270 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.


Anyone with information is asked to call a tip line at (714) 724-7192.Irvine police on Wednesday night named  Dorner as the suspect in the double slaying in the parking lot of an upscale Irvine apartment complex Sunday. Officials warned that Dorner is armed and dangerous. Law enforcement sources said police have placed security at the homes of LAPD officials named in the manifesto and believe Dorner has numerous weapons.


In the online postings, according to the Los Angeles Times, Dorner specifically named the father of Monica Quan, the Cal State Fullerton assistant basketball coach who was found dead Sunday, along with her fiance, Keith Lawrence.


Randy Quan, a retired LAPD captain, was involved in the review process that ultimately led to Dorner’s dismissal.


A former U.S. Navy reservist, Dorner was fired in 2009 for allegedly making false statements about his training officer.


Dorner said in his online postings that being a police officer had been his life’s ambition since he served in the Police Explorers program. Now that had been taken away from him, he said, and he suffered from severe depression and was filled with rage over the people who forced him from his job.


Dorner complained that Quan and others did not fairly represent him at the review hearing.


“Your lack of ethics and conspiring to wrong a just individual are over. Suppressing the truth will leave to deadly consequences for you and your family. There will be an element of surprise where you work, live, eat, and sleep,” he wrote, referring to Quan and several others.


“I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I'm terminating yours,” he added.


Quan apparently served as Dorner’s representative, according to the manifesto. Of Quan, Dorner wrote: “He doesn't work for you, your interest, or your name. He works for the department, period. His job is to protect the department from civil lawsuits being filed and their best interest which is the almighty dollar. His loyalty is to the department, not his client.”


In the document, he threatens violence against other police officers.


“The violence of action will be high.... I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty,” Dorner wrote.


In his manifesto, Dorner seemed to allude to the Irvine slaying.


“I know most of you who personally know me are in disbelief to hear from media reports that I am suspected of committing such horrendous murders and have taken drastic and shocking actions in the last couple of days,” he wrote.


“Unfortunately,” he added, “this is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name.”


Quan, 28, and Lawrence, 27, had recently become engaged and moved into the condominium complex near Concordia University, where they had played basketball and received their degrees, authorities said. Lawrence worked as a campus officer at USC.


Dorner’s LAPD case began when he lodged a complaint against his field training officer, Sgt. Teresa Evans. He accused her of kicking a suspect named Christopher Gettler. An LAPD Board of Rights found that the complaint was false and terminated his employment for making false statements. He appealed the action.


He testified that he graduated from the Police Academy in February 2006 and left for a 13-month military deployment in November 2006.


“This is my last resort,” he wrote. “The LAPD has suppressed the truth and it has now led to deadly consequences.”


Dorner said it was the LAPD’s fault that he lost his law enforcement and Navy careers, as well as his relationships with family and close friends. Dorner wrote that he began his law enforcement career in February 2005 and that it ended in January 2009. His Navy career began in April 2002 and ended this month.


“I lost everything,” he said, “because the LAPD took my name and knew I was innocent.”


Los Angeles Times and KTLA





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Khamenei rebuffs U.S. offer of direct talks


DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's highest authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Thursday slapped down an offer of direct talks made by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden this week, saying they would not solve the problem between them.


"Some naive people like the idea of negotiating with America, however, negotiations will not solve the problem," Khamenei said in a speech to officials and members of Iran's air force carried on his official website.


"If some people want American rule to be established again in Iran, the nation will rise up to face them," he said.


"American policy in the Middle East has been destroyed and Americans now need to play a new card. That card is dragging Iran into negotiations."


Khamenei made his comments just days after Joe Biden said the United States was prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership. "That offer stands but it must be real and tangible," Biden said in a speech in Munich.


With traditional fiery rhetoric, Khamenei lambasted Biden's offer, saying that since the 1979 revolution the United States had gravely insulted Iran and continued to do so with its threat of military action.


"You take up arms against the nation of Iran and say: 'negotiate or we fire'. But you should know that pressure and negotiations are not compatible and our nation will not be intimidated by these actions," he added.


Relations between Iran and the United States were severed in 1979 after the overthrow of Iran's pro-western monarchy and diplomatic meetings between officials have since been very rare.


ALL OPTIONS STILL "ON THE TABLE"


Currently U.S.-Iran contact is limited to talks between Tehran and a so-called P5+1 group of powers on Iran's disputed nuclear program which are to resume on February 26 in Kazakhstan.


Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said he was skeptical the negotiations in Almaty could yield a result, telling Israel Radio that the United States needed to demonstrate to Iran that "all options were still on the table".


Israel, widely recognized to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East, has warned it could mount a pre-emptive strike on Iranian atomic sites. Israel sees its existence as directly threatened by the prospect of an nuclear-armed Iran, given Tehran's refusal to recognize the existence of the Jewish state.


"The final option, this is the phrasing we have used, should remain in place and be serious," said Meridor.


"The fact that the Iranians have not yet come down from the path they are on means that talks ...are liable to bring about only a stalling for time," he said.


Iran maintains its nuclear program is entirely peaceful but Western powers are concerned it is intent on developing a weapons program.


Many believe a deal on settling the nuclear issue is impossible without a U.S.-Iranian thaw. But any rapprochement would require direct talks addressing many sources of mutual mistrust that have lingered since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent U.S. embassy hostage crisis in Tehran.


Moreover, although his re-election last November may give President Barack Obama a freer hand to pursue direct negotiations, analysts say Iran's own presidential election in June may prove an additional obstacle to progress being made.


(Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by William Maclean and Jon Boyle)



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Wall Street to open lower after Tuesday rally, results eyed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks were poised to open lower Wednesday, indicating the S&P 500 may retreat as it faces resistance to further gains beyond five-year highs in the wake of a 1-percent rally on Tuesday.


A 6-percent advance this year so far has lifted the S&P 500 index to its highest since December 2007, while the Dow <.dji> briefly climbed above 14,000, making it a challenge for investors to continue pushing the equity market upward amid a dearth of fresh trading incentives.


Walt Disney Co beat estimates for quarterly adjusted earnings and said it expected the next few quarters to be better, with a stronger lineup of movies and rising attendance at its theme parks. Shares advanced 2.8 percent to $55.81 in premarket trading.


"You knew a correction was coming; the question was whether they were going to tease you and get it close and then start selling it off or get it up to 14,000 and then start to make a move to the sell side," said Gordon Charlop, managing director at Rosenblatt Securities in New York.


"We got a quick move and it's really just not healthy for markets to go one way, so the idea that a little bit of a correction is due isn't troublesome to me at all."


According to Thomson Reuters data through Tuesday morning, of 278 companies in the S&P 500 <.spx> that have reported earnings, 68.7 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters. In terms of revenue, 66 percent of companies have topped forecasts.


In another positive sign for profits, fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are now expected to grow 4.5 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


S&P 500 futures fell 6 points and were below 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 lost 51 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures declined 9.75 points.


The benchmark S&P index rose 1.04 percent Tuesday, its biggest percentage gain since a 2.5-percent advance on January 2, when legislators sidestepped a "fiscal cliff" of spending cuts and tax hikes that could have hurt a fragile U.S. economic recovery.


Visa , the world's largest credit and debit card network, is expected to report earnings per share of $1.79 for its first quarter, up from $1.49 a year earlier. Smaller rival MasterCard recently reported better-than-expected results but said its revenue growth could slow in the first half of the year due to economic uncertainty.


Ralph Lauren Corp climbed 5.5 percent to $174 in premarket trading after the fashion company and retailer reported holiday quarter sales and profits that showed renewed momentum.


Time Warner Inc gained 3.1 percent to $51.49 before the bell after reporting higher fourth-quarter profit that beat Wall Street estimates, as growth in its cable networks offset declines in its film, TV entertainment and publishing units.


(Editing by Bernadette Baum)



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Braun says he used Fla clinic owner as consultant


NEW YORK (AP) — Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun said the person who ran the Florida clinic being investigated by Major League Baseball was used only as a consultant on his drug suspension appeal last year.


"I have nothing to hide," Braun said in a statement released by his representatives on Tuesday night.


Earlier in the day, Yahoo Sports reported the 2011 NL MVP's name showed up three times in records of the Biogenesis of America LLC clinic. Yahoo said no specific performance-enhancing drugs were listed next to his name.


The Miami New Times recently released clinic documents that purportedly linked Alex Rodriguez, Gio Gonzalez, Melky Cabrera and other players to purchases of banned drugs from the now-closed anti-aging center.


Rodriguez and Cabrera were on the list with Braun that also included New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and Baltimore Orioles infielder Danny Valencia.


Braun said his name was in the Biogenesis records because of an issue over payment to Anthony Bosch, who ran the clinic near Miami.


"There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch's work, which is why my lawyer and I are listed under 'moneys owed' and not on any other list," Braun said.


"I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch," he said. "I will fully cooperate with any inquiry into this matter."


On Tuesday, MLB officials asked the Miami New Times for the records the alternative newspaper obtained for its story.


Asked specifically about Braun's name in the documents before the five-time All-Star released his statement, MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said: "Aware of report and are in the midst of an active investigation in South Florida."


Braun tested positive during the 2011 postseason for elevated testosterone levels. He maintained his innocence and his 50-game suspension was overturned during spring training last year when arbitrator Shyam Das ruled in favor of Braun due to chain of custody issues involving the sample.


With that, Braun became the first major leaguer to have a drug suspension overturned.


"During the course of preparing for my successful appeal last year, my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Tony Bosch, used him as a consultant. More specifically, he answered questions about T/E ratio and possibilities of tampering with samples," Braun said.


The T/E ratio is a comparison of the levels of testosterone to epitestosterone.


Braun led the NL in homers (41), runs (108) and slugging percentage (.595) last season while batting .319 with 112 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. He finished second to San Francisco catcher Buster Posey in MVP balloting."


Cervelli, who spent nearly all of last season in Triple-A, posted a statement on Twitter later Tuesday night.


"Following my foot injury in March 2011, I consulted with a number of experts, including BioGenesis Clinic, for (cont)," Cervelli posted, "(cont)legal ways to aid my rehab and recovery. I purchased supplements that I am certain were not prohibited by Major League Baseball."


An email sent to Valencia's agent was not returned.


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What follows N. Korea's nuclear test?






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Lopez: Uranium-based blast would pose new challenge to U.N. Security Council

  • Indicates Pyongyang has advanced centrifuge technologies and related systems

  • North Korea's young leader appears to care little about what U.N. or China think

  • Product-based sanctions may stifle the North's ability to continue nuclear program




Editor's note: George A. Lopez holds the Hesburgh Chair in Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame. He is a former member, U.N. Panel of Experts on North Korea, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).


Indiana, U.S. (CNN) -- North Korea will soon test its third nuclear device. Earlier tests in 2006 and 2009 drew worldwide condemnation, Security Council sanctions and led Pyongyang to withdraw from the six-party talks.


In resolution 2087, passed on January 22, the Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea for its December 12 space missile launch and made clear that new violations would be dealt with harshly.


READ: N.Korea: Close to nuclear missile?


In response, North Korea rejected Council legitimacy, asserted their right to nuclear weapons and deterrence and proclaimed it would soon conduct a new nuclear test.


In addition the North engaged in some strong saber-rattling aimed at South Korea.


READ: For South Koreans, a familiar tone from Pyongyang










Because some analysts believe this will be a uranium explosion, it is a game-changer for the region and poses new and unfavorable challenges to the Security Council. A successful uranium test indicates that Pyongyang has advanced centrifuge technologies and related support systems. It means that North Korea, if left unchecked, can both produce and export such material, raising new concerns that Pyongyang and Iran cooperate in such developments.


Politically the test will reveal that the new regime of Kim Jong-Un exceeds the defiance to U.N. dictates of his predecessors in pursuing his nation's nuclear goals. Neither the prospect of stronger sanctions, nor the growing discontent of Russia and China with his behavior, appears to deter North Korea's young leader.


OPINION: Rescind North Korea's license to provoke


These dilemmas confront the permanent five members of the Council with a harsh reality check regarding their unity of action and what message to convey to the north via what particular sanctions. If the Council follows the logic of resolution 2087, it will impose more extensive and punishing sanctions than ever before. Such sanctions will blacklist companies, government agencies and individuals long known for their role in illicit technology procurement and sanctions evasion. They will expand financial sanctions into areas of banking that would require substantial transnational enforcement to bite, and they may call upon countries in the region to inspect almost all North Korean trade. The economic squeeze and further isolation of the DPRK will increase substantially.


READ: Why sticks don't work with North Korea


These sanctions would require China to play an enforcement role against North Korean economic actors it has hitherto resisted. Seizing prohibited goods that pass through Dalian harbor and other trans-shipment points, as well as shutting down various border activities, would also fall to China. These extensive sanctions as punishment operate from the assumption that at some point the north will forego its nuclear program in order to survive as an authoritarian state.


But there may be an alternative to the punishment approach that could bring Beijing on board with effective Council action. China might well accept specialized trade sanctions aimed to degrade the DPRK's ability to sustain the nuclear program for lack of material and due to prohibitive costs of sanctions busting, as a way of conveying to Pyongyang that it must return to the negotiating table.


The logic of extensive new product-focused sanctions is that DPRK can make -- or jerry-rig -- only a small fraction of the advanced technologies and specialty materials that sustain an ongoing uranium enrichment program. To choke off these materials -- and the illicit means of financing them -- provides the Council with a possibility to make it technically impossible for DPRK to have a functioning uranium-based bomb program.


Precise lists of dozens of the materials used in centrifuge operation that should be sanctioned are already recorded for the Council in the reports of their Panel of Experts for the DPRK. Lists of related materials have also been developed by the Nuclear Supplies Group. To date the permanent five have sanctioned only a very few of the materials on either list. The Council also needs member states to strengthen export, customs and financial controls on dual-use items that are "below grade" of those newly sanctioned items. This will stifle the North's ability to upgrade or jerry-rig these hitherto unsanctioned items as a way of maintaining their program.


READ: Five things to know about North Korea's planned nuclear test


Also critical to the success of this choking of supplies would be stricter controls of the illicit financing that supports such trade. Putting strong enforcement behind the 2087 resolution's concern about DPRK cash flows, especially through its embassies, is also in order.


Another, somewhat unprecedented, sanctions option would be a Council-issued travel ban on North Korea placed on all scientists, engineers and others with specialized expertise in centrifuge technologies and uranium enrichment.


Political agreement on these measures will not be easy to attain among the permanent five nations of the Security Council. But a product-focused sanctions approach -- especially leveraged to aim for more direct diplomatic engagement with the DPRK while denying them material to grow their illicit programs -- has the best chance of gaining Council consensus.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of George A. Lopez.






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