S&P 500 finishes at 5-year high on economic data

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index ended at a five-year high on Friday, lifted by reports showing employers kept up a steady pace of hiring workers and the vast services sector expanded at a brisk rate.


The gains on the S&P 500 pushed the index to its highest close since December 2007 and its biggest weekly gain since December 2011.


Most of the gains came early in the holiday-shortened week, including the largest one-day rise for the index in more than a year on Wednesday after politicians struck a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff."


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 43.85 points, or 0.33 percent, to 13,435.21. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> rose 7.10 points, or 0.49 percent, to 1,466.47. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> edged up 1.09 points, or 0.04 percent, to 3,101.66.


For the week, the S&P gained 4.6 percent, the Dow rose 3.8 percent and the Nasdaq jumped 4.8 percent to post their largest weekly percentage gains in more than a year.


The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, a measure of investor anxiety, dropped for a fourth straight session, giving the index a weekly decline of nearly 40 percent, its biggest weekly fall ever. The close of 13.83 on the VIX marks its lowest level since August.


In Friday's economic reports, the Labor Department said non-farm payrolls grew by 155,000 jobs last month, slightly below November's level. Gains were distributed broadly throughout the economy, from manufacturing and construction to healthcare.


Also serving to boost equities was data from the Institute for Supply Management showing U.S. service sector activity expanding the most in 10 months.


With the S&P 500 index at a five-year closing high, analysts said any gains above the index's intraday high near 1,475 in September may be harder to come by.


"We are getting to a point where we need a strong catalyst, which could be earnings, it could be three months of good economic data, it could be a variety of things," said Adam Thurgood, managing director at HighTower Advisors in Las Vegas, Nevada.


"What is going on right now is this conflicting view of fundamentals look pretty good and improving, and then you've got these negative tail risks that could blow everything up," Thurgood said.


He referred to "a fiscal superstorm brewing" of issues still left unresolved in Washington, including tough federal budget cuts and the need to raise the government's debt ceiling all within a couple of months.


The rise in payrolls shown by the jobs data did not make a dent in the U.S. unemployment rate still at 7.8 percent.


A Reuters poll on Friday of economists at Wall Street's top financial institutions showed that most expect the Fed in 2013 to end the program with which it bought Treasury debt in an effort to stimulate the economy.


A drop in Apple Inc shares of 2.6 percent to $528.36 kept pressure on the Nasdaq.


Adding to concerns about Apple's ability to produce more innovative products, rival Samsung Electronics Co Ltd is expected to widen its lead over Apple in global smartphone sales this year with growth of 35 percent. Market researcher Strategy Analytics said Samsung had a broad product lineup.


Eli Lilly and Co was among the biggest boost's to the S&P, up 3.7 percent to $51.56 after the pharmaceuticals maker said it expects its 2013 earnings to increase to $3.75 to $3.90 per share, excluding items, from $3.30 to $3.40 per share in 2012.


Fellow drugmaker Johnson & Johnson rose 1.2 percent to $71.55 after Deutsche Bank upgraded the Dow component to a "Buy" from a "Hold" rating. The NYSEArca pharmaceutical index <.drg> climbed 0.6 percent.


Shares of Mosaic Co gained 3.3 percent to $58.62. Excluding items, the fertilizer producer's quarterly earnings beat analysts' expectations, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.


Volume was modest with about 6.07 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE MKT and Nasdaq, slightly below the 2012 daily average of 6.42 billion.


Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,287 to 701, while on the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners 1,599 to 866.


(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Kenneth Barry)



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AP Source: Browns close to deal with Kelly


CLEVELAND (AP) — Chip Kelly is closer to taking his fast-paced offense to the NFL.


A person familiar with the negotiations said the Cleveland Browns are nearing a deal with Oregon's offensive mastermind to be their next coach.


The Browns interviewed Kelly on Friday and the Ducks' coach also met with the Buffalo Bills in Arizona. Kelly has a scheduled interview with Philadelphia on Saturday. However, a person familiar with the interview said the Eagles are "heading in another direction" because Kelly is nearing a deal with Cleveland.


That person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team isn't discussing its negotiations publicly, said the Eagles planned to interview several other candidates regardless of any conversations with Kelly. The Eagles were granted permission Friday to interview Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and plan to meet Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Sunday.


ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported late Friday night that the Browns and Kelly met for seven hours — five in negotiations with a two-hour break for dinner — and agreed to talk again Saturday night. Mortensen said Kelly said still intends to meet with the Eagles some time on Saturday. The Browns are "favored," Mortensen reported.


The Bills confirmed in an email they met with Kelly, but gave no indication of how long they spoke to him. The team also interviewed former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith and Syracuse's Doug Marrone.


The Browns, who made their last playoff appearance 10 years ago on Saturday, have declined to comment on any interviews during their coaching search.


Following Oregon's win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night, the 49-year-old Kelly said he wanted to get the interview process over "quickly."


He came close to jumping to the pros last year but turned down an offer from Tampa Bay to return for his fourth season as head coach at Oregon, where he is 46-7. He has boosted the school's national profile — flashy uniforms helped — with a high-powered offense capable of turning any game into a track meet.


"It's more a fact-finding mission, finding out if it fits or doesn't fit," Kelly said after the Ducks beat No. 7 Kansas State 35-17. "I've been in one interview in my life for the National Football League, and that was a year ago. I don't really have any preconceived notions about it. I think that's what this deal is all about for me. It's not going to affect us in terms of we're not on the road (recruiting). I'll get an opportunity if people do call, see where they are.


"I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be."


Kelly has been at or near the top of the Browns' list of candidates since the team fired Pat Shurmur, who went 9-23 in two seasons. Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have been conducting interviews in Arizona all week, searching for the team's sixth full-time coach since 1999.


Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton confirmed he interviewed with Cleveland earlier this week. The Browns have reportedly met with former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, Marrone and Penn State's Bill O'Brien, who removed himself from any consideration on Thursday night and intends to stay at the school.


The Browns might have been interested in Alabama's Nick Saban, but the 61-year-old doesn't seem to have any interest in returning to the NFL after two seasons with Miami.


Kelly doesn't have any pro coaching experience, but aspects of his up-tempo offense are already being used by some NFL teams, including New England and Washington.


Kelly wouldn't say if he was leaning one way or another following the Ducks' bowl win.


"I said I'll always listen, and that's what I'll do," he said. "I know that people want to talk to me because of our players. The success of our football program has always been about our guys. It's an honor for someone to say they'd want to talk to me about maybe moving on to go coach in the National Football League. But it's because of what those guys do. I'll listen, and we'll see."


Oregon could be facing possible NCAA sanctions for the school's use of recruiting services, but Kelly indicated he isn't running from anything.


"We've cooperated fully with them," he said. "If they want to talk to us again, we'll continue to cooperate fully. I feel confident in the situation."


Oregon's players gave Kelly a Gatorade bath as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Thursday night's game, and afterward a few of the Ducks seemed resigned to their coach moving on.


"We'll have to see," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "Whatever he decides to do, we're all behind him. He's an unbelievable coach. He's not only a football coach, but he's someone that you can look to and learn a lot of life lessons from. Whatever happens, happens. But we're all behind him.


"We'll see where it takes us."


___


AP Football Writer Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this report.


___


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


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Sun’s 2013 Solar Storm Peak Expected to Hit Century Low






The sun’s peak of solar activity this year will likely be the quietest seen in at least 100 years, say NASA scientists who watch Earth‘s closest star daily.


Sunspot numbers are low, researchers said, even as the sun reaches the peak of its 11-year activity cycle. Also, radio waves that are known to indicate high solar activity have been very subdued.






“It’s likely to be the lowest solar maximum, as measured by sunspot ‘number,’ in more than a century,” wrote Joe Gurman, a project scientist for NASA’s sun-observing mission Stereo, or Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory. The current sun weather cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24.


Quiet as the sun may be, scientists still have a vested interest in watching it. A rogue flare could damage electrical grids or knock out communications satellites, as has happened many times before.


Though solar science is still in its infancy, it has advanced greatly even from the time solar activity knocked out much of Quebec’s electrical grid in 1989, Gurman pointed out. [Worst Solar Storms in History]


“The interconnectedness of power grids has grown tremendously since the Hydro Qu├ębec issue,” he wrote.


“Compared to the frequency of widespread power outages due to trees falling on above-ground power lines during snowstorms or hurricane-force winds from storms such as the recent [Hurricane] Sandy, it’s a very low order of probability event.”


Killer flares ‘a physical impossibility’


Galileo Galilei was among the first to sight sunspots when he turned his telescope to the sun in 1610. Reliable records of sunspots date back to about 1849, when the Zurich Observatory began daily observations, according to NASA.


Sunspots appear as dark blemishes on the sun, generally in clusters above and below the equator. Scientists now know these spots form due to the interplay between the sun’s plasma (on the surface) and its magnetic field.


Under some circumstances, the twisting magnetic fields near sunspots cause huge explosions such as solar flares, and plasma-rich coronal mass ejections often associated with the flares. These send charged particles out from the sun, and occasionally toward Earth.


The strongest category of outburst, called an X-class solar flare, can cause havoc if it reaches Earth. The electrical charge can short out communications satellites or power grids. Medium-class M-type solar flares can supercharge Earth’s northern lights displays, while weaker C-class flares and below can have relatively little effect, NASA has said.


It is impossible for the sun to produce “killer” solar flares that were made popular by 2012 doomsday predictions, NASA’s C. Alex Young told SPACE.com in an email.


“On Earth we are completely protected from the direct effects of solar activity. The atmosphere shields us from the electromagnetic radiation from solar flares and the particles in a particle storm,” wrote Young, a solar astrophysicist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. [Doomsday Myths Debunked by NASA: Countdown]


“[Killer flares] would not happen. The sun cannot produce flares (or CMEs) with enough energy to do this. It is a physical impossibility. It would take the entire energy of the sun, like a supernova. The sun will not become a supernova.”


Improvements in solar science


Solar watching is a young science, but in recent decades, NASA has been working to improve the ability to predict and track solar flares and CMEs. The primary way is through using satellites to peer at the sun.


The United States’ official “space weather” forecaster is the Space Weather Prediction Center, a service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Several NASA satellites feed the center data to assist with its predictions.


According to NASA’s William Pesnell, NASA’s satellites work together like this:


  • The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) can watch for CMEs from the moment they erupt from the sun.

  • The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) watches the charged particles, or plasma, on their journey toward Earth, making it easier to determine if they will hit the planet.

  • If the plasma is Earth-bound, the two Stereo satellitesorbiting the planet then observe the plasma and predict where it could hit.

“The Earth is a very small target in a big solar system, and the models that try to track the CME through the solar system are still being developed,” added Pesnell, the project scientist for SDO, in an e-mail to SPACE.com.


“Our biggest advances,” he added, “have been in models of the sun’s magnetic field and using data in those models to explain the current sun. … Our models try to explain the 11-year behavior of the solar cycle as the magnetic field moves around inside the sun, and then erupts through the surface to become sunspots.”


NASA also plans to launch the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission in April 2013. When the satellite is ready, it will watch how energy and plasma move from the sun’s surface to its corona or atmosphere, Pesnell said.


“That means we will have good overlap to combine the different measurements [with SDO] and better understand the magnetic field of the sun.”


Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook and Google+.


Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Space and Astronomy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Polar ends of fight for female equality




Hillary Clinton in Kolkata, India, last May. Clinton said that women still suffered from a 'glass ceiling' in politics.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Frida Ghitis: Hillary Clinton illness and New Delhi rape tell different stories about state of women

  • She says women's equality faces sharp divide; some ascend, most kept powerless

  • She says Egypt's new constitution presents time-bomb for new oppression of women

  • Ghitis: Progress for women needs strong legislation, education, sometimes protests




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


(CNN) -- As the New Year approached, millions anxiously followed the news from two very different parts of the world about two very different women -- women whose lives somehow touched us, whose fate seemed, somehow, linked to all of us.


The world held its breath when word came that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was hospitalized in New York. The news arrived at a time when we were trying to absorb, with profound sadness, a seemingly unrelated drama unfolding thousands of miles away. In New Delhi, a 23-year-old woman, a university student on her way home after watching a movie with her boyfriend, was brutally raped and beaten by a group of men. She later died from her injuries.



Frida Ghitis

Frida Ghitis



The parallel stories point to a sharp divide in the worldwide struggle for women's equality. While women have made major strides, in some cases reaching the pinnacle of power, the most fundamental human rights -- such as freedom to go outside without risking harassment and physical attack -- elude millions, and full equality remains an unreached goal for most.


iReport: 'She could have been me'


Clinton, one of the world's most powerful women and an icon of the global fight for women's equality, has returned home and doctors say they expect a full recovery. In India, the plight of an anonymous woman nicknamed "Nirbhaya," Sanskrit for dauntless, has become a turning point for the country. (That we don't use Nirbhaya's real name proves the grotesque reality that being raped remains a source of shame for the victim.)


Nirbhaya's ashes have been scattered, and it seems her death was not in vain. The attack sent tens of thousands of people -- men and women -- into New Delhi's streets and pulled the thick cover from India's unspeakable rape statistics. Most rapes go unreported for good reason. Of the more than 600 cases filed with the Delhi police last year, only one resulted in conviction. Powerless rape victims often resort to suicide.


News: Clinton's future 'as good as her past,' docs say



The contrast could not be sharper with the woman many call simply Hillary. Speculation about whether she will run for president in 2016 is unending. The day she was hospitalized with a blood clot, we heard that she again came in first in Gallup's Most Admired Woman poll, finishing at the top for 11 years in a row and a total of 17 times since 1993, more than anyone in Gallup's history.


She is probably the world's best-known woman and unquestionably one of the most influential. But she is only one of many who have reached so far. Women lead some of the globe's biggest, most important countries. Chancellor Angela Merkel heads the government of Germany, Julia Gillard leads Australia, Dilma Rousseff is president of Brazil, and the list goes on.


American voters just elected 20 women to the Senate, the largest number in history. And yet, that's just 20% of the seats. It's sad we find this an accomplishment worth celebrating.


The push for equality has unleashed push-back. Rape, we are told, is about power. In traditional societies, men see improvements in the status of women as a challenge to their own. Sexual assaults by gangs of self-congratulating, hyperventilating men, whether in New Delhi, in Cairo's Tahrir Square or somewhere in Somalia, amount to chest-pounding assertions of dominance from fearful, cowardly individuals. In countries with strong laws and changing attitudes about women, the number of rapes has been plummeting.


Opinion: End global rape culture








Then there are the murders and attempted murders. Last year we saw Pakistan's Taliban try to kill Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old girl who demanded nothing more than the right to an education. And last month, in neighboring Afghanistan, gunmen murdered Najia Sediqi, the provincial director of women's affairs.


Between the two extremes in women's status, we have a much less dramatic -- but still crucial -- struggle.


The women of Egypt, who stood on the front lines of the revolution, will now have to live with a new constitution that commits the state to "preserve the genuine character of the Egyptian family" and vaguely notes the "duties of a woman toward her family," opening the door to who-knows-what efforts by the state to keep women in their place.


In the United States, where progress is indisputable in so many areas, women still make, in the aggregate, 76 cents for every dollar men earn.


Inequality is pervasive in areas that are subtly important. Despite having a female secretary of State, and even, possibly, a female secretary of Defense on the horizon, Washington remains a "city of men," as the writer Micah Zenko noted, with women woefully underrepresented in the corridors of power, in think tanks and in academia.


Women's minds and ideas don't receive an equal hearing on the national stage partly because, as one survey showed, only 20% of all op-eds are written by women, and just 15% of columns dealing with foreign policy and security issues.


Opinion: House GOP failed women on Violence Against Women Act


Every women walks on the path laid painstakingly and deliberately by people like Hillary Clinton, or accidentally, tragically, by women like Nirbhaya. The road to women's equality, it turns out, is paved with potholes, quicksand and death traps.


There is a reason so many feel a close connection to Hillary Clinton and to Nirbhaya. Their stories, like those of 3 billion others, are of women seeking to make it in what is still today mostly a man's world.


As Clinton recovers and as the people of India work to build a positive legacy from Nirbhaya's death, the obvious lesson is that much work remains ahead. Strong headwinds will push against women's progress, but progress can be achieved through urgent legislation, through patient education, and when necessary -- as it is now -- through mass protests and unrelentingly firm demands.


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


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






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Second escaped inmate caught in former neighborhood

Chicago Tribune reporter Jason Meisner on the recent arrest of Kenneth Conley, a convicted bank robber who escaped from federal jail in December. (Posted on: Jan. 4, 2013.)









Kenneth Conley was last seen by authorities making a daring escape down the side of a high-rise federal jail under the cover of night.


Friday afternoon, he was found hobbling down a Palos Hills street with a cane, one part of a flimsy disguise that included a bulky overcoat and a beret pulled low over his face.


An 18-day manhunt for the escaped bank robber ended after a maintenance employee working at a residential building in the southwest suburb called 911 about a suspicious man.








Conley, as it turns out, had not gone very far from places he used to live and homes where friends and family still reside.


But law enforcement sources said Friday that he apparently had no help — the former strip club employee was sleeping in the building's basement.


Conley was scheduled to appear in federal court at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.


The spectacular jailbreak — the first at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in almost 30 years — embarrassed federal authorities and seemed to be meticulously planned. Conley and Joseph "Jose" Banks rappelled to freedom using a rope fashioned from bedsheets. But like Banks, who was arrested two days after the escape in the North Side neighborhood where he was raised, Conley had no apparent plan for life on the run and was found holed up in an area where he had known ties.


Palos Hills police said a maintenance worker at a building in the 10200 block of South 86th Terrace called police about 3:30 p.m. to report the "suspicious person" who might be sleeping at the premises. Officers arrived to find a man walking down the street in an overcoat and pretending to use a cane. He appeared to be trying to look older than his actual age, police said.


"Our officers stopped to talk to him and he said he was just visiting," Deputy Chief James Boie told the Tribune. "He gave them a phony name, and while they're trying to run the information, he got wise that they were going to figure it out, and he pushed one of the officers down and took off running."


Boie said two additional officers responding to the scene caught Conley about a block away as he was trying to force his way into the Scenic Tree apartment complex, which is across the street from the police headquarters. He was wrestled down but did not offer any other resistance. Conley and one officer were taken to Palos Community Hospital for observation, he said.


Police found a BB pistol in Conley's pocket. He had no cash or other weapons, Boie said.


Residents in the sprawling, low-rise apartment complex where Conley was apprehended said they had seen a lot of police activity in the area earlier in the day, including K-9 units.


Chris Stevens, who has lived in the complex for a decade, said FBI agents knocked on her door at about 7 a.m., showed her a photo of Conley and asked if she had seen him. The agents told her he had been spotted in the area.


By the afternoon, Stagg High School junior David Griffith, 16, said he was with a friend taking out the garbage at the complex when he heard shouting and saw an officer run past him into a grassy area behind his building.


"We ran back in my house, opened the patio door, looked in the back and just saw a whole bunch of police officers just tackle (Conley)," Griffith said. "It was crazy. Nothing ever happens over here."


According to court records, Conley once lived in an apartment near the scene of his arrest. Boie said Conley was known to Palos Hills police because he'd had multiple resisting and obstructing arrests in 2004. Even still, they were surprised when they realized whom they had just arrested.


"I'm sure they were a little surprised that they had the guy standing in front of them,'' Boie said.


A law enforcement source told the Tribune that U.S. marshals and FBI agents met this week to discuss the hunt for Conley and went to Palos Hills on Friday morning to canvass specific addresses where he had ties. Some of the doors they knocked on were in the same block where Conley was found later in the day, the source said.


Conley, 38, was awaiting sentencing for a single bank holdup when authorities said he and Banks removed a cinder block from their cell wall and scaled down about 15 stories of the sheer wall of the jail early on Dec. 18. The cellmates were last accounted for during a routine bed check, authorities said. About 7 a.m. the next day, jail employees arriving for work saw the bedsheets dangling from a hole in the wall down the south side of the facade.


The FBI said a surveillance camera a few blocks from the jail showed the two wearing light-colored clothing hailing a taxi at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue about 2:40 a.m. They also appeared to be wearing backpacks, according to the FBI.





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Chavez swearing-in can be delayed: Venezuelan VP


CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez's formal swearing-in for a new six-year term scheduled for January 10 can be postponed if he is unable to attend due to his battle to recover from cancer surgery, Venezuela's vice president said on Friday.


Nicolas Maduro's comments were the clearest indication yet that the Venezuelan government is preparing to delay the swearing-in while avoiding naming a replacement for Chavez or calling a new election in the South American OPEC nation.


In power since 1999, the 58-year-old socialist leader has not been seen in public for more than three weeks. Allies say he is in delicate condition after a fourth operation in two years for an undisclosed form of cancer in his pelvic area.


The political opposition argues that Chavez's presence on January 10 in Cuba - where there are rumors he may be dying - is tantamount to the president's stepping down.


But Maduro, waving a copy of the constitution during an interview with state TV, said there was no problem if Chavez was sworn in at a later date by the nation's top court.


"The interpretation being given is that the 2013-2019 constitutional period starts on January 10. In the case of President Chavez, he is a re-elected president and continues in his functions," he said.


"The formality of his swearing-in can be resolved in the Supreme Court at the time the court deems appropriate in coordination with the head of state."


In the increasing "Kremlinology"-style analysis of Venezuela's extraordinary political situation, that could be interpreted in different ways: that Maduro and other allies trust Chavez will recover eventually, or that they are buying time to cement succession plans before going into an election.


Despite his serious medical condition, there was no reason to declare Chavez's "complete absence" from office, Maduro said. Such a declaration would trigger a new vote within 30 days, according to Venezuela's charter.


RECOVERY POSSIBLE?


Chavez was conscious and fighting to recover, said Maduro, who traveled to Havana to see his boss this week.


"We will have the Commander well again," he said.


Maduro, 50, whom Chavez named as his preferred successor should he be forced to leave office, said Venezuela's opposition had no right to go against the will of the people as expressed in the October 7 vote to re-elect the president.


"The president right now is president ... Don't mess with the people. Respect democracy."


Despite insisting Chavez remains president and there is hope for recovery, the government has acknowledged the gravity of his condition, saying he is having trouble breathing due to a "severe" respiratory infection.


Social networks are abuzz with rumors he is on life support or facing uncontrollable metastasis of his cancer.


Chavez's abrupt exit from the political scene would be a huge shock for Venezuela. His oil-financed socialism has made him a hero to the poor, while critics call him a dictator seeking to impose Cuban-style communism on Venezuelans.


Should Chavez leave office, a new election is likely to pitch former bus driver and union activist Maduro against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state.


Capriles lost to Chavez in the October presidential election, but won an impressive 44 percent of the vote. Though past polls have shown him to be more popular than all of Chavez's allies, the equation is now different given Maduro has received the president's personal blessing - a factor likely to fire up Chavez's fanatical supporters.


His condition is being watched closely by Latin American allies that have benefited from his help, as well as investors attracted by Venezuela's lucrative and widely traded debt.


"The odds are growing that the country will soon undergo a possibly tumultuous transition," the U.S.-based think tank Stratfor said this week.


(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; editing by Christopher Wilson)



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Global shares, oil slip on Fed stimulus nerves

LONDON (Reuters) - World shares, oil and copper edged lower on Friday and the dollar rose after U.S. Federal Reserve officials raised concerns about possible side effects of its stimulus program.


Minutes from the Fed's December policy meeting unsettled financial markets as some policymakers raised the longer-term impact of its efforts to simulate the U.S. economy.


The Fed's bond-buying has underpinned appetite for risk, and the comments that raised the possibility it might be less committed to the program than previously thought unnerved investors before U.S. employment data later on Friday.


European shares echoed their Asian peers to open lower. But following a sharp jump on Wednesday after the United States edged back from the "fiscal cliff", they were on track for weekly gains of almost 2.7 percent.


London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were down between 0.1 and 0.4 percent by 0810 GMT, while the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 <.fteu3> was down 0.15 percent and the MSCI index of world shares 0.2 percent lower at 345.91.


Euro zone PMI and inflation figures plus the U.S. non-farm payrolls report due through the day will be closely scrutinized by investors looking to assess the health of the global economy.


"The Fed has made it clear that it will keep policy loose until unemployment drops to 6.5 percent or below, so strong jobs data will undoubtedly raise expectations of a more hawkish Fed," analysts at Tradition brokerage said in a note.


The Fed comments gave fresh momentum to the recent slide by low-risk bonds including U.S. and German debt. Bund futures slipped half a point in early trading to 143.07, having already fallen steeply from last week's close of 145.64.


Benchmark U.S. Treasury yields continued their climb, hitting an eight-month high around 1.93 percent in Asia, while 10-year Japanese government bond yields touched a 3-1/2-month high of 0.83 percent.


In the currency market the dollar rose, hitting its highest since July 2010 against the yen at 87.835 while the euro fell to a three-week low of $1.3019. The dollar <.dxy> also touched a six-week high against a basket of major currencies.


The dollar's rise makes dollar-based assets more expensive for non-dollar investors and its rise hit precious metals and oil.


Brent crude shed 0.6 percent to $111.47 while gold fell 1 percent to $1,645, dragging silver down more than 2 percent to $29.48.


(editing by David Stamp)



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Oregon runs past K-State 35-17 at Fiesta Bowl


GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — De'Anthony Thomas caught the opening kickoff, raced past Oregon's sideline and leaned his head into the end zone like a sprinter crossing the finish line.


The track meet had started and the fifth-ranked Ducks barely looked back after that.


Triggered by Thomas' 94-yard return, Oregon bolted by No. 7 Kansas State 35-17 Thursday night at the Fiesta Bowl in what may have been coach Chip Kelly's final game with the Ducks.


"I felt like my role in this game was to be a momentum-builder and a game-changer," Thomas said. "Once I saw that edge, I wanted to get to the end zone as fast as I could so I could celebrate with my teammates."


They did it a lot.


Teams that had that national title aspirations end on the same day, Oregon and Kansas State ended up in the desert for a marquee matchup billed as a battle of styles: The fast-flying Ducks vs. the execution-is-everything Wildcats.


With Kelly reportedly talking to several NFL teams, Oregon (12-1) was too much for Kansas State and its Heisman Trophy finalist, Collin Klein, turning the game into a try-to-keep up race from the start.


Thomas followed his before-everyone-sat-down kickoff return with a 23-yard touchdown catch, finishing with 195 total yards.


Kenjon Barner ran for 143 yards on 31 carries and scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota in the second quarter. Mariota later scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter, capped by an obscure 1-point safety that went in the Ducks' favor.


Even Oregon's defense got into the act, intercepting Klein twice and holding him to 30 yards on 13 carries.


"We got beat by a better team tonight, combined by the fact that we let down from time to time," coach Bill Snyder said after Kansas State's fifth straight bowl loss.


Whether Kelly leaves Eugene or not, he had a good run, leading the Ducks to four straight trips to BCS bowls, the last two wins.


Ducks fans sure let him know how they felt, chanting "We want Chip!" just before he was handed the massive Fiesta Bowl trophy.


"Our focus was on this game tonight," Kelly said. "If for some reason, someone wanted to talk to me, it's because of those players over there. We have an unbelievable team, an unbelievable program and any success is because of those guys."


Last year's Fiesta Bowl was an offensive fiesta, with Oklahoma State outlasting Stanford 41-38 in overtime.


The 2013 version was an upgrade: Nos. 4 and 5 in the BCS, two of the nation's best offenses, dynamic players and superbly successful coaches on both sides.


Oregon has become the standard for go-go-go football under Kelly, its fleet of Ducks making those shiny helmets — green like Christmas tree bulbs for the Fiesta Bowl — and flashy uniforms blur across the grassy landscape.


Their backfield of Thomas, Barner and Mariota made up a three-headed monster of momentum, each one capable of turning a single play into a scoring drive of 60 seconds or less.


Mariota has been the show-running leader, a question mark before the season who ably ran Oregon's high-octane offense as the first freshman quarterback to start for the Ducks since Danny O'Neil in 1991.


Oregon won the Rose Bowl for the first time in 95 years last season and was in position for a spot in the BCS title game this year before losing a heartbreaker to Stanford on Nov. 17.


Thomas offered the first flash of speed, picking up a couple of blocks and racing toward a not-so-photo finish at the line. The Ducks, are they are apt to do, went for 2 on the point-after and converted on a trick play to go up 8-0 in the game's first 12 seconds.


It was the second straight day a BCS bowl began with a quick strike; Louisville returned an interception for a touchdown against Florida on the first play of the Sugar Bowl Wednesday night.


Thomas hit the Wildcats (11-2) again late in the first quarter, breaking a couple of tackles and dragging three defenders into the end zone for a catch-and-run TD that put the Ducks up 15-0.


It's nothing new for Oregon's sophomore sensation: He had 314 total yards and two long touchdown runs in the 2012 Rose Bowl. The Ducks are used to it, too, after averaging more than 50 points per game.


And they kept flying.


Oregon followed a missed 40-yard field goal by Kansas State's Anthony Cantele by unleashing one of its blink-and-you'll-miss-it scoring drives late in the second quarter. Moving 77 yards in 46 seconds, the Ducks went up 22-10 at halftime after Mariota hit Barner on 24-yard TD pass.


Alejandro Maldonado hit a 33-yard field goal on Oregon's opening drive of the third quarter and Mariota capped a long drive with an easy 2-yard TD run to the left. Kansas State's Javonta Boyd blocked the point-after attempt, but even that went wrong for the Wildcats: Chris Harper was tackled in the end zone for a bizarre 1-point safety that put Oregon up 32-10.


It was the first 1-point safety in major college football since 2004 when Texas did it against Texas A&M, STATS said.


"There were so many things that could have changed the outcome of this game," Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown said.


Kansas State had gone through its second revival under Snyder, the studious coach who never lost touch with the game or players young enough to be his grandchildren during a three-year retirement.


The 73-year-old followed up the Manhattan Miracle by returning to lead the Wildcats back to national prominence with his attention-to-detail ways.


Klein has led K-State's meticulous march this season, a fifth-year senior who plays in the mold of the college version of Tim Tebow: Gritty, humble, finds a way to win, whatever it takes.


Like the Ducks, the Wildcats had their national-title hopes stamped out on Nov. 17, blown out by Baylor with a rare letdown on both sides of the ball.


Kansas State needed a little time to get its wheels spinning on offense, laboring early before Klein scored on a 6-yard run early in the second quarter.


Klein kept the Wildcats moving in the quarter, though not toward touchdowns: Cantele hit a 25-yard field goal and missed from 40 after a false-start penalty.


Klein hit John Hubert on a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but all that did was cut Oregon's lead down to 32-17.


He threw for 151 yards on 17 of 32 passing.


"It wasn't really complicated," Kelly said of slowing Klein. "He's a great player, one of the greats of college football. I had my heart in my throat a couple of times watching him around, but out guys just made plays when they had to make plays."


By doing so, they may have put a nice exclamation point on Kelly's college career.


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Senator Claims Angels Visited Him in Hospital






Illinois Senator Mark Kirk has wrestled with lots of devilish political issues during his 28-year political career, but after suffering a stroke one year ago, he claims he had a very different experience: an encounter with angels.


The Republican senator was recovering from a massive stroke in the right side of his brain at Northwestern Memorial Hospital‘s Intensive Care Unit in Chicago when Kirk said three angels visited him, the Chicago area’s Daily Herald reported.






Standing at the foot of his hospital bed, the angels, Kirk said, asked him, “You want to come with us?”


“No,” Kirk said he told them matter-of-factly. “I’ll hold off.”


Kirk, 53, has spent the past year undergoing intensive therapy to help him regain his ability to walk and perform other basic functions. Kirk’s mind, according to his surgeon Dr. Richard Fessler, is still very active. “His thought process is normal, and his mental state remains sharp,” Fessler told the Daily Herald.


Kirk now joins an estimated 8 million Americans who claim to have received celestial visitors or had some other type of near-death experience (NDE): The congressman sensed he was close to death in the days following his stroke. “A thing goes off in your head that this is the end,” Kirk told the Daily Herald.


Despite their mystical associations, many researchers believe NDEs may have a rational explanation based on the science of brain functioning. Out-of-body experiences, during which people believe they’re floating above their physical body, are common during NDEs and can be triggered by stimulating the brain’s right temporoparietal junction, according to a study detailed in 2005 in the journal The Neuroscientist. [Top 10 Unexplained Phenomena]


Another common vision during NDEs is the sensation of moving toward a bright light, which also occurs in up to 25 percent of heart attack survivors. The cause in both cases, researchers now believe, may be a lack of oxygen to the brain: Euphoria, a sense of peace and moving “toward the light” are common symptoms of oxygen deprivation, according to a 2010 study published in the medical journal Critical Care.


Last year, researchers at the Out-Of-Body Experience Research Center in Los Angeles reported success in training volunteers to “separate” from their bodies and float through a dark tunnel toward a bright light. The researchers, whose work has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, believe this is further evidence that NDEs are a product of brain functioning, not celestial intervention.


Kirk, however, is committed to keeping both feet on the ground, particularly as he makes the most challenging walk of his life: climbing the 45 steps up to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., when he returns to his Senate office this month.


“There’s going to be a big crowd, and you can bet I’m going to be in it,” Kirk told the Daily Herald.


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


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Why U.S. lives under the shadow of 'W'




Julian Zelizer says former President George W. Bush's key tax and homeland security policies survive in the age of Obama




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Julian Zelizer: For all the criticism Bush got, two key policies have survived

  • He says fiscal cliff pact perpetuates nearly all of Bush's tax cuts

  • Obama administration has largely followed Bush's homeland security policy, he says

  • Zelizer: By squeezing revenues, Bush tax cuts will put pressure on spending




Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of "Governing America."


Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- Somewhere in Texas, former President George W. Bush is smiling.


Although some Democrats are pleased that taxes will now go up on the wealthiest Americans, the recent deal to avert the fiscal cliff entrenches, rather than dismantles, one of Bush's signature legacies -- income tax cuts. Ninety-nine percent of American households were protected from tax increases, aside from the expiration of the reduced rate for the payroll tax.



Julian Zelizer

Julian Zelizer



In the final deal, Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to preserve most of the Bush tax cuts, including exemptions on the estate tax.


When Bush started his term in 2001, many of his critics dismissed him as a lightweight, the son of a former president who won office as result of his family's political fortune and a controversial decision by the Supreme Court on the 2000 election.



But what has become clear in hindsight, regardless of what one thinks of Bush and his politics, is that his administration left behind a record that has had a huge impact on American politics, a record that will not easily be dismantled by future presidents.


The twin pillars of Bush's record were counterterrorism policies and tax cuts. During his first term, it became clear that Obama would not dismantle most of the homeland security apparatus put into place by his predecessor. Despite a campaign in 2008 that focused on flaws with the nation's response to 9/11, Obama has kept most of the counterterrorism program intact.


Opinion: The real issue is runaway spending


In some cases, the administration continues to aggressively use tactics his supporters once decried, such as relying on renditions to detain terrorist suspects who are overseas, as The Washington Post reported this week. In other areas, the administration has expanded the war on terrorism, including the broader use of drone strikes to kill terrorists.










Now come taxes and spending.


With regard to the Bush tax cuts, Obama had promised to overturn a policy that he saw as regressive. Although he always said that he would protect the middle class from tax increases, Obama criticized Bush for pushing through Congress policies that bled the federal government of needed revenue and benefited the wealthy.


In 2010, Obama agreed to temporarily extend all the tax cuts. Though many Democrats were furious, Obama concluded that he had little political chance to overturn them and he seemed to agree with Republicans that reversing them would hurt an economy limping along after a terrible recession.


Opinion: Time to toot horn for George H.W. Bush


With the fiscal cliff deal, Obama could certainly claim more victories than in 2010. Taxes for the wealthiest Americans will go up. Congress also agreed to extend unemployment compensation and continue higher payments to Medicare providers.


But beneath all the sound and fury is the fact that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, for most Americans, are now a permanent part of the legislative landscape. (In addition, middle class Americans will breathe a sigh of relief that Congress has permanently fixed the Alternative Minimum Tax, which would have hit many of them with a provision once designed to make sure that the wealthy paid their fair share.)


As Michigan Republican Rep. Dave Camp remarked, "After more than a decade of criticizing these tax cuts, Democrats are finally joining Republicans in making them permanent." Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the new legislation will increase the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.


The tax cuts have significant consequences on all of American policy.


Opinion: Christie drops bomb on GOP leaders


Most important, the fact that a Democratic president has now legitimated the moves of a Republican administration gives a bipartisan imprimatur to the legitimacy of the current tax rates.


Although some Republicans signed on to raising taxes for the first time in two decades, the fact is that Democrats have agreed to tax rates which, compared to much of the 20th century, are extraordinarily low. Public perception of a new status quo makes it harder for presidents to ever raise taxes on most Americans to satisfy the revenue needs for the federal government.


At the same time, the continuation of reduced taxes keeps the federal government in a fiscal straitjacket. As a result, politicians are left to focus on finding the money to pay for existing programs or making cuts wherever possible.


New innovations in federal policy that require substantial revenue are just about impossible. To be sure, there have been significant exceptions, such as the Affordable Care Act. But overall, bold policy departures that require significant amounts of general revenue are harder to come by than in the 1930s or 1960s.


Republicans thus succeed with what some have called the "starve the beast" strategy of cutting government by taking away its resources. Since the long-term deficit only becomes worse, Republicans will continue to have ample opportunity to pressure Democrats into accepting spending cuts and keep them on the defense with regards to new government programs.


Politics: Are the days of Congress 'going big' over?


With his income tax cuts enshrined, Bush can rest comfortably that much of the policy world he designed will remain intact and continue to define American politics. Obama has struggled to work within the world that Bush created, and with this legislation, even with his victories, he has demonstrated that the possibilities for change have been much more limited than he imagined when he ran in 2008 or even in 2012.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Julian Zelizer.






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Firm bringing HQ to Chicago









St. Louis-based construction firm Clayco Inc. is moving its headquarters to Chicago, attracted by ease of air travel, proximity to clients, access to young professionals and the potential to land city business as Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushes ahead with public-private partnerships for infrastructure improvements, its top executive said Thursday.

Clayco Chairman and CEO Robert Clark and Emanuel are expected to formally announce the move Friday.

Two-hundred and eighty of the company's 1,000 employees already work in the Chicago area, including 88 who work full time at the Jewelers Building, 35 E. Wacker Drive, which becomes company headquarters.

The company expects to double its Chicago workforce during the next couple of years, in part by increasing its architectural business and expanding its infrastructure business.

Clark said the company is seeking to acquire a municipal engineering company as part of an effort to develop its infrastructure business during the next few years. Now focused on industrial, office and institutional projects, the company would like to add a fourth specialty area that would go after water, sewer, road, bridge and airport work, Clark said.

"In the long run, public-private partnerships are something I'm very intrigued about and interested in pursuing," he said. "I don't think we'll do it overnight. … It may be three years from now, until we have significant traction in the (infrastructure) market."

"We're interested in national projects, not just local," he said. "But hopefully we'll have work in our own backyard."

Clayco donated $50,000 to Emanuel's mayoral campaign in late 2010, and Clark donated an additional $10,000 in September to The Chicago Committee, the mayor's campaign fund, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Clark said his contributions to a variety of politicians stem from personal convictions and have no relation to his business endeavors.

Tom Alexander, a spokesman for Emanuel, said: "Clayco is choosing Chicago because Chicago offers them unique access to world-class talent and a location from which they can easily and effectively do business around the world, period. Any type of private-public building project would undergo the city's very strict, competitive procurement process."

Last spring, Emanuel won City Council approval for the formation of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which will endeavor to secure private financing for public infrastructure projects.

Clayco's shift into downtown Chicago began in October 2010, when it opened offices in the Jewelers Building. Employees who had been based in Oakbrook Terrace have moved there, as have a handful of executives from St. Louis. Clark relocated to Chicago in September 2010.

The company did not seek or receive any financial incentives for its move, the city said. Clayco will keep its St. Louis office intact, and no layoffs are planned as part of the relocation.

Clark and Emanuel first met when Emanuel worked in the Clinton White House. Clark, who was active with the Young Presidents' Organization, worked with Emanuel on some events at the White House. Their paths have crossed a number of times since then, including during President Barack Obama's campaign in 2008.

A meeting with Emanuel played a role in the decision to relocate company headquarters, Clark said. It occupies the 13th and 27th floors of the Jewelers Building, or 30,000 square feet.

"He asked me to target our national clients and bring them here," Clark recalls. "Quite frankly, I was blown away by that. Most mayors are not that aggressive; they leave that up to their economic development folks."

Clayco has done work for a number of large institutions and corporations, including Dow Chemical, Amazon.com, Caterpillar, and locally, Kraft Foods, Anixter, the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Started 28 years ago by Clark, the privately held company has annual revenue of $820 million. Subsidiaries include architecture and design firm Forum Studios and Concrete Strategies Inc.

kbergen@tribune.com

Twitter @kathy_bergen



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Eleven dead in Damascus gas station blast


AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) - At least 11 people were killed and 40 wounded when a car bomb exploded at a crowded petrol station in the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday, opposition activists said.


The station was packed with people queuing for fuel that has become increasingly scarce during the country's 21-month-long insurgency aimed at overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad.


The semi-official al-Ikhbariya television station showed footage of 10 burnt bodies and Red Crescent workers searching for victims at the site.


The opposition Revolution Leadership Council in Damascus said the explosion was caused by a booby-trapped car.


There was no immediate indication of who was responsible for the bombing in the Barzeh al-Balad district, whose residents include members of the Sunni Muslim majority and other religious and ethnic minorities.


"The station is usually packed even when it has no fuel," said an opposition activist who did not want to be named. "There are lots of people who sleep there overnight, waiting for early morning fuel consignments."


It was the second time that a petrol station has been hit in Damascus this week. Dozens of people were incinerated in an air strike as they waited for fuel on Wednesday, according to opposition sources.


In northern Syria, rebels were battling to seize an air base in their campaign against the air power that Assad has used to bomb rebel-held towns.


More than 60,000 people have been killed in the uprising and civil war, the United Nations said this week, a much higher death toll than previously thought.


DRAMATIC ADVANCES


After dramatic advances over the second half of 2012, the rebels now hold wide swathes of territory in the north and east, but they cannot protect towns and villages from Assad's helicopters and jets.


Hundreds of rebel fighters were attempting to storm the Taftanaz air base, near the highway that links Syria's two main cities, Aleppo and Damascus.


A rebel fighter speaking from near the Taftanaz base overnight said much of the base was still in loyalist hands but insurgents had managed to destroy a helicopter and a fighter jet on the ground.


The northern rebel Idlib Coordination Committee said the rebels had detonated a car bomb inside the base.


The government's SANA news agency said the base had not fallen and that the military had "strongly confronted an attempt by the terrorists to attack the airport from several axes, inflicting heavy losses among them and destroying their weapons and munitions".


Rami Abdulrahman, head of the opposition-aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which monitors the conflict from Britain, said as many as 800 fighters were involved in the assault, including Islamists from Jabhat al-Nusra, a powerful group that Washington considers terrorists.


Taftanaz is mainly a helicopter base, used for missions to resupply army positions cut off by the rebels, as well as for dropping crude "barrel bombs" on rebel-controlled areas.


Near Minakh, another northern air base that rebels have surrounded, government forces have retaliated by shelling and bombing nearby towns.


NIGHTLY BOMBARDMENTS


In the town of Azaz, where the bombardment has become a near nightly occurrence, shells hit a family house overnight. Zeinab Hammadi said her two wounded daughters, aged 10 and 12, had been rushed across the border to Turkey, one with her brain exposed.


"We were sleeping and it just landed on us in the blink of an eye," she said, weeping as she surveyed the damage.


Family members tried to salvage possessions from the wreckage, men lifting out furniture and children carrying out their belongings in tubs.


"He (Assad) wants revenge against the people," said Abu Hassan, 33, working at a garage near the destroyed house. "What is the fault of the children? Are they the ones fighting?"


Opposition activists said warplanes struck a residential building in another rebel-held northern town, Hayyan, killing at least eight civilians.


Video footage showed men carrying dismembered bodies of children and dozens of people searching for victims in the rubble. The provenance of the video could not be independently confirmed.


In addition to their tenuous grip on the north, the rebels also hold a crescent of suburbs on the edge of Damascus, which have come under bombardment by government forces that control the center of the capital.


On Wednesday, according to opposition activists, dozens of people died in an inferno caused by an air strike on a petrol station in a Damascus suburb where residents were lining up for fuel.


The civil war in Syria has become the longest and bloodiest of the conflicts that rose out of uprisings across the Arab world in the past two years.


Assad's family has ruled for 42 years since his father seized power in a coup. The war pits rebels, mainly from the Sunni Muslim majority, against a government supported by members of Assad's Shi'ite-derived Alawite minority sect and some members of other minorities who fear revenge if he falls.


The West, most Sunni-ruled Arab states and Turkey have called for Assad to step down. He is supported by Russia and Shi'ite Iran.


(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman and Dominic Evans in Beirut; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Ruth Pitchford and Giles Elgood)



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Asia stocks eke out gains on China hopes, oil eases

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Most Asian stock markets edged higher on Thursday on hopes of a steady economic revival in China, although oil gave back part of the previous session's strong gains as investors took some money off the table and braced for more U.S. budget battles.


The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index of stocks <.miapj0000pus> rose 0.2 percent following Wednesday's 2 percent jump on relief that U.S. politicians had averted the "fiscal cliff".


Data from China showing the services sector expanded in December continued to underpin expectations of an economic recovery that has helped spur a strong rally in Hong Kong-listed Chinese shares <.hsce> over the past month.


The China Enterprises index <.hsce> which rallied more than 4 percent in the previous session eased 0.2 percent. Onshore Chinese markets will resume trading on Friday.


"China looks like it's improving at the margin and the market has momentum that could last for at least a few months," said Christian Keilland, head of trading at BTIG in Hong Kong.


"Investors seem to have accepted that reforms are underway but they're going to happen at a slower pace."


Australian stocks <.axjo> rose 0.7 percent to their highest in more than 19 months, with mining giants Rio Tinto up 2.4 percent and BHP Billiton up 0.8 percent, among the top gainers on the benchmark S&P ASX/200 index. <.axjo/>


South Korea's Kospi <.ks11> underperformed the region, falling 0.4 percent as automakers and other exporters slumped on a stronger Korean won, which hit a 16-month high against the dollar overnight.


In other currency markets, the Japanese yen bounced after hitting a 29-month low versus the dollar earlier in the day but analysts warned that any strength is likely to be short-lived.


"Technically dollar/yen looks somewhat overbought here. It's gone a long way in a very short time," said Callum Henderson, global head of FX research for Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore, adding that the dollar could see some consolidation in the near term before heading higher.


The euro which in overnight trading was close to a 8-1/2 month high against the dollar, slipped 0.1 percent.


The U.S. dollar rose 0.2 percent <.dxy> against a basket of major currencies.


President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans face even bigger budget battles in the next two months after a hard-fought deal averted the fiscal cliff of automatic tightening that threatened to push the U.S. into recession.


Strength in the dollar and profit-taking pushed oil prices lower with Brent crude slipping 0.3 percent and U.S. crude futures down 19 cents to $92.93.


"After the initial excitement, reality sets in," said Victor Shum, oil consultant at IHS Purvin & Gertz. "There will be other negotiations and the deal is a compromise."


(Reporting by Vikram Subhedar; Editing by Kim Coghill and Eric Meijer)



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Louisville upsets Florida 33-23 in Sugar Bowl


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Terell Floyd and the Louisville Cardinals gave the embattled Big East Conference at least one more triumphant night in a major bowl — and at the expense of a top team from the mighty SEC.


Floyd returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown on the first play, dual-threat quarterback Teddy Bridgewater directed a handful of scoring drives and No. 22 Louisville stunned the fourth-ranked Gators 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.


"I can't speak for the whole Big East, but I can speak for Louisville and I think this means a lot for us," Floyd said. "We showed the world we can play with the best."


The Big East is in a transitional phase and losing some of its top football programs in the process. Boise State has recently backed out of its Big East commitment and Louisville has plans to join the ACC.


Even this year, the Big East wasn't getting much respect. Louisville, the league champion, was a two-touchdown underdog in the Sugar Bowl.


But by the end, the chant, "Charlie, Charlie!" echoed from sections of the Superdome occupied by red-clad Cardinals fans. It was their way of serenading third-year Louisville coach Charlie Strong, the former defensive coordinator for the Gators, who has elevated Cardinals football to new heights and recently turned down a chance to leave for the top job at Tennessee.


"I look at this performance tonight, and I sometimes wonder, 'Why didn't we do this the whole season,'" Strong said. "We said this at the beginning: We just take care of our job and do what we're supposed to do, don't worry about who we're playing."


Shaking off an early hit that flattened him and knocked off his helmet, Bridgewater was 20 of 32 passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Among his throws was a pinpoint, 15-yard timing toss that DeVante Parker grabbed as he touched one foot down in the corner of the end zone.


"I looked at what did and didn't work for quarterbacks during the regular season," said Bridgewater, picked as the game's top player. "They faced guys forcing throws ... and coach tells me, 'No capes on your back or 'S' on your chest, take what the defense give you.' That's what I took. Film study was vital."


His other scoring strike went to Damian Copeland from 19 yards one play after a surprise onside kick by the Gators backfired. Jeremy Wright had a short touchdown run that gave Louisville (11-2) a 14-0 lead the Gators couldn't overcome.


Florida (11-2) never trailed by more than 10 points this season. The defeat dropped SEC teams to 3-3 this bowl season, with Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi still to play.


"We got outcoached and outplayed," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "That's what I told the football team. That's the bottom line."


Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel, who had thrown only three interceptions all season, turned the ball over three times on two interceptions — both tipped passes — and a fumble. He finished 16 of 29 for 175 yards.


Down 33-10 midway through the fourth period, Florida tried to rally. Andre Debose scored on a 100-yard kickoff return and Driskel threw a TD pass to tight end Kent Taylor with 2:13 left. But when Louisville defenders piled on Driskel to thwart the 2-point try, the game was essentially over.


Florida didn't score until Caleb Sturgis's 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter.


The Gators finally got in the end zone with a trick play in the closing seconds of the half. They changed personnel as if to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but lined up in a bizarre combination of swinging-gate and shotgun formations and handed off to Matt Jones.


The Gators tried to keep the momentum with a surprise onside kick to open the third quarter, but not only did Louisville recover, Florida's Chris Johnson was called for a personal foul and ejected for jabbing at Louisville's Zed Evans. That gave Louisville the ball on the Florida 19, from where Bridgewater needed one play to find Copeland for his score.


"We game-planned it and felt good about it," Muschamp said of the onside kick attempt. "We wanted to steal a possession at the start of the second half."


On the following kickoff, Evans cut down kick returner Loucheiz Purifoy with a vicious low, high-speed hit that shook Purifoy up. Soon after, Driskel was sacked hard from behind and stripped by safety Calvin Pryor, ending another Florida drive with a turnover.


"We had the right attitude, had the right mindset that we would go out and beat this team," Pryor said.


After Louisville native Muhammad Ali was on the field for the coin toss, the Cardinals quickly stung the Gators. Floyd, one of nearly three dozen Louisville players from Florida, made the play.


Driskel was looking for seldom-targeted Debose, who'd had only two catches all season.


"I threw it behind him, (he) tried to make a play on it, tipped it right to the guy," Driskel said. "Unfortunate to start the game like that."


When Louisville's offense got the ball later in the quarter, the Florida defense, ranked among the best in the nation this season, sought to intimidate the Cardinals with one heavy hit after another.


One blow by Jon Bostic knocked Bridgewater's helmet off moments after he'd floated an incomplete pass down the right sideline. Bostic was called for a personal foul, however, which seemed to get the Cardinals opening drive rolling. Later, Wright lost his helmet during a 3-yard gain and took another heavy hit before he went down.


Louisville kept coming.


B.J. Butler turned a short catch into a 23-yard gain down to the Florida 1. Then Wright punched it in to give the Cardinals an early two-TD lead over a team that finished third in the BCS standings, one spot too low to play for a national title in Miami.


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Never-Before-Seen Stage of Planet Birth Revealed






Astronomers studying a newborn star have caught a detailed glimpse of planets forming around it, revealing a never-before seen stage of planetary evolution.


Large gas giant planets appear to be clearing a gap in the disk of material surrounding the star, and using gravity to channel material across the gap to the interior, helping the star to grow. Theoretical simulations have predicted such bridges between outer and inner portions of disks surrounding stars, but none have been directly observed until now.






An international team of astronomers have used the partially completed Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study a young star about 450 light-years from Earth. They identified two thin filaments of gas streaming from the outer disk to the inner, across a broad gap cut by young planets.


“Currently, the only mechanism known to produce such gap-crossing dense molecular flows, with residual carbon monoxide gas more diffusely spread out inside the gap, is planetary formation,” lead scientist Simon Casassus of the University of Chile told SPACE.com in an email. [Video: Baby Planets Form Bridge Around Star]


Bridging the gap


Far from Earth, the fledgling star HD 142527 is nearing the end of its formation process. Around 2 million years old, the young star is about twice as massive as the sun, though it is still slowly growing. A disk of spinning dust and gas left over from its formation surrounds the star, and from this material, planets are being created. 


As baby planets, or planetesimals, travel through the disk, they absorb the material around them, creating gaps. Such paths have been seen in a number of newborn systems. HD 142527 boasts a gap that starts at a point equivalent to Saturn’s position in the solar system and extends outward 14 times as far. The gap, which scientists had previously measured, is so large that several planets would be required to clear it of debris.


Using ALMA to observe the system, Casassus and his team have found that the gap is not completely empty. Two filaments reach from the outer disk to the inner, indicating that at least two young planets exist within the space.


The gravity of the planets draws material from the outer ring inward. But while some of the gas and dust falls into orbit around the young gas giants, a fraction of it overshoots the planetesimals, traveling instead to the inner disk. Eventually, the star absorbs the material.


These bridges are important to the continued growth of the system’s young sun. The inner disk around the star is too small to sustain its growth; Casassus and his team concluded that the disk around HD 142527 would be depleted within a year without a bridge. Planets funneling material from the outer disk to the inner would help nourish their star.


The process won’t continue forever, however.


“Eventually, the proto-gaseous giants will exhaust the material within their radius of influence,” Casassus said. “How much material will have infallen, in what timescales, and how this impacts the planet location and eventual migration are all open questions in the field of planet formation. Our observations are a step forward.”


Mind the gap


In addition to revealing the bridges between the two disks, ALMA’s detailed measurements showed that the gaps weren’t completely empty. Instead, they contain traces of carbon monoxide gas.


“This residual gas was predicted by all dynamical calculations, but previous detections were not as clear-cut and direct as the ALMA result,” Casassus said.


The data was taken by ALMA during its first year of observation. The array of 66 telescopes, set up in Chile, is still under construction but should be completed this year, at which point Casassus plans to observe the system in greater detail.


Although the dense gas of the filaments would obstruct a direct view of the young planets, studying the system at the higher resolution of the completed ALMA could reveal knots along the filaments that could signify their location.


At the same time, a more precise examination of the leftover gas in the gaps could help astronomers to narrow down the mass of the developing planets.


The research was published online today (Jan. 2) in the journal Nature.


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Look beyond the fiscal cliff






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Dean Baker: Budget deficit is not the only top issue in our national economic policy

  • Baker: Fiscal cliff debate has been a distraction of the bigger problem of a downturn

  • He says fears of big deficits are preventing us from boosting the economy more

  • Baker: Given the economy's weakness, the government has to run big deficits




Editor's note: Dean Baker, an economist, is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive economic policy organization. He is author of "The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive."


(CNN) -- We have just passed into the new year, and the distractions created by the debate over the fiscal cliff appear to be behind us. Maybe.


That debate has been part of a larger distraction -- the concern over budget deficits at a time when by far the country's most important problem remains the economic downturn caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. The obsession with budget deficits is especially absurd because the enormous deficits of recent years are entirely the result of the economic downturn.


In spite of this, the leadership of both parties has elevated the budget deficit to be the top and virtually only issue in national economic policy. This means ignoring the downturn that continues to cause enormous amount of unnecessary suffering for tens of millions of people.



Dean Baker

Dean Baker




But fears of big deficits are preventing us from giving the same sort of boost to the economy that got us out of the Great Depression. The explanation is simple: profits have returned to prerecession levels.


Opinion: Cliff deal hollow victory for American people


This means that from the standpoint of the people who own and run American businesses, everything is pretty much fine. Moreover, they see the deficits created by the downturn as providing an opportunity to go after Social Security and Medicare.


The Campaign to Fix the Debt, a nonpartisan organization involving many of the country's richest and most powerful CEOs, sets out to do just that. It has become standard practice in Washington for Wall Street types and other wealthy interests to finance groups to push their agenda.


The Campaign to Fix the Debt involves the CEOs themselves directly stepping up to the plate and pushing the case for cutting Social Security and Medicare as well as lowering the corporate income tax rate.


It's clear what's going on here. We don't need any conspiracy theories.


iReport: What's your message for Washington?








CEOs from both political parties have openly come together to demand cuts in Social Security and Medicare, two programs that enjoy massive political support across the political spectrum. The wealthy are joining hands without regard to political affiliation to cut benefits that enjoy broad bipartisan support among everyone who is not rich.


President Barack Obama has an opportunity to show real leadership. He should explain to the public the basic facts that all budget experts know: We do not have a chronic deficit problem. The big deficits are the result of collapsed economy. The priority of the president and Congress must be to put people back to work and bring the economy back up to speed.


Fiscal cliff deal: 5 things to know


When the housing bubble burst, annual spending on residential construction fell back by more than 4% of GDP, which is $600 billion in today's economy. Similarly, consumption plunged as people drastically curtailed their spending in response to the loss of $8 trillion in housing bubble generated equity.


There is no easy way for the private sector to replace this demand. Businesses don't invest unless they see demand for their products, regardless of how much love we might shower on the "job creators." In fact, if anything, investment is surprisingly strong give the large amount of excess capacity in the economy. Measured as a share of GDP, investment in equipment and software is almost back to its prerecession level. It is hard to envision investment getting much higher, absent a major boost in demand from some other sector.


This is why it is necessary for the government to run large deficits. Ideally, the money would be spent in areas that will make us richer in the future: Education, infrastructure, research and development in clean energy, etc. There is just no way around a large role for the government given the economy's current weakness.


Big issues still pending


Obama needs to explain this simple story to the country. The rich of both parties will hate him for going down this route. They will use their powers to denounce him. But the American people support Social Security and Medicare, and they support an economy that creates jobs for ordinary workers.


Obama needs the courage to tell the truth.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Baker.






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Chicago man charged in estranged wife's slaying in Munster









A Chicago man with a history of domestic violence arrests has been charged with the murder of his estranged wife in Munster, Ind., early New Year’s Day, authorities said.

Margarito Valdivia, 44, of the 10800 block of South Troy Street, is being held without bail in the slaying of his estranged wife, Erica Valdivia, 33, early on Tuesday, Munster Police said in a news release this afternoon. The attack at a home in the 800 block of Boxwood Drive in Munster also injured Erica Valdivia’s boyfriend, police said.

Erica Valdivia, whom the Lake County coroner’s office said suffered blunt force trauma to the head in an apparent homicide, had been separated from her husband for about four months, according to police.

Margarito Valdivia is believed to have driven to the Boxwood Drive home early Tuesday, gone in and confronted his wife and her boyfriend, police said. He hit the boyfriend in the head “numerous times” as he drove the boyfriend from the home, police said in the release.

Once the boyfriend was outside, Margarito Valdivia went back into the home and began beating his wife, police said.

Police were called to the Boxwood Drive home about 5:45 a.m. Tuesday and found the boyfriend outside with a severe cut to the head. Officers tried to go into the house, but were at first unable to, as Margarito Valdivia had barricaded himself inside. After a SWAT team was called, police sent a remote-controlled robot into the home, and he surrendered.

Police entered the home and found Erica Valdivia lying in a bathroom, with “major trauma” to the head, including her face, police said. She was taken to Community Hospital in Munster, where she was declared dead at 10:04 a.m. Tuesday, according to the coroner’s office.

The Lake County, Ind., prosecutor’s office charged Margarito Valdivia with murder and felony battery today, police said. Court information was not immediately available, but he was being held without bail in Lake County Jail.

Court records show that Margarito Valdivia has Cook County arrests dating back to 1990, when he was arrested on a domestic violence charge and an order of protection was lodged against him. The charges were later dropped. In 1994, he was charged with domestic battery and resisting arrest and was sentenced to a year’s probation after being found guilty of the resisting arrest charge, according to court records.

In 1997, Margarito Valdivia was charged with criminal damage and having a firearm without a gun owner’s permit, and given two years court supervision following a guilty plea. A 2000 domestic battery charge was dropped, but in August 2012 he was found guilty of battery after an attack July 23 in the 9800 block of South Commercial Avenue and sentenced to a year’s conditional discharge, records show.

At the time of the battery arrest, he was still living at the same home in the 10600 block of South Avenue N that the coroner’s office listed as Erica Valdivia’s home address.

lford@tribune.com

Twitter: @ltaford



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