Congressional leaders scramble to find 'fiscal cliff' compromise

WASHINGTON — The momentary optimism that Washington could resolve the stalemate over New Year's Day tax hikes turned quickly Saturday to the backroom number crunching needed to broker what remained a difficult deal.

Top congressional leaders and their aides holed up inside the Capitol, swapping potential scenarios that might yield enough votes to pass legislation to prevent a tax increase on all but the wealthiest Americans.

The work being done off the Senate floor, in the offices of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) involves such tricky math that even if the political will exists to craft a compromise, partisanship may still prevent one. How to deal with income and estate taxes, as well as extended long-term unemployment benefits, remain among the stickiest issues.

"We've been in discussions all day, and they continue. And we'll let you know as soon as we have some news to make," McConnell said Saturday night as he left the Capitol. "We've been trading paper all day and talks continue into the evening."

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) stopped by the negotiations in the morning as a light snow dusted the city, but by midday tourists milling about the Capitol were snapping photos of the empty corridor outside his office. The Democratic leaders, Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), did not come to the Capitol but remained involved in the talks.

President Obama, who received updates at the White House, used his weekly address to put pressure on congressional leaders. "We just can't afford a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy," he said. "The economy is growing, but keeping it that way means that the folks you sent to Washington have to do their jobs."

Congress will convene for a rare Sunday afternoon session, with the Senate opening at 1 p.m. and the House at 2 p.m. Votes could come as soon as Sunday but most likely would be pushed to Monday as talks continue. Both parties will meet behind closed doors Sunday afternoon to consider their options.

If no agreement is reached, Obama reminded Republicans, he'll call for a vote on a proposal that would block the tax hike on income of less than $250,000 and would extend the unemployment insurance that expired Saturday for 2 million out-of-work people.

Obama's threat capitalizes on a key advantage in the tax-and-spend battle: Without a compromise, taxes will go up on everyone Tuesday, when the George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire. Republicans who oppose his bare-bones bill would be in the awkward position of protecting the wealthiest at the expense of the middle class.

"I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities — as long as these leaders allow it to come to a vote," Obama said. "If they still want to vote no, and let this tax hike hit the middle class, that's their prerogative — but they should let everyone vote. That's the way this is supposed to work."

Republicans face the prospect of voting for a tax increase for the first time in two decades, a potential milestone that has deeply divided the party. Still, they suggested Saturday that they could stomach raising income tax rates if the income threshold was higher than Obama has proposed — $500,000 might be acceptable, according to a source who asked to remain anonymous to discuss internal negotiations.

The GOP also wants to preserve the current estate tax rate, which is 35% on estates valued at more than $5 million. Most Democrats want the estate taxes set at 45% on those above $3.5 million; if no action is taken, the rate will revert to 55% on estates valued at more than $1 million.

The combination of income and estate tax rates may lead to a deal that could win Republican support, but it could also prove to be a deal killer for Democrats.

With Republicans divided, particularly in the House, Boehner is expected to bring at most barely half of his majority to any deal. Pelosi's support will be vital to pass the measure; she may have to muster about 100 votes.

A White House official stressed that whatever deal the Senate leaders broker will have to win approval from the House Democratic leader, who has shown her ability to deliver — or withhold — Democratic votes.

The deal may also draw support if it contains other must-pass year-end provisions, including a tweak to prevent middle-class households from being hit with the alternative minimum tax and an adjustment to ensure doctors treating Medicare patients do not take a pay cut.

The scene playing out on Saturday was a repeat of the cycle of brinkmanship and crisis that has characterized divided Washington for the last two years.

The optimism expressed by political leaders after Friday's White House meeting of Obama and congressional leaders appeared to be less about a major breakthrough or newfound comity than the hard reality that time was running short.

Congress has proved time and again that it works best — and perhaps only — under deadline pressure. With tax rates set to expire Dec. 31, just hours remained to approve a deal.

Despite the tight timeline, many senators left town, even if just for the day. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) posted a photo on his Twitter account of himself with the Oreo mascot at a college football bowl game in San Francisco.

Others stayed behind. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) tweeted that he was touring the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). "Back at it tomorrow," he added.

Yet even with political momentum, the deep divisions within parties were still evident, particularly as Republicans confronted a debate over their party's bedrock principles.

Influential anti-tax activist Grover Norquist encouraged Republicans to move on to the next battles, as Congress will be asked within months to raise the nation's debt limit. Republicans see that as the next point of leverage in their fights with Obama to reduce federal spending, including on Social Security and Medicare.

Any deal being crafted this weekend is not expected to resolve those issues or alter the automatic federal spending cuts coming on Jan. 2, all but ensuring that 2013 will see a return of divisive tax and spending arguments.

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Body of India rape victim arrives home in New Delhi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The body of a woman whose gang rape provoked protests and rare national debate about violence against women in India arrived back in New Delhi early on Sunday and was quickly cremated at a private ceremony.

The unidentified 23-year-old medical student died from her injuries on Saturday, prompting promises of action from a government that has struggled to respond to public outrage.

She had suffered brain injuries and massive internal injuries in the attack on December 16, and died in hospital in Singapore where she had been taken for treatment.

She and a male friend had been returning home from the cinema, media reports say, when six men on a bus beat them with metal rods and repeatedly raped the woman. The friend survived.

Six suspects were charged with murder after her death.

A Reuters correspondent saw family members who had been with her in Singapore take her body from the airport to their Delhi home in an ambulance with a police escort.

Ruling party leader Sonia Gandhi was seen arriving at the airport when the plane landed and Prime Minister Mannmohan Singh's convoy was also there, the witness said.

The body was then taken to a crematorium and cremated. Media were kept away but a Reuters witness saw the woman's family, New Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, and the junior home minister, R P N Singh, coming out of the crematorium.

Security in the capital remained tight after authorities, worried about the reaction to the news of her death, had on Saturday deployed thousands of policemen and closed some roads and metro stations.

Protesters still gathered, in New Delhi and other cities, to keep the pressure on Singh's government to get tougher on crime against women. Last weekend, protesters fought pitched battles with police.

On Sunday, lines of policemen in riot gear and armed with heavy wooden sticks stood in front of metal barricades closing off roads in New Delhi. Morning traffic was light.


The outcry over the attack caught the government off-guard. It took a week for Singh to make a statement, infuriating many protesters.

Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and female infanticide rarely enter mainstream political discourse in India.

Analysts say the death of the woman dubbed "Amanat", an Urdu word meaning "treasure", by some Indian media could change that, although it is too early to say whether the protesters calling for government action to better safeguard women can sustain their momentum through to national elections due in 2014.

Newspapers raised doubts about the commitment of both male politicians and the police to protecting women.

"Would the Indian political system and class have been so indifferent to the problem of sexual violence if half or even one-third of all legislators were women?" the Hindu newspaper asked.

The Indian Express acknowledged the police force was understaffed and poorly paid, but there was more to it than that.

"It is geared towards dominating citizens rather than working for them, not to mention being open to influential interests," the newspaper said. "It reflects the misogyny around us, rather than actively fighting for the rights of citizens who happen to be female."

Most sex crimes in India go unreported, many offenders go unpunished, and the wheels of justice turn slowly, according to social activists, who say that successive governments have done little to ensure the safety of women.

Commentators and sociologists say the rape has tapped into a deep well of frustration many Indians feel over what they see as weak governance and poor leadership on social issues.

New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data show the number of reported rape cases in India rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011.

For a link to the poll, click

(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin and Diksha Madhok; Writing by Louise Ireland; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Robert Birsel)

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Wall Street ends sour week with fifth straight decline

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks fell for a fifth straight day on Friday, dropping 1 percent and marking the S&P 500's longest losing streak in three months as the federal government edged closer to the "fiscal cliff" with no solution in sight.

President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders met at the White House to work on a solution for the draconian debt-reduction measures set to take effect beginning next week. Stocks, which have been influenced by little else than the flood of fiscal cliff headlines from Washington in recent days, extended losses going into the close with the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 each losing 1 percent, after reports that Obama would not offer a new plan to Republicans. The Dow closed below 13,000 for the first time since December 4.

"I was stunned Obama didn't have another plan, and that's absolutely why we sold off," said Mike Shea, managing partner at Direct Access Partners LLC in New York. "He's going to force the House to come to him with something different. I think that's a surprise. The entire market is disappointed in a lack of leadership in Washington."

In a sign of investor anxiety, the CBOE Volatility Index <.vix>, known as the VIX, jumped 16.69 percent to 22.72, closing at its highest level since June. Wall Street's favorite fear barometer has risen for five straight weeks, surging more than 40 percent over that time.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> dropped 158.20 points, or 1.21 percent, to 12,938.11 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> lost 15.67 points, or 1.11 percent, to 1,402.43. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> fell 25.59 points, or 0.86 percent, to end at 2,960.31.

For the week, the Dow fell 1.9 percent. The S&P 500 also lost 1.9 percent for the week, marking its worst weekly performance since mid-November. The Nasdaq finished the week down 2 percent. In contrast, the VIX jumped 22 percent for the week.

Pessimism continued after the market closed, with stock futures indicating even steeper losses. S&P 500 futures dropped 26.7 points, or 1.9 percent, eclipsing the decline seen in the regular session.

All 10 S&P 500 sectors fell during Friday's regular trading, with most posting declines of 1 percent, but energy and material shares were among the weakest of the day, with both groups closely tied to the pace of growth.

An S&P energy sector index <.gspe> slid 1.8 percent, with Exxon Mobil down 2 percent at $85.10, and Chevron Corp off 1.9 percent at $106.45. The S&P material sector index <.gspm> fell 1.3 percent, with U.S. Steel Corp down 2.6 percent at $23.03.

Decliners outnumbered advancers by a ratio of slightly more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, while on the Nasdaq, two stocks fell for every one that rose.

"We've been whipsawing around on low volume and rumors that come out on the cliff," said Eric Green, senior portfolio manager at Penn Capital Management in Philadelphia, who helps oversee $7 billion in assets.

With time running short, lawmakers may opt to allow the higher taxes and across-the-board federal spending cuts to go into effect and attempt to pass a retroactive fix soon after the new year. Standard & Poor's said an impasse on the cliff wouldn't affect the sovereign credit rating of the United States.

"We're not as concerned with January 1 as the market seems to be," said Richard Weiss, senior money manager at American Century Investments, in Mountain View, California. "Things will be resolved, just maybe not on a good timetable, and any deal can easily be retroactive."

Trading volume was light throughout the holiday-shortened week, with just 4.46 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT on Friday, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares. On Monday, the U.S. stock market closed early for Christmas Eve, and the market was shut on Tuesday for Christmas. Many senior traders were absent this week for the holidays.

Highlighting Wall Street's sensitivity to developments in Washington, stocks tumbled more than 1 percent on Thursday after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that a deal was unlikely before the deadline. But late in the day, stocks nearly bounced back when the House said it would hold an unusual Sunday session to work on a fiscal solution.

Positive economic data failed to alter the market's mood.

The National Association of Realtors said contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes rose in November to their highest level in 2-1/2 years, while a report from the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago showed business activity in the U.S. Midwest expanded in December.

"Economic reports have been very favorable, and once Congress comes to a resolution, the market should resume an upward trend, based on the data," said Weiss, who helps oversee about $125 billion in assets. "All else being equal, we see any further decline as a buying opportunity."

Barnes & Noble Inc rose 4.3 percent to $14.97 after the top U.S. bookstore chain said British publisher Pearson Plc had agreed to make a strategic investment in its Nook Media subsidiary. But Barnes & Noble also said its Nook business will not meet its previous projection for fiscal year 2013.

Shares of magicJack VocalTec Ltd jumped 10.3 percent to $17.95 after the company gave a strong fourth-quarter outlook and named Gerald Vento president and chief executive, effective January 1.

The U.S.-listed shares of Canadian drugmaker Aeterna Zentaris Inc surged 13.8 percent to $2.47 after the company said it had reached an agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on a special protocol assessment by the FDA for a Phase 3 registration trial in endometrial cancer with AEZS-108 treatment.

(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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Clippers beat Jazz 116-114 for 16th straight win

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Chris Paul could hardly be heard over Jay-Z's pounding music as his Los Angeles Clippers teammates sang along in the visitors' locker room.

And why not?

The Clippers had just pulled off a 19-point comeback for their 16th straight victory — in a venue where they had often struggled.

Paul did most of the damage, leading the Clippers (24-6) with 29 points, including the final seven, as Los Angeles squeaked out a 116-114 win Friday night over the Utah Jazz.

The Clippers' winning streak is the longest in the NBA since Boston won 19 games in a row from Nov. 15 to Dec. 23, 2008.

The last time the franchise won three straight in Salt Lake City was 1979-81 when they were the San Diego Clippers.

"This one is a great win for us because we kind of needed a challenge," said Blake Griffin, who added 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Clippers. "(We had) to prove not only to everybody else but to ourselves that we can still win close games like this and win a game down 19 in the third quarter."

In the opposing locker room, the Jazz were lamenting another one that got away — the second loss at home to the Clippers during their franchise-record streak. Utah dropped the first by one on Dec. 3 after leading by 14.

On Friday, ex-Clipper Randy Foye put up a 3-pointer at the buzzer that was contested by Matt Barnes, but no foul was called. Foye finished with a season-high 28 points for Utah.

Foye did his best not to say anything about the officiating.

"I felt as though I pump-faked," Foye said. "He knew that I wanted to shoot the 3 and I felt the contact. He made me go straight up and shoot the ball straight down. It was just a tough play."

Paul was tough down the stretch, hitting the clinching free throws after getting fouled by Al Jefferson with 3.4 seconds left.

"When (DeAndre Jordan) came to give me the ball screen, I wasn't worried about (Gordon) Hayward, I was just worried about Al Jefferson," Paul said. "I could tell (Jefferson) was going to try and blitz me. Anytime two guys try and trap me, I'm always going to attack the slower guy. If they wouldn't have called the foul, I was right around Al anyway."

Paul sank both free throws this time, after missing one with 18 seconds left that allowed Jefferson to grab the rebound, draw a foul and sink two free throws at the other end to tie it at 114.

Paul made sure he hit both the next time.

"Man, I couldn't wait to get to the line. I couldn't wait to get to the line," Paul said. "I was mad at myself for missing that last one. I couldn't wait to get to the line to redeem myself."

Just like the first game this season against the Clippers, Utah had the upper hand early.

The Jazz used a 36-point second quarter to turn a seven-point deficit into a 58-48 halftime lead. Utah reserves did most of the damage.

Alec Burks and Earl Watson pushed the pace, big men Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors provided a presence inside and Hayward found ways to score.

Kanter's block of Ronny Turiaf ignited the crowd.

Hayward's 3-pointer tied it at 34 with 7:04 left in the second and he scored 10 straight for the Jazz, who forced eight turnovers in the quarter and held the Clippers to 37.5 percent shooting.

Foye, who kept Utah close in the first with a 13-point quarter on 4-of-5 shooting, gave the Jazz their biggest lead of the half, 54-41, with two more free throws.

The Jazz led 74-55 with 8:08 left in the third on a pair of free throws by Paul Millsap. But the Clippers outscored Utah 29-14 the rest of the quarter to pull to 88-84 going into the fourth.

Paul provided the offense in the third with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

"At the beginning of the third quarter, they made another run at us but then we got a little bit of a rhythm and then started guarding. We started getting some stops and getting out in the open court," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.

"Give Utah credit but our guys battled back tonight. They found a way to win and that's what it's all about. We stayed together, we weathered the storm when we had to and gave ourselves a chance and we were fortunate to make enough plays."

The loss dropped Utah below .500 at 15-16. The Jazz have lost six of their last eight.

Jefferson added 22 points for Utah. Hayward had 17 off the bench.

The Clippers had six players in double figures. DeAndre Jordan had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

"It's all tough," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "On our home court, we had a lead, we gave up the lead but we continued to fight. We made some mistakes but fought our way through it and had a chance to win the ballgame at the end. Unfortunately they got a lot of free throws."

The teams combined for 81 free throw attempts, with Utah making 37 of 40 and the Clippers 33 of 41.

Points in the paint were identical and rebounds were close (36-35 Jazz), but the Clippers had a four-point edge on second-chance points.

That was enough.

NOTES: An unidentified Jazz employee was disciplined and had his access to the team Twitter account discontinued after what team officials deemed an inappropriate tweet regarding the firing of Nets coach Avery Johnson and Brooklyn's interest in Phil Jackson. The tweet said Jackson only wants "great players," an apparent reference to ex-Jazz point guard Deron Williams, who had criticized Johnson's offense. ... Jazz point guard Mo Williams still has swelling in his sprained right thumb and remains out indefinitely. ... The Clippers got a scare late in the first quarter when Lamar Odom came up limping. He returned in the second and finished with 12 points. ... The Clippers failed to register a blocked shot despite coming into the game averaging 6.52.

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Associations React to EPA Admin’s Resignation

On Thursday, Lisa P. Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced that she would be leaving her post after President Barack Obama makes his State of the Union address in January. Here are some of the reactions from energy and environmental associations across the country to the news.

* “Administrator Jackson put into action the Obama administration‘s commitment to ethanol and other biofuels,” stated Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, adding that Jackson’s work with making E15 more available at the gas pump “protected the progress that has been made in reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

* Carol M. Browner, a former EPA administrator, former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy and Distinguished Senior Fellow from the Center for American Progress, stated that Jackson had directed several successes at the EPA, including new standards for fuel efficiency, protections against mercury pollution and proposed standards to limit carbon pollution from new power plants.

* Michael Brune, the Sierra Club executive director, stated that he wanted to express gratitude to Jackson on behalf of the club’s 2.1 million members and supporters. Brune called the administrator “a steadfast advocate for clean air, clean water, a stable climate and public health — often in the face of very vocal and forceful detractors.”

* The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette reported that Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association said that Jackson’s resignation is good news for his state and that Jackson’s policies are to blame for coal’s decline in Appalachia.

* Raney stated in a report from the Bluefield (W.Va.) Daily Telegraph that he hopes Obama’s new pick to lead the EPA will have respect for coal miners in the eastern United States and that “for the past four years, our coal miners have had no respectful recognition for all they have done to provide Americans with the quality of life we now enjoy.”

* According to an Associated Press report , Scott Segal, the director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, stated that Jackson’s tenure featured some of the most expensive environmental rules in the agency’s history and that those rules were used “as blunt attempts to marginalize coal and other solid fossil fuels and to make motor fuels more costly at the expense of industrial jobs, energy security, and economic recovery.”

* Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch stated that the news of Jackson’s resignation had long been expected but that she would be missed by environmental and health advocates. According to O’Donnell, one of Jackson’s most significant successes at the EPA was that she “reversed the findings of the Bush administration and declared that climate change poses a real threat to health and the environment.”

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2013: Energy issues on front burner

From left, John Krasinski, Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon promote what Sheril Kirshenbaum says will be a controversial film.


  • Public attitudes shifted on key energy issues in 2012

  • Sheril Kirshenbaum says controversy has grown over natural gas fracking boom

  • She says climate change, renewable energy are likely to be on agenda for 2013

  • Kirshenbaum: A turbulent year has increased public interest in energy issues

Editor's note: Sheril Kirshenbaum is an author and director of The University of Texas at Austin's Energy Poll.

(CNN) -- After a year of tumultuous weather and global change, it should not be surprising that 2012 proved to be a transformative period for public opinion on energy.

Changing attitudes on the most hotly debated topics matter a great deal because they set the course for future policy decisions. Taking a closer look at trends over the past 12 months hints at what to expect in several key areas of the U.S. energy landscape in 2013.

Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum

Natural gas boom -- and controversy

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," has been around for more than half a century, but recently expanded rapidly because of advances in horizontal drilling deep underground.

Despite this proliferation of new wells, 59% of Americans say they are unfamiliar with the term, down from 63% in March, according to the latest findings from the University of Texas at Austin's Energy Poll.

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

Although the majority still does not seem to know much about fracking, a deluge of media attention to this controversial extraction technology has likely raised its profile significantly since last year.

However, increased awareness is not synonymous with public approval. Among those familiar with hydraulic fracturing, support decreased from 48% to 41% over six months. Similarly, a December poll by Bloomberg reported that 66% of Americans would like greater government oversight of the process, up from 56% in September.

When Matt Damon's new film "Promised Land" debuts in January, expect public recognition and heated debate over hydraulic fracturing to rise further.

Climate change gets real

When Gov. Mitt Romney quipped, "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans" at the 2012 Republican National Convention, his audience burst into laughter. During the debates that followed, neither party's nominee mentioned climate change once as a policy priority.

Weeks later, Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeastern United States, flooding many parts of New York City, New Jersey and other regions along the Atlantic Coast. Both candidates immediately canceled campaign events in the wake of the storm and Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Obama, citing his commitment to tackling climate change. After a summer of record-breaking drought followed by this single powerful hurricane in a major metropolitan area, attitudes shifted.

In March, 65% of Americans surveyed said they thought that climate change was occurring. By September, after the summer drought, that number reached 73%, with the greatest gains among Republicans and independent voters. Earlier this month, The Associated Press-GfK poll followed up, reporting that after Sandy, 78% of Americans now say global temperatures are rising.

Because weather can influence opinions on climate change, it's possible that a wet and stormy winter -- ironically, also exacerbated by climate change -- could push attitudes in the other direction. Regardless, in 2013 expect to hear less argument about whether the Earth is warming and a more serious policy discussion by elected officials across levels of government about how we might mitigate the effects of rising seas, changing ocean acidity, agricultural uncertainty and extreme weather events.

Renewables gain ground

Renewable energy technologies have been available for decades, but 2012 may have been the tipping point for their wider adoption. There has been a significant increase in the percentage of Americans who say they are likely to buy hybrid or electric vehicles or use "smart" electric meters within the next five years. Most notably, between September 2011 and September 2012, the percentage of Americans who say they are likely to install solar panels at home increased from 21% to 28%.

These trends may reflect changing attitudes on climate, media attention to energy during the election cycle, rising gas prices or cheaper, widely advertised new alternatives. Most likely, it's a combination of all these.

What's clear is that we are now on the cusp of a renewables revolution with greater options and cost-saving technologies than ever. They are finally becoming more affordable, reliable and practical, with solar power at the helm. Still, it's important to note that as we ring in 2013, China, not the United States, has taken the lead on renewables.

The big picture

Polls tell the story of how attitudes are shifting, but short of having a crystal ball, there is no way to unequivocally predict what major world events will influence our nation's energy future. For example, another nuclear disaster or offshore oil spill could play an enormous role in shaping the next generation of energy priorities.

What can we count on in 2013?

In the past year, the percentage of Americans saying they consider themselves knowledgeable on how energy is produced, delivered and used has increased from 24% to 33%. More are likely to seek added information about reducing their own energy use and a higher percentage rate energy issues as important to them.

Amid economic uncertainty, volatile prices and global unrest, Americans are paying closer attention to the energy decisions that affect us all.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sheril Kirshenbaum.

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Chicago marks 500 homicides

Chicago police investigate the scene of a fatal shooting in the 1000 block of North Lavergne on Chicago's West Side. (Chris Sweda/ Chicago Tribune)

On the surface, Nathaniel Jackson fit the profile of the vast majority of Chicago's homicide victims in 2012 — he had a lengthy arrest record and alleged gang ties.

But when Jackson was shot and killed Thursday night, just months after getting out of prison, he also earned the unfortunate distinction of being the 500th homicide victim in Chicago this year, a grim milestone the city reached for the first time in four years.

While Chicago had almost twice as many slayings 20 years ago as it did this year, the number 500 is a largely symbolic threshold, a reminder of the year's escalated violence and a numerical bar the city had not reached since 513 were killed in 2008.

By mid-November the city already had tallied the most homicides in four years. As of Friday, Chicago had an estimated 17 percent increase in homicides over 2011, and an 11 percent increase in shootings, according to police.

The city's rising homicide tally has been a thorny issue for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy for much of the year.

"It was a milestone on those days when we had zero murders and zero shootings. Those are milestones. This is a negative one, something that we never wanted," McCarthy told the Tribune Thursday afternoon, hours before Jackson, 40, was killed. "But in perspective, there's no such thing as an acceptable murder number. Even if we cut it down to 300 next year, it's still … unacceptable."

The department went back and forth Friday over whether Jackson was the 500th homicide victim so far this year, at first confirming it and then denying it, saying a homicide last week had been reclassified as a death investigation, therefore making Jackson the 499th homicide. But by late afternoon, the department once again confirmed there had been 500 homicides.

"The city has seen its 500th homicide for 2012, a tragic number that is reflective of the gang violence and proliferation of illegal guns that have plagued some of our neighborhoods," McCarthy said in a statement. "Every homicide in Chicago is unacceptable to me and the hardworking men and women of the Chicago Police Department, who, this year, achieved a record drop in overall crime throughout our city."

Chicago's homicide rate also remains a major issue for Emanuel heading into the new year. Beyond the very real human cost, there's a perception problem for the city.

The homicide rate in Chicago far exceeds the rates in New York City and Los Angeles. While the homicide rate in LA has remained relatively flat and New York's has gone down — homicides there have fallen by more than 20 percent this year — Emanuel, known for carefully trying to craft the narrative of his tenure as mayor, has seen Chicago's violence attract national attention.

The mayor was on vacation Friday with his family but issued a statement to the Tribune:

"Chicago has reached an unfortunate and tragic milestone, which not only marks a needless loss of life but serves as a reminder of the damage that illegal guns and conflicts between gangs cause in our neighborhoods," Emanuel said, adding that his efforts to lengthen the public school day and provide before- and after-school programs for youths were part of the eventual solution.

Emanuel last week also noted that overall crime in Chicago was down about 8.5 percent for the year.

This previous winter was particularly violent. In the first three months of 2012, when the city experienced unseasonable warmth, homicides ran about 60 percent ahead of the 2011 rate. As the year went on, the increase in killings leveled out but still remained higher than in previous years.

In his statement Friday, McCarthy lauded the overall drop in crime in the city and said department efforts resulted in less violence in the latter part of 2012.

"CPD has put the right people in the right places to accomplish our long-term goal of reducing crime and ensuring that our streets and our neighborhoods belong to the residents of this city," McCarthy said in his statement. "Since the gang violence reduction strategy was adopted, we have seen drastic reductions in shootings and homicides that spiked early in the year."

Some within the department feel the disbanding of two specialized units that swooped into "hot spots" to reduce violent crime had a negative impact on this year's rate. After McCarthy was installed last year as the city's top cop, he eliminated those strike forces to move those officers to beat patrols, in the hope they would have more meaningful and positive interactions with the community. The department now uses cops who work all over the city to fulfill the same function as the strike forces, but these "area teams" comprise fewer officers.

McCarthy has blamed the proliferation of guns on Chicago's streets and the splintering of large street gangs into small factions as reasons for the homicide spike.

In October, the Tribune reported that 1 in 4 homicide victims this year were affiliated with the Gangster Disciples, the city's largest street gang, and one also riddled with internal conflict.

Jackson, who authorities described as being affiliated with the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, falls into a category shared by more than 80 percent of Chicago's 2012 homicide victims: those with criminal histories.

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Indian gang rape victim dies; New Delhi braces for protests

NEW DELHI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A woman whose gang rape sparked protests and a national debate about violence against women in India died of her injuries on Saturday, prompting a security lockdown in New Delhi and an acknowledgement from India's prime minister that social change is needed.

Bracing for a new wave of protests, Indian authorities deployed thousands of policemen, closed 10 metro stations and banned vehicles from some main roads in the heart of New Delhi, where demonstrators have converged since the attack to demand improved women's rights. Hundreds of people staged peaceful protests at two locations on Saturday morning.

The 23-year-old medical student, severely beaten, raped and thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi two weeks ago, had been flown to Singapore in a critical condition by the Indian government on Thursday for specialist treatment.

The intense media coverage of the attack and the use of social media to galvanize the protests, mostly by young middle-class students, has forced political leaders to confront some uncomfortable truths about the treatment of women in the world's largest democracy.

Most sex crimes in India go unreported, many offenders go unpunished, and the wheels of justice turn slowly, according to social activists who say that successive governments have done too little to ensure the safety of women.

"The need of the hour is a dispassionate debate and inquiry into the critical changes that are required in societal attitudes," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.

"I hope that the entire political class and civil society will set aside narrow sectional interests and agenda to help us all reach the end that we all desire - making India a demonstrably better and safer place for women to live in."

T.C.A. Raghavan, the Indian high commissioner to Singapore, told reporters hours after the woman's death in a Singapore hospital that a chartered aircraft would fly her body back to India on Saturday, along with members of her family.

The body was taken to a Hindu casket firm in Singapore for embalming. Indian diplomats selected a gold and yellow coffin to transport her home, staff at the firm told reporters.

"We are very sad to report that the patient passed away peacefully at 4:45 a.m. on Dec 29, 2012 (2045 GMT Friday). Her family and officials from the High Commission (embassy) of India were by her side," Mount Elizabeth Hospital Chief Executive Officer Kelvin Loh said earlier in a statement.

Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, said the woman's death was a "shameful moment for me not just as a chief minister but also as a citizen of this country".

The woman, who has not been identified, and a male friend were returning home from the cinema by bus on the evening of December 16 when, media reports say, six men on the bus beat them with metal rods and repeatedly raped the woman. Media said a rod was used in the rape, causing internal injuries. Both were thrown from the bus. The male friend survived.

The attack has put gender issues center stage in Indian politics arguably for the first time. Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and female infanticide have rarely entered mainstream political discourse.

Analysts say the death of the woman dubbed "Amanat", an Urdu word meaning "treasure," by some media could change that, although it is too early to say whether the protesters calling for government action to better safeguard women can sustain their momentum through to national elections due in 2014.


The public outcry over the attack caught the government off-guard. It took a week for Singh to make a public statement on the attack, infuriating many protesters who saw it as a sign of a government insensitive to the plight of women.

The prime minister, a stiff 80-year-old technocrat who speaks in a low monotone, has struggled to channel the popular outrage in his public statements and convince critics that his eight-year-old government will now take concrete steps to improve the safety of women.

"The Congress mangers were ham-handed in their handling of the situation that arose after the brutal assault on the girl. The crowd management was poor," a lawmaker from Singh's ruling Congress party said on condition of anonymity.

Protesters fought pitched battles with police around the capital last weekend. Police used batons, water cannon and teargas to quell the protests.

Commentators and sociologists say the rape has tapped into a deep well of frustration many Indians feel over what they see as weak governance and poor leadership on social issues.

A global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found that India was the worst place to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery.

New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011.

Indian media had accused the government of sending the woman to Singapore to minimize any backlash in the event of her death but Raghavan said it had been a medical decision intended to ensure she got the best treatment.

The suspects in the rape - five men, including two brothers, aged between 20 and 40, and a 15-year-old - were arrested within hours of the attack and are in custody. The suspects, all from a slum in south Delhi, will be formally charged with murder, New Delhi Deputy Commissioner of Police Chhaya Sharma told Reuters.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told Times Now television the government was committed to ensuring "the severest possible punishment to all the accused at the earliest".

"It will not go in vain. We will give maximum punishment to the culprits. Not only to this, but in future also. This one incident has given a greater lesson" Shinde said.

He said earlier the government was considering hanging for rape in rare cases. Murder already carries the death penalty.

(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin and Diksha Madhok in New Delhi; Kevin Lim, Saeed Azhar, Edgar Su and Sanjeev Miglani in Singapore; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Robert Birsel and Ross Colvin)

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Yen hits two-year low, Asian shares rise on U.S. fiscal hopes

TOKYO (Reuters) - The yen fell to its lowest level in more than two years on Friday, lifting Japanese stocks to 21-month highs on expectations of drastic monetary easing, while shares in the rest of Asia rose as Washington races to avoid a fiscal crisis.

U.S. President Barack Obama and lawmakers are launching a last round of budget talks before a New Year deadline to reach a deal or watch the economy go off a "fiscal cliff," that economists fear will push the United States back into recession and stamp out fragile signs of recovery elsewhere.

"A big issue is being made of it, but eventually they'll do something to kick the can down the road," said Steven Robinson, senior investment manager at Alleron Investment Management in Sydney.

European shares were seen flat to higher, with financial spreadbetters predicting London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> would open little changed to as much as 0.3 percent higher. U.S. stock futures suggested a steady Wall Street start. <.l><.eu><.n/>

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> rose 0.5 percent, hovering around a near 17-month high. It has gained about 18.7 percent this year, a sharp turnaround from an 18 percent plunge in 2011.

Australian shares <.axjo> rode iron ore stocks up to finish at a 19-month high, with a recovery in battered mining shares driving the market to its strongest annual gain since 2009. Hong Kong shares <.hsi> hovered near a 17-month high with a 0.1 percent gain and Shanghai shares <.ssec> jumped 0.8 percent.

Oil prices rose on hopes the United States would resolve the fiscal cliff, easing concerns about weakening demand.

Brent crude was up 0.4 percent to $111.25 a barrel and on course to post a full-year increase of about 3.6 percent, which would be its smallest gain in four years. U.S. crude rose 0.5 percent to $91.30, set for its first yearly loss in four years.

"The U.S. fiscal cliff will continue to direct crude prices until it's resolved," said Natalie Rampono, a commodities analyst at ANZ in Melbourne.

As well as being deadline day for the fiscal cliff, December 31 is the date the federal government is set to reach its $16.4 trillion debt limit. The Treasury will have to take measures to buy time for the government to approve a rise in the debt ceiling.

A similar political stalemate over raising the federal debt limit in the summer of 2011 raised fears over a U.S. default, and prompted Standard & Poor's to strip the U.S. of its top-notch credit rating, causing turmoil in financial markets.

Asian bond issuance jumped to $133.8 billion so far this year, eclipsing the previous year's tally of $76.34 billion, as retail investors stepped up purchases of the region's corporate bond. Those bonds have returned nearly 20 percent this year, outshining Asian equities.

Asset returns in 2012:

Asian 2012 bond issuance:

Japan industrial output:

SE Asia foreign inflows:



Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office earlier in the week, Japan is speeding up efforts to turn around its economy, battered for decades by its strong currency and persistent deflation.

A survey on Friday showed Japanese manufacturing activity contracted in December at its fastest pace in more than three years while core consumer prices fell last month and industrial output plunged 1.7 percent in November from October.

Abe's repeated calls for "unlimited" monetary easing and policies aimed at reducing the yen's strength have bolstered expectations of a sustained period of yen weakness. This has lifted the mood in Japanese stocks as a weaker yen improves earnings prospects for the country's exporters.

The benchmark Nikkei average <.n225> closed up 0.7 percent at a 21-month high, ending 2012 with the sharpest yearly gain since 2005. Japanese markets will be closed for New Year's holidays and will resume trading on January 4. <.t/>

"The Japanese equity market has turned positive, providing good sentiment for global investors, with many making money and putting the money into commodity markets such as oil market," said Tetsu Emori, a commodity fund manager at Astmax in Tokyo.

The dollar climbed to its highest since August 2010 of 86.64 yen on Friday. The yen is on track for a drop of more than 12 percent this year, its steepest since 2005. The yen also fell to a 17-month low against the euro at 114.675 yen on EBS on Thursday.

The Australian dollar hit a 20-month peak against the yen of around 89.83 yen, according to Reuters data.

The Japanese government will compile spending requests for a stimulus package on January 7 and finalize the proposal shortly thereafter as Abe tries to quickly enact his agenda of increased public works spending to boost the economy.

(Additional reporting by Umesh Desai in Hong Kong, Jessica Jaganathan in Singapore and Victoria Thieberger and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Eric Meijer)

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Net loss: Brooklyn fires coach Avery Johnson

NEW YORK (AP) — Coach of the month in November, out of a job by New Year's.

The Brooklyn Nets have elevated expectations this season, and a .500 record wasn't good enough. Coach Avery Johnson was fired Thursday, his team having lost 10 of 13 games after a strong start to its first season in Brooklyn.

"We don't have the same fire now than we did when we were 11-4," general manager Billy King said at a news conference in East Rutherford, N.J. "I tried to talk to Avery about it and we just can't figure it out. The same pattern kept on happening."

Assistant P.J. Carlesimo will coach the Nets on an interim basis, starting Friday night with a home game against Charlotte. King said the Nets might reach out to other candidates, but for now the job was Carlesimo's. The GM wouldn't comment on a report that the team planned to get in touch with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

King said the decision to dismiss Johnson was made by ownership after a phone discussion Thursday morning. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov had expressed faith in Johnson before the season.

"With the direction we were going we felt we had to make a change," King said.

Johnson was in the final year of a three-year, $12 million contract.

"It's a really disappointing day for me and my family. It's my wife's birthday. It's not a great birthday gift," Johnson said. "I didn't see this coming. But this is ownership's decision. It's part of the business. Fair or unfair, it's time for a new voice and hopefully they'll get back on track."

The Nets have fallen well behind the first-place New York Knicks, the team they so badly want to compete with in their new home. But after beating the Knicks in their first meeting Nov. 26, probably the high point of Johnson's tenure, the Nets went 5-10 and frustrations have been mounting.

"Our goal is to get to the conference finals," King said. "We started out good and then we stumbled. We have to get back to playing winning basketball. It's the entire team. It's not like golf, where Tiger Woods can blame the caddie. It takes five guys on the court and they're all struggling. We have to figure out the ways to get back to winning. I don't know what happened. I'm not sure. But unfortunately, it did happen."

The Nets were embarrassed by Boston on national TV on Christmas, then were routed by Milwaukee 108-93 on Wednesday night for their fifth loss in six games.

Star guard Deron Williams recently complained about Johnson's offense, and Nets CEO Brett Yormark took to Twitter after the loss to Celtics to voice his displeasure with the performance.

King said the change was not made because Williams was unhappy, and he added the point guard himself has to play better.

Johnson also stood by Williams.

"From Day One, I always had a really good relationship with him. I don't think it's fair for anyone to hang this on Deron," Johnson said. "We were just going through a bad streak, a bad spell. It's not time for me to be down on one player. That would be the easy way."

Brooklyn started the season 11-4, winning five in a row to end November, when Johnson was Eastern Conference coach of the month. But he couldn't do anything to stop this slump, one the Nets never anticipated after a $350 million summer spending spree they believed would take them toward the top of their conference.

Johnson has been the Nets' coach for a little more than two seasons. He went 60-116 with the Nets, who moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn to start the season. Johnson coached the Dallas Mavericks to a spot in the NBA Finals in 2006.

"You don't always get a fair shake as a coach," Johnson said. "I'm not the owner. If I were the owner, I wouldn't have fired myself today. But life is not always necessary fair. It's a business and in this business, the coach always gets blamed."

This is the NBA's second coaching change this season following the dismissal of Mike Brown by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Johnson arrived in New Jersey with a 194-70 record, a .735 winning percentage that was the highest in NBA history, but had little chance of success in his first two seasons while the Nets focused all their planning on the move to Brooklyn.

They looked to make a splash this summer when they re-signed Williams and fellow starters Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries, traded for Atlanta All-Star Joe Johnson, and added veteran depth with players such as Reggie Evans, C.J. Watson and Andray Blatche.

Johnson didn't have a contract beyond this season but seemed to have the confidence of Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who before the season said he had faith in "the Avery defense system."

Some thought the Nets would finish as high as second in the East behind defending champion Miami, and the predictions seemed warranted when the Nets started quickly amid much fanfare. But all the good publicity faded in recent weeks once the losing started.

Williams, who has struggled this season, stirred the waters when he expressed his preference for the offense he ran under Jerry Sloan in Utah before a loss to the Jazz. Williams and Johnson, nicknamed "Brooklyn's Backcourt" and expected to be one of the best in the NBA, have shot poorly and rarely meshed.

The Nets were embarrassed near the end of their 93-76 loss to Boston, when fans exited early amid a chant of "Let's go Celtics!"

"Nets fans deserved better," Yormark tweeted after the game. "The entire organization needs to work harder to find a solution. We will get there."

Not under Johnson, though.

The Nets should be able to entice a big-name coach with Prokhorov's billions and the chance to play in a major market at Barclays Center, the $1 billion arena that has drawn praise in the city and from visiting teams.

Carlesimo has previous NBA head coaching experience in Portland, Golden State and Seattle/Oklahoma City. He has a career coaching record of 204-296 in the regular season and 3-9 in the playoffs.

"Right now, P.J. is our coach and I told him to coach the team like he'll be here for the next 10 years," King said.


AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford and AP freelancer Jim Hague contributed to this report.

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