Wall Street Week Ahead: Earnings, money flows to push stocks higher

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With earnings momentum on the rise, the S&P 500 seems to have few hurdles ahead as it continues to power higher, its all-time high a not-so-distant goal.


The U.S. equity benchmark closed the week at a fresh five-year high on strong housing and labor market data and a string of earnings that beat lowered expectations.


Sector indexes in transportation <.djt>, banks <.bkx> and housing <.hgx> this week hit historic or multiyear highs as well.


Michael Yoshikami, chief executive at Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California, said the key earnings to watch for next week will come from cyclical companies. United Technologies reports on Wednesday while Honeywell is due to report Friday.


"Those kind of numbers will tell you the trajectory the economy is taking," Yoshikami said.


Major technology companies also report next week, but the bar for the sector has been lowered even further.


Chipmakers like Advanced Micro Devices , which is due Tuesday, are expected to underperform as PC sales shrink. AMD shares fell more than 10 percent Friday after disappointing results from its larger competitor, Intel . Still, a chipmaker sector index <.sox> posted its highest weekly close since last April.


Following a recent underperformance, an upside surprise from Apple on Wednesday could trigger a return to the stock from many investors who had abandoned ship.


Other major companies reporting next week include Google , IBM , Johnson & Johnson and DuPont on Tuesday, Microsoft and 3M on Thursday and Procter & Gamble on Friday.


CASH POURING IN, HOUSING DATA COULD HELP


Perhaps the strongest support for equities will come from the flow of cash from fixed income funds to stocks.


The recent piling into stock funds -- $11.3 billion in the past two weeks, the most since 2000 -- indicates a riskier approach to investing from retail investors looking for yield.


"From a yield perspective, a lot of stocks still yield a great deal of money and so it is very easy to see why money is pouring into the stock market," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.


"You are just not going to see people put a lot of money to work in a 10-year Treasury that yields 1.8 percent."


Housing stocks <.hgx>, already at a 5-1/2 year high, could get a further bump next week as investors eye data expected to support the market's perception that housing is the sluggish U.S. economy's bright spot.


Home resales are expected to have risen 0.6 percent in December, data is expected to show on Tuesday. Pending home sales contracts, which lead actual sales by a month or two, hit a 2-1/2 year high in November.


The new home sales report on Friday is expected to show a 2.1 percent increase.


The federal debt ceiling negotiations, a nagging worry for investors, seemed to be stuck on the back burner after House Republicans signaled they might support a short-term extension.


Equity markets, which tumbled in 2011 after the last round of talks pushed the United States close to a default, seem not to care much this time around.


The CBOE volatility index <.vix>, a gauge of market anxiety, closed Friday at its lowest since April 2007.


"I think the market is getting somewhat desensitized from political drama given, this seems to be happening over and over," said Destination Wealth Management's Yoshikami.


"It's something to keep in mind, but I don't think it's what you want to base your investing decisions on."


(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos, additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak and Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Ex-Ravens WR Evans still feels part of team


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — While Lee Evans awaits another chance in the NFL, he'll be rooting for the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday's AFC championship rematch with New England.


The wide receiver who couldn't hold onto a pass in the end zone a year ago — which likely would have sent the Ravens into the Super Bowl — has no regrets. Except, maybe, that he's not part of the Ravens this time around.


Evans says in an email that he "wishes he made the touchdown catch, but is thankful for the overall journey. You play the game to win and celebrate the joy with your teammates."


With 27 seconds to go, Joe Flacco connected with Evans in the deep right corner of the end zone, but defensive back Sterling Moore knocked the ball to the ground.


Soon after, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have forced overtime.


Evans says he has not gotten depressed over the play — Moore did make a strong strip after Evans got two hands on the ball.


"Give him credit for the play he made," Evans said.


Unfortunately for Evans, he's remembered as much for that incompletion as he is for two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in seven years with the Bills, and 43 touchdown catches.


"My goal is to play in the NFL again," said Evans, who was cut in the preseason last summer by Jacksonville, a team not exactly overloaded with receivers. "And if I am afforded that opportunity, I will be fully prepared and absolutely capable of competing at the highest level."


Cundiff hooked up with Washington and then San Francisco this season, but was cut by the 49ers on Friday without kicking for them as they stuck with veteran David Akers, who had been struggling.


Evans said he will be in front of his TV on Sunday watching the title games. He likes what he's seen from Baltimore (12-6) and knows the Ravens' recent postseason history; they've won a playoff game in each of the last five seasons and will be in their third AFC championship match in those five years.


But he also knows how tough the Patriots (13-4) are at home, particularly in January.


"It is a chess match between a defense that goes hard after the quarterback and gets after you on every play," Evans said, "and an offense that seeks to exploit their match-ups while always trying to capitalize on a defense's mistakes."


Evans' only season with the Ravens was marred by injury and he made only four receptions. He did help mentor Torrey Smith, Baltimore's top draft pick in 2011 who came into the league with the same kind of speed and game-breaking ability that made Evans the 13th overall pick in the 2004 draft out of Wisconsin.


He's seen Smith develop into a dangerous weapon for Flacco, and veteran Anquan Boldin has been superb in the playoffs. Kick returner Jacoby Jones got free on the 70-yard TD pass in the final minute of regulation that tied Denver in last weekend's divisional-round win.


"I saw growth in him this year as both a man and a player," Evans said of Smith. "He is a great guy who gets the most out of his abilities. His play really highlighted the improvements he made toward being a more fluid route runner and a sure-handed pass catcher."


Evans is particularly impressed by Flacco, the only quarterback to win a playoff game in his first five pro seasons.


"Joe's record speaks for itself," Evans said. "He does not get the credit he deserves for how important he is to making the Ravens' offense go."


A part of Evans will share in the Ravens' excitement if they win Sunday "after fully understanding what it feels like to be on the losing side."


"Life brings you highs and lows," he said, "and you have to keep that in perspective."


___


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


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The 10 Weirdest Inaugurations in US History






President Barack Obama will put his hand on a Bible for the 57th inauguration ceremony Monday (Jan. 21) and kick off his next four years in office. And while everything may come off without a hitch, inaugurations haven’t always gone smoothly. From Richard Nixon‘s parade of dead birds to Calvin Coolidge‘s impromptu inauguration, here are some of the most bizarre swearing-in days in U.S. history.


Drunken oratory






In 1865, Andrew Johnson gave a train-wreck of a speech on the big day. The vice president usually gives a short and smooth speech prior to the president’s address. But the 16th vice president, who later became the 17th president after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated that year, was ill with typhoid fever and took the medicine of the day, whiskey, the night before. The hangover must have gone to his head: During the speech, he bragged about his humble origins and his triumph over Confederate rebels. Lincoln reportedly looked on in horror, while the former vice president Hannibal Hamlin tugged at his coattails in a failed bid to get him to stop.


Dead birds


Ulysses S. Grant thought that canaries would add a festive touch to his inaugural ball in 1873, the beginning of his second term. Unfortunately, the 18th president failed to anticipate the cold temperatures — the morning low was 4 degrees Fahrenheit (about 15 degrees Celsius), the coldest March day on record. With wind chill, the day felt like a blustery minus 15 F to minus 30 F (minus 26 C to minus 34 C). All told, about 100 birds froze to death during Grant’s inauguration. [The World's Weirdest Weather]


More dead birds


Birds don’t seem to do well on Inauguration Day. During Richard Nixon‘s Inauguration Day parade in 1973, he wanted to make sure pigeons didn’t ruin his big day. The 37th president had a chemical bird repellant sprayed all along the inaugural parade route. The streets were strewn with dozens of dead pigeons.


Coat-check blunders


Grant’s inaugurations suffered from several blunders. Not only did he inadvertently lead to mass bird death at the second inauguration, his first inauguration in 1869 saw outright brawls. The people staffing the coat-check area couldn’t read the claim tickets, so as people waited ever longer to pick up their outerwear, fights broke out and some guests abandoned their jackets and hats. “Illiterate workers mixed up everyone’s coat claims, leading to fights among the men and tears among the women,” writes Jim Bendat in “Democracy’s Big Day: The Inauguration of our President 1789-2009″ (iUniverse Star, 2008).


Quiet ceremony


Calvin Coolidge, known as “Silent Cal,” was notorious for talking little and doing things with no fanfare. That includes the start of his presidency. He was staying with his father in rural Vermont when news came that President Warren G. Harding had died. Because the 30th president’s father happened to be a justice of the peace, his father performed the swearing in right there, without an audience.


Killer speech


William Henry Harrison’s inauguration speech was deadly dull. The ninth president of the United States stood so long in the cold, rainy weather to give his inauguration speech that he caught a chill, got pneumonia and died just a month later. But not everyone thinks the speech killed him; he may have gotten his cold three weeks later, meaning his rainy day performance wasn’t to blame for his demise. [The Strangest Elections in US History]


House party from hell


After Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829, the seventh president threw an epic party at the White House straight out of an ’80s movie. Jackson was notorious for his frontier-style, “man of the people” mystique and he attracted a similarly rough crowd. The louts crashed the party, sloshed through the house in muddy shoes, broke china and ripped the curtains down. To get them to leave, the staff used a time-tested trick: Leaving a tub of whiskey on the front lawn.


Debating a little girl


In 1929, when President Herbert Hoover was sworn in, the chief justice who administered the oath, William Howard Taft, garbled it, substituting the word “maintain” for “protect.” An eighth-grade girl named Helen Terwilliger caught the flub, and sent Taft a note. Instead of admitting the error, Taft wrote a letter insisting he got the words right, and movie buffs eventually played their newsreels to determine who was right. The eighth-grader held the day and Taft eventually conceded he was wrong.


Running for office


President James Buchanan had an extreme case of diarrhea on his Inauguration Day in 1857. Prior to the inauguration, the 15th president of the United States had contracted a case of “National Hotel Disease,” by staying at a shady establishment. The stubborn case of dysentery lingered past his inauguration, and Buchanan needed a doctor nearby during the ceremony.


Some air, please


While partying has always been a major part of the inaugural tradition, guests were considerably rowdier in years past. During James Madison’s inaugural ball in 1809, the weather got so hot that patrons reportedly broke out the windows at Long’s Hotel so they could breathe. (Tickets for the ball apparently cost $ 4 each.)


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


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Why Africa backs French in Mali





























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STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • French intervention in Mali could be turning point in relationship with Africa, writes Lansana Gberie

  • France's meddling to bolster puppet regimes in the past has outraged Africans, he argues

  • He says few in Africa would label the French action in Mali as 'neo-colonial mission creep'

  • Lansana: 'Africa's weakness has been exposed by the might of a foreign power'




Editor's note: Dr. Lansana Gberie is a specialist on African peace and security issues. He is the author of "A Dirty War in West Africa: The RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone." He is from Sierra Leone and lives in New York.


(CNN) -- Operation Serval, France's swift military intervention to roll back advances made by Jihadist elements who had hijacked a separatist movement in northern Mali, could be a turning point in the ex-colonialist's relationship with Africa.


It is not, after all, every day that you hear a senior official of the African Union (AU) refer to a former European colonial power in Africa as "a brotherly nation," as Ambroise Niyonsaba, the African Union's special representative in Ivory Coast, described France on 14 January, while hailing the European nation's military strikes in Mali.


France's persistent meddling to bolster puppet regimes or unseat inconvenient ones was often the cause of much outrage among African leaders and intellectuals. But by robustly taking on the Islamist forces that for many months now have imposed a regime of terror in northern Mali, France is doing exactly what African governments would like to have done.



Lansana Gberie

Lansana Gberie



This is because the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansar Dine and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are a far greater threat to many African states than they ever would be to France or Europe.


See also: What's behind Mali instability?


Moreover, the main underlying issues that led to this situation -- the separatist rebellion by Mali's Tuareg, under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who seized the northern half of the country and declared it independent of Mali shortly after a most ill-timed military coup on 22 March 2012 -- is anathema to the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).


Successful separatism by an ethnic minority, it is believed, would only encourage the emergence of more separatist movements in a continent where many of the countries were cobbled together from disparate groups by Europeans not so long ago.










But the foreign Islamists who had been allies to the Tuaregs at the start of their rebellion had effectively sidelined the MNLA by July last year, and have since been exercising tomcatting powers over the peasants in the area, to whom the puritanical brand of Islam being promoted by the Islamists is alien.


ECOWAS, which is dominated by Nigeria -- formerly France's chief hegemonic foe in West Africa -- in August last year submitted a note verbale with a "strategic concept" to the U.N. Security Council, detailing plans for an intervention force to defeat the Islamists in Mali and reunify the country.


ECOWAS wanted the U.N. to bankroll the operation, which would include the deployment a 3,245-strong force -- to which Nigeria (694), Togo (581), Niger (541) and Senegal (350) would be the biggest contributors -- at a cost of $410 million a year. The note stated that the objective of the Islamists in northern Mali was to "create a safe haven" in that country from which to coordinate "continental terrorist networks, including AQIM, MUJAO, Boko Haram [in Nigeria] and Al-Shabaab [in Somalia]."


Despite compelling evidence of the threat the Islamists pose to international peace and security, the U.N. has not been able to agree on funding what essentially would be a military offensive. U.N. Security Council resolution 2085, passed on 20 December last year, only agreed to a voluntary contribution and the setting up of a trust fund, and requested the secretary-general "develop and refine options within 30 days" in this regard. The deadline should be 20 January.


See also: Six reasons events in Mali matter


It is partly because of this U.N. inaction that few in Africa would label the French action in Mali as another neo-colonial mission creep.


If the Islamists had been allowed to capture the very strategic town of Sevaré, as they seemed intent on doing, they would have captured the only airstrip in Mali (apart from the airport in Bamako) capable of handling heavy cargo planes, and they would have been poised to attack the more populated south of the country.



Africa's weakness has, once again, been exposed by the might of a foreign power.
Lansana Gberie



Those Africans who would be critical of the French are probably stunned to embarrassment: Africa's weakness has, once again, been exposed by the might of a foreign power.


Watch video: French troops welcomed in Mali


Africans, however, can perhaps take consolation in the fact that the current situation in Mali was partially created by the NATO action in Libya in 2010, which France spearheaded. A large number of the well-armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists had fought in the forces of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and then left to join the MNLA in northern Mali after Gadhafi fell.


They brought with them advanced weapons, including shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles from Libya; and two new Jihadist terrorist groups active in northern Mali right now, Ansar Dine and MUJAO, were formed out of these forces.


Many African states had an ambivalent attitude towards Gadhafi, but few rejoiced when he was ousted and killed in the most squalid condition.


A number of African countries, Nigeria included, have started to deploy troops in Mali alongside the French, and ECOWAS has stated the objective as the complete liberation of the north from the Islamists.


The Islamists are clearly not a pushover; though they number between 2,000 and 3,000 they are battle-hardened and fanatically driven, and will likely hold on for some time to come.


The question now is: what happens after, as is almost certain, France begins to wind down its forces, leaving the African troops in Mali?


Nigeria, which almost single-handedly funded previous ECOWAS interventions (in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, costing billions of dollars and hundreds of Nigerian troops), has been reluctant to fund such expensive missions since it became democratic.


See also: Nigerians waiting for 'African Spring'


Its civilian regimes have to be more accountable to their citizens than the military regimes of the 1990s, and Nigeria has pressing domestic challenges. Foreign military intervention is no longer popular in the country, though the links between the northern Mali Islamists and the destructive Boko Haram could be used as a strategic justification for intervention in Mali.


The funding issue, however, will become more and more urgent in the coming weeks and months, and the U.N. must find a sustainable solution beyond a call for voluntary contributions by member states.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lansana Gberie.






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Forecast: Get ready for a deep freeze









A cold front moves over Chicago overnight that will send temperatures plunging, with below-zero possible early next week.


But no major precipitation is expected soon, meaning a lack-of-snow record will get longer.


As of early today, National Weather Service meteorologist Gino Izzi said the last time we had gone this far into the season without a 1-inch calendar day of snowfall was Jan. 17, 1899 -- so we set a record.





Additionally, it's been 327 days and counting since we've had a 1-inch snow cover on the ground. That record was officially broken in early January, according to Izzi.


The relatively mild temperatures we've seen in recent days will end as a blustery cold front moves in on strong winds overnight, with highs struggling to reach 18 on Sunday. The weather service says the front will pass through the area from northwest to southeast from 8 p.m. to midnight, with temperatures possibly dropping as much as 10 degrees in an hour as it passes.


With wind speeds from 15 to 55 mph, the resulting wind chill will combine with the low temperature for below-zero readings in some places after midnight, the agency said.


Monday will only reach a high of about 10 and could see a low about 1 below zero. There is a chance of snow flurries Monday, the weather service said, although it is not yet known if there's a chance to break the 1-inch level.


Tuesday will remain frigid, but temperatures are expected to begin moderating Wednesday into the 20s and we could reach just above freezing for a high on Thursday.


Authorities warn people to take extra care in the extreme cold, watch out for frostbite on any exposed skin areas while outside and to check on neighbors or family who might need help. In Chicago, heating help is available by calling 311.


The Illinois Tollway will launch its Zero Weather Road Patrols this weekend to assist drivers stranded in their cars during times of extreme cold.


The tollway anticipates activating Zero Patrols overnight Saturday and into the day Monday, until the temperature and/or wind chill rises above zero, according to a tollway release.


The 24-hour service dedicates hourly patrols in search of motorists stranded in disabled vehicles or in response to calls that come in to *999 motorist assistance, Illinois Tollway dispatch or Illinois State Police District 15.


For the latest radar, conditions and forecasts, go to The Chicago Weather Center.


chicagobreaking@tribune.com
Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking





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Algerian army stages "final assault" on gas plant


ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria (Reuters) - The Algerian army carried out a dramatic final assault to end a siege by Islamic militants at a desert gas plant on Saturday, killing 11 al Qaeda-linked gunmen after they took the lives of seven more foreign hostages, the state news agency said.


The state oil and gas company, Sonatrach, said the militants who attacked the plant on Wednesday and took a large number of hostages had booby-trapped the complex with explosives, which the army was removing.


"It is over now, the assault is over, and the military are inside the plant clearing it of mines," a source familiar with the operation told Reuters.


British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the hostage situation had been "brought to an end" by the Algerian army assault on the militants.


The exact death toll among the gunmen and the foreign and Algerian workers at the plant near the town of In Amenas remained unclear, although a tally of reports from various sources indicated that several dozen people had been killed.


The Islamists' attack on the gas plant has tested Algeria's relations with the outside world, exposed the vulnerability of multinational oil operations in the Sahara and pushed Islamic radicalism in northern Africa to centre stage.


Some Western governments expressed frustration at not being informed of the Algerian authorities' plans to storm the complex. Algeria's response to the raid will have been conditioned by the legacy of a civil war against Islamist insurgents in the 1990s which claimed 200,000 lives.


HOSTAGES FREED


As the army closed in, 16 foreign hostages were freed, a source close to the crisis said. They included two Americans and one Portuguese. Britain said fewer than 10 of its nationals at the plant were unaccounted for and it was urgently seeking to establish the status of all Britions caught up in the crisis.


The base was home to foreign workers from Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil, Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp and others.


BP's chief executive Bob Dudley said on Saturday four of its 18 workers at the site were missing. The remaining 14 were safe.


The crisis at the gas plant marked a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.


The captors said their attack on the Algerian gas plant was a response to the French offensive in Mali. However, some U.S. and European officials say the elaborate raid probably required too much planning to have been organized from scratch in the week since France launched its strikes.


Scores of Westerners and hundreds of Algerian workers were inside the heavily fortified gas compound when it was seized before dawn on Wednesday by Islamist fighters who said they wanted a halt to the French intervention in neighboring Mali.


Hundreds escaped on Thursday when the army launched a rescue operation, but many hostages were killed.


Before the final assault, different sources had put the number of hostages killed at between 12 and 30, with many foreigners still unaccounted for, among them Norwegians, Japanese, Britons and Americans.


The figure of 30 came from an Algerian security source, who said eight Algerians and at least seven foreigners were among the victims, including two Japanese, two Britons and a French national. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.


The U.S. State Department said on Friday one American, Frederick Buttaccio, had died but gave no further details.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said nobody was going to attack the United States and get away with it.


"We have made a commitment that we're going to go after al Qaeda wherever they are and wherever they try to hide," he said during a visit to London. "We have done that obviously in Afghanistan, Pakistan, we've done it in Somalia, in Yemen and we will do it in North Africa as well."


BURNED BODIES


Earlier on Saturday, Algerian special forces found 15 unidentified burned bodies at the plant, a source told Reuters.


The field commander of the group that attacked the plant is a fighter from Niger called Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, according to Mauritanian news agencies. His boss, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran of fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Algeria's civil war of the 1990s, appears not to have joined the raid.


Britain, Japan and other countries have expressed irritation that the army assault was ordered without consultation and officials grumbled at the lack of information.


But French President Francois Hollande said the Algerian military's response seemed to have been the best option given that negotiation was not possible.


"When you have people taken hostage in such large number by terrorists with such cold determination and ready to kill those hostages - as they did - Algeria has an approach which to me, as I see it, is the most appropriate because there could be no negotiation," Hollande said.


The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the value of outwardly tough Algerian security measures.


Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site.


Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a preoccupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.


The most powerful Islamist groups operating in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in the civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.


France says the hostage incident proves its decision to fight Islamists in neighboring Mali was necessary. Al Qaeda-linked fighters, many with roots in Algeria and Libya, took control of northern Mali last year.


(Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi in Oslo, Estelle Shirbon and David Alexander in London, Brian Love in Paris; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Rosalind Russell)



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Market flat on mixed earnings from Intel, Morgan Stanley


NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Dow and S&P 500 closed at five-year highs on Friday as the market registered a third straight week gains on a solid start to the earnings season.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 53.83 points, or 0.40 percent, at 13,649.85. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 5.01 points, or 0.34 percent, at 1,485.95. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 1.30 points, or 0.04 percent, at 3,134.71.


(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Anti-doping officials say Armstrong must say more


For anti-doping officials, Lance Armstrong's admission of cheating was only a start. Now they want him to give details — lots of them — to clean up his sport.


Armstrong's much-awaited confession to Oprah Winfrey made for riveting television, but if the disgraced cyclist wants to take things further, it will involve several long days in meetings with anti-doping officials who have very specific questions: Who ran the doping programs, how were they run and who looked the other way.


"He didn't name names," World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey told The Associated Press in Australia. "He didn't say who supplied him, what officials were involved."


In the 90-minute interview Thursday night with Winfrey — the first of two parts broadcast on her OWN network — Armstrong said he started doping in the mid-1990s, using the blood booster EPO, testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone, as well as engaging in outlawed blood doping and transfusions. The doping regimen, he said, helped him in all seven of his Tour de France wins.


His openness about his own transgressions, however, did not extend to allegations about other people. "I don't want to accuse anybody," he said.


But he might have to name names if he wants to gain anything from his confession, at least from anti-doping authorities.


Armstrong has been stripped of all his Tour de France titles and banned for life. A reduction of the ban, perhaps to eight years, could allow him to compete in triathlons in 2020, when he's 49.


Almost to a person, those in cycling and anti-doping circles believe it will take nothing short of Armstrong turning over everything he knows to stand any chance of cutting a deal to reduce his ban.


"We're left wanting more. We have to know more about the system," Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme told the AP. "He couldn't have done it alone. We have to know who in his entourage helped him to do this."


U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart, who will have the biggest say about whether Armstrong can return to competition, also called his confession a small step in the right direction.


"But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities," he said.


Pierre Bordry, the head of the French Anti-Doping Agency from 2005-10, said there was nothing to guarantee that Armstrong isn't still lying and protecting others.


"He's going in the right direction, but with really small steps," Bordry said. "He needs to bring his testimony about the environment and the people who helped him. He should do it before an independent commission or before USADA and that would no doubt help the future of cycling."


It's doubtful Armstrong could get the same kind of leniency today as he might have had he chosen to cooperate with USADA during its investigation. But in an attempt to rid cycling of the doping taint it has carried for decades, USADA, WADA and the sport's governing body aren't satisfied with simply stopping at its biggest star. They still seek information about doctors, team managers and high-ranking executives.


Tyler Hamilton, whose testimony helped lead to Armstrong's downfall, says if Armstrong is willing to provide information to clean up the sport, a reduction in the sanctions would be appropriate, even if it might be hard to stomach after watching USADA's years of relentless pursuit of the seven-time Tour de France winner.


"The public should accept that," Hamilton said. "I'm all for getting people to come clean and tell the truth. I'm all for doctors, general managers and everyone else coming forward and telling the truth. I'm all for anyone who crossed the line coming forward and telling the truth. No. 1, they'll feel better personally. The truth will set you free."


The International Cycling Union (UCI) has been accused of protecting Armstrong and covering up positive tests, something Armstrong denied to Winfrey.


"I am pleased that after years of accusations being made against me, the conspiracy theories have been shown to be nothing more than that," said Hein Verbruggen, the president of the UCI from 1991-2005. "I have no doubt that the peddlers of such accusations and conspiracies will be disappointed by this outcome."


But Verbruggen was among the few who felt some closure after the first part of Armstrong's interview with Winfrey. The second was set for Friday night.


Most of the comments either urged him to disclose more, or felt it was too little, too late.


"There's always a portion of lies in what he says, in my opinion," retired cyclist and longtime Armstrong critic Christophe Bassons said. "He stayed the way I thought he would: cold, hard. He didn't let any sentiment show, even when he spoke of regrets. Well, that's Lance Armstrong. He's not totally honest even in his so-called confession. I think he admits some of it to avoid saying the rest."


___


AP Sports Writers Jerome Pugmire in Paris, Dennis Passa, John Pye and Neil Frankland in Melbourne; Stephen Wilson in London; Steve McMorran in Wellington, New Zealand; Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt, Germany; and Andrew Dampf in Cortina, Italy, contributed to this report.


Read More..

Obama to focus on renewable energy, climate change






WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says tackling climate change and enhancing energy security will be among President Barack Obama‘s top priorities in his second term.


Obama will have to do that work with new heads of the agencies responsible for the environment. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Environmental Protection chief Lisa Jackson and Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, all have announced they are leaving. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is expected to follow his colleagues out the door in coming weeks.






The White House says no decisions have been made on replacements for any of the energy or environment jobs, but says Obama’s priorities will remain unchanged, including a focus on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and expanded production of oil and natural gas.


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U.S. 'needs tougher child labor rules'




Cristina Traina says in his second term, Obama must address weaknesses in child farm labor standards




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Cristina Traina: Obama should strengthen child farm labor standards

  • She says Labor Dept. rules allow kids to work long hours for little pay on commercial farms

  • She says Obama administration scrapped Labor Dept. chief's proposal for tightening rules

  • She says Labor Dept. must fix lax standards for kid labor on farmers; OSHA must enforce them




Editor's note: Cristina L.H. Traina is a Public Voices Op Ed fellow and professor at Northwestern University, where she is a scholar of social ethics.


(CNN) -- President Barack Obama should use the breathing space provided by the fiscal-cliff compromise to address some of the issues that he shelved during his last term. One of the most urgent is child farm labor. Perhaps the least protected, underpaid work force in American labor, children are often the go-to workers for farms looking to cut costs.


It's easy to see why. The Department of Labor permits farms to pay employees under 20 as little as $4.25 per hour. (By comparison, the federal minimum wage is $7.25.) And unlike their counterparts in retail and service, child farm laborers can legally work unlimited hours at any hour of day or night.


The numbers are hard to estimate, but between direct hiring, hiring through labor contractors, and off-the-books work beside parents or for cash, perhaps 400,000 children, some as young as 6, weed and harvest for commercial farms. A Human Rights Watch 2010 study shows that children laboring for hire on farms routinely work more than 10 hours per day.


As if this were not bad enough, few labor safety regulations apply. Children 14 and older can work long hours at all but the most dangerous farm jobs without their parents' consent, if they do not miss school. Children 12 and older can too, as long as their parents agree. Unlike teen retail and service workers, agricultural laborers 16 and older are permitted to operate hazardous machinery and to work even during school hours.


In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that child farm laborers are exposed to dangerous pesticides; have inadequate access to water and bathrooms; fall ill from heat stroke; suffer sexual harassment; experience repetitive-motion injuries; rarely receive protective equipment like gloves and boots; and usually earn less than the minimum wage. Sometimes they earn nothing.


Little is being done to guarantee their safety. In 2011 Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis proposed more stringent agricultural labor rules for children under 16, but Obama scrapped them just eight months later.


Adoption of the new rules would be no guarantee of enforcement, however. According to the 2010 Human Rights Watch report, the Department of Labor employees were spread so thin that, despite widespread reports of infractions they found only 36 child labor violations and two child hazardous order violations in agriculture nationwide.


This lack of oversight has dire, sometimes fatal, consequences. Last July, for instance, 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an employee at a small family farm near Deer Grove, Illinois, died when he fell off the piece of heavy farm equipment he was operating, and it crushed him. According to the Bureau County Republican, he was the fifth child in fewer than two years to die at work on Sauk Valley farms.


If this year follows trends, Curvin will be only one of at least 100 children below the age of 18 killed on American farms, not to mention the 23,000 who will be injured badly enough to require hospital admission. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries. It is the most dangerous for children, accounting for about half of child worker deaths annually.


The United States has a long tradition of training children in the craft of farming on family farms. At least 500,000 children help to work their families' farms today.


Farm parents, their children, and the American Farm Bureau objected strenuously to the proposed new rules. Although children working on their parents' farms would specifically have been exempted from them, it was partly in response to worries about government interference in families and loss of opportunities for children to learn agricultural skills that the Obama administration shelved them.






Whatever you think of family farms, however, many child agricultural workers don't work for their parents or acquaintances. Despite exposure to all the hazards, these children never learn the craft of farming, nor do most of them have the legal right to the minimum wage. And until the economy stabilizes, the savings farms realize by hiring children makes it likely that even more of them will be subject to the dangers of farm work.


We have a responsibility for their safety. As one of the first acts of his new term, Obama should reopen the child agricultural labor proposal he shelved in spring of 2012. Surely, farm labor standards for children can be strengthened without killing off 4-H or Future Farmers of America.


Second, the Department of Labor must institute age, wage, hour and safety regulations that meet the standards set by retail and service industry rules. Children in agriculture should not be exposed to more risks, longer hours, and lower wages at younger ages than children in other jobs.


Finally, the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must allocate the funds necessary for meaningful enforcement of child labor violations. Unenforced rules won't protect the nearly million other children who work on farms.


Agriculture is a great American tradition. Let's make sure it's not one our children have to die for.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cristina Traina.






Read More..

Chicago Jazz Festival moving to Millennium Park








After more than three decades at the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park, the Chicago Jazz Festival will be leaving the venue for Millennium Park, according to the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE).


Though in recent years the Chicago Jazz Festival has expanded to Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion and other Loop venues, the Petrillo and its nearby stages have been the event’s focal point.


This summer, the 35th annual festival will be physically restructured.






The opening night, on Aug. 29, as in recent years will unfold at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park and will double as the closing night of the “Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz” series.


On Aug. 30, the fest will play the Pritzker Pavilion plus stages in the park’s Chase Promenade, just north and just south of the Cloud Gate sculpture.


On Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, the Chicago Community Trust Young Jazz Lions Stage will be added to the mix, the emerging musicians performing on the Harris Theater Rooftop, in Millennium Park.


In addition, performances sites may be added elsewhere in Millennium Park, with concerts also taking place at the Chicago Cultural Center, said Michelle Boone, commissioner of DCASE.


This year’s artist in residence will be Chicago percussionist Hamid Drake.


For more information, visit chicagojazzfestival.us.


hreich@tribune.com
Twitter @howardreich






Read More..

Foreigners still caught in Sahara hostage crisis


ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria (Reuters) - More than 20 foreigners were still either being held hostage or missing inside a gas plant on Friday after Algerian forces stormed the desert complex to free hundreds of captives taken by Islamist militants.


More than a day after the Algerian army launched an assault to seize the remote desert compound, much was still unclear about the number and fate of the victims, leaving countries with citizens in harm's way struggling to find hard information.


Reports on the number of hostages killed ranged from 12 to 30, with anywhere from dozens to scores of foreigners still unaccounted for.


Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, eight of whose countrymen were missing, said fighters still controlled the gas treatment plant itself, while Algerian forces now held the nearby residential compound that housed hundreds of workers.


Leaders of Britain, Japan and other countries expressed frustration that the assault had been ordered without consultation. Many countries were also withholding information about their citizens to avoid helping the captors.


Night fell quietly on the village of In Amenas, the nearest settlement, some 50 km (30 miles) from the vast and remote desert plant. A military helicopter could be seen in the sky.


An Algerian security source said 30 hostages, including at least seven Westerners, had been killed during Thursday's assault, along with at least 18 of their captors. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian, with the nationalities of the rest of the dead still unclear, he said.


Algeria's state news agency APS put the total number of dead hostages at 12, including both foreigners and locals.


Norway's Stoltenberg said some of those killed in vehicles blasted by the army could not be identified. "We must be prepared for bad news this weekend but we still have hope."


Northern Irish engineer Stephen McFaul, who survived, said he saw four trucks full of hostages blown up by Algerian troops.


The attack has plunged international capitals into crisis mode and is a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.


"We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part," British Prime Minister David Cameron told his parliament.


A local Algerian source said 100 of 132 foreign hostages had been freed from the facility. However, other estimates of the number of unaccounted-for foreigners were higher. Earlier the same source said 60 were still missing. Some may be held hostage; others may still be hiding in the sprawling compound.


Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among the seven foreigners confirmed dead in the army's storming, the Algerian security source told Reuters. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.


Those still unaccounted for on Friday included 10 from Japan and eight Norwegians, according to their employers, and a number of Britons which Cameron put at "significantly" less than 30


France said it had no information on two Frenchmen who may have been at the site and Washington has said a number of Americans were among the hostages, without giving details. The local source said a U.S. aircraft landed nearby on Friday.


The attackers had initially claimed to be holding 41 Western hostages. Some Westerners were able to evade capture by hiding.


They lived among hundreds of Algerian employees on the compound. The state news agency said the army had rescued 650 hostages in total, 573 of whom were Algerians.


"(The army) is still trying to achieve a ‘peaceful outcome' before neutralizing the terrorist group that is holed up in the (facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still being held," it said, quoting a security source.


MULTINATIONAL INSURGENCY


Algerian commanders said they moved in on Thursday about 30 hours after the siege began, because the gunmen had demanded to be allowed to take their captives abroad.


A French hostage employed by a French catering company said he had hidden in his room for 40 hours under the bed, relying on Algerian employees to smuggle him food with a password.


"I put boards up pretty much all round," Alexandre Berceaux told Europe 1 radio. "I didn't know how long I was going to stay there ... I was afraid. I could see myself already ending up in a pine box."


The captors said their attack was a response to a French military offensive in neighboring Mali. However, some U.S. and European officials say the elaborate raid probably required too much planning to have been organized from scratch in the single week since France first launched its strikes.


Paris says the incident proves that its decision to fight Islamists in neighboring Mali was necessary.


Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a pre-occupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.


The most powerful Islamist groups in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in a civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of Al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.


Al Qaeda-linked fighters, many with roots in Algeria and Libya, took control of northern Mali last year, prompting the French intervention in that poor African former colony.


The Algerian security source said only two of 11 militants whose bodies were found on Thursday were Algerian, including the squad's leader. The others comprised three Egyptians, two Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a Frenchman, he said.


The plant was heavily fortified, with security, controlled access and an army camp with hundreds of armed personnel between the accommodation and processing plant, Andy Coward Honeywell, who worked there in 2009, told the BBC.


The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the value of outwardly tough security measures.


Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site. The attackers benefitted from bases and staging grounds across the nearby border in Libya's desert, Algerian officials said.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those responsible would be hunted down: "Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere.... Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide."


WARNING OF MORE ATTACKS


The kidnappers threatened more attacks and warned Algerians to stay away from foreign companies' installations, according to Mauritania's news agency ANI, which maintained contact with the group during the siege.


Hundreds of workers from international oil companies were evacuated from Algeria on Thursday and many more will follow, said BP, which jointly ran the gas plant with Norway's Statoil and the Algerian state oil firm.


The overall commander of the kidnappers, Algerian officials said, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed veteran of Afghanistan in the 1980s and Algeria's bloody civil war of the 1990s. He appears not to have been present.


Algerian security specialist Anis Rahmani, author of several books on terrorism and editor of Ennahar daily, told Reuters about 70 militants were involved from two groups, Belmokhtar's "Those who sign in blood", who traveled from Libya, and the lesser known "Movement of the Islamic Youth in the South".


Britain's Cameron, who warned people to prepare for bad news and who canceled a major policy speech on Friday to deal with the situation, said he would have liked Algeria to have consulted before the raid. Japan made similar complaints.


U.S. officials had no clear information on the fate of Americans. Washington, like its European allies, has endorsed France's military intervention in Mali.


(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti in Cairo, Eamonn Mallie in Belfast, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Mohammed Abbas in London and Padraic Halpin and Conor Humprhies in Dublin; Writing by Philippa Fletcher and Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche)



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S&P 500 at five-year high with boost from data, eBay

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks climbed on Thursday, with the S&P 500 advancing to a five-year intraday high on signs of strength in the housing and job markets and on better-than-expected results from online marketplace eBay .


The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low last week and housing starts jumped last month to the highest since June 2008.


Strength in the housing and labor markets is key to sustained growth and higher corporate profits. Job market improvement helps stimulate consumer spending while a recovery in housing means more purchases of appliances, furniture and other household goods as well as a source of employment.


The S&P is on track for its third consecutive advance, which pushed the index above an intraday peak set in September to its highest since December 2007. The PHLX semiconductor index <.sox>, up 1.7 percent, reached its highest level in eight months.


"Having consolidated really for the last two weeks, the fact that we broke out, I think that that's sucking in quite a bit of money," said James Dailey, portfolio manager of TEAM Asset Strategy Fund in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


In the housing sector, PulteGroup Inc shares gained 4.9 percent to $20.29 and Toll Brothers Inc advanced 3.1 percent to $35.99. The PHLX housing sector index <.hgx> climbed 2.2 percent.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 110.01 points, or 0.81 percent, at 13,621.24. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 10.96 points, or 0.74 percent, at 1,483.59. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 22.52 points, or 0.72 percent, at 3,140.07.


EBay's shares rose 2.7 percent to $54.33 a day after it reported holiday quarter results that just beat Wall Street expectations. It gave a 2013 forecast that was within analysts' estimates.


Gains were tempered somewhat by weakness in the financial sector, with Bank of America down 4.3 percent to $11.27 and Citigroup off 3 percent to $41.22 after they posted their results.


Bank of America's fourth-quarter profit fell as it took more charges to clean up mortgage-related problems. Citigroup posted $2.32 billion of charges for layoffs and lawsuits.


The S&P financial sector index <.spsy> slipped 0.14 percent as the only one of the 10 major S&P sectors to decline.


S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter, Thomson Reuters data showed. Expectations for the quarter have fallen considerably since October when a 9.9 percent gain was estimated.


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



Read More..

Brandt: Manti Te'o's draft stock could plummet


NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt believes the uncertainty surrounding Manti Te'o could affect when he is selected in April by a team.


Brandt called the story that Notre Dame's All-American linebacker was involved in a hoax "something I have never witnessed" in his half-century in pro football.


"I think some teams will say it isn't worth the problem" to draft Te'o, said Brandt, who has the linebacker rated 19th overall in the first round.


The former Dallas Cowboys general manager added Thursday that Te'o's stock had plummeted after a poor performance in the BCS championship game. Now, Te'o could fall further.


"I don't think anybody considered him to be a top-five pick before all this happened," Brandt said. "In that game against Alabama, this was like a guy who was the best shooter in the world in basketball and here comes a game and he can't even hit the backboard. His play in that game was absolutely horrible. He missed on run blitzes; guys ran over him ..."


David Schwab, a senior executive at sports management firm Octagon, considered Te'o perhaps the most marketable player coming into this year's draft. As the face of a Notre Dame team that returned to national relevance, the Heisman Trophy runner-up had the name recognition of few college stars.


"Compassionate" and "heartwarming" were some of the adjectives Schwab would have used to describe his image.


Now, that persona will depend on the details that emerge about the story of a girlfriend who didn't exist.


"If he truly had nothing to do with it, I think the long-term damage is zero," said Schwab, who specializes in matching companies to celebrities.


In the short term, it's unlikely to see Te'o promoting any products, because a public appearance would turn into an impromptu news conference about the hoax. If uncertainty lingers about exactly what happened, Schwab said, many companies may hesitate to sign him.


But even if Te'o is implicated in the hoax, he could still eventually turn into a sponsor's dream if he blossoms as an NFL star.


"If you perform on the field, you quickly become marketable," Schwab said.


Look no further than Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker who was charged with murder in 2000. The charges were dropped after Lewis agreed to testify against two other men and he subsequently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice. This week he's a beloved figure heading into the AFC championship with retirement looming.


Te'o would hardly be the first player to see his draft stock sink because of off-field issues. Last year, North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins fell to the second round after multiple run-ins with the law related to marijuana got him dismissed from Florida.


Warren Sapp in 1995 and Randy Moss in 1998 slid because of character concerns; both are now considered potential Hall of Famers.


Teams may be less likely to take a risk on Te'o in the draft if they don't believe he can become a dominant player.


Brandt noted how the inside linebacker position doesn't carry as much importance in the NFL as it once did. In the last 10 years, only four inside linebackers were taken in the first round, although one of them was perennial All-Pro Patrick Willis of San Francisco.


"I think it would be different if it was a quarterback who would change the game," he said. "But linebackers are a piece to the puzzle; they don't solve the puzzle. Other than Ray Lewis, I don't know of any linebacker you say, 'We've got to have this guy.'


"(Inside) linebackers are not as important as they used to be. We're down to one or two first-round linebackers now."


Brandt wondered how Te'o could be so effective during the season, including seven interceptions — "unheard of, like hitting .450 in baseball" — and then so unproductive in the championship game.


"Between now and 97 days from now when the draft comes, there'll be a lot of people investigating just what took place," he said.


___


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


Read More..

New Video Recounts Historic Landing on Saturn’s Moon Titan






Eight years ago this week, a European mission went where no one, or probe, had gone before, Saturn‘s huge moon Titan, and a new video animation is recounting that historic landing by the Huygens spacecraft.


The European Space Agency’s unmanned Huygens probe dropped onto the surface of Titan on Jan. 14, 2005, three weeks after separating from its parent Cassini spacecraft. The new animation, which was created by ESA using real Huygens data, captures the last portion of the lander’s 2 1/2-hour descent through Titan’s thick, nitrogen-based atmosphere.






The new Huygens landing video, which runs for 1 minute and 40 seconds, shows the touchdown from a variety of angles and ends with a real photo Huygens took of Titan’s surface.


Though Huygens stopped sending data home to Earth 90 minutes after touching down, the landing continues to teach researchers about Titan.


An analysis of Huygens data published late last year, for example, determined that the 400-pound (181 kilograms) probe bounced, slid and wobbled to a stop 10 seconds after first contacting the moon. The study suggests that Titan’s surface at the time had the consistency of soft, wet sand with a fragile crust on top, researchers said.


Titan is the largest moon of Saturn, and the second-largest moon in the entire solar system (only the Jupiter satellite Ganymede is bigger). With a diameter of 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers), Titan is nearly 50 percent wider than Earth’s moon.


Titan is the only object in the solar system besides Earth known to host stable bodies of liquid on its surface. But Titan’s lakes and seas contain methane and ethane rather than water, as the huge moon has a weather cycle based on hydrocarbons.


Complex carbon-containing molecules are known to swirl about in Titan’s atmosphere, further intriguing scientists who regard the moon as one of the best places in the solar system to look for alien life.


The $ 3.2 billion Cassini-Huygens mission, a joint effort involving NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency, launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. While Huygens is now a feature of the Titan landscape, the Cassini spacecraft continues to study the ringed planet and its many moons. Its mission has been extended through at least 2017.


Follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We’re also onFacebook 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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Did Scientology ad cross line?




The Church of Scientology is also at fault for thinking the advertorial would survive The Atlantic readers' scrutiny, Ian Schafer says.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • The Atlantic published and pulled a sponsored Scientology "story"

  • Ian Schafer: On several levels, the ad was a mistake

  • He says the content was heavy-handed and comments were being moderated

  • Schafer: Experimenting to raise revenue makes sense, but standards should be clear




Editor's note: Ian Schafer is the founder and CEO of a digital advertising agency, Deep Focus, and the alter ego of @invisibleobama. You can read his rants on his blog at ianschafer.com.


(CNN) -- "The Atlantic is America's leading destination for brave thinking and bold ideas that matter. The Atlantic engages its print, online, and live audiences with breakthrough insights into the worlds of politics, business, the arts, and culture. With exceptional talent deployed against the world's most important and intriguing topics, The Atlantic is the source of opinion, commentary, and analysis for America's most influential individuals who wish to be challenged, informed, and entertained." -- The Atlantic 2013 media kit for advertisers


On Monday, The Atlantic published -- and then pulled -- a story titled "David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year." This "story" went on to feature the growth of Scientology in 2012.



Ian Schafer

Ian Schafer



Any regular reader of The Atlantic's content would immediately do a double-take upon seeing that kind of headline, much less the heavy-handed text below it, shamelessly plugging how well Scientology's "ecclesiastical leader" Miscavige has done in "leading a renaissance for the religion."


This "story" is one of several "advertorials" (a portmanteau of "advertising" and "editorials") that The Atlantic has published online, clearly designated as "Sponsor Content." In other words, "stories" like these aren't real stories. They are ads with a lot of words, which advertisers have paid publications to run on their behalf for decades. You may have seen them in magazines and newspapers as "special advertising sections."


The hope is that because you are already reading the publication, hey, maybe you'll read what the advertiser has to say, too -- instead of the "traditional" ad that they may have otherwise placed on the page that you probably won't remember, or worse, will ignore.



There's nothing wrong with this tactic, ethically, when clearly labeled as "sponsored" or "advertising." But many took umbrage with The Atlantic in this particular case; so many, that The Atlantic responded by pulling the story from its site -- which was the right thing to do -- and by apologizing.


At face value, The Atlantic did the right thing for its business model, which depends upon advertising sales. It sold what they call a "native" ad to a paying advertiser, clearly labeled it as such, without the intention of misleading readers into thinking this was a piece of journalism.


But it still failed on several levels.


The Atlantic defines its readers as "America's most influential individuals who wish to be challenged, informed, and entertained." By that very definition, it is selling "advertorials" to people who are the least likely to take them seriously, especially when heavy-handed. There is a fine line between advertorial and outright advertising copywriting, and this piece crossed it. The Church of Scientology is just as much at fault for thinking this piece would survive The Atlantic readers' intellectual scrutiny. But this isn't even the real issue.


Bad advertising is all around us. And readers' intellectual scrutiny would surely have let the advertorial piece slide without complaints (though snark would be inevitable), as they have in the past, or yes, even possibly ignored it. But here's where The Atlantic crossed another line -- it seemed clear it was moderating the comments beneath the advertorial.


As The Washington Post reported, The Atlantic marketing team was carefully pruning the comments, ensuring that they were predominantly positive, even though many readers were leaving negative comments. So while The Atlantic was publishing clearly labeled advertiser-written content, it was also un-publishing content created by its readers -- the very folks it exists to serve.


It's understandable that The Atlantic would inevitably touch a third rail with any "new" ad format. But what it calls "native advertising" is actually "advertorial." It's not new at all. Touching the third rail in this case is unacceptable.


So what should The Atlantic have done in this situation before it became a situation? For starters, it should have worked more closely with the Church of Scientology to help create a piece of content that wasn't so clearly written as an ad. If the Church of Scientology was not willing to compromise its advertising to be better content, then The Atlantic should not have accepted the advertising. But this is a quality-control issue.


The real failure here was that comments should never have been enabled beneath this sponsored content unless the advertiser was prepared to let them be there, regardless of sentiment.


It's not like Scientology has avoided controversy in the past. The sheer, obvious reason for this advertorial in the first place was to dispel beliefs that Scientology wasn't a recognized religion (hence "ecclesiastical").


Whether The Atlantic felt it was acting in its advertiser's best interest, or the advertiser specifically asked for this to happen, letting it happen at all was a huge mistake, and a betrayal of an implicit contract that should exist between a publication of The Atlantic's stature and its readership.


No matter how laughably "sales-y" a piece of sponsored content might be, the censoring of readership should be the true "third rail," never to be touched.


Going forward, The Atlantic (and any other publication that chooses to run sponsored content) should adopt and clearly communicate an explicit ethics statement regarding advertorials and their corresponding comments. This statement should guide the decisions it makes when working with advertisers, and serve as a filter for the sponsored content it chooses to publish, and what it recommends advertisers submit. It should also prevent readers from being silenced if given a platform at all.


As an advertising professional, I sincerely hope this doesn't spook The Atlantic or any other publication from experimenting with ways to make money. But as a reader, I hope it leads to better ads that reward me for paying attention, rather than muzzle my voice should I choose to interact with the content.


After all, what more could a publication or advertiser ask for than for content to be so interesting that someone actually would want to comment on (or better, share) it?


(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said native advertising accounts for 59% of the Atlantic's ad revenue. Digital advertising, of which native advertising is a part, accounts for 59% of The Atlantic's overall revenue, according to the company.)


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ian Schafer.






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Teen shot after high school game: 'His mom thought he was safe'

The aunt of 17-year-old Tyrone Lawson, who was shot and killed after watching a prep basketball game between Simeon and Morgan Park, talks about her nephew.








Pamela Wright had dropped her son off at Chicago State University for a basketball game and was waiting for him to call back when she got the awful news.

Her son Tyrone Lawson had been shot, apparently as he ran from a fight that had spilled out of the gymnasium Wednesday night.

"It hurt so bad," said Lawson's grandmother, Barbara VanHughs, 70, clutching a photo of Lawson and crying. "My baby."

Police say an argument broke out while players were in a handshake line after the game between Simeon Career Academy and Morgan Park High School. The dispute spilled into the parking lot near 95th Street and King Drive and someone pulled out a gun and shot Lawson around 9:30 p.m., officials said.

Lawson was shot twice in the back while running away, said Kurtistein Bailey, his 41-year-old aunt. Amid the chaos, someone knelt down and told Lawson to get up but he couldn't move, his grandmother said.

"This was at the school where his mom thought he was safe," Bailey said. "His mother thought he was safe there. That's why she let him go."

Lawson had called his mother earlier in the day, asking if he could go to the game. "Mom, can I go to the basketball game? It's only $10," Lawson had asked, according to VanHughs.

His mother dropped him off and waited for him to call back, she said.

A fight broke out at the end of the game, and video shows security getting players off the court. It was unclear what the fight was about. Nothing outside ordinary bumps and physical contact appeared to have happened during the game between the two schools, which are located on Vincennes Avenue about 30 blocks apart.

University police issued a message to its officers, asking them to watch for a Jeep. It was pulled over east of the school and two people were taken into custody, officials said. Police said they found a gun inside the Jeep.

The Jeep's owner told the Tribune this afternoon that she was not aware of any gun in the car. "I was not there," the owner said. "I don't know what happened."

CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said the district worked with the university and Chicago police to provide security at the game.

Sainvilus said there was a significant security presence both inside and outside the gym, and there had been screening to prevent anyone from carrying guns into the game. All fans were also searched.

The university released a statement Thursday morning saying it was "deeply saddened by the tragic shooting death."

“(Chicago Public Schools) periodically uses the university’s athletic facility to provide a neutral setting for student sporting events. This is the first such incident to occur on the campus of Chicago State University where CPS students have played many times over the last three years," the statement said.

"Additional security is provided by the university and all external partners during high school sporting events. Arrests have been made and university officials are awaiting the outcome of a full investigation to learn details about the shooting incident.”

Relatives said Lawson was an honor student at Morgan Park and hoped to study engineering in college next year. They remembered him as "high-spirited" and "loved by all," a popular student with friends on the basketball team.

Bailey said Lawson loved animals, and took care of snakes, an iguana and turtles over the years. His aunt said he loved animals so much he gave up his bedroom for his 2-year-old dog, Midnight, and slept on a futon in another room.

VanHughs said she helped raise Lawson while his mother traveled for her job. Family members described the two as having a strong relationship.

"He was definitely a momma's boy," Bailey said. "They were very close and he was her only child."


CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett ordered extra security personnel for the two high schools today. Crisis teams, including counselors, also have been deployed at Morgan Park.


Contributor Mike Helfgot and Tribune reporters Peter Nickeas, Rosemary Regina Sobol and Jeremy Gorner contributed to this story.


chicagobreaking@tribune.com
Twitter: @chicagobreaking






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Some foreign hostages said killed in Algeria assault


ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria said several hostages were killed on Thursday when its forces stormed a remote desert gas plant occupied by Islamist militants in retaliation for French intervention in Mali, and local sources said six foreigners were among the dead.


Amid reports of many more casualties in one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades, Western leaders expressed anger they had not been consulted before the operation and scrambled for word of their citizens. Some eight hours after the army assault began, Algerian state media said it was over.


Americans, Britons, Norwegians, French, Romanians and an Austrian, were among those taken, their countries said.


Algeria said its troops had been forced to act to free them due to the "diehard" attitude of their captors.


"When the terrorist group insisted on leaving the facility, taking the foreign hostages with them to neighboring states, the order was issued to special units to attack the position where the terrorists were entrenched," the government spokesman, Communication Minister, Mohamed Said told the state news agency.


The standoff began when gunmen calling themselves the Battalion of Blood stormed the natural gas facility early on Wednesday morning. They said they were holding 41 foreigners and demanded a halt to a French military operation against fellow al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants in neighboring Mali.


Said said the military operation, which Western officials were told had begun around noon (6:00 a.m. EST) on Thursday, resulted in "the liberation of a large number of hostages and the destruction of a large number of terrorists".


The raid increased fears jihadist militants could launch further attacks in Algeria, a vast desert country with large oil and gas reserves that is only just recovering from a protracted conflict with Islamist rebels during the 1990s which cost an estimated 200,000 lives.


A local source told Reuters six foreign hostages were killed along with eight captors when the Algerian military fired on a vehicle being used by the gunmen.


He said 40 Algerians and three foreigners were freed by the army as it continued its operation into Thursday evening. An Algerian security source said earlier that 25 foreign hostages had escaped.


Algeria's official APS news agency said about half the foreign hostages had been freed and about 600 Algerian workers at the site, under less tight guard, had managed to escape.


MILITANTS KNEW THEIR WAY AROUND


In a rare eyewitness account of Wednesday's raid, a local man who had escaped from the facility told Reuters the militants appeared to have good inside knowledge of the layout of the complex and used the language of radical Islam.


"The terrorists told us at the very start that they would not hurt Muslims but were only interested in the Christians and infidels," Abdelkader, 53, said by telephone from his home in the nearby town of In Amenas. "We will kill them, they said."


Mauritanian agency ANI and Qatar-based Al Jazeera said that 34 of the captives and 15 of their captors had been killed when government forces fired from helicopters at a vehicle.


Those death tolls, far higher than confirmed by the local source, would contradict the reports that large numbers of foreigners escaped alive. On Thursday evening, ANI said it had lost its previously regular contact with the kidnappers.


Britain and Norway, whose oil firms BP and Statoil run the plant jointly with the Algerian state oil company, said they had been informed by the Algerian authorities that a military operation was under way.


British Prime Minister David Cameron said people should prepare for bad news about the hostages. He earlier called his Algerian counterpart to express his concern at what he called a "very grave and serious" situation, Cameron's spokesman said.


"The Algerians are aware that we would have preferred to have been consulted in advance," the spokesman added.


Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said he had been told by his Algerian counterpart the action had started at around noon. He said they had tried to find a solution through the night, but that it had not worked.


"The Algerian prime minister said they felt they had no choice but to go in now," he said.


RAISING THE STAKES


The incident dramatically raises the stakes in the French military campaign in neighboring Mali, where hundreds of French paratroopers and marines are launching a ground offensive against Islamist rebels after air strikes began last week.


"What is happening in Algeria justifies all the more the decision I made in the name of France to intervene in Mali in line with the U.N. charter," French President Francois Hollande said, adding that things seemed to have taken a "dramatic" turn and he was still seeking details.


He said earlier that an unspecified number of French nationals were among the hostages. A French national was also among the hostage takers, a local source told Reuters. A large number of people from the former French colony live in France.


Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said the kidnappers were led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Islamist guerrilla who fought in Afghanistan and set up his own group in the Sahara after falling out with other local al Qaeda leaders.


A holy warrior-cum-smuggler dubbed "The Uncatchable" by French intelligence and "Mister Marlboro" by some locals for his illicit cigarette-running business, Belmokhtar's links to those who seized towns across northern Mali last year are unclear.


A local source told Reuters the hostage takers had blown up a petrol filling station at the plant.


NUMBERS UNCONFIRMED


The precise number and nationalities of foreign hostages could not be confirmed, with some countries reluctant to release information that could be useful to the captors.


Britain said one of its citizens was killed in the initial storming on Wednesday and "a number" of others were held.


The militants had said seven Americans were among their hostages. The White House said it believed Americans were among those held but U.S. officials could not confirm the number. "This is an ongoing situation and we are seeking clarity," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, expressing concern about the reported loss of lives.


Statoil said it had no word on nine of its Norwegian staff who had been held but that three Algerian employees were now free. BP said some of its staff were held but would not say how many or their nationalities.


Japanese media said five workers from Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp. were held, a number the company did not confirm. Vienna said one hostage was Austrian, Dublin said one Irish hostage had been freed and Bucharest said an unspecified number of those held were Romanian.


BP, Statoil and Spanish oil company Cepsa all said they had begun to evacuate personnel from elsewhere in Algeria, an OPEC member.


Hollande has received public backing from Western and African allies who fear that al Qaeda, flush with men and arms from the defeated forces of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, is building a desert haven in Mali, a poor country helpless to combat fighters who seized its northern oasis towns last year.


However, there is also some concern in Washington and other capitals that the French action in Mali could provoke a backlash worse than the initial threat by militants in the remote Sahara.


The militants, communicating through established contacts with media in neighboring Mauritania, said on Wednesday they had dozens of men armed with mortars and anti-aircraft missiles in the compound and had rigged it with explosives.


They condemned Algeria's secularist government for letting French warplanes fly over its territory to Mali and shutting its border to Malian refugees.


The attack in Algeria did not stop France from pressing on with its campaign in Mali. It said on Thursday it now had 1,400 troops on the ground in Mali, and combat was under way against the rebels that it first began targeting from the air last week.


The French action last week came as a surprise but received widespread international support in public. Neighboring African countries planning to provide ground troops for a U.N. force by September have said they will move faster to deploy them.


Nigeria, the strongest regional power, sent 162 soldiers on Thursday, the first of an anticipated 906.


A day after launching the campaign in Mali, Hollande also ordered a failed rescue in Somalia on Saturday to free a French hostage held by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants since 2009. Al Shabaab said on Thursday it had executed hostage Denis Allex. France said it believed he died in the rescue.


(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti in Cairo, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Mohammed Abbas in London and Padraic Halpin in Writing by Peter Graff, Giles Elgood and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)



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