Stocks end higher for sixth straight week, tech leads

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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Snowstorm forces rescheduling of Bruins-TB game


BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Bruins have postponed Saturday night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning because of the blizzard that dumped more than 2 feet of snow on the area.


No makeup date had been scheduled yet, according to a Bruins spokesman.


Originally scheduled for 1 p.m., the game was pushed back until 7 p.m. to allow the storm to pass. But public transportation was not expected to resume on Saturday, and roads were still being cleared. A travel ban was in effect until 4 p.m.


The Bruins already are playing an abbreviated schedule because of the lockout that wiped out the first 3½ months of the season.


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How Obama can end Congo conflict












Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


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

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

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

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




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


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


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


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



Vava Tampa

Vava Tampa



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


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
















Watch video: Kagame on Congo


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


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


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


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


Read more: Why the world is ignoring Congo war


1. Changes in Kinshasa


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


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


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


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


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


2. Keep Kagame in the naughty corner


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


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



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



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


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


Read more: Prosecutor seeks new Congo war crimes warrants


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


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


3. FDLR


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


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


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


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


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






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Hadiya Pendleton funeral: 'God is our refuge'









Slain teen Hadiya Pendleton was remembered today as a laughing youth who brought love and happiness to all her family and friends.

Despite the heavy security because of the attendance of first lady Michelle Obama and other dignitaries, Hadiya's funeral at the Greater Harvest Baptist Church only occasionally touched on politics and the gun violence that ended Hadiya's life, instead focusing on a 15-year-old girl whose smile lit up the room.

Her mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, briefly spoke to the standing room only crowd, often with a smile and even a laugh.

“My baby did all this,’’ she said, wearing a big red flower on her chest and a sparkly scarf, and clearly enjoying the music. "This is all Hadiya.’’

“The outpouring of support has been absolutely amazing,’’ she said.
 
She explained that at points, “you kinda do not know how to act,’’ and some people might not understand “our sense of humor’’ or “why I have a smile on my face.’’

“But I’m not worried about her soul,’’ she said.

“I just want to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who had something to do with rounding her or having something to do with who she was,’’ she said.

Then appearing more serious, she said, “No mother, no father should ever have to experience this.’’

“I kept her living,’’ she said, saying she helped her daughter stay away from negative influences. "When your children try to talk to you, listen. Don’t judge them. This should be a judge-free zone. You made them. You deal with that."
 
“All right, I love you all,’’ she said before ending her remarks.

Earlier the crowd was addressed by Damon Stewart, Hadiya's godfather, who said, “I’m going to speak as if we’re family,’’ adding that he had “two spiritual thoughts’’ he wanted to stress.

“God makes no mistakes,’’ he said. “I don’t believe in coincidence; I believe in divine intervention.’’

Wearing a black suit and black shirt, he also wore purple in honor of Hadiya -- a purple tie and ribbon on his chest, and a purple handkerchief in chest pocket.
 
“I loved that child,’’ he said.

Stewart quoted Hadiya's father, Nathaniel Anthony Pendleton, as saying, "This isn't political, this is personal."

Then Stewart said: "This should break the hearts of everyone who has someone they love."

He said he read a Facebook post that said: "I'm not going to buy into the hype. What makes this girl so much better than the others?"

"She is important because all those other people who died are important," Stewart said. "She is important because all of the families who were silent, she speaks for them. She is a representative of the people across the nation who have lost their lives."

"Don't let this turn into a political thing. Keep it personal," he said. "A lot of politicians will try to wield it as a sword. They want to use it for votes."

While family and friends kept the focus on the 15-year-old girl who was shot dead in a South Side park, the first lady's appearance inevitably brought attention to anti-gun efforts nationwide.

The back of the funeral program has a copy of a handwritten note from President Barack Obama: "Dear Cleopatra and Nathaniel, Michelle and I just wanted you to know how heartbroken we are to have heard about Hadiya's passing. We know that no words from us can soothe the pain, but rest assured that we are praying for you, and that we will continue to work as hard as we can to end this senseless violence. God Bless.”

In addition to Michelle Obama, dignitaries in the crowd included Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Ill. Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Rev. Jesse Jackson,  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to Barack Obama.

Prior to the service, the first lady met privately with about 30 of Hadiya's friends and classmates, and then with members of Hadiya's family, according to a White House official.

Father Michael Pfleger spoke and called Hadiya an "innocent victim of gun violence,’’ asking,  “When did we lose our soul?”

He told the crowd that “we must become like Jesus’’ and become “the interrupters’’ of genocide, an evil that is killing our children.
 
“Welcome home, sweet Hadiya. See you on the other side," he said.

Hadiya was killed Jan. 29 at Harsh Park, in the 4400 block of South Oakenwald Avenue, not far from the Obama family home. Although Hadiya and the friends that were with her had no gang ties, a gunman fired into the park in what police said was a gang-connected shooting causing her death to become a symbol of Chicago's gun violence.

But most of the funeral service was about Hadiya's life, and the love she brought to so many.

Hadiya's pastor, Courtney C. Maxwell from the Greater Deliverance Temple Church of Christ, opened the services about 11:15 a.m. after a heart-shaped balloon was placed near her casket.
 
He thanked everyone for being at the Greater Harvest Baptist Church, including elected officials. “The family says thank you and God bless you.’’ He asked for round of applause for the Pendleton family.
 
“Only God can keep you and strengthen you, for God is our refuge and our strength,’’ the pastor said.

The pastor said Hadiya was “genuine and real.’’

“She was energetic, loved music, loved the arts,’’ the pastor said.

After the pastor spoke, a female reverend dressed in white addressed the crowd and a choir behind her began singing.

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,’’ she said, as the choir sang after her.

An assistant pastor read from scriptures: "She is more precious than rubies. … Her ways are of pleasantness.’’

Pastor Elder Eric Thomas of the host Greater Harvest Baptist Church described Hadiya as a “beloved angel.’’
 
“Her life has not been in vain,’’ Thomas said.
 
A female singer and organist the played a religious song, as about 30 others in the choir, all dress in white, stood and swayed gently from side to side before the large cross that was draped in white.

Kenya Edwards, who identified herself as a radio personality and a friend, read a poem called “Walking’’ written for Hadiya by Zora Howard, then said: “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for us to start walking. It’s time to take a stand.’’

Hadiya’s aunt Linda Wilks then spoke, asking, “What was inside Hadiya that connected her to those who didn’t know her?”

“It was her inner light’’ that connected her with humanity’s inner light, she said. “Light has power and has potent force,’’ and can cause "mankind to feel an inner awakening and a sense of love.’’

“Light can pursue darkness ... it diffuses darkness,’’
her aunt said. "Hadiya. The light.’’

Several girls who all identified themselves as Hadiya’s best friends got up, one by one, to share warm and funny and very sad memories.
 
One girl, Kaylen Jones, drew laughter when she said Hadiya’s mom “guilted me’’ into talking, then said one of the things she will remember most is Hadiya's smile.
 
“That smile lit up a room’’ she said. “It was the last thing I saw before they put her into the ambulance.’’

“I loved her. These past few weeks I felt like there’s a part of me missing,’’ Jones said.

“But she’s right here, whispering the answers to us in chemistry,’’ she said, drawing huge laughs and applause.
 
Another girlfriend, Giselle, was holding a tissue and broke down in tears, having to stop at least twice during her thoughts.
 
“Hadiya always pushed me to do my very best,’’ she said, wiping her eyes. “We were going to go to college together.’’

Giselle said after losing Hadiya she had tweeted to friends "I just wanted a last hug," and two days later "I had a dream that she gave me a hug."

“I believe that she came back and gave me a last hug,’’ she said.
 
Many others remembered her laughter and her smile. Others had short songs they sang to the crowd and shared favorite memories of her.
 
Her King College Prep majorette team also got up, and presented her jacket in a frame to Hadiya's mother, who embraced her in a long hug.
 
Kierrra Wilson, the captain of the majorette team, which had performed for festivities during the weekend before President Obama's second inauguration, spoke first.

“It’s really hard being up here,’’ she said. “Hadiya was close to all of us.’’

The entire team, dressed in their black and gold outfits, engaged in a group hug.
 
Another teammate also recalled the Washington trip, saying Hadiya never lost her sense of humor even though they were “so tired.’’

She said she would always remember Hadiya’s laughter, and told a story that caused the crowd to chuckle. “She tries to tell a scary story and nobody can believe it,’’ she said. "She had a little baby voice.’’


The service ended about 2:37 p.m. as pallbearers began to move the casket, covered in a white cloth emblazoned with a gold cross, and the choir continued singing.
 
“There's a new name written in glory,’’ one of the pastors said. “Thank you, God, for our angel Hadiya."

By 2:44 p.m. people were moving out of the church. The first lady left without comment.

Hundreds of mourners had lined up early today at the church in the Washington Park neighborhood, which was under tight security.

Guests who were invited by the family were given orange wristbands and were able to enter through a shorter security line. Classmates and friends of Pendleton were given green wristbands and allowed to enter through that same line.

Trinity Dishmon, 40, said her daughter Deja, 15, and Hadiya were close friends in middle school. The two girls stayed in touch and were texting about their upcoming 16th birthdays while Hadiya was in D.C. for the president's inauguration in January.

"Hadiya was a gift to everyone that knew her," Dishmon said, tearing up. "These last 12 days have been unbelievably numbing. It's not six degrees of separation anymore, it's one. It's just unreal."

Dishmon said she feared that the day was less about the teenager and more about a larger issue.

"This is Hadiya's day and should be about her -- not something sensational," Dishmon said. "But maybe by honoring her life we can help make a difference."

Inside the church, Hadiya’s silver casket was placed in the front, surrounded by flowers and two large hearts, one with her picture on it. Behind the casket, a TV screen showed pictures of Hadiya with her family, from birth to her teenage years.

A funeral director wearing a suit and white gloves came outside at 9:40 a.m. to announce to the hundreds still waiting in line that the church was “at capacity.” Those still in line could come in and view the body, he said, but would have to leave before the services.

The funeral procession arrived at about 9:45 a.m., including three limousines and dozens of cars.

The first lady’s motorcade pulled into the church parking lot at about 10:15 a.m. She went in through a separate side entrance at the rear of the church, stepping directly from a vehicle into the building.

The family filed down the aisle a little after 10 a.m. and viewed the body in the still open casket. The pastor led the procession down the aisle chanting "the Lord is my shepherd" as soft organ music played in the background.

Ushers walked down the aisle handing out tissues, and those without wristbands were asked to give up their seats so that family members could be seated in the sanctuary. Every seat was filled by 9:45 a.m.

Purple, Hadiya’s favorite color, is represented in many of the flowers in the church and the lining of her casket. Ushers handed out a glossy funeral program booklet printed on purple paper. The front cover says "Celebrating The Life Of ... Hadiya Zaymara Pendleton.” Inside are more than 50 photos of Hadiya throughout her life.
 
Her obituary printed in the booklet describes her work in the church and even her favorite foods: Chinese, cheeseburgers, ice cream and Fig Newtons. It includes tributes from her grandmother, her cousin and an aunt as well as close friends.

About 10:15 a.m., the funeral director came back out and announced to the hundreds still waiting in line that no one else would be allowed inside — not for the viewing or the funeral.

Even after those outside were told they would not be allowed in, many continued to gather around the church's front gate.

Some began to file out, having to hop over the metal barricades to exit the long line.

One man asked the funeral staff member if he could at least have a pamphlet from the funeral before he left.

"Oh sir, those are long gone. They only printed 1,500," the funeral staff member said.

Activists, religious groups and others passed out printed material to those standing in line. Some kept the papers, others were left on the snowy ground as some of the crowd left.


A group of people who were not allowed inside the church after it reached capacity stood outside in the freezing weather for hours as the funeral went on.

Police put up additional barricades near the church entrance gate to keep new people arriving back.

At 2 p.m. a few peopple trickled out of the church, including a handful of King College Prep majorettes. Police were not allowing anyone else in for the service, even as people left.

Some had been standing outside for hours, hunched over in the cold. The group continued to talk as the hours passed.

A number of police cars circled the block during funeral services -- including officers in vans, SUVs and undercover cars. Helicopters could be seen and heard overhead.

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

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

But the visit also meant scores of security, police and Secret Service agents, metal detectors and other security measures.

The church is surrounded by an iron fence and all of the openings -- a pedestrian gate in the front, front and side doors to the church, and a driveway to the north -- are guarded by city police or men in white shirts, ties and long black coats. Chicago police vehicles -- two wagons, a handful of squads and SUVs -- guarded the outside of the church while other vehicles circle the block.

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

King College Prep math and engineering teacher Alonzo Hoskins stood quietly in line with others. He said he taught Hadiya in his first-period geometry class, where he now has an empty desk.

"She was full of life," Hoskins said.

Nate Weathers, 16,  Jeramy Brown, 16, and Antoine Fuller, 15, all stood in line to see their former classmate. The three young men said they attended Carter G. Woodson Middle School with Hadiya.

“This tears me up,” Fuller said. “She was my 7th grade crush.”

Brown described Hadiya as “sweet and innocent.”

“Something like this should have never happened to her,” Brown said.








Police took two men into custody after they got into an altercation near the back of the long line of mourners waiting to get into the church. One man was agitated, complaining about the long wait to get in. A second man confronted him and they began shoving each other before police intervened.


Local and national pool reports contributed.

chicagobreaking@tribune.com


Twitter: @chicagobreaking 



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Israel's Lieberman says Palestinian peace accord impossible


JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has no chance of signing a permanent peace accord with the Palestinians and should instead seek a long-term interim deal, the most powerful political partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.


The remarks by Avigdor Lieberman, an ultranationalist whose joint party list with Netanyahu narrowly won a January 22 election while centrist challengers made surprise gains, seemed designed to dampen expectations at home and abroad of fresh peacemaking.


A spring visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories by U.S. President Barack Obama, announced this week, has stirred speculation that foreign pressure for a diplomatic breakthrough could build - though Washington played down that possibility.


In a television interview, ex-foreign minister Lieberman linked the more than two-year-old impasse to pan-Arab political upheaval that has boosted Islamists hostile to the Jewish state.


These include Hamas, rivals of U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who control the Gaza Strip and spurn coexistence with Israel though they have mooted extended truces.


"Anyone who thinks that in the center of this socio-diplomatic ocean, this tsunami which is jarring the Arab world, it is possible to arrive at the magic solution of a comprehensive peace with the Palestinians does not understand," Lieberman told Israel's Channel Two.


"This is impossible. It is not possible to solve the conflict here. The conflict can be managed and it is important to manage the conflict ... to negotiate on a long-term interim agreement."


Abbas broke off talks in late 2010 in protest at Israel's settlement of the occupied West Bank. He angered Israel and the United States in November by securing a U.N. status upgrade that implicitly recognized Palestinian independence in all the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.


Israel insists it will keep East Jerusalem and swathes of West Bank settlements under any eventual peace deal. Most world powers consider the settlements illegal because they take up land seized in the 1967 Middle East war.


Lieberman, himself a West Bank settler, said the ball was "in Abu Mazen's (Abbas') court" to revive diplomacy.


Abbas has demanded Israel first freeze all settlement construction. With two decades gone since Palestinians signed their first interim deal with Israel, he has ruled out any new negotiations that do not solemnize Palestinian statehood.


Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev noted that Lieberman, in the Channel Two interview, had said he was expressing his own opinion.


Asked how Netanyahu saw peace prospects for an accord with the Palestinians, Regev referred to a speech on Tuesday in which the conservative prime minister said that Israel, while addressing threats by its enemies, "must also pursue secure, stable and realistic peace with our neighbors".


Netanyahu has previously spoken in favor of a Palestinian state, though he has been cagey on its borders and whether he would be prepared to dismantle Israeli settlements.


Lieberman's role in the next coalition government is unclear as he faces trial for corruption. If convicted, he could be barred from the cabinet. Lieberman denies wrongdoing and has said he would like to regain the foreign portfolio, which he surrendered after his indictment was announced last year.


(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Stephen Powell)



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Wall Street jumps; Nasdaq near 12-year high

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks climbed on Friday, pushing the S&P 500 to a fresh five-year high and putting the Nasdaq within a hair of a 12-year intraday high, following a batch of encouraging domestic and international economic reports.


Data showing stronger international trade in China and Germany, and a report indicating the U.S. trade deficit had narrowed in December, pointed to improving global demand.


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


The technology sector led the day's gains, with the S&P 500 technology index <.splrct> up 1 percent. Gains in LinkedIn Corp and AOL Inc following their quarterly results helped the sector.


The benchmark S&P 500 <.spx>, up more than 6 percent for the year, is on track for six straight weeks of gains for the first time since August 2012.


But an advance has been tougher in recent days as investors await strong trading incentives to drive the index further upward.


"I think we're in the middle of a trading range and I'd put plus or minus 5 percent around it. Fundamental factors are best described as neutral," Dickson said.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 40.94 points, or 0.29 percent, at 13,984.99. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 7.72 points, or 0.51 percent, at 1,517.11. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 27.94 points, or 0.88 percent, at 3,193.08.


The Nasdaq was just 3 points shy of its highest level since November 2000.


Shares of LinkedIn jumped 21.1 percent to $150.31 after announcing quarterly profits and giving a bullish forecast for the year.


AOL Inc shares rose 7.5 percent to $33.77 after the online company reported higher quarterly profit, boosted by a 13 percent rise in advertising sales.


The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, was down 4.2 percent at 12.94. The gauge, a key measure of market expectations of short-term volatility, generally moves inversely to the S&P 500.


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


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


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


(Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)



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AP Source: Hernandez on verge of new deal with M's


SEATTLE (AP) — Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners are working on a $175 million, seven-year contract that would make him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball, according to a person with knowledge of the deal's details.


The person spoke to The Associated Press Thursday on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not been completed. USA Today first reported the deal.


Seattle would add $134.5 million of guaranteed money over five years to the contract of the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner, whose current agreement calls for him to receive $40.5 million over the next two seasons.


Hernandez's total dollars would top CC Sabathia's original $161 million, seven-year contract with the New York Yankees and his $25 million average would surpass Zack Greinke's $24.5 million under his new contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and tie him for the second-highest in baseball with Josh Hamilton and Ryan Howard behind Alex Rodriguez ($27.5 million). Hernandez's new money would average $26.9 million over five years.


Hernandez agreed to a $78 million, five-year contract in January 2010 and has earned an additional $2.5 million in escalators and $300,000 in bonuses. He is due $20 million this year and $20.5 million in 2014, which would be superseded by the new deal.


Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said he could not comment when reached on Thursday, and Hernandez's representatives didn't immediately return messages.


If the deal is finalized, it would leave Detroit's Justin Verlander and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw as the most attractive pitchers eligible for free agency after the 2014 season. Tampa Bay's David Price is eligible after the 2015 season.


Hernandez has become the face of Seattle's struggling franchise, transforming from a curly haired 19-year-old who wore his hat crooked to one of the most dominant and exciting pitchers in baseball. Known as "King Felix," he became the first Seattle pitcher to throw a perfect game in a 1-0 win over Tampa Bay last August.


His fiery enthusiasm on the mound and his willingness to first sign a long-term deal in 2010 have endeared him to fans in the Pacific Northwest who have gone more than a decade without seeing postseason baseball.


Hernandez, who will turn 27 on April 8, is 98-76 with a 3.22 ERA in eight seasons with the Mariners. He won a career-high 19 games in 2009 when he finished second in the Cy Young voting then won the award a year later when he went just 13-12 but had a 2.27 ERA and 232 strikeouts.


Hernandez appeared to be making another Cy Young push last year before going 0-4 in his last six starts, which left him at 13-9 with 223 strikeouts.


His career record would be even better if he didn't play with one of baseball's worst offenses. Seattle had the lowest batting average in the major leagues in each of the last three seasons. Hernandez has taken 10 losses during that span when he's given up two earned runs or less.


For his career, Hernandez has allowed two earned runs or less in 141 of 238 starts, but the team is only 99-42 in those games due to the offensive problems.


Locking up Hernandez long-term won't solve all of the problems that have left Seattle looking up at Texas, Oakland and the Los Angeles Angles in the AL West for most of the last 10 years. The Mariners have tried to address some of those issues this offseason by trading for Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse to provide more punch to go along with young prospects Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero, who have all shown flashes early in their careers.


But should the deal be finalized, the Mariners at least have the security of knowing who'll be at the top of their rotation for most of this decade.


___


AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.


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Gun violence plans: What's in the works






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Connecticut school massacre prompts a number of proposals in Washington aimed at curbing gun violence

  • They include a ban on assault weapons that insiders say has little chance of getting through Congress

  • Some bipartisan support for proposals to expand background checks around gun purchases




Washington (CNN) -- December's school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, has prompted congressional lawmakers and the White House to offer a number of proposals aimed at curbing gun violence.


Here are some of the measures garnering the most attention:


The White House plan


President Barack Obama signed 23 executive actions, which don't require congressional approval, to strengthen existing gun laws and take related steps on mental health and school safety.


He has also called on Congress to reinstate the Clinton-era assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, to restrict ammunition magazines to no more than 10 rounds, and to expand background checks to anyone buying a gun, whether at a store or in a private sale at an auction or convention.










Assault weapons ban revisited


A proposal by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, would not ban ownership of assault weapons outright, but would prohibit new ones from being manufactured, sold or imported. It would also outlaw ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.


She said the goal is to "dry up the supply of these weapons over time." The measure, along with a companion bill in the House, is opposed by the nation's powerful gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association.


Cracking down on straw purchases


Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called for stronger background checks and a crackdown on so-called straw purchases, in which people who can pass background checks buy weapons for others. Leahy has proposed a measure to increase penalties for straw purchasers.


Curbing gun trafficking


A new House bipartisan gun control bill seeks to make gun trafficking a federal crime. It has some bipartisan support and mirrors a measure proposed in the Senate.


House Democratic efforts


A group of House Democrats, who were part of the chamber's Democratic Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, unveiled 15 proposals to address gun violence. The measures largely echoed those previously backed by the White House.


The package is similar to other Democratic measures that would address background checks, ban high capacity magazines, and crack down on gun trafficking.


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Viginia, told CNN that he supports beefed up background checks for gun sales.


Closing gun show loophole


A group of four senators working behind the scenes on a bipartisan bill to expand background checks on gun sales is making significant progress, according to sources in both parties familiar with their work.


The group includes Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, who has an A rating with the National Rifle Association, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, a long time advocate of gun rights.


The legislation would effectively require background checks on private gun purchases made with non-licensed gun dealers, according to sources in both parties. That would include closing the so-called gun show loophole.


Political play


House Speaker John Boehner has said he has no plans to bring any measure up for a vote until the Senate acts first.


Republicans oppose any assault weapons ban and rural-state Democrats facing tough re-election fights are unlikely to support it as well, meaning that proposal has little chance of passing Congress.


There is some bipartisan support for expanded background checks, especially to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness. A number of lawmakers may also support limiting the size of ammunition magazines.


Some lawmakers have said that various gun proposals may be addressed in separate bills, rather than a comprehensive package, which could more easily be targeted by opponents.


The top Democrat in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has a good rating from gun rights groups and has said he would work to ensure that a variety of proposals are brought to the floor for consideration.


He opposed the 1994 assault weapons ban and has indicated support for expanding background checks but refuses to endorse a new weapons prohibition.







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Blizzard begins to slam Northeast









A blizzard blew into the Northeast on Friday, cutting short the workweek for millions who feared being stranded as state officials ordered roads closed ahead of what could be record-setting snowfall.

Authorities scrambled to prepare for the storm, which had already resulted in a massive traffic pile-up in southern Maine and prompted organizers of the nation's sledding championship in Maine to postpone a race scheduled for Saturday, fearing too much snow for the competition.






From New York to Maine, the storm began gently, dropping a light dusting of snow, but officials urged residents to stay home, rather than risk getting stuck in deep drifts when the storm kicks up later Friday afternoon.

Even in its early stages, the storm created some panic. Drivers lined up at gas stations to top off their tanks, grocery stores were swamped as shoppers stocked up on bread and milk, and travelers were forced to confront flight delays and cancellations.

With the worst of the storm yet to come, the governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut declared states of emergency and issued bans on driving by early Friday afternoon.

“The rate of snowfall and reduced visibility during the evening rush hour in particular will make safe travel nearly impossible,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told reporters.

The early edge of the storm led to a 19-vehicle pile-up in southern Maine, snarling traffic on a major interstate highway north of Portland. No major injuries were reported. A smaller accident briefly closed an interstate near Bolton, Vermont.

“It was close to whiteout conditions, it's sort of a precursor of what's coming later,” said Stephen McCausland, a spokesman for the Maine State Police.

Officials across the region closed schools and more than 3,000 flights were canceled. Several thousand customers lost power in New Jersey and points south, though officials warned the number was likely to rise as the snowfall got heavier and winds picked up.

Governors and mayors ordered nonessential government workers to stay home, urged private employers to do the same, told people to prepare for power outages and encouraged them to check on elderly or disabled neighbors.

The light snow falling across much of New England on Friday morning was a taste of the weather to come, said Jerry Paul, senior meteorologist with Weather Insight, a unit of Thomson Reuters.

“That's going to be gradually building today as time goes on,” Paul said.

A wide swath of New England, including northeastern Connecticut, Providence, Rhode Island, and the Boston area, will likely see 24 inches to 30 inches of snow, with some areas seeing more than three feet by the time the storm ends on Saturday morning, Paul added.

At the storm's peak, winds could gust up to 65 miles per hour, he said.

Boston's record snowfall, 27.6 inches, came in 2003.

CHEERING ON STORM

Organizers of the country's championship sledding race, that had been scheduled to get underway in Camden, Maine, on Saturday, postponed the event by one day.

“As soon as the weather clears on Saturday and it is safe, the toboggan committee will be out at Tobagganville cleaning up the chute as quickly as they can,” said Holly Edwards, chairman of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships. “It needs to be shoveled out by hand.”

Some 400 teams were registered for the race, which features costumed sledders on a 400-foot  chute.

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China, Japan engage in new invective over disputed isles


BEIJING (Reuters) - China and Japan engaged on Friday in a fresh round of invective over military movements near a disputed group of uninhabited islands, fuelling tension that for months has bedeviled relations between the Asian powers.


An increasingly muscular China has been repeatedly at odds with others in the region over rival claims to small clusters of islands, most recently with fellow economic giant Japan which accused a Chinese navy vessel of locking radar normally used to aim weapons on a Japanese naval ship in the East China Sea.


China's Defence Ministry rejected Japan's complaint about the radar, its first comment on the January 30 incident. It said Japan's intrusive tracking of Chinese vessels was the "root cause" of the renewed tension.


A Japanese official dismissed the Chinese explanation for incident saying China's actions could be dangerous in the waters around the islets, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, believed to be rich in oil and gas.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led his conservative party to a landslide election victory in December, promising to beef up the military and stand tough in territorial disputes.


On Thursday, another border problem was brought into focus when Japan said two Russian fighter jets briefly entered its air space near long-disputed northern islands, prompting Japan to scramble combat fighters. Russia denied the accusation.


The commander of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific said the squabble between Japan and China underlined the pressing need for rules to prevent such incidents turning into serious conflict.


"What we need in the South China Sea is a mechanism that prevents us turning our diplomacy over to young majors and young (naval) commanders ... to make decisions at sea that cause a problem (that escalates) into a military conflict that we might not be able to control," Admiral Samuel Locklear told a conference in the Indonesian capital.


China is in dispute with several Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines and Vietnam over parts of the South China Sea, which is potentially rich in natural resources.


Locklear said governments and their leaders had to understand the potential for things to get out of hand.


"In this case, I think that point has been made pretty clear," he said in reference to international reaction to the dispute between China and Japan.


"IRRESPONSIBLE"


China's Defence Ministry, in a faxed statement late on Thursday, said Japan's complaints did not "match the facts". The Chinese ship's radar, it said, had maintained regular alerting operations and the ship "did not use fire control radar".


The ministry said the Chinese ship was tracked by a Japanese destroyer during routine training exercises. Fire control radar pinpoints the location of a target for missiles or shells and its use can be considered a step short of actual firing.


Japan, the ministry said, had "made irresponsible remarks that hyped up a so-called China threat, recklessly created tension and misled international public opinion".


"Japanese warships and airplanes have often conducted long periods of close-range tracking and surveillance of China's naval ships and airplanes," the Chinese Defence Ministry said.


"This is the root cause of air and maritime security issues between China and Japan."


In Tokyo, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Japan could not accept China's explanation and Japan's accusation came after careful analysis.


"We urge China to take sincere measures to prevent dangerous actions which could cause a contingency situation," Suga said.


Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said this week that the radar incident could have become very dangerous very quickly, and it could have been seen as a threat of military force under U.N. rules.


Hopes had been rising recently for an easing of the tension, which was sparked, in part, by Japan's nationalization of three of the privately owned islets last September.


Fears that encounters between aircraft and ships could bring an unintended clash have given impetus to efforts to improve links, including a possible summit between Abe and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who takes over as head of state in March.


(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg in TOKYO, Joathan Thatcher in JAKARTA; Editing by Ron Popeski and Robert Birsel)



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Wall Street falters on euro zone jitters

LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - "The Avengers," or at least most of the members of the world-saving crew, will assemble on the stage of this year's Academy Awards. Castmates Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo will present an Oscar together, show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron announced Wednesday. Missing in action are Scarlett Johansson, who played Black Widow but is currently starring in a revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" on Broadway, and Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor. ...
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Armstrong sued for $12 million bonus


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Dallas promotions company sued Lance Armstrong on Thursday, demanding he repay $12 million in bonuses and fees it paid him for winning the Tour de France.


SCA Promotions had tried in a 2005 legal dispute to prove Armstrong cheated to win before it ultimately settled and paid him.


Armstrong recently acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in 2012 detailed a sophisticated doping program by his Armstrong's teams. Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France victories and given a lifetime ban from sports.


Now, the company contends in its lawsuit, Armstrong and agent Bill Stapleton conspired to cheat SCA out of millions. The lawsuit notes that Armstrong repeatedly testified under oath in the 2005 dispute that he did not use steroids, other drugs or blood doping methods to win, all of which he now admits to doing.


"It is time now for Mr. Armstrong to face the consequences of his actions," the lawsuit said. "He admits he doped; he admits he bullied people; he admits he lied."


The lawsuit names Armstrong, Stapleton and Tailwind Sports, Inc., the team's management entity, as defendants.


Tim Herman, an attorney for Armstrong and Stapleton, did not immediately return telephone messages. Herman has previously noted that SCA previously settled its case with Armstrong and said it should not be allowed to reopen the matter.


SCA's lawsuit counters that the case was settled only after Armstrong's lies under oath prevented it from proving he doped.


The lawsuit seeks to recover $9.5 million in bonus money and another $2.5 million paid to Armstrong for other costs and fees.


Separately, USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said Wednesday the agency has been in contact with him Armstrong and is giving him more time to decide if he wants to cooperate with its investigators and tell more about what he knows of doping in cycling.


USADA extended its original Wednesday deadline to Feb. 20 to work out an interview with investigators under oath.


Just two weeks ago, Herman had strongly suggested Armstrong would not be interested in talking with USADA investigators. Tygart said it was Armstrong who asked for more time.


"We understand that he does want to be part of the solution and assist in the effort to clean up the sport of cycling," Tygart said in a statement. "We have agreed to his request for an additional two weeks to work on details to hopefully allow for this to happen."


The agency has said cooperating in its cleanup effort is the only path open to Armstrong if his lifetime ban from sports is to be reduced.


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Bring drones out of the shadows?






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


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

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

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

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




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


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


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



Sarah Holewinski

Sarah Holewinski



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


CNN Explains: U.S. drones


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


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


Bergen: John Brennan, America's drone warrior



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


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


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


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




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



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


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


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


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


Opinion: When are drone killings illegal?


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.


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






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Snow to hit evening commute









A freezing rain advisory had barely expired when the National Weather issued a winter storm advisory with up to 4 inches of snow expected to fall this afternoon and tonight.


Rain is expected to change over to snow by the middle of the afternoon "in time for the evening rush," the weather service said in the advisory.


"The threat for a period of heavy snow could result in reduced visibilities under a mile at times and rapid accumulation on area roads during the evening commute," the weather service warned. The most snow is expected to fall north of I-88 and the North Side of Chicago, it said.








The morning commute was slickened by sleet and freezing rain across northeast Illinois, mainly along I-88 and north of the expressway, according to the weather service.


Photos: Chicago winter 2012-13


Meanwhile, New England braced for a possibly record-setting winter storm, with forecasts of up to two feet of snow prompting local officials to urge residents to prepare.


Forecasters warned the snow would begin lightly on Friday morning but ramp up to blizzard conditions by afternoon, leading Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to order the city's schools closed Friday. He asked businesses to consider allowing staff to stay home.


"We are hardy New Englanders, let me tell you, and used to these types of storms. But I also want to remind everyone to use common sense and stay off the streets of our city. Basically, stay home," Menino told reporters. "Stay put after noontime tomorrow."


The National Weather Service said Boston could get one to two feet of snow on Friday and Saturday, which would be its first major snow fall in about two years. Light snow is expected to begin falling around 7 a.m. EST on Friday, with heavier snow and winds gusting as high as 60 to 75 miles per hour as the day progresses.


"It's the afternoon rush-hour time frame into the evening and overnight when the height of the storm will be," said Kim Buttrick, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts. "That's when we expect the storm to begin in earnest."


The heaviest snow was expected around Boston, the region's most populous city, with cities from Hartford, Connecticut to Portland, Maine, expected to see at least a foot.


If more than 18.2 inches of snow fall in Boston, the storm will rank among the 10 biggest snowfalls on record in the city. The heaviest snowfall ever recorded in Boston was a 27.6 inch dump that accompanied the blizzard of February 17-18, 2003.


The storm's timing brought back memories of the blizzard of 1978, Boston's second-heaviest recorded snow fall, which roared in on an afternoon, dropping 27.1 inches of snow, trapping commuters on roadways and leaving dozens dead across the region, largely as a result of downed electrical lines.


Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said one of the state's biggest worry is power outages.


"It being winter, folks losing their power means they're also losing their heat, and if you lose heat during the middle of the storm, you're not going to be able to go out to get to a shelter," he said, adding that the agency would begin 24-hour operations at its emergency compound at noon (1700 GMT) on Friday and would be in close contact with local utilities.


Unlike the 1978 blizzard, which had been forecast to drop far less snow than it actually did, he said he hoped several days of news coverage about this storm would prompt people to stay off the roads.


"People have been warned, they have been told what the issues are," Judge said. "We don't expect people to be surprised."


Reuters contributed to this report.


chicagobreaking@tribune.com


Twitter: @chicagobreaking





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Iran's Khamenei rebuffs U.S. offer of direct talks


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


ALL OPTIONS STILL 'ON THE TABLE'


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


In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland brushed off Khamenei's remarks and urged Iran to show up in Almaty "prepared to discuss real substance" either in a group setting or in bilateral talks.


"As the Iranians well know, the ball is in the Iranians' own court," she told reporters.


"We've always said that action on the Iranian side would be matched by action on our side, so it's really up to Iran to engage if it wants to see sanctions eased," said Nuland, adding that failure to address the nuclear concerns would bring more pressure on Tehran.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


(Additional reporting by Dan Williams, and Paul Eckert in Washington; Editing by William Maclean, Jon Boyle and Mohammad Zargham)



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Wall Street pulls back after recent gains

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks drifted lower on Wednesday as investors pulled back after the recent push to five-year highs on the S&P 500 and as worries about political problems in Europe weighed on sentiment.


Transportation stocks were among the worst performers, pressured by a 9.7 percent drop in CH Robinson Worldwide to $60.48 after the freight transport company posted a lower-than-expected adjusted quarterly profit.


The benchmark S&P 500 index has advanced 6 percent this year and reached to its highest since December 2007. The Dow industrials <.dji> have risen above 14,000 recently, making it a challenge for investors to push stocks higher in the absence of strong positive catalysts.


"The market is starting to feel a little tired, though we're holding together. I think a lot of people are wondering whether this (up trend) continues," said Frank Lesh, a futures analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading LLC in Chicago.


Also, investors have been speculating about leadership changes in Spain and Italy, as well as watching for comments from European leaders. European Central Bank policymakers are due to meet Thursday.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 27.37 points, or 0.20 percent, at 13,951.93. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was down 3.66 points, or 0.24 percent, at 1,507.63. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 12.27 points, or 0.39 percent, at 3,159.31.


Both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq rose more than 1 percent on Tuesday.


The Dow Jones Transportation average <.djt> was down 0.4 percent after hitting another record high on Tuesday. The average is up 10.4 percent for the year so far and has made a series of new highs since mid-January.


Among shares trading higher, Time Warner Inc jumped 4.4 percent to $52.18 after reporting higher fourth-quarter profit that beat Wall Street estimates, as growth in its cable networks offset declines in film, TV entertainment and publishing units.


Walt Disney Co was up 0.7 percent at $54.66, after the company beat estimates for quarterly adjusted earnings and gave an optimistic outlook for the next few quarters.


According to Thomson Reuters data, of 301 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 68.1 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters. In terms of revenue, 65.8 percent of companies have topped forecasts.


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 4.7 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


(Editing by Bernadette Baum, Kenneth Barry and Nick Zieminski)



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Braun says he used Fla clinic owner as consultant


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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Should we still fear al Qaeda?














































































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Mali military battles Islamist insurgents


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STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Peter Bergen: U.K. politicians called North Africa terror an existential threat

  • Bergen says core al Qaeda has been greatly weakened, hasn't mounted serious operations

  • Terror groups loosely affiliated with al Qaeda have also lost ground, he says

  • Bergen: Jihadist violence does continue, but it does no good to overstate threat




Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad", and a director at the New America Foundation.


Washington (CNN) -- The attack in January on a gas facility in Algeria by an al Qaeda-linked group that resulted in at least 37 dead hostages has sparked an outpouring of dire warnings from leading Western politicians.


British Prime Minister David Cameron described a "large and existential threat" emanating from North Africa. Tony Blair, his predecessor as prime minister, agreed saying, "David Cameron is right to warn that this is a battle for our values and way of life which will take years, even decades."


Hang on chaps! Before we all get our knickers in a tremendous twist: How exactly does an attack on an undefended gas facility in the remotest depths of the Algerian desert become an "existential threat" to our "way of life"?


Across the Atlantic, American politicians also got into sky-is-falling mode. Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, fulminated, "This is going to get worse. You cannot allow this to become a national security issue for the United States. And I argue it's already crossed that threshold."



Peter Bergen

Peter Bergen



Previous real U.S. national security threats and their manifestations include 9/11, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (from the potential use of nuclear weapons) with the Soviets, Pearl Harbor and Hitler's armies taking over much of Europe.


A ragtag group of jihadists roaming the North African deserts is orders of magnitude less significant than those genuine threats to the West and is more comparable to the threats posed by the bands of pirates who continue to harass shipping off the coast of Somalia. They are surely a problem, but a localized and containable one.


Western politicians and commentators who claim that the al Qaeda linked groups in North Africa are a serious threat to the West unnecessarily alarm their publics and also feed the self-image of these terrorists who aspire to attack the West, but don't have the capacity to do so. Terrorism doesn't work if folks aren't terrorized.


North African group hasn't attacked in the West



Western politicians and commentators who claim that the al Qaeda linked groups in North Africa are a serious threat to the West unnecessarily alarm their publics...
Peter Bergen



Much has been written, for instance, in recent weeks about al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's North African affiliate, a splinter group of which carried out the attack on the Algerian gas facility. But according to Camille Tawil, who has authoritatively covered Islamist militant groups over the past two decades for the leading Arabic daily Al-Hayat and has written three books about al Qaeda, AQIM doesn't threaten the West: "To my knowledge no known attacks or aborted attacks in the West have been linked directly to AQIM."


AQIM was formed seven years ago so the group has had more than enough time to plot and carry out an attack in the West. By way of comparison, it took two years of serious plotting for al Qaeda to plan the 9/11 attacks.


So, what is the real level of threat now posed by al Qaeda and allied groups?


Let's start with "core al Qaeda" which attacked the United States on 9/11 and that is headquartered in Pakistan. This group hasn't, of course, been able to pull off an attack in the United States in twelve years. Nor has it been able to mount an attack anywhere in the West since the attacks on London's transportation system eight years ago.


Core al Qaeda on way to extinction


Osama bin Laden, the group's founder and charismatic leader, was buried at sea a year and half ago and despite concerns that his "martyrdom" would provoke a rash of attacks in the West or against Western interests in the Muslim world there has instead been.... nothing.


Meanwhile, CIA drone strikes in Pakistan during President Obama's tenure alone have killed 38 of al Qaeda's leaders in Pakistan, according to a count by the New America Foundation.








Those drone strikes were so effective that shortly before bin Laden died he was contemplating ordering what remained of al Qaeda to move to Kunar Province in the remote, heavily forested mountains of eastern Afghanistan, according to documents that were discovered following the SEAL assault on the compound where bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, Pakistan.


Core al Qaeda is going the way of the dodo.


Affiliates are no better off


And a number of the affiliates of core al Qaeda are in just as bad shape as the mother ship.


Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the virulent Southeast Asian al Qaeda affiliate that killed hundreds in the years after 9/11 is largely out of business. Why so? JI killed mostly Westerners in its first attacks on the tourist island of Bali in 2002, but the subsequent Bali attack three years later killed mostly Indonesians. So too did JI's attacks on the Marriott hotel in the capital Jakarta in 2003 and the Australian embassy in 2004. As a result, JI lost any shred of popular support it had once enjoyed.


At the same time the Indonesian government, which at one point had denied that JI even existed, mounted a sophisticated campaign to dismantle the group, capturing many of its leaders and putting them on trial.


In the Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf Group, a number of whose leaders had trained in Afghanistan in al Qaeda's camps, and which specialized in kidnapping Westerners in the years after 9/11, was effectively dismantled by the Philippine army working in tandem with a small contingent of U.S. Special Operations Forces.


In Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban in 2009 took over the once-tranquil mountainous vacation destination of Swat, and destroyed some 180 schools and beheaded 70 policemen there. Suddenly, they were only 70 miles from the capital Islamabad and some warned that the Pakistani state was in danger. Today, the Pakistani Taliban have been rolled back to their bases along the Afghan border and 16 of their leaders have been killed by CIA drones since President Obama took office.


Al Qaeda militants based in Saudi Arabia mounted a terrorist campaign beginning in 2003 that killed dozens of Saudis, and they also attacked a number of the oil workers and oil facilities that lie at the heart of the Saudi economy. This prompted the Saudi government to mount such an effective crackdown that the few remaining al Qaeda leaders who were not killed or captured have in recent years fled south to Yemen where the remnants of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are now based.


From its new headquarters in Yemen AQAP has made serious efforts to attack the United States, sending the "underwear bomber" to blow up Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 and also smuggling bombs on to U.S.-bound cargo shipments in October 2010.


None of these attempts were successful.


Yemen militants decimated


As a result of the threat posed by AQAP, the United States has mounted a devastating campaign against the group over the past three years. There was one American drone strike in Yemen in 2009. In 2012 there were 46. That drone campaign has killed 28 prominent members of the group, according to a count by the New America Foundation. Among them was the No. 2 in AQAP, Said al-Shihri, who was confirmed to be dead last week.


In the chaos of the multiple civil wars that gripped Yemen in 2011, AQAP seized a number of towns in southern Yemen. But AQAP has now been pushed out of those towns because of effective joint operations between U.S. Special Operations Forces, the CIA and the Yemeni government.


The Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, even went to the United Nations General Assembly in September where he publicly endorsed the use of CIA drones in his country, something of a first.


A couple of years ago, al Qaeda's Somali affiliate, Al- Shabaab ("the youth" in Arabic) controlled much of southern Somalia including key cities such as the capital Mogadishu.


Once in a position of power, Shaabab inflicted Taliban-like rule on a reluctant Somali population, which eroded its popular legitimacy. Shabaab was also the target of effective military operations by the military of neighboring Kenya, troops of the African Union and U.S. Special Operation Forces.


As a result, today the group controls only some rural areas and for the first time in two decades the United States has formally recognized a Somali government.


Mali conflict shows weakness of jihadist militant groups


Similarly, groups with an al Qaeda-like agenda captured most of northern Mali last year, a vast desert region the size of France. Once in power they imposed Taliban-like strictures on the population, banning smoking and music and enforcing their interpretation of Sharia law with the amputation of hands. The militants also destroyed tombs in the ancient city of Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on the grounds that the tombs promoted "idol worship."


None of these measures endeared the jihadist militants to the population of Mali. In the past weeks, as a relatively small force of some 2,000 French soldiers has rolled through Mali putting the militants on the run, the French have been cheered on by dancing and singing Malians.


When French soldiers are greeted as an army of liberation in an area of the world that in the past century was part of a vast French empire, you can get a sense of how much the jihadist militants had alienated the locals.


Last week the French military took the city of Timbuktu. The defeat of the al Qaeda-linked groups as effective insurgent forces in Mali is now almost complete.


What has just happened in Mali gets to the central problem that jihadist militant groups invariably have. Wherever they begin to control territory and population they create self-styled Islamic "emirates" where they then rule like the Taliban.


Over time this doesn't go down too well with the locals, who usually practice a far less austere version of Islam, and they eventually rise up against the militants, or, if they are too weak to do so themselves, they will cheer on an outside intervention to turf out the militants.


The classical example of this happened in Iraq where al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) controlled Anbar Province, about a third of the country in 2006. AQI cadres ruled with an iron fist and imposed their ultrafundamentalist rule on their fellow Sunnis, who they killed if they felt they were deviating from their supposedly purist Islamic precepts.


This provoked the "Sunni Awakening" of Iraqi tribes that rose up against AQI. These tribes then allied with the U.S. military and by the end of 2007 AQI went from an insurgent group that controlled vast territories to a terrorist group that controlled little but was still able to pull off occasional spectacular terrorist attacks in Baghdad.


Jihadist violence still a threat


The collapse of core al Qaeda and a number of its key affiliates does not, of course, mean that jihadist violence is over. Such religiously motivated mayhem has been a feature of the Muslim world for many centuries. Recall the Assassins, a Shia sect that from its base in what is now Iran dispatched cutthroats armed with daggers to kill its enemies around the Middle East during the 12th and 13th centuries. In so doing the sect gave the world the useful noun "assassin."


And so while core al Qaeda and several of its affiliates and like-minded groups are in terrible shape, there are certainly groups with links to al Qaeda or animated by its ideology that are today enjoying something of a resurgence.


Most of these groups do not call themselves al Qaeda, which is a smart tactic, as even bin Laden himself was advising his Somali affiliate, Al Shabaab, not to use the al Qaeda name as it would turn off fundraisers because the shine had long gone off the al Qaeda brand, according to documents recovered at bin Laden's Abbottabad compound.


One such militant group is the Nigerian Boko Haram, which bombed the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria in 2011 and has also attacked a wide range of Christian targets in the country. However, the group has shown "no capability to attack the West and also has no known members outside of West Africa," according to Virginia Comolli of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies who tracks the group.



Ansar al-Sharia, "Supporters of Sharia," is the name taken by the militant group in Libya that carried out the attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in September in which four Americans were killed. Similarly, in Yemen militants that are aligned with al Qaeda have labeled themselves Ansar al-Sharia.


But this new branding hasn't done the militants much good in either country. In Libya, shortly after the attack on the U.S. consulate, an enraged mob stormed and took over Ansar al Sharia's headquarters in Benghazi. And, as we have seen, in Yemen the jihadists have now been forced out of the towns in the south that they had once held.


One strong foothold in Syria


The one country where jihadist militants have a serious foothold and are likely to play an important role for some period in the future is in Syria. That is because of a perfect storm there that favors them. The Sunni militants in Syria are fighting the regime of Bashir al Assad, a secular dictator who is also an Alawite, which many Muslims believe to be a heretical branch of Shiism.


For the jihadists, Assad's secularism makes him an apostate and his Alawi roots also make him a heretic, while his brutal tactics make him an international pariah. This trifecta makes funding the Sunni insurgency highly attractive for donors in the Gulf.


And for the Arabs who form the heart of al Qaeda the fight against Assad is in the heart of the Arab world, a contest that happens to border also on the hated state of Israel. Also Syria was for much of the past decade the entry point for many hundreds of foreign fighters who poured into Iraq to join Al Qaeda in Iraq following the American invasion of the country. As a result, al Qaeda has long had an infrastructure both in Syria and, of course, in neighboring Iraq.


The Al Nusra Front is the name of arguably the most effective fighting force in Syria. In December the State Department publicly said that Al Nusra, which is estimated to number in the low thousands and about 10% of the fighters arrayed against Assad, was a front for Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).


Al Nusra certainly seems to have learned from AQI's mistakes. For starters, it doesn't call itself al Qaeda. Secondly, it hasn't launched a campaign to crack down on social issues such as smoking or listening to music and so has not alienated the local Sunni population as AQI did in Iraq.


Barak Barfi, a journalist and fellow at the New America Foundation who has spent several months on the ground in Aleppo in northwestern Syria reporting on the opposition to Assad, says Nusra fighters stand out for their bravery and discipline: "They are winning over the hearts and minds of Aleppo residents who see them as straight shooters. There is a regimented recruiting process that weeds out the chaff. Their bases are highly organized with each person given specific responsibilities."


Arab Spring countries seen as an opportunity


The chaotic conditions of several of the countries of the "Arab Spring" are certainly something al Qaeda views as an opportunity. Ayman al-Zawahiri the leader of the group, has issued 27 audio and video statements since the death of bin Laden, 10 of which have focused on the Arab countries that have experienced the revolutions of the past two years.


But if history is a guide, the jihadist militants, whether in Syria or elsewhere, are likely to repeat the mistakes and failures that their fellow militants have experienced during the past decade in countries as disparate as Somalia, the Philippines, Yemen, Iraq, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and now, Mali.


That's because encoded in the DNA of al Qaeda and like-minded groups are the seeds of their own destruction because in power they rule like the Taliban, and they also attack fellow Muslims who don't follow their dictates to the letter. This doesn't mesh very well with these organizations' claims that they are the defenders of Muslims.


These groups also have no real plans for the multiple political and economic problems that beset much of the Islamic world. And they won't engage in normal politics such as elections believing them to be "un-Islamic."


This is invariably a recipe for irrelevance or defeat. In not one nation in the Muslim world since 9/11 has a jihadist militant group seized control of a country. And al Qaeda and its allies' record of effective attacks in the West has been non-existent since 2005.


With threats like these we can all sleep soundly at night.


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