Packers show off depth in 24-10 win over Vikes

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — This rematch was a mismatch.

And the rest of the NFC might want to take note.

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers showed how dangerous they can be when they're at full strength Saturday night, overwhelming the Minnesota Vikings 24-10 in an NFC wild-card game that was never really close.

"Playoff victories are always ones that are very special," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Tonight's win definitely starts and ends with our defense."

John Kuhn scored two touchdowns, DuJuan Harris added another and Rodgers connected with an NFL playoff-record 10 receivers as he threw for 274 yards in his first playoff victory at home. Defensively, the Packers (12-5) finally managed to contain Adrian Peterson and were all over Vikings backup Joe Webb, pressed into service because of Christian Ponder's elbow injury.

Peterson was held to 99 yards — an improvement after gaining 199 and 210 in the first two games. Webb, who hadn't thrown a pass all season, was sacked three times and off target all night. His only highlight was a 50-yard scoring pass to Michael Jenkins late in the fourth quarter, but it was far too late for the Vikings (10-7).

With a little over a minute left, Packers fans began taunting the Vikings (10-7) with chants of "Nah-nah-nah-nah ... goodbye." The win snapped a two-game losing streak at Lambeau Field in the playoffs, and sends the Packers to San Francisco next Saturday for an NFC divisional game with the 49ers. The teams met in the season opener, with San Francisco winning 30-22.

"The main thing was to come out and help this team get a big win," said Charles Woodson, playing in his first game since breaking his right collarbone Oct. 21. "This is the first playoff game for us this year and we want to continue to ride."

This was the third game in six weeks between Green Bay and the Vikings, and second in six days. The Packers' loss in Minnesota last weekend cost them the No. 2 seed in the NFC, along with a bye this weekend, and left them looking — dare we say it? — vulnerable going into the playoffs. But with Charles Woodson back from the broken collarbone that's sidelined him since Oct. 21 and Rodgers having all four of his top receivers for, essentially, the first time since Sept. 30, Green Bay looked like a team that could make the kind of deep run it did two years ago when it won the Super Bowl.

Rodgers used so many different options other NFL quarterbacks must have been drooling. He went with Harris on Green Bay's first scoring drive, mixed it up between James Jones, Tom Crabtree and Greg Jennings on the second, and had 22- and 23-yard completions to Jordy Nelson before Kuhn scored on a 3-yard run that put the Packers up 17-3 just before the half. It was more Harris and Kuhn on the final scoring drive.

Harris, who didn't play in the first game against Minnesota this season because he'd only been elevated from the practice squad a day earlier, led the team in receiving (five catches for 61 yards) and rushing (47 yards on 17 carries). Jennings and Jones had four catches each and Nelson had three before hobbling off late in the fourth quarter.

"We have some stuff to work on," Rodgers insisted. "We've got to help our defense out more, close a team out like that. Tough test next week back in San Francisco. We'll be excited about that."

Hey, at least the Packers are still playing. That's more than the Vikings can say.

Ponder's right elbow was hurt last weekend when Morgan Burnett slammed into him on a blitz, and there just wasn't enough time to recover with the short, six-day turnaround. He tested the arm before the game, but the Vikings decided to go with Webb, whose only playing time this year was a couple of handoffs at the end of a blowout of Tennessee in early October.

"Close," Ponder said of the decision not to play. "We went out pregame and threw a little bit, and just made the decision that it would probably be better off playing Joe with how limited I'd be."

It was the first time Buffalo's Frank Reich in 1993 a quarterback had started a playoff game after not starting during the regular season and, in the first series at least, he seemed to have caught the Packers off guard.

That or they were too busy trying to bottle up Peterson, who bulldozed them for 409 yards in their first two games, to pay attention. With what seemed like every Packers defender focused on Peterson, Webb converted a third-and-3 with a 17-yard pickup. His 5-yard run four plays later put the Vikings at the Green Bay 13. But Webb's first pass of the night went into the ground, and the Vikings were forced to settle for Blair Walsh's 33-yard field goal that gave them a 3-0 lead.

But the Packers quickly settled down and Webb and the Vikings never stood a chance. Especially with Peterson not allowed to roam free as he's done against the Packers in the past.

"The energy level was at an all-time high," Woodson said. "This week, like last week, we buzzed around. But this week we made the tackles, we didn't allow (Peterson) to get through the line of scrimmage and get yards after first contact. We just kept putting heat on them. That was the difference."

Like they did last week, the Packers got off to a rocky start offensively, going three and out after Harris dropped what looked like a gimme pass. But unlike last week, they didn't let it continue, scoring on four of their next five drives.


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"Cliff" concerns give way to earnings focus

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investors' "fiscal cliff" worries are likely to give way to more fundamental concerns, like earnings, as fourth-quarter reports get under way next week.

Financial results, which begin after the market closes on Tuesday with aluminum company Alcoa , are expected to be only slightly better than the third-quarter's lackluster results. As a warning sign, analyst current estimates are down sharply from what they were in October.

That could set stocks up for more volatility following a week of sharp gains that put the Standard & Poor's 500 index <.spx> on Friday at the highest close since December 31, 2007. The index also registered its biggest weekly percentage gain in more than a year.

Based on a Reuters analysis, Europe ranks among the chief concerns cited by companies that warned on fourth-quarter results. Uncertainty about the region and its weak economic outlook were cited by more than half of the 25 largest S&P 500 companies that issued warnings.

In the most recent earnings conference calls, macroeconomic worries were cited by 10 companies while the U.S. "fiscal cliff" was cited by at least nine as reasons for their earnings warnings.

"The number of things that could go wrong isn't so high, but the magnitude of how wrong they could go is what's worrisome," said Kurt Winters, senior portfolio manager for Whitebox Mutual Funds in Minneapolis.

Negative-to-positive guidance by S&P 500 companies for the fourth quarter was 3.6 to 1, the second worst since the third quarter of 2001, according to Thomson Reuters data.

U.S. lawmakers narrowly averted the "fiscal cliff" by coming to a last-minute agreement on a bill to avoid steep tax hikes this weeks -- driving the rally in stocks -- but the battle over further spending cuts is expected to resume in two months.

Investors also have seen a revival of worries about Europe's sovereign debt problems, with Moody's in November downgrading France's credit rating and debt crises looming for Spain and other countries.

"You have a recession in Europe as a base case. Europe is still the biggest trading partner with a lot of U.S. companies, and it's still a big chunk of global capital spending," said Adam Parker, chief U.S. equity strategist at Morgan Stanley in New York.

Among companies citing worries about Europe was eBay , whose chief financial officer, Bob Swan, spoke of "macro pressures from Europe" in the company's October earnings conference call.


One of the biggest worries voiced about earnings has been whether companies will be able to continue to boost profit growth despite relatively weak revenue growth.

S&P 500 revenue fell 0.8 percent in the third quarter for the first decline since the third quarter of 2009, Thomson Reuters data showed. Earnings growth for the quarter was a paltry 0.1 percent after briefly dipping into negative territory.

On top of that, just 40 percent of S&P 500 companies beat revenue expectations in the third quarter, while 64.2 percent beat earnings estimates, the Thomson Reuters data showed.

For the fourth quarter, estimates are slightly better but are well off estimates for the quarter from just a few months earlier. S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.8 percent while revenue is expected to have gone up 1.9 percent.

Back in October, earnings growth for the fourth quarter was forecast up 9.9 percent.

In spite of the cautious outlooks, some analysts still see a good chance for earnings beats this reporting period.

"The thinking is you need top line growth for earnings to continue to expand, and we've seen the market defy that," said Mike Jackson, founder of Denver-based investment firm T3 Equity Labs.

Based on his analysis, energy, industrials and consumer discretionary are the S&P sectors most likely to beat earnings expectations in the upcoming season, while consumer staples, materials and utilities are the least likely to beat, Jackson said.

Sounding a positive note on Friday, drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co said it expects profit in 2013 to increase by more than Wall Street had been forecasting, primarily due to cost controls and improved productivity.

(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Here, Bella! Top Pet Names for 2012

Move over, Rover, there’s a new top dog in town, and her name is Bella. For 2012, the “Twilight Saga”-inspired moniker was the most popular for dogs and second-most popular for cats, according to a survey by one veterinary organization. For dogs, Max took second place.

The survey gathered names of 2.5 million dogs and cats at the Banfield Pet Hospital, a veterinary network in Portland, Ore.

The top names resemble those from years past, said Laura Wattenberg, a baby-name expert and the creator of

“Max in particular has been the top name for male dogs for a number of years now,” Wattenberg told LiveScience. 

Cuddly fur babies

In general, pets have been given much more humanlike names over the past generation, Wattenberg said. That reflects a change in society, in which owners see their fur babies more as family members than animals, she said. [What Your Dog's Breed Says About You]

The names people choose for their pets also reflect a sweet, nostalgic innocence.

“There’s a particular slice of human names that have risen for baby names as well, but they’re particularly popular for pets. That’s the cute, cuddly names of the early 20th century.”

These names, such as Max and Lucy, tend to crop up frequently as heroes or heroines in kids’ picture books, Wattenberg said. For instance, the hero in “Where the Wild Things Are” was named Max. These names may reflect how people see their pets.

“They’re like children who never have to grow up,” she said.

Old and new

Pop-culture trends also influenced the popularity of pet names found in the survey. Aside from the top-ranked Bella, Katniss also saw wide use, becoming 18 times more popular for dogs and 14 times more popular for cats, compared with 2011, following the release of the “Hunger Games” in March.  Reality TV stars also got their due, with Honey Boo Boo (a 6-year-old beauty pageant star of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo“) and Purrfect (the name of Cee Lo Green’s cat on “The Voice”) rising in the ranks.

Still, for dog and cat names alike, familiar can still win out over hip. Perennial favorites like Max and Buddy took the second and third slots for dogs, while the perhaps unimaginative Kitty was the most popular name for cats.

Cats vs. dogs

Interestingly, more humanlike names, such as Charlie or Lucy, were popular for dogs, while unisex monikers like Smokey, Shadow and Tigger describing physical traits like color ranked high for felines in 2012.

That may reflect how much people project a human role onto their pets. For instance, one study showed that animals kept in the house are more likely to get human names, Wattenberg said.

“You could infer from this that people feel a little bit more attached or feel like they have a more personal relationship with their dogs,” she said. “Obviously cat lovers will howl at that, but that’s what the names say.”

In general, pet names overlapped very little with baby names. While the trend toward nostalgic, 20th century names carried over from baby naming trends, formal names ruled for human tots. But cuddly, affectionate nicknames took precedence for pets. From the list of pet names, only Chloe made the list of most popular girl names in 2011.

For instance, pet names like Coco or Rocky are more intensely retro than Ava or Jacob (which are more likely to be given to babies). That suggests, as a society, “we’re more willing to push the style to the extreme with pets and maybe even live out the naming fantasies that we wouldn’t quite be able to give to our children,” Wattenberg said.

Here are the top ten names for dogs and cats in order of more to less popular:

Top Dog Names:

  1. Bella

  2. Max

  3. Buddy

  4. Daisy

  5. Bailey

  6. Coco

  7. Lucy

  8. Charlie

  9. Molly

  10. Rocky

Top Cat Names:

  1. Kitty

  2. Bella

  3. Tiger

  4. Max

  5. Smokey

  6. Shadow

  7. Tigger

  8. Lucy

  9. Chloe

  10. Charlie

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

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Storm over Depardieu's 'pathetic' move


  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed Russian citizenship on actor Gérard Depardieu

  • For Depardieu, a public war of words erupted, with many in France disgusted by his move

  • Depardieu more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit, says Agnes Poirier

  • Majority of French people disapprove of his action but can't help loving him, she adds

Agnes Poirier is a French journalist and political analyst who contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and TV in the UK, U.S., France, Italy. Follow her on Twitter.

Paris (CNN) -- Since the revelation on the front page of daily newspaper Libération, on December 11, with a particularly vicious editorial talking about France's national treasure as a "former genius actor," Gérard Depardieu's departure to Belgium, where he bought a property just a mile from the French border, has deeply divided and saddened France. Even more so since, as we have learnt this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed the actor Russian citizenship.

Back in mid-December, the French media operated along political lines: the left-wing press such as Libération couldn't find strong enough words to describe Depardieu's "desertion" while right-wing publications such as Le Figaro, slightly uneasy at the news, preferred to focus on President François Hollande's punishing taxes which allegedly drove throngs of millionaires to seek tax asylum in more fiscally lenient countries such as Belgium or Britain. Le Figaro stopped short of passing moral judgement though. Others like satirical weekly Charlie hebdo, preferred irony. Its cover featured a cartoon of the rather rotund-looking Depardieu in front of a Belgian flag with the headline: "Can Belgium take the world's entire load of cholesterol?" Ouch.

Quickly though, it became quite clear that Depardieu was not treated in the same way as other famous French tax exiles. French actor Alain Delon is a Swiss resident as is crooner-rocker Johnny Halliday, and many other French stars and sportsmen ensure they reside for under six months in France in order to escape being taxed here on their income and capital. Their move has hardly ever been commented on. And they certainly never had to suffer the same infamy.

Agnes Poirier

Agnes Poirier

For Depardieu, a public war of words erupted. It started with the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and many members of his government, showing their disdain, and talking of Depardieu's "pathetic move." In response the outraged actor penned an open letter to the French PM in which he threatened to give back his French passport.

The backlash was not over. Fellow thespian Phillipe Torreton fired the first salvo against Depardieu in an open letter published in Libération, insulting both Depardieu's protruding physique and lack of patriotism: "So you're leaving the ship France in the middle of a storm? What did you expect, Gérard? You thought we would approve? You expected a medal, an academy award from the economy ministry? (...)We'll get by without you." French actress Catherine Deneuve felt she had to step in to defend Depardieu. In another open letter published by Libération, she evoked the darkest hours of the French revolution. Before flying to Rome to celebrate the New Year, Depardieu gave an interview to Le Monde in which he seemed to be joking about having asked Putin for Russian citizenship. Except, it wasn't a joke.

In truth, French people have felt touched to their core by Depardieu's gesture. He, more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit. He has been Cyrano, he has been Danton; he, better than most, on screen and off, stands for what it means to be French: passionate, sensitive, theatrical, and grandiose. Ambiguous too, and weak in front of temptations and pleasures.

In truth, French people have felt touched to their core by Depardieu's gesture. He, more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit
Hugh Miles

For more than two weeks now, #Depardieu has been trending on French Twitter. Surveys have showed France's dilemma: half the French people understand him but there are as many who think that paying one's taxes is a national duty. In other words, a majority of French people disapprove of his action but can't help loving the man.

Putin's move in granting the actor Russian citizenship has exacerbated things. And first of all, it is a blow to Hollande who, it was revealed, had a phone conversation with Depardieu on New Year's Day. The Elysées Palace refused to communicate on the men's exchange. A friend of the actor declared that Depardieu complained about being so reviled by the press and that he was leaving, no matter what.

If, in their hearts, the French don't quite believe Depardieu might one day settle in Moscow and abandon them, they feel deeply saddened by the whole saga. However, with France's former sex symbol Brigitte Bardot declaring that she too might ask Putin for Russian citizenship to protest against the fate of zoo elephants in Lyon, it looks as if the French may prefer to laugh the whole thing off. Proof of this: the last trend on French Twitter is #IWantRussianCitizenship.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Agnes Poirier.

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Englewood shooting victim dies

An afternoon shooting in the Englewood neighborhood has left a man dead on a day in which at least 10 people have been shot since 12 a.m., according to authorities.

At 3:10 p.m. someone shot a male victim multiple times in the abdomen in the 5500 block of South Loomis Boulevard, News Affairs Officer Daniel O’Brien said.

The victim, a man in his 20s, was taken from the scene of the shooting in the Englewood neighborhood to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, where he was pronounced dead at 3:52 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Saturday night about 8:30 p.m., a male was shot in the West Town neighborhood, police said.

The male, whose age and condition were not immediately released, was taken from the 1800 block of West Maypole Avenue to Stroger with a gunshot wound to the buttocks.

About 7:10 p.m., two men were injured in a shooting in the 5100 block of West Oakdale Avenue, O'Brien said.

A 25-year-old man was taken in critical condition to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center with a gunshot wound to the back, O'Brien said. A 21-year-old man was taken to the same hospital in good condition with a gunshot wound to the wrist, O'Brien said.

The shooting happened in the Cragin neighborhood on the Northwest Side.

Late Saturday morning, a shooting in the Back of the Yards neighborhood left another victim shot in the abdomen and seriously wounded.

Someone shot the male in the abdomen at 11:48 a.m. in the 4500 block of South Marshfield Avenue, according to Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Michael Sullivan.

He was taken to John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County in serious condition, Sullivan said.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting were not known immediately but Sullivan said no one was arrested.

Earlier Saturday, four people were shot in two separate incidents before the sun rose, and a fifth man was killed in a West Side shooting.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Venezuela lawmakers elect Chavez ally as Assembly chief

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan lawmakers re-elected a staunch ally of Hugo Chavez to head the National Assembly on Saturday, putting him in line to be caretaker president if the socialist leader does not recover from cancer surgery.

By choosing the incumbent, Diosdado Cabello, the "Chavista"-dominated legislature cemented the combative ex-soldier's position as the third most powerful figure in the government, after Chavez and Vice President Nicolas Maduro.

"As a patriot ... I swear to be supremely loyal in everything I do, to defend the fatherland, its institutions, and this beautiful revolution led by our Comandante Hugo Chavez," Cabello said as he took the oath, his hand on the constitution.

He had earlier warned opposition politicians against attempting to use the National Assembly to "conspire" against the people, saying they would be "destroyed" if they tried.

Thousands of the president's red-clad supporters gathered outside parliament hours before the vote, many chanting: "We are all Chavez! Our comandante will be well! He will return!"

If Chavez had to step down, or died, Cabello would take over the running of the country as Assembly president and a new election would be organized within 30 days. Chavez's heir apparent, Maduro, would be the ruling Socialist Party candidate.

Chavez, who was diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer in his pelvic area in mid-2011, has not been seen in public nor heard from in more than three weeks.

Officials say the 58-year-old is in delicate condition and has suffered multiple complications since the December 11 surgery, including unexpected bleeding and severe respiratory problems.

Late on Friday, Maduro gave the clearest indication yet that the government was preparing to delay Chavez's inauguration for a new six-year term, which is scheduled for Thursday.


Maduro said the ceremony was a "formality" and that Chavez could be sworn in by the Supreme Court at a later date.

The opposition says Chavez's absence would be just the latest sign that he is no longer fit to govern, and that new elections should be held in the South American OPEC nation.

Brandishing a copy of the constitution after his win in the Assembly, Cabello slammed opposition leaders for writing a letter to foreign embassies in which they accused the government of employing a "twisted reading" of the charter.

"Get this into your heads: Hugo Chavez was elected president and he will continue to be president beyond January 10. No one should have any doubt ... this is the constitutional route," he said as fellow Socialist Party lawmakers cheered.

The opposition sat stony-faced. One of their legislators had earlier told the session that it was not just the head of state who was ill, "the republic is sick."

Last year, Chavez staged what appeared to be a remarkable comeback from the disease to win re-election in October, despite being weakened by radiation therapy. He returned to Cuba for more treatment within weeks of his victory.

Should the president have to step down after 14 years in office, a new vote would probably pit Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state.

Capriles lost to Chavez in October's presidential election.

"I don't think Maduro would last many rounds in a presidential race. He's not fit for the responsibility they have given him," Capriles said after the vice president's appearance on state television.

Chavez's condition is being watched closely by leftist allies around Latin American who have benefited from his oil-funded generosity, as well as investors attracted by Venezuela's lucrative and widely traded debt.

The country boasts the world's biggest crude reserves. Despite the huge political upheaval Chavez's exit would cause, the oil industry is not likely to be affected much in the short term, with an extension of "Chavismo" keeping projects on track, while a change in parties could usher in more foreign capital.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Manziel, Texas A&M beat Oklahoma 41-13 in Cotton

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel ran for two touchdowns, threw for two more and had a Cotton Bowl-record 516 total yards as 10th-ranked Texas A&M wrapped up its first SEC season with a 41-13 win over No. 12 Oklahoma on Friday night.

The Aggies (11-2) never trailed after Manziel tiptoed the sideline for a 23-yard TD run on their opening drive of the game.

Texas A&M took control of the game by scoring touchdowns on its first three drives in the third quarter, going ahead 34-13 when Manziel threw a 33-yard TD pass to Ryan Swope on a fourth-and-4 play.

Oklahoma (10-3), which like the Aggies entered the game with a five-game winning streak, went three-and-out on its first three drives after halftime.

Manziel set an FBS bowl record with his 229 yards rushing on 17 carries, and completed 22 of 34 passes for 287 yards.

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Giant Sun Eruption Could Swallow 20 Earths

A massive eruption on the surface of the sun this week blasted out a wave of super-hot plasma so high that it could tower over 20 Earths, NASA officials say.

The New Year’s Eve solar eruption occurred Monday (Dec. 31) and was captured on camera by NASA’s powerful Solar Dynamics Observatory, a sun-watching spacecraft that constantly records high-definition video of our star. The result: an eye-popping video of the New Year’s Eve sun storm.

Despite its size, the solar eruption was not the most powerful example of the sun’s stormy wrath, NASA officials said.

“Magnetic forces drove the flow of plasma, but without sufficient force to overcome the sun’s gravity much of the plasma fell back into the sun,” NASA officials wrote in an image description today (Jan. 4). “The length of the eruption extends about 160,000 miles [257,495 kilometers] out from the sun. With Earth about 7,900 miles [12,714 km] in diameter, this relatively minor eruption is about 20 times the diameter of our planet.”

Some NASA officials described Monday’s sun eruption, which occurred over a four-hour period, as a solar ballet. The Solar Dynamics Observatory is one of several spacecraft that keep a constant watch on the sun for flare and storm activity.

The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar activity cycle  and is expected to reach its peak level later this year. However, NASA scientists have said that the peak of the current cycle, known as Solar Cycle 24, may be the lowest of its kind in a century.

Solar flares and eruptions can have a significant impact on Earth when they are aimed at the planet. The most powerful solar flares can interfere with satellite communications, pose a safety risk for astronauts in orbit and damage power system infrastructure on the planet’s surface.

Minor solar storms can also trigger amazing geomagnetic storms above Earth that supercharge the planet’s aurora displays above its poles.

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

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Polar ends of fight for female equality

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frida Ghitis

Frida Ghitis

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

iReport: 'She could have been me'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opinion: End global rape culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opinion: House GOP failed women on Violence Against Women Act

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

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

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

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

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

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Escapee's mother: 'I'm glad it's over'

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

The second inmate who made a daring escape last month from a high-rise federal jail in the South Loop was captured today in south suburban Palos Hills, according to FBI officials.

Kenneth Conley, a convicted bank robber, was awaiting sentencing when he and cellmate Joseph “Jose” Banks scaled about 15 floors down the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Dec. 18 with a rope fashioned from bedsheets.

FBI Spokeswoman Joan Hyde said Conley was apprehended at an apartment complex at about 4 p.m. by Palos Hills police.

Palos Hills Police Deputy Chief James Boie said officers apprehended Conley with the help of two maintenance men working at an apartment complex in the 10200 block of South 86th Terrace, who called police at about 3:30 p.m. to report a “suspicious person.''

In 2004, Conley used to live on another street of the Scenic Tree complex where police were initially called, Boie said.

At least two officers who had been checking out the complaint were talking with the building maintenance workers in the basement of the building on 86th Terrace but did not find Conley. 

As they were leaving, they saw their lieutenant outside on the street about a half a block away, involved in a dispute with Conley, who’d been walking eastbound, Boie said.

Conley was dressed in an overcoat, pretending to use a cane and was wearing glasses. He had a dark hat pulled down low over his head and appeared to be trying to look older than he actually was, Boie said.

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

Before fleeing, Conley slugged the lieutenant, a 30-year department veteran, and the lieutenant had injuries including a possible torn hamstring. Boie said the lieutenant was taken to Palos Community Hospital for treatment.

Boie said two additional officers responding to the scene caught the man -- later identified as Conley -- about a block away as he was trying to force his way into an apartment at the complex.

He was wrestled down but did not offer any other resistance. Conley was also taken to Palos Community Hospital for observation, according to Boie.

When police were called about the suspicious person, the lieutenant, a sergeant and an officer initially went to check it out, said police Chief Paul J. Madigan.

When Conley could not provide identification the struggle broke out, with Conley taking a swing at one of the officers before fleeing into one of the buildings, Madigan said.

Conley was finally apprehended when he tried to break into someone’s apartment, Madigan said.

Conley told police he injured his arm during the struggle.  He remains in the custody of federal authorities, Madigan said.

The multi-unit complex is made up of clusters of 2-story, brick buildings, with a wooded area behind it.

Police found a BB pistol in Conley’s pocket. He had no money, ID or other weapons, Boie said.

Boie said that U.S. Marshals had been in the area days earlier after getting a tip that Conley had knocked on the door of a former acquaintance.

Boie said Conley was known to the police because he’d had multiple resisting and obstructing arrests in 2004. Even still, they were surprised when they realized who they’d just arrested.

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

As far as what happens next, Boie said it was not up to their department.

“It’s been turned over to the FBI and I’m sure the next move is theirs,’’ Boie said.

Boie said Conley was charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery and resisting arrest for today’s incident.

Conley’s mother, Sandra, answered the phone at her Tinley Park home this evening and said she had heard of her son’s arrest but had no details or comment.

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Chavez swearing-in can be delayed: Venezuelan VP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — DeAnthony Thomas returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for the first of his two touchdowns, Marcus Mariota accounted for three scores, and No. 5 Oregon raced past No. 7 Kansas State 35-17 at the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night.

Oregon (12-1) jumped out to a 15-0 lead behind Thomas' opening return and 23-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.

Kansas State (11-2) tried to bull its way behind Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein, only to get overwhelmed by the speedy Ducks, who got some help with an obscure 1-point safety on a blocked extra-point kick.

Mariota added a 24-yard touchdown pass to Kenjon Barner in the second quarter and ran for a 2-yard score in the third to give Oregon its second straight BCS bowl win after beating Wisconsin in last year's Rose Bowl.

Klein threw two interceptions and had 30 yards rushing on 13 carries.

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Asian shares drop on Fed minutes, dollar extends gain

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares fell on Friday, tracking overnight weakness in global equities after senior Federal Reserve officials expressed concerns about continuing to expand stimulative bond buying, but the dollar extended gains as U.S. debt yields rose.

Minutes from the Fed's December policy meeting released on Thursday showed some voting members of the Federal Open Market Committee were increasingly concerned about the potential risks of the Fed's asset purchases on financial markets, even if it looked set to continue an open-ended stimulus program for now.

The Fed's asset-buying policy has been pivotal in underpinning investor risk appetite and supporting global equities, so the more hawkish Fed minutes unnerved financial markets on Thursday, driving benchmark U.S. Treasury yields up to a near eight-month high and weighing on equities and oil, while lifting the dollar.

The dollar was also bolstered by data showing U.S. private-sector hiring improved in December, raising hopes for a strong monthly payrolls report due later in the day, a key gauge to the U.S. economy and the Fed's future policy course.

The rise in the dollar hit precious metals and oil on Friday as a firmer dollar makes dollar-based assets more expensive for non-dollar holders.

The Fed's minutes prompted investors to book profits from rallies immediately after U.S. lawmakers earlier this week narrowly avoided falling off the "fiscal cliff" of automatic taxes increases and spending cuts, which risked derailing the economy.

"Market moves largely reflect positioning after the recent rallies and before the nonfarm payrolls, which could tip the markets either way," said Yuji Saito, director of foreign exchange at Credit Agricole in Tokyo.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> slid 0.8 percent, after scaling its highest since August 2011 on Thursday.

Australian shares <.axjo> slipped 0.4 percent, retreating from a two-day rally which took shares to their highest in more than 19 months on Thursday. Hong Kong shares <.hsi> tumbled 0.8 percent but Shanghai shares <.ssec> inched up 0.2 percent.

The dollar hit its highest since July 2010 against the yen at 87.78 while the euro fell to a three-week low of $1.3019 on Friday. The U.S. dollar <.dxy> also touched a near four-week high against a basket of major currencies.

"Dollar-positive momentum is solid as the fiscal cliff was averted, the overnight data was good and yields were rising. I won't be surprised to see the dollar rise to 90 yen soon," said Hiroshi Maeba, head of FX trading Japan for UBS in Tokyo.

"Despite repeated Japanese intervention, the dollar had refused to strengthen in the past, but now, it's advancing without any action, suggesting the direction has completely changed to support continued dollar buying," Maeba said.

The yen's tumble pushed Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average <.n225> up 2.6 percent to its highest since March 2011, outshining the Asian regional bourses. Japanese markets were closed from December 31 to January 3 for the new year's holidays. <.t/>

Japanese government bonds skidded on their first trading day of 2013, with benchmark yields hitting a 3 1/2-month high in line with surging Japanese equities and a drop in U.S. Treasuries prices.


U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans face tough talks on spending cuts and an increase in the nation's debt limit as the hard-fought deal to avert the fiscal cliff covered only taxes and delayed decisions on expenditures until March 1.

But investor sentiment was supported by recent data showing activity in China's services sector and at U.S. factories expanded in December, which brightened the outlook for global growth.

"The minutes have added a fresh degree of uncertainty into the investment climate, which is likely to mean a steeper yield curve. But equity investors should take heart from the fact that the Fed's perception is qualified on an improving economy," Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York, said in a note to clients.

China's services sector saw its slowest rate of expansion in nearly a year and a half in December, a private sector survey showed on Friday, but underlying growth revival remained intact, even if it were modest.

The U.S. economy likely added 150,000 jobs in December, according to a Reuters survey, up from 146,000 in November. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 7.7 percent.

Resolution of the U.S. fiscal cliff crisis could spell trouble for some Asian assets as investors could start to shift some money out of overpriced Asian investments in favor of the U.S. on brightening prospects for American stocks.

U.S. crude fell 0.8 percent to $92.17 a barrel while Brent shed 0.7 percent to $111.38.

U.S. gold futures for February dropped more than 1 percent to around $1,645 an ounce on Friday while spot gold also fell 1 percent to around $1,645, dragging silver down more than 2 percent to $29.48.

Despite the decline in equities markets, sentiment in Asian credit markets remained upbeat, with the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index narrowing by two basis points.

(Editing by Eric Meijer)

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Congress members seek investigation of Shell barge

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Calls for federal scrutiny of Royal Dutch Shell PLC drilling operations in Arctic waters swelled Thursday with a request for a formal investigation by members of Congress.

The House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition called on the Interior Department and the Coast Guard to jointly investigate the New Year’s Eve grounding of the Shell drilling vessel Kulluk on a remote Gulf of Alaska island, and a previous incident connected to Arctic offshore drilling operations in 2012.

The coalition is made up of 45 House Democrats.

“The recent grounding of Shell‘s Kulluk oil rig amplifies the risks of drilling in the Arctic,” they said in a joint statement. “This is the latest in a series of alarming blunders, including the near-grounding of another of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs, the 47-year-old Noble Discoverer, in Dutch Harbor and the failure of its blowout containment dome, the Arctic Challenger, in lake-like conditions.”

The coalition believes these “serious incidents” warrant thorough investigation, the statement said.

Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email that the company is in full support of, and is providing resources for, the investigation of the grounding by the Unified Incident Command, made up of federal, state and company representatives. Smith said the findings will be available to the public.

Shell incident commander Sean Churchfield said at an Anchorage news conference later Thursday that two more salvage crews had boarded the vessel and found damage to emergency and service generators, and to the Kulluk’s upper deck.

The vessel is upright and stable, and the Coast Guard has said there is no indication of a fuel leak.

“Findings include some wave damage to the top sides of the vessel, and a number of watertight hatches have been breached, causing water damage inside,” Churchfield said. The team has secured some of the open hatches, he said.

Damage to the generators means salvagers may have to bring external generators on board or work without power, Churchfield said. He confirmed salvagers heard “breathing” from a vent but said they couldn’t immediately determine whether it was a breech or natural venting.

Salvage is in the assessment stage, Churchfield noted, and options are being developed. He wouldn’t speculate on whether the Kulluk is seaworthy or when it might be moved.

An emergency towing system was deposited on deck, and spill response equipment has been staged.

“I want to reiterate there is no limitation on resources, personnel or equipment being deployed as part of the response and recovery activities,” Churchfield said.

Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler said the top concern remains the safety of responders working in what continues to be hazardous flying and marine conditions.

The Kulluk is a non-propelled, 266-foot diameter barge with a reinforced funnel-shaped hull designed to operate in ice. It is carrying more than 140,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid. Centered on the vessel is a 160-foot derrick. It drilled during the short open-water season in the Beaufort Sea.

A 360-foot anchor handler, the Aiviq, was towing the Kulluk from Dutch Harbor to Seattle last week for maintenance and upgrades when the tow line snapped south of Kodiak. Lines were reattached at least four times but could not be maintained. A lone tugboat still attached Monday night in a vicious storm couldn’t control the vessel and cut it loose as it neared land.

After the grounding, critics quickly asserted it has foreshadowed what will happen north of the Bering Strait if drilling is allowed.

Environmentalists for years have said conditions are too harsh and the stakes too high to allow industrial development in the Arctic, where drilling sites are 1,000 miles or more from the closest Coast Guard base.

Two national organizations kept up the drumbeat Thursday by calling for a halt to all permitting for Arctic offshore drilling in the wake of the grounding.

“This string of mishaps by Shell makes it crystal clear that we are not ready to drill in the Arctic,” said Chuck Clusen of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Shell is not Arctic-ready. We have lost all faith in Shell, and they certainly don’t have any credibility left.”

Lois Epstein, a civil engineer who works for The Wilderness Society in Anchorage, said Shell has made troubling, non-precautionary decisions that put workers and the Coast Guard at risk.

“These ongoing technical and decision-making problems and their enormous associated costs and risks taken by our military personnel once there were problems should lead the federal government to reassess its previous permitting decisions regarding Shell,” Epstein said.

In the short term, she said, damage to the Kulluk may prevent it from being ready for the 2013 open water season. Besides drilling in the Beaufort, the barge was supposed to be on hand for drilling a relief well if Shell’s drill vessel in the Chukchi Sea, the Noble Discoverer, experienced a wellhead blowout and was damaged, Epstein said.

Shell has maintained it has taken a heads-up approach to anticipating and reacting to problems.

Shell Alaska spokesman Smith said Wednesday the Kulluk had been towed more than 4,000 miles and had previously experienced similar storm conditions. Shell staged additional towing vessels along the route in case there were problems, he said.

“We know how to work in regions like this,” Smith said. “Having said that, when flawless execution does not happen, you learn from it, and we will.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Zelizer

Julian Zelizer

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

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

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

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

Opinion: The real issue is runaway spending

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

Now come taxes and spending.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opinion: Christie drops bomb on GOP leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alvarez to review domestic violence case

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez vowed Thursday to review how her office handled domestic-violence charges three months before authorities said a Cicero father killed his wife and daughter and critically injured his son in an alleged case of arson last weekend.

In a statement, Alvarez said she had "serious questions and concerns" about why felony charges were not brought against Nathaniel Beller, 29, last September after he allegedly poured gasoline in the bathtub of his Cicero apartment and threatened to kill his two children.

Last Saturday, after his release from a mental health facility, Beller is suspected of pouring gasoline on his two young children and wife, Taniya Johnson, 33, in a home on Chicago's West Side and igniting them, officials said. Killed were Beller, his wife, and Neriyah, 4, his daughter. Son Naciere, 9, was critically injured.

"This case is a horrific tragedy involving the extremely complicated and challenging crime of domestic violence and the troubling and increasing prevalence of mental illness in criminal defendants," Alvarez said. "...This matter will be reviewed in its entirety and if individuals in this office need to be held accountable for their judgment, that will certainly occur."

Cicero spokesman Ray Hanania said Thursday that Cicero police recommended felony charges against Beller after the September incident, but that the state's attorney's office decided not to pursue that.

A Cicero police report indicated that an assistant state's attorney rejected felony charges because of a lack of evidence and the refusal of Beller's wife to cooperate.

State child-welfare officials removed the children from the home and placed them with an aunt while Cicero police continued to investigate the September incident. Meanwhile, Beller was committed to a mental health facility for the next three months, and the case went to juvenile court to determine custody of the children.

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Eleven dead in Damascus gas station blast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Louisville leads Florida 30-10 after 3 in Sugar

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Terell Floyd returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown on the first play, dual-threat quarterback Teddy Bridgewater directed four more scoring drives and No. 22 Louisville held a 30-10 lead over heavily favored No. 4 Florida through three quarters of the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.

Shaking off an early hit that flattened him and knocked off his helmet, Bridgewater was 17 of 26 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Among his throws was a pinpoint, 15-yard timing toss that DeVante Parker acrobatically grabbed as he touched one foot down in the corner of the end zone.

His other scoring strike went to Damian Copeland from 19 yards. Jeremy Wright added short touchdown run for Louisville and John Wallace connected on a 27-yard field goal.

Florida had not trailed by more than 10 points in a game all season, but the Cardinals, who came in as two-touchdown underdogs, got off to quite a start. The Gators did not get on the board until Caleb Sturgis's 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter, which made it 14-3.

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

Jones met only minimal resistance as he crashed into the end zone to cap an 11-play, 74-yard drive that included four straight completions and four straight runs by Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.

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

On the following kickoff, Evans cut down kick returner Loucheiz Purifoy with a vicious low hit that shook Purifoy up. Soon after, Driskel was sacked hard from behind and stripped by safety Calvin Pryor, who had said days earlier that he thought underdog Louisville was ready to "shock the world."

Louisville's Lorenzo Mauldin recovered on the Florida 4, but the Gators' defense drove the Cardinals backward and forced a missed field goal.

Wallace had another field goal wiped out by an illegal block and then he missed the re-kick from father back.

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

Driskel was 11 of 19 for 110 yards. His interception was only his fourth all year. He was looking for seldom-targeted receiver Andre Debose, who had only two catches all season coming in. The throw was a bit behind Debose and the receiver tipped it, making for an easy catch and score for Floyd.

Oddly, Louisville had only 10 defenders on the field until only moments before the snap, when safety Jermaine Reve darted out from the sideline and immediately found a Florida receiver to cover.

When Louisville's offense got the ball later in the quarter, the Florida defense, ranked among the best in the nation this season, sought to intimidate the Cardinals with one heavy hit after another. Then again, Cardinals coach Charlie Strong was plenty familiar with many of these Gators — he was their defensive coordinator before moving to Louisville after the 2009 season.

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

Louisville kept coming, though.

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

Louisville won the Big East berth to this game. They beat Rutgers in late November to virtually lock up the conference title, sealing that win on a late interception by Floyd.

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Asia stocks eke out gains on China hopes, oil eases

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

The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index of stocks <.miapj0000pus> was up 0.3 percent following Wednesday's 2 percent jump on relief that U.S. politicians had averted the "fiscal cliff". Japan's Nikkei 225 <.n225> rose 0.7 percent.

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

The China Enterprises index <.hsce> rose 0.4 percent while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index <.hsce> was up 0.2 percent and hovered near its highest since June 2011.

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

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

Onshore Chinese markets will resume trading in the new year on Friday.

Australian stocks <.axjo> rose for a second straight day and were up 0.6 percent at a 19-month high, with mining giants Rio Tinto up 2 percent and BHP Billiton up 0.5 percent, among the top boosts on the benchmark index.

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

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

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

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

The U.S. dollar rose 0.3 percent <.dxy> against a basket of major currencies.

President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans face even bigger budget battles in the next two months after the hard-fought deal halted a round of automatic fiscal tightening that threatened to push the world's largest economy into recession.

Strength in the dollar and profit-taking pushed oil prices lower with Brent crude slipping below $112 a barrel and U.S. crude futures down 57 cents to $92.55.

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

(Reporting by Vikram Subhedar; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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