Jerry Buss, Lakers' flamboyant owner, dies at 80

Jerry Buss built a glittering life at the intersection of sports and Hollywood.

After growing up in poverty in Wyoming, he earned success in academia, aerospace and real estate before discovering his favorite vocation when he bought the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979. While Buss wrote the checks and fostered partnerships with two generations of basketball greats, the Lakers won 10 NBA titles and became a glamorous global brand.

With a scientist's analytical skills, a playboy's flair, a businessman's money-making savvy and a die-hard hoops fan's heart, Buss fashioned the Lakers into a remarkable sports entity. They became a nightly happening, often defined by just one word coined by Buss: Showtime.

"His impact is felt worldwide," said Kobe Bryant, who has spent nearly half his life working for Buss.

Buss, who shepherded his NBA team from the Showtime dynasty of the 1980s to the current Bryant era while becoming one of the most important and successful owners in pro sports, died Monday. He was 80.

"Think about the impact that he's had on the game and the decisions he's made, and the brand of basketball he brought here with Showtime and the impact that had on the sport as a whole," Bryant said a few days ago. "Those vibrations were felt to a kid all the way in Italy who was 6 years old, before basketball was even global."

Under Buss' leadership, the star-studded, trophy-winning Lakers became Southern California's most beloved sports franchise and a signature cultural representation of Los Angeles. Buss acquired, nurtured and befriended a staggering array of talented players and basketball minds during his Hall of Fame tenure, from Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy to Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard.

Few owners in sports history can approach Buss' accomplishments with the Lakers, who made the NBA Finals 16 times during his nearly 34 years in charge, winning 10 titles between 1980 and 2010. Whatever the Lakers did under Buss' watch, they did it big — with marquee players, eye-popping style and a relentless pursuit of success with little regard to its financial cost.

"His incredible commitment and desire to build a championship-caliber team that could sustain success over a long period of time has been unmatched," said Jerry West, Buss' longtime general manager and now a consultant with the Golden State Warriors. "With all of his achievements, Jerry was without a doubt one of the most humble men I've ever been around. His vision was second to none; he wanted an NBA franchise brand that represented the very best and went to every extreme to accomplish his goals."

Buss died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said Bob Steiner, his assistant and longtime friend. Buss had been hospitalized for most of the past 18 months while undergoing cancer treatment, but the cause of death was kidney failure, Steiner said.

"When someone as celebrated and charismatic as Jerry Buss dies, we are reminded of two things," said Abdul-Jabbar, the leading scorer in NBA history. "First, just how much one person with vision and strength of will can accomplish. Second, how fragile each of us is, regardless of how powerful we were. Those two things combine to inspire us to reach for the stars, but also to remain with our feet firmly on the ground among our loved ones. ... The man may be gone, but he has made us all better people for knowing him."

With his condition worsening in recent months, several prominent former Lakers visited Buss to say goodbye. Even rivals such as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Clippers owner Donald Sterling hailed the passion and bonhomie of the former chemist and mathematician who lived his own Hollywood dream.

"He was a great man and an incredible friend," Johnson tweeted.

Buss always referred to the Lakers as his extended family, and his players rewarded his fanlike excitement with devotion, friendship and two hands full of championship rings. Working with front-office executives West, Bill Sharman and Mitch Kupchak, Buss spent lavishly to win his titles despite lacking a huge personal fortune, often running the NBA's highest payroll while also paying high-profile coaches Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.

"Jerry Buss was more than just an owner. He was one of the great innovators that any sport has ever encountered," Riley said. "He was a true visionary, and it was obvious with the Lakers in the 80's that 'Showtime' was more than just Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was really the vision of a man who saw something that connected with a community."

Ownership of the Lakers is now in a trust controlled by Buss' six children, who all have worked for the Lakers in various capacities for several years. With 1,786 victories, the Lakers easily are the NBA's winningest franchise since he bought the club, which is now run largely by Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss.

"We not only have lost our cherished father, but a beloved man of our community and a person respected by the world basketball community," the Buss family said in a statement issued by the Lakers.

"It was our father's often-stated desire and expectation that the Lakers remain in the Buss family. The Lakers have been our lives as well, and we will honor his wish and do everything in our power to continue his unparalleled legacy."

Johnson and fellow Hall of Famers Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy formed lifelong bonds with Buss during the Lakers' run to five titles in nine years in the 1980s, when the Lakers earned a reputation as basketball's most exciting team with their flamboyant Showtime repartee.

The buzz extended throughout the Forum, where Buss turned the Lakers' games into a must-see event. He used the Laker Girls, a brass band and promotions to keep Lakers fans interested during all four quarters. Courtside seats, priced at $15 when he bought the Lakers, became the hottest tickets in Hollywood — and they still are, with fixture Jack Nicholson and many other celebrities attending every home game.

"Anybody associated with the NBA since 1980 benefited greatly from Jerry Buss' impact on the game," Steiner said. "He had a different way of looking at things than I did, and people who had been raised in basketball."

Buss paid the Lakers' bills through both their wild success and his groundbreaking moves to raise revenue. He co-founded a basic-cable sports television network and sold the naming rights to the Forum at times when both now-standard strategies were unusual, further justifying his induction to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

"The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come," NBA Commissioner David Stern said. "More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend."

Showtime couldn't last forever, but after a rough stretch in the 1990s, Buss rekindled the Lakers' mystique by paying top dollar to hire Jackson, who led O'Neal and Bryant to a three-peat from 2000-02. Bryant and Pau Gasol won two more titles under Jackson in 2009 and 2010.

The current Lakers (25-29) have struggled mightily despite adding Howard and Steve Nash in a couple of moves that were typical of Buss' big, brash style. Los Angeles could miss the playoffs this spring for just the third time since Buss bought the franchise.

"Today is a very sad day for all the Lakers and basketball," Gasol tweeted. "All my support and condolences to the Buss family. Rest in peace Dr. Buss."

Although Buss gained fame and another fortune with the Lakers, he also was a scholar, Renaissance man and bon vivant who epitomized California cool his entire public life.

Buss rarely appeared in public without at least one attractive, much younger woman on his arm — at Southern California football games, high-stakes poker tournaments, hundreds of boxing matches promoted by Buss at the Forum — and, of course, Lakers games from his private box at Staples Center, which was built under his watch. With his failing health, Buss hadn't attended a Lakers game in the past two seasons.

After a rough-and-tumble childhood that included stints as a ditch-digger and a bellhop in the frigid Wyoming winters, Buss earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from USC at age 24, and had careers in aerospace and real estate development before getting into sports. With money from his real-estate ventures and a good bit of creative accounting, Buss bought the then-struggling Lakers, the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and both clubs' arena — the Forum — from Jack Kent Cooke in a $67.5 million deal that was the largest sports transaction in history at the time.

Last month, Forbes estimated the Lakers were worth $1 billion, second most in the NBA.

Buss also helped change televised sports by co-founding the Prime Ticket network in 1985, and he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006 for his work in television. Breaking the contemporary model of subscription services for televised sports, Buss' Prime Ticket put beloved broadcaster Chick Hearn and the Lakers' home games on basic cable.

Buss also sold the naming rights to the Forum in 1988 to Great Western Savings & Loan — another deal that was ahead of its time.

Born in Salt Lake City, Gerald Hatten Buss was raised in poverty in Wyoming before improving his life through education. He also grew to love basketball, describing himself as an "overly competitive but underly endowed player."

After graduating from the University of Wyoming, Buss attended USC for graduate school because he loved its sports teams. He also became a chemistry professor and worked in the missile division of defense contractor McDonnell Douglas before carving out a path to wealth and sports prominence.

His real-estate portfolio grew out of a $1,000 investment in a West Los Angeles apartment building with partner Frank Mariani, an aerospace engineer and co-worker.

Heavily leveraging his fortune and various real-estate holdings during two years of negotiations, Buss purchased Cooke's entire Los Angeles sports empire along with a 13,000-acre ranch in Kern County. Buss immediately worked to transform the Lakers — who had won just one NBA title since moving west from Minneapolis in 1960 — into a star-powered endeavor befitting Hollywood.

"One of the first things I tried to do when I bought the team was to make it an identification for this city, like Motown in Detroit," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2008. "I try to keep that identification alive. I'm a real Angeleno. I want us to be part of the community."

With showmanship, fearless spending and a little drafting luck, Buss quickly succeeded: Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and coach Paul Westhead led the Lakers to the 1980 title. Johnson's ball-handling wizardry and Abdul-Jabbar's smooth inside game made for an attractive style of play, and the Lakers came to define West Coast sophistication.

Riley, the former broadcaster who fit the L.A. image perfectly with his slick-backed hair and good looks, was surprisingly promoted by Buss early in the 1981-82 season. He became one of the best coaches in NBA history, leading the Lakers to four straight NBA finals and four titles, with Worthy, Michael Cooper, Byron Scott and A.C. Green playing major roles.

"I was privileged to be part of that for 10 years and even more grateful for the friendship that has lasted all these many years," Riley said. "I have always come to realize that if it weren't for Dr. Buss, I wouldn't be where I am today."

Overall, the Lakers made the Finals nine times in Buss' first 12 seasons while rekindling the NBA's best rivalry with the Boston Celtics, and Buss basked in the worldwide celebrity he received from his team's achievements. His partying became the stuff of Los Angeles legends, with even his players struggling to keep up with Buss' lifestyle.

Johnson's HIV diagnosis and retirement in 1991 staggered Buss and the Lakers, the owner recalled in 2011. The Lakers went through seven coaches and made just one conference finals appearance in an eight-year stretch of the 1990s despite the 1996 arrivals of O'Neal, who signed with Los Angeles as a free agent, and Bryant, the 17-year-old high schooler acquired in a draft-week trade.

Shaq and Kobe didn't reach their potential until Buss persuaded Jackson, the Chicago Bulls' six-time NBA champion coach, to take over the Lakers in 1999. Los Angeles immediately won the next three NBA titles in brand-new Staples Center, AEG's state-of-the-art downtown arena built with the Lakers as the primary tenant.

After the Lakers traded O'Neal in 2004, they hovered in mediocrity again until acquiring Gasol in a heist of a trade with Memphis in early 2008. Los Angeles made the next three NBA Finals, winning two more titles.

Through the Lakers' frequent successes and occasional struggles, Buss never stopped living his Hollywood dream. He was an avid poker player and a fixture on the Los Angeles club scene well into his 70s, when a late-night drunk-driving arrest in 2007 — with a 23-year-old woman in the passenger seat of his Mercedes-Benz — prompted him to cut down on his partying.

Buss owned the NHL's Kings from 1979-87, and the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks won two league titles under Buss' ownership. He also owned Los Angeles franchises in World Team Tennis and the Major Indoor Soccer League.

Buss' children have pledged to continue his commitment to the Lakers' distinctive success, although their efforts haven't been rewarded in the past three years while Jerry Buss ceded many decision-making responsibilities to Jim Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president of player personnel and the second-oldest child. While daughter Jeanie runs the franchise's business side, Jim Buss now has the final say on basketball decisions.

Jerry Buss still served two terms as president of the NBA's Board of Governors and was actively involved in the 2011 lockout negotiations, developing blood clots in his legs attributed to his extensive travel during that time.

"I am blessed with a wonderful family who have helped me and guided me every step of the way," Buss said in 2010 at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "This support is the best anybody could ever have."

Buss is survived by his six children: sons Johnny, Jim, Joey and Jesse, and daughters Jeanie Buss and Janie Drexel. He had eight grandchildren.

Arrangements are pending for a funeral and memorial service, likely at Staples Center or a nearby theatre in downtown Los Angeles.


Associated Press writers Beth Harris and Andrew Dalton contributed to this report.

Read More..

Asian shares listless, yen firmer but near lows

TOKYO (Reuters) - Most Asian shares barely moved on Tuesday as a holiday in the U.S. overnight and a lack of catalysts kept many investors on the sidelines.

Concerns about the euro zone economy, U.S. fiscal talks and Chinese appetite limited gains in commodities and also weighed on the euro.

The dollar's strength against a basket of currencies <.dxy> also weighed on commodities and capped gains in gold.

"Markets have become top-heavy after rallying through early February on signs of economic recovery in the United States and Europe, and investors now await fresh factors to push prices higher from here," said Tomomichi Akuta, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting in Tokyo.

"The broad sentiment is underpinned by a lack of tail risks, but investors are turning to some potentially worrying elements such as Italian elections and U.S. budget talks," he said.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> was flat after briefly touching a 18-1/2-month high. The index has gained 3.5 percent this year.

Disappointing earnings pushed European shares lower on Monday for a third straight session while U.S. markets were closed for the President's Day holiday.

The risk of an inconclusive outcome in Italy's election this weekend added to concerns while investors kept eyes on Washington where policymakers are discussing a package of budget cuts set to kick in March 1, which analysts warn could hurt the economy.

"We didn't have a lead from Wall St overnight, we also had weakness coming through from European markets overnight, so we were never expecting a strong day," said Juliette Saly, stock market analyst at Commonwealth Securities in Sydney.

Australian shares <.axjo> edged up 0.1 percent as investors focused on local corporate earnings for direction after a three-month rally that has taken the market to 4-1/2 year highs.

The Nikkei stock average <.n225> eased 0.2 percent, after closing up 2.1 percent on Monday to approach its highest level since September 2008 of 11,498.42 tapped on February 6. <.t/>

Spot gold was up 0.3 percent at $1,614.01 an ounce.

London copper inched up 0.3 percent to $8,144 a tonne as Monday's three-week low drew bargain hunting given prospects for a slowly improving global economic recovery. Unease over China's limp return to the market from a week-long break held back upside momentum, however.

U.S. crude fell 0.3 percent to $95.59 a barrel while Brent inched up 0.1 percent to $117.48.

The euro was steady around $1.3344. The currency eased slightly on Monday after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said in a speech at the European Parliament that "the exchange rate is not a policy target but is important for growth and price stability" and that its rise is "a risk."


The yen remained near recent lows on Tuesday, as attention turned to the appointment of a new Bank of Japan governor.

The yen, which has dropped 20 percent against the dollar since mid-November, fell further at the start of the week after financial leaders from the G20 promised not to devalue their currencies to boost exports and avoided singling out Japan for any direct criticism.

The choice of the next BOJ governor and two deputies has drawn attention as a gauge of how strongly Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is committed to reflating the economy. The G20's message was that as long as Japan pursues aggressive monetary easing to achieve that goal, a weaker yen as a result of such domestic monetary policy will be tolerated, analysts say.

"But that means that some other economy's monetary conditions have been tightened," said Barclays Capital in a note.

"Japan hasn't even changed its policy stance thus far, and the effect of expectations of a looser setting have led to limited moves in domestic interest rates, but the sell-off of the JPY has been marked and has clearly caused unease in other economies," the note said.

Market reaction was muted to the release of the minutes of the BOJ's January 21-22 meeting, when the bank set a 2 percent inflation target and pledged an open-ended quantitative easing from 2014. But the yen was bought when Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters Japan has no plans to buy foreign currency bonds as part of monetary easing, a trader said.

The dollar was down 0.2 percent to 93.73 yen, but remained near its highest since May 2010 of 94.465 hit on February 11. The euro also eased 0.3 percent to 125.05 yen, below its peak since April 2010 of 127.71 yen touched on February 6.

(Additional reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang and Thuy Ong in Sydney; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

Read More..

Time to respect Chavez's merits?

By Samuel Moncada, Special to CNN

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1218 GMT (2018 HKT)

One Venezuelan official says the reforms enacted in Hugo Chavez's 14-year tenure deserve respect.


  • Despite perceptions, Hugo Chavez has brought social progress to Venezuela

  • Moncada: Venezuela's critics have engineered a false narrative of impending disaster

  • Venezuela has used its vast oil reserves to transform lives of ordinary people

  • Ambassador says Chavez's most significant achievement is his empowerment of the majority

Editor's note: Samuel Moncada has been the Ambassador of Venezuela to the United Kingdom since 2007 and holds a PhD in Modern History from Oxford University. He is solely responsible for the content of this analysis.

(CNN) -- Reading the international press, one would be forgiven for thinking that Venezuela is on the verge of collapse.

Over the past decade, all sorts of predictions have been made, ranging from catastrophic election defeats to the implosion of the Venezuelan economy. But the fact these predictions have failed to materialize has not deterred many of Venezuela's most fervent critics in their quest to engineer a constant and misleading narrative of impending disaster.

More: Chavez returns after Cuba cancer treatment

The reality is that ever since President Hugo Chavez was first elected, Venezuela has defied these negative predictions and brought unprecedented social progress to the country over the last 14 years. Since 2004 poverty has been reduced by half and extreme poverty has been cut by 70%. University enrolment has doubled, entitlement to public pensions has tripled, and access to health care and all levels of education have been dramatically expanded.

Venezuela now has the lowest levels of economic inequality of any Latin American country as measured by the Gini coefficient. Our country has already achieved many of the Millennium Development Goals, and is well on target to achieve all eight by the 2015 deadline.

This progress has been achieved by using Venezuela's vast oil revenues to transform the lives of ordinary people. The sheer scale of our oil reserves -- the world's largest -- guarantees the complete sustainability of the model in which the country's resources are used to stimulate growth in the economy and aid development.

But Chavez's most significant achievement has been to trigger the awakening and empowerment of the majority. A majority of Venezuelans have seen vast improvements in their living standards and, as a consequence, they have continued to defend their interests at the ballot box.

The Venezuelan people are very clear about what they want. President Chavez was re-elected in October 2012 with 54% of the vote in an election that boasted an 81% turnout. The Venezuelan people showed their support for the government again in December 2012 in the gubernatorial elections, which saw Chavez's political party win 20 out of 23 states.

Governments in Europe and other parts of the world could only dream of these levels of support after 14 years in power. This shows that social progress in Venezuela has been consolidated and that there is a desire to further expand this progress.

In the coming years, the Venezuelan government will continue to respond to the needs of the Venezuelan people. Hundreds of thousands of new homes have been built over the last two years which have not only greatly improved living standards but also provided jobs and contributed to a boom in the construction industry. The government is well on its way to meeting its target of building three million new homes by 2019.

While many economies around the world are shrinking, the Venezuelan economy grew by 5.5% in 2012. Against the backdrop of a continuing international financial crisis, commerce in Venezuela grew by 9.2% and communications by 7.2%, manufacturing grew by 2.1% and the oil sector grew by 1.4% -- making Venezuela one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America.

At a time when many countries are attacking the rights of the most vulnerable sectors of society, Venezuela is providing ever greater protection for low-income senior citizens and single-parent families with younger children or disabled dependents.

The failed development models of previous governments condemned millions of Venezuelans to poverty. Before the election of Chavez in 1998, Venezuela suffered years of falling GDP. The country had one of the worst economic records in the world -- a record that led to mass social unrest and violent military crackdowns.

Venezuela will continue on its path of social progress and empowering ordinary citizens. The greatest hope for the future is the people know that they alone hold the power to determine the direction the country will take.

After so many failed predictions, isn't it time to respect Venezuela's democracy and the will of the people?

Part of complete coverage on

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1218 GMT (2018 HKT)

President Hugo Chavez has used the nation's vast oil reserves to transform the lives of ordinary people, one official says.

February 19, 2013 -- Updated 0204 GMT (1004 HKT)

New America Foundation's Steven Clemons talks about the significance of China's new port in Pakistan.

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)

He declared last summer to be a "dream come true." Now Oscar Pistorius has entered what could be one of the darkest periods of his life.

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)

The public are still being left in the dark about the brutal treatment and needless suffering of the horses destined for their plates.

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 0235 GMT (1035 HKT)

Lebanese women demand laws to protect them against domestic violence. But local religious courts claim this is a matter of "personal status."

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)

Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman wrote letters to the police officer who arrested him, asking him repeatedly to read "The Catcher in the Rye."

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1038 GMT (1838 HKT)

It's a battle for the airports in northern Syria, with rebels closing in. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports.

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)

Media reports have described him as a man who hanged himself in an Israeli prison. But details about what happened to him, and why, remain elusive.

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 0028 GMT (0828 HKT)

Cameron Russell says her looks fit a narrow definition of beauty and her career as a model gives her views undeserved attention.

It's that time of the year, and the Academy Awards are almost upon us. We want to know your favorite Oscar picks for this year.

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)

Every March 8th, International Women's Day honors the achievements of women past and present. CNN wants to know: who inspires you?

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 2000 GMT (0400 HKT)

Photography, tablets and big screens are set to dominate Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. What else should you watch out for?

Read More..

Rose returns to 5-on-5 drills for first time since injury

A sense of doubt has evolved into a hint of optimism about Derrick Rose's comeback from knee surgery.

The Bulls guard, who last week mentioned the possibility of sitting out the season, appeared to take another step Monday as he participated in 5-on-5 drills during practice.

"He was able to get out there, and it's good," teammate Kirk Hinrich said. "It was something that (we) as a team needed, as far as every individual coming off the (All-Star) break needed to scrimmage a little bit. And I'm sure it was good for (Rose), helpful to ... give him a good gauge of where he's at."

Coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose did "what everyone else did'' and said his participation wasn't out of the ordinary based on the previously stated outlook. The plan all along was to have Rose return to 5-on-5 action after the break.

Rose cited his inability to dunk as the reason he knew he hadn't fully recovered, and Joakim Noah said Rose still wasn't dunking Monday. The Bulls went through three scrimmages of seven to eight minutes, during which Rose ran full-court. It was unclear how much contact Rose endured or how much pressure he put on his left knee.

"He's doing what he should be doing,'' Thibodeau said. "He's focused on his rehab, doing more and more. We just have to be patient. When he's ready, he'll go.''

Thibodeau reiterated how his players need to pick up their intensity after dropping five of the last seven games and six of the last 10. A Rose return would instantly inject life into the 30-22 Bulls, although they've performed admirably at times in his absence while currently holding the Eastern Conference's fifth seed.

Until Rose steps on the court for a game, his teammates have to lean on each other.

"When we're right and we're playing the right way, we've proved that we can beat everybody,'' Noah said. "We've also proved that if we don't come with the right (attitude), don't play together, we can lose to anybody.''

The return of Hinrich to the lineup for Tuesday night's game in New Orleans should provide a boost. The Bulls went 2-5 with Hinrich sidelined by a right elbow infection and committed 15.6 turnovers per game in the losses.

With all due respect to Nate Robinson and his scoring ability, Hinrich runs the offense more efficiently and is a better defender.

"He's a huge part of what we do, and it just feels good to have Kirk back,'' Noah said. "What he brings to our team, it's hard to measure. His defensive intensity, the ball movement ... it's all big.''

The Bulls have lost two straight and take on a 19-34 Hornets team that has won its last two and is 5-5 over the last 10. Four of the Bulls' next six opponents have sub-.500 records, but the Heat (36-14) and Thunder (39-14) are in that stretch too.

"We have to clean some things up offensively and defensively,'' Thibodeau said. "But the biggest challenge is going to be the level of intensity, to get that back.''

Twitter @vxmcclure23

Read More..

Chavez back in Venezuela, on Twitter with four million followers

CARACAS (Reuters) - After Hugo Chavez spent two months out of the public eye for cancer surgery in Cuba, the Venezuelan government hailed his homecoming on Monday and said the president had achieved another milestone - 4 million followers on Twitter.

The 58-year-old flew back from Havana before dawn and was taken to a military hospital. No new details were given on his health, and there were no images of his arrival. Officials say his condition remains delicate.

The normally loquacious socialist leader, who is struggling to speak as he breathes through a tracheal tube, took to Twitter with a passion back in April 2010, tweeting regularly and encouraging other leftist Latin American leaders to do likewise.

His @chavezcandanga account quickly drew a big mixed following of fans, critics and others just curious to see how his famously long speeches and fiery anti-U.S. invective would work within the social media network's 140-character limit.

But as he fought the cancer and underwent weeks of grueling chemotherapy and radiation therapy, he began to tweet less and less frequently, before stopping altogether on November 1.

Early on Monday morning, he made his reappearance.

"It was 4:30, 5 a.m. He got to his room and surprised everyone: rat-tat-tat, he sent three or four messages, and at that moment fireworks began to go off around the country," Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised cabinet meeting.

During the day, Maduro added, the president's number of followers had shot up to well over four million.

"It's incredible, in just a few hours ... he's the second most-followed president in the world (after Barack Obama), and the first if we make the comparison by per capita," he said.

Obama has more than 27 million Twitter followers and is No. 5 most followed globally. Chavez is Twitter's No. 190 globally.


Maduro said Chavez's four millionth follower was a 20-year-old single Venezuelan woman named Alemar Jimenez from the gritty San Juan neighborhood in downtown Caracas, near the military hospital where the president arrived earlier in the day.

"She's one of the golden generation of youth who support the fatherland and have been waiting with growing love for commander Hugo Chavez," Maduro said, before presenting a dazzled-looking Jimenez to the cameras and giving her a bunch of flowers.

"We were really emotional" she said, recounting how she was with her mother when they heard Chavez had returned. "I sent him a message on Twitter saying he must get better."

There are still big questions over the president's health. He could have come back to govern from behind the scenes, or he may be hoping to ease political tensions and pave the way for a transition to Maduro, his preferred successor.

Chavez has often ordered followers to fight back against opposition critics of his self-styled revolution by using social media, leading from the front himself on Twitter and referring to the Internet as a "battle trench."

As his ranks of followers grew, Chavez said he hired 200 assistants to help him respond to messages - which he said were a great way to receive first-hand the requests, demands, complaints and denunciations of citizens in the thousands.

During his re-election campaign last year, the government launched an SMS text message service that forwards his tweets to cellphones that lack Internet service, broadening their reach to the poorest corners of the South American country.

"He's a communication revolution!" Maduro said, later unbuttoning his shirt on TV to show he was wearing a T-shirt bearing Chavez's eyes emblazoned across his chest.

For the tens of thousands who signed up on Monday to follow Chavez on Twitter, it is unclear how much will be posted there in the weeks and months ahead. Venezuela's 29 million people are mostly wondering something similar.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Todd Eastham)

Read More..

Japan stocks rally, yen resumes fall after G20

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese shares jumped closer to a 33-month high as the yen slumped on Monday after Tokyo dodged direct criticism from G20 peers on the aggressive reflation plans that have weakened the currency.

The G20 opted not to single out Tokyo, but committed members to refrain from competitive devaluations and said monetary policy would be directed only at price stability and growth. Japan said this decision is a green light to pursue its expansionary policies.

The dollar soared 0.7 percent to 94.17 yen inching closer to its highest since May 2010 of 94.465 hit on February 11. The euro added 0.3 percent to 125.51 yen, still below its peak since April 2010 of 127.71 yen touched on February 6.

The Nikkei average <.n225> jumped 2.3 percent as exporters and banks led the pack on the softening yen. <.t/>

The market's focus is now on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's nominee for the next Bank of Japan governor. Abe is expected to announce his choice in coming days.

Sources told Reuters that former top financial bureaucrat Toshiro Muto is leading the field of candidates to govern the bank. He is expected to intensify stimulus efforts to energise the economy.

"The G20's message is that monetary easing is OK, but not to imply anything about leading a currency weaker. The G20 effect is already seen in Abe's general comments on forex today which steered away from giving specifics on a preferred level or direction for the yen," said Yunosuke Ikeda, a senior FX strategist at Nomura Securities.

Abe said on Monday that the BOJ's monetary easing is aimed at beating deflation, not at manipulating the forex market and weakening the yen, and said correcting excessive yen rises would be an appropriate policy direction. Previously, Japanese officials have noted that the current yen selling was a correction to the past excessive yen strength.

The yen's weakness weighed on emerging Asian currencies while South Korean shares <.ks11> eased 0.3 percent on concerns about the eroding competitive edge for the country's exporters.

"Japan will keep seeking the current policy. The rest of Asia will not just wait and see. That will put more pressure on Asian currencies," said Yuna Park, a currency and bond analyst at Dongbu Securities in Seoul.

A weaker yen would make other currencies relatively stronger against the dollar and fuel speculation that other Asian countries could step in to curb the strength of their currencies, Ikeda said.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> eased 0.2 percent. The pan-Asian index briefly hit a 18-1/2-month high on Friday and had its best performance since the week of January 6 with a 1.2 percent weekly gain.

On Friday, MSCI's all-country world index <.miwd00000pus>, a measure of global equity activity, traded down 0.26 percent, while European shares closed lower and U.S. stocks ended flat.

Australian shares rose 0.5 percent as miners gained on hopes that top customer China might start buying after the Lunar New Year holidays, while blue chips Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Telstra Corp Ltd dropped after trading ex-dividend.

Markets in China and Taiwan resumed trading after a week-long holiday.


Data from EPFR Global on Friday underscored that a consolidation was underway in global equities after their recent rally. It showed investors worldwide pulled $3.62 billion from U.S. stock funds in the latest week, the most in ten weeks after taking a neutral stance the prior week. But demand for emerging market equities remained strong, with investors putting $1.81 billion in new cash into stock funds, the fund-tracking firm said.

Demand for commodities will likely be in focus as China returns to the market.

Investors are also expected to focus on fiscal talks in Washington, where policymakers are discussing a package of budget cuts set to kick in on March 1. Analysts say the austerity measures could hurt the U.S. economy.

U.S. crude fell 0.2 percent to $95.63 a barrel but Brent inched up 0.1 percent to $117.81.

Gold rebounded from a six-month low on Monday as bargain hunters resurfaced and jewellers in China returned to the physical market after the Lunar New Year holiday, but a firm U.S. dollar was likely to limit the upside.

(Additional reporting by Jongwoo Cheon; in Singapore; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Eric Meijer)

Read More..

Danica Patrick wins pole for NASCAR's Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Danica Patrick has made history before — as a woman and a racer, in Indianapolis and Japan.

The spotlight is nothing new. But never has it been this bright before.

Patrick won the Daytona 500 pole Sunday, becoming the first woman to secure the top spot for any race in NASCAR's premier circuit. It's by far the biggest achievement of her stock-car career.

"I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl," she said. "That was instilled in me from very young, from the beginning. Then I feel like thriving in those moments, where the pressure's on, has also been a help for me. I also feel like I've been lucky in my career to be with good teams and have good people around me. I don't think any of it would have been possible without that.

"For those reasons, I've been lucky enough to make history, be the first woman to do many things. I really just hope that I don't stop doing that. We have a lot more history to make. We are excited to do it."

Her latest stamp in the history books came with a lap at 196.434 mph around Daytona International Speedway. Patrick went out eighth in the qualifying session, then had to wait about two hours as 37 fellow drivers tried to take her spot.

Only four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon even came close to knocking her off. Gordon was the only other driver who topped 196 mph in qualifying. He locked up the other guaranteed spot in next week's season-opening Daytona 500.

"It's great to be a part of history with Danica being on the pole," said Gordon, who joked that at least he was the fastest guy. "I think we all know how popular she is, what this will do for our sport. Congratulations to her. Proud to be on there with her."

The rest of the field will be set in duel qualifying races Thursday.

However the lineup unfolds, all drivers will line up behind Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet SS.

And she knows her latest achievement will mean more public relations work.

The routine is nothing new for Patrick, who was the first woman to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500. She finished third in 2009, the highest finish in that illustrious race for a woman. And she became the only woman to win an IndyCar race when she did it in Japan in 2008.

Hardly anyone witnessed that victory.

Leading the field to the green flag in NASCAR's showcase event should be must-watch television.

"That's a huge accomplishment," team owner and fellow driver Tony Stewart said. "It's not like it's been 15 or 20 years she's been trying to do this. It's her second trip to Daytona here in a Cup car. She's made history in the sport. That's stuff that we're proud of being a part of with her. It's something she should have a huge amount of pride in.

"It's never been done. There's only one person that can be the first to do anything. Doesn't matter how many do it after you do, accomplish that same goal. The first one that does always has that little bit more significance to it because you were the first."

Even before her fast lap Sunday, Patrick was the talk of Speedweeks. Not only did she open up about her budding romance with fellow Sprint Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but she was considered the front-runner for the pole after leading practice sessions Saturday.

And she didn't disappoint.

She kept her car at or near the bottom of the famed track and gained ground on the straightaways, showing lots of power from a Hendrick Motorsports engine.

"It's easy to come down here in your first or second year as a driver and clip the apron trying to run too tight a line or do something and scrub speed off," Stewart said. "That's something she did an awesome job. Watching her lap, she runs so smooth. ... She did her job behind the wheel, for sure."

The result surely felt good for Patrick, especially considering the former IndyCar driver has mostly struggled in three NASCAR seasons. Her best finish in 10 Cup races is 17th, and she has one top-five in 58 starts in the second-tier Nationwide Series.

She raced part-time in 2010 and 2011 while still driving a full IndyCar slate. She switched solely to stock cars last season and finished 10th in the Nationwide standings.

She made the jump to Sprint Cup this season and will battle Stenhouse for Rookie of the Year honors.

Starting out front in an unpredictable, 500-mile race doesn't guarantee any sort of result, but securing the pole will put her in the limelight for at least the rest of the week.

She also won the pole at Daytona for last year's Nationwide race.

This is considerably bigger.

The previous highest female qualifier in a Cup race was Janet Guthrie. She started ninth at Bristol and Talladega in 1977.

"It's obviously a history-making event that will last a long, long time," Guthrie said, praising Patrick's feat. "It's a different era, of course. Different times. I can't imagine what I would do with a spotter or somebody telling me how to drive. It's rather a different sport now. Back then, there was a much greater difference from the front of the field to the back."

Guthrie received a lukewarm reception from fellow drivers back then.

Patrick was much more welcomed, undoubtedly because of her background and popularity.

She's comfortable being in the spotlight, evidenced by her racing career, her television commercials and her sudden openness about her personal life.

"I think when pressure's on and when the spotlight's on, I feel like it ultimately ends up becoming some of my better moments and my better races and better results," Patrick said. "I just understand that if you put the hard work in before you go out there that you can have a little peace and a little peace of mind knowing that you've done everything you can and just let it happen."

Read More..

Model: Getting what I don't deserve


  • Model Cameron Russell's TED Talk has been viewed more than a million times

  • She says, as winner of "genetic lottery," she has been able to have a modeling career

  • Her looks fit a narrow definition of beauty, she says

  • Russell: I work hard but my modeling career gives my views undeserved attention

Editor's note: Cameron Russell has been a model for brands such as Victoria's Secret, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Benetton and has appeared in the pages of Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and W. She spoke at TEDx MidAtlantic in October. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "ideas worth spreading" which it makes available through talks posted on its website.

(CNN) -- Last month the TEDx talk I gave was posted online. Now it has been viewed over a million times. The talk itself is nothing groundbreaking. It's a couple of stories and observations about working as a model for the last decade.

I gave the talk because I wanted to tell an honest personal narrative of what privilege means.

I wanted to answer questions like how did I become a model. I always just say, " I was scouted," but that means nothing.

The real way that I became a model is that I won a genetic lottery, and I am the recipient of a legacy. What do I mean by legacy? Well, for the past few centuries we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we're biologically programmed to admire, but also as tall, slender figures, and femininity and white skin. And this is a legacy that was built for me, and it's a legacy that I've been cashing in on.

Some fashionistas may think, "Wait. Naomi. Tyra. Joan Smalls. Liu Wen." But the truth is that in 2007 when an inspired NYU Ph.D. student counted all the models on the runway, of the 677 models hired, only 27, or less than four percent, were non-white.

Usually TED only invites the most accomplished and famous people in the world to give talks. I hoped telling a simple story -- where my only qualification was life experience (not a degree, award, successful business or book) -- could encourage those of us who make media to elevate other personal narratives: the stories of someone like Trayvon Martin, the undocumented worker, the candidate without money for press.

Instead my talk reinforced the observations I highlighted in it: that beauty and femininity and race have made me the candy of mass media, the "once you pop you just can't stop" of news.

In particular it is the barrage of media requests I've had that confirm that how I look and what I do for a living attracts enormous undeserved attention.

Do I want a TV show? Do I want to write a book? Do I want to appear in a movie? Do I want to speak to CNN, NBC, NPR, the Times of India, Cosmo, this blogger and that journal? Do I want to speak at this high school, at that college, at Harvard Law School or at other conferences? A teen just trying to figure it out

I am not a uniquely accomplished 25-year-old. I've modeled for 10 years and I took six years to finish my undergraduate degree part-time, graduating this past June with honors from Columbia University. If I ever had needed to put together a CV it would be quite short. Like many young people I'd highlight my desire to work hard.

But hard work is not why I have been successful as a model. I'm not saying I'm lazy. But the most important part of my job is to show up with a 23-inch waist, looking young, feminine and white. This shouldn't really shock anyone. Models are chosen solely based on looks. But what was shocking to me is that when I spoke, the way I look catapulted what I had to say on to the front page.

Even if I did give a good talk, is what I have to say more important and interesting than what Colin Powell said? (He spoke at the same event and his talk has about a quarter of the view count.) Isaac Mizrahi on fashion and creativity

Like many young people I believe I have potential to make a positive impact in the world. But if I speak from a platform that relies on how I look, I worry that I will not have made room for anyone else to come after me. I will have reinforced that beauty and race and privilege get you a news story. The schoolteacher without adequate support, the domestic worker without rights, they won't be up there with me.

So what do I do? I am being handed press when good press for important issues is hard to come by. These outlets are the same outlets that spent two years not reporting a new drone base in Saudi Arabia while press in the UK covered it.

They are the same organizations that have forgotten New Orleans and forgotten to follow up on contractors who aren't fulfilling their responsibilities there -- important not only for the people of NOLA, but also for setting a precedent for the victims of Sandy, and of the many storms to come whose frequency and severity will rise as our climate changes.

TED. com: Amy Tan on where creativity hides

Should I tell stories like these instead of my own? I don't feel like I have the authority or experience to do so.

How can we change this cycle? The rise of the Internet and the camera phone have started to change what stories are accessible. And we now have the ability to build more participatory media structures. The Internet often comes up with good answers to difficult questions. So I ask: How can we build media platforms accessible to a diversity of content creators?

On a personal note, what should I talk about? Do I refuse these offers outright because of my lack of experience, because I'm not the right person to tell the stories that are missing from the media? Can I figure out a way to leverage my access to bring new voices into the conversation? Right now I'm cautiously accepting a few requests and figuring out what it all means.

I'm listening, tweet me @cameroncrussell

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cameron Russell.

Read More..

CPS officials taking note of feedback on school closings

Chicago Public Schools officials gathering input on school closings started taking notes when the director of a local Boys and Girls Club of Chicago spoke up on behalf of West Pullman Elementary School at a hearing on the Far South Side late last week.

Then a local pastor spoke about the changing culture and the positive effect of a new principal at Whistler Elementary, which like West Pullman is on the preliminary list CPS released last week of 129 schools that could be closed. Another pastor talked about the problems with gangs near Lawrence Elementary, and CPS officials wrote some more notes.

School communities across the city are pulling out all the stops to make their case as the district prepares to make a final decision, due by the end of March, on what schools will be shuttered. Parents, teachers and community leaders are bringing healthy amounts of data and emotion to the meetings in their effort to convince district officials which schools should stay open.

The meetings will continue over the next several weeks. The district says it needs to close an as yet unknown number of under-enrolled schools to help address a projected deficit of $1 billion in the coming year.

District chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett has set specific criteria for the closings, and schools that don't want to be on the final list will have to show how they plan to build enrollment or improve academics. Security concerns will also play a role in deciding what schools to close.

Among the schools on the preliminary list were six that are part of the politically connected Academy for Urban School Leadership, which takes over schools known as turnarounds that are deemed in need of academic recovery.

CPS has invested nearly $20 million in capital improvements at the six AUSL Schools. AUSL, which runs 25 schools throughout the district, replaces teachers and administrators at its schools with AUSL-trained staff.

AUSL parents have appeared at meetings to speak about changes at schools being considered for closing.

"We know this has to run the course through the community meetings," said Shana Hayes, managing director of AUSL's external affairs department. "When CPS comes out with the new list, we hope our six schools will come off the list. We see significant positive changes in enrollment."

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the school closing process is "far from complete."

"We expect to get significantly more feedback from the community that will continue to guide this process and remove other schools from consideration," Carroll said. 

The schools on the preliminary list are mostly on the West, South and Southwest sides. In all, more than 43,000 students attend the 129 schools still under consideration.

For many parents and educators, the meetings have provided an opportunity to vent their frustration and anger with the district. They've complained about being denied resources, increasing class sizes and the growth of privately run but publicly funded charters schools.

"You've taken our students away from us — that's why (the school is) under-enrolled," said Tonya Saunders-Wolffe, a counselor at the pre-kindergarten to third grade Owens Elementary in Roseland, referring to the growth of charter schools.

Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, said the meetings have allowed parents to come out and voice what's happening in their schools and what they need to get better. Woestehoff said she thinks the number of schools on the preliminary list will be far lower when the final list is released.

"Given the powerful push-back from schools and communities that has already happened, (the district) ought to be concerned about an exponential increase in the level of anger that is sure to explode if they announce the closure of anything like 100," she said.

Read More..

Ecuador's Correa cruises to re-election victory

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa swept to a re-election victory on Sunday that allows him to strengthen state control over the OPEC nation's economy and gives a timely boost to Latin America's alliance of socialist leaders.

The charismatic leftist had 57 percent support compared with 24 percent for runner-up Guillermo Lasso, with almost 40 percent of votes counted. The electoral authority said it did not expect the results to change significantly.

"Nobody can stop this revolution," a jubilant Correa told supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace, after claiming victory.

"The colonial powers are not in charge anymore. You can be sure that in this revolution it's Ecuadoreans in control."

The combative, U.S.-trained economist took power in 2007 and has won strong support among the poor by using booming oil revenues to build roads, hospitals and schools in rural areas and shantytowns.

"Our Ecuador needs a president like Rafael Correa. He has been strong and has not allowed anyone to intimidate him," said Julieta Moira, 46, who is unemployed, as she celebrated outside the presidential palace. "I'm very excited, happy and thankful."

Supporters also gathered in a park in the upscale north end of Quito, waving the signature neon-green flags of Correa's Alianza Pais party.


Correa, 49, may now be in line to become Latin America's main anti-American voice and de facto leader of the ALBA bloc of leftist governments as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been silenced during his battle with cancer.

Correa said he dedicated his victory to Chavez.

The principal challenge in Correa's new four-year term will be wooing investors needed to boost stagnant oil production and spur the mining industry. A $3.2 billion debt default in 2008 and aggressive oil contract negotiations scared off many.

Critics view Correa as an authoritarian leader who has curbed media freedom and appointed aides to top posts in the judiciary.

"This government has not given us anything good, only insults and taxes. We're tired of all that. I'm concerned that this government has alliances with communist countries," said Celeste Guerrero, a 68-year-old pensioner in Guayaquil.

Even some supporters disapprove of his tempestuous outbursts, confrontations with media and bullying of adversaries.

But the fractured opposition failed to make a consolidated challenge. It fielded seven candidates, making it easy for Correa, and he is now on track for a decade in office.

That is rare stability in a country where three presidents were pushed from office by coups or street protests in the decade before Correa took power in 2007.

He is already the longest-serving president since the return to democracy in the 1970s following a military dictatorship.

Correa's success has hinged in part on high oil prices that allowed for liberal state spending, including boosting cash handouts to 2 million people, and spurred solid economic growth.

He is likely to continue spending heavily to maintain his popularity, but state revenues would dry up if oil prices fell.

He now hopes to diversify the economy away from its dependence on oil, in part by bringing in new investment for the mining sector. Despite promising reserves of gold and copper, mining operations have barely gotten off the ground.

In a news conference on Sunday after polls closed, Correa played down the need for more foreign investment. He insisted the ultimate goal was to ensure economic growth rather than "mortgaging" the country to bring in cash from abroad.

"We welcome foreign investment, and we're already getting plenty of it," Correa said. "Ecuador is one of the most successful economies in Latin America."

Lasso, a wealthy ex-banker and Correa's closest rival, had tried to woo voters with promises of lower taxes. He congratulated Correa on his victory but also took pride in his Creo party taking a quarter of the vote.

"We are now the second-largest political force in the country," said Lasso, who was beaming despite losing.


The other six opposition candidates included former Correa ally Alberto Acosta, former President Lucio Gutierrez and banana magnate and five-time presidential candidate Alvaro Noboa.

Pollsters say some of them focused their campaigns too much on attacking Correa and failed to put forward concrete proposals to entice voters.

Ecuadoreans also chose a new Congress on Sunday.

The Alianza Pais party was expected to win a majority in the legislature, which would let Correa push ahead with controversial reforms, including a media law and changes to mining legislation, without having to negotiate with rivals.

The results of the vote for Congress are not expected to be known for several days, but Correa said he was confident.

"I think we are going to get a majority and we will manage that majority with great responsibility," he told Latin America's Telesur TV network, set up by Chavez and his allies as an alternative to established media.

Correa never shies away from a fight, be it with international bondholders, oil companies, local bankers, the Catholic Church or media that criticize his policies.

He vowed on Sunday to expand state regulations over media groups he has called "dogs" and "hired assassins."

"One of the things we have to fix is an unethical and unscrupulous press that wants to judge, legislate and govern," Correa said. "That goes against the rule of law and we will not allow it."

His criticism of the U.S. "empire" and his clashes with foreign investors and the World Bank have fueled Correa's popularity as a strong-minded leader who stands up to foreign powers that many say meddled in Ecuador's affairs for decades.

He took the global limelight last year when he granted asylum to WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange. Critics say he did it to brush off accusations that he is curbing freedom of expression in Ecuador.

(Additional reporting by Jose Llangari and Eduardo Garcia in Quito and Yuri Garcia in Guayaquil; Editing by Kieran Murray, Andrew Cawthorne and Eric Beech)

Read More..

No. 2 Duke falls to Maryland 83-81

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — As the final horn sounded and Maryland fans rushed the court to celebrate a rare victory over its bitter rival, weary Duke had just enough energy left to escape the mayhem for the safety of its locker room.

Seth Allen broke a tie by making two free throws with 2.8 seconds left, and the Terrapins stunned the second-ranked Blue Devils 83-81 Saturday night to end a six-game skid in the series.

Coming off a five-day break, Maryland notched its most significant win of the season at the expense of a tired Duke playing its fourth game in 10 days.

The Blue Devils were worn out, and it showed.

Duke was outrebounded 40-20, never led in the second half and got only four points and three rebounds from 6-foot-10 senior center Mason Plumlee.

"This has been an exhausting schedule for our team," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We're playing on fumes and I think you could tell that with Mason. I thought he looked exhausted the whole game. He's been great. Obviously not good tonight."

The Terrapins (18-7, 6-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) did not trail after halftime but never could pull away.

Duke (22-3, 9-3) was down by 10 with 3:39 left but pulled even when Rasheed Sulaimon made three foul shots with 16.7 seconds to go. Quinn Cook then fouled Allen as the freshman guard drove through the lane, and Allen made both shots.

After a Duke timeout, Cook's desperation 30-footer bounced off the back rim. Chaos ensued as the fans immediately rushed the court.

"I thought it was in when I got it off," Cook said of his final attempt.

Alex Len had 19 points and nine rebounds for Maryland, and Allen scored 16. The Terrapins had lost 12 of 13 against Duke, including a 20-point embarrassment last month.

"I told our players before the game, there's a lot of pride in Maryland basketball," coach Mark Turgeon said. "There's also a lot of passion about Maryland basketball. We talked about playing with those two things for us and for our fans. Our fans were just tremendous."

From the end of the Star Spangled Banner to the final buzzer, the crowd never stopped shouting for the Terps, who rewarded their fans with a memorable victory in a rivalry that appears destined to end when Maryland leaves for the Big Ten in 2014.

"I have a great deal of respect for Maryland," Krzyzewski said. "If it was such a rivalry they'd still be in the ACC. Obviously they don't think it's that important or else they wouldn't be in the Big Ten."

Oh, but it's very important to Maryland and its coach.

"This win was for my family and the fans," Turgeon said. "I know what this win means for our fan base, and I really wanted to beat Duke."

The Blue Devils had their six-game winning streak end. Seth Curry scored 25 and Cook added 18. But Plumlee was completely outplayed by the 7-1 Len, who went 6 for 8 from the field and 7 for 8 at the foul line.

"There's so much pressure for Mason to play outstanding," Krzyzewski said. "That wears on you as the season goes on. He just didn't look fresh tonight."

Said Plumlee: "I didn't show up to play today and I let my teammates down. It's all on me."

Maryland committed a whopping 26 turnovers, eight by Allen. The Terrapins shot an impressive 60 percent from the floor and finished with a 40-20 rebounding advantage.

Maryland played without reserve guard Pe'Shon Howard, who was suspended for violating team rules. Despite being demoted from his starting role last month, Howard still leads the Terrapins in assists.

Maryland led 66-63 before Allen scored on a drive. Dez Wells then stole the ball from Cook and went in for a dunk for a seven-point lead with 5:20 left. After the Blue Devils closed to 71-63, James Padgett made a layup for Maryland and Wells made two foul shots for a 10-point cushion.

The crowd increased its volume with every subsequent basket by the Terrapins, whose previous win over Duke came in March 2010, when Greivis Vasquez celebrated Senior Night with a 20-point performance.

In this one, it was 80-72 before Curry made two straight 3-pointers to bring Duke to 80-78 with just under a minute left. After Wells was called for a charge, Curry had a 15-footer bounce in and out of the basket.

It was that kind of night for the Blue Devils.

This score was 39 all before Allen hit a 3-pointer to spark a 10-2 run that included five points from freshman Shaquille Cleare. It was 53-43 before Curry bagged a 3-pointer, Alex Murphy made a layup and Curry drove the lane following Maryland's third turnover in a 60-second span.

That cut the gap to three points, and seconds after a 3-pointer by Cook got the Blue Devils to 55-53.

After the Terrapins went up by six, they committed turnovers on three straight possessions. That enabled Duke to close to 59-57 on a dunk by Murphy, but four straight free throws by Len gave Maryland a 64-59 advantage with 7:20 remaining.

The first half featured two ties, 10 lead changes and ended with the Terrapins up 35-34. Curry (14 points) was one of only four Duke players to score before halftime.

Read More..

After decent rally, perhaps time for a pause

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks could struggle to extend their seven-week winning streak as the quarterly earnings period draws to a close and the market bumps into strong technical resistance.

Many analysts say the market could spend the next few weeks consolidating gains that have lifted the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 <.spx> by 6.6 percent since the start of the year.

The S&P 500 ended up 0.1 percent for the week, recovering from a late sell-off on Friday after a Bloomberg report about slow February sales at Wal-Mart triggered a slide in the retailer's shares. It was the index's seventh week of gains.

Odds of a pullback are increasing, with the market in slightly overbought territory, said Bruce Zaro, chief technical strategist at Delta Global Asset Management in Boston.

"I do suspect the closing of the earnings season will lead to at least a pause and possibly a pullback," Zaro said. The S&P 500 could shave 3 to 5 percent between now and early April, he said.

Fourth-quarter earnings have mostly beaten expectations. Year-over-year profit growth for S&P 500 companies is now estimated at 5.6 percent, up from a January 1 forecast for 2.9 percent growth, and 70 percent of companies are exceeding analyst profit expectations, above the 62 percent long-term average, according to Thomson Reuters data.

On Thursday, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is due to report results, unofficially closing out the earnings period. Investors will be keen to see its quarterly numbers, especially after the Friday's news report that rattled investors.

The S&P 500 has gained 4.3 percent since Alcoa kicked off the earnings season on January 8.

The approaching March 1 deadline for across-the-board federal budget cuts unless Congress reaches a compromise adds another reason for caution, especially with recent economic data indicating the recovery remains bumpy.

Manufacturing output fell 0.4 percent last month, the Federal Reserve said on Friday, but production in November and December was much stronger than previously thought.


The S&P 500 has been trading near five-year highs, and it notched its highest level since November 2007 this week. But the gains have pushed the benchmark index almost as far as it is likely to go in the near term, with strong resistance hovering around 1,525 and 1,540, one analyst said.

As a result, the index is set to move sideways, said Dave Chojnacki, market technician at Street One Financial in Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania. "We just don't have the volume or the catalyst right now" to go above those levels, he said.

At the same time, other analysts say, the market has not shown significant signs of slowing, including a break below 15- and 30-day moving averages.

Such moves would be needed to show that momentum is slowing or that the market is at risk of a correction, said Todd Salamone, director of research for Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati, Ohio. The S&P 500's 14-day moving average is at 1,511 while the 30-day is at 1,494. The index closed Friday at 1,519.

Recent M&A activity, including news this week of a merger between American Airlines and US Airways Group , helped provide some strength for the market this week and optimism that more deals may be on the way.

In the coming days, the market will focus on minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting, due to be released on Wednesday, which could provide support if they suggest the Fed will remain on its current course of aggressive monetary easing.

The Fed minutes released in January spooked markets a bit when they revealed that some Fed officials thought it would be appropriate to consider ending asset purchases later in 2013. U.S. Treasury yields rose on that news, though market worries about a near-term end to quantitative easing have since faded.

Among other companies expected to report earnings next week are Nordstrom , Hewlett-Packard and Marriott International

(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Read More..

Afghanistan's future: Five questions


  • President Obama has revealed new details about the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan

  • But there are several key issues that still must be resolved in the coming months

  • The Afghan military has its critics, but the U.S. has praised its progress

  • There are fears that Afghanistan's advancements might be at risk after 2014

(CNN) -- In his State of the Union address, President Obama reaffirmed that the country's war in Afghanistan would be over by the end of 2014.

He also laid out more specifics.

Of the approximately 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now, more than half -- 34,000 -- will come home in the next year, Obama said.

At the same time, Afghan troops will assume most of the responsibility for combat missions.

"This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead," Obama said.

It was previously expected that Afghan forces would take the lead in combat missions by the middle of this year. But a U.S. official told CNN that the military transition has accelerated and that Afghans will lead all security operations by March.

What does this news mean for Afghanistan and America's longest war? Here are some key questions that will be asked in the coming months:

1. Are the Afghan troops up to the task?

There are certainly doubts.

A Pentagon review in December claimed that only one of 23 Afghan army brigades was capable of functioning on its own.

Meanwhile, literacy rates are low, desertion rates are high, and many deserters have joined the insurgency. There also have been a troubling number of "green-on-blue" attacks: Afghan troops attacking their American comrades.

But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has spoken positively about the progress Afghans have made in growing their army, reducing violence and becoming more self-sufficient. Afghan forces now lead nearly 90% of operations across the country.

"We're on the right path to give (Afghanistan) the opportunity to govern itself," Panetta said earlier this month.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he welcomes the U.S. troop withdrawal and insists his army can defend the country against the Taliban.

"It is exactly our job to deal with it, and we are capable of dealing with it," Karzai said during an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

What the army needs now, Karzai says, is more equipment and firepower. He came to the Pentagon last month with a wish list asking for more helicopters, drones and other hardware, according to a senior defense official.

"We need an air force. We need air mobility," Karzai told Amanpour. "We need proper mechanized forces. We need, you know, armored vehicles and tanks and all that."

2. What presence will the U.S. have after 2014?

The plan is to withdraw all combat troops but keep a residual force in the country to help train Afghans and carry out counterterrorism operations when needed.

The size of that force is still being discussed.

Gen. John Allen, the former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, recommended between 6,000 and 15,000 troops. But that figure was lowered to a range between 2,500 and 9,000, according to a defense official.

There might not be any U.S. troops at all if the United States cannot come to an agreement over immunity with Afghanistan. There was no American presence in Iraq at the end of that war because the Iraqi government refused to extend legal protections to U.S. troops.

Karzai, who's in favor of a residual force, said he would put the immunity decision in the hands of Afghan elders, and he expressed confidence that he could persuade the elders to see things his way.

Leaving no U.S. troops at all would be a major misstep, said Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst. He said the U.S. has abandoned Afghanistan already, in 1989, and the decision left America with little understanding of the power vacuum that led to the Taliban's rise in the first place.

"The current public discussion of zero U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan ... will encourage those hardliner elements of the Taliban who have no interest in a negotiated settlement and believe they can simply wait the Americans out," Bergen wrote in an op-ed for "It also discourages the many millions of Afghans who see a longtime U.S. presence as the best guarantor that the Taliban won't come back in any meaningful way."

3. What's at stake?

The main fear among the Afghan people is that the country could revert to another civil war once the United States withdraws its combat troops. The Taliban are still "resilient and determined," according to a recent Pentagon report, and insurgents continue to carry out attacks and pose a major security threat.

"Some people we've spoken to sort of take it for granted that there's going to be a civil war when the United States leaves," said CNN's Erin Burnett on a recent trip to Afghanistan. "It happened before when the Soviet Union left (in 1989)."

For all the violence Afghanistan has seen in the past decade, it has also seen major advancements in human rights and quality of life.

"During the Taliban, basically there were thousands of girls going to school in Afghanistan. Now you have millions of girls going to school," Burnett said. "So there's been real progress on women's rights. Obviously there remain a lot of problems -- honor killings, forced marriages, domestic violence -- but there has been real progress."

Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, once America's top commander in Afghanistan, said the Afghan people are "terrified."

"They're terrified because they think they have something to lose," McChrystal said. "There has been progress made. There is a better life. There are girls in school. There are things that are better than they were and opportunities potentially ahead.

"But they're afraid that if we completely abandon them in 2014, as they perceive we did in 1989, (things) would all go back."

And in Washington, there are worries that the wrong move could put the United States right back where it started, with nothing to show for a bloody conflict that started in 2001.

Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, expressed concern last week that a hasty withdrawal could be "needlessly fraught with risk."

"Since the president took the commendable step of deploying a surge to Afghanistan in 2009, we have known that our hard-fought gains are fragile and reversible," McKeon said. "That isn't my assessment, but the consistent opinion of experts both military and civilian."

4. Who will lead after Karzai?

Afghanistan's only president of this century won't be in charge for much longer.

Elections are scheduled for April 2014, and Karzai has reached the term limit set by his country's constitution. He told Amanpour it's "absolutely time to go."

"A new president will come to this country. A new government will come to this country. And I'll be a happily retired civil servant," he said.

So while Afghanistan oversees a major military transition, it also will have to make a political transition.

Who will lead the country during this critical moment in its history? Will the vote go smoothly, without violence and without controversy? There were reports of ballot tampering and other violations in the last one.

The answers might be just as important to Afghanistan's security as the readiness of its troops.

"The single biggest challenge for us is the political transition, the elections of 2014," said Saad Mohseni, the media mogul behind Afghanistan's Tolo Television. "(If) we have credible elections, I think we'll be OK for the next five, six years. (If) we don't, there is a real danger that we'll see instability, especially in 2014 as the U.S. troops withdraw."

5. What part will the Taliban play?

Despite the ongoing insurgency, Karzai seems eager to resume stalled peace talks with the Taliban and include them in the political process.

The Taliban pulled out of talks last year, but Karzai said last month they "are very much conveying to us that they want to have peace talks. They're also people. They're also families. They also suffer, like the rest of Afghans are suffering."

Javid Ahmad, a Kabul native now with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, believes revitalized peace talks are essential to Afghanistan's future and to the legacy of America's war.

"If withdrawing responsibly in 2014 is indeed high on President Obama's agenda, then he has little choice but to prioritize and accelerate the peace talks, negotiate a cease-fire between all sides, and reach a settlement that ensures that the Taliban lay down their weapons," Ahmad wrote in a recent column.

But will the Taliban be willing to cooperate? And if they enter negotiations, how much of an influence would they have on an Afghan society that has seen so many changes in the past decade?

"There have to be some red lines," said Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister for political affairs. "Some of the achievements that we've had in the last 10 years can't be negotiated."

Karzai sounded confident that most of the Taliban would acknowledge this.

"I think there is now a critical mass in Afghanistan of the educated, of the Afghan people who want a future of progress and stability," he said. "And I think also that the Taliban recognize that this corner has been turned, the majority of them. Some may be there among them who would not -- who would remain, you know, in the darkest of the mindset possible. But those are a few."

CNN's Chris Lawrence, Mike Mount and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

Read More..