U.S. evolves on same-sex marriage


  • The president and the nation have shifted perspectives on same-sex marriage

  • Supreme Court ruling on California's same-sex marriage ban a critical test

  • Growing public support for gay marriage give proponents hope for change

Washington (CNN) -- The nation's growing acceptance of same-sex marriage has happened in slow and painstaking moves, eventually building into a momentum that is sweeping even the most unlikely of converts.

Even though he said in 2008 that he could only support civil unions for same-sex couples, President Barack Obama nonetheless enjoyed strong support among the gay community. He disappointed many with his conspicuously subdued first-term response to the same-sex marriage debate.

Last year, after Vice President Joe Biden announced his support, the president then said his position had evolved and he, too, supported same-sex marriage.

So it was no small matter when on Thursday the Obama administration formally expressed its support of same-sex marriage in a court brief weighing in on California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex weddings. The administration's effort was matched by at least 100 high-profile Republicans — some of whom in elections past depended on gay marriage as a wedge issue guaranteed to rally the base — who signed onto a brief supporting gay couples to legally wed.

Obama on same-sex marriage: Everyone is equal

Then there are the polls that show that an increasing number of Americans now support same-sex marriage. These polls show that nearly half of the nation's Catholics and white, mainstream Protestants and more than half of the nation's women, liberals and political moderates all support same-sex marriage.

According to Pew Research Center polling, 48% of Americans support same-sex marriage with 43% opposed. Back in 2001, 57% opposed same-sex marriage while 35% supported it.

In last year's presidential election, same-sex marriage scarcely raised a ripple. That sea change is not lost on the president.

"The same evolution I've gone through is the same evolution the country as a whole has gone through," Obama told reporters on Friday.

Craig Rimmerman, professor of public policy and political science at Hobart and William Smith colleges says there is history at work here and the administration is wise to get on the right side.

"There is no doubt that President Obama's shifting position on Proposition 8 and same-sex marriage more broadly is due to his desire to situate himself on the right side of history with respect to the fight over same-sex marriage," said Rimmerman, author of "From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States."

"I also think that broader changes in public opinion showing greater support for same-sex marriage, especially among young people, but in the country at large as well, has created a cultural context for Obama to alter his views."

For years, Obama had frustrated many in the gay community by not offering full-throated support of same-sex marriage. However, the president's revelation last year that conversations with his daughters and friends led him to change his mind gave many in that community hope.

Last year, the Obama administration criticized a measure in North Carolina that banned same-sex marriage and made civil unions illegal. The president took the same position on a similar Minnesota proposal.

Obama administration officials point to what they see as the administration's biggest accomplishment in the gay rights cause: repealing "don't ask, don't tell," the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian members serving in the forces.

Then there was the president's inaugural address which placed the gay community's struggle for equality alongside similar civil rights fights by women and African-Americans.

"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well," Obama said in his address after being sworn in.

In offering its support and asserting in the brief that "prejudice may not be the basis for differential treatment under the law," the Obama administration is setting up a high stakes political and constitutional showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court over a fast-evolving and contentious issue.

The justices will hear California's Proposition 8 case in March. That case and another appeal over the federal Defense of Marriage Act will produce blockbuster rulings from the justices in coming months.

Beyond the legal wranglings there is a strong social and historic component, one that has helped open the way for the administration to push what could prove to be a social issue that defines Obama's second term legacy, Rimmerman said.

The nation is redefining itself on this issue, as well.

Pew survey: Changing attitudes on gay marriage

The changes are due, in part, to generational shifts. Younger people show a higher level of support than their older peers, according to Pew polling "Millennials are almost twice as likely as the Silent Generation to support same-sex marriage."

"As people have grown up with people having the right to marry the generational momentum has been very, very strong," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a gay rights organization.

That is not to say that there isn't still opposition.

Pew polling found that most Republicans and conservatives remain opposed to same-sex marriage. In 2001, 21% of Republicans were supportive; in 2012 that number nudged slightly to 25%.

Conservative groups expressed dismay at the administration's same-sex marriage support.

"President Obama, who was against same-sex 'marriage' before he was for it, and his administration, which said the Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional before they said it was unconstitutional, has now flip-flopped again on the issue of same-sex 'marriage,' putting allegiance to extreme liberal social policies ahead of constitutional principle," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement.

But there are signs of movement even among some high profile Republican leaders

Top Republicans sign brief supporting same-sex marriage

The Republican-penned friend of the court brief, which is designed to influence conservative justices on the high court, includes a number of top officials from the George W. Bush administration, Mitt Romney's former campaign manager and former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.

It is also at odds with the Republican Party's platform, which opposes same-sex marriage and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Still, with White House and high-profile Republican support, legal and legislative victories in a number of states and polls that show an increasing number of Americans support same sex-marriage, proponents feel that the winds of history are with them.

"What we've seen is accelerating and irrefutable momentum as Americans have come to understand who gay people are and why marriage matters," Wolfson said. "We now have a solid national majority and growing support across every demographic. We have leaders across the spectrum, including Republicans, all saying it's time to end marriage discrimination."

CNN's Peter Hamby, Ashley Killough and Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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Red light camera firm admits it likely bribed Chicago official

Chicago's embattled red light camera firm went to City Hall on Friday in its latest effort to come clean, acknowledging for the first time that its entire program here was likely built on a $2 million bribery scheme.

By its sheer size, the alleged plot would rank among the largest in the annals of Chicago corruption.

An internal probe of Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. and a parallel investigation by the city's inspector general — prompted by reports in the Chicago Tribune — have cost the company its largest North American contract and all of its top executives.

On Friday the company announced the resignations of its president, its chief financial officer and its top lawyer. The head of Redflex's Australian parent company conducted town hall meetings at the headquarters of its Phoenix-based subsidiary to tell employees there was wrongdoing in the Chicago contract and that sweeping reforms were being instituted to win back the company's reputation.

In separate, private briefings with the city inspector general and with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's top lawyer, Redflex attorneys acknowledged it's likely true that company officials intended to bribe a Chicago city official and that they also plied him with expenses-paid vacations.

The company's outside investigator, former city Inspector General David Hoffman, found that Redflex paid $2.03 million to a Chicago consultant in a highly suspicious arrangement likely intended to funnel some of the money to the former city transportation official who oversaw the company contract, according to sources familiar with the investigation and the Friday briefings to city officials.

The arrangement among the city official, the consultant and Redflex — first disclosed by a company whistle-blower — will likely be considered bribery by law enforcement authorities, Hoffman found.

Without subpoena power, it was not possible to check personal financial records of the city official or the consultant, who refused to cooperate, according to the sources familiar with Hoffman's findings. But Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, said that under applicable law, authorities could consider the arrangement to be bribery even if the payments were not made, the sources said.

The bulk of the consultant's fees — $1.57 million — were paid during a four-year period beginning in 2007, the years the program really expanded in Chicago, Hoffman found.

In addition, the city transportation official was treated to 17 trips, including airfare, hotels, rental cars, golf outings and meals, the sources said. Most of those expenses were paid by the company's former executive vice president, Hoffman found. That official was fired late last month and blamed by the company for much of the Chicago problem.

But Hoffman found that Redflex's president also had knowledge of the arrangement that would have made any reasonable person highly suspicious that it was a bribery scheme, the sources said.

Hoffman also found that Redflex did not disclose its knowledge about the improper arrangement to City Hall until confronted by the Tribune in October. Even then, Hoffman found, company officials lied to Emanuel's administration about the extent of the wrongdoing.

Redflex's Australian parent company was expected to post a summation of Hoffman's findings in a Monday filing with the Australian Securities Exchange that will include the resignations announced to employees Friday.

"Today's announcement of executive changes follows the conclusion of our investigation in Chicago and marks the dividing line between the past and where this company is headed," Robert DeVincenzi, president and CEO of Redflex Holdings Ltd., said in a statement to the newspaper. "This day, and each day going forward, we intend to be a constructive force in our industry, promoting high ethical standards and serving the public interest."

The company will also announce reforms including installing new requirements to put all company employees through anti-bribery and anti-corruption training, hiring a new director of compliance to ensure employees adhere to company policies, and establishing a 24-hour whistle-blower hotline.

The actions mark the latest changes in the company's evolving accounts of the scandal.

Officials at the firm had repeatedly dismissed allegations of bribery in the Chicago contract since they were made in a 2010 internal complaint obtained last year by the Tribune. In October the Tribune disclosed the whistle-blower letter by a company executive and first brought to light the questionable relationship between former city official John Bills and the Redflex consultant, Marty O'Malley, who are longtime friends from the South Side.

Bills and O'Malley have acknowledged their friendship but denied anything improper about their handling of the Redflex contract.

"Totally false, but I appreciate you calling me," Bills told the Tribune on Friday when informed of the Hoffman findings. O'Malley did not return calls.

In the four-month investigation, Hoffman and his team conducted 58 interviews and reviewed more than 37,000 company documents including email traffic among company officials, sources said. Hoffman concluded that company officials used poor judgment and a serious lack of diligence in investigating the allegations contained in the whistle-blower memo.

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Wall Street advances as data outweighs budget cuts

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks advanced modestly on Friday, leaving the S&P 500 with slight gains in a volatile week as strong economic data overshadowed growth concerns in China and Europe and let investors discount the impact of expected government spending cuts.

Stocks opened sharply lower for the session as Asian factories slowed and European output fell, but most of the losses evaporated after a report showed manufacturing activity expanded last month at its fastest clip in 20 months.

Consumer sentiment also rose in February as Americans turned more optimistic about the job market.

With $85 billion in government budget cuts set to begin, President Barack Obama blamed Republicans for failure to reach a compromise to avert the cuts, known as sequester. But the stock market appeared to have already priced in the failure by legislators to reach an agreement.

"We were able to dig out of that hole, but not make any great strides on it either," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois. "We will probably be in a holding pattern pending some big development on a broader budget deal."

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 35.17 points, or 0.25 percent, to 14,089.66 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> added 3.52 points, or 0.23 percent, to 1,518.20. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> advanced 9.55 points, or 0.30 percent, to 3,169.74.

For the week, the Dow rose 0.6 percent, the S&P 500 edged up 0.2 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.3 percent.

The slight gains for equities came during a volatile week that saw markets decline on Monday after uncertain Italian elections, only to rebound in the next two sessions as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke defended the central bank's stimulus measures.

The low interest rates due to the Federal Reserve's accommodative monetary policy have helped equities continue to attract investors. The Dow is less than 1 percent away from its all-time intraday high of 14,198.10. Declines have been shallow and short-lived, with investors jumping in to buy on dips.

Intuitive Surgical jumped 8.5 percent to $553.40 after Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Jeremy Feffer upgraded the stock, saying the stock's slide of more than 11 percent on Thursday was a gross overreaction to a news report.

Groupon Inc surged 12.6 percent to $5.10 a day after the online coupon company fired its chief executive officer in the wake of weak quarterly results.

Gap Inc rose 2.9 percent to $33.87 after the clothing retailer reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations and boosting its dividend by 20 percent, while Salesforce.com Inc posted sales that beat forecasts, driving its stock up 7.6 percent to $182.

Chesapeake Energy Corp fell 2.4 percent to $19.67 after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission escalated its investigation into the company and its Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon for a controversial perk that granted him a share in each of the natural gas producer's wells.

Volume was modest with about 6.72 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE MKT and Nasdaq, slightly above the daily average of 6.5 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 17 to 13, while on the Nasdaq, seven stocks rose for about every five stocks that fell.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)

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Syria war is everybody's problem

Syrians search for survivors and bodies after the Syrian regime attacked the city of Aleppo with missiles on February 23.


  • Frida Ghitis: We are standing by as Syria rips itself apart, thinking it's not our problem

  • Beyond the tragedy in human terms, she says, the war damages global stability

  • Ghitis: Syria getting more and more radical, jeopardizing forces of democracy

  • Ghitis: Peace counts on moderates, whom we must back with diplomacy, training arms

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) -- Last week, a huge explosion rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds. The victims of the blast in a busy downtown street were mostly civilians, including schoolchildren. Each side in the Syrian civil war blamed the other.

In the northern city of Aleppo, about 58 people -- 36 of them children -- died in a missile attack last week. Washington condemned the regime of Bashar al-Assad; the world looked at the awful images and moved on.

Syria is ripping itself to pieces. The extent of human suffering is beyond comprehension. That alone should be reason enough to encourage a determined effort to bring this conflict to a quick resolution. But if humanitarian reasons were not enough, the international community -- including the U.S. and its allies -- should weigh the potential implications of allowing this calamity to continue.

Frida Ghitis

Frida Ghitis

We've all heard the argument: It's not our problem. We're not the world's policeman. We would only make it worse.

This is not a plea to send American or European troops to fight in this conflict. Nobody wants that.

But before we allow this mostly hands-off approach to continue, we would do well to consider the potential toll of continuing with a failed policy, one that has focused in vain over the past two years searching for a diplomatic solution.

U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry has just announced that the U.S. will provide an additional $60 million in non-lethal assistance to the opposition. He has hinted that President Obama, after rejecting suggestions from the CIA and previous Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to arm Syrian rebels, might be ready to change course. And not a day too soon.

The war is taking longer than anyone expected. The longer it lasts, the more Syria is radicalized and the region is destabilized.

If you think the Syrian war is the concern of Syrians alone, think about other countries that have torn themselves apart over a long time. Consider Lebanon, Afghanistan or Somalia; each with unique circumstances, but with one thing in common: Their wars created enormous suffering at home, and the destructiveness eventually spilled beyond their borders. All of those wars triggered lengthy, costly refugee crises. They all spawned international terrorism and eventually direct international -- including U.S. -- intervention.

The uprising against al-Assad started two years ago in the spirit of what was then referred to -- without a hint of irony -- as the Arab Spring. Young Syrians marched, chanting for freedom and democracy. The ideals of equality, rule of law and human rights wafted in the air.

Al-Assad responded to peaceful protests with gunfire. Syrians started dying by the hundreds each day. Gradually the nonviolent protesters started fighting back. Members of the Syrian army started defecting.

The opposition's Free Syrian Army came together. Factions within the Syrian opposition took up arms and the political contest became a brutal civil war. The death toll has climbed to as many as 90,000, according to Kerry. About 2 million people have left their homes, and the killing continues with no end in sight.

In fairness to Washington, Europe and the rest of the international community, there were never easy choices in this war. Opposition leaders bickered, and their clashing views scared away would-be supporters. Western nations rejected the idea of arming the opposition, saying Syria already has too many weapons. They were also concerned about who would control the weaponry, including an existing arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, after al-Assad's fall.

These are all legitimate concerns. But inaction is producing the worst possible outcome.

The moderates, whose views most closely align with the West, are losing out to the better-armed Islamists and, especially, to the extremists. Moderates are losing the ideological debate and the battle for the future character of a Syria after al-Assad.

Radical Islamist groups have taken the lead. Young people are losing faith in moderation, lured by disciplined, devout extremists. Reporters on the ground have seen young democracy advocates turn into fervent supporters of dangerous groups such as the Nusra Front, which has scored impressive victories.

The U.S. State Department recently listed the Nusra Front, which has close ties to al Qaeda in Iraq and a strong anti-Western ideology, as a terrorist organization.

Meantime, countries bordering Syria are experiencing repercussions. And these are likely to become more dangerous.

Jordan, an important American ally, is struggling with a flood of refugees, as many as 10,000 each week since the start of the year. The government estimates 380,000 Syrians are in Jordan, a country whose government is under pressure from its own restive population and still dealing with huge refugee populations from other wars.

Turkey is also burdened with hundreds of thousands of refugees and occasional Syrian fire. Israel has warned about chemical weapons transfers from al-Assad to Hezbollah in Lebanon and may have already fired on a Syrian convoy attempting the move.

Lebanon, always perched precariously on the edge of crisis, lives with growing fears that Syria's war will enter its borders. Despite denials, there is evidence that Lebanon's Hezbollah, a close ally of al-Assad and of Iran, has joined the fighting on the side of the Syrian president. The Free Syrian Army has threatened to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon if it doesn't leave Syria.

The possible outcomes in Syria include the emergence of a failed state, stirring unrest throughout the region. If al-Assad wins, Syria will become an even more repressive country.

Al-Assad's survival would fortify Iran and Hezbollah and other anti-Western forces. If the extremists inside the opposition win, Syria could see factional fighting for many years, followed by anti-democratic, anti-Western policies.

The only good outcome is victory for the opposition's moderate forces. They may not be easy to identify with complete certainty. But to the extent that it is possible, these forces need Western support.

They need training, funding, careful arming and strong political and diplomatic backing. The people of Syria should know that support for human rights, democracy and pluralism will lead toward a peaceful, prosperous future.

Democratic nations should not avert their eyes from the killings in Syria which are, after all, a warning to the world.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

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

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Union breaks Quinn, gets raises for state workers in deal

SPRINGFIELD – After months of insisting state workers should not receive wage increases, Gov. Pat Quinn has struck a tentative deal with Illinois’ largest employee union that will bump their pay while also requiring them to pay more for health care coverage.

Under the three-year agreement, which must still be voted on by union members, roughly 35,000 employees would forgo raises this fiscal year but receive a 2 percent pay increase in fiscal 2013 and another 2 percent boost in 2014.

Some workers would also receive “step increases” in those years, which are wage hikes given to employees during the early stages of their careers.

Veteran employees would receive a “longevity increase” of $25 extra a month.

It’s unclear how much the pay raises would cost the state.

Quinn’s office and a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees declined to discuss specifics until workers have a chance to review the proposal next week, but the increases were laid out in a memo sent to members by union executive director Henry Bayer.

In addition to the proposed wage increases, the Quinn administration has agreed to honor raises that thousands of union members were supposed to receive under a previous contract.

Quinn blocked the raises, arguing that lawmakers did not set aside enough money to cover the costs. A court has since ordered Quinn to pay up.

Paying all the back wages owed may prove tricky, however, as Quinn and the union must ask lawmakers to approve the money to cover the costs.
Bayer wrote that the deal is “an agreement that beats back a barrage of attacks on the rights and benefits of union members.”

Quinn and the union had been locked in negotiations for more than 15 months, the longest that such talks have stretched in state history.

The battle quickly grew contentious, with angry workers confronting Quinn during his annual trip to the State Fair last summer as well as at various events around the state over the last year. As talks stretched on, the union warned employees to prepare for a possible strike.

Quinn had argued that the state could not afford pay increases, but backed off as pressure mounted.

During an appearance in Chicago on Friday, Quinn hailed the agreement as “a good one for workers who work so hard for the common good, and the taxpayers of Illinois who are our No. 1 trustees we have to be accountable to.”

In exchange for the raises, workers will be asked to pay more for their health care.

Individuals will pay an extra 1 percent of their salary, while families will be charged more depending on the number of dependents. Co-pays and deductibles also will increase.

The biggest cost saver will be the elimination of free health care premiums for an estimated 78,000 retired workers, an expense that runs taxpayers roughly $800 million a year.

How much each retiree will pay will depend on how much they receive in pension benefits. The more they receive, the more they would pay.

Tribune reporters Ray Long and Bridget Doyle contributed.

Twitter @moniquegarcia

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Wall Street ends flat after late fade; S&P up for fourth month

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks ended flat on Thursday, giving up modest gains late in the session, denying the Dow a chance to inch closer to all-time highs.

The S&P 500 still managed to close out February with a fourth straight month of gains. JC Penney Co Inc was the day's biggest loser, falling 17 percent to $17.57 after the department store operator reported a steep drop in sales.

The U.S. economy grew slightly in the fourth quarter, a turnaround from an earlier estimate showing contraction, and a drop in new claims for unemployment benefits last week added to a batch of data suggesting the economy continues its sluggish improvement.

The Dow was within striking distance of its record high after a year-to-date advance of more than 7 percent. The Dow's record closing high, set on October 9, 2007, stands at 14,164.53, while the Dow's intraday record high, set on October 11, 2007, stands at 14,198.10.

The Dow Jones Transportation Average <.djt>, seen as a bet on future growth, is up 12.9 percent this year, and the 20-stock index hit a record intraday high earlier on Thursday.

"To push through to new highs, you would have to see consistent positive economic data in the U.S. and have Europe stabilize - those are two pretty big requirements," said Jeff Morris, head of U.S. equities at Standard Life Investments in Boston.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see us bounce around as we have the past couple of weeks," Morris added.

Volume was low for most of the session until quarterly index-rebalancing activity hit the tape at the very close of trading.

After a strong January with gains of more than 5 percent, both the Dow and the S&P 500 found gains tougher to come by in February. Minutes from the Federal Reserve's January meeting sparked concerns that the central bank may pull back on its stimulus measures sooner than expected, while looming U.S. budget cuts and turbulent Italian elections tempered investors' aggressiveness.

But concerns about Fed policy were eased by testimony from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke before a congressional committee earlier this week, as he defended the policy of buying bonds to keep interest rates low to boost growth, despite worries some have about possible inflation.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> shed 20.88 points, or 0.15 percent, to 14,054.49 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> lost 1.31 points, or 0.09 percent, to 1,514.68. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> fell 2.07 points, or 0.07 percent, to end at 3,160.19.

For the month, the Dow rose 1.4 percent, the S&P 500 gained 1.1 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.6 percent.

Limited Brands and Netflix ranked among the best-performing consumer stocks. Shares of Limited Brands, the parent of retailers Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, gained 2.3 percent to $45.52. The stock of video streaming service Netflix climbed 2 percent to $$188.08.

In contrast, shares of Groupon Inc fell on weak revenue, with the daily deals company's tumbling 24.3 percent to $4.53.

Cablevision slumped 9.6 percent to $13.99 after the cable provider took a $100 million hit on costs related to Superstorm Sandy and posted deeper video customer losses than expected.

On a positive note, Mylan Inc gained 3.6 percent to $29.61 after the generic drugmaker posted a 25 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit and said it will buy a unit of India's Strides Arcolab Ltd.

Investors were keeping an eye on the debate in Washington over U.S. government budget cuts that will take effect starting Friday if lawmakers fail to reach agreement on spending and taxes. President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders arranged last-ditch talks to prevent the cuts, but expectations were low that any deal would emerge.

Volume was modest with about 6.81 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE MKT and Nasdaq, slightly above the daily average of 6.46 billion.

Advancing stocks slightly outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,518 to 1,446. On the Nasdaq, the decliners had a slight edge, with 1,247 shares falling and 1,201 stocks rising.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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AP Source: Salary cap increases to $123 million

The NFL salary cap for the 2013 season will rise to $123 million from $120.6 million in 2012, an NFL Players Association official familiar with negotiations over the figure told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no formal announcement had been made.

The increase, which is larger than some in the NFL had anticipated, is a result of greater-than-expected revenues last season — primarily from NFL Properties — and a jump in projected league revenues, according to the official.

The league and the union work together to establish a cap number, based on parameters established under their collective bargaining agreement. The current 10-year CBA was signed in August 2011, ending the owners' lockout of the players.

One of the main areas of contention during that labor dispute was how to divide the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues, a figure that will keep rising, particularly once the NFL's new television contracts kick in for the 2014 season. Those additional revenues will be reflected in the salary cap for 2015, which is expected to see a more significant increase than the roughly 2 percent uptick from 2012 to 2013.

There was no salary cap in 2010, the final year of the old CBA. In 2011, the first year under the present deal, the figure was $120.375 million.

Over the next four seasons, from 2013-16, each of the NFL's 32 clubs will be required to spend an average of at least 89 percent of the salary cap in contract dollars, while overall league spending must average 95 percent in that span. That sort of minimum cash spending did not exist under the old CBA.

Another significant change under this agreement: owners and players divide types of revenues at different rates. Players receive 55 percent of revenue from the league's national TV and other media deals; 45 percent of licensing and national sponsorship deals, including NFL Properties; and 40 percent of local club revenues.

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Syria war is everybody's problem


  • NEW: France considers sending Syrian rebels night-vision gear and body armor, a source says

  • Britain's foreign secretary says the UK will announce new aid soon

  • The statements after European Union loosens restrictions to allow nonlethal aid to rebels

  • The U.S. will also send non-lethal aid to rebels for first time, plus $60 million in administrative aid

Rome (CNN) -- The United States stepped further into Syria's civil war Thursday, promising rebel fighters food and medical supplies -- but not weapons -- for the first time in the two-year conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives and laid waste to large portions of the country.

Meanwhile, European nations began to explore ways to strengthen rebel fighters that stop short of arming them after a European Council decision allowing such aid to flow to Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the aid would help fighters in the high-stakes effort to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a conflict that has already spawned an enormous humanitarian crisis as refugees flee the fighting.

The ongoing fighting also poses the persistent threat of widening into a destabilizing regional crisis, including concerns that Hezbollah, Iran or others could gain control in Damascus after al-Assad's government falls.

"The United States' decision to take further steps now is the result of the continued brutality of a superior armed force propped up by foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah, all of which threatens to destroy Syria," Kerry said after meeting opposition leaders in Rome.

Kerry didn't say how much that aid would be worth, but did announce that the United States would separately give $60 million to local groups working with the Syrian National Council to provide political administration and basic services in rebel-controlled areas of Syria.

READ: U.S. weighing nonlethal aid to Syrian opposition

That's on top of $50 million in similar aid the United States has previously pledged to the council, as well as $385 million in humanitarian assistance, Kerry said.

"This funding will allow the opposition to reach out and help the local councils to be able to rebuild in their liberated areas of Syria so that they can provide basic services to people who so often lack access today to medical care, to food, to sanitation," he said.

Islamist Influence

That aid is partly an effort to hem in radical Islamist groups vying for influence in Syria after the fall of al-Assad, a senior State Department official told CNN.

"If the Syrian opposition coalition can't touch, improve and heal the lives of Syrians in those places that have been freed, then extremists will step in and do it," the official said.

Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, president of the Syrian National Council, said concerns about Islamist influence had been overstated.

"We stand against every radical belief that aims to target Syria's diverse social and religious fabric," he said.

READ: Inside Syria: Exclusive look at pro-Assad Christian militia

U.S. officials hope the aid will help the coalition show what it can do and encourage al-Assad supporters to "peel away from him" and help end the fighting, the official said.

The opposition council will decide where the money goes, Kerry said.

But the United States will send technical advisers through its partners to the group's Cairo headquarters to make sure the aid is being used properly, the senior State Department official said.

Additional aid possible

The European Council carved out an exception in its sanctions against Syria on Thursday to allow for the transfer of nonlethal equipment and technical assistance for civilian protection only.

The council didn't specify what kind of equipment could be involved.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Friday on Twitter that his country would be pledging new aid because "we cannot stand still while the crisis worsens and thousands of lives are at stake."

A diplomatic official at the French Foreign Ministry told CNN that France is studying the possibility of supplying night-vision equipment or body armor.

"It is in the scope of the amendment," the official said.

In the United States, President Barack Obama is thinking about training rebels and equipping them with defensive gear such as night-vision goggles, body armor and military vehicles, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

The training would help rebels decide how to use their resources, strategize and maybe train a police force to take over after al-Assad's fall, one of the sources said.

READ: Syrian army in Homs is showing strains of war

Kerry did not announce that sort of aid Thursday, but said the United States and other countries backing the rebels would "continue to consult with each other on an urgent basis."

An official who briefed reporters said the opposition has raised a lot of needs in the Rome meetings and the administration will continue to "keep those under review."

"We will do this with vetted individuals, vetted units, so it has to be done carefully and appropriately," the official said.

Humanitarian crisis

The conflict began with demands for political reform after the Arab Spring movement that swept the Middle East and Africa, but descended into a brutal civil war when the al-Assad regime began a brutal crackdown on demonstrators.

At least 60,000 people have died since the fighting began in March 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in early January.

Another 940,000 had fled the country as of Tuesday, while more than one in 10 of Syria's 20 million residents have been forced to move elsewhere inside the country because of the fighting, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said.

The situation is nearing crisis proportions, with the dramatic influx of refugees threatening to break the ability of host nations to provide for their needs, Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday

"The host states, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and the North African countries, have been exemplary in their different ways, but we fear the pressure will start to overwhelm their capacities," she told the council, according to a text of her remarks posted on the United Nations website.

Al-Khatib said it's time for the fighting to stop.

"I ask Bashar al-Assad for once, just once, to behave as a human being," he said. "Enough massacres, enough killings. Enough of your bloodshed and enough torture. I urge you to make a rational decision once in your life and end the killings."

READ: Syrian war is everybody's problem

Jill Dougherty reported from Rome, and Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and Elise Labott also contributed to this report.

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Collins believes Bulls taking right approach with Rose

Even Doug Collins got swept up in the Derrick Rose hysteria on Thursday.

"I thought for sure he was going to play (Thursday night)," the 76ers' coach said. "Got hurt against Philadelphia, come back against Philadelphia, game on TNT. I could just see him running out with the Adidas commercial."

Instead, Rose's participation got limited to another lengthy, sweaty pregame workout featuring several dunks that drew oohs and aahs from the early-arriving fans. Collins battled serious knee injuries in his playing career and thinks the conservative approach is the right one.

"The Bulls have a tremendous investment in Derrick," Collins said. "You want to make sure this young guy is ready to go. We take a guy like Adrian Peterson and we see him rehab and play football and you sort of expect everybody to have the same timetable. Knees are different. Every player is different. Everybody's game is different.

"Derrick is an explosive player. He plays in the lane. He's landing in a lot of congestion. He's going to have to be very confident when he plays about being able to explode off that leg and come down in a crowd.

"(Chairman) Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls organization aren't short-sighted people. They have a franchise they feel has a chance to be good for a long, long time. And Derrick is the guy who's going to make that special. So I totally understand."

All aboard: All signs point to the Bulls signing Lou Amundson to a 10-day contract on Saturday, bringing their roster to the maximum 15 players. Amundson, who the Timberwolves waived Feb. 8, is big man insurance while Taj Gibson remains sidelined with a sprained MCL in his left knee.

The Bulls have just enough below the hard salary cap of $74.307 million to sign Amundson for the remainder of the season if they choose. He then would be eligible for the playoffs.

Over seven seasons with several teams, the 6-foot-9 forward has averaged 3.8 points and 3.6 rebounds.

Layups: Marquis Teague turned 20 Thursday. … Collins, on the widespread reaction to his heart-on-his-sleeve postgame news conference after the 76ers' sixth straight loss on Tuesday: "Yeah, I guess I was trending."

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Penn State upsets No. 4 Michigan 84-78

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Jermaine Marshall scored 25 points and Penn State upset No. 4 Michigan 84-78 on Wednesday night for its first Big Ten win of the season.

The Nittany Lions (9-18, 1-14) had lost 18 straight regular-season conference games dating to last season, but they roared back from a 15-point deficit with 10:39 left behind the energetic play of Marshall. The junior guard scored 19 in the second half, including four 3s that whipped Jordan Center fans into a frenzy.

D.J. Newbill added 17 points for Penn State, which hit a season-high 10 3-pointers. Marshall's twisting drive to the basket gave the Nittany Lions a three-point lead before Michigan's Glenn Robinson III misfired on a 3 with 17 seconds left.

Sasa Borovnjak had a memorable Senior Night, hitting two foul shots with 15 seconds left to seal the win. Moments later, Penn State fans rushed the court in delight.

Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 19 points for the Wolverines (23-5, 10-5).

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