"Cliff" concerns give way to earnings focus

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


REVENUE WORRIES


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Harris' TD run gas Packers up 7-3 after 1st period


GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — DuJuan Harris had a 9-yard touchdown run late first quarter to give the Green Bay Packers a 7-3 lead over Minnesota on Saturday night in their NFC wild-card playoff game.


Christian Ponder was inactive for the game for the Vikings because of a right elbow injury and Joe Webb started at quarterback.


Aaron Rodgers went 4 for 4 on the 82-yard scoring march for the Packers, who used their hurry-up, no-huddle scheme they weren't able to make work in the noisy Metrodome last Sunday. The Vikings won that game 37-34 to force the rematch, the third time these border rivals have met in a five-week span.


Adrian Peterson had seven carries for 33 yards in the first quarter for the Vikings, who used a 33-yard field goal by rookie Blair Walsh on the opening possession to get in front early. Webb ran for 17 yards on third-and-3 to keep the drive alive, but his underthrow to Michael Jenkins bounced well short on third down to set up the kick.


Rodgers had his top four receivers healthy together for the first time since September, with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones all set to go against a Vikings secondary that had trouble keeping up in their game last week after veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield left with a broken right hand. Winfield returned for this one, but his ability to play his usual physical style was in question.


Rodgers focused more on his running backs early. Harris caught two passes for 28 yards and Ryan Grant had a 16-yard reception to put the Packers in position to take the lead. The on-field ruling on the scoring run by Harris was that he was down at the 1, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play, and the call was reversed.


For Rodgers, this game was another benchmark in his stellar career. Despite leading the Packers to a Super Bowl championship after the 2010 season, he had yet to win a playoff game at Lambeau Field. After rolling through the regular season at 15-1 in 2011, the Packers were upset here in their first postseason game by the eventual champion New York Giants. But Rodgers, despite all the injuries to his receivers this year, posted the NFL's best passer rating for the second year in a row.


Webb became the first quarterback in 20 years to start a playoff game without starting any games during that regular season since Frank Reich did so for Buffalo, according to STATS. Reich led the Bills to their famous comeback victory over Houston that year.


These teams squared off for the second time in seven days, so there wasn't much either side could do to surprise the other -- except, perhaps, make a quarterback switch just before the game.


After preparing all week for Ponder, whose second-year struggles peaked in a loss here on Dec. 2 when he threw two interceptions inside the Green Bay 20-yard line, the Packers defense suddenly faced a totally different player in Webb.


The 6-foot-4, 220-pound sixth-round draft pick in 2010 was athletic enough to play some wide receiver at Alabama-Birmingham and even take a few turns there with the Vikings last year before becoming a full-time quarterback this season as the backup to Ponder.


He hasn't shown much accuracy in his limited NFL action, but his speed, confidence and creativity with the ball can pose problems for opponents.


Webb had three starts over his first two NFL seasons, the first coming at Philadelphia on Dec. 28, 2010. The Vikings beat the playoff-bound Eagles that night 24-14, and Webb passed for 195 yards and ran for a touchdown.


Ponder was hurt last Sunday when Packers safety Morgan Burnett delivered a jarring hit on a blitz, but he finished the game with a career-high 120.2 passer rating and three touchdowns in the 37-34 win. His elbow just didn't improve enough during the week, however, for the Vikings to put him in.


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Storm over Depardieu's 'pathetic' move






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


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

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

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

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




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


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


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


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



Agnes Poirier

Agnes Poirier



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


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


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



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



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


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


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


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






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Englewood shooting victim dies













Fatal shooting on Loomis Avenue


Chicago police gather at the scene of a fatal shooting near 55th Street and Loomis Boulevard.
(Eric Clark for the Chicago Tribune / January 5, 2013)



























































A shooting Saturday afternoon in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side left one man dead. He is at least the seventh shooting victim since 12 a.m. Saturday, police said.


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

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


A separate shooting a few hours earlier in the Back of the Yards neighborhood left another victim shot in the abdomen and seriously wounded.





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


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


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


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


chicagobreaking@tribune.com


Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking






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Venezuela lawmakers elect Chavez ally as Assembly chief


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


'CHAVEZ IS PRESIDENT'


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Capriles lost to Chavez in October's presidential election.


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


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


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


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



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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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AP Source: Browns close to deal with Kelly


CLEVELAND (AP) — Chip Kelly is close to taking his fast-paced offense to the NFL.


A person familiar with the negotiations says the Cleveland Browns are nearing a deal with Oregon's offensive mastermind to be their next coach.


The Browns interviewed Kelly on Friday and the Ducks coach was supposed to meet with Philadelphia in Arizona. However, a person familiar with the interviews says the Eagles are "heading in another direction" because Kelly is nearing a deal with Cleveland.


That person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team isn't discussing its negotiations publicly, said the Eagles planned to interview several other candidates regardless of any conversations with Kelly.


The Eagles were granted permission Friday to interview Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and are scheduled to meet with Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Sunday.


Following Oregon's win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night, the 49-year-old Kelly said he wanted to get the interview process over "quickly."


He turned down an offer from Tampa Bay last year to return for his fourth season at Oregon, where he is 46-7. He has boosted the school's national profile — flashy uniforms helped — with a high-powered offense capable of turning any game into a track meet.


"It's more a fact-finding mission, finding out if it fits or doesn't fit," Kelly said after the Ducks beat No. 7 Kansas State 35-17. "I've been in one interview in my life for the National Football League, and that was a year ago. I don't really have any preconceived notions about it. I think that's what this deal is all about for me. It's not going to affect us in terms of we're not on the road (recruiting). I'll get an opportunity if people do call, see where they are.


"I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be."


Kelly has been at the top of the Browns' list of candidates since the team fired Pat Shurmur, who went 9-23 in two seasons. Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have been conducting interviews in Arizona all week, searching for the team's sixth coach since 1999.


The Browns, who have only made the playoffs once in 14 seasons, have declined comment on any interviews.


Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton confirmed he interviewed with Cleveland earlier this week. The Browns have reportedly met with former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone and Penn State's Bill O'Brien, who removed himself from any consideration on Thursday night and intends to stay at the school.


Kelly doesn't have any NFL coaching experience, but aspects of his up-tempo offense are already being used by some teams.


Kelly wouldn't say if he was leaning one way or another following the Ducks' bowl win.


"I said I'll always listen, and that's what I'll do," he said. "I know that people want to talk to me because of our players. The success of our football program has always been about our guys. It's an honor for someone to say they'd want to talk to me about maybe moving on to go coach in the National Football League. But it's because of what those guys do. I'll listen, and we'll see."


Oregon could be facing possible NCAA sanctions for the school's use of recruiting services, but Kelly indicated he isn't running from anything.


"We've cooperated fully with them," he said. "If they want to talk to us again, we'll continue to cooperate fully. I feel confident in the situation."


Oregon's players gave Kelly a Gatorade bath as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Thursday night's game, and afterward a few of the Ducks seemed resigned to their coach moving on.


"We'll have to see," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "Whatever he decides to do, we're all behind him. He's an unbelievable coach. He's not only a football coach, but he's someone that you can look to and learn a lot of life lessons from. Whatever happens, happens. But we're all behind him.


"We'll see where it takes us."


___


AP Football Writer Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this report.


___


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


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Exxon Mobil proceeds with $14 billion Canada oil field






CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – Exxon Mobil Corp said on Friday it is moving ahead with the next major oil project in the North Atlantic, the $ 14 billion Hebron development off the Newfoundland coast, boosting its already-large investments in Canada’s most oil-rich regions.


Exxon Mobil, the biggest U.S. oil major, said it will produce 150,000 barrels of oil a day at Hebron using a massive concrete gravity-base structure like the one employed at the nearby Hibernia project, which has been operating in the iceberg-prone region since the late 1990s.






First production of the project’s heavy crude is scheduled for 2017.


The green light for Hebron, the fourth major offshore Newfoundland oil project, encouraged owners of energy operations in harsh areas in a week during which critics pilloried the industry for an accident in the Far North.


In the United States, opponents of Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic oil program called on the Obama administration to put offshore drilling plans in the region on hold after its oil rig broke away from tow boats in high seas and ran aground off Alaska.


In a statement, Exxon Mobil said its own experience in Arctic development would serve it well as it and its partners develop Hebron in the tough Atlantic operating conditions.


The 700 million barrel project, in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin, 350 km (200 miles) southeast of St John’s, Newfoundland, is well below the Arctic Circle. Discovered in 1980, the development follows others – Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose – in the region. It won regulatory approval last year.


For Exxon Mobil, Hebron is moving forward just as it is set to start production from the C$ 10.9 billion Kearl oil sands project in Northern Alberta, operated by its Canadian affiliate Imperial Oil Ltd. . The first phase will pump 110,000 barrels a day of bitumen.


The company’s investments extend a trend to bulking up on more operations in North America, where advances in technology have reignited an energy production boom, said Fadel Gheit, analyst at Oppenheimer & Co.


Exxon has legacy assets both onshore and offshore Canada, and this project, although it’s not a company maker … it’s obviously positive. A lot of other companies in recent months have showed interest in Eastern Canada,” Gheit said.


Last January, for example, Shell won bids for four blocks of acreage off Nova Scotia, by offering to spend C$ 970 million on exploration.


In the last decade, Hebron was at the center of a debate between the Newfoundland and Labrador government and the oil industry, in which the province complained of being short-changed as huge energy developments moved forward.


In the end, they agreed to a new fiscal arrangement and the province paid C$ 110 million for a 4.9 percent interest. In 2008, the cost had been estimated at C$ 5 billion to C$ 7 billion.


Oil has since become a major driver of the economy in Newfoundland, which had long had the status of a “have-not” province due partly to the collapse of the cod fishery.


The government of Premier Kathy Dunderdale estimated that the project would mean C$ 23 billion in provincial royalties, taxes and return on investment through the government-owned energy company, Nalcor Energy.


“Our goal has been to ensure that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are the main benefactors with respect to our natural resources, and that the development of Hebron maximizes benefits for the people of the province, Dunderdale said in a statement. “Hebron will support jobs, the economy and strengthens our province’s position as an energy warehouse.”


Exxon Mobil said the production structure, designed to hold 1.2 million barrels of the heavy Hebron crude, is being built at the Bull Arm construction site in Newfoundland. It will provide 3,500 construction jobs.


The largest logical market for the Hebron crude is the U.S. Gulf Coast, where numerous refineries have the equipment needed to process heavy oil, said Greg Haas, manager of research for Houston-based Hart Energy LLP.


Some East Coast plants, including PBF Energy’s Paulsboro, New Jersey, and Delaware City refineries, also have capacity to run such supply, Haas said.


Exxon Mobil shares were up 53 cents at $ 89.08 on the New York Stock Exchange late in the session.


The other partners in Hebron are Chevron Corp , Suncor Energy Inc and Statoil ASA .


(Editing by Gunna Dickson and David Gregorio)


Energy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Myanmar: Evolution, not revolution




Tourists walk around the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon in April. The tourism industry is set for expansion.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Myanmar is undergoing incremental change, welcomed by all, says Parag Khanna

  • But he says people still tread lightly, careful not to overstep or demand too much

  • Myanmar has survived succession of natural and man-made ravages, Khanna adds

  • With sanctions lifted, foreign investment is now pouring in from Western nations




Editor's note: Parag Khanna is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and Senior Fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. His books include "The Second World," "How to Run the World," and "Hybrid Reality."


Yangon, Myanmar (CNN) -- Call it a case for evolution instead of revolution. While the Arab world continues in the throes of violence and uncertainty, Myanmar is undergoing incremental change -- and almost everyone seems to want it that way.


The government is lightening up: holding elections, freeing political prisoners, abolishing censorship, legalizing protests, opening to investment and tourists and welcoming back exiles. But the people still tread lightly, careful not to overstep or demand too much. Still, the consensus is clear: Change in Myanmar is "irreversible."


Read more: Aung San Suu Kyi and the power of unity


As the British Raj's jungle frontier, Burma was a key Asian battleground resisting the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia during World War II. As with many post-colonial countries, the euphoria of independence and democracy in 1948 gave way in just over a decade to the 1962 coup in which General Ne Win nationalized the economy and abolished most institutions except the army.



Parag Khanna

Parag Khanna



Non-alignment gave way to isolationism. Like Syria or Uzbekistan, Myanmar became an ancient Silk Road passageway that almost voluntarily choked itself off, choosing the unique path of a Buddhist state conducting genocide, slavery, and human trafficking.


Watch: Myanmar in grip of economic revolution


The military junta began its increasingly cozy rapproachment with Deng Xiaoping's China in the 1970s, just as China was opening to the world, and used cash from its Golden Triangle drug-running operations to pay for Chinese weapons.


Mass protests, crackdowns and another coup in 1988 led to a rebranding of the junta as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and the country's official renaming as the Union of Myanmar.


Terrorized, starving and homeless: Myanmar's Rohingya still forgotten


The 1990 elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a majority of the seats, were annulled by the SLORC, which continued to rule until 2011 when it was formally disbanded. Most international sanctions on Myanmar have now been lifted.






Read more: Myanmar: Is now a good time to go?


In just the past few years, Myanmar has survived a succession of natural and man-made ravages, from the brutal crackdown on the Saffron Revolution of 2007 (led by Buddhist monks but more widely supported in protest against rising fuel prices and economic mismanagement), to Cyclone Nargis (which killed an estimated 200,000 people in 2008) to civil wars between the government's army and ethnic groups such as the Kachin in the north and Shan and Karen in the east, and communal violence between the Muslim Rohingya (ethnic Bengalis) and Buddhist Rakhine in the west.


There are still approximately 150,000 Karen refugees in Thailand (and over 300,000 total refugees on the Thai-Burmese border) and more than 100,000 displaced Rohinya living in camps in Sittwe. So difficult is holding Myanmar together that even Aung San Suu Kyi, who helps lead the national reconciliation process, ironically advocated the use of the army (which kept her under house arrest for almost two decades) to pacify the rebellions.


Though sectarian conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine underscores the Myanmar's tenuous search for national unity, the genuine efforts at religious pluralism are reminiscent of neighboring India: Every religion is officially recognized, and days are given off for observance. Surrounding Yangon's downtown City Hall is not only the giant Sule Pagoda but also a mosque, synagogue, church and Jain temple. The roundabout is therefore a symbol of the country's diversity -- but also the place where protesters flock when the government doesn't live up to promises.


Q&A: What's behind sectarian violence in Myanmar?


Scarred from decades of oppressive and ideological rule and still beset by conflict, it is therefore against all odds that Myanmar would become the most talked about frontier market of the moment, a top Christmas holiday destination and a case study in democratic transitions. Myanmar's political scene is now a vibrant but cacophonous discourse involving the still-powerful army; upstart parliament; repatriated civilian advisers; flourishing civil society, including human rights groups, ambitious business community, the Buddhist religious community, and a feisty media (especially online).


The parliament is pushing for accountability in telecom and energy contracts, and its speaker, Shwe Mann, is already maneuvering to challenge the chairman of his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) -- current president Thein Sein -- in the 2015 elections.


In the meantime, however, the establishment in Yangon and the new capital of Napyidaw need to focus much more on building capacity. Thein Sein, who traded in his uniform for indigenous attire in 2011, has reshuffled the Cabinet to make room for functional experts in the energy and economic portfolios. He's even spearheaded an anti-corruption drive, admitting recently that Myanmar's "governance falls well below international standards." By many accounts he is also very open to advice on investment and other reforms.


He will need it, as Myanmar faces crucial tests of its international credibility in the coming years. In 2013, Myanmar will play host to the World Economic Forum (WEF) as well as the Southeast Asian Games. In 2014 it will chair the ASEAN regional group, and in 2015 it is expected to enter a new ASEAN Free Trade Area.


The military's power is still pervasive, placing it somewhere on the spectrum between Indonesia, where military influence has been rolled back, and Pakistan, where the military still dominates. On the streets, it's often difficult to know who is in charge.


One numerological fetish led to the driving side being unilaterally changed, making Myanmar the rare place where the steering wheel is (mostly) on the right, and cars drive (mostly) on the right. At least a dozen official and private newspapers (though private daily papers are not allowed yet) are on offer from meandering street hawkers, while you inch through Yangon's increasingly dense daily traffic jams.


At this time of year, visitors to Burma enjoy crisp, smoky morning air and dry, starry nights. Yangon is undergoing a construction boom, with faded colonial embassies turned into bustling banks, the national independence column being refurbished and redesigned with a park, and tycoons building columned mansions near downtown -- and seeking Buddhist blessings by pledging lavish donations for the construction of even more monasteries and pagodas.


By 2020, the population of Yangon could easily double from the current 5 million, at which point it may look like a mix of Calcutta and Kuala Lumpur.


Thant Myint-U, the grandson of former U.N. Secretary-General U Thant and noted historian of modern Burma, now wears several hats related to ethnic reconciliation, foreign donor trust funds and urban conservation. He says that as foreign aid flows grow from trickles into a flood, they have to be systematically focused on sustainable employment creation and infrastructure. USAID has pledged to spend more than $150 million in Myanmar in the next three years.



Myanmar's opening, however, is strongly motivated by an anti-Chinese sentiment that is part of a much wider global blowback against China's commercial and strategic encroachment
Parag Khanna



Outside of Yangon, the pace of Burmese society slows to a timeless pace -- as do Internet connections. On village roads, cycle rickshaws and monks with parasols amble by fruit vendors and car part stalls. Whether at the Dhammayazika Pagoda in Bagan or Mandalay Hill in that city, locals enjoy watching sunrises and sunsets as much as tourists.


Traveling around Myanmar, one observes the paradox of a country that has massive potential yet still needs just about everything. Yangon's vegetable market is a maze of tented alleys overflowing with cabbage, pineapples, eggplant and flowers, but they are still transported by wheelbarrows and bicycles. Ox-drawn ploughs still power farming in much of the country, meaning agricultural output of rice, beans and other staples could grow immensely through mechanization.


Similarly, the British-era light-rail loop circling Yangon takes about three hours to ride once around, with no linking bus services into downtown. But with cars already clogging the city, a major transport overhaul is essential. The communications sector actually needs to be re-invented. At present, the country's Internet and mobile phone penetration are only just growing; both are still governed by India's 1886 Telegraph Act. Mobile penetration is only 3 million but could easily grow to 30 million (half the population) within the next couple of years, as the price of SIM cards come down (so far from $2,000 to about $200), and foreign telecoms are allowed in to provide data coverage.


With sanctions lifted, foreign investment is now pouring in from Western nations, in addition to the players who have been making inroads for years such as China, Thailand and Singapore. The paradox, however, is that Myanmar lacks the infrastructure (physical and institutional) to absorb all the investor interest.


Major nations have thus focused on special economic zones that they themselves effectively run. The way Japan has moved into Myanmar, one would think that its World War II imperialism has been forgotten. After their major bet on the Thilawa special economic zone south of Yangon, Japanese contractors have plans to deepen the Yangon River's estuary so that cargo ships can sail directly up to the city's shores and offload more containers of cars that are already being briskly snapped up at busy dealerships.


Besides natural gas and agriculture, everyone agrees that tourism will comprise an ever-larger share of the country's GDP. Especially with much of the country off-limits to foreigners due to security restrictions and the military's economic operations, tourists already clog all existing suitable hotels in Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay, meaning a massive upgrade is needed in the hospitality sector.


Annual tourist visits are climbing 25% annually to an estimated 400,000 for 2012. Daily flights arrive packed from around the region, with longer-haul routes beginning from as far afield as Istanbul and Doha.


Still, Myanmar is a traveler's dream come true. In Bagan, you can walk or take a sunrise jog around countless pagodas that feel like they haven't been touched in 800 years -- some actually haven't. There is also the sacred and enchanting Golden Rock; the pristine beaches of Ngwe Saung, which rival the best of Thailand and the Philippines; the temperate climate of Inle Lake; the Himalayan foothills near Putao in far northern Kachin state where one can trek; the rich dynastic history of Mandalay; and the languorous Irrawaddy River cruises that harken to George Orwell's "Burmese Days."


Yangon has a pleasant charm and gentle energy, with vast gardens and riverside walks, the grandeur of centuries-old monuments such as the Shwedegon Pagoda, a fast-growing cultural scene of art galleries and music performances, and a melting pot population of all Myanmar's tribes as well as industrious overseas Indians and Chinese, who make up 5% of the nation's population.


Mandalay in particular is where one feels the depth of China's demographic penetration into Myanmar, owing not only to recent decades of commercial expansion from gems trading to real estate but also centuries of seasonal migrations across the rugged natural border with Yunnan province. Some have begun to call the Shan region "Yunnan South."


The combination of the Saffron Revolution, civil strife, sanctions, its economic lag behind the rest of ASEAN, and the status of becoming a captive resource supplier to China all played crucial roles in Myanmar's opening. China has traditionally been a kingmaker in isolated and sanctioned countries and well-placed to capitalize on the infrastructural and extractive needs of emerging economies as well.


For China, Myanmar represents a crucial artery to evade the "Malacca trap" represented by its dependence on shipping transit through the Straits of Malacca. In 2011 China was still far and away the largest foreign investor in Myanmar, bringing in $5 billion (of a total of $9 billion) across their 2,000-kilometer (1250-mile)-long border. The massive ongoing investments include 63 hydropower projects, a 2,400-kilometer (1500-mile) Sittwe-to-Kunming oil pipeline from the Bay of Bengal and a proposed gas pipeline to China's Yunnan beginning at Myanmar's Ramree Island -- not to mention an entire military outfitted with Chinese tanks, helicopters, boats and planes.


Myanmar's opening, however, is strongly motivated by an anti-Chinese sentiment that is part of a much wider global blowback against its commercial and strategic encroachment. Even well-kept generals are fundamentally Burmese nationalists and awoke to the predicament of total economic and strategic dependence on China. The government has taken major steps to correct this excessive tilt, suspending a major hydroelectric dam project at Myitsone and re-evaluating Wanbao Mining company's giant copper mine concession near Monywa.


Myanmar is now deftly playing the same multi-alignment game mastered by countries such as Kazakhstan in trying to escape the Soviet-Russian sphere of influence: courting all sides and gaining whatever one can from multiple great powers and neighbors while giving up as little autonomy as possible.


India sees Myanmar as the crucial gateway for its "Look East" policy and is offering substantial investments in oil and gas as well as port construction and information technology; Europe has become a larger investor, especially Great Britain; Russia is being courted as a new arms supplier; Japan is viewing Myanmar as its new Thailand for automobile production; and of course, U.S. President Barack Obama visited in December, paving the way not only for greater U.S. investment but even for Myanmar to potentially participate in the Cobra Gold military exercises held annually with America's regional allies.


Obama was not only the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar but also the first to call it by that name, conceding ground in a long-running dispute. The administration hopes that North Korea, Asia's still frozen outcast, will learn the lessons from Myanmar's steady but determined opening.


But countries that are playing multi-alignment don't have to thaw domestically -- witness Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. Myanmar is simultaneously undergoing political liberalization and international rehabilitation -- a tricky and laudable feat for sure but not one North Korea is likely to emulate entirely. What the two do have in common, however, is the growing realization that having China as a neighbor is both a blessing and a curse.


During my visit to the "Genius Language School," where university students go for professional English tutoring, I asked the assembled round table whether they were happy that Obama came to visit and whether they considered America a friend. All giggled and chanted: "Yes."


Then I asked, "Are you afraid of China?" And the answer came in immediate, resounding unison: "Yes!"


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Parag Khanna.






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Bulls Game Day: Noah back vs. Heat




















Tribune video




















































MIAMI -- Joakim Noah is back. Will the Bulls' rebounding fortunes return as well?


Outrebounded in five straight and eight of the last 10 games, the Bulls know controlling tempo against the fast-breaking Miami Heat is critical. So is limiting turnovers.


"Their offense is spectacular," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Their depth makes them even more dangerous. A guy like Ray Allen is a big shotmaker late. LeBron (James) continues to get better. (Dwyane) Wade is healthy again. (Chris) Bosh gives you whatever you need. His skill set is unique."








Noah missed Wednesday's victory in Orlando with flu-like symptoms.


kcjohnson@tribune.com


Twitter @kcjhoop






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Abbas sees Palestinian unity as Fatah rallies in Gaza


GAZA (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Abbas predicted the end of a five-year split between the two big Palestinian factions as his Fatah movement staged its first mass rally in Gaza with the blessing of Hamas Islamists who rule the enclave.


"Soon we will regain our unity," Abbas, whose authority has been limited to the Israeli-occupied West Bank since the 2007 civil war between the two factions, said in a televised address to hundreds of thousands of followers marching in Gaza on Friday, with yellow Fatah flags instead of the green of Hamas.


The hardline Hamas movement, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, expelled secular Fatah from Gaza during the war. It gave permission for the rally after the deadlock in peace talks between Abbas's administration and Israel narrowed the two factions' ideological differences.


The Palestinian rivals have drawn closer since Israel's assault on Gaza assault in November, in which Hamas, though battered, claimed victory.


Egypt has long tried to broker Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, but past efforts have foundered over questions of power-sharing, control of weaponry, and to what extent Israel and other powers would accept a Palestinian administration including Hamas.


An Egyptian official told Reuters Cairo was preparing to invite the factions for new negotiations within two weeks.


Israel fears grassroots support for Hamas could eventually topple Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.


"Hamas could seize control of the PA any day," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.


The demonstration marked 48 years since Fatah's founding as the spearhead of the Palestinians' fight against Israel. Its longtime leader Yasser Arafat signed an interim 1993 peace accord that won Palestinians a measure of self rule.


Hamas, which rejected the 1993 deal, fought and won a Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006. It formed an uneasy coalition with Fatah until their violent split a year later.


Though shunned by the West, Hamas feels bolstered by electoral gains for Islamist movements in neighboring Egypt and elsewhere in the region - a confidence reflected in the fact Friday's Fatah demonstration was allowed to take place.


"The success of the rally is a success for Fatah, and for Hamas too," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "The positive atmosphere is a step on the way to regain national unity."


Fatah, meanwhile, has been riven by dissent about the credibility of Abbas's statesmanship, especially given Israel's continued settlement-building on West Bank land. The Israelis quit Gaza unilaterally in 2005 after 38 years of occupation.


"The message today is that Fatah cannot be wiped out," said Amal Hamad, a member of the group's ruling body, referring to the demonstration attended by several Abbas advisers. "Fatah lives, no one can exclude it and it seeks to end the division."


In his speech, Abbas promised to return to Gaza soon and said Palestinian unification would be "a step on the way to ending the (Israeli) occupation".


(Editing by Dan Williams, Alistair Lyon and Jason Webb)



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Asian shares drop on Fed minutes, dollar extends gain

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


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


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


The dollar extended gains early in Asia on Friday, hitting its highest since July 2010 against the yen at 87.78 while the euro fell to a three-week low of $1.3022. The U.S. dollar <.dxy> hit a near four-week high against a basket of major currencies on Thursday.


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


MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> fell 0.4 percent, after scaling its highest since August 2011 on Thursday.


Australian shares <.axjo> slipped 0.5 percent, with investors pulling back after a sharp two-day rally which took shares to their highest in more than 19 months on Thursday.


"U.S. equities were due for a correction at any rate ... and the same is true of the KOSPI. Investors would do well to buy while shares are easing," Lee Seung-woo, an analyst at KDB Daewoo Securities, said of South Korean shares <.ks11>, which opened down 0.1 percent.


Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average <.n225> opened sharply higher, up 2 percent, to its highest since March 2011 on the back of the tumbling yen. Japanese markets were closed from December 31 to January 3 for the new year's holidays. The Nikkei ended 2012 with the sharpest yearly gain since 2005. <.t/>


U.S. lawmakers earlier this week narrowly avoided falling off a "fiscal cliff" of automatic higher taxes and spending cuts, which had been set to kick in at the start of the year and threatened to derail the U.S. economy, providing an immediate boost for financial markets.


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


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


The U.S. jobs market remained on a recovery track, with data on Thursday showing U.S. private-sector employers shrugged off the budget wrangling and stepped up hiring in December, heightening hopes for a strong nonfarm payrolls report due later on Friday.


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


Resolution of the U.S. fiscal cliff crisis could spell trouble for some Asian assets that are coming off a stellar 2012 as investors could start to shift some money out of overpriced Asian investments in favour of the U.S. on a view that the fiscal deal manages to avert a U.S. recession and so boosts the prospects for American stocks.


U.S. crude inched down 0.2 percent to $82.78 a barrel.


(Additional reporting by Somang Yang in Seoul; Editing by Eric Meijer)



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Saban, Kelly lead Bama and ND out of darkness


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — There were some dark days at Notre Dame and Alabama, dark years really, during which two of college football's proudest programs flailed and foundered.


Notre Dame won the national championship in 1988, then spent much of the next two decades running through coaches — four if you count the guy who never coached a game — and drifting between mediocre and pretty good.


Alabama won the national championship in 1992, then spent the next 15 years running through coaches — four if you count the guy who never coached a game — and drifting between mediocre and pretty good.


As the 21st century dawned, the Fighting Irish and the Crimson Tide were old news, stodgy remnants of a glorious past, not moving fast enough to keep up with the times, and searching for someone to lead them back to the top.


"It parallels Notre Dame to a tee," said Paul Finebaum, who has covered Alabama as a newspaper reporter and radio show host for more than 30 years. "The attitude was 'We're Alabama. We don't have to do what others are doing. We'll win because of our tradition.' Finally everyone passed Alabama."


And Notre Dame.


Then along came Nick Saban and Brian Kelly to knock off the rust, fine tune the engines and turn the Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish into the sharpest machines in college football again.


No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama meet Monday night in Miami in a BCS championship between two titans not all that far removed from tough times.


"The pendulum swings," said former Alabama coach Gene Stallings, the last Tide coach before Saban to bring home a national title. "You don't stay good forever. You don't stay bad forever."


Of course, Alabama and Notre Dame fans aren't real comfortable with the first part of that statement. The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish were perennial national championship contenders for decades.


For Alabama, replacing Bear proved difficult. Paul Bryant won six national championships in 25 years as the coach in Tuscaloosa, and when he stepped down the Crimson Tide felt compelled to bring back one of his boys to replace him. Ray Perkins was hired away from the New York Giants, and spent four years at Alabama before going back to the NFL.


Alabama tried going outside the family and hired Bill Curry. He lasted three years, before leaving for Kentucky.


"You follow somebody like Coach Bryant, it's an extremely difficult situation," Stallings said.


Stallings played for Bryant at Texas A&M, coached under him at Alabama and even sounded a bit like the Bear with his baritone drawl. He found success and relative peace in seven seasons as coach of the Tide.


"I told Coach Bryant stories. I wasn't in competition with Coach Bryant," Stallings said. "I think that's one of the reasons I was, quote, accepted by the Alabama people."


After Stalling left in 1996, things started to get ugly at Alabama. School leaders tried again to keep their most highly prized job in the family, hiring Mike DuBose, a former defensive lineman for Bryant. That didn't work, so Alabama swung the other direction by hiring Dennis Franchione, who skipped town after two seasons for Texas A&M, and Mike Price, who brought a whole new level of embarrassment to Alabama. Not long after he was hired away from Washington State, Price was fired after a night of drunken partying became public.


Alabama reverted back to old form, going with one of its own in former Tide quarterback Mike Shula. Like DuBose, he wasn't up to the task. On top of everything else, the NCAA slammed Alabama, wiping all its victories from the 2005 and '06 seasons off the books.


Meanwhile, over the years, Alabama had fallen behind others in the Southeastern Conference when it came to facilities and support staff. Big-time college football is an arms race of sorts, and the Crimson Tide weren't investing like the competition — like LSU had while winning a national title under Saban, for example.


"The program lost its compass," Finebaum said.


When it came time to hire another coach in 2006, Alabama courted Saban and Steve Spurrier. Spurrier wasn't interested and Saban had an NFL season to finish. When the Tide was turned down by Rich Rodriguez, who opted instead to stay with West Virginia, it was rock bottom.


"It was the darkest moment I can ever remember in Alabama history," Finebaum said. "Alabama fans gave up that day.


As it turned out, it was one of the best things to ever happen to Alabama.


"You've got to have some luck," Stallings said.


As luck would have it, Saban was ready to get back to college football.


Alabama lured him away from the NFL with a $4 million a year contract that made him the highest-paid coach in college football — and gave him the power and support to run the program the way he wanted, not the way it had been run before.


"Alabama finally hired someone who has not afraid to tell everybody to get out of the way," Finebaum said.


For Notre Dame, it is a similar tale. Lou Holtz won that championship in 1988 and made the Fighting Irish a regular title contender, but by the end of his tenure, Notre Dame started to slip and the people in charge were resistant to the types of changes needed to keep up with the competition.


The Irish promoted Bob Davie to take over for Holtz. In five seasons he never won more than nine games and went 0-3 in bowls.


Davie, now the coach at New Mexico, doesn't make excuses for his record at Notre Dame, but he does note that the school has been willing to make the type of changes in recent years that he sought back in the late 1990s.


"Their facilities have gone from being poor to cutting edge in college football," he said. "Their salaries for coaches are competitive with everybody in the country. They are accepting early graduates (from high school).


"I know the dynamics there very well and there's a lot of people who think you don't have to do that at Notre Dame. It's proven now that you do have to do those things."


Former athletic director Kevin White was the catalyst for many of those changes, but he was also the man who hired George O'Leary, who was caught fibbing on his resume and stepped down, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis. The Weis hiring in 2004 was especially telling.


Notre Dame wanted Urban Meyer, who was then at Utah and the hottest commodity on the coaching market. Meyer worked at Notre Dame under Holtz and had called being Fighting Irish coach his dream job.


And he turned it down to coach Florida because he realized it would be easier to win national championship with the Gators than with the Irish. He won two with Florida in six years.


The Irish hired Weis, the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator who had never been a head coach but did graduate from Notre Dame. He was gone in five years.


This time when Notre Dame went looking for a coach, the hottest candidate on the market was Kelly, who climbed the coaching ladder slowly, winning big every step of the way. The difference was the hottest commodity also wanted Notre Dame, and White's successor, Jack Swarbrick, scooped him up quickly.


Kelly has continued to push Notre Dame into the 21st century, implementing a training table to make it easier for the players to eat healthy. He pushed for music to be pumped through the PA system at Notre Dame Stadium to rouse a fanbase that over the years had started to sit on its hands.


"It's flashier," Davie said. "They are a lot more like everybody else is but that's what's making them competitive."


Now what separates both Notre Dame and Alabama from the competition is their coaches.


Read More..

Martian rock from Sahara desert unlike others






LOS ANGELES (AP) — Scientists are abuzz about a coal-colored rock from Mars that landed in the Sahara desert: A yearlong analysis revealed it’s quite different from other Martian meteorites.


Not only is it older than most, it also contains more water, tests showed. The baseball-size meteorite, estimated to be 2 billion years old, is strikingly similar to the volcanic rocks examined on the Martian surface by the NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which found water-bearing minerals.






“Here we have a piece of Mars that I can hold in my hands. That’s really exciting,” said Carl Agee, director of the Institute of Meteoritics and curator at the University of New Mexico who led the study published online Thursday in the journal Science.


Most space rocks that fall to Earth as meteorites come from the asteroid belt, but a number can be traced to the moon and Mars.


Scientists believe an asteroid or some other large object struck Mars, dislodging rocks and sending them into space. Occasionally, some plummet through Earth’s atmosphere.


Short of sending a spacecraft or astronaut to the red planet to haul back rocks, Martian meteorites are the next best thing for scientists seeking to better understand how Earth’s neighbor transformed from a tropical environment to a frigid desert.


About 65 Martian rocks have been recovered on Earth, mostly in Antarctica or the Sahara. The oldest dates back 4.5 billion years to a time when Mars was warmer and wetter. About half a dozen Martian meteorites are 1.3 billion years old and the rest are 600 million years or younger.


The latest meteorite NWA 7034 — nicknamed “Black Beauty”— was donated to the University of New Mexico by an American who bought it from a Moroccan meteorite dealer last year.


Researchers performed a battery of tests on the meteorite and based on its chemical signature confirmed that it was blasted to Earth from Mars. At 2.1 billion years old, it’s the second-oldest known Martian meteorite that formed from a volcanic eruption.


There’s also evidence that it was altered by water. Though the amount released during heating was small — 6,000 parts per million — it was still much more than other Martian meteorites. Scientists said this suggested there was interaction with water near the surface during a time when the planet was mostly dry and dusty.


More tests are under way to determine how long the rock floated in space and how long it had been sitting in the Sahara.


University of Alberta meteorite expert Chris Herd said the find was welcome since most Martian rocks that rain on Earth tend to be younger. And the latest find does not appear to be too contaminated, he said.


“It’s fairly fresh. It hasn’t been subjected to a whole lot of weathering,” said Herd, who had no role in the research.


___


Online:


Science: http://www.sciencemag.org


___


Follow Alicia Chang at http://twitter.com/SciWriAlicia


Science News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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




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




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


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

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

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

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




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


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


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



Julian Zelizer

Julian Zelizer



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


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



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


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


Opinion: The real issue is runaway spending


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










Now come taxes and spending.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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






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