Wall Street Week Ahead: Earnings, money flows to push stocks higher

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With earnings momentum on the rise, the S&P 500 seems to have few hurdles ahead as it continues to power higher, its all-time high a not-so-distant goal.


The U.S. equity benchmark closed the week at a fresh five-year high on strong housing and labor market data and a string of earnings that beat lowered expectations.


Sector indexes in transportation <.djt>, banks <.bkx> and housing <.hgx> this week hit historic or multiyear highs as well.


Michael Yoshikami, chief executive at Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California, said the key earnings to watch for next week will come from cyclical companies. United Technologies reports on Wednesday while Honeywell is due to report Friday.


"Those kind of numbers will tell you the trajectory the economy is taking," Yoshikami said.


Major technology companies also report next week, but the bar for the sector has been lowered even further.


Chipmakers like Advanced Micro Devices , which is due Tuesday, are expected to underperform as PC sales shrink. AMD shares fell more than 10 percent Friday after disappointing results from its larger competitor, Intel . Still, a chipmaker sector index <.sox> posted its highest weekly close since last April.


Following a recent underperformance, an upside surprise from Apple on Wednesday could trigger a return to the stock from many investors who had abandoned ship.


Other major companies reporting next week include Google , IBM , Johnson & Johnson and DuPont on Tuesday, Microsoft and 3M on Thursday and Procter & Gamble on Friday.


CASH POURING IN, HOUSING DATA COULD HELP


Perhaps the strongest support for equities will come from the flow of cash from fixed income funds to stocks.


The recent piling into stock funds -- $11.3 billion in the past two weeks, the most since 2000 -- indicates a riskier approach to investing from retail investors looking for yield.


"From a yield perspective, a lot of stocks still yield a great deal of money and so it is very easy to see why money is pouring into the stock market," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.


"You are just not going to see people put a lot of money to work in a 10-year Treasury that yields 1.8 percent."


Housing stocks <.hgx>, already at a 5-1/2 year high, could get a further bump next week as investors eye data expected to support the market's perception that housing is the sluggish U.S. economy's bright spot.


Home resales are expected to have risen 0.6 percent in December, data is expected to show on Tuesday. Pending home sales contracts, which lead actual sales by a month or two, hit a 2-1/2 year high in November.


The new home sales report on Friday is expected to show a 2.1 percent increase.


The federal debt ceiling negotiations, a nagging worry for investors, seemed to be stuck on the back burner after House Republicans signaled they might support a short-term extension.


Equity markets, which tumbled in 2011 after the last round of talks pushed the United States close to a default, seem not to care much this time around.


The CBOE volatility index <.vix>, a gauge of market anxiety, closed Friday at its lowest since April 2007.


"I think the market is getting somewhat desensitized from political drama given, this seems to be happening over and over," said Destination Wealth Management's Yoshikami.


"It's something to keep in mind, but I don't think it's what you want to base your investing decisions on."


(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos, additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak and Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Armstrong's enemies find vindication, sadness


First shunned, then vilified by Lance Armstrong, Mike Anderson had to move to the other side of the world to get his life back.


Now running a bike shop outside of Wellington, New Zealand, Armstrong's former assistant watched news reports about his former boss confessing to performance-enhancing drug use with only mild interest. If Anderson never hears Armstrong's voice again, it would be too soon.


"He gave me the firm, hard push and a shove," Anderson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Made my life very, very unpleasant. It was an embarrassment for me and my family to be portrayed as liars, to be called a disgruntled employee, implying there was some impropriety on my part. It just hurt. It was completely uncalled for."


Anderson is among the dozens, maybe hundreds, of former teammates, opponents and associates to receive the Armstrong treatment, presumably for not going along with the party line — that the now-disgraced, seven-time Tour de France cyclist didn't need to cheat to win.


The penalties for failing to play along were punitive, often humiliating, and now that Armstrong has admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he's a doper, a liar and a bully, many of those who saw their lives changed, sometime ruined, are going through a gamut of emotions.


Some feel vindicated, others remain vengeful. Some are sad, while many others are simply wrung out.


"He's damaged a lot of people's lives," said Betsy Andreu, whose husband, Frankie, was culled from Armstrong's team for not agreeing to dope. "He has damaged the sport of cycling. Frankie was fired for not getting on the program. I never thought this day would come but it's so incredibly sad."


Before his interview with Winfrey aired, Armstrong reached out to the Andreus to apologize but the planned reconciliation did not work. In fact, Armstrong's interview only made things worse, when he refused to confirm what the Andreus testified to under oath — that they had heard the cyclist admit to doping while meeting with doctors treating him for cancer at an Indiana hospital in 1996.


Regardless of whether Armstrong says more about that, there's no denying that life for the Andreus changed when they refused to go along.


"Frankie's career was definitely cut short. His career was ruined early," Betsy Andreu said. "You have riders out there whose careers never happened" because of Armstrong.


And some whose careers were cut short.


Filippo Simeoni was a talented, young rider who dared admit to doping and told authorities he received his instructions from physician Michele Ferrari, who also advised Armstrong during his career. After that 2002 testimony, Armstrong branded Simeoni a liar. He went so far as to humiliate Simeoni at the 2004 Tour de France, when he chased down the Italian rider during a breakaway and more or less ordered him to fall back in line. Later in the race, and with a TV camera in his face, Armstrong put his finger to his lips in a "silence" gesture. After the stage, he said he was simply protecting the interests of the peloton.


Simeoni received a different message.


"When a rider like me brushed up against a cyclist of his caliber, his fame and his worth — when I clashed with the boss — all doors were closed to me," Simeoni said. "I was humiliated, offended, and marginalized for the rest of my career. Only I know what that feels like. It's difficult to explain."


Anderson certainly can.


In a story he wrote for Outside Magazine last August, Anderson detailed a business relationship with Armstrong that began in 2002 with an email from Armstrong promising he would finance Anderson's bike shop when their work together was done. Anderson, a bike mechanic working in Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas, essentially became the cyclist's personal assistant, his responsibilities growing as the years passed. One of his tasks was making advance trips to Armstrong's apartment in Spain to prepare it for his arrival.


Anderson says the relationship began to sour after he came upon a box in Armstrong's bathroom labeled "Androstenedione," the banned substance most famously linked to Mark McGwire. The box, Anderson wrote, was mysteriously gone the next time he entered the apartment.


Time passed. Anderson bore witness to more and more things that didn't feel right. Armstrong, sensing his employee's discomfort, became more and more distant. Finally, Anderson wrote, Armstrong severed ties, asking Anderson to sign a nondisclosure agreement "that would have made me liable for a large sum of money if I even mentioned ever having worked for Armstrong."


Anderson's refusal to do that led to lawyers and lawsuits — with Armstrong accusing Anderson of extortion and Anderson accusing Armstrong of wrongful dismissal, breach of contract, and defamation. The cases were eventually settled for undisclosed terms.


But Anderson took his share of hits along the way.


"Austin was not a comfortable place for me after that," he said. "It had been my home for some years. I had enjoyed a very good reputation. I couldn't get a job in the bicycle business, certainly not one that was a fair placement for my skill and experience."


He ended up in New Zealand, where his wife's brother has roots, and is doing fine, now.


"I got a fair shake from some local investors who believe in me and we've been at it for four years," Anderson said. "The kids are clothed and fed and I don't really have any complaints."


Stories such as these — about the havoc Armstrong unleashed on people's lives — come from seemingly every corner: bike mechanics, multimillionaire businessmen, trainers, masseuses, wives, cyclists both at the front and back of the peloton.


Tyler Hamilton was among Armstrong's key teammates during his first three Tour de France victories. His tell-all interview on "60 Minutes" in 2011, combined with his testimony and a book he wrote last year, played a key part in the unraveling of the Armstrong myth.


Hamilton watched Armstrong's confession with little emotion but with a modicum of hope.


"It's been a sad story for a lot of people," Hamilton said. "But I think we'll look back on this period and, hopefully not too far down the road, we can say it was, in the end, a good thing for the sport of cycling."


___


AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.


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Latest Inaugural Forecast: Bit Warmer Than in 2009






Consider it the first fact check of a Barack Obama campaign pledge for his second term: Will he, or Mother Nature, deliver on promised warmer Inauguration Day weather?


It’s shaping up as a close call.






In September, while campaigning in Colorado, Obama was talking to a potential voter who mentioned he had been one of the hundreds of thousands of people outdoors at Obama‘s bone-chilling first inaugural in 2009, when the noontime temperature was 28 degrees. Obama promised: “This one is going to be warmer.”


Scientifically, the president doesn’t have control of day-to-day weather. While his policies can lessen or worsen future projected global warming on a large scale, they cannot do anything about Washington‘s daily temperature on Jan. 21.


Still, it’s a promise that for a long time looked close to a sure thing. The history of local weather was on Obama’s side.


On average, the normal high is 43 degrees and the normal low is 28, but that’s just around dawn. There have been 19 traditional January inaugurations and only two were colder. Ronald Reagan‘s second in 1985 was a frigid 7 with subzero wind chills and John F. Kennedy‘s in 1961 was a snow-covered 22. Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration also was 28.


Then there was the general warming trend Washington had been stuck in. The last time the nation’s capital stayed below freezing all day was Jan. 22, 2011. The city has gone a record 700-plus days since it had 2 inches or more of snow.


An Arctic cold front looks to be racing toward the mid-Atlantic, so it will be cooler than normal on Monday, but probably not cooler than 2009, said Nikole Listemaa, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va., that oversees forecasts for the capital area.


Look for highs around 40 degrees with noon temperatures in the mid- to upper 30s, Listemaa said Saturday. That would keep Obama’s pledge.


There’s also a 30 percent chance of light snow showers for Monday. But the Arctic cold front won’t arrive until Monday night into Tuesday, Listemaa added.


Extreme cold on Inauguration Day, folklore says, can be a killer.


In 1841, newly elected president William Henry Harrison stood outside without a coat or hat as he spoke for an hour and 40 minutes. He caught a cold that day and it became pneumonia and he died one month after being sworn in.


Twelve years later, outgoing first lady Abigail Fillmore got sick from sitting outside on a cold wet platform as Franklin Pierce was inaugurated and she died of pneumonia at the end of the month. Doctors now know that pneumonia is caused by germs, but prolonged exposure to extreme cold weather may hurt the airways and make someone more susceptible to getting sick.


There’s one thing Washington‘s history shows. Bad weather generally creates bad traffic jams.


Kennedy found that out in his 1961 inauguration when 8 inches of snow fell overnight and crippled the city for what at that time was Washington‘s worst traffic jam. Thousands of cars were abandoned in the snow.


———


Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears


Also Read
Weather News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Why Africa backs French in Mali





























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STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • French intervention in Mali could be turning point in relationship with Africa, writes Lansana Gberie

  • France's meddling to bolster puppet regimes in the past has outraged Africans, he argues

  • He says few in Africa would label the French action in Mali as 'neo-colonial mission creep'

  • Lansana: 'Africa's weakness has been exposed by the might of a foreign power'




Editor's note: Dr. Lansana Gberie is a specialist on African peace and security issues. He is the author of "A Dirty War in West Africa: The RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone." He is from Sierra Leone and lives in New York.


(CNN) -- Operation Serval, France's swift military intervention to roll back advances made by Jihadist elements who had hijacked a separatist movement in northern Mali, could be a turning point in the ex-colonialist's relationship with Africa.


It is not, after all, every day that you hear a senior official of the African Union (AU) refer to a former European colonial power in Africa as "a brotherly nation," as Ambroise Niyonsaba, the African Union's special representative in Ivory Coast, described France on 14 January, while hailing the European nation's military strikes in Mali.


France's persistent meddling to bolster puppet regimes or unseat inconvenient ones was often the cause of much outrage among African leaders and intellectuals. But by robustly taking on the Islamist forces that for many months now have imposed a regime of terror in northern Mali, France is doing exactly what African governments would like to have done.



Lansana Gberie

Lansana Gberie



This is because the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansar Dine and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are a far greater threat to many African states than they ever would be to France or Europe.


See also: What's behind Mali instability?


Moreover, the main underlying issues that led to this situation -- the separatist rebellion by Mali's Tuareg, under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who seized the northern half of the country and declared it independent of Mali shortly after a most ill-timed military coup on 22 March 2012 -- is anathema to the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).


Successful separatism by an ethnic minority, it is believed, would only encourage the emergence of more separatist movements in a continent where many of the countries were cobbled together from disparate groups by Europeans not so long ago.










But the foreign Islamists who had been allies to the Tuaregs at the start of their rebellion had effectively sidelined the MNLA by July last year, and have since been exercising tomcatting powers over the peasants in the area, to whom the puritanical brand of Islam being promoted by the Islamists is alien.


ECOWAS, which is dominated by Nigeria -- formerly France's chief hegemonic foe in West Africa -- in August last year submitted a note verbale with a "strategic concept" to the U.N. Security Council, detailing plans for an intervention force to defeat the Islamists in Mali and reunify the country.


ECOWAS wanted the U.N. to bankroll the operation, which would include the deployment a 3,245-strong force -- to which Nigeria (694), Togo (581), Niger (541) and Senegal (350) would be the biggest contributors -- at a cost of $410 million a year. The note stated that the objective of the Islamists in northern Mali was to "create a safe haven" in that country from which to coordinate "continental terrorist networks, including AQIM, MUJAO, Boko Haram [in Nigeria] and Al-Shabaab [in Somalia]."


Despite compelling evidence of the threat the Islamists pose to international peace and security, the U.N. has not been able to agree on funding what essentially would be a military offensive. U.N. Security Council resolution 2085, passed on 20 December last year, only agreed to a voluntary contribution and the setting up of a trust fund, and requested the secretary-general "develop and refine options within 30 days" in this regard. The deadline should be 20 January.


See also: Six reasons events in Mali matter


It is partly because of this U.N. inaction that few in Africa would label the French action in Mali as another neo-colonial mission creep.


If the Islamists had been allowed to capture the very strategic town of Sevaré, as they seemed intent on doing, they would have captured the only airstrip in Mali (apart from the airport in Bamako) capable of handling heavy cargo planes, and they would have been poised to attack the more populated south of the country.



Africa's weakness has, once again, been exposed by the might of a foreign power.
Lansana Gberie



Those Africans who would be critical of the French are probably stunned to embarrassment: Africa's weakness has, once again, been exposed by the might of a foreign power.


Watch video: French troops welcomed in Mali


Africans, however, can perhaps take consolation in the fact that the current situation in Mali was partially created by the NATO action in Libya in 2010, which France spearheaded. A large number of the well-armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists had fought in the forces of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and then left to join the MNLA in northern Mali after Gadhafi fell.


They brought with them advanced weapons, including shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles from Libya; and two new Jihadist terrorist groups active in northern Mali right now, Ansar Dine and MUJAO, were formed out of these forces.


Many African states had an ambivalent attitude towards Gadhafi, but few rejoiced when he was ousted and killed in the most squalid condition.


A number of African countries, Nigeria included, have started to deploy troops in Mali alongside the French, and ECOWAS has stated the objective as the complete liberation of the north from the Islamists.


The Islamists are clearly not a pushover; though they number between 2,000 and 3,000 they are battle-hardened and fanatically driven, and will likely hold on for some time to come.


The question now is: what happens after, as is almost certain, France begins to wind down its forces, leaving the African troops in Mali?


Nigeria, which almost single-handedly funded previous ECOWAS interventions (in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, costing billions of dollars and hundreds of Nigerian troops), has been reluctant to fund such expensive missions since it became democratic.


See also: Nigerians waiting for 'African Spring'


Its civilian regimes have to be more accountable to their citizens than the military regimes of the 1990s, and Nigeria has pressing domestic challenges. Foreign military intervention is no longer popular in the country, though the links between the northern Mali Islamists and the destructive Boko Haram could be used as a strategic justification for intervention in Mali.


The funding issue, however, will become more and more urgent in the coming weeks and months, and the U.N. must find a sustainable solution beyond a call for voluntary contributions by member states.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lansana Gberie.






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Ricketts: Cubs will fund renovation if city eases Wrigley restrictions

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts discusses Sammy Sosa and the renovation of Wrigley Field.









Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said the team is willing to pay for an ambitious $300 million, five-year renovation plan if the city will ease some of the restrictions surrounding Wrigley Field.

“The fact is that when you look at all of the limitations that we have, whether that’s signage in the outfield, which we are not allowed to do, or what kind of stuff we do in the park or around the park, I think we’d just like a little more flexibility to have some options on that stuff,” Ricketts said after a question-and-answers session with fans at the Cubs Convention.


“We have an opportunity cost there that’s tremendous. Just give us some relief on some of these restrictions, and we’ll take care of (renovating) Wrigley Field.”








Among the proposed improvements are larger concourses, restaurants, more bathroom and concession areas, expanded suites and amenities for the players, including a larger home clubhouse, batting cages and additional training facilities. A new roof would replace the wooden roof, new seats would be installed and the façade would return to its 1930s-era luster.


The project would be done during off-seasons over a five-year period, in what business president Crane Kenney termed “the greatest (stadium) restoration project ever.”


The Cubs hope the city will ease what they believe are unfair restrictions on the team by allowing more signage, an increased schedule of night games-- including Saturday night games-- concerts and the use of Sheffield Avenue for street-fests during games.


Kenney said the improvements would not lead to personal seat licenses for season ticket holders.


Ricketts said the team is looking at “other alternatives” to fund the renovations after a proposal to try and use future revenues from their amusement tax contributions fell flat.


“We’re not talking about (the plan) right now,’ he said.  “We’re looking at other things instead. One of the ways we look at it is ‘treat us like a private institution and let us go about doing our business and then we’ll take care of ourselves.'”


Due to a landmarking ordinance, the Cubs have to ask for city approval for signage, which was granted for the Toyota sign in the left field bleachers.


Asked if he was aware of the landmarking restrictions when he bought the team, Ricketts replied: “When we bought the team we kind of understood some of the restrictions. What I didn’t understand was we were the only team in baseball to have these restrictions.”


Ricketts said the team has been in discussions with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and feels they’re close to an agreement after talks stalled last year. Emanuel reportedly wouldn’t return Ricketts’ calls after a New York Times report that a PAC run by family patriarch Joe Ricketts considered funding an inflammatory ad campaign against President Obama.


“I hope (we’re close),” Tom Ricketts said. “I think everyone has an incentive. We lost a year this year. We want to get the project rolling. It’s a big economic development for the city. It’s a lot of jobs. It’s something everyone should have incentive to want to get done.”


Kenney said the Cubs understand Emanuel “wants to save the taxpayers.”


“This can not have a negative impact on taxpayers, and it has to create substantial jobs,” he said.   


Ricketts told fans the Cubs pay the second-highest taxes among major league teams, suggesting an easing of restrictions would be only fair.


“Just let us run our own business,” he said. “We’re not a museum.”


Ricketts said they’d like to open up Sheffield Avenue to a street-fest before games, as the Red Sox have with Yawkey Way outside Fenway Park.


“We think it’s a good idea,” he said. “We think it can really add to the fan experience. We’ve been to Yawkey Way and we think we can do something comparable. (Sheffield) is already closed. Why can’t we put something on it that’s nice for families or for fans coming to games?”


In another shift, the much-hyped triangle building plan has been shelved for an open area that can be used for things like movies, an ice rink, and a farmer’s market. The plan to add parking was also shelved, since polls told the Cubs they didn’t want more congestion next to the ballpark.


Kenney said the Cubs wouldn’t need to remove the landmark status for the proposed changes, adding “the marquee, the ivy, the scoreboard, we’d be the last ones who would want to touch those. The landmark ordinance really isn’t our problem. It’s just the ability to add some of the marketing elements we need and to host games when we feel like it.”


The Cubs are limited to 30 night games under the city ordinance. They would like to have at least a 40-game night schedule, sources said, including occasional Saturday night games, which are currently prohibited unless it’s a nationally televised game.


While a Jumbotron is not in the works yet, the Cubs are open to the possibility, while maintaining the hand-operated scoreboard. Kenney said polls show Cubs fans will support a Jumbotron, a shift in attitude from what they used to say.


“All of our focus groups have swung the other way, if it’s done right,” Kenney said, adding “the key question for them is where, how big, and whether the programming is right.”


In other words, no Kiss Cam.


The Cubs are taking the LED board off the centerfield scoreboard because fan surveys suggested “it’s not fitting” with the old one, Kenney said.


All the renovation proposals need city approval, which the Cubs believe should be forthcoming due to the economic impact of the project.

“We need the city’s support to get this off the ground,” Kenney said. “Thousands of jobs are waiting. We expect to get a lot of support from the city because certainly we could all use a little more employment in the city.”


psullivan@tribune.com





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Algeria ends desert siege with 23 hostages dead


ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria (Reuters) - Algerian troops ended a siege by Islamist militants at a gas plant in the Sahara desert where 23 hostages died, with a final assault which killed all the remaining hostage-takers.


Believed to be among the 32 dead militants was their leader, Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, a Nigerien close to al Qaeda-linked commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, presumed mastermind of the raid.


An Algerian interior ministry statement on the death toll gave no breakdown of the number of foreigners among hostages killed since the plant was seized before dawn on Wednesday.


Details are only slowly emerging on what happened during the siege, which marked a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces are ratcheting up a war against Islamist militants in neighboring Mali.


Algeria's interior ministry said on Saturday that 107 foreign hostages and 685 Algerian hostages had survived, but did not give a detailed breakdown of those who died.


"We feel a deep and growing unease ... we fear that over the next few days we will receive bad news," said Helge Lund, Chief Executive of Norway's Statoil, which ran the plant along with Britain's BP and Algeria's state oil company.


"People we have spoken to describe unbelievable, horrible experiences," he said.


British Prime Minister David Cameron said he feared for the lives of five British citizens unaccounted for at the gas plant near the town of In Amenas, which was also home to expatriate workers from Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp and others.


One American and one British citizen have been confirmed dead. Statoil said five of its workers, all Norwegian nationals, were still missing. Japanese and American workers are also unaccounted for.


The Islamists' attack has tested Algeria's relations with the outside world, exposed the vulnerability of multinational oil operations in the Sahara and pushed Islamist radicalism in northern Africa to center stage.


Some Western governments expressed frustration at not being informed of the Algerian authorities' plans to storm the complex. Algeria, scarred by a civil war with Islamist insurgents in the 1990s which claimed 200,000 lives, had insisted there would be no negotiation in the face of terrorism.


President Barack Obama said on Saturday the United States was seeking from Algerian authorities a fuller understanding of what took place, but said "the blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out."


Official sources had no immediate confirmation of newspaper reports suggesting some of the hostages may have been executed by their captors as the Algerian army closed in for the final assault on Saturday.


One source close to the crisis said 16 foreign hostages were freed, including two Americans and one Portuguese.


BP's chief executive Bob Dudley said on Saturday four of its 18 workers at the site were missing. The remaining 14 were safe.


PLANNED BEFORE FRENCH LANDED IN MALI


The attack on the heavily fortified gas compound was one of the most audacious in recent years and almost certainly planned long before French troops launched a military operation in Mali this month to stem an advance by Islamist fighters.


Hundreds of hostages escaped on Thursday when the army launched a rescue operation, but many hostages were killed.


Before the interior ministry released its provisional death toll, an Algerian security source said eight Algerians and at least seven foreigners were among the victims, including two Japanese, two Britons and a French national. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.


The U.S. State Department said on Friday one American, Frederick Buttaccio, had died but gave no further details.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said nobody was going to attack the United States and get away with it.


"We have made a commitment that we're going to go after al Qaeda wherever they are and wherever they try to hide," he said during a visit to London. "We have done that obviously in Afghanistan, Pakistan, we've done it in Somalia, in Yemen and we will do it in North Africa as well."


Earlier on Saturday, Algerian special forces found 15 unidentified burned bodies at the plant, a source told Reuters.


Mauritanian news agencies identified the field commander of the group that attacked the plant as Nigeri, a fighter from one of the Arab tribes in Niger who had joined the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in early-2005.


That group eventually joined up with al Qaeda to become Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It and allied groups are the targets of the French military operation in Mali.


The news agencies described him as "one of the closest people" to Belmokhtar, who fought in Afghanistan and then in Algeria's civil war of the 1990s. Nigeri was known as a man for "difficult missions", having carried out attacks in Mauritania, Mali and Niger.


NO NEGOTIATION


Britain, Japan and other countries have expressed irritation that the Algerian army assault was ordered without consultation.


But French President Francois Hollande said the Algerian military's response seemed to have been the best option given that negotiation was not possible.


"When you have people taken hostage in such large number by terrorists with such cold determination and ready to kill those hostages - as they did - Algeria has an approach which to me, as I see it, is the most appropriate because there could be no negotiation," Hollande said.


The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the country's outwardly tough security measures.


Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site.


Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a preoccupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.


The most powerful Islamist groups operating in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in the civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.


(Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi in Oslo, Estelle Shirbon and David Alexander in London, Brian Love in Paris; Writing by Giles Elgood and Myra MacDonald)



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Consumer sentiment at year low; fiscal debate weighs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Consumer sentiment unexpectedly deteriorated for a second straight month to its lowest in over a year in January, with many consumers citing fallout from the recent "fiscal cliff" debate in Washington, a survey released on Friday showed.


The sharp drop in sentiment over the last two months coincides with rancorous federal budget negotiations that have led to higher taxes for many Americans.


Just weeks after that deal, President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers are expected to enter another tough round of negotiations over spending cuts, which could dent consumer confidence still further.


"The handling of the fiscal cliff talks and the realization that paychecks are going to be smaller due to the sunset of the payroll tax holiday are probably weighing on consumer attitudes at the moment," said Thomas Simons, a money market economist at Jefferies & Co. in New York.


While most of the scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts forming the fiscal cliff were avoided when Congress struck a deal on January 1, most U.S. workers saw their take-home salary diminished by the expiry of two percentage-point cut in payroll taxes.


"With the debt ceiling yet to be tackled and more political acrimony on the way, we suspect that confidence has room to deteriorate further," Simons said.


The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary reading on the overall index of consumer sentiment came in at 71.3, down from 72.9 the month before. The index was at its lowest since December 2011. It was also below the median forecast of 75 among economists polled by Reuters.


"The most unique aspect of the early January data was that an all-time record number of consumers - 35 percent - negatively referred to the fiscal cliff negotiations," survey director Richard Curtin said in a statement.


"Importantly, the debt ceiling debate is still upcoming and could further weaken confidence," he said.


House Republicans have signaled they might support a short-term extension of U.S. borrowing authority when the government exhausts that capacity sometime between mid-February and early March. A failure by Congress to raise this debt ceiling could result in a market-rattling government default.


On Friday, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the House would consider a bill next week to extend the debt limit by three months in order to force the Senate to pass a budget.


U.S. stocks remained little changed after the data. The S&P 500 <.spx> hit a five-year high in the last session. But on Friday, a weak outlook from Intel offset encouraging data out of China and a fourth-quarter profit at Morgan Stanley .


So far there has been a disconnect between what consumers say and do. U.S. retail sales increased a better-than-expected 0.5 percent in December. But given the recent weakening in sentiment investors will be watching for any signs that spending is starting to slip.


"The impact on consumers will be from the hike in the social security tax. That is undoubtedly going to hit discretionary spending. So this may be a signal of things to come," said Michael Woolfolk, a senior currency strategist at BNY Mellon in New York.


The consumer survey's barometer of current economic conditions fell to 84.8 from 87.0 and was below a forecast of 88.0. The gauge hit its lowest since July.


The survey's gauge of consumer expectations also slipped, hitting its lowest since November 2011 at 62.7 from 63.8, and was below an expected 65.2.


The survey's one-year inflation expectations rose to 3.4 percent from 3.2 percent, while the survey's five-to-10-year inflation outlook was unchanged at 2.9 percent.


(Additional reporting by Steven C. Johnson and Ellen Freilich; Editing by Andrea Ricci)



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Anti-doping officials say Armstrong must say more


For anti-doping officials, Lance Armstrong's admission of cheating was only a start. Now they want him to give details — lots of them — to clean up his sport.


Armstrong's much-awaited confession to Oprah Winfrey made for riveting television, but if the disgraced cyclist wants to take things further, it will involve several long days in meetings with anti-doping officials who have very specific questions: Who ran the doping programs, how were they run and who looked the other way.


"He didn't name names," World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey told The Associated Press in Australia. "He didn't say who supplied him, what officials were involved."


In the 90-minute interview Thursday night with Winfrey — the first of two parts broadcast on her OWN network — Armstrong said he started doping in the mid-1990s, using the blood booster EPO, testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone, as well as engaging in outlawed blood doping and transfusions. The doping regimen, he said, helped him in all seven of his Tour de France wins.


His openness about his own transgressions, however, did not extend to allegations about other people. "I don't want to accuse anybody," he said.


But he might have to name names if he wants to gain anything from his confession, at least from anti-doping authorities.


Armstrong has been stripped of all his Tour de France titles and banned for life. A reduction of the ban, perhaps to eight years, could allow him to compete in triathlons in 2020, when he's 49.


Almost to a person, those in cycling and anti-doping circles believe it will take nothing short of Armstrong turning over everything he knows to stand any chance of cutting a deal to reduce his ban.


"We're left wanting more. We have to know more about the system," Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme told the AP. "He couldn't have done it alone. We have to know who in his entourage helped him to do this."


U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart, who will have the biggest say about whether Armstrong can return to competition, also called his confession a small step in the right direction.


"But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities," he said.


Pierre Bordry, the head of the French Anti-Doping Agency from 2005-10, said there was nothing to guarantee that Armstrong isn't still lying and protecting others.


"He's going in the right direction, but with really small steps," Bordry said. "He needs to bring his testimony about the environment and the people who helped him. He should do it before an independent commission or before USADA and that would no doubt help the future of cycling."


It's doubtful Armstrong could get the same kind of leniency today as he might have had he chosen to cooperate with USADA during its investigation. But in an attempt to rid cycling of the doping taint it has carried for decades, USADA, WADA and the sport's governing body aren't satisfied with simply stopping at its biggest star. They still seek information about doctors, team managers and high-ranking executives.


Tyler Hamilton, whose testimony helped lead to Armstrong's downfall, says if Armstrong is willing to provide information to clean up the sport, a reduction in the sanctions would be appropriate, even if it might be hard to stomach after watching USADA's years of relentless pursuit of the seven-time Tour de France winner.


"The public should accept that," Hamilton said. "I'm all for getting people to come clean and tell the truth. I'm all for doctors, general managers and everyone else coming forward and telling the truth. I'm all for anyone who crossed the line coming forward and telling the truth. No. 1, they'll feel better personally. The truth will set you free."


The International Cycling Union (UCI) has been accused of protecting Armstrong and covering up positive tests, something Armstrong denied to Winfrey.


"I am pleased that after years of accusations being made against me, the conspiracy theories have been shown to be nothing more than that," said Hein Verbruggen, the president of the UCI from 1991-2005. "I have no doubt that the peddlers of such accusations and conspiracies will be disappointed by this outcome."


But Verbruggen was among the few who felt some closure after the first part of Armstrong's interview with Winfrey. The second was set for Friday night.


Most of the comments either urged him to disclose more, or felt it was too little, too late.


"There's always a portion of lies in what he says, in my opinion," retired cyclist and longtime Armstrong critic Christophe Bassons said. "He stayed the way I thought he would: cold, hard. He didn't let any sentiment show, even when he spoke of regrets. Well, that's Lance Armstrong. He's not totally honest even in his so-called confession. I think he admits some of it to avoid saying the rest."


___


AP Sports Writers Jerome Pugmire in Paris, Dennis Passa, John Pye and Neil Frankland in Melbourne; Stephen Wilson in London; Steve McMorran in Wellington, New Zealand; Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt, Germany; and Andrew Dampf in Cortina, Italy, contributed to this report.


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Storms Turn Up Lard from WWII Shipwreck






After storms lashed Scotland over the holidays, some strange World War II-era relics turned up on the country’s chilly coast, including decades-old lard from a shipwreck and bunker blocks buried on a beach, local officials said.


At St. Cyrus Natural Reserve, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Edinburgh, four large chunks of lard washed up after the storms. Though their wooden containers disintegrated long ago, the lard chunks retained their barrel shape, and they were still bright white under a thick crust of barnacles, local officials said. 






“The depth of the swell during the storms we had over the holidays must have broke apart the shipwreck some more and caused the lard to escape,” Therese Alampo, manager at the reserve, said in a statement from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). [See Images of the WWII Fatty Finds]


“It’s given us some interesting sights recently on the reserve: I’m sure there have been people wondering what on earth has washed up on the beach. The lard was covered in the largest barnacles I’ve ever seen,” Alampo added. “Animals, including my dog, have certainly enjoyed the lard, and it still looks and smells good enough to have a fry-up with!”


Vicki Mowat of SNH explained to LiveScience in an email that scientists haven’t examined the lard yet, and the story of its origins comes from local history and knowledge.


“The lard was washed up for the first time after a merchant ship was bombed during World War II, and has continued to wash up every few decades after bad storms when we believe the wreck has been subject to deep swells,” Mowat said. Local resident, Angus McHardy, told SNH that he first saw fat washing up on the beach in the early 1940s.


“Some barrels were complete and others were just lumps,” McHardy said. “People collected it. My grandma boiled it up to get the sand out. It was great because we couldn’t get fat during the war.”


Farther south, at Tentsmuir Nature Reserve, beach erosion exposed a narrow-gauge railway and concrete bunkers, as well as corrugated iron sheets that were used as molds for creating coastal sea defenses during the war. The waves also sent some odd sea life onto Tentsmuir’s beaches, including a dead octopus, sea anemones and the so-called dead man’s finger sponge.


And much farther north, in Scotland’s Shetland Islands, the holiday storms turned up even older finds. A skeleton, possibly 2,000 years old, was exposed when a cliff was eroded at Channerwick alongside the remains of Iron Age buildings.


In fact, nature is known to reveal human history. For instance, remains of hominids — a juvenile male and adult female who lived nearly 2 million years ago — were discovered in the far reaches of a limestone cave system that had eroded over time. “We are looking at very eroded and denuded portions of this cave system, where nature has exposed what had once been the deep reaches,” said researcher Daniel Farber, an earth scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, in 2011 at the time the discovery was announced.


In addition, melting patches of ice that had been in place for thousands of years in the mountains of the Canadian High Arctic revealed a treasure trove of ancient hunting tools.


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


Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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U.S. 'needs tougher child labor rules'




Cristina Traina says in his second term, Obama must address weaknesses in child farm labor standards




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Cristina Traina: Obama should strengthen child farm labor standards

  • She says Labor Dept. rules allow kids to work long hours for little pay on commercial farms

  • She says Obama administration scrapped Labor Dept. chief's proposal for tightening rules

  • She says Labor Dept. must fix lax standards for kid labor on farmers; OSHA must enforce them




Editor's note: Cristina L.H. Traina is a Public Voices Op Ed fellow and professor at Northwestern University, where she is a scholar of social ethics.


(CNN) -- President Barack Obama should use the breathing space provided by the fiscal-cliff compromise to address some of the issues that he shelved during his last term. One of the most urgent is child farm labor. Perhaps the least protected, underpaid work force in American labor, children are often the go-to workers for farms looking to cut costs.


It's easy to see why. The Department of Labor permits farms to pay employees under 20 as little as $4.25 per hour. (By comparison, the federal minimum wage is $7.25.) And unlike their counterparts in retail and service, child farm laborers can legally work unlimited hours at any hour of day or night.


The numbers are hard to estimate, but between direct hiring, hiring through labor contractors, and off-the-books work beside parents or for cash, perhaps 400,000 children, some as young as 6, weed and harvest for commercial farms. A Human Rights Watch 2010 study shows that children laboring for hire on farms routinely work more than 10 hours per day.


As if this were not bad enough, few labor safety regulations apply. Children 14 and older can work long hours at all but the most dangerous farm jobs without their parents' consent, if they do not miss school. Children 12 and older can too, as long as their parents agree. Unlike teen retail and service workers, agricultural laborers 16 and older are permitted to operate hazardous machinery and to work even during school hours.


In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that child farm laborers are exposed to dangerous pesticides; have inadequate access to water and bathrooms; fall ill from heat stroke; suffer sexual harassment; experience repetitive-motion injuries; rarely receive protective equipment like gloves and boots; and usually earn less than the minimum wage. Sometimes they earn nothing.


Little is being done to guarantee their safety. In 2011 Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis proposed more stringent agricultural labor rules for children under 16, but Obama scrapped them just eight months later.


Adoption of the new rules would be no guarantee of enforcement, however. According to the 2010 Human Rights Watch report, the Department of Labor employees were spread so thin that, despite widespread reports of infractions they found only 36 child labor violations and two child hazardous order violations in agriculture nationwide.


This lack of oversight has dire, sometimes fatal, consequences. Last July, for instance, 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an employee at a small family farm near Deer Grove, Illinois, died when he fell off the piece of heavy farm equipment he was operating, and it crushed him. According to the Bureau County Republican, he was the fifth child in fewer than two years to die at work on Sauk Valley farms.


If this year follows trends, Curvin will be only one of at least 100 children below the age of 18 killed on American farms, not to mention the 23,000 who will be injured badly enough to require hospital admission. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries. It is the most dangerous for children, accounting for about half of child worker deaths annually.


The United States has a long tradition of training children in the craft of farming on family farms. At least 500,000 children help to work their families' farms today.


Farm parents, their children, and the American Farm Bureau objected strenuously to the proposed new rules. Although children working on their parents' farms would specifically have been exempted from them, it was partly in response to worries about government interference in families and loss of opportunities for children to learn agricultural skills that the Obama administration shelved them.






Whatever you think of family farms, however, many child agricultural workers don't work for their parents or acquaintances. Despite exposure to all the hazards, these children never learn the craft of farming, nor do most of them have the legal right to the minimum wage. And until the economy stabilizes, the savings farms realize by hiring children makes it likely that even more of them will be subject to the dangers of farm work.


We have a responsibility for their safety. As one of the first acts of his new term, Obama should reopen the child agricultural labor proposal he shelved in spring of 2012. Surely, farm labor standards for children can be strengthened without killing off 4-H or Future Farmers of America.


Second, the Department of Labor must institute age, wage, hour and safety regulations that meet the standards set by retail and service industry rules. Children in agriculture should not be exposed to more risks, longer hours, and lower wages at younger ages than children in other jobs.


Finally, the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must allocate the funds necessary for meaningful enforcement of child labor violations. Unenforced rules won't protect the nearly million other children who work on farms.


Agriculture is a great American tradition. Let's make sure it's not one our children have to die for.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.



The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cristina Traina.






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Autopsy today for lottery winner poisoned by cyanide

The body of poisoned lottery winner, Urooj Khan, is exhumed at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. (John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune)









Chief Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina said this afternoon that the body of lottery winner Urooj Khan, exhumed as part of a homicide investigation, was in an advanced state of decomposition but pathologists were able to take samples for toxicological analysis during an autopsy.

It could take several weeks before the test results are available, Cina said.

"I can't really predict how the results are going to turn out. Cyanide over the postmortem period actually can essentially evaporate and leave the tissue," Cina told reporters in the lobby of the medical examiner's office on the Near West Side. "It is possible that cyanide that was in the tissues is no longer in the tissues after several months. We'll just have to see how the results play out."

Cina said it took a few hours to complete the autopsy following the exhumation of Khan’s body from Rosehill Cemetery this morning.

The medical examiner’s office initially ruled that Khan’s July 20 death was from natural causes, but after a relative raised questions, comprehensive toxicological tests of blood showed that he died of cyanide poisoning. He had won a million-dollar lottery prize a few weeks before his death but had not collected the winnings – a lump-sum payment of about $425,000 after taxes.


Earlier today, a hearse was opened in front of a green tent set up at the grave site just north of Peterson Avenue and Khan's body was loaded into it. An evidence technician snapped a photo of it before the hearse's rear doors were closed up and the vehicle was driven away across the grass on the cemetery, escorted by a Chicago police evidence technician squad car and several other marked and unmarked police vehicles. They exited west onto Peterson Avenue.


The whole exhumation process lasted about two hours.








Khan's body was not frozen, officials said. A medical examiner's office spokeswoman, Mary Paleologos, said Khan's body will be buried again on Monday.


Dr. Marta Helenowski, the forensic pathologist who originally handled Khan's case, was to take samples of Khan's lungs, liver and spleen for further testing, along with taking a look at the contents of Khan's stomach and intestines and taking bone, nail and hair samples, all for further examination, according Paleologos.


"Depending on the condition of the body and the quality of the samples, (the medical examiner's office) will hopefully be able to determine how the cyanide entered his body," Paleologos said.


It'll be two or three weeks before the medical examiner's office knows how the cyanide got into Khan's system. The office will also have to wait for independent lab test results.


Helenowski and a few medical examiner's office personnel were on hand for the exhumation. An imam also was present to say prayers at the grave site as the exhumation went on.


Several helicopters hovered over Rosehill Cemetery and a backhoe and three or four pickup trucks were stationed at the grave site in the middle of the cemetery's northern section, where a beam of light could be seen shining over Khan's headstone. The backhoe soon began its work digging into the ground at the grave site. In addition to the backhoe, one or two workers were seen helping dig up the body with shovels.


A large tent was set up at the site where some two dozen police officers were gathered. Among the officers are two Chicago police evidence technicians, Paleologos said. One was taking still photos of the exhumation, while the other was shooting video.


An unmarked police car and two blue barricades blocked off the Peterson Avenue gate to Rosehill, the only entrance and exit in the northern section of the cemetery.


Four TV trucks sat parked along the fence about 100 yards west of the grave site along Oakley Avenue, the designated staging area for the media. A group of about a dozen photographers, a videographer and TV reporters stood along the Peterson Avenue fence, next to where traffic moved along the busy thoroughfare like any normal morning rush hour.


A few passersby gazed at the police activity at the grave site from Oakley Avenue. One, curious about large presence inside the cemetery, was surprised to learned from a Tribune reporter that it was Khan's body being dug up. Another thought someone was having a funeral.


The exhumation of Khan's remains came about six months after the West Rogers Park man was buried at Rosehill. In court papers last week, Cina said it was important to exhume the remains "as expeditiously as possible" since Khan's body was not embalmed.

In court papers, Cina said it was necessary to perform a full autopsy to "further confirm the results of the blood analysis as well as to rule out any other natural causes that might have contributed to or caused Mr. Khan's death."


The exhumation comes after the Tribune broke the story on Jan. 7 about Khan's mysterious death, sparking international media interest in the case.


The medical examiner's office initially ruled Khan's July 20 death was from hardening of the arteries when there were no signs of trauma on the body and a preliminary blood test didn't raise any questions. But the investigation was reopened about a week later after a relative suggested to authorities that Khan's death "may have been the result of poisoning," prosecutors said in a court filing seeking the exhumation.


The medical examiner's office contacted Chicago police Sept. 11 after tests showed cyanide in Khan's blood. By late November, more comprehensive toxicological tests showed lethal levels of the toxic chemical and the medical examiner's office declared his death a homicide.


Khan's widow, Shabana Ansari, who has hired a criminal-defense lawyer, told the Tribune last week that she had been questioned for more than four hours by detectives and had fully cooperated.  She said the detectives had asked her about ingredients she used to prepare his last meal of lamb curry, shared by Ansari, her father-in-law Fareedun Ansari and Khan's daughter from a previous marriage, Jasmeen, 17.


While a motive has not been determined, police have not ruled out that Khan was killed because of his lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune.


According to court records obtained by the Tribune, Khan's brother has squabbled with Shabana Ansari over the lottery winnings in probate court. The brother, ImTiaz Khan, raised concern that since Khan left no will, Jasmeen Khan would not get "her fair share" of her father's estate.


Khan and Ansari did not have children together. Since her father's death, Jasmeen Khan has been living with Khan's siblings.


An attorney for Ansari in the probate case said the money was all accounted for and the estate was in the process of being divided up by the court. Under state law, the estate typically would be split evenly between the spouse and Khan's only child, he said.


In addition, almost two years ago, the Internal Revenue Service placed liens on Khan's residence on West Pratt Boulevard in an effort to collect more than $120,000 in back taxes from his father-in-law,  Fareedun Ansari, who still lives at the home with his daughter.


Fareedun and Shabana Ansari have denied involvement in Khan's death.


jgorner@tribune.com

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking





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Foreigners still trapped in Sahara hostage crisis


ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria (Reuters) - More than 20 foreigners were captive or missing inside a desert gas plant on Saturday, nearly two days after the Algerian army launched an assault to free them that saw many hostages killed.


The standoff between the Algerian army and al Qaeda-linked gunmen - one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades - entered its fourth day, having thrust Saharan militancy to the top of the global agenda.


The number and fate of victims has yet to be confirmed, with the Algerian government keeping officials from Western countries far from the site where their countrymen were in peril.


Reports put the number of hostages killed at between 12 to 30, with possibly dozens of foreigners still unaccounted for - among them Norwegians, Japanese, Britons, Americans and others.


State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed on Friday the death of one American, Frederick Buttaccio, in the hostage situation, but gave no further details.


Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among the seven foreigners confirmed dead in the army's storming, the Algerian security source told Reuters. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.


A U.S. official said on Friday that a U.S. Medevac flight carrying wounded of multiple nationalities had left Algeria.


By nightfall on Friday, the Algerian military was holding the vast residential barracks at the In Amenas gas processing plant, while gunmen were holed up in the industrial plant itself with an undisclosed number of hostages.


Scores of Westerners and hundreds of Algerian workers were inside the heavily fortified compound when it was seized before dawn on Wednesday by Islamist fighters who said they wanted a halt to a French military operation in neighboring Mali.


Hundreds escaped on Thursday when the army launched an operation, but many hostages were killed in the assault. Algerian forces destroyed four trucks holding hostages, according to the family of a Northern Irish engineer who escaped from a fifth truck and survived.


Leaders of Britain, Japan and other countries have expressed frustration that the assault was ordered without consultation and officials have grumbled at the lack of information. Many countries also withheld details about their missing citizens to avoid releasing information that might aid the captors.


An Algerian security source said 30 hostages, including at least seven Westerners, had been killed during Thursday's assault, along with at least 18 of their captors. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian, with the nationalities of the rest of the dead still unclear, he said.


Algeria's state news agency APS put the total number of dead hostages at 12, including both foreigners and locals.


The base was home to foreign workers from Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil and Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp and others.


Norway says eight Norwegians are still missing. JGC said it was missing 10 staff. Britain and the United States have said they have citizens unaccounted for but have not said how many.


The Algerian security source said 100 foreigners had been freed but 32 were still unaccounted for.


"We must be prepared for bad news this weekend but we still have hope," Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.


The attack has plunged international capitals into crisis mode and is a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.


"We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part," British Prime Minister David Cameron told his parliament.


"(The army) is still trying to achieve a ‘peaceful outcome' before neutralizing the terrorist group that is holed up in the (facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still being held," Algeria's state news agency said on Friday, quoting a security source.


MULTINATIONAL INSURGENCY


Algerian commanders said they moved in on Thursday about 30 hours after the siege began, because the gunmen had demanded to be allowed to take their captives abroad.


A French hostage employed by a French catering company said he had hidden in his room for 40 hours under the bed before he was rescued by Algerian troops, relying on Algerian employees to smuggle him food with a password.


"I put boards up pretty much all round," Alexandre Berceaux told Europe 1 radio. "I didn't know how long I was going to stay there ... I was afraid. I could see myself already ending up in a pine box."


The captors said their attack was a response to the French military offensive in neighboring Mali. However, some U.S. and European officials say the elaborate raid probably required too much planning to have been organized from scratch in the single week since France first launched its strikes.


Paris says the incident proves its decision to fight Islamists in neighboring Mali was necessary.


Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a preoccupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.


The most powerful Islamist groups operating in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in a civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of Al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.


Al Qaeda-linked fighters, many with roots in Algeria and Libya, took control of northern Mali last year, prompting the French intervention in that poor African former colony.


The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the value of outwardly tough Algerian security measures.


Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those responsible would be hunted down: "Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere. ... Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide."


(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti in Cairo, Eamonn Mallie in Belfast, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Mohammed Abbas in London, Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries in Dublin, Andrew Quinn and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Philippa Fletcher and Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche, Tom Pfeiffer and Jackie Frank)



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Housing, job data push S&P to five-year high; Intel down late

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stronger-than-expected data on housing starts and jobless claims lit a fire under stocks on Thursday, pushing the S&P 500 to a five-year high and its third day of gains.


A pair of economic reports lifted investors' sentiment. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low last week and housing starts jumped last month to the highest since June 2008.


Strength in the housing and labor markets is key to sustained growth and higher corporate profits, helping to bring out buyers even on a day when earnings reports were mixed.


Gains were tempered by weakness in the financial sector, with Bank of America down 4.2 percent to $11.28 and Citigroup off 2.9 percent to $41.24 after their results.


In other negative earnings news, shares of chipmaker Intel fell 5.2 percent to $21.49 in extended-hours trading after the company forecast quarterly revenue that fell short of analysts' expectations. Intel had ended the regular session up 2.6 percent at $22.68.


The S&P 500 ended at its highest since December 2007 and now sits just 5.6 percent from its all-time closing high of 1,565.15.


"Having consolidated really for the last two weeks, the fact that we broke out, I think that that is sucking in quite a bit of money," said James Dailey, portfolio manager of TEAM Asset Strategy Fund in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 84.79 points, or 0.63 percent, at 13,596.02. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 8.31 points, or 0.56 percent, at 1,480.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 18.46 points, or 0.59 percent, at 3,136.00.


Better-than-expected earnings and revenue reported by online marketplace eBay late Wednesday helped the stock gain 2.7 percent to $54.33.


In the housing sector, PulteGroup Inc shares gained 4.9 percent to $20.29 and Toll Brothers Inc advanced 3.1 percent to $35.99. The PHLX housing sector index <.hgx> climbed 2.4 percent, reaching its highest close since August 2007.


Semiconductor shares <.sox> rose 2 percent to the highest close in eight months.


Financials were the only S&P 500 sector to register a slight decline for the day.


Bank of America's fourth-quarter profit fell as it took more charges to clean up mortgage-related problems. Citigroup posted $2.32 billion of charges for layoffs and lawsuits.


Energy shares led gains on the Dow as U.S. crude oil prices jumped more than 1 percent. Shares of Exxon Mobil were up 0.8 percent at $90.20 while shares of Chevron were up 0.7 percent at $114.75.


S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter, Thomson Reuters data showed. Expectations for the quarter have fallen considerably since October when a 9.9 percent gain was estimated.


Volume was roughly 6.5 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.


Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by about 22 to 7 and on the Nasdaq by about 2 to 1.


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



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Te'o mentioned 'girlfriend' twice recently


SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Not once but twice after he supposedly discovered his online girlfriend of three years never even existed, Notre Dame All-American linebacker Manti Te'o perpetuated the heartbreaking story about her death.


An Associated Press review of news coverage found that the Heisman Trophy runner-up talked about his doomed love in a Web interview on Dec. 8 and again in a newspaper interview published Dec. 10. He and the university said Wednesday that he learned on Dec. 6 that it was all a hoax, that not only wasn't she dead, she wasn't real.


On Thursday, a day after Te'o's inspiring, playing-through-heartache story was exposed as a bizarre lie, Te'o and Notre Dame faced questions from sports writers and fans about whether he really was duped, as he claimed, or whether he and the university were complicit in the hoax and misled the public, perhaps to improve his chances of winning the Heisman.


Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzel said the case has "left everyone wondering whether this was really the case of a naïve football player done wrong by friends or a fabrication that has yet to play to its conclusion."


Gregg Doyel, national columnist for CBSSports.com, was more direct.


"Nothing about this story has been comprehensible, or logical, and that extends to what happens next," he wrote. "I cannot comprehend Manti Te'o saying anything that could make me believe he was a victim."


On Wednesday, Te'o and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the player was drawn into a virtual romance with a woman who used the phony name Lennay Kekua, and was fooled into believing she died of leukemia in September. They said his only contact with the woman was via the Internet and telephone.


Te'o also lost his grandmother — for real — the same day his girlfriend supposedly died, and his role in leading Notre Dame to its best season in decades endeared him to fans and put him at the center of college football's biggest feel-good story of the year.


Relying on information provided by Te'o's family members, the South Bend Tribune reported in October that Te'o and Kekua first met, in person, in 2009, and that the two had also gotten together in Hawaii, where Te'o grew up.


Sports Illustrated posted a previously unpublished transcript of a one-on-one interview with Te'o from Sept. 23. In it, he goes into great detail about his relationship with Kekua and her physical ailments. He also mentioned meeting her for the first time after a game in California.


"We met just, ummmm, just she knew my cousin. And kind of saw me there so. Just kind of regular," he told SI.


Among the outstanding questions Thursday: Why didn't Te'o ever clarify the nature of his relationship as the story took on a life of its own?


Te'o's agent, Tom Condon, said the athlete had no plans to make any public statements Thursday in Bradenton, Fla., where he has been training with other NFL hopefuls at the IMG Academy.


Notre Dame said Te'o found out that Kekua was not a real person through a phone call he received at an awards ceremony in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 6. He told Notre Dame coaches about the situation on Dec. 26.


The AP's media review turned up two instances during that gap when the football star mentioned Kekua in public.


Te'o was in New York for the Heisman presentation on Dec. 8 and, during an interview before the ceremony that ran on the WSBT.com, the website for a South Bend TV station, Te'o said: "I mean, I don't like cancer at all. I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer. So I've really tried to go to children's hospitals and see, you know, children."


In a column that first ran in The Los Angeles Times, on Dec. 10, Te'o recounted why he played a few days after he found out Kekua died in September, and the day she was supposedly buried.


"She made me promise, when it happened, that I would stay and play," he said on Dec. 9 while attending a ceremony in Newport Beach, Calif., for the Lott Impact Awards.


On Wednesday, when Deadspin.com broke the story, Swarbrick said Notre Dame did not go public with its findings sooner because it expected the Te'o family to come forward first.


Asked if the NCAA was monitoring the Te'o story for possible rules violations, NCAA President Mark Emmert said:


"We don't know anything more than you do," he told reporters at the organization's convention in Dallas. "We're learning about this through the stories just the same as you are. But we have to wait and see what really transpired there. It's obviously (a) very disturbing story and it's hard to tell where the facts lie at this point.


"But Notre Dame is obviously looking into it and there will be a lot more to come forward. Right now, it just looks ... well, we don't know what the facts are, so I shouldn't comment beyond that."


Reporters were turned away at the main gate of IMG's sprawling, secure complex. Te'o remained on the grounds, said a person familiar with situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because neither Te'o nor IMG authorized the release of the information.


"This whole thing is so nutsy that I believe it only could have happened at Notre Dame, where mythology trumps common sense on a daily basis. ... Given the choice between reality and fiction, Notre Dame always will choose fiction," sports writer Rick Telander said in the Chicago Sun-Times.


"Which brings me to what I believe is the real reason Te'o and apparently his father, at least went along with this scheme: the Heisman Trophy.


Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass blasted both Te'o and Notre Dame.


"When your girlfriend dying of leukemia after suffering a car crash tells you she loves you, even if it might help you win the Heisman Trophy, you check it out," he said.


He said the university's failure to call a news conference and go public sooner means "Notre Dame is complicit in the lie."


"The school fell in love with the Te'o girlfriend myth," he wrote.


___


AP Sports Writers Ralph Russo and Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.


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Next Space Station Crew Faces Out-of-This-World Final Exams






An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are preparing to join the crew of the International Space Station in March, but before they blast off, they’ll have to face the thing all students dread: final exams.


NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, along with Alexander Misurkin and Pavel Vinogradov of Russia, are due to launch toward the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on March 28. They will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and join the station’s Expedition 35 crew a few days later. The spaceflyers plan to spend about six months in space performing experiments and keeping the $ 100 billion space laboratory in tip-top shape.






But for now, the crew is spending its final weeks before launch cramming for a critical two-day exam that will take place in the Russian town of Star City. The test is one all space station crews must pass before they are cleared to launch.


“We’re honing in on the end of a two-and-a-half-year process, which is culminating with some intense training here in Houston,” Cassidy said in a NASA briefing today (Jan. 17). “We’ll soon be in Star City where we’ll have our final exams.”


The three men will spend their first exam day inside a life-size simulator of the Russian segment of the space station, carrying out typical tasks and responding to simulated malfunctions that test their abilities to cope in a crisis. [Space Jet Lag: How Astronauts Cope (Video)]


On the second day, they’ll tackle the same challenges inside a Soyuz simulator, carrying out mock launch, rendezvous and undocking sequences while clad in their Russian Sokol spacesuits. All this will be observed by a Russian state commission that includes veteran cosmonauts and officials.


“It sounds scary and it is intimidating the first time you do it,” Cassidy told SPACE.com. “When you’re sitting in a big gigantic room with a lot of experienced Soyuz commanders, and they’re asking questions about why you put your hand in a certain place, it can be intimidating. But in my opinion it is a good process. It can really make you step up your game.”


Crews must pass the exams before they are allowed to launch to space, but if at first they don’t succeed, they do get a second chance to try again.


“Recently there have been some crews that have made a critical mistake,” Cassidy said. “And what they’ll do is make you redo that section and just fine-tune it.”


Cassidy, Vinogradov and Misurkin will be taking their test March 6 and 7. The first two spaceflyers have some experience under their belt, as both have flown to space before: Cassidy flew on NASA’s STS-127 mission of the space shuttle Endeavour in 2009, while Vinogradov is a veteran of two previous spaceflights, including a trip to Russia’s space station Mir in 1997 and the International Space Station’s Expedition 13 mission in 2004. 


“We’re approaching the finishing line,” Vinogradov said today at the NASA briefing. “We only have a few weeks left of training, including the training in Moscow. We have an excellent team.”


Misurkin, meanwhile, is a rookie spaceflyer who joined the cosmonaut ranks in 2006. This upcoming space mission will be his first.


“I’m just really excited and looking forward to this flight,” Misurkin said. “I think it [will] be a great experience for me and the biggest thing in my whole life.”


Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook & Google+


Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Why U.S. needs tougher child labor rules




Cristina Traina says in his second term, Obama must address weaknesses in child farm labor standards




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Cristina Traina: Obama should strengthen child farm labor standards

  • She says Labor Dept. rules allow kids to work long hours for little pay on commercial farms

  • She says Obama administration scrapped Labor Dept. chief's proposal for tightening rules

  • She says Labor Dept. must fix lax standards for kid labor on farmers; OSHA must enforce them




Editor's note: Cristina L.H. Traina is a Public Voices Op Ed fellow and professor at Northwestern University, where she is a scholar of social ethics.


(CNN) -- President Barack Obama should use the breathing space provided by the fiscal-cliff compromise to address some of the issues that he shelved during his last term. One of the most urgent is child farm labor. Perhaps the least protected, underpaid work force in American labor, children are often the go-to workers for farms looking to cut costs.


It's easy to see why. The Department of Labor permits farms to pay employees under 20 as little as $4.25 per hour. (By comparison, the federal minimum wage is $7.25.) And unlike their counterparts in retail and service, child farm laborers can legally work unlimited hours at any hour of day or night.


The numbers are hard to estimate, but between direct hiring, hiring through labor contractors, and off-the-books work beside parents or for cash, perhaps 400,000 children, some as young as 6, weed and harvest for commercial farms. A Human Rights Watch 2010 study shows that children laboring for hire on farms routinely work more than 10 hours per day.


As if this were not bad enough, few labor safety regulations apply. Children 14 and older can work long hours at all but the most dangerous farm jobs without their parents' consent, if they do not miss school. Children 12 and older can too, as long as their parents agree. Unlike teen retail and service workers, agricultural laborers 16 and older are permitted to operate hazardous machinery and to work even during school hours.


In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that child farm laborers are exposed to dangerous pesticides; have inadequate access to water and bathrooms; fall ill from heat stroke; suffer sexual harassment; experience repetitive-motion injuries; rarely receive protective equipment like gloves and boots; and usually earn less than the minimum wage. Sometimes they earn nothing.


Little is being done to guarantee their safety. In 2011 Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis proposed more stringent agricultural labor rules for children under 16, but Obama scrapped them just eight months later.


Adoption of the new rules would be no guarantee of enforcement, however. According to the 2010 Human Rights Watch report, the Department of Labor employees were spread so thin that, despite widespread reports of infractions they found only 36 child labor violations and two child hazardous order violations in agriculture nationwide.


This lack of oversight has dire, sometimes fatal, consequences. Last July, for instance, 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an employee at a small family farm near Deer Grove, Illinois, died when he fell off the piece of heavy farm equipment he was operating, and it crushed him. According to the Bureau County Republican, he was the fifth child in fewer than two years to die at work on Sauk Valley farms.


If this year follows trends, Curvin will be only one of at least 100 children below the age of 18 killed on American farms, not to mention the 23,000 who will be injured badly enough to require hospital admission. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries. It is the most dangerous for children, accounting for about half of child worker deaths annually.


The United States has a long tradition of training children in the craft of farming on family farms. At least 500,000 children help to work their families' farms today.


Farm parents, their children, and the American Farm Bureau objected strenuously to the proposed new rules. Although children working on their parents' farms would specifically have been exempted from them, it was partly in response to worries about government interference in families and loss of opportunities for children to learn agricultural skills that the Obama administration shelved them.






Whatever you think of family farms, however, many child agricultural workers don't work for their parents or acquaintances. Despite exposure to all the hazards, these children never learn the craft of farming, nor do most of them have the legal right to the minimum wage. And until the economy stabilizes, the savings farms realize by hiring children makes it likely that even more of them will be subject to the dangers of farm work.


We have a responsibility for their safety. As one of the first acts of his new term, Obama should reopen the child agricultural labor proposal he shelved in spring of 2012. Surely, farm labor standards for children can be strengthened without killing off 4-H or Future Farmers of America.


Second, the Department of Labor must institute age, wage, hour and safety regulations that meet the standards set by retail and service industry rules. Children in agriculture should not be exposed to more risks, longer hours, and lower wages at younger ages than children in other jobs.


Finally, the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must allocate the funds necessary for meaningful enforcement of child labor violations. Unenforced rules won't protect the nearly million other children who work on farms.


Agriculture is a great American tradition. Let's make sure it's not one our children have to die for.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cristina Traina.






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