Wall Street Week Ahead: Bears hibernate as stocks near record highs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks have been on a tear in January, moving major indexes within striking distance of all-time highs. The bearish case is a difficult one to make right now.


Earnings have exceeded expectations, the housing and labor markets have strengthened, lawmakers in Washington no longer seem to be the roadblock that they were for most of 2012, and money has returned to stock funds again.


The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> has gained 5.4 percent this year and closed above 1,500 - climbing to the spot where Wall Street strategists expected it to be by mid-year. The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> is 2.2 percent away from all-time highs reached in October 2007. The Dow ended Friday's session at 13,895.98, its highest close since October 31, 2007.


The S&P has risen for four straight weeks and eight consecutive sessions, the longest streak of days since 2004. On Friday, the benchmark S&P 500 ended at 1,502.96 - its first close above 1,500 in more than five years.


"Once we break above a resistance level at 1,510, we dramatically increase the probability that we break the highs of 2007," said Walter Zimmermann, technical analyst at United-ICAP, in Jersey City, New Jersey. "That may be the start of a rise that could take equities near 1,800 within the next few years."


The most recent Reuters poll of Wall Street strategists estimated the benchmark index would rise to 1,550 by year-end, a target that is 3.1 percent away from current levels. That would put the S&P 500 a stone's throw from the index's all-time intraday high of 1,576.09 reached on October 11, 2007.


The new year has brought a sharp increase in flows into U.S. equity mutual funds, and that has helped stocks rack up four straight weeks of gains, with strength in big- and small-caps alike.


That's not to say there aren't concerns. Economic growth has been steady, but not as strong as many had hoped. The household unemployment rate remains high at 7.8 percent. And more than 75 percent of the stocks in the S&P 500 are above their 26-week highs, suggesting the buying has come too far, too fast.


MUTUAL FUND INVESTORS COME BACK


All 10 S&P 500 industry sectors are higher in 2013, in part because of new money flowing into equity funds. Investors in U.S.-based funds committed $3.66 billion to stock mutual funds in the latest week, the third straight week of big gains for the funds, data from Thomson Reuters' Lipper service showed on Thursday.


Energy shares <.5sp10> lead the way with a gain of 6.6 percent, followed by industrials <.5sp20>, up 6.3 percent. Telecom <.5sp50>, a defensive play that underperforms in periods of growth, is the weakest sector - up 0.1 percent for the year.


More than 350 stocks hit new highs on Friday alone on the New York Stock Exchange. The Dow Jones Transportation Average <.djt> recently climbed to an all-time high, with stocks in this sector and other economic bellwethers posting strong gains almost daily.


"If you peel back the onion a little bit, you start to look at companies like Precision Castparts , Honeywell , 3M Co and Illinois Tool Works - these are big, broad-based industrial companies in the U.S. and they are all hitting new highs, and doing very well. That is the real story," said Mike Binger, portfolio manager at Gradient Investments, in Shoreview, Minnesota.


The gains have run across asset sizes as well. The S&P small-cap index <.spcy> has jumped 6.7 percent and the S&P mid-cap index <.mid> has shot up 7.5 percent so far this year.


Exchange-traded funds have seen year-to-date inflows of $15.6 billion, with fairly even flows across the small-, mid- and large-cap categories, according to Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at the ConvergEx Group, in New York.


"Investors aren't really differentiating among asset sizes. They just want broad equity exposure," Colas said.


The market has shown resilience to weak news. On Thursday, the S&P 500 held steady despite a 12 percent slide in shares of Apple after the iPhone and iPad maker's results. The tech giant is heavily weighted in both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 <.ndx> and in the past, its drop has suffocated stocks' broader gains.


JOBS DATA MAY TEST THE RALLY


In the last few days, the ratio of stocks hitting new highs versus those hitting new lows on a daily basis has started to diminish - a potential sign that the rally is narrowing to fewer names - and could be running out of gas.


Investors have also cited sentiment surveys that indicate high levels of bullishness among newsletter writers, a contrarian indicator, and momentum indicators are starting to also suggest the rally has perhaps come too far.


The market's resilience could be tested next week with Friday's release of the January non-farm payrolls report. About 155,000 jobs are seen being added in the month and the unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 7.8 percent.


"Staying over 1,500 sends up a flag of profit taking," said Jerry Harris, president of asset management at Sterne Agee, in Birmingham, Alabama. "Since recent jobless claims have made us optimistic on payrolls, if that doesn't come through, it will be a real risk to the rally."


A number of marquee names will report earnings next week, including bellwether companies such as Caterpillar Inc , Amazon.com Inc , Ford Motor Co and Pfizer Inc .


On a historic basis, valuations remain relatively low - the S&P 500's current price-to-earnings ratio sits at 15.66, which is just a tad above the historic level of 15.


Worries about the U.S. stock market's recent strength do not mean the market is in a bubble. Investors clearly don't feel that way at the moment.


"We're seeing more interest in equities overall, and a lot of flows from bonds into stocks," said Paul Zemsky, who helps oversee $445 billion as the New York-based head of asset allocation at ING Investment Management. "We've been increasing our exposure to risky assets."


For the week, the Dow climbed 1.8 percent, the S&P 500 rose 1.1 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.5 percent.


(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)



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Azarenka beats Li, defends Australian Open title


MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Victoria Azarenka had the bulk of the crowd against her. The fireworks were fizzling out, and when she looked over the net she saw Li Na crashing to the court and almost knocking herself out.


Considering the cascading criticism she'd encountered after her previous win, Azarenka didn't need the focus of the Australian Open final to be on another medical timeout.


So after defending her title with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over the sixth-seeded Li in one of the most unusual finals ever at Melbourne Park, Azarenka understandably dropped her racket and cried tears of relief late Saturday night.


She heaved as she sobbed into a towel beside the court, before regaining her composure to collect the trophy.


"It isn't easy, that's for sure, but I knew what I had to do," the 23-year-old Belarusian said. "I had to stay calm. I had to stay positive. I just had to deal with the things that came onto me."


There were a lot of those things squeezed into the 2-hour, 40-minute match. Li, who was playing her second Australian Open final in three years, twisted her ankle and tumbled to the court in the second and third sets.


The second time was on the point immediately after a 10-minute delay for the Australia Day fireworks — a familiar fixture in downtown Melbourne on Jan. 26, but not usually coinciding with a final.


Li had been sitting in her chair during the break, while Azarenka jogged and swung her racket around before leaving the court to rub some liniment into her legs to keep warm.


The 30-year-old Chinese player had tumbled to the court after twisting her left ankle and had it taped after falling in the fifth game of the second set. Immediately after the fireworks ceased, and with smoke still in the air, she twisted the ankle again, fell and hit the back of her head on the hard court.


The 2011 French Open champion was treated immediately by a tournament doctor and assessed for a concussion in another medical timeout before resuming the match.


"I think I was a little bit worried when I was falling," Li said, in her humorous, self-deprecating fashion. "Because two seconds I couldn't really see anything. It was totally black.


"So when the physio come, she was like, 'Focus on my finger.' I was laughing. I was thinking, 'This is tennis court, not like hospital.'"


Li's injury was obvious and attracted even more support for her from the 15,000-strong crowd.


Azarenka had generated some bad PR by taking a medical timeout after wasting five match points on her own serve in her semifinal win over American teenager Sloane Stephens on Thursday. She came back after the break and finished off Stephens in the next game, later telling an on-court interviewer that she "almost did the choke of the year."


She was accused of gamesmanship and manipulating the rules to get time to regain her composure against Stephens, but defended herself by saying she actually was having difficulty breathing because of a rib injury that needed to be fixed.


That explanation didn't convince everybody. So when she walked onto Rod Laver Arena on Saturday, there were some people who booed, and others who heckled her or mimicked the distinctive hooting sound she makes when she hits the ball.


"Unfortunately, you have to go through some rough patches to achieve great things," she said. "That's what makes it so special for me. I went through that, and I'm still able to kiss that beautiful trophy."


She didn't hold a grudge.


"I was expecting way worse, to be honest. What can you do? You just have to go out there and try to play tennis in the end of the day," she said. "It's a tennis match, tennis battle, final of the Australian Open. I was there to play that.


"The things what happened in the past, I did the best thing I could to explain, and it was left behind me already."


The match contained plenty of nervy moments and tension, and 16 service breaks — nine for Li. But it also produced plenty of winners and bravery on big points.


Azarenka will retain the No. 1 ranking she's mostly held since her first Grand Slam win in Melbourne last year.


Li moved into the top five and is heartened by a recent trend of Australian runner-ups winning the French Open. She accomplished that in 2011, as did Ana Ivanovic (2008) and Maria Sharapova (2012).


"I wish I can do the same this year, as well," Li said.


Later Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan won their record 13th Grand Slam men's doubles title, defeating the Dutch team of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling 6-3, 6-4.


Sunday's men's final features two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic and U.S. Open winner Andy Murray. Djokovic is seeking to become the first man in the Open era to win three titles in a row in Australia.


Azarenka was planning a night of partying to celebrate her second major title, with her friend Redfoo and the Party Rock crew, and was hopeful of scoring some tickets to the men's final.


She said she needed to let her hair down after a draining two weeks and hoped that by being more open and frank in recent times she was clearing up any misconceptions the public had of her.


"When I came first on the tour I kind of was lost a little bit," he said. "I didn't know how to open up my personality. It's very difficult when you're alone. I was independent since I was, you know, 10 years old. It was a little bit scary and I wouldn't show my personality.


"So the (last) couple of years I learned how to open up to people and to share the moments. I wasn't really good before. I hope I got better. It's your judgment."


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Can sanctions deter North Korea?


























Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


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STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • N. Korea said Thursday it plans to carry out new nuclear test and more long-range rocket launches

  • It said they are part of new phase of confrontation with United States

  • George A. Lopez says North Korea's aim is to be recognized as a 'new nuclear nation by fait accompli'

  • The Security Council sanctions aim to deteriorate and disrupt N. Korea's programs, says Lopez




Editor's note: George A. Lopez holds the Hesburgh Chair in Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame. He is a former member, UN Panel of Experts on DPRK.


Indiana, U.S. (CNN) -- North Korea has responded to new Security Council sanctions condemning its December 12 rocket launch with a declaration that it plans a third nuclear test and more missile launches. Politically, it has made unambiguous that its "aim" is its enemy, the United States.


In this rapid reaction to U.N. sanctions, the young government of Kim Jong Un underscores what Security Council members have long known anticipated from the DPRK. Their end-game is to create a vibrant, integrated missile and nuclear weapons program that will result - as in the cases of Pakistan and India - in their being recognized as a new nuclear nation by fait accompli.


Read more: North Korea says new nuclear test will be part of fight against U.S.


In light of DPRK defiance - and a soon to occur nuclear test - the Security Council's first set of sanctions on North Korea since 2009 may seem absurd and irrelevant. These sanctions will certainly not prevent a new DPRK nuclear test. Rather, the new sanctions resolution mobilizes regional neighbors and global actors to enforce sanctions that can weaken future DPRK programs and actions.










Read more: U.N. Security Council slams North Korea, expands sanctions


The utility, if not the necessity, of these Security Council sanctions are to deteriorate and disrupt the networks that sustain North Korea's programs. Chances of this degradation of DPRK capabilities have increased as the new sanctions both embolden and empower the member states who regularly observe - but do nothing about - suspicious vessels in their adjacent waterways.


The resolution provides new guidance to states regarding ship interdiction, cargo inspections, and the seizure and disposal of prohibited materials. Regarding nuclear and missile development the sanctions expand the list of material banned for trade to DPRK, including high tech, dual-use goods which might aid missile industries.


Read more: South Korean officials: North Korean rocket could hit U.S. mainland


These new measures provide a better structure for more effective sanctions, by naming new entities, such as a bank and trading companies, as well as individuals involved in the illicit financing of prohibited materials, to the sanctions list. To the surprise of many in the diplomatic community - the Council authorizes states to expose and confiscate North Korea's rather mobile "bulk cash." Such currency stocks have been used in many regions to facilitate purchases of luxury goods and other banned items that sustain the DPRK elites.


Finally, the Security Council frees the Sanctions Committee to act more independently and in a timely manner to add entities to the list of sanctioned actors when evidence shows them to be sanctions violators. This is an extensive hunting license for states in the region that can multiply the costs of sanctions to the DPRK over time.


Read more: North Korea's rocket launches cost $1.3 billion


Whatever their initial limitations, the new round of U.N. sanctions serve as a springboard to more robust measures by various regional and global powers which may lead back to serious negotiations with DPRK.


Despite its bluster and short-term action plan, Pyongyang recognizes that the wide space of operation for its policies it assumed it had a week ago, is now closed considerably. To get this kind of slap-down via this Security Council resolution - when the launch was a month ago - predicts that any nuke test or missile launch from Pyongyang will bring a new round of stronger and more targeted sanctions.


Read more: North Korea silences doubters, raises fears with rocket launch


Although dangerous - a new game is on regarding DPRK. Tougher U.N. measures imposed on the North generated a predictable response and likely new, prohibited action. While DPRK may be enraged, these sanctions have the P5 nations, most notably China, newly engaged. A forthcoming test or launch will no doubt increase tensions on both sides.


But this may be precisely the shock needed to restart the Six Party Talks. Without this institutional framework there is little chance of influencing DPRK actions. And in the meantime, the chances of greater degrading of DPRK capabilities via sanctions, are a sensible next best action.


Read more: Huge crowds gather in North Korean capital to celebrate rocket launch


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of George A. Lopez.






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Police: Boy, 16 and man, 32, gunned down on West Side street













Double homicide


Chicago police investigate a double homicide in the 4200 block of W. Congress Parkway.
(Brian Cassella / January 26, 2013)



























































A 16-year-old boy and a 32-year-old man are the latest victims of gun violence after being shot dead on a West Side street this afternoon, police said. It was the second double homicide reported today.


Officers responded to a call of a person shot in the 4200 block of West Congress Parkway and found the two lying dead outside on the ground, according to the police.


Both victims lived in Chicago, police said. 





No one has been arrested.


Police had the crime scene near Genevieve Melody Elementary School taped off at least one block to the north, east and west, while neighbors milled about to get a better look.

On West Van Buren Street, a body could be scene lying in the roadway, near the curb and a bus stop.

A man who only identified himself as the teen victim's uncle said the boy, whose family lived nearby, had simply gone to run an errand.

"He was just going to the store," the man said. "They just killed him just like that."

Later, the man paced back and forth on the sidewalk, shaking his head in disbelief.

"He goes to school and everything," he said to a police officer.


This latest shooting represents the 4th and 5th homicides reported today, and the second double homicide.


chicagobreaking@tribune.com




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Riots over Egyptian death sentences kill at least 32


PORT SAID, Egypt/CAIRO (Reuters) - At least 32 people were killed on Saturday when Egyptians rampaged in protest at the sentencing of 21 people to death over a soccer stadium disaster, violence that compounds a political crisis facing Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.


Armored vehicles and military police fanned through the streets of Port Said, where gunshots rang out and protesters burned tires in anger that people from their city had been blamed for the deaths of 74 people at a match last year.


The rioting in Port Said, one of the most deadly spasms of violence since Hosni Mubarak's ouster two years ago, followed a day of anti-Mursi demonstrations on Friday, when nine people were killed. The toll over the past two days stands at 41.


The flare-ups make it even tougher for Mursi, who drew fire last year for expanding his powers and pushing through an Islamist-tinged constitution, to fix the creaking economy and cool tempers enough to ensure a smooth parliamentary election.


That vote is expected in the next few months and is meant to cement a democratic transition that has been blighted from the outset by political rows and street clashes.


The National Defense Council, which is led by Mursi and includes the defense minister who commands the army, called for "a broad national dialogue that would be attended by independent national characters" to discuss political differences and ensure a "fair and transparent" parliamentary poll.


The National Salvation Front of liberal-minded groups and other Mursi opponents cautiously welcomed the call.


THREATS OF VIOLENCE


Clashes in Port Said erupted after a judge sentenced 21 men to die for involvement in the deaths at the soccer match on February 1, 2012. Many were fans of the visiting team, Cairo's Al Ahly.


Al Ahly fans had threatened violence if the court had not meted out the death penalty. They cheered outside their Cairo club when the verdict was announced. But in Port Said, residents were furious that people from their city were held responsible.


Protesters ran wildly through the streets of the Mediterranean port, lighting tires in the street and storming two police stations, witnesses said. Gunshots were reported near the prison where most of the defendants were being held.


A security source in Port Said said 32 people were killed there, many dying from gunshot wounds. He said 312 were wounded and the ministry of defense had allocated a military plane to transfer the injured to military hospitals.


Inside the court in Cairo, families of victims danced, applauded and some broke down in tears of joy when they heard Judge Sobhy Abdel Maguid declare that the 21 men would be "referred to the Mufti", a phrase used to denote execution, as all death sentences must be reviewed by Egypt's top religious authority.


There were 73 defendants on trial. Those not sentenced on Saturday would face a verdict on March 9, the judge said.


At the Port Said soccer stadium a year ago, many spectators were crushed and witnesses saw some thrown off balconies after the match between Al Ahly and local team al-Masri. Al Ahly fans accused the police of being complicit in the deaths.


Among those killed on Saturday were a former player for al-Masri and a soccer player in another Port Said team, the website of the state broadcaster reported.


TEARGAS FIRED


On Friday, protesters angry at Mursi's rule had taken to the streets for the second anniversary of the uprising that erupted on January 25, 2011 and brought Mubarak down 18 days later.


Police fired teargas and protesters hurled stones and petrol bombs. Nine people were killed, mainly in the port city of Suez, and hundreds more were injured across the nation.


Reflecting international concern at the two days of clashes, British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt said: "This cannot help the process of dialogue which we encourage as vital for Egypt today, and we must condemn the violence in the strongest terms."


European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged the Egyptian authorities to restore calm and order and called on all sides to show restraint, her spokesperson said.


On Saturday, some protesters again clashed and scuffled with police in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities. In the capital, youths pelted police lines with rocks near Tahrir Square.


In Suez, police fired teargas when protesters angry at Friday's deaths hurled petrol bombs and stormed a police post and other governmental buildings including the agriculture and social solidarity units.


Around 18 prisoners in Suez police stations managed to escape during the violence, a security source there said, and some 30 police weapons were stolen.


"We want to change the president and the government. We are tired of this regime. Nothing has changed," said Mahmoud Suleiman, 22, in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the cauldron of the 2011 anti-Mubarak revolt.


Mursi's opponents say he has failed to deliver on economic pledges or to be a president representing the full political and communal diversity of Egyptians, as he promised.


"Egypt will not regain its balance except by a political solution that is transparent and credible, by a government of national salvation to restore order and heal the economy and with a constitution for all Egyptians," prominent opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter.


The opposition National Salvation Front, responding to the Defense Council's call for dialogue, said there must be a clear agenda and guarantees that any deal would be implemented, spokesman Khaled Dawoud told Reuters.


The Front earlier on Saturday threatened an election boycott and to call for more protests on Friday if demands were not met. Its demands included picking a national unity government to restore order and holding an early presidential poll.


Mursi's supporters say the opposition does not respect the democracy that has given Egypt its first freely elected leader.


The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Mursi to office, said in a statement that "corrupt people" and media who were biased against the president had stirred up fury on the streets.


The frequent violence and political schism between Islamists and secular Egyptians have hurt Mursi's efforts to revive an economy in crisis as investors and tourists have stayed away, taking a heavy toll on Egypt's currency.


(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy, Peter Griffiths in London and Claire Davenport in Brussels; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)



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Wall Street Week Ahead: Bears hibernate as stocks near record highs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks have been on a tear in January, moving major indexes within striking distance of all-time highs. The bearish case is a difficult one to make right now.


Earnings have exceeded expectations, the housing and labor markets have strengthened, lawmakers in Washington no longer seem to be the roadblock that they were for most of 2012, and money has returned to stock funds again.


The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> has gained 5.4 percent this year and closed above 1,500 - climbing to the spot where Wall Street strategists expected it to be by mid-year. The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> is 2.2 percent away from all-time highs reached in October 2007. The Dow ended Friday's session at 13,895.98, its highest close since October 31, 2007.


The S&P has risen for four straight weeks and eight consecutive sessions, the longest streak of days since 2004. On Friday, the benchmark S&P 500 ended at 1,502.96 - its first close above 1,500 in more than five years.


"Once we break above a resistance level at 1,510, we dramatically increase the probability that we break the highs of 2007," said Walter Zimmermann, technical analyst at United-ICAP, in Jersey City, New Jersey. "That may be the start of a rise that could take equities near 1,800 within the next few years."


The most recent Reuters poll of Wall Street strategists estimated the benchmark index would rise to 1,550 by year-end, a target that is 3.1 percent away from current levels. That would put the S&P 500 a stone's throw from the index's all-time intraday high of 1,576.09 reached on October 11, 2007.


The new year has brought a sharp increase in flows into U.S. equity mutual funds, and that has helped stocks rack up four straight weeks of gains, with strength in big- and small-caps alike.


That's not to say there aren't concerns. Economic growth has been steady, but not as strong as many had hoped. The household unemployment rate remains high at 7.8 percent. And more than 75 percent of the stocks in the S&P 500 are above their 26-week highs, suggesting the buying has come too far, too fast.


MUTUAL FUND INVESTORS COME BACK


All 10 S&P 500 industry sectors are higher in 2013, in part because of new money flowing into equity funds. Investors in U.S.-based funds committed $3.66 billion to stock mutual funds in the latest week, the third straight week of big gains for the funds, data from Thomson Reuters' Lipper service showed on Thursday.


Energy shares <.5sp10> lead the way with a gain of 6.6 percent, followed by industrials <.5sp20>, up 6.3 percent. Telecom <.5sp50>, a defensive play that underperforms in periods of growth, is the weakest sector - up 0.1 percent for the year.


More than 350 stocks hit new highs on Friday alone on the New York Stock Exchange. The Dow Jones Transportation Average <.djt> recently climbed to an all-time high, with stocks in this sector and other economic bellwethers posting strong gains almost daily.


"If you peel back the onion a little bit, you start to look at companies like Precision Castparts , Honeywell , 3M Co and Illinois Tool Works - these are big, broad-based industrial companies in the U.S. and they are all hitting new highs, and doing very well. That is the real story," said Mike Binger, portfolio manager at Gradient Investments, in Shoreview, Minnesota.


The gains have run across asset sizes as well. The S&P small-cap index <.spcy> has jumped 6.7 percent and the S&P mid-cap index <.mid> has shot up 7.5 percent so far this year.


Exchange-traded funds have seen year-to-date inflows of $15.6 billion, with fairly even flows across the small-, mid- and large-cap categories, according to Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at the ConvergEx Group, in New York.


"Investors aren't really differentiating among asset sizes. They just want broad equity exposure," Colas said.


The market has shown resilience to weak news. On Thursday, the S&P 500 held steady despite a 12 percent slide in shares of Apple after the iPhone and iPad maker's results. The tech giant is heavily weighted in both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 <.ndx> and in the past, its drop has suffocated stocks' broader gains.


JOBS DATA MAY TEST THE RALLY


In the last few days, the ratio of stocks hitting new highs versus those hitting new lows on a daily basis has started to diminish - a potential sign that the rally is narrowing to fewer names - and could be running out of gas.


Investors have also cited sentiment surveys that indicate high levels of bullishness among newsletter writers, a contrarian indicator, and momentum indicators are starting to also suggest the rally has perhaps come too far.


The market's resilience could be tested next week with Friday's release of the January non-farm payrolls report. About 155,000 jobs are seen being added in the month and the unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 7.8 percent.


"Staying over 1,500 sends up a flag of profit taking," said Jerry Harris, president of asset management at Sterne Agee, in Birmingham, Alabama. "Since recent jobless claims have made us optimistic on payrolls, if that doesn't come through, it will be a real risk to the rally."


A number of marquee names will report earnings next week, including bellwether companies such as Caterpillar Inc , Amazon.com Inc , Ford Motor Co and Pfizer Inc .


On a historic basis, valuations remain relatively low - the S&P 500's current price-to-earnings ratio sits at 15.66, which is just a tad above the historic level of 15.


Worries about the U.S. stock market's recent strength do not mean the market is in a bubble. Investors clearly don't feel that way at the moment.


"We're seeing more interest in equities overall, and a lot of flows from bonds into stocks," said Paul Zemsky, who helps oversee $445 billion as the New York-based head of asset allocation at ING Investment Management. "We've been increasing our exposure to risky assets."


For the week, the Dow climbed 1.8 percent, the S&P 500 rose 1.1 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.5 percent.


(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)



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Armstrong to help "clean up cycling"


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — An attorney for Lance Armstrong told the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency the cyclist will cooperate with efforts to "clean up cycling," though it's the sport's governing body and world anti-doping officials who should take the lead.


In letters sent this week between attorneys for Armstrong and USADA, and obtained by The Associated Press, USADA attorney William Bock requested Armstrong testify under oath by Feb. 6, but the cyclist's attorney, Tim Herman, responds that Armstrong cannot accommodate that schedule.


Last week, Armstrong admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France seven times.


Herman's letter said Armstrong intends to appear before the International Cycling Union's planned "truth and reconciliation" commission.


Herman says the cycling union and the World Anti-Doping Agency should take the lead in cleaning up the sport.


"As you have candidly confirmed, USADA has no authority to investigate, prosecute or otherwise involve itself with the other 95 percent of cycling competitors. Thus, in order to achieve the goal of 'cleaning up cycling,' it must be WADA and the UCI who have overall authority to do so."


The letter from USADA also confirms a Dec. 14 meeting in Denver between Bock, USADA CEO Travis Tygart, Herman and Armstrong.


"Mr. Armstrong has already been provided well over a month since our meeting in December to consider whether he is going to be part of our ongoing efforts to clean up the sport of cycling," Tygart said in a statement. "He has been given a deadline of February 6th to determine whether he plans to come in and be part of the solution. Either way, USADA is moving forward with our investigation on behalf of clean athletes."


Armstrong has been banned for life and, in his interview with Oprah Winfrey last week, said he would like to compete again.


Bock's letter does not mention the ban, though Armstrong's full cooperation could lead to a reduction, perhaps to eight years, which would allow Armstrong to compete in 2020, when he'll be 49.


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US Military Building Space Robot to Recycle Satellites (Video)






A Pentagon project to harvest and reuse parts from dead satellites is gaining steam, and a new video shows how the far the military program has come in its first few months.


The new video serves as a progress report through last November for the Phoenix program, a project by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to recycle space junk back into valuable satellite parts, or even completely new spacecraft. DARPA scientists began the project in July and are working toward launching the first demonstration mission in two years or so.






“Today, satellites are not built to be modified or repaired in space,” Phoenix program manager Dave Barnhart said in a statement unveiling the video Tuesday (Jan. 22). “Therefore, to enable an architecture that can reuse or repurpose on-orbit components requires us to create new technologies and new capabilities. This progress report gives the community a better sense of how we are doing on the challenges we may face and the technologies needed to help us meet our goals.” 


An animation of a Phoenix servicing spacecraft working on orbit runs in the background of the 2 1/2-minute video. The foreground, meanwhile, shows some of the progress that has been made in the lab to date. [DARPA's Project Phoenix (Video)]


This progress includes the development and testing of prototype satellite-grappling technology and tele-operations control software, among other gear, according to the video.


The Phoenix program plans to use a robot mechanic to grab still-working antennas from the many retired and dead satellites in geosynchronous orbit, about 22,000 miles (35,406 kilometers) above Earth. These large, bulky antennas would then be attached to small “satlets,” or nanosatellites, launched from Earth, creating new space systems on the cheap.


The goal is to demonstrate a way to turn part of the ever-expanding cloud of space junk around our planet into space resources, saving money in the process, DARPA officials have said. The first on-orbit demonstration mission is targeted for 2015.


“We have a long way to go, but we are laying the foundation for improving how we build space systems, with the goal of changing the economic model for space operations,” Barnhart said.


Phoenix isn’t the only satellite-servicing effort currently underway. NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), which was delivered to the International Space Station in July 2011, is testing out the technology necessary to repair and refuel satellites on orbit.


The latest round of RRM experiments is going on right now, with the space station’s two-armed Dextre robot attempting to snip wires, unscrew caps and pump simulated fuel using the RRM test module, NASA officials have said.


Follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook and Google+


Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Space and Astronomy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Where is aid for Syria going?






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • The U.S. ambassador to Syria says the U.S. has provided $210 million in humanitarian aid

  • The assistance has to be discrete, he said, to protect workers from being targeted

  • Washington has also provided $35 million worth of assistance to Syria's political opposition

  • Ambassador: We can help, but it's up to Syrians to find their way forward




(CNN) -- It has been more than a year since the United States government withdrew its ambassador to Syria and closed its embassy in Damascus.


On Thursday, that ambassador returned to the region along with a U.S. delegation, touring a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey to bring more attention to the growing humanitarian crisis. As the civil war has intensified in Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring countries.


Ambassador Robert Ford gave an exclusive interview to CNN's Ivan Watson and described what the U.S. is doing to help the refugees and the Syrian opposition.


Ivan Watson: The U.S. has given $210 million in aid (to Syria), but I think that there is a perception problem because no one can actually point at what that help is. So people conclude there is no help.


Robert Ford: The assistance is going in. It's things like tents, it's things like blankets, it's things like medical equipment, but it doesn't come in big boxes with an American flag on it because we don't want the people who are delivering it to be targeted by the Syrian regime.


The regime is going after and killing people who are delivering supplies. You see them bombing even bakeries and bread lines. So we're doing that, in part, to be discrete.



The assistance is going in ... but it doesn't come in big boxes with an American flag on it.
Robert Ford, U.S. ambassador to Syria



The needs are gigantic. So even though a great deal of American materials and other countries' materials are arriving, the needs are still greater. And that's why we're going to Kuwait to talk to the United Nations and to talk to other countries about how we can talk together to provide additional assistance.


Watson: The head of the Syrian National Coalition, which the U.S. government has backed, came out with a statement very critical of the international community, saying we need $3 billion if you want us to have any say on events on the ground inside Syria. Where is that money?


Ford: (Sheikh Ahmed) Moaz al-Khatib is a good leader, and we think highly of him and we have recognized his (coalition) as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. And, of course, he wants to get as many resources as possible because of the humanitarian conditions that I was just talking about. Especially the ones inside Syria.


But we also, at the same time, have to build up those (aid) networks I was talking about. In some cases, they start out with just a few people. We don't need just a few people, we need hundreds of people, thousands of people on the inside of Syria organized to bring these things in.


And so step by step, the Syrians, Moaz al-Khatib and his organization, need to build that capacity. We can help build it, we can do training and things like that. But in the end, Syrians have to take a leadership role in this.


Watson: Is Washington giving money to the Syrian National Coalition?


Ford: We absolutely are assisting the (coalition), with everything from training to, in some cases, limited amount of cash assistance so that they can buy everything ranging from computers to telephones to radios.








Frankly, if not for the American assistance in many cases, the activists inside Syria wouldn't be in contact with the outside world. It's American help that keeps them in contact with the outside world.


Watson: But, how much assistance has this coalition gotten from the U.S.?


Ford: So far, we've allocated directly to the coalition in the neighborhood of $35 million worth of different kinds of equipment and assistance. And over the next few weeks, couple of months, we'll probably provide another $15 million worth of material assistance.


Watson: Washington recently blacklisted Jabhat al-Nusra, the Nusra Front, calling it a terrorist organization even though inside Syria, it has attracted a lot of respect for its victories and for comparative lack of corruption compared to many rebel groups. How has blacklisting the Nusra Front helped the Syrian opposition?


Ford: We blacklisted the Nusra Front because of its intimate links with al Qaeda in Iraq, an organization with whom we have direct experience, which is responsible for the killings of thousands of Iraqis, hundreds of Americans. We know what al Qaeda in Iraq did and is still doing, and we don't want it to start doing that in Syria -- which is why we highlighted its incredibly pernicious role.


I think one of the things that our classification of Nusra as a terrorist group did is it set off an alarm for the other elements of the Free Syrian Army. There was a meeting of the Free Syrian Army to set up a unified command, (and) Nusra Front was not in that meeting -- which we think is the right thing to do. As Syrians themselves understand that Nusra has a sectarian agenda, as they understand better that Nusra is anti-democratic and will seek to impose its very strict interpretation of Islam on Syria -- which historically is a relatively moderate country in terms of its religious practices -- as Syrians understand that better, I think they will more and more reject the Nusra Front itself.


Watson: But I've seen the opposite. As I go into Syria, I hear more and more support and respect for the Nusra Front, and more and more criticism for the U.S. government each time I go back.


Ford: I think that people, Ivan, are still understanding what Nusra is. I have heard criticism from the Nusra Front from people like Moaz al-Khatib who, in Marrakesh (Morocco) in his speech, said he rejected the kind of ideology which backs up Nusra. ... We have heard that from the senior commander of the Free Syrian Army as well. And so the more people understand inside Syria what Nusra is and represents, I think they will agree that is not the group on which to depend for freedom in Syria.


Watson: Do you think the U.S. government could have done more?


Ford: I think the Syrians, as I said, are the ones who will bring the answer to the problem -- just as in Iraq, Iraqis brought the solution to the Iraq crisis, to the Iraq war. The Americans can help, and we helped in Iraq, but ultimately it wasn't the Americans. Despite our help, it was Iraqis.


In Syria, again, it has to be Syrians who find their way forward. Twenty-three million Syrians need to find their way forward. We can help, and we are helping: $210 million in humanitarian assistance, $50 million to help the political opposition get organized for the day after (Bashar) al-Assad goes. These are important bits of help. But ultimately, it's not the American help. It's the Syrians themselves.







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Wrigley rooftops offer to let Cubs sell ads on their buildings

Representatives of the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association proposed a plan to erect LED billboards on rooftops and share revenue with the Chicago Cubs. (Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune)









The relationship between the Chicago Cubs and the rooftop businesses overlooking Wrigley Field sounds about as bitter as the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry.

George Loukas, who owns three rooftop clubs and other businesses in the North Side Wrigleyville neighborhood, threatened to sue the the team if it erects billboards in the outfield that block rooftop views into the stadium.






"We have a right to defend our position," Loukas said Friday. "Yes, we would go to court."

He made his comments a news conference he and other rooftop owners held to present to the public an alternative to outfield signs the Cubs say they want to help pay for a $300 million renovation of the 99-year-old ballpark. They offered to let the Cubs place signs on their buildings and forego all the revenues the signs would generate.

But the Cubs did not warmly receive the proposal.

"If the rooftop owners have a new plan, they would be well advised to discuss it with the team instead of holding press conferences, because a deadline is fast approaching for the team and the city of Chicago to move forward," said Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for the owners of the Cubs.

The team's response upset the rooftop owners, who say they presented a general outline of their plan three months ago in a private meeting with Cubs' officials as well as at a meeting the local alderman held Wednesday night that team representatives attended.

The owners of the 16 rooftop clubs, who share a portion of their tickets sales with the team, contend the new signs will put them out of business.

The dispute threatens to hold up a deal that the team is negotiating with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration to modernize the "Friendly Confines" without tax dollars. The Cubs seek to amend city ordinances that regulate team operations, from the number of night games to the number of ads in the ballpark. Without the zoning and landmark restrictions, the team's owners say they will pay for a long-overdue face-lift of their stadium.

Despite a record of futility on the field, the Cubs remain a huge draw primarily because of the intimacy, charm and distinctive urban setting of Wrigley Field. But the Ricketts family, who bought the team in 2009, say the oldest stadium in the National League is in desperate need of makeover to improve player and fan amenities.

The family's renovation project includes a structural overhaul that would expand concourses, increase restroom capacity and create a new player clubhouse. The family wants to grow revenues from the stadium by adding restaurants, lounges, club seats, concession areas and expanding luxury suites. The owners showed renderings of the changes at the Cubs Convention last weekend.

The owners also want to install more and bigger signs but haven't provided details about where they would be placed. The most obvious, and lucrative, position would be along the back of the bleachers, which could potentially block the bird's-eye views from the rooftops. Without those views, the rooftop business don't have much to sell, Loukas said.

"I don't think you would spend $5 to go sit up on a rooftop to look at the back of a billboard," Loukas said.

The rooftop owners have a lot to lose. In 2004, the rooftop owners and the Cubs settled a lawsuit by striking a 20-year deal that allowed the clubs to keep operating while paying the team 17 percent of their sales.

The rooftop owners used the security of the agreement to spend millions of dollars renovating their buildings and increasing capacity. Beth Murphy, owner of the Murphy's Bleachers bar and rooftop, said the royalty collectively amounts to $3.5 million to $4 million a year for the Cubs. Overall seasonal revenue for the rooftops appears to be about $23 million.

"There's a reason that the Cubs pull (in crowds)," Murphy said. "I believe it's the synergy between the neighborhood and the ballpark."

The rooftop owners, who have united to form a loosely knit association, say new signs in the outfield would not only violate their contract with the team but also the landmark status that was placed on Wrigley Field in 2004.

They proposed to let the Cubs sell advertising on their buildings that would been seen on several digital screens. The rooftop owners hired a marketing consultant who calculated that rooftop signs would generate $10 million to $20 million in annual revenue.

But Culloton said the team would bring in more money from advertising atop the back wall of the bleachers. Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co. owns 5 percent of the Cubs.

Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th ward, said "The advertising proposal from the rooftops can be part of the larger picture for preserving Wrigley," he said.

The mayor's office reiterated what Emanuel said earlier in the week that he would like all parties to work together to craft a solution.

But that may be difficult given the feelings of resentment some rooftop owners have for the Cubs. When asked if he feels the team is trying to diminish the value of the rooftop properties so they could eventually acquire them, Loukas said, "Absolutely, absolutely."

Twitter @ameetsachdev

asachdev@tribune.com





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North Korea threatens war with South over U.N. sanctions


SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea threatened to attack rival South Korea if Seoul joined a new round of tightened U.N. sanctions, as Washington unveiled more of its own economic restrictions following Pyongyang's rocket launch last month.


In a third straight day of fiery rhetoric, the North directed its verbal onslaught at its neighbor on Friday, saying: "'Sanctions' mean a war and a declaration of war against us."


The reclusive North this week declared a boycott of all dialogue aimed at ending its nuclear program and vowed to conduct more rocket and nuclear tests after the U.N. Security Council censured it for a December long-range missile launch.


"If the puppet group of traitors takes a direct part in the U.N. 'sanctions,' the DPRK will take strong physical counter-measures against it," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said, referring to the South.


The committee is the North's front for dealings with the South. The North's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).


Speaking in Beijing, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies said he found North Korea's rhetoric "troubling and counterproductive," and that he and his Chinese counterparts had agreed a new nuclear test would be harmful.


"We will judge North Korea by its actions, not its words. These types of inflammatory statements by North Korea do nothing to contribute to peace and stability on the peninsula," he said.


"What North Korea has done through its actions, in particular through the launch on December 12 of a rocket in contravention of Security Council resolutions, is they have made it that much more difficult to contemplate getting back to a diplomatic process."


In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un to choose a different path, rather than "continue to waste what little money the country has on missile technologies and things while his people go hungry."


The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea's December rocket launch on Tuesday and expanded existing U.N. sanctions.


On Thursday, the United States slapped economic sanctions on two North Korean bank officials and a Hong Kong trading company that it accused of supporting Pyongyang's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.


The company, Leader (Hong Kong) International Trading Ltd, was separately blacklisted by the United Nations on Wednesday.


Seoul has said it will look at whether there are any further sanctions that it can implement alongside the United States, but said the focus for now is to follow Security Council resolutions.


The resolution said the council "deplores the violations" by North Korea of its previous resolutions, which banned Pyongyang from conducting further ballistic missile and nuclear tests and from importing materials and technology for those programs. It does not impose new sanctions on Pyongyang.


The United States had wanted to punish North Korea for the rocket launch with a Security Council resolution that imposed entirely new sanctions against Pyongyang, but Beijing rejected that option. China agreed to U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang after North Korea's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.


Nuland declined to speculate whether the United States thinks the U.N. steps would change North Korea's behavior.


"What's been important to us is strong unity among the six-party talks countries; strong unity in the region about a positive course forward; and the fact that there will be consequences if they keep making bad choices," she said.


Long-dormant six-nation talks brought together the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas in negotiations to try to induce Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arms quest in exchange for economic aid and diplomatic normalization.


NUCLEAR TEST WORRY


North Korea's rhetoric this week amounted to some of the angriest outbursts against the outside world coming under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011.


On Thursday, the North said it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test, directing its ire at the United States, a country it called its "sworn enemy".


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the comments were worrying.


"We are very concerned with North Korea's continuing provocative behavior," he said at a Pentagon news conference.


"We are fully prepared ... to deal with any kind of provocation from the North Koreans. But I hope in the end that they determine that it is better to make a choice to become part of the international family."


North Korea is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles), potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea.


South Korea and others who have been closely observing activities at the North's known nuclear test grounds believe Pyongyang is technically ready to go ahead with its third atomic test and awaiting the political decision of its leader.


The North's committee also declared on Friday that a landmark agreement it signed with the South in 1992 on eliminating nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula was invalid, repeating its long-standing accusation that Seoul was colluding with Washington.


The foreign ministry of China, the North's sole remaining major diplomatic and economic benefactor, repeated its call for calm on the Korean peninsula at its daily briefing earlier on Friday.


"The current situation on the Korea peninsula is complicated and sensitive," spokesman Hong Lei said.


"We hope all relevant parties can see the big picture, maintain calm and restraint, further maintain contact and dialogue, and improve relations, while not taking actions to further complicate and escalate the situation," Hong said.


But unusually prickly comments in Chinese state media on Friday hinted at Beijing's exasperation.


"It seems that North Korea does not appreciate China's efforts," said the Global Times in an editorial, a sister publication of the official People's Daily.


"Just let North Korea be 'angry' ... China hopes for a stable peninsula, but it's not the end of the world if there's trouble there. This should be the baseline of China's position."


(Additional reporting by Michael Martina, Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Arshad Mohammed and Paul Eckert in WASHINGTON; Editing by Jonathan Standing, Myra MacDonald and Jackie Frank)



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S&P rises for seventh day but 1,500 too steep a climb

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The smallest of gains gave the Standard & Poor's 500 its seventh straight winning day on Thursday, but the index failed to hold above the 1,500 line, restrained by Apple's worst day in more than four years.


Apple Inc slid 12.4 percent to $450.50 a day after it posted revenue that missed Wall Street's forecast as iPhone sales were poorer than expected.


The sharp drop wiped out nearly $60 billion in Apple's market capitalization to less than $423 billion, leaving the company vulnerable to losing its status as the most valuable U.S. company to second-place ExxonMobil , at $416.5 billion.


The S&P 500, however, managed to hit its longest winning streak since October 2006.


"The market has sent the message it is no longer driven by the whims of Apple," said Ken Polcari, director of the NYSE floor division at O'Neil Securities in New York.


The S&P 500 briefly traded above 1,500 for the first time since December 12, 2007, but failed to hold above it, indicating that momentum is waning and a pullback is in the charts.


"If the market had a little bit more excitement to it, momentum players would have jumped after it broke through 1,500. Investors know the market is a little bit ahead of itself," Polcari said.


Economic data helped buoy equities as U.S. factory activity grew the most in nearly two years in January and new claims for jobless benefits dropped to a five-year low last week, giving surprisingly strong signals on the economy's pulse.


At the same time, Chinese manufacturing grew this month at the fastest pace in about two years, while data suggesting German growth picked up boosted hopes for a euro-zone recovery.


"PMI in Asia, Europe, and obviously, here in the United States, is moving in the right direction, and that's stuff people should be excited about," Polcari said.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> rose 46 points or 0.33 percent, to 13,825.33 at the close. The S&P 500 <.spx> inched up just 0.01 of a point, or 0 percent, to finish at 1,494.82. The Nasdaq Composite <.ixic> dropped 23.29 points or 0.74 percent, to end at 3,130.38, with most of that loss on Apple's slide.


The broader Russell 2000 index <.rut> also hit a milestone as it closed above 900 points for the first time.


Video streaming service Netflix Inc surprised Wall Street with a quarterly profit after it added nearly 4 million customers in the United States and abroad. Netflix shares surged 42.2 percent to $146.86, its biggest percentage jump ever.


Earnings have helped drive the stock market's recent rally. Thomson Reuters data through early Thursday showed that of the 133 S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far, 66.9 percent have exceeded expectations - above the 65 percent average over the past four quarters.


About 6.8 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average during January 2012 of about 6.93 billion shares.


Roughly five issues rose for every four that fell on both the NYSE and Nasdaq.


(Editing by Jan Paschal)



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Voice of Te'o prankster? Couric plays voicemails


NEW YORK (AP) — The person Manti Te'o says was pretending to be his online girlfriend told the Notre Dame linebacker "I love you" in voicemails that were played during his interview with Katie Couric.


Taped earlier this week and broadcast Thursday, the hour-long talk show featured three voicemails that Te'o claims were left for him last year. Te'o said they were from the person he believed to be Lennay Kekua, a woman he had fallen for online but never met face-to-face.


After the first message was played, Te'o said: "It sounds like a girl, doesn't it?"


"It does," Couric responded.


The interview was the All-American's first on camera since his tale of inspired play after the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day in September unraveled as a bizarre hoax in an expose by Deadspin.com on Jan. 16.


Te'o's parents appeared with him for part of the interview and backed up his claim that he wasn't involved in the fabrication, saying they, too, had spoken on the phone with a person they believed to be Kekua.


Couric addressed speculation that the tale was concocted by Te'o as a way to cover up his sexual orientation. Asked if he were gay, Te'o said "no" with a laugh. "Far from it. Faaaar from that."


He also said he was "scared" and "didn't know what to do" after receiving a call on Dec. 6 — two days before the Heisman Trophy presentation — from a person who claimed to be his "dead" girlfriend.


The first voicemail, he said, was from what was supposed to be Kekua's first day of chemotherapy for leukemia.


"Hi, I am just letting you know I got here and I'm getting ready for my first session and, um, just want to call you to keep you posted. I miss you. I love you. Bye," the person said.


In the second voicemail, the person was apparently upset by someone else answering Te'o's phone.


The third voicemail was left on Sept. 11, according to Te'o, the day he believed Kekua was released from the hospital and the day before she "died."


"Hey babe, I'm just calling to say goodnight," the person on the voicemail said. "I love you. I know that you're probably doing homework or you're with the boys. ... But I just wanted to say I love you and goodnight and I'll be ok tonight. I'll do my best. Um, yeah, so get your rest and I'll talk to you tomorrow. I love you so much, hon. Sweet dreams."


Couric suggested the person who left those messages might have been Ronaiah Tuisasosopo, a 22-year-old man from California, who Te'o said has apologized to him for pulling the hoax.


"Do you think that could have been a man on the other end of the phone?" she asked.


"Well, it didn't sound like a man," Te'o said. "It sounded like a woman. If he somehow made that voice, that's incredible. That's an incredible talent to do that. Especially every single day."


Tuiasosopo has not spoken publicly since news of the hoax broke. The Associated Press has learned that a home in California where Te'o sent flowers to the Kekua family was once a residence of Tuiasosopo and has been in his family for decades.


Also on Thursday, the woman whose pictures were used in fake online accounts for Kekua said Tuiasosopo confessed to her in a 45-minute phone conversation as the scheme unraveled.


Diane O'Meara spoke with The Associated Press in a telephone interview. She said Tuiasosopo told her he'd been "stalking" her Facebook profile for five years and stealing photos.


O'Meara's attorney, Jim Artiano, said they had not decided on whether to take any legal action.


The 23-year-old O'Meara, of Long Beach, Calif., said she knew Tuiasosopo from high school and he contacted her through Facebook on Dec. 16. She said that, over the next three weeks, Tuiasosopo got in touch with her several times, attempting to get photos and video of O'Meara. She said he made up a story about wanting them to help cheer up a cousin who was injured in a car crash.


O'Meara learned her identity had been stolen on Jan. 13 when she was contacted by Deadspin.com.


The next day she got in touch with Tuiasosopo.


"When I contacted Ronaiah I got a very bizarre vibe from him, he became very nervous, he wasn't asking the questions I expected. He was asking 'Who contacted you? What did they say?'" O'Meara said.


Later that day, he confessed, O'Meara said. She said she asked Tuiasosopo why he didn't simply stop the hoax.


"He told me he wanted to end the relationship," O'Meara said. "He said he wanted to stop the relationship between Lennay and Manti, but Manti didn't want Lennay to break up with him ... He said he tried to stop the game many times."


When news of the hoax broke a few days later, O'Meara said she received a text from Tuiasosopo asking her to call him as soon as possible. O'Meara said she didn't respond.


___


Associated Press writer Tami Abdollah contributed to this report from Los Angeles.


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Neanderthal cloning? Pure fantasy




A display of a reconstruction of a Neanderthal man and boy at the Museum for Prehistory in Eyzies-de-Tayac, France.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Arthur Caplan: It would be unethical to try and clone a Neanderthal baby

  • Caplan: Downsides include a good chance of producing a baby that is seriously deformed

  • He says the future belongs to what we can do to genetically engineer and control microbes

  • Caplan: Microbes can make clean fuel, suck up carbon dioxide, clean fat out of arteries




Editor's note: Arthur Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty professor and director of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center.


(CNN) -- So now we know -- there won't be a Neanderthal moving into your neighborhood.


Despite a lot of frenzied attention to the intentionally provocative suggestion by a renowned Harvard scientist that new genetic technology makes it possible to splice together a complete set of Neanderthal genes, find an adventurous surrogate mother and use cloning to gin up a Neanderthal baby -- it ain't gonna happen anytime soon.


Nor should it. But there are plenty of other things in the works involving genetic engineering that do merit serious ethical discussion at the national and international levels.



Arthur Caplan

Arthur Caplan



Some thought that the Harvard scientist, George Church, was getting ready to put out an ad seeking volunteer surrogate moms to bear a 35,000-year-old, long-extinct Neanderthal baby. Church had to walk his comments back and note that he was just speculating, not incubating.


Still cloning carries so much mystery and Hollywood glamour thanks to movies such as "Jurassic Park," "The Boys From Brazil" and "Never Let Me Go" that a two-day eruption of the pros and cons of making Neanderthals ensued. That was not necessary. It would be unethical to try and clone a Neanderthal baby.



Why? Because there is no obvious reason to do so. There is no pressing need or remarkable benefit to undertaking such a project. At best it might shed some light on the biology and behavior of a distant ancestor. At worst it would be nothing more than the ultimate reality television show exploitation: An "Octomom"-like surrogate raises a caveman child -- tune in next week to see what her new boyfriend thinks when she tells him that there is a tiny addition in her life and he carries a small club and a tiny piece of flint to sleep with him.


The downsides of trying to clone a Neanderthal include a good chance of killing it, producing a baby that is seriously deformed, producing a baby that lacks immunity to infectious diseases and foods that we have gotten used to, an inability to know what environment to create to permit the child to flourish and a complete lack of understanding of what sort of behavior is "normal" or "appropriate" for such a long-extinct cousin hominid of ours.


When weighed against the risks and the harm that most likely would be done, it would take a mighty big guarantee of benefit to justify this cloning experiment. I am willing to venture that the possible benefit will never, ever reach the point where this list of horrible likely downsides could be overcome.




Even justifying trying to resurrect a woolly mammoth, or a mastodon, or the dodo bird or any other extinct animal gets ethically thorny. How many failures would be acceptable to get one viable mastodon? Where would the animal live? What would we feed it? Who would protect it from poachers, gawkers and treasure hunters? It is not so simple to take a long dead species, make enough of them so they don't die of isolation and lack of social stimulation and then find an environment that is close enough and safe enough compared with that which they once roamed.


In any event the most interesting aspects of genetic engineering do not involve making humans or Neanderthals or mammoths. They involve ginning up microbes to do things that we really need doing such as making clean fuel, sucking up carbon dioxide, cleaning fat out of our arteries, giving us a lot more immunity to nasty bacteria and viruses and helping us make plastics and chemicals more efficiently and cheaply.


In trying to make these kinds of microbes, you can kill all you want without fear of ethical condemnation. And if the new bug does not like the environment in which it has to exist to live well, that will be just too darn bad.


The ethical challenge of this kind of synthetic biology is that it can be used by bad guys for bad purposes. Biological weapons can be ginned up and microbes created that only infect people with certain genes that commonly associate with racial or ethnic groups.


Rather than worry about what will happen to real estate values should a new crop of "Flintstones" move in down the street, our public officials, religious groups and ethicists need to get serious about how much regulation the genetic engineering of microbes needs, how can we detect what terrorists might try to use, what sort of controls do we need to prevent accidents and who is going to pay if a bug turns out to cause more harm than good.


We love to think that the key to tomorrow lies in what humanity can be designed or empowered to do. Thus, the fascination with human cloning. In reality, at least for a long time to come, the future belongs to what we can do to design and control microbes. That is admittedly duller, but it is far better to follow a story that is true than one such as Neanderthal cloning that is pure, speculative fantasy.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arthur Caplan.






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Quinn signs sex-abuse education mandate

Teachers across Illinois will begin teaching their students on how they can protect themselves against sexual abuse and assaults. (WGN - Chicago)









After watching Gov. Pat Quinn sign into law a new mandate for child sex-abuse education in Illinois schools, the woman behind that measure will be hitting the road to push the cause nationwide.


On Thursday, Quinn signed "Erin's Law" at the Children's Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County in Hoffman Estates. That's where, 14 years ago, a then-13-year-old Erin Merryn first spoke up about sexual abuse she had endured.


"You do not know how joyous this is for me, how hard I've worked for this," Merryn said of the law, which extends state-mandated sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention efforts to elementary and middle schools. Previously, only high schools were required to teach it.








Although it's an unfunded mandate, Merryn, 27, said the law lets school districts decide how to implement it. Districts can choose either to use and pay for existing research-based curriculum, or train teachers on how to educate their students.


"Schools don't just need to hire someone to come in (from) outside the school," Merryn said. "You've got the staff right there that you already pay that are capable of teaching this, with the proper training."


Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, said "Erin's Law" is the first unfunded school mandate in two years. Crespo, vice-chair for the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said unfunded mandates are always a concern and an issue.


"We're very convinced we just need to make this happen," Crespo said. "We have other unfunded mandates. Somehow the school districts do manage a way to do those things."


With children as young as preschoolers, the education will be tailored for age appropriateness, Merryn said. For some, it could be as simple as teaching them to whom they could turn if they feel uncomfortable.


Lawmakers at the event praised Merryn for having the courage to quit her job as a youth and family counselor in 2010 to take on a national awareness campaign. Merryn became devoted to the cause after being sexually abused as a child between the ages 6 to 8, and again from age 11 to 13.


Merryn's campaign also focuses on support for child advocacy centers, ending stigma about sex abuse and reminding adults to be aware and to act.


At the bill signing, Quinn invited Merryn to a national governor's meeting next month. The Schaumburg native and author is working to get similar laws passed in all 50 states. It took Merryn three years to get the Illinois state law passed. She had tears in her eyes as she accepted Quinn's invitation, saying: "You will save me many, many years."


saho@tribune.com





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North Korea to target U.S. with nuclear, rocket tests


SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its "sworn enemy".


The announcement by the country's top military body came a day after the U.N. Security Council agreed to a U.S.-backed resolution to censure and sanction North Korea for a rocket launch in December that breached U.N. rules.


North Korea is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles), potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea.


"We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States," North Korea's National Defence Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA.


North Korea is believed by South Korea and other observers to be "technically ready" for a third nuclear test, and the decision to go ahead rests with leader Kim Jong-un, who pressed ahead with the December rocket launch in defiance of the U.N. sanctions.


China, the one major diplomatic ally of the isolated and impoverished North, agreed to the U.S.-backed resolution and it also supported resolutions in 2006 and 2009 after Pyongyang's two earlier nuclear tests.


Thursday's statement by North Korea represents a huge challenge to Beijing as it undergoes a leadership transition, with Xi Jinping due to take office in March.


China's Foreign Ministry called for calm and restraint and a return to six-party talks, but effectively singled out North Korea, urging the "relevant party" not to take any steps that would raise tensions.


"We hope the relevant party can remain calm and act and speak in a cautious and prudent way and not take any steps which may further worsen the situation," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular press briefing.


North Korea has rejected proposals to restart the talks aimed at reining in its nuclear capacity. The United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas are the six parties involved.


"After all these years and numerous rounds of six-party talks we can see that China's influence over North Korea is actually very limited. All China can do is try to persuade them not to carry out their threats," said Cai Jian, an expert on Korea at Fudan University in Shanghai.


Analysts said the North could test as early as February as South Korea prepares to install a new, untested president or that it could choose to stage a nuclear explosion to coincide with former ruler Kim Jong-il's Feb 16 birthday.


"North Korea will have felt betrayed by China for agreeing to the latest U.N. resolution and they might be targeting (China) as well (with this statement)," said Lee Seung-yeol, senior research fellow at Ewha Institute of Unification Studies in Seoul.


U.S. URGES NO TEST


Washington urged North Korea not to proceed with a third test just as the North's statement was published on Thursday.


"Whether North Korea tests or not is up to North Korea," Glyn Davies, the top U.S. envoy for North Korean diplomacy, said in the South Korean capital of Seoul.


"We hope they don't do it. We call on them not to do it," Davies said after a meeting with South Korean officials. "This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean peninsula."


The North was banned from developing missile and nuclear technology under sanctions dating from its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.


A South Korean military official said the concern now is that Pyongyang could undertake a third nuclear test using highly enriched uranium for the first time, opening a second path to a bomb.


North Korea's 2006 nuclear test using plutonium produced a puny yield equivalent to one kiloton of TNT - compared with 13-18 kilotons for the Hiroshima bomb - and U.S. intelligence estimates put the 2009 test's yield at roughly two kilotons


North Korea is estimated to have enough fissile material for about a dozen plutonium warheads, although estimates vary, and intelligence reports suggest that it has been enriching uranium to supplement that stock and give it a second path to the bomb.


According to estimates from the Institute for Science and International Security from late 2012, North Korea could have enough weapons grade uranium for 21-32 nuclear weapons by 2016 if it used one centrifuge at its Yongbyon nuclear plant to enrich uranium to weapons grade.


North Korea has not yet mastered the technology needed to make a nuclear warhead small enough for an intercontinental missile, most observers say, and needs to develop the capacity to shield any warhead from re-entry into the earth's atmosphere.


North Korea gave no time-frame for the coming test and often employs harsh rhetoric in response to U.N. and U.S. actions that it sees as hostile.


The bellicose statement on Thursday appeared to dent any remaining hopes that Kim Jong-un, believed to be 30 years old, would pursue a different path from his father, Kim Jong-il, who oversaw the country's military and nuclear programs.


The older Kim died in December 2011.


"The UNSC (Security Council) resolution masterminded by the U.S. has brought its hostile policy towards the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) to its most dangerous stage," the commission was quoted as saying.


(Additional reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL, Ben Blanchard and Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Ron Popeski)



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