Stocks end higher for sixth straight week, tech leads

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Nasdaq composite stock index closed at a 12-year high and the S&P 500 index at a five-year high, boosted by gains in technology shares and stronger overseas trade figures.


The S&P 500 also posted a sixth straight week of gains for the first time since August.


The technology sector led the day's gains, with the S&P 500 technology index <.splrct> up 1.0 percent. Gains in professional network platform LinkedIn Corp and AOL Inc after they reported quarterly results helped the sector.


Shares of LinkedIn jumped 21.3 percent to $150.48 after the social networking site announced strong quarterly profits and gave a bullish forecast for the year.


AOL Inc shares rose 7.4 percent to $33.72 after the online company reported higher quarterly profit, boosted by a 13 percent rise in advertising sales.


Data showed Chinese exports grew more than expected, a positive sign for the global economy. The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in December, suggesting the U.S. economy likely grew in the fourth quarter instead of contracting slightly as originally reported by the U.S. government.


"That may have sent a ray of optimism," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co in Lake Oswego, Oregon.


Trading volume on Friday was below average for the week as a blizzard swept into the northeastern United States.


The U.S. stock market has posted strong gains since the start of the year, with the S&P 500 up 6.4 percent since December 31. The advance has slowed in recent days, with fourth-quarter earnings winding down and few incentives to continue the rally on the horizon.


"I think we're in the middle of a trading range and I'd put plus or minus 5.0 percent around it. Fundamental factors are best described as neutral," Dickson said.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> ended up 48.92 points, or 0.35 percent, at 13,992.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 8.54 points, or 0.57 percent, at 1,517.93. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 28.74 points, or 0.91 percent, at 3,193.87, its highest closing level since November 2000.


For the week, the Dow was down 0.1 percent, the S&P 500 was up 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq up 0.5 percent.


Shares of Dell closed at $13.63, up 0.7 percent, after briefly trading above a buyout offering price of $13.65 during the session.


Dell's largest independent shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management, said it plans to oppose the buyout of the personal computer maker, setting up a battle for founder Michael Dell.


Signs of economic strength overseas buoyed sentiment on Wall Street. Chinese exports grew more than expected in January, while imports climbed 28.8 percent, highlighting robust domestic demand. German data showed a 2012 surplus that was the nation's second highest in more than 60 years, an indication of the underlying strength of Europe's biggest economy.


Separately, U.S. economic data showed the trade deficit shrank in December to $38.5 billion, its narrowest in nearly three years, indicating the economy did much better in the fourth quarter than initially estimated.


Earnings have mostly come in stronger than expected since the start of the reporting period. Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies now are estimated up 5.2 percent versus a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data. That contrasts with a 1.9 percent growth forecast at the start of the earnings season.


Molina Healthcare Inc surged 10.4 percent to $31.88 as the biggest boost to the index after posting fourth-quarter earnings.


The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, was down 3.6 percent at 13.02. The gauge, a key measure of market expectations of short-term volatility, generally moves inversely to the S&P 500.


"I'm watching the 14 level closely" on the CBOE Volatility index, said Bryan Sapp, senior trading analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "The break below it at the beginning of the year signaled the sharp rally in January, and a rally back above it could be a sign to exercise some caution."


Volume was roughly 5.6 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 nearly 2 to 1 and on the Nasdaq by almost 5 to 3.


(Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski, Kenneth Barry and Andrew Hay)



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Wisconsin beats No. 3 Michigan 65-62 in OT


MADISON, Wis. (AP) — When Ben Brust tied the game at the end of regulation with a shot just from just inside midcourt, his teammate Mike Bruesewitz looked over at Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and saw something unusual.


His coach had both his arms in the air.


"You know when he shows some emotion, you've done something pretty special," Bruesewitz said.


Brust hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than 40 seconds left in overtime as Wisconsin beat No. 3 Michigan 65-62 on Saturday.


"It was awesome, something I'll remember forever, and I'm sure a lot of people will," Brust said of the game, which ended with students storming the court and Bruesewitz taking the public address announcer's microphone to thank the crowd as students celebrated around him.


The Wolverines became the third top three team to lose this week as No. 1 Indiana lost to Illinois and No. 2 Florida was beaten by Arkansas. This should be the sixth straight week with a different No. 1 in The Associated Press' Top 25.


Brust's shot at the end of regulation was a dramatic turn of events for Wisconsin (17-7, 8-3 Big Ten) and a soul crusher for Michigan (21-3, 8-3).


Just moments earlier, Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a contested 3-pointer to put the Wolverines up 60-57 with less than 3 seconds left in regulation.


Following a timeout, Bruesewitz passed up his first option in the inbounds play and hit Brust in stride. The guard took one dribble across halfcourt and launched the shot, which hit nothing but net.


Ryan said the play was drawn up to see how Michigan defended the first cutter, Brust read the defense and reacted.


"The best thing was Mike's pass on the dime on the run, didn't have to reach back for it, able to catch it all in one motion," Ryan said.


Michigan still had fouls to give before the shot, and coach John Beilein said the order coming out of the timeout was to foul. He also put Caris LeVert on Brust to bolster the defense.


"We were definitely fouling, wanted to keep everyone in front of us and (Brust) turned the corner on (LeVert) just enough that he couldn't foul him," Beilein said. "I thought we had them once they couldn't get their initial guy.


"With Caris' quickness, we thought he could get there, but he didn't."


For all the fireworks in the final 3 seconds, the teams only managed seven points in overtime, including Brust's winning 3-pointer.


Following Brust's shot, Hardaway couldn't connect on his drive to the hoop on the next Michigan possession, and Glenn Robinson III fouled Jared Berggren on the rebound.


The Wolverines went to a full-court press with two more fouls to give. But the Badgers broke the press, and Michigan had to foul twice more to finally put Ryan Evans on the free throw line.


Evans, who shoots less than 43 percent from the line, missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Burke couldn't connect in a rushed final possession for the Wolverines.


It was another grinding win for the Badgers keyed by their defense. Michigan came in as one of the top scoring teams in the country at almost 78 points per game. But Wisconsin held Michigan to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, including 5 of 18 from beyond the 3-point line.


Michigan was 1 for 7 from the field in overtime, and the offensive futility was highlighted by one sequence in which Mitch McGary stole the ball outside the 3-point line and drove the other way only to miss the layup with Berggren defending the rim.


Beilein said the Wolverines missed out on 14 points thanks to missed layups.


"I'm not talking about when they're really contesting," Beilein said. "I'm talking about we had the ball, the basket and us, and it didn't go in."


Brust scored 14 points for the Badgers, while Berggren added 13 and eight rebounds. Sam Dekker scored 12 points, while Evans finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.


Burke scored 19 points to lead Michigan, but needed 21 shots to do it. Hardaway added 18, and McGary had 12 points and eight rebounds.


It was the second straight game for both teams to go past regulation after the Badgers beat Iowa 74-70 in double overtime on Wednesday and Michigan downed Ohio State 76-74 in overtime on Tuesday.


Several Wisconsin players said consecutive overtime games exemplified their will to win even as critics contend they're not talented enough, not fast enough and, as Bruesewitz said he's seen on Twitter, not good-looking enough.


"We have a group of guys in that locker room that believe and is going to fight until the end until you tell us we can't play any more basketball," Berggren said. "We just find a way to get it done."


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How Obama can end Congo conflict












Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo


Conflict in Congo








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • President Obama can help end the Congo conflict for good, says Vava Tampa

  • Obama has asked Rwanda to end all support to armed groups in the Congo

  • FDLR militia gang is a threat to stability and must leave Congo

  • Obama must push for change in Congolese government, argues Tampa




Editor's note: Vava Tampa is the founder of Save the Congo, a London-based campaign to tackle "the impunity, insecurity, institutional failure and the international trade of minerals funding the wars in Democratic Republic of the Congo." Follow Vava Tampa on twitter: @VavaTampa


(CNN) -- Now that President Obama has taken a public stand on the warlords and militia gangs tyrannizing DR Congo, there is a sense that the next chapter in the human tragedy that has been raging there over the past decade and half is about to be written -- or so we can hope.


In the DRC -- Africa's largest sub-Saharan country -- invasions, proxy wars and humanitarian crises have senselessly shut down millions of lives, displaced millions more from their homes and left countless women and young girls brutally raped with the world barely raising an eyebrow.


The latest murderous attempt by the M23 militia gang to besiege Goma, the strategic regional capital of Congo's eastern province of North Kivu, seems to have backfired.



Vava Tampa

Vava Tampa



The United Nations says Rwanda has helped to create and militarily supported M23. Although Rwandan President Paul Kagame denies backing M23, the accusation has taken off some of the international gloss he had long enjoyed in the West, and precipitated cuts and suspension of aid money that goes directly to the Kagame regime by the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Britain and the European Union.


The United States, which gives no money directly to the Rwandan government, suspended its military aid. In a baffling expression of a refinement of the U.S. position, President Obama made a rare telephone call to Kagame to emphasize "the importance of permanently ending all support to armed groups in the DRC." That set a firm red line on the situation in that region, the first one by President Obama since becoming president in 2008.
















Watch video: Kagame on Congo


This was certainly right and good. Kagame is no fool; the diplomatic but emphatic content of that telephone call, monitored by White House's National Security staff and published thereafter for public consumption, speaks volumes. He clearly understood the implicit threat. But it was not good enough.


Left unsaid is that withholding aid money that goes directly to the Kagame regime has not changed many realities on the ground -- a painful reminder of the limits of what previous half-hearted, ambivalent international attempts to halt the crisis in that country had achieved.


However, the situation is not hopeless. President Obama can help to halt the wars engulfing the Congo. It is both economically and politically affordable.


Here is my suggestion -- a three-point road map, if you like, for President Obama, should he choose to put the weight of the United States squarely on the side of the Congolese and engage much more robustly to help end the world's bloodiest war and human tragedy.


Read more: Why the world is ignoring Congo war


1. Changes in Kinshasa


If we are to be blunt with ourselves, Congo's major problem today -- the chief reason that country remains on its knees -- is its president Joseph Kabila. Paul Kagame is just a symptom, at least in theory.


The crisis of leadership in the capital Kinshasa, the disastrous blend of lack of political legitimacy and moral authority, mixed with poor governance and vision deficiency, then compounded with dilapidated state institutions, has become the common denominator to the ills and wrongs that continues to overwhelm the Congo.


In other words, peace will never be secured in Congo, if the moribund status quo is still strutting around Kinshasa.


Obama's minimum objective in regard to ending the wars and human tragedy engulfing the Congo should be to push for changes in Kinshasa. He must make this one of the "10 Commandments" of the Obama Doctrine.


Circumstances demand it to re-energize Congo's chance of success and to enable the renaissance of a "New Africa." And given the effects of Congo's mounting death toll and the speed at which HIV/AIDS is spreading because of the use of rape as a weapon of war, the sooner the better.


2. Keep Kagame in the naughty corner


The wars and human tragedy engulfing the Congo have many fathers and many layers. Rwanda, and to some extent Uganda -- run by Africa's two dearest autocratic but staunchly pro-American regimes -- are, as they have been many times in the past, despite their denials, continuing to provide support to warlords and militia gangs terrorizing the Congolese people.


This is not an apocryphal claim, it's an open secret in Kinshasa, Kampala and Kigali as much as it is in Washington or White Hall, and as real as Charles Taylor's role in Sierra Leone or Iran's support to Hezbollah.



If President Obama is remotely serious about saving lives in Congo, then fracturing Rwanda's ability to directly or indirectly harbor warlords ... is critical.
Vava Tampa, Save the Congo



Indeed, reporters across Congo and across the region would testify to this. Kigali has been, one can safely argue, the sole shareholder in the M23 militia gang -- and its elder sisters CNDP and RCD-Goma.


It cannot wash its hands in Pontius Pilate fashion of either the ICC-wanted M23 warlord Bosco Ntaganda, also known as The Terminator, or Laurent Nkunda, who is wanted by the Congolese government for war crimes and is under house arrest in Kigali.


Read more: Prosecutor seeks new Congo war crimes warrants


If President Obama is remotely serious about saving lives in Congo, then fracturing Rwanda's ability to directly or indirectly harbor warlords, support militia gangs, militarize or ethnicize the wars in Congo for control of Congo's easily appropriable but highly valuable natural resources is critical, however politically disgruntling it may be to some in the State Department.


It would reduce the scale, scope and intensity of the killing, raping and uprooting of the Congolese, it would crush Kinshasa's ability to use external support to warlords and militia gangs as an alibi for a lack of progress and, above all, decrease the growing unease of the Congolese towards Rwanda over the crimes of FDLR and the role played by their government in Congo.


3. FDLR


The continued existence in Congo of FDLR, a Rwandan militia gang made up largely of Hutus -- whose leadership took part in the 1994 genocide of Tutsi -- remains one of the most persistent and serious threats to stability in Congo and the region.


Addressing this crisis is of significant importance from both a political and humanitarian viewpoint.


Though there are no definitive statistics on the exact numbers of FDLR fighters, the good news is that experts tell us that the vast majority of its rank and file are in their 20s and early 30s, which means they were too young to have taken part in the genocide in 1994.


The United States, together with the U.N., the EU and African Union, should appoint a special envoy for the African Great Lakes region to midwife a conducive political arrangement in Kigali that could see them returning home -- and see their leaders and fundraisers in Europe arrested.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Vava Tampa.






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FBI: Elderly man robs Niles bank













Bank robbery suspect


Suspect in the robbery of a Niles bank.
(FBI / February 9, 2013)



























































A man the FBI said appeared to be in his 70s and walking with a cane robbed a bank this morning in north suburban Niles.


A man who is estimated to be in his 70s robbed the Harris Bank branch at 7077 W. Dempster St. at 9:45 a.m., according to FBI spokesman Joan Hyde.


The robber was wearing a brown coat and walked with a cane during the incident, she said.





He did not show a weapon and no one was hurt, according to Hyde.


Niles police were not available immediately. 


chicagobreaking@tribune.com







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Israel's Lieberman says Palestinian peace accord impossible


JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has no chance of signing a permanent peace accord with the Palestinians and should instead seek a long-term interim deal, the most powerful political partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.


The remarks by Avigdor Lieberman, an ultranationalist whose joint party list with Netanyahu narrowly won a January 22 election while centrist challengers made surprise gains, seemed designed to dampen expectations at home and abroad of fresh peacemaking.


A spring visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories by U.S. President Barack Obama, announced this week, has stirred speculation that foreign pressure for a diplomatic breakthrough could build - though Washington played down that possibility.


In a television interview, ex-foreign minister Lieberman linked the more than two-year-old impasse to pan-Arab political upheaval that has boosted Islamists hostile to the Jewish state.


These include Hamas, rivals of U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who control the Gaza Strip and spurn coexistence with Israel though they have mooted extended truces.


"Anyone who thinks that in the center of this socio-diplomatic ocean, this tsunami which is jarring the Arab world, it is possible to arrive at the magic solution of a comprehensive peace with the Palestinians does not understand," Lieberman told Israel's Channel Two.


"This is impossible. It is not possible to solve the conflict here. The conflict can be managed and it is important to manage the conflict ... to negotiate on a long-term interim agreement."


Abbas broke off talks in late 2010 in protest at Israel's settlement of the occupied West Bank. He angered Israel and the United States in November by securing a U.N. status upgrade that implicitly recognized Palestinian independence in all the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.


Israel insists it will keep East Jerusalem and swathes of West Bank settlements under any eventual peace deal. Most world powers consider the settlements illegal because they take up land seized in the 1967 Middle East war.


Lieberman, himself a West Bank settler, said the ball was "in Abu Mazen's (Abbas') court" to revive diplomacy.


Abbas has demanded Israel first freeze all settlement construction. With two decades gone since Palestinians signed their first interim deal with Israel, he has ruled out any new negotiations that do not solemnize Palestinian statehood.


Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev noted that Lieberman, in the Channel Two interview, had said he was expressing his own opinion.


Asked how Netanyahu saw peace prospects for an accord with the Palestinians, Regev referred to a speech on Tuesday in which the conservative prime minister said that Israel, while addressing threats by its enemies, "must also pursue secure, stable and realistic peace with our neighbors".


Netanyahu has previously spoken in favor of a Palestinian state, though he has been cagey on its borders and whether he would be prepared to dismantle Israeli settlements.


Lieberman's role in the next coalition government is unclear as he faces trial for corruption. If convicted, he could be barred from the cabinet. Lieberman denies wrongdoing and has said he would like to regain the foreign portfolio, which he surrendered after his indictment was announced last year.


(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Stephen Powell)



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Stocks end higher for sixth straight week, tech leads

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Nasdaq composite stock index closed at a 12-year high and the S&P 500 index at a five-year high, boosted by gains in technology shares and stronger overseas trade figures.


The S&P 500 also posted a sixth straight week of gains for the first time since August.


The technology sector led the day's gains, with the S&P 500 technology index <.splrct> up 1.0 percent. Gains in professional network platform LinkedIn Corp and AOL Inc after they reported quarterly results helped the sector.


Shares of LinkedIn jumped 21.3 percent to $150.48 after the social networking site announced strong quarterly profits and gave a bullish forecast for the year.


AOL Inc shares rose 7.4 percent to $33.72 after the online company reported higher quarterly profit, boosted by a 13 percent rise in advertising sales.


Data showed Chinese exports grew more than expected, a positive sign for the global economy. The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in December, suggesting the U.S. economy likely grew in the fourth quarter instead of contracting slightly as originally reported by the U.S. government.


"That may have sent a ray of optimism," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co in Lake Oswego, Oregon.


Trading volume on Friday was below average for the week as a blizzard swept into the northeastern United States.


The U.S. stock market has posted strong gains since the start of the year, with the S&P 500 up 6.4 percent since December 31. The advance has slowed in recent days, with fourth-quarter earnings winding down and few incentives to continue the rally on the horizon.


"I think we're in the middle of a trading range and I'd put plus or minus 5.0 percent around it. Fundamental factors are best described as neutral," Dickson said.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> ended up 48.92 points, or 0.35 percent, at 13,992.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 8.54 points, or 0.57 percent, at 1,517.93. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 28.74 points, or 0.91 percent, at 3,193.87, its highest closing level since November 2000.


For the week, the Dow was down 0.1 percent, the S&P 500 was up 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq up 0.5 percent.


Shares of Dell closed at $13.63, up 0.7 percent, after briefly trading above a buyout offering price of $13.65 during the session.


Dell's largest independent shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management, said it plans to oppose the buyout of the personal computer maker, setting up a battle for founder Michael Dell.


Signs of economic strength overseas buoyed sentiment on Wall Street. Chinese exports grew more than expected in January, while imports climbed 28.8 percent, highlighting robust domestic demand. German data showed a 2012 surplus that was the nation's second highest in more than 60 years, an indication of the underlying strength of Europe's biggest economy.


Separately, U.S. economic data showed the trade deficit shrank in December to $38.5 billion, its narrowest in nearly three years, indicating the economy did much better in the fourth quarter than initially estimated.


Earnings have mostly come in stronger than expected since the start of the reporting period. Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies now are estimated up 5.2 percent versus a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data. That contrasts with a 1.9 percent growth forecast at the start of the earnings season.


Molina Healthcare Inc surged 10.4 percent to $31.88 as the biggest boost to the index after posting fourth-quarter earnings.


The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, was down 3.6 percent at 13.02. The gauge, a key measure of market expectations of short-term volatility, generally moves inversely to the S&P 500.


"I'm watching the 14 level closely" on the CBOE Volatility index, said Bryan Sapp, senior trading analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "The break below it at the beginning of the year signaled the sharp rally in January, and a rally back above it could be a sign to exercise some caution."


Volume was roughly 5.6 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 nearly 2 to 1 and on the Nasdaq by almost 5 to 3.


(Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski, Kenneth Barry and Andrew Hay)



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Super Bowl blackout was caused by electrical relay


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The company that supplied electricity to the Super Bowl says the blackout that halted the big game was caused by a device it installed specially to prevent a power failure.


But the utility stopped short of taking all the blame and said Friday that it was looking into whether the electrical relay at fault had a design flaw or a manufacturing defect.


The relay had been installed as part of a project begun in 2011 to upgrade the electrical system serving the Superdome in anticipation of the championship game. The equipment was supposed to guard against problems in the cable that links the power grid with lines that go into the stadium.


"The purpose of it was to provide a newer, more advanced type of protection for the Superdome," Dennis Dawsey, an executive with Entergy Corp., told members of the City Council. Entergy is the parent company of Entergy New Orleans, the city's main electric utility.


Entergy officials said the relay functioned with no problems during January's Sugar Bowl and other earlier events. It has been removed and will be replaced.


All systems at the Superdome are now working, and the stadium was to host a major Mardi Gras event Saturday night, said Doug Thornton, an executive with SMG, the company that manages the stadium for the state.


The relay was installed in a building near the stadium known as "the vault," which receives a line directly from a nearby Entergy substation. Once the line reaches the vault, it splits into two cables that go into the Superdome.


Sunday's power failure cut lights to about half of the stadium, halting play between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers and interrupting the nation's most-watched sporting event for 34 minutes.


Not long after the announcement, the manufacturer of the relay, Chicago-based S&C Electric Co., released a statement saying that the blackout occurred because system operators had put the relay's so-called trip setting too low to allow the device to handle the incoming electric load.


The equipment was owned and installed by Entergy New Orleans.


"If higher settings had been applied, the equipment would not have disconnected the power," said Michael J.S. Edmonds, vice president of strategic solutions for S&C.


In a follow-up statement, Entergy said that tests conducted by S&C and Entergy on the two relays at the Superdome showed that one worked as expected, the other did not.


Entergy spokesman Mike Burns said both relays had the same trip setting.


Entergy's announcement came shortly before company officials went before a committee of the City Council, which is the regulatory body for the company.


During the committee hearing, council member Susan Guidry asked Entergy executives whether they were "fairly certain" that the relay was faulty.


"That is correct," Dawsey said.


However, when asked if the outage was caused by the design or a defect in a part of the equipment, Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice said that had not been determined.


"The equipment did not function properly," Rice said. "At this particular time, based upon our analysis, we cannot say definitively that there was a defect in design. What we do know is that the equipment for some unknown reason, at this particular time, did not react the way that it should have."


Asked if Entergy and SMG still plan to hire a third-party investigator to get to the bottom of the cause, Rice said that possibility remains open.


"We'll work closely with SMG, and if there is a need for a third-party investigation, we will do that," Rice said, adding that Entergy was also working with the relay manufacturer.


Shabab Mehraeen, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Louisiana State University, said relays are common electrical fixtures in businesses and massive facilities such as the Superdome.


"They are designed to keep a problem they sense from becoming something bigger, like a fire or catastrophic event," he said.


The devices vary in size. Mehraeen, who was not familiar with the relay at the Superdome, said he "wouldn't be surprised if it was bigger than a truck."


The reasons the devices fail are the subject of much academic research into the interaction of relays with the complex electrical systems they regulate.


"It's not unusual for them to have problems," Mehraeen said. "They can be unpredictable, despite national testing standards recommended by manufacturers."


Entergy and SMG had both upgraded lines and equipment in the months leading up to the Super Bowl. Rice said the new gear, with the faulty relay, was installed as part of a $4.2 million upgrade by Entergy that included a new power line dedicated solely to the stadium.


In a separate project, SMG replaced lines coming into the stadium after managers expressed concerns the Superdome might be vulnerable to a power failure like the one that struck Candlestick Park during an NFL game in 2011.


Thornton stressed Friday that the dome was drawing only about two-thirds of its power capacity Super Bowl night. He said typical NFL games in late August or September can draw a little more.


Friday's announcement appeared to absolve Superdome officials of any missteps in the blackout.


City officials had worried that the Super Bowl outage might harm New Orleans' chances of getting another NFL championship game.


But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell downplayed that possibility, saying the league planned to keep New Orleans in its Super Bowl plans. Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the city intends to bid for the game again in 2018.


___


Associated Press Writer Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans contributed to this report.


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Gun violence plans: What's in the works






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Connecticut school massacre prompts a number of proposals in Washington aimed at curbing gun violence

  • They include a ban on assault weapons that insiders say has little chance of getting through Congress

  • Some bipartisan support for proposals to expand background checks around gun purchases




Washington (CNN) -- December's school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, has prompted congressional lawmakers and the White House to offer a number of proposals aimed at curbing gun violence.


Here are some of the measures garnering the most attention:


The White House plan


President Barack Obama signed 23 executive actions, which don't require congressional approval, to strengthen existing gun laws and take related steps on mental health and school safety.


He has also called on Congress to reinstate the Clinton-era assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, to restrict ammunition magazines to no more than 10 rounds, and to expand background checks to anyone buying a gun, whether at a store or in a private sale at an auction or convention.










Assault weapons ban revisited


A proposal by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, would not ban ownership of assault weapons outright, but would prohibit new ones from being manufactured, sold or imported. It would also outlaw ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.


She said the goal is to "dry up the supply of these weapons over time." The measure, along with a companion bill in the House, is opposed by the nation's powerful gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association.


Cracking down on straw purchases


Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called for stronger background checks and a crackdown on so-called straw purchases, in which people who can pass background checks buy weapons for others. Leahy has proposed a measure to increase penalties for straw purchasers.


Curbing gun trafficking


A new House bipartisan gun control bill seeks to make gun trafficking a federal crime. It has some bipartisan support and mirrors a measure proposed in the Senate.


House Democratic efforts


A group of House Democrats, who were part of the chamber's Democratic Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, unveiled 15 proposals to address gun violence. The measures largely echoed those previously backed by the White House.


The package is similar to other Democratic measures that would address background checks, ban high capacity magazines, and crack down on gun trafficking.


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Viginia, told CNN that he supports beefed up background checks for gun sales.


Closing gun show loophole


A group of four senators working behind the scenes on a bipartisan bill to expand background checks on gun sales is making significant progress, according to sources in both parties familiar with their work.


The group includes Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, who has an A rating with the National Rifle Association, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, a long time advocate of gun rights.


The legislation would effectively require background checks on private gun purchases made with non-licensed gun dealers, according to sources in both parties. That would include closing the so-called gun show loophole.


Political play


House Speaker John Boehner has said he has no plans to bring any measure up for a vote until the Senate acts first.


Republicans oppose any assault weapons ban and rural-state Democrats facing tough re-election fights are unlikely to support it as well, meaning that proposal has little chance of passing Congress.


There is some bipartisan support for expanded background checks, especially to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness. A number of lawmakers may also support limiting the size of ammunition magazines.


Some lawmakers have said that various gun proposals may be addressed in separate bills, rather than a comprehensive package, which could more easily be targeted by opponents.


The top Democrat in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has a good rating from gun rights groups and has said he would work to ensure that a variety of proposals are brought to the floor for consideration.


He opposed the 1994 assault weapons ban and has indicated support for expanding background checks but refuses to endorse a new weapons prohibition.







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Community says goodbye to slain teen


























































Friends and family gathered at Calahan Funeral Home on the South Side this afternoon for the wake of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old girl whose slaying last week became a national symbol of the gun violence in Chicago.

Hadiya’s body lay in an open casket, dressed in a purple dress embellished with sparkles. The inside of the casket was lined in a soft purple.






Visitors signed in a registry and wrote personal messages to Hadiya on a dedication board. Family gathered in the back of the room, some talking with visitors, others sitting in chairs.

Dozens of bouquets of flowers lined the room and a large photo of Hadiya was hung on display. A small TV played a picture slideshow of Hadiya smiling with family and friends.

John Burdette, a Hyde Park resident, said although he didn't know the Pendleton family, he wanted to pay his condolences.

“It helped put me at ease,” said Burdette, 64. "This poor young lady. Things are nuts out there and it's terrible. I don't leave my house after 4 p.m.”

Media trucks and police cars lined Halsted Street outside the funeral home, as Hadiya's death has garnered much attention on both a local and national scale.

The wake is scheduled from 2 to 9 p.m. Friday with the funeral to follow Saturday morning. First lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to attend.bdoyle@tribune.com


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China, Japan engage in new invective over disputed isles


BEIJING (Reuters) - China and Japan engaged on Friday in a fresh round of invective over military movements near a disputed group of uninhabited islands, fuelling tension that for months has bedeviled relations between the Asian powers.


An increasingly muscular China has been repeatedly at odds with others in the region over rival claims to small clusters of islands, most recently with fellow economic giant Japan which accused a Chinese navy vessel of locking radar normally used to aim weapons on a Japanese naval ship in the East China Sea.


China's Defence Ministry rejected Japan's complaint about the radar, its first comment on the January 30 incident. It said Japan's intrusive tracking of Chinese vessels was the "root cause" of the renewed tension.


A Japanese official dismissed the Chinese explanation for incident saying China's actions could be dangerous in the waters around the islets, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, believed to be rich in oil and gas.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led his conservative party to a landslide election victory in December, promising to beef up the military and stand tough in territorial disputes.


On Thursday, another border problem was brought into focus when Japan said two Russian fighter jets briefly entered its air space near long-disputed northern islands, prompting Japan to scramble combat fighters. Russia denied the accusation.


The commander of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific said the squabble between Japan and China underlined the pressing need for rules to prevent such incidents turning into serious conflict.


"What we need in the South China Sea is a mechanism that prevents us turning our diplomacy over to young majors and young (naval) commanders ... to make decisions at sea that cause a problem (that escalates) into a military conflict that we might not be able to control," Admiral Samuel Locklear told a conference in the Indonesian capital.


China is in dispute with several Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines and Vietnam over parts of the South China Sea, which is potentially rich in natural resources.


Locklear said governments and their leaders had to understand the potential for things to get out of hand.


"In this case, I think that point has been made pretty clear," he said in reference to international reaction to the dispute between China and Japan.


"IRRESPONSIBLE"


China's Defence Ministry, in a faxed statement late on Thursday, said Japan's complaints did not "match the facts". The Chinese ship's radar, it said, had maintained regular alerting operations and the ship "did not use fire control radar".


The ministry said the Chinese ship was tracked by a Japanese destroyer during routine training exercises. Fire control radar pinpoints the location of a target for missiles or shells and its use can be considered a step short of actual firing.


Japan, the ministry said, had "made irresponsible remarks that hyped up a so-called China threat, recklessly created tension and misled international public opinion".


"Japanese warships and airplanes have often conducted long periods of close-range tracking and surveillance of China's naval ships and airplanes," the Chinese Defence Ministry said.


"This is the root cause of air and maritime security issues between China and Japan."


In Tokyo, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Japan could not accept China's explanation and Japan's accusation came after careful analysis.


"We urge China to take sincere measures to prevent dangerous actions which could cause a contingency situation," Suga said.


Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said this week that the radar incident could have become very dangerous very quickly, and it could have been seen as a threat of military force under U.N. rules.


Hopes had been rising recently for an easing of the tension, which was sparked, in part, by Japan's nationalization of three of the privately owned islets last September.


Fears that encounters between aircraft and ships could bring an unintended clash have given impetus to efforts to improve links, including a possible summit between Abe and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who takes over as head of state in March.


(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg in TOKYO, Joathan Thatcher in JAKARTA; Editing by Ron Popeski and Robert Birsel)



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Wall Street ends lower on renewed euro zone fears

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks declined on Thursday, taking a step back from their recent advance, prompted by comments by the ECB president on the euro and Europe's outlook.


The euro currency dropped against the safe-haven dollar and yen, spurring a retreat from risky assets such as stocks, after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the exchange rate was important to growth and price stability. Investors took that as a sign the bank is concerned about the euro's advance and its effect on the region's economy.


Growth sectors were among the weakest performers on the S&P 500: the S&P 500 materials index <.splrcma> was down 0.6 percent while the S&P energy index <.spny> was down 0.5 percent. Housing stocks also declined, with a housing sector index <.hgx> off 1.4 percent.


Despite the day's decline and weakness earlier this week, the stock market has been in an almost uninterrupted up trend for most of the year, with the S&P 500 up 5.8 percent so far for 2013.


Many analysts say some weakness at this point is no surprise.


"Given the amount the market moved in January, having a little bit of a pullback and some consolidation where the market goes sideways for a little while, we think would be a healthy sign," said Eric Marshall, director of research at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas.


Top U.S. retailers reported strong January sales after offering compelling merchandise that drew in shoppers facing a hit to their take-home pay from higher payroll taxes.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 42.47 points, or 0.30 percent, at 13,944.05. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was down 2.73 points, or 0.18 percent, at 1,509.39. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 3.34 points, or 0.11 percent, at 3,165.13.


Shares of Apple helped to limit losses on the Nasdaq, the stock ending up 3 percent at $468.22. Fund manager David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital said it has sued Apple Inc and said the company needs to do more to unlock value for shareholders.


Though the earnings season is winding down, results continue to boost growth estimates for the fourth quarter. According to Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning, of 317 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 69 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies rose 5 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


Akamai Technologies Inc lost 15.2 percent to $35.26 as the worst percentage performer on the S&P 500 after the Internet content delivery company forecast current-quarter revenue below analysts' expectations.


Among retailers, Macy's Inc rose 2 percent to $40.27 after reporting January same store sales rose 11.7 percent.


But Ann Inc dropped 8 percent to $30.20 after forecasting fourth-quarter sales below analysts' expectations.


Economic data was mixed. Initial jobless claims dipped last week, with the four-week moving average falling to its lowest level since March 2008, signaling the economy continues to recover slowly.


A separate report said fourth-quarter productivity registered its biggest drop in nearly two years, while unit labor costs jumped 4.5 percent, more than economists expected.


Roughly 6.6 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.


Decliners outpaced advancers on the NYSE by nearly 4 to 3 and on the Nasdaq by about 5 to 3.


(Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Kenneth Barry and Nick Zieminski)



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No. 16 UNC women beat BC for Hatchell's 900th win


BOSTON (AP) — North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell earned her 900th career victory when the No. 16 Tar Heels beat Boston College 80-52 on Thursday night.


Xylina McDaniel had 15 points and seven rebounds for North Carolina (21-3, 9-2 Atlantic Coast Conference). The Tar Heels lost to No. 5 Duke on Sunday — their first home loss of the season — spoiling Hatchell's first chance to become the third women's coach in NCAA history to reach the milestone.


Hatchell joins Pat Summitt and Jody Conradt in the women's 900-win club. Hatchell is tops among active coaches, with Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer two wins behind.


Only three men's coaches have reached the 900-win mark — Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Bob Knight.


Nicole Boudreau scored 16 points and Kristen Doherty added 13 with seven rebounds for Boston College (9-13, 3-8), which has lost six of its last seven games.


BC stayed close for about eight minutes before the Tar Heels went on a 15-2 run to turn a two-point lead into a double-digit advantage.


As the Tar Heels reserves dribbled out the last 10 seconds, Hatchell's assistant leaned over to give her a peck on the cheek and the referee leaned over toward the bench to say something. A handful of Carolina blue-clad fans in the sparse crowd stood to cheer when the public address announcer recognized the milestone.


Hatchell, 60, is 900-317 in 38 seasons, including a 628-237 record and the 1994 NCAA championship in 27 years at North Carolina. She was 272-80 in 11 seasons at Francis Marion.


Tierra Ruffin-Pratt scored 14 with six rebounds and six assists and Krista Gross had 12 points and eight rebounds for Carolina, which beat Boston College 77-46 last year but needed a last-second tip-in to beat BC the last time the teams met in Chestnut Hill, in 2011.


The Tar Heels led by as many as 17 points late in the first half, then used a 15-4 run early in the second to open a 27-point lead. They scored seven in a row to make it a 64-32 game with about 11 minutes left.


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Facts? Shmacts. It's only a movie






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Gene Seymour: "Lincoln" error on emancipation vote shines light on how films tell history

  • He says Oscar chances for "Argo," "Zero Dark Thirty" may be hurt after facts questioned

  • He says films have long gotten history wrong but are useful in showing society's perceptions

  • Seymour: It's art, not history, sometimes a vision, something we wish had been or could be




Editor's note: Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post.


(CNN) -- Everyone's a critic; I get that. But does everyone have to be a historian, too?


What audiences perceive as their inalienable right to challenge the accuracy and authenticity of movies seems to get much more exercised before the Academy Awards than at any other time of the year.


The latest challenge came Tuesday from Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut, who said Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" misrepresented the way his predecessors in the 1865 House of Representatives voted on the 13th Amendment banning slavery. Courtney looked it up online and found in his research that all four Connecticut representatives voted for the amendment -- the movie shows two voting against. So in a letter to Spielberg's DreamWorks production office in Los Angeles, he asked DreamWorks for some form of correction. (DreamWorks hasn't been heard from yet.)



Gene Seymour

Gene Seymour



The film, considered a favorite for a best picture Oscar, places the back-and-forth struggle over the amendment in the forefront of its depiction of the 16th president, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. Courtney, unlike most others who have complained about big-time Oscar contenders, isn't out to ruin anybody's chances. He says he likes everything else about the movie. He merely wants props restored to his home state. And he seems to have a good case.


But you can bet your annual subscription to US Weekly magazine that the chatterboxes who gossip about and/or handicap the Academy Awards are going to try using his complaint as further indication of "Lincoln's" slipping stature as a best picture shoo-in. Some of these pundits claim "Argo" is charging hard from behind since its unexpected wins at both the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.


And yet "Argo" has truthiness issues of its own. Director-star Ben Affleck even admitted before the movie's release last fall that his movie about the 1979 CIA rescue of State Department employees from Iran stretched certain details for dramatic effect. (Spoiler alert!) There was, for instance, no last-minute car chase on a Tehran tarmac as Americans tried to escape on a plane, and their check-in at the terminal wasn't in real life nearly the white-knuckle sequence of events you see in the film.








Others have said the movie misrepresents the Iranian people as completely unified in their support of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy. "Thirty-three million Iranians ... did not commit acts of murder and terrorism," Iranian commentator Kambiz Atabai wrote on The Daily Beast. "Thirty-three million Iranians did not chant 'Death to America!' or take Americans hostage."


But neither "Lincoln" nor "Argo" has reaped the whirlwind of criticism of Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" for its depiction of events leading up to the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden. Even before its limited release in December, the movie couldn't be discussed without referring to those accusing the movie of glorifying waterboarding of suspected terrorists or, at best, misleading audiences into believing that such so-called "enhanced interrogation" played a key role in guiding the United States to bin Laden.


Whatever critics or defenders say, the dispute alone is enough to make academy voters skittish about rewarding something that causes so much trouble.



You have to wonder: What is the big deal?


None of these films are documentaries and thus do not have the same obligations to fact. Yet one could argue that taking too many liberties with real life (whatever that means) could distort for generations the true story; that, indeed, what is enhanced for dramatic purposes becomes what everyone believes is what actually happened.


It's not so cut and dried. Consider D.W. Griffith's 1915 "The Birth of a Nation," regarded as the first great American film epic, whose glorification of the Ku Klux Klan makes contemporary audiences uneasy at best, infuriated at worst. Despite protests by the NAACP and other civil rights organizations, audiences generally agreed with President Woodrow Wilson's purported assessment of the movie: "It's like history written with lightning."


But society can change perception of art over time to the point of neutralizing, even transfiguring its original intent. No one now mistakes Griffith's movie as anything close to historic fact, but it could still be seen as a representation of a racist viewpoint that once held sway over much of America


Then there is John Ford, the great American director of such classic westerns as "Stagecoach" (1939), "The Searchers" (1956) and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962). It was in the latter movie that Ford's aesthetic credo was put forth by a minor character, a journalist who discovers that the career-making triumph of a U.S. senator over an outlaw didn't happen as originally believed. The journalist chooses to keep things status quo. "This is the West, sir," he explains. "When legend becomes fact, print the legend." He might have added: "Because it makes a better story."


Or consider "My Darling Clementine," Ford's 1946 version of the Wyatt Earp saga. As the movie opens, the Earp brothers are herding cattle to Tombstone, Arizona, in 1882 when the youngest brother James is shot dead (in the back, of course) by the rustling Clanton family.


Three things, right off the bat are wrong: James was the eldest of the Earps, not the youngest, the Earp brothers never had any cattle either heading toward or ensconced within Tombstone's city limits and, though James' death is depicted as the spark that eventually led to the Earps' confrontation with the Clantons at the OK Corral, that famous gunfight actually occurred in 1881 -- if you're scoring, that's one year earlier. And the inaccuracies only begin there.


And yet the movie endures as one of Ford's best even after four movies about the same legend have been made, each claiming to be more faithful to historic fact than "Clementine." But "My Darling Clementine," a dream about a past that didn't exist, endures in collective memory. It may not be factual, but it's true to something; a vision, a state of mind, an aspiration to something we wish had been, or could be.


The most recent film about the legend, Lawrence Kasdan's "Wyatt Earp" (1994), is so faithful that you can barely remember anything about it.


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gene Seymour.






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Attorney: Poisoned lottery winner changed finances to benefit wife









Weeks before he died mysteriously from cyanide poisoning after winning a $1 million lottery jackpot, a North Side businessman inked a deal with his business partner to ensure that his share of several dry cleaning stores went to his wife in the event of his death.

The unusual agreement is sure to fuel the fight among heirs of Urooj Khan over his estate, once estimated at about $2 million.

The agreement means that Khan’s widow, Shabana Ansari, owns half of the dry cleaning business and its real estate, instead of those assets being divided among heirs in probate court, according to Ansari’s lawyer, Al-Haroon Husain.

Those business assets are worth more than $1 million, leaving only about $680,000 – including the $425,000 in lottery winnings -- to be split among Khan’s heirs, Husain contends.

“It’s a bit unusual,” Husain said of the agreement following a hearing Thursday in the Daley Center courthouse. “I just think he wanted to make sure his wife had a business and had attachment to the commercial property if something happened to him.”

Khan and his partner, Shakir Mohammed, a childhood friend from their native India, signed the agreement early last May, according to court documents. Khan, 46, won the lottery prize later in May and died suddenly in mid-July before he collected the check.

Husain said he didn’t believe Khan “thought he’d be passing away so soon thereafter.”

In addition to the business agreement, Khan had signed a real estate contract with his wife that entitles her to sole ownership of their Rogers Park home, which is valued at almost half a million dollars, Husain said.

Based on those changes, Husain filed amended papers Thursday in court, drastically lowering the value of Khan’s estate to the $680,000 figure, down from about $2 million a few weeks ago.

Khan's family has been fighting in probate court over his estate since his unexpected death at 46. His brother, Imtiaz, raised concerns that since Khan left no will, his 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage would not get "her fair share" of the inheritance. Khan and Ansari did not have children together.

As the Tribune first revealed last month, the Cook County medical examiner's office initially ruled that Khan died from hardening of the arteries after no signs of trauma were found on his body and a preliminary blood test did not raise any questions.

But the investigation was reopened about a week later after a relative raised concerns that Khan may have been poisoned.
 
Chicago police became involved in September after further testing found cyanide in Khan's blood. By late November, more comprehensive testing showed lethal levels of the toxic chemical, leading the medical examiner's office to declare his death a homicide.
 
Last month authorities exhumed Khan's body in order to perform an autopsy and gather additional evidence for the homicide investigation. No results have been made public yet.
 
While a motive for Khan’s homicide has not been determined, police have not ruled out that he was killed because of his lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune.

Ansari has been questioned by Chicago police detectives in her husband’s death, but she has denied any wrongdoing.

jmeisner@tribune.com
jgorner@tribune.com



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Iran's Khamenei rebuffs U.S. offer of direct talks


DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's highest authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Thursday slapped down an offer of direct talks made by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden last week, saying they would not solve the problem between them.


"Some naive people like the idea of negotiating with America, however, negotiations will not solve the problem," Khamenei said in a speech to officials and members of Iran's air force carried on his official website.


"If some people want American rule to be established again in Iran, the nation will rise up to face them," he said.


"American policy in the Middle East has been destroyed and Americans now need to play a new card. That card is dragging Iran into negotiations."


Khamenei made his comments just days after Biden said the United States was prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership. "That offer stands but it must be real and tangible," Biden said in Munich on Saturday.


With traditional fiery rhetoric, Khamenei lambasted Biden's offer, saying that since the 1979 revolution the United States had gravely insulted Iran and continued to do so with its threat of military action.


"You take up arms against the nation of Iran and say: 'negotiate or we fire'. But you should know that pressure and negotiations are not compatible and our nation will not be intimidated by these actions," he added.


Relations between Iran and the United States were severed after the overthrow of Iran's pro-Western monarchy in 1979 and diplomatic meetings between officials have since been very rare.


ALL OPTIONS STILL 'ON THE TABLE'


Currently U.S.-Iran contact is limited to talks between Tehran and a so-called P5+1 group of powers on Iran's disputed nuclear program which are to resume on February 26 in Kazakhstan.


In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland brushed off Khamenei's remarks and urged Iran to show up in Almaty "prepared to discuss real substance" either in a group setting or in bilateral talks.


"As the Iranians well know, the ball is in the Iranians' own court," she told reporters.


"We've always said that action on the Iranian side would be matched by action on our side, so it's really up to Iran to engage if it wants to see sanctions eased," said Nuland, adding that failure to address the nuclear concerns would bring more pressure on Tehran.


Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said he was skeptical the negotiations in Almaty could yield a result, telling Israel Radio that the United States needed to demonstrate to Iran that "all options were still on the table".


Israel, widely recognized to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East, has warned it could mount a pre-emptive strike on Iranian atomic sites. Israel says the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran threatens its existence, given Tehran's refusal to recognize the Jewish state.


"The final option, this is the phrasing we have used, should remain in place and be serious," said Meridor.


"The fact that the Iranians have not yet come down from the path they are on means that talks ... are liable to bring about only a stalling for time," he said.


Iran maintains its nuclear program is entirely peaceful but Western powers are concerned it is intent on developing a weapons program.


Many believe a deal on settling the nuclear issue is impossible without a U.S.-Iranian thaw. But any rapprochement would require direct talks addressing many sources of mutual mistrust that have lingered since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent U.S. embassy hostage crisis in Tehran.


Moreover, although his November re-election may give President Barack Obama a freer hand to pursue direct negotiations, analysts say Iran's own presidential election in June may prove an additional obstacle to progress being made.


(Additional reporting by Dan Williams, and Paul Eckert in Washington; Editing by William Maclean, Jon Boyle and Mohammad Zargham)



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Wall Street ends flat as investors pull back

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks ended mostly flat on Wednesday, taking another pause in the recent rally that has driven the S&P 500 to five-year highs, as transportation and technology shares lost ground.


Transportation stocks were among the worst performers. Shares of CH Robinson Worldwide fell 9.7 percent to $60.50 and the stock was the biggest percentage loser on the Nasdaq 100 after the freight transport company posted a lower-than-expected adjusted quarterly profit.


Without a strong catalyst, the market could struggle to continue its rally, analysts said. The benchmark S&P 500 index has advanced 6 percent this year, reaching its highest since December 2007, while the Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> has risen above 14,000 recently.


Bank of America-Merrill Lynch analysts see a near-term pullback likely, based on strong equity inflows at the start of the year, said Dan Suzuki, the bank's equity strategist in New York.


"The fact that we've gone since November without seeing one, from a timing perspective, it wouldn't be a surprise to see one now."


With fourth-quarter earnings nearing an end, the market will be losing one of its big supports, said Frank Lesh, a futures analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading LLC in Chicago. "That's one thing that's been holding the market up," he said.


Shares of Time Warner Inc jumped 4.1 percent to $52.01 after reporting higher fourth-quarter profit that beat Wall Street estimates, as growth in its cable networks offset declines in film, TV entertainment and publishing units.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 7.22 points, or 0.05 percent, at 13,986.52. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 0.83 points, or 0.05 percent, at 1,512.12. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 3.10 points, or 0.10 percent, at 3,168.48.


Amazon.com shares, down 1.7 percent at $262.22, led the decline on the Nasdaq.


Also causing some strain on the market, investors have been speculating about leadership changes in Spain and Italy and watching for comments from European leaders, analysts said. European Central Bank policymakers are due to meet Thursday.


The Dow Jones Transportation average <.djt> was down 0.2 percent after hitting another record high on Tuesday. The average is up 10.7 percent for the year so far and has made a series of new highs since mid-January.


According to Thomson Reuters data, of 301 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 68.1 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters. In terms of revenue, 65.8 percent of companies have topped forecasts.


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 4.7 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


Walt Disney Co's stock was up 0.4 percent at $54.52, after the company beat estimates for quarterly adjusted earnings and gave an optimistic outlook for the next few quarters.


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 roughly 17 to 12 and on the Nasdaq by about 13 to 11.


(Editing by Bernadette Baum, Kenneth Barry and Nick Zieminski)



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Signing Day: Ole Miss muscles in on power programs


Alabama. Ohio State. Michigan. Florida. Notre Dame. Mississippi?


Ole Miss muscled in on the powerhouses that usually dominate national signing day, landing some of the most sought-after prospects in the country on college football's annual first-Wednesday-in-February frenzy.


The Rebels, coming off a promising 7-6 season in their first season under coach Hugh Freeze, had the experts swooning by signing three of the bluest chips still on the board and building a well-rounded class otherwise.


"I do think (this class) has the possibility of being a program changer," Freeze said. "But it's all on paper right now.


The day started with defensive end Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville, Ga., rated the No. 1 recruit in the country by just about everyone who ranks them, deciding to join his brother, Denzel, in Oxford, Miss.


"I feel like it's the right place for me," Nkemdiche said after slipping on a red Ole Miss cap. "I feel like they can do special things and they're on the rise. I feel like going to play with my brother, we can do something special."


Nkemdiche originally committed to Clemson last year, then backed off that and narrowed his picks down to LSU, Florida and Mississippi — and the Rebels beat the big boys.


They weren't done. Coaches in the Ole Miss war room were exchanging hugs and high-fives again a couple hours later when Laremy Tunsil, a top-rated offensive tackle from Lake City, Fla., picked the Rebels over Florida State and Georgia.


"Tunsil to Ole Miss I think was the biggest surprise of the whole (recruiting season)," said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247Sports.com.


And, as if the Ole Miss needed more good news, highly touted defensive back Antonio Conner from nearby Batesville, Miss., chose the Rebels over national champion Alabama.


Ole Miss also landed Laquon Treadwell from Crete, Ill., one of the best receiver prospects in the country. He made a verbal commitment to the Rebels back in December, and sealed the deal Wednesday, the first day high school players can sign binding letters of intent.


The end result was a class good enough to even catch the attention of LeBron James.


"Ole Miss ain't messing around today! Big time recruits coming in. SEC is crazy," the NBA MVP posted on his Twitter account.


Crazy good. While the Rebels racked up, it's important to remember they still have plenty of ground to gain on the rest of their conference.


Nick Saban reloaded the Crimson Tide with a class that Rivals.com ranked No. 1 in the country.


SEC powers Florida, LSU and Georgia pulled in typically impressive classes. SEC newcomer Texas A&M cracked the top 10 of several rankings. Even Vanderbilt, coming off a nine-win season, broke into the top 25.


It's the cycle of life in the SEC, which has won seven straight BCS championships. Stock up on signing day and scoop up those crystal footballs at season's end.


___


SLIPPING AWAY FROM USC


Signing day didn't do much to soothe the scars left from a difficult season for Southern California.


NCAA sanctions limited the number of scholarships coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans could hand out this year, and then as signing day approached USC had several players who had given verbal commitments change their minds.


The most notable defection on signing day was five-star defensive back Jalen Ramsey of Brentwood, Tenn., who flipped to Florida State. Defensive end Jason Hatcher from Louisville, Ky., bailed on USC and signed with Kentucky, and defensive end Torrodney Prevot from Houston not only reneged on his USC commitment, but he landed at Pac-12-rival Oregon.


"People expected (Prevot) to flip from USC, but they thought it would be to Texas A&M," Shurburtt said.


USC's class won't be lacking blue chippers. Quarterback Max Browne from Washington is considered the next in a long line of topflight Trojans quarterbacks, and Kenny Bigelow from Maryland is rated among the best defensive linemen in the nation.


Kiffin will be banking on quality to make up for the lack of quantity, but that's a precarious way to play a game as uncertain as recruiting.


____


IF MOMMA'S NOT HAPPY ...


Alex Collins, a top running back prospect out of Plantation, Fla., announced on Monday night that he was going to Arkansas instead of Miami.


It was considered a huge victory for new Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema.


But on Wednesday morning, when it was time to make it official, Collins' letter of intent didn't come spinning through the fax machine in Fayetteville, Ark.


There were some odd reports about Collins' mother not being happy with her son's decision to go so far from home.


College coaches aren't allowed to talk about specific players before they sign, but Bielema did acknowledge during his signing day news conference that Arkansas' class of 22 players could "grow by one."


___


THE BIG TWO


Ohio State and Michigan received two thumbs up from experts on their signing day classes. They all had the Buckeyes and Wolverines around top five in the country.


After that, there was a drop off. Nebraska received solid grades and Penn State, despite NCAA sanctions that limited its class to 17 signees, held up pretty well.


"That's a tribute to the job (Penn State coach) Bill O'Brien and the staff did," Shurburtt said.


But signing day 2013 signaled that Urban Meyer's Buckeyes and Brady Hoke's Wolverines are primed to pull away from most of the Big Ten, and maybe — just maybe — give the league a team or two that can challenge those SEC teams for a national title.


___


BUILT TO LAST


Notre Dame followed up its best season in more than two decades with a recruiting class that coach Brian Kelly hopes can keep the Fighting Irish contending for more national titles.


The class includes a famous name in Torii Hunter Jr., the son of the All-Star outfielder. Hunter Jr. is a top-notch receiver prospect, though he broke his leg during an All-Star game and it could be a while before he's back on the football field.


Linebacker Jaylon Smith from Fort Wayne, Ind., is generally regarded as the jewel of a class that experts have ranked among the best in the country.


"I love agreeing with experts," Kelly said.


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BASEBALL OR FOOTBALL?


Oklahoma hopes it has found the next Sam Bradford in Cody Thomas, a pocket passer from Colleyville, Texas.


One small problem. Thomas is also a big-time baseball player who could draw interest in the major league draft this summer.


"We wouldn't have pursued him if we didn't feel there was a great chance he'd be playing football," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.


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QUOTABLE


South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said recruiting classes "don't always pan out. Of course, they always seem to pan out at Alabama."


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AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., and Associated Press Writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., contributed.


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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap


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Bring drones out of the shadows






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • John Brennan's confirmation hearing is a chance to ask about drone program, author says

  • Sarah Holewinski: Brennan is one of a few officials who knows full story on drones

  • She says senators need to ask about damage drone program does to civilians, U.S. reputation

  • Holewinski: CIA should hand over drone program to Defense Department




Editor's note: Sarah Holewinski is executive director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, which advocates protections for civilians affected by armed conflict. She was a member of the White House AIDS policy team in President Bill Clinton's second term.


(CNN) -- The president's pick for CIA director -- John Brennan -- is one of a handful of U.S. officials who understands America's covert drone campaign inside and out.


Nearly everyone else is in the dark about the whos, wheres and whys of the program, including most members of Congress. But Brennan is also one of the few U.S. officials who's stood in front of a public audience and tried to explain the targeting of terrorists outside recognized battlefields. And while overseeing a massive use of lethal force, Brennan is also known inside the administration as a moderating voice in the fight against terrorism.



Sarah Holewinski

Sarah Holewinski



The fact is, Brennan's personal views are as opaque as the drone campaign itself. He may assume leadership of the CIA and decide a clandestine agency should not conduct what is an obvious military operation (a stance I and many others would fully support); after all, a veteran of the CIA may believe the agency should get back to gritty intelligence gathering.


Or, maybe Brennan believes that when it comes to the fight against al Qaeda, the public and its Congress should trust the executive office to protect the American people by whatever means it sees fit.


One way or the other, this week's Senate confirmation hearings should be an opportunity to bring Brennan's views out of the shadows, along with the basic attributes and justifications of the covert drone campaign. The man, the machine and the policy are inextricably linked.


Bergen: John Brennan, America's drone warrior



U.S. officials have consistently claimed that offering too many details about the covert drone program could threaten national security. Fair enough; some classification for national security is understandable. But the secrecy surrounding covert drone use is unduly excessive and not in keeping with the transparent government President Barack Obama promised.


Since the bulk of Brennan's hearing will be behind closed doors, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has no reason to shy away from asking tough questions about the drone program. It matters that Congress is there to represent the American people. On their behalf, Congress has a duty to ensure the use of lethal force beyond our borders is being considered and carried out responsibly, with due consideration for the harm it may inflict on civilian populations.


Talk Back: Should U.S. be able to kill American terrorist suspects without trial?


Senators might ask a very basic question to Brennan, one that is seldom clearly answered by the administration: "What impact is the drone campaign against al Qaeda and its associates having?"




John Brennan, President Barack Obama's choice for CIA director, has been deeply involved in the U.S. drone program.



This is a fundamental question of accountability any U.S. official involved in setting or carrying out counterterrorism policy should be able to answer. That answer may describe a dwindling kill list, but it must also put forward facts about what impact drones are having on civilians living under them.


U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq learned that the positive or negative impacts of an operation on the local population are an important metric of mission effectiveness. Commanders worked hard to reverse anti-American sentiment caused by a seemingly callous U.S. attitude toward civilian deaths and injuries. In the case of counterterrorism operations, palpable anger toward America would be antithetical to the goal of decreasing the number of terrorists and those who support their cause.


As it stands, it's unclear whether anyone, including Brennan, knows what negative consequences are emerging on the ground because of remote drones.


Rather, claims of low civilian casualties and drone precision capabilities paint a picture of extreme effectiveness in taking out terrorists while sparing civilians. It's true that a drone is precise, meaning it will hit what it is aimed at -- a building, a bunker or a person. But there are valid concerns about whether the target hit is the right one.


Opinion: When are drone killings illegal?


Remote drones likely rely on sources that may be questionable such as video and cell phone intercepts to identify a target. Civilians may be mistakenly targeted as combatants and counted as such because there are no ground troops to conduct a battle damage assessment, interview witnesses or properly identify bodies.


Civilians may also get caught up in so-called "signature strikes" in which operators target individuals based on behavior, not on known identity. This is legally questionable but also has real ramifications for civilians living under drones.


If a civilian in Pakistan doesn't know what behavior makes him a target for U.S. drones, he cannot fully protect himself and his family. If a drone harms his family, even mistakenly, our research shows they won't receive an apology, explanation or any help from the United States. Certainly there will be no love lost for America.


Any deaths and injuries are compounded by psychological trauma, displacement and fear and suspicion among neighbors. One Pakistani told us, "We fear that the drones will strike us again. ... My aged parents are often in a state of fear. We are depressed, anxious and constantly remembering our deceased family members."


Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, recently noted, "What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world. ... (T)he resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."


The drone program needs to come out of the shadows, with explanations about who is a civilian, who is a target, and how drone operators distinguish between the two.


The CIA should get out of the drone operation business, handing it over to the Defense Department, which has a culture of learning lessons, accountability to Congress and a new openness about civilian protection after 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Drone operators should be trained in civilian protection best practices, and any civilian harmed should receive recognition and help for their losses, in accordance with the values American policymakers have espoused about humanity even during times of war.


The Senate may confirm Brennan as head of the CIA. It should also confirm where he stands on government accountability for lethal force and the CIA's role in the remote drone program.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sarah Holewinski.






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