G20 steps back from currency brink, heat off Japan


MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Group of 20 nations declared on Saturday there would be no currency war and deferred plans to set new debt-cutting targets, underlining broad concern about the fragile state of the world economy.


Japan's expansive policies, which have driven down the yen, escaped direct criticism in a statement thrashed out in Moscow by policymakers from the G20, which spans developed and emerging markets and accounts for 90 percent of the world economy.


Analysts said the yen, which has dropped 20 percent as a result of aggressive monetary and fiscal policies to reflate the Japanese economy, may now continue to fall.


"The market will take the G20 statement as an approval for what it has been doing -- selling of the yen," said Neil Mellor, currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon in London. "No censure of Japan means they will be off to the money printing presses."


After late-night talks, finance ministers and central bankers agreed on wording closer than expected to a joint statement issued last Tuesday by the Group of Seven rich nations backing market-determined exchange rates.


A draft communiqué on Friday had steered clear of the G7's call for economic policy not to be targeted at exchange rates. But the final version included a G20 commitment to refrain from competitive devaluations and stated monetary policy would be directed only at price stability and growth.


"The mood quite clearly early on was that we needed desperately to avoid protectionist measures ... that mood permeated quite quickly," Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters, adding that the wording of the G20 statement had been hardened up by the ministers.


As a result, it reflected a substantial, but not complete, endorsement of Tuesday's proclamation by the G7 nations - the United States, Japan, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy.


As with the G7 intervention, Tokyo said it gave it a green light to pursue its policies unchecked.


"I have explained that (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe's administration is doing its utmost to escape from deflation and we have gained a certain understanding," Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters.


"We're confident that if Japan revives its own economy that would certainly affect the world economy as well. We gained understanding on this point."


Flaherty admitted it would be difficult to gauge if domestic policies were aimed at weakening currencies or not.


NO FISCAL TARGETS


The G20 also made a commitment to a credible medium-term fiscal strategy, but stopped short of setting specific goals as most delegations felt any economic recovery was too fragile.


The communiqué said risks to the world economy had receded but growth remained too weak and unemployment too high.


"A sustained effort is required to continue building a stronger economic and monetary union in the euro area and to resolve uncertainties related to the fiscal situation in the United States and Japan, as well as to boost domestic sources of growth in surplus economies," it said.


A debt-cutting pact struck in Toronto in 2010 will expire this year if leaders fail to agree to extend it at a G20 summit of leaders in St Petersburg in September.


The United States says it is on track to meet its Toronto pledge but argues that the pace of future fiscal consolidation must not snuff out demand. Germany and others are pressing for another round of binding debt targets.


"We had a broad consensus in the G20 that we will stick to the commitment to fulfill the Toronto goals," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said. "We do not have any interest in U.S.-bashing ... In St. Petersburg follow-up-goals will be decided."


The G20 put together a huge financial backstop to halt a market meltdown in 2009 but has failed to reach those heights since. At successive meetings, Germany has pressed the United States and others to do more to tackle their debts. Washington in turn has urged Berlin to do more to increase demand.


Backing in the communiqué for the use of domestic monetary policy to support economic recovery reflected the U.S. Federal Reserve's commitment to monetary stimulus through quantitative easing, or QE, to promote recovery and jobs.


QE entails large-scale bond buying -- $85 billion a month in the Fed's case -- that helps economic growth but has also unleashed destabilising capital flows into emerging markets.


A commitment to minimize such "negative spillovers" was an offsetting point in the text that China, fearful of asset bubbles and lost export competitiveness, highlighted.


"Major developed nations (should) pay attention to their monetary policy spillover," Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao was quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying in Moscow.


Russia, this year's chair of the G20, admitted the group had failed to reach agreement on medium-term budget deficit levels and expressed concern about ultra-loose policies that it and other emerging economies say could store up trouble for later.


On currencies, the G20 text reiterated its commitment last November, "to move more rapidly toward mores market-determined exchange rate systems and exchange rate flexibility to reflect underlying fundamentals, and avoid persistent exchange rate misalignments".


It said disorderly exchange rate movements and excess volatility in financial flows could harm economic and financial stability.


(Additional reporting by Gernot Heller, Lesley Wroughton, Maya Dyakina, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Jan Strupczewski, Lidia Kelly, Katya Golubkova, Jason Bush, Anirban Nag and Michael Martina. Writing by Douglas Busvine. Editing by Timothy Heritage/Mike Peacock)



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No. 2 Duke falls to Maryland 83-81


COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Seth Allen broke a tie by making two free throws with 2.8 seconds left, and Maryland stunned No. 2 Duke 83-81 Saturday night to end a six-game skid against its bitter rival.


As the final horn sounded, thousands of fans from the sellout crowd charged onto the court to celebrate the Terrapins' most significant victory of the season. Maryland had lost 12 of 13 against Duke, including a 20-point embarrassment last month.


The Terrapins (18-7, 6-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) did not trail after halftime but never could pull away from the weary Blue Devils, who were playing their third game in a seven-day span.


Duke (22-3, 9-3) trailed by 10 with 3:39 left but pulled even when Rasheed Sulaimon made three foul shots with 16.7 seconds to go. Quinn Cook then fouled Allen as the freshman guard drove through the lane, and Allen made both shots.


After a Duke timeout, Cook's desperation 30-footer bounced off the back rim. Chaos ensued as the fans immediately rushed the court.


Alex Len had 19 points and nine rebounds for Maryland, and Allen scored 16.


Duke had its six-game winning streak end. Seth Curry scored 25 and Cook added 18. But 6-foot-10 center Mason Plumlee (four points, three rebounds) was completely outplayed by the 7-1 Len, who went 6 for 8 from the field and 7 for 8 at the foul line.


Maryland committed a whopping 26 turnovers, eight by Allen. The Terrapins shot an impressive 60 percent from the floor and finished with a 40-20 rebounding advantage.


Maryland played without reserve guard Pe'Shon Howard, who was suspended for violating team rules. Despite being demoted from his starting role last month, Howard still leads the Terrapins in assists.


Maryland led 66-63 before Allen scored on a drive. Dez Wells then stole the ball from Cook and went in for a dunk for a seven-point lead with 5:20 left. After the Blue Devils closed to 71-63, James Padgett made a layup for Maryland and Wells made two foul shots for a 10-point cushion.


The crowd increased its volume with every subsequent basket by the Terrapins, whose previous win over Duke came in March 2010, when Greivis Vasquez celebrated Senior Night with a 20-point performance.


In this one, it was 80-72 before Curry made two straight 3-pointers to bring Duke to 80-78 with just under a minute left. After Wells was called for a charge, Curry had a 15-footer bounce in and out of the basket.


It was that kind of night for the Blue Devils.


This score was 39 all before Allen hit a 3-pointer to spark a 10-2 run that included five points from freshman Shaquille Cleare. It was 53-43 before Curry bagged a 3-pointer, Alex Murphy made a layup and Curry drove the lane following Maryland's third turnover in a 60-second span.


That cut the gap to three points, and seconds after a 3-pointer by Cook got the Blue Devils to 55-53.


After the Terrapins went up by six, they committed turnovers on three straight possessions. That enabled Duke to close to 59-57 on a dunk by Murphy, but four straight free throws by Len gave Maryland a 64-59 advantage with 7:20 remaining.


The first half featured two ties, 10 lead changes and ended with the Terrapins up 35-34.


Maryland offset its 10 turnovers by shooting 56 percent from the floor and outrebounding Duke 17-10. Len had eight points on 4-for-4 shooting and contributed a team-high four rebounds.


Curry hit his first six shots and the Blue Devils had only one turnover over the first 11 minutes. Still Duke trailed 20-19 before Curry made two straight shots and Plumlee scored on an alley-oop dunk.


Curry (14 points) was one of only four Duke players to score before halftime. Josh Hairston had nine and Quinn added seven.


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Pope's resignation 'shows leadership'











By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor


February 16, 2013 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)




















Longest-reigning popes


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Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Pope Benedict stuns world by announcing he will resign

  • Roland Martin says it's a wise decision for a leader to step down when his powers fail

  • He says a mark of a good leader is the care he takes about the institution he is leaving

  • Martin: Too many in power try to hang on after they are no longer capable




Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."


(CNN) -- When Thurgood Marshall retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1991, a reporter asked him what were the medical reasons that contributed to his leaving the bench -- and its lifetime appointment -- after serving for nearly 25 years. He was his usual blunt self.



"What's wrong with me?" Marshall said at the packed news conference. "I'm old. I'm getting old and falling apart."



When the news broke this week that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics because of his concerns about being able to do the job, many began to speculate that there were other reasons for the decision.




Roland Martin

Roland Martin



We have become accustomed to a pope dying in office. That's not a surprise. It has been nearly 600 years since the last pope, Gregory XII, quit in 1415.



Even though the job of pope is a lifetime appointment, frankly, it is selfish of any individual to hold on to the job for dear life, knowing full well they don't have the capacity to do the job.




"Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," according to a statement from Pope Benedict released by the Vatican.



Whether we want to be honest or not, it was sad to watch the decline of Pope John Paul II. He was a vibrant figure when he became pope in 1978, traveling the world and spreading the gospel to anyone who would listen. But toward the end of his life in 2005, he was barely able to move or talk, clearly worn down by significant health challenges.



Any leader who respects the organization they serve should have the common sense to know when it's time to say goodbye. We've seen countless examples of CEOs, pastors, politicians and others hang on and on to a position of power, hurting the very people they were elected or chosen to serve.



It takes considerable courage for anyone to step away from the power bestowed upon them by a position, as well as the trappings that come with it.



I'll leave it to others to try to figure out other reasons behind the resignation. But we should at least acknowledge the value of an ego-less decision that reflects humility and concern about the very institution the pope pledged his life to.



All leaders should be concerned about their institution continuing to grow and thrive once their days are no more. That's why a proper succession plan is vitally important.


Too often we have assessed great leaders by what they did in their positions. But their final legacy really is defined by how they left a place.



Pope Benedict XVI knows full well the Catholic Church cannot grow and prosper if its leader is limited in traveling and attending to his flock. There comes a time when one chapter must end and another begins. He has more days behind him than in front of him. He should enjoy his last years in peace and tranquility, without having to worry about trying to do the work designed for a younger man.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.











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Bob Brenly: 'It was unbelievably tough to leave'

Former Chicago Cubs TV analyst Bob Brenly talks about how he was set to return to the Cubs until a last-minute snag in negotiations.









MESA, Ariz. – Former Chicago Cubs TV analyst Bob Brenly said he was planning to return to the team’s broadcast booth last year until a snag in negotiations led to his new job with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The D’backs quickly signed Brenly to a five-year deal after the Cubs’ deal fell through.  






“It was unbelievably tough to leave,” Brenly said Saturday during a visit to Cubs camp, where his son, Michael is a non-roster invitee. “Long story short, we thought we had a deal done, and actually went out and celebrated with my family and ran up a pretty good tab at Joe’s (Stone Crabs).

“Woke up the next morning and there were some issues with the contract. One thing led to another and that kind of opened up negotiations with the Diamondbacks and it rolled downhill quickly. The Diamondbacks were willing to give me the years and the money that WGN and Comcast (Sports Net) could just not guarantee. Not a bad Plan B.”

The Cubs could not guarantee Brenly more than two years because they plan to open up bidding rights to games next year. The contract with their longtime home, WGN-TV expires after 2014, and the Cubs figure to cash in after the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly reached an agreement with Time Warner Cable on a deal expected to be worth $7 billion to $8 billion over 25 years.

“There were some last-minute technical issues, a lot of financial maneuvering going on with the Tribune Co. and WGN," he said. “And their contract expires after next season with the Cubs. And with the money that’s there for the TV rights now, there was no guarantee who was going to get the contract.

“I certainly understand their position. They certainly did not want to guarantee me a contract when they might not even be carrying the games. It was just one of those things that happen in the game of baseball. It happens in broadcasting. It happens in just about every livelihood. But, like I said, a real good plan B.”

Brenly, who managed the D’backs to then 2001 championship, said he’s no longer thinking about the possibility of getting back in the manager’s seat down the road. He took himself out of consideration for the job that eventually went to Mike Quade in 2011.  

“I think that boat has sailed,” Brenly said. “There’s always a chance that some of the older people in the game may recall what we did back here in ’01 in Arizona, but I’m content. I like my job. Working with Len (Kasper) for eight years was as good as it gets. Going to Wrigley and traveling with the club… I’m breaking in a new partner this year in Steve Berthiaume, who just has a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm for the game.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to get back in the booth. I think the Diamondbacks are going to have a really good team this year, so I’m looking forward to it.”

The Cubs later signed Astros analyst Jim Deshaies to a four-year deal to replace Brenly in the booth.

psullivan@tribune.com

Twitter @PWSullivan



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Bomb kills 64 in Pakistan's Quetta


QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Sixty-four people including school children died on Saturday in a bomb attack carried out by extremists from Pakistan's Sunni Muslim majority, police said.


A spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni group, claimed responsibility for the bomb in Quetta, which caused casualties in the town's main bazaar, a school and a computer center. Police said most of the victims were Shi'ites.


Burned school bags and books were strewn around.


"The explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device fitted to a motorcycle," said Wazir Khan Nasir, deputy inspector general of police in Quetta.


"This is a continuation of terrorism against Shi'ites."


"I saw many bodies of women and children," said an eyewitness at a hospital. "At least a dozen people were burned to death by the blast."


Most Western intelligence agencies have regarded the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda as the gravest threat to nuclear-armed Pakistan, a strategic U.S. ally.


But Pakistani law enforcement officials say Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has become a formidable force.


TENSIONS


Last month the group said it carried out a bombing in Quetta that killed nearly 100 people, one of Pakistan's worst sectarian attacks. Thousands of Shi'ites protested in several cities after that attack.


Pakistani intelligence officials say extremist groups, led by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have escalated their bombings and shootings of Shi'ites to trigger violence that would pave the way for a Sunni theocracy in U.S.-allied Pakistan.


More than 400 Shi'ites were killed in Pakistan last year, many by hitmen or bombs, and the perpetrators are almost never caught. Some hardline Shi'ite groups have hit back by killing Sunni clerics.


The growing sectarian violence has hurt the credibility of the government, which has already faced criticism ahead of elections due in May for its inability to tackle corruption and economic stagnation.


The schism between Sunnis and Shi'ites developed after the Prophet Muhammad died in 632 when his followers could not agree on a successor.


Emotions over the issue are highly potent even today, pushing some countries, including Iraq five years ago, to the brink of civil war.


Pakistan is nowhere near that stage but officials worry that Sunni extremist groups have succeeded in dramatically ratcheting up tensions and provoking revenge attacks in their bid to destabilize the country.


(Reporting by Jibran Ahmed; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Stephen Powell)



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After decent rally, perhaps time for a pause

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks could struggle to extend their seven-week winning streak as the quarterly earnings period draws to a close and the market bumps into strong technical resistance.


Many analysts say the market could spend the next few weeks consolidating gains that have lifted the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 <.spx> by 6.6 percent since the start of the year.


The S&P 500 ended up 0.1 percent for the week, recovering from a late sell-off on Friday after a Bloomberg report about slow February sales at Wal-Mart triggered a slide in the retailer's shares. It was the index's seventh week of gains.


Odds of a pullback are increasing, with the market in slightly overbought territory, said Bruce Zaro, chief technical strategist at Delta Global Asset Management in Boston.


"I do suspect the closing of the earnings season will lead to at least a pause and possibly a pullback," Zaro said. The S&P 500 could shave 3 to 5 percent between now and early April, he said.


Fourth-quarter earnings have mostly beaten expectations. Year-over-year profit growth for S&P 500 companies is now estimated at 5.6 percent, up from a January 1 forecast for 2.9 percent growth, and 70 percent of companies are exceeding analyst profit expectations, above the 62 percent long-term average, according to Thomson Reuters data.


On Thursday, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is due to report results, unofficially closing out the earnings period. Investors will be keen to see its quarterly numbers, especially after the Friday's news report that rattled investors.


The S&P 500 has gained 4.3 percent since Alcoa kicked off the earnings season on January 8.


The approaching March 1 deadline for across-the-board federal budget cuts unless Congress reaches a compromise adds another reason for caution, especially with recent economic data indicating the recovery remains bumpy.


Manufacturing output fell 0.4 percent last month, the Federal Reserve said on Friday, but production in November and December was much stronger than previously thought.


TESTING RESISTANCE


The S&P 500 has been trading near five-year highs, and it notched its highest level since November 2007 this week. But the gains have pushed the benchmark index almost as far as it is likely to go in the near term, with strong resistance hovering around 1,525 and 1,540, one analyst said.


As a result, the index is set to move sideways, said Dave Chojnacki, market technician at Street One Financial in Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania. "We just don't have the volume or the catalyst right now" to go above those levels, he said.


At the same time, other analysts say, the market has not shown significant signs of slowing, including a break below 15- and 30-day moving averages.


Such moves would be needed to show that momentum is slowing or that the market is at risk of a correction, said Todd Salamone, director of research for Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati, Ohio. The S&P 500's 14-day moving average is at 1,511 while the 30-day is at 1,494. The index closed Friday at 1,519.


Recent M&A activity, including news this week of a merger between American Airlines and US Airways Group , helped provide some strength for the market this week and optimism that more deals may be on the way.


In the coming days, the market will focus on minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting, due to be released on Wednesday, which could provide support if they suggest the Fed will remain on its current course of aggressive monetary easing.


The Fed minutes released in January spooked markets a bit when they revealed that some Fed officials thought it would be appropriate to consider ending asset purchases later in 2013. U.S. Treasury yields rose on that news, though market worries about a near-term end to quantitative easing have since faded.


Among other companies expected to report earnings next week are Nordstrom , Hewlett-Packard and Marriott International


(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Leslie Adler)



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Different looks for Heat, Lakers at All-Star break


HOUSTON (AP) — If Kobe Bryant's season seems tough, imagine what Dwyane Wade went through five years ago.


"I came to All-Star weekend one year, I think we had won nine games. Seriously," Wade said Friday. "I was looking for my 10th win at the All-Star game."


Things sure have changed for his Miami Heat.


Back where they first teamed up as All-Stars in 2006, Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh return as NBA champions who will start together for the Eastern Conference on Sunday night.


Now the misery belongs to Bryant, Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers, whose season has been so disappointing that Bryant was asked Friday if the All-Star weekend was a "retreat" for him.


"I don't know if it's a retreat, it's just more of an opportunity to get some rest, regroup, put the first half of the season behind us and move on," he said.


As Wade knows, the All-Star break can be just that — a break — from a forgettable season.


He arrived for the 2008 All-Star game with a 9-43 record after the Heat lost on Valentine's Day to the Chicago Bulls, on their way to a 15-win debacle just two years after they won the NBA title.


"I put all that aside though, and I came and I enjoyed the weekend, and when I went back to Miami, it was like, 'Oh my God, we're back in it,'" Wade said. "But All-Star weekend, you just enjoy being an All-Star. You enjoy being around the guys. You can kind of forget about that a little bit, unless you have the cameras and the microphones in front of you asking you questions about it, but besides that you try to enjoy it."


This time, the Heat celebrated Valentine's Day in Oklahoma City with a 110-100 victory over the Thunder, the team they beat in five games last summer for the title. They have won seven in a row, James is playing arguably the best basketball of his career, and they can relax and reminisce as they return to Houston.


"It's really indescribable," Bosh said, "just to not only win a championship with great guys, be in a great locker room, and just to have fun doing it, but just to be an All-Star every year, play with great teammates, I mean to play in front of a lot people in arenas every night. I don't take those things for granted."


James, Wade and Bosh were in their third NBA seasons when they were chosen for the 2006 game, which turned out like so many Heat games these days. James was voted MVP after scoring 29 points and leading a huge East comeback that was wrapped up when Wade made the go-ahead basket with 16 seconds left.


Think about that: James was already the best player that night, and he was nowhere near the player he is today.


"I'm a better player. At that point in time, I wasn't a complete basketball player. I couldn't shoot as well as I can now, I never posted up back then," James said. "More games, more playoff games, more knowledge. You continue to learn each and every day, it makes you a better player. That's what you want, to become a better player. That's what I want. I want to be the greatest of all-time. I try to do whatever it takes to get me in that position.


"Seven years, I've tried to improve each and every year."


He's gotten to the point now where he ran off an NBA-record six straight games with at least 30 points and 60 percent shooting from the field, and seems to be distancing himself from anyone else that can take the MVP award he won last year for the third time in four years.


"He's doing well," Bosh said in a Texas-sized understatement. "That's the best way to put it."


Bosh was chosen as a starter Friday by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who will lead the East. He replaces Boston guard Rajon Rondo, who pulled out with a torn ACL.


Bryant and Howard are still here, away from a Los Angeles season that's been anything but a Hollywood story.


Considered a title contender after acquiring Howard and Steve Nash in the summer, the Lakers fell to 25-29 after they were blown out Wednesday by the rival Clippers, who opened a 13-game lead over them in the Pacific Division standings.


Smiling as he sat with his daughter, Natalia, Bryant laughed that he wished the All-Star break was a chance for the Lakers to "hit the reset button" on what he's said has been a most difficult season.


"Hopefully there's an easy button like in the commercial when we come back in the second half of the season and things are a little easier for us," he said.


Howard has battled injuries to his back and shoulder and has been nothing like the player who has been the NBA's dominant big man in recent years. He said at times he hasn't been having fun and has tried to ignore all the bad news around the team.


"You just try to stay away from the tube and do as much as I can to rehab my back and my shoulder and my mind, and really just get away from everything when I'm not playing basketball," he said.


If he's looking for a chance to enjoy himself this season, it may get no better than the next few days.


"It's a great weekend, it's an unbelievable weekend for the fans to be able to put all their favorite players together in one venue," James said. "We have a great time with it."


___


Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney


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How Carnival can clean up PR mess






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • David Bartlett: For Carnival, impact of 'cruise from hell' potentially devastating.

  • Passenger video, media puts Carnival increasingly on the defensive, he says

  • He says it must show real concern, lay out plan, go a long way to make amends

  • Don't try to justify or explain, he says, but get proactive now about fixing problem




Editor's note: David Bartlett is a senior vice president of Levick, a crisis and issues management and strategic communications firm based in Washington. He is the author of "Making Your Point" (St. Martin's Press), a guide to communication strategy and tactics.


(CNN) -- As three tugboats towed the disabled Carnival cruise ship Triumph back to port in Mobile, Alabama, things went from bad to worse.


The fire that caused the ship to lose power and drift aimlessly on rough Gulf of Mexico swells was just the beginning. Raw sewage seeped into corridors and cabin ways. Food had to be rationed. There were fears of looting. Not surprisingly, passengers were furious and emotional. Some were reported to be "acting like savages."


For Carnival and the rest of the cruise line industry, the implications are potentially devastating. The deadly capsizing in January 2012 of the Costa Concordia ship off the coast of Italy still lingers in the public's mind. About a month later, the Costa Allegra liner suffered a similar engine fire, lost power, and was set adrift in pirate-infested waters in the Indian Ocean. Carnival owns Costa Cruises, and now a third high-profile crisis for Carnival in just over a year threatens to cement the perception among vacationers that cruising might not be worth the risk.


Five things we've learned about cruises



David Bartlett

David Bartlett




In the age of social and digital media, the problems faced by cruise lines are compounded. Using mobile phones, passengers aboard the Triumph have been providing concerned family members with constant updates. Those enraged family members have immediately passed the horror stories along to the eager media. The public is getting the full play-by-play in virtual real time, leaving Carnival playing catchup from an increasingly defensive posture.


But as bad as the potential damage to Carnival's image may be, the company, as well as the rest of the cruise line industry, has an opportunity to blunt the impact, if it acts quickly and wisely.


It seems counterintuitive, but while the gruesome stories of the "cruise from hell" are still fresh, the crisis offers an opportunity for the cruise line to make a compelling statement about the industry's commitment to its passengers. (Statements from Carnival.)


Crisis management experts know that customers and the general public are more likely to judge an organization by how it handles a problem than how it got into the problem in the first place. That means Carnival has to go much further than mere reimbursements and vouchers for onward travel.


The challenge to Carnival's reputation is three-fold.


First the company must articulate real concern for passengers and clearly communicate what it is doing to make things right for customers. This will require financial sacrifices, of course. But Carnival has little choice but to pay now and win some badly needed goodwill -- or pay later in the courtroom, in the court of public opinion, and, of course, at the cash register when bookings decline.


Second, the company must clearly communicate what it is doing to fix the problem and prevent anything like it from ever happening again. How did an engine fire, serious as that might be, so quickly develop into a disaster of this magnitude?


My celebration trip on the Carnival Triumph: From joy to misery


How could it have been allowed to happen? Why was the widely reported chaos and disorder allowed to develop? Why did Carnival not have emergency response plans in place? What is the industry doing to prepare for what would seem to be a manageable situation? The public will demand answers to these basic questions before it will begin to trust again. Uncertainty breathes life into a crisis. Accurate and timely information smothers it.




Third, Carnival must aggressively and clearly deliver these messages now, and for as long as it takes to restore the public's trust.


So far, the story has been about the unthinkable conditions the passengers have been forced to endure. Carnival must move aggressively to reshape that narrative to reflect all that it is doing to rectify the situation.


After a bad cruise, can you cruise into court?


Carnival has to resist the temptation to explain, minimize, or justify what happened and position itself instead as part of the solution to the problems that caused the disaster. That is what the public will focus on and remember, but only if Carnival is able to communicate it fast and effectively.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions in this commentary are solely those of David Bartlett.






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Lawyers: Jackson Jr., wife intend to plead guilty to charges









Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi intend to plead guilty to federal charges alleging the former congressman misused $750,000 in campaign funds while she understated their income on  tax returns for six years, their lawyers say.

Jackson Jr., 47, a Democrat from Chicago, was charged in a criminal information today with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements. He faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties.


Sandi Jackson was charged with one count of filing false tax returns. She faces up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties.


Jackson Jr. is accused of diverting $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use.








Federal authorities allege that Jackson Jr. used campaign funds to purchase a $43,350 men’s gold-plated Rolex watch, $5,150 worth of fur capes and parkas, and $9,588 in children’s furniture. The purchases were made between 2007 and 2009, according to the criminal information, which authorities noted is not evidence of guilt.


Other expenditures listed by prosecutors include $10,105 on Bruce Lee memorabilia, $11,130 on Martin Luther King memorabilia and $22,700 on Michael Jackson items, including $4,600 for a "Michael Jackson fedora."


The government also alleged that Jackson Jr. made false statements to the House of Representatives because he did not report approximately $28,500 in loans and gifts he received.


"He has accepted responsibility for his actions and I can confirm that he intends to plead guilty to the charge in the information," Jackson Jr.'s attorney Brian Heberlig said.


Sandi Jackson is accused of filing incorrect joint tax returns with her husband for calendar years 2006 through 2011, reporting income “substantially less than the amount of income she and her husband received in each of the calendar years,” with a substantial additional tax due.


Her attorneys released a statement saying she has "reached an agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office to plead guilty to one count of tax fraud."


Jackson Jr. stepped down from the House of Representatives on Nov. 21, citing both his poor health and an ongoing federal probe of his activities. In a statement then, he said he was doing his best to cooperate with federal investigators and to accept responsibility for his “mistakes.”

In a statement today, Jackson Jr. said:

“Over the course of my life I have come to realize that none of us are immune from our share of shortcomings and human frailties. Still I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made. To that end I want to offer my sincerest apologies to my family, my friends and all of my supporters for my errors in judgment and while my journey is not yet complete, it is my hope that I am remembered for the things that I did right.”


Sandi Jackson's attorneys released a statement saying she "has accepted responsibility for her conduct, is deeply sorry for her actions, and looks forward to putting this matter behind her and her family. She is thankful for the support of her family and friends during this very difficult time."


Jackson's father, the Rev.  Jesse Jackson Sr., said he wanted to attend President Barack Obama's speech Friday at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago but traveled to Washington, D.C., instead, to be with family members while they waited for the federal charges to come down.
 
"This has been a difficult and painful ordeal for our family," the civil rights leader said.
 
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he would "leave it up to the courts system" to determine his son's fate.

"We express our love for him as a family," he said.


Jackson Jr.’s political fortunes sank beginning late in 2008, when he sought unsuccessfully to have Gov. Rod Blagojevich appoint him to the Senate seat that came open with the election of then-Sen. Barack Obama to the White House.

Jackson Jr. or an emissary reportedly offered to raise up to $6 million in campaign cash for Blagojevich, who now is in federal prison for crimes including trying to sell the Senate seat. Jackson Jr. was never charged in the case, which became the subject of an ethics probe in the House.

Last June, Jackson Jr. began a mysterious leave of absence for what originally was called “exhaustion” but later emerged as bipolar disorder. He spent months in treatment and won re-election Nov. 6 despite never returning to service in the House or staging a single campaign appearance.

A campaign to replace him is being conducted now in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of the South Side and south suburbs.

Jackson Jr. was first elected to Congress in 1995. Sandi Jackson was a Chicago alderman until she resigned her post last month. They have two children.

Sandi Jackson’s firm, J. Donatella & Associates, has been paid at least $452,500 from her husband’s campaign committee since 2002, Federal Election Commission reports show.

The former congressman’s campaign committee reported $105,703 in cash on hand on last Nov. 26, FEC reports show. Leading up to the last election, it reported $1 million in contributions and $1.06 million in operating expenditures, reports show.

Once considered a potential candidate for mayor of Chicago, Jesse Jackson Jr.’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years because of the Blagojevich scandal and also because of news reports in 2010 that a suburban Chicago businessman told federal investigators he twice paid to fly a woman — a hostess from a Washington, D.C. bar — to Chicago at Jackson’s request.


In the wake of the reports, Jackson Jr. issued a statement calling the woman a “social acquaintance” and describing the matter as a  “private and personal matter between me and my wife that was handled some time ago.”

Jackson Jr. subsequently told the Tribune editorial board he had apologized to "my absolute best friend, my wife."

Still, he also acknowledged he asked longtime supporter Raghuveer Nayak to pay to fly the woman from Washington to Chicago. House ethics rules prohibit members from soliciting gifts of personal benefit. Jackson said Nayak’s purchase was "a friendly gesture" by "a close and dear friend of mine, one who knows members of my family, has worked with members of my family, has been a friend of our family's for a number of years."

The woman's travel was "not a personal benefit to me, I don’t believe, under the House rules. A benefit to the person for whom he bought the ticket. He didn't buy tickets for me. Did I direct him? I did."

Tribune reporters Kim Geiger, Rick Pearson and Patrick Svitek contributed.

kskiba@tribune.com





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Exclusive: North Korea tells China of preparations for fresh nuclear test - source


BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea has told its key ally, China, that it is prepared to stage one or even two more nuclear tests this year in an effort to force the United States into diplomatic talks, said a source with direct knowledge of the message.


Further tests could also be accompanied this year by another rocket launch, said the source, who has direct access to the top levels of government in both Beijing and Pyongyang.


North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday, drawing global condemnation and a stern warning from the United States that it was a threat and a provocation.


"It's all ready. A fourth and fifth nuclear test and a rocket launch could be conducted soon, possibly this year," the source said, adding that the fourth nuclear test would be much larger than the third, at an equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT.


The tests will be undertaken, the source said, unless Washington holds talks with North Korea and abandons its policy of what Pyongyang sees as attempts at regime change.


North Korea also reiterated its long-standing desire for the United States to sign a final peace agreement with it and establish diplomatic relations, he said. North Korea remains technically at war with both the United States and South Korea after the Korean war ended in 1953 with a truce.


In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged North Korea to "refrain from additional provocative actions that would violate its international obligations" under three different sets of U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit nuclear and missile tests.


North Korea "is not going to achieve anything in terms of the health, welfare, safety, future of its own people by these kinds of continued provocative actions. It's just going to lead to more isolation," Nuland told reporters.


The Pentagon also weighed in, calling North Korea's missile and nuclear programs "a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security."


"The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region," said Pentagon spokeswoman Major Catherine Wilkinson.


Initial estimates of this week's test from South Korea's military put its yield at the equivalent of 6-7 kilotons, although a final assessment of yield and what material was used in the explosion may be weeks away.


North Korea's latest test, its third since 2006, prompted warnings from Washington and others that more sanctions would be imposed on the isolated state. The U.N. Security Council has only just tightened sanctions on Pyongyang after it launched a long-range rocket in December.


Pyongyang is banned under U.N. sanctions from developing missile or nuclear technology after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.


North Korea worked to ready its nuclear test site, about 100 km (60 miles) from its border with China, throughout last year, according to commercially available satellite imagery. The images show that it may have already prepared for at least one more test, beyond Tuesday's subterranean explosion.


"Based on satellite imagery that showed there were the same activities in two tunnels, they have one tunnel left after the latest test," said Kune Y. Suh, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University in South Korea.


Analysis of satellite imagery released on Friday by specialist North Korea website 38North showed activity at a rocket site that appeared to indicate it was being prepared for a launch (http://38north.org/2013/02/tonghae021413/).


NORTH 'NOT AFRAID' OF SANCTIONS


President Barack Obama pledged after this week's nuclear test "to lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats" and diplomats at the U.N. Security Council have already started discussing potential new sanctions.


North Korea has said the test was a reaction to "U.S. hostility" following its December rocket launch. Critics say the rocket launch was aimed at developing technology for an intercontinental ballistic missile.


"(North) Korea is not afraid of (further) sanctions," the source said. "It is confident agricultural and economic reforms will boost grain harvests this year, reducing its food reliance on China."


North Korea's isolated and small economy has few links with the outside world apart from China, its major trading partner and sole influential diplomatic ally.


China signed up for international sanctions against North Korea after the 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests and for a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in January to condemn the latest rocket launch. However, Beijing has stopped short of abandoning all support for Pyongyang.


Sanctions have so far not discouraged North Korea from pursuing its nuclear ambitions.


"It is like watching the same movie over and over again," said Lee Woo-young, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies. "The idea that stronger sanctions make North Korea stop developing nuclear programs isn't effective in my view."


The source with ties to Beijing and Pyongyang said China would again support U.N. sanctions. He declined to comment on what level of sanctions Beijing would be willing to endorse.


"When China supported U.N. sanctions ... (North) Korea angrily called China a puppet of the United States," he said. "There will be new sanctions which will be harsh. China is likely to agree to it," he said, without elaborating.


He said however that Beijing would not cut food and fuel supplies to North Korea, a measure it reportedly took after a previous nuclear test.


He said North Korea's actions were a distraction for China's leadership, which was concerned that the escalations could inflame public opinion in China and hasten military build-ups in the region.


The source said he saw little room for compromise under North Korea's youthful new leader, Kim Jong-un. The third Kim to rule North Korea is just 30 years old and took over from his father in December 2011.


He appears to have followed his father, Kim Jong-il, in the "military first" strategy that has pushed North Korea ever closer to a workable nuclear missile at the expense of economic development.


"He is much tougher than his father," the source said.


(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Phillip Stewart in WASHINGTON; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, David Brunnstrom and Jackie Frank)



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Wall Street ends slightly higher, helped by acquisitions

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The S&P 500 eked out a small gain for a third straight session on Thursday, helped by a flurry of merger activity, though investors see no catalysts to lift the market further with major averages near multi-year highs.


The market's slowed advance took the S&P 500 to its highest intraday level since November 2007 on Wednesday. While the index notched its third straight day of gains, none was more than 0.2 percent.


Shares of H.J. Heinz Co jumped 20 percent to $72.50 after it said Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital will buy the food company for $72.50 a share, or $28 billion including debt. Berkshire's class B shares rose 1.3 percent to $99.21.


Also supporting the market was data showing the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected in the latest week. The CBOE Volatility index <.vix> fell 2.4 percent, dropping to 12.67.


"While I'm not bearish, I don't see many upside motivations at these levels," said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York, who cited the low level of the VIX as a sign the market was overbought.


Equities have struggled to break above current levels where they have been hovering for almost two weeks. The S&P 500 is up more than 6 percent so far this year.


"We need to digest some of our gains to go higher, but people are so eager to buy on the dips that we're not even seeing dips anymore. People are just chasing the market higher," said Selkin, who helps oversee about $3 billion in assets.


Stocks fell earlier after a report the euro zone's gross domestic product contracted by the steepest amount since the first quarter of 2009. In addition, Japan's GDP shrank 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, crushing expectations of a modest return to growth.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 9.52 points, or 0.07 percent, at 13,973.39. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 1.05 points, or 0.07 percent, at 1,521.38. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 1.78 points, or 0.06 percent, at 3,198.66.


Constellation Brands soared 37 percent to $43.75 after AB InBev's deal to take over Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo was revised to grant Constellation perpetual rights to distribute Corona and other Modelo brands in the United States. U.S. shares of AB InBev gained 5.1 percent to $92.77.


American Airlines and US Airways Group said they plan to merge in a deal that will form the world's biggest air carrier, with an equity valuation of about $11 billion. US Airways shares fell 4.6 percent to $13.99.


Weakness in Europe contributed to a 5 percent drop in revenue from the region for Cisco Systems , which nonetheless beat estimates as it reported its results late Wednesday. The company's shares dipped 0.7 percent to $20.99.


General Motors Co reported a weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, also citing bigger losses in Europe alongside lower prices in its core North American market. The stock was off 3.3 percent to $27.73.


Only five more stocks rose than fell on the New York Stock Exchange, while 51 percent of Nasdaq-listed shares closed higher.


Volume was light, with about 6.36 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares.


(Editing by Nick Zieminski and Kenneth Barry)



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Amputee Olympic star Pistorius charged in slaying


PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter dubbed the Blade Runner, was charged Thursday in the Valentine's Day slaying of his girlfriend at his upscale home in South Africa, a shocking twist to one of the feel-good stories of last summer's Olympics.


Pistorius buried his face in the hood of his workout jacket as officers escorted him from a police station after his arrest in the shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp, a 30-year-old model who had spoken out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women.


Police said she was shot four times in the pre-dawn hours at Pistorius' villa in a gated community in the capital, Pretoria. Officers found a 9 mm pistol inside the home and arrested Pistorius on a murder charge.


What sparked the shooting remained unclear, but police said they had received calls in the past about domestic altercations at the home of the 26-year-old athlete, who has spoken publicly about his love of firearms.


A police spokeswoman, Brigadier Denise Beukes, said the incidents included "allegations of a domestic nature."


"I'm not going to elaborate on it, but there have been incidents," Beukes said. She said Pistorius was home at the time of Steenkamp's death and "there is no other suspect involved."


Pistorius made history in the London Games when he became the first double-amputee track athlete to compete in the Olympics. He didn't win a medal but did make the semifinals of the 400 meters and became an international star.


Thursday, companies quickly removed billboards and advertising featuring Pistorius, a national hero in South Africa who also inspired fans worldwide with the image of his high-tech carbon-fiber blades whipping through the air.


Kenny Oldwage, Pistorius' lawyer, told reporters the athlete was "emotional" after his arrest, "but he is keeping up." He said he planned to seek bail for Pistorius at a preliminary hearing Friday.


Pistorius has had troubles in the past in his personal life, which often featured fast cars, cage fighters and women.


In February 2009, he crashed a speedboat on South Africa's Vaal River, breaking his nose, jaw and several ribs and damaging an eye socket. He required 180 stitches to his face. Witnesses said he had been drinking, and officers found alcoholic beverages in the wreckage, though they did not do blood tests.


In November, Pistorius was involved in an altercation over a woman with a local coal mining millionaire, South African media reported. The two men involved the South African Police Service's elite Hawks investigative unit before settling the matter.


Pistorius' father, Henke Pistorius, said Thursday: "We all pray for guidance and strength for Oscar and the lady's parents."


A spokeswoman for Pistorius at Fast Track, an international sports marketing agency in London, said the athlete was assisting with the investigation and there would be no further comment "until matters become clearer."


The sprinter's former coach, Andrea Giannini, said he hoped the shooting was "just a tragic accident."


"No matter how bad the situation was, Oscar always stayed calm and positive," Giannini told The Associated Press in Italy. "Whenever he was tired or nervous, he was still extremely nice to people. I never saw him violent."


Firearms captivated Pistorius, the subject of an online Nike advertisement that featured him with the caption: "I am a bullet in the chamber." In November 2011, he posted a photograph on Twitter of himself at a shooting range, bragging about his score. "Had a 96% headshot over 300m from 50shots! Bam!" he wrote.


Linked to a number of women by the South African media, Pistorius and Steenkamp were first seen together publicly in November. She was named one of the world's 100 Sexiest Women for two years running by the men's magazine FHM.


The leggy blonde with a law degree also appeared in international and South African ads and was a celebrity contestant on "Tropika Island of Treasure," a South African reality show filmed in Jamaica.


While known for her bikini-clad, vamping photo spreads, she tweeted messages urging women to stand up against rape. Her tweets also focused on Pistorius, with one of her last messages noting her excitement over Valentine's Day.


"What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?" she wrote. "It should be a day of love for everyone."


Police have not publicly named Steenkamp as the victim, saying only that a 30-year-old woman was killed. Steenkamp's publicist, however, confirmed in a statement that the model had died.


"Everyone is simply devastated," the publicist, Sarit Tomlinson, said. "She was the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth and will be sorely missed."


Police arrived at Pistorius' home after 3 a.m., and paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive Steenkamp, police spokeswoman Lt. Col. Katlego Mogale said.


Officers later took Pistorius to a hospital so doctors could collect samples for DNA testing and check his blood alcohol content.


Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday because of a congenital condition, and campaigned for years to be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes.


He was initially banned because of his carbon fiber blades — which critics said gave him an unfair advantage — before being cleared by sport's highest court in 2008.


He was a last-minute selection to South Africa's Olympic team, competing in the 400 meters and the 4x400 relay. He later retained his Paralympic title in the 400 meters.


South Africa's Sports Confederation, its Olympic committee and the International Paralympic Committee all had no comment on the shooting.


Shock rippled across South Africa, a nation of 50 million where nearly 50 people are killed each day, one of the world's highest murder rates. U.N. statistics say South Africa also has the second highest rate of shooting deaths in the world, behind only Colombia.


"The question is: Why does this story make the news? Yes, because they are both celebrities, but this is happening on every single day in South Africa," said Adele Kirsten, a member of Gun Free South Africa.


"We have thousands of people killed annually by gun violence in our country. So the anger is about that it is preventable."


___


Gerald Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa. Associated Press writers Michelle Faul and Ed Brown in Johannesburg contributed to this report.


___


Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.


Read More..

How safe are nanoparticles in food?







STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Andy Behar: Some foods contain tiny, engineered particles called nanomaterials

  • Behar: Nanoparticles might pose health risks, since they have adversely affected mice

  • He says not enough studies have adequately demonstrated the safety of nanoparticles

  • Behar: With an emerging technology such as this, companies have to be careful




Editor's note: Andy Behar is the chief executive of As You Sow, a nonprofit organization that promotes corporate accountability.


(CNN) -- Some foods sold in supermarkets across America contain tiny, engineered particles called nanomaterials. Our organization decided to test doughnuts after learning that the titanium dioxide used as a coloring in the powdered sugar coating likely contained nano-sized particles.


The tests, conducted by an independent laboratory, found that both Dunkin' Donuts Powdered Cake Donuts and Hostess Donettes did indeed contain titanium dioxide nanoparticles. In response, a spokeswoman for Dunkin Donuts said the company was looking into the matter.


You must be wondering: What are nanomaterials? They are microscopic in size. "If a nanoparticle were the size of a football, a red blood cell would be the size of the field." Nanoparticles have been heralded as having the potential to revolutionize the food industry -- from enabling the production of creamy liquids that contain no fat, to enhancing flavors, improving supplement delivery, providing brighter colors, keeping food fresh longer, or indicating when it spoils.



Andy Behar

Andy Behar



But there are a few problems.


One is that no one knows how many and which food products have them. Companies are not being forthcoming about whether they are using nanoparticles. To further complicate the issue, some companies may not even be aware that they are selling products containing them.


Many companies are reluctant or uninterested in discussing the issue, and concrete information has been difficult to obtain. The majority of food companies are not responsive in providing information about their specific uses, plans and policies toward nanoparticles. There is also no law in the United States that requires disclosure. In contrast, companies in the European Union are required to label foods containing nanoparticles.


The bigger issue with nanoparticles is that they might pose health risks, as they have been found to in tests on mice.


There are not nearly enough studies that can adequately demonstrate the safety of nanoparticles in food additives or packaging. Scientists are still investigating how the broad range of nanoparticles, with their myriad potential uses, would react in the body.


When ingested, nano-sized particles can pass into the blood and lymph, where they circulate through the body and reach in potentially sensitive sites such as bone marrow, lymph nodes, the spleen, the brain, the liver and the heart.


Our knowledge about how nanomaterial food additives react in the body and their health impact is still in its infancy. While efforts are under way to understand them better, much deeper scientific inquiry should occur before nanoparticles are sold in food and food-related products.


More companies and consumers need to be aware of the use of engineered nanomaterials in foods and the potential unknown risks of this technology. More food products like M&M's and Pop-Tarts should be tested as recent studies have identified them as likely to contain nanomaterials as well.


Fortunately, a few companies have become willing to take a public position on nanoparticles.


McDonald stated that it "does not currently support the use by suppliers of nano-engineered materials in the production of any of our food, packaging, and toys." Similarly, Kraft Foods said that it was not using nanotechnology.


Some of the largest food companies in the world, including YUM! Brands, PepsiCo, and Whole Foods, need to know more about nanomaterials and check with their supplies to see if they are using them.


Americans are becoming increasingly interested in what is in the food they're eating. No longer content with label information on daily allowances of vitamins and minerals, U.S. consumers are following the lead of their counterparts in many other countries by demanding more disclosure about where and how their food is grown and whether it is safe.


Even though communicating risks to consumers can be challenging, the public's perception of safety will be paramount in determining the acceptance of nanomaterials. This is especially true for an emerging food-products technology the safety of which even the FDA has acknowledged a lack of understanding.



Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andy Behar.






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Cruise executive: 'Sorry for what guests had to endure'








MOBILE, Alabama—





Reeking of raw sewage, a crippled cruise ship carrying more than 4,200 people was limping into Mobile, Alabama, on Thursday as passengers awaited the end of a vacation voyage some described as hellish.

The Carnival Triumph was being towed into port by tugboats as the drama played out live on U.S. cable news stations, creating another public relations nightmare for cruise giant Carnival Corp. Last year, its Costa Concordia luxury ship grounded off the coast of Italy, with 32 people killed.


Passengers described an overpowering stench on board the ship four days after an engine room fire knocked out power and plumbing across most of the 893-foot vessel and left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship, which went into service in 1999, was on a four-day cruise and on its way back from a stop in Cozumel, Mexico.

After the mishap, toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking many cabins and interior passages in sewage and turning the vessel into what some have described as a giant Petri dish.

"The thing I'm looking forward to most is having a working toilet and not having to breathe in the smell of fecal matter," said Jacob Combs, an Austin, Texas-based sales executive with a healthcare and hospice company.

Combs, 30, who said he had been traveling with friends and family on the Triumph, had nothing but praise for its crew members, saying they had gone through "hell" cleaning up after some of the passengers on the sea cruise.

"Just imagine the filth," Combs told Reuters. "People were doing crazy things and going to the bathroom in sinks and showers. It was inhuman. The stewards would go in and clean it all up. They were constantly cleaning," he said.

Terry Thornton, a Carnival Cruise Lines senior vice president, told reporters in Mobile that additional provisions were laid in on Wednesday and the ship was now "in excellent shape."

Passenger Donna Gutzman said those aboard the ship were treated to steak and lobster for lunch on Thursday afternoon.

"Our basic needs are being met. For the most part, they are making us happy," Gutzman told CNN.

The ship was expected to arrive in port around midnight CST, Carnival said. A senior Carnival official said it could take up to five hours to remove all the passengers from the ship, which has only one functioning elevator.

Operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, the flagship brand of Carnival Corp, the ship left Galveston, Texas, a week ago carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew. It was supposed to return there on Monday.

A Coast Guard cutter has been escorting the Triumph on its long voyage into port since Monday, and a Coast Guard helicopter ferried about 3,000 pounds of equipment including a generator to the stricken ship late on Wednesday.

Earlier in the week, some passengers reported on the poor conditions on the Triumph when they contacted relatives and media before their cell phone batteries died. They said people were getting sick and passengers had been told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.

'VERY CHALLENGING CIRCUMSTANCES'

Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill said in a statement late on Wednesday that the company had decided to add further payment of $500 a person to help compensate passengers for "very challenging circumstances" aboard the ship.

"We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure," Cahill said.

Mary Poret, who spoke to her 12-year-old daughter aboard the Triumph on Monday, rejected Cahill's apology in comments to CNN on Thursday, as she waited anxiously in Mobile with a friend for the Triumph's arrival.

"Seeing urine and feces sloshing in the halls, sleeping on the floor, nothing to eat, people fighting over food, $500? What's the emotional cost? You can't put money on that," Porte said.

Carnival Corp Chairman and CEO Micky Arison faced criticism in January 2012 for failing to travel to Italy and take personal charge of the Costa Concordia crisis after the luxury cruise shop operated by Carnival's Costa Cruises brand grounded on rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio. The tragedy unleashed numerous lawsuits against his company.

The cruise ship mogul has taken a low-key approach to the Triumph situation as well, even as it grabbed a growing share of the U.S. media spotlight. His only known public appearance since Sunday was courtside on Tuesday at a game played by his Miami Heat championship professional basketball team.

"I think they really are trying to do the right thing, but I don't think they have been able to communicate it effectively," said Marcia Horowitz, an executive who handles crisis management at Rubenstein Associates, a New York-based public relations firm.

"Most of all, you really need a face for Carnival," she added. "You can do all the right things. But unless you communicate it effectively, it will not see the light of day."

Carnival Corp shares closed down $0.11 at $37.35 in trading on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares closed down 4 percent at $37.46 on Wednesday after the company said voyage disruptions and repair costs related to Carnival Triumph could shave up to 10 cents a share off its second-half earnings.

The Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel and the Bahamas Maritime Authority will be the primary agency investigating the cause of its engine room fire.

For all the passengers' grievances, they will likely find it difficult to sue the cruise operator for any damages, legal sources said. Over the years, the cruise industry has put in place a legal structure that ring-fences operators from big-money lawsuits.

Rules for seeking redress are spelled out in complex, multi-page ticket contracts that have been the subject of decades of court battles. Victims are often required to proceed with any litigation in remote jurisdictions.

(Reporting by Tom Brown, Kevin Gray and David Adams; Editing by Peter Cooney)






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Key U.S. general backs keeping Afghan forces at peak strength


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. general nominated to oversee a vast region that includes Afghanistan on Thursday backed keeping Afghan forces at a peak strength of 352,000, contrary to current plans to shrink them after NATO declares the war over next year.


General Lloyd Austin, nominated to lead the U.S. military's Central Command, said at his Senate confirmation hearing that a more robust Afghan force, while more costly, would "hedge against any Taliban mischief" following America's longest war.


"Keeping the larger-size force would certainly reassure the Afghans, it would also reassure our NATO allies that we remain committed," Austin said.


The comments came two days after President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address that 34,000 U.S. troops - roughly half of the current U.S. force in Afghanistan - would be withdrawn by early 2014.


Obama reassured Americans that the costly, unpopular war was coming to an end, but he left unanswered bigger questions about America's exit strategy, including how many U.S. troops would stay in the country beyond 2014 to help train and advise the Afghans and to battle remnants of al Qaeda.


Obama also did not discuss the future size of the Afghan forces, although a White House fact sheet sent out after his address noted they would remain at 352,000 until "at least" early 2015.


Austin warned the Taliban would be waiting to test them.


"You could reasonably expect that an enemy that's been that determined, that agile, will very soon after we transition begin to try to test the Afghan security forces," Austin said.


Under current plans, the United States and its NATO allies will help build up the Afghan armed forces to 352,000 personnel, a number they are approaching, but the size of the force - which the allies will continue to fund - will be trimmed to 230,000 after 2015.


ECHOES OF IRAQ


The hearing frequently moved away from questions about the Afghan war and other current events to questions about Austin's past role as commander in Iraq, when a failure to strike an immunity deal for U.S. troops led to their total withdrawal in 2011.


Obama administration officials have warned that failure to strike an immunity deal with Afghanistan would also result in a pullout, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. officials have expressed confidence a deal can be reached.


Republicans, who have criticized Obama's drawdown strategy in Afghanistan, noted that the president would have left a much smaller force in Iraq than Austin recommended, even if a deal had been struck.


Senator John McCain of Arizona lamented the lack of a U.S. presence in Iraq.


Pressed by Republicans, Austin acknowledged that the situation in Iraq was trending in a "problematic" direction, and agreed that a continued U.S. role would have helped bolster Iraqi forces.


When it came to Afghanistan, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina warned Austin that if Obama sought an insufficient force for the post-2014 mission, he would refuse to vote for funding the war effort.


"It can be as low as 9 or 10,000, that I will stand with them," Graham said.


"If they overrule the commanders and create a force that cannot in my view be successful, I cannot in good conscience vote to continue this operation."


Graham said he would vote for Austin's confirmation once Austin spoke with the former commander of the Afghan mission, General John Allen, about his recommendations to Obama and reported back to the committee about his opinion.


(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by David Brunnstrom)



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Wall Street pauses after rally to five-year high

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks drifted in light volume on Wednesday, ending little changed, as investors remained cautious after the S&P 500 index briefly hit its highest intraday level since November 2007.


The S&P 500 was buoyed by General Electric after cable company Comcast Corp said it will buy from GE the the part of NBCUniversal it didn't already own for $16.7 billion.


Comcast's stock hit the highest since 1999 before closing up 3 percent at $40.13 and GE gained 3.6 percent to $23.39.


The S&P 500 is up 6.6 percent so far this year, partly due to stronger-than-expected corporate earnings and a better economic outlook. The Dow industrials is about 1 percent away from an all-time intraday high, reached in October 2007.


Volume has been weak in recent days with the S&P moving sideways around 1,520. The index is about 3 percent away from closing at a record high.


A scarcity of sellers after a consistent string of gains is a positive sign and shows the uptrend is intact, King Lip, chief investment officer at Baker Avenue Asset Management in San Francisco, said.


"Last year we had double-digit returns in the first quarter. It's fairly possible we can move higher from here," he said.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> fell 35.79 points or 0.26 percent, to 13,982.91, the S&P 500 <.spx> gained 0.9 point or 0.06 percent, to 1,520.33 and the Nasdaq Composite <.ixic> added 10.38 points or 0.33 percent, to 3,196.88.


The S&P gained 12 percent in the first three months of 2012.


Deere & Co , the world's largest farm equipment maker, forecast a modest increase in sales this year despite the prospect of the biggest corn crop in U.S. history. The forecast fell short of analysts' expectations, sending shares of Deere down 3.5 percent to $90.68.


In extended trading, shares of technology bellwether Cisco Systems fell 2 percent after it posted results.


Dr Pepper Snapple fell 5.8 percent to $42.69 after it forecast profit for the current year below analysts' estimates.


Cliffs Natural Resources lost a fifth of its market value a day after the miner reported a quarterly loss and slashed its dividend by 76 percent. Its shares fell 20 percent to 429.29.


According to the latest Thomson Reuters data, of the 364 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 70.3 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.


About 5.9 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average in February last year of 6.94 billion.


On the NYSE, roughly seven issues rose for every five that fell and on Nasdaq more than six rose for every five decliners.


(Editing by Kenneth Barry and Bernadette Baum)



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Barry Bonds seeks dismissal of felony conviction


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A lawyer for Barry Bonds urged a federal appeals court on Wednesday to toss out the slugger's obstruction of justice conviction, saying a rambling answer he gave while testifying before a grand jury was not a crime.


Appellate specialist Dennis Riordan argued that Bonds was not formally or specifically charged with the felony that he was convicted of committing. A federal jury in April 2011 found baseball's all-time home runs leader guilty of obstruction for saying he was a "celebrity child" when asked about injecting steroids.


Prosecutors asked Bonds during his December 2003 grand jury appearance whether Greg Anderson, his personal trainer, ever gave him "anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?"


Bonds referred to his father, former major leaguer Bobby Bonds, when he responded "that's what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that — you know, that — I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don't get into other people's business because of my father's situation, you see ..."


That particular exchange wasn't included in the indictment originally released in November 2007. The omission is "the dagger in the heart of this conviction," Riordan argued.


Further, Riordan said that Bonds ultimately answered the question when put to him again and denied receiving any substance to inject.


Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wondered aloud if Bonds' direct denial undercut the government's argument that Bonds intentionally misled the grand jury.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Merry Jean Chan countered that the denial was a lie because Bonds' former personal assistant, Cathy Hoskins, testified that she witnessed Anderson inject Bonds. Chan said Bonds' denial and his other rambling answers to the same question throughout his grand jury appearance added up to obstruction.


"He answered the question falsely each time," she said.


Bonds and his legal team are asking a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the lone felony conviction stemming from Bonds' 2½ hours of testimony in December 2003 before a grand jury investigating performance enhancing drug use and sales among elite athletes. Bonds, who was rejected by voters last month in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, wasn't required to attend Wednesday's highly technical hearing, though Riordan said his client expressed a desired to watch the proceedings in person.


Riordan said outside court that he advised Bonds to watch from afar rather than personally attending the 35-minute session San Francisco. A local television station was given permission to show the hearing live and streamed at least a couple of segments on the Internet.


"His presence would have been a distraction," Riordan said.


Legal experts who have followed the case closely since his grand jury appearance in December 2003 are divided over Bonds' chances before Daly Hawkins and Judges Mary Schroeder and Mary Murguia, each of whom was appointed by a different Democrat president and all of whom are based in Phoenix, home of San Francisco's division rival Diamondbacks and about a 20-minute drive from the Giants' Scottsdale spring training facility.


One set of analysts argue that appellate courts are reluctant to overturn jury verdicts absent an overwhelmingly obvious mistake. They say that U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, who ran the trial, is a respected jurist who has few of her cases overturned.


"There is a definite overriding respect of a jury's verdict," said Howard Wasserman, a Florida International University law professor. "Typically, it's pretty hard to get a jury's verdict reversed."


On the other hand, there are those lawyers who argue that Bonds stands a good chance to clear his name.


"The government's biggest hurdle is that testimony obstruction cases are usually based on blatant, undeniable lies to questions at the heart of an investigation," said William Keane, a San Francisco criminal defense attorney. "Here the prosecution limps in with only a single rambling, unresponsive, unimportant answer that is literally true."


Regardless of the outcome, University of New Hampshire law professor Michael McCann contends that the case was ultimately a loss of the U.S. Department of Justice. In a case that put a superstar athlete at the defendant's table, the jury deadlocked on three charges of making false statements


"The main thrust of the government's original case was that he lied when he denied taking steroids," said McCann, who also edits the popular Sports Law Blog. "That's not what he was convicted of. Obstruction was not the main charge."


If Bonds' conviction is upheld, he will have to serve 30 days house arrest.


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