Mediocre job growth points to slow grind for U.S. economy


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The pace of U.S. job growth slowed a bit in December, keeping the unemployment rate steady at 7.8 percent, but details of the Labor Department's U.S. employment report were fairly encouraging.


* Nonfarm payrolls increased 155,000, but job gains for the previous month were revised up to show 15,0000 more positions created than previously reported.


* Construction employment rebounded strongly, gaining 30,000 jobs after sagging 10,000 in November, reflecting increased residential construction activity as the housing market recovery gains traction.


* Manufacturing payrolls gained 25,000 after rising 5,000 in November. Manufacturing working hours increased, a positive sign for a sector that has been cooling in recent months. That helped to lift the overall average workweek to 34.5 hours from 34.4 hours in November.


* With workers putting in more time, the average hourly earnings increased 0.3 percent after rising by the same margin in November.


* More people entered the labor force, a sign of confidence in the jobs market, keeping the unemployment rate elevated. The household survey also showed a modest increase in employment, but more people reported they did not have jobs.


* The bad news is that government shed 13,000 jobs in December after a loss of 10,000 the prior month.


* Temporary help jobs, often seen as a harbinger for permanent hiring, fell in December and retail employment declined by 11,300 jobs after a hiring spree the previous months.


(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani)



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Manziel leads A&M to Cotton Bowl rout of Sooners


ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — At one point early in the Cotton Bowl, with "Johnny B. Goode" blaring through the stadium speakers, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel peeked up at the accompanying highlights on the huge video board hanging over the field.


Texas A&M's exciting dual-threat quarterback known as Johnny Football sure puts on a show worth watching.


"Best player I've ever played. He does so many good things. He's got magic," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "He'll have a chance to win four (Heismans) if he stays healthy."


Manziel tiptoed down the sideline for a 23-yard TD on the game's opening drive and went on to an FBS bowl record for quarterbacks with 229 yards rushing on 17 carries. He also set a Cotton Bowl record with 516 total yards as the 10th-ranked Aggies beat No. 12 Oklahoma 41-13 on Friday night to wrap up their first SEC season.


With first-year coach Kevin Sumlin and their young star quarterback after leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, the Aggies (11-2) overwhelming won the only bowl game matching teams from those two power conferences. They won 11 games for the first time since 1998, their only Big 12 title season.


The Aggies never trailed while winning their last six games and became the first SEC team with more than 7,000 total yards — 7,261 after gaining 633 in the Cotton Bowl.


"It's huge for this program, and for me especially, with the kind of woes A&M has had over the past decade or however long it's been since they had 11 wins," Manziel said. "For us to get up tonight and watch them battle back, it's good when we strike first. That's what we like to do. It was good to do that and not really look back."


Texas A&M led by only a point at halftime, but scored on its first three drives of the second half — on drives of 91 and 89 yards before Manziel threw a short pass to Ryan Swope on fourth-and-5 that turned into a 33-yard TD and a 34-13 lead.


Oklahoma (10-3), which like the Aggies entered the game with a five-game winning streak, went three-and-out on its first three drives after halftime in what was quarterback Landry Jones' 50th and final career start.


"Feel just disappointed that he's going out this way, getting beat like that," Sooners center Gabe Ikard said.


Jones completed 35 of 48 passes for 278 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He won 39 games and three bowls for the Sooners, in a career that started on the same field in the 2009 season opener when he replaced injured Heisman winner Sam Bradford in the first college game at Cowboys Stadium.


But Jones missed out becoming only the third NCAA quarterback to go 4-0 as a starter in bowl games.


"It was obvious tonight that we didn't play the way we should have played," said Jones, whose frustration was evident when he yelled at a teammate after a failed fourth-down play. "We couldn't run it. We couldn't throw it. It happens, you know."


SEC teams have won the last five Cotton Bowls, all against Big 12 teams, and nine out of 10. That included Texas A&M's loss to LSU only two years ago.


It had been six weeks since the Aggies played their last game, and four weeks since Manziel became the first freshman to win college football's highest individual award.


Manziel got it started with an electrifying 24-yard run on third down on the opening drive. Then on a third-and-10, Manziel rolled to his left and took off, juked around a defender and got near the sideline. He tiptoed to stay in bounds and punctuated his 23-yard score with a high-step over the pylon for a quick lead.


Officials reviewed the play to make sure he did stay in bounds, and the replays showed clearly that he did.


"There is too much talk about how you perform after the Heisman and about the layoff and all of that," said Manziel, who set an SEC record with 4,600 total yards in the regular season. "There wasn't anything holding us back. No rust, there was no nothing. We played as a unit."


The chants of "S-E-C! S-E-C!" began after Swope's TD catch with 4 minutes left in the third quarter. They got louder and longer after that, and Manziel spread both his arms out and ran off the field like he was flying.


Oklahoma was in the Cotton Bowl for only the second time. It was the first bowl matchup between the former Big 12 rivals, but the 17th consecutive season they have played each other.


The Sooners had won 11 of 13 in the series since Bob Stoops became their coach. That included a 77-0 Oklahoma win in 2003 that was the most-lopsided loss in Texas A&M history.


Sumlin was the A&M offensive coordinator in 2002 when the Aggies upset the top-ranked Sooners. The next year, Sumlin was hired by Stoops as an assistant, and he stayed there five seasons before going to Houston as head coach and now the Aggies.


"I think tonight was really indicative of this season," Sumlin said. "It's one of the teams I thought in the country that truly got better every week."


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Canadian Press NewsAlert:ExxonMobil to spend $14B on Canadian offshore project






IRVING, TexasExxon Mobil Corp. says it plans to spend $ 14 billion to develop the Hebron offshore oil field off Canada’s east coast over the next few years. The Texas-based oil company says it expects Hebron to begin producing near the end of 2017. The project will employ up to 3,500 during the construction phase.


More coming






Energy News Headlines – Yahoo! News




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Second escaped inmate caught in former neighborhood

Chicago Tribune reporter Jason Meisner on the recent arrest of Kenneth Conley, a convicted bank robber who escaped from federal jail in December. (Posted on: Jan. 4, 2013.)









Kenneth Conley was last seen by authorities making a daring escape down the side of a high-rise federal jail under the cover of night.


Friday afternoon, he was found hobbling down a Palos Hills street with a cane, one part of a flimsy disguise that included a bulky overcoat and a beret pulled low over his face.


An 18-day manhunt for the escaped bank robber ended after a maintenance employee working at a residential building in the southwest suburb called 911 about a suspicious man.








Conley, as it turns out, had not gone very far from places he used to live and homes where friends and family still reside.


But law enforcement sources said Friday that he apparently had no help — the former strip club employee was sleeping in the building's basement.


Conley was scheduled to appear in federal court at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.


The spectacular jailbreak — the first at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in almost 30 years — embarrassed federal authorities and seemed to be meticulously planned. Conley and Joseph "Jose" Banks rappelled to freedom using a rope fashioned from bedsheets. But like Banks, who was arrested two days after the escape in the North Side neighborhood where he was raised, Conley had no apparent plan for life on the run and was found holed up in an area where he had known ties.


Palos Hills police said a maintenance worker at a building in the 10200 block of South 86th Terrace called police about 3:30 p.m. to report the "suspicious person" who might be sleeping at the premises. Officers arrived to find a man walking down the street in an overcoat and pretending to use a cane. He appeared to be trying to look older than his actual age, police said.


"Our officers stopped to talk to him and he said he was just visiting," Deputy Chief James Boie told the Tribune. "He gave them a phony name, and while they're trying to run the information, he got wise that they were going to figure it out, and he pushed one of the officers down and took off running."


Boie said two additional officers responding to the scene caught Conley about a block away as he was trying to force his way into the Scenic Tree apartment complex, which is across the street from the police headquarters. He was wrestled down but did not offer any other resistance. Conley and one officer were taken to Palos Community Hospital for observation, he said.


Police found a BB pistol in Conley's pocket. He had no cash or other weapons, Boie said.


Residents in the sprawling, low-rise apartment complex where Conley was apprehended said they had seen a lot of police activity in the area earlier in the day, including K-9 units.


Chris Stevens, who has lived in the complex for a decade, said FBI agents knocked on her door at about 7 a.m., showed her a photo of Conley and asked if she had seen him. The agents told her he had been spotted in the area.


By the afternoon, Stagg High School junior David Griffith, 16, said he was with a friend taking out the garbage at the complex when he heard shouting and saw an officer run past him into a grassy area behind his building.


"We ran back in my house, opened the patio door, looked in the back and just saw a whole bunch of police officers just tackle (Conley)," Griffith said. "It was crazy. Nothing ever happens over here."


According to court records, Conley once lived in an apartment near the scene of his arrest. Boie said Conley was known to Palos Hills police because he'd had multiple resisting and obstructing arrests in 2004. Even still, they were surprised when they realized whom they had just arrested.


"I'm sure they were a little surprised that they had the guy standing in front of them,'' Boie said.


A law enforcement source told the Tribune that U.S. marshals and FBI agents met this week to discuss the hunt for Conley and went to Palos Hills on Friday morning to canvass specific addresses where he had ties. Some of the doors they knocked on were in the same block where Conley was found later in the day, the source said.


Conley, 38, was awaiting sentencing for a single bank holdup when authorities said he and Banks removed a cinder block from their cell wall and scaled down about 15 stories of the sheer wall of the jail early on Dec. 18. The cellmates were last accounted for during a routine bed check, authorities said. About 7 a.m. the next day, jail employees arriving for work saw the bedsheets dangling from a hole in the wall down the south side of the facade.


The FBI said a surveillance camera a few blocks from the jail showed the two wearing light-colored clothing hailing a taxi at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue about 2:40 a.m. They also appeared to be wearing backpacks, according to the FBI.





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Chavez swearing-in can be delayed: Venezuelan VP


CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez's formal swearing-in for a new six-year term scheduled for January 10 can be postponed if he is unable to attend due to his battle to recover from cancer surgery, Venezuela's vice president said on Friday.


Nicolas Maduro's comments were the clearest indication yet that the Venezuelan government is preparing to delay the swearing-in while avoiding naming a replacement for Chavez or calling a new election in the South American OPEC nation.


In power since 1999, the 58-year-old socialist leader has not been seen in public for more than three weeks. Allies say he is in delicate condition after a fourth operation in two years for an undisclosed form of cancer in his pelvic area.


The political opposition argues that Chavez's presence on January 10 in Cuba - where there are rumors he may be dying - is tantamount to the president's stepping down.


But Maduro, waving a copy of the constitution during an interview with state TV, said there was no problem if Chavez was sworn in at a later date by the nation's top court.


"The interpretation being given is that the 2013-2019 constitutional period starts on January 10. In the case of President Chavez, he is a re-elected president and continues in his functions," he said.


"The formality of his swearing-in can be resolved in the Supreme Court at the time the court deems appropriate in coordination with the head of state."


In the increasing "Kremlinology"-style analysis of Venezuela's extraordinary political situation, that could be interpreted in different ways: that Maduro and other allies trust Chavez will recover eventually, or that they are buying time to cement succession plans before going into an election.


Despite his serious medical condition, there was no reason to declare Chavez's "complete absence" from office, Maduro said. Such a declaration would trigger a new vote within 30 days, according to Venezuela's charter.


RECOVERY POSSIBLE?


Chavez was conscious and fighting to recover, said Maduro, who traveled to Havana to see his boss this week.


"We will have the Commander well again," he said.


Maduro, 50, whom Chavez named as his preferred successor should he be forced to leave office, said Venezuela's opposition had no right to go against the will of the people as expressed in the October 7 vote to re-elect the president.


"The president right now is president ... Don't mess with the people. Respect democracy."


Despite insisting Chavez remains president and there is hope for recovery, the government has acknowledged the gravity of his condition, saying he is having trouble breathing due to a "severe" respiratory infection.


Social networks are abuzz with rumors he is on life support or facing uncontrollable metastasis of his cancer.


Chavez's abrupt exit from the political scene would be a huge shock for Venezuela. His oil-financed socialism has made him a hero to the poor, while critics call him a dictator seeking to impose Cuban-style communism on Venezuelans.


Should Chavez leave office, a new election is likely to pitch former bus driver and union activist Maduro against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state.


Capriles lost to Chavez in the October presidential election, but won an impressive 44 percent of the vote. Though past polls have shown him to be more popular than all of Chavez's allies, the equation is now different given Maduro has received the president's personal blessing - a factor likely to fire up Chavez's fanatical supporters.


His condition is being watched closely by Latin American allies that have benefited from his help, as well as investors attracted by Venezuela's lucrative and widely traded debt.


"The odds are growing that the country will soon undergo a possibly tumultuous transition," the U.S.-based think tank Stratfor said this week.


(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; editing by Christopher Wilson)



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Global shares, oil slip on Fed stimulus nerves

LONDON (Reuters) - World shares edged lower and the dollar rose before U.S. jobs data on Friday which investors will watch even more closely than usual after Fed officials raised concerns about possible side effects of its stimulus program.


Minutes from the Federal Reserve's December policy meeting unsettled financial markets on Thursday after they showed some policymakers were worried about the program's longer-term impact.


Fed bond-buying has underpinned appetite for risk and the comments reopened debate on how much longer the central bank will keep stimulating the U.S. economy, unnerving investors before the U.S. employment figures.


European shares echoed their Asian peers to edge lower. But following a sharp jump on Wednesday after the United States edged back from the "fiscal cliff" budget crisis, they were on track for weekly gains of almost 2.7 percent.


Tentative signs that the euro zone economy may have passed the worst of its downturn also helped to restrict the moves.


Markit's Euro zone Composite PMI, which gauges business activity across thousands of the region's companies, rose in December to 47.2 from 46.5 in November - below the 50 line which divides growth from contraction but at its highest level since March last year.


"The surveys at least bring some substance to the belief that the worst is over and that a return to growth is in sight for the region in 2013," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.


London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were down 0.1-0.5 percent by mid-morning, while the MSCI index of world shares was just over 0.2 percent lower at 345.85.


Wall Street was expected to open slightly higher though, with S&P 500 futures up 0.1 percent and contracts for the Dow Jones and the Nasdaq 100 up 0.2 percent.


U.S. stocks will largely depend on the non-farm payrolls report due at 8:30 a.m. ET and any clues it gives on the health of the U.S. and global economies.


Analysts polled by Reuters expect a 150,000 rise in jobs, with unemployment holding steady at 7.7 percent. However, after a better-than-expected ADP employment report on Thursday, many may now be betting on an above-consensus jobs number.


"The Fed has made it clear that it will keep policy loose until unemployment drops to 6.5 percent or below, so strong jobs data will undoubtedly raise expectations of a more hawkish Fed," analysts at Tradition brokerage said in a note.


CORE WEAKNESS


The Fed's concerns about the longer-term impact of its policies gave fresh momentum to the recent slide by low-risk bonds including U.S. and German debt.


Bund futures slipped almost half a point to 143.12, having already fallen steeply from last week's close of 145.64.


Benchmark U.S. Treasury yields continued their climb, hitting an eight-month high of 1.96 percent, while in Asia, 10-year Japanese government bond yields touched a 3-1/2-month high of 0.83 percent.


In the currency market, the dollar hit its highest level against the yen since July 2010 at 87.835 while the euro fell to a three-week low of $1.3006. The dollar <.dxy> also touched a six-week high against a basket of currencies.


"We have seen quite a broad-based dollar rally after the minutes which has ignited a fresh debate about how much liquidity the Fed is going to pump into the economy," said Daragh Maher, FX strategist at HSBC.


The yen has fallen in recent weeks as investors bet the new government will push the Bank of Japan to weaken the currency by implementing aggressive economic stimulus.


"Breaking through 88 in dollar/yen is a significant move. It was a target for a number of people in the market and the question is now whether we have a mindset of taking profit or we look to extend," added Maher.


The dollar's recent climb makes dollar-based assets more expensive for non-dollar investors and this hit precious metals and oil.


Brent crude shed 0.6 percent to $111.47 a barrel while gold fell 1 percent to $1,645, dragging silver down more than 2 percent to $29.48.


(Additional reporting by William James and Anooja Debnath; editing by David Stamp)



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Oregon runs past K-State 35-17 at Fiesta Bowl


GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — As Oregon coach Chip Kelly was about to receive the massive Fiesta Bowl trophy, Ducks fans inside University of Phoenix Stadium started a chant of "We want Chip!"


Whether he returns or not is up in the air.


If Kelly does head to the NFL, this was a great send off.


Sparked by De'Anthony Thomas' 94-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff, No. 5 Oregon turned the Fiesta Bowl into a track meet from the start and bolted past No. 7 Kansas State 35-17 Thursday night in what could be Kelly's final game with the Ducks.


"This wasn't going to be a distraction," Kelly said of reports that he was headed to the NFL. "It wasn't a distraction for me — I think it's an honor. But I think it's an honor because of the players we have in this program that people want to talk to me."


Teams that had their national title aspirations end on the same day, Oregon and Kansas State ended up in the desert for a marquee matchup billed as a battle of styles: The fast-flying Ducks vs. the methodical Wildcats.


With Kelly reportedly talking to several NFL teams, Oregon (12-1) was too much for Kansas State and its Heisman Trophy finalist, Collin Klein, who were playing catch-up from the start.


Thomas followed his before-everyone-sat-down kickoff return with a 23-yard touchdown catch, finishing with 195 total yards.


Kenjon Barner ran for 143 yards on 31 carries and scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota in the second quarter. Mariota later scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter, capped by an obscure 1-point safety that went in the Ducks' favor.


Even Oregon's defense got into the act, intercepting Klein twice and holding him to 30 yards on 13 carries.


"We got beat by a better team tonight, combined by the fact that we let down from time to time," coach Bill Snyder said after Kansas State's fifth straight bowl loss.


Last year's Fiesta Bowl was an offensive fiesta, with Oklahoma State outlasting Stanford 41-38 in overtime.


The 2013 version was an upgrade: Nos. 4 and 5 in the BCS, two of the nation's best offenses, dynamic players and superbly successful coaches on both sides.


Oregon has become the standard for go-go-go football under Kelly, its fleet of Ducks making those shiny helmets — green like Christmas tree bulbs for the Fiesta Bowl — and flashy uniforms blur across the grassy landscape.


Thomas offered the first flash of speed, picking up a couple of blocks and racing toward a not-so-photo finish at the line.


Thomas hit the Wildcats (11-2) again late in the first quarter, breaking a couple of tackles and dragging three defenders into the end zone for a catch-and-run TD that put the Ducks up 15-0.


It's nothing new for Oregon's sophomore sensation: He had 314 total yards and two long touchdown runs in the 2012 Rose Bowl. The Ducks are used to it, too, averaging more than 50 points per game.


And they kept flying.


Oregon followed a missed 40-yard field goal by Kansas State's Anthony Cantele by unleashing one of its blink-and-you'll-miss-it scoring drives late in the second quarter. Moving 77 yards in 46 seconds, the Ducks went up 22-10 at halftime after Mariota hit Barner on 24-yard TD pass.


Alejandro Maldonado hit a 33-yard field goal on Oregon's opening drive of the third quarter and Mariota capped a long drive with an easy 2-yard TD run to the left. Kansas State's Javonta Boyd blocked the point-after attempt, but even that went wrong for the Wildcats. Chris Harper was tackled in the end zone for a bizarre 1-point safety that put Oregon up 32-10.


It was the first 1-point safety in major college football since 2004 when Texas did it against Texas A&M, STATS said.


"There were so many things that could have changed the outcome of this game," Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown said.


Kansas State needed a little time to get its wheels spinning on offense, laboring early before Klein scored on a 6-yard run early in the second quarter.


Klein kept the Wildcats moving in the quarter, though not toward touchdowns: Cantele hit a 25-yard field goal and missed from 40 after a false-start penalty.


Klein hit John Hubert on a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but all that did was cut Oregon's lead to 32-17.


He threw for 151 yards on 17 of 32 passing.


"It wasn't really complicated," Kelly said of slowing Klein. "He's a great player, one of the greats of college football. I had my heart in my throat a couple of times watching him around, but our guys just made plays when they had to make plays."


By doing so, they may have put a nice exclamation point on Kelly's college career.


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Quadrantid Meteor Shower Wows Stargazers






Cold weather and a bright moon didn’t stop skywatchers around the country from capturing stunning shots of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower this week.


Astrophotographer Victor Rogus, for example, snapped a dramatic image from Jadwin, Mo., a few hours before dawn today (Jan. 3) during the Quadrantids’ peak. The streaking meteor seen in the photo appears in Ursa Minor, a constellation in the northern sky.






“Battling the cold and the gibbous moon was no easy task, but I managed to catch this meteor trail in a 12-second exposure with a Cannon 60Da astrophotography camera,” Rogus told SPACE.com via email. 


“I was out all night. I made nearly 500 exposures to the northeast, but saw only two bright ones, and a few faint under mostly clear, and transparent skies,” Rogus added. “Glad to be in out of the cold!” [Stargazer Photos: Quadrantid Meteor Shower of 2013]


Veteran meteor observer John Chumack of Dayton, Ohio, set up a network of cameras to record the Quadrantid meteor shower‘s peak. The result was an eye-popping video of Quadrantid meteors as they streaked overhead, as well as toward the north, west and east.


“Last night the Quadrantid meteors started slamming into the Earth’s atmosphere” Chumack said in an email. “I captured 52 Quadrantid meteors … but it’s not over yet. Keep watching as sometime you can see a few meteors for several days after the shower peak, too!” 


Skywatcher Scott Tully also braved the cold early this morning to come up with a nice Quadrantid shot.


“I was out photographing the meteors this morning in the Northwest Hills of Connecticut,” Tully wrote SPACE.com. “The meteor shower was beautiful against the moonlit sky, but with some clouds and the bright moonlight I was only able to spot a few bright streaks up until around 5:00 a.m. It was between the hours of 5 and 6 when the numbers started to pick up, and I caught this shot just before 6:00 a.m. EST.”


On the outskirts of Tucson, Ariz., Sean Parker worked hard this morning to get a spectacular photo of Quadrantids streaking through the sky above a lot full of retired aircraft.


“The boneyard is run by the [Davis-Monthan] Air Force base which requires clearance, and is surrounded by 10-foot barbed wire fences,” Parker wrote on his blog. “But fortunately I have a Jeep and a tall tripod — so I drove around numerous spots looking for a place I could pull my Jeep close to the fence and take pictures from on top. And I found one.”


The Quadrantid meteor shower is a bright display seen mainly in the Northern Hemisphere around the beginning of the new year. The meteors appear to originate where the constellations Hercules, Bo├Âtes, and Draco meet in the sky.


The Quadrantids result when Earth plows through streams of debris shed by the asteroid 2003 EH1, which may actually be a chunk of a long-dead comet. Though the shower peaked overnight last night, it’s still going on. NASA is providing a live webcast of the display through Friday (Jan. 4), which you can watch here on SPACE.com.


Editor’s note: If you have an amazing photo of the Quadrantid meteor shower or any other night sky view that you’d like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send images, comments (including name and location) to managing editor Tariq Malik at [email protected].


Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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





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Myanmar: Evolution, not revolution




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




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


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

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

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

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




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


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


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


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


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



Parag Khanna

Parag Khanna



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


Watch: Myanmar in grip of economic revolution


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


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


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


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






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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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






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Firm bringing HQ to Chicago









St. Louis-based construction firm Clayco Inc. is moving its headquarters to Chicago, attracted by ease of air travel, proximity to clients, access to young professionals and the potential to land city business as Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushes ahead with public-private partnerships for infrastructure improvements, its top executive said Thursday.

Clayco Chairman and CEO Robert Clark and Emanuel are expected to formally announce the move Friday.

Two-hundred and eighty of the company's 1,000 employees already work in the Chicago area, including 88 who work full time at the Jewelers Building, 35 E. Wacker Drive, which becomes company headquarters.

The company expects to double its Chicago workforce during the next couple of years, in part by increasing its architectural business and expanding its infrastructure business.

Clark said the company is seeking to acquire a municipal engineering company as part of an effort to develop its infrastructure business during the next few years. Now focused on industrial, office and institutional projects, the company would like to add a fourth specialty area that would go after water, sewer, road, bridge and airport work, Clark said.

"In the long run, public-private partnerships are something I'm very intrigued about and interested in pursuing," he said. "I don't think we'll do it overnight. … It may be three years from now, until we have significant traction in the (infrastructure) market."

"We're interested in national projects, not just local," he said. "But hopefully we'll have work in our own backyard."

Clayco donated $50,000 to Emanuel's mayoral campaign in late 2010, and Clark donated an additional $10,000 in September to The Chicago Committee, the mayor's campaign fund, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Clark said his contributions to a variety of politicians stem from personal convictions and have no relation to his business endeavors.

Tom Alexander, a spokesman for Emanuel, said: "Clayco is choosing Chicago because Chicago offers them unique access to world-class talent and a location from which they can easily and effectively do business around the world, period. Any type of private-public building project would undergo the city's very strict, competitive procurement process."

Last spring, Emanuel won City Council approval for the formation of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which will endeavor to secure private financing for public infrastructure projects.

Clayco's shift into downtown Chicago began in October 2010, when it opened offices in the Jewelers Building. Employees who had been based in Oakbrook Terrace have moved there, as have a handful of executives from St. Louis. Clark relocated to Chicago in September 2010.

The company did not seek or receive any financial incentives for its move, the city said. Clayco will keep its St. Louis office intact, and no layoffs are planned as part of the relocation.

Clark and Emanuel first met when Emanuel worked in the Clinton White House. Clark, who was active with the Young Presidents' Organization, worked with Emanuel on some events at the White House. Their paths have crossed a number of times since then, including during President Barack Obama's campaign in 2008.

A meeting with Emanuel played a role in the decision to relocate company headquarters, Clark said. It occupies the 13th and 27th floors of the Jewelers Building, or 30,000 square feet.

"He asked me to target our national clients and bring them here," Clark recalls. "Quite frankly, I was blown away by that. Most mayors are not that aggressive; they leave that up to their economic development folks."

Clayco has done work for a number of large institutions and corporations, including Dow Chemical, Amazon.com, Caterpillar, and locally, Kraft Foods, Anixter, the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Started 28 years ago by Clark, the privately held company has annual revenue of $820 million. Subsidiaries include architecture and design firm Forum Studios and Concrete Strategies Inc.

kbergen@tribune.com

Twitter @kathy_bergen



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Eleven dead in Damascus gas station blast


AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) - At least 11 people were killed and 40 wounded when a car bomb exploded at a crowded petrol station in the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday, opposition activists said.


The station was packed with people queuing for fuel that has become increasingly scarce during the country's 21-month-long insurgency aimed at overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad.


The semi-official al-Ikhbariya television station showed footage of 10 burnt bodies and Red Crescent workers searching for victims at the site.


The opposition Revolution Leadership Council in Damascus said the explosion was caused by a booby-trapped car.


There was no immediate indication of who was responsible for the bombing in the Barzeh al-Balad district, whose residents include members of the Sunni Muslim majority and other religious and ethnic minorities.


"The station is usually packed even when it has no fuel," said an opposition activist who did not want to be named. "There are lots of people who sleep there overnight, waiting for early morning fuel consignments."


It was the second time that a petrol station has been hit in Damascus this week. Dozens of people were incinerated in an air strike as they waited for fuel on Wednesday, according to opposition sources.


In northern Syria, rebels were battling to seize an air base in their campaign against the air power that Assad has used to bomb rebel-held towns.


More than 60,000 people have been killed in the uprising and civil war, the United Nations said this week, a much higher death toll than previously thought.


DRAMATIC ADVANCES


After dramatic advances over the second half of 2012, the rebels now hold wide swathes of territory in the north and east, but they cannot protect towns and villages from Assad's helicopters and jets.


Hundreds of rebel fighters were attempting to storm the Taftanaz air base, near the highway that links Syria's two main cities, Aleppo and Damascus.


A rebel fighter speaking from near the Taftanaz base overnight said much of the base was still in loyalist hands but insurgents had managed to destroy a helicopter and a fighter jet on the ground.


The northern rebel Idlib Coordination Committee said the rebels had detonated a car bomb inside the base.


The government's SANA news agency said the base had not fallen and that the military had "strongly confronted an attempt by the terrorists to attack the airport from several axes, inflicting heavy losses among them and destroying their weapons and munitions".


Rami Abdulrahman, head of the opposition-aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which monitors the conflict from Britain, said as many as 800 fighters were involved in the assault, including Islamists from Jabhat al-Nusra, a powerful group that Washington considers terrorists.


Taftanaz is mainly a helicopter base, used for missions to resupply army positions cut off by the rebels, as well as for dropping crude "barrel bombs" on rebel-controlled areas.


Near Minakh, another northern air base that rebels have surrounded, government forces have retaliated by shelling and bombing nearby towns.


NIGHTLY BOMBARDMENTS


In the town of Azaz, where the bombardment has become a near nightly occurrence, shells hit a family house overnight. Zeinab Hammadi said her two wounded daughters, aged 10 and 12, had been rushed across the border to Turkey, one with her brain exposed.


"We were sleeping and it just landed on us in the blink of an eye," she said, weeping as she surveyed the damage.


Family members tried to salvage possessions from the wreckage, men lifting out furniture and children carrying out their belongings in tubs.


"He (Assad) wants revenge against the people," said Abu Hassan, 33, working at a garage near the destroyed house. "What is the fault of the children? Are they the ones fighting?"


Opposition activists said warplanes struck a residential building in another rebel-held northern town, Hayyan, killing at least eight civilians.


Video footage showed men carrying dismembered bodies of children and dozens of people searching for victims in the rubble. The provenance of the video could not be independently confirmed.


In addition to their tenuous grip on the north, the rebels also hold a crescent of suburbs on the edge of Damascus, which have come under bombardment by government forces that control the center of the capital.


On Wednesday, according to opposition activists, dozens of people died in an inferno caused by an air strike on a petrol station in a Damascus suburb where residents were lining up for fuel.


The civil war in Syria has become the longest and bloodiest of the conflicts that rose out of uprisings across the Arab world in the past two years.


Assad's family has ruled for 42 years since his father seized power in a coup. The war pits rebels, mainly from the Sunni Muslim majority, against a government supported by members of Assad's Shi'ite-derived Alawite minority sect and some members of other minorities who fear revenge if he falls.


The West, most Sunni-ruled Arab states and Turkey have called for Assad to step down. He is supported by Russia and Shi'ite Iran.


(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman and Dominic Evans in Beirut; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Ruth Pitchford and Giles Elgood)



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Asia stocks eke out gains on China hopes, oil eases

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Most Asian stock markets edged higher on Thursday on hopes of a steady economic revival in China, although oil gave back part of the previous session's strong gains as investors took some money off the table and braced for more U.S. budget battles.


The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index of stocks <.miapj0000pus> rose 0.2 percent following Wednesday's 2 percent jump on relief that U.S. politicians had averted the "fiscal cliff".


Data from China showing the services sector expanded in December continued to underpin expectations of an economic recovery that has helped spur a strong rally in Hong Kong-listed Chinese shares <.hsce> over the past month.


The China Enterprises index <.hsce> which rallied more than 4 percent in the previous session eased 0.2 percent. Onshore Chinese markets will resume trading on Friday.


"China looks like it's improving at the margin and the market has momentum that could last for at least a few months," said Christian Keilland, head of trading at BTIG in Hong Kong.


"Investors seem to have accepted that reforms are underway but they're going to happen at a slower pace."


Australian stocks <.axjo> rose 0.7 percent to their highest in more than 19 months, with mining giants Rio Tinto up 2.4 percent and BHP Billiton up 0.8 percent, among the top gainers on the benchmark S&P ASX/200 index. <.axjo/>


South Korea's Kospi <.ks11> underperformed the region, falling 0.4 percent as automakers and other exporters slumped on a stronger Korean won, which hit a 16-month high against the dollar overnight.


In other currency markets, the Japanese yen bounced after hitting a 29-month low versus the dollar earlier in the day but analysts warned that any strength is likely to be short-lived.


"Technically dollar/yen looks somewhat overbought here. It's gone a long way in a very short time," said Callum Henderson, global head of FX research for Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore, adding that the dollar could see some consolidation in the near term before heading higher.


The euro which in overnight trading was close to a 8-1/2 month high against the dollar, slipped 0.1 percent.


The U.S. dollar rose 0.2 percent <.dxy> against a basket of major currencies.


President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans face even bigger budget battles in the next two months after a hard-fought deal averted the fiscal cliff of automatic tightening that threatened to push the U.S. into recession.


Strength in the dollar and profit-taking pushed oil prices lower with Brent crude slipping 0.3 percent and U.S. crude futures down 19 cents to $92.93.


"After the initial excitement, reality sets in," said Victor Shum, oil consultant at IHS Purvin & Gertz. "There will be other negotiations and the deal is a compromise."


(Reporting by Vikram Subhedar; Editing by Kim Coghill and Eric Meijer)



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Louisville upsets Florida 33-23 in Sugar Bowl


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Terell Floyd and the Louisville Cardinals gave the embattled Big East Conference at least one more triumphant night in a major bowl — and at the expense of a top team from the mighty SEC.


Floyd returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown on the first play, dual-threat quarterback Teddy Bridgewater directed a handful of scoring drives and No. 22 Louisville stunned the fourth-ranked Gators 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.


"I can't speak for the whole Big East, but I can speak for Louisville and I think this means a lot for us," Floyd said. "We showed the world we can play with the best."


The Big East is in a transitional phase and losing some of its top football programs in the process. Boise State has recently backed out of its Big East commitment and Louisville has plans to join the ACC.


Even this year, the Big East wasn't getting much respect. Louisville, the league champion, was a two-touchdown underdog in the Sugar Bowl.


But by the end, the chant, "Charlie, Charlie!" echoed from sections of the Superdome occupied by red-clad Cardinals fans. It was their way of serenading third-year Louisville coach Charlie Strong, the former defensive coordinator for the Gators, who has elevated Cardinals football to new heights and recently turned down a chance to leave for the top job at Tennessee.


"I look at this performance tonight, and I sometimes wonder, 'Why didn't we do this the whole season,'" Strong said. "We said this at the beginning: We just take care of our job and do what we're supposed to do, don't worry about who we're playing."


Shaking off an early hit that flattened him and knocked off his helmet, Bridgewater was 20 of 32 passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Among his throws was a pinpoint, 15-yard timing toss that DeVante Parker grabbed as he touched one foot down in the corner of the end zone.


"I looked at what did and didn't work for quarterbacks during the regular season," said Bridgewater, picked as the game's top player. "They faced guys forcing throws ... and coach tells me, 'No capes on your back or 'S' on your chest, take what the defense give you.' That's what I took. Film study was vital."


His other scoring strike went to Damian Copeland from 19 yards one play after a surprise onside kick by the Gators backfired. Jeremy Wright had a short touchdown run that gave Louisville (11-2) a 14-0 lead the Gators couldn't overcome.


Florida (11-2) never trailed by more than 10 points this season. The defeat dropped SEC teams to 3-3 this bowl season, with Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi still to play.


"We got outcoached and outplayed," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "That's what I told the football team. That's the bottom line."


Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel, who had thrown only three interceptions all season, turned the ball over three times on two interceptions — both tipped passes — and a fumble. He finished 16 of 29 for 175 yards.


Down 33-10 midway through the fourth period, Florida tried to rally. Andre Debose scored on a 100-yard kickoff return and Driskel threw a TD pass to tight end Kent Taylor with 2:13 left. But when Louisville defenders piled on Driskel to thwart the 2-point try, the game was essentially over.


Florida didn't score until Caleb Sturgis's 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter.


The Gators finally got in the end zone with a trick play in the closing seconds of the half. They changed personnel as if to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but lined up in a bizarre combination of swinging-gate and shotgun formations and handed off to Matt Jones.


The Gators tried to keep the momentum with a surprise onside kick to open the third quarter, but not only did Louisville recover, Florida's Chris Johnson was called for a personal foul and ejected for jabbing at Louisville's Zed Evans. That gave Louisville the ball on the Florida 19, from where Bridgewater needed one play to find Copeland for his score.


"We game-planned it and felt good about it," Muschamp said of the onside kick attempt. "We wanted to steal a possession at the start of the second half."


On the following kickoff, Evans cut down kick returner Loucheiz Purifoy with a vicious low, high-speed hit that shook Purifoy up. Soon after, Driskel was sacked hard from behind and stripped by safety Calvin Pryor, ending another Florida drive with a turnover.


"We had the right attitude, had the right mindset that we would go out and beat this team," Pryor said.


After Louisville native Muhammad Ali was on the field for the coin toss, the Cardinals quickly stung the Gators. Floyd, one of nearly three dozen Louisville players from Florida, made the play.


Driskel was looking for seldom-targeted Debose, who'd had only two catches all season.


"I threw it behind him, (he) tried to make a play on it, tipped it right to the guy," Driskel said. "Unfortunate to start the game like that."


When Louisville's offense got the ball later in the quarter, the Florida defense, ranked among the best in the nation this season, sought to intimidate the Cardinals with one heavy hit after another.


One blow by Jon Bostic knocked Bridgewater's helmet off moments after he'd floated an incomplete pass down the right sideline. Bostic was called for a personal foul, however, which seemed to get the Cardinals opening drive rolling. Later, Wright lost his helmet during a 3-yard gain and took another heavy hit before he went down.


Louisville kept coming.


B.J. Butler turned a short catch into a 23-yard gain down to the Florida 1. Then Wright punched it in to give the Cardinals an early two-TD lead over a team that finished third in the BCS standings, one spot too low to play for a national title in Miami.


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Cold weather businesses heating up






AKRON, Ohio – It may not be fun weather to experience as you walk outside to grab your morning paper or head off to work, but some businesses that thrive when the temperatures dip well below zero, are loving the cold snap.


Business has been booming at Boston Mills Ski Resort. Workers continue to make snow as long as the temperature stays below 28 degrees.






Steven Mackle, marketing director for Boston Mills and Brandywine Ski Resort, said skiers are responding. Large crowds have hit the slopes each day since the season opener last Friday.


“I don’t have the exact number, but it was crazy here. A lot of people are just excited to come out and get on the hill. Being in Ohio, skiers know that they only have a couple of months to get their skiing and snowboarding in,” Mackle said.


Buckeye Sports Center at Boston Mills has definitely noticed a spike in sales. It’s a welcome sight, especially after an unusually warm winter last year hurt the bottom line.


“The demand was really pent up. They opened up and we had lines everywhere, everyday. It has been a great opening weekend,” said Pete Schram, manager of the store.


Carl Swan, the owner of Swan Hardware in Akron, said he has sold about eight pallets of rock salt and ice melt this winter season. That’s about the triple the amount that was sold at this time last year. Swan expects demand to grow as the cold lingers.


“Probably sales haven’t been quite what they should have been because people had stuff left over from last year. If it stays cold for another few weeks, we’ll start selling more stuff,” Swan said.


Lock 3 in Akron also expects to see a jump in the number of people visiting the ice rink and Reindeer Run, a man-made sledding hill that opened up last winter.


The cost to ride a sled down the hill is $ 3 for a half hour.


“The weather is being a lot more cooperative this year than it was last  year. It’s (the hill) really fast,” said Rachel Roukey, assistant manager of Lock 3.


Ice skates can also be rented for $ 3 or you can bring your own and skate for free.



Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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How Donald Trump hijacks U.S. media






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Howard Kurtz: Donald Trump said the GOP can go nuclear in budget showdown

  • Kurtz: It's remarkable that Trump draw attention no what what he says

  • He says it's so easy to hijack the media in the age of Twitter

  • Kurtz: Journalists like sexy stories but shouldn't lose focus of what's important




Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.


(CNN) -- After a year of national gridlock that ended on the precipice of a cliff, Donald Trump went nuclear.


The man who called Barack Obama's re-election a travesty said Republicans could gain control of the budget showdown because they "are sitting there with a nuclear weapon": the specter of voting against a rise in the debt ceiling in the coming weeks. In other words, the GOP could get its way by again threatening to push the country into default.


The remarkable thing here is not Trump's apocalyptic advice but that the man who still doesn't concede that the president was born in Hawaii draws attention no matter what he says. The colorful businessman has a knack for hijacking the media -- and he's hardly alone.


Watch: Hey Fox, Hillary Clinton was sick after all



Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz



In fact, one of the most striking developments in recent years is how easy it is to carry out the hijacking. You don't need a weapon, nuclear or otherwise. You don't have to be a famous zillionaire to pull it off. In the Twitter age, almost anyone can capture the spotlight for 15 seconds.



We're so easy. If it's new, novel or naughty, we are there.


A critical mass of tweeters hijacked the presidential debates by turning Big Bird and "binders full of women" into trending topics. What, you thought what was most important was what the candidates said during those 90-minute face-offs? Nope, it's just as much about winning the post-game chatter. A single "oops" by Rick Perry enables the press to wipe out everything else that was said.


Watch: Are critics being too harsh on Chelsea Clinton?


Clint Eastwood, telling Obama (in the guise of an empty chair) to perform an anatomically impossible act? That hijacked Mitt Romney's convention.


Eric Fehrnstrom inadvertently hijacked his boss' campaign when he compared Romney's election strategy to an Etch A Sketch. Nothing like a kid's toy to seize the attention of grown-up journalists.


Any invocation of a celebrity has great hijacking potential, even if the story is a sprinkling of fairy dust.


The political press recently surrendered to the notion that Ben Affleck might run for John Kerry's Senate seat in Massachusetts. This was based on nothing more than local chatter, amplified by Politico. Affleck shrewdly kept the door ajar -- such speculation helps in the gravitas department --but on Christmas Eve, he gave the press a lump of coal by admitting he wasn't running.


Watch: Were the media swept away by fiscal cliff madness?


Next the media got excited by the idea that Ted Kennedy Jr. would run for office -- until he quickly popped that trial balloon.


Sometimes the hijacker wants no part of the limelight but is swept along for the ride.


Paula Broadwell was embedded in the nation's consciousness for weeks after her affair with David Petraeus prompted his resignation as CIA director. And her romantic rival, Jill Kelley, became a captive as well.


Racial tension can grab the media's attention like few other issues.


There are more than 15,000 murders annually in the United States, but only a few move beyond local headlines. The killing of Trayvon Martin, initially overlooked even in Florida, became a national sensation once activists persuaded the media that race played a role in the teenager's shooting (a perception deepened by NBC's misleading editing of George Zimmerman's 911 call). Week after week of routine murders in cities such as Chicago barely register on the radar.


Most journalists gravitate toward sensational and sexy stories (and I haven't been immune to the temptation) because we want the clicks and the ratings. And perhaps to alleviate our own boredom with the daily grunt work of reporting. The on-and-off negotiations over the fiscal cliff have been tedious and incremental. Along comes Trump and boom, you've got an easy headline.


The problem with all this media hijacking goes beyond the strange twists and turns along the way. It's that we cede control of what's important.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.






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Chicago man charged in estranged wife's slaying in Munster









A Chicago man with a history of domestic violence arrests has been charged with the murder of his estranged wife in Munster, Ind., early New Year’s Day, authorities said.

Margarito Valdivia, 44, of the 10800 block of South Troy Street, is being held without bail in the slaying of his estranged wife, Erica Valdivia, 33, early on Tuesday, Munster Police said in a news release this afternoon. The attack at a home in the 800 block of Boxwood Drive in Munster also injured Erica Valdivia’s boyfriend, police said.

Erica Valdivia, whom the Lake County coroner’s office said suffered blunt force trauma to the head in an apparent homicide, had been separated from her husband for about four months, according to police.

Margarito Valdivia is believed to have driven to the Boxwood Drive home early Tuesday, gone in and confronted his wife and her boyfriend, police said. He hit the boyfriend in the head “numerous times” as he drove the boyfriend from the home, police said in the release.

Once the boyfriend was outside, Margarito Valdivia went back into the home and began beating his wife, police said.

Police were called to the Boxwood Drive home about 5:45 a.m. Tuesday and found the boyfriend outside with a severe cut to the head. Officers tried to go into the house, but were at first unable to, as Margarito Valdivia had barricaded himself inside. After a SWAT team was called, police sent a remote-controlled robot into the home, and he surrendered.

Police entered the home and found Erica Valdivia lying in a bathroom, with “major trauma” to the head, including her face, police said. She was taken to Community Hospital in Munster, where she was declared dead at 10:04 a.m. Tuesday, according to the coroner’s office.

The Lake County, Ind., prosecutor’s office charged Margarito Valdivia with murder and felony battery today, police said. Court information was not immediately available, but he was being held without bail in Lake County Jail.

Court records show that Margarito Valdivia has Cook County arrests dating back to 1990, when he was arrested on a domestic violence charge and an order of protection was lodged against him. The charges were later dropped. In 1994, he was charged with domestic battery and resisting arrest and was sentenced to a year’s probation after being found guilty of the resisting arrest charge, according to court records.

In 1997, Margarito Valdivia was charged with criminal damage and having a firearm without a gun owner’s permit, and given two years court supervision following a guilty plea. A 2000 domestic battery charge was dropped, but in August 2012 he was found guilty of battery after an attack July 23 in the 9800 block of South Commercial Avenue and sentenced to a year’s conditional discharge, records show.

At the time of the battery arrest, he was still living at the same home in the 10600 block of South Avenue N that the coroner’s office listed as Erica Valdivia’s home address.

lford@tribune.com

Twitter: @ltaford



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Central African Republic rebels halt advance, agree to peace talks


DAMARA, Central African Republic (Reuters) - Rebels in Central African Republic said they had halted their advance on the capital on Wednesday and agreed to start peace talks, averting a clash with regionally backed troops.


The Seleka rebels had pushed to within striking distance of Bangui after a three-week onslaught and threatened to oust President Francois Bozize, accusing him of reneging on a previous peace deal and cracking down on dissidents.


Their announcement on Wednesday gave the leader only a limited reprieve as the fighters told Reuters they might insist on his removal in the negotiations.


"I have asked our forces not to move their positions starting today because we want to enter talks in (Gabon's capital) Libreville for a political solution," said Seleka spokesman Eric Massi, speaking by telephone from Paris.


"I am in discussion with our partners to come up with proposals to end the crisis, but one solution could be a political transition that excludes Bozize," he said.


Bozize on Wednesday sacked his Army Chief of Staff and took over the defense minister's role from his son, Jean Francis Bozize, according to a decree read on national radio, a day after publicly criticizing the military for failing to repel the rebels.


The advance by Seleka, an alliance of mostly northeastern rebel groups, was the latest in a series of revolts in a country at the heart of one of Africa's most turbulent regions - and the most serious since the Chad-backed insurgency that swept Bozize to power in 2003.


Diplomatic sources have said talks organized by central African regional bloc ECCAS could start on January 10. The United States, the European Union and France have called on both sides to negotiate and spare civilians.


Central African Republic is one of the least developed countries in the world despite its deposits of gold, diamonds and other minerals. French nuclear energy group Areva mines the country's Bakouma uranium deposit - France's biggest commercial interest in its former colony.


RELIEF IN BANGUI


News of the rebel halt eased tension in Bangui, where residents had been stockpiling food and water and staying indoors after dark.


"They say they are no longer going to attack Bangui, and that's great news for us," said Jaqueline Loza in the crumbling riverside city.


ECCAS members Chad, Congo Republic, Gabon and Cameroon have sent hundreds of soldiers to reinforce CAR's army after a string of rebel victories since early December.


Gabonese General Jean Felix Akaga, commander of the regional force, said his troops were defending the town of Damara, 75 km (45 miles) north of Bangui and close to the rebel front.


"Damara is a red line not to be crossed ... Damara is in our control and Bangui is secure," he told Reuters. "If the rebellion decides to approach Damara, they know they will encounter a force that will react."


Soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs, rocket propelled grenade launchers and truck-mounted machineguns had taken up positions across the town, which was otherwise nearly-abandoned.


Some of the fighters wore turbans that covered their faces and had charms strung around their necks and arms meant to protect them against enemy bullets.


Chad's President Idriss Deby, one of Bozize's closest allies, had warned the rebels the regional force would confront them if they approached the town.


Chad provided training and equipment to the rebellion that brought Bozize to power by ousting then-president Ange Felix Patasse, who Chad accused of supporting Chadian dissidents.


Chad is also keen to keep a lid on instability in the territory close to its main oil export pipeline and has stepped in to defend Bozize against insurgents in the past.


A CAR government minister told Reuters the foreign troop presence strengthened Bozize's bargaining position ahead of the Libreville peace talks.


"The rebels are now in a position of weakness," the minister said, asking not to be named. "They should therefore stop imposing conditions like the departure of the president."


Central African Republic is one of a number of countries in the region where U.S. Special Forces are helping local soldiers track down the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group which has killed thousands of civilians across four nations.


France has a 600-strong force in CAR to defend about 1,200 of its citizens who live there.


Paris used air strikes to defend Bozize against a rebellion in 2006. But French President Francois Hollande turned down a request for more help, saying the days of intervening in other countries' affairs were over.


(Additional reporting by Paul-Marin Ngoupana in Bangui and Jon Herskovitz in Johannesburg; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Janet Lawrence)



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United States avoids calamity in "fiscal cliff" drama


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States averted economic calamity on Tuesday when lawmakers approved a deal to prevent huge tax hikes and spending cuts that would have pushed the world's largest economy off a "fiscal cliff" and into recession.


The agreement hands a clear victory to President Barack Obama, who won re-election on a promise to address budget woes in part by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. His Republican antagonists were forced to vote against a core tenet of their anti-tax conservative faith.


The deal also resolves, for now, the question of whether Washington can overcome deep ideological differences to avoid harming an economy that is only now beginning to pick up steam after the deepest recession in 80 years.


Consumers, businesses and financial markets have been rattled by the months of budget brinkmanship. The crisis ended when dozens of Republicans in the House of Representatives buckled and backed tax hikes approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate.


Asian stocks hit a five-month high and the dollar fell as markets welcomed the news. China's state news agency Xinhua took a more severe view, warning the United States must get to grips with a budget deficit that threatened not a "fiscal cliff" but a "fiscal abyss". Most of China's $3.3 trillion foreign exchange reserves are held in dollars.


The vote averted immediate pain like tax hikes for almost all U.S. households, but did nothing to resolve other political showdowns on the budget that loom in coming months. Spending cuts of $109 billion in military and domestic programs were only delayed for two months.


Obama urged "a little less drama" when the Congress and White House next address thorny fiscal issues like the government's rapidly mounting $16 trillion debt load.


There was plenty of drama on the first day of 2013 as lawmakers scrambled to avert the "fiscal cliff" of across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts that would have punched a $600 billion hole in the economy this year.


As the rest of the country celebrated New Year's Day with parties and college football games, the Senate stayed up past 2 a.m. on Tuesday and passed the bill by an overwhelming margin of 89 to 8.


When they arrived at the Capitol at noon, House Republicans were forced to decide whether to accept a $620 billion tax hike over 10 years on the wealthiest or shoulder the blame for letting the country slip into budget chaos.


The Republicans mounted an effort to add hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts to the package and spark a confrontation with the Senate.


RELUCTANT REPUBLICANS


For a few hours, it looked like Washington would send the country over the fiscal cliff after all, until Republican leaders determined that they did not have the votes for spending cuts.


In the end, they reluctantly approved the Senate bill by a bipartisan vote of 257 to 167 and sent it on to Obama to sign into law.


"We are ensuring that taxes aren't increased on 99 percent of our fellow Americans," said Republican Representative David Dreier of California.


The vote underlined the precarious position of House Speaker John Boehner, who will ask his Republicans to re-elect him speaker on Thursday when a new Congress is sworn in. Boehner backed the bill but most House Republicans, including his top lieutenants, voted against it.


The speaker had sought to negotiate a "grand bargain" with Obama to overhaul the U.S. tax code and rein in health and retirement programs that are due to balloon in coming decades as the population ages. But Boehner could not unite his members behind an alternative to Obama's tax measures.


Income tax rates will now rise on families earning more than $450,000 per year and the amount of deductions they can take to lower their tax bill will be limited.


Low temporary rates that have been in place for the past decade will be made permanent for less-affluent taxpayers, along with a range of targeted tax breaks put in place to fight the 2009 economic downturn.


However, workers will see up to $2,000 more taken out of their paychecks annually with the expiration of a temporary payroll tax cut.


The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the bill will increase budget deficits by nearly $4 trillion over the coming 10 years, compared to the budget savings that would occur if the extreme measures of the cliff were to kick in.


But the measure will actually save $650 billion during that time period when measured against the tax and spending policies that were in effect on Monday, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, an independent group that has pushed for more aggressive deficit savings.


(Additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai, Thomas Ferraro, Mark Felsenthal, David Lawder; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Alistair Bell and Eric Beech)



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