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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


CASH POURING IN, HOUSING DATA COULD HELP


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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Te'o tells ESPN: Not involved in creating hoax


NEW YORK (AP) — Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o insisted he had no role in the bizarre hoax involving his "dead" girlfriend and told ESPN on Friday night that he was duped by a person who has since apologized to him.


In an off-camera interview Friday with ESPN, Te'o said Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance who lives in California, contacted him two days ago and confessed to the prank. Deadspin.com first exposed the scheme on Wednesday and indicated Tuiasosopo was involved in it.


"I wasn't faking it," ESPN quoted Te'o as saying during the 2 1-2 hour interview. "I wasn't part of this. When they hear the facts they'll know. They'll know there is no way I could be a part of this."


Te'o said he first met Tuiasosopo in person after the Southern California game in November. According to the linebacker, Tuiasosopo told him he was the cousin of Lennay Kekua, the woman who Te'o believed he had fallen for through Internet chats and long phone conversations. But Kekua never existed.


"Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing," Te'o told ESPN. "According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah's one."


The Tuiasosopo family has declined several interview requests from The Associated Press since Wednesday.


Te'o said he never met Kekua face-to-face and when he tried to speak with her via Skype and video phone calls, the picture was blocked. Still, he didn't figure out the ruse.


He also told ESPN that he lied to his father about having met Kekua. To cover that up, he apparently lied to everyone else.


After he was told Kekua had died of leukemia in early September, Te'o admitted he misled the public about the nature of the "relationship" because he was uncomfortable saying it was purely an electronic romance.


"That goes back to what I did with my dad. I knew that. I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet," he said. "So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away."


Te'o's first interview since the story broke came at the end of a day that started with Notre Dame posting a podcast of athletic director Jack Swarbrick's radio show, during which he implored the Heisman Trophy runner-up to speak publicly about the episode. Already, it had turned the feel-good story line of the college football season into a dark and strange one.


Te'o took Notre Dame's advice, but this was no Lance Armstrong-with-Oprah Winfrey made for TV mea culpa.


ESPN conducted the interview with Te'o at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where Te'o is preparing for the NFL draft and hopes to be among the first-round picks. The network produced only still photos of the interview, with reporter Jeremy Schaap sitting at large table with the linebacker. Schaap then provided details on "Sports Center" and a story was posted on ESPN.com.


Some wondered whether Te'o had been in on the fake girlfriend scheme in an attempt to gain positive publicity and attention. Schaap said Te'o firmly denied that. The nation's best defender also said the hoax affected his play in the BCS national championship, a 42-14 loss to Alabama in which he performed poorly.


Te'o told ESPN that he wasn't entirely sure he was the victim of a hoax until earlier this week, just two days ago, when Tuiasosopo apologized. As Notre Dame officials said earlier, he did get a call from the person posing as Kekua on Dec. 6 — but it was to tell him she had not died at all, and to carry on their courtship.


Te'o was confused. He finally confided in his parents over Christmas break in his home state of Hawaii and told Notre Dame coaches what was going on Dec. 26, according to Swarbrick.


"My relationship with Lennay wasn't a four-year relationship," Te'o said. "There were blocks and times and periods in which we would talk and then it would end," but he offered her a "shoulder to cry on" when she told him her father had died.


Te'o said he was told Kekua was in a coma following an April 28 car accident, but she awoke the following month. He never made an attempt to visit her in the hospital.


"It never really crossed my mind. I don't know. I was in school," he told ESPN.


Then came the day in September when his grandmother died and the woman known as Kekua reached out to him.


"I was angry. I didn't want to be bothered," he told ESPN. "We got in an argument. She was saying, you know, I'm trying to be here for you. I didn't want to be bothered. I wanted to be left alone. I just wanted to be by myself. Last thing she told me was 'Just know I love you.'"


Te'o was told later that day Kekua had died.


ESPN did not play audio of the interview, relying instead on descriptions of Te'o and his statements from reporter Schaap. Audio clips were posted later. According to the reporter, Te'o was calm, and had no interest in going on camera.


"He was very relieved, he told me at the end of it, to have had a chance to tell his story," Schaap said.


Te'o told ESPN the relationship with Kekua dated to his freshman year at Notre Dame, the 2009-10 season, and they met via Facebook.


Te'o also provided details of just how devilish the hoax was — how Kekua spoke to his mother about Mormonism, how he could hear a supposed ventilator when she was in her coma, even how she sought his checking account number so she could send him some money (he declined).


At the Notre Dame student union early Saturday, many people didn't even seem to notice the story about Te'o playing out on television.


In the lounge section, six people watched ESPN as the report aired on TVs on opposite sides of the room and several said they weren't satisfied with what they saw and heard.


Tony Stedge, a freshman from Seattle, said he supports Te'o, but he'd still like to hear from the star player.


"I think he should be able to do it in his own time, whenever he is comfortable," he said.


Te'o's comments to ESPN though made it sound as if he is ready to put this all behind him — and Tuiasosopo.


"I hope he learns," Te'o said. "I hope he understands what he's done. I don't wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough."


He added: "I'll be OK. As long as my family's OK, I'll be fine."


___


Associated Press writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., contributed to this report.


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‘Planetary Parks’ Could Protect Space Wilderness






It’s a wilderness out there in outer space. And as robotic surrogates set the stage for human footprints on Mars and other planetary bodies, just how much respect for other worlds should we have?


One suggested response would establish planetary parks for the solar system, an answer that ties together space science and exploration, ethics, law, policy, diplomacy and communications.






The parks would be organized under a single management system, with clear regulations for protection and use. But just what are the benefits of establishing a park system on target planets and moons before starting an intense program of exploration, and exploitation, of bodies in our solar system?


Planetary protection


A system of planetary parks fits with the ideas of such groups as the Committee on Space Research, advocates of the proposal note. COSPAR’s long list of agenda items includes an active discussion of planetary protection.


COSPAR’s objectives are to promote, on an international level, scientific research in space, with emphasis on the exchange of results, information and opinions. The organization also aims to provide a forum, open to all scientists, for the discussion of problems that may affect scientific space research.


Indeed, participants broached the planetary parks idea in June 2010 during COSPAR’s Workshop on Ethical Considerations for Planetary Protection in Space Exploration, held at Princeton University.


Why now?


“I think the concept is a useful one, and as we know more about planets like Mars, there is even more reason to think about developing planetary parks as we have the information to define where they might go,” said Charles Cockell, a professor of astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a leading proponent of the notion.


A network of parks on Mars would aim to preserve different regions on the Red Planet because of the variety of environments it contains.


Mars is home to deserts, extinct shield volcanoes, canyons and polar ice caps. By preserving representative portions of these features, a diversity of planetary parks with different features of outstanding beauty and intrinsic, natural worth could be established. The parks would also allow for maximum preservation of scientific heritage, both geologically and — perhaps — biologically. [6 Most Likely Places for Alien Life in the Solar System]


Red Planet rules


Space preservationists could apply such a system elsewhere, including the moon, and on asteroids and satellites of the giant planets. But, specifically for Martian parks, the following rules might apply:


  • No spacecraft or vehicle parts to be left within the park

  • No landing of unmanned spacecraft within the park

  • No waste to be left within the park

  • Access only on foot or via surface vehicle along predefined routes, or by landing in a rocket-powered vehicle in predefined landing areas

  • All suits, vehicles and other machines used in the park to be sterilized on their external surfaces to prevent microbial shedding

As for those dismissive of the idea, Cockell told SPACE.com that he thinks such reactions occur primarily because there isn’t anyone on Mars or anywhere else beyond Earth orbit at the moment — so why would you want to set up parks?  


Partly scientific, partly ethical


A few reasons explain why parks are a good idea, even without any people on Mars, advocates say.


“I think the reasons are two-fold. It is partly scientific and partly ethical,” Cockell said, pointing out:


  • One scientific argument is that it’s useful to keep areas of other planetary bodies free of human activity, to maintain pristine conditions that can be used to answer scientific questions. This may turn out to be essential if researchers discover life elsewhere. It’s also consistent with existing COSPAR planetary-protection policies that seek to prevent harmful contamination of other planetary bodies in order to preserve their scientific potential.

  • One ethical argument is that it says something about our species that we think about our actions elsewhere and attempt to mitigate our impact prior to establishing a permanent presence beyond the Earth. We might want to preserve some places in pristine condition for future generations. We may also want to protect unknown benefits that could potentially be gained from places in space that human activity has not altered.

Expansion of private enterprise


“I think now is the time to do this because we are entering into a new era of both government and private exploration, which promises the possibility of many new organizations developing a spacefaring capability,” Cockell said. “It would seem then that now is a good time to think about these questions afresh.”


Cockell said that the idea is not to restrict space exploration, but rather to ensure that it is done in a thoughtful and far-sighted manner.


“By establishing parks, we might better be able to define those areas that should be left free of regulations and free for commercial development,” Cockell said. “So they can be used as an impetus to help us think about places that should be left to ensure the unfettered expansion of private enterprise into space, as well as places we might want to turn into our first planetary parks.”


Potential-use conflicts


Another leading thinker in this area is Gerda Horneck, at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne, Germany. While not expressing an official view of DLR, she sees the initiative as analogous to national park systems right here on Earth.


“A planetary park system could extend the reasons for practical protection policies beyond the utilitarian protection of scientific resources emphasized by planetary protection … into other utilitarian and intrinsic value arguments,” Horneck told SPACE.com.


She added that such planetary park systems could still allow for the development of non-park areas by commercial enterprises, while incorporating regional protection for other objectives: scientific interest and use, preservation of historic value or natural beauty, or preservation for future generations.


“Thus, a strategy of planetary parks for the solar system could help solve future potential-use conflicts, incorporate both utilitarian and intrinsic-value arguments and be organized under a single management system, with clear regulations for protection and use,” Horneck said.


Such an approach would also address considerations about moral and legal definitions of wilderness on other planetary bodies, Horneck added, “and would allow us to express a respect for other worlds.”


Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and a past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society’s Ad Astra and Space World magazines. He has written for SPACE.com since 1999.


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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Why Africa backs French in Mali





























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STORY HIGHLIGHTS


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

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

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

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




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


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


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


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



Lansana Gberie

Lansana Gberie



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


See also: What's behind Mali instability?


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


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










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


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


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


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


See also: Six reasons events in Mali matter


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


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



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



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


Watch video: French troops welcomed in Mali


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


See also: Nigerians waiting for 'African Spring'


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


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


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






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2 shot to death in separate attacks on South, West sides









Two men were shot to death in separate attacks within about 15 minutes of each other, one in Austin and one in Back of the Yards, authorities said.


About 9:15 p.m., a man was shot to death inside a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, 5500 W. North Ave.


The man, who witnesses said was about 21 years old, was inside a business when he was shot from outside by someone who fled on foot, said Chicago Police News Affairs Officer Amina Greer. He was unresponsive on the scene, she said.








Three workers inside were cleaning up inside as police examined shell casings outside about 10 p.m. Someone fired at least four times from outside the restaurant, piercing a window and striking the man, police said.


An employee who was inside making up an order at the time of the shooting said the gunfire did not sound like shots but instead like someone hitting a table with a hammer.


Just 15 minutes later, a man in his 20s was found shot to death on a sidewalk about 9:30 p.m. in the 5400 block of South Laflin Street, Greer said. He suffered a gunshot wound to the face and was dead on the scene, she said.


Police found him in a gangway next to a house with vacant brick buildings on each side.


About 11:35 p.m., a male was shot in the leg in the 4400 block of South Washtenaw Avenue, Greer said. He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in good condition.


Someone shot two teens in the 8400 block of South Constance Avenue about 9:45 p.m., Greer said. A 15-year-old was shot in the chest and taken to Comer Children's Hospital in critical condition and a 16-year-old was grazed in the back and taken to Jackson Park Hospital in good condition.


Earlier, two men were shot in the Englewood neighborhood tonight. The shooting took place about 7:30 p.m. on the 7300 block of South Racine Avenue, and left one man wounded in the back and the other in the foot, police said.


The Chicago Fire Department said the men were taken to hospitals from nearby locations where they were found by emergency personnel.


A 20-year-old man with a wound to the back was taken from 74th and Racine in serious condition to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, and an 18-year-old man with a wound to the foot was taken from 74th and Aberdeen Street to St. Bernard Hospital, where his condition was stabilized, according to Fire Media reports.

No further details were immediately available.


pnickeas@tribune.com
Twitter: @peternickeas


lford@tribune.com
Twitter: @ltaford






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Foreigners still trapped in Sahara hostage crisis


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


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


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


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


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


On Saturday, the Algerian military was holding the vast residential barracks at the In Amenas gas processing plant, while gunmen were holed up in the industrial plant itself with an undisclosed number of hostages, making it difficult for Algerian special forces to intervene.


The army is surrounding the plant, and helicopters are monitoring the area, Algerian state radio said, quoting a reporter in the city of In Amenas.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


A U.S. official said on Friday a U.S. flight carrying wounded people from many countries had left Algeria, without giving further details.


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


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


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


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


MULTINATIONAL INSURGENCY


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti in Cairo, Eamonn Mallie in Belfast, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Mohammed Abbas in London, Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries in Dublin, Andrew Quinn and David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Giles Elgood)



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Chinese, U.S. data push global shares to twenty-month high

LONDON (Reuters) - World shares hit a 20-month high on Friday as encouraging data from the United States and China boosted prospects for the global economy, while the yen hit new lows ahead of next week's Bank of Japan meeting.


China's economy grew at a slightly faster-than-expected 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, the latest sign it is pulling out of a post-global financial crisis slowdown that produced its weakest year of economic growth since 1999.


The positive news came on top of strong U.S. labor and housing market reports on Thursday, providing fresh impetus to a recent strong and broad financial market rally.


MSCI's index of leading world shares <.miwd00000pus> hit its highest level since May 2011 at 552.16 points after Tokyo and Hong Kong stock markets surged and the S&P 500 in New York hit a five-year high.


Industrial commodities and oil also benefited, with palladium reaching a 16-month high and platinum a three-month high, while Brent crude added 28 cents to stand at $111.38 a barrel by 1030 GMT.


"We've got good numbers out of China, we had some good numbers out of U.S. yesterday ... The general sentiment is pretty good," said Neil Marsh, strategist at New edge.


"There will probably be some phases of consolidation as we go forward, but the markets remain pretty resilient. More people are putting their cash to work now in riskier assets like equities, and there is no sign of that stopping at the minute."


European stocks were mostly higher by mid-morning, with London's FTSE 100 <.ftse> and Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> up 0.4 and 0.2 percent, respectively, but Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> was 0.1 percent in the red <.l><.eu><.n>.


British retail sales posted a surprise monthly fall in December, dashing hopes that Christmas shoppers would provide a last-minute boost to an economy on the verge of another contraction.


Like much of Europe, consumer spending in Britain has come under pressure from a combination of below-inflation wage growth, worries about the economy and government austerity measures. 䄀 "What is disappointing is that, after about a year of a pick-up in retail activity, the high street seems to have stalled again over the past few months. We're looking at modest growth in the British economy over 2013," said Phillip Shaw, an economist at Investec.


YEN SLIDE RESUMES


The strong U.S. data and mounting expectations for more aggressive easing by the Bank of Japan (BOJ) next week lifted the dollar as high as 90.21 yen, its highest since June 2010, and the euro to its peak since May 2011 of 120.73 yen.


The single currency was starting to lose ground against the dollar as midday approached, trading down 0.2 percent at $1.3350.


Expectations that the new Japanese government will pursue massive fiscal spending and push for more aggressive BOJ easing to drive Japan out of years of deflation and economic slump have spurred heavy yen selling since November.


Sources told Reuters the BOJ will at its January 21-22 meeting consider removing the 0.1 percent floor on short-term interest rates and commit to open-ended asset buying until the 2 percent inflation target is reached.


"A lot is priced in for next week's BOJ meeting. If asset purchases by the BOJ were unlimited, that could lead to significantly higher levels in dollar/yen and euro/yen levels," said Peter Kinsella, currency strategist at Commerzbank. "Levels past 93-95 yen within the next two-three weeks is not unreasonable."


LTRO ANTICIPATION


U.S. stock futures pointed to a broadly steady restart on Wall Street after the S&P 500 climbed to a five-year high on Thursday.


In bond markets, German two-year government bond yields rose 0.25 percent to near their highest in nearly 10 months, with traders citing growing concerns over potentially large scale early repayments of the ultra-cheap three-year loans the European Central Bank flooded markets with from late 2011.


The ECB will on January 25 publish how much will be repaid in the January 30 first round of repayments. A larger-than-expected return of around 400 billion euros would effectively tighten money market conditions and push up the price banks charge to lend to each other.


"The (German) front-end is being hit by the LTRO story," one bond trader said. "My view is it's oversold, but there's something else at play there, so it's very difficult to trade against it."


(Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Will Waterman)



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Armstrong admits doping: 'I'm a flawed character'


CHICAGO (AP) — He did it. He finally admitted it. Lance Armstrong doped.


He was light on the details and didn't name names. He mused that he might not have been caught if not for his comeback in 2009. And he was certain his "fate was sealed" when longtime friend, training partner and trusted lieutenant George Hincapie, who was along for the ride on all seven of Armstrong's Tour de France wins from 1999-2005, was forced to give him up to anti-doping authorities.


But right from the start and more than two dozen times during the first of a two-part interview Thursday night with Oprah Winfrey on her OWN network, the disgraced former cycling champion acknowledged what he had lied about repeatedly for years, and what had been one of the worst-kept secrets for the better part of a week: He was the ringleader of an elaborate doping scheme on a U.S. Postal Service team that swept him to the top of the podium at the Tour de France time after time.


"I'm a flawed character," he said.


Did it feel wrong?


"No," Armstrong replied. "Scary."


"Did you feel bad about it?" Winfrey pressed him.


"No," he said. "Even scarier."


"Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?"


"No," Armstrong paused. "Scariest."


"I went and looked up the definition of cheat," he added a moment later. "And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."


Wearing a blue blazer and open-neck shirt, Armstrong was direct and matter-of-fact, neither pained nor defensive. He looked straight ahead. There were no tears and very few laughs.


He dodged few questions and refused to implicate anyone else, even as he said it was humanly impossible to win seven straight Tours without doping.


"I'm not comfortable talking about other people," Armstrong said. "I don't want to accuse anybody."


Whether his televised confession will help or hurt Armstrong's bruised reputation and his already-tenuous defense in at least two pending lawsuits, and possibly a third, remains to be seen. Either way, a story that seemed too good to be true — cancer survivor returns to win one of sport's most grueling events seven times in a row — was revealed to be just that.


"This story was so perfect for so long. It's this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn't true," he said.


Winfrey got right to the point when the interview began, asking for yes-or-no answers to five questions.


Did Armstrong take banned substances? "Yes."


Did that include the blood-booster EPO? "Yes."


Did he do blood doping and use transfusions? "Yes."


Did he use testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone? "Yes."


Did he take banned substances or blood dope in all his Tour wins? "Yes."


In his climb to the top, Armstrong cast aside teammates who questioned his tactics, yet swore he raced clean and tried to silence anyone who said otherwise. Ruthless and rich enough to settle any score, no place seemed beyond his reach — courtrooms, the court of public opinion, even along the roads of his sport's most prestigious race.


That relentless pursuit was one of the things that Armstrong said he regretted most.


"I deserve this," he said twice.


"It's a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. And it's inexcusable. And when I say there are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that. I do. ...


"That defiance, that attitude, that arrogance, you cannot deny it."


Armstrong said he started doping in mid-1990s but didn't when he finished third in his comeback attempt.


Anti-doping officials have said nothing short of a confession under oath — "not talking to a talk-show host," is how World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman put it — could prompt a reconsideration of Armstrong's lifetime ban from sanctioned events.


He's also had discussions with officials at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, whose 1,000-page report in October included testimony from nearly a dozen former teammates and led to stripping Armstrong of his Tour titles. Shortly after, he lost nearly all his endorsements, was forced to walk away from the Livestrong cancer charity he founded in 1997, and just this week was stripped of his bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics.


Armstrong could provide information that might get his ban reduced to eight years. By then, he would be 49. He returned to triathlons, where he began his professional career as a teenager, after retiring from cycling in 2011, and has told people he's desperate to get back.


Initial reaction from anti-doping officials ranged from hostile to cool.


WADA president John Fahey derided Armstrong's defense that he doped to create "a level playing field" as "a convenient way of justifying what he did — a fraud."


"He was wrong, he cheated and there was no excuse for what he did," Fahey said by telephone in Australia.


If Armstrong "was looking for redemption," Fahey added, "he didn't succeed in getting that."


USADA chief Travis Tygart, who pursued the case against Armstrong when others had stopped, said the cyclist's confession was just a start.


"Tonight, Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit," Tygart said. "His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction. But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities."


Livestrong issued a statement that said the charity was "disappointed by the news that Lance Armstrong misled people during and after his cycling career, including us."


"Earlier this week, Lance apologized to our staff and we accepted his apology in order to move on and chart a strong, independent course," it said.


The interview revealed very few details about Armstrong's performance-enhancing regimen that would surprise anti-doping officials.


What he called "my cocktail" contained the steroid testosterone and the blood-booster erythropoetein, or EPO, "but not a lot," Armstrong said. That was on top of blood-doping, which involved removing his own blood and weeks later re-injecting it into his system.


All of it was designed to build strength and endurance, but it became so routine that Armstrong described it as "like saying we have to have air in our tires or water in our bottles."


"That was, in my view, part of the job," he said.


Armstrong was evasive, or begged off entirely, when Winfrey tried to connect his use to others who aided or abetted the performance-enhancing scheme on the USPS team


When she asked him about Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who was implicated in doping-related scrapes and has also been banned from cycling for life, Armstrong replied, "It's hard to talk about some of these things and not mention names. There are people in this story, they're good people and we've all made mistakes ... they're not monsters, not toxic and not evil, and I viewed Michele Ferrari as a good man and smart man and still do."


But that's nearly all Armstrong would say about the physician that some reports have suggested educated the cyclist about doping and looked after other aspects of his training program.


He was almost as reluctant to discuss claims by former teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis that Armstrong told them, separately, that he tested positive during the 2001 Tour de Suisse and conspired with officials of the International Cycling Union officials to cover it up — in exchange for a donation.


"That story wasn't true. There was no positive test, no paying off of the labs. There was no secret meeting with the lab director," he said.


Winfrey pressed him again, asking if the money he donated wasn't part of a tit-for-tat agreement, "Why make it?"


"Because they asked me to," Armstrong began.


"This is impossible for me to answer and have anybody believe it," he said. "It was not in exchange for any cover-up. ... I have every incentive here to tell you yes."


Finally, he summed up the entire episode this way: "I was retired. ... They needed money."


Ultimately, though, it was Landis who did the most damage to Armstrong's story. Landis was stripped of the 2006 Tour title after testing positive and wound up on the sport's fringes looking for work. Armstrong said his former teammate threatened to release potentially destructive videos if he wasn't given a spot on the team. That was in 2009, when Armstrong returned to the Tour after four years off.


Winfrey asked whether Landis' decision to talk was "the tipping point."


"I'd agree with that. I might back it up a little and talk about the comeback. I think the comeback didn't sit well with Floyd," Armstrong recalled.


"Do you regret now coming back?"


"I do. We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back," he said.


The closest Armstrong came to contrition was when Winfrey asked him about his apologies in recent days, notably to former teammate Frankie Andreu, who struggled to find work in cycling after Armstrong dropped him from the USPS team, as well as his wife, Betsy. Armstrong said she was jealous of his success, and invented stories about his doping as part of a long-running vendetta.


"Have you made peace?" Winfrey asked.


"No," Armstrong replied, "because they've been hurt too badly, and a 40-minute (phone) conversation isn't enough."


He also called London Sunday Times reporter David Walsh as well as Emma O'Reilly, who worked as a masseuse for the USPS team and later provided considerable material for a critical book Walsh wrote about Armstrong and his role in cycling's doping culture.


Armstrong subsequently sued for libel in Britain and won a $500,000 judgment against the newspaper, which is now suing to get the money back. Armstrong was, if anything, even more vicious in the way he went after O'Reilly. He intimated she was let go from the Postal team because she seemed more interested in personal relationships than professional ones.


"What do you want to say about Emma O'Reilly?" Winfrey asked.


"She, she's one of these people that I have to apologize to. She's one of these people that got run over, got bullied."


"You sued her?"


"To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don't even," Armstrong said, then paused, "I'm sure we did."


Near the end of the first interview installment, Winfrey asked about a federal investigation of Armstrong that was dropped by the Justice Department without charges.


"When they dropped the case, did you think: 'Now, finally over, done, victory'?"


Armstrong looked up. He exhaled.


"It's hard to define victory," he said. "But I thought I was out of the woods."


___


AP Sports Writers Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, Eddie Pells in Denver and Dennis Passa in Melbourne contributed to this report.


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Mild Weather for the Weekend, Plus Latest Drought Update…Looking Better!







NICE WEATHER INTO THE WEEKEND…


Temperatures tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday will be in the low to mid 60s!  There will be lots of sunshine each day.  Chilly mornings though as we start in the 30s during the early going each morning.






SNOW STORM FOR THE DEEP SOUTH…


Snow in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia today!  Below is the map from 4pm today.  You can see that area of low pressure right oer Atlanta generating snow.


 Mild Weather for the Weekend, Plus Latest Drought Update…Looking Better!


COLD AIR MOVING SOUTH…


Cold air in Canada will be moving south the next few days.  We will just see a glancing blow of this cold air on Monday, but it will be very cold in the Midwest.  In fact, this will be some of the coldest air they have seen in Minneapolis in 4 years.  Here’s a look at the cold air in Canada.  And click on the link to check out the forecast for Minneapolis this week!  MINNEAPOLIS FORECAST.  Glad I’m in Texas for many reasons!


 Mild Weather for the Weekend, Plus Latest Drought Update…Looking Better!


DROUGHT UPDATE:


Last week’s soaking rains really helped improve the drought situation across the state.  Just the first 17 days of January have been wetter than the previous 3 months.  Below is a look at the rainfall totals from just this January compared to October, November and December of last year!


 Mild Weather for the Weekend, Plus Latest Drought Update…Looking Better!


DROUGHT MONITOR


The latest drought monitor came out today.  Below I wanted to show you how much we have improved.  The image on the right is last week’s report.  The image on the left is this week’s report.  Note how much of the red area has shrunk.  The red shaded areas are the areas in the worst category of drought (extreme and exceptional).


 Mild Weather for the Weekend, Plus Latest Drought Update…Looking Better!


Below are the percentage change in the amount of the state covered in the different drought categories.


 Mild Weather for the Weekend, Plus Latest Drought Update…Looking Better!


LAKE LEVELS…


The rain did help increase the lakes in North Texas.  We still could use more though.  All lakes are below conservation level.


 Mild Weather for the Weekend, Plus Latest Drought Update…Looking Better! Mild Weather for the Weekend, Plus Latest Drought Update…Looking Better!


But the total capacity of North Texas lakes sits at 84%.


FORECAST:


TONIGHT:  Clear and cold.  Low of 33.  Light east winds.


TOMORROW:  Sunny and pleasant.  High of 60.  SE 5-10 mph


SATURDAY:  Mostly sunny and mild.  Morning low of 39.  High of 64.  SW 5-15 mph


SUNDAY:  Mostly sunny.  Morning low of 39.  High of 60.  S 5-10 mph shifting to the north later in the day.


MONDAY (MLK DAY):  Mostly cloudy, chilly and breezy.  Morning low of 40.  High of 47.  NE 10-20 mph


TUESDAY:  Mostly cloudy.  Morning low of 30.  High of 50.  S 10-15 mph


SKYWARN TRAINING ON SATURDAY IN FRISCO


Want to learn about storm spotting.  Don’t miss this free event to learn about storm structures.


 Mild Weather for the Weekend, Plus Latest Drought Update…Looking Better!




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U.S. 'needs tougher child labor rules'




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




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Cristina Traina: Obama should strengthen child farm labor standards

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

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

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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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






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


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


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


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


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


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.



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






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Quinn to name former prosecutor Fitzgerald to UI board









Gov. Pat Quinn will name former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, the Tribune has learned.


Fitzgerald will replace first term trustee Lawrence Oliver II, according to a source who was informed of the decision.


The appointment would mark a quick return to the public eye for Fitzgerald, a career prosecutor who left the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago for private law practice in 2012 after a long run that included putting former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich behind bars.





Oliver told the Tribune he received a call from Quinn's office Wednesday afternoon with the news that he would not be reappointed. Oliver, who was appointed as a political independent and maintains that affiliation, said he suspects he was not reappointed because he voted in a 2010 Democratic primary.


By law, U. of I. can have no more than five members from any political party, and there are already five Democrats on the board.


Both of the other two board members whose terms expire Monday say they were told they were reappointed to another six-year term. James Montgomery, a Democrat and a Chicago attorney, refused the governor's call to resign during the university scandal over politically connected admissions to the school. Dr. Timothy Koritz, an anesthesiologist at Rockford Memorial Hospital, was appointed by Quinn when he revamped the board in 2009. Koritz, a Republican, was told Wednesday that he would serve a second term.


Quinn’s office is expected to announce the appointments prior to U. of I.'s board meeting next week.


Oliver, chief counsel for investigations at the Boeing Co. who served on Quinn's Illinois Reform Commission, said he was disappointed by the governor's decision. He said he voted in the 2010 Democratic primary to support David Hoffman for U.S. Senate.


U. of I.'s  nine-member board has to be politically balanced, according to state statute. The current board has five Democrats, three Republicans and one Independent.


The U. of I. board is scheduled to meet next Thursday, at which time it will take its annual vote on a chairman and other officers of the board.






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Hostages still held after Sahara assault


ALGIERS (Reuters) - At least 22 foreign hostages were unaccounted for on Friday and their al-Qaeda-linked captors threatened to attack other energy installations after Algerian forces stormed a desert gas complex to free hundreds of captives, resulting in dozens of deaths.


With Western leaders clamoring for details of the assault they said Algeria had launched on Thursday without consulting them, a local source said the gas base was still surrounded by Algerian special forces and some hostages remained inside.


Thirty hostages, including several Westerners, were killed during the storming, the source said, along with at least 11 of their captors, who said they had taken the site as retaliation for French intervention against Islamists in neighboring Mali.


The crisis represents a serious escalation of unrest in North Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week to fight an Islamist takeover of the north, and strikes a heavy blow to Algeria's vital oil industry, just recovering from years of civil war.


Fourteen Japanese were among those still unaccounted for by the early hours of Friday, their Japanese employer said, while Norwegian energy company Statoil, which runs the Tigantourine gas field with Britain's BP and Algeria's national oil company, said eight Norwegian employees were still missing.


A French hostage employed by a French catering company said Algerian military forces were combing the sprawling In Amenas site for hostages when he was escorted away by the military.


"They are still counting them up," Alexandre Berceaux told Europe 1 radio.


The crisis posed a serious dilemma for former colonial power Paris and its allies as French troops attacked the hostage-takers' al Qaeda allies in Mali, another former colony.


The kidnappers warned Algerians to stay away from foreign companies' installations in the OPEC-member oil and gas producing state, threatening more attacks, Mauritania's news agency ANI said, citing a spokesman for the group.


Algerian workers form the backbone of an oil and gas industry that has attracted international firms in recent years partly because of military-style security. The kidnapping, storming and further threat cast a deep shadow over its future.


An Irish engineer who survived said he saw four jeeps full of hostages blown up by Algerian troops whose commanders said they moved in about 30 hours after the siege began because the gunmen had demanded to be allowed to take their captives abroad.


Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among at least seven foreigners killed, the source told Reuters. Eight dead hostages were Algerian. The nationalities of the rest, and the perhaps dozens more who escaped, were unclear. Some 600 local Algerian workers, less well guarded, survived.


Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said his country still did not know the fate of eight of 13 Norwegian hostages taken. "As we understand it, the operation is still ongoing," he told Britain's BBC broadcaster.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has cancelled part of his trip in Southeast Asia, his first overseas trip since taking office, and will fly home due to the hostage crisis, Japan's senior government spokesman said on Friday.


"The action of Algerian forces was regrettable," said Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, adding Tokyo had not been informed of the operation in advance.


Their governments say Americans, Romanians and an Austrian have also been captured by the militants, who have demanded France end its week-old offensive in Mali.


A U.S. plane landed near the plant to evacuate hostages, the local source said on Friday.


Underlining the view of African and Western leaders that they face a multinational Islamist insurgency across the Sahara - a conflict that prompted France to send hundreds of troops to Mali last week - the official source said only two of the 11 dead militants were Algerian, including the squad's leader.


The bodies of three Egyptians, two Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a Frenchman - all assumed to have been hostage-takers - were found, the security source said.


The group had claimed to have dozens of guerrillas on site, and it was unclear whether any militants had managed to escape.


The overall commander, Algerian officials said, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran of Afghanistan in the 1980s and Algeria's bloody civil war of the 1990s. He appears not to have been present and has now risen in stature among a host of Saharan Islamists, flush with arms and fighters from chaotic Libya, whom Western powers fear could spread violence far beyond the desert.


Algerian security specialist Anis Rahmani, author of several books on terrorism and editor of Ennahar daily, told Reuters about 70 militants were involved from two groups, Belmokhtar's group, who travelled from Libya, and the lesser known "Movement of the Islamic Youth in the South".


"They were carrying heavy weapons including rifles used by the Libyan army during (Muammar) Gadaffi's rule. They also had rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns."


"NO TO BLACKMAIL"


Algeria's government made clear it is implacably at odds with Islamist guerrillas who remain at large in the south, years after the civil war in which some 200,000 people died. Communication Minister Mohamed Said repeated their refusal ever to negotiate with hostage-takers.


"We say that in the face of terrorism, yesterday as today as tomorrow, there will be no negotiation, no blackmail, no respite in the struggle against terrorism," he told APS news agency.


British Prime Minister David Cameron, who warned people to prepare for bad news and who cancelled a major policy speech on Friday to deal with the situation, said through a spokesman that he would have liked Algeria to have consulted before the raid.


A Briton and an Algerian were also killed on Wednesday.


French hostage Berceaux said he had hidden for nearly 40 hours in a room separately from other foreign hostages, surviving on supplies brought to him by Algerian colleagues.


"When the military came to get me, I did not know whether it was over," said Alexandre Berceaux. "They arrived with (my Algerian) colleagues, otherwise I would never have opened the door."


U.S. officials had no clear information on the fate of Americans, though a U.S. military drone had flown over the area. Washington, like its European allies, has endorsed France's move to protect the Malian capital by mounting air strikes last week and now sending 1,400 ground troops to attack Islamist rebels.


A U.S. official said on Thursday it would provide transport aircraft to help France with a mission whose vital importance, President Francois Hollande said, was demonstrated by the attack in Algeria. Some fear, however, that going on the offensive in the remote region could provoke more bloodshed closer to home.


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


(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti in Cairo, Eamonn Mallie in Belfast, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Mohammed Abbas in London and Padraic Halpin and Conor Humprhies in Dublin; writing by Alastair Macdonald and Philippa Fletcher; editing by Peter Millership, Michael Perry and Will Waterman)



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Futures signal mixed Wall Street open

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. stock futures pointed to a mixed open on Wall Street on Thursday, with futures for the S&P 500 rising 0.1 percent, Dow Jones futures down 0.2 percent and Nasdaq 100 futures falling 0.1 percent.


Airlines scrambled on Thursday to rearrange flights as Europe, Japan and India joined the United States in grounding Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner passenger jets while battery-related problems are investigated.


Earnings reports from major U.S. companies such as Citigroup , Intel , Bank of America and BlackRock , due later in the day, will be scrutinized for hints about the market's near-term direction.


First-time claims for jobless benefits for the week ended January 12 are due at 1330 GMT. Economists forecast a total of 365,000 new filings, compared with 371,000 in the previous week.


The Commerce Department releases housing starts and permits for December at 1330 GMT. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 903,000 permits in December, compared with 900,000 in the previous month.


Top executives at Goldman Sachs have been considering deep cuts to staffing levels and pay for at least two years, but feared too many layoffs would leave the firm unprepared for an eventual pickup in business, people familiar with the bank said.


Shares in Dutch telecoms company KPN rose more than 4 percent on Thursday after a report that U.S. peer AT&T is looking at an acquisition in Europe, including KPN and UK carrier Everything Everywhere.


AT&T is considering buying a telecoms company in Europe to offset growth constraints in its home market, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the company's thinking.


Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd reported a 32 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit as its cutting-edge technology keeps it ahead of rivals in the mobile gadget boom.


Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank releases its January business activity survey at 1500 GMT. Economists forecast a reading of 5.8, versus 4.6 in December.


The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> was flat in morning trading on Thursday.


The S&P 500 ended nearly flat on Wednesday as solid earnings from two major banks and a bounceback in Apple shares offset concerns about a lower forecast for global growth in 2013.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 23.66 points, or 0.17 percent, at 13,511.23 on Wednesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 0.29 points, or 0.02 percent, at 1,472.63. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 6.77 points, or 0.22 percent, at 3,117.54.


(Reporting by Atul Prakash; Editing by Catherine Evans)



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Manti Te'o girlfriend's death apparently a hoax


SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Not long before Notre Dame played Michigan State last fall, word spread that Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o had lost his grandmother and girlfriend within hours of each other.


Te'o never missed a practice and made a season-high 12 tackles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery in a 20-3 victory against the Spartans. His inspired play became a stirring story line for the Fighting Irish as they made a run to the national championship game behind their humble, charismatic star.


Te'o's grandmother did indeed die. His girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never existed.


In a shocking announcement Wednesday night, Notre Dame said Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose "death" from leukemia was faked by perpetrators of an elaborate hoax. The goal of the scam wasn't clear, though Notre Dame said it used an investigative firm to dig into the details after Te'o disclosed them three weeks ago.


The hoax was disclosed hours after Deadspin.com posted a lengthy story, saying it could find no record that Kekua ever existed. The story suggests a friend of Te'o may have carried out the hoax and that the football player may have been in on it — a stunning claim against a widely admired All-American who led the most famed program in college football back to the championship game for the first time since 1988.


"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te'o said in a statement. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. "


However, he stopped short of saying he had ever met her in person or correcting reports that said he had, though he did on numerous occasions talk about how special the relationship was to him.


"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating," he said. "In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was."


Word of the hoax spread quickly and raised questions about whether the school somehow played a role in pushing the tale.


Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at a news conference that Te'o told coaches on Dec. 26 that he had received a call from Kekua's phone number while at an awards ceremony during the first week of December.


"When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same person he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead. Manti was very unnerved by that, as you might imagine," Swarbrick said.


Swarbrick said the school hired investigators and their report indicated those behind the hoax were in contact with each other, discussing what they were doing.


The investigators "were able to discover online chatter among the perpetrators that was certainly the ultimate proof of this, the joy they were taking," Swarbrick said. "The casualness among themselves they were talking about what they accomplished."


Swarbrick said for Te'o "the pain was real."


"The grief was real. The affection was real," he said. "That's the nature of this sad, cruel game."


Swarbrick added: "Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota."


Swarbrick said Notre Dame did not take the matter to the police, saying that the school left it up to Te'o and his family to do so. He added that Notre Dame did not plan to release the findings of its investigation.


"We had no idea of motive, and that was really significant to us. ... Was somebody trying to create an NCAA violation at the core of this? Was there somebody trying to impact the outcome of football games by manipulating the emotions of a key player? Was there an extortion request coming? When you match the lack of sort of detail we lacked until we got some help investigating it with the risk involved, it was clear to me until we knew more we had to just to continue to work to try to gather the facts," Swarbrick said.


The Deadspin report changed all that.


Friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told Deadspin they believe he created Kekua. The website said Te'o and Tuiasosopo knew each other. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Tuiasosopo by telephone were unsuccessful.


As for Kekua, Deadspin said she does not have a death certificate. Stanford, where she reportedly went to school, has no record of anybody by that name, the website said. Deadspin said a record search produced no obituary or funeral announcement. There is no record of her birth in the news.


There are a few Twitter and Instagram accounts registered to Lennay Kekua, but the website reported that photographs identified as Kekua online and in TV news reports are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua.


Te'o talked freely about their relationship after her supposed death and how much she meant to him.


In a story that appeared in The South Bend Tribune on Oct. 12, Manti's father, Brian, recounted an anecdote about how his son and Kekua met after Notre Dame had played at Stanford in 2009. Brian Te'o also told the newspaper that Kekua had visited Hawaii and met with his son. Brian Te'o told the AP in an interview in October that he and his wife had never met Manti's girlfriend but they had hoped to at the Wake Forest game in November. The father said he believed the relationship was just beginning to get serious when she died.


The Tribune released a statement saying: "At the Tribune, we are as stunned by these revelations as everyone else. Indeed, this season we reported the story of this fake girlfriend and her death as details were given to us by Te'o, members of his family and his coaches at Notre Dame."


The week before Notre Dame played Michigan State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters when asked that Te'o's grandmother and a friend had died. He said Kekua had told Te'o not to miss a game if she died. The linebacker turned in one of his best performances of the season and his playing through heartache became a prominent theme during the Irish's undefeated regular season. He finished second in Heisman voting.


"It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life," Te'o said in his statement.


"I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been."


Te'o and the Irish lost the title game to Alabama, 42-14 on Jan. 7. He has graduated and was set to begin preparing for the NFL combine and draft at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this week.


"Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life," he said in his statement, "and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL draft."


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Army’s largest solar array dedicated in New Mexico






ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Army dedicated its largest solar energy-producing system on Wednesday at White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico.


The $ 16.8 million array includes nearly 15,500 sun-tracking solar panels spread across 42 acres. It will be capable of producing 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year — enough to meet about 10 percent of the need of the missile range.






With abundant sunshine, New Mexico made an ideal site for the project, said Garrison Commander Col. Leo Pullar, one of the officials who attended the ceremony.


“This project illustrates the U.S. Army’s commitment to going green, our focus on operating on net zero energy, and doing what we can to help protect the environment,” Pullar said in a statement.


Other electricity generating stations fueled by renewable resources have been developed on a handful of Army installations around the country. The projects included solar and wind systems at Arizona’s Fort Huachuca and biomass systems at Fort Stewart in Georgia and the Red River Army Depot in Texas.


Federal law currently requires at least 7.5 percent of an installation’s total electricity consumption to include energy produced by renewable resources. The Defense Department has set a voluntary goal of 25 percent by 2025.


The Army has been focusing on purchasing electricity generated from solar, wind, geothermal and biomass sources to meet the benchmarks. In August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued requests for proposals for purchasing $ 7 billion of electricity over 30 years from renewable energy plants built and operated by contractors using private financing.


At White Sands, Siemens Industry Inc. will be operating the new solar array and selling the electricity to the missile range.


Officials said the Army will own the renewable energy credits associated with the solar plant and will use them toward meeting federal renewable energy mandates.


Construction of the 4.1 megawatt array took about eight months. Work was completed in December, and officials expect the system to save White Sands more than $ 930,000 a year.


California-based technology company Solaria Corp. designed the array’s trackers.


“The productivity is amazing,” Solaria CEO Dan Shugar said in an interview. “You get about 30 percent more energy than you do out of a stationary array.”


Shugar said the Defense Department, which is by far the federal government’s largest energy consumer, is interested in renewable energy for cutting operating costs and enhancing security.


“The U.S. is one of the fastest growing solar markets in the world, and the government sector is one strong component of that,” he said.


The U.S. now has more than 6.4 gigawatts of installed solar electric capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That’s enough power for more than 1 million households.


During the third quarter last year, 684 megawatts of solar capacity was installed in the U.S. That’s nearly double what was installed during the same period in 2011, and experts said the growth is expected to continue as prices drop and state and federal mandates require higher percentages of renewable energy.


Energy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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