"Great Rotation"- A Wall Street fairy tale?

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street's current jubilant narrative is that a rush into stocks by small investors has sparked a "great rotation" out of bonds and into equities that will power the bull market to new heights.

That sounds good, but there's a snag: The evidence for this is a few weeks of bullish fund flows that are hardly unusual for January.

Late-stage bull markets are typically marked by an influx of small investors coming late to the party - such as when your waiter starts giving you stock tips. For that to happen you need a good story. The "great rotation," with its monumental tone, is the perfect narrative to make you feel like you're missing out.

Even if something approaching a "great rotation" has begun, it is not necessarily bullish for markets. Those who think they are coming early to the party may actually be arriving late.

Investors pumped $20.7 billion into stocks in the first four weeks of the year, the strongest four-week run since April 2000, according to Lipper. But that pales in comparison with the $410 billion yanked from those funds since the start of 2008.

"I'm not sure you want to take a couple of weeks and extrapolate it into whatever trend you want," said Tobias Levkovich, chief U.S. equity strategist at Citigroup. "We have had instances where equity flows have picked up in the last two, three, four years when markets have picked up. They've generally not been signals of a continuation of that trend."

The S&P 500 rose 5 percent in January, its best month since October 2011 and its best January since 1997, driving speculation that retail investors were flooding back into the stock market.

Heading into another busy week of earnings, the equity market is knocking on the door of all-time highs due to positive sentiment in stocks, and that can't be ignored entirely. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> ended the week about 4 percent from an all-time high touched in October 2007.

Next week will bring results from insurers Allstate and The Hartford , as well as from Walt Disney , Coca-Cola Enterprises and Visa .

But a comparison of flows in January, a seasonal strong month for the stock market, shows that this January, while strong, is not that unusual. In January 2011 investors moved $23.9 billion into stock funds and $28.6 billion in 2006, but neither foreshadowed massive inflows the rest of that year. Furthermore, in 2006 the market gained more than 13 percent while in 2011 it was flat.

Strong inflows in January can happen for a number of reasons. There were a lot of special dividends issued in December that need reinvesting, and some of the funds raised in December tax-selling also find their way back into the market.

During the height of the tech bubble in 2000, when retail investors were really embracing stocks, a staggering $42.7 billion flowed into equities in January of that year, double the amount that flowed in this January. That didn't end well, as stocks peaked in March of that year before dropping over the next two-plus years.


Arguing against a 'great rotation' is not necessarily a bearish argument against stocks. The stock market has done well since the crisis. Despite the huge outflows, the S&P 500 has risen more than 120 percent since March 2009 on a slowly improving economy and corporate earnings.

This earnings season, a majority of S&P 500 companies are beating earnings forecast. That's also the case for revenue, which is a departure from the previous two reporting periods where less than 50 percent of companies beat revenue expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Meanwhile, those on the front lines say mom and pop investors are still wary of equities after the financial crisis.

"A lot of people I talk to are very reluctant to make an emotional commitment to the stock market and regardless of income activity in January, I think that's still the case," said David Joy, chief market strategist at Columbia Management Advisors in Boston, where he helps oversee $571 billion.

Joy, speaking from a conference in Phoenix, says most of the people asking him about the "great rotation" are fund management industry insiders who are interested in the extra business a flood of stock investors would bring.

He also pointed out that flows into bond funds were positive in the month of January, hardly an indication of a rotation.

Citi's Levkovich also argues that bond investors are unlikely to give up a 30-year rally in bonds so quickly. He said stocks only began to see consistent outflows 26 months after the tech bubble burst in March 2000. By that reading it could be another year before a serious rotation begins.

On top of that, substantial flows continue to make their way into bonds, even if it isn't low-yielding government debt. January 2013 was the second best January on record for the issuance of U.S. high-grade debt, with $111.725 billion issued during the month, according to International Finance Review.

Bill Gross, who runs the $285 billion Pimco Total Return Fund, the world's largest bond fund, commented on Twitter on Thursday that "January flows at Pimco show few signs of bond/stock rotation," adding that cash and money markets may be the source of inflows into stocks.

Indeed, the evidence suggests some of the money that went into stock funds in January came from money markets after a period in December when investors, worried about the budget uncertainty in Washington, started parking money in late 2012.

Data from iMoneyNet shows investors placed $123 billion in money market funds in the last two months of the year. In two weeks in January investors withdrew $31.45 billion of that, the most since March 2012. But later in the month money actually started flowing back.

(Additional reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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NFL's Goodell aims to share blame on player safety

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to share the blame.

"Safety," he said at his annual Super Bowl news conference, "is all of our responsibilities."

Not surprisingly, given that thousands of former players are suing the league about its handling of concussions, the topics of player health and improved safety dominated Goodell's 45-minute session Friday. And he often sounded like someone seeking to point out that players or others are at fault for some of the sport's problems — and need to help fix them.

"I'll stand up. I'll be accountable. It's part of my responsibility. I'll do everything," Goodell said. "But the players have to do it. The coaches have to do it. Our officials have to do it. Our medical professionals have to do it."

Injuries from hits to the head or to the knees, Goodell noted, can result from improper tackling techniques used by players and taught by coaches. The NFL Players Association needs to allow testing for human growth hormone to go forward so it can finally start next season, which Goodell hopes will happen. He said prices for Super Bowl tickets have soared in part because fans re-sell them above face value.

And asked what he most rues about the New Orleans Saints bounty investigation — a particularly sensitive issue around these parts, of course — Goodell replied: "My biggest regret is that we aren't all recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get (bounties) out of the game, to make the game safer. Clearly the team, the NFL, the coaching staffs, executives and players, we all share that responsibility. That's what I regret, that I wasn't able to make that point clearly enough with the union."

He addressed other subjects, such as a "new generation of the Rooney Rule" after none of 15 recently open coach or general manager jobs went to a minority candidate, meaning "we didn't have the outcomes we wanted"; using next year's Super Bowl in New Jersey as a test for future cold-weather, outdoor championship games; and saying he welcomed President Barack Obama's recent comments expressing concern about football's violence because "we want to make sure that people understand what we're doing to make our game safer."


— New Orleans will not get back the second-round draft pick Goodell stripped in his bounty ruling;

— Goodell would not give a time frame for when the NFL could hold a game in Mexico;

— next season's games in London — 49ers-Jaguars and Steelers-Vikings — are sellouts.

Goodell mentioned some upcoming changes, including the plan to add independent neurologists to sidelines to help with concussion care during games — something players have asked for and the league opposed until now.

"The No. 1 issue is: Take the head out of the game," Goodell said. "I think we've seen in the last several decades that players are using their head more than they had when you go back several decades."

He said one tool the league can use to cut down on helmet-to-helmet hits is suspending players who keep doing it.

"We're going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders," Goodell said. "We're going to have to take them off the field. Suspension gets through to them."

The league will add "expanded physicals at the end of each season ... to review players from a physical, mental and life skills standpoint so that we can support them in a more comprehensive fashion," Goodell said.

With question after question about less-than-light matters, one reporter drew a chuckle from Goodell by asking how he's been treated this week in a city filled with supporters of the Saints who are angry about the way the club was punished for the bounty system the NFL said existed from 2009-11.

"My picture, as you point out, is in every restaurant. I had a float in the Mardi Gras parade. We got a voodoo doll," Goodell said.

But he added that he can "appreciate the passion" of the fans and, actually, "couldn't feel more welcome here."


Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Secret Video Shows Bomb Dogs Failing Tests

A new government investigation suggests that the Transportation Security Administration is not collecting enough detailed information to know if its bomb dogs are well trained and capable of finding bombs at the nation’s airports, and includes secret video that shows the dogs failing tests to detect explosives.

TSA has been testing bomb dogs in Miami and Oklahoma City and will be testing them at Dulles airport, outside Washington, D.C., this month.

A GAO report released this week, however, says that the passenger-screening canines have not been adequately tested, and included secret video shot over the past year that showed the dogs failing to detect explosives properly at the test airports.

“As part of our review,” wrote the GAO, “we visited two airports at which PSC teams have been deployed and observed training exercises in which PSC teams accurately detected explosives odor (i.e., positive response), failed to detect explosives odor (i.e., miss) and falsely detected explosives odor (i.e., non-productive response).”

The report also said that “TSA could have benefited from completing operational assessments of PSCs before deploying them on a nationwide basis to determine whether they are an effective method of screening passengers in the U.S. airport environment.”

In a statement, the TSA said it “acknowledges the need to further examine the data collected over a longer term. To that end, the National Canine Program (NCP) will reestablish annual comprehensive assessments. Beginning in March 2013, TSA plans to expand the Canine Website to improve functionality and reporting capabilities addressing a GAO recommendation.”

It also said that this month it would complete effectiveness assessments at Miami, Oklahoma City and Dulles airports, and that it would identify the proper places for the dogs to be deployed at 120 airports by the end of fiscal 2013.

The cost of keeping bomb-sniffing dogs on the government’s payroll has almost doubled in the past two years, from $ 52 million to more than $ 100 million. Each TSA dog team costs the taxpayers $ 164,000 dollars a year.

“They want to do the right thing,” aviation expert Jeff Price told ABC News, “but the homework hasn’t been done. A lot of money gets spent before they know something works.”

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Hillary: Secretary of empowerment

Girls hug U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a 2010 tour of a shelter run for sex trafficking victims in Cambodia.


  • Donna Brazile: Clinton stepping down as Secretary of State. Maybe she'll run for president

  • She says as secretary she expanded foreign policy to include effect on regular people

  • She says she was first secretary of state to focus on empowering women and girls

  • Brazile: Clinton has fought for education and inclusion in politics for women and girls

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton steps down from her job Friday, many are assuming she will run for president. And she may. In fact, five of the first eight presidents first served their predecessors as secretary of state.

It hasn't happened in more than a century, though that may change should Clinton decide to run. After all, she has been a game changer her entire life.

But before we look ahead, I think we should appreciate what she's done as secretary of state; it's a high profile, high pressure job. You have to deal with the routine as if it is critical and with crisis as if it's routine. You have to manage egos, protocols, customs and Congress. You have to be rhetorical and blunt, diplomatic and direct.

CNN Contributor Donna Brazile

CNN Contributor Donna Brazile

As secretary of state you are dealing with heads of state and with we the people. And the president of the United States has to trust you -- implicitly.

On the road with Hillary Clinton

Of all Clinton's accomplishments -- and I will mention just a few -- this may be the most underappreciated. During the election, pundits were puzzled and amazed not only at how much energy former President Bill Clinton poured into Obama's campaign, but even more at how genuine and close the friendship was.

Obama was given a lot of well-deserved credit for reaching out to the Clintons by appointing then-Sen. Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state in the first place. But trust is a two-way street and has to be earned. We should not underestimate or forget how much Clinton did and how hard she worked. She deserved that trust, as she deserved to be in the war room when Osama bin Laden was killed.

By the way, is there any other leader in the last 50 years whom we routinely refer to by a first name, and do so more out of respect than familiarity? The last person I can think of was Ike -- the elder family member who we revere with affection. Hillary is Hillary.

It's not surprising that we feel we know her. She has been part of our public life for more than 20 years. She's been a model of dignity, diplomacy, empathy and toughness. She also has done something no other secretary of state has done -- including the two women who preceded her in the Cabinet post.

Rothkopf: President Hillary Clinton? If she wants it

Hillary has transformed our understanding -- no, our definition -- of foreign affairs. Diplomacy is no longer just the skill of managing relations with other countries. The big issues -- war and peace, terror, economic stability, etc. -- remain, and she has handled them with firmness and authority, with poise and confidence, and with good will, when appropriate.

But it is not the praise of diplomats or dictators that will be her legacy. She dealt with plenipotentiaries, but her focus was on people. Foreign affairs isn't just about treaties, she taught us, it's about the suffering and aspirations of those affected by the treaties, made or unmade.

Most of all, diplomacy should refocus attention on the powerless.

Of course, Hillary wasn't the first secretary of state to advocate for human rights or use the post to raise awareness of abuses or negotiate humanitarian relief or pressure oppressors. But she was the first to focus on empowerment, particularly of women and girls.

She created the first Office of Global Women's Issues. That office fought to highlight the plight of women around the world. Rape of women has been a weapon of war for centuries. Though civilized countries condemn it, the fight against it has in a sense only really begun.

Ghitis: Hillary Clinton's global legacy on gay rights

The office has worked to hold governments accountable for the systematic oppression of girls and women and fought for their education in emerging countries. As Hillary said when the office was established: "When the Security Council passed Resolution 1325, we tried to make a very clear statement, that women are still largely shut out of the negotiations that seek to end conflicts, even though women and children are the primary victims of 21st century conflict."

Hillary also included the United States in the Trafficking in Person report. Human Trafficking, a form of modern, mainly sexual, slavery, victimizes mostly women and girls. The annual report reviews the state of global efforts to eliminate the practice. "We believe it is important to keep the spotlight on ourselves," she said. "Human trafficking is not someone else's problem. Involuntary servitude is not something we can ignore or hope doesn't exist in our own communities."

She also created the office of Global Partnerships. And there is much more.

She has held her own in palaces and held the hands of hungry children in mud-hut villages, pursuing an agenda that empowers women, children, the poor and helpless.

We shouldn't have been surprised. Her book "It Takes a Village" focused on the impact that those outside the family have, for better or worse, on a child's well-being.

As secretary of state, she did all she could to make sure our impact as a nation would be for the better.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

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Shootings leave 1 dead, 2 hurt

A bike lies abandoned in the snow near the spot where a 22-year-old man was found fatally shot Friday night.

A bike lies abandoned in the snow near the spot where a 22-year-old man was found fatally shot Friday night.
(Adam Sege, Chicago Tribune)

A pair of shootings on a cold and snowy Friday night left a 22-year-old man dead and two people injured, Chicago police said.

The fatal shooting happened about 8:30 p.m., Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines said.

Officers found the man near a three-story apartment building in the 3900 block of North Central Avenue, in the Northwest Side's Portage Park neighborhood.

Paramedics rushed the man to Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Later, as snow coated Central Avenue and several squad cars parked near the scene, police searched for evidence and photographed a bike lying by an entrance on the building's north side.

It appeared the man had collapsed shortly after being shot near where the bike was found, police said.

Police have launched a homicide investigation in the shooting.

In a separate shooting, a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old were wounded about 11:30 p.m. near the intersection of South California Avenue and 52nd Street.

Both people were taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where they were listed in good condition Gaines said.

The shooting happened in the Gage Park neighborhood on the Southwest Side.

Check back for more information.


Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Suicide bomber kills guard at U.S. embassy in Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters) - A far-leftist suicide bomber killed a Turkish security guard at the U.S. embassy in Ankara on Friday, officials said, blowing open an entrance and sending debris flying through the air.

The attacker detonated explosives strapped to his body after entering an embassy gatehouse. The blast could be heard a mile away. A lower leg and other human remains lay on the street.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the bomber was a member of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a far-left group which is virulently anti-U.S. and anti-NATO and is listed as a terrorist organisation by Washington.

The White House said the suicide attack was an "act of terror" but that the motivation was unclear. U.S. officials said the DHKP-C were the main suspects but did not exclude other possibilities.

Islamist radicals, extreme left-wing groups, ultra-nationalists and Kurdish militants have all carried out attacks in Turkey in the past. There was no claim of responsibility.

"The suicide bomber was ripped apart and one or two citizens from the special security team passed away," said Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

"This event shows that we need to fight together everywhere in the world against these terrorist elements," he said.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the attack as a heinous act.

Turkish media reports identified the bomber as DHKP-C member Ecevit Sanli, who was involved in attacks on a police station and a military staff college in Istanbul in 1997.


Turkey is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East with common interests ranging from energy security to counter-terrorism and has been one of the leading advocates of foreign intervention to end the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Around 400 U.S. soldiers have arrived in Turkey over the past few weeks to operate Patriot anti-missile batteries meant to defend against any spillover of Syria's civil war, part of a NATO deployment due to be fully operational in the coming days.

The DHKP-C was responsible for the assassination of two U.S. military contractors in the early 1990s in protest against the first Gulf War and launched rockets at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul in 1992, according to the U.S. State Department.

Deemed a terrorist organisation by both the United States and Turkey, the DHKP-C has been blamed for suicide attacks in the past, including one in 2001 that killed two police officers and a tourist in Istanbul's central Taksim Square.

The group, formed in 1978, has carried out a series of deadly attacks on police stations in the last six months.

The attack may have come in retaliation for an operation against the DHKP-C last month in which Turkish police detained 85 people. A court subsequently remanded 38 of them in custody over links to the group.


U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone emerged through the main gate of the embassy shortly after the explosion to address reporters, flanked by a security detail as a Turkish police helicopter hovered overhead.

"We're very sad of course that we lost one of our Turkish guards at the gate," Ricciardone said, describing the victim as a "hero" and thanking Turkish authorities for a prompt response.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the attack on the checkpoint on the perimeter of the embassy and said several U.S. and Turkish staff were injured by debris.

"The level of security protection at our facility in Ankara ensured that there were not significantly more deaths and injuries than there could have been," she told reporters.

It was the second attack on a U.S. mission in four months. On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three American personnel were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The attack in Benghazi, blamed on al Qaeda-affiliated militants, sparked a political furore in Washington over accusations that U.S. missions were not adequately safeguarded.

A well-known Turkish journalist, Didem Tuncay, who was on her way in to the embassy to meet Ricciardone when the attack took place, was in a critical condition in hospital.

"It was a huge explosion. I was sitting in my shop when it happened. I saw what looked like a body part on the ground," said travel agent Kamiyar Barnos, whose shop window was shattered around 100 meters away from the blast.


The U.S. consulate in Istanbul warned its citizens to be vigilant and to avoid large gatherings, while the British mission in Istanbul called on British businesses to tighten security after what it called a "suspected terrorist attack".

In 2008, Turkish gunmen with suspected links to al Qaeda, opened fire on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, killing three Turkish policemen. The gunmen died in the subsequent firefight.

The most serious bombings in Turkey occurred in November 2003, when car bombs shattered two synagogues, killing 30 people and wounding 146. Part of the HSBC Bank headquarters was destroyed and the British consulate was damaged in two more explosions that killed 32 people less than a week later. Authorities said those attacks bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda.

(Additional reporting by Daren Butler and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul, Mohammed Arshad and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Stephen Powell and Sandra Maler)

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Euro gains but shares steady before economic data

LONDON (Reuters) - The euro hit a fresh 14-month high on Friday as investors returned to the region's riskier asset markets, while shares steadied ahead of a batch of major U.S. and European economic data.

The euro hit a high of $1.3634 to the dollar, building on gains of over 3 percent in January, as the European Central Bank prepared to reveal how much more of its three-year emergency loans banks were likely to repay early.

The repayments are seen as a sign the euro zone debt crisis has eased, encouraging demand for peripheral European debt, but have also raised expectations short term money market rates could rise, which is supporting the euro. Details from ECB are due at 1100 GMT.

Otherwise attention is focused on the economic outlook with the release of January data on factory activity across the euro area to be followed by the latest U.S. jobs report at 1330 GMT and a national report on the state of American manufacturers.

Markets expect the data to show conditions in the euro zone remain weak but have at least stabilized after a weak fourth quarter, while the jobs data in the U.S. should confirm a gradual recovery is underway.

"We are seeing indications of improvement in underlying conditions and the seeds are being sown for a future economic recovery, but here and now economic conditions are still weak," Nick Kounis, head of macro research at ABN-AMRO, said.

Ahead of the data the broader FTSEurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> of top companies was 0.2 percent higher at 1,166.87 points, near a 223 month high.

Earlier China's said official purchasing managers' index (PMI) eased to 50.4 in January, missing market expectations for a rise and underscoring the fragility of the recovery from the economy's weakest year since 1999.

However, a separate private survey showed that growth in China's giant manufacturing sector hit a two-year high in January as domestic demand strengthened, underlining hopes the nation's economic recovery is slowly gaining momentum.

The Chinese data left MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> little changed and capped gains in oil prices from escalating tensions in the Middle East.

U.S. crude futures inched up 9 cents to $97.58 a barrel while Brent rose 23 cent to $115.978

London copper added 0.5 percent to $8,203 a tonne.

(Reporting by Richard Hubbard; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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Carville, Matalin enjoy role as Big Easy boosters

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When Mary Matalin heard a baby cry during a Super Bowl news conference this week, she paused midsentence, peered in the direction of the fussing child and asked: "Is that my husband?"

Matalin, the noted Republican political pundit, isn't shy about making jokes at the expense of Democratic strategist James Carville, who went from being her professional counterpart to her partner in life when they were married — in New Orleans — two decades ago.

This week, though, and for much of the past few years, the famous political odd couple have been working in lockstep for a bipartisan cause — the resurgence of their adopted hometown.

Their passion for the Big Easy and its recovery from Hurricane Katrina was why Carville and Matalin were appointed co-chairs of New Orleans' Super Bowl host committee, positions that made them the face of the city's effort to prove it's ready to be back in the regular rotation for the NFL's biggest game.

"Their commitment to New Orleans and their rise to prominence here locally as citizens made them a natural choice," said Jay Cicero, president of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, which handles the city's Super Bowl bids. "It's about promoting New Orleans, and their being in love with this city, they're the perfect co-chairs."

Carville, a Louisiana native, and Matalin moved from Washington, D.C., to historic "Uptown" New Orleans in the summer of 2008, a little less than three years after Katrina had laid waste to vast swaths of the city. There was not only heavy wind damage but flooding that surged through crumbling levees and at one point submerged about 80 percent of the city.

The couple had long loved New Orleans, and felt even more of a pull to set down roots here, with their two school-age daughters, at a time when the community was in need.

"The storm just weighed heavy," Carville said. "We were thinking about it. We'd been in Washington for a long time. The more that we thought about it, the more sense that it made. We just came down here (to look for a house) in late 2007 and said we're just going to do this and never looked back."

Matalin said she and Carville also wanted to raise their daughters in a place where people were willing to struggle to preserve a vibrant and unique culture.

"It's authentically creative, organically eccentric, bounded by beauty of all kinds," she said. "People pull for each other, people pull together. ... Seven years ago we were 15 feet under water. ... This is unparalleled what the people here did and that's what you want your kids to grow up with: Hope and a sense of place, resolve and perseverance."

Carville has been an avid sports fan all his life, and Matalin jokes that he now schedules his life around Saints and LSU football.

An LSU graduate, Carville has been a regular sight in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, often wearing a purple and gold rugby-style shirt.

In New Orleans, he and Matalin have lent their names not just to the Super Bowl host committee, but to efforts to prevent the NBA's Hornets from leaving when the ownership situation was in flux.

"I was scared to death they would leave the city," said Carville of the Hornets, who were purchased by the NBA in December of 2010 when club founder George Shinn wanted to sell and struggled to find a local buyer. "We were starting to do better (as a community). It would have been a terrible story to lose an NBA franchise at that time."

Saints owner Tom Benson has since bought the NBA club and signed a long-term lease at New Orleans Arena, ending speculation about a possible move.

Carville and Matalin also have taken part in a range of environmental, educational, economic and cultural projects in the area. Matalin is on the board of the Water Institute of the Gulf, which aims to preserve fragile coastal wetlands that have been eroding, leaving south Louisiana ecosystems and communities increasingly vulnerable to destruction. They have supported the Institute of Politics at Loyola University and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

Carville teaches a current events class at Tulane University and he looks forward to getting involved in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans in 2015 and New Orleans' tercentennial celebrations in 2018, when the city also hopes to host its next Super Bowl, if the NFL sees fit.

Leading a Super Bowl host committee, the couple said, has similarities to running a major national political campaign, but takes even more work.

"This has been going on for three years and it's huge," Matalin said. "It's bigger, it's harder, it's more complex — even though it's cheaper."

The host committee spent about $13 million in private and public funds to put on this Super Bowl, and the payoff could be enormous in terms of providing a momentum boost to the metro area's growth, Carville said.

"For us — New Orleans — I think this is going to be much more than a football game Sunday," Carville said of the championship matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. "We'll know how we feel about it on Monday. It's a big event, it helps a lot of people, but I think we have a chance if it goes the way we hope it does, it'll go beyond economic impact. It'll go beyond who won the game. I think there's something significant that's coming to a point here in the city."

So there's a bit of anxiety involved, to go along with the long hours. But Carville and Matalin say they've loved having a role in what they see as New Orleans' renaissance.

"I always say I'm so humbled by everyone's gratitude," Matalin said. "We get up every day and say, 'Thank you, God. Thank you, God.' It's a blessing for us to be able to be here, to live here."

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UN says unable to verify Syria complaint about Israeli planes

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.N. peacekeepers in a demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel were unable to verify a Syrian complaint that Israeli planes had flown over the Golan Heights area, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.

“UNDOF (the peacekeeping mission) did not observe any planes flying over the area of separation and therefore was not able to confirm the incident. UNDOF also reported bad weather conditions,” U.N. spokesman Eduardo del Buey told reporters.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Reality check needed on immigration?


  • Howard Kurtz: The mainstream media are rooting for immigration policy changes

  • Kurtz: Is enthusiasm causing the media to overestimate the prospects for reform?

  • He says the Republican House has been a graveyard for numerous Obama reforms

  • Kurtz: Illegal immigration still arouses visceral opposition among some Americans

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) -- The mainstream media -- you know who you are -- are rooting for immigration reform.

They like the idea of doing something to accommodate the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants, who, despite conservative rhetoric to the contrary, were never going to be banished.

They swoon over the kind of bipartisanship that brings together John McCain and Marco Rubio on the one hand and Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer on the other.

Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz

They believe the Republican Party needs to moderate its harsh rhetoric about immigrants -- if only to salvage its political future -- and are welcoming the GOP's new realism.

But is that enthusiasm causing media organizations to overestimate the prospects for reform?

Watch: Steve Kroft Plays Defense Over Hillary/Obama Lovefest on '60 Minutes'

Any bill still must pass the Republican House, which has been a graveyard for numerous Obama reforms. The Senate has always been a place where top lawmakers reach across the aisle more easily than in the polarized House, as was evident during the fiscal cliff debacle. And there are conservative groups determined to derail any path toward citizenship, which they view as amnesty.

It's not that journalists are acting as cheerleaders for the emerging plan. But when the media have qualms about an issue, they couch it as being "controversial" and "risky" (say, George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security).

Opinion: Immigrant - Can we trust Obama?

By contrast, look at the way the president's immigration speech in Las Vegas was covered:

The New York Times: "Seizing on a groundswell of support for rewriting the nation's immigration laws ..."

The Washington Post: "Obama added to momentum on Capitol Hill in favor of an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws ..."

We saw the same supportive approach when the Pentagon lifted a ban on women serving in front-line combat positions, which, despite some conservative opposition, was greeted with favorable features that largely depicted the move as long overdue.

Watch: Should N.Y. Times Have Censored Company Name Over the S-Word?

As with many perpetual Beltway disputes, the contours of a common-sense compromise on immigration have been clear for some time. The right wants tougher border enforcement and employer verification procedures. The left wants undocumented immigrants taken out of the "shadows," as Obama put it, and given a chance to become openly productive members of society.

The key are the tradeoffs. How long would a path to citizenship take? Are fines and back taxes required? How do we ensure that those who broke the law don't get an unfair advantage over legal applicants?

I don't argue with the standard political analysis that the moment may be ripe for immigration reform.

Watch: Media Seize on Emotional Moment of Gabby Giffords' Testimony

Mitt Romney, who talked about wanting immigrants to "self-deport," got clobbered among Hispanic voters. The GOP has lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. Sean Hannity, the Fox News commentator, says he has "evolved" on the issue, and he's not alone.

The conservative media may be a bellwether here. After Obama's Tuesday speech, Hannity's leadoff guest was Karl Rove, the former Bush lieutenant who favors the Senate compromise. And when Rubio, the Florida senator and son of Cuban immigrants, called in to Rush Limbaugh's show, the host -- while criticizing Obama -- told him, "What you are doing is admirable and noteworthy. You are recognizing reality."

Watch: BlackBerry 10: Is It a Hit or All Thumbs?

But illegal immigration remains a divisive subject that still arouses visceral opposition among some Americans. Capitol Hill is a place where partisan maneuvering can push the government to the brink of default. And as George W. Bush learned in his second term, hammering out a compromise on such a volatile issue is maddeningly elusive.

Perhaps the election changed the landscape and both parties will find a way to compromise. In the meantime, it might be wise to take the upbeat media coverage with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

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

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Hadiya Pendleton's 'twin' describes death of best friend

The best friend of Hadiya Pendleton talks about the moments before her friend was shot in Chicago on January 31, 2013. (Heather Charles, Chicago Tribune)

As she and her high school classmates fled from the gunfire, Hadiya Pendleton screamed that she had been shot, fell to the ground, struggled to get up and fell again, according to her best friend.

The best friend and another girl scrambled to Pendleton's side, cradling her in their arms as others ran for help.

"I was holding her hand trying to talk her through it," her best friend told the Tribune on Thursday. "I was like, 'You're going to be fine, you're going to be OK.'"

But Hadiya, 15, died shortly after a bullet pierced her back Tuesday, igniting outrage over the senseless loss of another young victim of Chicago's out-of-control gun violence and leaving her friends staggered by the horrifying chain of events on what had been a carefree afternoon.

In the account that follows, the Tribune is not naming those who witnessed the shooting and its aftermath because the gunman is still at large.

On Tuesday afternoon, the mood outside King College Prep in North Kenwood was jubilant. The students at the elite high school had just finished final exams, classes had let out early and the winter weather was spectacular, tipping into the low 60s.

Hadiya and her best friend, both sophomores, headed toward a nearby Potbelly's, one of their favorite places to eat, the friend said. But on their way, at about 1:30 p.m., they ran into friends who invited them to Harsh Park, just a few blocks away from the school.

"We were like, 'OK, sure, who doesn't want to walk around outside when it's nice?'" Hadiya's best friend said.

As they walked, the group of about a dozen teens discussed which tests had been easy and which had been hard. Some were volleyball players from King and others went to another high school, Hadiya's friends said.

Once they reached the small, residential park, Hadiya and others headed to a playground where they swung in the warm air while chatting about their plans for the summer and their 16th birthdays. Hadiya's best friend said she and Hadiya had talked about a joint sweet 16 party and possibly wearing matching gold heels and colorful outfits to celebrate the occasion.

But then a sudden downpour drove the teens beneath a metal awning where Hadiya played "Misery Business" by the band Paramore on her cellphone and others tweeted and texted as they waited out the rain.

Minutes later, however, Hadiya's best friend said she saw a gun-wielding male scale the park fence and approach the group. She yelled a warning to her friends, but the gunman opened fire, spraying the teens with bullets as they ran.

Hadiya was struck in the back about 2:20 p.m. One teen suffered a graze wound to an ankle. And a 17-year-old junior at King was hit in the left leg below the calf, according to his mother, who said he was trying to protect his girlfriend.

The teen's mother said that her son, an Eagle Scout, didn't realize he had been shot. He felt a little sting in his leg before he looked down and saw blood.

A nurse who lived in the area and was leaving her home at the time of the shooting ran to the group, applied a makeshift tourniquet to the teen shot in the leg and called 911. The nurse instructed the others on how to take care of Hadiya.

In the meantime, another friend of Hadiya's ran to a nearby Subway restaurant, burst through the door and asked to borrow a man's phone to call 911.

But by then wailing police cars whizzed by toward the park, so she called her mom.

"I told her to stay put," her mother told the Tribune. "I can't even tell you, as a mother, what it's like to get that phone call. My goal was to get to my child."

The friend said that she and Hadiya met freshman year at a high school dance camp. The friend joined poms, while Hadiya became a majorette, traveling to Washington last month to perform in a competition with her squad during President Barack Obama's inauguration weekend.

The girls were nicknamed "twins" by classmates and teachers because of their similar appearance, the friend said. From haircut to smile to skin tone to personalities, the two were hard to tell apart, she said.

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Explosion at Mexican oil giant Pemex headquarters kills 25

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A powerful explosion rocked the Mexico City headquarters of state-owned oil giant Pemex on Thursday, killing at least 25 people, injuring more than 100 and trapping others inside.

The mid-afternoon blast in a neighboring building shattered the lower floors of the downtown tower, throwing debris into the streets and sending frightened workers running outside.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a preliminary line of investigation was that the blast came from a gas boiler that exploded in the adjacent Pemex building. But the cause was still being determined, the official added.

The explosion at the building complex, where thousands of Pemex employees worked, was the latest in a series of serious safety problems to hit Mexico's national oil monopoly.

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said the blast killed at least 25 people, injured over 100, and that the number of casualties could rise.

Rescue workers were still searching for employees trapped inside the Pemex skyscraper on Thursday night. At least one person had been rescued alive, Osorio Chong said.

Mauricio Parra, a paramedic at the scene, said that as many as 100 people could be trapped at the offices of Pemex, a national institution that President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration has pledged to reform this year.

Police quickly cordoned off the building, and television images showed the explosion caused major damage to the ground floor and blew out windows on the lower floors of the tower.

"You could feel it all through the building," said Mario Guzman, a Pemex worker who was on the 10th floor of the building, which is more than 50 stories high.

First mistaking the blast for an earthquake, Guzman, who said he escaped after running down the stairs, feared the building would collapse on top of him and his colleagues, "and that we would end up like a sandwich."

Pemex said initially the tower was evacuated due to a problem with its electricity supply. It then said there had been an explosion, but did not say what caused it.

The Pemex blast occurred shortly before many workers were due to end their shifts at the complex.

The company said its business would not be affected by the incident and that it would continue to operate normally.


Earlier in the evening, Pena Nieto, who took office in December, went to the scene and said the explosion would be thoroughly investigated. He vowed to apply "the force of the law" if anyone was found to be responsible for it.

Mexican media reported that after the blast, security officials carried out a precautionary search of Congress for explosive devices, but found nothing.

Asked about this, Osorio Chong said normal security procedures were being followed, but added that "additional care" was being taken while the blast was being cleared up.

Helicopters buzzed around the building and lines of fire trucks sped to the entrance, while emergency workers ferried injured people through wreckage strewn on the street.

Search-and-rescue dogs were sent into the skyscraper, a Mexico City landmark that sports a distinctive "hat" on top.

Some families of people working in the tower were impatient for news about missing relatives.

Gloria Garcia, 53, herself a Pemex worker who was not in the building during the explosion, came to see if she could track down her son, who worked in one of the floors hit.

"I'm calling his phone and he's not answering," Garcia said, weeping as she called repeatedly on her phone. "Nobody knows anything. They won't let me through. I want to see my son whatever state he's in."


Pemex has experienced a number of deadly accidents in recent years and lesser safety problems have been a regular occurrence. In September, 30 people died after an explosion at a Pemex natural gas facility in northern Mexico.

More than 300 were killed when a Pemex natural gas plant on the outskirts of Mexico City exploded in 1984.

Eight years later, about 200 people were killed and 1,500 injured after a series of underground gas explosions in Guadalajara, Mexico's second biggest city. An official investigation found Pemex was partly to blame.

Alberto Islas, a security analyst at consultancy Risk Evaluation, said the explosion at the Pemex offices was another blot against the company's safety record.

"We've seen this time and again at Pemex. They don't have a well-integrated policy," Islas said, noting it would probably take several hours before investigators would be able to determine the cause of the explosion.

Pemex, a symbol of Mexican self-sufficiency since the oil industry was nationalized in 1938, has been held back by inefficiency and corruption and by the burden it shoulders of providing about a third of federal tax revenues.

Pena Nieto has pledged to open up the company to more private investment to improve its performance.

(Additional reporting by Krista Hughes, Cyntia Barrera, Gabriel Stargardter and Liz Diaz; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Kieran Murray, Peter Cooney and Eric Walsh)

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German jitters hit European shares, euro

LONDON (Reuters) - European shares fell for a second straight day and the euro slid on Thursday, as weak German retail sales and poor earnings at its biggest bank added to investors' nerves after a shock fourth quarter contraction in the U.S. economy.

Data on Wednesday showed U.S. GDP slipped back 0.1 percent, though the country's central bank, the Federal Reserve, indicated the pullback was likely to be brief as it repeated its pledge to continue providing support.

European shares, which have surged 3.7 percent this month, took their biggest daily hit of the year on Wednesday, and a plunge in German retail sales and a huge quarterly loss from Deutsche Bank dashed hopes of a quick rebound.

London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were all around 0.3 percent lower by 0830 GMT as trading gathered pace after shares in Asia posted modest gains. <.l><.eu><.n/>

"Perhaps the German retail sales have contributed a little bit, but we knew that Q4 was weak, so I would it attribute it more to earnings news," said Chris Scicluna, an economist at Daiwa Capital Markets.

"The Deutsche Bank loss does look to be on the sizable side. There has clearly been some mismatch between financial markets and the real economy so that does lend itself to a bit of a pullback."

In the currency market, the German jitters also left the euro under pressure. It was well off Wednesday's 14-month high at $1.3548, though the Federal Reserves promise of continued support was expected to mitigate the fall by keeping downward pressure on the dollar.

The nervy market atmosphere also pushed up Spanish and Italian government bond yields as some investors switched from higher-yielding debt into German Bunds.

Spanish 10-year yields rose 10 basis points on the day to 5.31 percent, while equivalent Italian debt rose 10 bps to 4.38 percent.

German Bund futures were half a point higher, spurred on by the Fed's determination to maintain its policy of stimulus for the U.S. economy.

Spot gold hovered near its one-week high of $1,683.39 an ounce reached on Wednesday. A weak yen pushed the most active gold contract on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange to a record high of 4,944 yen a gram on Thursday.

(Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Will Waterman)

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2 NFL seasons since agreement, still no HGH tests

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Count Baltimore Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones among those NFL players who want the league and the union to finally agree on a way to do blood testing for human growth hormone.

"I hope guys wouldn't be cheating. That's why you do all this extra work and extra training. Unfortunately, there are probably a few guys, a handful maybe, that are on it. It's unfortunate. It takes away from the sport," Jones said.

"It would be fair to do blood testing," Jones added. "Hopefully they figure it out."

When Jones and the Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Sunday, two complete seasons will have come and gone without a single HGH test being administered, even though the league and the NFL Players Association paved the way for it in the 10-year collective bargaining agreement they signed in August 2011.

Since then, the sides have haggled over various elements, primarily the union's insistence that it needs more information about the validity of a test that is used by Olympic sports and Major League Baseball. HGH is a banned performance-enhancing drug that is hard to detect and has been linked to health problems such as diabetes, cardiac dysfunction and arthritis.

"If there are guys using (HGH), there definitely needs to be action taken against it, and it needs to be out of (the sport)," Ravens backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. "I'm pretty sure it'll happen eventually."

At least two members of Congress want to make it happen sooner, rather than later.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland wrote NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith this week to chastise the union for standing in the way of HGH testing and to warn that they might ask players to testify on Capitol Hill.

Smith is scheduled to hold his annual pre-Super Bowl news conference Thursday.

"We have cooperated and been helpful to the committee on all of their requests," NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said. "If this is something they feel strongly about, we will be happy to help them facilitate it."

Several players from the Super Bowl teams said they would be willing to talk to Congress about the issue, if asked.

"I have nothing to hide. I can't speak for anyone else in football, but I would have no problem going," said Kenny Wiggins, a 6-foot-6, 314-pound offensive lineman on San Francisco's practice squad.

But Wiggins added: "There's a lot more problems in the U.S. they should be worried about than HGH in the NFL."

That sentiment was echoed by former New York Giants offensive lineman Shaun O'Hara, who now works for the NFL Network.

"Do I think there is an HGH problem in the NFL? I don't think there is. Are there guys who are using it? I'm sure there are. But is it something Congress needs to worry about? No. We have enough educated people on both sides that can fully handle this. And if they can't, then they should be fired," said O'Hara, an NFLPA representative as a player. "I include the union in that, and I include the NFL. There is no reason we would need someone to help us facilitate this process."

Issa and Cummings apparently disagree.

In December, their committee held a hearing at which medical experts testified that the current HGH test is reliable and that the union's request for a new study is unnecessary. Neither the league nor union was invited to participate in that hearing; at the time, Issa and Cummings said they expected additional hearings.

"We are disappointed with the NFLPA's remarkable recalcitrance, which has prevented meaningful progress on this issue," they wrote in their recent letter to Smith. "We intend to take a more active role to determine whether the position you have taken — that HGH is not a serious concern and that the test for HGH is unreliable — is consistent with the beliefs of rank and file NFL players."

Atallah questioned that premise.

"To us, there is no distinction between players and the union. ... The reason we had HGH in our CBA is precisely because our players wanted us to start testing for it," Atallah said. "We are not being recalcitrant for recalcitrance sake. We are merely following the direction of our player leadership."

Wiggins and other players said no one can know for sure how much HGH use there is in the league until there is testing — but that it's important for the union's concerns about the test to be answered.

"The union decides what is best for the players," said Ravens nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu, who said he would be willing to go to Capitol Hill.

"I feel like some guys are on HGH," said 49ers offensive lineman Anthony Davis, who would rather not speak to Congress. "I personally don't care if there is testing. It's something they have to live with, knowing they cheated, and if they get (outplayed) while they're on it, it's a hit on their pride."


Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Magnitude 5.3 quake 170 miles off Ore. coast; no tsunami danger, no damage reports

COOS BAY, Ore. – A magnitude 5.3 earthquake has been recorded about 170 miles off the southern Oregon coast. The National Weather Service‘s West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said there was no danger of a tsunami from the Tuesday evening quake.

There were no immediate reports of damage. The U.S. Geological Survey‘s National Earthquake Information Center website did not immediately show any reports that the quake was felt on land.

The earthquake information centre in Golden, Colo., said the 7:14 p.m. PST quake occurred at a depth of 6.4 miles.

Weather News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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BlackBerry must remember strengths


  • BlackBerry sales have slumped in the U.S. but is still strong in emerging markets

  • New models launched should remember why they are popular in developing world

  • In places like Brazil and South Africa, the 10 is the update to their current phone

  • in Sub-Saharan Africa there is expected to be 175 million new customers in the next 3 years

Watch Jim Clancy on CNN International's "The Brief" at 4p.m. ET GMT Friday.

(CNN) -- BlackBerry's loss of market share in the U.S. is the stuff of legends. Last fall, it was estimated only about 2% of American phone users were still carrying their BlackBerry mobile with its iconic keypad.

But consider this: sub-Saharan Africa is expected to add 175 million new mobile users in just the coming 3 years. That's according to the GSMA, which represents the world's mobile operators.

"Mobile has already revolutionized African society and yet demand still continues to grow by almost 50 percent a year," said Tom Phillips, Chief Government and Regulatory Affairs Officer, GSMA.

That could be good news indeed for BlackBerry. Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry, estimates it holds a 70% market share in countries like South Africa.

The company's new phones, announced this week, are not the ones some of its best customers in emerging markets would like to buy. They're too expensive. But Research in Motion -- which also this week changed its company name to BlackBerry -- is pledging some of its six new models will address that.

While millions in China, Europe and the U.S. have adopted Android or iOS smartphones with a vengeance, millions more users in emerging markets are enthused about what's in store for the new BlackBerry 10. It's the update for what many of them are already using.

They live in countries like Brazil, Malaysia, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. They have embraced the BlackBerry for a combination of factors that all point to the different way mobile devices are used.

Unlike their counterparts in Europe and America, the mobile in their pocket is more likely to be their primary link to the internet.

BlackBerry Messenger is the connection that allows these users unlimited conversations without paying charges for SMS data. While young, brand-conscious Chinese may be willing to part with several months' salary to buy the latest iPhone, African users are looking for more practical (and cheaper) connections.

What separates developed countries from their developing counterparts at street level can be summed up in a single word: infrastructure.

Isobel Coleman, senior fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations, says mobile technology has proved it can bridge the gap where infrastructure is lacking.

"It's a culture, it's an economy, it's innovation, education, healthcare, it's all of these things," says Coleman.

You can take that to the bank. For many Africans, their cell phone account is the first bank account they've ever owned.

In emerging markets, mobile phone banking is growing because of the lack of infrastructure. Fewer bank branches often mean long distances to travel and long lines once you've arrived.

Africans are expected to transfer more than $200 billion per year or 18% of the continent's GDP by 2015.

Oh, and that keyboard. No matter where you are in the world, there will always be a demand for a keyboard that clicks. The company appears to understand that as BlackBerry 10 models come with both soft keypads and the traditional BlackBerry buttons.

I asked some of my Twitter followers to weigh in on the BlackBerry 10 roll out. While some said Android or Apple's iOS were in their future plans, many others expressed continued enthusiasm for the BlackBerry.

Soji, a pianist and teacher in Nigeria tweeted back "I'm falling in love with this BB. Cheaper to own."

From Kuala Lumpur, Amir wrote "I need a physical keyboard to type while also having a touch-screen for photos etc. Security factor also important."

Hans-Eric from South Africa reinforced the sentiments of many mobile users in emerging markets: "The cost of data is simply too high without it (BlackBerry.)"

The voices from emerging markets couldn't have been clearer. What they expect from BlackBerry 10 is a stronger, longer lasting battery, durability and continued low cost connectivity.

CFR's Coleman agrees that BlackBerry (and anyone else) trying to win and hold this mobile device sector has to understand how these devices are being used and give the customers what they want.

"Cheap. Rugged. Not too many bells and whistles. Practical."

There is little doubt smartphones are changing the way people use the internet, how they bank, shop and interact socially.

But it's worth keeping in perspective that in a world where there are now an estimated 1 billion smartphones, there are 5 billion feature phone users. That's a lot of upside growth potential for BlackBerry and all the other players out there.

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Hawks' streak ends in 3-2 shootout loss

Blackhawks suffered first loss of the season.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the first time this season, the only sounds in the Blackhawks' postgame dressing room were pieces of tape being ripped from pads and hushed tones.

Gone was the celebrating as the Hawks had their six-game winning streak to start 2013 snapped as the Wild edged them 3-2 in a shootout Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center.

Matt Cullen scored the winner in the shootout for the Wild as the Hawks suffered their first loss on the road in five outings. Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck scored in regulation and Niklas Backstrom earned the victory in goal in relief of Josh Harding for the Wild, playing the second of back-to-back games.

"Those are the tight games in the last three or four games that we found a way to win," said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who scored in regulation and in the shootout. "We were this close again and we had a great chance to win in overtime and in the shootout but we just came up a bit short.

"We just wanted to play a patient game and keep wearing them down as much as we could (but) we didn't get on them as much as we wanted to."

Andrew Shaw also had a goal in regulation for the Hawks but it wasn't enough as Corey Crawford suffered the defeat in the first of the six-game trip. The Hawks managed a point and lead the NHL with 13, but fell to 4-0-1 on the road.

"We played a lot better the second half of the game," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "If we had won we probably would be saying we played a great game and we're happy, but we lost in a shootout so we're not going to get down and get negative."

After the Wild struck early in the opening period on Cullen's goal, the Hawks answered when Shaw and Toews scored 1 minute, 31 seconds apart a few minutes later. First, Shaw rushed the net and took a pass from Bryan Bickell and stuffed it past Harding.

Toews put the Hawks ahead when he snapped a quick shot from the left dot that eluded Harding. Wild coach Mike Yeo had seen enough and yanked Harding, who proceeded to take out his frustration on his goalie stick in the tunnel leading to the dressing room.

The Hawks rode the momentum of a strong penalty-killing effort into the intermission but it was short-lived as Clutterbuck redirected a long Tom Gilbert shot in the opening minute of the second.

With Crawford and Backstrom both playing well, the game eventually went to the shootout. It ended when Patrick Sharp rifled a shot off the crossbar and the Wild had the extra point.

"Going to a shootout, anything can happen," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had the play in the last part of the game. It's disappointing, obviously, when you don't win but at least let's get excited about getting back in the 'W' column."


Twitter @ChrisKuc

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Syrian rebels make slow headway in south

AMMAN (Reuters) - The revolt against President Bashar al-Assad first flared in Deraa, but the southern border city now epitomizes the bloody stalemate gripping Syria after 22 months of violence and 60,000 dead.

Jordan next door has little sympathy with Assad, but is wary of spillover from the upheaval in its bigger neighbor. It has tightened control of its 370-km (230-mile) border with Syria, partly to stop Islamist fighters or weapons from crossing.

That makes things tough for Assad's enemies in the Hawran plain, traditionally one of Syria's most heavily militarized regions, where the army has long been deployed to defend the southern approaches to Damascus from any Israeli threat.

The mostly Sunni Muslim rebels, loosely grouped in tribal and local "brigades", are united by a hatred of Assad and range from secular-minded fighters to al Qaeda-aligned Islamists.

"Nothing comes from Jordan," complained Moaz al-Zubi, an officer in the rebel Free Syrian Army, contacted via Skype from the Jordanian capital Amman. "If every village had weapons, we would not be afraid, but the lack of them is sapping morale."

Insurgents in Syria say weapons occasionally do seep through from Jordan but that they rely more on arsenals they seize from Assad's troops and arms that reach them from distant Turkey.

This month a Syrian pro-government television channel showed footage of what it said was an intercepted shipment of anti-tank weapons in Deraa, without specifying where it had come from.

Assad's troops man dozens of checkpoints in Deraa, a Sunni city that was home to 180,000 people before the uprising there in March 2011. They have imposed a stranglehold which insurgents rarely penetrate, apart from sporadic suicide bombings by Islamist militants, say residents and dissidents.

Rebel activity is minimal west of Deraa, where military bases proliferate near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Insurgents have captured some towns and villages in a 25-km (17-mile) wedge of territory east of Deraa, but intensifying army shelling and air strikes have reduced many of these to ruin, forcing their residents to join a rapidly expanding refugee exodus to Jordan, which now hosts 320,000 Syrians.

However, despite more than a month of fighting, Assad's forces have failed to winkle rebels out of strongholds in the rugged volcanic terrain that stretches from Busra al-Harir, 37 km (23 miles) northeast of Deraa, to the outskirts of Damascus.

Further east lies Sweida, home to minority Druze who have mostly sat out the Sunni-led revolt against security forces dominated by Assad's minority, Shi'ite-rooted Alawite sect.


As long as Assad's forces control southwestern Syria, with its fertile, rain-fed Hawran plain, his foes will find it hard to make a concerted assault on Damascus, the capital and seat of his power, from suburbs where they already have footholds.

"If this area is liberated, the supply routes from the south to Damascus would be cut," said Abu Hamza, a commander in the rebel Ababeel Hawran Brigade. "Deraa is the key to the capital."

Fighters in the north, where Turkey provides a rear base and at least some supply lines, have fared somewhat better than their counterparts in the south, grabbing control of swathes of territory and seizing half of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city.

They have also captured some towns in the east, across the border from Iraq's Sunni heartland of Anbar province, and in central Syria near the mostly Sunni cities of Homs and Hama.

But even where they gain ground, Assad's mostly Russian-supplied army and air force can still pound rebels from afar, prompting a Saudi prince to call for outsiders to "level the playing field" by providing anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

"What is needed are sophisticated, high-level weapons that can bring down planes, can take out tanks at a distance," Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief and brother of the Saudi foreign minister, said last week at a meeting in Davos.

Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf state Qatar have long backed Assad's opponents and advocate arming them, but for now the rebels are still far outgunned by the Syrian military.

"They are not heavily armed, properly trained or equipped," said Ali Shukri, a retired Jordanian general, who argued also that rebels would need extensive training to use Western anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons effectively even if they had them.

He said two powerful armored divisions were among Syrian forces in the south, where the rebels are "not that strong".

It is easier for insurgents elsewhere in Syria to get support via Turkey or Lebanon than in the south where the only borders are with Israel and Jordan, Shukri said.

Jordan, which has urged Assad to go, but seeks a political solution to the crisis, is unlikely to ramp up support for the rebels, even if its cautious policy risks irritating Saudi Arabia and Qatar, financial donors to the cash-strapped kingdom.


"I'm confident the opposition would like to be sourcing arms regularly from the Jordanian border, not least because I guess it would be easier for the Saudis to get stuff up there on the scale you'd be talking about," said a Western diplomat in Amman.

A scarcity of arms and ammunition is the main complaint of the armed opposition, a disparate array of local factions in which Islamist militants, especially the al Qaeda-endorsed Nusra Front, have come to play an increasing role in recent months.

The Nusra Front, better armed than many groups, emerged months after the anti-Assad revolt began in Deraa with peaceful protests that drew a violent response from the security forces.

It has flourished as the conflict has turned ever more bitterly sectarian, pitting majority Sunnis against Alawites.

Since October, the Front, deemed a terrorist group by the United States, has carried out at least three high-profile suicide bombings in Deraa, attacking the officers' club, the governor's residence and an army checkpoint in the city centre.

Such exploits have won prestige for the Islamist group, which has gained a reputation for military prowess, piety and respect for local communities, in contrast to some other rebel outfits tainted by looting and other unpopular behavior.

"So far no misdeeds have come from the Nusra Front to make us fear them," said Daya al-Deen al-Hawrani, a fighter from the rebel al-Omari Brigade. "Their goal and our goal is one."

Abu Ibrahim, a non-Islamist rebel commander operating near Deraa, said the Nusra Front fought better and behaved better than units active under the banner of the Free Syrian Army.

"Their influence has grown," he acknowledged, describing them as dedicated and disciplined. Nor were their fighters imposing their austere Islamic ideology on others, at least for now. "I sit with them and smoke and they don't mind," he said.

The Nusra Front may be trying to avoid the mistakes made by a kindred group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, which fought U.S. troops and the rise of Shi'ite factions empowered by the 2003 invasion.

The Iraqi group's suicide attacks on civilians, hostage beheadings and attempts to enforce a harsh version of Islamic law eventually alienated fellow Sunni tribesmen who switched sides and joined U.S. forces in combating the militants.

Despite the Nusra Front's growing prominence and its occasional spectacular suicide bombings in Deraa, there are few signs that its fighters or other rebels are on the verge of dislodging the Syrian military from its southern bastions.

Abu Hamza, the commander in the Ababeel Hawran Brigade, was among many rebels and opposition figures to lament the toughness of the task facing Assad's enemies in the south: "What is killing us is that all of Hawran is a military area," he said.

"And every village has five army compounds around it."

(Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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Euro surges to 14-month high, Fed decision awaited

LONDON (Reuters) - The euro hit its highest level in over a year on Wednesday and shares, oil and metals were also on the rise, as confidence in the global economic outlook strengthened ahead of European data and the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest policy decision.

The Fed is expected to maintain asset buying at $85 billion a month when it concludes its meeting later and retain its commitment to hold interest rates near zero until unemployment falls to at least 6.5 percent.

European economic confidence data for January at 1000 GMT, ECB crisis loan repayments and Italy's sale of five and 10-year bonds will absorb most of investors' attention before then, as they look for further evidence of a pick-up in the region.

Share markets in London <.ftse>, Paris <.fchi> and Frankfurt <.gdaxi> opened little changed ahead of the data, leaving all eyes on a rally by the euro as it broke above $1.35 for the first time since December 2011.

Alongside the recent rebound in confidence in the euro zone, one of the drivers behind the recent spike has been the eagerness of banks to repay the crisis loans they took from the European Central Bank just over a year ago.

"It (the euro rise) is just a carry on with the current trend, risk is pretty healthy and equities are doing well," said Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi strategist Derek Halpenny.

"The danger is European policymakers allow a spike (in euro and market rates) as a result of a removal of one of the principle support measures ... With the Fed and the BOJ still easing the euro is clearly the path of least resistance."

An earlier rise in Asian equities meant the MSCI world share index <.miwd00000pus> was up 0.2 percent at a new 21-month high as European trading gathered pace. U.S. stock futures suggested a cautious start on Wall Street.

Strong U.S. housing data on Tuesday and China's promising economic growth forecast for 2013 also supported the upbeat mood and raised expectations for robust demand for fuel and industrial commodities, underpinning oil prices and lifting copper.

In the bond market, German Bund futures opened lower as investors made room for a sale of long-dated German paper and braced for solid demand at an Italian debt auction.

Italy will offer up to 6.5 billion euros of bonds maturing in 2017 and 2022. Traders expect the sale to benefit from yield-hungry investors but flagged the risk of indigestion after a bout of buying in recent months that triggered a sharp rally.

"(The auction) probably (goes) alright but I don't think it trades well afterwards," one trader said.

(Additional reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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