Investors face another Washington deadline

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investors face another Washington-imposed deadline on government spending cuts next week, but it's not generating the same level of fear as two months ago when the "fiscal cliff" loomed large.

Investors in sectors most likely to be affected by the cuts, like defense, seem untroubled that the budget talks could send stocks tumbling.

Talks on the U.S. budget crisis began again this week leading up to the March 1 deadline for the so-called sequestration when $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts are scheduled to take effect.

"It's at this point a political hot button in Washington but a very low level investor concern," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co. in Lake Oswego, Oregon. The fight pits President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats against congressional Republicans.

Stocks rallied in early January after a compromise temporarily avoided the fiscal cliff, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index <.spx> has risen 6.3 percent since the start of the year.

But the benchmark index lost steam this week, posting its first week of losses since the start of the year. Minutes on Wednesday from the last Federal Reserve meeting, which suggested the central bank may slow or stop its stimulus policy sooner than expected, provided the catalyst.

National elections in Italy on Sunday and Monday could also add to investor concern. Most investors expect a government headed by Pier Luigi Bersani to win and continue with reforms to tackle Italy's debt problems. However, a resurgence by former leader Silvio Berlusconi has raised doubts.

"Europe has been in the last six months less of a topic for the stock market, but the problems haven't gone away. This may bring back investor attention to that," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.


The spending cuts, if they go ahead, could hit the defense industry particularly hard.

Yet in the options market, bulls were targeting gains in Lockheed Martin Corp , the Pentagon's biggest supplier.

Calls on the stock far outpaced puts, suggesting that many investors anticipate the stock to move higher. Overall options volume on the stock was 2.8 times the daily average with 17,000 calls and 3,360 puts traded, according to options analytics firm Trade Alert.

"The upside call buying in Lockheed solidifies the idea that option investors are not pricing in a lot of downside risk in most defense stocks from the likely impact of sequestration," said Jared Woodard, a founder of research and advisory firm in Forest, Virginia.

The stock ended up 0.6 percent at $88.12 on Friday.

If lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on reducing the U.S. budget deficit in the next few days, a sequester would include significant cuts in defense spending. Companies such as General Dynamics Corp and Smith & Wesson Holding Corp could be affected.

General Dynamics Corp shares rose 1.2 percent to $67.32 and Smith & Wesson added 4.6 percent to $9.18 on Friday.


The latest data on fourth-quarter U.S. gross domestic product is expected on Thursday, and some analysts predict an upward revision following trade data that showed America's deficit shrank in December to its narrowest in nearly three years.

U.S. GDP unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter, according to an earlier government estimate, but analysts said there was no reason for panic, given that consumer spending and business investment picked up.

Investors will be looking for any hints of changes in the Fed's policy of monetary easing when Fed Chairman Ben Bernake speaks before congressional committees on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Shares of Apple will be watched closely next week when the company's annual stockholders' meeting is held.

On Friday, a U.S. judge handed outspoken hedge fund manager David Einhorn a victory in his battle with the iPhone maker, blocking the company from moving forward with a shareholder vote on a controversial proposal to limit the company's ability to issue preferred stock.

(Additional reporting by Doris Frankel; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Exxon lifts force majeure on Nigerian Qua Iboe crude

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Exxon Mobil Corp has lifted a force majeure on the Nigerian Qua Iboe crude stream put in place on February 7, the company said in a statement on Friday.

The company said that pipeline work had prompted the declaration.

Mobil Producing Nigeria, operator of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC)/MPN Joint Venture today confirms that it has lifted the Force Majeure it declared on February 7, 2013,” the company said in a statement.

“We express gratitude to all customers, purchasers and Joint Venture partner, the NNPC for their understanding during the temporary disruption in supply,” it said.

Earlier on Friday, trade sources said exports of the key benchmark grade will be down by nearly 40 percent in April as the force majeure had cut oil flows from Africa’s top producer.

The country will export around 222,000 barrels per day of Qua Iboe in April, trade sources said, down from a planned 368,000 bpd in March.

A trade source said that around four Qua Iboe cargoes from March had been deferred to April and that delays were between four and 12 days.

The OPEC member suffered major outages late last year due to rampant oil theft and the worst floods Nigeria had seen in 50 years.

Nigeria typically produces around 2 million to 2.4 million bpd, and its oil is sold to customers in the United States and Asia.

Energy News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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Analysis: Italian election explained

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


  • Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back for the fourth time

  • The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11%

  • Pier Luigi Bersani of the center-left Democratic Party is expected to narrowly win

  • Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances

(CNN) -- Little more than a year after he resigned in disgrace as prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back -- for the fourth time.

Berlusconi, the septuagenarian playboy billionaire nicknamed "Il Cavaliere," has been trailing in polls behind his center-left rival, Per Luigi Bersani.

But the controversial media tycoon's rise in the polls in recent weeks, combined with widespread public disillusionment and the quirks of Italy's complex electoral system, means that nothing about the race is a foregone conclusion.

Why have the elections been called now?

Italian parliamentarians are elected for five-year terms, with the current one due to end in April. However in December, Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL) withdrew its support from the reformist government led by Mario Monti, saying it was pursuing policies that "were too German-centric." Monti subsequently resigned and the parliament was dissolved.

Berlusconi -- the country's longest serving post-war leader -- had resigned the prime ministerial office himself amidst a parliamentary revolt in November 2011. He left at a time of personal and national crisis, as Italy grappled with sovereign debt problems and Berlusconi faced criminal charges of tax fraud, for which he was subsequently convicted. He remains free pending an appeal. He was also embroiled in a scandal involving a young nightclub dancer - which led him to be charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute.

MORE: From Venice to bunga bunga: Italy in coma

He was replaced by Monti, a respected economist and former European Commissioner, who was invited by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano to lead a cabinet of unelected technocrats. Monti's government implemented a program of tax rises and austerity measures in an attempt to resolve Italy's economic crisis.

Who are the candidates?

The election is a four-horse race between political coalitions led by Bersani, Berlusconi, Monti, and the anti-establishment movement led by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo. Polls are banned within two weeks of election day, but the most recent ones had Bersani holding onto a slender lead over Berlusconi, followed by Grillo in distant third.

READ MORE: Will Monte Paschi banking scandal throw open Italy's election race?

The center-left alliance is dominated by the Democratic Party, led by Bersani. He is a former Minister of Economic Development in Romano Prodi's government from 2006-8 -- and has held a comfortable lead in polls, but that appears to be gradually being eroded by Berlusconi.

Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances, and the Democratic Party has teamed with the more left-wing Left Ecology Freedom party.

The 61-year-old Bersani comes across as "bluff and homespun, and that's part of his appeal -- or not, depending on your point of view," said political analyst James Walston, department chair of international relations at the American University of Rome.

He described Bersani, a former communist, as a "revised apparatchik," saying the reform-minded socialist was paradoxically "far more of a free marketeer than even people on the right."

Bersani has vowed to continue with Monti's austerity measures and reforms, albeit with some adjustments, if he wins.

At second place in the polls is the center-right alliance led by Berlusconi's PdL, in coalition with the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League.

Berlusconi has given conflicting signals as to whether he is running for the premiership, indicating that he would seek the job if his coalition won, but contradicting that on other occasions.

In a recent speech, he proposed himself as Economy and Industry Minister, and the PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano as prime minister.

Roberto Maroni, leader of the Northern League, has said the possibility of Berlusconi becoming prime minister is explicitly ruled out by the electoral pact between the parties, but the former premier has repeatedly said he plays to win, and observers believe he is unlikely to pass up the chance to lead the country again if the opportunity presents itself.

Berlusconi has been campaigning as a Milan court weighs his appeal against a tax fraud conviction, for which he was sentenced to four years in jail last year. The verdict will be delivered after the elections; however, under the Italian legal system, he is entitled to a further appeal in a higher court. Because the case dates to July 2006, the statute of limitations will expire this year, meaning there is a good chance none of the defendants will serve any prison time.

He is also facing charges in the prostitution case (and that he tried to pull strings to get her out of jail when she was accused of theft) -- and in a third case stands accused of revealing confidential court information relating to an investigation into a bank scandal in 2005.

Despite all this, he retains strong political support from his base.

"Italy is a very forgiving society, it's partly to do with Roman Catholicism," said Walston. "There's sort of a 'live and let live' idea."

Monti, the country's 69-year-old technocrat prime minister, who had never been a politician before he was appointed to lead the government, has entered the fray to lead a centrist coalition committed to continuing his reforms. The alliance includes Monti's Civic Choice for Monti, the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy.

As a "senator for life," Monti is guaranteed a seat in the senate and does not need to run for election himself, but he is hitting the hustings on behalf of his party.

In a climate of widespread public disillusionment with politics, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo is also making gains by capturing the protest vote with his Five Star Movement. Grillo has railed against big business and the corruption of Italy's political establishment, and holds broadly euro-skeptical and pro-environmental positions.

How will the election be conducted?

Italy has a bicameral legislature and a voting system which even many Italians say they find confusing.

Voters will be electing 315 members of the Senate, and 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Both houses hold the same powers, although the Senate is referred to as the upper house.

Under the country's closed-list proportional representation system, each party submits ranked lists of its candidates, and is awarded seats according to the proportion of votes won -- provided it passes a minimum threshold of support.

Seats in the Chamber of Deputies are on a national basis, while seats in the senate are allocated on a regional one.

The party with the most votes are awarded a premium of bonus seats to give them a working majority.

The prime minister needs the support of both houses to govern.

Who is likely to be the next prime minister?

On current polling, Bersani's bloc looks the likely victor in the Chamber of Deputies. But even if he maintains his lead in polls, he could fall short of winning the Senate, because of the rules distributing seats in that house on a regional basis.

Crucial to victory in the Senate is winning the region of Lombardy, the industrial powerhouse of the north of Italy which generates a fifth of the country's wealth and is a traditional support base for Berlusconi. Often compared to the U.S. state of Ohio for the "kingmaker" role it plays in elections, Lombardy has more Senate seats than any other region.

If no bloc succeeds in controlling both houses, the horse-trading begins in search of a broader coalition.

Walston said that a coalition government between the blocs led by Bersani and Monti seemed "almost inevitable," barring something "peculiar" happening in the final stages of the election campaign.

Berlusconi, he predicted, would "get enough votes to cause trouble."

What are the main issues?

There's only really one issue on the agenda at this election.

The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11% -- and hitting 37% for young people.

Voters are weighing the question of whether to continue taking Monti's bitter medicine of higher taxation and austerity measures, while a contentious property tax is also proving a subject of vexed debate.

Walston said the dilemma facing Italians was deciding between "who's going to look after the country better, or who's going to look after my pocket better."

He said it appeared voters held far greater confidence in the ability of Monti and Bersani to fix the economy, while those swayed by appeals to their own finances may be more likely to support Berlusconi.

But he said it appeared that few undecided voters had any faith in Berlusconi's ability to follow through on his pledges, including a recent promise to reverse the property tax.

What are the ramifications of the election for Europe and the wider world?

Improving the fortunes of the world's eighth largest economy is in the interests of Europe, and in turn the global economy.

Italy's woes have alarmed foreign investors. However, financial commentator Nicholas Spiro, managing director of consultancy Spiro Sovereign Strategy, says the European Central Bank's bond-buying program has gone a long way to mitigating investors' concerns about the instability of Italian politics.

Why is political instability so endemic to Italy?

Italy has had more than 60 governments since World War II -- in large part as a by-product of a system designed to prevent the rise of another dictator.

Parties can be formed and make their way on to the political main stage with relative ease -- as witnessed by the rise of Grillo's Five Star Movement, the protest party which was formed in 2009 but in local and regional elections has even outshone Berlusoni's party at times.

Others point to enduringly strong regional identities as part of the recipe for the country's political fluidity.

READ MORE: Italian Elections 2013: Fame di sapere (hunger for knowledge)

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Jail officers accused of ordering an inmate beaten

Two Cook County Jail officers overseeing a psychiatric ward ordered two inmates to beat up another inmate who had angered them and then tried to cover it up by claiming the battered victim attempted suicide, prosecutors said Friday.

"This is what happens to you (expletive) when you step out of line. You disrespect us, we disrespect you," prosecutors said the officers announced to the entire tier after the beating last February.

Delphia Sawyer, 31, and Pamela Bruce, 30, both six-year veterans with the sheriff's office, were charged with official misconduct, obstructing justice, perjury and mob action. Judge Edward Harmening set bail at $50,000 each and ordered them to turn over any firearms.

A photograph taken of the victim, Kyle Pillischafske, on the day after shows he sustained two black eyes and severe swelling on his face. Prosecutors said the damage took place despite the officers yelling for the two inmates to hit Pillischafske with "body shots" so his injuries would be less visible.

The inmate's mother, Morgan Pillischafske, of Mount Prospect, told the Tribune that she was shocked when she learned about the beating and later heard from her son that he thought he was going to die. He had been doing well there, receiving treatment for his bipolar disorder while awaiting trial on an aggravated battery charge, she said.

"Not only did these guards mistreat Kyle, they took advantage of two other inmates as well, all because they were supposedly called a name," she said Friday in a telephone interview. "You have to have thicker skin than that."

Sawyer and Bruce were working the 3 to 11 p.m. shift in the psychiatric tier in maximum-security Division 10 when inmates tried to light a makeshift cigarette in an electrical outlet, sparking a small fire and cutting power to part of the tier, Assistant State's Attorney Nicholas Trutenko said.

The officers, believing Pillischafske was partly to blame, confronted him, prompting a heated exchange, the prosecutor said.

The officers instructed "two of the larger inmates" to go into his cell and beat him, Trutenko said.

Sawyer and Bruce are alleged to have stood watch while the two inmates struck Pillischafske in the face and head. They then joined in, hitting him with their radios and kicking him in the side, the prosecutor said.

To cover up their misconduct, the officers misled a supervisor to believe that Pillischafske hurt himself by banging his head against a shower wall during a suicide attempt, the charges alleged.

The two later lied repeatedly to a grand jury investigating the beating, Trutenko said.

After their arrest Thursday, both officers were stripped of police powers and suspended with pay pending an internal disciplinary hearing next week, said Frank Bilecki, the sheriff's spokesman.

A lawsuit filed by Pillischafske against the officers, the county and Sheriff Tom Dart is pending in federal court.

Bruce, of Chicago, and Sawyer, of Justice, are both married mothers of two and have no criminal records or disciplinary history with the Sheriff's Department, according to their attorneys.

Peter Hickey, Sawyer's attorney, noted she was in charge of a very volatile tier of "psychiatrically disturbed patients."

"These aren't choir boys from St. Patrick's parish," Hickey told the judge.

Pillischafske, now 19, was jailed at the time of the beating on a charge he intentionally caused a car crash in a botched suicide attempt, injuring a woman in the other car. He pleaded guilty a few weeks later to aggravated battery and was sentenced to probation, court records show.

Pillischafske's mother said despite her son's mental health issues, he is a "pretty likable kid" who loves music, plays bass guitar and is hoping to go to college.

"Kyle needs to move on from this," she said. "The whole thing was very unfortunate."

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Abe vows to revive Japanese economy, sees no escalation with China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Americans on Friday "I am back and so is Japan" and vowed to get the world's third biggest economy growing again and to do more to bolster security and the rule of law in an Asia roiled by territorial disputes.

Abe had firm words for China in a policy speech to a top Washington think-tank, but also tempered his remarks by saying he had no desire to escalate a row over islets in the East China Sea that Tokyo controls and Beijing claims.

"No nation should make any miscalculation about firmness of our resolve. No one should ever doubt the robustness of the Japan-U.S. alliance," he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"At the same time, I have absolutely no intention to climb up the escalation ladder," Abe said in a speech in English.

After meeting U.S. President Barack Obama on his first trip to Washington since taking office in December in a rare comeback to Japan's top job, he said he told Obama that Tokyo would handle the islands issue "in a calm manner."

"We will continue to do so and we have always done so," he said through a translator, while sitting next to Obama in the White House Oval Office.

Tension surged in 2012, raising fears of an unintended military incident near the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. Washington says the islets fall under a U.S.-Japan security pact, but it is eager to avoid a clash in the region.

Abe said he and Obama "agreed that we have to work together to maintain the freedom of the seas and also that we would have to create a region which is governed based not on force but based on an international law."

Abe, whose troubled first term ended after just one year when he abruptly quit in 2007, has vowed to revive Japan's economy with a mix of hyper-easy monetary policy, big spending, and structural reform. The hawkish leader is also boosting Japan's defense spending for the first time in 11 years.

"Japan is not, and will never be, a tier-two country," Abe said in his speech. "So today ... I make a pledge. I will bring back a strong Japan, strong enough to do even more good for the betterment of the world."


The Japanese leader stressed that his "Abenomics" recipe would be good for the United States, China and other trading partners.

"Soon, Japan will export more, but it will import more as well," Abe said in the speech. "The U.S. will be the first to benefit, followed by China, India, Indonesia and so on."

Abe said Obama welcomed his economic policy, while Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said the two leaders did not discuss currencies, in a sign that the U.S. does not oppose "Abenomics" despite concern that Japan is weakening its currency to export its way out of recession.

The United States and Japan agreed language during Abe's visit that could set the stage for Tokyo to join negotiations soon on a U.S.-led regional free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In a carefully worded statement following the meeting between Obama and Abe, the two countries reaffirmed that "all goods would be subject to negotiations if Japan joins the talks with the United States and 10 other countries.

At the same time, the statement envisions a possible outcome where the United States could maintain tariffs on Japanese automobiles and Japan could still protect its rice sector.

"Recognizing that both countries have bilateral trade sensitivities, such as certain agricultural products for Japan and certain manufactured products for the United States, the two governments confirm that, as the final outcome will be determined during the negotiations, it is not required to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs upon joining the TPP negotiations," the statement said.

Abe repeated that Japan would not provide any aid for North Korea unless it abandoned its nuclear and missile programs and released Japanese citizens abducted decades ago to help train spies.

Pyongyang admitted in 2002 that its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. Five have been sent home, but Japan wants better information about eight who Pyongyang says are dead and others Tokyo believes were also kidnapped.

Abe also said he hoped to have a meeting with new Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who takes over as president next month, and would dispatch Finance Minister Taro Aso to attend the inauguration of incoming South Korean President Park Geun-hye next week.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Doug Palmer; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Paul Simao)

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European shares, euro rebound from steep losses

LONDON (Reuters) - European shares and the euro on bounced off their previous session's steep falls early on Friday despite unease over European economic forecasts, ECB crisis loan repayment data and Italian elections at the weekend.

The German Ifo business climate indicator for February rose to 107.4 from 104.2, helping to lift the mood after Thursday's disappointing PMI data rattled markets.

It will be followed by new European Commission economic forecasts at 1000 GMT which should show whether there are any signs of recovery outside of Germany. They will also show how far off-track the likes of Spain, France and Portugal are from meeting their deficit targets this year.

European shares on the FTSEurofirst 300 <.fteu3> rose 0.7 percent to recoup some of Thursday's 1.5 percent slump, albeit remaining on course for a third weekly loss in four.

London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were up 0.7, 1.1 and 0.6 percent respectively, helping lift MSCI's world share index <.miwd00000pus> 0.2 percent as markets recovered from 2013 lows.

"The markets took a heavy dive earlier this week, but they're showing signs of a partial recovery," said Berkeley Futures associate director Richard Griffiths.

"The fact that traders are still buying on the dips shows that they're hoping that the global economic recovery will continue, although it will take time."

In the currency market, the euro extended gains after the German data, climbing 0.3 percent to just above $1.32 following its one percent drop this week.

The dollar <.dxy> was broadly lower, as weak data helped dampen talk of the Federal Reserve winding down its support after its minutes this week showed a minority of its members were questioning the impact of its measures.

Other than the economy, the focus will be on the weekend election in Italy. There is raft of Italian data due out including inflation and consumer confidence numbers for January.

The European Central Bank will also publish details at around 1100 GMT on how much banks plan to repay of its second batch of crisis loans when they get the first chance to return the money next week.

German Bund futures hovered around four-week highs in early trading at 143.40. Italian elections run the risk of producing a fragmented parliament which could hamper the future government's reform efforts. Bunds are seen holding firm at least until the results come out.

"(The) extension of (the) risk averse environment depends on key event risk, particularly (this) weekend's Italian elections," Credit Agricole said in a note.

(Additional reporting by Thuy Ong in Sydney and Florence Tan and Rujun Shen in Singapore; editing by John Mair and Philippa Fletcher)

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4 Things to Know About Gina McCarthy, Obama’s Pick to Head EPA

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Obama a marker on post-racial path

Donna Brazile says Black History Month is a time to note crossroads the nation has faced.


  • Donna Brazile: Black History Month themed crossroads, "tied to two pivotal U.S. events

  • Emancipation Proclamation, March on Washington were crossroads, she says

  • She says crossroad decisions are threaded along U.S. road to post-racial society

  • Brazile: We're not there yet, but re-election of Obama a harbinger

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) -- Politicians and historians love to use the word "crossroads."

It's become as American, and cliched, as "Mom's apple pie." The historian Shelby Foote, wrote, "The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. ... It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads."

I have been thinking about the word, because this year's Black History Month theme is "At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington." Two pivotal events that shaped modern American history.

A "crossroads" is literally the intersection of two or more roads -- two or more paths to get to the same place. Metaphorically, it refers to the place -- the moment -- of a critical decision. Shall we go forward together? Shall we separate? Shall we fight?

Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile

We mark history's crossroads not by road signs but by the documents that identify them. The Declaration of Independence is certainly one. Who has not memorized the opening of the second paragraph? "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Political philosopher John Locke's original term was, "Life, liberty, and property." Thomas Jefferson borrowed the phrase, changing "property" to "the pursuit of happiness." He understood that "happiness" -- being significant -- was more important than property, and that a "right to property" too often meant a "right" to own someone else, i.e. slavery.

Locke rejected the "divine right of kings." He argued instead that God invested each person with an innate equality -- the right to be on this Earth and to be free -- free to pursue dreams. On the way to his first inauguration, Abraham Lincoln stopped at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to celebrate Washington's birthday. He told the assembled crowd, "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence."

Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 was another crossroads, one that required Lincoln, and the nation, to walk a long road of personal and national growth. "All men are created equal" had to take on a deeper meaning. Frederick Douglass, one of Lincoln's "guides" on his journey, later said the quality he most admired in Lincoln was his political courage.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis once acknowledged to an Atlantic Monthly writer that Lincoln's Emancipation resulted in the self-liberation of "two millions of our slaves."

A journey of a hundred years brought us to another crossroads -- the 1963 March on Washington. While "property in man" no longer existed, millions of Americans were unable to pursue their dream, or to live with full equality.

James Farmer, a leading civil rights activist who was in jail in my home state of Louisiana, sent a message to the quarter-million in attendance that summer day, saying his people would not be free "until the dogs stop biting us in the South and the rats stop biting us in the North."

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, like the Declaration, resonates. It echoes through the years in the heartbeats of Americans. The "pursuit of happiness" is more than pleasure, for we often take great pains in the pursuit. Rather, the pursuit of happiness is the freedom to pursue our dreams, to make meaning in and find the unique significance of our lives.

That is something we can only do when, in the bonds of fellowship and shared history, we nurture our dreams. The caged bird sings of freedom, but the freed bird sings of dreams. Today, we are 150 years further down the road to realizing the American creed of equality and freedom. We reached a crossroads in 2008 with the election of our first African-American president. We chose to continue on the road to a "post-racial" society.

We're not there yet. But in 2012, when we could have chosen to travel down another road, one that led to further economic inequality, we chose instead to continue the realization of equality and freedom, and to the unfettered pursuit of dreams for each American.

In some ways, the re-election of President Obama is more significant than his election four years ago. I say this not because I'm a Democrat, but because this time, the dog-whistles of racism were called out and condemned by people of faith and goodwill on both sides of the aisle.

During the next four years, we'll come to more crossroads. I pray, and believe, we will take the road to freedom and equality for each child, man and woman in America.

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

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Storm begins to coat Chicago area with snow

Between and inch-and-a-half and two-and-a-half inches of snow has fallen across much of the Chicago region, though the snow is expected to turn to freezing drizzle in the next couple hours.

Meteorologists have scaled back their predictions on snow fall totals from the storm, though.

Illinois State Police described conditions as "horrible" and have responded to about 15 crashes already.

State Police are in a "snow plan" and aren't responding to accidents without injuries - those are supposed to be reported later.

"It will be tapering off from the south in the next couple hours, possibly some freezing drizzle across whole area," said Mark Ratzer, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. "We may end up coming in a little less."

The city of Chicago has sent 199 plows to work clearing main thoroughfares, according to the streets and sanitation department.

Check back for more information.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Syrian opposition says Assad cannot be part of deal

CAIRO (Reuters) - The opposition Syrian National Coalition is willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the country's civil war but President Bashar al-Assad must step down and cannot be a party to any settlement, members agreed after debating a controversial initiative by their president.

The meeting of the 70-member Western, Arab and Turkish-backed coalition began on Thursday before Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem is due for talks in Moscow, one of Assad's last foreign allies, and as U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi renews efforts for a deal.

After an angry late night session in which coalition president Moaz Alkhatib came under strong criticism from Islamist and liberal members alike for proposing talks with Assad's government without setting what they described as clear goals, the coalition adopted a political document that demands Assad's removal and trial for the bloodshed, members said.

A draft document seen by Reuters that was circulated for debate said Assad cannot be party to any political solution and has to be tried, but did not directly call for his removal.

"We have adopted the political document that sets the parameters for any talks. The main addition to the draft is a clause about the necessity of Assad stepping step down," said Abdelbasset Sida, a member of the coalition's 12 member politburo who has criticized Alkhatib for acting alone.

"We removed a clause about a need for Russian and U.S. involvement in any talks and added that the coalition's leadership has to be consulted before launching any future initiatives," he added.

Still, the agreement marked a softening of tone by the coalition because previously it had insisted that Assad must step down before any talks with his government could begin.

In an indication that Syria's strongman remains defiant, Brahimi said Assad had told him he will remain president until his term ends in 2014 and then run for re-election.

Brahimi told al-Arabiya television he wants to see a transitional government formed in Syria that would not answer to any higher authority and lasts until U.N.-supervised elections take place in the country.

"I am of the view that U.N. peacekeepers should come to Syria as happened in other countries," Brahimi said.


The opposition front convened in Cairo on a day when a car bomb jolted central Damascus, killing 53 people, wounding 200 and incinerating cars on a busy highway close to the Russian Embassy and offices of the ruling Baath Party.

Syrian state television blamed the suicide blast on "terrorists". Central Damascus has been relatively insulated from the 23-month conflict that has killed around 70,000 people, but the bloodshed has shattered suburbs around the capital.

In the southern city of Deraa near the border with Jordan, activists said warplanes bombed the old quarter for the first time since March 2011, when the town set in a wheat-growing plain rose up against Assad, starting a national revolt.

A rebel officer in the Tawheed al-Janoub brigade which led an offensive this week in Deraa said there were at least five air strikes on Thursday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 18 people were killed, including eight rebel fighters.

Coalition member Munther Makhos, who was forced into exile in the 1970s for his opposition to Assad's father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, said supplies from Iran and Russia were giving government forces an awesome firepower advantage.

"It would be surreal to imagine that a political solution is possible. Bashar al-Assad will not send his deputy to negotiate his removal. But we are keeping the door open," Makhos said.

Makhos is the only Alawite in the Islamist-dominated coalition. The Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam which accounts for about 10 percent of Syria's population but makes up most of the intelligence apparatus and dominates the army and the political system, has generally remained behind Assad.

With Alawites feeling increasingly threatened by a violent Sunni backlash, Alkhatib, a cleric from Damascus who played a role in the peaceful protest movement against Assad at the beginning of the uprising in 2011, has been calling on Alawites to join the revolution, saying their participation will help preserve the social fabric of the country.

Alkhatib's supporters say the initiative has popular support inside Syria from people who want to see a peaceful departure of Assad and a halt to the war that has increasingly pitted his fellow Alawites against Syria's Sunni Muslim majority.

But rebel fighters on the ground, over whom Alkhatib has little control, are generally against the proposal.

The Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, which represents armed brigades, said in a statement it was opposed to Alkhatib's initiative because it ignored the revolt's goal of "the downfall of the regime and all its symbols".

"We are demanding his accountability for the bloodshed and destruction he has wreaked. I think the message is clear enough," said veteran opposition campaigner Walid al-Bunni, who supports Alkhatib.

Alkhatib formulated the initiative in broad terms last month after talks with the Russian and Iranian foreign ministers in Munich but without consulting the coalition, catching the umbrella organization by surprise.

Among Alkhatib's critics is the Muslim Brotherhood, the only organized group in the political opposition.

A Brotherhood source said the group will not scuttle the proposal because it was confident Assad is not interested in a negotiated exit, which could help convince the international community to support the armed struggle for his removal.

"Russia is key," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We are showing the international community that we are willing to take criticism from the street but the problem is Assad and his inner circle. They do not want to leave."


Russia hopes Alkhatib will visit soon in search of a breakthrough. Bunni said Alkhatib would not go to Moscow without the coalition's approval and that he would not be there at the same time as Moualem.

"In my opinion Alkhatib should not go to Moscow until Russia stops sending arms shipments to the Assad regime," Bunni said.

Formal backing by the coalition for Alkhatib's initiative gives it more weight internationally and undermines Assad supporters' argument that the opposition is too divided to be considered a serious player, opposition sources said.

Coalition members and diplomats based in the region said Brahimi asked Alkhatib in Cairo last week to seek full coalition backing for his plan, which resembles the U.N. envoy's own ideas for a negotiated settlement.

One diplomat in contact with the opposition and the United Nations had said a coalition approval of Alkhatib's initiative could help change the position of Russia, which has blocked several United Nations Security Council resolutions on Syria.

The diplomat said only a U.N. resolution could force Assad to the negotiating table, and a U.N. "stabilization force" may still be needed to prevent an all-out slide into a civil war.

"Brahimi has little hope that Assad will agree to any serious talks," the diplomat said. "Differences are narrowing between the United States and Russia about Syria but Moscow remains the main obstacle for Security Council action."

(Editing by Paul Taylor and Mohammad Zargham)

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Doubt on Fed easing hits shares, commodities

LONDON (Reuters) - World share markets fell and the dollar and safe-haven assets rose on Thursday, a day after minutes of the Federal Reserve's last policy meeting cast doubts over how much longer the U.S. central bank would stick to its stimulus plan.

After the minutes were released the euro skidded to a six-week low against the dollar of $1.3235, Asian shares experienced their worst day in seven months and gold hit its lowest price since last July, at $1,554.49 an ounce.

"Disagreement over the current path is causing concern for a market that demands certainty," Ben Taylor, a trader at CMC Markets, said of evidence Fed officials were divided on policy.

MSCI's world equity index <.miwd00000pus>, which only on Wednesday had touched a 4-1/2 year high, fell 0.5 percent as the benchmark S&P 500 index <.spx> suffered its steepest daily percentage decline since mid-November.

European markets joined in the selloff with the FTSE Eurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> shedding 0.5 percent, led lower by the banks <.sxip>, which have been at forefront of recent gains. London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were all down as much as 0.7 percent.

However, market sentiment could get some support from the release of first reading from February Purchasing Managers' Indexes (PMIs) from across Europe later in the day.

The euro-zone composite PMI is expected to have risen for a fourth consecutive month in February to around 49.0, adding to evidence that economic conditions across the recession-hit region are gradually improving.

The PMI reading would still leave the composite index below the 50 mark which separates expansion from contraction and analysts estimate it would be consistent with a small fall in GDP for a fourth consecutive quarter.

In the fixed income market, German bonds, normally considered a safe haven, saw prices rise with the main Bund futures contract up 30 ticks to 142.85. The move reversed a fall seen on Wednesday but kept the contract within a narrow band before an Italian general election this weekend.

Spain was set to test market sentiment for peripheral euro zone debt with the sale of up to four billion euros of new paper.

The dollar followed up a big gain on Wednesday against a basket of major currencies to add a further 0.1 percent, although it dipped slightly against the yen to 93.41.

Among commodities, London copper struck its lowest in nearly two months, at $7,880 a metric ton, while crude oil extended losses after posting its biggest daily fall so far this year on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Richard Hubbard; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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Police: Pistorius detective faces charges himself

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — The lead investigator in the murder case against Oscar Pistorius faces attempted murder charges himself over a 2011 shooting, police said Thursday in another potentially damaging blow to the prosecution.

Prosecutors said they were unaware of the charges against veteran detective Hilton Botha when they put him on the stand in court to explain why Pistorius should not be given bail in the Valentine's Day shooting death of his girlfriend.

Prosecutors say Pistorius intentionally killed model Reeva Steenkamp and have charged him with premeditated murder. Pistorius says he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and that the shooting was accidental.

Police Brig. Neville Malila told The Associated Press that Botha — who gave testimony in the Pistorius bail hearing on Wednesday — is scheduled to appear in court in May on seven counts of attempted murder related to an incident in October 2011 when Botha and two other police officers fired at a minibus they were trying to stop.

Malila said police had learned Wednesday, the same day that Botha appeared in court to oppose Pistorius' bail application, that the charges against Botha and the two others had been reinstated by the Director of Public Prosecutions. They were initially dropped following the shooting incident.

Malila said police were now waiting for details from the Botha case file from the public prosecutor.

Medupe Simasiku, the spokesman for the prosecutors charging Pistorius with premeditated murder, said he couldn't say how the charges against Botha would affect their case against Pistorius.

In the state case against the Olympic athlete, Botha offered often confused testimony and conceded that nothing in Pistorius' account the Steenkamp shooting contradicted the police's version.

Simasiku said that based on the reinstated accusation against Botha, "we can take action and see if we remove him from the investigation or if he stays."

Botha was the lead investigator in an assault claim against Pistorius in 2009. Pistorius' lawyers said police arrested the athlete and held him overnight at a police station and said they will pursue a lawsuit against police for wrongful arrest.

The current case against Pistorius, which is still only in a bail hearing, has riveted much of the world. Pistorius, 26-year-old the man known as the Blade Runner for his carbon-fiber running prosthetic legs, says he fired shots through the locked door of a toilet enclosed inside his bathroom because he thought there was an intruder in there.

Steenkamp was hit three times, in the head, right elbow and right hip, police say, and prosecutors argue Pistorius intended to kill his 29-year-old girlfriend after a fight in the early hours of Valentine's Day.


AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

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Subatomic calculations indicate finite lifespan for universe

BOSTON (Reuters) – Scientists are still sorting out the details of last year’s discovery of the Higgs boson particle, but add up the numbers and it’s not looking good for the future of the universe, scientists said Monday.

“If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it’s bad news,” Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist with the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, told reporters.

Lykeen spoke before presenting his research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.

“It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable and at some point billions of years from now it’s all going to get wiped out,” said Lykken, who is also on the science team at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator.

Physicists last year announced they had discovered what appears to be a long-sought subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, which is believed to give matter its mass.

Work to study the Higgs’ related particles, necessary for confirmation, is ongoing.

If confirmed, the discovery would help resolve a key puzzle about how the universe came into existence some 13.7 billion years ago – and perhaps how it will end.

“This calculation tells you that many tens of billions of years from now, there’ll be a catastrophe,” Lykken said.

“A little bubble of what you might think of as an ‘alternative’ universe will appear somewhere and then it will expand out and destroy us,” Lykken said, adding that the event will unfold at the speed of light.

Scientists had grappled with the idea of the universe’s long-term stability before the Higgs discovery, but stepped up calculations once its mass began settling in at around 126 billion electron volts – a critical number it turns out for figuring out the fate of the universe.

The calculation requires knowing the mass of the Higgs to within one percent, as well as the precise mass of other related subatomic particles.

“You change any of these parameters to the Standard Model (of particle physics) by a tiny bit and you get a different end of the universe,” Lyyken said.

Earth will likely be long gone before any Higgs boson particles set off an apocalyptic assault on the universe. Physicists expect the sun to burn out in 4.5 billion years or so, and expand, likely engulfing Earth in the process.

(Editing by David Adams and Todd Eastham)

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How secure is the papal election?

The Conclave of Cardinals that will elect a new pope will meet in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.


  • Bruce Schneier: Rules for picking a new pope are very detailed

  • He says elaborate precautions are taken to prevent election fraud

  • Every step of the election process is observed by people who know each other

  • Schneier: Vatican's procedures, centuries in the making, are very secure

Editor's note: Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and author of "Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Survive." In 2005, before the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, Schneier wrote a piece on his blog about the process. This essay is an updated version, reflecting new information and analysis.

(CNN) -- As the College of Cardinals prepares to elect a new pope, security people like me wonder about the process. How does it work, and just how hard would it be to hack the vote?

The rules for papal elections are steeped in tradition. John Paul II last codified them in 1996, and Benedict XVI left the rules largely untouched. The "Universi Dominici Gregis on the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff" is surprisingly detailed.

Every cardinal younger than 80 is eligible to vote. We expect 117 to be voting. The election takes place in the Sistine Chapel, directed by the church chamberlain. The ballot is entirely paper-based, and all ballot counting is done by hand. Votes are secret, but everything else is open.

Bruce Schneier

Bruce Schneier

First, there's the "pre-scrutiny" phase.

"At least two or three" paper ballots are given to each cardinal, presumably so that a cardinal has extras in case he makes a mistake. Then nine election officials are randomly selected from the cardinals: three "scrutineers," who count the votes; three "revisers," who verify the results of the scrutineers; and three "infirmarii," who collect the votes from those too sick to be in the chapel. Different sets of officials are chosen randomly for each ballot.

Each cardinal, including the nine officials, writes his selection for pope on a rectangular ballot paper "as far as possible in handwriting that cannot be identified as his." He then folds the paper lengthwise and holds it aloft for everyone to see.

When everyone has written his vote, the "scrutiny" phase of the election begins. The cardinals proceed to the altar one by one. On the altar is a large chalice with a paten -- the shallow metal plate used to hold communion wafers during Mass -- resting on top of it. Each cardinal places his folded ballot on the paten. Then he picks up the paten and slides his ballot into the chalice.

Pope may change rules to allow earlier election

If a cardinal cannot walk to the altar, one of the scrutineers -- in full view of everyone -- does this for him.

If any cardinals are too sick to be in the chapel, the scrutineers give the infirmarii a locked empty box with a slot, and the three infirmarii together collect those votes. If a cardinal is too sick to write, he asks one of the infirmarii to do it for him. The box is opened, and the ballots are placed onto the paten and into the chalice, one at a time.

When all the ballots are in the chalice, the first scrutineer shakes it several times to mix them. Then the third scrutineer transfers the ballots, one by one, from one chalice to another, counting them in the process. If the total number of ballots is not correct, the ballots are burned and everyone votes again.

To count the votes, each ballot is opened, and the vote is read by each scrutineer in turn, the third one aloud. Each scrutineer writes the vote on a tally sheet. This is all done in full view of the cardinals.

The total number of votes cast for each person is written on a separate sheet of paper. Ballots with more than one name (overvotes) are void, and I assume the same is true for ballots with no name written on them (undervotes). Illegible or ambiguous ballots are much more likely, and I presume they are discarded as well.

Then there's the "post-scrutiny" phase. The scrutineers tally the votes and determine whether there's a winner. We're not done yet, though.

The revisers verify the entire process: ballots, tallies, everything. And then the ballots are burned. That's where the smoke comes from: white if a pope has been elected, black if not -- the black smoke is created by adding water or a special chemical to the ballots.

Being elected pope requires a two-thirds plus one vote majority. This is where Pope Benedict made a change. Traditionally a two-thirds majority had been required for election. Pope John Paul II changed the rules so that after roughly 12 days of fruitless votes, a simple majority was enough to elect a pope. Benedict reversed this rule.

How hard would this be to hack?

First, the system is entirely manual, making it immune to the sorts of technological attacks that make modern voting systems so risky.

Second, the small group of voters -- all of whom know each other -- makes it impossible for an outsider to affect the voting in any way. The chapel is cleared and locked before voting. No one is going to dress up as a cardinal and sneak into the Sistine Chapel. In short, the voter verification process is about as good as you're ever going to find.

A cardinal can't stuff ballots when he votes. The complicated paten-and-chalice ritual ensures that each cardinal votes once -- his ballot is visible -- and also keeps his hand out of the chalice holding the other votes. Not that they haven't thought about this: The cardinals are in "choir dress" during the voting, which has translucent lace sleeves under a short red cape, making sleight-of-hand tricks much harder. Additionally, the total would be wrong.

The rules anticipate this in another way: "If during the opening of the ballots the scrutineers should discover two ballots folded in such a way that they appear to have been completed by one elector, if these ballots bear the same name, they are counted as one vote; if however they bear two different names, neither vote will be valid; however, in neither of the two cases is the voting session annulled." This surprises me, as if it seems more likely to happen by accident and result in two cardinals' votes not being counted.

Ballots from previous votes are burned, which makes it harder to use one to stuff the ballot box. But there's one wrinkle: "If however a second vote is to take place immediately, the ballots from the first vote will be burned only at the end, together with those from the second vote." I assume that's done so there's only one plume of smoke for the two elections, but it would be more secure to burn each set of ballots before the next round of voting.

The scrutineers are in the best position to modify votes, but it's difficult. The counting is conducted in public, and there are multiple people checking every step. It'd be possible for the first scrutineer, if he were good at sleight of hand, to swap one ballot paper for another before recording it. Or for the third scrutineer to swap ballots during the counting process. Making the ballots large would make these attacks harder. So would controlling the blank ballots better, and only distributing one to each cardinal per vote. Presumably cardinals change their mind more often during the voting process, so distributing extra blank ballots makes sense.

There's so much checking and rechecking that it's just not possible for a scrutineer to misrecord the votes. And since they're chosen randomly for each ballot, the probability of a cabal being selected is extremely low. More interesting would be to try to attack the system of selecting scrutineers, which isn't well-defined in the document. Influencing the selection of scrutineers and revisers seems a necessary first step toward influencing the election.

If there's a weak step, it's the counting of the ballots.

There's no real reason to do a precount, and it gives the scrutineer doing the transfer a chance to swap legitimate ballots with others he previously stuffed up his sleeve. Shaking the chalice to randomize the ballots is smart, but putting the ballots in a wire cage and spinning it around would be more secure -- albeit less reverent.

I would also add some kind of white-glove treatment to prevent a scrutineer from hiding a pencil lead or pen tip under his fingernails. Although the requirement to write out the candidate's name in full provides some resistance against this sort of attack.

Probably the biggest risk is complacency. What might seem beautiful in its tradition and ritual during the first ballot could easily become cumbersome and annoying after the twentieth ballot, and there will be a temptation to cut corners to save time. If the Cardinals do that, the election process becomes more vulnerable.

A 1996 change in the process lets the cardinals go back and forth from the chapel to their dorm rooms, instead of being locked in the chapel the whole time, as was done previously. This makes the process slightly less secure but a lot more comfortable.

Of course, one of the infirmarii could do what he wanted when transcribing the vote of an infirm cardinal. There's no way to prevent that. If the infirm cardinal were concerned about that but not privacy, he could ask all three infirmarii to witness the ballot.

There are also enormous social -- religious, actually -- disincentives to hacking the vote. The election takes place in a chapel and at an altar. The cardinals swear an oath as they are casting their ballot -- further discouragement. The chalice and paten are the implements used to celebrate the Eucharist, the holiest act of the Catholic Church. And the scrutineers are explicitly exhorted not to form any sort of cabal or make any plans to sway the election, under pain of excommunication.

The other major security risk in the process is eavesdropping from the outside world. The election is supposed to be a completely closed process, with nothing communicated to the world except a winner. In today's high-tech world, this is very difficult. The rules explicitly state that the chapel is to be checked for recording and transmission devices "with the help of trustworthy individuals of proven technical ability." That was a lot easier in 2005 than it will be in 2013.

What are the lessons here?

First, open systems conducted within a known group make voting fraud much harder. Every step of the election process is observed by everyone, and everyone knows everyone, which makes it harder for someone to get away with anything.

Second, small and simple elections are easier to secure. This kind of process works to elect a pope or a club president, but quickly becomes unwieldy for a large-scale election. The only way manual systems could work for a larger group would be through a pyramid-like mechanism, with small groups reporting their manually obtained results up the chain to more central tabulating authorities.

And third: When an election process is left to develop over the course of a couple of thousand years, you end up with something surprisingly good.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bruce Schneier.

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Tribune exclusive: 'We were just regular parents who were slapped in the face'

The parents of slain teen Hadiya Pendleton talk about her life and death and the issues raised after she died. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)

Hadiya Pendleton’s parents haven’t had much time to reminisce about their daughter’s life and death before Wednesday, when they sat down for an exclusive interview with the Tribune.

Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton recalled getting the phone call on Jan. 29 that her 15-year-old daughter had been shot, and rushing to the hospital only to find out it was too late, her daughter was dead.

A whirlwind of activity followed as Hadiya became a national symbol of gun violence and her parents traveled to Washington for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.

“I’m not going to be extremely political, but if I can help someone else not go through what we’ve gone through, then I have to do what I can,” Cowley-Pendleton said. “These are the cards we have been dealt. If these are the shoes I need to walk in, I don’t mind walking in them.”

To read the full story, you must be a digitalPlus member.

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Mexico security forces abducted dozens in drug war: rights group

IGUALA, Mexico (Reuters) - Dozens of people were abducted and murdered by Mexican security forces over the past six years during a gruesome war with drug cartels, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday, urging President Enrique Pena Nieto to overhaul the military justice system.

The rights group said that since 2007 it has documented 149 cases of people who were never seen again after falling into the hands of security forces, and that the government failed to properly investigate the "disappearances."

"The result was the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades," the U.S.-based group said. (Human Rights Watch report:

It recommended reforming Mexico's military justice system and creating a national database to link the missing with the thousands of unidentified bodies that piled up during the military-led crackdown on drug cartels.

The report was a grim reminder of the dark side of the war on drug cartels that killed an estimated 70,000 people during former President Felipe Calderon's six-year presidency.

The report also illustrates the obstacles that President Pena Nieto, who took office in December, faces in trying to stem the violence, restore order over areas of the country controlled by the drug cartels and end abuses by security forces.

For nearly three years, 56-year-old shopkeeper Maria Orozco has sought to discover the fate of her son. She says he was abducted along with five colleagues by soldiers from the nightclub where they worked in Iguala, a parched town south of the Mexican capital.

She says a grainy security video, submitted anonymously, shows the moment in 2010 when local soldiers rounded up the men.

"We used to see the military like Superman or Batman or Robin. Super heroes," said Orozco. "Now the spirit of the whole country has turned against them."

Hers was one of the cases illustrated in the Human Rights Watch report.

Pena Nieto has vowed to take a different tack to his predecessor Calderon and focus on reducing violent crime and extortion rather than on going head to head with drug cartels.

The government last month introduced a long-delayed law to trace victims of the drug war and compensate the families. It says it is moving ahead with plans to roll out a genetic database to track victims and help families locate the disappeared.

"There exists, in theory, a database with more than 27,000 people on it," said Lia Limon, deputy secretary of human rights at Mexico's interior ministry. "It's a job that's beginning."

Still, impunity remains rife. The armed forces opened nearly 5,000 investigations into criminal wrongdoing between 2007 and 2012, but only 38 ended in sentencing, according to Human Rights Watch.

In its report it describes the impact of the disappearances on victims' families, a daily reality for Ixchel Mireles, a 50-year-old librarian from the northern city of Torreon, whose husband Hector Tapia was abducted by men in federal police uniforms.

Neither Mireles nor her daughter has heard from Tapia since that night in June 2010.

"I want him to be alive, but the reality just destroys me," said Mireles. "I just want them to give him back, even if he is dead."

Since her husband's disappearance, Mireles has struggled financially, having lost his 40,000 pesos ($3,143) a month salary. She has moved her daughter to a cheaper university and can barely keep up payments on her house.

"I now travel by foot," she said, noting that Mexico's social security system does not recognize the disappeared.

Some family members of the disappeared have asked for soldiers guilty of rights abuses to be judged like civilians, a move Mexico's Supreme Court has approved.

"To us it just seems that the military is untouchable," said Laura Orozco, 36, who says she witnessed her brother's military-led abduction. "They're bulletproof."

($1 = 12.73 pesos)

(Additional reporting by Michael O'Boyle,; Editing by Simon Gardner, Kieran Murray and Lisa Shumaker)

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European shares steady awaiting further growth signals

LONDON (Reuters) - European share markets were little changed on Wednesday, awaiting further signs of improving global economic recovery after a big rise in the previous session fuelled by encouraging German data.

The FTSE Eurofirst <.fteu3> index of top European shares was down 0.1 percent in early trading, having gained 1.1 percent on Tuesday, its best day for three weeks <.fteu3>.

London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were all close to flat. <.eu/>

"I see no reason why we can't consolidate the gains and possibly move higher," said Michael Hewson, an analyst at CMC Markets.

Global share markets surged on Tuesday after forecast-beating German sentiment data pointed to an accelerating recovery in Europe's largest economy.

The data comes ahead of more important euro zone flash Purchasing Managers Indexes on Thursday and a German business sentiment survey on Friday that could show whether the region's recovery is taking hold.

The rising hopes of recovery have been supported on Wall Street by a surge in merger activity that has sent U.S. benchmark shares indexes close to record highs. <.n>.

In Asia, share markets outside Japan are at 18-month highs <.miapj0000pus>, as the relatively stronger growth outlook compared with Europe and the United States has drawn in foreign investors.

The rise in equities has weighed on assets perceived as safe havens, with German Bund futures down 25 ticks in early trade to 142.57, though news that Spain may be about to issue a U.S. dollar bond supported sentiment.

In the currency markets the euro rose 0.2 percent to $1.3413 but sterling fell to its lowest in nearly 16 months against a trade-weighted basket of currencies.

Currency traders have their eyes on central banks and the minutes of policy meetings at the Bank of England and the U.S. Federal Reserve that are due to be published later in the day.

The Bank of England minutes at 0930 GMT may reiterate a tolerance for higher inflation or greater disagreement among policymakers over the value of restarting the bank's asset purchase program.

Commodities markets mostly followed equities higher, with spot gold inching up 0.2 percent to $1,605.90 an ounce but stuck near a six-month low.

London copper edged up 0.2 percent to $8,067.75 a metric ton, off Tuesday's three-week lows but Brent crude was little changed at $117.47 a barrel.

(Additional reporting by Masayuki Kitano in Singapore and Thuy Ong in Sydney; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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Detective in court: Pistorius a flight risk

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — A detective has testified that Oscar Pistorius is a flight risk and shouldn't be granted bail.

Hilton Botha also said in the star athlete's bail hearing Wednesday that Pistorius illegally possessed .38-caliber ammunition in a safe in his bedroom. Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the Valentine's Day shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp with a 9 mm pistol. The policeman testified that Pistorius did not have a license for a .38-caliber weapon and consequently possession of that ammunition was illegal.

Pistorius argued in a court affidavit Tuesday that the shooting was accidental and he thought the model was an intruder in his home.

The detective says all Pistorius would say after the shooting was "he thought it was a burglar."

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NVIDIA unveils new Tegra 4i processor with built-in LTE

NVIDIA (NVDA) on Tuesday announced its first Tegra processor with an integrated LTE chip. The 2.3GHz quad-core Tegra 4i, which brings the company in closer competition with Qualcomm (QCOM) and its line of Snapdragon CPUs, is equipped with 60 custom GPU cores, a fifth processing core for battery conservation and an integrated NVIDIA i500 LTE modem. It also includes NVIDIA’s Chimera camera technology that is capable of capturing HDR panorama shots without requiring a single-direction sweep. The company calls its the new processor the most efficient, highest performance CPU core on the market, noting that it will provide “amazing computing power, world-class phone capabilities, and exceptionally long battery life.” NVIDIA’s press release follows below.

[More from BGR: Do or die: Hands on with the HTC One]

NVIDIA Introduces Its First Integrated Tegra LTE Processor
Tegra 4i Delivers Highest Performance of Any Single-Chip Smartphone Processor

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SANTA CLARA, Calif.—February 19, 2013— NVIDIA today introduced its first fully integrated 4G LTE mobile processor, the NVIDIA® Tegra® 4i, which is significantly faster yet half the size of its nearest competitor.

Previously codenamed “Project Grey,” the Tegra 4i processor features 60 custom NVIDIA GPU cores; a quad-core CPU based on ARM’s newest and most efficient core— the R4 Cortex-A9 CPU— plus a fifth battery saver core; and a version of the NVIDIA i500 LTE modem optimized for integration. The result: an extremely power efficient, compact, high- performance mobile processor that enables smartphone performance and capability previously available only in expensive super phones.

“NVIDIA is delivering for the first time a single, integrated processor that powers all the major functions of a smartphone,” said Phil Carmack, senior vice president of the Mobile business at NVIDIA. “Tegra 4i phones will provide amazing computing power, world-class phone capabilities, and exceptionally long battery life.”

Tegra 4i’s new 2.3 GHz CPU was jointly designed by NVIDIA and ARM, and is the most efficient, highest performance CPU core on the market.

“Tegra 4i is the very latest SoC solution based on the ARM Cortex-A9 processor and demonstrates the ability of ARM and our partners to continue to push the performance of technology and create exciting user experiences,” says Tom Cronk, executive vice president and general manager, processor division, ARM. “ARM and NVIDIA worked closely to further optimize the Cortex-A9 processor to drive performance and efficiency in areas such as streaming and responsiveness. This is an example of the collaboration and innovation that enables ARM technology-based solutions to be market drivers through multiple generations of SoC solutions.”

Utilizing the same architecture as Tegra 4’s GPU, Tegra 4i features five times the number of GPU cores of Tegra 3 for high-quality, console-quality gaming experiences and full 1080p HD displays. It also integrates an optimized version of the NVIDIA i500 software-defined radio modem which provides LTE capabilities, and makes networking upgradability and scalability fast and easy.

”NVIDIA’s Tegra 4i appears to outperform the leading integrated LTE chip significantly, and also benefits from an integrated ‘soft-modem’ that can be re-programmed over-the-air to support new frequencies and air interfaces – something other modem vendors can only dream of,” said Stuart Robinson, director, Handset Component Technologies Program at Strategy Analytics.”

Tegra 4i mobile processor’s camera capabilities include the NVIDIA Chimera™ Computational Photography Architecture recently announced in Tegra 4. This delivers many advanced features, including the world’s first always-on high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities, first tap to track functionality and first panoramic photos with HDR.

NVIDIA also introduced its reference smartphone platform code-named “Phoenix” for the Tegra 4i processor to demonstrate its unique mobile technologies. Phoenix is a blueprint that phone makers can reference in designing and building future Tegra 4i smartphones to help get them to market quicker.

The Tegra 4i mobile processor will be demonstrated in the NVIDIA booth in Hall 7, Stand #C110, at the 2013 Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 25-28.

This article was originally published on

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