Yen falls, Nikkei surges as Japan gets a new government

TOKYO (Reuters) - The yen fell to a 20-month low against the dollar on Wednesday, buoying the benchmark Nikkei stock average to nine-month highs, as Japan swore in a new prime minister eager to pursue drastic stimulus steps to drive the country's economy out of deflation.

Asian shares and other assets were capped in thin holiday trade, with investors focusing on the fate of U.S. negotiations to avert a budget crunch looming at the end of the year.

Markets in Singapore <.ftsti>, Malaysia <.klse>, Indonesia <.jkse>, the Philippines <.psi> and South Korea <.ks11> reopened on Wednesday after closing on Tuesday for the Christmas holiday.

Hong Kong and Australia remain closed on Wednesday. Europe also will not trade, but U.S. markets reopen later in the day.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> was little changed. Shanghai shares <.ssec> were flat, but stayed in positive territory on the year after a 2.5 percent jump on Tuesday erased 2012 losses. It is set for a first annual gain in three years. South Korean shares <.ks11> ended nearly flat.

Shinzo Abe, whose party won a landslide victory in an election earlier this month, was elected Japan's premier on Wednesday. Abe, who is expected to appoint his cabinet later Wednesday, is calling for a mix of aggressive monetary policy easing and big fiscal spending to beat deflation and rein in the strong yen.

He has kept up pressure on the Bank of Japan to be more drastic and adopt a 2 percent inflation target to beat deep-rooted deflation, pushing the yen to a 20-month low of 85.38 yen on trading platform EBS on Wednesday. Traders eyed the dollar's 2011 high of 85.53 yen as the next target.

The euro rose as high as 112.55 yen on EBS, just below its 16-month high of 112.59 yen hit on December 19.

The weaker yen has bolstered hopes for better earnings from Japanese companies and underpinned the Nikkei, which has gained some 18 percent since mid-November when the election was scheduled, fuelling expectations for Abe's party to win. The yen has lost nearly 8 percent against the dollar in the same period.

The Nikkei <.n225> closed at a nine-month high with a 1.5 percent gain. <.t/>

"Most foreign funds have added Japanese shares and there are fewer participants today, but there still is a reason for the Nikkei to rise," said Hideyuki Okoshi, general manager at Chibagin Securities. "Not only exporters but investors are buying other stocks which could benefit under the new government."

Japanese government debt prices fell, with the 10-year bond futures hitting a three-month low of 143.65 in active trade. Ten-year JGB yields rose 1.5 basis points to 0.780 percent, matching a six-week high hit on December 19.

"We continue to see equities going high, so the pressure is on the long end of the JGB curve. For the short end of the curve, we continue to see the BOJ ease aggressively, so there is no change in that," said Tadashi Matsukawa, head of Japan fixed income at PineBridge Investments.

Minutes of the BOJ's policy-setting meeting in November, released on Wednesday, showed that some board members said the central bank must act decisively, without ruling out any policy options, if the outlook for the economy and prices worsens further.


The dollar was expected to stay firm this week as the U.S. fiscal impasse is likely to continue to sap investor appetite for risky assets and raise the dollar's safe-haven appeal.

Ten-year U.S. Treasury notes held steady in price to yield roughly 1.776 percent in Asia, little changed from late U.S. trade on Monday. The U.S. bond market was closed on Tuesday for Christmas.

"I think there is about a 50 percent chance of the cliff being avoided at the year-end through an agreement of some kind, even if it turns out to be just a short-term postponement," said Tomoaki Shishido, a rate analyst for Nomura Securities in Tokyo.

A U.S. official said on Tuesday that President Barack Obama may return to Washington from his Hawaiian holiday as early as Wednesday evening to address the unfinished negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" of some $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to start on January 1.

If the United States falls off the fiscal cliff, economists warn that the world's largest economy could plunge into recession and drag global economies down as well.

Data out of Asia on Wednesday underscored fragile global growth.

Exports in Thailand, Southeast Asia's second-largest economy, rose nearly 27 percent in November from a year ago, but that reflected recovery from flooding in late 2011 and not growth in global demand.

South Korea's key consumer sentiment index held steady in December from November and stood below the neutral point for a fifth consecutive month, diminishing hopes of a quick economic rebound.

Gold edged lower on Wednesday on uncertainty over the fiscal cliff, but a weaker yen sparked a rally in bullion futures on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange (TOCOM).

Brent crude climbed above $109 per barrel on Wednesday in thin trade, with investors hoping for a last-minute deal to avoid a U.S. fiscal crisis. U.S. crude futures also inched up 0.4 percent to $88.94.

(Additional reporting by Ayai Tomisawa and Dominic Lau in Tokyo and Masayuki Kitano in Singapore; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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Clippers beat Nuggets 112-100 for 14th win in row

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers didn't finish their 14th consecutive victory well. They were good enough through the first three quarters that it didn't matter.

Jamal Crawford led a dominant performance by the Los Angeles reserves with 22 points in a 112-100 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night, extending the team's franchise-record winning streak while claiming the best record in the NBA at 22-6.

"It's about getting better and better," Crawford said. "We're trying to stay locked in and focused."

Matt Barnes added 20 points — one off his season high — as the bench outscored the Clippers' starters 64-48 in moving one win ahead of second-best Oklahoma City (21-6), which lost to Miami earlier Tuesday.

"This is fool's gold," cautioned Chris Paul, who led the starters with 14 points. "You don't play for the regular season. Obviously, you want to build something."

Kosta Koufos and Jordan Hamilton scored 16 points each for Denver in the finale of a Christmas doubleheader at Staples Center. The Lakers, who will play the Nuggets on Wednesday night in Denver, beat the Knicks 100-94 in the first game.

"They're a very good running team and they're very athletic, so we wanted to just play within ourselves and play smart throughout the game," Koufos said. "I thought we established ourselves early on. We were getting some good looks, but at the same time, shots weren't going in."

Ty Lawson added 15 points for the Nuggets, who fell to 7-13 on the road, where 22 of their first 32 games are being played.

"They've got the respect of the league and they've got the attention of the league," said former Clipper Andre Miller, who had 12 points. "It's tough to come in here and get a win when the team is playing that well."

Crawford's 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter pushed the Clippers' lead to 20 points and kept the starters on the bench for the final 12 minutes. Coming into the game, their average margin of victory during the streak had been 13 points and they exceeded that when the Nuggets failed to make it close in the fourth.

Crawford scored eight points in the quarter. He leads NBA reserves in scoring and topped 20 points for the 12th time this season.

But none of the Clippers were happy about the sloppy final period, when they were outscored 24-19 and the Nuggets shot 61 percent.

"It looked like a layup drill for them," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said about Denver scoring 10 straight points. "I'm big into making sure we play the right way. It's always about the big picture and us getting better."

Blake Griffin added 13 points and Willie Green had 11 among the other leading Los Angeles starters.

Denver rallied after halftime, using a 15-6 spurt to close to 73-63, capped by Andre Iguodala's free throw after Paul received a technical foul.

The Clippers answered with three consecutive 3-pointers, including two by Green from opposite corners, for an 84-67 lead. The Nuggets ran off seven in a row to get within 10 before the Clippers regrouped with a 9-2 run, capped by Paul's 3-pointer, that kept them ahead 93-76 heading into the fourth.

"They have a confidence right now that's pretty powerful," Nuggets coach George Karl said.

The Clippers stretched their lead to 67-48 at halftime with 42 points in the second, their highest-scoring quarter this season. The bench got things going with a 14-10 run before Paul replaced a wild Eric Bledsoe. His presence settled down the second unit until Griffin and DeAndre Jordan eventually came back in during a 28-10 run the rest of the period that produced the Clippers' first double-digit lead. Driving dunks by Barnes and Griffin, alley-oop dunks by Griffin and Jordan, and consecutive 3-pointers by Barnes and Paul highlighted the scoring binge.

"When we are at our best our starters have a great first quarter and our bench elevates that," Griffin said.

Hamilton banked in a jumper at the buzzer to give the Nuggets a 26-25 lead after a back-and-forth opening quarter. There were nine lead changes and eight ties, with neither team leading by more than three points.

NOTES: The Clippers improved to 13-3 at home, where they haven't lost there since Nov. 26 against New Orleans. ... Denver fell to 3-3 in the first game of a back-to-back set. ... Los Angeles wore all-red uniforms, while the Nuggets were in navy. ... Paul flew in 30 family members from North Carolina to enjoy the holiday. ... It was Paul's idea to have his teammates wear ugly Christmas sweaters to the arena, and his mother procured them. "It shows we're a tight-knit group," Crawford said. Some of the Clippers declared F Matt Barnes the unofficial winner. His green-and-cream cardigan had tinsel, bows and ornaments hanging from it. ... Kanye West was part of a contingent of Kardashians in the house, including Kim and Khloe.

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Nasty storms blamed 1 death, make travel tough

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Freezing rain and sleet made for a sloppy Christmas trek in parts of the nation’s midsection, while residents along the Gulf Coast faced thunderstorms, high winds and tornadoes that were doing damage in some areas.

Winds toppled a tree onto a pickup truck in the Houston area, killing the driver. Icy roads already were blamed for a 21-vehicle pileup in Oklahoma, where authorities warned would-be travelers to stay home.

Trees fell on a few houses in central Louisiana‘s Rapides Parish but there were no injuries reported so far and crews were cutting trees out of roadways to get to people in their homes, said sheriff’s Lt. Tommy Carnline. Possible damage also was reported near McNeil, Miss.

Fog blanketed highways, including arteries in the Atlanta area where motorists slowed as a precaution. In New Mexico, drivers across the eastern plains had to fight through snow, ice and low visibility.

At least three tornadoes were reported in Texas, though only one building was damaged, according to the National Weather Service. Tornado watches were in effect across southern Louisiana and Mississippi.

More than 180 flights nationwide were canceled by midday, according to the flight tracker More than half were canceled by American Airlines and its regional affiliate, American Eagle.

American is headquartered and has its biggest hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Christmas lights also were knocked out with more than 70,000 people without power in east Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Meanwhile, blizzard conditions were possible for parts of Illinois, Indiana and western Kentucky with predictions of 4 to 7 inches of snow. Much of Oklahoma and Arkansas braced under a winter storm warning of an early mix of rain and sleet forecast to eventually turn to snow. About a dozen counties in Missouri were under a blizzard warning from Tuesday night to noon Wednesday.

Some mountainous areas of Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains could get up to 10 inches of snow, which would make travel “very hazardous or impossible” in the northern tier of the state from near whiteout conditions, the National Weather Service said.

The holiday may conjure visions of snow and ice, but twisters this time of year are not unheard of. Ten storm systems in the last 50 years have spawned at least one Christmastime tornado with winds of 113 mph or more in the South, said Chris Vaccaro, a National Weather Service spokesman in Washington, via email.

The most lethal were the storms of Dec. 24-26, 1982, when 29 tornadoes in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi killed three people and injured 32; and those of Dec. 24-25, 1964, when two people were killed and about 30 people injured by 14 tornadoes in seven states.

Quarter-sized hail reported early Tuesday in western Louisiana was expected to be just the start of a severe weather threat on the Gulf Coast, said meteorologist Mike Efferson at the weather service office in Slidell, La.

Storms along the Gulf Coast could bring winds up to 70 mph, heavy rain, more large hail and dangerous lightning in Louisiana and Mississippi, Efferson said. Furthermore, warm, moist air colliding with a cold front could produce dangerous straight-line winds.

The storm was moving quickly as it headed into northeast Louisiana and Mississippi into the late afternoon and early evening, said Bill Adams at the weather service’s Shreveport, La., office.

In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant urged residents to have a plan for any severe weather.

“It only takes a few minutes, and it will help everyone have a safe Christmas,” Bryant said.


AP Business Writer Daniel Wagner in Washington and Associated Press Writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston contributed to this report.

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Shootings leave 1 dead, 5 wounded Christmas and overnight

An 18-year-old man was shot and killed and five other people were wounded, two of them seriously, across the city Tuesday afternoon.

The man died after someone shot him in the 2000 block of West 69th Street, just west of Damen Avenue, in the West Englewood neighborhood. He was shot after 11:30 p.m.

He was shot multiple times after getting into an argument with several others on 69th Street, police said. 

Two males, whose ages weren't available, were shot on the 0-100 block of North Lockwood Avenue about 1:15 a.m., near Madison Street. One was shot in the neck and taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County and the other was shot in the knee and taken to West Suburban Medical Center, police said. 

The man shot in the neck is expected to survive, police said. At the crime scene, police used a bottle of vitamin water to mark the location of a shell casing because paper used until an evidence marker could be placed by an evidence technician kept blowing down the alley. 

Police blocked off a second West Side crime scene on Laramie where the van the pair were traveling in stopped, also near the intersection of Madison Street. One of the van's windows appeared to be shot out and it was stopped with two flat back tires. 

A woman is in critical condition after getting shot in the neck. The 22-year-old was shot inside an apartment on the 1900 block of South Harding Street in the Lawndale neighborhood about 9:40 p.m., police said. She was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital.

The woman was shot by her boyfriend during a fight inside the apartment, police said.

About 7 p.m., an 11-year-old boy was grazed in the arm in the 6200 block of South Michigan Avenue and taken to Comer Children's Hospital, according to police. He was walking in a group when he heard shots and felt pain.

Another man was left in serious condition after someone shot him in the back in the Hermosa neighborhood about 2 p.m. That happened in the 4300 block of West Armitage Avenue on the Northwest Side.

No one is in custody for the shootings and detectives from across the city are investigating.
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Spring Wish denied as suicide bomber brings down Afghan juice empire

KABUL (Reuters) - When a Taliban suicide bomber killed two people on the edge of the Afghan capital this month, there was another casualty - a global fruit juice business optimistically called "Spring Wish" which provided work for thousands of farmers across the country.

Mustafa Sadiq's empire had been expanding healthily, bringing in badly needed foreign capital, before the attack inflicted the kind of financial loss cash-strapped Afghanistan can ill afford.

The pomegranate juice business was nearly wiped out in the split second it took the militant to detonate explosives in a truck parked near the factory on December 17.

Pieces of shredded metal were scattered everywhere. Chairs were hurled across the office where Sadiq had spent so much time figuring out how to beat the odds against decades of war, instability and hopelessness.

Sadiq was in Dubai drumming up new export deals when an assistant called with the bad news. The call that Sadiq said he did not get is also troubling him.

"So far no officials, for the sake of sympathy, have called us," Sadiq, 40, told Reuters, standing beside a year's supply of juice in containers that were ruined in the attack - nearly $10 million in losses overall.

"In this situation they should have called me and asked what kind of help they could provide. The agriculture, finance, commerce ministries. Nobody so far has visited or called."

The impact of the war, and expectations for the future, are often seen only through the eyes of Western or Afghan soldiers, or officials who point to the progress that has been made.

Sadiq offers another perspective. Some workers told him the bomber triggered the loudest blast they had heard in 30 years.

A Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was followed by a decade of resistance by mujahideen fighters who drove them out. Then warlords carved out fiefdoms and destroyed half of the capital in the civil war that followed.


The Taliban took over, were toppled in 2001 and are now raising fears they may return when U.S.-led NATO troops hand over security to Afghan forces in 2014.

But Sadiq does not see the Taliban as the biggest threat to Afghanistan's future. Instead, he says, officials have turned politics into a commercial enterprise driven by corruption.

"Government employees think it's time to fill their pockets and grab whatever they can. That will pave the way for civil war," said Sadiq, as workers feverishly loaded boxes of the little fruit juice left onto a truck, and others worked to rebuild a brick wall.

"You have to struggle, not run away. It is kind of like running away now. They have walls around themselves sitting there and they do not have contact with ordinary Afghans."

His disillusionment is shared by the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

"There is no guarantee for investment in Afghanistan. People are afraid of the government, there is no rule of law. Government officials can do anything they want," the chamber's first vice-chairman, Jan Alokzai, told Reuters.

"President (Hamid) Karzai's words are only on paper and don't have any value."

Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government says it is committed to building up the economy, attracting foreign investment and helping Afghans secure a brighter future. Karzai says it is contracts with foreigners that spread graft.


The government has highlighted 2014 as a year to invest in Afghanistan, which relies heavily on foreign aid, and to take advantage of its cheap labor and land leases.

In each of the 10 years following 2014, the government hopes revenues from oil, natural gas, iron, copper and other mining ventures will generate $4 billion in revenue.

Sadiq spent time in Europe, waiting for an opportunity to return and invest in his homeland. He eventually opened a factory in an industrial park along Kabul's dusty Jalalabad Road in 2008, from where he broke into overseas markets.

Spring Wish, which employed about 1,000 people, was selling produce to the health conscious in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, bringing money into Afghanistan, while anxious Afghans carted $4.5 billion in cash out of the country last year to safety.

But when asked about the maps on a wall identifying parts of Afghanistan which offer opportunities for farmers and businesses like his, Sadiq could only put his head in his hands and cry.

The dark red seeds from Sadiq's fruits were prized in Europe for their antioxidant qualities, and in Japan where many believe they can help fight cancers. He seems most proud of the fact that he helped 40,000 farmers across Afghanistan earn a living.

As Sadiq tries to persuade his staff to keep dreaming big and to rebuild, one question may haunt him for some time. The suicide bomber parked his truck in a lane between his company and a foreign firm.

The Taliban said it attacked an American company next door, but he still wonders whether his factory, which relied on Italian machinery and benefited from U.S. aid programs, was the target. And he acknowledges he is desperate for money from Western donors.

"Around 120 people were working here and this factory was totally destroyed in the suicide attack," said Mohammed Jaw, 28, a general operator for the company. "A number of our workers will lose their jobs and now everyone is concerned about what happens next."

Despite the loss, Sadiq's entrepreneurial and marketing spirit seems intact.

"Have you tried the juice with mulberry flavor?" he asked proudly. "It's really good."

Then a worker brought the moment back to reality. He lifted his cellphone to show a photograph of the suicide bomber's severed head.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Yen on defensive on U.S. fiscal worry, helps Nikkei

TOKYO (Reuters) - Uncertainty over whether U.S. lawmakers will strike a deal by an end-of-year deadline to avert a severe fiscal retrenchment undermined the yen and bolstered Japanese shares on Tuesday in low volume, with many participants away on Christmas holiday.

The dollar rose to a 20-month high of 84.965 yen early on Tuesday in Asia, as Japanese markets caught up with global investors who had reacted overnight to incoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's weekend comments that raised the pressure on the Bank of Japan.

During a meeting on Tuesday with officials from Japan's major business lobby, Keidanren, Abe reiterated calls on the BOJ to conduct bold monetary easing to beat deflation by setting an inflation target of 2 percent.

The head of Abe's coalition partner said on Tuesday the coalition party and Abe had agreed to set a 2 percent inflation target and compile a large stimulus budget to help the economy return to growth and overcome deflation.

The yen has come under pressure as a result of expectations that the BOJ will be compelled to adopt more drastic monetary stimulus measures next year.

The dollar was expected to stay firm this week as investors repatriate dollars, and as the U.S. fiscal impasse is likely to continue to sap investor appetite for risky assets and raise the dollar's safe-haven appeal.

"The dollar is seen relatively well bid, with all focus on the fiscal cliff," said Yuji Saito, director of foreign exchange at Credit Agricole in Tokyo.

"Negotiations may be carried over the weekend, but markets still expect a deal to be struck by December 31. It is unthinkable that the U.S. will risk driving its economic growth sharply lower by not agreeing to avoid it."

U.S. lawmakers and President Barack Obama were on Christmas holiday and talks were unlikely to resume until later in the week.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner failed to gain support for a tax plan at the end of last week, raising fears that the United States may face the "fiscal cliff" of some $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to start on January 1.

Japan's Nikkei stock average <.n225> resumed trading after a three-day weekend with a 1.1 percent gain, recapturing the key 10,000 mark it ceded on Friday after Boehner's failure sparked a broad market sell-off and the Tokyo benchmark closed down 1 percent. The Nikkei was likely to be supported as long as the yen stayed weak. <.t/>

"Ongoing optimism about the weak yen is lifting hopes that exporters' earnings will be better than expected," said Hiroichi Nishi, general manager at SMBC Nikko Securities.

Analysts say a near-term correction may be possible as the index is now in "overbought" territory after gaining 16.2 percent over the last six weeks, hitting a nine-month high last Friday. Its 14-day relative strength index was at 72.34, above the 70 level that signals an overbought condition.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> nudged up 0.1 percent, driven higher by surging Shanghai shares, as most Asian bourses were shut for Christmas.

The Shanghai Composite Index <.ssec> soared over 2 percent to five-month highs as investors bought property stocks on mounting optimism about the sector. Taiwan shares <.twii> jumped 1.3 percent on gains in technology and financial shares.

Asset performance in 2012:

2012 commodities returns:



Goro Ohwada, president and CEO at Japan-based fund of hedge funds Aino Investment Corp, said investors were likely to focus on economic fundamentals and the United States for cues on investment direction in 2013.

"There is a feeling that an investment strategy based on economic fundamentals may finally work next year, with asset prices more closely reflecting fair value. The problem is, we don't know yet which asset is a better bet than others," Ohwada said, adding that oil and gold appeared to be near their highs.

Naohiro Niimura, a partner at research and consulting firm Market Risk Advisory, said commodities and energy prices will likely move in tight ranges in 2013, with investors eyeing political events, including the U.S. fiscal cliff outlook, Italian parliamentary election set for February 24-25, and Germany's elections in September.

"The macroeconomic policies taken this year around the world to support growth are expected to result in a moderate recovery in 2013 to reduce an excessive downside risk to prices. This will likely keep commodities, gold and energy prices near their highs," Niimura said.

(Additional reporting by Ayai Tomisawa in Tokyo; Editing by Edmund Klamann and Daniel Magnowski)

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Pagano back to coach Colts after cancer treatment

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chuck Pagano stepped to the podium Monday, hugged his team owner, thanked his family for its support and wiped a tear from his eye.

He might, finally, turn out the lights in his office, too.

Nearly three months to the day after being diagnosed with leukemia, the Colts' first-year coach returned to a team eager to reunite with a boss healthy enough to go back to work.

"I told you my best day of my life was July 1, 1989," Pagano said, referring to his wedding date. "Today was No. 2. Getting to pull up, drive in, get out of my car, the key fob still worked. I was beginning to question whether it would or not. When I asked for Bruce to take over, I asked for him to kick some you-know-what and to do great. Damn Bruce, you had to go and win nine games? Tough act to follow. Tough act to follow. Best in the history of the NFL. That's what I have to come back to."

The comment turned tears into the laughter everyone expected on such a festive occasion.

For Pagano and the Colts, Monday morning was as precious as anyone could have imagined when Pagano took an indefinite leave to face the biggest opponent of his life, cancer.

In his absence, all the Colts was win nine of 12 games, make a historic turnaround and clinch a playoff spot all before Sunday's regular-season finale against Houston, which they pegged as the day they hoped to have Pagano back. If all goes well at practice this week, Pagano will be on the sideline for the first time since a Week 3 loss to Jacksonville.

Pagano endured three rounds of chemotherapy to put his cancer in remission.

That Pagano's return came less than 24 hours after Indy (10-5) locked up the No. 5 seed in the AFC and the day before Christmas seemed fitting, too.

"I know Chuck is ready for this challenge. In speaking to his doctor multiple times, I know that the time is right for him to grab the reins, get the head coaching cap on and begin the journey," owner Jim Irsay said. "It's been a miraculous story. It really is a book. It's a fairytale. It's a Hollywood script. It's all those things but it's real."

The reality is that he's returning to a vastly different team than the one he turned over to Arians, his long-time friend and first assistant coaching hire.

Back then, the Colts were 1-2 and most of the so-called experts had written them off as one of the league's worst teams. Now, they're ready to show the football world that they can be just as successful under Pagano as they were under Arians, who tied the NFL record for wins after a midseason coaching change.

Pagano also has changed.

The neatly-trimmed salt-and-pepper hair and trademark goatee that were missing in November have slowly returned, and the thinner man who appeared to be catching his breath during a postgame speech in early November, looked and sounded as good as ever Monday.

He repeatedly thanked fans for their prayers and letters, the organization and his family for their unwavering help and promised to provide comfort and support to other people who are facing similar fights. During one poignant moment that nearly brought out tears again, Pagano even recounted a letter sent to him by a 9-year-old child who suggested he suck on ice chips and strawberry Popsicles in the hospital and advised him to be nice to the nurses regardless of how he felt — and he never even paused.

"I feel great, my weight is back, my energy is back and again, it's just a blessing to be back here," Pagano said.

In the minds of Colts players and coaches, Pagano never really left.

He continually watched practice tape and game film on his computer, used phone calls and text messages to regularly communicate with players and occasionally delivered a pregame or postgame speech to his team.

"He texted me and called me so much, it was like he was standing there in my face every day," said receiver Reggie Wayne, who has been friends with Pagano since the two were working together at the University of Miami.

But the Colts found plenty of other ways to keep Pagano's battle in the forefront.

They began a fundraising campaign for leukemia research, calling it Chuckstrong. Players had stickers with the initials CP on their locker room nameplates, and Arians wore an orange ribbon on his baseball cap during games. Orange is the symbolic color for leukemia. At one point, nearly three dozen players shaved their heads to show their ailing coach they were with him.

That's not all.

Arians and first-year general manager Ryan Grigson decided to leave the lights on in Pagano's office until he returned. Pagano noted the team even installed plastic clips to make sure those lights were not mistakenly turned off while he was gone. Those clips were removed when Pagano arrived Monday morning.

And Arians said nobody sat in the front seat of the team bus.

"He's always been our head coach," Arians said.

So after getting medical clearance from his oncologist, Dr. Larry Cripe, to return with no restrictions, Pagano couldn't wait to get to the office Monday morning.

Arians arrived at 7 a.m., three hours early for the scheduled team meeting. By then, Pagano had already driven past the inflatable Colts player with the words "Welcome Back Chuck" printed on its chest and was back in his office preparing for the Texans.

Players showed up a couple of hours later, and when the torch was passed from Arians back to Pagano, players gave their returning coach a standing ovation that Wayne said was well-deserved.

All Pagano wants to do now is emulate the success Arians and his players have had this season.

"I asked him (Arians) if he would lead this team and this ballclub and this organization and take over the reins," Pagano said. "What a masterful, masterful job you did Bruce. You carried the torch and all you went out and did was win nine ballgames. You got us our 10th win yesterday and you got us into the playoffs. You did it with dignity and you did it with class. You're everything that I always knew you were and more."


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Utilities keeping eye on expected snow storm

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Utility companies are watching and waiting as a Christmas Day storm is expected in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The National Weather Service says 4 to 8 inches of snow is possible from western Oklahoma to the Arkansas state line and up to 10 inches could fall in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas.

Kathleen O’Shea with Oklahoma Gas and Electric — which has about 798,000 customers in Oklahoma and western Arkansas — says the utility is tracking the storm system to see where repair crews might be needed. Stan Whiteford with Public Service Company of Oklahoma — which has about 527,000 Oklahoma customers — says repair crews have been notified that they could be called.

Both say snow is not as big a threat as freezing rain or high winds to down power lines.

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Six political lessons of 2012

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures

2012: The year in pictures















































































  • Julian Zelizer: 2012 was a year of bitter domestic battles, turbulence overseas

  • He says the weakness of GOP, renewed strength of liberalism were apparent

  • Zelizer says the year also highlighted the influence of new immigrants in America

  • Zelizer: Year ended with a tragic reminder about need to act on gun control

Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of the new book "Governing America."

(CNN) -- 2012 has been a tumultuous year in American politics. With the presidential election capping off the year, Americans have witnessed a series of bitter domestic battles and turbulent events overseas. As the year closes out, it is worth thinking about some of the most important lessons that politicians and voters can learn from this year as they prepare for 2013.

Here are six:

The Republican brand name is in trouble: The GOP took a drubbing in 2012. To be sure, Mitt Romney ran a problematic campaign. His inability to connect with voters and a number of embarrassing gaffes hurt the chances for Republicans to succeed.

Julian Zelizer

Julian Zelizer

Just as important to the outcome was the party that Romney represented. Voters are not happy with the GOP. Public approval for the party has been extremely low. Congressional Republicans have helped to bring down the party name with their inability to compromise.

Recent polls show that if the nation goes off the fiscal cliff, the Republicans would be blamed. According to a survey by NBC and the Wall Street Journal, 65 percent of people asked for a short word or phrase to describe the GOP came up with something negative. The Republican Party was also the lowest-rated political institution.

The exit polls in November showed that the GOP is out of step with the electorate on a number of big issues, including immigration and gay marriage. If Republicans don't undertake some serious reforms and offer fresh voices, all the new messaging in the world won't help them as the competition starts for 2016.

Opinion: Madness in the air in Washington

America has grown more liberal on cultural and social issues: The election results confirmed what polls have been showing for some time. If the 1960s was a battle over conservative "traditional family values" and liberal ideals of social relations, liberals eventually won. Throughout the year, polls showed, for example, that the public was becoming more tolerant of gay marriage and civil unions. Americans support the view that gay sex should be legal by a margin of 2-1, compared to 1977 when the public was split.

In the election, same-sex marriage was approved in three states, voters in Wisconsin sent to office the first openly gay senator, and two states approved of referendums to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Americans are accepting of social diversity, and expect that the pluralism of the electorate will be reflected by the composition of elected officials in Washington.

While there are some conservative voices who lament these changes and warn of a nation that is veering toward Sodom, a majority are more than comfortable that some of the taboos and social restrictions of earlier eras are fading and that we live in a nation which is more tolerant than ever before. These social and cultural changes will certainly raise more questions about restrictive practices and policies that remain in place while creating pressure for new kinds of leaders who are responsive to these changes.

The Middle East remains a tinderbox: In the years that followed Barack Obama's election, there was some hope that the Middle East could become a calmer region. When revolutions brought down some of the most notorious dictators in the region, many Americans cheered as the fervor for democracy seemed to be riding high.

But events in 2012 threw some cold water on those hopes. The Muslim Brotherhood won control of the Egyptian government. In Syria, the government brutally cracked down on opponents, reaching the point in December where Obama's administration has started to talk about the possibility of the al-Assad regime using chemical weapons, though the severity of the threat is unclear. The battles between Palestinians and Israel raged with rockets being fired into Tel Aviv and Israelis bombing targets in Gaza.

Although national attention is focused on domestic policy, it is clear that the Middle East has the capacity to command national attention at any moment and remains as explosive as ever.

Our infrastructure needs repair: Hurricane Sandy devastated the Northeast in November, leaving millions of Americans on the East Coast without power and with damaged property. Soon after the hurricane hit, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made an important point. The infrastructure of our cities is outdated and needs to be revamped so that it can withstand current weather patterns. Speaking of the need for levees in New York, Cuomo said: "It is something we're going to have to start thinking about ... The construction of this city did not anticipate these kinds of situations."

Regardless of whether Congress takes action on the issue of climate change, in the short term cities and suburbs must do more work to curtail the kind of damage wreaked by these storms and to mitigate the costs of recovery -- building underground power lines, increasing resources for emergency responders, building state-of-the-art water systems, and constructing effective barriers to block water from flooding.

The new immigrants are a powerful political and social force: As was the case in the turn of the twentieth century when Eastern and Southern Europeans came into this county, massive waves of immigration are remaking the social fabric of the nation. Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans and other new portions of the electorate who have been coming into the country since the reform of immigration laws in 1965 are coming to represent a bigger and bigger portion of the electorate.

Not only are their numbers growing as a voting bloc, but they are more organized and active than ever before, both on election day as well as in policy making.

Soon after the election, The New York Times reported that 600 members of United We Dream, a network of younger immigrants who don't have their papers, met for three days to plan how to lobby for a bill that would enable 11 million illegal immigrants to become legal. One of the leaders, Christina Jimenez, explained: "We have an unprecedented opportunity to engage our parents, our cousins, our abuelitos in this fight." They have both parties scrambling as Democrats are working to fulfill the promises that brought these voters to their side in November, while some Republicans are desperate to dampen the influence of hardline anti-immigration activists in their party.

We need to do something about guns. The year ended with a horrific shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. When a 20-year-old went on a rampage apparently using guns that had been legally purchased by his mother, the world watched with horror. Several prominent conservative advocates of gun rights, including former congressman and television host Joseph Scarborough as well as Sen. Joe Manchin, made statements indicating that the time has come to impose stricter controls and regulations on the purchase of weapons. "I don't know anybody in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault file," Manchin said.

Over the next few weeks, there will certainly be a big debate about what caused this shooting. People from different perspectives will highlight different issues but making it more difficult for people to get their hands on certain kinds of weapons, while not a cure-all, can only diminish the chances of this happening again.

There are many more lessons but these six stand out. After the trauma of the past week, let's hope the new year starts off with better days.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Julian Zelizer.

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Christmas Eve shootings leave 7 hurt

Seven people were hurt, at least five seriously, in shootings on the South and West sides late Monday.

Four of the injured were hurt in a single shooting on the Far South Side, and all four were taken to local hospitals in serious-to-critical condition, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

The shooting happened shortly before 7:30 p.m. in the 9400 block of South Justine Street, officials said.

A male shooter opened fire, striking four males as they walked down the sidewalk, Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Amina Greer said, citing preliminary information.

A 15-year-old boy and a 22-year-old man were taken to Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, a 17-year old man was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital and a 19-year-old man was taken to John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County, police said.

The 15-year-old was shot in the abdomen, and the 17-year-old was shot in the chest, police said.

The other two men were shot multiple times.

Police said the condition of each was stabilized at the hospital.

The shooting happened in the Brainerd neighborhood.

About 11:50 p.m., a 21-year-old was shot in an attempted robbery in the Gresham neighborhood on the South Side, police said.

The 21-year-old was sitting in a parked vehicle when two males approached on foot and announced a robbery, Greer said, citing preliminary information.

Shortly after, one or both of the assailants shot into the vehicle, striking the man in the lower abdomen, police said.

The man was taken to Little Company of Mary Hospital and later transferred to Advocate Christ, where his condition was stabilized, police said.

About 9:05 p.m., a 19-year-old man was shot in the head in the West Side's University Village neighborhood, police said. 

The man was taken to Stroger in serious condition from the 1200 block of West Washburne Avenue , News Affairs Officer Veejay Zala said.

Earlier Monday evening, a 37-year-old man was shot in the leg and back in the South Side's Gresham neighborhood, police said.

The shooting happened in the 700 block of West 81st Street about 5:50 p.m., Zala said. The man was taken to an area hospital, where his condition was stabilized.

Check back for more information.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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