Obama can't kick his legacy down road

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst

February 19, 2013 -- Updated 2122 GMT (0522 HKT)

President Obama has a small window of opportunity to get Congress to act on his priorities, Gloria Borger says.


  • Gloria Borger: Prospect of deep budget cuts was designed to compel compromise

  • She says the "unthinkable" cuts now have many supporters

  • The likelihood that cuts may happen shows new level of D.C. dysfunction, she says

  • Borger: President may want a 2014 House victory, but action needed now

(CNN) -- So let's try to recount why we are where we are. In August 2011, Washington was trying to figure out how to raise the debt ceiling -- so the US might continue to pay its bills -- when a stunt was hatched: Kick the can down the road.

And not only kick it down the road, but do it in a way that would eventually force Washington to do its job: Invent a punishment.

Gloria Borger

Gloria Borger

If the politicians failed to come up with some kind of budget deal, the blunt instrument of across-the-board cuts in every area would await.

Unthinkable! Untenable!

Until now.

In fact, something designed to be worse than any conceivable agreement is now completely acceptable to many.

And not only are these forced budget cuts considered acceptable, they're even applauded. Some Republicans figure they'll never find a way to get 5% across-the-board domestic spending cuts like this again, so go for it. And some liberal Democrats likewise say 8% cuts in military spending are better than anything we might get on our own, so go for it.

The result: A draconian plan designed to force the two sides to get together has now turned out to be too weak to do that.

And what does that tell us? More about the collapse of the political process than it does about the merits of any budget cuts. Official Washington has completely abdicated responsibility, taking its dysfunction to a new level -- which is really saying something.

We've learned since the election that the second-term president is feeling chipper. With re-election came the power to force Republicans to raise taxes on the wealthy in the fiscal cliff negotiations, and good for him. Americans voted, and said that's what they wanted, and so it happened. Even the most sullen Republicans knew that tax fight had been lost.

Points on the board for the White House.

Now the evil "sequester" -- the forced budget cuts -- looms. And the president proposes what he calls a "balanced" approach: closing tax loopholes on the rich and budget cuts. It's something he knows Republicans will never go for. They raised taxes six weeks ago, and they're not going to do it again now. They already gave at the office. And Republicans also say, with some merit, that taxes were never meant to be a part of the discussion of across-the-board cuts. It's about spending.

Here's the problem: The election is over. Obama won, and he doesn't really have to keep telling us -- or showing us, via staged campaign-style events like the one Tuesday in which he used police officers as props while he opposed the forced spending cuts.

What we're waiting for is the plan to translate victory into effective governance.

Sure, there's no doubt the president has the upper hand. He's right to believe that GOP calls for austerity do not constitute a cohesive party platform. He knows that the GOP has no singular, effective leader, and that its message is unformed. And he's probably hoping that the next two years can be used effectively to further undermine the GOP and win back a Democratic majority in the House.

Slight problem: There's plenty of real work to be done, on the budget, on tax reform, on immigration, climate change and guns. A second-term president has a small window of opportunity. And a presidential legacy is not something that can be kicked down the road.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

Part of complete coverage on

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Cops shoot suspect they say is wanted in string of heists

Chicago police officers shot a man near a busy Bucktown neighborhood intersection after a pursuit that stemmed from an armed robbery at a Subway restaurant on the Near North Side, police said.

Police said the suspect is the same man wanted in more than a dozen robberies of North Side convenience stores and restaurants.

Police said the man shot tonight, about 11:50 p.m., fled from a Subway at 816 N. State Street and the pursuit ended when his SUV crashed into a car outside a Walgreens at 1601 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Police said the suspect did not respond to commands and made suspicious movements inside the vehicle before he was shot.

The other robberies police are investigating happened most often between 11:30 p.m. and 2:15 a.m.

Among the pair: two within hours of each other at 2200 N. Lincoln Avenue and 300 W. Chicago Avenue early in the morning of Feb. 6. 

It’s unclear if the man was shot inside or outside the vehicle and his condition is not known. He was taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County and is expected to survive, police said. 

Police from a number of nearby districts responded to the scene after officers called "10-1," a radio term used to signal an officer, firefighter or paramedic in distress. Detectives from two of the three city detective areas also responded to the scene.

Detectives approached people inside and out of the numerous bars that line the intersection asking if anyone saw anything. 

Traffic in the area, including CTA buses, is being rerouted through the neighboring side streets.

Hours after the shooting, as the bars wrapped up for the night, people stood outside smoking and exchanging stories of the cop cars they saw speeding toward the scene.

Check back for updates.

Twitter: @peternickeas

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Insight: Rome will burn, regardless of Italian election result

ROME (Reuters) - Regardless of who wins next weekend's parliamentary election, Italy's long economic decline is likely to continue because the next government won't be strong enough to pursue the tough reforms needed to make its economy competitive again.

Bankers, diplomats and industrialists in Rome and Milan despair at how Italians are shifting allegiances ahead of the February 24-25 vote to favor anti-establishment upstarts and show disgust with the established parties.

That makes it more likely that no bloc will have the political strength to tackle Italy's deep-rooted economic crisis, which has made it Europe's most sluggish large economy for the past two decades.

Final opinion polls predict that the vote will deliver a working majority in both houses for a centre-left coalition governing in alliance with technocrat former prime minister Mario Monti. Political risk consultancy Eurasia assigns this scenario a 50-60 percent probability.

But Italy's election for both chambers of parliament has the potential to tip the euro zone back into instability if the outcome does not produce that result.

The colorful cast of candidates includes disgraced media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, one of the world's richest men, the bespectacled academic Monti, anti-establishment comedian Beppe Grillo who campaigns from a camper van, and Nichi Vendola, a former communist poet who is the governor of Puglia.

Investors have so far taken a relaxed view, relying on polls produced until the legal deadline for surveys of Feb 10.

One of the best indicators that they are not worried: Italian benchmark 10-year bond yields, which topped six percent during the country's worst political moments in 2011, are now trading around 4.4 percent, almost a full percentage point lower than those of Spain.

Italian stocks have performed broadly in line with the wider European market since January, despite the election and a wave of scandals which has engulfed several leading Italian groups.

But observers in Italy are increasingly nervous that the rosy election scenario favored by investors may not work out.

A jaded electorate, angry about political corruption, economic mismanagement and a national crisis that has impoverished a once-wealthy member of the G7 club of rich nations, could produce a surprise.

Pier Luigi Bersani, the standard-bearer for the centre-left, is a worthy but lackluster former minister whose party has been linked to a banking scandal in the mediaeval Tuscan town of Siena. Support for his party now seems to be fading.

Opponents have latched on to the fact that the ailing bank, Monte dei Paschi, was run by a foundation dominated by political appointees from the centre-left and accused Bersani's party of presiding over a debacle that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of euros.


Monti, dubbed "Rigor Montis" by one opponent for his austerity policies which critics say hurt growth, is stuck in fourth place and slipping. Detractors say he comes across poorly on the hustings and has been hurt because he formed an election alliance with two discredited centrist politicians who are emblematic of the traditional politics which Monti disavows.

The big gainer in the final days before the election, according to private surveys quoted by experts, is stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo and his anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. Grillo has been on a "tsunami tour" of Italy in a camper van, filling piazzas with his ringing denunciations of the country's political class. He campaigns mainly on the Internet, where his widely read blog features a list of Italy's parliamentarians convicted of a crime (it features 24 names).

"The big question is: what happens to Grillo?" said one senior banker in Milan, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He won't win but he could stop Bersani and Monti from getting enough seats to form an effective government."

Under the electoral law in force for this poll, which almost all Italians agree is in need of reform, voters cast ballots for a party list. The coalition with the most votes is awarded top-up seats in the lower house to give it a 55 percent majority. But in the Senate, the top-up premium applies by region.

Pollsters say the race is too close to call in a few battleground regions but there is a good chance the centre-left will fall short of a majority in the Senate, which has equal law-making powers to the lower house.

A substantial vote for Grillo's movement - and some experts suggest he could top 20 percent - could mean the new parliament is filled with new, inexperienced, anti-establishment deputies who may refuse to do deals with other politicians and block legislation. Bersani and Monti could find themselves without a workable majority in the Senate even in alliance - a scenario which Eurasia believe has a 20-30 percent probability.

"It's hard to see Grillo's movement as a source of stability," said one diplomat, speaking off the record. "There is no chance they would be part of a coalition."


Ironically Grillo himself will not be entering parliament regardless of how well his movement does. The shaggy-haired 63-year-old was convicted of manslaughter after three passengers died when a jeep he was driving crashed in 1981, making him ineligible for election under his own party's rules barring convicted criminals from parliament.

"Grillo's agenda is just silly," said one leading Italian columnist, speaking anonymously because his publication did not allow him to be quoted in other media before the vote.

"It's a fuck off policy. He wants to leave Europe, set up people's tribunals, halve public employees. It's the most visible symptom of Italy's political crisis."

The 5-Star Movement is not the only anti-establishment force threatening to make Italy ungovernable. The federalist Northern League, which favors greater autonomy for northern Italy, is polling around five percent nationally. Its leader Roberto Maroni told Reuters last week he would use his seats in parliament in alliance with the centre-right to block a centre-left coalition and prevent it from governing.

The League is particularly important in the Senate as its home region of Lombardy, where the party polls about 15 percent, returns by far the most senators - 49 out of a chamber of 319.

Should Grillo's movement and the Northern League win enough seats to deprive a centre-left coalition with Monti of an overall majority, the most likely outcome is a "grand coalition" of left and right, experts say.

Such a result would unsettle investors because it would be likely to bring centre-right leader former premier Berlusconi, 76, back into government in a key role and Monti would be unlikely to join it.

Berlusconi's own party has boosted its standing in polls over the past month, helped by the former premier's veteran campaigning skill and his dominance of the country's private TV channels. But nobody apart from his own supporters believes he is likely to win this time.


Pope Benedict's unexpected resignation this month has pushed the parliamentary election off the front pages in Italy, giving Berlusconi less print space and TV air time to press his populist message. The main beneficiary appears to be Grillo, whose strategy of ignoring mainstream media and campaigning on the Internet has been unaffected by the news from the Vatican.

Investors above all want a government which will tackle the reasons for Italy's lackluster performance. Italy has hardly grown since the birth of the euro in 1999 and its economy has slumped faster since the 2007 financial crisis than any other in Europe except Greece. Last year, Italy contracted by 2.2 percent, according to official statistics.

Businessmen complain of three main obstacles: stifling bureaucracy, labor laws which offer workers so much protection that they encourage slack performance, and a dysfunctional court system which makes it hard to enforce contracts and collect debts. All are deep-rooted problems and none is likely to be tackled effectively by a weak and divided government.

"Nobody in Italy is ready to make the reforms our country needs right now," said the chief executive of a major Italian company, speaking off the record.

"I am deeply convinced that without a major change in labor flexibility, we will not be able to increase productivity. My personal experience is that Italian labor is fantastic. But if you take a very good worker and tell him his job is completely safe, you will turn him into a slacker."

Italy's byzantine court system - where cases can languish for years - and its legendary bureaucracy are major obstacles to foreign investment and competitiveness, business people and diplomats say. "Foreign companies are surprised by how hard it is to get things done here which we all thought had been agreed in Brussels 20 years ago," said one senior European diplomat.

Monti's technocratic government won plaudits from business for reforming Italy's pension system but its efforts to reform labor laws did not enjoy similar success. Monti's government lasted 13 months until Berlusconi's bloc triggered its collapse by withdrawing support. Some observers in Italy don't believe that the next parliament's make-up will be nearly as conducive to reform as the outgoing one.


"I want to be optimistic but my best guess is that they will keep to this muddle-through scenario in the next parliament with lackluster results for the economy," said a second senior diplomat. "This country needs a new generation of political leaders."

Key among the concerns of diplomats and business people is the disparate nature of the centre-left coalition leading in polls.

Bersani's election alliance is made up of four main parties, stretching from the former communist Vendola through the Christian left to socialists and centrists. If it is unable to govern alone, as most polls predict, it will need the support of Monti's bloc - itself made up of three parties.

Bankers fear that a government made up of seven different groups of widely varying political hues is highly unlikely to agree on the tough, radical reform measures the country needs.

"If we have a government made up of Bersani, Monti and Vendola, they will argue all the time," said the chief executive. "Bersani and Vendola's capacity for reform is almost zero." Comparing the present Italian centre-left candidate to the former German chancellor whose successful labor reforms belied his socialist roots, he added: "Bersani is no Schroeder".

Bersani's economic spokesman Stefano Fassina insists that the centre-left fully understands the urgency of Italy's economic plight and is committed to deliver on measures to stop the rot. But he puts the emphasis on making the public sector more efficient and persuading Berlin to tone down budget austerity at a European level rather than pursuing labor reform in Italy. Fassina insists that public commitments by Bersani and Vendola on an agreed program will minimize disagreements but he does admit to concern about how a centre-left administration could work with Grillo's unpredictable forces.

"It's impossible to have any discussions with Grillo as a party," he said. "We hope that in parliament some of his MPs will be pragmatic enough to agree on reasonable measures."

With so much uncertainty about the election and the chances fading of it returning a strong, stable reformist government, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Italy's slow, steady economic decline will continue regardless of the result.

"We've seen a steady economic decline in Italy over the past 20 years and it's very hard to see any outcome from this election which will reverse that. The reforms which would really get the country going again are out of reach," concluded the European diplomat.

(Editing by Peter Millership and Giles Elgood)

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Shares edge higher, euro flat ahead German data

LONDON (Reuters) - European shares edged higher and the euro was steady on Tuesday ahead of German economic sentiment data, while the yen rose after Japanese ministers played down talk the Bank of Japan might buy foreign bonds to loosen credit.

Following last week's GDP figures showing that the euro zone saw a weaker end to 2012 than expected, forecasters see a pick-up in Germany's ZEW survey of investors and analysts at 1000 GMT, which may point to rebound in the bloc's biggest economy.

European stock markets, which have lost around 1.5 percent since the end of January, bounced backed from Monday's weak session in early trading, with the FTSEurofirst 300 <.fteu3> up 0.4 percent led by 0.7 and 0.5 percent gains on Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi>.

Underscoring the drag Europe's economic sluggishness is creating, new figures showed car firms had their weakest January since the records of the Association of European Carmakers began in 1990, with sales dropping 8.5 percent.

Berkeley Futures associate director Richard Griffiths said the Euro STOXX 50 and German DAX <.gdaxi> equity index could fall by between 3 and 4 percent over the coming month as economic weakness acts to cap investor sentiment.

"Any inroads to the upside will be hard to come by," he said. "We're in for a period of consolidation, with the risk more to the downside."

In the bond market, benchmark German Bunds edged up as demand for low-risk debt was also supported by concerns over the possibility of an inconclusive outcome to the Italian parliamentary election on Sunday and Monday, though gains were capped ahead of the German sentiment data.

The euro was little changed against the dollar at $1.3345 by 0900 GMT after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi reiterated on Monday that the bank would continue to monitor whether the currency's recent strength was likely to push inflation below its comfort zone.

The yen rose after Japanese ministers played down talk of foreign-bond buying by the country's central bank, a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said such a policy could be one option for monetary easing.

Finance Minister Taro Aso told a news conference that he was not considering foreign-bond purchases as a part of monetary easing, while Economy Minister Akira Amari said Abe's comments on Monday simply referred to policy options countries have in general.

Their comments sent the dollar down to 93.39 yen. The euro eased 0.6 percent to 124.70 yen, well below its peak since April 2010 of 127.71 yen touched on February 6.

(Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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Pistorius charged with murdering girlfriend

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Sobbing softly with his head in his hands, Olympian Oscar Pistorius was charged Tuesday with the premeditated murder of his girlfriend on Valentine's Day. The defense lawyer says it was an accidental shooting.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court that Pistorius got up from bed, put on his prosthetic legs and walked seven meters (yards) from the bedroom toward the bathroom and shot 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp several times through the bathroom door, Pretoria. Nel told the court the door was broken open afterward.

The shooting death in the early hours of Valentine's Day of Steenkamp has shocked South Africans and many around the world who idolized Pistorius for overcoming adversity to become a sports champion, competing in the London Olympics last year in track besides being a Paralympian. Steenkamp was a model and budding reality TV show contestant.

Nel said the killing was premeditated because Pistorius had planned to say that he thought he was shooting an intruder. "It was all part of the preplanning. Why would a burglar lock himself inside the bathroom?" Nel said.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux said the shooting was accidental: "We submit it is not even murder. There is no concession this is a murder."

In arguing that Pistorius should be freed on bail, he said there were no other charges outstanding against the 26-year-old double-amputee who last year became the first double-amputee track athlete to run at the Olympics.

As the dramatic court hearing was held in the capital, Steenkamp's body was being driven to a church for a memorial service under gray skies in the south coast city of Port Elizabeth. Six pall bearers carried the coffin draped in white flowers. The family said relatives have gathered from around the world.

June Steenkamp, the mother, said the family wants answers.

"Why? Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?" she said in an interview published Monday in The Times newspaper.

Legal experts say it could take months for the case to be tried.

Pistorius, in a gray suit and tie, nodded after the chief magistrate asked if he was well. And he nodded his appreciation when his brother, Carl, pressed his shoulder in support. Journalists jammed into the courtroom, which was full with almost 100 people, including Pistorius' father, Henke, and the athlete's sister, Aimee.

In an email to The Associated Press on Monday, Pistorius' longtime track coach — who was yet to comment — said he believes the killing was an accident.

"I pray that we can all, in time, come through this challenging situation following the accident and I am looking forward to the day I can get my boy back on the track," Louw wrote in his statement. "I am still in shock following the heart-breaking events that occurred last week and my thoughts and prayers are with both of the families involved."

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Rain, cold weather returns to Bay Area

Another winter storm is approaching California, where it’s expected to bring freezing temperature, thunder, rain and snow as low as 1500 feet.

The National Weather Service said the cold weather system from the Gulf of Alaska was expected to reach the Bay Area late Monday and rain was forecast for Tuesday morning’s commute.

Dark clouds started rolling across the Bay Area late Monday afternoon, and the menacing-looking sky obliterated the bright sunshine that many enjoyed the last few weeks.

“Oh, man it was wonderful. It was just great. I was grateful because I had a lot of outside work to do,” said Joe Munch of Mendocino County.

An unusually wet November and December gave Bay Area water agencies a strong start to the rainy season.

At Lake Lagunitas in Fairfax, the water level is high enough that some came over of the spillway.

Marin County relies almost entirely on rainfall to replenish its water supply and despite the third driest January on record, Marin’s reservoirs are at 98 percent of capacity.

East Bay Municipal Utilities District gets 90 percent of its water from Sierra sno pack and right now its reservoirs are at 81 percent of capacity.

In the South Bay, things are not looking so bright for the Santa Clara Valley Water District where the reservoirs are just 50 percent full.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission was unavailable on the President’s Day holiday to provide information on the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir which supplies the city and much of the peninsula.

But a United States Geological Survey website shows that as of Monday, Hetch Hetchy is still almost full.

 In Northern California, the heaviest snow was expected to drop Tuesday, bringing up to 10 inches above 3000 feet and 2 to 4 inches in the foothills above 2000 feet.

The storm was expected to move out of the state by Wednesday.

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Time to respect Chavez's merits?

By Samuel Moncada, Special to CNN

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1218 GMT (2018 HKT)

One Venezuelan official says the reforms enacted in Hugo Chavez's 14-year tenure deserve respect.


  • Despite perceptions, Hugo Chavez has brought social progress to Venezuela

  • Moncada: Venezuela's critics have engineered a false narrative of impending disaster

  • Venezuela has used its vast oil reserves to transform lives of ordinary people

  • Ambassador says Chavez's most significant achievement is his empowerment of the majority

Editor's note: Samuel Moncada has been the Ambassador of Venezuela to the United Kingdom since 2007 and holds a PhD in Modern History from Oxford University. He is solely responsible for the content of this analysis.

(CNN) -- Reading the international press, one would be forgiven for thinking that Venezuela is on the verge of collapse.

Over the past decade, all sorts of predictions have been made, ranging from catastrophic election defeats to the implosion of the Venezuelan economy. But the fact these predictions have failed to materialize has not deterred many of Venezuela's most fervent critics in their quest to engineer a constant and misleading narrative of impending disaster.

More: Chavez returns after Cuba cancer treatment

The reality is that ever since President Hugo Chavez was first elected, Venezuela has defied these negative predictions and brought unprecedented social progress to the country over the last 14 years. Since 2004 poverty has been reduced by half and extreme poverty has been cut by 70%. University enrolment has doubled, entitlement to public pensions has tripled, and access to health care and all levels of education have been dramatically expanded.

Venezuela now has the lowest levels of economic inequality of any Latin American country as measured by the Gini coefficient. Our country has already achieved many of the Millennium Development Goals, and is well on target to achieve all eight by the 2015 deadline.

This progress has been achieved by using Venezuela's vast oil revenues to transform the lives of ordinary people. The sheer scale of our oil reserves -- the world's largest -- guarantees the complete sustainability of the model in which the country's resources are used to stimulate growth in the economy and aid development.

But Chavez's most significant achievement has been to trigger the awakening and empowerment of the majority. A majority of Venezuelans have seen vast improvements in their living standards and, as a consequence, they have continued to defend their interests at the ballot box.

The Venezuelan people are very clear about what they want. President Chavez was re-elected in October 2012 with 54% of the vote in an election that boasted an 81% turnout. The Venezuelan people showed their support for the government again in December 2012 in the gubernatorial elections, which saw Chavez's political party win 20 out of 23 states.

Governments in Europe and other parts of the world could only dream of these levels of support after 14 years in power. This shows that social progress in Venezuela has been consolidated and that there is a desire to further expand this progress.

In the coming years, the Venezuelan government will continue to respond to the needs of the Venezuelan people. Hundreds of thousands of new homes have been built over the last two years which have not only greatly improved living standards but also provided jobs and contributed to a boom in the construction industry. The government is well on its way to meeting its target of building three million new homes by 2019.

While many economies around the world are shrinking, the Venezuelan economy grew by 5.5% in 2012. Against the backdrop of a continuing international financial crisis, commerce in Venezuela grew by 9.2% and communications by 7.2%, manufacturing grew by 2.1% and the oil sector grew by 1.4% -- making Venezuela one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America.

At a time when many countries are attacking the rights of the most vulnerable sectors of society, Venezuela is providing ever greater protection for low-income senior citizens and single-parent families with younger children or disabled dependents.

The failed development models of previous governments condemned millions of Venezuelans to poverty. Before the election of Chavez in 1998, Venezuela suffered years of falling GDP. The country had one of the worst economic records in the world -- a record that led to mass social unrest and violent military crackdowns.

Venezuela will continue on its path of social progress and empowering ordinary citizens. The greatest hope for the future is the people know that they alone hold the power to determine the direction the country will take.

After so many failed predictions, isn't it time to respect Venezuela's democracy and the will of the people?

Part of complete coverage on

February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1218 GMT (2018 HKT)

President Hugo Chavez has used the nation's vast oil reserves to transform the lives of ordinary people, one official says.

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He declared last summer to be a "dream come true." Now Oscar Pistorius has entered what could be one of the darkest periods of his life.

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Media reports have described him as a man who hanged himself in an Israeli prison. But details about what happened to him, and why, remain elusive.

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Cameron Russell says her looks fit a narrow definition of beauty and her career as a model gives her views undeserved attention.

It's that time of the year, and the Academy Awards are almost upon us. We want to know your favorite Oscar picks for this year.

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Every March 8th, International Women's Day honors the achievements of women past and present. CNN wants to know: who inspires you?

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Rose returns to 5-on-5 drills for first time since injury

A sense of doubt has evolved into a hint of optimism about Derrick Rose's comeback from knee surgery.

The Bulls guard, who last week mentioned the possibility of sitting out the season, appeared to take another step Monday as he participated in 5-on-5 drills during practice.

"He was able to get out there, and it's good," teammate Kirk Hinrich said. "It was something that (we) as a team needed, as far as every individual coming off the (All-Star) break needed to scrimmage a little bit. And I'm sure it was good for (Rose), helpful to ... give him a good gauge of where he's at."

Coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose did "what everyone else did'' and said his participation wasn't out of the ordinary based on the previously stated outlook. The plan all along was to have Rose return to 5-on-5 action after the break.

Rose cited his inability to dunk as the reason he knew he hadn't fully recovered, and Joakim Noah said Rose still wasn't dunking Monday. The Bulls went through three scrimmages of seven to eight minutes, during which Rose ran full-court. It was unclear how much contact Rose endured or how much pressure he put on his left knee.

"He's doing what he should be doing,'' Thibodeau said. "He's focused on his rehab, doing more and more. We just have to be patient. When he's ready, he'll go.''

Thibodeau reiterated how his players need to pick up their intensity after dropping five of the last seven games and six of the last 10. A Rose return would instantly inject life into the 30-22 Bulls, although they've performed admirably at times in his absence while currently holding the Eastern Conference's fifth seed.

Until Rose steps on the court for a game, his teammates have to lean on each other.

"When we're right and we're playing the right way, we've proved that we can beat everybody,'' Noah said. "We've also proved that if we don't come with the right (attitude), don't play together, we can lose to anybody.''

The return of Hinrich to the lineup for Tuesday night's game in New Orleans should provide a boost. The Bulls went 2-5 with Hinrich sidelined by a right elbow infection and committed 15.6 turnovers per game in the losses.

With all due respect to Nate Robinson and his scoring ability, Hinrich runs the offense more efficiently and is a better defender.

"He's a huge part of what we do, and it just feels good to have Kirk back,'' Noah said. "What he brings to our team, it's hard to measure. His defensive intensity, the ball movement ... it's all big.''

The Bulls have lost two straight and take on a 19-34 Hornets team that has won its last two and is 5-5 over the last 10. Four of the Bulls' next six opponents have sub-.500 records, but the Heat (36-14) and Thunder (39-14) are in that stretch too.

"We have to clean some things up offensively and defensively,'' Thibodeau said. "But the biggest challenge is going to be the level of intensity, to get that back.''


Twitter @vxmcclure23

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Chavez back in Venezuela, on Twitter with four million followers

CARACAS (Reuters) - After Hugo Chavez spent two months out of the public eye for cancer surgery in Cuba, the Venezuelan government hailed his homecoming on Monday and said the president had achieved another milestone - four million followers on Twitter.

The 58-year-old flew back from Havana before dawn and was taken to a military hospital. No new details were given on his health, and there were no images of his arrival. Officials say his condition remains delicate.

The normally loquacious socialist leader, who is struggling to speak as he breathes through a tracheal tube, took to Twitter with a passion back in April 2010, tweeting regularly and encouraging other leftist Latin American leaders to do likewise.

His @chavezcandanga account quickly drew a big mixed following of fans, critics and others just curious to see how his famously long speeches and fiery anti-U.S. invective would work within the social media network's 140-character limit.

But as he fought the cancer and underwent weeks of grueling chemotherapy and radiation therapy, he began to tweet less and less frequently, before stopping altogether on November 1.

Early on Monday morning, he made his reappearance.

"It was 4:30, 5 a.m. He got to his room and surprised everyone: rat-tat-tat, he sent three or four messages, and at that moment fireworks began to go off around the country," Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised cabinet meeting.

During the day, Maduro added, the president's number of followers had shot up to well over four million.

"It's incredible, in just a few hours ... he's the second most-followed president in the world (after Barack Obama), and the first if we make the comparison by per capita," he said.

Obama has more than 27 million Twitter followers and is No. 5 most followed globally. Chavez is Twitter's No. 190 globally.


Maduro said Chavez's four millionth follower was a 20-year-old single Venezuelan woman named Alemar Jimenez from the gritty San Juan neighborhood in downtown Caracas, near the military hospital where the president arrived earlier in the day.

"She's one of the golden generation of youth who support the fatherland and have been waiting with growing love for commander Hugo Chavez," Maduro said, before presenting a dazzled-looking Jimenez to the cameras and giving her a bunch of flowers.

"We were really emotional" she said, recounting how she was with her mother when they heard Chavez had returned. "I sent him a message on Twitter saying he must get better."

There are still big questions over the president's health. He could have come back to govern from behind the scenes, or he may be hoping to ease political tensions and pave the way for a transition to Maduro, his preferred successor.

Chavez has often ordered followers to fight back against opposition critics of his self-styled revolution by using social media, leading from the front himself on Twitter and referring to the Internet as a "battle trench."

As his ranks of followers grew, Chavez said he hired 200 assistants to help him respond to messages - which he said were a great way to receive first-hand the requests, demands, complaints and denunciations of citizens in the thousands.

During his re-election campaign last year, the government launched an SMS text message service that forwards his tweets to cellphones that lack Internet service, broadening their reach to the poorest corners of the South American country.

"He's a communication revolution!" Maduro said, later unbuttoning his shirt on TV to show he was wearing a T-shirt bearing Chavez's eyes emblazoned across his chest.

For the tens of thousands who signed up on Monday to follow Chavez on Twitter, it is unclear how much will be posted there in the weeks and months ahead. Venezuela's 29 million people are mostly wondering something similar.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Todd Eastham)

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Euro, dollar gain after G20, stocks weaker

LONDON (Reuters) - The euro and the dollar gained against the yen on Monday after the G20 decided not to criticize Japan for its expansionary policies, but Europe's weak growth outlook and the approach of Italian elections capped the moves.

Financial leaders from the world's 20 biggest economies promised in their final statement after a weekend meeting not to devalue their currencies to boost exports, in a bid to defuse talk of currency wars among major nations.

The euro gained 0.15 percent to 125.20 yen, edging up toward a 34-month high of 127.71 yen hit earlier this month, while the dollar rose 0.5 percent to 93.99 yen, closer to its highest since May 2010 of 94.46 hit on February 11.

"Future yen direction will continue to be driven by domestic monetary policy from the Bank of Japan and improving international investor confidence, which are both driving the yen weaker," said Lee Hardman, currency analyst at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

With the G20 meeting over, the focus in European markets is switching to the release of euro area Purchasing Managers' Indexes for February and German sentiment indices due later in the week, and the upcoming general elections in Italy.

Analysts expect the euro area flash PMI indices, which point to economic activity around six months out, to show growth stabilizing rather than a clear end to the current recession across the region.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> of top European shares opened down 0.1 percent at 1,159.87 points, with Germany's DAX <.gdaxi>, the UK's FTSE <.ftse> and France's CAC-40 <.fchi> flat to slightly weaker. <.l><.eu/>

Earlier, the effect of the G20 statement and further announcements from Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicating a renewed drive to stimulate the economy lifted the Nikkei stock index <.n225> by 2.1 percent, near to its highest level since September 2008.

Meanwhile U.S. stock futures were barely changed and are expected to stay little changed as Wall Street will be closed on Monday for the Presidents' Day holiday. <.n/>

In the commodity markets, copper fell 0.7 percent to $8,150 a tonne as traders played catch up after a week-long holiday in China last week, with worries about the euro zone economy weighing on sentiment.

U.S. crude fell 34 cents to $95.50 a barrel but Brent inched up six cents $117.70.

Gold rebounded by 0.3 percent from a six-month low to be $1,614 an ounce as jewelers in China returned to the physical market after the Lunar New Year holiday.

(Reporting by Richard Hubbard. Editing by Giles Elgood)

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