"Cliff" concerns give way to earnings focus

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investors' "fiscal cliff" worries are likely to give way to more fundamental concerns, like earnings, as fourth-quarter reports get under way next week.

Financial results, which begin after the market closes on Tuesday with aluminum company Alcoa , are expected to be only slightly better than the third-quarter's lackluster results. As a warning sign, analyst current estimates are down sharply from what they were in October.

That could set stocks up for more volatility following a week of sharp gains that put the Standard & Poor's 500 index <.spx> on Friday at the highest close since December 31, 2007. The index also registered its biggest weekly percentage gain in more than a year.

Based on a Reuters analysis, Europe ranks among the chief concerns cited by companies that warned on fourth-quarter results. Uncertainty about the region and its weak economic outlook were cited by more than half of the 25 largest S&P 500 companies that issued warnings.

In the most recent earnings conference calls, macroeconomic worries were cited by 10 companies while the U.S. "fiscal cliff" was cited by at least nine as reasons for their earnings warnings.

"The number of things that could go wrong isn't so high, but the magnitude of how wrong they could go is what's worrisome," said Kurt Winters, senior portfolio manager for Whitebox Mutual Funds in Minneapolis.

Negative-to-positive guidance by S&P 500 companies for the fourth quarter was 3.6 to 1, the second worst since the third quarter of 2001, according to Thomson Reuters data.

U.S. lawmakers narrowly averted the "fiscal cliff" by coming to a last-minute agreement on a bill to avoid steep tax hikes this weeks -- driving the rally in stocks -- but the battle over further spending cuts is expected to resume in two months.

Investors also have seen a revival of worries about Europe's sovereign debt problems, with Moody's in November downgrading France's credit rating and debt crises looming for Spain and other countries.

"You have a recession in Europe as a base case. Europe is still the biggest trading partner with a lot of U.S. companies, and it's still a big chunk of global capital spending," said Adam Parker, chief U.S. equity strategist at Morgan Stanley in New York.

Among companies citing worries about Europe was eBay , whose chief financial officer, Bob Swan, spoke of "macro pressures from Europe" in the company's October earnings conference call.


One of the biggest worries voiced about earnings has been whether companies will be able to continue to boost profit growth despite relatively weak revenue growth.

S&P 500 revenue fell 0.8 percent in the third quarter for the first decline since the third quarter of 2009, Thomson Reuters data showed. Earnings growth for the quarter was a paltry 0.1 percent after briefly dipping into negative territory.

On top of that, just 40 percent of S&P 500 companies beat revenue expectations in the third quarter, while 64.2 percent beat earnings estimates, the Thomson Reuters data showed.

For the fourth quarter, estimates are slightly better but are well off estimates for the quarter from just a few months earlier. S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.8 percent while revenue is expected to have gone up 1.9 percent.

Back in October, earnings growth for the fourth quarter was forecast up 9.9 percent.

In spite of the cautious outlooks, some analysts still see a good chance for earnings beats this reporting period.

"The thinking is you need top line growth for earnings to continue to expand, and we've seen the market defy that," said Mike Jackson, founder of Denver-based investment firm T3 Equity Labs.

Based on his analysis, energy, industrials and consumer discretionary are the S&P sectors most likely to beat earnings expectations in the upcoming season, while consumer staples, materials and utilities are the least likely to beat, Jackson said.

Sounding a positive note on Friday, drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co said it expects profit in 2013 to increase by more than Wall Street had been forecasting, primarily due to cost controls and improved productivity.

(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Saban: Alabama players must put aside 'clutter'

MIAMI (AP) — Days after team leaders held a players-only meeting, Alabama coach Nick Saban says the Crimson Tide's performance in Monday's BCS championship will say a lot about whether his players have put aside the "clutter" that comes with their success.

Saban spoke Saturday at media day for the title game, which pits No. 2 Alabama against No. 1 Notre Dame. Alabama is favored by more than a touchdown.

Saban says that two days after the Tide beat LSU in last year's BCS title game, he held a team meeting and told players they were no longer the national champions. He has been pushing his players to be "all they can be" since then.

That theme came up again this week when Tide players held a meeting because they wanted their teammates to get more focused in practice.

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Secret to Fish’s Waterfall-Climbing Ability Found

A waterfall-climbing fish in Hawaii uses the same muscles to both rise and feed, researchers have discovered.

Scientists looked at the Nopoli rock-climbing goby (Sicyopterus stimpsoni), also known in Hawaiian as o’opu nopili. This plant-eating fish is found throughout Hawaii, and was once greatly relished as food, apparently being a favorite snack among priests.

Many gobies can inch their way up waterfalls with the aid of a sucker on their bellies formed from fused pelvic fins. The Nopoli rock-climbing goby, on the other hand, can climb waterfalls as tall as 330 feet (100 meters) with the aid of a second mouth sucker, which develops after their mouthparts move from a forward-facing position to under the body during a two-day-long metamorphosis into adulthood.

“For a human to go the equivalent distance based on body size, it’d be like doing a marathon, some 26 miles (42 kilometers) long, except climbing up a vertical cliff-face against rushing water,” researcher Richard Blob, an evolutionary biomechanist at Clemson University in South Carolina, told LiveScience. Indeed, an old Hawaiian saying is that as the Nopili clings, so will luck.

The goby, which can grow up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) long as an adult, feeds by cyclically sticking the tip of its upper jaw against rock to scrape food off surfaces. This behavior is quite distinct from other Hawaiian gobies, which feed by sucking in food from the water. Given the apparent similarity of the climbing and feeding behaviors of the S. stimpsoni species, researchers thought one might have developed from the other. [See Video of Waterfall-Climbing Fish]

“The fish gave us an opportunity to see how unusual behaviors evolved,” Blob said.

To see if these behaviors really were as similar as they looked, the scientists captured Nopoli rock-climbing gobies from a stream on the island of Hawaii by net while snorkeling and kept them in aquaria. They next filmed the gobies’ jaw-muscle movements as the fish climbed and ate, either scraping food off glass microscope slides or climbing up angled plastic boards. They found that overall movements were indeed similar during both activities.

It remains uncertain whether feeding movements were adapted for climbing, or vice versa.

“To understand the sequence of steps in the evolution of this extreme behavior, we want to look at closely related species that do one of the behaviors, but not the other,” Blob said. “This fish has relatives in many oceanic islands, such as the Caribbean.”

The scientists detailed their findings online Jan. 4 in the journal PLOS ONE. They will also present their findings Jan. 6 at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology annual meeting in San Francisco.

Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We’re also on Facebook & Google+.

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Storm over Depardieu's 'pathetic' move


  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed Russian citizenship on actor Gérard Depardieu

  • For Depardieu, a public war of words erupted, with many in France disgusted by his move

  • Depardieu more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit, says Agnes Poirier

  • Majority of French people disapprove of his action but can't help loving him, she adds

Agnes Poirier is a French journalist and political analyst who contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and TV in the UK, U.S., France, Italy. Follow her on Twitter.

Paris (CNN) -- Since the revelation on the front page of daily newspaper Libération, on December 11, with a particularly vicious editorial talking about France's national treasure as a "former genius actor," Gérard Depardieu's departure to Belgium, where he bought a property just a mile from the French border, has deeply divided and saddened France. Even more so since, as we have learnt this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed the actor Russian citizenship.

Back in mid-December, the French media operated along political lines: the left-wing press such as Libération couldn't find strong enough words to describe Depardieu's "desertion" while right-wing publications such as Le Figaro, slightly uneasy at the news, preferred to focus on President François Hollande's punishing taxes which allegedly drove throngs of millionaires to seek tax asylum in more fiscally lenient countries such as Belgium or Britain. Le Figaro stopped short of passing moral judgement though. Others like satirical weekly Charlie hebdo, preferred irony. Its cover featured a cartoon of the rather rotund-looking Depardieu in front of a Belgian flag with the headline: "Can Belgium take the world's entire load of cholesterol?" Ouch.

Quickly though, it became quite clear that Depardieu was not treated in the same way as other famous French tax exiles. French actor Alain Delon is a Swiss resident as is crooner-rocker Johnny Halliday, and many other French stars and sportsmen ensure they reside for under six months in France in order to escape being taxed here on their income and capital. Their move has hardly ever been commented on. And they certainly never had to suffer the same infamy.

Agnes Poirier

Agnes Poirier

For Depardieu, a public war of words erupted. It started with the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and many members of his government, showing their disdain, and talking of Depardieu's "pathetic move." In response the outraged actor penned an open letter to the French PM in which he threatened to give back his French passport.

The backlash was not over. Fellow thespian Phillipe Torreton fired the first salvo against Depardieu in an open letter published in Libération, insulting both Depardieu's protruding physique and lack of patriotism: "So you're leaving the ship France in the middle of a storm? What did you expect, Gérard? You thought we would approve? You expected a medal, an academy award from the economy ministry? (...)We'll get by without you." French actress Catherine Deneuve felt she had to step in to defend Depardieu. In another open letter published by Libération, she evoked the darkest hours of the French revolution. Before flying to Rome to celebrate the New Year, Depardieu gave an interview to Le Monde in which he seemed to be joking about having asked Putin for Russian citizenship. Except, it wasn't a joke.

In truth, French people have felt touched to their core by Depardieu's gesture. He, more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit. He has been Cyrano, he has been Danton; he, better than most, on screen and off, stands for what it means to be French: passionate, sensitive, theatrical, and grandiose. Ambiguous too, and weak in front of temptations and pleasures.

In truth, French people have felt touched to their core by Depardieu's gesture. He, more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit
Hugh Miles

For more than two weeks now, #Depardieu has been trending on French Twitter. Surveys have showed France's dilemma: half the French people understand him but there are as many who think that paying one's taxes is a national duty. In other words, a majority of French people disapprove of his action but can't help loving the man.

Putin's move in granting the actor Russian citizenship has exacerbated things. And first of all, it is a blow to Hollande who, it was revealed, had a phone conversation with Depardieu on New Year's Day. The Elysées Palace refused to communicate on the men's exchange. A friend of the actor declared that Depardieu complained about being so reviled by the press and that he was leaving, no matter what.

If, in their hearts, the French don't quite believe Depardieu might one day settle in Moscow and abandon them, they feel deeply saddened by the whole saga. However, with France's former sex symbol Brigitte Bardot declaring that she too might ask Putin for Russian citizenship to protest against the fate of zoo elephants in Lyon, it looks as if the French may prefer to laugh the whole thing off. Proof of this: the last trend on French Twitter is #IWantRussianCitizenship.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Agnes Poirier.

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Escaped convict was using cane and beret as disguise

Chicago Tribune reporter Jason Meisner on the recent arrest of Kenneth Conley, a convicted bank robber who escaped from federal jail in December. (Posted on: Jan. 4, 2013.)

Kenneth Conley was last seen by authorities making a daring escape down the side of a high-rise federal jail under the cover of night.

Friday afternoon, he was found hobbling down a Palos Hills street with a cane, one part of a flimsy disguise that included a bulky overcoat and a beret pulled low over his face.

An 18-day manhunt for the escaped bank robber ended after a maintenance employee working at a residential building in the southwest suburb called 911 about a suspicious man.

Conley, as it turns out, had not gone very far from places he used to live and homes where friends and family still reside.

But law enforcement sources said Friday that he apparently had no help — the former strip club employee was sleeping in the building's basement.

Conley was scheduled to appear in federal court at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

The spectacular jailbreak — the first at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in almost 30 years — embarrassed federal authorities and seemed to be meticulously planned. Conley and Joseph "Jose" Banks rappelled to freedom using a rope fashioned from bedsheets. But like Banks, who was arrested two days after the escape in the North Side neighborhood where he was raised, Conley had no apparent plan for life on the run and was found holed up in an area where he had known ties.

Palos Hills police said a maintenance worker at a building in the 10200 block of South 86th Terrace called police about 3:30 p.m. to report the "suspicious person" who might be sleeping at the premises. Officers arrived to find a man walking down the street in an overcoat and pretending to use a cane. He appeared to be trying to look older than his actual age, police said.

"Our officers stopped to talk to him and he said he was just visiting," Deputy Chief James Boie told the Tribune. "He gave them a phony name, and while they're trying to run the information, he got wise that they were going to figure it out, and he pushed one of the officers down and took off running."

Boie said two additional officers responding to the scene caught Conley about a block away as he was trying to force his way into the Scenic Tree apartment complex, which is across the street from the police headquarters. He was wrestled down but did not offer any other resistance. Conley and one officer were taken to Palos Community Hospital for observation, he said.

Police found a BB pistol in Conley's pocket. He had no cash or other weapons, Boie said.

Residents in the sprawling, low-rise apartment complex where Conley was apprehended said they had seen a lot of police activity in the area earlier in the day, including K-9 units.

Chris Stevens, who has lived in the complex for a decade, said FBI agents knocked on her door at about 7 a.m., showed her a photo of Conley and asked if she had seen him. The agents told her he had been spotted in the area.

By the afternoon, Stagg High School junior David Griffith, 16, said he was with a friend taking out the garbage at the complex when he heard shouting and saw an officer run past him into a grassy area behind his building.

"We ran back in my house, opened the patio door, looked in the back and just saw a whole bunch of police officers just tackle (Conley)," Griffith said. "It was crazy. Nothing ever happens over here."

According to court records, Conley once lived in an apartment near the scene of his arrest. Boie said Conley was known to Palos Hills police because he'd had multiple resisting and obstructing arrests in 2004. Even still, they were surprised when they realized whom they had just arrested.

"I'm sure they were a little surprised that they had the guy standing in front of them,'' Boie said.

A law enforcement source told the Tribune that U.S. marshals and FBI agents met this week to discuss the hunt for Conley and went to Palos Hills on Friday morning to canvass specific addresses where he had ties. Some of the doors they knocked on were in the same block where Conley was found later in the day, the source said.

Conley, 38, was awaiting sentencing for a single bank holdup when authorities said he and Banks removed a cinder block from their cell wall and scaled down about 15 stories of the sheer wall of the jail early on Dec. 18. The cellmates were last accounted for during a routine bed check, authorities said. About 7 a.m. the next day, jail employees arriving for work saw the bedsheets dangling from a hole in the wall down the south side of the facade.

The FBI said a surveillance camera a few blocks from the jail showed the two wearing light-colored clothing hailing a taxi at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue about 2:40 a.m. They also appeared to be wearing backpacks, according to the FBI.

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Chavez swearing-in can be delayed: Venezuelan VP

CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez's formal swearing-in for a new six-year term scheduled for January 10 can be postponed if he is unable to attend due to his battle to recover from cancer surgery, Venezuela's vice president said on Friday.

Nicolas Maduro's comments were the clearest indication yet that the Venezuelan government is preparing to delay the swearing-in while avoiding naming a replacement for Chavez or calling a new election in the South American OPEC nation.

In power since 1999, the 58-year-old socialist leader has not been seen in public for more than three weeks. Allies say he is in delicate condition after a fourth operation in two years for an undisclosed form of cancer in his pelvic area.

The political opposition argues that Chavez's presence on January 10 in Cuba - where there are rumors he may be dying - is tantamount to the president's stepping down.

But Maduro, waving a copy of the constitution during an interview with state TV, said there was no problem if Chavez was sworn in at a later date by the nation's top court.

"The interpretation being given is that the 2013-2019 constitutional period starts on January 10. In the case of President Chavez, he is a re-elected president and continues in his functions," he said.

"The formality of his swearing-in can be resolved in the Supreme Court at the time the court deems appropriate in coordination with the head of state."

In the increasing "Kremlinology"-style analysis of Venezuela's extraordinary political situation, that could be interpreted in different ways: that Maduro and other allies trust Chavez will recover eventually, or that they are buying time to cement succession plans before going into an election.

Despite his serious medical condition, there was no reason to declare Chavez's "complete absence" from office, Maduro said. Such a declaration would trigger a new vote within 30 days, according to Venezuela's charter.


Chavez was conscious and fighting to recover, said Maduro, who traveled to Havana to see his boss this week.

"We will have the Commander well again," he said.

Maduro, 50, whom Chavez named as his preferred successor should he be forced to leave office, said Venezuela's opposition had no right to go against the will of the people as expressed in the October 7 vote to re-elect the president.

"The president right now is president ... Don't mess with the people. Respect democracy."

Despite insisting Chavez remains president and there is hope for recovery, the government has acknowledged the gravity of his condition, saying he is having trouble breathing due to a "severe" respiratory infection.

Social networks are abuzz with rumors he is on life support or facing uncontrollable metastasis of his cancer.

Chavez's abrupt exit from the political scene would be a huge shock for Venezuela. His oil-financed socialism has made him a hero to the poor, while critics call him a dictator seeking to impose Cuban-style communism on Venezuelans.

Should Chavez leave office, a new election is likely to pitch former bus driver and union activist Maduro against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state.

Capriles lost to Chavez in the October presidential election, but won an impressive 44 percent of the vote. Though past polls have shown him to be more popular than all of Chavez's allies, the equation is now different given Maduro has received the president's personal blessing - a factor likely to fire up Chavez's fanatical supporters.

His condition is being watched closely by Latin American allies that have benefited from his help, as well as investors attracted by Venezuela's lucrative and widely traded debt.

"The odds are growing that the country will soon undergo a possibly tumultuous transition," the U.S.-based think tank Stratfor said this week.

(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; editing by Christopher Wilson)

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Wall Street firms slightly after jobs, ISM data

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks firmed slightly on Friday after a key U.S. jobs report showed the pace of hiring by employers had eased slightly in December but gave signals of some momentum in the labor market's recovery since the 2007-09 recession.

Data from the Institute for Supply Management showed the vast U.S. services sector in December grew at its fastest clip in 10 months, boosted by a rise in new orders. The market's reaction to both releases was modest.

New orders received by U.S. factories were flat in November, missing expectations as demand for aircraft sank sharply, although a gauge of business spending plans gave a positive sign for the economy.

Shares of Nasdaq heavyweight Apple Inc fell nearly 2 percent, pressuring the tech-heavy index. Adding to concerns about the iPhone maker's ability to produce more innovative products going forward, rival Samsung Electronics Co Ltd is expected to widen its lead over Apple in global smartphone sales this year with 35 percent growth, propped up by a broad product lineup, according to market researcher Strategy Analytics.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 7.79 points, or 0.06 percent, at 13,399.15. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 1.95 points, or 0.13 percent, at 1,461.32. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 6.50 points, or 0.21 percent, at 3,094.06.

Though the jobs data showed lackluster economic growth was unable to make a dent in the still-high U.S. unemployment rate, it calmed fears about the possibility of the U.S. Federal Reserve ending its highly stimulative monetary policy.

Concerns about the endurance of the Fed's stimulus program prompted investors to pull back from the market Thursday after a two-day rally.

According to the Labor Department, payrolls outside the farming sector grew 155,000 last month, as expected and slightly below the level for November. Gains in employment were distributed broadly throughout the economy, from manufacturing and construction to health care.

Minutes from the Fed's December policy meeting, released Thursday, showed Fed officials were increasingly worried about the risks of asset purchases on financial markets, though they looked set to continue with the open-ended stimulus program for now.

Some policymakers thought asset buying should be slowed or stopped before the end of 2013 while others highlighted the need for further stimulus. The Fed's policy of easy credit has helped push the S&P 500 to a 13.4 percent gain in 2012. Ending that policy would remove an incentive for investors to purchase riskier assets like stocks.

Apple shares were down nearly 2 percent at $532.27 in morning trade. The stock has been on a downward trend over the past few months on concerns about demand for the iPhone 5 and the company's capability to produce more innovation products in the future.

Pharmaceuticals maker Eli Lilly and Co. said on Friday it expects 2013 earnings to increase to $3.75 to $3.90 per share excluding items from $3.30 to $3.40 per share in 2012. The stock rose 2.5 percent to $50.94.

Mosaic Co reported that its quarterly operating profit fell 30 percent as international distributors delayed buying potash and phosphate to avert the price risk associated with the fertilizer producer's negotiations with China and India. The stock rose 1.5 percent to $57.62.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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Chiefs, GM Pioli part ways after 4 seasons in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Scott Pioli is out as general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, who have been negotiating the past two days with Andy Reid to become their next coach.

Pioli and the team "mutually parted ways," the Chiefs said in a statement Friday. The decision came after four tumultuous seasons marked by poor draft choices, ineffective free-agent moves, failed coaching hires and a growing fan rebellion.

"I truly apologize for not getting the job done," Pioli said.

The Chiefs fired coach Romeo Crennel on Monday after finishing 2-14, matching the worst record in their 53-year history. Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said other changes could be made, and indicated that Pioli's future could be determined by their next coach.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press the team is nearing a deal with Reid, who was fired after 14 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. The person spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because negotiations were ongoing. It is believed that Reid would prefer to work with his own general manager.

"After several productive conversations, we made the difficult decision to part ways with Scott Pioli and allow him to pursue other opportunities," Hunt said in a statement Friday.

"This was a difficult decision for Scott as well," Hunt said. "He has a great deal of appreciation for the history of this franchise, for our players, coaches and employees, and especially our great fans."

Kansas City will have the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, and with five players voted to the Pro Bowl, there are certainly pieces in place for the Chiefs to make rapid improvement.

But most of those Pro Bowl players were drafted by Pioli's predecessor, Carl Peterson. The former Patriots executive struggled to find impact talent, particularly at quarterback, while cycling through coaches and fostering a climate of dread within the entire organization.

Numerous longtime staff members were fired upon Pioli's arrival, and his inability to connect with fans resulted in unrest unlike anything the franchise has known. Some of them even paid for banners to be towed behind planes before home games asking that he be fired.

Those fans finally got their wish.

The biggest reason ultimately wasn't the banners and posters, but by the performance of the Chiefs. And that was a reflection of the roster Pioli assembled, one that looked good on paper but not on the field.

Things were no better away from the field, either.

On Dec. 1, linebacker Jovan Belcher shot the mother of his 3-month-old daughter, Kasandra Perkins, at a home not far from Arrowhead Stadium. He then drove to the team's practice facility and was confronted by Pioli, Crennel and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs.

After thanking the three of them for giving him a chance in the NFL, Belcher turned around in the parking lot, kneeled down and shot himself in the head.

Pioli hasn't spoken publicly since then but issued a statement Friday in which he thanked the organization for giving him an opportunity to be its GM.

"The bottom line is that I did not accomplish all of what I set out to do," Pioli said. "To the Hunt family — to the great fans of the Kansas City Chiefs — to the players, all employees and alumni, I truly apologize for not getting the job done."

Pioli often spoke of putting together "the right 53," but he routinely failed to do so.

His biggest move upon being hired was trading for Patriots backup Matt Cassel and then giving him a $63 million, six-year deal. Cassel went to the Pro Bowl in 2010, when the Chiefs won a surprising AFC West title, but he struggled so mightily that he was benched this season.

Many of Pioli's moves in free agency also backfired.

Tight end Kevin Boss sustained a season-ending head injury in Week 2, running back Peyton Hillis was a shadow of his former self, right tackle Eric Winston got into a messy situation by calling out Chiefs fans during an early season loss, and cornerback Stanford Routt was cut under mysterious circumstances despite signing an $18 million, three-year contract.

One of his biggest shortcomings was in the draft.

He wasted the third overall pick in 2009 on defensive end Tyson Jackson, who has struggled to become an every-down player. The only other player who has made a contribution from Pioli's first draft has been kicker Ryan Succop, their seventh-round selection.

Pioli fared better in 2010, when he nabbed Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry in the first round, but the past two years have been a disappointment. Wide receiver Jon Baldwin, his first-round pick in 2011, has barely made an impact, and defensive tackle Dontari Poe — the 11th overall pick last April — failed to make the kind of impression the Chiefs had hoped.

Pioli didn't fare much better when it came to coaches.

He fired Herm Edwards soon after he was hired and chose Todd Haley as the replacement, but their relationship was strained from the start. Haley was fired last December and Crennel made the interim coach, and then Pioli made the move permanent a few weeks after the season ended.

While beloved and respected by his players, Crennel struggled in his second stint as a head coach, and was dismissed after a 2-14 finish — only the third time in team history the Chiefs failed to win at least three games in a season.


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Atom smasher hiatus sets stage for more discovery

GENEVA (AP) — The world’s largest and most powerful atom smasher goes into a 2-year hibernation in March, as engineers carry out a revamp to help it reach maximum energy levels that could lead to more stunning discoveries following the detection of the so-called “God particle.”

With the reopening of its $ 10 billion proton collider in early 2015, the stage will be set for observing more rare phenomena — and unlocking more mysteries, said James Gillies, chief spokesman for the European particle physics laboratory known as CERN.

The Large Hadron Collider under the Swiss-French border will operate for two more months then shut down through 2014, allowing engineers to lay thousands more superconducting cables aimed at bringing the machine up to “full design energy,” Gillies told The Associated Press on Friday.

Physicists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN, won’t exactly be idle as the collider takes a break. There are still reams more data to sift through since the July discovery of a new subatomic particle called the Higgs boson — dubbed the “God particle — which promises a new realm of understanding of the universe.

For the next two months, the Large Hadron Collider will be smashing protons with lead ions, then undergo several weeks of testing before it shuts down. The collider launched in September 2008, but had to be switched off just nine days later when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated, causing extensive damage to the massive magnets and other parts of the collider some 300 feet (100 meters) below the ground.

It cost $ 40 million to repair and improve the machine. Since its restart in November 2009, the collider has performed almost flawlessly and the power produced has been ramped up to ever-new record levels, creating a treasure trove of new data to sift through.

But because of the 2008 accident, the collider could only run at an energy level far below what it was designed to do. To fix that, Gillies said, engineers over the next two years will install 10,000 redesigned superconducting cables that connect between the magnets. That will vastly improve its capacity to simulate the moments after the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago.

“It will bring you more collisions. Which means that the more collisions you have, the more likely you are to see rare events,” he said. “The Higgs particle was just one of many on the wish list that we’d like to find, so higher energy increases your discovery potential.”

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Myanmar: Evolution, not revolution

Tourists walk around the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon in April. The tourism industry is set for expansion.


  • Myanmar is undergoing incremental change, welcomed by all, says Parag Khanna

  • But he says people still tread lightly, careful not to overstep or demand too much

  • Myanmar has survived succession of natural and man-made ravages, Khanna adds

  • With sanctions lifted, foreign investment is now pouring in from Western nations

Editor's note: Parag Khanna is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and Senior Fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. His books include "The Second World," "How to Run the World," and "Hybrid Reality."

Yangon, Myanmar (CNN) -- Call it a case for evolution instead of revolution. While the Arab world continues in the throes of violence and uncertainty, Myanmar is undergoing incremental change -- and almost everyone seems to want it that way.

The government is lightening up: holding elections, freeing political prisoners, abolishing censorship, legalizing protests, opening to investment and tourists and welcoming back exiles. But the people still tread lightly, careful not to overstep or demand too much. Still, the consensus is clear: Change in Myanmar is "irreversible."

Read more: Aung San Suu Kyi and the power of unity

As the British Raj's jungle frontier, Burma was a key Asian battleground resisting the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia during World War II. As with many post-colonial countries, the euphoria of independence and democracy in 1948 gave way in just over a decade to the 1962 coup in which General Ne Win nationalized the economy and abolished most institutions except the army.

Parag Khanna

Parag Khanna

Non-alignment gave way to isolationism. Like Syria or Uzbekistan, Myanmar became an ancient Silk Road passageway that almost voluntarily choked itself off, choosing the unique path of a Buddhist state conducting genocide, slavery, and human trafficking.

Watch: Myanmar in grip of economic revolution

The military junta began its increasingly cozy rapproachment with Deng Xiaoping's China in the 1970s, just as China was opening to the world, and used cash from its Golden Triangle drug-running operations to pay for Chinese weapons.

Mass protests, crackdowns and another coup in 1988 led to a rebranding of the junta as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and the country's official renaming as the Union of Myanmar.

Terrorized, starving and homeless: Myanmar's Rohingya still forgotten

The 1990 elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a majority of the seats, were annulled by the SLORC, which continued to rule until 2011 when it was formally disbanded. Most international sanctions on Myanmar have now been lifted.

Read more: Myanmar: Is now a good time to go?

In just the past few years, Myanmar has survived a succession of natural and man-made ravages, from the brutal crackdown on the Saffron Revolution of 2007 (led by Buddhist monks but more widely supported in protest against rising fuel prices and economic mismanagement), to Cyclone Nargis (which killed an estimated 200,000 people in 2008) to civil wars between the government's army and ethnic groups such as the Kachin in the north and Shan and Karen in the east, and communal violence between the Muslim Rohingya (ethnic Bengalis) and Buddhist Rakhine in the west.

There are still approximately 150,000 Karen refugees in Thailand (and over 300,000 total refugees on the Thai-Burmese border) and more than 100,000 displaced Rohinya living in camps in Sittwe. So difficult is holding Myanmar together that even Aung San Suu Kyi, who helps lead the national reconciliation process, ironically advocated the use of the army (which kept her under house arrest for almost two decades) to pacify the rebellions.

Though sectarian conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine underscores the Myanmar's tenuous search for national unity, the genuine efforts at religious pluralism are reminiscent of neighboring India: Every religion is officially recognized, and days are given off for observance. Surrounding Yangon's downtown City Hall is not only the giant Sule Pagoda but also a mosque, synagogue, church and Jain temple. The roundabout is therefore a symbol of the country's diversity -- but also the place where protesters flock when the government doesn't live up to promises.

Q&A: What's behind sectarian violence in Myanmar?

Scarred from decades of oppressive and ideological rule and still beset by conflict, it is therefore against all odds that Myanmar would become the most talked about frontier market of the moment, a top Christmas holiday destination and a case study in democratic transitions. Myanmar's political scene is now a vibrant but cacophonous discourse involving the still-powerful army; upstart parliament; repatriated civilian advisers; flourishing civil society, including human rights groups, ambitious business community, the Buddhist religious community, and a feisty media (especially online).

The parliament is pushing for accountability in telecom and energy contracts, and its speaker, Shwe Mann, is already maneuvering to challenge the chairman of his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) -- current president Thein Sein -- in the 2015 elections.

In the meantime, however, the establishment in Yangon and the new capital of Napyidaw need to focus much more on building capacity. Thein Sein, who traded in his uniform for indigenous attire in 2011, has reshuffled the Cabinet to make room for functional experts in the energy and economic portfolios. He's even spearheaded an anti-corruption drive, admitting recently that Myanmar's "governance falls well below international standards." By many accounts he is also very open to advice on investment and other reforms.

He will need it, as Myanmar faces crucial tests of its international credibility in the coming years. In 2013, Myanmar will play host to the World Economic Forum (WEF) as well as the Southeast Asian Games. In 2014 it will chair the ASEAN regional group, and in 2015 it is expected to enter a new ASEAN Free Trade Area.

The military's power is still pervasive, placing it somewhere on the spectrum between Indonesia, where military influence has been rolled back, and Pakistan, where the military still dominates. On the streets, it's often difficult to know who is in charge.

One numerological fetish led to the driving side being unilaterally changed, making Myanmar the rare place where the steering wheel is (mostly) on the right, and cars drive (mostly) on the right. At least a dozen official and private newspapers (though private daily papers are not allowed yet) are on offer from meandering street hawkers, while you inch through Yangon's increasingly dense daily traffic jams.

At this time of year, visitors to Burma enjoy crisp, smoky morning air and dry, starry nights. Yangon is undergoing a construction boom, with faded colonial embassies turned into bustling banks, the national independence column being refurbished and redesigned with a park, and tycoons building columned mansions near downtown -- and seeking Buddhist blessings by pledging lavish donations for the construction of even more monasteries and pagodas.

By 2020, the population of Yangon could easily double from the current 5 million, at which point it may look like a mix of Calcutta and Kuala Lumpur.

Thant Myint-U, the grandson of former U.N. Secretary-General U Thant and noted historian of modern Burma, now wears several hats related to ethnic reconciliation, foreign donor trust funds and urban conservation. He says that as foreign aid flows grow from trickles into a flood, they have to be systematically focused on sustainable employment creation and infrastructure. USAID has pledged to spend more than $150 million in Myanmar in the next three years.

Myanmar's opening, however, is strongly motivated by an anti-Chinese sentiment that is part of a much wider global blowback against China's commercial and strategic encroachment
Parag Khanna

Outside of Yangon, the pace of Burmese society slows to a timeless pace -- as do Internet connections. On village roads, cycle rickshaws and monks with parasols amble by fruit vendors and car part stalls. Whether at the Dhammayazika Pagoda in Bagan or Mandalay Hill in that city, locals enjoy watching sunrises and sunsets as much as tourists.

Traveling around Myanmar, one observes the paradox of a country that has massive potential yet still needs just about everything. Yangon's vegetable market is a maze of tented alleys overflowing with cabbage, pineapples, eggplant and flowers, but they are still transported by wheelbarrows and bicycles. Ox-drawn ploughs still power farming in much of the country, meaning agricultural output of rice, beans and other staples could grow immensely through mechanization.

Similarly, the British-era light-rail loop circling Yangon takes about three hours to ride once around, with no linking bus services into downtown. But with cars already clogging the city, a major transport overhaul is essential. The communications sector actually needs to be re-invented. At present, the country's Internet and mobile phone penetration are only just growing; both are still governed by India's 1886 Telegraph Act. Mobile penetration is only 3 million but could easily grow to 30 million (half the population) within the next couple of years, as the price of SIM cards come down (so far from $2,000 to about $200), and foreign telecoms are allowed in to provide data coverage.

With sanctions lifted, foreign investment is now pouring in from Western nations, in addition to the players who have been making inroads for years such as China, Thailand and Singapore. The paradox, however, is that Myanmar lacks the infrastructure (physical and institutional) to absorb all the investor interest.

Major nations have thus focused on special economic zones that they themselves effectively run. The way Japan has moved into Myanmar, one would think that its World War II imperialism has been forgotten. After their major bet on the Thilawa special economic zone south of Yangon, Japanese contractors have plans to deepen the Yangon River's estuary so that cargo ships can sail directly up to the city's shores and offload more containers of cars that are already being briskly snapped up at busy dealerships.

Besides natural gas and agriculture, everyone agrees that tourism will comprise an ever-larger share of the country's GDP. Especially with much of the country off-limits to foreigners due to security restrictions and the military's economic operations, tourists already clog all existing suitable hotels in Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay, meaning a massive upgrade is needed in the hospitality sector.

Annual tourist visits are climbing 25% annually to an estimated 400,000 for 2012. Daily flights arrive packed from around the region, with longer-haul routes beginning from as far afield as Istanbul and Doha.

Still, Myanmar is a traveler's dream come true. In Bagan, you can walk or take a sunrise jog around countless pagodas that feel like they haven't been touched in 800 years -- some actually haven't. There is also the sacred and enchanting Golden Rock; the pristine beaches of Ngwe Saung, which rival the best of Thailand and the Philippines; the temperate climate of Inle Lake; the Himalayan foothills near Putao in far northern Kachin state where one can trek; the rich dynastic history of Mandalay; and the languorous Irrawaddy River cruises that harken to George Orwell's "Burmese Days."

Yangon has a pleasant charm and gentle energy, with vast gardens and riverside walks, the grandeur of centuries-old monuments such as the Shwedegon Pagoda, a fast-growing cultural scene of art galleries and music performances, and a melting pot population of all Myanmar's tribes as well as industrious overseas Indians and Chinese, who make up 5% of the nation's population.

Mandalay in particular is where one feels the depth of China's demographic penetration into Myanmar, owing not only to recent decades of commercial expansion from gems trading to real estate but also centuries of seasonal migrations across the rugged natural border with Yunnan province. Some have begun to call the Shan region "Yunnan South."

The combination of the Saffron Revolution, civil strife, sanctions, its economic lag behind the rest of ASEAN, and the status of becoming a captive resource supplier to China all played crucial roles in Myanmar's opening. China has traditionally been a kingmaker in isolated and sanctioned countries and well-placed to capitalize on the infrastructural and extractive needs of emerging economies as well.

For China, Myanmar represents a crucial artery to evade the "Malacca trap" represented by its dependence on shipping transit through the Straits of Malacca. In 2011 China was still far and away the largest foreign investor in Myanmar, bringing in $5 billion (of a total of $9 billion) across their 2,000-kilometer (1250-mile)-long border. The massive ongoing investments include 63 hydropower projects, a 2,400-kilometer (1500-mile) Sittwe-to-Kunming oil pipeline from the Bay of Bengal and a proposed gas pipeline to China's Yunnan beginning at Myanmar's Ramree Island -- not to mention an entire military outfitted with Chinese tanks, helicopters, boats and planes.

Myanmar's opening, however, is strongly motivated by an anti-Chinese sentiment that is part of a much wider global blowback against its commercial and strategic encroachment. Even well-kept generals are fundamentally Burmese nationalists and awoke to the predicament of total economic and strategic dependence on China. The government has taken major steps to correct this excessive tilt, suspending a major hydroelectric dam project at Myitsone and re-evaluating Wanbao Mining company's giant copper mine concession near Monywa.

Myanmar is now deftly playing the same multi-alignment game mastered by countries such as Kazakhstan in trying to escape the Soviet-Russian sphere of influence: courting all sides and gaining whatever one can from multiple great powers and neighbors while giving up as little autonomy as possible.

India sees Myanmar as the crucial gateway for its "Look East" policy and is offering substantial investments in oil and gas as well as port construction and information technology; Europe has become a larger investor, especially Great Britain; Russia is being courted as a new arms supplier; Japan is viewing Myanmar as its new Thailand for automobile production; and of course, U.S. President Barack Obama visited in December, paving the way not only for greater U.S. investment but even for Myanmar to potentially participate in the Cobra Gold military exercises held annually with America's regional allies.

Obama was not only the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar but also the first to call it by that name, conceding ground in a long-running dispute. The administration hopes that North Korea, Asia's still frozen outcast, will learn the lessons from Myanmar's steady but determined opening.

But countries that are playing multi-alignment don't have to thaw domestically -- witness Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. Myanmar is simultaneously undergoing political liberalization and international rehabilitation -- a tricky and laudable feat for sure but not one North Korea is likely to emulate entirely. What the two do have in common, however, is the growing realization that having China as a neighbor is both a blessing and a curse.

During my visit to the "Genius Language School," where university students go for professional English tutoring, I asked the assembled round table whether they were happy that Obama came to visit and whether they considered America a friend. All giggled and chanted: "Yes."

Then I asked, "Are you afraid of China?" And the answer came in immediate, resounding unison: "Yes!"

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Parag Khanna.

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Firm bringing HQ to Chicago

St. Louis-based construction firm Clayco Inc. is moving its headquarters to Chicago, attracted by ease of air travel, proximity to clients, access to young professionals and the potential to land city business as Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushes ahead with public-private partnerships for infrastructure improvements, its top executive said Thursday.

Clayco Chairman and CEO Robert Clark and Emanuel are expected to formally announce the move Friday.

Two-hundred and eighty of the company's 1,000 employees already work in the Chicago area, including 88 who work full time at the Jewelers Building, 35 E. Wacker Drive, which becomes company headquarters.

The company expects to double its Chicago workforce during the next couple of years, in part by increasing its architectural business and expanding its infrastructure business.

Clark said the company is seeking to acquire a municipal engineering company as part of an effort to develop its infrastructure business during the next few years. Now focused on industrial, office and institutional projects, the company would like to add a fourth specialty area that would go after water, sewer, road, bridge and airport work, Clark said.

"In the long run, public-private partnerships are something I'm very intrigued about and interested in pursuing," he said. "I don't think we'll do it overnight. … It may be three years from now, until we have significant traction in the (infrastructure) market."

"We're interested in national projects, not just local," he said. "But hopefully we'll have work in our own backyard."

Clayco donated $50,000 to Emanuel's mayoral campaign in late 2010, and Clark donated an additional $10,000 in September to The Chicago Committee, the mayor's campaign fund, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Clark said his contributions to a variety of politicians stem from personal convictions and have no relation to his business endeavors.

Tom Alexander, a spokesman for Emanuel, said: "Clayco is choosing Chicago because Chicago offers them unique access to world-class talent and a location from which they can easily and effectively do business around the world, period. Any type of private-public building project would undergo the city's very strict, competitive procurement process."

Last spring, Emanuel won City Council approval for the formation of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which will endeavor to secure private financing for public infrastructure projects.

Clayco's shift into downtown Chicago began in October 2010, when it opened offices in the Jewelers Building. Employees who had been based in Oakbrook Terrace have moved there, as have a handful of executives from St. Louis. Clark relocated to Chicago in September 2010.

The company did not seek or receive any financial incentives for its move, the city said. Clayco will keep its St. Louis office intact, and no layoffs are planned as part of the relocation.

Clark and Emanuel first met when Emanuel worked in the Clinton White House. Clark, who was active with the Young Presidents' Organization, worked with Emanuel on some events at the White House. Their paths have crossed a number of times since then, including during President Barack Obama's campaign in 2008.

A meeting with Emanuel played a role in the decision to relocate company headquarters, Clark said. It occupies the 13th and 27th floors of the Jewelers Building, or 30,000 square feet.

"He asked me to target our national clients and bring them here," Clark recalls. "Quite frankly, I was blown away by that. Most mayors are not that aggressive; they leave that up to their economic development folks."

Clayco has done work for a number of large institutions and corporations, including Dow Chemical, Amazon.com, Caterpillar, and locally, Kraft Foods, Anixter, the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Started 28 years ago by Clark, the privately held company has annual revenue of $820 million. Subsidiaries include architecture and design firm Forum Studios and Concrete Strategies Inc.


Twitter @kathy_bergen

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Damascus blames "terrorists" for petrol station blast

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria on Friday said a car bomb at a crowded petrol station in Damascus on Thursday night was set off by "terrorists", a term it uses for rebels seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

The bomb killed 11 people and wounded 40 at a station packed with Syrians queuing for fuel, which has become scarce in the 21-month insurgency against Assad, in the second petrol station attack in the capital this week, opposition activists said.

"Terrorists ... blew up an explosive device at Qassioun Petrol Station near Hamish Hospital in Barzeh, Damascus, martyring several civilians," state news agency SANA said.

The United Nations says more than 60,000 people have been killed in the civil war, the longest, bloodiest conflict born from uprisings across the Arab world in the past two years.

Dozens of people were incinerated in an air strike as they waited for fuel at another Damascus petrol station on Wednesday, according to opposition sources.

The semi-official al-Ikhbariya television station aired its own footage from Barzeh, indicating the attack struck a government-held area. Barzeh's residents include members of the Sunni Muslim majority and religious and ethnic minorities.

The rebels hold a crescent of suburbs on the southern and eastern edges of Damascus, which have come under bombardment by government forces. Rebel forces also seized territory in Syria's north and east during advances in the second half of 2012.

The war pits rebels, mainly from the Sunni Muslim majority, against a government supported by members of Assad's Shi'ite-derived Alawite sect and some members of other minorities who fear revenge if he falls. Assad's family has ruled for 42 years since his father seized power in a coup.

Fighting has forced 560,000 Syrians to flee to neighboring countries, according to the U.N.

Lebanon, a country which has so far tried to distance itself from the conflict next door for fear it will inflame sectarian tensions, approved a plan to start registering 170,000 Syrian refugees and ask international donors for $180 million in aid.

"The Lebanese state will register the refugees...and guarantee aid and protection for the actual refugees in Lebanon," Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said after a six-hour cabinet session on Thursday night.

Most Sunni-ruled Arab states, as well as the West and Turkey have called for Assad to step down. He is supported by Russia and Shi'ite Iran.


A Lebanese citizen who crossed into Syria through a mountainous frontier region said the army appeared to have withdrawn from several border posts and villages in the area.

Rebels controlled a line of border towns and villages north of the capital Damascus, stretching about 40 km (25 miles) from Yabroud south to Rankus, said the man, who did not want to be named and visited Syria on Wednesday and Thursday.

Rebels in the area reported that some of Assad's forces have pulled back to defend the main north-south highway linking Syria's main cities of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, while others were sent to reinforce the northern approach to Damascus.

"The border is controlled by the Free Syrian Army rebels," he said on Friday, adding he had crossed through mountainous terrain, covered in parts by more than a meter of snow.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut and Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Editing by Jason Webb)

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Wall Street dips as profits booked after rally

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks edged lower on Thursday as investors locked in gains after a rally Wednesday, which was spurred by a deal by U.S. lawmakers to avert a "fiscal cliff" of austerity measures that had been due to kick in this year.

Losses were limited, however, by better-than-expected data that showed U.S. private-sector employers added 215,000 jobs in December. That was well above economists' expectations for a gain of 133,000 jobs, according to a Reuters survey.

"The report now sets the stage as we expect a strong non-farm payroll reading on Friday," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York

The ADP report beat forecasts partly due to "a snapback from (superstorm) Sandy, although we prefer to stick to our line of thought that says the economy is gaining momentum rather than losing it regardless of the impact of fiscal talks in Washington," he said.

The key payrolls report is due on Friday. A Reuters survey forecasts non-farm payrolls rose to 150,000 last month, from 146,000 in November.

A separate report Thursday showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week, but the data was too distorted by year-end holidays to offer a clear read of labor market conditions.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 45.92 points, or 0.34 percent, at 13,366.63. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was down 3.62 points, or 0.25 percent, at 1,458.80. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 8.15 points, or 0.26 percent, at 3,104.11.

Wall Street began the new year Wednesday with a rally and their best performance in more than a year, sparked by a last-minute deal in Washington to avert a fiscal cliff of automatic massive tax hikes and spending cuts that, in the worst-case scenario, would have hurt the nation's economic growth.

The minutes of the Federal Reserve's policy meeting last month will be released at 2:00 p.m. EST (1900 GMT). The minutes will give details on the discussions of the Federal Open Market Committee's December 11-12 meeting.

U.S. retailer Costco Wholesale Corp reported a better-than-expected 9 percent rise in December sales at stores open at least a year, mainly helped by an additional sales day in the reporting period. Costco shares rose 1.3 percent to $102.80.

Gap Inc will buy women's fashion boutique Intermix Inc for $130 million to enter the luxury clothes market, the Wall Street Journal reported. The stock rose 3 percent to $32.28.

Family Dollar Stores Inc reported a lower-than-expected quarterly profit as its emphasis on selling more everyday items like cigarettes and soft drinks put pressure on margins. The stock fell 12 percent to $56.47.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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Louisville upsets Florida 33-23 in Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Terell Floyd and the Louisville Cardinals gave the embattled Big East Conference at least one more triumphant night in a major bowl — and at the expense of a top team from the mighty SEC.

Floyd returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown on the first play, dual-threat quarterback Teddy Bridgewater directed a handful of scoring drives and No. 22 Louisville stunned the fourth-ranked Gators 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.

"I can't speak for the whole Big East, but I can speak for Louisville and I think this means a lot for us," Floyd said. "We showed the world we can play with the best."

The Big East is in a transitional phase and losing some of its top football programs in the process. Boise State has recently backed out of its Big East commitment and Louisville has plans to join the ACC.

Even this year, the Big East wasn't getting much respect. Louisville, the league champion, was a two-touchdown underdog in the Sugar Bowl.

But by the end, the chant, "Charlie, Charlie!" echoed from sections of the Superdome occupied by red-clad Cardinals fans. It was their way of serenading third-year Louisville coach Charlie Strong, the former defensive coordinator for the Gators, who has elevated Cardinals football to new heights and recently turned down a chance to leave for the top job at Tennessee.

"I look at this performance tonight, and I sometimes wonder, 'Why didn't we do this the whole season,'" Strong said. "We said this at the beginning: We just take care of our job and do what we're supposed to do, don't worry about who we're playing."

Shaking off an early hit that flattened him and knocked off his helmet, Bridgewater was 20 of 32 passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Among his throws was a pinpoint, 15-yard timing toss that DeVante Parker grabbed as he touched one foot down in the corner of the end zone.

"I looked at what did and didn't work for quarterbacks during the regular season," said Bridgewater, picked as the game's top player. "They faced guys forcing throws ... and coach tells me, 'No capes on your back or 'S' on your chest, take what the defense give you.' That's what I took. Film study was vital."

His other scoring strike went to Damian Copeland from 19 yards one play after a surprise onside kick by the Gators backfired. Jeremy Wright had a short touchdown run that gave Louisville (11-2) a 14-0 lead the Gators couldn't overcome.

Florida (11-2) never trailed by more than 10 points this season. The defeat dropped SEC teams to 3-3 this bowl season, with Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi still to play.

"We got outcoached and outplayed," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "That's what I told the football team. That's the bottom line."

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel, who had thrown only three interceptions all season, turned the ball over three times on two interceptions — both tipped passes — and a fumble. He finished 16 of 29 for 175 yards.

Down 33-10 midway through the fourth period, Florida tried to rally. Andre Debose scored on a 100-yard kickoff return and Driskel threw a TD pass to tight end Kent Taylor with 2:13 left. But when Louisville defenders piled on Driskel to thwart the 2-point try, the game was essentially over.

Florida didn't score until Caleb Sturgis's 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

The Gators finally got in the end zone with a trick play in the closing seconds of the half. They changed personnel as if to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but lined up in a bizarre combination of swinging-gate and shotgun formations and handed off to Matt Jones.

The Gators tried to keep the momentum with a surprise onside kick to open the third quarter, but not only did Louisville recover, Florida's Chris Johnson was called for a personal foul and ejected for jabbing at Louisville's Zed Evans. That gave Louisville the ball on the Florida 19, from where Bridgewater needed one play to find Copeland for his score.

"We game-planned it and felt good about it," Muschamp said of the onside kick attempt. "We wanted to steal a possession at the start of the second half."

On the following kickoff, Evans cut down kick returner Loucheiz Purifoy with a vicious low, high-speed hit that shook Purifoy up. Soon after, Driskel was sacked hard from behind and stripped by safety Calvin Pryor, ending another Florida drive with a turnover.

"We had the right attitude, had the right mindset that we would go out and beat this team," Pryor said.

After Louisville native Muhammad Ali was on the field for the coin toss, the Cardinals quickly stung the Gators. Floyd, one of nearly three dozen Louisville players from Florida, made the play.

Driskel was looking for seldom-targeted Debose, who'd had only two catches all season.

"I threw it behind him, (he) tried to make a play on it, tipped it right to the guy," Driskel said. "Unfortunate to start the game like that."

When Louisville's offense got the ball later in the quarter, the Florida defense, ranked among the best in the nation this season, sought to intimidate the Cardinals with one heavy hit after another.

One blow by Jon Bostic knocked Bridgewater's helmet off moments after he'd floated an incomplete pass down the right sideline. Bostic was called for a personal foul, however, which seemed to get the Cardinals opening drive rolling. Later, Wright lost his helmet during a 3-yard gain and took another heavy hit before he went down.

Louisville kept coming.

B.J. Butler turned a short catch into a 23-yard gain down to the Florida 1. Then Wright punched it in to give the Cardinals an early two-TD lead over a team that finished third in the BCS standings, one spot too low to play for a national title in Miami.

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Man Accused of Stealing Meteorites in North Carolina

Police have arrested a man accused of stealing 100 stolen meteorites taken from an astronomical research center in North Carolina, according to media reports.

On Saturday (Dec. 29), Brian Thomas Koontz, 29, of Balsam Grove, N.C., was charged in relation to the theft of meteorites and electronics equipment from the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute on Christmas Eve, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.

Based on surveillance footage, authorities believe another man, Robin Morris Baldwin Jr. of Hendersonville, N.C., was also involved in the theft. Most of the stolen goods, which include the meteorites, 10 large-screen television monitors, as well as Blu-Ray players, a microscope, and overhead video projectors, have been recovered from one of the houses of the two alleged crooks.

The electronics equipment alone was worth more than $ 100,000, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported, and a value has not been set for the space rocks, which were on loan to the science center from three private collections.

Meteorites can fetch high prices, especially rare types such as those that originated from the moon and Mars. For example, three seed-sized pieces of the moon that were brought back to Earth by a Russian robotic probe in 1970 were sold at auction 30 years later for $ 442,500. Meteorites are often sold by auction houses and even online at sites like eBay and Craigslist.

Just last month, some stolen moon rocks originally collected by Apollo astronauts were finally returned to the possession of the state of Alaska, to which they were given after the first manned moon mission in 1969.

The meteorites stolen from the North Carolina science center ranged in size from about the width of a quarter to one as large as a basketball, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

“We’re pleased that progress is being made,” Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute vice president Dave Clavier said, according to the newspaper.

“Any of them that we get back will be a great relief,” he added.

The crime occurred at about 3 a.m. on Dec. 24, and took about 45 minutes, police officials said. Koontz has been charged with felony breaking and entering, conspiring to breaking and entering, felony larceny, conspiring to commit larceny and misdemeanor injury to personal property. Baldwin is still at large.

Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook & Google+

Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Why U.S. lives under the shadow of 'W'

Julian Zelizer says former President George W. Bush's key tax and homeland security policies survive in the age of Obama


  • Julian Zelizer: For all the criticism Bush got, two key policies have survived

  • He says fiscal cliff pact perpetuates nearly all of Bush's tax cuts

  • Obama administration has largely followed Bush's homeland security policy, he says

  • Zelizer: By squeezing revenues, Bush tax cuts will put pressure on spending

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 "Governing America."

Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- Somewhere in Texas, former President George W. Bush is smiling.

Although some Democrats are pleased that taxes will now go up on the wealthiest Americans, the recent deal to avert the fiscal cliff entrenches, rather than dismantles, one of Bush's signature legacies -- income tax cuts. Ninety-nine percent of American households were protected from tax increases, aside from the expiration of the reduced rate for the payroll tax.

Julian Zelizer

Julian Zelizer

In the final deal, Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to preserve most of the Bush tax cuts, including exemptions on the estate tax.

When Bush started his term in 2001, many of his critics dismissed him as a lightweight, the son of a former president who won office as result of his family's political fortune and a controversial decision by the Supreme Court on the 2000 election.

But what has become clear in hindsight, regardless of what one thinks of Bush and his politics, is that his administration left behind a record that has had a huge impact on American politics, a record that will not easily be dismantled by future presidents.

The twin pillars of Bush's record were counterterrorism policies and tax cuts. During his first term, it became clear that Obama would not dismantle most of the homeland security apparatus put into place by his predecessor. Despite a campaign in 2008 that focused on flaws with the nation's response to 9/11, Obama has kept most of the counterterrorism program intact.

Opinion: The real issue is runaway spending

In some cases, the administration continues to aggressively use tactics his supporters once decried, such as relying on renditions to detain terrorist suspects who are overseas, as The Washington Post reported this week. In other areas, the administration has expanded the war on terrorism, including the broader use of drone strikes to kill terrorists.

Now come taxes and spending.

With regard to the Bush tax cuts, Obama had promised to overturn a policy that he saw as regressive. Although he always said that he would protect the middle class from tax increases, Obama criticized Bush for pushing through Congress policies that bled the federal government of needed revenue and benefited the wealthy.

In 2010, Obama agreed to temporarily extend all the tax cuts. Though many Democrats were furious, Obama concluded that he had little political chance to overturn them and he seemed to agree with Republicans that reversing them would hurt an economy limping along after a terrible recession.

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With the fiscal cliff deal, Obama could certainly claim more victories than in 2010. Taxes for the wealthiest Americans will go up. Congress also agreed to extend unemployment compensation and continue higher payments to Medicare providers.

But beneath all the sound and fury is the fact that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, for most Americans, are now a permanent part of the legislative landscape. (In addition, middle class Americans will breathe a sigh of relief that Congress has permanently fixed the Alternative Minimum Tax, which would have hit many of them with a provision once designed to make sure that the wealthy paid their fair share.)

As Michigan Republican Rep. Dave Camp remarked, "After more than a decade of criticizing these tax cuts, Democrats are finally joining Republicans in making them permanent." Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the new legislation will increase the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

The tax cuts have significant consequences on all of American policy.

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Most important, the fact that a Democratic president has now legitimated the moves of a Republican administration gives a bipartisan imprimatur to the legitimacy of the current tax rates.

Although some Republicans signed on to raising taxes for the first time in two decades, the fact is that Democrats have agreed to tax rates which, compared to much of the 20th century, are extraordinarily low. Public perception of a new status quo makes it harder for presidents to ever raise taxes on most Americans to satisfy the revenue needs for the federal government.

At the same time, the continuation of reduced taxes keeps the federal government in a fiscal straitjacket. As a result, politicians are left to focus on finding the money to pay for existing programs or making cuts wherever possible.

New innovations in federal policy that require substantial revenue are just about impossible. To be sure, there have been significant exceptions, such as the Affordable Care Act. But overall, bold policy departures that require significant amounts of general revenue are harder to come by than in the 1930s or 1960s.

Republicans thus succeed with what some have called the "starve the beast" strategy of cutting government by taking away its resources. Since the long-term deficit only becomes worse, Republicans will continue to have ample opportunity to pressure Democrats into accepting spending cuts and keep them on the defense with regards to new government programs.

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With his income tax cuts enshrined, Bush can rest comfortably that much of the policy world he designed will remain intact and continue to define American politics. Obama has struggled to work within the world that Bush created, and with this legislation, even with his victories, he has demonstrated that the possibilities for change have been much more limited than he imagined when he ran in 2008 or even in 2012.

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

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Sandy Hook kids return to class in neighboring town

MONROE, Conn. — Classes resumed Thursday for the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School for the first time since last month's massacre in Newtown, where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators.

With their original school still being treated as a crime scene, the more than 400 students are attending classes at a refurbished school in the neighboring town of Monroe. Law enforcement officers have been guarding the new school, and by the reckoning of police, it is "the safest school in America."

The school district said parents who want to be close to their children are welcome to visit and stay in classrooms or an auditorium throughout the day. Parents were encouraged to have their children take the bus to help them return to familiar routines.

Still, Newtown Superintendent Janet Robinson said officials will do their best to make the students feel at ease.

"We will go to our regular schedule," she said. "We will be doing a normal day."

Returning students, teachers and administrators were met by a large police presence on a sunny and cold day with temperatures hovering near 10 degrees Several police officers were guarding the entrance to the school, and were checking IDs of parents dropping off children.

On Wednesday, the students and their families were welcomed at an open house at their new school, which was formerly the Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe but renamed as the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Students received gift boxes with toys inside and shared joyful reunions with teachers.

One father, Vinny Alvarez, took a moment to thank his third-grade daughter's teacher, Courtney Martin, who protected the class from a rampaging gunman by locking her classroom door and keeping the children in a corner.

"Everybody there thanked her in their own way," he said.

The gunman, Adam Lanza, also killed his mother at the home they shared in Newtown before driving to the school and gunning down 26 people, including the school's principal. Lanza fatally shot himself as police arrived. Police haven't released any details about a motive.

Numerous police officers on Wednesday guarded the outside of the Monroe school, which is about 7 miles from the old school, and told reporters to stay away.

"I think right now it has to be the safest school in America," Monroe police Lt. Keith White said.

Teachers attended staff meetings at the new school on Wednesday morning and were visited by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy before the open house, White said.

Robinson said Chalk Hill School has been transformed into a "cheerful" place for the surviving students to resume normal school routines. She said mental health counselors continue to be available for anyone who needs them.

During the open house, Alvarez said his 8-year-old daughter also got to pick out a stuffed animal to take home from the school library.

"I'm not worried about her going back," he said of his daughter Cynthia. "The fear kind of kicks back in a little bit, but we're very excited for her and we got to see many, many kids today. The atmosphere was very cheerful."

Several signs welcoming the Sandy Hook students to their new school were posted along the road leading to the school in a rural, mostly residential neighborhood. One said "Welcome Sandy Hook Elementary Kids," while a similar sign added "You are in our prayers."

Teams of workers, many of them volunteers, prepared the Chalk Hill school with fresh paint and new furniture and even raised bathroom floors so the smaller elementary school students can reach the toilets. The students' desks, backpacks and other belongings that were left behind following the shooting were taken to the new school to make them feel at home.

No new details released

In the meantime, no new details have emerged to explain why the 20-year-old Lanza, armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle, two other firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, targeted the school.

Described by family friends as having Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, Lanza shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their home about 5 miles from the school before driving to Sandy Hook and embarking on the massacre, police said. He then took his own life as police were arriving at the school, which had an enrollment of 456.

Police have offered no firm motive for the attack, and state police investigators have said it could be months before they finish their report.

The massacre in Newtown, a rural New England town of 27,000 residents about 70 miles northeast of New York City, stunned the nation, prompting President Barack Obama to call it the worst day of his presidency and reigniting an extensive debate on gun control. Obama has tasked Vice President Joe Biden with assembling a package of gun-control proposals to submit to Congress in the next several weeks.

The National Rifle Association, the most powerful gun-rights lobby in the United States, has rebuffed calls for more stringent firearms restrictions and instead called for armed guards to patrol every public school in the country.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed

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