U.S. evolves on same-sex marriage






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • The president and the nation have shifted perspectives on same-sex marriage

  • Supreme Court ruling on California's same-sex marriage ban a critical test

  • Growing public support for gay marriage give proponents hope for change




Washington (CNN) -- The nation's growing acceptance of same-sex marriage has happened in slow and painstaking moves, eventually building into a momentum that is sweeping even the most unlikely of converts.


Even though he said in 2008 that he could only support civil unions for same-sex couples, President Barack Obama nonetheless enjoyed strong support among the gay community. He disappointed many with his conspicuously subdued first-term response to the same-sex marriage debate.


Last year, after Vice President Joe Biden announced his support, the president then said his position had evolved and he, too, supported same-sex marriage.


So it was no small matter when on Thursday the Obama administration formally expressed its support of same-sex marriage in a court brief weighing in on California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex weddings. The administration's effort was matched by at least 100 high-profile Republicans — some of whom in elections past depended on gay marriage as a wedge issue guaranteed to rally the base — who signed onto a brief supporting gay couples to legally wed.


Obama on same-sex marriage: Everyone is equal


Then there are the polls that show that an increasing number of Americans now support same-sex marriage. These polls show that nearly half of the nation's Catholics and white, mainstream Protestants and more than half of the nation's women, liberals and political moderates all support same-sex marriage.


According to Pew Research Center polling, 48% of Americans support same-sex marriage with 43% opposed. Back in 2001, 57% opposed same-sex marriage while 35% supported it.


In last year's presidential election, same-sex marriage scarcely raised a ripple. That sea change is not lost on the president.


"The same evolution I've gone through is the same evolution the country as a whole has gone through," Obama told reporters on Friday.


Craig Rimmerman, professor of public policy and political science at Hobart and William Smith colleges says there is history at work here and the administration is wise to get on the right side.


"There is no doubt that President Obama's shifting position on Proposition 8 and same-sex marriage more broadly is due to his desire to situate himself on the right side of history with respect to the fight over same-sex marriage," said Rimmerman, author of "From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States."


"I also think that broader changes in public opinion showing greater support for same-sex marriage, especially among young people, but in the country at large as well, has created a cultural context for Obama to alter his views."


For years, Obama had frustrated many in the gay community by not offering full-throated support of same-sex marriage. However, the president's revelation last year that conversations with his daughters and friends led him to change his mind gave many in that community hope.










Last year, the Obama administration criticized a measure in North Carolina that banned same-sex marriage and made civil unions illegal. The president took the same position on a similar Minnesota proposal.


Obama administration officials point to what they see as the administration's biggest accomplishment in the gay rights cause: repealing "don't ask, don't tell," the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian members serving in the forces.


Then there was the president's inaugural address which placed the gay community's struggle for equality alongside similar civil rights fights by women and African-Americans.


"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well," Obama said in his address after being sworn in.


In offering its support and asserting in the brief that "prejudice may not be the basis for differential treatment under the law," the Obama administration is setting up a high stakes political and constitutional showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court over a fast-evolving and contentious issue.


The justices will hear California's Proposition 8 case in March. That case and another appeal over the federal Defense of Marriage Act will produce blockbuster rulings from the justices in coming months.


Beyond the legal wranglings there is a strong social and historic component, one that has helped open the way for the administration to push what could prove to be a social issue that defines Obama's second term legacy, Rimmerman said.


The nation is redefining itself on this issue, as well.


Pew survey: Changing attitudes on gay marriage


The changes are due, in part, to generational shifts. Younger people show a higher level of support than their older peers, according to Pew polling "Millennials are almost twice as likely as the Silent Generation to support same-sex marriage."


"As people have grown up with people having the right to marry the generational momentum has been very, very strong," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a gay rights organization.


That is not to say that there isn't still opposition.


Pew polling found that most Republicans and conservatives remain opposed to same-sex marriage. In 2001, 21% of Republicans were supportive; in 2012 that number nudged slightly to 25%.


Conservative groups expressed dismay at the administration's same-sex marriage support.


"President Obama, who was against same-sex 'marriage' before he was for it, and his administration, which said the Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional before they said it was unconstitutional, has now flip-flopped again on the issue of same-sex 'marriage,' putting allegiance to extreme liberal social policies ahead of constitutional principle," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement.


But there are signs of movement even among some high profile Republican leaders


Top Republicans sign brief supporting same-sex marriage


The Republican-penned friend of the court brief, which is designed to influence conservative justices on the high court, includes a number of top officials from the George W. Bush administration, Mitt Romney's former campaign manager and former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.


It is also at odds with the Republican Party's platform, which opposes same-sex marriage and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.


Still, with White House and high-profile Republican support, legal and legislative victories in a number of states and polls that show an increasing number of Americans support same sex-marriage, proponents feel that the winds of history are with them.


"What we've seen is accelerating and irrefutable momentum as Americans have come to understand who gay people are and why marriage matters," Wolfson said. "We now have a solid national majority and growing support across every demographic. We have leaders across the spectrum, including Republicans, all saying it's time to end marriage discrimination."


CNN's Peter Hamby, Ashley Killough and Bill Mears contributed to this report.






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Officials: Florida sinkhole still growing; man missing








A central Florida man was still missing and feared dead early today after a sinkhole opened under his home Thursday night, swallowing him in his bed.

As hours passed overnight and rescuers and family lost hope of seeing 36-year-old Jeff Bush pulled from the ground alive, the sinkhole continued to grow, officials said.

“The hole has gotten deeper,” geotechnical engineer Larry Madrid said at a news conference Friday evening. “We can’t get into the building because of the potential for sudden collapse.”

The continued instability of the ground slowed engineers and kept evacuees in the Tampa-area neighborhood from returning to their homes.

“We’re really handicapped and paralyzed, and we really can’t do a whole lot more than wait,” Madrid said.

“I know in my heart he's dead,” Bush’s brother Jeremy told reporters Friday.

Authorities condemned the concrete-block home, determining the ground was unstable. Surrounding homes were evacuated, but the hole is isolated to the house, authorities said.

Hillsborough Fire Rescue officials lowered a camera and listening device into the 20-foot-deep hole to try to find Jeffrey Bush. But the ground kept moving and they lost the equipment.

"He's down there, but we can't hear here anything and we can't see anything," said Ronnie Rivera, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman. "We just can't do anything."

Structural engineers brought in equipment to determine if rescuers can enter the house. But with each hour that passed, the hope for rescue faded and despair set in.

Late Thursday night, Jeremy Bush heard something that sounded like a car crash, then heard a scream. He ran to his brother’s room, but all he could see was a mattress. He tried to save him and ended up getting stuck himself.

When Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy Douglas Duvall arrived at the home, he yanked Jeremy Bush from the hole and the two were able to escape.

At the news conference Friday evening, Duvall said he couldn’t sleep Thursday night, thinking about the what he’d seen and about Bush's family.

The risk of sinkholes is common in Florida due to the state's porous geological bedrock, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. As rainwater filters down into the ground, it dissolves the rock causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns, which cause sinkholes when they collapse.

Florida suffered one of its worst sinkhole accidents in 1994 when a 15-story-deep chasm opened up east of Tampa at a phosphate mine. It created a hole 185 feet deep and as much as 160 feet wide. Locals dubbed it Disney World's newest attraction - 'Journey to the Center of the Earth.'

In 1981 in Winter Park near Orlando, a sinkhole was measured as 320 feet wide and 90 feet deep, swallowing a two-story house, part of a Porsche dealership, and an Olympic-size swimming pool. The site is now an artificial lake in the city.



From the Los Angeles Times, Reuters and the Orlando Sentinel






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Kerry to stress need for Egypt consensus for IMF deal


CAIRO (Reuters) - Secretary of State John Kerry will stress the importance Egypt achieves political consensus for painful economic reforms needed to secure an IMF loan, a senior U.S. official said on Saturday.


Kerry arrived in Egypt on his first visit to the Arab world since taking office for talks with the leaders of a country mired in political and economic crisis two years after the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.


With Egypt's pound and foreign currency reserves sliding, the official said that if Cairo could agree on a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF, this would bring in other funds from the United States, European Union and Arab countries.


However, the official said the United States believed Egypt needed to increase tax revenues and reduce energy subsidies - measures likely to prove highly unpopular.


"His basic message is it's very important to the new Egypt for there to be a firm economic foundation," the official told reporters as Kerry flew to Cairo.


"In order for there to be agreement on doing the kinds of economic reforms that would be required under an IMF deal there has to be a basic political ... agreement among all of the various players in Egypt," the official said on condition of anonymity.


Egypt said on Thursday it would invite a team from the International Monetary Fund to reopen talks on the loan and the investment minister expressed hope that a deal could be done by the end of April.


The loan was agreed in principle last November but put on hold at Cairo's request during street violence the following month that flared in protest at a planned rise in taxes.


While the tax rise was withdrawn, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi is likely to face violent protests as any cuts in subsidies demanded by the IMF will push up living costs in a country where poverty is rife.


Energy subsidies soak up about 20 percent of the government budget, bloating a deficit set to soar to 12.3 percent of annual economic output this financial year.


CLASHES IN MANSOURA, PORT SAID


Early on Saturday, young protesters fought interior ministry police in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, where one protester was killed and dozens injured. In the Suez Canal city of Port Said, protesters torched a police station, security sources said.


While the protests were unrelated to Kerry's visit, they were examples of the frequent outbreaks of unrest faced by Egypt's government.


Clashes are commonplace, with young people and Egyptians demanding Mursi reform the interior ministry's police force. The president is accused of not taking police reform, a key demand of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, seriously.


Kerry will stress the need for agreement across the political spectrum on reforms and winning approval in the Shura Council, Egypt's upper house of parliament.


"What they need to do is ... things like increasing tax revenues, reducing energy subsidies, making clear what the approval process will be to the Shura Council for an IMF agreement, that kind of thing," said the official.


Hopes for consensus between the ruling Islamists and opposition parties seem slim. Liberal and leftist opposition parties have announced a boycott of parliamentary elections, scheduled for April to June, over a new constitution produced by an Islamist-dominated assembly and other grievances.


Kerry meets opposition leaders on Saturday but many senior figures were not on the list of expected participants, including Hamdeen Sabahy, who came a close third in presidential elections last year and former U.N. nuclear agency head Mohamed ElBaradei.


Kerry does not wish to be seen as lecturing Egyptians and will not explicitly tell opposition parties to renounce their boycott of the lower house polls, the U.S. official said.


However, he will make the case for them to take part.


"If they want to ensure that their views are taken account, the only way to do that is to participate. That they can't sit aside and just assume that somehow by magic that all of this is going to happen," the official said. "They've got to participate."


(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Jason Webb)



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Wall Street flat, losses trimmed after data

PARIS, March 1 (Reuters) - Alex Ferguson's philosophy is behind the longevity of Manchester United's homegrown players, says Paris St Germain midfielder David Beckham. The former England captain and United player is still active at 37, having joined PSG on a five-month loan at the end of January. Former team mate Phil Neville, 36, plays at Everton and the 39-year-old Ryan Giggs, who started his youth career at Manchester City but ended it at United, is still at Old Trafford after signing his first professional contract there in 1990. ...
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McIlroy walks off course at Honda Classic


PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Rory McIlroy abruptly walked off the course Friday at the Honda Classic and left everyone wondering what was wrong with golf's No. 1 player.


McIlroy already was 7-over par through eight holes of the second round when he hit his second shot into the water on the par-5 18th at PGA National. He shook hands with Ernie Els and Mark Wilson and was headed to the parking lot before they even finished the hole.


"There's not really much I can say, guys," McIlroy told three reporters who followed him to his car. "I'm not in a good place mentally, you know?"


He said there was nothing wrong physically. When asked about his swing, the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland replied, "Yeah, I really don't know what's going on."


If his golf wasn't shocking enough, the manner in which he left raised plenty of questions about the state of game — and his head — in the month leading to the Masters.


McIlroy, coming off a year in which he won a second major in record fashion, already set himself up for scrutiny when he left Titleist to sign an equipment deal with Nike that was said to be worth upward of $20 million a year.


Nike introduced him with blaring music and a laser show in Abu Dhabi, but it's been all downhill from there.


McIlroy missed the cut in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship with rounds of 75-75. He took a four-week break, and then was eliminated in the opening round of the Match Play Championship to Shane Lowry in one of the most poorly played matches of the round.


McIlroy played 36 holes with Tiger Woods at The Medalist on Sunday and said Tuesday it was no time to panic.


His management team was expected to release a statement later Friday.


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‘Star Trek’ Beams Into Oscar Night






Star Trek” fans got quite a treat last night during the Academy Awards last night (Feb. 24).


Actors who portray major characters from the film and television versions of the iconic science fiction series made cameo appearances during the three-hour-long ceremony celebrating the best movies of 2012.






William Shatner, the actor that played Starship Enterprise captain James T. Kirk in original series helped open the awards show with host, Seth McFarlane.


“I’ve come back in time from the 23rd century to stop you from destroying the Academy Awards,” joked Shatner to McFarlane.


Actors Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana also had a part to play in the festivities. Pine, who plays Kirk in 2009′s “Star Trek” and its sequel “Star Trek Into Darkness “ being released later this year, and Saldana, who plays the Enterprise’s communications officer Uhura, recapped an earlier event they co-hosted on Feb. 10 called the “Sci-Tech Oscars.”


The smaller ceremony is designed to showcase the technical achievements of designers and technicians on movie sets.


The newest movie in the Star Trek franchise, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” is set to be released on May 17.


Follow Miriam Kramer on Twitter @mirikramer 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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Syria war is everybody's problem




Syrians search for survivors and bodies after the Syrian regime attacked the city of Aleppo with missiles on February 23.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Frida Ghitis: We are standing by as Syria rips itself apart, thinking it's not our problem

  • Beyond the tragedy in human terms, she says, the war damages global stability

  • Ghitis: Syria getting more and more radical, jeopardizing forces of democracy

  • Ghitis: Peace counts on moderates, whom we must back with diplomacy, training arms




Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns


(CNN) -- Last week, a huge explosion rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds. The victims of the blast in a busy downtown street were mostly civilians, including schoolchildren. Each side in the Syrian civil war blamed the other.


In the northern city of Aleppo, about 58 people -- 36 of them children -- died in a missile attack last week. Washington condemned the regime of Bashar al-Assad; the world looked at the awful images and moved on.


Syria is ripping itself to pieces. The extent of human suffering is beyond comprehension. That alone should be reason enough to encourage a determined effort to bring this conflict to a quick resolution. But if humanitarian reasons were not enough, the international community -- including the U.S. and its allies -- should weigh the potential implications of allowing this calamity to continue.



Frida Ghitis

Frida Ghitis



We've all heard the argument: It's not our problem. We're not the world's policeman. We would only make it worse.



This is not a plea to send American or European troops to fight in this conflict. Nobody wants that.


But before we allow this mostly hands-off approach to continue, we would do well to consider the potential toll of continuing with a failed policy, one that has focused in vain over the past two years searching for a diplomatic solution.


U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry has just announced that the U.S. will provide an additional $60 million in non-lethal assistance to the opposition. He has hinted that President Obama, after rejecting suggestions from the CIA and previous Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to arm Syrian rebels, might be ready to change course. And not a day too soon.


The war is taking longer than anyone expected. The longer it lasts, the more Syria is radicalized and the region is destabilized.


If you think the Syrian war is the concern of Syrians alone, think about other countries that have torn themselves apart over a long time. Consider Lebanon, Afghanistan or Somalia; each with unique circumstances, but with one thing in common: Their wars created enormous suffering at home, and the destructiveness eventually spilled beyond their borders. All of those wars triggered lengthy, costly refugee crises. They all spawned international terrorism and eventually direct international -- including U.S. -- intervention.


The uprising against al-Assad started two years ago in the spirit of what was then referred to -- without a hint of irony -- as the Arab Spring. Young Syrians marched, chanting for freedom and democracy. The ideals of equality, rule of law and human rights wafted in the air.


Al-Assad responded to peaceful protests with gunfire. Syrians started dying by the hundreds each day. Gradually the nonviolent protesters started fighting back. Members of the Syrian army started defecting.


The opposition's Free Syrian Army came together. Factions within the Syrian opposition took up arms and the political contest became a brutal civil war. The death toll has climbed to as many as 90,000, according to Kerry. About 2 million people have left their homes, and the killing continues with no end in sight.








In fairness to Washington, Europe and the rest of the international community, there were never easy choices in this war. Opposition leaders bickered, and their clashing views scared away would-be supporters. Western nations rejected the idea of arming the opposition, saying Syria already has too many weapons. They were also concerned about who would control the weaponry, including an existing arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, after al-Assad's fall.


These are all legitimate concerns. But inaction is producing the worst possible outcome.


The moderates, whose views most closely align with the West, are losing out to the better-armed Islamists and, especially, to the extremists. Moderates are losing the ideological debate and the battle for the future character of a Syria after al-Assad.


Radical Islamist groups have taken the lead. Young people are losing faith in moderation, lured by disciplined, devout extremists. Reporters on the ground have seen young democracy advocates turn into fervent supporters of dangerous groups such as the Nusra Front, which has scored impressive victories.


The U.S. State Department recently listed the Nusra Front, which has close ties to al Qaeda in Iraq and a strong anti-Western ideology, as a terrorist organization.


Meantime, countries bordering Syria are experiencing repercussions. And these are likely to become more dangerous.


Jordan, an important American ally, is struggling with a flood of refugees, as many as 10,000 each week since the start of the year. The government estimates 380,000 Syrians are in Jordan, a country whose government is under pressure from its own restive population and still dealing with huge refugee populations from other wars.


Turkey is also burdened with hundreds of thousands of refugees and occasional Syrian fire. Israel has warned about chemical weapons transfers from al-Assad to Hezbollah in Lebanon and may have already fired on a Syrian convoy attempting the move.


Lebanon, always perched precariously on the edge of crisis, lives with growing fears that Syria's war will enter its borders. Despite denials, there is evidence that Lebanon's Hezbollah, a close ally of al-Assad and of Iran, has joined the fighting on the side of the Syrian president. The Free Syrian Army has threatened to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon if it doesn't leave Syria.


The possible outcomes in Syria include the emergence of a failed state, stirring unrest throughout the region. If al-Assad wins, Syria will become an even more repressive country.


Al-Assad's survival would fortify Iran and Hezbollah and other anti-Western forces. If the extremists inside the opposition win, Syria could see factional fighting for many years, followed by anti-democratic, anti-Western policies.


The only good outcome is victory for the opposition's moderate forces. They may not be easy to identify with complete certainty. But to the extent that it is possible, these forces need Western support.


They need training, funding, careful arming and strong political and diplomatic backing. The people of Syria should know that support for human rights, democracy and pluralism will lead toward a peaceful, prosperous future.


Democratic nations should not avert their eyes from the killings in Syria which are, after all, a warning to the world.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.






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Chicago State board meets to decide: Who's in charge?









Chicago State University's board of trustees is meeting this morning to settle the question of who is president at the South Side campus, capping a tumultuous week.

On Monday, the board announced that Wayne Watson, president since 2009, would take a yearlong sabbatical and then was expected to retire. It also said that provost Sandra Westbrooks would be the acting president.

But Watson stayed in his office this week and has maintained that he is still the president. Watson’s attorney said he viewed the sabbatical as equivalent to a vacation, not an end to his presidency. Watson’s contract goes until 2014.

The sabbatical arrangement, which Watson requested, was intended to allow him to exit without drama after the trustees decided they wanted new leadership. He was to be paid his $250,000 salary during the sabbatical, during which time he said he planned to care for his elderly father and conduct research on effective leadership at minority-serving institutions.

The board called the meeting to order shortly after 8 a.m. this morning and then recessed into a closed executive session to discuss what was described on the published agenda as employment matters, legal matters and approval of legal and consultant services. It is then expected to reconvene in an open session.

Before the meeting began, Chicago leaders well known in the African-American community crowded into the library waiting area, including former Sen. Emil Jones and Jonathan Jackson from Rainbow Push Coalition.


Jones, who walked the room with Watson, said: “He should be president, no question about that, because of his interest in the education of the students who go here.”


The mood among the crowd was pleasant despite the differences in opinion on how the university should be lead.

"We're on the good side," said Victor P. Henderson, Watson's attorney.

Watson said: "I'm standing for the right thing."

Board Chairman Gary Rozier told the Tribune earlier this week that trustees had decided it was “time to look for new leadership.” They were disappointed with the decline in enrollment and the faculty’s no-confidence vote on Watson.





Henderson has defended Watson’s tenure.

“I have not seen one iota of information which would justify changing the president’s status at the university,” Henderson said earlier this week.


As the board met in private, members of the audience milled around the room, some complaining out loud about the credentials of the board members and saying that they lacked qualifications to select a leader for the institution. Some whispered about rumors and gossip that has spread across the campus and distracted the faculty, staff and students.

Martin L. King, chairman of the Rainbow Push Coalition board, said he and Rev. Jesse Jackson tried to mediate an agreement between Watson and the board but failed.

"That agreement would have ended the need to have this meeting," he said.

Chicago State has long been an source of pride in the middle-class African-American community it sits in. The student body is made up mainly of local black students, who otherwise might not have a chance to earn a college degree.

Friday's meeting drew residents who had graduated from the institution and many that work there.

"Chicago State University is an anchor for Chatham, Auburn Gresham and the Southland," King said. "It's an economic anchor, the home of historic documents. This university is a place where we all come together."

King said he believes it is in the best interest of the students and community that Watson be retained and the board work with him.

"The president has been very instrumental in making sure the university moved forward," King said. "Our (PUSH) ultimate goal is fairness."

On campus, the drama between Watson and the board has seeped into the classroom, said adjunct professor of political science Gideon Charles.

"We're demoralized. We don't know who is the President and who to report to," he said.

Charles said he believes it's time for Watson to be replaced.

"The school has declined under his leadership and enrollment is down," he said. "The faculty don't hold him in high regard. When he was brought in in 2009, the students didn't take a liking to him — and they still don't."

History professor Bob Bionaz also said he believes Watson should be replaced.  "He is a failure" he said, citing a decline in student enrollment and other factors.

Earlier this week, Watson sent a letter to trustees alleging that some board members are retaliating against him because he won’t accede to their pressures to hire and reward their friends.

In a four-page letter dated Feb. 26 and obtained by the Tribune, Watson told trustees that the “real motivation” behind the board’s efforts to replace him was his refusal “to capitulate to the incessant requests” from Rozier and Vice Chairman Z. Scott to “either hire, promote or give salary increases to their friends and associates.”

Langdon Neal, the board’s attorney, replied: “We are going to rise above this and deal with the matters that affect the students of the university and the university itself. We are not going to comment on the personal accusations.”

In the letter to trustees, Watson also wrote that there are now no financial improprieties at an institution that was plagued by fiscal mismanagement for years.

jscohen@tribune.com





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Wall Street advances, on track for third day of gains

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Thursday, pointing to a third straight day of gains in the wake of some strong economic data, though a further advance may be limited with major averages near multi-year highs.


While some data released Thursday were rosy, a read on economic growth was weaker than expected, and analysts said a pullback may be in store a day after major equity indexes posted their biggest daily advance since early January.


Over the past two sessions, the S&P 500 has gained 1.9 percent, rising back above the closely watched level of 1,500. The Dow Jones industrial average moved within striking distance of an all-time high.


"The market is looking choppy, and I think investors should use this as an opportunity to sell into strength," said Matt McCormick, a money manager at Cincinnati-based Bahl & Gaynor. "This seems like an environment where someone should be conservative instead of aggressive."


The U.S. economy grew 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, a weaker pace than expected, although a slightly better performance in exports and fewer imports led the government to scratch an earlier estimate of an economic contraction.


Separately, the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, while the February Chicago Purchasing Managers Index unexpectedly rose to an 11-month high.


While equity markets suffered steep losses earlier in the week on concerns over European debt, they have since recovered, with the gains fueled by strong data and recent comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that showed continued support for the Fed's economic stimulus policy.


"Growth is still anemic and there are still issues with Europe. People seem to be ignoring the signs that would otherwise give them cause for concern," said McCormick, who helps oversee $8.2 billion in assets.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 27.27 points, or 0.19 percent, at 14,102.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 5.13 points, or 0.34 percent, at 1,521.12. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 13.75 points, or 0.43 percent, at 3,176.01.


The benchmark S&P 500 has gained 1.4 percent in February, the Dow is up 1.7 percent and the Nasdaq has added 1 percent.


J.C. Penney Co Inc slumped 18 percent to $17.32 as the S&P's biggest decliner after the department store reported a steep drop in sales on Wednesday. Groupon Inc also slumped on weak revenue, with the stock off 25 percent at $4.50.


Mylan Inc jumped 6.5 percent to $30.45 on the Nasdaq after the generic drugmaker posted a 25 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit.


Investors were keeping an eye on the debate in Washington over sequestration - U.S. government budget cuts that will take effect starting on Friday if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on spending and taxes. President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders arranged to hold last-ditch talks to prevent the cuts, but expectations were low that any deal would be produced.


With 93 percent of the S&P 500 companies having reported results so far, 69.5 percent have beaten profit expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data.


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 6.2 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


(Editing by Bernadette Baum)



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‘Star Trek’ Beams Into Oscar Night






Star Trek” fans got quite a treat last night during the Academy Awards last night (Feb. 24).


Actors who portray major characters from the film and television versions of the iconic science fiction series made cameo appearances during the three-hour-long ceremony celebrating the best movies of 2012.






William Shatner, the actor that played Starship Enterprise captain James T. Kirk in original series helped open the awards show with host, Seth McFarlane.


“I’ve come back in time from the 23rd century to stop you from destroying the Academy Awards,” joked Shatner to McFarlane.


Actors Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana also had a part to play in the festivities. Pine, who plays Kirk in 2009′s “Star Trek” and its sequel “Star Trek Into Darkness “ being released later this year, and Saldana, who plays the Enterprise’s communications officer Uhura, recapped an earlier event they co-hosted on Feb. 10 called the “Sci-Tech Oscars.”


The smaller ceremony is designed to showcase the technical achievements of designers and technicians on movie sets.


The newest movie in the Star Trek franchise, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” is set to be released on May 17.


Follow Miriam Kramer on Twitter @mirikramer 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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Title Post: ‘Star Trek’ Beams Into Oscar Night
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Syria war is everybody's problem






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • NEW: United States will give food and medical aid to rebel fighters for the first time

  • NEW: It's not clear how much that aid is worth, but $60 million will go to opposition council

  • NEW: "Behave as a human being," opposition leader urges Syrian president

  • U.S. officials are considering more nonlethal military aid




Rome (CNN) -- The United States stepped further into Syria's civil war Thursday, promising rebel fighters food and medical supplies -- but not weapons -- for the first time in the nearly two-year conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives and laid waste to large portions of the country.


Secretary of State John Kerry said the aid would help fighters in the high-stakes effort to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a conflict that has already spawned an enormous humanitarian crisis as refugees flee the fighting.


The ongoing fighting also poses the persistent threat of widening into a destabilizing regional crisis.


"The United States' decision to take further steps now is the result of the continued brutality of a superior armed force propped up by foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah, all of which threatens to destroy Syria," Kerry said after meeting opposition leaders in Rome.


Kerry didn't say how much that aid would be worth, but did announce that the United States would separately give $60 million to local groups working with the Syrian National Council to provide political administration and basic services in rebel-controlled areas of Syria.








READ: U.S. weighing nonlethal aid to Syrian opposition


That's on top of $50 million in similar aid the United States has previously pledged to the council, as well as $385 million in humanitarian assistance, Kerry said.


"This funding will allow the opposition to reach out and help the local councils to be able to rebuild in their liberated areas of Syria so that they can provide basic services to people who so often lack access today to medical care, to food, to sanitation," he said.


Islamist Influence


That aid is partly an effort to hem in radical Islamist groups vying for influence in Syria after the fall of al-Assad, a senior State Department official told CNN.


"If the Syrian opposition coalition can't touch, improve and heal the lives of Syrians in those places that have been freed, then extremists will step in and do it," the official said.


Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, president of the Syrian National Council, said concerns about Islamist influence had been overstated.


"We stand against every radical belief that aims to target Syria's diverse social and religious fabric," he said.


READ: Inside Syria: Exclusive look at pro-Assad Christian militia


U.S. officials hope the aid will help the coalition show what it can do and encourage al-Assad supporters to "peel away from him" and help end the fighting, the official said.


The opposition council will decide where the money goes, Kerry said.


But the United States will send technical advisers through its partners to the group's Cairo headquarters to make sure it's being used properly, the senior State Department official said.


Additional aid possible


In addition to the decision to give rebel fighters food and medical supplies, President Barack Obama is thinking about training rebels and equipping them with defensive gear such as night vision goggles, body armor and military vehicles, according to sources familiar with the discussions.


The training would help rebels decide how to use their resources, strategize and maybe train a police force to take over after al-Assad's fall, one of the sources said.


READ: Syrian army in Homs is showing strains of war


Kerry did not announce that sort of aid Thursday, but said the United States and other countries backing the rebels would "continue to consult with each other on an urgent basis."


An official who briefed reporters said the opposition has raised a lot of needs in the Rome meetings and the administration will continue to "keep those under review."


"We will do this with vetted individuals, vetted units, so it has to be done carefully and appropriately," the official said.


Humanitarian crisis


The conflict began with demands for political reform after the Arab Spring movement that swept the Middle East and Africa, but descended into a brutal civil war when the al-Assad regime began a brutal crackdown on demonstrators.


At least 60,000 people have died since the fighting began in March 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in early January.


Another 940,000 had fled the country as of Tuesday, while more than one in 10 of Syria's 20 million residents have been forced to move elsewhere inside the country because of the fighting, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said.


The situation is nearing crisis proportions, with the dramatic influx of refugees threatening to break the ability of host nations to provide for their needs, Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday


"The host states, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and the North African countries, have been exemplary in their different ways, but we fear the pressure will start to overwhelm their capacities," she told the council, according to a text of her remarks posted on the United Nations website.


Al-Khatib said it's time for the fighting to stop.


"I ask Bashar al-Assad for once, just once, to behave as a human being," he said. "Enough massacres, enough killings. Enough of your bloodshed and enough torture. I urge you to make a rational decision once in your life and end the killings."


READ: Syrian war is everybody's problem


Jill Dougherty reported from Rome, and Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Elise Labott also contributed to this report.






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Journalist Woodward said he received White House warning









WASHINGTON—





A prominent Washington journalist said in interviews on Wednesday a senior White House official warned him he would "regret" publishing a story challenging the White House's account of how the idea for automatic spending cuts originated.

Bob Woodward said in interviews with Politico and CNN that when he informed the White House he was writing a story critical of the White House's handling of a debate over the origin of the cuts, known as sequestration, the official reacted angrily.

The aide "yelled at me for about a half hour," Woodward told Politico, and then followed up the tirade with an email.

"I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today," the official wrote Woodward. "You're focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. ... I think you will regret staking out that claim."

Politico reported that Woodward saw the statement as a veiled threat.

"I've tangled with lots of these people," said the journalist, who established his reputation by breaking the story of the Watergate break-in under President Richard Nixon and has written a series of best selling books about Washington politics.

"But suppose there's a young reporter who's only had a couple of years — or 10 years' — experience and the White House is sending him an email saying, ‘You're going to regret this,'" Woodward said. "You know, tremble, tremble. I don't think it's the way to operate."

Some $85 billion in spending cuts are due to go into effect Friday unless Congress acts, and with the deadline approaching there is practically no movement toward preventing them. President Barack Obama has scheduled a meeting with congressional leaders on Friday, but little is expected of the encounter.

The president has crisscrossed the country in recent weeks to draw attention to the inconveniences and problems from the cuts, which economists say could shave 0.6 percentage points off of already anemic U.S. growth.

While the president has been conducting that campaign, the spat over what Woodward calls the "paternity" of the sequester has proven a distracting sideshow to the fiscal battle.

The administration has sought to counter charges by Republicans that the sequestration cuts were proposed by Obama administration officials.

Woodward's book "The Price of Politics" is a fly-on-the-wall account of the negotiations in 2011 that ended with a deal to raise the nation's debt limit. As part of the deal, both sides agreed to make additional efforts to reduce the national budget deficit, and proposed the sequester as an alternative so unappealing that it would force the administration and congressional Republicans to find common ground.

That deal proved elusive and both sides are currently trading blame for the sequestration cuts.

TWITTER FUN

Woodward said in an article in the Washington Post on Friday that the president and his chief of staff at the time, current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, were wrong in initially claiming last year that the sequester was the Republicans' idea.

"Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and (Rob)Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid," Woodward said. "They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved." Nabors was then the White House's chief liaison to Congress and is now deputy chief of staff.

The administration has argued that both sides agreed to the terms of the sequester and has pointed to comments at the time from House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, that he was for the most part satisfied with the deal that spawned the arrangement.

Woodward's account of his recent testy exchange with the White House points to continued sensitivity over the issue of whose idea the sequester was.

A White House official said in an emailed response to Reuters that no threat was intended by the comment.

"The email from the aide was sent to apologize for voices being raised in their previous conversation," the aide said. "The note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more."

The BuzzFeed news website identified the official who tangled with Woodward as Gene Sperling, head of the National Economic Council. The White House did not respond to a request to confirm the identity of the official.

News of the exchange drew instant reaction from Washington insiders on Twitter, much of poking fun at the war of words.

"My amateur advice: stop cooperating with Woodward in the first place," wrote Neera Tanden, the president of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress think tank and a former Obama campaign advisor.

"Hey, guess what? All of you will talk to Woodward for his next book, too," wrote Tony Fratto of Hamilton Place Strategies and a former White House official under President George W. Bush.



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Wall Street inches up after data

MADRID, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Lionel Messi has rarely been accused of failing to deliver in big games, having scored in two European Cup finals, but after subdued performances against AC Milan and Real Madrid, questions are being asked. The four-times World Player of the Year and leading scorer in one of the greatest club teams of all time, was a shadow of his usual self at the San Siro in a Champions League last-16 first leg last week, when Barcelona slumped to a 2-0 defeat. ...
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Minnesota takes down No. 1 Indiana 77-73


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Retaining that No. 1 national ranking has been elusive throughout this wild season in college basketball, and Indiana was the latest to lose at the top — again.


Most important and maybe more challenging for the Hoosiers, however, is holding on to first place in the tough-as-ever Big Ten.


Trevor Mbakwe had 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting and 12 rebounds to help Minnesota take down top-ranked Indiana 77-73 on Tuesday night, the seventh time the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll has lost this season. Three of those losses were by the Hoosiers, who were No. 1 when they fell to Butler and Wisconsin earlier this season. All three opponents were unranked at the time.


Indiana (24-4, 12-3) has held the No. 1 ranking for 10 of the 17 polls by the AP this season, including the last four, and that will likely change next week. But fending off Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin is what's on the minds of the Hoosiers, who'll take a one-game lead in the conference race into Saturday's game against Iowa.


"Winning the Big Ten was going to be tough whether we won today or lost," said star guard Victor Oladipo, who had 16 points. "We knew it was going to be tough from the jump. Now it's even tougher. But I think my team is ready for it. We just have to go back and see what we did wrong and correct it."


Andre Hollins added 16 points for the Gophers (19-9, 7-8), who outrebounded Cody Zeller and the Hoosiers by a whopping 44-30 and solidified their slipping NCAA tournament hopes with an emphatic performance against the conference leader. The fired-up fans swarmed the court as the last seconds ticked off, the first time that's happened here since a 2002 win over Indiana.


"There were just too many times when that first shot went up and they were there before we were because we didn't get into their bodies," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. "We weren't physical enough on the glass. That's the bottom line."


Zeller, the second-leading shooter in the Big Ten, went 2 for 9. He had nine points with four turnovers. Minnesota had 40 points in the paint to Indiana's 22.


Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior, had a lot to do with that. While positing his conference-leading seventh double-double of the season, the 24-year-old Mbakwe was a man among boys in many ways in this game, dominating both ends of the court when the Gophers needed him most. He grabbed six of Minnesota's 23 offensive rebounds, two of them to keep a key possession alive. His off-balance put-back drew contact for a three-point play with 7:22 left that gave the Gophers a 55-52 lead.


Mbakwe was called for a loudly questioned blocking foul, his fourth, with 4:39 remaining on Zeller's fast-break layup and free throw that put the Hoosiers up 59-58. But Austin Hollins answered with a pump-fake layup that drew a foul for a three-point play and a two-point advantage for the Gophers.


The Hoosiers didn't lead again, and Joe Coleman's fast-break dunk with 2:35 left gave Minnesota a 68-61 cushion that helped it withstand a couple of 3-pointers by Christian Watford and one by Jordan Hulls in the closing minutes. That was the only basket Hulls made after halftime. He had 17 points.


"Just the way we bounced back is unbelievable. We showed that we can beat one of the best teams in the country. Now we have to build off this," said Mbakwe, whose team lost eight of its previous 11 games starting with an 88-81 loss at Indiana on Jan. 12. The Gophers were ranked eighth then. They didn't even receive a vote in the current poll. That could change next week.


The Hoosiers are still in position for their first outright Big Ten regular-season championship since 1993. With another home game against Ohio State on March 5, Indiana could still clinch the title before the finale at Michigan on March 10.


For now, though, the Hoosiers have to regroup and re-establish their inside game after the trampling in the post they endured here.


"They were relentless on the glass. We just didn't do a great job of boxing them out," Oladipo said.


___


Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP


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‘Star Trek’ Beams Into Oscar Night






Star Trek” fans got quite a treat last night during the Academy Awards last night (Feb. 24).


Actors who portray major characters from the film and television versions of the iconic science fiction series made cameo appearances during the three-hour-long ceremony celebrating the best movies of 2012.






William Shatner, the actor that played Starship Enterprise captain James T. Kirk in original series helped open the awards show with host, Seth McFarlane.


“I’ve come back in time from the 23rd century to stop you from destroying the Academy Awards,” joked Shatner to McFarlane.


Actors Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana also had a part to play in the festivities. Pine, who plays Kirk in 2009′s “Star Trek” and its sequel “Star Trek Into Darkness “ being released later this year, and Saldana, who plays the Enterprise’s communications officer Uhura, recapped an earlier event they co-hosted on Feb. 10 called the “Sci-Tech Oscars.”


The smaller ceremony is designed to showcase the technical achievements of designers and technicians on movie sets.


The newest movie in the Star Trek franchise, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” is set to be released on May 17.


Follow Miriam Kramer on Twitter @mirikramer 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.
Space and Astronomy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Benedict: Pope aware of his flaws?




Pope Benedict XVI delivers his last Angelus Blessing to thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square on February 24.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Sister Mary Ann Walsh: Pope Benedict acknowledged that he made mistakes

  • Walsh: In firestorm over scholarly quotes about Islam, he went to great lengths to atone

  • Walsh: Similarly, he quickly reversed a decision that had angered Jews and repaired ties

  • Even his stepping down is a nod to his humanity and his love of the church, she says




Editor's note: Sister Mary Ann Walsh is director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Regional Community. She is a former foreign correspondent at Catholic News Service (CNS) in Rome and the editor of "John Paul II: A Light for the World," "Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on his Papacy," and "From Pope John Paul II to Benedict XVI."


(CNN) -- One of the Bible's paradoxical statements comes from St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians: "Power is made perfect in infirmity."


The poetic statement proclaims that when we are weak, we are strong. Pope Benedict XVI's stepping down from what many consider one of the most powerful positions in the world proves it. In a position associated with infallibility -- though that refers to formal proclamations on faith and morals -- the pope declares his weakness.



Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Sister Mary Ann Walsh



His acceptance of frailty speaks realistically about humanity: We grow old, weaken, and eventually die. A job, even one guided by the Holy Spirit, as we Roman Catholics believe, can become too much for us.


Acceptance of human frailty has marked this papacy. We all make mistakes, but the pope makes them on a huge stage.


He was barely into his papacy, for example, when he visited Regensburg, Germany, where he once taught theology. Like many a professor, he offered a provocative statement to get the conversation going. To introduce the theme of his lecture, the pope quoted from an account of a dialogue between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an unnamed Muslim scholar, sometime near the end of the 14th century -- a quote that was misinterpreted by some as a condemnation of Mohammed and Islam.


Opinion: 'Gay lobby' behind pope's resignation? Not likely


Twice, the pope emphasized that he was quoting someone else's words. Unfortunately, the statement about Islam was taken as insult, not a discussion opener, and sparked rage throughout the Muslim world.


The startled pope had to explain himself. He apologized and traveled two months later to Istanbul's Blue Mosque, where he stood shoeless in prayer beside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul. Later he hosted Muslim leaders at the Vatican at the start of a Catholic-Muslim forum for dialogue. It was a human moment -- a mistake, an apology and atonement -- all round.










A similar controversy erupted when he tried to bring the schismatic Society of St. Pius X back into the Roman Catholic fold.


In a grand gesture toward reconciliation, he lifted the excommunication of four of its bishops, unaware that one, Richard Williamson, was a Holocaust denier. This outraged many Jews. Subsequently the Vatican said the bishop had not been vetted, and in a bow to modernity said officials at least should have looked him up on the Internet.


In humble response, Benedict reiterated his condemnation of anti-Semitism and told Williamson that he must recant his Holocaust views to be fully reinstated. Again, his admission of a mistake and an effort to mend fences.


News: Scandal threatens to overshadow pope's final days


Pope Benedict XVI came from a Catholic Bavarian town. Childhood family jaunts included trips to the shrine of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Altotting. He entered the seminary at the age of 13. He became a priest, scholar and theologian. He lived his life in service to the church. Even in resigning from the papacy, he embraces the monastic life to pray for a church he has ever loved.


With hindsight, his visit to the tomb of 13th century Pope Celestine V, a Benedictine monk who resigned from the papacy eight centuries before, becomes poignant.


In 2009, on a visit to Aquila, Italy, Benedict left at Celestine's tomb the pallium, a stole-like vestment that signifies episcopal authority, that Benedict had worn for his installation as pope. The gesture takes on more meaning as the monkish Benedict steps down.


We expect the pope to be perfect. Catholics hold him to be the vicar of Christ on earth. He stands as a spiritual leader for much of the world. Statesmen visit him from around the globe. He lives among splendid architecture, in the shadow of the domed St. Peter's Basilica. All testify to an almost surreal omnipotence.


Complete coverage of the pope's resignation


In this world, however, walked a vulnerable, human person. And in a paradox of life, his most human moment -- giving up the power of office -- may prove to be his most potent, delivering a message that, as St. Paul noted many centuries ago, "Power is made perfect in infirmity."


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mary Ann Walsh.






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Obama to meet with congressional leaders to discuss budget cuts




















Speaker of the House John Boehner tells Scott Pelley in a "CBS Evening News" interview that a budget deal is now out of his hands.




















































WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will meet with top congressional leaders on Friday to discuss the deep, automatic government spending cuts slated to go into effect that day, congressional aides said


Known as the sequester or sequestration, the cuts amount indiscriminate across-the-board reductions in federal spending totalling $85 billion.


Obama is set to meet with Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.








"The meeting Friday is an opportunity for us to visit with the president about how we can all keep our commitment to reduce Washington spending," McConnell said in a statement.


"We can either secure those reductions more intelligently, or we can do it the president's way with across-the board cuts. But one thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to," he said.


Republicans on Capitol Hill immediately questioned Obama's intent.


"If the president is serious about stopping the sequester, why did he schedule a meeting on Tuesday for Friday when the sequester hits at midnight on Thursday?” asked a Republican congressional aide who was not authorized to talk about the private meeting. "Either someone needs to buy the White House a calendar, or this is just a belated farce.  They ought to at least pretend to try."


Reuters and Lisa Mascaro, the Los Angeles Times






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SAfrica: judge in Pistorius case suffers loss


JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Last week, the judge who granted bail to Oscar Pistorius was in the international spotlight, presiding over dramatic hearings in a courtroom as the Olympic athlete sat in the dock charged with murdering his girlfriend. This week, the judge is in private mourning.


Desmond Nair, chief magistrate of the Pretoria Magistrate's Court, confirmed Tuesday that he is related to a woman suspected of killing her two children and committing suicide on the weekend.


The revelation was the latest twist in the saga of Pistorius and prominent figures linked to the case against the double-amputee athlete, who faces a charge of premeditated murder in the Feb. 14 shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model who appeared in a television reality show.


The bodies of a woman and her two sons were found Sunday evening at their Johannesburg home by her ex-husband, police Warrant Officer Balan Muthan said. Authorities suspect the woman administered a substance that killed her children, and took her own life by ingesting it as well.


"I can confirm the deceased is my first cousin," Nair told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.


The woman's brother, Vishal Maharaj, identified her as Anusha Maharaj. Police said Maharaj was her family name before she married. South African media identified her as Anusha Mooljee.


Muthan said police suspect "she took her own life by ingesting a substance that killed her," and that she "most probably" gave the same substance to her children. Autopsies were conducted Monday and toxicologists were analyzing the substance believed to have killed the three family members.


Suicide notes were found and a murder investigation was underway, Muthan said. He said copies of the notes were admitted as evidence in the probe and declined to comment on the contents.


Eyewitness News, a South African media outlet, said the boys who died were 12 and 17 years old and cited neighbor Claire Osment as saying she rushed outside after hearing screams coming from the townhouse where they lived.


"We asked what happened. The dad just said, 'She has killed my boys.' He was just crying," Eyewitness News quoted her as saying. "He couldn't believe it, he couldn't believe that his sons are gone."


Nair, 44, has presided over a number of high-profile cases, including the 2008 conviction on fraud charges of Sydney Maree, a South African who took American citizenship and became a track star in the United States; a 2011 plea agreement in which rugby player Bees Roux received a five-year suspended prison sentence for the beating death of a policeman; and inquiries into alleged misconduct by magistrates around South Africa.


On Friday, Nair delivered a lengthy discourse on why he was granting bail to Pistorius, including an assertion that prosecutors had not argued persuasively that the Paralympian was a flight risk. Nair criticized shortcomings in the state's investigation, but he also said aspects of Pistorius' account of what happened were not convincing.


Pistorius says he killed Steenkamp accidentally, opening fire after mistaking her for an intruder in his home. Prosecutors alleged he intentionally shot her after the couple had an argument.


Last week, the chief investigator in the case against Pistorius, Hilton Botha, was removed from the inquiry after it was revealed that attempted murder charges against him had been reinstated in early February. The charges relate to a 2011 incident in which Botha and two other police officers allegedly fired on a minibus.


In another surprise, a lawyer for the Pistorius family said Sunday that Oscar's brother, Carl, faces a charge of unlawful, negligent killing for a 2008 road death. That charge had also been dropped and later reinstated.


Read More..

‘Star Trek’ Beams Into Oscar Night






Star Trek” fans got quite a treat last night during the Academy Awards last night (Feb. 24).


Actors who portray major characters from the film and television versions of the iconic science fiction series made cameo appearances during the three-hour-long ceremony celebrating the best movies of 2012.






William Shatner, the actor that played Starship Enterprise captain James T. Kirk in original series helped open the awards show with host, Seth McFarlane.


“I’ve come back in time from the 23rd century to stop you from destroying the Academy Awards,” joked Shatner to McFarlane.


Actors Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana also had a part to play in the festivities. Pine, who plays Kirk in 2009′s “Star Trek” and its sequel “Star Trek Into Darkness “ being released later this year, and Saldana, who plays the Enterprise’s communications officer Uhura, recapped an earlier event they co-hosted on Feb. 10 called the “Sci-Tech Oscars.”


The smaller ceremony is designed to showcase the technical achievements of designers and technicians on movie sets.


The newest movie in the Star Trek franchise, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” is set to be released on May 17.


Follow Miriam Kramer on Twitter @mirikramer 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.
Space and Astronomy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





Title Post: ‘Star Trek’ Beams Into Oscar Night
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Vatican 'Gay lobby'? Probably not






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Benedict XVI not stepping down under pressure from 'gay lobby,' Allen says

  • Allen: Benedict is a man who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of government

  • However, he says, much of the pope's time has been spent putting out fires




Editor's note: John L. Allen Jr. is CNN's senior Vatican analyst and senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.


(CNN) -- Suffice it to say that of all possible storylines to emerge, heading into the election of a new pope, sensational charges of a shadowy "gay lobby" (possibly linked to blackmail), whose occult influence may have been behind the resignation of Benedict XVI, would be right at the bottom of the Vatican's wish list.


Proof of the Vatican's irritation came with a blistering statement Saturday complaining of "unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories," even suggesting the media is trying to influence the papal election.


Two basic questions have to be asked about all this. First, is there really a secret dossier about a network of people inside the Vatican who are linked by their sexual orientation, as Italian newspaper reports have alleged? Second, is this really why Benedict XVI quit?



John L. Allen Jr.

John L. Allen Jr.



The best answers, respectively, are "maybe" and "probably not."


It's a matter of record that at the peak of last year's massive Vatican leaks crisis, Benedict XVI created a commission of three cardinals to investigate the leaks. They submitted an eyes-only report to the pope in mid-December, which has not been made public.


It's impossible to confirm whether that report looked into the possibility that people protecting secrets about their sex lives were involved with the leaks, but frankly, it would be surprising if it didn't.


There are certainly compelling reasons to consider the hypothesis. In 2007, a Vatican official was caught by an Italian TV network on hidden camera arranging a date through a gay-oriented chat room, and then taking the young man back to his Vatican apartment. In 2010, a papal ceremonial officer was caught on a wiretap arranging liaisons through a Nigerian member of a Vatican choir. Both episodes played out in full public view, and gave the Vatican a black eye.









Pope Benedict XVI































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In that context, it would be a little odd if the cardinals didn't at least consider the possibility that insiders leading a double life might be vulnerable to pressure to betray the pope's confidence. That would apply not just to sex, but also potential conflicts of other sorts too, such as financial interests.


Vatican officials have said Benedict may authorize giving the report to the 116 cardinals who will elect his successor, so they can factor it into their deliberations. The most immediate fallout is that the affair is likely to strengthen the conviction among many cardinals that the next pope has to lead a serious house-cleaning inside the Vatican's bureaucracy.


It seems a stretch, however, to suggest this is the real reason Benedict is leaving. For the most part, one should probably take the pope at his word, that old age and fatigue are the motives for his decision.


That said, it's hard not to suspect that the meltdowns and controversies that have dogged Benedict XVI for the last eight years are in the background of why he's so tired. In 2009, at the height of another frenzy surrounding the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop, Benedict dispatched a plaintive letter to the bishops of the world, voicing hurt for the way he'd been attacked and apologizing for the Vatican's mishandling of the situation.


Even if Benedict didn't resign because of any specific crisis, including this latest one, such anguish must have taken its toll. Benedict is a teaching pope, a man who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of government, yet an enormous share of his time and energy has been consumed trying to put out internal fires.


It's hard to know why Benedict XVI is stepping off the stage, but I doubt it is because of a "gay lobby."


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John L. Allen Jr.






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Polls open to find likely successor to ex-Rep. Jackson Jr.

Election Day in Cicero and 2nd District. Polls open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.









Voters are headed to the polls today to pick the likely successor to disgraced former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in a congressional district covering the South Side and south suburbs.

There are primaries for both political parties, but the 2nd District is so heavily Democratic that whoever emerges from the crowded Democratic field is expected to easily win the April 9 special general election. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Today's voting follows weeks of candidate forums, an accelerated campaign schedule and a flurry of TV ads from the mayor of New York. While the top-tier candidates among the 14 Democrats vying for the primary nomination are known — former state Rep. Robin Kelly, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and Chicago 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale — there also are some big unknowns. Voter turnout, already anticipated to be very low, could be exacerbated by nasty weather.

Kelly voted early. Beale and Halvorson planned to vote today. All three candidates have a slew of campaign stops scheduled before gearing up for evening parties where they'll watch the results come in.



The results of early voting held between Feb. 11 and Saturday demonstrated a lack of interest in the contest, despite its ramifications in deciding who will represent voters and their disparate interests in the vast district.

A majority of the district's Democratic voters live in suburban Cook County, with an additional one-third from the South Side. The district also includes parts of eastern Will County and all of Kankakee County, and together the two regions make up slightly less than 10 percent of the Democratic vote.

In suburban Cook, 4,459 early votes were cast, with 98 percent of those voters taking Democratic ballots. Of the 11 suburban early voting locations, Matteson Village Hall, in Kelly's hometown, had the most with 1,601 voters.








In Chicago, 98 percent of the 2,768 early voters cast Democratic ballots. Only 63 early votes were cast for Republicans.

In Will, 246 voters cast early ballots, all but 40 of them Democratic votes. Kankakee County officials reported 699 early ballots, with 533 voting Democrat and 166 Republican.

"I just think if it was a regular race, then they'd look a little bit different," Kelly said of the low early voting totals. "I also think because (the special primary) came so close to the November election that there's some (voter) fatigue."

But in a large field of candidates and questionable turnout, a nomination for Congress could be decided by mere hundreds of votes. Even as forecasters sounded warnings of a Tuesday smorgasbord of wintry weather, candidates sought to energize core supporters to help get out the vote.

In an email to supporters, Kelly's campaign pleaded for volunteers to help get voters to the polls and asked for money for its get-out-the-vote field operation.


Halvorson acknowledged the early voting numbers were "paltry" and that voter turnout would be a "huge" factor Tuesday. Halvorson said she believed turnout could be driven by the district's history of scandals — including last week's guilty plea by Jackson on federal charges of illegally converting about $750,000 in campaign cash to personal use.

"I think this race has gotten so much attention and people are so angry about what the 2nd Congressional District has had to deal with over the years that they're going to take a special interest to make sure they are going to vote for someone who is completely different than what they've seen," said Halvorson, of Crete.

Halvorson also has been the target of the most extensive advertising in the contest, more than $2.2 million worth of TV and mail attacks by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super political action committee, centered on her past National Rifle Association support. Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC is backing Kelly.

Beale said the low number of early ballots puts all the more importance on Election Day field efforts. He said that well-established organizations in the six city wards in the district could serve as an advantage for his campaign.

"It's just slow across the board, and that just goes to show it is going to be a very low turnout," Beale said of the early votes. "We're just making sure we're targeting our core, solid voters, and we're going to get them out to the polls and be victorious Tuesday night."

rap30@aol.com
bruthhart@tribune.com





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