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."

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Italy parties seek way out of election stalemate


ROME (Reuters) - Italy's stunned political parties looked for a way forward on Tuesday after an election that gave none of them a parliamentary majority, posing the threat of prolonged instability and European financial crisis.


The results, notably by the dramatic surge of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo, left the center-left bloc with a majority in the lower house but without the numbers to control the powerful upper chamber, the Senate.


Financial markets fell sharply at the prospect of a stalemate that reawakened memories of the crisis that pushed Italy's borrowing costs toward unsustainably high levels and brought the euro zone to the brink of collapse in 2011.


"The winner is: Ingovernability," ran the headline in Rome newspaper Il Messaggero, reflecting the deadlock the country will have to confront in the next few weeks as sworn enemies are forced to work together to form a government.


Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), has the difficult task of trying to agree a "grand coalition" with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the man he blames for ruining Italy, or striking a deal with Grillo, a completely unknown quantity in conventional politics.


The alternative is new elections either immediately or within a few months, although both Berlusconi and Bersani have indicated that they want to avoid a return to the polls if possible: "Italy cannot be ungoverned and we have to reflect," Berlusconi said in an interview on his own television station.


For his part, Grillo, whose "non-party" movement won the most votes of any single party, has indicated that he believes the next government will last no more than six months.


"They won't be able to govern," he told reporters on Tuesday. "Whether I'm there or not, they won't be able govern."


He said he would work with anyone who supported his policy proposals, which range from anti-corruption measures to green-tinted energy measures but rejected suggestions of entering a formal coalition: "It's not time to talk of alliances... the system has already fallen," he said.


The election, a massive rejection of the austerity policies applied by Prime Minister Mario Monti with the backing of international leaders from U.S. President Barack Obama to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, caused consternation across Europe.


"This is a jump to nowhere that does not bode well either for Italy or Europe," said Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.


In a sign of worry at the top over what effect the elections could have on the economy, Monti, whose austerity policies were repudiated by voters who shunned his centrist bloc, met the governor of the central bank, the economy minister and the European affairs minister to discuss the situation on Tuesday.


The former EU commissioner and his team of technocrats, who were brought in to govern when Berlusconi was consumed by crisis and scandal, will stay on until a new administration is formed.


UNTHINKABLE WITHOUT GRILLO


Projections for the Senate by the Italian Centre for Electoral Studies indicated that the center-left would have 121 seats, against 117 for the center-right alliance of Berlusconi's PDL and the regionalist Northern League. Grillo would take 54.


That leaves no party with the majority in a chamber which a government must control to pass legislation and opened up the prospect of previously inconceivable partnerships that will test the sometimes fragile internal unity of the main parties.


"The idea of a majority without Grillo is unthinkable. I don't know if anyone in the PD is considering it but I'm against it," said Matteo Orfini, a member of Bersani's PD secretariat.


"The idea of a PD-PDL government, even if it's backed by Monti, doesn't make any sense," he said.


Berlusconi, a media magnate whose campaigning all but wiped out Bersani's once commanding opinion poll lead, hinted in a telephone call to a morning television show that he would be open to a deal with the center-left - but not with Monti, the economics professor who replaced him 15 months ago.


"Italy must be governed," Berlusconi said, adding that he "must reflect" on a possible deal with the center-left. "Everyone must be prepared to make sacrifices," he said of the groups which now have a share of the legislature.


The Milan bourse was down almost 4 percent and the premium Italy pays over Germany to borrow on 10-year widened to a yield spread of 338 basis points, the highest since December 10 and more than 80 points above the level seen earlier on Monday.


At an auction of six-month Treasury bills, Italy's borrowing costs jumped by more than two thirds with the yield reaching 1.237 percent, the highest since October and compared to just 0.730 percent in a similar sale a month ago.


The euro dropped to an almost seven-week low against the dollar in Asia on fears of a revival of the euro zone crisis. It fell as far as $1.3042, its lowest since January 10.


"What is crucial now is that a stable functioning government can be built as swiftly as possible," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. "This is not only in the interests of Italy but in the interests of all Europe."


However the view from some voters, weary of the mainstream parties, was unrepentant: "It's good," said Roger Manica, 28, a security guard in Rome, who voted for the center-left PD.


"Next time I'll vote 5-Star. I like that they are changing things, even if it means uncertainty. Uncertainty doesn't matter to me, for me what's important is a good person who gets things done," he said. "Look how well they've done."


A long recession and growing disillusionment with mainstream parties and tax-raising austerity fed the bitter public mood and contributed to the massive rejection of Monti, whose centrist coalition was relegated to the sidelines.


Berlusconi's campaign, mixing sweeping tax cut pledges with relentless attacks on Monti and Merkel, echoed many of the themes pushed by Grillo and underlined the increasingly angry mood of the Italian electorate.


But even if the next government turns away from the tax hikes and spending cuts brought in by Monti, it will struggle to revive an economy that has scarcely grown in two decades.


Monti was widely credited with tightening Italy's public finances and restoring its international credibility after the scandal-plagued Berlusconi, who is currently on trial for having sex with an under-age prostitute.


However he struggled to pass the kind of structural reforms needed to improve competitiveness and lay the foundations for a return to economic growth. A weak center-left government may not find it any easier.


For Italian business, with an illustrious history of export success, the election result brought dismay that there would be no quick change to what they see as a regulatory sclerosis that has kept the economy virtually stagnant for a decade.


"This is probably the worst possible scenario," said Francesco Divella, whose family began selling pasta under its eponymous brand in 1890 in the southern region of Puglia.


"We are very concerned about the uncertainty and apparent ungovernability," said Silvio Pietro Angori, chief executive of Pininfarina, which has designed Ferrari sportscars since 1950. "A company competing on the global markets like Pininfarina needs the support of a stable government that inspires trust."


One of the country's leading bankers summed up his personal reaction: "I'm in shock," he told Reuters. "What a mess!"


(Additional reporting by Barry Moody, Gavin Jones, Lisa Jucca, Steven Jewkes, Steve Scherer Writing by Philip Pullella and James Mackenzie; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)



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Wall Street turns lower on Italian worries

(Reuters) - For the first time in decades, the United States is making steady gains in the number of high school students earning diplomas, putting it on pace to reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020, according to a new analysis released Monday. But the good news comes with a big asterisk: students with learning disabilities and limited fluency in English face long odds to finish high school, with graduation rates for those groups as low as 25 percent in some states, the analysis found. ...
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Johnson back on top with 2nd Daytona 500 victory


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson went two years without a title and suddenly became an afterthought at the Daytona 500.


All the attention went to Danica Patrick and a handful of other drivers.


Not that it mattered Sunday, because look who pulled into Victory Lane.


Five-time is back. Not that he ever went away.


Johnson won his second Daytona 500 on Sunday, a year after he completed just one lap in the race and three months after falling short in his bid for a sixth Sprint Cup title. That so-called drought had made him something of a no-name during Speedweeks.


"In my mind, I didn't feel like I was under the radar," he said. "I felt like we were working hard to put the best product on the track. I guess I was quiet in the overall spectrum of things from the media side. I think people in the garage, people knew we were sitting on a lot of speed and had a very good race car."


But in winning the biggest race of the year, the No. 48 team wasn't sending a message to the competitors.


"I don't think we went anywhere; anybody in the garage area, they're wise to all that," Johnson said.


Johnson's win came on the same day that Patrick, who became the first woman in history to start a Sprint Cup race from the pole, again made history as the first woman to lead laps in the Daytona 500.


She ran inside the top 10 almost the entire race, kept pace with the field and never panicked on the track.


Her only mistakes were on pit road, where she got beat on the race back to the track, and on the final lap, when she was running third but got snookered by the veterans and faded to eighth. That's going to stick with Patrick for some time.


"I would imagine pretty much anyone would be kicking themselves about what they coulda, shoulda have done to give themselves an opportunity to win," she said. "I think that's what I was feeling today, was uncertainty as to how I was going to accomplish that."


There were several multicar crashes, but no one was hurt and none of them approached the magnitude of the wreck that injured more than two dozen fans in the grandstand at the end of the second-tier Nationwide Series race on the same track a day earlier. Daytona International Speedway workers were up until 2 a.m repairing the fence that was damaged in the accident, and track officials offered Sunday morning to move any fans who felt uneasy sitting close to the track.


Several drivers said the accident and concern for the fans stuck with them overnight and into Sunday morning, and Johnson was quick to send his thoughts from Victory Lane.


"I just want to give a big shout-out to all the fans, and I also want to send my thoughts and prayers out to everybody that was injured in the grandstands," Johnson said.


Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose father was killed in this race 12 years ago, was involved in Saturday's accident but refocused and finished second to Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.


"Me personally, I was just really waiting to get the news on how everybody was, how all the fans were overnight, just hoping that things were going to improve," Earnhardt said, adding that he "wasn't really ready to proceed until you had some confirmation that things were looking more positive."


The race itself, the debut for NASCAR's new Gen-6 car, was quite similar to all the other Cup races during Speedweeks in that the cars seemed to line up in a single-file parade along the top groove of the track. It made the 55th running of the Daytona 500 relatively uneventful.


When the race was on the line, Johnson took off.


The driver known as "Five-time" raced past defending NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski on the final restart and pulled out to a sizeable lead that nobody challenged over the final six laps.


Johnson and Keselowski went down to the wire last season in their race for the Sprint Cup title, with Johnson faltering in the final two races as Keselowski won his first Cup championship.


Although it was a bit of an upset that stuck with Johnson into the offseason, it gave him no extra motivation when he found himself racing with Keselowski late Sunday for the Daytona 500.


"As far as racing with Brad out there, you really lose sight of who is in what car," Johnson said. "It's just somebody between you and the trophy. It could have been anybody."


Once Johnson cleared Keselowski on the last restart he had a breakaway lead with Greg Biffle and Patrick behind him. But as the field closed in on the checkered flag, Earnhardt finally made his move, just too late and too far behind to get close enough to the lead.


Earnhardt wound up second for the third time in the last four years. But with all the crashes the Hendrick cars have endured in restrictor-plate races — teammate Kasey Kahne was in the first accident Sunday — team owner Rick Hendrick was just fine with the finish.


"We have a hard time finishing these races. Boy, to run 1-2, man, what a day," Hendrick said. Jeff Gordon, who was a contender early, faded late to 20th.


And Johnson considered himself lucky to be the one holding the trophy at the end.


"Man, it's like playing the lottery; everybody's got a ticket," he said. "I've struck out a lot at these tracks, left with torn-up race cars. Today we had a clean day."


Mark Martin was third in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Keselowski, who overcame two accidents earlier in the race, wound up fourth in Penske Racing's new Ford. Ryan Newman was fifth in a Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing and was followed by Roush-Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle, who was second on the last lap but was shuffled back with Patrick to finish sixth.


Regan Smith was seventh for Phoenix Racing, while Patrick, Michael McDowell and JJ Yeley rounded out the top 10.


Patrick was clearly disappointed with her finish. When the race was on the line, she was schooled by Earnhardt, who made his last move and blocked any chance she had.


Still, Patrick became the first woman in history to lead laps in the 500 when she passed Michael Waltrip on a restart on Lap 90. She stayed on the point for two laps, then was shuffled back to third. She ended up leading five laps, another groundbreaking moment for Patrick, who as a rookie in 2005 became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and now is the 13th driver to lead laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500.


"Dale did a nice job and showed what happens when you plan it out, you drop back and get that momentum. You are able to go to the front," Patrick said. "I think he taught me something. I'm sure I'll watch the race and there will be other scenarios I see that can teach me, too."


Earnhardt was impressed, nonetheless.


"She's going to make a lot of history all year long. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch her progress," he said. "Every time I've seen her in a pretty hectic situation, she always really remained calm. She's got a great level head. She's a racer. She knows what's coming. She's smart about her decisions. She knew what to do today as far as track position and not taking risks. I enjoy racing with her."


Johnson, one of three heavyweight drivers who took their young daughters to meet Patrick — "the girl in the bright green car" — after she won the pole in qualifications, tipped his cap, too.


"I didn't think about it being Danica in the car," Johnson said. "It was just another car on the track that was fast. That's a credit to her and the job she's doing."


The field was weakened by an early nine-car accident that knocked out race favorite Kevin Harvick and sentimental favorite Tony Stewart.


Harvick had won two support races coming into the 500 to cement himself as the driver to beat, but the accident sent him home with a 42nd place finish.


Stewart, meanwhile, dropped to 0-for-15 in one of the few races the three-time NASCAR champion has never won.


"If I didn't tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed, I'd be lying to you," Stewart said.


That accident also took former winner Jamie McMurray, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kasey Kahne out of contention.


The next accident — involving nine cars — came 105 laps later and brought a thankful end to Speedweeks for Carl Edwards. He was caught in his fifth accident since testing last month, and this wreck collected six other Ford drivers.


The field suddenly had six Toyota drivers at the front as Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing drivers took control of the race. But JGR's day blew up — literally — when the team was running 1-2-3 with Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch setting the pace.


Kenseth, who led a race-high 86 laps, went to pit road first with an engine problem, and Busch was right behind him with a blown engine. Busch was already in street clothes watching as Hamlin led the field.


"It's a little devastating when you are running 1-2-3 like that," Busch said.


Hamlin's shot disappeared when he found himself in the wrong lane on the final restart. He tried to hook up with Keselowski to get them back to Johnson, but blamed former teammate Joey Logano for ruining the momentum of the bottom lane.


Hamlin offered a backhanded apology to Keselowski on Twitter, posting that he couldn't get close enough because "your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time."


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Majority of Missouri Tan Salons Allow Preteens






Missouri. Call it the artificial sunshine state … at least for preteens allowed to enter tanning booths and beds there.


Missouri is one of 17 states that have no minimum age restrictions on tanning salon use and does not require parental consent, despite a proliferation of scientific evidence linking indoor tanning to skin cancers.






Now, doctors at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that the majority of tanning salon operators in Missouri would allow children as young as 10 to 12 years old to use their tanning machines.


More disconcerting for the researchers, many tanning salon workers said in a survey that tanning beds pose no health risk and, in fact, prevent future sunburn, two patently false concepts. [10 Burning Facts About Sun-Tanning]


Findings from this survey, in which researchers secretly posed as prospective tanning clients, appear online today (Feb. 25) in the journal Pediatrics.


“This should serve as a wake-up call for parents in Missouri and other states that don’t regulate tanning beds,” said study co-author Lynn Cornelius, a dermatologist at Washington University. “With the absence of logical age restrictions, we are failing to protect our children, who are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer when exposed to the high-intensity levels of ultraviolet light that can be received in a tanning bed.”


Risks of indoor tanning


Frequent use of tanning salons can triple the risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, according to a study by University of Minnesota researchers published in 2010. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has deemed ultraviolet rays from artificial tanning devices carcinogenic to humans, equivalent to tobacco.


The World Health Organization recommends that minors be prohibited from using tanning booths and tanning beds. The ultraviolet radiation generated by these machines is particularly dangerous for children and adolescents, because their bodies are still growing and cells are reproducing at a more rapid pace compared with adults. Also, early and frequent exposure can further increase the risk of developing skin cancer.


Yet more than a third of white, female adolescents in the United States have used a tanning salon at least once, according to a study published in 2003 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine by researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. And tanning salons often target teenagers through direct marketing, as documented in a commentary in Pediatrics in 2008. [Adolescent Angst: 10 Facts About the Teen Brain]


Restrictions on indoor tanning vary widely from state to state. California and one county in Maryland ban minors under age 18 from using tanning booths (in which one stands) and beds (in which one lies). A few more states maintain a ban for children under age 14. Other states allow children to tan indoors with parental consent.


Tanning in Missouri


The Washington University researchers conducted interviews at 243 tanning salons across Missouri twice, on different days, to assess consistency of answers. Operators at 65 percent of the participating facilities said they would allow children as young as 10 or 12 to use indoor-tanning devices. Employees at 43 percent of the salons claimed there were no risks associated with indoor tanning; and 80 percent of facility operators said indoor tanning would prevent future sunburns.


Some 55 percent of salon workers said that the customer could opt not to use goggles so to prevent “raccoon eye” tan lines. Tanning without goggles can cause arc eye, akin to snow blindness, essentially a burning of the cornea, and ultimately retinal damage and cataracts.


One point of confusion about the health effects of tanning concerns the type of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the machines. The sun emits three kinds of UV radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC. While UVC is the most energetic and deadliest, the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs nearly all of it. UVB causes sunburn and snow blindness, and it directly damages DNA, causing cancers.


UVA, the lowest-energy ultraviolet radiation — and the predominant radiation emitted in most tanning machines — does not cause sunburn and, in fact, has the beneficial property of making vitamin D in the skin. For this reason, some people believe that tans from tanning machines are safe.


Yet research over the last several decades has shown that UVA is indeed carcinogenic, creating certain chemicals in the skin such as free radicals that, in turn, damage DNA. Moreover, the radiation from a tanning machine can be 10 to 15 times more intense than the midday sun, according to studies from Europe.


One limitation of the Washington University study was that the interviews were conducted in 2007. Attitudes about the dangers of tanning salons might have changed since then.


But then again, in Missouri, House Bill 72, introduced earlier this year, merely proposes a ban on “any person younger than six years of age from using a tanning device.”


Christopher Wanjek is the author of a new novel, “Hey, Einstein!”, a comical nature-versus-nurture tale about raising clones of Albert Einstein in less-than-ideal settings. His column, Bad Medicine, appears regularly on LiveScience.


Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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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.









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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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Boy, 16, charged with Bucktown home invasion, assault




















Chicago Tribune reporter Adam Sege with Sunday's Chicago overnight crime report, including details on a sexual assault in Bucktown.






















































A 16-year-old boy is accused of breaking into a Bucktown home, sexually assaulting a woman at gunpoint, then forcing her into her own car and driving off, authorities said.

Marcos Cervantes eventually dropped off the 43-year-old woman and was later arrested when police traced a cell phone he had stolen from the victim, authorities said. The woman was treated at a hospital.

Cervantes has been charged as an adult with home invasion by armed force, aggravated criminal sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated vehicular hijacking, according to police and prosecutors. He was expected to appear in bond court today, prosecutors said.


The attack occurred shortly after noon Sunday in the 2100 block of West Moffat Street, Police News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines said.


The boy was arrested about 2:30 p.m. at West Roosevelt Road and South Western Avenue in the Douglas Park neighborhood.

chicagobreaking@tribune.com


Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking







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Powers to offer Iran sanctions relief at nuclear talks


ALMATY (Reuters) - Major powers will offer Iran some sanctions relief during talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this week if Tehran agrees to curb its nuclear program, a U.S. official said on Monday.


But the Islamic Republic could face more economic pain if it fails to address international concerns about its atomic activities, the official said ahead of the February 26-27 meeting in the central Asian state, speaking on condition of anonymity.


"There will be continued sanctions enforcement ... there are other areas where pressure can be put," the official said, on the eve of the first round of negotiations between Iran and six world powers in eight months.


A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who leads the talks with Iran on behalf of the powers, said Tehran should understand that there was an "urgent need to make concrete and tangible progress" in Kazakhstan.


Both Russia and the United States stressed there was not an unlimited amount of time to resolve a dispute that has raised fears of a new war in the Middle East.


"The window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot by definition remain open forever. But it is open today. It is open now," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference in London. "There is still time but there is only time if Iran makes the decision to come to the table and negotiate in good faith."


Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said there was "no more time to waste", Interfax news agency quoted him as saying in Almaty.


The immediate priority for the powers - the United States, Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France - is to convince Iran to halt its higher-grade enrichment, which is a relatively short technical step away from potential atom bomb material.


Iran, which has taken steps over the last year to expand its uranium enrichment activities in defiance of international demands to scale it back, wants a relaxation of increasingly harsh sanctions hurting its lifeline oil exports.


Western officials say the Almaty meeting is unlikely to produce any major breakthrough, in part because Iran's presidential election in June may make it difficult for it to make significant concessions before then for domestic reasons.


But they say they hope that Iran will take their proposals seriously and engage in negotiations to try to find a diplomatic settlement.


"No one is expecting to walk out of here with a deal but ... confidence building measures are important," one senior Western official said.


The stakes are high: Israel, assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed arsenal, has strongly hinted at possible military action to prevent its old foe from obtaining such arms. Iran has threatened to retaliate if attacked.


GOLD SANCTIONS RELIEF?


The U.S. official said the powers' updated offer to Iran - a modified version of one rejected by Iran in the unsuccessful talks last year - would take into account its recent nuclear advances but also take "some steps in the sanctions arena".


This would be aimed at addressing some of Iran's concerns, the official said, while making clear it would not meet Tehran's demand of an easing of all punitive steps against it.


"We think ... there will be some additional sanctions relief" in the powers' revised proposal," the official said, without giving details.


Western diplomats have told Reuters the six countries will offer to ease sanctions on trade in gold and precious metals if Iran closes its Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant.


Iran has indicated, however, that this will not be enough.


Tehran denies Western allegations it is seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs, saying its program is entirely peaceful. It wants the powers to recognize what it sees as its right to refine uranium for peaceful purposes.


The U.S. official said the powers hoped that the Almaty meeting would lead to follow-up talks soon.


"We are ready to step up the pace of our meetings and our discussions," the official said, adding the United States would also be prepared to hold bilateral talks with Tehran if it was serious about it.


Ashton's spokesman, Michael Mann, said the updated offer to Iran was "balanced and a fair basis" for constructive talks.


(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Dimitry Solovyov; Editing by Jon Hemming)



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Investors face another Washington deadline

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


OPTIONS BULLS TARGET GAINS


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


EYES ON GDP DATA, APPLE


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


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


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


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


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


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



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Daytona ready for race, willing to relocate fans


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Fans feeling unsafe after the horrific crash at Daytona International Speedway can change seats for NASCAR's biggest race.


Track President Joie Chitwood says workers successfully repaired a section of fence — 54 feet wide and 22 feet high — that was shredded Saturday when Kyle Larson's car went airborne on the final lap of a second-tier race and crashed through the barrier that separates cars from fans. Large pieces of debris, including a tire, sprayed into the upper and lower section of the stands.


The crash injured more than 30 people, raising more questions about fan safety at race tracks. NASCAR President Mike Helton said "most everybody" had been released from local hospitals, but there are a "few still being treated."


Chitwood says if any fans are uncomfortable with their up-close seating for Sunday's Daytona 500, officials will work to move them.


"If fans are unhappy with their seating location or if they have any incidents, we would relocate them," Chitwood said Sunday. "So we'll treat that area like we do every other area of the grandstand. If a fan is not comfortable where they're sitting, we make every accommodation we can."


Track workers finished repairs about 2 a.m. Sunday, having installed a new fence post, new metal meshing and part of the concrete wall.


Officials decided not to rebuild the collapsed cross-over gate, which allows fans to travel between the stands and the infield before races.


Daytona has a grandstand remodel planned. Chitwood said the injuries could prompt a redesign that might include sturdier fences or stands further away from the on-track action.


"It's tough to connect the two right now in terms of a potential redevelopment and what occurred," Chitwood said. "We were prepared yesterday, had emergency medical respond. As we learn from this, you bet: If there are things that we can incorporate into the future, whether it's the current property now or any other redevelopment, we will.


"The key is sitting down with NASCAR, finding out the things that happened and how we deal with them."


Daytona reexamined its fencing and ended up replacing the entire thing following Carl Edwards' scary crash at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama in 2009. Edwards' car sailed into the fence and spewed debris into the stands.


"We've made improvements since then," Chitwood said. "I think that's the key: that we learn from this and figure out what else we need to do."


NASCAR plans to take what remained of Larson's sheared car along with debris back to its research and development center in Charlotte, N.C., for testing.


"We'll bring in the best and brightest," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president for racing operations. "Anything we can learn will be put in place. ... Fans are our first priority. Obviously we want everybody to be safe at an event. We've talked to the speedway. We're confident in what's in place at today's event. Certainly still thinking about those affected, but we're confident to move forward for this race."


The 12-car crash began as the front-runners approached the checkered flag. Leader Regan Smith attempted to block Brad Keselowski for the win, triggering a pileup that could have been much worse.


Larson's burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in the fence. Parts and pieces of his car sprayed into the stands, including a tire that cleared the top of the fence and landed midway up the spectator section closest to the track.


The 20-year-old Larson stood in shock a few feet from his car as fans in the stands waved frantically for help. Smoke from the burning engine briefly clouded the area, and emergency vehicles descended on the scene.


Ambulance sirens could be heard wailing behind the grandstands at a time the race winner would typically be doing celebratory burnouts.


"It was freaky. When I looked to my right, the accident happened," Rick Harpster of Orange Park said. "I looked over and I saw a tire fly straight over the fence into the stands, but after that I didn't see anything else. That was the worst thing I have seen, seeing that tire fly into the stands. I knew it was going to be severe."


In 1987, Bobby Allison's car lifted off the track at Talladega while running over 200 mph, careening into the steel-cable fence and scattering debris into the crowd. That crash led to the use of horsepower-sapping restrictor plates at Talladega and its sister track in Daytona, NASCAR's fastest layouts.


As a result, the cars all run nearly the same speed, and the field is typically bunched tightly together — which plenty of drivers have warned is actually a more dangerous scenario than higher speeds.


"That's one of the things that really does scare you," Allison said Sunday. "But it's always a possibility because of the speeds, where they are."


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