Wall Street Week Ahead: Bears hibernate as stocks near record highs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks have been on a tear in January, moving major indexes within striking distance of all-time highs. The bearish case is a difficult one to make right now.

Earnings have exceeded expectations, the housing and labor markets have strengthened, lawmakers in Washington no longer seem to be the roadblock that they were for most of 2012, and money has returned to stock funds again.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> has gained 5.4 percent this year and closed above 1,500 - climbing to the spot where Wall Street strategists expected it to be by mid-year. The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> is 2.2 percent away from all-time highs reached in October 2007. The Dow ended Friday's session at 13,895.98, its highest close since October 31, 2007.

The S&P has risen for four straight weeks and eight consecutive sessions, the longest streak of days since 2004. On Friday, the benchmark S&P 500 ended at 1,502.96 - its first close above 1,500 in more than five years.

"Once we break above a resistance level at 1,510, we dramatically increase the probability that we break the highs of 2007," said Walter Zimmermann, technical analyst at United-ICAP, in Jersey City, New Jersey. "That may be the start of a rise that could take equities near 1,800 within the next few years."

The most recent Reuters poll of Wall Street strategists estimated the benchmark index would rise to 1,550 by year-end, a target that is 3.1 percent away from current levels. That would put the S&P 500 a stone's throw from the index's all-time intraday high of 1,576.09 reached on October 11, 2007.

The new year has brought a sharp increase in flows into U.S. equity mutual funds, and that has helped stocks rack up four straight weeks of gains, with strength in big- and small-caps alike.

That's not to say there aren't concerns. Economic growth has been steady, but not as strong as many had hoped. The household unemployment rate remains high at 7.8 percent. And more than 75 percent of the stocks in the S&P 500 are above their 26-week highs, suggesting the buying has come too far, too fast.


All 10 S&P 500 industry sectors are higher in 2013, in part because of new money flowing into equity funds. Investors in U.S.-based funds committed $3.66 billion to stock mutual funds in the latest week, the third straight week of big gains for the funds, data from Thomson Reuters' Lipper service showed on Thursday.

Energy shares <.5sp10> lead the way with a gain of 6.6 percent, followed by industrials <.5sp20>, up 6.3 percent. Telecom <.5sp50>, a defensive play that underperforms in periods of growth, is the weakest sector - up 0.1 percent for the year.

More than 350 stocks hit new highs on Friday alone on the New York Stock Exchange. The Dow Jones Transportation Average <.djt> recently climbed to an all-time high, with stocks in this sector and other economic bellwethers posting strong gains almost daily.

"If you peel back the onion a little bit, you start to look at companies like Precision Castparts , Honeywell , 3M Co and Illinois Tool Works - these are big, broad-based industrial companies in the U.S. and they are all hitting new highs, and doing very well. That is the real story," said Mike Binger, portfolio manager at Gradient Investments, in Shoreview, Minnesota.

The gains have run across asset sizes as well. The S&P small-cap index <.spcy> has jumped 6.7 percent and the S&P mid-cap index <.mid> has shot up 7.5 percent so far this year.

Exchange-traded funds have seen year-to-date inflows of $15.6 billion, with fairly even flows across the small-, mid- and large-cap categories, according to Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at the ConvergEx Group, in New York.

"Investors aren't really differentiating among asset sizes. They just want broad equity exposure," Colas said.

The market has shown resilience to weak news. On Thursday, the S&P 500 held steady despite a 12 percent slide in shares of Apple after the iPhone and iPad maker's results. The tech giant is heavily weighted in both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 <.ndx> and in the past, its drop has suffocated stocks' broader gains.


In the last few days, the ratio of stocks hitting new highs versus those hitting new lows on a daily basis has started to diminish - a potential sign that the rally is narrowing to fewer names - and could be running out of gas.

Investors have also cited sentiment surveys that indicate high levels of bullishness among newsletter writers, a contrarian indicator, and momentum indicators are starting to also suggest the rally has perhaps come too far.

The market's resilience could be tested next week with Friday's release of the January non-farm payrolls report. About 155,000 jobs are seen being added in the month and the unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 7.8 percent.

"Staying over 1,500 sends up a flag of profit taking," said Jerry Harris, president of asset management at Sterne Agee, in Birmingham, Alabama. "Since recent jobless claims have made us optimistic on payrolls, if that doesn't come through, it will be a real risk to the rally."

A number of marquee names will report earnings next week, including bellwether companies such as Caterpillar Inc , Amazon.com Inc , Ford Motor Co and Pfizer Inc .

On a historic basis, valuations remain relatively low - the S&P 500's current price-to-earnings ratio sits at 15.66, which is just a tad above the historic level of 15.

Worries about the U.S. stock market's recent strength do not mean the market is in a bubble. Investors clearly don't feel that way at the moment.

"We're seeing more interest in equities overall, and a lot of flows from bonds into stocks," said Paul Zemsky, who helps oversee $445 billion as the New York-based head of asset allocation at ING Investment Management. "We've been increasing our exposure to risky assets."

For the week, the Dow climbed 1.8 percent, the S&P 500 rose 1.1 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.5 percent.

(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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Armstrong meeting with USADA appears unlikely

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong's lawyers say the cyclist will talk more about drug use in the sport, just likely not to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that led the effort to strip him of his Tour de France titles.

In a testy exchange of letters and statements revealing the gulf between the two sides, USADA urged Armstrong to testify under oath to help "clean up cycling."

Armstrong's attorneys responded that the cyclist would rather take his information where it could do more good — namely to cycling's governing body and World Anti-Doping Agency officials.

USADA's response to that: "The time for excuses is over."

The letters, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, underscore the continuing feud between Armstrong and USADA CEO Travis Tygart, the man who spearheaded the investigation that uncovered a complex doping scheme on Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service teams.

Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories were taken away last year and he was banned for life from the sport.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey last week, Armstrong admitted doping, said he owed a long list of apologies and that he would like to see his lifetime ban reduced so he can compete again.

His most realistic avenue toward that might be telling USADA everything he knows in a series of interviews the agency wants started no later than Feb. 6.

That seems unlikely.

Armstrong attorney Tim Herman responded to USADA's first letter, sent Wednesday, by saying his client's schedule is already full, and besides, "in order to achieve the goal of 'cleaning up cycling,' it must be WADA and the (International Cycling Union) who have overall authority to do so."

By Friday night, Herman strongly suggested Armstrong won't meet with USADA at all but intends to appear before the UCI's planned "truth and reconciliation" commission.

"Why would we cooperate (with USADA)?" Herman said in a telephone interview. "USADA isn't interested in cleaning up cycling. Lance has said, 'I'll be the first guy in the chair when cycling is on trial, truthfully, under oath, in every gory detail.' I think he's going testify where it could actually do some good: With the body that's charged with cleaning up cycling," Herman said.

In its last letter to Armstrong, sent Friday evening, USADA attorney William Bock said his agency and WADA work hand-in-hand in that effort.

"Regardless, and with or without Mr. Armstrong's help, we will move forward with our investigation for the good of clean athletes and the future of sport," Bock's letter reads.

The letters confirm a Dec. 14 meeting in Denver involving Armstrong, Tygart and their respective attorneys, which is when, in Tygart's words, Armstrong should have started thinking about a possible meeting with USADA.

"He has been given a deadline of February 6th to determine whether he plans to come in and be part of the solution," Tygart said in a statement. "Either way, USADA is moving forward with our investigation on behalf of clean athletes."

The letters were sent to the AP after details about a Tygart interview with "60 Minutes," being aired Sunday, were made public.

Among Tygart's claims: Armstrong is lying when he says he didn't dope during his 2009-10 comeback.

Tygart said USADA's report on Armstrong's doping included evidence Armstrong was still cheating in those years.

"His comeback was totally clean," Herman said. "It's pretty fashionable to kick Lance Armstrong around right now."

Tygart also reiterated that an Armstrong associate offered USADA a donation of more than $200,000. Armstrong denied that in his interview with Winfrey, too.

In advancing his claim that USADA is only a bit player in the investigation, Herman noted in his letter, sent to USADA on Friday, that most cycling teams are based in Europe.

"I'm pretty sick of people trying to blame a European cycling culture that goes back to the 1920s on one guy," Herman said.

Bock's response to that: "Your suggestion that there is some other body with which Lance should coordinate is misguided," he said in his final letter.


AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.

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Exxon Mobil dethrones Apple as world’s most valuable company

Apple (AAPL) has lost its title as the word’s most valuable company to Exxon Mobil (XOM) only a year after it reached the milestone. Despite reporting strong earnings this week, expectations are high for the company and its guidance has Wall Street investors worried. Shares of Apple have been hit hard in recent weeks and have continued to fall to a 12-month low. On Friday, the company’s market cap fell below $ 416 billion, giving Exxon Mobil the title of world’s most valuable company once again. As of publication, Apple is currently trading down more than 2% at $ 441.36 a share with a market cap of $ 414.26 billion.

[More from BGR: Unlocking your smartphone will be illegal starting next week]

This article was originally published on BGR.com

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Police and protesters clash in Egypt, army sent to Suez

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian protesters scuffled with police in Cairo on Saturday and troops were deployed in Suez after nine people were shot dead in nationwide protests against President Mohamed Mursi, exposing deep rifts two years after Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

After a day of clashes on Friday, tension remained high with a court expected to rule later on Saturday in a case against suspects accused of involvement in a stadium disaster that killed 74 people. Fans have threatened violence if the court does not deliver the justice they seek.

Eight people including a policeman were shot dead in Suez, east of the capital, and another was shot and killed in Ismailia, another city on the Suez Canal, medics said, after a day when police fired tear gas at stone-throwing youths.

Another 456 people were injured across Egypt, officials said, in Friday's unrest fuelled by anger at Mursi and his Islamist allies over what the protesters see as their betrayal of the revolution that erupted on January 25, 2011.

"We want to change the president and the government. We are tired of this regime. Nothing has changed," said Mahmoud Suleiman, 22, in Cairo's Tahrir Square, near where youths were still hurling stones at police on the other side of a concrete barrier early on Saturday morning.

The protests and violence have laid bare the divide between the Islamists and their secular rivals. The schism is hindering the efforts of Mursi, elected in June, to revive an economy in crisis and reverse a plunge in Egypt's currency by enticing back investors and tourists.

Protesters accuse Mursi and his Islamist allies of hijacking Egypt's revolution that ended 30 years of Mubarak's autocratic rule. Mursi's supporters say their critics are ignoring democratic principles after elections swept Islamists to office.

"The protests will continue until we realize all the demands of the revolution - bread, freedom and social justice," Ahmed Salama, 28, a protester camped out with dozens of others in Tahrir Square, the cauldron of the 2011 revolt.

The court hearing over the Port Said stadium disaster in February last year has fuelled concerns of more unrest.

Live images were shown from inside the court shortly before the session began. Some of those attending chanted for justice and held up pictures of those killed.

The court on the outskirts on Cairo, and in the same police compound where Mubarak was tried and jailed, is due to rule on Saturday in the cases brought against 73 people, 61 of whom are charged with murder in what was Egypt's worst stadium disaster.

However, the public prosecutor has said new evidence has emerged, meaning a verdict may be postponed.


Alongside the 61 charged with murder, another 12 defendants, including nine police officers, are accused of helping to cause the February 1, 2012, disaster at the end of a match between Cairo's Al Ahly and al-Masri, the local side.

Expecting a verdict, hardcore Al Ahly fans, known as ultras, have protested in Cairo over the last week, obstructing the transport network. The Port Said disaster triggered days of street battles near the Interior Ministry in Cairo last year.

In a statement in response to Friday's violence, Mursi said the state would not hesitate in "pursuing the criminals and delivering them to justice". He urged Egyptians to respect the principles of the revolution by expressing views peacefully.

The president was due to meet later on Saturday with the National Defense Council, which includes senior ministers and security officials, to discuss the violence and deaths as a result of the protests.

Troops were deployed in Suez after the head of the state security police in the city asked for reinforcements. The army distributed pamphlets to residents assuring them the deployment was temporary and meant to secure the city.

"We have asked the armed forces to send reinforcements on the ground until we pass this difficult period," Adel Refaat, head of state security in Suez, told state television.

Street battles erupted in cities including Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Port Said. Arsonists attacked at least two state-owned buildings. An office used by the Muslim Brotherhood's political party was also torched.

The Brotherhood decided against mobilizing for the anniversary, wary of the scope for more conflict after December's violence, stoked by Mursi's decision to fast-track an Islamist-tinged constitution rejected by his opponents.

Inspired by the popular uprising in Tunisia, Egypt's revolution spurred further revolts across the Arab world. But the sense of common purpose that united Egyptians two years ago has given way to internal strife that already triggered bloody street battles last month.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry, Marwa Awad, Ali Abdelatti and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Stock index futures signal mixed Wall Street open

LONDON (Reuters) - Stock futures pointed to a mixed open on Wall Street on Friday, with futures for the S&P 500 rising 0.2 percent, the Dow Jones futures down 0.2 percent and the Nasdaq 100 futures up 0.3 percent.

Apple stepped up audits of working conditions at major suppliers last year, discovering multiple cases of underage workers, discrimination and wage problems.

Samsung Electronics turned cautious on spending for the first time since the global financial crisis, keeping its annual investment plan unchanged at 2012 levels, as demand for computer chips wanes and the smartphone market slows.

Procter & Gamble , the world's top household products maker, and smaller rival Kimberly-Clark will kick off the earnings season for U.S. household products makers. Halliburton , the world's second-largest oilfield services company, is also due to report results.

Honeywell , the diversified U.S. manufacturer, will be in focus as it reports earnings, with modest growth in demand for systems used to manage large buildings expected to be offset by declining sales to the military.

The Commerce Department releases new home sales data for December at 1500 GMT. Economists forecast a total of 385,000 annualized units, compared with 377,000 in November.

Economic Cycle Research Institute releases its weekly index of economic activity for January 18 at 1530 GMT. In the prior week the index read 130.

European shares <.fteu3> rose 0.1 percent after a survey showed German business morale improved for a third consecutive month in January.

The smallest of gains gave the Standard & Poor's 500 its seventh straight winning day on Thursday, but the index failed to hold above the 1,500 line, restrained by Apple's worst day in more than four years.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> rose 0.33 percent at the close, the S&P 500 <.spx> ended flat and the Nasdaq Composite <.ixic> dropped 0.74 percent. Most of the Nasdaq's loss was due to Apple's slide of more than 12 percent after disappointing earnings.

(Reporting by Atul Prakash; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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Voice of Te'o prankster? Couric plays voicemails

NEW YORK (AP) — The person Manti Te'o says was pretending to be his online girlfriend told the Notre Dame linebacker "I love you" in voicemails that were played during his interview with Katie Couric.

Taped earlier this week and broadcast Thursday, the hour-long talk show featured three voicemails that Te'o claims were left for him last year. Te'o said they were from the person he believed to be Lennay Kekua, a woman he had fallen for online but never met face-to-face.

After the first message was played, Te'o said: "It sounds like a girl, doesn't it?"

"It does," Couric responded.

The interview was the All-American's first on camera since his tale of inspired play after the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day in September unraveled as a bizarre hoax in an expose by Deadspin.com on Jan. 16.

Te'o's parents appeared with him for part of the interview and backed up his claim that he wasn't involved in the fabrication, saying they, too, had spoken on the phone with a person they believed to be Kekua.

Couric addressed speculation that the tale was concocted by Te'o as a way to cover up his sexual orientation. Asked if he were gay, Te'o said "no" with a laugh. "Far from it. Faaaar from that."

He also said he was "scared" and "didn't know what to do" after receiving a call on Dec. 6 — two days before the Heisman Trophy presentation — from a person who claimed to be his "dead" girlfriend.

The first voicemail, he said, was from what was supposed to be Kekua's first day of chemotherapy for leukemia.

"Hi, I am just letting you know I got here and I'm getting ready for my first session and, um, just want to call you to keep you posted. I miss you. I love you. Bye," the person said.

In the second voicemail, the person was apparently upset by someone else answering Te'o's phone.

The third voicemail was left on Sept. 11, according to Te'o, the day he believed Kekua was released from the hospital and the day before she "died."

"Hey babe, I'm just calling to say goodnight," the person on the voicemail said. "I love you. I know that you're probably doing homework or you're with the boys. ... But I just wanted to say I love you and goodnight and I'll be ok tonight. I'll do my best. Um, yeah, so get your rest and I'll talk to you tomorrow. I love you so much, hon. Sweet dreams."

Couric suggested the person who left those messages might have been Ronaiah Tuisasosopo, a 22-year-old man from California, who Te'o said has apologized to him for pulling the hoax.

"Do you think that could have been a man on the other end of the phone?" she asked.

"Well, it didn't sound like a man," Te'o said. "It sounded like a woman. If he somehow made that voice, that's incredible. That's an incredible talent to do that. Especially every single day."

Tuiasosopo has not spoken publicly since news of the hoax broke. The Associated Press has learned that a home in California where Te'o sent flowers to the Kekua family was once a residence of Tuiasosopo and has been in his family for decades.

Also on Thursday, the woman whose pictures were used in fake online accounts for Kekua said Tuiasosopo confessed to her in a 45-minute phone conversation as the scheme unraveled.

Diane O'Meara spoke with The Associated Press in a telephone interview. She said Tuiasosopo told her he'd been "stalking" her Facebook profile for five years and stealing photos.

O'Meara's attorney, Jim Artiano, said they had not decided on whether to take any legal action.

The 23-year-old O'Meara, of Long Beach, Calif., said she knew Tuiasosopo from high school and he contacted her through Facebook on Dec. 16. She said that, over the next three weeks, Tuiasosopo got in touch with her several times, attempting to get photos and video of O'Meara. She said he made up a story about wanting them to help cheer up a cousin who was injured in a car crash.

O'Meara learned her identity had been stolen on Jan. 13 when she was contacted by Deadspin.com.

The next day she got in touch with Tuiasosopo.

"When I contacted Ronaiah I got a very bizarre vibe from him, he became very nervous, he wasn't asking the questions I expected. He was asking 'Who contacted you? What did they say?'" O'Meara said.

Later that day, he confessed, O'Meara said. She said she asked Tuiasosopo why he didn't simply stop the hoax.

"He told me he wanted to end the relationship," O'Meara said. "He said he wanted to stop the relationship between Lennay and Manti, but Manti didn't want Lennay to break up with him ... He said he tried to stop the game many times."

When news of the hoax broke a few days later, O'Meara said she received a text from Tuiasosopo asking her to call him as soon as possible. O'Meara said she didn't respond.


Associated Press writer Tami Abdollah contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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Chilling! Arctic Air Invasion Captured in Animation

If you live anywhere within the northern two-thirds of the United States, you’ve probably noticed that it’s pretty chilly outside. The plunge in temperatures over the past few days comes courtesy of an invasion of Arctic air that has been captured in a mesmerizing new animation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The animation, made with weather data from the NOAA/NCEP Real-Time Mesoscale Analysis, begins on Saturday (Jan. 19) with very cold air seen only over the Rockies, Montana, North Dakota, the northern half of Minnesota and the northern portions of New England. Much of the eastern and central parts of the country saw weekend weather that was balmier than usual for mid-January.

Thanks to a kink in the jet stream that brought it dipping down, the cold air begins plunging southward on Sunday, mostly in the northern plains states and the Midwest. On Monday it begins to surge even farther to the south, covering the Plains, the Midwest, the Northeast and even extending into some of the southern states.

The cold surge retreats a bit later in the day, then makes another push on Tuesday, fully extending into the northern parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. The pattern repeats on Wednesday, with the cold receding much farther north later in the day, before making another southward push on Thursday.

All the back-and-forth is caused by diurnal cycle of heating and cooling, a NOAA statement explains, but “the pattern is clear: much of the U.S. is pretty cold,” it notes.

The cold air is expected to retreat from the Midwest this weekend, letting warmer air force its way in, according to Accuweather.com. The collision of these air masses will bring an ice storm to the region, the site’s meteorologists predict.

Snow and icy weather could hit the eastern United States starting tomorrow (Jan. 25), with temperatures finally rising above freezing over the weekend or early next week, depending on the location.

Reach Andrea Thompson at [email protected] and follow her on twitter @AndreaTOAP. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We’re also on Facebook and Google+.

Copyright 2013 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Where is aid for Syria going?


  • The U.S. ambassador to Syria says the U.S. has provided $210 million in humanitarian aid

  • The assistance has to be discrete, he said, to protect workers from being targeted

  • Washington has also provided $35 million worth of assistance to Syria's political opposition

  • Ambassador: We can help, but it's up to Syrians to find their way forward

(CNN) -- It has been more than a year since the United States government withdrew its ambassador to Syria and closed its embassy in Damascus.

On Thursday, that ambassador returned to the region along with a U.S. delegation, touring a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey to bring more attention to the growing humanitarian crisis. As the civil war has intensified in Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring countries.

Ambassador Robert Ford gave an exclusive interview to CNN's Ivan Watson and described what the U.S. is doing to help the refugees and the Syrian opposition.

Ivan Watson: The U.S. has given $210 million in aid (to Syria), but I think that there is a perception problem because no one can actually point at what that help is. So people conclude there is no help.

Robert Ford: The assistance is going in. It's things like tents, it's things like blankets, it's things like medical equipment, but it doesn't come in big boxes with an American flag on it because we don't want the people who are delivering it to be targeted by the Syrian regime.

The regime is going after and killing people who are delivering supplies. You see them bombing even bakeries and bread lines. So we're doing that, in part, to be discrete.

The assistance is going in ... but it doesn't come in big boxes with an American flag on it.
Robert Ford, U.S. ambassador to Syria

The needs are gigantic. So even though a great deal of American materials and other countries' materials are arriving, the needs are still greater. And that's why we're going to Kuwait to talk to the United Nations and to talk to other countries about how we can talk together to provide additional assistance.

Watson: The head of the Syrian National Coalition, which the U.S. government has backed, came out with a statement very critical of the international community, saying we need $3 billion if you want us to have any say on events on the ground inside Syria. Where is that money?

Ford: (Sheikh Ahmed) Moaz al-Khatib is a good leader, and we think highly of him and we have recognized his (coalition) as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. And, of course, he wants to get as many resources as possible because of the humanitarian conditions that I was just talking about. Especially the ones inside Syria.

But we also, at the same time, have to build up those (aid) networks I was talking about. In some cases, they start out with just a few people. We don't need just a few people, we need hundreds of people, thousands of people on the inside of Syria organized to bring these things in.

And so step by step, the Syrians, Moaz al-Khatib and his organization, need to build that capacity. We can help build it, we can do training and things like that. But in the end, Syrians have to take a leadership role in this.

Watson: Is Washington giving money to the Syrian National Coalition?

Ford: We absolutely are assisting the (coalition), with everything from training to, in some cases, limited amount of cash assistance so that they can buy everything ranging from computers to telephones to radios.

Frankly, if not for the American assistance in many cases, the activists inside Syria wouldn't be in contact with the outside world. It's American help that keeps them in contact with the outside world.

Watson: But, how much assistance has this coalition gotten from the U.S.?

Ford: So far, we've allocated directly to the coalition in the neighborhood of $35 million worth of different kinds of equipment and assistance. And over the next few weeks, couple of months, we'll probably provide another $15 million worth of material assistance.

Watson: Washington recently blacklisted Jabhat al-Nusra, the Nusra Front, calling it a terrorist organization even though inside Syria, it has attracted a lot of respect for its victories and for comparative lack of corruption compared to many rebel groups. How has blacklisting the Nusra Front helped the Syrian opposition?

Ford: We blacklisted the Nusra Front because of its intimate links with al Qaeda in Iraq, an organization with whom we have direct experience, which is responsible for the killings of thousands of Iraqis, hundreds of Americans. We know what al Qaeda in Iraq did and is still doing, and we don't want it to start doing that in Syria -- which is why we highlighted its incredibly pernicious role.

I think one of the things that our classification of Nusra as a terrorist group did is it set off an alarm for the other elements of the Free Syrian Army. There was a meeting of the Free Syrian Army to set up a unified command, (and) Nusra Front was not in that meeting -- which we think is the right thing to do. As Syrians themselves understand that Nusra has a sectarian agenda, as they understand better that Nusra is anti-democratic and will seek to impose its very strict interpretation of Islam on Syria -- which historically is a relatively moderate country in terms of its religious practices -- as Syrians understand that better, I think they will more and more reject the Nusra Front itself.

Watson: But I've seen the opposite. As I go into Syria, I hear more and more support and respect for the Nusra Front, and more and more criticism for the U.S. government each time I go back.

Ford: I think that people, Ivan, are still understanding what Nusra is. I have heard criticism from the Nusra Front from people like Moaz al-Khatib who, in Marrakesh (Morocco) in his speech, said he rejected the kind of ideology which backs up Nusra. ... We have heard that from the senior commander of the Free Syrian Army as well. And so the more people understand inside Syria what Nusra is and represents, I think they will agree that is not the group on which to depend for freedom in Syria.

Watson: Do you think the U.S. government could have done more?

Ford: I think the Syrians, as I said, are the ones who will bring the answer to the problem -- just as in Iraq, Iraqis brought the solution to the Iraq crisis, to the Iraq war. The Americans can help, and we helped in Iraq, but ultimately it wasn't the Americans. Despite our help, it was Iraqis.

In Syria, again, it has to be Syrians who find their way forward. Twenty-three million Syrians need to find their way forward. We can help, and we are helping: $210 million in humanitarian assistance, $50 million to help the political opposition get organized for the day after (Bashar) al-Assad goes. These are important bits of help. But ultimately, it's not the American help. It's the Syrians themselves.

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Soccer coach suspended in Maine West hazing case

Another soccer coach linked to hazing allegations on athletic teams at Maine West High School has been suspended without pay by the district while officials pursue his dismissal.

Maine Township High School District 207 officials reached that decision on freshman boys soccer coach Emilio Rodriguez at a special board meeting Thursday night, a month after reaching the same decision on the employment of head varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo.

“The board believes Mr. Rodriguez violated District 207 Board of Education policy and professional expectations by failing to adequately prevent, recognize, report and punish student hazing,” board president Sean Sullivan said in a statement read at the meeting.

Both men were originally placed on paid leave and reassigned from teaching duties this fall when allegations of hazing surfaced in early October on the Des Plaines school’s soccer and baseball teams.

Those allegations are the subject of a lawsuit filed on behalf of four alleged hazing victims on the soccer team and against the district, both coaches and Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan.

Rodriguez, a tenured applied arts and technology teacher, has 17 days to request a hearing on his dismissal through the Illinois State Board of Education, officials said.

Through an attorney, Divincenzo recently requested an appeal hearing with the state board. The appeal process could take up to one year, officials said.

Rodriguez could not be reached for comment on Thursday night. But Des Plaines police reports show he and Divincenzo previously denied any knowledge of team hazing or initiation rituals.

District officials also fulfilled early promises made shortly after the hazing allegations surfaced by approving the hiring of former assistant U.S. attorney Sergio Acosta to lead the district’s independent investigation into hazing allegations, and California-based consultant Community Matters to lead focus groups studying bullying and hazing prevention techniques.

Last week, district officials confirmed the receipt of grand jury subpoenas in the Cook County state’s attorney’s ongoing investigation. Officials reiterated their commitment to “cooperate fully with all agencies conducting their own investigations, including the Cook County State’s Attorney, Des Plaines Police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

One subpoena, dated Dec. 6 and obtained by the Tribune, directs Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan to produce “personnel files, disciplinary records, reports, memorandums, summaries, interviews, investigations, notes, statements or other such writings or recordings for Michael Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez, and any and all other employees associated with coaching student athletes from 2007 to the present time.”

In another Dec. 6 subpoena, Superintendent Ken Wallace is directed to produce “any written materials describing or explaining” school, student athlete, coach or teacher conduct codes or rules, “or rules or any other similar such writings including but not limited to the topics of hazing, sexual misconduct or physical misconduct in any manner associated with Maine West High School.”

Wallace, Haugan, Maine East Principal Michael Pressler and Maine South Principal Shawn Messmer also received subpoenas dated Dec. 7. Those subpoenas, which were partially redacted, seek “any and all letters, emails, reports, memorandums, call logs, writings, recordings, or other such material regarding” redacted information, “including any such documents from within the school records or school file for” redacted information.


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North Korea threatens war with South over U.N. sanctions

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea threatened to attack rival South Korea if Seoul joined a new round of tightened U.N. sanctions, as Washington unveiled more of its own economic restrictions following Pyongyang's rocket launch last month.

In a third straight day of fiery rhetoric, the North directed its verbal onslaught at its neighbor on Friday, saying: "'Sanctions' mean a war and a declaration of war against us."

The reclusive North has this week declared a boycott of all dialogue aimed at ending its nuclear program and vowed to conduct more rocket and nuclear tests after the U.N. Security Council censured it for a December long-range missile launch.

"If the puppet group of traitors takes a direct part in the U.N. 'sanctions,' the DPRK will take strong physical counter-measures against it," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said, referring to the South.

The committee is the North's front for dealings with the South. DPRK is short for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea's December rocket launch on Tuesday and expanded existing U.N. sanctions.

On Thursday, the United States slapped economic sanctions on two North Korean bank officials and a Hong Kong trading company that it accused of supporting Pyongyang's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The company, Leader (Hong Kong) International Trading Ltd, was separately blacklisted by the United Nations on Wednesday.

Seoul has said it will look at whether there are any further sanctions that it can implement alongside the United States, but said the focus for now is to follow Security Council resolutions.

The resolution said the council "deplores the violations" by North Korea of its previous resolutions, which banned Pyongyang from conducting further ballistic missile and nuclear tests and from importing materials and technology for those programs. It does not impose new sanctions on Pyongyang.

The United States had wanted to punish North Korea for the rocket launch with a Security Council resolution that imposed entirely new sanctions against Pyongyang, but Beijing rejected that option. China agreed to U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang after North Korea's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.


North Korea's rhetoric this week amounted to some of the angriest outbursts against the outside world coming under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011.

On Thursday, the North said it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test, directing its ire at the United States, a country it called its "sworn enemy".

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the comments were worrying.

"We are very concerned with North Korea's continuing provocative behavior," he said at a Pentagon news conference.

"We are fully prepared ... to deal with any kind of provocation from the North Koreans. But I hope in the end that they determine that it is better to make a choice to become part of the international family."

North Korea is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles), potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea.

South Korea and others who have been closely observing activities at the North's known nuclear test grounds believe Pyongyang is technically ready to go ahead with its third atomic test and awaiting the political decision of its leader.

The North's committee also declared on Friday that a landmark agreement it signed with the South in 1992 on eliminating nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula was invalid, repeating its long-standing accusation that Seoul was colluding with Washington.

The foreign ministry of China, the North's sole remaining major diplomatic and economic benefactor, repeated its call for calm on the Korean peninsula at its daily briefing on Friday.

"The current situation on the Korea peninsula is complicated and sensitive," spokesman Hong Lei said.

"We hope all relevant parties can see the big picture, maintain calm and restraint, further maintain contact and dialogue, and improve relations, while not taking actions to further complicate and escalate the situation," Hong said.

But unusually prickly comments in Chinese state media on Friday hinted at Beijing's exasperation.

"It seems that North Korea does not appreciate China's efforts," said the Global Times in an editorial, a sister publication of the official People's Daily.

"Just let North Korea be 'angry' ... China hopes for a stable peninsula, but it's not the end of the world if there's trouble there. This should be the baseline of China's position."

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; editing by Jeremy Laurence and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Shares dip as investors brace for euro zone data

LONDON (Reuters) - European shares weakened on Thursday as investors braced for the year's first reading on euro zone business activity for 2013 after data showed that France, the region's second-biggest economy, may be in recession.

Markets are hoping for a modest improvement in the estimates for manufacturing and service sector activity across the euro area for January, due later, to support the recent rallies in equities and peripheral European debt markets.

"January's flash PMI data (for France) signals a very disappointing start to 2013," said Jack Kennedy, senior economist at Markit, which compiles the purchasing managers' index (PMI) data.

Europe's FTSEurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> of top company shares fell 0.3 percent to 1,164.30 points after the French data was released, still not far from a peak of 1,170.29 points hit two weeks ago, a level not seen since early 2011.

London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were down by up to 0.5 percent.

"All the major benchmarks are looking overbought, and any short-term correction will be seen as a buying opportunity, but the longer-term trend is still to the upside," said Jawaid Afsar, a sales trader at Securequity.

The euro fell 0.2 percent on the day to hit $1.3286 after Markit said its preliminary composite purchasing managers' index (PMI) for France, covering activity in the services and manufacturing sectors combined, came out at 42.7 for the month, down from 44.6 in December.

The common currency recovered slightly when German PMI data for January showed private-sector activity jumped to its highest level in a year.


The main European tech stock index <.sx8p> was down 0.85 percent after the world's largest technology company, Apple , released disappointing earnings figures after the U.S. markets had closed.

The results had earlier fanned earnings worries across the technology sector in Asia, overshadowing positive data on Chinese manufacturing activity.

China's HSBC flash purchasing managers' index (PMI) rose to 51.9 in January to a two-year high, signaling a rebound in manufacturing activity and confirming a recovery in growth in the world's second-largest economy was on track.

(Additional reporting by David Brett; Editing by Will Waterman)

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Azarenka beats Stephens; sets up final vs Li

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Victoria Azarenka had to endure some anxious moments before and after her win over American teenager Sloane Stephens.

Li Na wasn't flustered at all while beating No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova.

The result is that Li will play for the Australian Open title against Azarenka, who ended Stephens' unexpected run to the semifinals that included a quarterfinal upset of 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.

While Li's 6-2, 6-2 win over Sharapova, who set a tournament record in dropping only nine games in five matches en route to the semis, never appeared in doubt on Thursday, Azarenka added some intrigue in the second semifinal on Rod Laver Arena.

Azarenka finished off a 6-1, 6-4 over Stephens after a medical timeout for rib and knee injuries. The No. 1-ranked player had wasted five match points in the game immediately before leaving the court for medical attention, then returned to break Stephens' serve to end the match.

"Well, I almost did the choke of the year," Azarenka told an on-court interviewer immediately after the match. "At 5-3, having so many chances I couldn't close it out."

Australian Open officials said the tournament doctor reported that Azarenka had left knee and rib injuries.

"I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure," Azarenka said.

The 23-year-old Belarusian's on-court comments after the match led to speculation about the timing of her medical timeout. She didn't help herself in a second television interview after the match that suggested she was suffering from a severe case of the nerves.

"I couldn't breathe. I had chest pains," she said. "It was like I was getting a heart attack. After that it wasn't my best, but it's important to overcome this little bit of a struggle and win the match."

Defending champion Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer were only one step away from the men's final. They were playing a semifinal later Thursday, with the victor advancing to a final against the winner of Friday's semifinal between Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

In her official post-match news conference — more than an hour after she finished playing — Azarenka felt a need to explain her comments immediately after the match.

"I think I just really misunderstood what (the on-court interviewer) asked me because the question was I had few difficulties and why I went off," Azarenka said. "I completely thought of a different thing, why I couldn't close out of match, you know, that I had few difficulties.

"So I understand the whole situation right now, but it just really (is a) simple misunderstanding of a question. I guess it was my bad."

Pressed again to explain her earlier TV comments, Azarenka said: "I did say that. I did say I couldn't breathe. It was locked. That came from my back. "

Stephens didn't think the timing of the medical break affected the outcome of the match.

"It's happened before. Last match, match before, I've had people going for medical breaks, going to the bathroom," she said. "Didn't affect me. Just another something else that happens."

The temperature hit 97 degrees during the second women's semifinal, slightly hotter than it had been when Li beat Sharapova to reach the Australian Open final for the second time in three years.

The semifinal started badly for the 25-year-old Russian, serving double-faults to lose the first two points and conceding a break in the first game.

Li was the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final when she lost to Kim Clijsters at Melbourne Park in 2011. She had her breakthrough a few months later when she won the French Open, beating Sharapova in the semifinals along the way.

The crowd got behind Li early in the match, yelling "Come on, Li Na!" and others yelling "Jia You!" which is "Come on" in Chinese. After she broke Sharapova to take a 5-2 lead, the Chinese fans in the crowd shook Chinese flags and shouted again, "Jia You!"

"I don't know what happened, (but) I always play well here, so thanks guys," said Li, who was playing her third Australian Open semifinal in four years. "I just came to the court feeling like, 'OK, just do it.'"

The heat and the speed of the court surface suited Li's game.

She broke Sharapova in the third game of the second set and served an ace to move within a point of a 4-2 lead, but lost the next three points to give her opponent a break opportunity.

Two big second serves took Sharapova by surprise, and Li fended off the challenge.

Li's coach, Carlos Rodriguez, who worked with retired seven-time major winner Justine Henin, pumped his fist over his heart after Li won the game.

Sharapova had control in her next service game, but Li scrambled from side to side and pushed the reigning French Open champion to go for the lines, getting a series of unforced errors and another break.

The sixth-seeded Li has been working since August with Rodriguez, and credits him with reviving her career with a renewed emphasis on condition.

"I'm happy. I know I have a tough coach, a tough physio," Li said, looking across to the stands and adding: "You don't need to push me anymore. I will push myself."

Sharapova, who lost the 2012 Australian final in straight sets to Azarenka, admitted it was hard to get into the match against Li.

"She was certainly much more aggressive than I was, dictating the play. I was always on the defense," said Sharapova, who could have gained the No. 1 ranking by reaching the Australian final. "When I had my opportunities and break points in games that went to deuce, I don't think any of them really went my way."

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Deep freeze grips northern U.S. from Minnesota to Maine

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Frigid arctic air held the U.S. Midwest and Northeast in its icy grip on Wednesday, with the cold so dangerous that municipal emergency warming centers opened up and ski resorts shut down.

The National Weather Service warned the wind chill could make the temperature feel like 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit(minus 40 degrees Celsius) in parts of Northern Minnesota until noon on Thursday.

Wintry conditions from Minneapolis to Washington marked the coldest conditions in many parts of the United States in four years, but were nowhere near the record lows for January, meteorologists said.

“This cold that we are experiencing right now came straight from the arctic,” said Tom Kines, an AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist.

Washington, D.C., reported its coldest weather in four years, reaching 16 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 9 degrees Celsius)at Reagan National Airport early Wednesday.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill warning for New Hampshire until Wednesday evening, with values as low as 43 degrees below zero (minus 42 degrees Celsius) because of steady winds up to 20 miles per hour and gusts up to 30 mph.

New Hampshire’s Wildcat Mountain ski area said it would be closed to skiers on Wednesday and Thursday as temperatures, forecast to drop to 10 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 23 degrees Celsius), made for “unsafe conditions” for skiers and workers.

The deep freeze had forced some Minnesota school districts to delay openings or cancel classes and activities on Tuesday, and some ski areas to close early due to the wind chills.

“It won’t take that much wind to get things a little bit colder than they really seem to be,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Kraujalis said.

Temperatures in Minnesota were on par with New York state, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

Connecticut’s governor Dannel Malloy urged towns and cities to open warming centers and at least four municipalities did, including Bristol, Torrington, Meriden and West Haven, said Scott DeVico, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection. At least 22 people seeking shelter called an emergency 211 phone line overnight, he said.

Warming centers were open across New York City.

In Chicago on Wednesday, a five-story warehouse, that caught fire in frigid cold on Tuesday, was covered in ice as water from the fire hoses froze.

(Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bob Burgdorfer)

Weather News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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Benghazi blame-game is useless

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  • Anthony Cordesman: Questions for Hillary Clinton on Benghazi attack inevitable, important

  • But political blame game useless, a discouraging message to diplomats, military advisers, he says

  • He says in hindsight, warnings, pleas for support mistakenly make crisis seem obvious

  • Writer: U.S. must focus forward: encourage, support risk-takers doing crucial work in field

Editor's note: Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Follow CSIS on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Politics are politics, and partisan congressional challenges over the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, last September were inevitable.

But while some of the questions Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked in her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee bordered on politics at their worst, some represented democracy at its best: A legitimate challenge of how the government works. The fact is, we do need to ask serious questions about the way our diplomats function, how they are deployed and protected.

In her responses, Clinton took responsibility, as the top official in every department always must. The question now, however, is what, if anything, will we really learn from the events that led to the deaths of Stevens and his colleagues?

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Do we actually learn something from their courage and sacrifice, and the similar experience of other American diplomats and officers that have faced similar attacks in the past? Or do we go on playing a pointless blame game, creating a climate that discourages our diplomats, U.S. military advisory teams and intelligence officers from taking necessary risks -- and relies even more on fortifying our embassies.

Three lessons here. The first: Virtually every post mortem that relies on the blame game has the same result. There is always someone who asked for more resources and warned of the risk before the event. There are always enough intelligence indicators so that once you go back -- knowing the pattern of actual events -- it becomes possible to predict the past with 20-20 hindsight.

The problem is that the post mortems and hearings tend to be useless. Every prudent security officer has always asked for more; the indicators that could provide warning with 20-20 hindsight will still be buried in a flood of other reporting that warns of crises that don't take place; U.S. officials will still have to deal with what intelligence experts call "noise" -- the vast amount of reporting and other data that make it impossible to sort out the right information until the event actually occurs and the patterns are known. All of this makes it hard to know what request or warning ever matters.

Opinion: Algeria hostage crisis shows jihadists on rise

Yes, intelligence and warning can always be improved if the post mortem is realistic and objective. But the resulting improvements will never be enough. No one will ever assess all the risks correctly, U.S. diplomats and other Americans will be vulnerable when they operate in a hostile environment, and risk-taking will remain inevitable.

The second lesson is that we cannot deal with crises like the political upheavals in the Arab world, or the more direct threats that countries like Iran and North Korea can pose, unless our diplomats and military advisers take risks -- and more casualties -- in the process.

Stevens and those around him did what had to be done. These are the teams that can help lead unstable countries towards democracy and stability. They are the crucial to our counterterrorism efforts in the field and to building up the military security capabilities of developing states. They are key to uniting given factions, creating effective governance, and persuading states to move toward development and greater concern for human rights.

They can only be effective if they are on the scene, work with the leaders and factions involved, and often go into harms way where there are terrorist and military threats. Like Stevens, they cannot wait for perfect security, stay in a safe area, or minimize risks and deal with the realities of Libya, filled with local power struggles, extremist elements and potential threats.

We need risk-takers. We need them in any country that is going through the kind of upheavals taking place in Libya, as well as in countries where our enemies operate, and semi-war zones like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. We need diplomats, U.S. military advisory teams, and intelligence officers that reach far beyond our embassies and go into high risk zones. We need to reward and honor those risk-takers, not those who shelter in safety and avoid the risks they should take or fear their career will be damaged if anyone is killed or hurt.

Opinion: Algeria crisis is a wakeup call for America

The third lesson is that we do need to steadily strengthen our ability to provide secure mobility, better intelligence, better communications, and better protection for those diplomats, U.S. military advisory teams and intelligence officers. We need to be able to better provide emergency help to those American NGO personnel and businessmen who take similar risks.

We need both an administration and a Congress that look beyond the blame game and understand that some things are worth spending money on. We need them to understand that what we once called the Arab Spring is clearly going to be the Arab Decade, and we face different but equally real risks in the field in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

It is far better -- and cheaper even, in the medium term -- to fund strong U.S. country teams, military advisers, counterterrorism teams and development efforts than to let nations collapse, to let extremists take over, to lose allies, and see American NGOs and businesses unable to operate.

We need to see what new methods and investments can protect our people in the field and reduce the risks they should be taking. The answer may be special communications, intelligence system, helicopters and armored vehicles, emergency response teams and new career security personnel to replace contractors and foreign nationals.

What the answer is not is partisan blame, risk avoidance, punishing those who do take risks for the result, and failing to make the improvements in security for risk takers -- while building larger fortress embassies. If you want to honor the Americans lost in the line of duty, focus on the future and not the past.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anthony Cordesman

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Bulls rally to beat Pistons 85-82

As the United Center rocked and the Bulls celebrated Marco Belinelli's go-ahead, three-point play with 7.5 seconds left, Joakim Noah remained down in the photographer's pit along the baseline, cameras and cheerleaders all around him.

"I didn't really see the play," Noah said. "I had the cheerleaders' pom-poms in my face."

His teammates saw it, which is why they were celebrating the shot that sealed the Bulls' stirring 85-82 comeback over the Pistons, their 17th straight victory in this series. It marked the second time in just more than a month the Bulls erased a 17-point deficit against the Pistons to prevail.

And yet Noah, who had authored, really, the play of the season — one that defines the heart and hustle that has the Derrick Rose-less Bulls on pace for 50 victories now that the midway point has been reached — remained down.

"We were over there celebrating and he was still knocked over by the cheerleaders," said Nate Robinson, who kick-started the rally with nine straight points early in the fourth. "We were like, 'Oh, yeah, we have to go help him up.' But that play shows how hard Jo works. He never gives up."

Noah smiled, clearly relishing the opportunity to tweak his teammates.

"Damn, it took forever, right?" he said of the delay.

All's well that ends well, right?

But make sure to find a replay of Noah's hustle, which came off Belinelli's bricked jumper. As Noah tumbled into cameras and cheerleaders, Belinelli cut to the basket, grabbed the fruit of Noah's effort and laid it in as Rodney Stuckey fouled him.

"I scored, but the credit goes to Jo," said Belinelli, who scored his second game-winner in four games.

Coach Tom Thibodeau just shook his head.

"Quite frankly, I don't know he got to it," Thibodeau said. "It was an incredible play."

The Bulls then watched tying 3-point attempts from Tayshuan Prince and Stuckey rim out as time expired.

"I stayed with the play," Noah said. "The basketball gods were on our side. It's not really a great play because if Detroit gets it, it's a four-on-five fast break the other side. Fortunately, we got it. "

Robinson's boundless energy can delve into extracurricular emotion, but there's no denying he jump-started the comeback. Robinson keyed a 12-2 run to open the fourth with nine straight points and a dish for a fast-break dunk from Butler, who tied his career-highs with 18 points and nine rebounds.

Butler, starting again for the injured Luol Deng, played all but 91 seconds and overcame a 1-for-8 start. He also hit a huge 3-pointer — the Bulls missed their first 10 and made just 3 of 14 — for an 82-80 lead before Jason Maxiell tied the game with 29.4 seconds left off a defensive breakdown.

"Jimmy just kept working the game," Thibodeau said. "He never got down. He kept battling and battling."

Robinson finished with 11 points.

"That's Nate. He made a lot of big-time plays for us," Thibodeau said. "He's not afraid. I respect that about him.

"The group that started the fourth quarter played with energy, got some stops and got us going.

Noah played 45 minutes with 10 points and 18 rebounds.

"We just kept saying, 'We're going to rally together,'" Butler said. "That's what this team is all about."


Twitter @kcjhoop

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North Korea to target U.S. with nuclear, rocket tests

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its "sworn enemy".

The announcement by the country's top military body came a day after the U.N. Security Council agreed to a U.S.-backed resolution to censure and sanction North Korea for a rocket launch in December that breached U.N. rules.

"We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States," North Korea's National Defence Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA.

North Korea is believed by South Korea and other observers to be "technically ready" for a third nuclear test, and the decision to go ahead rests with leader Kim Jong-un who pressed ahead with the December rocket launch in defiance of the U.N. sanctions.

China, the one major diplomatic ally of the isolated and impoverished North, agreed to the U.S.-backed resolution and it also supported resolutions in 2006 and 2009 after Pyongyang's two earlier nuclear tests.

Thursday's statement by North Korea represents a huge challenge to Beijing as it undergoes a leadership transition with Xi Jinping due to take office in March.

China's Foreign Ministry called for calm and restraint and a return to six-party talks, but effectively singled out North Korea, urging the "relevant party" not to take any steps that would raise tensions.

"We hope the relevant party can remain calm and act and speak in a cautious and prudent way and not take any steps which may further worsen the situation," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular press briefing.

North Korea has rejected proposals to restart the talks aimed at reining in its nuclear capacity. The United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas are the six parties involved.

"After all these years and numerous rounds of six-party talks we can see that China's influence over North Korea is actually very limited. All China can do is try to persuade them not to carry out their threats," said Cai Jian, an expert on Korea at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Analysts said the North could test as early as February as South Korea prepares to install a new, untested president or that it could choose to stage a nuclear explosion to coincide with former ruler Kim Jong-il's Feb 16 birthday.

"North Korea will have felt betrayed by China for agreeing to the latest U.N. resolution and they might be targeting (China) as well (with this statement)," said Lee Seung-yeol, senior research fellow at Ewha Institute of Unification Studies in Seoul.


Washington urged North Korea not to proceed with a third test just as the North's statement was published on Thursday.

"Whether North Korea tests or not is up to North Korea," Glyn Davies, the top U.S. envoy for North Korean diplomacy, said in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

"We hope they don't do it. We call on them not to do it," Davies said after a meeting with South Korean officials. "This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean peninsula."

The North was banned from developing missile and nuclear technology under sanctions dating from its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

A South Korean military official said the concern now is that Pyongyang could undertake a third nuclear test using highly enriched uranium for the first time, opening a second path to a bomb.

North Korea's 2006 nuclear test using plutonium produced a puny yield equivalent to one kiloton of TNT - compared with 13-18 kilotons for the Hiroshima bomb - and U.S. intelligence estimates put the 2009 test's yield at roughly two kilotons

North Korea is estimated to have enough fissile material for about a dozen plutonium warheads, although estimates vary, and intelligence reports suggest that it has been enriching uranium to supplement that stock and give it a second path to the bomb.

According to estimates from the Institute for Science and International Security from late 2012, North Korea could have enough weapons grade uranium for 21-32 nuclear weapons by 2016 if it used one centrifuge at its Yongbyon nuclear plant to enrich uranium to weapons grade.

North Korea gave no time-frame for the coming test and often employs harsh rhetoric in response to U.N. and U.S. actions that it sees as hostile.

Its long-range rockets are not seen as capable of reaching the United States mainland and it is not believed to have the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

The bellicose statement on Thursday appeared to dent any remaining hopes that Kim Jong-un, believed to be 30 years old, would pursue a different path from his father Kim Jong-il, who oversaw the country's military and nuclear programs.

The older Kim died in December 2011.

"The UNSC (Security Council) resolution masterminded by the U.S. has brought its hostile policy towards the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) to its most dangerous stage," the commission was quoted as saying.

(Additional reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL, Ben Blanchard and Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Insight: Boeing 787 battery woes put FAA approval under scrutiny

SEATTLE/TOKYO (Reuters) - In 2007, U.S. regulators cleared Boeing's use of a highly flammable battery in the 787 Dreamliner, deciding it was safe to let the lithium-ion battery burn out if it caught fire mid-air as long as the flames were contained, and smoke and fumes vented properly, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

Fire risk on planes has always been a major concern, especially given the amount of fuel they carry and the heat generated by jet engines. U.S. aviation standards require planes to have numerous on-board fire suppression systems.

But through a review of government documents and interviews with aviation and battery experts, Reuters found that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration granted the Dreamliner special conditions and said its contain-and-vent system was sufficient to control the build-up of explosive or toxic gases, except in situations considered "extremely remote."

The FAA's 2007 decision is now coming under scrutiny after the lithium-ion batteries in two 787 planes failed within days of each other, sparking a fire in one case in Boston, and generating warnings and an acrid smell that prompted the pilots of the second plane to make an emergency landing in Japan.

A key U.S. Senate committee plans to hold a hearing in the coming weeks to examine aviation safety oversight and the FAA's certification of the 787, an aide to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee told Reuters on Tuesday.

The FAA has grounded the Dreamliner in the U.S. pending an investigation, and other aviation regulators around the world immediately followed, stopping use of all 50 planes in service, each of which can carry about 250 passengers.

The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting the U.S. probe, with help from Boeing, the battery maker, GS Yuasa Corp of Japan, and the FAA.

The review has broad implications for other aircraft makers, including EADS unit Airbus, which also had to meet special conditions set by the FAA to use lithium-ion batteries on the A380 - a superjumbo jet that carries about 550 passengers.

A spokesperson for the FAA defended the 2007 approval, saying, "the whole aviation system is designed so that if a worst case happens, there are systems in place to prevent that from interfering with other systems on the plane."

Boeing said the 787's battery system has four layers of protection to prevent the battery from overcharging, making a fire extremely unlikely. The company said it was confident the battery could safely burn out in air because of a robust system for containing a fire and venting smoke and fumes.

The batteries were chosen "after a careful review of available alternatives because they best met the performance and design objectives of the 787," Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said. "Based on everything we know at this point, we have not changed our evaluation."

The cause of the two 787 battery failures is not yet known and investigators are still determining how the contain-and-vent systems performed. But the incidents have revived a decades-old debate on the safety of lithium-ion batteries and raised questions over whether the FAA should have consented to their use in the 787.

Congressman Rick Larsen, who was named ranking member of the House Aviation Subcommittee on Tuesday, said it was appropriate for the FAA to impose special conditions for the 787, the world's first carbon composite aircraft, but a review of the approval "may be something we could look at in light of the current problems."

The FAA spokesperson said the agency may add new requirements for the batteries upon completion of the NTSB probe, but declined to elaborate.

Depending on the outcome of the review, Boeing could face steep costs, ranging from compensating airlines for lost use of planes to a possible major redesign and re-certification of the battery or electrical system, industry experts say.


Lithium-ion batteries are lightweight, recharge quickly and can hold more power than conventional cells. But they have a history of safety concerns, leading some battery experts to question their use in any consumer product.

In the FAA's 2007 review, it said lithium-ion batteries were "significantly more susceptible" to fires than other types and added that those fires are tough to put out.

"Metallic lithium can ignite, resulting in a self-sustaining fire or explosion," the FAA said in granting approval.

FAA rules do not cover lithium batteries, so the agency in 2007 set nine "special conditions" Boeing had to meet to ensure their safety. A year earlier, the FAA had set similar conditions for Airbus. Special conditions are commonly used to cover new technology for which rules have not yet been written.

In both cases, the Air Line Pilots Association International, the world's largest pilot union, said airplane fire is so dangerous that the FAA should require cabin crew to have fire extinguishers and training to put out a lithium-ion battery fire. "A fire from these devices, in any situation, is unacceptable," the union said, during the 787 approval process.

The FAA said it chose not to require special fire extinguishers and training because of the four redundant systems already in the Boeing system to prevent the battery from catching fire.

The ALPA said on Tuesday it is monitoring the investigation into the 787 battery incidents, but declined to comment while the probe is going on.

"It goes back to why this was approved in the first place," said Hidetake Sakuma, an aviation safety consultant and a former safety manager at Japan Airlines Co Ltd.

"Of course there were people asking whether this was really safe, but they (the FAA) approved it and the Japanese airlines never questioned it."

Japanese airlines operate nearly half of the 787s in service.


Passengers on the Japan flight reported an odor like burning plastic soon after takeoff. All Nippon Airways Co Ltd Vice President Osamu Shinobe said in addition to a battery alert in the cockpit, "there was an odd smell detected in the cockpit and cabin."

The NTSB declined to comment, citing the ongoing probe. The Japan Transportation Safety Board, which is leading that investigation, and the NTSB so far describe it as a "battery incident," not a fire.

A photograph of the battery retrieved from the flight showed a blackened, melted interior with fused wires, a deformed lid and scorched casing.

A GS Yuasa spokesman said the company is cooperating with the investigation, but declined to comment on the details.

Boeing has not commented specifically on the battery failure in this incident. In the case of the Boston plane, Boeing said smoke got into the cabin because the 787 was on the ground without cabin pressure to redirect airflow.

Some experts cautioned against a rush to judgment about lithium-ion battery technology, saying the key was to understand failure rates and design a safe system.

"Everyone knew these dangers, but after it was designed, there were multiple tests and that's why it's in the final plane," said Yoshitomo Aoki, a Japanese aviation commentator. "It wouldn't have been approved if it wasn't safe."

Airbus plans to use lithium-ion batteries in its forthcoming A350 jet, its answer to the 787. That plane will use a different architecture that puts less stress on batteries, while expelling unwanted gases safely, Airbus says.

On Sunday, the NTSB widened its probe to include the Tucson, Arizona-based company that makes the charger for the batteries, Securaplane Technologies, a unit of Britain's Meggitt Plc. Securaplane said it is cooperating with the investigation.

"In no way would a fire like this lead me to say you should never have a lithium-ion battery on an airplane. That's just the wrong way to go," said Daniel Doughty, who helped write testing standards for electrical cars and worked on battery technology during 27 years at Sandia National Laboratory, a federally funded research center owned by Lockheed Martin Corp.

But Doughty and others said the FAA's earlier decisions deserved scrutiny.

"It's fair to ask about the approval process," Doughty said. "There needs to be some explanation and defense of whatever they did."

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott in SEATTLE and Mari Saito in TOKYO; Additional reporting by Tim Kelly, Maki Shiraki and Kentaro Sugiyama in TOKYO, Antoni Slodkowski in TAKAMATSU, Yoshiyuki Osada in OSAKA, Andrea Shalal-Esa in WASHINGTON, Bill Rigby in SEATTLE, Tim Hepher in PARIS, Peter Henderson in SAN FRANCISCO and Bernie Woodall and Deepa Seetharaman in DETROIT; Editing by Edward Tobin, Tiffany Wu and Andre Grenon)

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