Stocks end higher for sixth straight week, tech leads

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Nasdaq composite stock index closed at a 12-year high and the S&P 500 index at a five-year high, boosted by gains in technology shares and stronger overseas trade figures.

The S&P 500 also posted a sixth straight week of gains for the first time since August.

The technology sector led the day's gains, with the S&P 500 technology index <.splrct> up 1.0 percent. Gains in professional network platform LinkedIn Corp and AOL Inc after they reported quarterly results helped the sector.

Shares of LinkedIn jumped 21.3 percent to $150.48 after the social networking site announced strong quarterly profits and gave a bullish forecast for the year.

AOL Inc shares rose 7.4 percent to $33.72 after the online company reported higher quarterly profit, boosted by a 13 percent rise in advertising sales.

Data showed Chinese exports grew more than expected, a positive sign for the global economy. The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in December, suggesting the U.S. economy likely grew in the fourth quarter instead of contracting slightly as originally reported by the U.S. government.

"That may have sent a ray of optimism," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Trading volume on Friday was below average for the week as a blizzard swept into the northeastern United States.

The U.S. stock market has posted strong gains since the start of the year, with the S&P 500 up 6.4 percent since December 31. The advance has slowed in recent days, with fourth-quarter earnings winding down and few incentives to continue the rally on the horizon.

"I think we're in the middle of a trading range and I'd put plus or minus 5.0 percent around it. Fundamental factors are best described as neutral," Dickson said.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> ended up 48.92 points, or 0.35 percent, at 13,992.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 8.54 points, or 0.57 percent, at 1,517.93. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 28.74 points, or 0.91 percent, at 3,193.87, its highest closing level since November 2000.

For the week, the Dow was down 0.1 percent, the S&P 500 was up 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq up 0.5 percent.

Shares of Dell closed at $13.63, up 0.7 percent, after briefly trading above a buyout offering price of $13.65 during the session.

Dell's largest independent shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management, said it plans to oppose the buyout of the personal computer maker, setting up a battle for founder Michael Dell.

Signs of economic strength overseas buoyed sentiment on Wall Street. Chinese exports grew more than expected in January, while imports climbed 28.8 percent, highlighting robust domestic demand. German data showed a 2012 surplus that was the nation's second highest in more than 60 years, an indication of the underlying strength of Europe's biggest economy.

Separately, U.S. economic data showed the trade deficit shrank in December to $38.5 billion, its narrowest in nearly three years, indicating the economy did much better in the fourth quarter than initially estimated.

Earnings have mostly come in stronger than expected since the start of the reporting period. Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies now are estimated up 5.2 percent versus a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data. That contrasts with a 1.9 percent growth forecast at the start of the earnings season.

Molina Healthcare Inc surged 10.4 percent to $31.88 as the biggest boost to the index after posting fourth-quarter earnings.

The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, was down 3.6 percent at 13.02. The gauge, a key measure of market expectations of short-term volatility, generally moves inversely to the S&P 500.

"I'm watching the 14 level closely" on the CBOE Volatility index, said Bryan Sapp, senior trading analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "The break below it at the beginning of the year signaled the sharp rally in January, and a rally back above it could be a sign to exercise some caution."

Volume was roughly 5.6 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.

Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by nearly 2 to 1 and on the Nasdaq by almost 5 to 3.

(Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski, Kenneth Barry and Andrew Hay)

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Northeast storm disrupts travel for sports teams

Several professional and college sports teams were forced to rearrange their travel plans as a massive storm swept through the Northeast, expected to dump a few feet of snow in some areas.

The NBA's New York Knicks were stuck in Minnesota after playing the Timberwolves on Friday night, hoping to try to fly home sometime Saturday. The San Antonio Spurs were also staying overnight in Detroit after seeing their 11-game winning streak fall to the Pistons, awaiting word on when they might be able to fly to New York for their game Sunday night at Brooklyn.

"We can't get there tonight — we know that," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "So we're going to stay here tonight and try to get there (Saturday). Hopefully, we will be able to get there, but at this point, we don't know."

Airlines canceled more than 5,300 flights through Saturday, and New York City's three major airports and Boston's Logan Airport closed.

The New Jersey Nets planned to take a train home instead of flying from Washington D.C. after losing to the Wizards on Friday night.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson said before a 100-94 victory that his team initially planned to fly home after the game, but the flight had already been postponed. New York is scheduled to play the Los Angeles Clippers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

The NHL's Boston Bruins pushed back the start of Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning by six hours because of the blizzard. The game originally slated for 1 p.m. was rescheduled for 7 p.m., but Boston was expected to be one of the cities hit hardest by the storm.

The storm had dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on New England by early Saturday and knocked out power to more than a half a million customers. More than 21 inches covered Randolph in southeastern Massachusetts. The National Weather Service said up to 3 feet of snow is expected in Boston, threatening the city's 2003 record of 27.6 inches.

The Bruins and Lightning each already had road games scheduled for Sunday night.

The New Jersey Devils were still scheduled to host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 1 p.m., while the New York Islanders were slated to play at home against the Buffalo Sabres at 7 p.m.

Two Ivy League men's college basketball games that were scheduled for Saturday night were moved back to Sunday because of treacherous travel conditions.

Dartmouth will play at Cornell at noon on Sunday in Ithaca, N.Y., and Harvard will visit Columbia at 2 p.m. Sunday in New York. Dartmouth played at Columbia on Friday night, and Harvard played at Cornell. Two other Ivy League games were still scheduled to be played Saturday night, with Yale visiting Princeton and Brown playing at Pennsylvania.

Aqueduct also called off Saturday's card because of the storm. The track and Belmont Park were expected to remain open for wagering on out-of-town races, with racing scheduled to resume Sunday.

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How Obama can end Congo conflict

Conflict in Congo

Conflict in Congo

Conflict in Congo

Conflict in Congo

Conflict in Congo


  • President Obama can help end the Congo conflict for good, says Vava Tampa

  • Obama has asked Rwanda to end all support to armed groups in the Congo

  • FDLR militia gang is a threat to stability and must leave Congo

  • Obama must push for change in Congolese government, argues Tampa

Editor's note: Vava Tampa is the founder of Save the Congo, a London-based campaign to tackle "the impunity, insecurity, institutional failure and the international trade of minerals funding the wars in Democratic Republic of the Congo." Follow Vava Tampa on twitter: @VavaTampa

(CNN) -- Now that President Obama has taken a public stand on the warlords and militia gangs tyrannizing DR Congo, there is a sense that the next chapter in the human tragedy that has been raging there over the past decade and half is about to be written -- or so we can hope.

In the DRC -- Africa's largest sub-Saharan country -- invasions, proxy wars and humanitarian crises have senselessly shut down millions of lives, displaced millions more from their homes and left countless women and young girls brutally raped with the world barely raising an eyebrow.

The latest murderous attempt by the M23 militia gang to besiege Goma, the strategic regional capital of Congo's eastern province of North Kivu, seems to have backfired.

Vava Tampa

Vava Tampa

The United Nations says Rwanda has helped to create and militarily supported M23. Although Rwandan President Paul Kagame denies backing M23, the accusation has taken off some of the international gloss he had long enjoyed in the West, and precipitated cuts and suspension of aid money that goes directly to the Kagame regime by the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Britain and the European Union.

The United States, which gives no money directly to the Rwandan government, suspended its military aid. In a baffling expression of a refinement of the U.S. position, President Obama made a rare telephone call to Kagame to emphasize "the importance of permanently ending all support to armed groups in the DRC." That set a firm red line on the situation in that region, the first one by President Obama since becoming president in 2008.

Watch video: Kagame on Congo

This was certainly right and good. Kagame is no fool; the diplomatic but emphatic content of that telephone call, monitored by White House's National Security staff and published thereafter for public consumption, speaks volumes. He clearly understood the implicit threat. But it was not good enough.

Left unsaid is that withholding aid money that goes directly to the Kagame regime has not changed many realities on the ground -- a painful reminder of the limits of what previous half-hearted, ambivalent international attempts to halt the crisis in that country had achieved.

However, the situation is not hopeless. President Obama can help to halt the wars engulfing the Congo. It is both economically and politically affordable.

Here is my suggestion -- a three-point road map, if you like, for President Obama, should he choose to put the weight of the United States squarely on the side of the Congolese and engage much more robustly to help end the world's bloodiest war and human tragedy.

Read more: Why the world is ignoring Congo war

1. Changes in Kinshasa

If we are to be blunt with ourselves, Congo's major problem today -- the chief reason that country remains on its knees -- is its president Joseph Kabila. Paul Kagame is just a symptom, at least in theory.

The crisis of leadership in the capital Kinshasa, the disastrous blend of lack of political legitimacy and moral authority, mixed with poor governance and vision deficiency, then compounded with dilapidated state institutions, has become the common denominator to the ills and wrongs that continues to overwhelm the Congo.

In other words, peace will never be secured in Congo, if the moribund status quo is still strutting around Kinshasa.

Obama's minimum objective in regard to ending the wars and human tragedy engulfing the Congo should be to push for changes in Kinshasa. He must make this one of the "10 Commandments" of the Obama Doctrine.

Circumstances demand it to re-energize Congo's chance of success and to enable the renaissance of a "New Africa." And given the effects of Congo's mounting death toll and the speed at which HIV/AIDS is spreading because of the use of rape as a weapon of war, the sooner the better.

2. Keep Kagame in the naughty corner

The wars and human tragedy engulfing the Congo have many fathers and many layers. Rwanda, and to some extent Uganda -- run by Africa's two dearest autocratic but staunchly pro-American regimes -- are, as they have been many times in the past, despite their denials, continuing to provide support to warlords and militia gangs terrorizing the Congolese people.

This is not an apocryphal claim, it's an open secret in Kinshasa, Kampala and Kigali as much as it is in Washington or White Hall, and as real as Charles Taylor's role in Sierra Leone or Iran's support to Hezbollah.

If President Obama is remotely serious about saving lives in Congo, then fracturing Rwanda's ability to directly or indirectly harbor warlords ... is critical.
Vava Tampa, Save the Congo

Indeed, reporters across Congo and across the region would testify to this. Kigali has been, one can safely argue, the sole shareholder in the M23 militia gang -- and its elder sisters CNDP and RCD-Goma.

It cannot wash its hands in Pontius Pilate fashion of either the ICC-wanted M23 warlord Bosco Ntaganda, also known as The Terminator, or Laurent Nkunda, who is wanted by the Congolese government for war crimes and is under house arrest in Kigali.

Read more: Prosecutor seeks new Congo war crimes warrants

If President Obama is remotely serious about saving lives in Congo, then fracturing Rwanda's ability to directly or indirectly harbor warlords, support militia gangs, militarize or ethnicize the wars in Congo for control of Congo's easily appropriable but highly valuable natural resources is critical, however politically disgruntling it may be to some in the State Department.

It would reduce the scale, scope and intensity of the killing, raping and uprooting of the Congolese, it would crush Kinshasa's ability to use external support to warlords and militia gangs as an alibi for a lack of progress and, above all, decrease the growing unease of the Congolese towards Rwanda over the crimes of FDLR and the role played by their government in Congo.


The continued existence in Congo of FDLR, a Rwandan militia gang made up largely of Hutus -- whose leadership took part in the 1994 genocide of Tutsi -- remains one of the most persistent and serious threats to stability in Congo and the region.

Addressing this crisis is of significant importance from both a political and humanitarian viewpoint.

Though there are no definitive statistics on the exact numbers of FDLR fighters, the good news is that experts tell us that the vast majority of its rank and file are in their 20s and early 30s, which means they were too young to have taken part in the genocide in 1994.

The United States, together with the U.N., the EU and African Union, should appoint a special envoy for the African Great Lakes region to midwife a conducive political arrangement in Kigali that could see them returning home -- and see their leaders and fundraisers in Europe arrested.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Vava Tampa.

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Blizzard wallops Northeast, thousands without power

A blizzard continued to pummel the Northeastern United States on Saturday, disrupting thousands of flights, shutting down roads and mass transit and blanketing the region with heavy snowfall.

Hundreds of thousands of people lost power, with more than 200,000 reported outages in Massachusetts, more than 100,000 in Rhode Island, and 30,000 in Connecticut, according to local utilities.

Forecasters warned that about 2 feet of snow would blanket most of the Boston area with some spots getting as much as 30 inches. New York was due to get about a foot in some areas, while heavy snowfall was also expected in Connecticut and Maine.

Winds reached 35 to 40 miles per hour (56 to 64 km per hour) by Friday afternoon and forecasters expected gusts up to 60 mph as the evening wore on.

The storm prompted the governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Maine to declare states of emergency in the face of the fearsome snowstorm. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick took the rare step of announcing a ban on most car travel starting Friday afternoon, while Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy closed the state's highways to all but emergency vehicles.

By Friday night some commuter trains that run between New York City and Westchester County, Long Island and Connecticut had already been suspended. Amtrak suspended railroad service between New York, Boston and points north on Friday afternoon.

In many cases, authorities ordered non-essential government workers to stay home, urged private employers to do the same, told people to prepare for power outages and encouraged them to check on elderly or disabled neighbors.

"People need to take this storm seriously," said Malloy, Connecticut's governor. "Please stay home once the weather gets bad except in the case of real emergency."

The storm wasn't bad news for everyone.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested people relax at home - cook or watch a movie. Bloomberg said he planned on catching up on his sleep.

As she stocked up at a Brooklyn grocery store, 28-year-old Jackie Chevallier said that after two years without much snow, she was looking forward to waking up to a sea of white.

"I'd like to go sledding," she said.

The storm also posed a risk of flooding at high tide to areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy last October.

"Many of the same communities that were inundated by Hurricane Sandy's tidal surge just about 100 days ago are likely to see some moderate coastal flooding this evening," said Bloomberg.

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Japan may release data proving Chinese radar incident: media

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan may release data it says will prove a Chinese naval vessel directed its fire control radar at a Japanese destroyer near disputed islands in the East China Sea, local media reported.

Japan has said a Chinese frigate on January 30 locked its targeting radar on a Japanese destroyer - a step that usually precedes the firing of weapons - but China insists that its vessel used only ordinary surveillance radar.

The incident has added to tensions between the two nations over the disputed islands.

Japan will consider how much normally classified data it can release, the media reports said, citing comments by Japan Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera on local television.

"The government is considering the extent of what can be disclosed," Kyodo news agency quoted Onodera as saying.

China has accused Japan of smearing its name with the accusations, and on Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency continued the war of words.

"By spreading false accusations and posing as a poor victim, Japan had intended to tarnish China's image so as to gain sympathy and support, but a lie does not help," it said in an English language commentary.

"China has been exercising maximum restraint and stayed committed to solving the dispute through dialogue and consultation."

Japan and China have been involved in a series of incidents in recent months in the East China Sea where Chinese and Japanese naval vessels regularly shadow each others movements.

Both countries claim a small clusters of islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, believed to be rich in oil and gas. Controlled by Japan, possession of the uninhabited outcrops and the sea surrounding them would provide China with easier access to the Pacific.

Hopes had been rising for an easing in tensions, including a possible summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping. But the radar issue has seen China and Japan engage in a fresh round of invective.

China's Defence Ministry on Thursday said Japan's complaints did not "match the facts". The Chinese ship's radar, it said, had maintained regular alerting and surveillance operations and the ship "did not use fire control radar".

Japan's position against China has hardened since Abe led his conservative party to a landslide election victory in December, promising to beef up the military and stand tough in territorial disputes.

The commander of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific said the squabble between Japan and China underlined the need for rules to prevent such incidents turning into serious conflict.

China also has ongoing territorial disputes with other Asian nations including Vietnam and the Philippines over islands in the South China Sea.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Euro near two-week low, shares up on rekindled rate cut hopes

LONDON (Reuters) - The euro hovered near a two-week low and European shares rose on Friday after the European Central Bank rekindled expectations that it could again take the knife to interest rates.

Strong Chinese trade data also helped lift optimism about global growth prospects, boosting oil, copper and Asian shares, although investors booking profits before next week's Chinese new year holidays limited gains.

ECB President Mario Draghi levered the door to a rate cut back open on Thursday, saying the bank would monitor the potential downward pressure of a strengthening euro on already near-target inflation.

European share markets opened higher on the hopes lower borrowing rates would also reverse some of the 8 percent trade-weighted rise in the euro over the last six months that has began to weigh on exporters.

"We're in a 'risk-on' mode and continental Europe should continue to do well in this environment," said Cyrille Urfer, who heads up asset allocation at Swiss bank Gonet.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 <.fteu3> was up 0.5 percent by 0815 GMT, though it remained on course for its second weekly loss in a row.

London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were up 0.6, 0.4 and 0.3 percent respectively and U.S. stock futures pointed to a steady Wall Street start. <.l><.eu><.n/>

While Draghi said the euro's recent surge was a sign of a return of confidence, he said: "We certainly want to see whether the appreciation is sustained and will alter our risk assessment as far as price stability is concerned."

The comments went further than many analysts had expected and as European trading gathered pace the euro steadied at $1.3398 after earlier dropping to $1.33705, the lowest since January 25.

China said its exports grew 25 percent in January from a year ago, the strongest showing since April 2011 and well ahead of market expectations for a 17 percent rise, while imports also beat forecasts, surging 28.8 percent on the year.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> added 0.3 percent and Australian shares rallied 0.7 percent to 34-month highs.

"China's economic conditions are improving and the trade data confirms the continuation of a recovery trend. Not just the trade data but retail, production and investment flows clearly show that the economy bottomed out in the third quarter last year," said Hirokazu Yuihama, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.

In the bond market, benchmark German Bund futures were little changed in early trade as Draghi's cautious tone on the euro zone's economy underpinned demand for low risk assets.

Investors focused on Irish bonds after benchmark 10-year yields slid to their lowest since before the start of the subprime crisis in 2007 on news Dublin had clinched a bank debt deal that will cut its borrowing needs over the next decade.

(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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Illini buzzer-beater upsets No. 1 Hoosiers, 74-72

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — At this rate, no one will want to be No. 1.

Indiana became the fifth straight top-ranked men's college basketball team to lose, falling to unranked Illinois 74-72 on a buzzer-beater by Tyler Griffey on Thursday night.

The senior forward took an inbounds pass with 0.9 seconds to play and made a wide-open layup. And, just like that, the Hoosiers — who moved into the top spot by beating then-No. 1 Michigan just a few days ago — went down.

Indiana coach Tom Crean, whose team has been No. 1 for a total of seven weeks this season after opening there, doesn't know why the top spot is suddenly so hard to hang on to.

"I can't answer that. I'm not sure," Crean said. "I just know that these games are 40-minute games. We played at a high level for most of the game."

The Hoosiers (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten) were in charge until the final 3 1/2 minutes when the Illini (16-8, 3-7 Big Ten) finally put together a run to take and then retake the lead.

"I know this: When we turn the ball over, we're not very good," Crean said. "And the biggest difference tonight was 28 points off turnovers to our 16."

Hoosiers guard Jordan Hulls said flatly that the top rank had nothing to do with Thursday's loss, even for a team that some worried might be looking past unranked, slumping Illinois to a meeting Sunday with No. 10 Ohio State.

"We just didn't execute when we needed to," he said.

If Indiana falls from No. 1 on Monday, No. 2 Florida might not be a candidate to replace the Hoosiers after the Gators' loss this week to Arkansas. That could put No. 3 Michigan back on top if they can make it to Monday without a loss.

For the Hoosiers, nothing could have been worse than the way Thursday's game ended.

With 0.9 seconds, Griffey left defenders Cody Zeller and Christian Watford behind on an inbounds play from the baseline, took the pass from Brandon Paul and delivered the uncontested buzzer-beater.

The shot sent hundreds of students onto the court, though they waited as officials checked the replay to make sure the clock hadn't beaten Griffey. Once the basket was upheld, Paul and fellow guard D.J. Richardson hugged and teared up in relief.

Illinois had endured an awful run since starting 12-0. The Illini had since lost eight of 11 and fallen to 10th in the 12-team Big Ten.

Griffey, who had struggled as bad as any Illini player, seemed surprised at how easily the winning shot came.

"I just made a simple curl cut and left two guys behind me, and Brandon got off a heck of a pass," he said. "Zeller and Watford were both right in front of me and just kind of stayed there."

Crean said the play was a lot like the other breakdowns in the Hoosiers' game that let Illinois climb back from a 12-point halftime deficit.

"We didn't communicate," he said.

Indiana's loss drops them into a three-way tie for first in the Big Ten with Michigan and Michigan State. The win moves the Illini up into a ninth-place tie with Iowa but, more importantly, provides a potential lifeline ahead of a meeting Sunday at No. 18 Minnesota.

"It was good to get back to having that toughness and togetherness and trust that we needed," Illinois coach John Groce said.

Illinois also added a plank to what may be one of the oddest resumes of any team in the country trying to make the NCAA tournament. Illinois has lost to Purdue, Northwestern and twice to Wisconsin. But coming into Thursday night, the Illini had already beaten three teams now in the top 15: No. 6 Gonzaga, No. 10 Ohio State and No. 14 Butler.

Before Thursday, Illinois hadn't beaten a No. 1 team since a win over Wake Forest in 2004.

Richardson had 23 points for Illinois, Paul had 21 and Griffey finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Zeller led Indiana with 14 points, while Will Sheehey had 13, Watford 12 and Hulls 11.

Indiana shot 50 percent from the field (25 of 50), 52.9 percent from 3-point range (9 of 17) and 93 percent from the free throw line (13 of 14). The Hoosiers led by an eight- to 10-point margin for most of the second half.

When 6-foot-11 Nnanna Egwu fouled out with just under 5 minutes to play, Indiana appeared in control. Watford made both free throws and, at 69-59, the Illini looked done.

But Richardson went on a one-man run, first burying back-to-back 3-pointers and then hitting a midrange jumper on the run to tie it at 70 with 1:17 to play.

With the clock under 30 seconds and the game tied at 72, Indiana had the ball for what would have been a last shot but Victor Oladipo coughed up the ball. Richardson picked it up and tried a breakaway layup that Oladipo just swatted out of bounds to set up the final play.

Groce credited Richardson for providing a spark.

"I thought he was absolutely terrific on both ends of the floor," Groce said. "He battled, he fought."

Griffey was benched several weeks ago after a blowout loss at Wisconsin. On a team that had lost its shooting touch, the senior forward had especially struggled. And, though one of Illinois' bigger players at 6-9, he wasn't adding much to the inside presence the Illini desperately needed.

Groce said that, even after he benched Griffey, he never gave up on him.

"I just have told him numerous times here I believe in him," the first-year Illinois coach said. "I do."

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Why I dread Chinese New Year

Kids see Chinese New Year through rose-tinted glasses.


  • Zoe Li: As an adult, Chinese New Year is an annual nightmare

  • It's a time when relatives have the right to be judgmental

  • Superstitious Chinese New Year foods often aren't that tasty

(CNN) -- For me, Chinese New Year used to be fun.

When I was a kid, I was excited during Chinese New Year when I got lai see and I could stay up late. I even had access to candy, a once-a-year treat while living under the roof of my Tiger Mom.

Riding strong on the sugar highs, I always thought to myself, this is what it must feel like to be an adult. I was flush, free and giddy.

Then at some point in my twenties, Chinese New Year became a chore. Not any garden variety chore, but a cold-sweat-inducing family obligation that I try hard to avoid.

As an adult, Chinese New Year is an annual nightmare, for the following reasons:

1. I find it sucks when you are single

Single twenty-something? Smile while you can until the interrogation begins.

Relatives feel that they have a right to judge you because you do share bits of DNA, so, really, it's almost like they're judging themselves.

Typically, the extended family gathers for Chinese New Year and spends an inordinate amount of time together, during which people get bored and focus their restlessness on judging the younger generation, particularly those who are single.

Singledom means a lack of responsibilities and responsibility-free people need to be reined in by the wisdom of elders, or they will be reckless with their directionless lives.

Here are some unavoidable conversations at Chinese New Year. By "conversations" I really mean monologues by one Wise Elder or another, fired away at a particular Single Younger in a trance-like manner:

"Why don't you have a boyfriend? If you have a boyfriend, why don't you get married?"

"Why are you not dieting at least a little bit? Second Cousin Yong Yong will have to start bringing clothes from America for you."

"What happened to your hair? Blue is not such a good color for us Chinese people."

"Are you saving up for an apartment? Why not? The most important thing in life is to have a roof over your head. You don't want to be homeless, do you? What if the economy collapses again? At least you will have an apartment."

"Why don't you get a better paid job? You are wasting your talent. You will regret your life."

2. I am employed

I loved the great Chinese tradition of gifting lai see. Getting HK$20 for no reason other than tradition really rocked my seven-year-old world.

I have an income now, so twenty bucks here and there doesn't make a huge difference, but I still retain that childhood anticipation for the red packets. It's just a bit disappointing when I open up an envelope and it isn't concealing a massive check.

And it's the guilt from feeling disappointed that makes me really hate Chinese New Year for making me hate myself.

It's just like being unable to conceal your letdown expression when unwrapping that pair of socks at Secret Santa parties.

Gifting is a heartwarming tradition. It's the thought that counts. I am not supposed to care. I am a bad person.

There's even worse.

Chinese New Year gambling is just out of hand.

Now that I have a job, I'm expected to bet real money at The Mahjong Table, a no man's land filled with hidden agendas, treacherous scheming and Janus-faced traitors.

If you beat your elder relatives at mahjong one too many times, beware their wrath. It really hurts when you get hit by a mahjong tile.

If you lose on purpose to your elders and are unable to skillfully conceal your purposefulness, you risk looking patronizing.

It will put them in a bad mood and lead to a vengeful "what are you doing with your life" interrogation later. See point number one.

If you're simply crap at the game, you lose a load of money and will probably be judged for being not very intelligent. See point number one again.

3. I like good food

Chinese New Year cake is good only when it's homemade.

When foreigners make jokes about Chinese eating weird foods, I cringe.

When Chinese New Year comes around, I'm the one making the damn jokes.

At this time of year, we do get some incredible festive dishes.

And then there are those odd ones that make you feel like the taste, texture and nutritional content of food have all become irrelevant -- we only eat for superstitions.

Lots of Chinese New Year foods are auspicious in meaning, but atrocious in taste. I propose that we at least get rid of these three that are now out of touch with our lives:

Chinese New Year cake

Called "leen go" in Cantonese ("niangao" in mainland China), the name sounds auspicious and means "to progress more and reach higher every year."

The cake is made from glutionous rice, sugar and flavored with red bean paste or jujubes. Cut into thin slices, dip into beaten eggs and pan fry until it's gooey on the inside and crisp on the outside.

The problem is, no one makes these at home anymore and the store-bought version is bland and stodgy, like eating slices of caulking.

Since glutinous rice is considered difficult to digest for the elderly, us Single Youngers who have nothing to lose are forced to finish the plateful.

Sugared lotus seeds

Back in the day -- before globalization brought us jelly beans and Sugus, before the invention of Coca-Cola, before Christopher Columbus brought cocoa beans to the Old World -- eating sugar-coated lotus seeds during Chinese New Year seemed like a good idea.

Today, we have so many more delicious ways to feed our sweet tooth, so why do people still buy sugared lotus seeds?

They look like mothballs, taste one dimensional and feel like a marble of sand broken upon the tongue.

The name "leen tsi" sounds like "to birth sons each year." No one in the family likes to eat them and most of them already have kids, which means us Single Youngers have to swallow.

Gok tsai

These are deep-fried sweet dumplings. The skin is a thick, lifeless pastry made from lard, the filling is a mind-numbingly sweet blend of sugar and nuts.

Its shape and color makes it, somewhat, resemble a gold ingot. Eating these symbolize prosperity for the new year.

If I had to run a marathon, I might appreciate the fat bomb. But the only thing that I run are scripts on my browser.

That point, like the others in this post, is lost on the Wise Elders, wise as they are.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Zoe Li. A former CNN employee, Zoe is a Hong Kong resident and edits the Hong Kong section of BLOUIN ARTINFO.

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Hawks nail Torres, and then drill Coyotes 6-2

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jamal Mayers punched Raffi Torres in the face, then Patrick Kane punched the rest of the Coyotes in the gut.

It didn't take long for the Blackhawks to get their reprisal on Torres and not much longer to get the last laugh, too, as they drilled the Coyotes 6-2 on Thursday night at Arena.

  • Related

  • Video: Hawks' Mayers on fighting with Torres

    Video: Hawks' Mayers on fighting with Torres

  • Kane no longer playing with mouth guard

    Kane no longer playing with mouth guard

  • Box score: Blackhawks 6, Coyotes 2

    Box score: Blackhawks 6, Coyotes 2

  • Video: Hossa on facing Torres, Coyotes

    Video: Hossa on facing Torres, Coyotes

  • Maps

  • Arena, Westgate City Center, Glendale, AZ 85305, USA

  • United Center, 1901 West Madison Street, Chicago, IL 60612, USA

In Torres' first appearance against the Hawks since his 21-game suspension for an illegal hit that seriously injured Marian Hossa during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs ended, Mayers confronted the Coyotes veteran just 2 minutes, 35 seconds into the game.

Hossa watched from the bench as the two dropped the gloves and threw flurries of punches during the spirited bout. With that out of the way, it was time for Kane & Co. to get to work.

Kane had two goals and an assist — all in the first period — Jonathan Toews, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg each had a goal and an assist and Dave Bolland also scored as the Hawks remained unbeaten in regulation at 9-0-2.

"I realize what my job is at this point," Mayers said. "It still doesn't excuse what (Torres did) but give (him) credit that he was willing to go."

Said Torres: "(The Hossa incident) is in the past and part of the game but I understand that if I go out there and run around and throw some hits then I'm going to have to answer the bell sometimes. (Thursday night) was a perfect example."

Patrick Sharp added three assists and Ray Emery earned the victory in goal to help the Hawks move to 3-0-2 on their season-long, six-game trip. Martin Hanzal and Torres scored for the Coyotes and Mike Smith, who was yanked in the second period, suffered the loss.

"What Jamal did was great for the team and put that to rest," said Emery, who made 22 saves to up his record to 3-0-0.

"More important was to get the two points and stay focused, not let that whole situation get the best of us. I think we did that."

After the Mayers-Torres showdown, the Hawks exploded with four unanswered goals: one from Stalberg and two from Kane surrounding one from Bolland.

"We had a great start," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had real good purpose to our game. … It was a great effort across the board. I was pleased with every aspect of our game, the contribution from each guy."

After Hanzal's goal early in the second, Toews and Bickell put the game out of reach.

Kane has eight goals and 10 assists in 11 games.

"It's always nice scoring goals when you're winning," Kane said. "Hopefully it's something I can continue and we can keep winning games."

Twitter @ChrisKuc

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Opposition leader's funeral brings day of reckoning for Tunisia

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's political crisis looked likely to deepen on Friday with strikes and protests planned around the funeral of assassinated opposition politician Chokri Belaid.

Belaid's killing on Wednesday has brought thousands of people onto the streets of the capital Tunis and other cities in violence-marred protests.

Unions have called a general strike for Friday, setting the stage for further confrontation two years on from the pro-democracy revolution that inspired the Arab Spring.

Tunisia is riven by tensions between the dominant Islamists and their secular opponents, and by disillusionment over the lack of social progress since the overthrow of dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

In response to Belaid's assassination, Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali, an Islamist, said on Wednesday he would dissolve the government, name a non-partisan cabinet of technocrats and hold early elections. But his partners opposed the move and it is yet to be approved by parliament.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killing of Belaid, a lawyer and secular political figure, who was shot by a gunman as he left home for work on Wednesday.

But a crowd set fire to the headquarters of Ennahda, the Islamist party of Prime Minister Jebali, who leads a coalition with two junior secularist parties. Ennahda denies any involvement.

While Belaid had only a modest political following, his criticism of Ennahda policies spoke for many Tunisians who fear religious radicals are bent on snuffing out freedoms won in the first of the revolts that rippled through the Arab world.

"Criminals assassinated Chokri's body, but will not assassinate Chokri's struggle," his widow Besma said on Thursday.

"My sadness ended when I saw thousands flocking to the that moment I knew that the country is fine and men and women in my country are defending democracy, freedom and life."

All three ruling parties and sections of the opposition rebuffed Jebali's plan to create a small, technocrat government to take over day-to-day matters until elections could be held, demanding they be consulted before any such move.

"In the likely event that there is no agreement, civil unrest will increase, reaching a level that cannot be contained by the police," said Firas Abi Ali of the London-based Exclusive Analysis think-tank.

"If unrest continued for more than two weeks, the army would probably reluctantly step in and back a technocrat government, as well as fresh elections for a new Constituent Assembly."

The economic effect of political uncertainty and street unrest could be serious in a country which has yet to draft a post-revolutionary constitution and which relies heavily on the tourist trade.

The cost of insuring Tunisian government bonds against default rose to its highest level in more than four years on Thursday and ratings agency Fitch said it could further downgrade Tunisia if political instability continues or worsens.

(Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Boeing working on 787 battery changes for fire risk: WSJ

WASHINGTON/TOKYO (Reuters) - Boeing Co is working on battery design changes that would minimize fire risks on its grounded 787 Dreamliner and could have the passenger jet flying again as soon as March, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Separately, U.S. aviation regulators said they would allow Boeing to make a one-off 787 flight from Texas to the company's facility in Washington State, under strict conditions. Boeing said the plane, scheduled for delivery to China Southern Airlines , would be a "ferry" flight - used to relocate a plane without carrying passengers or conducting tests.

Regulators around the world grounded the technologically advanced 787 in mid-January after a battery fire in Boston and a second incident involving a battery on a flight in Japan.

Boeing is looking at changes within the 787's lithium-ion battery to keep heat or fire from spreading, though technical details have not yet been finalized or approved, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed government and industry officials. One of the paper's sources added that, under a best-case scenario, passenger flights could resume in March.

However, the Dreamliner's launch customer All Nippon Airways Co Ltd (ANA) , which has the biggest fleet of the 250-seat planes, said it will cancel 1,887 flights, affecting more than 25,000 passengers, from March 1 to 30. The airline said it had no information on Boeing's latest battery plans.

Boeing declined to comment on the newspaper report. GS Yuasa Corp , the Japanese firm that makes batteries for the 787, also declined to comment.


Air safety investigators from the United States and Japan have been investigating the battery incidents for three weeks. On Wednesday, the head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it was "probably weeks away" from completing its probe. NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman will update on the investigation at a briefing later on Thursday.

In Tokyo, one official said Japanese regulators had not been notified of any breakthrough in the U.S. battery probe. "The investigation will continue as scheduled. Resuming flights in March ... seems far too optimistic to me," said the official who didn't want to be named as the investigation is ongoing.

One source familiar with the investigation told Reuters that Boeing engineers sprang into action "almost immediately" after the first battery incident to ensure the company could meet special Federal Aviation Administration-approved conditions to allow lithium-ion batteries on the aircraft. "They can't afford to sit around with their planes on the ground," said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Boeing was pursuing multiple solutions to mitigate and contain a fire if one started in the batteries, part of a determined effort to get the 787s back in the air while a more permanent solution - possibly even a different battery - was explored. Three or four different approaches would be pursued to ensure the batteries did not breach their containment systems, even if they caught fire, said the source.


Dinesh Keskar, Boeing's vice-president for sales in Asia Pacific and India, reiterated that, based on current knowledge, the planemaker would stick with lithium-ion battery technology for the Dreamliner.

He also told Reuters on the sidelines of an airshow in Bangalore on Thursday that Boeing will address compensation claims from its 787 customers after the grounded jetliner is back in service. "The focus is to get the airplane back, then we will deal with that issue (of compensation) like we dealt with all these deliveries that are happening," Keskar said. "We will deal with that in closed rooms and with customers."

Indian national carrier Air India , which has six Dreamliners and has ordered 21 more, has said it could seek compensation from Boeing. ANA and local rival Japan Airlines Co Ltd have also said they will seek compensation from Boeing once the amount of damages is clearer. JAL this week predicted the 787's grounding would cost it nearly $8 million in lost earnings through March.


Boeing asked the FAA this week for permission to conduct new test flights of the 787, suggesting it is making progress in finding a solution to the problems, but the government agency has not yet announced a decision.

While that request is pending, the FAA said on Wednesday it would allow a one-time 787 "ferry" flight. The plane, with a minimum crew, would have to land immediately if the flight computer displays any battery-related messages. It was not immediately clear when the flight would take place.

The head of the Japanese firm that supplies composites for the 787's wings and part of the fuselage said there had been no slowdown in production for the aircraft since the global grounding of the 50 Dreamliners in service.

"We are continuing production at our planned pace, which is for 5 aircraft a month, and our intention is to accelerate up to a planned 10 planes a month," Toru Fukasawa, vice-president of Toray Industries Inc , told reporters after the firm released quarterly earnings on Thursday.

"It will take time to complete the battery investigation, so our hope is that can be completed quickly and deliveries can restart. Should the grounding continue for a long time, that would begin to have some impact on us, but for now it's not something we are considering."

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa in Washington, Bill Rigby in Seattle, Peter Henderson in San Francisco, Anurag Kotoky in Bangalore and Mari Saito and Tim Kelly in Tokyo; Editing by Gary Hill, Bernard Orr, Eric Walsh, Andre Grenon and Ian Geoghegan)

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Signing Day: Ole Miss muscles in on power programs

Alabama. Ohio State. Michigan. Florida. Notre Dame. Mississippi?

Ole Miss muscled in on the powerhouses that usually dominate national signing day, landing some of the most sought-after prospects in the country on college football's annual first-Wednesday-in-February frenzy.

The Rebels, coming off a promising 7-6 season in their first season under coach Hugh Freeze, had the experts swooning by signing three of the bluest chips still on the board and building a well-rounded class otherwise.

"I do think (this class) has the possibility of being a program changer," Freeze said. "But it's all on paper right now.

The day started with defensive end Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville, Ga., rated the No. 1 recruit in the country by just about everyone who ranks them, deciding to join his brother, Denzel, in Oxford, Miss.

"I feel like it's the right place for me," Nkemdiche said after slipping on a red Ole Miss cap. "I feel like they can do special things and they're on the rise. I feel like going to play with my brother, we can do something special."

Nkemdiche originally committed to Clemson last year, then backed off that and narrowed his picks down to LSU, Florida and Mississippi — and the Rebels beat the big boys.

They weren't done. Coaches in the Ole Miss war room were exchanging hugs and high-fives again a couple hours later when Laremy Tunsil, a top-rated offensive tackle from Lake City, Fla., picked the Rebels over Florida State and Georgia.

"Tunsil to Ole Miss I think was the biggest surprise of the whole (recruiting season)," said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director for

And, as if the Ole Miss needed more good news, highly touted defensive back Antonio Conner from nearby Batesville, Miss., chose the Rebels over national champion Alabama.

Ole Miss also landed Laquon Treadwell from Crete, Ill., one of the best receiver prospects in the country. He made a verbal commitment to the Rebels back in December, and sealed the deal Wednesday, the first day high school players can sign binding letters of intent.

The end result was a class good enough to even catch the attention of LeBron James.

"Ole Miss ain't messing around today! Big time recruits coming in. SEC is crazy," the NBA MVP posted on his Twitter account.

Crazy good. While the Rebels racked up, it's important to remember they still have plenty of ground to gain on the rest of their conference.

Nick Saban reloaded the Crimson Tide with a class that ranked No. 1 in the country.

SEC powers Florida, LSU and Georgia pulled in typically impressive classes. SEC newcomer Texas A&M cracked the top 10 of several rankings. Even Vanderbilt, coming off a nine-win season, broke into the top 25.

It's the cycle of life in the SEC, which has won seven straight BCS championships. Stock up on signing day and scoop up those crystal footballs at season's end.



Signing day didn't do much to soothe the scars left from a difficult season for Southern California.

NCAA sanctions limited the number of scholarships coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans could hand out this year, and then as signing day approached USC had several players who had given verbal commitments change their minds.

The most notable defection on signing day was five-star defensive back Jalen Ramsey of Brentwood, Tenn., who flipped to Florida State. Defensive end Jason Hatcher from Louisville, Ky., bailed on USC and signed with Kentucky, and defensive end Torrodney Prevot from Houston not only reneged on his USC commitment, but he landed at Pac-12-rival Oregon.

"People expected (Prevot) to flip from USC, but they thought it would be to Texas A&M," Shurburtt said.

USC's class won't be lacking blue chippers. Quarterback Max Browne from Washington is considered the next in a long line of topflight Trojans quarterbacks, and Kenny Bigelow from Maryland is rated among the best defensive linemen in the nation.

Kiffin will be banking on quality to make up for the lack of quantity, but that's a precarious way to play a game as uncertain as recruiting.



Alex Collins, a top running back prospect out of Plantation, Fla., announced on Monday night that he was going to Arkansas instead of Miami.

It was considered a huge victory for new Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema.

But on Wednesday morning, when it was time to make it official, Collins' letter of intent didn't come spinning through the fax machine in Fayetteville, Ark.

There were some odd reports about Collins' mother not being happy with her son's decision to go so far from home.

College coaches aren't allowed to talk about specific players before they sign, but Bielema did acknowledge during his signing day news conference that Arkansas' class of 22 players could "grow by one."



Ohio State and Michigan received two thumbs up from experts on their signing day classes. They all had the Buckeyes and Wolverines around top five in the country.

After that, there was a drop off. Nebraska received solid grades and Penn State, despite NCAA sanctions that limited its class to 17 signees, held up pretty well.

"That's a tribute to the job (Penn State coach) Bill O'Brien and the staff did," Shurburtt said.

But signing day 2013 signaled that Urban Meyer's Buckeyes and Brady Hoke's Wolverines are primed to pull away from most of the Big Ten, and maybe — just maybe — give the league a team or two that can challenge those SEC teams for a national title.



Notre Dame followed up its best season in more than two decades with a recruiting class that coach Brian Kelly hopes can keep the Fighting Irish contending for more national titles.

The class includes a famous name in Torii Hunter Jr., the son of the All-Star outfielder. Hunter Jr. is a top-notch receiver prospect, though he broke his leg during an All-Star game and it could be a while before he's back on the football field.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith from Fort Wayne, Ind., is generally regarded as the jewel of a class that experts have ranked among the best in the country.

"I love agreeing with experts," Kelly said.



Oklahoma hopes it has found the next Sam Bradford in Cody Thomas, a pocket passer from Colleyville, Texas.

One small problem. Thomas is also a big-time baseball player who could draw interest in the major league draft this summer.

"We wouldn't have pursued him if we didn't feel there was a great chance he'd be playing football," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.



South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said recruiting classes "don't always pan out. Of course, they always seem to pan out at Alabama."


AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., and Associated Press Writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., contributed.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at

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Bring drones out of the shadows


  • John Brennan's confirmation hearing is a chance to ask about drone program, author says

  • Sarah Holewinski: Brennan is one of a few officials who knows full story on drones

  • She says senators need to ask about damage drone program does to civilians, U.S. reputation

  • Holewinski: CIA should hand over drone program to Defense Department

Editor's note: Sarah Holewinski is executive director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, which advocates protections for civilians affected by armed conflict. She was a member of the White House AIDS policy team in President Bill Clinton's second term.

(CNN) -- The president's pick for CIA director -- John Brennan -- is one of a handful of U.S. officials who understands America's covert drone campaign inside and out.

Nearly everyone else is in the dark about the whos, wheres and whys of the program, including most members of Congress. But Brennan is also one of the few U.S. officials who's stood in front of a public audience and tried to explain the targeting of terrorists outside recognized battlefields. And while overseeing a massive use of lethal force, Brennan is also known inside the administration as a moderating voice in the fight against terrorism.

Sarah Holewinski

Sarah Holewinski

The fact is, Brennan's personal views are as opaque as the drone campaign itself. He may assume leadership of the CIA and decide a clandestine agency should not conduct what is an obvious military operation (a stance I and many others would fully support); after all, a veteran of the CIA may believe the agency should get back to gritty intelligence gathering.

Or, maybe Brennan believes that when it comes to the fight against al Qaeda, the public and its Congress should trust the executive office to protect the American people by whatever means it sees fit.

One way or the other, this week's Senate confirmation hearings should be an opportunity to bring Brennan's views out of the shadows, along with the basic attributes and justifications of the covert drone campaign. The man, the machine and the policy are inextricably linked.

Bergen: John Brennan, America's drone warrior

U.S. officials have consistently claimed that offering too many details about the covert drone program could threaten national security. Fair enough; some classification for national security is understandable. But the secrecy surrounding covert drone use is unduly excessive and not in keeping with the transparent government President Barack Obama promised.

Since the bulk of Brennan's hearing will be behind closed doors, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has no reason to shy away from asking tough questions about the drone program. It matters that Congress is there to represent the American people. On their behalf, Congress has a duty to ensure the use of lethal force beyond our borders is being considered and carried out responsibly, with due consideration for the harm it may inflict on civilian populations.

Talk Back: Should U.S. be able to kill American terrorist suspects without trial?

Senators might ask a very basic question to Brennan, one that is seldom clearly answered by the administration: "What impact is the drone campaign against al Qaeda and its associates having?"

John Brennan, President Barack Obama's choice for CIA director, has been deeply involved in the U.S. drone program.

This is a fundamental question of accountability any U.S. official involved in setting or carrying out counterterrorism policy should be able to answer. That answer may describe a dwindling kill list, but it must also put forward facts about what impact drones are having on civilians living under them.

U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq learned that the positive or negative impacts of an operation on the local population are an important metric of mission effectiveness. Commanders worked hard to reverse anti-American sentiment caused by a seemingly callous U.S. attitude toward civilian deaths and injuries. In the case of counterterrorism operations, palpable anger toward America would be antithetical to the goal of decreasing the number of terrorists and those who support their cause.

As it stands, it's unclear whether anyone, including Brennan, knows what negative consequences are emerging on the ground because of remote drones.

Rather, claims of low civilian casualties and drone precision capabilities paint a picture of extreme effectiveness in taking out terrorists while sparing civilians. It's true that a drone is precise, meaning it will hit what it is aimed at -- a building, a bunker or a person. But there are valid concerns about whether the target hit is the right one.

Opinion: When are drone killings illegal?

Remote drones likely rely on sources that may be questionable such as video and cell phone intercepts to identify a target. Civilians may be mistakenly targeted as combatants and counted as such because there are no ground troops to conduct a battle damage assessment, interview witnesses or properly identify bodies.

Civilians may also get caught up in so-called "signature strikes" in which operators target individuals based on behavior, not on known identity. This is legally questionable but also has real ramifications for civilians living under drones.

If a civilian in Pakistan doesn't know what behavior makes him a target for U.S. drones, he cannot fully protect himself and his family. If a drone harms his family, even mistakenly, our research shows they won't receive an apology, explanation or any help from the United States. Certainly there will be no love lost for America.

Any deaths and injuries are compounded by psychological trauma, displacement and fear and suspicion among neighbors. One Pakistani told us, "We fear that the drones will strike us again. ... My aged parents are often in a state of fear. We are depressed, anxious and constantly remembering our deceased family members."

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, recently noted, "What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world. ... (T)he resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."

The drone program needs to come out of the shadows, with explanations about who is a civilian, who is a target, and how drone operators distinguish between the two.

The CIA should get out of the drone operation business, handing it over to the Defense Department, which has a culture of learning lessons, accountability to Congress and a new openness about civilian protection after 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Drone operators should be trained in civilian protection best practices, and any civilian harmed should receive recognition and help for their losses, in accordance with the values American policymakers have espoused about humanity even during times of war.

The Senate may confirm Brennan as head of the CIA. It should also confirm where he stands on government accountability for lethal force and the CIA's role in the remote drone program.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sarah Holewinski.

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Postal unions angry, customers unfazed about Saturday cut

Chicago Tribune reporter Rob Manker gathers some reactions to the recent news that the U.S. Postal Service plans to drop Saturday delivery of first-class mail by August. (Posted on: Feb. 6, 2013.)

The U.S. Postal Service's plan to end Saturday first-class delivery in August angered unions that stand to lose jobs and faces an uncertain fate in Congress.

But the decision, which the Postal Service says will save $2 billion a year, barely fazed a number of people interviewed at Chicago-area post offices.

"No one really sends letters anymore," said David Braunschweig, 63, who was at the Arlington Heights post office to mail a gift. "Putting away mail (both Saturday and Sunday), it won't kill anyone."

Hammered by competition that includes the Internet, the Postal Service lost nearly $16 billion last year and said doing away with first-class mail on Saturdays is essential to its recovery plan.

"It's an important part of our return to profitability and financial stability," Postmaster General and CEO Patrick Donahoe said at a news conference Wednesday in Washington. "Our financial condition is urgent."

The agency will continue delivering packages and filling post office boxes six days a week, and all offices that already were operating on Saturdays will continue to do so. Package volume is one bright spot for the Postal Service. It's up 14 percent since 2010, which officials attribute to the growth of online commerce.

The end of Saturday delivery would be the biggest change to mail service since the end of twice-daily delivery in the 1950s. Overall mail volume dropped by more than 25 percent from 2006 to 2011, which could explain the shrugs from several Chicago-area postal customers.

"I was accustomed to getting mail on Saturdays, but we will get accustomed to not getting it as well," Rich Klimczak, 74, said outside the Tinley Park post office. "The only thing I would not like to see is (postal workers) losing their jobs."

The move, which would take effect Aug. 5, aims to reduce the postal workforce by at least 20,000 more employees through reassignment and attrition. It would also significantly reduce overtime payments.

Local union officials estimated that 10,000 postal workers will have their workweek reduced because of the move. On Wednesday afternoon, the Chicago branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers called for Donahoe's resignation.

"USPS executives cannot save the Postal Service by tearing it apart," Cliff Guffey, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said in a statement. "These across-the-board cutbacks will weaken the nation's mail system and put it on a path to privatization."

The National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, which has about 1,500 members in the Chicago suburbs, said the elimination of Saturday service puts the Postal Service in a "death spiral."

Although the Postal Service no longer receives taxpayer money, it remains subject to oversight by Congress, which since 1983 has repeatedly passed measures requiring six-day delivery. Donahoe's announcement appeared to be an effort to force action in Congress after comprehensive postal reform legislation stalled last year.

While many members of Congress insist they would have to approve the cutback, Donahoe told reporters that the agency believes it can move forward unilaterally. The current mandate for six-day delivery is part of a government funding measure that expires in late March.

"There's plenty of time in there so if there is some disagreement" with lawmakers, "we can get that resolved," he said.

The divide among lawmakers on the issue does not break cleanly along party lines. Lawmakers who represent rural areas, who tend to be Republicans, generally have opposed service cutbacks. So have those with strong backing from postal labor unions, mostly Democrats.

Last year, the Senate approved a bill that would have allowed the Postal Service to end Saturday delivery after a two-year period to evaluate the potential effects. Similar legislation in the House never came up for a vote.

The Obama administration had included a proposal for five-day mail delivery in its 2013 budget plan. White House officials, however, had said they supported that change only in concert with other reforms. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that officials had not yet studied the latest plan.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, expressed concern that the Postal Service's unilateral announcement could complicate his plans for overall reform.

However, he added, "It's hard to condemn the postmaster general for moving aggressively to do what he believes he can and must do to keep the lights on."

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Tunisian government dissolved after critic's killing causes fury

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's ruling Islamists dissolved the government and promised rapid elections in a bid to restore calm after the killing of an opposition leader sparked the biggest street protests since the revolution two years ago.

The prime minister's announcement late on Wednesday that an interim cabinet of technocrats would replace his Islamist-led coalition came at the end of a day which had begun with the gunning down of Chokri Belaid, a left-wing lawyer with a modest political following but who spoke for many who fear religious radicals are stifling freedoms won in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings.

During the day, protesters battled police in the streets of the capital and other cities, including Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Jasmine Revolution that toppled Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

In Tunis, the crowd set fire to the headquarters of Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party which won the most seats in an legislative election 16 months ago.

Calls for a general strike on Thursday could bring more trouble though Belaid's family said his funeral, another possible flashpoint, might not be held until Friday.

Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali of Ennahda spoke on television on Wednesday evening to declare that weeks of talks among the various political parties on reshaping the government had failed and that he would replace his entire cabinet with non-partisan technocrats until elections could be held as soon as possible.

It followed weeks of deadlock in the three-party coalition. The small, secular Congress for the Republic, whose leader Moncef Marzouki has served as Tunisia's president, threatened to withdraw unless Ennahda replaced some of its ministers.

Wednesday's events, in which the Interior Ministry said one police officer was killed, appeared to have moved Jebali, who will stay on as premier, to take action.

"After the failure of negotiations between parties on a cabinet reshuffle, I have decided to form a small technocrat government," he said.

"The murder of Belaid is a political assassination and the assassination of the Tunisian revolution," he said earlier.

It was not clear whom he might appoint but the move seemed to be widely welcomed and streets were mostly calm after dark.

A leader in the secular Republican Party gave Jebali's move a cautious welcome.

"The prime minister's decision is a response to the opposition's aspirations," Mouldi Fahem told Reuters. "We welcome it principle. We are waiting for details."

Beji Caid Essebsi, leader of the secular party Nida Touns, who was premier after the uprising, told Reuters: "The decision to form a small cabinet is a belated move but an important one."


The widespread protests following Belaid's assassination showed the depth of division between Islamists and secular movements fearful that freedoms of expression, cultural liberty and women's rights were under threat just two years after the popular uprising ended decades of Western-backed dictatorship.

"This is a black day in the history of modern Tunisia. Today we say to the Islamists, 'get out', enough is enough," said Souad, a 40-year-old schoolteacher outside the ministry.

"Tunisia will sink in blood if you stay in power."

Ennahda, like its fellow Islamists in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, benefited from a solid organization that survived repression by the old regime.

And as in Egypt, the Islamists have faced criticism from secular leaders that they are trying to entrench religious ideas in the new state. A constitution is still due to be agreed before a parliamentary election which had been expected by June.

Belaid, 48, was shot at close range as he left for work by a gunmen who fled on the back of a motorcycle. Within hours, crowds were battling police, hurling rocks amid volleys of tear gas in scenes reminiscent of clashes in Egypt last month.

World powers, increasingly alarmed at the extent of radical Islamist influence and the bitterness of the political stalemate, urged Tunisians to reject violence and see through the move to democracy they began two years ago, when their revolution ended decades of dictatorship and inspired fellow Arabs in Egypt and across North Africa and the Middle East.

As in Egypt, the rise to power of political Islam through the ballot box has prompted a backlash among less organized, more secular political movements in Tunisia. Belaid, who made a name for himself by criticizing Ben Ali, led a party with little electoral support but his vocal opinions had a wide audience.

The day before his death he was publicly lambasting a "climate of systematic violence". He had blamed tolerance shown by Ennahda and its two, smaller secularist allies in the coalition government toward hardline Salafists for allowing the spread of groups hostile to modern culture and liberal ideas.

On Wednesday, thousands demonstrated in cities including Mahdia, Sousse, Monastir and Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the revolution, where police fired tear gas and warning shots at protesters who set cars and a police station on fire.

While Belaid's nine-party Popular Front bloc has only three seats in the constituent assembly, the opposition jointly agreed to pull its 90 or so members out of the body, which is acting as parliament and writing the new post-revolution charter. Ennahda and its fellow ruling parties have some 120 seats.

Since the uprising, Tunisia's new leaders have faced many protests over economic hardship and political ideas; many have complained that hardline Salafists may hijack the revolution.

Last year, Salafist groups prevented several concerts and plays from taking place in Tunisian cities, saying they violated Islamic principles. Salafists also ransacked the U.S. Embassy in September, during international protests over an Internet video.

The embassy issued a statement condemning Belaid's killing and urging justice for his killers: "There is no justification for this heinous and cowardly act," it said. "Political violence has no place in the democratic transition in Tunisia."


Declining trade with the crisis-hit euro zone has left the 11 million Tunisians struggling to achieve the better living standards many had hoped for following Ben Ali's departure.

Its compact size, relatively skilled workforce and close ties with former colonial power France and other European neighbors across the Mediterranean has raised hopes that Tunisia can set an example of economic progress for the region.

Lacking the huge oil and gas resources of North African neighbors Libya and Algeria, Tunisia counts tourism as a major currency earner and further unrest could scare off visitors vital to an industry only just recovering from the revolution.

Jobless graduate Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in December 2010 in the city, 300 km (180 miles) southwest of Tunis, after police confiscated his unlicensed fruit cart, triggering the uprising that forced Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia less than a month later, on January 14, 2011.

President Moncef Marzouki, who last month warned the tension between secularists and Islamists might lead to "civil war", cancelled a visit to Egypt scheduled for Thursday and cut short a trip to France, where he addressed the European Parliament.

"There are political forces inside Tunisia that don't want this transition to succeed," Marzouki said in Strasbourg. "When one has a revolution, the counter revolution immediately sets in because those who lose power - it's not only Ben Ali and his family - are the hundreds of thousands of people with many interests who see themselves threatened by this revolution."

Belaid, who died in hospital, said this week dozens of people close to the government had attacked a Popular Front group meeting in Kef, northern Tunisia, on Sunday. He had been a constant critic of the government, accusing it of being a puppet of the rulers of wealthy Gulf emirate Qatar.


Human Rights Watch called his murder "the gravest incident yet in a climate of mounting violence".

Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi denied any involvement by his party in the killing.

"Is it possible that the ruling party could carry out this assassination when it would disrupt investment and tourism?" Ghannouchi told Reuters.

He blamed those seeking to derail Tunisia's democratic transition: "Tunisia today is in the biggest political stalemate since the revolution. We should be quiet and not fall into a spiral of violence. We need unity more than ever," he said.

He accused opponents of stirring up sentiment against his party following Belaid's death. "The result is burning and attacking the headquarters of our party in many areas," he said.

Witnesses said crowds had also attacked Ennahda offices in Sousse, Monastir, Mahdia and Sfax.

French President Francois Hollande said he was concerned by the rise of violence in Paris's former dominion, where the government says al Qaeda-linked militants linked to those in neighboring countries have been accumulating weapons with the aim of creating an Islamic state across North Africa.

"This murder deprives Tunisia of one of its most courageous and free voices," Hollande's office said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by Alison Williams and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Yen hit near three-year low as new BOJ governor eyed

LONDON (Reuters) - The yen fell close to a three-year low on Wednesday on expectations that a new Bank of Japan governor could ease policy, while the euro was steady and European shares edged up ahead of a central bank meeting.

BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa has said he will step down on March 19, opening the way for a successor supporting the kind of expansionary policies the government favours.

The dollar touched 94.075 yen to its highest since May 2010 before profit taking saw it drop back to 93.76 yen, while the euro also rose as high as 127.71 yen, its strongest since April 2010, before it also eased.

Against the dollar, the euro dipped to $1.3546 but was within this week's range of $1.3450 - $1.3710.

New Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's support for aggressive easing does not seem to caused an outcry from other countries although there have been sporadic complaints from Germany and South Korea.

This makes yen selling comfortable, said Minori Uchida, chief currency strategist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

"The G20 finance ministers meeting next week is unlikely to discuss currencies much. The market is likely to test further downside on the yen in the near future," Uchida said.

European shares edged up and the euro was steady ahead of Thursday's European Central Bank policy meeting after recovering from falls on Monday due to a flare up of political uncertainty in Spain and Italy. The ECB is expected to keep interest rates on hold.

London's FTSE 100 <.ftse> was up 0.5 percent, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> was up 0.3 percent and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> was 0.2 percent higher at 0900 GMT, leaving the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 <.fteu3> up 0.5 percent at 1160.05.

Asian shares and industrial commodities and oil, now above $116 a barrel, consolidated recent gains that came on signs of global economic recovery.

The slide in the yen bolstered Japanese equities to their highest since October 2008 while expectations of more monetary easing pushed two-year Japanese government bond yields down to a nine-year low of 0.045 percent.

In the European bond market, benchmark German Bund futures edged up before a sale of five-year German debt that is expected to find strong demand due to a recent rise in yields and political uncertainty in Spain and Italy.

Corruption allegations in Spain have put Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy under pressure and a scandal at one of its oldest banks has led to an increasingly uncertain outcome in Italian elections later in February.

"There are fairly ominous signs (in the periphery). I know they (Italian and Spanish bonds) had a good day yesterday, but there's Spanish supply coming up," one trader said.

(Editing by Anna Willard)

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