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, dumping 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 Brooklyn 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 more than 2 feet of snow on New England by early Saturday and knocked out power to 650,000 customers. 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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To Cure a Hangover, Hang an IV Bag

In the words of every person who’s ever had too much to drink: Hangovers are the worst. They also cost a lot of money. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the economy suffers about $ 161 billion a year in lost productivity from people who are too hung over to do their jobs. People like Michael Thorns, a fundraising officer for the University of Essex, in Colchester, England, who was once so hung over he fell asleep in a training meeting with his manager. Oscar Madrigal, a call center supervisor in Costa Rica, came to work still drunk from a Super Bowl party and couldn’t remember his computer password—so he took a nap for six hours. As Oscar Wilde put it, “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”

Dr. Jack Dybis, a 45-year-old trauma surgeon at Evanston Hospital near Chicago, is out to end the curse, one overserved soul at a time. Two months ago, Dybis opened Revive, a hydration clinic that claims to be able to cure lingering jet lag or a wicked hangover by hooking patients up to a rehydration IV. “It’s a well-known trick among doctors and paramedics,” says Dybis. When he was younger, he and his friends sometimes used IV bags to help them get through 36-hour rotations at the hospital. “We put nails in the wall over our beds so we could hang an IV bag whenever we needed one,” he says. Most IV solutions are nothing but saline and vitamins. At Revive, Dybis can add nausea or headache medicine, depending on your needs. The whole process takes less than an hour and costs $ 99.

Revive isn’t the first hangover cure in a bag. Dr. Jason Burke, an anesthesiologist, does the same thing out of a bus on the Las Vegas Strip. Burke’s business, Hangover Heaven, recently started making house calls to hotel rooms; over New Year’s Eve weekend he served 80 clients (his prices range from $ 99 to $ 199), including one guy who puked 25 times. “Then there was the woman who showed up at 2 p.m. sick on cheap Chardonnay,” says Burke. “She was throwing up uncontrollably but wanted to be able to eat dinner at Craftsteak with her husband.” Burke worked his magic, and the woman ate her steak.

A hangover cure that actually worked sounded too good to be true and begged a rigorous investigation. Someone needed to get drunk—and that someone was me. I organized a team consisting of a photographer named Ryan, some of Ryan’s pals, and my high school friend Julia, who provided useful commentary: “This is much more fun than the time we mixed gin with Diet Sprite in your parents’ basement.”

We started the evening at Scofflaw, a craft cocktail lounge where every drink contains at least seven ingredients, none of which are Diet Sprite. At one point we did shots of something called Malört, which sounds like a Harry Potter villain but is actually a bitter wormwood liquor that’s made and sold only in Chicago. “I like it because it tastes like a bunch of chemicals I’m not supposed to drink,” said Matt, Ryan’s roommate. Then Matt and Ryan suggested we go to a Goth club. Under Malört’s spell, this sounded like a great idea.

fb109  etc opener07  01  inline405 To Cure a Hangover, Hang an IV BagPhotograph by Ryan Lowry for Bloomberg BusinessweekShots for everyone at Scofflaw

It was a terrible idea. The next morning, the Malört and the Goth club, plus my workweek exhaustion and a slight cold, all left me feeling, on a scale from 1 to 10, like I wanted to die. I hadn’t eaten much dinner, and I’d forgotten to drink water before bed—two things Dr. Michael Oshinsky, a hangover headache researcher at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, recommends as preventives. Oshinsky explains that I felt so horrible because my liver had converted the alcohol into a toxin called acetaldehyde, which has been linked with nausea and other hangover symptoms, and then into acetate, which causes headaches. “But alcohol is also a diuretic, so on top of that you’re dehydrated, and you lose electrolytes,” he says.

fb109  etc opener07  03  inline405 To Cure a Hangover, Hang an IV BagPhotograph by Ryan Lowry for Bloomberg BusinessweekPulling a Lindsay Lohan

I crawled over to Revive, where Dybis had me fill out some paperwork and asked questions about my medical history, such as “You don’t have any kidney problems, right?” One nurse took my blood pressure while another, Samantha, assured me that injecting myself with a giant bag of fluid wasn’t a big deal. “I did it last week when I was hung over,” she said. “You’ll feel great afterward. But you’ll have to pee a lot.”

The nurses put a needle in my arm and hooked up the IV bag while Dybis explained what he’d prescribed. He crafts each solution to fit the patient’s needs and had ordered me up a standard saline mixture full of potassium, vitamin C, and calcium, along with an anti-inflammatory drug called Toradol—a favorite of National Football League players—that promised to relieve my headache. Dybis also gave me a dose of vitamin B, which turned the IV bag bright yellow. “You may start to taste the vitamins in your mouth,” Dybis warned. Within a minute, I felt like I was licking a large One A Day.

fb109  etc opener07  04  inline405 To Cure a Hangover, Hang an IV BagPhotograph by Ryan Lowry for Bloomberg BusinessweekThe IV goes in at Revive

The nurses moved me to a secluded room with lounge chairs, blankets, magazines, mint gum, coconut water, and cold eye masks. In another room, a man in his mid-30s sat on a couch with his IV bag, watching football on a large, flat-screen TV. Revive is technically a medical facility, but it looks more like a spa: Patients recuperate separately in rooms that offer everything from wooden desks for busy professionals to quiet, windowless areas perfect for people with the flu. (Revive has recently been treating a lot of flu patients; the hydration and vitamins alleviate the symptoms.) About 10 customers come to Revive each day, usually in the morning and almost always alone. “Sometimes we’ll get a group of friends who went out the night before,” Samantha said. “It’s fun to listen to their stories about what they did to land them in this place.”

It took two IV bags and a second shot of Toradol, but after about an hour I was fully hydrated and ready to go. My headache was gone, and I actually felt better than I do most workdays. Dybis wasn’t surprised; he has one patient who’s started coming into the clinic just for the pick-me-up. “The last time she showed up I told her I didn’t think she needed an IV. This is a medical facility, not a theme park. You can’t just come in here and ask to ride the ride,” he said as the nurses wrapped gauze on my arm where the IV had been and told me to apply pressure to lessen the likelihood of a bruise.

fb109  etc opener07  05  inline405 To Cure a Hangover, Hang an IV BagPhotograph by Ryan Lowry for Bloomberg BusinessweekStarting to feel like a champ

Afterward, I met Julia for lunch. “It worked!” I told her. “That’s cool,” she said. “I just had a cup of coffee and some water. I feel better, too.” — Top News

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Visit the Capital to Celebrate Chinese New Year, as the City Comes Alive With Colour and Excitement!

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM–(Marketwire – Feb 9, 2013) – Based on the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year falls on a different day each year and each year is named and represented by a different animal from the Chinese Zodiac. This special holiday is now popular all over the world and Millennium & Copthorne Hotels have six hotels in London, including hotels in Kensington, Knightsbridge and earls court all within easy reach of the celebrations!

The largest celebrations in the capital begin at 10am on 10th February, where a parade of colourful floats will make its way through the West End, with music and stage performances taking place. When the parade arrives at Shaftesbury Avenue, local community groups and schools will be putting on plays and shows for the crowd!

Trafalgar Square will also be a hub of activity from noon, with music, dance, Chinese dragons and acrobatics. There will be performances from the ”Britain”s Got Talent” winner, Paul Potts, the Chen Brothers Flying Lion Dance and an attempt at setting a Guinness World Record, as 50,000 people are expected to assemble and recreate the dance moves to popular hit, ”Gangnam Style”.

Chinatown is, of course, at the centre of the action and the streets will be alive all day with stalls, food and music. Look out for the Lion Dance as it snakes through the crowds, stopping along the way at restaurants to wish the owners good luck for the coming year!

After an exciting day out, choose to relax at one of Millennium & Copthorne”s London hotels, which offer convenience, luxury and excellent transport links, to make your stay in the city unforgettable.


Millennium & Copthorne Hotels operates a portfolio of over 100 hotels worldwide.

Marketwire News Archive – Yahoo! Finance

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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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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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World stocks rise as China posts big trade jump

BANGKOK (AP) — World stock markets were mostly higher Friday, boosted by better-than-expected trade data from China that provided new evidence of an upswing in the world’s second-largest economy.

Exports rose 25 percent in January from a year earlier, the government reported, while imports soared 28 percent. A large part of the increase was due to companies rushing to fill orders before shutting down for up to two weeks for the Lunar New Year holidays that begin Sunday.

“Seeing the underlying trend is a little difficult. Nevertheless, the data were above expectations and seem generally positive,” said Moody’s Analytics economist Alaistair Chan in a report.

A more accurate picture of China‘s trade at the beginning of the year will emerge once February’s data is released, said Dariusz Kowalczyk of Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong. But he added that investors still might interpret the January figures at face value and push up stock markets.

European stocks rose in early trading. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent to 6,257.97. Germany’s DAX added 0.4 percent to 7,616.93 and France’s CAC-40 advanced 0.6 percent 3,623.22.

Wall Street was poised for a higher opening after a session of losses. Dow futures rose nearly 0.1 percent to 13,909 and S&P 500 futures advanced 0.1 percent to 1,506.70.

Hong Kong‘s Hang Seng rose 0.2 percent to 23,215.16. South Korea‘s Kospi advanced 1 percent to 1,950.90. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.7 percent to 4,971.30. Benchmarks in Singapore, mainland China and Thailand also rose.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 tumbled 1.8 percent to 11,153.16, slumping after a recent rally spurred by a weakening yen.

Some analysts believe the yen’s weakness may have bottomed out. A weaker yen benefits Japan’s export manufacturers because it makes their products cheaper in overseas markets.

Many stock markets across Asia, including those in mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, will be closed Monday for holidays celebrating the Lunar New Year. Hong Kong‘s holidays run through to Wednesday while China and Taiwan are closed all week. Japan’s markets are also closed Monday.

Among individual stocks, Japan’s Panasonic Corp. fell 5.4 percent while Sony Corp. plummeted 10.1 percent. The struggling electronics giant reported a 10.7 billion yen ($ 115 million) loss for the October-December quarter on Thursday.

South Korea’s Samsung Electronics rose 3 percent. Australia’s Newcrest Mining advanced 5 percent.

Wall Street fell Thursday as weaker earnings unnerved investors despite data suggesting that company layoffs are easing. Media conglomerate News Corp. cut its forecast for annual earnings. Sprint Nextel Corp., the third-largest wireless carrier in the U.S., lost $ 1.3 billion in its latest quarter as it revamped its network to take on larger competitors.

On the bright side, fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week. Applications for unemployment benefits falling 5,000 to 366,000.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 14 cents to $ 95.97 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 79 cents to finish at $ 95.83 a barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $ 1.3407 from $ 1.3401 late Thursday in New York. The dollar was down at 92.80 yen from 93.52 yen.


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Mom, I bought a car. Can you pay for it?

65ca8  TaraMello 66x76 Mom, I bought a car. Can you pay for it?Dear Driving for Dollars,
My 18-year-old son, a college freshman, recently purchased a car. It was quite spontaneous, and neither I nor his dad knew he was doing it. It’s been a few weeks, and he realizes now that he cannot afford to make the payments. We cannot afford to make the payments for him. How can he get rid of this car?
– Laurie

Dear Laurie,
It sounds like he purchased the car entirely on his own, meaning no one else’s name appears on the car loan, the title or any of the paperwork. If that’s the case, the car and the car loan are legally just his responsibility, and you have no legal responsibility to help him out. In most states, there is no “cooling off” period for a car purchase, so it’s likely that you have no legal leg to stand on to insist the car be taken back, since he is technically an adult.

First, do a little legwork to find out what the car is worth — at a dealership and in a private-party sale — and compare it to what he owes. Hopefully, the gap is minimal. Next, contact the manager of the dealership to see if you can get him to take pity on your son’s bad decision and allow him to return the car.

Even if you can negotiate the car being returned plus a small payment to compensate for the depreciation, it’s likely this will be the cheapest way out of the situation. If the dealer won’t take it back under any circumstances, consider selling the car privately and paying off the car loan. Again, it’s likely your son will be on the hook for some cash due to depreciation, but if you or someone you know can give him a loan to cover the difference, it will be better than him being saddled with a high monthly car payment or wrecking what little credit he has through late payments.

Get more news, money-saving tips and expert advice by signing up for a free Bankrate newsletter.

Bankrate’s content, including the guidance of its advice-and-expert columns and this website, is intended only to assist you with financial decisions. The content is broad in scope and does not consider your personal financial situation. Bankrate recommends that you seek the advice of advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances before making any final decisions or implementing any financial strategy. Please remember that your use of this website is governed by Bankrate’s Terms of Use.

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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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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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Weaker yen helps keep Sony on course for profit target

TOKYO (Reuters) – Sony Corp stuck with its full-year profit forecast as a weaker yen and asset sales underpinned earnings, offsetting weaker demand for its televisions, game consoles and other devices.

Sony, which is doubling down on consumer electronics in a bid to revive the company, joined domestic rivals Sharp and Panasonic in reporting a quarterly operating profit, although analysts are skeptical the industry can regain its former status.

The maker of PlayStation games and Bravia TVs held its full-year operating profit forecast of 130 billion yen ($ 1.4 billion), compared with a consensus estimate of 119 billion yen of 19 analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Sony made a 67 billion yen operating loss in 2011/12.

“If this weak yen rate persists it should provide us with a big upside,” said Chief Financial Officer Masaru Kato.

In the three months to December 31, Sony posted 46.4 billion yen in operating profit compared with a 91.7 billion yen loss a year ago. The result came in below the average 72.1 billion yen profit estimated by six analysts.

Japanese firms, once key innovators in consumer electronics, have been overtaken by rivals such as Samsung Electronics and Apple Inc , and have lost out as consumers flock to smartphones and tablets.

Sony under its latest CEO, Kazuo Hirai, is focusing on mobile phones and tablets, cameras and gaming in a bid to return the company to profit. It is also expanding its medical devices through an investment in endoscope maker Olympus Corp .

Sony cut its November forecast for full-year sales of TV sets from 14.5 million to 13.5 million, but kept its prediction for an 11 percent decline in sales of its PlayStation games console to 16 million.

The company also pared its estimate for sales of compact cameras for the year to 15 million from an earlier estimate of 16 million. It was down from 21 million a year earlier.

It cut its estimate for PSP and PS Vita handheld devices to 7 million from a November estimate of 10 million.


Sony for now is boosting earnings through asset sales it books as operating profit. A rapid fall in the value of the yen against the dollar, and other currencies is also helping the company, which sells most of its products outside Japan. The yen weakened 11 percent against the U.S. dollar during the final three months of the year, and by 14 percent against the euro.

Hirai said in January that any assets not adding to core business, helping grow new businesses or aiding the turnaround of the TV unit could be sold.

Sony, which is also axing 10,000 jobs this business year, last month agreed to sell its U.S. headquarters building in New York City for $ 1.1 billion. It has also put one of its main buildings in central Tokyo up for sale in a deal that could raise a further $ 1.1 billion, sources have told Reuters.

The tech giant last year sold its chemical unit to a state-sponsored bank in Japan for $ 700 million, and is also mulling the sale of its battery business.

With its credit rating eroding, including a downgrade along with Panasonic, to below investment grade by Fitch last year, Sony faces higher borrowing costs.

Since the start of the year Sony’s shares have gained nearly 60 percent, rebounding from 30-year lows, compared with a 9 percent rise in the benchmark Nikkei 225 <.n225>. Its share rose 2.6 percent on Thursday to close at 1,519 yen before it released its results for the quarter. ($ 1 = 93.5450 Japanese yen)</.n225>

(Editing by Richard Pullin)

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Stock index futures signal mixed open

PARIS (Reuters) - Stock index futures pointed to a mixed open on Wall Street on Thursday. Futures for the S&P 500 were down 0.05 percent, Dow Jones futures down 0.07 percent and Nasdaq 100 futures up 0.05 percent at 0933 GMT.

European shares steadied on Thursday as investors awaited the European Central Bank's policy meeting later in the day and President Mario Draghi's views on the region's growth prospects.

Draghi faces a grilling over the euro's sharp rise and his connection to an Italian banking scandal at the ECB meeting where interest rates are almost certain to be unchanged.

Visa Inc's quarterly profit beat analysts' estimates for the ninth consecutive quarter.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp on Wednesday reported higher quarterly revenue and profit on strong growth at its cable assets including its Regional Sports and FX networks.

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.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc forecast sales growth for the current quarter that is slightly lower than analysts expected as retailers work through unsold inventory of its products after a slower-than-expected holiday season.

Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd , the main manufacturer of Apple Inc products, said on Thursday consolidated January sales dropped 8.19 percent from a year earlier.

A U.S. judge threw out a lawsuit from South Korea's Woori Bank accusing Bank of America Corp's Merrill Lynch unit of misleading investors about the riskiness of collateralized debt obligations, saying the suit had missed a deadline under South Korean law.

CVS Caremark Corp said on Wednesday it bought Drogaria Onofre, Brazil's eighth-largest drugstore chain last week, marking the first time the drugstore and pharmacy services company has ventured outside the United States.

Michael Dell and his investment firm are putting up $750 million in cash toward the $24.4 billion purchase of Dell Inc to help bankroll the largest private equity-backed buyout since the financial crisis.

Yelp Inc posted a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss and its shares fell 6 percent in after-market trading as the consumer review website faces competition from Facebook Inc .

Chipmaker TriQuint Semiconductor Inc forecast current-quarter results below analysts' estimates after some orders were pulled into the fourth quarter, sending its shares down 8 percent.

Allstate Corp's quarterly profit fell 45 percent on losses from superstorm Sandy, but the home and auto insurer said it has paid out about 95 percent of Sandy claims and is seeing rate increases across businesses.

Herbalife Inc disclosed more information on Wednesday about how much its U.S. distributors earn, looking to provide more clarity as it defends its business model from critics like billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman.

On the macro front, investors awaited weekly jobless claims, due at 1330 GMT, as well as quarterly data on productivity and unit labor costs, also due at 1330 GMT.

Among the companies set to report results on Thursday feature Coca-Cola Enterprises , Hasbro, Inc. , Philip Morris International and Sprint Nextel Corp. .

U.S. stocks ended mostly flat on Wednesday, taking another pause in the recent rally that has driven the S&P 500 to five-year highs, as transportation and technology shares lost ground.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 7.22 points, or 0.05 percent, at 13,986.52. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 0.83 points, or 0.05 percent, at 1,512.12. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 3.10 points, or 0.10 percent, at 3,168.48.

(Reporting by Blaise Robinson; editing by Stephen Nisbet)

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Braun says he used Fla clinic owner as consultant

NEW YORK (AP) — Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun said the person who ran the Florida clinic being investigated by Major League Baseball was used only as a consultant on his drug suspension appeal last year.

"I have nothing to hide," Braun said in a statement released by his representatives on Tuesday night.

Earlier in the day, Yahoo Sports reported the 2011 NL MVP's name showed up three times in records of the Biogenesis of America LLC clinic. Yahoo said no specific performance-enhancing drugs were listed next to his name.

The Miami New Times recently released clinic documents that purportedly linked Alex Rodriguez, Gio Gonzalez, Melky Cabrera and other players to purchases of banned drugs from the now-closed anti-aging center.

Rodriguez and Cabrera were on the list with Braun that also included New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and Baltimore Orioles infielder Danny Valencia.

Braun said his name was in the Biogenesis records because of an issue over payment to Anthony Bosch, who ran the clinic near Miami.

"There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch's work, which is why my lawyer and I are listed under 'moneys owed' and not on any other list," Braun said.

"I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch," he said. "I will fully cooperate with any inquiry into this matter."

On Tuesday, MLB officials asked the Miami New Times for the records the alternative newspaper obtained for its story.

Asked specifically about Braun's name in the documents before the five-time All-Star released his statement, MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said: "Aware of report and are in the midst of an active investigation in South Florida."

Braun tested positive during the 2011 postseason for elevated testosterone levels. He maintained his innocence and his 50-game suspension was overturned during spring training last year when arbitrator Shyam Das ruled in favor of Braun due to chain of custody issues involving the sample.

With that, Braun became the first major leaguer to have a drug suspension overturned.

"During the course of preparing for my successful appeal last year, my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Tony Bosch, used him as a consultant. More specifically, he answered questions about T/E ratio and possibilities of tampering with samples," Braun said.

The T/E ratio is a comparison of the levels of testosterone to epitestosterone.

Braun led the NL in homers (41), runs (108) and slugging percentage (.595) last season while batting .319 with 112 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. He finished second to San Francisco catcher Buster Posey in MVP balloting."

Cervelli, who spent nearly all of last season in Triple-A, posted a statement on Twitter later Tuesday night.

"Following my foot injury in March 2011, I consulted with a number of experts, including BioGenesis Clinic, for (cont)," Cervelli posted, "(cont)legal ways to aid my rehab and recovery. I purchased supplements that I am certain were not prohibited by Major League Baseball."

An email sent to Valencia's agent was not returned.

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What follows N. Korea's nuclear test?


  • Lopez: Uranium-based blast would pose new challenge to U.N. Security Council

  • Indicates Pyongyang has advanced centrifuge technologies and related systems

  • North Korea's young leader appears to care little about what U.N. or China think

  • Product-based sanctions may stifle the North's ability to continue nuclear program

Editor's note: George A. Lopez holds the Hesburgh Chair in Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame. He is a former member, U.N. Panel of Experts on North Korea, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Indiana, U.S. (CNN) -- North Korea will soon test its third nuclear device. Earlier tests in 2006 and 2009 drew worldwide condemnation, Security Council sanctions and led Pyongyang to withdraw from the six-party talks.

In resolution 2087, passed on January 22, the Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea for its December 12 space missile launch and made clear that new violations would be dealt with harshly.

READ: N.Korea: Close to nuclear missile?

In response, North Korea rejected Council legitimacy, asserted their right to nuclear weapons and deterrence and proclaimed it would soon conduct a new nuclear test.

In addition the North engaged in some strong saber-rattling aimed at South Korea.

READ: For South Koreans, a familiar tone from Pyongyang

Because some analysts believe this will be a uranium explosion, it is a game-changer for the region and poses new and unfavorable challenges to the Security Council. A successful uranium test indicates that Pyongyang has advanced centrifuge technologies and related support systems. It means that North Korea, if left unchecked, can both produce and export such material, raising new concerns that Pyongyang and Iran cooperate in such developments.

Politically the test will reveal that the new regime of Kim Jong-Un exceeds the defiance to U.N. dictates of his predecessors in pursuing his nation's nuclear goals. Neither the prospect of stronger sanctions, nor the growing discontent of Russia and China with his behavior, appears to deter North Korea's young leader.

OPINION: Rescind North Korea's license to provoke

These dilemmas confront the permanent five members of the Council with a harsh reality check regarding their unity of action and what message to convey to the north via what particular sanctions. If the Council follows the logic of resolution 2087, it will impose more extensive and punishing sanctions than ever before. Such sanctions will blacklist companies, government agencies and individuals long known for their role in illicit technology procurement and sanctions evasion. They will expand financial sanctions into areas of banking that would require substantial transnational enforcement to bite, and they may call upon countries in the region to inspect almost all North Korean trade. The economic squeeze and further isolation of the DPRK will increase substantially.

READ: Why sticks don't work with North Korea

These sanctions would require China to play an enforcement role against North Korean economic actors it has hitherto resisted. Seizing prohibited goods that pass through Dalian harbor and other trans-shipment points, as well as shutting down various border activities, would also fall to China. These extensive sanctions as punishment operate from the assumption that at some point the north will forego its nuclear program in order to survive as an authoritarian state.

But there may be an alternative to the punishment approach that could bring Beijing on board with effective Council action. China might well accept specialized trade sanctions aimed to degrade the DPRK's ability to sustain the nuclear program for lack of material and due to prohibitive costs of sanctions busting, as a way of conveying to Pyongyang that it must return to the negotiating table.

The logic of extensive new product-focused sanctions is that DPRK can make -- or jerry-rig -- only a small fraction of the advanced technologies and specialty materials that sustain an ongoing uranium enrichment program. To choke off these materials -- and the illicit means of financing them -- provides the Council with a possibility to make it technically impossible for DPRK to have a functioning uranium-based bomb program.

Precise lists of dozens of the materials used in centrifuge operation that should be sanctioned are already recorded for the Council in the reports of their Panel of Experts for the DPRK. Lists of related materials have also been developed by the Nuclear Supplies Group. To date the permanent five have sanctioned only a very few of the materials on either list. The Council also needs member states to strengthen export, customs and financial controls on dual-use items that are "below grade" of those newly sanctioned items. This will stifle the North's ability to upgrade or jerry-rig these hitherto unsanctioned items as a way of maintaining their program.

READ: Five things to know about North Korea's planned nuclear test

Also critical to the success of this choking of supplies would be stricter controls of the illicit financing that supports such trade. Putting strong enforcement behind the 2087 resolution's concern about DPRK cash flows, especially through its embassies, is also in order.

Another, somewhat unprecedented, sanctions option would be a Council-issued travel ban on North Korea placed on all scientists, engineers and others with specialized expertise in centrifuge technologies and uranium enrichment.

Political agreement on these measures will not be easy to attain among the permanent five nations of the Security Council. But a product-focused sanctions approach -- especially leveraged to aim for more direct diplomatic engagement with the DPRK while denying them material to grow their illicit programs -- has the best chance of gaining Council consensus.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of George A. Lopez.

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