Oscar Pistorius gets bail as murder trial looms

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius walked out of court Friday — free at least for now — after a South African magistrate released him on bail, capping four days of often startling testimony that foreshadowed a dramatic trial in the Valentine's Day slaying of his girlfriend.

But as he was driven away, chased by photographers and cameramen, questions continued to hound the double-amputee Olympian about what actually happened the night he gunned down Reeva Steenkamp inside a locked bathroom in his home.

Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder, and even Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair expressed doubts about his story that he mistook the 29-year-old model for an intruder and fired out of fear.

"Why would (Pistorius) venture further into danger" by going into the bathroom at all, Nair asked.

Cries of "Yes!" went up from Pistorius' supporters when Nair announced his decision to a packed courtroom after a nearly two-hour explanation of the ruling.

Nair set bail at 1 million rand ($113,000), with $11,300 in cash up front and proof that the rest is available. The 26-year-old track star was also ordered to hand over his passports, turn in any guns he owns and keep away from his upscale home in a gated community in Pretoria, which is now a crime scene.

He cannot leave the district of Pretoria without his probation officer's permission and is not allowed to consume drugs or alcohol, the magistrate said. His next court appearance was set for June 4.

Earlier, Pistorius alternately wept and appeared solemn and composed, especially as Nair criticized police procedures in the case and as a judgment in the track star's favor appeared imminent. He showed no reaction as he was granted bail.

Pistorius left the courthouse in a silver Land Rover just over an hour after the bail conditions were set. The vehicle, tailed by motorcycles carrying television cameramen, later pulled into the home of Pistorius' uncle.

"We are relieved at the fact that Oscar got bail today, but at the same time we are in mourning for the death of Reeva, with her family," said Pistorius' uncle, Arnold Pistorius. "As a family, we know Oscar's version of what happened on that tragic night and we know that that is the truth and that will prevail in the coming court case."

Dozens of journalists and international and local television crews had converged on the red-brick courthouse to hear the decision — a sign of the global fascination with a case involving a once-inspirational athlete and his beautiful girlfriend, a law school graduate and budding reality TV show contestant.

Nair said Pistorius' sworn statement, an unusual written account of what happened during the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, had helped his application for bail.

"I come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail," Nair said.

Pistorius said he shot Steenkamp accidentally, believing she was an intruder in his house. He described "a sense of terror rushing over" him and feeling vulnerable because he stood only on his stumps before opening fire.

Prosecutors say he intended to kill Steenkamp as she cowered in fear behind the locked bathroom door after a loud argument between the two.

Yet despite poking holes in Pistorius' version of events and bringing up incidents they say highlight his temper, the state's case started to unravel during testimony by the lead investigator, Detective Warrant Officer Hilton Botha.

Botha, who faces seven charges of attempted murder in an unrelated incident, was removed from the case Thursday. His replacement, the nation's top detective, Vinesh Moonoo, stopped by the hearing briefly Friday.

While Nair leveled harsh criticism at Botha for "errors" and "blunders," he said one man does not represent an investigation and that the state could not be expected to put all "the pieces of the puzzle" together in such a short time.

The prosecution accepted the judge's decision without protest. "We're still confident in our case," prosecution spokesman Medupe Simasiku said.

Pistorius faced the sternest bail requirements in South Africa because of the seriousness of the charge, which carries a life sentence if convicted. His defense attorneys had to prove that he would not flee the country, would not interfere with witnesses or the case, and his release would not cause public unrest.

Nair questioned whether Pistorius would be a flight risk when he stood to lose a fortune in cash, cars, property and other assets. Nair also said that while it had been shown that Pistorius had aggressive tendencies, he did not have a prior record of offenses for violent acts.

Anticipating the shape of the state's case at trial, he said he had serious questions about Pistorius' account: Why didn't he try to locate his girlfriend if he feared an intruder was in the house? Why didn't he try to determine who was in the bathroom before opening fire? And why did he venture into perceived "danger" in the bathroom when he could have taken other steps to ensure his safety?

"There are improbabilities which need to be explored," Nair said, adding that Pistorius could clarify these matters by testifying under oath at trial.

Sharon Steenkamp, Reeva's cousin, said the model's family would not be watching the bail decision and had not been following the hearing.

"It doesn't make any difference to the fact that we are without Reeva," she told The Associated Press.

Before the hearing, Pistorius' longtime coach, Ampie Louw, said he hoped to put the runner back into his training routine if he got bail.

"The sooner he can start working the better," said Louw, who persuaded the double-amputee to take up track as a teenager a decade ago. But he acknowledged Pistorius could be "heartbroken" and unwilling to immediately pull on the carbon-fiber running blades that earned him the nickname "Blade Runner."


AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray contributed to this report from Johannesburg.


Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .

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Analysis: Italian election explained

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


  • Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back for the fourth time

  • The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11%

  • Pier Luigi Bersani of the center-left Democratic Party is expected to narrowly win

  • Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances

(CNN) -- Little more than a year after he resigned in disgrace as prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back -- for the fourth time.

Berlusconi, the septuagenarian playboy billionaire nicknamed "Il Cavaliere," has been trailing in polls behind his center-left rival, Per Luigi Bersani.

But the controversial media tycoon's rise in the polls in recent weeks, combined with widespread public disillusionment and the quirks of Italy's complex electoral system, means that nothing about the race is a foregone conclusion.

Why have the elections been called now?

Italian parliamentarians are elected for five-year terms, with the current one due to end in April. However in December, Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL) withdrew its support from the reformist government led by Mario Monti, saying it was pursuing policies that "were too German-centric." Monti subsequently resigned and the parliament was dissolved.

Berlusconi -- the country's longest serving post-war leader -- had resigned the prime ministerial office himself amidst a parliamentary revolt in November 2011. He left at a time of personal and national crisis, as Italy grappled with sovereign debt problems and Berlusconi faced criminal charges of tax fraud, for which he was subsequently convicted. He remains free pending an appeal. He was also embroiled in a scandal involving a young nightclub dancer - which led him to be charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute.

MORE: From Venice to bunga bunga: Italy in coma

He was replaced by Monti, a respected economist and former European Commissioner, who was invited by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano to lead a cabinet of unelected technocrats. Monti's government implemented a program of tax rises and austerity measures in an attempt to resolve Italy's economic crisis.

Who are the candidates?

The election is a four-horse race between political coalitions led by Bersani, Berlusconi, Monti, and the anti-establishment movement led by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo. Polls are banned within two weeks of election day, but the most recent ones had Bersani holding onto a slender lead over Berlusconi, followed by Grillo in distant third.

READ MORE: Will Monte Paschi banking scandal throw open Italy's election race?

The center-left alliance is dominated by the Democratic Party, led by Bersani. He is a former Minister of Economic Development in Romano Prodi's government from 2006-8 -- and has held a comfortable lead in polls, but that appears to be gradually being eroded by Berlusconi.

Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances, and the Democratic Party has teamed with the more left-wing Left Ecology Freedom party.

The 61-year-old Bersani comes across as "bluff and homespun, and that's part of his appeal -- or not, depending on your point of view," said political analyst James Walston, department chair of international relations at the American University of Rome.

He described Bersani, a former communist, as a "revised apparatchik," saying the reform-minded socialist was paradoxically "far more of a free marketeer than even people on the right."

Bersani has vowed to continue with Monti's austerity measures and reforms, albeit with some adjustments, if he wins.

At second place in the polls is the center-right alliance led by Berlusconi's PdL, in coalition with the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League.

Berlusconi has given conflicting signals as to whether he is running for the premiership, indicating that he would seek the job if his coalition won, but contradicting that on other occasions.

In a recent speech, he proposed himself as Economy and Industry Minister, and the PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano as prime minister.

Roberto Maroni, leader of the Northern League, has said the possibility of Berlusconi becoming prime minister is explicitly ruled out by the electoral pact between the parties, but the former premier has repeatedly said he plays to win, and observers believe he is unlikely to pass up the chance to lead the country again if the opportunity presents itself.

Berlusconi has been campaigning as a Milan court weighs his appeal against a tax fraud conviction, for which he was sentenced to four years in jail last year. The verdict will be delivered after the elections; however, under the Italian legal system, he is entitled to a further appeal in a higher court. Because the case dates to July 2006, the statute of limitations will expire this year, meaning there is a good chance none of the defendants will serve any prison time.

He is also facing charges in the prostitution case (and that he tried to pull strings to get her out of jail when she was accused of theft) -- and in a third case stands accused of revealing confidential court information relating to an investigation into a bank scandal in 2005.

Despite all this, he retains strong political support from his base.

"Italy is a very forgiving society, it's partly to do with Roman Catholicism," said Walston. "There's sort of a 'live and let live' idea."

Monti, the country's 69-year-old technocrat prime minister, who had never been a politician before he was appointed to lead the government, has entered the fray to lead a centrist coalition committed to continuing his reforms. The alliance includes Monti's Civic Choice for Monti, the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy.

As a "senator for life," Monti is guaranteed a seat in the senate and does not need to run for election himself, but he is hitting the hustings on behalf of his party.

In a climate of widespread public disillusionment with politics, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo is also making gains by capturing the protest vote with his Five Star Movement. Grillo has railed against big business and the corruption of Italy's political establishment, and holds broadly euro-skeptical and pro-environmental positions.

How will the election be conducted?

Italy has a bicameral legislature and a voting system which even many Italians say they find confusing.

Voters will be electing 315 members of the Senate, and 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Both houses hold the same powers, although the Senate is referred to as the upper house.

Under the country's closed-list proportional representation system, each party submits ranked lists of its candidates, and is awarded seats according to the proportion of votes won -- provided it passes a minimum threshold of support.

Seats in the Chamber of Deputies are on a national basis, while seats in the senate are allocated on a regional one.

The party with the most votes are awarded a premium of bonus seats to give them a working majority.

The prime minister needs the support of both houses to govern.

Who is likely to be the next prime minister?

On current polling, Bersani's bloc looks the likely victor in the Chamber of Deputies. But even if he maintains his lead in polls, he could fall short of winning the Senate, because of the rules distributing seats in that house on a regional basis.

Crucial to victory in the Senate is winning the region of Lombardy, the industrial powerhouse of the north of Italy which generates a fifth of the country's wealth and is a traditional support base for Berlusconi. Often compared to the U.S. state of Ohio for the "kingmaker" role it plays in elections, Lombardy has more Senate seats than any other region.

If no bloc succeeds in controlling both houses, the horse-trading begins in search of a broader coalition.

Walston said that a coalition government between the blocs led by Bersani and Monti seemed "almost inevitable," barring something "peculiar" happening in the final stages of the election campaign.

Berlusconi, he predicted, would "get enough votes to cause trouble."

What are the main issues?

There's only really one issue on the agenda at this election.

The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11% -- and hitting 37% for young people.

Voters are weighing the question of whether to continue taking Monti's bitter medicine of higher taxation and austerity measures, while a contentious property tax is also proving a subject of vexed debate.

Walston said the dilemma facing Italians was deciding between "who's going to look after the country better, or who's going to look after my pocket better."

He said it appeared voters held far greater confidence in the ability of Monti and Bersani to fix the economy, while those swayed by appeals to their own finances may be more likely to support Berlusconi.

But he said it appeared that few undecided voters had any faith in Berlusconi's ability to follow through on his pledges, including a recent promise to reverse the property tax.

What are the ramifications of the election for Europe and the wider world?

Improving the fortunes of the world's eighth largest economy is in the interests of Europe, and in turn the global economy.

Italy's woes have alarmed foreign investors. However, financial commentator Nicholas Spiro, managing director of consultancy Spiro Sovereign Strategy, says the European Central Bank's bond-buying program has gone a long way to mitigating investors' concerns about the instability of Italian politics.

Why is political instability so endemic to Italy?

Italy has had more than 60 governments since World War II -- in large part as a by-product of a system designed to prevent the rise of another dictator.

Parties can be formed and make their way on to the political main stage with relative ease -- as witnessed by the rise of Grillo's Five Star Movement, the protest party which was formed in 2009 but in local and regional elections has even outshone Berlusoni's party at times.

Others point to enduringly strong regional identities as part of the recipe for the country's political fluidity.

READ MORE: Italian Elections 2013: Fame di sapere (hunger for knowledge)

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Regulator raps Big Four accountants

PWC’s Richard Sexton says there is no conflict of interest in auditing and being appointed by company management

Britain’s four biggest accountancy firms have been heavily criticised by the Competition Commission.

The regulator has accused PWC, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG of being too dominant and not always meeting a shareholder’s needs.

The four accountancy firms act as auditors for 90% of the UK’s stock-market listed big companies.

They have also been criticised in the past for not doing enough to warn of the financial crisis.

Critics say accountants failed to scrutinise the banks’ balance sheets properly, missing the warning signals that led to government bailouts.

The concern is that the relationship between auditors and company management becomes too comfortable with a “tendency for auditors to focus on satisfying management rather than shareholders’ needs”.

Continue reading the main story

What do accountants do?

  • Review a company’s financial position for investors

  • Help with tax compliance

  • Structure business in a tax efficient way

  • Help to detect fraud

  • Look after companies when they go bust

  • Restructure companies to stop them going bust

  • Help raise finance for company takeovers

  • Help companies to float on the stock exchange

“It is clear that there is significant dissatisfaction amongst some institutional investors with the relevance and extent of reporting in audited financial reports,” said Laura Carstensen, chair of the Audit Investigation Group.

She added that “management may have incentives to present their accounts in the most favourable light, whereas shareholder interests can be quite different”.

“We have found that there can be benefits to companies and their shareholders from switching auditors, but too often, senior management at large companies are inclined to stick with what they know.”

The Competition Commission pointed out that companies do not tend to change their auditors – with almost a third of the FTSE 100 having used the same one for more than 20 years.

‘Gross underestimation’

She said her organisation was looking into different ways of encouraging competition in the industry. Mandatory rotation of audit firms is one idea being considered, as well as forcing companies to put the contract out to tender after a certain period.

The Big Four argue that the market is competitive and say many big clients doubt that smaller firms could build up their expertise fast enough.

“We are very clear that we report to the shareholders and engage with the Audit Committee as their representatives,” said PWC’s Richard Sexton.

Continue reading the main story

Lack of competition

FTSE 100 firms

  • 31% had same auditor for more than 20 years

  • 67% had same auditor for more than 10 years

FTSE 250 firms

  • 20% had same auditor for more than 20 years

  • 52% had same auditor for more than 10 years

Source: Competition Commission

“We believe that the Competition Commission have grossly underestimated the critical role that Audit Committees play in protecting the interests of shareholders.”

‘Significant flaws’

This was echoed by Ernst and Young, who said that competition in the market was “healthy and robust”.

Ernst and Young’s Hywel Ball added that they would co-operate fully with the inquiry but states that he did not believe that mandatory audit firm rotation was in the public interest.

Deloitte said it did not believe that the current market led to high prices, as contended by the Competition Commission, and added: “We categorically disagree that auditors typically place the interests of management over shareholders.”

However, one of the smaller rivals to the Big Four, the BDO, said it was pleased that the report had confirmed “significant flaws” in the market.

“No one solution will achieve market correction, but rather a combination of tendering requirements, encouragement of transparency and dialogue between auditors, companies and investors, and reform of outdated exclusionary practices should provide a backdrop for a healthier FTSE 350 audit market,” said Simon Michaels, managing partner at BDO.

The report is a preliminary one, with the final version due to be published in October. No evidence of tacit collusion was found.

Europe and the US are also looking into new rules for accountants. US audit regulators are also considering forcing companies to change auditors at regular intervals.

The European Commission wants to break up the Big Four, splitting their audit and their consulting businesses. Any new division would have to use a different name.

BBC News – Business

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Ronda Rousey makes historic UFC debut in Anaheim

Ronda Rousey has an Olympic judo medal, an undeniable personal magnetism and a merciless string of victories in her short mixed martial arts career.

Now she’s finally got a showcase worthy of her talent.

Rousey and Liz Carmouche will make history Saturday night at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., when they meet in the first women’s bout in UFC history. They’re the main event at UFC 157, and Rousey is the star of the latest pay-per-view show put on by MMA’s dominant promotion.

It’s a scenario that was fairly unimaginable even a year ago in the UFC, which never had a women’s division and showed scant interest in that version of the sport. Rousey and her fellow fighters have created believers at every level of MMA in the past few years, culminating in this breakthrough onto its biggest stage.

“I feel like the brighter the lights are, the better I can see,” Rousey said.

“These are things that needed to be done for a very long time now, and I didn’t think that waiting for somebody else to do it was the wisest thing to do,” she added. “I feel like I’m the most capable person, and I should do whatever I can to make it happen.”

It’s all happening for Rousey, who has already graced magazine covers and national talk shows with a sparkling wit and charm that’s in sharp contrast to her savage, joint-dislocating performances in the cage. After winning each of her first six professional MMA fights by painful armbar submissions in the first round, Rousey is a huge favorite to retain the UFC women’s bantamweight belt handed to her by UFC President Dana White last year after she defended her title in the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion.

“It’s very serendipitous, the way it’s all come together,” said Rousey, a Southern California native who lives beachside in Venice. “If I could have had everything exactly the way I wanted, this is how I would have written it down. Win all my fights in the first round, then go to the UFC and headline a show, and have it as a pay-per-view and at home. People’s dreams don’t come true like that. You think so when you’re a kid, but then you get older and realize that’s not the real world. I guess the real world is pretty cool sometimes, too.”

As the anointed face of her sport, Rousey’s profile is growing among casual sports fans, even overtaking the stature of Gina Carano, the former fighter who got an acting career when director Steven Soderbergh saw her fighting on CBS. On the heels of the wildly successful debut of women’s boxing at the London Olympics, Rousey seems poised to take the so-called combat sports to greater exposure than ever before.

She already won over the most important skeptic of all: White, who initially wanted no part of women’s MMA.

“After we met, she told me she had envisioned in her mind that she was going to make it so that I couldn’t deny women, that I would have to bring her into the UFC,” White said. “We’ve had some pretty crazy conversations about a lot of things, but she was right. She willed it so that there was no way I was not going to do it.”

Rousey specializes in the armbar, a judo technique that bends an opponent’s arm in grotesque fashion until she taps out or gets a dislocated elbow. Rousey has an equally spectacular way with words: During promotion for her final Strikeforce fight against Sarah Kaufman last August, Rousey vowed to rip off Kaufman’s arm and throw it at her corner. She settled for her sixth straight armbar.

“Everybody calls her a one-trick pony, but she’s fought a lot of women that are very good, who all know exactly what she’s going to do, and they can’t stop her,” White said. “She goes right in and gets you down, goes for that arm, and they can’t stop her from doing it. She doesn’t want her arm raised in a decision. She wants to finish you, and that’s what I like.”

She’s not talking any trash for her UFC debut, though: Rousey has a warm mutual respect with Carmouche, a Marine from San Diego.

Carmouche is the first openly gay fighter in UFC history, yet she’s nearly a footnote in the UFC 157 hype compared to Rousey’s rising star. Carmouche realizes Rousey is supremely gifted, but eagerly took this historic chance to be in the UFC’s first women’s fight.

Carmouche thinks she’ll contribute to the growth of women’s MMA, something she sees every day as an instructor for children.

“When I started the program two years ago, we had one girl that was involved just because her father also participated,” Carmouche said. “Now we have multiple girls in the program, so I see it evolving every day.”

Early last year, women’s MMA resembled a minor-league novelty to White. He saw no depth of talent, no groundswell of support, and no compelling reason to muddle his carefully managed brand with one-sided fights featuring women getting beaten bloody.

Rousey changed his mind with her skill, presence, charisma and marketability. When she steps into the UFC octagon, it will complete a remarkable rise for a bronze medalist at the Beijing Olympics who swiftly picked up MMA before her pro debut in March 2011.

Rousey was a two-time Olympic judoka who won the U.S. team’s first medal in the sport, but realized she had little to show for a career in the sport once dominated by her mother, Ann-Maria.

Adrift after growing disenchanted with the American judo establishment, she picked up grappling as a way to combat weight gain from “the Jameson diet” of whiskey shots while working at a bar. Her grappling teammates began encouraging her to try MMA, jokingly at first.

“After a while, I was saying, ‘You know what, you’re right, I would beat any of those women today,’” Rousey said with a laugh. “They said, ‘No, I don’t want to see you get punched!’ You tell me not to? I’m totally going to do it now. When everybody was telling me, ‘No,’ I knew I’d found my new thing.”

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Investors face another Washington deadline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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NFL exec: HGH testing resolution needed

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch says the league and players association need to reach agreement soon on HGH testing.

The NFL and the union agreed in principle to HGH testing when a new 10-year labor agreement was reached in August 2011. But protocols must be approved by both sides and the players have questioned the science in the testing procedures, stalling implementation.

Speaking at the scouting combine Thursday, Birch says the NFL has full confidence in the test and "should have been a year into this by now." He calls the delays "a disservice to all of us."

On Tuesday, the union said in a conference call it favors HGH testing, but only with a strong appeal process. Otherwise, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said, "it's just a nonstarter."

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Obama a marker on post-racial path

Donna Brazile says Black History Month is a time to note crossroads the nation has faced.


  • Donna Brazile: Black History Month themed crossroads, "tied to two pivotal U.S. events

  • Emancipation Proclamation, March on Washington were crossroads, she says

  • She says crossroad decisions are threaded along U.S. road to post-racial society

  • Brazile: We're not there yet, but re-election of Obama a harbinger

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- Politicians and historians love to use the word "crossroads."

It's become as American, and cliched, as "Mom's apple pie." The historian Shelby Foote, wrote, "The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. ... It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads."

I have been thinking about the word, because this year's Black History Month theme is "At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington." Two pivotal events that shaped modern American history.

A "crossroads" is literally the intersection of two or more roads -- two or more paths to get to the same place. Metaphorically, it refers to the place -- the moment -- of a critical decision. Shall we go forward together? Shall we separate? Shall we fight?

Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile

We mark history's crossroads not by road signs but by the documents that identify them. The Declaration of Independence is certainly one. Who has not memorized the opening of the second paragraph? "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Political philosopher John Locke's original term was, "Life, liberty, and property." Thomas Jefferson borrowed the phrase, changing "property" to "the pursuit of happiness." He understood that "happiness" -- being significant -- was more important than property, and that a "right to property" too often meant a "right" to own someone else, i.e. slavery.

Locke rejected the "divine right of kings." He argued instead that God invested each person with an innate equality -- the right to be on this Earth and to be free -- free to pursue dreams. On the way to his first inauguration, Abraham Lincoln stopped at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to celebrate Washington's birthday. He told the assembled crowd, "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence."

Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 was another crossroads, one that required Lincoln, and the nation, to walk a long road of personal and national growth. "All men are created equal" had to take on a deeper meaning. Frederick Douglass, one of Lincoln's "guides" on his journey, later said the quality he most admired in Lincoln was his political courage.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis once acknowledged to an Atlantic Monthly writer that Lincoln's Emancipation resulted in the self-liberation of "two millions of our slaves."

A journey of a hundred years brought us to another crossroads -- the 1963 March on Washington. While "property in man" no longer existed, millions of Americans were unable to pursue their dream, or to live with full equality.

James Farmer, a leading civil rights activist who was in jail in my home state of Louisiana, sent a message to the quarter-million in attendance that summer day, saying his people would not be free "until the dogs stop biting us in the South and the rats stop biting us in the North."

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, like the Declaration, resonates. It echoes through the years in the heartbeats of Americans. The "pursuit of happiness" is more than pleasure, for we often take great pains in the pursuit. Rather, the pursuit of happiness is the freedom to pursue our dreams, to make meaning in and find the unique significance of our lives.

That is something we can only do when, in the bonds of fellowship and shared history, we nurture our dreams. The caged bird sings of freedom, but the freed bird sings of dreams. Today, we are 150 years further down the road to realizing the American creed of equality and freedom. We reached a crossroads in 2008 with the election of our first African-American president. We chose to continue on the road to a "post-racial" society.

We're not there yet. But in 2012, when we could have chosen to travel down another road, one that led to further economic inequality, we chose instead to continue the realization of equality and freedom, and to the unfettered pursuit of dreams for each American.

In some ways, the re-election of President Obama is more significant than his election four years ago. I say this not because I'm a Democrat, but because this time, the dog-whistles of racism were called out and condemned by people of faith and goodwill on both sides of the aisle.

During the next four years, we'll come to more crossroads. I pray, and believe, we will take the road to freedom and equality for each child, man and woman in America.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

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In the Debate Over French Labor, Everyone Is Wrong

Maurice Taylor Jr., the blunt-talking chairman and chief executive officer of U.S. tiremaker Titan International (TWI), has outraged France by claiming that the country’s “so-called workers” fritter away their working days with breaks and chitchat.

In a letter to French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, Taylor said Titan had no interest in taking over a factory in the city of Amiens that Goodyear Tire & Rubber (GT) plans to close. “I have visited the factory a couple of times,” he wrote. “The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told the French union workers this to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!”

Montebourg on Feb. 20 fired back with a letter blasting Taylor for his “perfect ignorance of our country” and extolling what he described as France’s “globally recognized attractiveness” for business investment.

Taylor and Montebourg are both dead wrong.

Even allowing some room for exaggeration—would Goodyear really pay employees for a full day when they worked only three hours?—Taylor is mistaken that French workers are lazy and overpaid.

France’s productivity—total economic output divided by the number of hours worked—is among the highest in the developed world, higher even than Germany’s. Nor are French paychecks lavish. Average after-tax incomes in France are about one-third lower than in the U.S., and trail those in many Western European nations as well. You can’t really blame French unions, either. Union membership in France is much lower than in Germany.

Why, then, are French labor costs so high? On average it costs a French employer €34 ($ 44.89) an hour to keep a worker on the payroll, more than in any euro-zone country except Belgium.

The answer—and this is where Monsieur Montebourg gets it wrong—is that the government burdens employers with payroll taxes and regulations that drive costs through the roof. That explains why France has lost more industrial jobs than any European country during the past decade. Tens of thousands more, including some 1,173 positions at Goodyear’s Amiens plant, are at risk.

Recent government initiatives, including temporary credits to offset payroll taxes, don’t appear to be helping much, as unemployment claims are at a 15-year high. And the government hasn’t had much success in finding buyers for ailing factories. Titan, based in Quincy, Ill., is one of several that have walked away from such deals in recent months.

Even some unions now agree that France needs to overhaul its stifling 3,200-page labor code that imposes costly job protections and benefits, which cause employers to avoid hiring workers on permanent contracts. Then there’s the maximum 35-hour workweek, imposed by a previous Socialist government in 2000. It’s been watered down since then but still adds significantly to business costs.

Still another factor are the charges piled on employers to support French government spending, which accounts for a staggering 56 percent of the economy. Mandatory employer contributions toward pensions, unemployment insurance, health care, and other benefits can add 50 percent to an employee’s base salary.

True, French workers benefit from those programs, which help offset their relatively modest wages. It’s a safe bet, though, that most of the country’s 3 million unemployed would rather be working than on the dole. Otherwise, why would employees be fighting so hard to save their jobs at Goodyear, Peugeot (UG), ArcelorMittal (MT), and other companies that are downsizing their French operations?

Yet despite all these problems, French labor is among the most productive in the world. How can that be? Weird as it may seem, the 35-hour work week and chronically high unemployment have actually helped improve productivity, says Renaud Bourlès, an economist who has studied the phenomenon. “When you have a longer working day, at some point because you’re becoming tired, it decreases your productivity,” says Bourlès, who works at the Aix-Marseille School of Economics and the École Centrale Marseille. And when unemployment is high, companies tend to hire and retain the best-qualified and most-productive workers, he says.

Whether they’re productive or not, Taylor has made it clear he has no interest in French workers. The combative 68-year-old CEO—whose nickname is “The Grizz,” and who sought the Republican presidential nomination on a platform that included eliminating sick pay for government workers—told Montebourg he’ll invest elsewhere.

“Titan is going to buy a Chinese tire company or an Indian one, pay less than one euro per hour wage, and ship all the tires France needs,” he wrote. “You can keep the so-called workers.”

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Genetic Technologies Announces Financial Results for Half-Year Ended 31 December 2012

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA–(Marketwire – Feb 22, 2013) – Genetic Technologies Limited ( ASX : GTG ) ( NASDAQ : GENE )

  • Increases in BREVAGen™ samples received demonstrate clear market traction

  • Encouraging early results achieved in the new molecular diagnostics reimbursement environment

  • Increased licensing revenues show renewed success from global assertion programs

Genetic Technologies Limited ( ASX : GTG ) ( NASDAQ : GENE ) today announced its financial results for the first half of the Company’s fiscal year ending 30 June 2013. The Company reported a total comprehensive loss of $ 3.7 million for the period, which compares to a loss of $ 3.3 million for the corresponding prior period. The Company’s cash position as of 31 December 2012 totalled $ 5.9 million.

Of particular note during the period, the Company saw a marked improvement in the number of samples received for BREVAGen™, its flagship non-familial breast cancer risk assessment test. The 2013 half-year delivered 546 samples for testing, representing an increase of nearly 240% over the corresponding prior period and more than 30% over the number received for the entire previous twelve-month period, demonstrating increasing traction in the market. Further, the Company noted a significant improvement in the number of samples received in the December quarter (368), more than double those received in the preceding September quarter (178).

The achievement of “Out of State Licensure” for the key states of Florida and California during the period was a milestone achievement, enabling access to significant new markets for the test. The Company expects to receive approval to launch the test in New York State during the fourth quarter of 2013. Once achieved, BREVAGen™ will be approved for sale in all 50 U.S. States.

1 January 2013 marked a material change in the U.S. reimbursement environment for molecular diagnostics, resulting in the removal of the CPT code stack system for insurance claims. In response, the Company has initiated strategies to maintain the positive performance of the reimbursement program achieved to date.

“We are very pleased with the increased traction for BREVAGen™ that has been demonstrated through refinements in messaging and sales channel management since the appointment of Mark Ostrowski as Senior VP Sales and Marketing in September,” said Alison Mew, Chief Executive Officer of Genetic Technologies. ”Mark brings to the Company a wealth of experience from his time at Myriad Genetics and he has already applied a number of important initiatives to enhance the BREVAGen™ selling process and maximize our market effectiveness. In response to recent changes made to reimbursement guidelines in the U.S., I am pleased that the initiatives we have put in place to address levels of reimbursement received and timeline of claims adjudication have delivered encouraging results thus far.”

Revenues generated by the Company’s global out-licensing program for the half-year under review were more than doubled those of the half-year period ended 31 December 2011, and materially exceeded the revenues generated by the program for the full 2012 financial year. Importantly, recent changes to the program have streamlined the Company’s operations and established new arrangements under which the Company’s share of future licensing revenues will increase. It is anticipated that this renewed momentum will continue into the second half of the current financial year resulting in additional licenses to the Company’s non-coding technology being granted.

About BREVAGen™
The BREVAGen™ breast cancer risk stratification test is a novel genetic test panel that examines a patient’s DNA to detect the absence or presence of certain common genetic variations (SNPs) associated with an increased risk for developing breast cancer. The test is designed to help physicians assess aggregate breast cancer risk from these genetic markers, plus factors from a standard clinical assessment based on a patient’s family and personal history, thus giving a clearer picture of an individual woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. The BREVAGen™ test may be especially useful for women predisposed to hormone dependant breast cancer, including those who have undergone breast biopsies, as the test will provide information that can help physicians recommend alternative courses of action, such as more vigilant, targeted surveillance or preventive therapy, on a personalized patient-by-patient basis.

About Genetic Technologies Limited
Genetic Technologies was an early pioneer in recognizing important new applications for “non-coding” DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid). The Company has since been granted patents in 24 countries around the world, securing intellectual property rights for particular uses of non-coding DNA in genetic analysis and gene mapping across all genes in all species. Its business strategy is the global commercialization of its patents through an active out-licensing program and the global expansion of its oncology and cancer management diagnostics portfolio. Genetic Technologies is an ASX and NASDAQ listed company with operations in the USA and Australia. For more information, please visit www.gtglabs.com.

Safe Harbor Statement
Any statements in this press release that relate to the Company’s expectations are forward-looking statements, within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act. The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA) implemented several significant substantive changes affecting certain cases brought under the federal securities laws, including changes related to pleading, discovery, liability, class representation and awards fees and of 1995. Since this information may involve risks and uncertainties and are subject to change at any time, the Company’s actual results may differ materially from expected results. Additional risks associated with Genetic Technologies’ business can be found in its periodic filings with the SEC.

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Stock index futures signal a rebound

LONDON (Reuters) - Stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Wall Street on Friday, rebounding after the S&P 500 <.spx> posted its worst two-day loss since November.

Futures for the S&P 500, the Dow Jones and the Nasdaq 100 were up 0.2-0.3 percent at 0958 GMT.

European shares rose and German Bund futures fell on Friday after a better-than-expected German Ifo survey.

Shares in Hewlett-Packard rose 2.9 percent in after-market trade as the computer maker's quarterly revenue and forecasts beat Wall Street expectations.

Chipmaker Texas Instruments Inc raised its quarterly dividend by a third and said it will buy back an additional $5 billion in stock. TI shares rose 2 percent in after-market trading after closing at $32.48 on the Nasdaq.

Fellow chipmaker Marvell Technology Group Ltd forecast results this quarter largely above analysts' expectations as it gained market share in hard-disk drive and flash storage businesses, sending its shares up 5 percent after the closing bell.

Insurer American International Group Inc reported fourth-quarter results that beat Wall Street expectations, helping its shares rise 4.2 percent in after hours trade.

Citigroup Inc said on Thursday it has overhauled an executive pay plan that shareholders rejected last year as overly generous, revising it to tie bonus payments more closely to stock performance and profitability.

Newmont Mining Corp , the No. 1 U.S. gold producer, said on Thursday that a more disciplined approach to spending and cost cuts is its top priority as leadership of the company shifts to Gary Goldberg, who takes over as chief executive on March 1.

Private equity firm KKR & Co LP has submitted an offer of $75 per share for Gardner Denver Inc GDI.N, valuing the industrial machinery maker at close to $3.7 billion, two people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

Interpublic Group, the second-biggest U.S. advertising and marketing group, is expected to follow larger rival Omnicom in reporting upbeat quarterly results, with earnings per shares seen up $0.03 year on year to $0.53 on higher revenue from the United States.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> fell 46.92 points, or 0.34 percent, to 13,880.62 on Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> lost 9.53 points, or 0.63 percent, to 1,502.42. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> dropped 32.92 points, or 1.04 percent, to close at 3,131.49.

(Reporting By Francesco Canepa/editing by Chris Pizzey, London MPG Desk, +44 (0)207 542-4441)

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Prosecutors: Detective should be dropped from case

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority acknowledged that the timing of attempted murder charges against a police detective leading the investigation into Oscar Pistorius is "totally weird" and that he should dropped from the case against the world-famous athlete.

Bulewa Makeke, spokeswoman for the NPA, said Thursday that detective Hilton Botha should be replaced, but that it's a decision for police and not prosecutors.

Police said Thursday that Botha, who gave testimony Wednesday opposing Pistorius' application for bail, faces attempted murder charges in connection with a 2011 shooting incident.

Police said Botha and two other police officers had fired at a minibus and will appear in court in May to face seven counts of attempted murder.

Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder in the Valentine's Day shooting of his girlfriend.

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How secure is the papal election?

The Conclave of Cardinals that will elect a new pope will meet in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.


  • Bruce Schneier: Rules for picking a new pope are very detailed

  • He says elaborate precautions are taken to prevent election fraud

  • Every step of the election process is observed by people who know each other

  • Schneier: Vatican's procedures, centuries in the making, are very secure

Editor's note: Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and author of "Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Survive." In 2005, before the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, Schneier wrote a piece on his blog about the process. This essay is an updated version, reflecting new information and analysis.

(CNN) -- As the College of Cardinals prepares to elect a new pope, security people like me wonder about the process. How does it work, and just how hard would it be to hack the vote?

The rules for papal elections are steeped in tradition. John Paul II last codified them in 1996, and Benedict XVI left the rules largely untouched. The "Universi Dominici Gregis on the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff" is surprisingly detailed.

Every cardinal younger than 80 is eligible to vote. We expect 117 to be voting. The election takes place in the Sistine Chapel, directed by the church chamberlain. The ballot is entirely paper-based, and all ballot counting is done by hand. Votes are secret, but everything else is open.

Bruce Schneier

Bruce Schneier

First, there's the "pre-scrutiny" phase.

"At least two or three" paper ballots are given to each cardinal, presumably so that a cardinal has extras in case he makes a mistake. Then nine election officials are randomly selected from the cardinals: three "scrutineers," who count the votes; three "revisers," who verify the results of the scrutineers; and three "infirmarii," who collect the votes from those too sick to be in the chapel. Different sets of officials are chosen randomly for each ballot.

Each cardinal, including the nine officials, writes his selection for pope on a rectangular ballot paper "as far as possible in handwriting that cannot be identified as his." He then folds the paper lengthwise and holds it aloft for everyone to see.

When everyone has written his vote, the "scrutiny" phase of the election begins. The cardinals proceed to the altar one by one. On the altar is a large chalice with a paten -- the shallow metal plate used to hold communion wafers during Mass -- resting on top of it. Each cardinal places his folded ballot on the paten. Then he picks up the paten and slides his ballot into the chalice.

Pope may change rules to allow earlier election

If a cardinal cannot walk to the altar, one of the scrutineers -- in full view of everyone -- does this for him.

If any cardinals are too sick to be in the chapel, the scrutineers give the infirmarii a locked empty box with a slot, and the three infirmarii together collect those votes. If a cardinal is too sick to write, he asks one of the infirmarii to do it for him. The box is opened, and the ballots are placed onto the paten and into the chalice, one at a time.

When all the ballots are in the chalice, the first scrutineer shakes it several times to mix them. Then the third scrutineer transfers the ballots, one by one, from one chalice to another, counting them in the process. If the total number of ballots is not correct, the ballots are burned and everyone votes again.

To count the votes, each ballot is opened, and the vote is read by each scrutineer in turn, the third one aloud. Each scrutineer writes the vote on a tally sheet. This is all done in full view of the cardinals.

The total number of votes cast for each person is written on a separate sheet of paper. Ballots with more than one name (overvotes) are void, and I assume the same is true for ballots with no name written on them (undervotes). Illegible or ambiguous ballots are much more likely, and I presume they are discarded as well.

Then there's the "post-scrutiny" phase. The scrutineers tally the votes and determine whether there's a winner. We're not done yet, though.

The revisers verify the entire process: ballots, tallies, everything. And then the ballots are burned. That's where the smoke comes from: white if a pope has been elected, black if not -- the black smoke is created by adding water or a special chemical to the ballots.

Being elected pope requires a two-thirds plus one vote majority. This is where Pope Benedict made a change. Traditionally a two-thirds majority had been required for election. Pope John Paul II changed the rules so that after roughly 12 days of fruitless votes, a simple majority was enough to elect a pope. Benedict reversed this rule.

How hard would this be to hack?

First, the system is entirely manual, making it immune to the sorts of technological attacks that make modern voting systems so risky.

Second, the small group of voters -- all of whom know each other -- makes it impossible for an outsider to affect the voting in any way. The chapel is cleared and locked before voting. No one is going to dress up as a cardinal and sneak into the Sistine Chapel. In short, the voter verification process is about as good as you're ever going to find.

A cardinal can't stuff ballots when he votes. The complicated paten-and-chalice ritual ensures that each cardinal votes once -- his ballot is visible -- and also keeps his hand out of the chalice holding the other votes. Not that they haven't thought about this: The cardinals are in "choir dress" during the voting, which has translucent lace sleeves under a short red cape, making sleight-of-hand tricks much harder. Additionally, the total would be wrong.

The rules anticipate this in another way: "If during the opening of the ballots the scrutineers should discover two ballots folded in such a way that they appear to have been completed by one elector, if these ballots bear the same name, they are counted as one vote; if however they bear two different names, neither vote will be valid; however, in neither of the two cases is the voting session annulled." This surprises me, as if it seems more likely to happen by accident and result in two cardinals' votes not being counted.

Ballots from previous votes are burned, which makes it harder to use one to stuff the ballot box. But there's one wrinkle: "If however a second vote is to take place immediately, the ballots from the first vote will be burned only at the end, together with those from the second vote." I assume that's done so there's only one plume of smoke for the two elections, but it would be more secure to burn each set of ballots before the next round of voting.

The scrutineers are in the best position to modify votes, but it's difficult. The counting is conducted in public, and there are multiple people checking every step. It'd be possible for the first scrutineer, if he were good at sleight of hand, to swap one ballot paper for another before recording it. Or for the third scrutineer to swap ballots during the counting process. Making the ballots large would make these attacks harder. So would controlling the blank ballots better, and only distributing one to each cardinal per vote. Presumably cardinals change their mind more often during the voting process, so distributing extra blank ballots makes sense.

There's so much checking and rechecking that it's just not possible for a scrutineer to misrecord the votes. And since they're chosen randomly for each ballot, the probability of a cabal being selected is extremely low. More interesting would be to try to attack the system of selecting scrutineers, which isn't well-defined in the document. Influencing the selection of scrutineers and revisers seems a necessary first step toward influencing the election.

If there's a weak step, it's the counting of the ballots.

There's no real reason to do a precount, and it gives the scrutineer doing the transfer a chance to swap legitimate ballots with others he previously stuffed up his sleeve. Shaking the chalice to randomize the ballots is smart, but putting the ballots in a wire cage and spinning it around would be more secure -- albeit less reverent.

I would also add some kind of white-glove treatment to prevent a scrutineer from hiding a pencil lead or pen tip under his fingernails. Although the requirement to write out the candidate's name in full provides some resistance against this sort of attack.

Probably the biggest risk is complacency. What might seem beautiful in its tradition and ritual during the first ballot could easily become cumbersome and annoying after the twentieth ballot, and there will be a temptation to cut corners to save time. If the Cardinals do that, the election process becomes more vulnerable.

A 1996 change in the process lets the cardinals go back and forth from the chapel to their dorm rooms, instead of being locked in the chapel the whole time, as was done previously. This makes the process slightly less secure but a lot more comfortable.

Of course, one of the infirmarii could do what he wanted when transcribing the vote of an infirm cardinal. There's no way to prevent that. If the infirm cardinal were concerned about that but not privacy, he could ask all three infirmarii to witness the ballot.

There are also enormous social -- religious, actually -- disincentives to hacking the vote. The election takes place in a chapel and at an altar. The cardinals swear an oath as they are casting their ballot -- further discouragement. The chalice and paten are the implements used to celebrate the Eucharist, the holiest act of the Catholic Church. And the scrutineers are explicitly exhorted not to form any sort of cabal or make any plans to sway the election, under pain of excommunication.

The other major security risk in the process is eavesdropping from the outside world. The election is supposed to be a completely closed process, with nothing communicated to the world except a winner. In today's high-tech world, this is very difficult. The rules explicitly state that the chapel is to be checked for recording and transmission devices "with the help of trustworthy individuals of proven technical ability." That was a lot easier in 2005 than it will be in 2013.

What are the lessons here?

First, open systems conducted within a known group make voting fraud much harder. Every step of the election process is observed by everyone, and everyone knows everyone, which makes it harder for someone to get away with anything.

Second, small and simple elections are easier to secure. This kind of process works to elect a pope or a club president, but quickly becomes unwieldy for a large-scale election. The only way manual systems could work for a larger group would be through a pyramid-like mechanism, with small groups reporting their manually obtained results up the chain to more central tabulating authorities.

And third: When an election process is left to develop over the course of a couple of thousand years, you end up with something surprisingly good.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bruce Schneier.

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Sony Seeks an Extra Life in the New PlayStation 4

Trinitron. Betamax. Walkman. CD. MiniDisc. PlayStation. Blu-ray.

All of those things have come from Sony (SNE). Only one of them remains at all relevant. (I’ll give you a hint: It’s not the MiniDisc.)

Wednesday, Sony introduced its new PlayStation 4 gaming console to the world. The last time Sony had such a major upgrade to its gaming system was November 2006, which seems like eons ago. Think about it: When the PlayStation 3 was introduced:

  • There were no iPhones.

  • There was no Android.

  • There was no iPad, nor any modern tablets.

  • There was no Angry Birds.

  • Netflix could send video directly to your home—by mail.

This isn’t just a walk down memory lane. All of these developments have, in different ways, upended the traditional structure of console gaming, and none of them came from Sony.

Today we play games on mobile devices with abandon. Smartphones and tablets may not provide the experience that harder-core gamers look for, but they certainly satisfy the much larger group of occasional players. We’re accustomed to deviceless services now—streaming Netflix (NFLX) requires a commoditized piece of hardware that’s as unobtrusive as a drinks coaster.

Sony has a proud tradition of making great hardware. Maybe too proud: The company continues to develop new technologies, only to misjudge what consumers want. Sony was the first major manufacturer of an e-book reader, long before the Kindle, but the device was bogged down with a clumsy syncing process and a limited library of titles.

The PS4 is not at all the same: It’s the fourth generation of a franchise that has been, at times, the only bright spot in Sony’s constellation of products. But developing a new console—even an extremely capable one—seems somewhat out of step at a time when the idea of the console itself is in question.

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Shares, euro extend losses as Europe recovery hopes dim

LONDON (Reuters) - European shares and the single currency fell sharply on Thursday when surprisingly weak euro zone economic data dashed hopes of an early recovery for the recession-hit region this year.

Economists had forecast the euro zone purchasing managers' indexes (PMIs), based on surveys of business activity, would add to tentative signs a recovery was under way, but instead they pointed to a first-quarter contraction of up to 0.3 percent.

"The expectation was the trend of improvement for the euro zone as a whole would continue and it hasn't, so that is a disappointment," said BNP Paribas economist Ken Wattret.

The euro tumbled to a fresh six-week low below $1.32 on the news, having already suffered at the hands of a resurgent greenback following signals from the U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday that it was considering an end to monetary stimulus.

Signs that Fed policymakers were becoming increasingly reluctant to continue aggressive monetary easing, revealed in the minutes of the last policy meeting, had sparked a worldwide selloff in riskier asset markets.

MSCI's world equity index <.miwd00000pus>, already down 0.5 percent on the doubts about future Fed policy, took another step down after the PMI data to be one percent lower for the day, having touched its best levels since mid-2008 on Wednesday.

Europe's Eurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> shed 1.25 percent, on track for its second biggest daily loss of the year. London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were all down as much as 1.8 percent lower.


In the fixed income market, German bonds, considered a safe haven, hit their best levels for a month with the main Bund futures contract up 91 ticks to 143.33. The move reversed a fall seen on Wednesday and was also being supported by the approach of an Italian general election this weekend.

"Investors are becoming more and more cautious ahead of the weekend ... and altogether people decided here to pull the trigger and go risk-off," said Christian Lenk, a strategist at DZ Bank.

The dollar, another safety play, followed up its big gains on Wednesday adding a further 0.45 percent on an index value that includes most major currencies <.dxy>, although it slipped against the yen to 93.35.

The Markit composite PMI for the euro zone, which combines both services and manufacturing surveys, fell to 47.3 in February from 48.6. It had been expected to rise to 49.0.

The data also showed a growing gap between Germany and France - the two biggest economies in the euro zone - which could have implications for the European Central Bank's future monetary policy.

The survey found firms in Germany are enjoying a healthy rate of growth, while French service sector companies are in the midst of their worst slump since the financial crisis was at a peak in early 2009.

"The theme is still the very substantial divergence between France and Germany and that is going continue to be the case for much of the year," said Wattret of BNP Paribas.

"On the margins this is going to resonate with the dovish tone from the ECB at its last meeting, but I think the real swing factor for the ECB will be exchange rate factor and the tightening impact it is having."

The strength of the euro has been holding back exports.

In commodity markets, the prospect of weakening demand from Europe and a possible early end to the Fed's policy of quantitative easing sent all markets lower.

London copper struck its lowest in nearly two months, at $7,870 a tonne, while oil dropped below $114.50 a barrel for the first time this month having seen its biggest daily fall of the year on Wednesday.

Growth-attuned precious metal platinum fell 3 percent to hit a five-week low. Traditional safe haven gold popped higher, to $1,568 an ounce, after the Fed minutes had pushed it to a seven-month low.

"Long-position holders have been looking to sell for profit-taking," said Yusuke Seta, a commodity sales manager at Newedge Japan. "I guess this is a good time to sell."

(Additional reporting by Marc Jones.; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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Police oppose bail for Pistorius

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Killing suspect Oscar Pistorius is a flight risk and should not be granted bail, South African police argued in court Wednesday.

Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the Valentine's Day shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp with a 9 mm pistol.

Pistorius asserted in a court affidavit Tuesday that the shooting was accidental and he thought the model was an intruder in his home.

Police officer Hilton Botha said in the star athlete's bail hearing Wednesday that Pistorius illegally possessed .38-caliber ammunition in a safe in his bedroom. The policeman testified that Pistorius did not have a license for a .38-caliber weapon and consequently possession of that ammunition was illegal.

The detective said that all Pistorius would say after the shooting was "he thought it was a burglar."

In an additional revelation Wednesday, police said they found two boxes of testosterone and needles in the Pistorius' bedroom.

Pistorius' defense lawyer, Barry Roux, said the substance found in the bedroom was a "herbal remedy" not a steroid and not a banned substance.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said police are not saying that Pistorius used the substance, simply that it was found in his bedroom.

Pistorius became the first Paralympian runner to compete at the Olympic Games in London last year.

Pistorius, 26, has insisted he shot the 29-year-old Steenkamp by mistake, fearing there was an intruder in his gated and guarded luxury complex in the capital, Pretoria.

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Obama can't kick his legacy down road

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst

February 19, 2013 -- Updated 2122 GMT (0522 HKT)

President Obama has a small window of opportunity to get Congress to act on his priorities, Gloria Borger says.


  • Gloria Borger: Prospect of deep budget cuts was designed to compel compromise

  • She says the "unthinkable" cuts now have many supporters

  • The likelihood that cuts may happen shows new level of D.C. dysfunction, she says

  • Borger: President may want a 2014 House victory, but action needed now

(CNN) -- So let's try to recount why we are where we are. In August 2011, Washington was trying to figure out how to raise the debt ceiling -- so the US might continue to pay its bills -- when a stunt was hatched: Kick the can down the road.

And not only kick it down the road, but do it in a way that would eventually force Washington to do its job: Invent a punishment.

Gloria Borger

Gloria Borger

If the politicians failed to come up with some kind of budget deal, the blunt instrument of across-the-board cuts in every area would await.

Unthinkable! Untenable!

Until now.

In fact, something designed to be worse than any conceivable agreement is now completely acceptable to many.

And not only are these forced budget cuts considered acceptable, they're even applauded. Some Republicans figure they'll never find a way to get 5% across-the-board domestic spending cuts like this again, so go for it. And some liberal Democrats likewise say 8% cuts in military spending are better than anything we might get on our own, so go for it.

The result: A draconian plan designed to force the two sides to get together has now turned out to be too weak to do that.

And what does that tell us? More about the collapse of the political process than it does about the merits of any budget cuts. Official Washington has completely abdicated responsibility, taking its dysfunction to a new level -- which is really saying something.

We've learned since the election that the second-term president is feeling chipper. With re-election came the power to force Republicans to raise taxes on the wealthy in the fiscal cliff negotiations, and good for him. Americans voted, and said that's what they wanted, and so it happened. Even the most sullen Republicans knew that tax fight had been lost.

Points on the board for the White House.

Now the evil "sequester" -- the forced budget cuts -- looms. And the president proposes what he calls a "balanced" approach: closing tax loopholes on the rich and budget cuts. It's something he knows Republicans will never go for. They raised taxes six weeks ago, and they're not going to do it again now. They already gave at the office. And Republicans also say, with some merit, that taxes were never meant to be a part of the discussion of across-the-board cuts. It's about spending.

Here's the problem: The election is over. Obama won, and he doesn't really have to keep telling us -- or showing us, via staged campaign-style events like the one Tuesday in which he used police officers as props while he opposed the forced spending cuts.

What we're waiting for is the plan to translate victory into effective governance.

Sure, there's no doubt the president has the upper hand. He's right to believe that GOP calls for austerity do not constitute a cohesive party platform. He knows that the GOP has no singular, effective leader, and that its message is unformed. And he's probably hoping that the next two years can be used effectively to further undermine the GOP and win back a Democratic majority in the House.

Slight problem: There's plenty of real work to be done, on the budget, on tax reform, on immigration, climate change and guns. A second-term president has a small window of opportunity. And a presidential legacy is not something that can be kicked down the road.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

Part of complete coverage on

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