Pending home sales hit two-and-half year high in November






WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes rose in November to their highest level in 2-1/2 years, an industry group said on Friday, further evidence of a strengthening housing market recovery.


The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed last month, increased 1.7 percent to 106.4 – the highest level since April 2010 when the home-buyer tax credit expired.






Economists polled by Reuters had expected signed contracts, which become sales after a month or two, to rise 1.0 percent after a revised 5.0 percent increase in October. It was the third straight month of gains.


“Home sales are recovering now based solely on fundamental demand and favorable affordability conditions,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.


Pending home sales were up 9.8 percent in the 12 months through November.


The housing market has turned the corner after a dramatic collapse, which dragged the economy through its worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.


Home sales and prices are rising, encouraging builders to undertake new construction projects.


Home resale contracts were up in three of the country’s four regions. They were unchanged in the South.


(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Neil Stempleman)


Business News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Prosecco sparkles as shoppers tighten belts






Looking to celebrate this festive season? You’ll be in good company if you pop open a bottle of Prosecco.


As Europe’s age of austerity grinds on, squeezing household budgets, the sparkling Italian wine is fast replacing champagne as the party fizz of choice.






“Prosecco is well-established as a popular alternative to champagne in Europe, but now it looks as if it will also become a household name over here,” said Alain Guilpain, wine manager at Tesco, the U.K.’s biggest retailer.


Guilpain said Tesco’s sales of Prosecco almost doubled in 2012, bucking a sparkling-wine downturn seen across the retail industry. Tesco’s best-selling Prosecco is priced at just under �10 ($ 16) a bottle. A bottle of champagne typically costs about twice that.


Champagne sales in the U.K. have fallen this year by about 9% percent, to 17 million bottles. Sparkling wine sales, including Prosecco, have risen by 6% to 61 million bottles.


Switching to sparkling wine is just one way consumers are looking to save this holiday period. Shoppers across Europe have been hunting for bargains and putting off buying until the last minute.


Even in Germany, which has so far avoided the recession gripping much of the region, the late rush right before Christmas Eve was particularly pronounced, the national retail association said. Still, it is expecting holiday sales to have risen by 1.5% to 80.4 billion euros ($ 106.3 billion).


In the U.K., retailers also saw evidence that shoppers were thinking carefully about how to spend their money.


“Customers have been particularly savvy in their shopping patterns, with strong promotions of confectionery and bakery items more than month before Christmas motivating them to get ahead of the game,” said Mark Price, managing director at grocery chain Waitrose, which reported a 4% increase in holiday sales.


The British Retail Consortium said the Christmas rush came later this year, as hard-pressed customers held out for bargains. Overall spending was likely to be up only modestly over 2011.


“Generally, customers bought only similar amounts to last year,” said BRC Director General Helen Dickinson. “Sales were hard-fought and often driven by discounts, so cutting into margins.”


Sales in southern Europe, the region hardest hit by the debt crisis, were particularly weak. Italy had its worst Christmas in 10 years, according to the Codacons consumer organization.


Clothing, footwear, furniture and household items fell by as much as 20% in the run-up to Christmas. Codacons said only 40% of households could afford to shop during the January clearance sales. Those shoppers had an average of 224 euros to spend, down 50% from four years ago.


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Wall Street heads for longest losing streak in three months

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks fell on Friday, putting the S&P 500 on track for a fifth straight decline, as President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders were set to make a last-ditch attempt to steer the country away from severe fiscal austerity next year.


Obama and lawmakers from both political parties will meet at the White House on Friday afternoon for talks in an effort to agree on a solution before a New Year's deadline to keep large tax hikes and spending cuts from taking effect. Economists say that combination of automatic higher taxes and lower government spending - known as the "fiscal cliff" - could push the U.S. economy into a recession.


Trading was volatile and stocks rebounded from their session lows after unconfirmed reports that President Obama was about to offer a new plan to Republicans.


But investors' pessimism about achieving anything more than a stop-gap deal by the deadline was reflected in the benchmark S&P 500's drop of 1.3 percent so far this week. The broad index was on pace for its worst weekly performance since mid-November.


A five-day decline would be the S&P 500's longest losing streak in three months.


"There's a pretty good chance that we won't have something in hand by year-end," said Jonathan Golub, chief U.S. equity strategist at UBS, in New York. "It should be pretty obvious that that is now the majority case."


Golub, however, said investors were still counting on a deal that would avoid most of the tax hikes and spending cuts next year even if it does come after the deadline.


"It is widely believed that we're going to get a deal," he said. "We are not going to go over the cliff to the extent that we have a huge economic contraction."


With time running short, members of Congress may attempt to pass a retroactive fix to neutralize tax increases and spending cuts soon after the automatic fiscal policies come into effect on January 1.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> fell 65.65 points, or 0.50 percent, to 13,030.66. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> dropped 6.03 points, or 0.43 percent, to 1,412.07. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> slipped 7.29 points, or 0.24 percent, to 2,978.62.


"It doesn't matter which side wins, but at this point, nobody wants to play a game where there aren't rules," said Joe Costigan, director of equity research at Bryn Mawr Trust, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.


"So everybody is talking about what the prospects are for changes in the rules. But at the end of the day, nothing is happening."


Highlighting Wall Street's sensitivity to developments in Washington, stocks tumbled slightly more than 1 percent on Thursday after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that a deal was unlikely before the deadline. But late in the day, the three major U.S. stock indexes rebounded and ended down just 0.1 percent after the U.S. House of Representatives said it would hold an unusual Sunday session to work on a fiscal solution.


With many investors away for the holiday-shortened week, volume is expected to remain light and that could exacerbate the stock market's swings.


Positive economic data failed to alter the market's downtrend.


The National Association of Realtors said contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes rose in November to their highest level in 2-1/2 years, while a report from the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago showed business activity in the U.S. Midwest expanded in December.


Barnes & Noble Inc shares rose 6.2 percent to $15.24 after the top U.S. bookstore chain said British publisher Pearson Plc had agreed to make a strategic investment in its Nook Media subsidiary. But Barnes & Noble also said its Nook business will not meet its previous projection for fiscal year 2013.


Shares of magicJack VocalTec Ltd jumped 8.5 percent to $17.67 after the company, which provides VoIP or voice over Internet protocol services, forecast more than $39 million in GAAP revenue and over 70 cents per share in operating income for the fourth quarter. The company also said it has appointed Gerald Vento as president and CEO, effective January 1.


The U.S.-listed shares of Canadian drugmaker Aeterna Zentaris Inc surged 16.1 percent to $2.52 after the company said it had reached an agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on a special protocol assessment by the FDA for a Phase 3 registration trial in endometrial cancer with AEZS-108 treatment.


(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Jan Paschal)



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Stomach bug knocks Nadal from Australian Open


MADRID (AP) — Rafael Nadal will miss the Australian Open because of a stomach virus, further delaying his comeback after being sidelined since June.


The Australian Open, the year's first Grand Slam tournament, begins Jan. 14. The virus kept Nadal from making his return at Abu Dhabi this week.


The Spaniard said Friday his withdrawals had nothing to do with the tendinitis in his left knee, which forced him to take a break last summer following his second-round loss at Wimbledon to then 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol. Nadal also missed the London Olympics.


"My knee is much better and the rehabilitation process has gone well as predicted by the doctors," Nadal said in a statement. "But this virus didn't allow me to practice this past week, and therefore I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open."


The former No. 1 player hopes to return at Acapulco, Mexico, starting Feb. 27. However, he did not rule out playing an earlier tournament if his recovery went well enough.


"I always said that my return to competition will be when I am in the right conditions to play," he said. "And after all this time away from the courts, I'd rather not accelerate the comeback and prefer to do things well."


Nadal, ranked No. 4, won the Australian Open in 2009. Last year, he lost to top-ranked Novak Djokovic in a title match that lasted 5 hours, 53 minutes, the longest recorded Grand Slam final.


Nadal's doctor, Angel Ruiz-Cotorro, said in the statement that Nadal needed at least a week to recover from the virus, ruling him out for the Qatar Open set to start on Jan. 2.


And Nadal's coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, explained that Nadal had opted against making his return at Melbourne since he wouldn't be physically fit to take on its five-set format.


"We consider not appropriate to play the Australian Open since we will not have enough preparation for a greater competition which is a Grand Slam tournament," said Toni Nadal in the statement. "It is simply not conceivable that his first event is a best of five sets event, he wouldn't be ready for that."


Nadal's knee injury prevented the 11-time Grand Slam winner from defending his Olympic singles gold at last summer's London Games, where he was supposed to be Spain's flag bearer in the opening ceremony.


He also had to pull out of the U.S. Open and Spain's Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic, and his teammates lost without him.


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2013: A year for big issues in the courts












By Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Legal Analyst


December 27, 2012 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)







Chief Justice John Roberts re-administers the oath of office to Barack Obama at the White House on January 21, 2009.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Jeffrey Toobin: 2013 will see pivotal decisions in several key areas of law

  • He says Supreme Court could decide fate of same-sex marriage

  • Affirmative action for public college admissions is also on Court's agenda

  • Toobin: Newtown massacre put gun control debate back in the forefront




Editor's note: Jeffrey Toobin is a senior legal analyst for CNN and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, where he covers legal affairs. He is the author of "The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court."


(CNN) -- What will we see in 2013?


One thing for sure: The year will begin with Chief Justice John Roberts and President Obama getting two chances to recite the oath correctly.



Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin



After that, here are my guesses.


1. Same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court. There are two cases, and there are a Rubik's Cube-worth of possibilities for their outcomes. On one extreme, the court could say that the federal government (in the Defense of Marriage Act) and the states can ban or allow same-sex marriage as they prefer. On the other end, the Court could rule that gay people have a constitutional right to marry in any state in the union. (Or somewhere in between.)





CNN Opinion contributors weigh in on what to expect in 2013. What do you think the year holds in store? Let us know @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook/CNNOpinion


2. The future of affirmative action. In a case pending before the Supreme Court, the Court could outlaw all affirmative action in admissions at public universities, with major implications for all racial preferences in all school or non-school settings.


3. Gun control returns to the agenda. The Congress (and probably some states) will wrestle with the question of gun control, an issue that had largely fallen off the national agenda before the massacre in Newtown. Expect many invocations (some accurate, some not) of the Second Amendment.




4. The continued decline of the death penalty. Death sentences and executions continue to decline, and this trend will continue. Fear of mistaken executions (largely caused by DNA exonerations) and the huge cost of the death penalty process will both accelerate the shift.


5. Celebrity sex scandal. There will be one. There will be outrage, shock and amusement. (Celebrity to be identified later.)


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeffrey Toobin.











Part of complete coverage on







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)



Aaron Carroll says most of the changes in 2013 will be in preparation for 2014 when the Affordable Care Act really kicks into effect.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1351 GMT (2151 HKT)



Don't look for dramatic change in the troubled politics of the Middle East, says Aaron Miller.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)



Sheril Kirshenbaum says natural gas fracking, climate change and renewables are likely to drive discussions of energy in the new year.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)



Former CIA director Michael Hayden says the controversy over the film is one of two Washington debates in which politics obscures the real role of intelligence agencies.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1344 GMT (2144 HKT)



Even for someone who has written more than 2,000 columns over the last 20 years, sometimes the words come out wrong, says Ruben Navarrette.








Get the latest opinion and analysis from CNN's columnists and contributors.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 0307 GMT (1107 HKT)



Kerry Cahill and Keely Vanacker, whose father was shot dead at Fort Hood, say the nation must address problems that lead to massacres.







December 27, 2012 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)



Gayle Tzemach Lemmon says it's vital that the withdrawal of NATO forces by 2014 doesn't endanger the progress Afghan women have made.







December 27, 2012 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)



Jeffrey Toobin says key rulings will likely be made regarding same-sex marriage and affirmative action for public college admissions.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 0041 GMT (0841 HKT)



Frida Ghitis says that after years in which conservative views dominated the nation, there's now majority support for many progressive stances.







December 28, 2012 -- Updated 0316 GMT (1116 HKT)



John MacIntosh says gun manufacturer Freedom Group should be acquired by public-spirited billionaires and turned into a company with ethical goals.







December 26, 2012 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)



Dean Obeidallah says "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Promised Land" present hot button issues that fire up people from the left and right.







December 22, 2012 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)



David Gergen says the hope for cooperation is gone in the capital as people spar over fiscal cliff, gun control, and nominations


















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Singer Travis pleads not guilty to assault






SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – Country singer Randy Travis pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault in a municipal courtroom in the Dallas suburb of Plano on Friday, his lawyer said.


Lawyer Peter A. Schulte told Reuters his client is “absolutely not guilty of this crime.”






Police say Travis assaulted a man in a church parking lot in Plano in August while attempting to intervene in a disagreement between a woman he was with and the woman’s estranged husband.


“He was actually being a good Samaritan at the time, stepping in to save two women from being assaulted,” Schulte said. He said the woman Travis was with and his daughter were being harassed by two men.


The charge against Travis carries a maximum $ 500 fine and no jail time. The case is set for trial March 11.


The altercation occurred during a bad stretch for the 53-year-old Grammy winner. Earlier in August, Travis was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after he was found lying naked near his wrecked car along a north Texas highway. He also was accused of threatening to shoot and kill the troopers investigating the case, according to a police report.


The North Carolina-born country singer, known for hits such as “Forever and Ever, Amen,” also was arrested in February for drunken driving while sitting in his car in the parking lot of another north Texas church.


Schulte said Travis has been doing well since the two August incidents. He said his client was upbeat as he left the courtroom Friday.


“He turned and wished everybody who was there a merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year,” he said.


(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Bill Trott)


Music News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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US ‘heading over fiscal cliff’









“It looks like that’s where we’re headed,” Harry Reid said of the fiscal cliff



The US appears to be heading over the “fiscal cliff”, with prospects dim for a deal to avoid tax rises and spending cuts, the US Senate leader says.


Speaking on the Senate floor, Democrat Harry Reid said there did not seem to be enough time to craft a deal before Monday night’s end-of-year deadline.


Senators and President Barack Obama have returned to Washington, while the House of Representatives is in recess.


Analysts say heading over the “cliff” could tip the US into recession.


Bickering over the cliff has divided Washington in recent weeks, with President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner unable to reach a deal before Christmas.


The president wants to ensure that taxes do not rise for Americans earning under $ 400,000 (£250,000), and insists on raising new tax revenue in any deal.


‘Dictatorship of the speaker’


But many Republicans oppose new taxes, and an alternative plan proposed by Mr Boehner – which would have seen taxes rise only on those earning over $ 1m – failed in the House late last week.


Continue reading the main story
  • On 1 January 2013, tax increases and huge spending cuts are due to come into force – the so-called fiscal cliff

  • Deadline was put in place in 2011 to force president and Congress to agree ways to save money over the next 10 years

  • Fear is that raising taxes while massively cutting spending will have huge impact on households and businesses

  • Experts believe it could push the US into recession, and have a global impact on growth


Republicans left Washington for Christmas and said responsibility for avoiding the cliff rested with the Democratic-led Senate.


But in the Senate chamber on Thursday Mr Reid said the requirement to get at least 60 of 100 votes to move to a vote on any legislation almost certainly doomed any new plan unless Republicans gave it strong backing.


“It looks like that’s where we’re headed,” Mr Reid said of the fiscal cliff.


The Senate leader said the House of Representatives was “being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker”, accusing Mr Boehner of holding up a vote on a Senate-passed bill to avoid the fiscal cliff.


“John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on sound financial footing,” Mr Reid said. Mr Boehner faces an internal re-election contest among House Republicans on 3 January.


The term fiscal cliff refers to the combination of almost $ 600bn (£370bn) of tax rises and spending cuts due to come into force on 1 January if Congress does not pass new legislation.


Sweeping tax cuts passed during the presidency of George W Bush will expire, affecting people of all income levels.


‘Extraordinary accounting’


In addition, spending cuts mandated by a law passed to break a previous fiscal impasse in Congress will come into force.


The cuts are expected to affect federal government departments and the defence sector, as well as hitting unemployment insurance and veterans’ support.


On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned Congress the Treasury would have to enact a series of extraordinary accounting measures to free up about $ 200bn from the government’s official borrowing figure.


Those measures would stop the government from hitting its $ 16.4tn “debt ceiling” – the legal limit set by Congress on how much the US government can borrow – for about another two months beyond 31 December.


But Mr Geithner warned that without them, the government would run out of cash on Monday and “the United States would otherwise default on its legal obligations”.


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Matthews raises profile during campaign






NEW YORK (AP) — To his boss, Chris Matthews has become a statesman. His critics probably have other words.


The veteran MSNBC host raised his profile as much as any member of the television commentariat during the presidential campaign. His 5 p.m. “Hardball” show has seen viewership jump by 24 percent this year from 2011, 17 percent for the rerun two hours later.






Matthews symbolized MSNBC’s growing comfort in being a liberal alternative to Fox News Channel. He engaged in an uncomfortable on-air confrontation with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, seemed nearly apoplectic when President Barack Obama flubbed his first debate and had to apologize for appearing grateful that Hurricane Sandy might have helped Obama’s re-election effort.


With Keith Olbermann out of sight, Matthews essentially replaced him as the commentator that most annoyed conservative viewers.


“During the run-up to the Iraq War, he just became really, really partisan and became even more so when MSNBC decided to become the anti-Fox,” said Geoff Dickens, who used to watch Matthews as a fan and now monitors him regularly as part of his job with the conservative Media Research Center.


Matthews is not afraid to say what he thinks. He’s a former newspaper columnist and one-time aide to a 1980s era Democrat, House Speaker Tip O’Neill. He seriously considered running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania a few years back, where he probably would have been asked repeatedly to explain why he voted for George W. Bush in 2000.


He’s a motor-mouth infused with a love of politics that borders on the pathological.


“He’s as good as he’s ever been,” said Phil Griffin, MSNBC president. “He’s at a place in his life where he’s really comfortable in his own skin. He’s a statesman. He has so much knowledge and I think he understands it better. He’s always been great, but I really think he’s been at the peak of his game.”


Iraq turned Matthews against Bush. He said war and peace, and civil rights, are the issues that drive him most and explain his enthusiasm for Obama.


Matthews seemed personally offended by efforts in individual states to tighten voter registration and identification laws. Republicans called it an attempt to curb voter fraud; Matthews said it was to suppress voters friendly to Obama. He said Republicans would use welfare and other issues to subtly appeal to white voters still uncomfortable with a black president.


“The number of African-Americans who have come up to me in the last three to six months has been unbelievable,” Matthews said in a recent interview. “They come up, six inches from my face, and say ‘thank you.’ A lot of the times they say we can’t do this like you do it. It’s harder for them because it sounds like complaining.” He’s disappointed that more whites didn’t express gratitude, too.


His repeated attention to the issue “irritates some people, because they can’t stand being called bigoted. It drives them crazy. And I agree, it would drive me crazy.”


The issue drove his confrontation with Prebius, which occurred on “Morning Joe” during the GOP convention. Matthews challenged Prebius about playing the “race card” during the campaign and for references to Obama’s birth certificate. It devolved into a schoolyard insult match.


“He should have kept it together in terms of tone,” Griffin said. “But in what was said, going back and forth, it was a legitimate point.”


Prebius later called Matthews “the biggest jerk in the room.” Matthews doesn’t seem to have any regrets.


“I’d been talking like that for awhile,” he said. “He didn’t like it. I didn’t expect he would. I felt that I had in my presence the guy who represented the party and it was an opportunity I shouldn’t let pass. It’s one of those moments in the campaign that’s going to have endurance.”


The one quote Republican critics repeatedly throw back at Matthews is when he reacted to an Obama speech in 2008 by saying “I felt this thrill going up my leg.”


Matthews points out that he said something similar in 2004, after Obama addressed the Democratic national convention. Its frequent citation annoys Matthews, who knows it will never leave him, but probably also because he thinks people miss the point. He was speaking more about what Obama represented — a black man seeking the highest office in a land with a troubled racial history — than Obama himself.


It hasn’t exempted himself from some high-level teasing, like when Obama appeared at the campaign’s Al Smith dinner after the president’s disastrous first debate.


“I particularly want to apologize to Chris Matthews,” Obama said. “Four years ago I gave him a thrill up his leg. This time around, I gave him a stroke.”


Matthews said “Hardball” has gotten a sharper focus. The editorial opinion has moved to the front of the show. Saying what he thinks isn’t hard; Matthews’ flirtation with running for the Senate ended in part because the need to adhere to party orthodoxy wouldn’t mix with a man comfortable with voicing a dozen opinions per minute.


“I never want to do what everybody else is doing,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of the chorus.”


Like most in his trade, Matthews seems a little lost with the end of a long campaign. He’s done a few speculative 2016 stories, not recognizing the subject is enough to send most people screaming from the room.


Every day is one day closer to another election, though.


“He is sort of the model figure for who we are,” Griffin said. “He doesn’t stick out loving politics and being passionate about politics. It comes across in everything we do … And that’s Chris.”


___


MSNBC is controlled by Comcast Corp.; Fox is a unit of News Corp.


___


EDITOR’S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap.org and on Twitter (at)dbauder.


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Dow falls more than 1 percent


NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Dow fell 1 percent as stocks added to losses on Thursday. The Nasdaq and S&P 500 earlier declined more than 1 percent, with worries about the U.S. "fiscal cliff" after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned the United States appeared poised to head over it.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 143.83 points, or 1.10 percent, at 12,970.76. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was down 17.60 points, or 1.24 percent, at 1,402.23. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 38.09 points, or 1.27 percent, at 2,952.07.


(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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McElroy has concussion, Sanchez to start for Jets


FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets' wacky quarterback situation took yet another twist.


Greg McElroy has a concussion — which he didn't reveal until Thursday — and will be replaced by Mark Sanchez as the New York Jets' starting quarterback in the season finale at Buffalo on Sunday.


Coach Rex Ryan walked into his news conference before practice, took the podium and opened with: "You're not going to believe this."


McElroy, preparing to make his second NFL start in place of the benched Sanchez, was lifting weights Thursday morning and started experiencing headaches, Ryan said. McElroy went to the team's training staff and then revealed he was suffering concussion-like symptoms after being sacked 11 times in the Jets' 27-17 loss to San Diego last Sunday.


McElroy and head trainer John Mellody then went to Ryan to tell the coach the news.


"We come to find out that Greg wasn't exactly truthful with our training staff after the game," said Ryan, who acknowledged he was "stunned" to hear it. "He never disclosed that he had symptoms after the game to our trainers. Right now, he's being evaluated for a concussion."


Ryan said there was no way he would play McElroy against the Bills and the third-stringer will "definitely be out." McElroy had been listed on the injury report Wednesday with a mild abdominal strain, but was a full participant in practice and was expected to play without any issues.


"I admire his courage and everything else, but you have to be truthful and I think that's the lesson learned here with the medical staff," Ryan said. "The fact he really wanted to play, I understand the competitive side of Greg and all that, but the most important thing is the health of the players.


"Obviously, I feel fortunate that something like this showed up without him going out there and putting himself in harm's way."


Ryan chose to start Sanchez over Tim Tebow because the team has just two practices and a walkthrough to prepare before the game.


"Mark has had success earlier in the season against Buffalo and he's very familiar with them," Ryan said. "That's the reason I'm going with Mark."


After finding out about McElroy's condition, Ryan spoke with both Sanchez and Tebow to tell them of his decision.


"Obviously, Tim's not happy with that, as you'd expect," Ryan said.


Sanchez was benched for the first time in his four-year career after turning the ball over five times at Tennessee on Dec. 17. McElroy leapfrogged Tebow on the depth chart to start against the Chargers.


The news comes on the heels of some tension between Ryan and Tebow last week, when the popular backup quarterback told the coach he was "disappointed" at not getting the start and wanted to play "regular quarterback." ESPN New York first reported Sunday that Tebow asked out of the wildcat, and a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed that to The Associated Press. But Tebow insisted Wednesday that he did not ask out of doing anything and acknowledged that Ryan might have misinterpreted what he said.


The two met again last Friday to clear the air, and Tebow reiterated that he was willing to do anything the team asked him to do. Tebow will be the No. 2 quarterback on Sunday at Buffalo, and could play — but it won't be as the starter.


"Obviously, he'd like a shot at it," Ryan said, "but with the situation the way it is, it's a short window, really, to get the preparation time in and I just think it's best for our football team."


___


Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL


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A gunmaker ripe for an ethical takeover




Several .223 caliber rounds near a Bushmaster XM-15; the manufacturer's owner is putting its gun companies up for sale.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • The owner of America's largest gunmaker is putting firm up for sale

  • John MacIntosh says billionaires should lead effort to acquire the gun manufacturer

  • He says they should change corporate practices to discourage violence

  • MacIntosh: One leading company could push gun industry in a more ethical direction




Editor's note: John MacIntosh was a partner at Warburg Pincus, a leading global private equity firm, where he worked from 1994 to 2006 in New York, Tokyo and London. He now runs a nonprofit in New York.


(CNN) -- In the 1970s and '80s, when corporate America was plagued with inefficiency, a new class of financially motivated takeover investor emerged to prey on the fattest in the corporate herd and scare the rest into line.


Today, as pockets of corporate America are plagued with immorality, we need a new class of socially motivated takeover investor to prey on the sociopaths in the corporate herd, turn them around and perhaps scare (or shame) others into line.



John MacIntosh

John MacIntosh



The upcoming sale by Cerberus Capital of the Freedom Group, the largest gun manufacturer in the United States, is a perfect opportunity to usher in this new era of muscular, socially responsible capitalism:


First, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, David Geffen and the like should establish a nonprofit SPAC (Special-Purpose-Acquisition-Company) called BidForFreedom.org (BFF) with a mission to reduce needless deaths through gun violence in the United States and encourage the passage of sensible gun control regulations.



They should appoint George Clooney, Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon to the fundraising committee and recruit a loud-mouthed, poison-penned, but good-hearted activist hedge fund titan as chief investment officer (Bill Ackman? Dan Loeb?).


Opinion: Forgotten victims of gun violence


To be credible, BFF will probably need to start with at least $250 million in cash and commitments (no problem given the billionaire status of the sponsors) with additional firepower raised as needed from well-heeled individuals, foundations and through a broad-based Internet solicitation to an outraged-by-Newtown public.


Second, BFF should lobby all public pension funds that are part owners of the Freedom Group (by virtue of their investment in Cerberus) to roll their investment into BFF to reduce the need for outside funding, naming and shaming any unwilling public investors.


Newtown shooter's guns








Third, BFF should pay "whatever it takes" to acquire control of the Freedom Group in the upcoming auction by Cerberus (which has a fiduciary obligation to sell to the highest bidder) and then immediately implement a "moral turnaround" plan under which the Freedom Group:


(i) Appoints a high-profile CEO with impeccable credentials as a hunter and/or marksman who is nevertheless in favor of gun-control.


Opinion: Guns endanger more than they protect


(ii) Elects a new board of directors including representatives from the families of victims killed in Newtown (and/or other massacres perpetrated with Freedom Group weapons), military veterans and trauma surgeons with real experience of human-on-human gunfire, and law enforcement and mental health professionals.


(iii) Operates the business as if sensible gun laws were in place (this may turn out to be a wise investment in future-proofing the company): discontinuing sales of the most egregious assault weapons and modifying others as necessary so they cannot take huge-volume clips; offering to buy back all Freedom Group assault weapons in circulation; micro-stamping weapons for easy tracking; and providing price discounts for buyers willing to go through a background check and register in a database available to law enforcement.


(iv) Voluntarily waives its rights to support the NRA and other lobbying groups.


(v) Creates a fund to compensate those who, despite its best efforts, are killed or wounded by its weapons.


(vi) Agrees that if the effort to provide moral leadership in the weapons industry doesn't succeed within a year, BFF should consider corporate euthanasia, even though it entails a risk of allowing more retrograde manufacturers to fill the void in the market left by the then-deceased company.


Opinion: The case for gun rights is stronger than you think


In the face of horrors like Newtown, BFF would recognize that it's time to take a stand by acknowledging the impossibility of reaching closure after such a monstrous act while an unreconstructed Freedom Group continues to sell a huge volume of guns and ammunition rounds each year even if it is operating under new owners.


Like any Trojan Horse strategy, this is a long shot, but it must be tried. History suggests that only after the first company "turns" will an industry gradually return to the realm of the human (think of big tobacco). And without the tacit agreement, if not the outright support, of at least one important insider, policymakers seem utterly unable to pass tough regulations in the face of the predictable, but withering, assault by industry lackeys shrieking that any such regulation would be "impossible, impractical or too expensive."


In the face of a recalcitrant industry, we have to acknowledge that it is only the market for corporate control -- the real possibility that an outsider will take over one of the companies -- that puts limits on the behavior of board members and executives who, while perhaps decent enough in their family lives, display a limitless tolerance for the "banality of evil" at the office.


Opinion: Not man enough? Buy a gun


We must accept that the conventional, kid-gloves approach to socially responsible investing -- divesting shares in "bad" companies that nevertheless continue to exist -- is too weak an instrument to force change and its well-meaning practitioners too soft to enter the fray when emotionally and politically charged battles need to be fought.


And regardless of the viability of socially motivated takeovers in general, the Freedom Group looks like a great target. Cerberus is a motivated seller, the political macros look favorable, and it's a bite-sized company compared with many of the larger sociopaths in the corporate herd.


I'm even cautiously optimistic that the current impasse over gun regulation is a bad-equilibrium that few consumers actually want, and that a reconstructed Freedom Group, fighting for sensible change as a fifth column from within the industry, might well find that many people -- even a significant portion of the NRA's members -- would buy from a truly responsible (and high quality) gun maker if given the chance.


All in all, it's a pretty exciting deal, so if Mike and George are up for it, count me in.



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Christmas box-office haul paces Hollywood for record year






LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A strong Christmas-day box office performance by musical “Les Miserables” and western “Django Unchained” put Hollywood on pace to set an all-time box office record with $ 10.8 billion in annual revenue, box-office tracker Hollywood.com said on Wednesday.


Universal Pictures‘ star-studded “Les Miserables” took in a weekday Christmas record of $ 18.2 million in the United States and Canada when it opened on Tuesday, according to studio estimates of weekday ticket sales.






Quentin Tarantino‘s spaghetti western “Django Unchained,” starring Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, hauled nearly $ 15 million for The Weinstein Co.


Studios “are definitely on the road to a record year with $ 10.8 billion expected (up 6 percent over last year and beating the previous record of $ 10.6 billion in 2009),” Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian told Reuters in an email, adding that the number of tickets sold should climb 6 percent from 2011 to 1.36 billion.


Dergarabedian credits a successful marketing year for studios as a chief reason for the projected box-office record, as well as spring and summer smashes “The Hunger Games” and “The Avengers” helping boost revenue.


“It was not just the fact that most of the movies delivered, it was the timing of their release dates and the marketing was obviously effective as well with social media continuing to provide an outlet for the movie-going peer group to talk about their favorite flicks,” Dergarabedian said.


“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” based on the J.R.R. Tolkein classic fantasy novel, brought in $ 11.4 million on Christmas day after ruling the box office with nearly $ 37 million in sales over the weekend.


Billy Crystal family film “Parental Guidance” debuted in fourth place with about $ 6.4 million in Christmas sales while Tom Cruise’s “Jack Reacher,” which featured author Lee Child’s character in an investigation into a sniper shooting, was fifth with some $ 5.3 million.


“The Hobbit” was distributed by Time Warner Inc’s Warner Bros. Studio. News Corp’s 20th Century Fox released “Parental Guidance” and Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom, released “Jack Reacher.” Universal Pictures is owned by Comcast Corp.


(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Edited by Ronald Grover and Andrew Hay)


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How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions: Make Them in August






Here’s some bad news for those making New Year’s resolutions now: January is the worst month to try to change your life, according to data from StickK, one of several websites designed to help people achieve personal goals. “Everybody wants to make a New Year’s resolution,” says Jordan Goldberg, chief executive of the 18-employee New York company, which see its traffic triple at the start of the year as thousands of people commit to exercising more, losing weight, and quitting smoking. “Their willpower to do so varies considerably.”


40b38  resolutions chart1 405 How to Keep New Years Resolutions: Make Them in August






The best month to try to change, according to StickK’s data, is August, when students are preparing to go back to school and many people are settling into new routines.


There’s no clinical research on the ideal time of year to make improvements, says John Norcross, a psychologist at the University of Scranton and author of Changeology, a new book on behavior change. One explanation for January’s high failure rate: “People rushing in are likely to fail,” Norcross says. That can demoralize them and make it harder to modify their habits later. “They should be changing when they’re prepared,” he says.


The good news: Those who keep their commitments for at least three months tend to stick long-term, no matter what time of year they’re made. Here’s a chart of data from a 1989 study of resolutions Norcross published in the Journal of Substance Abuse, showing when people relapse:


40b38  resolutions chart2 405 How to Keep New Years Resolutions: Make Them in August


Goldberg agrees that when you make a resolution is less important to succeeding than how you do it. StickK lets you set up a contract that will cost you money if you fail to meet your goals. The funds are charged to a credit card entered when you set the goal and forfeits go to a charity or a person you designate; if you claim success, you lose nothing. For added incentive, you can pick an “anti-charity” whose cause you oppose. (Some British soccer fans even select a rival football club to get their cash if they fail.) Unless the money is going to another individual, StickK takes a cut of about 20 percent to 30 percent; it also makes money by selling its techniques to corporate wellness programs.


For a further layer of enforcement, StickK lets you designate a friend to hold you accountable and post your progress on social networks. “It’s about having skin in the game,” says Goldberg. With money on the line and a friend nudging you along, your chances of success rise from 29 percent to 74 percent, according to StickK’s data, based on users’ self-reported results.


Goldberg says he made two resolutions at the start of 2012: to go to the gym three times a week and to get to bed earlier. He says he’s succeeded at the first, but getting enough rest has been trickier. “When you’re running a startup, doing a lot of traveling, it’s tough to maintain a good sleep schedule,” he says. Maybe he should try again next August.


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Procrastinators Rejoice Over Last-Minute Weekends in Charleston






CHARLESTON, SC–(Marketwire – Dec 26, 2012) – There are those that meticulously plan their trips months in advance, carefully weighing every option and going over every detail — and then there are the rest of us, harried, scattered, and running from one thing to the next. For those who have everything but spare time, the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel is proud to offer special savings on last-minute weekend getaways, especially helpful during the holiday season.


With Last-Minute Weekends, guests can enjoy a comfortable stay at practically a moment’s notice, to enjoy Charleston’s shopping or breathtaking Festival of Lights, all starting at just $ 229 per night, with a two-night stay.*






Held at the North Charleston Convention Center, Charleston’s Holiday Market offers the Lowcountry’s complete holiday experience, with aisle after aisle of specialty shops, boutiques, crafts, gourmet foods, seasonal specialties, toys, jewelry and more. Another holiday bright spot is Charleston’s Festival of Lights, with over two million shimmering lights across a three-mile driving tour. The festival consistently delivers more light displays year after year, with more than 700 shining displays for 2012. To plan and learn more, guests can visit http://www.charlestoncvb.com/.


Situated in the city’s oldest quarter, the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel boasts boutique accommodations as well as modern day amenities. Whether shopping on King Street, enjoying Spoleto Festival, visiting the College of Charleston or strolling the City Market, guests will be captivated by the local knowledge shared by this Charleston, SC luxury hotel’s Navigators, who have the inside scoop as their hotel in Charleston is a proud community supporter.


This Charleston luxury hotel’s d├ęcor is regionally inspired with a modern twist. Guests can take advantage of lavish guest rooms, a select few with balconies and meeting space designed to inspire. Convenient for Charleston meetings, the hotel also offers convenient connectivity, making it a hot spot with locals.


Gourmands will enjoy the on-site Wentworth Grill, with menus that mix modern flavors and traditional southern fare. In addition to last-minute weekends, promotions at this Charleston, SC conference center allow guests to pamper themselves in a historic district hotel in Charleston, SC, that combines traditional southern charm with modern sophistication.


* Availability will be confirmed at time of booking. Lowest advertised rate may not be available. Advance booking required. Rates valid for Friday and Saturday night stays only. Two-night minimum stay may be required. Rates are per room, per night, based on single occupancy. Taxes, resort fees, and incidental charges are additional. Rates may not apply to groups of 10 or more rooms and cannot be combined with any other offer or discount. Additional restrictions may apply.


About the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel


This modern yet historic Charleston boutique hotel creates a luxurious traveler’s paradise. Regionally inspired, this downtown boutique hotel in Charleston, SC, integrates both modern and traditional Southern styles, throughout all 162 guest rooms and four spacious suites on six floors. Guests can also discover local hidden gems with the Renaissance’s In-The-Know recommendations, personally curated weekly by our Charleston hotel’s Navigator.


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Wall Street sags, "cliff" angst steals retailers' Christmas

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday as retailers' shares dropped sharply after a report that showed holiday shoppers were less enthusiastic than last year, with investors saying worries about the "fiscal cliff" may have kept them away from stores.


The Morgan Stanley retail index <.mvr> skidded 1.8 percent as holiday-related sales rose 0.7 percent from October 28 through December 24, compared with a 2 percent increase last year, according to data from MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse. The SPDR S&P Retail Trust slipped 1.5 percent to 61.24.


Janna Sampson, co-chief investment officer of OakBrook Investments in Lisle, Illinois, said worries about "fiscal cliff" tax hikes and spending cuts next year had likely kept shoppers from a last-minute rush to the stores.


"I think people held back this year, just worried about that bigger cut out of their paycheck next year and having to tighten their belt," she said. "If you've got to tighten your belts starting in January, people start worrying about overspending."


Department stores' stocks slid. Macy's lost 3 percent to $36.41, while Saks also fell 3 percent and traded at $10.30, near its session low. Online retailer Amazon.com fell 3.1 percent to $250.52.


President Barack Obama is due back in Washington early Thursday for a final effort to negotiate a deal with Congress to bridge a series of tax increases and government spending cuts set to begin next week. The president will leave Hawaii later on Wednesday, arriving in the capital early on Thursday.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> slipped 45.61 points, or 0.35 percent, to 13,093.47. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> shed 8.66 points, or 0.60 percent, to 1,418. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> dropped 23.10 points, or 0.77 percent, to 2,989.50.


Volume was light, with only 1.55 billion shares having traded at midday on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT. Many senior traders were still on vacation during this holiday-shortened week and major European markets were closed for the day.


Still, Wednesday marked the third day of losses for the S&P 500 in its worst three-day decline since mid-November.


A Republican plan that failed to gain traction last week triggered the S&P 500's recent drop, highlighting the market's sensitivity to headlines centered around the budget talks.


"No one is hitting the panic button yet, and part of that lack of panic selling is the notion that the Street is getting comfortable with the likelihood of a temporary fix for the fiscal cliff - something that gets us over the date of January 1 in a way where it can be re-addressed," said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Capital in Jersey City, New Jersey.


During the last five trading days of the year and the first two of next year, it's possible for a "Santa rally" to occur. Since 1928, the S&P 500 has averaged a gain of 1.8 percent during that period and risen 79 percent of the time, according to data from PrinceRidge.


The benchmark S&P 500 Index is up 12.8 percent for the year, and has recouped nearly all of the losses after the U.S. elections when the fiscal cliff concerns moved to the forefront. This is the best yearly gain for the S&P 500 since 2010.


Data showed U.S. single-family home prices rose in October, reinforcing the view that the domestic real estate market is improving, as the S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas gained 0.7 percent in October on a seasonally adjusted basis.


In the energy sector, China's Sinopec Group and ConocoPhillips will research potentially vast reserves of shale gas in southwestern China over the next two years, state news agency Xinhua reported. Conoco's stock fell 0.8 percent to $57.99.


An outage at one of Amazon.com Inc's web service centers hit users of Netflix Inc's streaming video service on Christmas Eve and was not fully resolved until Christmas Day, a spokesman for the movie rental company said on Tuesday. Netflix rose 0.8 percent to $90.97.


(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Jan Paschal)



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James leads Heat over Thunder in Finals rematch


MIAMI (AP) — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to score 54 points, more than any set of teammates had managed in a game against Miami all season.


Oklahoma City needed them to score at least three more.


That didn't happen, and an NBA Finals rematch went just as last year's title series did — to the Heat.


LeBron James had 29 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, Dwyane Wade scored 21, and the Heat survived a frantic finish to beat the Thunder 103-97 on Tuesday night, a game where Durant and Westbrook both missed potential tying 3-pointers in the final seconds.


"A great game to play," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, "and a great game to coach."


For the Heat, it was just a little greater.


Mario Chalmers scored a season-high 20 for the Heat, who were 19 for 19 from the foul line, the second-best effort in franchise history behind only a 30-for-30 game in Boston on March 24, 1993. Chris Bosh added 16 points for Miami, which has beaten the Thunder five straight times dating to last June's title series.


"Felt a little bit like a different month," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Regardless of what your script is coming into the game, when you play this team, it's not going to go according to script. They're too good."


It's the first losing streak of the season for the Thunder, who had been 4-0 after losses. Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin each scored 15 for Oklahoma City.


The game had a little of everything — a fast start by the reigning champions, a one-handed dunk by James on an offensive rebound that will be added to his copious highlight reel, a scrum after a hard foul that led to double-technicals on Wade and Ibaka early in the fourth, an easy rally by the Thunder from an early double-digit deficit, and even workout partners in Durant and James barking back and forth in the final minutes.


Such was the intensity that James slumped over the scorer's table with 1:08 left, exhausted.


"I'm tired as hell right now," James said — and that was more than an hour after the game ended.


With good reason. On an emotional day, there was a wild finish.


Wade lost the ball on an ill-advised, behind-the-back dribble, and the turnover set up Durant for a two-handed dunk that got the Thunder within 96-95 with 44.1 seconds remaining.


Needing a stop on the next trip, the Thunder instead forgot to play defense. Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka both were confused on the ensuing Miami possession, and Bosh was left alone to take a pass from James and throw down a dunk that restored Miami's three-point edge.


"We went over and helped," Durant said. "We just needed to help on the backside. There was miscommunication but we still had a chance to go into overtime."


Two chances, actually.


Oklahoma City got within one when Durant made a jumper over James, but no closer. Ray Allen's two free throws with 15.6 seconds left made it 100-97, and Miami's last three points came from the line. Durant missed a 3-pointer that James contested, Westbrook wound up with a second chance that Wade defended, and the Thunder guard smacked a nearby table arguing that he was fouled.


"Part of the game," Westbrook said.


While the stars were stars, the Heat got help from one unexpected source. Chalmers was making everything, even unintended plays. Allen lost possession on what looked to be a pass to no one, but Chalmers picked up the bouncing ball on the right wing, whirled and made a 3-pointer — putting Miami up 86-79 with 8:14 left.


In the end, that cushion was necessary.


"I got going early," Chalmers said, "and I stuck with it."


The Heat came out flying, opening a quick 13-2 lead after making six of their first seven shots. About all that didn't go right for the Heat early on was James committing a foul, the first time he was called for a personal since Dec. 8.


It happened 4:03 into the game — 254 minutes and 7 seconds of on-court time since his last one — when James fouled Ibaka on a dunk attempt.


Chalmers had 12 points, matching his season high, in the opening quarter alone, and that was also Miami's lead after his layup for a 15-3 edge. When Durant headed to the bench after being called for his second personal, plus a technical, with 2:08 left in the first, the Heat led 27-16.


But even with Durant out, Oklahoma City scored the last eight points of the quarter, six coming from the line. The Thunder shot 17 of the game's first 18 free throws and finished with a 38-19 edge in tries from the stripe.


The Heat were held to two points in the first 5:05 of the third, and the Thunder grabbed the lead for the first time. Durant connected on a baseline jumper while falling out of bounds and getting fouled by James. The resulting free throw gave Oklahoma City a 58-56 edge.


With that, the back-and-forth began, and Miami found a way.


"Both teams really played up to the billing," Wade said. "An excellent basketball game."


NOTES: James scored at least 20 points for the 30th straight regular-season game and 46th overall. ... Wade is 7-1 on Christmas, and James has won six straight on the holiday. ... Miami's Mike Miller became the 48th active player to reach 10,000 points. ... The Thunder have used the same starting lineup for all 27 games. ... James passed Bernard King for 39th on the NBA career scoring list. ... Attendance was 20,300, the largest crowd for a Heat home game since they moved into AmericanAirlines Arena.


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Climate change: No consensus needed




Lake Cachet II in Aysen, Chilean Patagonia, disappeared because of rising temperatures driven by climate change, experts say.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Tseming Yang: Result of Doha climate change conference less than desirable

  • Yang: It's time to abandon the myth that a consensus solution is the best approach

  • He says the 25 major carbon emitters should work out an agreement among themselves

  • Yang: Smaller, focused discussions may be better than large, U.N.-style gatherings




Editor's note: Tseming Yang, former deputy general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency, is professor of law at Santa Clara University Law School.


(CNN) -- The Doha climate change conference this year was the most significant in nearly 20 years of gatherings under the U.N. Framework Convention process aimed at staving off future global warming disaster.


Since carbon dioxide emission limits agreed to under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol were to expire at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2012, it was critical that the international community agreed to extend those obligations and to continue talks about future emission cuts.


But the outcome fell far short of what will be necessary to keep the world's average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius in the foreseeable future.


Under the Doha arrangement, 17 of the 25 biggest carbon emitting countries (including China, the United States, Russia and India) did not commit to any legally binding emission limits. The countries that did agree to extend and deepen their Kyoto emission reductions, including the European Union, Australia and Eastern Europe, make up only about 15% of the world's emissions. That seems like a rather meager return on the investment of time and effort over the past years.


But there is one silver lining.



The world's top 20 carbon emitters together make up about 77% of emission and account for about 4.3 billion people, which is about 62% of the global population. The remaining 170 or so countries account for just over 20% of emissions.


As often is the case, these negotiations over climate have come to symbolize epic David and Goliath struggles pitting poor developing countries against recalcitrant government officials from rich countries. Lobbying efforts, shaming tactics, and staging public demonstrations have been the slingshots of choice. One result is that more people are paying attention to environmental issues.


Nonetheless, it is time to abandon the myth that a consensus solution is necessarily the best approach. The unfortunate reality is that little can get done right now. It's like having hundreds of cooks with hundreds of different recipes attempting to prepare one meal in the same small kitchen. After two decades of hard work, it is time to consider reducing the number of cooks.








A better alternative to a United Nations-style conference would be for the 25 major emitters to come to an agreement just among themselves about their mutual commitments to deal with climate change effectively.


In other words, get the 25 cooks to work together on the main meal. The hundreds of other cooks ought to step out of the kitchen.


Some smaller, focused discussions have already started, such as in the Major Economies Forum. Imagine what kind of deals on cutting emissions would be possible just among China, India and the United States -- the top three emitters in the world respectively. Imagine a deal involving emission sources in China, which has some of the world's most polluting coal-fired power plants, and California, which is on a course to become one of the most stringently controlled states in carbon emissions.


Of course, there are no guarantees for success. But discussions within such a smaller group would allow government leaders to confront the realities of climate change and engage in direct horse-trading without the static of thousands of other voices desiring to load their issues into the deal.


Let's face it -- we are way beyond the time for finding an ideal solution. Every year the world waits to take further concrete steps to cut emissions, the atmosphere will be loaded with millions of tons more carbon dioxide that will stay for a century. And the job of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius will be more out of reach.


At the best, gatherings like the one in Doha dangle a tantalizing mirage of achieving a sustainable future. At the worst, they give cover to governments that would rather avoid the hard choices they ultimately will have to make.


After one more expensive and time-consuming round of talks, it's time to be honest with what can really be accomplished in these U.N.-style gatherings.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tseming Yang.






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Britain’s royal family attends Christmas services






LONDON (AP) — Britain‘s royal family is attending Christmas Day church services — with a few notable absences.


Wearing a turquoise coat and matching hat, Queen Elizabeth II arrived at St. Mary Magdelene Church on her sprawling Sandringham estate in Norfolk. She was accompanied in a Bentley by granddaughters Beatrice and Eugenie.






Her husband, Prince Philip, walked from the house to the church with other members of the royal family.


Three familiar faces were missing from the family outing. Prince William is spending the holiday with his pregnant wife Kate and his in-laws in the southern England village of Bucklebury. Prince Harry is serving with British troops in Afghanistan.


Later Tuesday, the queen will deliver her traditional, pre-recorded Christmas message, which for the first time will be broadcast in 3D.


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The Jim Cramer of China







When Hu Bin started his blog in early 2008, he was a skinny 22-year-old college dropout with a perpetually skeptical look on his face and little doubt he’d soon be a household name. The previous year the Shanghai Stock Exchange had been flooded by speculators. For a brief period, it was the second-busiest exchange in the world. It was also beginning a dramatic fall ushered in by the global financial crisis. Hu says he considered the market, considered his audience, and sensed it was time to make his mark. “It really started when Premier Wen Jiabao announced a 4 trillion renminbi rescue plan for the economy,” Hu says. “I knew I just needed to be clever and use this chance of high liquidity in the market to make myself famous.”


Now 26, Hu is China’s most popular online market commentator. His blog has gotten more than 400 million visits. His posts are equal parts outlandish and thoughtful, and employ liberal use of bolded, multicolored text and exclamation points. Hu writes under the name Yerongtian—a character from a real estate-themed Hong Kong soap opera—and has been known to pick fights with other commentators, whom he says suffer from a “lack of emotion.” He has posted at least one picture of cats, and multiple pictures of himself wearing sunglasses to help illustrate his opinions. In 2009 the state-run newspaper China Daily listed him (under his alias) among the 10 people in the nation with the most influence on China’s stock market. “Back then,” Hu says of 2008, “any eccentric behavior would attract people’s attention. If you understood this vital point, you could control people’s minds.”






Hu grew up in Kunming, a southwestern city of 6.4 million that’s far from China’s centers of finance. He learned about the stock market, he says, by watching his mother invest in her spare time. She put money into the market in the 1990s, early days for Chinese investment, and lost it all. “Now she invests her money in gold,” Hu says.


He started at Kunming University, intending to study philosophy and Marxism, but quit, thinking he would take up investing himself. “I was interested in psychology,” he says. “I wanted to know why everyone wanted to bet their future on an uncontrollable thing.”


Hu admits that in the early days of his blog, his knowledge of the market was thinner than it is now. He has always, however, understood his audience and how to keep it interested. Hu’s approach to his blog is purposefully bombastic, earning him vocal critics along with followers. In 2009 he got into a spat with another stock commentator, a man named Hou Ning. Hou, at least according to Chinese news reports from the time, holds the record for the longest nickname of any stock commentator in history—“Commander in Chief of the Stock Market Army.” The two made a 1 million yuan (roughly $ 160,000) bet on the future of the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index, with Hu wagering it would reach 4000 by the end of the year. It didn’t, and Hu didn’t pay, but he got what he wanted out of the rivalry. “Who would have paid attention to me if I had said 3000?” he asks. “Everyone already knew it would reach 3000.” In 2010 he promised to throw himself off one of Shanghai’s tallest buildings if the SSE Composite Index didn’t reach 5800 by the end of the year. It didn’t: Hu is still with us.


2d750  investing hubin52  01  405 The Jim Cramer of ChinaPhotograph by Ka Xiaoxi“Chinese investors aren’t as mature as American investors, and I write to meet their immediate needs,” says Hu


Stunts aside, Hu has spent the last four years working through his thinking on the ups and downs of China’s economy in public, slipping thoughtful essays in between bouts of hyperbole. He spent his early days predicting the rise of the Shanghai Stock Exchange and now foresees its continuing decline. One recent headline: “Doomsday Runs Wild, the Stock Market will likely drop 200 points!!” In another post, he explains that a drop in the market may not be bad. It could give the authorities some space to make reforms without worrying about overheating, and help to attract more foreign investment. “The stock market is not only an economic weather vane,” he writes. “It is a political weather vane.”


Hu says he is not a financial rabble-rouser. Most laypeople, he says, should stay away from investing in individual stocks. The people who read his blog, however, are generally not professionals; retail investors make up the majority of the volume of trading in the Chinese market. According to the Chinese Securities Regulatory Commission, there are around 72 million retail investors in China, accounting for three-quarters of the trading on domestic exchanges. And according to China’s state media, the majority of these investors have less than 1 million yuan in the market. It’s a group of people Hu says he understands well, even if it means giving sometimes conflicting advice. He may advise them to stay out of the market, but he knows the irresistible pull of equities on the newly wealthy, particularly in a country where there are few opportunities for investment. In effect, he’s giving advice to people he knows probably shouldn’t be in the market but are going to invest anyway.


“The stock market in the United States is managed by regulations,” Hu says. “The Chinese market is managed by humans. Chinese investors aren’t as mature as American investors, and I write to meet their immediate needs.”


Hu’s interest in the human story behind the market sets him apart from other bloggers, at least in his eyes. “They regard their blogs as livelihood, while I take my blog as my friend and pour my emotions and love into it. The emotion is what connects me to the readers—they feel more attached to my words.” The connection is important in part, says Hu, because Chinese investors have been taught that networking can solve anything. Even in the stock market, relationships are the deciding factor. “When it comes to stock investment, Chinese people always try to get inside information from someone within their social network. Americans like to read through financial statements, but Chinese people like to believe that their stocks go up because they have more inside information than anyone else.”


Today, Hu spends most of his time in Beijing, where he moved in 2009. On a recent Sunday, he is drinking tea at one of Beijing’s most expensive hotels, wearing a tie and a tan Calvin Klein puffy jacket that he does not take off. Instead, he stuffs his hands in his jacket pockets while he talks, looking exactly like what he is—a blogger who’s hit it big, though he’s coy about, financially, how big. His sense of humor is also just slightly out of step with the tie. When asked about online nicknames, he says he’s not aware of any and then, unblinking and serious, says: “I prefer the nickname Batman.”


For all his success, Hu still considers blogging a hobby, not a career. “Fame is vanity,” he says, “while investment asks for real competence.” He’s now in the process of raising money for a private equity fund that, over the next few decades, he hopes to build into something like Berkshire Hathaway (BRK/A). Again, he won’t say how much he’s raised. Although his blog posts are currently predicting dark times, Hu has faith that the Chinese market will recover, and he’s optimistic about the market and the future in general. “New Chinese leaders are going to take over, which will offer China economic opportunity in the following 10 years,” he says. China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, has promised the country will push forward with reforms, something that Hu is excited about. He’s also upbeat about China’s recent leadership transition. Political stability, he says, is a market good. “The opportunity will be mainly in China’s capital market, because it’s still in an initial stage,” he says. “I need to take advantage of this initial stage before everyone realizes there’s a gold mine when the market matures.”



Hilgers is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.


Businessweek.com — Top News





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Sony says China business has recovered, foresees growth






BEIJING (Reuters) – Sony Corp’s <6758.T> business in China has “more or less” returned to levels seen before recent protests against Japan’s actions over a group of disputed islands, the Japanese company’s China chief, Nobuki Kurita, told reporters on Tuesday.


Calls for boycotts of Japanese products broke out across China in September after Japan nationalized two of a group of disputed East China Sea islands, known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku in Japanese, by purchasing them from their private owners.






The spat plunged relations between Japan and China into a deep freeze and hit sales of Japanese goods in China. Kurita said, however, that Sony’s China business would recover strongly in the coming three business years after a dip in the current one.


“My general impression is business conditions have more or less returned to the pre-crisis environment,” he told a media briefing at a Sony store in eastern Beijing.


He saw sales in China falling 10 percent in the business year to next March from the previous year, but rebounding in the year to March 2013 and growing strongly in the two subsequent years.


Kurita declined to comment on what impact the election of the hawkish Shinzo Abe as Japan’s new prime minister could have on Japan-China relations.


Abe has vowed not to back down on the island dispute, but still must balance that stance with the need for stable relations with China. Japanese media have reported that he will send a special envoy to China to mend ties.


“There’s no market that has no risk,” he said when asked about Japan-China relations.


“Our mandate is to maximize our business potential in any given situation.”


Kurita said he expects Sony’s business in emerging markets to grow about 40 percent from the current level to reach some 2.6 trillion yen ($ 31 billion) in the business year ending in March 2015. China would account for “a good chunk” of that growth, he said.


(Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Jonathan Standing and Edmund Klamann)


Business & Finance News – Yahoo! Finance





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