The Brinks Miami Heist: Stealing $7.4 Million Was the Easy Part

In the fall of 2005, Karls Monzon’s childhood friend and neighbor Onelio Diaz approached him with a proposal. Diaz worked as a security guard for Brink’s (BCO) at Miami International Airport. Every day, he explained, a Lufthansa (LHA) jet from Frankfurt landed at the airport carrying bricks of $ 50 and $ 100 bills in bags. The shipments were from Germany’s second-largest bank, Commerzbank (CBK), and averaged between $ 80 million and $ 100 million per flight.

Brink’s employed Diaz and a few other guards to escort the bills from the tarmac to a warehouse at the airport perimeter to clear customs. The guards would examine the bags for tampering or tears and drive them in armored cars to the Miami branch of the Federal Reserve, about four miles away. The whole process took about two hours.

Diaz was attentive at work, but not in the way his employers might have wished. To Monzon, he ticked off the security vulnerabilities inside the warehouse: The bills lay exposed; the security cameras didn’t work; the guards removed their guns before entering the building; and most alluring of all, the warehouse’s enormous bay doors led directly onto the street, which meant that one could bypass the perimeter fence and the airport gatehouse. Diaz didn’t want to join the robbery attempt, but for an even cut of the haul he would signal Monzon when it was time to strike. Monzon was in.

In 2011 the Federal Reserve physically handled transfers of about $ 640 billion in cash. That’s about 35 billion bills. The money mainly passes through a handful of cash logistics companies, themselves a $ 14 billion sector of the U.S. economy. The most famous and important of these companies is Brink’s, which dates to 1859. It handles an average of about 250 flights worldwide each day, part of about 1,500 high-value shipments the company runs daily.

Despite the rivers of cash, surprisingly little is stolen. Armored carriers overall reported only 42 thefts in 2011, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On those rare occasions when money is snatched, however, things can get messy. In February 2012 a Garda driver in Pittsburgh allegedly shot his partner in the back of the head before driving off with $ 2.3 million. In December, four men shot a Loomis armored car driver in the face before taking the truck from a Maryland strip mall.

At the time Diaz laid out his plan, Monzon, a then-32-year-old Cuban immigrant, worked at United Rentals (URI), which leases construction equipment, delivering cranes and backhoes to work sites. On weekends he rode fast Japanese motorcycles, collected Glock pistols, and frequented a swingers’ club called Miami Velvet with his wife, Cinnamon (who did not respond to requests for comment on this story).

According to court records and interviews with FBI Special Agent Alex Peraza—which form the basic sources for this article—Monzon went to work putting together a gang. His first thought was to try some members of his motorcycle club. A few seemed to be involved with a gang who preyed on criminals. He couldn’t get that together, so he turned to family and friends. He recruited his uncle-in-law Conrado “Pinky” Perera, who had a criminal past but also planned to start his own legitimate business; his co-worker, Roberto Perez, who agreed to join only as a lookout; and his brother-in-law, Jeffrey Boatwright, who struggled with drug addiction.

a670f  feature miamiheist09  01  inline605 The Brinks Miami Heist: Stealing $7.4 Million Was the Easy PartIllustration by Nathan FoxOne bag, holding $ 2.1 million, didn’t make it to the truck

At around 3 p.m. on Nov. 6, Boatwright, Monzon, and Perera arrived at the airport warehouse in a black pickup truck. Monzon and Perera got out, pulled bandannas over their faces, hauled themselves onto the loading dock, and went through the open doors. Inside the warehouse they saw what Diaz had described: a gaping space littered with crates and plastic packing wrap. Right by the doors, a handful of guards, including Diaz, sorted through canvas bags stuffed with cash. The day’s shipment, 42 bags, added up to $ 88 million, about $ 2.1 million a bag.

Monzon and Perera pulled out their guns and ordered the guards onto the floor. They grabbed six bags of cash, each weighing about 38 pounds. When they ran to the bay door, one bag dropped. They left it on the warehouse floor. They threw the others into the bed of the truck and made off with $ 7.4 million. The only clue the guards would report to the newspapers was that the thieves were speaking in both Spanish and English.

Back at Monzon’s home, Monzon, Boatwright, and Perera divvied up the haul. Each took $ 1.6 million. They set aside $ 1 million each for Perez and Diaz, and $ 500,000 for Alex Leon, who had been hired to ditch the pickup truck. The only other time anyone had ever pulled off an airport robbery with a payoff as large was in 1978, when the Gambino and Lucchese crime families robbed $ 8 million in cash and jewels from a Lufthansa shipment at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The thieves involved in the heist, which became the basis of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film Goodfellas, paid off figures within the crime families, including John Gotti, to protect themselves. Nevertheless, 13 people connected to the crime ended up dead.

Monzon’s plan, naturally, was to lie low. The crew sealed the money in vacuum packs and split up. Monzon stashed some of his money in PVC pipes and buried them under his family’s house in Homestead, a rural area halfway between Miami and the Florida Keys. Some went into the attic. He didn’t hide it all, though: He bought a Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle worth about $ 14,000. But the everyday dramas of ordinary life continued. Monzon kept his job at the rental company. Cinnamon kept working as well, as a receptionist at Vista magazine. “I get up every day at six in the morning to come work like a slave,” she complained months later in a phone conversation tapped by the FBI.

Boatwright took a different approach. He bought a Rolex and a set of gold caps for his teeth and began days-long drug binges at strip clubs. He dropped thousands of dollars partying with friends. Rumors spread to Monzon that he was doing drugs right out in the street.

Ultimately, the success of a heist rests on what happens after the money is stolen. “You better know more than just how to steal the money, because that’s just the beginning of the process,” says Timothy Wagner, director of the South Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a program that coordinates the activities of local police detectives and federal agents. With no authority like the police or courts to appeal to, smaller, weaker criminals are preyed on by larger, better organized, more aggressive counterparts. “You become a target. You’re naked out there,” says Special Agent Peraza, who headed the investigation of Monzon and his gang.

Monzon worried that sooner or later Boatwright would either be targeted by other criminals or get caught by the police, so he decided to hire someone to scare him, as Peraza sees it. Monzon seems to have picked his acquaintances at the motorcycle club for the job, the same people he originally tried to involve in the heist. On their own initiative, it appears, they turned on Monzon. The gang abducted Boatwright outside the Gold Rush, a black-lit strip club in downtown Miami, in December 2005. They drove him south to a farm in Homestead, coincidentally near Monzon’s own house. The FBI speculates that the gang had figured out that Monzon had far more money than he was paying them. They set a ransom of $ 1 million. They beat Boatwright and tore at his fingernails with pliers. After Monzon delivered the money—it was part of Boatwright’s cut—he had to bring Boatwright to the hospital. Monzon’s problems had only begun.

The FBI’s investigation got off to a poor start. Leading the effort was Peraza, a 20-year FBI veteran who, with his untucked tropical shirts and well-trimmed salt-and-pepper goatee, looks something like an agent in Margaritaville. From the get-go, he says, he suspected the supervisor at the warehouse to be the inside man, but he couldn’t prove it. Brink’s then offered a $ 150,000 reward for information. (Brink’s declined to comment.) Among a flood of useless calls, the FBI received one from a tipster within Monzon’s circle. The FBI, which has not released his name, dubbed him the Private Investigator. According to Peraza, when they met at the police station, the PI was so terrified, he shook as he chain-smoked. In spite of his nerves, he identified Monzon and his crew. By February 2006, Peraza had wiretapped Monzon’s phone, but instead of just uncovering details of the robbery, Peraza and his agents arrived in the middle of a second kidnapping.

The first kidnapping, it turned out, had neither brought Monzon security nor silenced Boatwright. Soon after Boatwright left the hospital, he turned back to drugs and partying, using up the little money he had left. The $ 1 million ransom didn’t satisfy the kidnappers. Instead, it inspired another nabbing of Boatwright, this time, according to court transcripts, led by gang member Michael Hernandez.

On the night of Feb. 16, 2006, Boatwright was partying at the Gold Rush when two strangers, Tatiana and Mimi, joined his table. The women charmed Boatwright and drew him out of the club and into an SUV in the parking lot. Once inside, Tatiana and Mimi got out and two men got in. One cracked Boatwright on the head with the butt of a pistol and tied a shirt over his face. The other started driving.

Twelve hours later, Monzon got a call on his tapped cell phone while he was at work. It was from Robert Salty, a friend of Boatwright’s who was secretly collaborating with the kidnappers for a cut of the ransom; they spoke in Spanish. “I just got a call from a guy, and he told me that they caught Jeffrey. They have Jeffrey again. They want some money,” said Salty. “I spoke with Jeffrey and everything. Jeffrey is there screaming and crying.”

Monzon had lost his appetite for rescuing his brother-in-law, and he tried to keep his distance. “I did what I can, bro. I’m sorry,” he said. “Let his mother take care of that.”

Not long after, he got a second call. This time it was Guillermo Del Regato, one of the kidnappers. “I have your brother-in-law here, the fat one,” he said. “He’ll stay here with me until someone comes up with half a million. I know what you guys did, and I don’t want to get involved with the feds or anything like that. That’s not my problem. The only thing I want is my money.”

“I have nothing to do with what he’s done with his life,” said Monzon.

Del Regato put Boatwright on the phone.

“Bro, you got to fix this,” he said.

“What do you want me to do?” asked Monzon.

“Where’s your money? Does the money mean more to you than me, than my life?”

The answer was not straightforward for Monzon. He still had most of his $ 1.6 million stake of the split stashed on his family’s property.

“Hey, you looked for it, bro,” Monzon said. “Now you deal with it. I told you to get the f-‍ -‍ - out of here, but you wanted to party. Now deal with it.”

Not long after, Cinnamon Monzon spoke on the phone with her husband. She had just gotten a call from the kidnappers, which she’d recorded. She played it back for Monzon. In the call, the kidnapper left some instructions: “If you think that we are playing, then look tomorrow at 9 o’clock in the morning, check the mailbox at 2930 Southwest 76th Ave., and you are going to see your brother’s finger.”

Monzon wasn’t a totally unfeeling brother-in-law. Boatwright meant something to him. He just didn’t want to pay to get him back. He left work, went to a gun shop, walked out with a new AK-47 and ammo, and put it in the trunk of his car. Later, the FBI reported, he called Salty and told him, “I am gonna say that I have money, and I’m gonna go over there and I’m gonna shower them with bullets from the car. I have an AK-47 with me already with two clips.” He said he was going to turn the kidnappers’ car into “a strainer.”

At that point, Peraza realized that the only responsible course of action was to arrange a kidnapping of his own. From the tapped calls, Peraza knew that Monzon and his wife had scheduled a doctor’s appointment on the evening of Feb. 17, 2006. So as Monzon and Cinnamon were inside South Miami Hospital, an unmarked van waited at the hospital entrance. When Monzon stepped outside, Peraza gave a signal and a SWAT team poured out of the van, dragged Monzon inside, and drove off. “Welcome to the FBI,” Peraza told Monzon. If anyone noticed, nobody reported it, which suited the FBI. They didn’t want the kidnappers to know they had Monzon.

In the Miami-Dade County precinct headquarters, Peraza sat face to face with the man he’d been stalking for four months. Monzon at first refused to cooperate but finally agreed in return for a few moments with his wife.

By the time Monzon agreed to cooperate, the kidnappers had held Boatwright for more than 24 hours. It was well past midnight, and they were getting antsy. They dropped the ransom to $ 150,000. They pleaded with Monzon. “You did your thing, you came ahead. S-‍ -‍ -, let me be on top, too,” said the kidnapper on the other end of the call. Peraza, now dictating Monzon’s response, told Monzon to stall, which he did, saying it would take him time to gather up the money.

The call came from Bent Tree, a neighborhood to the west of Miami. While they spoke, FBI and Miami-Dade detectives wound through Bent Tree’s cul-de-sacs in a van equipped with a device called a Stingray, a satellite dish that can track the direction of cell signals, but not their precise location. The van roved the neighborhood trying to pinpoint the kidnappers’ hideout until around 3 a.m., when the signal started to move east.

The kidnappers were heading to a drop-off site where they’d leave Boatwright before collecting the ransom. On a hunch, one of the detectives suggested the FBI try the Miami Princess Hotel, beside the airport. The Princess is a pink stucco motel with kitschy theme suites such as the Jungle Room and the Disco Room. Each has its own garage, so patrons can come and go discreetly. As the Stingray van pulled into the lot, a man noticed the dish on its roof and rushed up to the second floor. The cell signal stopped, and a black SUV backed out of a parking spot and sped away.

A detective and an agent got out of the van and ran up to the second floor. They pulled their guns on one kidnapper, who was still in the walkway beside the open door of a room. They shouted for him to show his hands. Instead he reached into his pocket and threw a small satchel into the room. The officers tackled him. Later, when they opened the satchel, they found watches and a set of gold tooth caps. Boatwright wasn’t in the room.

Meanwhile, the detective in the van called for backup as he began to pursue the SUV, which was now out of sight. Pulling out of the parking lot, he drove the van one way down Northwest 11th Street, saw no one, and reversed course. A few blocks away, he saw the SUV stopped at a red light. The flashing lights of police cars streamed from the opposite direction and surrounded it. Inside, the detective found two of the kidnappers, Manuel Palacio and Guillermo Del Regato, who had Monzon’s phone number on a piece of paper in his wallet.

The police found Boatwright in the back of a pickup truck parked in the hotel garage, his mouth, eyes, and hands duct-taped, blood on his shirt. When the agents tore the tape from his mouth, Boatwright’s first words were, “Please don’t hurt me.”

a670f  feature miamiheist09  02  inline304 The Brinks Miami Heist: Stealing $7.4 Million Was the Easy PartIllustration by Nathan FoxWhen found, Boatwright said: “Please don’t hurt me”

In all, the FBI arrested five men for the second kidnapping of Jeffrey Boatwright. Robert Salty, Michael Sanfiel, and Guillermo Del Regato all pleaded guilty and were given from 7 to 15 years. Manuel Palacio and Michael Hernandez went to trial and received 34- and 26-year prison sentences, respectively. Both feel they were misrepresented by their lawyers and are fighting to be tried again. Hernandez says his lawyer only visited once while he was in custody. “I’m not saying whether I’m guilty or not guilty. All I’m saying is that they never gave me the opportunity to defend myself the right way,” he says.

The thieves all pleaded guilty to taking part in the robbery. Monzon was sentenced to 17 years; his friend Onelio Diaz received 16. Boatwright was given a 13-year sentence. Pinky Perera got 11 years, Roberto Perez was given six years, and Alex Leon received three. Cinnamon Monzon was sentenced to three years for being an accessory to theft.

As for the money, Monzon led the FBI to the $ 1.2 million he had hidden in his attic, buried in pipes in the backyard, and tucked under the tiles of his mother-in-law’s living room floor. Of the $ 7.4 million stolen, that would be all the FBI would recover. Diaz claimed that a good portion of his money was stashed with Monzon’s—the rest he had spent. Boatwright spent most of his share on drugs and paying off his kidnappers. Perera had gone to Georgia with his million to start an aftermarket auto parts company, which soon failed. In a phone call from prison, when asked what happened to all the money he had, Perera mumbled, “It’s gone. I wasted it.”

“For all we know they may have a stash somewhere for them to enjoy when they get out of prison,” Peraza says. “But I feel confident that whatever’s left, it’s not significant.”

Cash planes still crisscross the skies daily. Brink’s won’t say if it’s changed any of its security measures.

Grushkin is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor. — Top News

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Harper Government Lifts Cap on Polio Matching Fund

RICHMOND, BRITISH COLUMBIA–(Marketwire – Feb 23, 2013) – Countless children will be protected from contracting a debilitating disease, thanks to additional support to the ”Pennies and More for Polio matching fund initiative”, augmenting its original commitment. The Honourable Julian Fantino, Minister of International Cooperation, announced today that Canada would not only match contributions of up to $ 1 million, as announced last September, but will match all contributions raised by Rotarians by March 1, 2013, in support of eradicating polio [] . The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation [] also announced that it will be matching contributions, dollar for dollar.

“Canadian generosity is second to none, as shown by this tremendous initiative, which has not only met, but surpassed its goal,” said Minister Fantino. “The Harper Government is pleased to be a key partner in combating this devastating disease, but money alone cannot eradicate polio. We call on the leadership in those countries still affected to promote science-based information and ensure a safe environment for polio immunization workers.”

Last September, Minister Fantino challenged Canadians to join in this fight [] by supporting Rotarians in Canada to reach their fundraising goal by March 1, 2013. Under ”Pennies and More for Polio”, Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had each originally agreed to match dollar-for-dollar donations made by Canadians to the Rotary Foundation to a maximum of $ 1 million. With the outstanding achievement of Rotary”s goal well in advance of its March deadline, both have now agreed to match the total amount of funds raised through the initiative, which is expected to reach more than $ 1.6 million, to be provided to the World Health Organization”s Global Polio Eradication Initiative [] .

“Canada”s support has been, and will continue to be, critical in the final push to end polio,” said Dr. Robert Scott, Chair of Rotary”s International Polio Eradication Committee. “We are on the verge of eradicating this deadly disease, and must redouble our efforts to ensure that the goal is reached.”

In October 2011, Prime Minister Harper reaffirmed Canada”s support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which builds on CIDA”s ongoing commitment to improve the health of mothers, newborns, and children.

“We have a unique window of opportunity to change history and end polio thanks to tremendous advances in 2012,” said Chris Elias, President of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “This innovative program is another example of Canada”s and Rotarians” long-time commitment and leadership to ensuring children are forever protected from this debilitating, but preventable, disease.”

Since 1988, Canada and its partners have supported the immunization of hundreds of millions of children, which has led to the eradication of the polio virus from almost every country on earth, and continue to put an end to this disease in the few vulnerable pockets where it remains.


February 23, 2013


The Government of Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), will match all contributions raised by Rotarians in Canada by March 1, 2013 for the Pennies and More for Polio initiative.

At the 67th annual United Nations General Assembly in September 2012, Canada”s Minister of International Cooperation Julian Fantino, together with Rotarians in Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced a joint undertaking called ”Pennies and More for Polio”.

CIDA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation originally agreed to match dollar for dollar donations by Canadians to the Rotary Foundation, to a maximum of $ 1 million each, up until March 1, 2013.

To date, Rotarians in Canada have exceeded this fundraising goal, having raised over $ 1.6 million. Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will now match the total amount of funds raised through the initiative. This will mean every dollar raised by Rotarians in Canada until the March deadline will be leveraging an additional $ 2 towards polio eradication. Funds will be provided directly to the World Health Organization”s Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership whose goal is to eradicate polio worldwide. The GPEI was launched in 1988 by national governments, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.

The additional resources announced today for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative will contribute to a reduction in polio cases and build on Canada”s ongoing commitment to improve maternal, newborn, and child health. Canada”s support for polio eradication is based on the Muskoka Initiative, which aims to reduce maternal mortality and childhood morbidity.

Since 2000, Canada has supported polio-eradication efforts by working with partners to immunize millions of children and help eradicate polio in the remaining polio-endemic countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

For more information on the Government of Canada”s support for polio eradication, please visit CIDA”s website.

Marketwire News Archive – Yahoo! Finance

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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 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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Jeter resumes on-field running drills in Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Yankees captain Derek Jeter has practiced on-field running and agility drills for the first time since breaking his ankle last fall.

Jeter worked out at Steinbrenner Field on Saturday with players that didn't travel for the Yankees' spring training opener against Atlanta.

The 38-year-old broke his left ankle lunging for a grounder in the AL championship series opener against Detroit on Oct. 1 and had surgery a week later. He expects to be ready for opening day against Boston on April 1.

Jeter had a resurgent season in 2012, leading the American League with 216 hits and batting .316 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs. He first injured his ankle in mid-September and fouled balls off his foot several times after that.

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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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For Lego, Pink is the New Black

In Dec. 2011, the Danish masters of toy bricks and mini-figures launched Lego Friends, a new line of building sets aimed at girls, to much skepticism, reflection, and even, in some quarters, #LiberateLEGO opposition. None could argue the company hadn’t skewed “boy” in recent years, with seemingly endless iterations of Star Wars, police, and ninja-themed sets. Still, the new pastel color palate and taller, slimmer lady mini-figs (introduced on our cover), and scenarios—suburban home, beauty parlor, and “New Born Foal” horse stable—suggested to some that the company was retrograde, pandering, or even sexist. Maybe so. In any case, it’s working: Lego Friends is a huge hit, exceeding Lego’s own wildest expectations.

On Thursday, the Lego Group reported that Lego Friends became the company’s fourth best-selling line in only its first year (behind Star Wars, Ninjago, and Lego CITY, and surpassing superheroes), helping the company record the best financial results in its 81-year history, with a 25 percent increase in revenues globally (to $ 4.04 billion). Moreover, Lego Friends’ performance has silenced any remaining naysayers within Lego who doubted the brand could appeal equally to both genders. (In 2013, Lego Friends will have another wave of products grouped around a “School’s Out” theme. Sets to include a detailed school and various after-school activities for the friends, such as martial arts, soccer, magic, and dance.)

“Our data shows that we tripled the number of girls who are building with Lego bricks in the U.S. market since the launch of Friends, and we’ve significantly shifted the gender split among Lego users,” says Michael McNally, Lego’s U.S. spokesman. Independent data appear to back-up Lego’s claims. Retail researchers NPD Group tracks Lego Friends in its Building Sets category. If you compare Lego Friends dollar volume to similar volumes in the Dolls Play Sets category (where it is sometimes merchandised in stores), Friends comes out on top: the No. 1 property of 2012.

A closer look at the company’s annual report, meanwhile, suggests that Lego and its CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp will be hard-pressed to top 2012. (Because the company is private—it is 75 percent held by Kirkbi, a holding company  controlled by the founding Kirk Kristiansen family, and 25 percent by the Billund, Denmark-based Lego Foundation—it doesn’t publish quarterly earnings. But it has made its annual report public since 1997.)

•    The year’s operating profit increased to $ 1,373 million against $ 1,057 million in 2011, an increase of 40 percent.
•    The operating margin increased to 34 percent from 30 percent in 2011.
•    The year’s net profit increased to $ 969 million against $ 776 million in 2011.
•    The net cash generated from operating activities was $ 1,100 million against $ 666 million in 2011.

There are even numbers an economist and deficit hawk can love: In 2012, the Lego Group hired more than 1,000 people and paid $ 330 million in corporate income taxes. (The 1,000 employees is nearly a 10 percent increase in its global workforce.)

Aside from the surprising contribution of Lego Friends to Lego’s bottom line, what’s most remarkable about these figures is how successful Lego has been selling in shaky, even moribund European markets, and just how far it has come under Knudstorp. Though his typical Scandinavian reserve likely would prevent it, Knudstorp could reasonably claim that he’s the best turnaround artist in global business. Just 36 when he was promoted to the top spot nine years ago, Knudstorp is only the fourth CEO at the company, and the first who’s not a member of the Kristiansen family. And it’s difficult to imagine now, but at the time of his promotion the company was losing the equivalent of one million Danish kroner a day and getting mail from fans pleading, in the words of one letter Knudstorp will never forget, “to please not die.”

A bonafide intellectual (he holds a PhD in economics from Aarhus University), Knudstorp is, in many respects, an anti-Steve Jobs. He doesn’t start with a vision of what Lego ought to create next and relentlessly refine it; he’s a systems guy, obsessed with devising a method for his engineers to do deliberately what Jobs did instinctively. This is how he came to approve Lego Friends. He didn’t have an epiphany one night. Instead, he set parameters for his R&D department and let them deliver.

“Adapting as a business can mean moving to a new technology, or can be achieved through acquisitions,” Knudstorp told me in a Sept. 2011 interview. He pointed out that Lego’s fundamental technology—snug stud-into-tube bricks that hold fast but come apart easily—hasn’t changed since 1958. Over its eight-plus decade history, he went on, Lego hadn’t been involved in a single noteworthy merger or acquisition. “For us,” he said, “the challenge is in some ways bigger: to take known constructs and organize them in new and surprising ways.”

Not unlike making something new out of Legos. — Top News

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UPDATE: IC Potash Expands Polyhalite Ochoa Project in Lea County, New Mexico

TORONTO–(Marketwire – Feb 22, 2013) – IC Potash Corp. (“ICP” or the “Company”) ( TSX : ICP ) ( OTCQX : ICPTF ) today announced that in support of its 100%-owned Polyhalite Ochoa Project in southeastern New Mexico, the Company has secured an additional 1,914 acres of land in Lea County from the New Mexico State Land Office, increasing its total State lease and federal permit holdings in the region to approximately 101,500 acres spanning 158.6 square miles. 

Commenting on the lease deal, New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Ray Powell stated, “This new agreement brings ICP’s State lease holdings to nearly 28,000 acres and will generate for the State Land Office up to $ 8 million or more, depending on product pricing, in leasing fees and royalties each year once ICP is in production at its planned Sulphate of Potash mine and processing facility. We are very pleased to count ICP among our valued business partners and look forward to putting these fees to work to benefit education in New Mexico and, in turn, help keep our taxpayer bills low.”

Over 13 million acres of land granted to New Mexico in 1898 and 1910 are held in trust for the State’s public schools and universities, as well as special schools and hospitals that serve children with physical, visual and auditory disabilities. In fiscal year 2012, the trust lands and permanent funds, administered by Commissioner Powell, produced a record amount of revenue, totaling more than $ 650 million in income for the beneficiaries. 

ICP’s Ochoa Project is located in the Pecos Valley section of the southern Great Plains physiographic province, approximately 60 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, and less than 20 miles west of the Texas-New Mexico state line. The overall project development plan provides for completion of the Feasibility Study by the end of August 2013, final environmental permitting by the end of March 2014 and the commencement of construction of the mine and processing facility shortly thereafter. With over 100 full time employees and consultants currently engaged in the Project, it is expected that up to 1,000 new construction jobs, at peak construction activity, will be created; and approximately 400 additional new permanent employees will be hired to support commercial operations once construction is completed.

Sidney Himmel, President and CEO of IC Potash, added, “Based on findings of our original drilling program, the additional land granted by the State has been determined to be strategically important for our Ochoa Project, as it holds prospective mineralization that could expand Ochoa’s already significant resource base of Polyhalite. In addition, this new lease also covers land located approximately 1,500 feet from the planned mine shaft and ramp bottom (the location of which was designated by the Bureau of Land Management after the initial State leases were granted), making it available for mining in the early production phase of the near century-long mine life. We greatly appreciate the enthusiasm for our project and the tremendous support we continue to receive from the great State of New Mexico.”

About IC Potash Corp.
ICP intends to become a primary producer of Sulphate of Potash (“SOP”) and Sulphate of Potash Magnesia (“SOPM”) by mining its 100%-owned Polyhalite Ochoa property in southeast New Mexico, a highly advanced mineral deposit containing proven and probable reserves of more than 340 million tons of ore within the proposed mine plan. SOP is a non-chloride based potash fertilizer that sells at a substantial premium over the price of regular potash known as Muriate of Potash (“MOP”). MOP contains chloride and is therefore not the optimal potash for numerous crops and in situations where there is high soil salinity. ICP is focused on becoming the lowest cost producer of SOP in the world, a market that is towards six million tonnes per year. SOP is a significant fertilizer in horticultural industries, particularly fruits, vegetables, tobacco and potatoes. SOP is applicable for soils where there is substantial agricultural activity, high soil salinity, and in arid regions. SOPM is a highly desirable potash product for soils with magnesium deficiency, and has a total global market size of over one million tonnes. ICP’s Ochoa property consists of over 100,000 acres of federal subsurface potassium prospecting permits and State of New Mexico Potassium mining leases. For more information, please visit

Forward-Looking Statements
Certain information set forth in this news release may contain forward-looking statements that involve substantial known and unknown risks and uncertainties. These forward-looking statements are subject to numerous risks and uncertainties, certain of which are beyond the control of ICP, including, but not limited to, risks associated with mineral exploration and mining activities, the impact of general economic conditions, industry conditions, dependence upon regulatory approvals, and the uncertainty of obtaining additional financing. Readers are cautioned that the assumptions used in the preparation of such information, although considered reasonable at the time of preparation, may prove to be imprecise and, as such, undue reliance should not be placed on forward-looking statements.

Marketwire News Archive – Yahoo! Finance

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HP lifts Wall Street, S&P on pace for first weekly loss of year

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks rose on Friday, rebounding off two days of losses as Dow component Hewlett-Packard surged on strong results, but the S&P 500 was on track to end a seven-week-long streak of gains.

The S&P shed 1.9 percent over the previous two sessions, its worst two-day drop since early November, putting the index on pace for its first weekly decline of the year. The retreat was triggered when the Federal Reserve's meeting minutes for January suggested stimulus measures may be halted sooner than thought.

Still, the index is up nearly 6 percent for the year and held the 1,500 support level despite the recent declines, a sign of a positive bias in the market.

"The market is addicted to Fed stimulus and gets withdrawal shakes every time that's threatened, but now we're resuming our course and remain much more attractively valued than other asset classes," said Rex Macey, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust in Atlanta, Georgia.

Hewlett-Packard Co jumped 9.6 percent to $18.74 as the top boost on both the Dow and S&P 500 after the PC maker's quarterly revenue and forecasts beat expectations. The company cut costs under Chief Executive Meg Whitman's turnaround plan. The S&P technology sector <.splrct> was up 0.8 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 69.41 points, or 0.50 percent, at 13,950.03. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 7.74 points, or 0.52 percent, at 1,510.16. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 18.26 points, or 0.58 percent, at 3,149.75.

For the week, the Dow is off 0.2 percent in its third straight week of slight losses, the S&P is off 0.6 percent and the Nasdaq is off 1.3 percent.

Also buoying tech stocks were gains in semiconductor companies after Marvell Technology Group Ltd forecast results this quarter that were largely above analysts' expectations. Marvell gained market share in the hard-disk drive and flash-storage businesses. The stock rose 2.5 percent to $9.71.

In addition, Texas Instruments Inc raised its dividend by a third and boosted its stock buyback program, lifting shares 5.1 percent to $34.16 while the PHLX semiconductor index <.sox> gained 1.8 percent.

"Dividends growing are another way the market's level is justified, if not especially attractive at these levels," said Macey, who manages about $20 billion in assets.

On the downside, Abercrombie & Fitch dropped 7.6 percent to $45.34 after the clothing retailer reported a drop in fourth-quarter comparable sales, even as its latest quarterly earnings topped estimates.

Insurer American International Group Inc posted fourth-quarter results that beat analysts' expectations. Shares advanced 3 percent to $38.43.

According to Thomson Reuters data through Friday morning, of 439 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 70 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.

Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 6 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Pistorius granted bail pending murder trial

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — A South African magistrate allowed Oscar Pistorius to go free on bail Friday, capping hearings that foreshadow a dramatic trial in the Valentine's Day killing of the star athlete's girlfriend.

Pistorius' family members and supporters shouted "Yes!" when Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair made his decision after a more than 1 hour and 45 minute explanation of his ruling to a packed courtroom.

Radio stations and a TV news network in South Africa broadcast the audio of the decision live, and even international channels like the BBC and CNN went live with it, underscoring the huge global interest in the case.

Nair set the bail at 1 million rand ($113,000), with $11,300 in cash up front and proof that the rest is available. The magistrate said Pistorius must hand over his passports and also turn in any other guns that he owns. Pistorius also cannot leave the district of Pretoria, South Africa's capital, without the permission of his probation officer, Nair said, nor can he take drugs or drink alcohol.

The double-amputee Olympian's next court appearance was set for June 4. He left the courthouse in a silver Land Rover, sitting in the rear, just over an hour after the magistrate imposed the bail conditions. The vehicle, tailed by a motorcycle with a TV cameraman aboard, later pulled into the home of Pistorius' uncle.

The magistrate ruled that Pistorius could not return to his upscale home in a gated community in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria, where the killing of Reeva Steenkamp took place.

Pistorius' uncle, Arnold Pistorius said: "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. 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."

Nair made the ruling after four days of arguments from prosecution and defense in Pistorius' bail hearing. During Friday's long session in Pretoria Magistrate's Court, Pistorius alternately wept and appeared solemn and more composed, especially toward the end as Nair criticized police procedures in the case and as a judgment in Pistorius' favor appeared imminent.

Nair had banned cameras from Friday's dramatic bail hearing and complained about cameras constantly "flashing" in Pistorius' face the previous three days of hearings, saying the spectacle made the athlete look like "some kind of species the world has never seen before."

Nair said Pistorius' sworn statement, in which he gave his version of the events of the shooting during the predawn hours of Feb. 14 in a sworn statement, 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 in the sworn statement that he shot his girlfriend — a model and budding reality TV contestant — accidentally, believing she was an intruder in his house.

Prosecutors say he intended to kill Steenkamp and charged him with premeditated murder, saying the shooting followed a loud argument between the two.

Sharon Steenkamp, Reeva's cousin, had said earlier that the family wouldn't be watching the bail decision and hadn't been following the hearing in Pretoria.

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

Despite the bail decision, prosecution spokesman Medupe Simasiku said: "We're still confident in our case," outside court.

Pistorius faced the sternest bail requirements in South Africa because of the seriousness of the charge, and his defense lawyers 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 and be prepared to go "ducking and diving" around the world 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.

He criticized Hilton Botha, the previous lead investigator in the case, for not doing more to uncover evidence that the Olympian had violent tendencies.

"There is ample room and ample time to do that by looking at the background of the accused," he said.

But while Nair leveled harsh criticism at former lead investigator Botha for "errors" and "blunders," he said one man does not represent the state's case and that the state could not be expected to put all the pieces of its puzzle together in such a short time.

Anticipating the shape of the state's case at trial, he said he had serious questions about Pistorius' account: Why he didn't try to locate his girlfriend on fearing an intruder was in the house, why he didn't try to determine who was in the toilet and why he would venture into perceived "danger" - the bathroom area - 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.


AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray and AP writer Carley Petesch contributed to this report from Johannesburg.

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Can Bersani-Monti work for Italy?

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader

Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


  • Bersani wins he may be forced to form a coalition with incumbent PM Mario Monti

  • Center-left leader Bersani says he plans to make the property tax "more progressive"

  • Berlusconi is using his showman charm to mount a comeback for his PDL party

London (CNN) -- Italy's electoral run-off between an ex-communist and a former cruise ship singer threatens to throw the country back into the spotlight of the European debt crisis.

The enigmatic leader of the center-left Democratic Party, Pier Luigi Bersani, goes head-to-head with scandal-laden former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- back from the political grave following his resignation in November 2011.

Incumbent technocrat premier and eurozone darling Mario Monti, meanwhile, is lagging behind in the polls.

The cigar-chomping Bersani is favorite for Italy's top job and proposes to steer the country's battered economy through a debt crisis that is still plaguing the eurozone three years on.

Following six consecutive quarters of recession and with unemployment at 11.2%, Bersani is pursuing the euro area's latest fad to revive Italy's ailing economy; a pro-growth agenda.

Read more: Can the anti-Berlusconi pull Italy out of the mire?

Such policies are a stark contrast to Monti's cocktail of cuts and taxes served up to woo policymakers in Brussels and Frankfurt.

Read more: Berlusconi renaissance would be 'disaster' for Italian economy

Growth will be the "golden rule" to attract foreign investment, according to Democratic Party number two Enrico Letta. A similar sentiment was key in sweeping socialist French President Francois Hollande into the Elysee Palace in 2012.

But Letta stresses that Bersani will not follow Hollande's lead by proposing a 75% income tax for the country's wealthiest residents.

Read more: Beppe Grillo: Clown prince of Italian politics

Speaking to CNN, Letta said: "It will be different, we already have a very high level of taxation...the main point is not to increase taxes."

Bersani -- who promises to stick to the outgoing government's plans for pension and labor market reform -- will also keep Monti's reviled property tax, known as IMU. It's a policy that Berlusconi pledges to scrap if elected.

In an interview with CNN, Bersani says he plans to make the tax "more progressive" and focus on the owners of large properties if his party wins.

But for all Bersani's talk of change, bond strategist Nicholas Spiro dismisses the 71-year-old as no reformer and says he is "not up to the task" of hauling the Italian economy out of a "knee deep" recession.

Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, says "Bersani could very well go for taxes on the rich, but Italy has a massive tax evasion and compliance problem, that could be difficult."

Can a political marriage survive?

Politics in Italy is complicated and outright victory for any party is unlikely. If Bersani wins he may be forced to form a coalition.

An alliance with the flamboyant center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi is unthinkable -- which leaves Monti the most likely candidate to support a Bersani-lead government.

But Monti is viewed with suspicion Bersani's far-left partners, Left Ecology Freedom, who believe the technocrat would pull a left government too far to the economic right.

If the parties can strike a deal Monti would be offered "an important role" to be discussed "Monday afternoon," Letta told CNN. He refused to say if the technocrat would be appointed finance minister.

Monti, a former European Commissioner in financial services, wields the power to reassure European leaders that Italy is on the right track and can act as a counterbalance to a leftist government.

Bersani, by contrast, is a mystery on the international stage, according to Paola Subacchi, an economist at London-based think tank Chatham House.

"He is not known abroad and he doesn't speak English... But his whole agenda is pro-Europe and pro-euro."

A Bersani-Monti marriage is unlikely to be smooth. The two could clash over unpopular austerity measures implemented by Monti as part of a European agreement.

Filippo Cavazzuti, former Italian senator and economist at the University of Bologna, believes Bersani will be forced to maintain Monti's policies under the European fiscal compact.

He said: "Otherwise Monti leaves [the coalition], the spread [on bond yields] rises and the credibility with the eurozone will immediately disappear."

A coalition agreement is crucial to stifling a power-grab by Italy's political bad boy, Berlusconi, is gaining on Bersani's seemingly unassailable lead in the polls.

Berlusconi is using his showman charm to mount a comeback for his People of Freedom party and holds key regions in Veneto and Lombardy that could prove crucial, particularly in the battle for the Senate.

The election will hand down a "damning verdict" to the policymakers of northern Europe that Italians are fed up with austerity, according to Spiro.

The electoral campaign, Spiro added, has been: "Very ugly, devoid of substance and purely based on personalities."

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Cleotha Staples of Staple Singers siblings dies

CHICAGO (AP) — Cleotha Staples, the eldest sibling in the highly influential gospel group The Staple Singers, has died. She was 78.

Staples’ family friend and music publicist Bill Carpenter says Staples died Thursday at her Chicago home after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the last decade.

The Staple Singers began as a way for Roebuck “Pops” Staples to entertain his family, which included five children — Cleotha, known as “Cleedi,” Pervis, Yvonne, Mavis and Cynthia. He taught the children gospel songs and accompanied them on his guitar. Two decades later they became unlikely hit makers for the Stax label.

Staples was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her family in 1999 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 2005.

Entertainment News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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French blast ‘ignorant’ US tyre boss

A French minister has responded angrily to the boss of US tyremaker Titan who said he would have to be “stupid” to invest in the country.

Maurice Taylor made the claims in a letter to France’s minister for industrial recovery, Arnaud Montebourg.

On Thursday, Mr Montebourg replied that Mr Taylor’s “extreme” comments showed a “perfect ignorance of what our country is”.

He added that 20,000 foreign firms are in France, employing 2 million people.

Mr Taylor – a former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 – was replying to a request for Titan to consider investing in a loss-making Goodyear plant in Amiens, north France.

“I have visited that factory a couple of times. The French workforce gets paid high wages but only works three hours,” Mr Taylor said in the letter, dated 8 February, and published by French business daily Les Echos on Wednesday.

“They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!”

On Thursday, he told Le Figaro: “I didn’t want to insult the French. I wanted to say that the union at the factory in Amiens has a screw loose.

“If the French workers work, they will be as competitive as the Germans, British or the Americans. The problem is that the French are too expensive because of their particular benefits.”

Mr Taylor is nicknamed “the Grizz” for his bear-like no-nonsense style. He added: “How stupid do you think we are?”

French unions had blasted the content of his letter.

The spat has been front page news in France and caused lots of discussion over “le French bashing” on social media over the past few days.

More spats

In his response, Mr Montebourg said: “May I point out that Titan, the company you lead, is 20 times smaller than Michelin, our French leader of international influence, and 35 times less profitable?”

The minister added that 4,200 subsidiaries of US firms employed more than 500,000 people in France and that some firms had been around since 1842.

He went on to praise the efforts of young US soldiers in World War II and the current efforts of President Barack Obama to stop deindustrialisation in the US.

This is not the first row that Mr Montebourg has been involved in since the Socialists took charge of the presidency last summer.

He accused steelmaker Arcelor Mittal of “lying” and “disrespecting” the country and said it was no longer welcome during a spat over the closure of two furnaces at its steel plant in Florange.

France has a 35-hour statutory working week, brought in by the Socialist Party in 2000, but critics say it is now stifling economic growth.

BBC News – Business

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Wall Street extends losses, Nasdaq down 1 percent

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend, "Doug" (24), and I (22) have been in a long-distance relationship for a year, but we were friends for a couple of years before that. I had never had a serious relationship before and lacked experience. Doug has not only been in two other long-term relationships, but has had sex with more than 15 women. One of them is an amateur porn actress.I knew about this, but it didn't bother me until recently. Doug had a party, and while he was drunk he told one of his buddies -- in front of me -- that he should watch a certain porn film starring his ex-girlfriend. ...
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Top detective appointed new Pistorius investigator

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — South Africa's top detective was appointed lead investigator in the Oscar Pistorius case Thursday, replacing a veteran policeman who was charged with attempted murder in the latest shock development to hit a case being watched closely by the nation.

National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega promised that a team of "highly skilled and experienced" officers would investigate the killing of Pistorius' 29-year-old girlfriend. Pistorius, 26, has been charged with premeditated murder in the case.

The decision to put police Lt. Gen. Vinesh Moonoo in charge came soon after word emerged that the initial chief investigator, Hilton Botha, is facing attempted murder charges, and a day after he offered testimony damaging to the prosecution in Pistorius' bail hearing.

Pistorius, an Olympic runner whose lower legs were amputated when he was less than a year old, killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the predawn hours of Valentine's Day. He claims he mistook her for an intruder when he shot her through a locked door in a bathroom in his home. Prosecutors say the shooting happened after the couple got into an argument and allege the killing was deliberate, carried out with no mercy.

Botha acknowledged Wednesday in court that nothing in Pistorius' version of the fatal shooting of Steenkamp contradicted what police had discovered, even though there have been some discrepancies. Botha also said that police had left a 9 mm slug in the toilet and had lost track of allegedly illegal ammunition found in Pistorius' home.

"This matter shall receive attention at the national level," Phiyega told reporters soon after the end of proceedings in the third day of Pistorius' bail hearing. The case has riveted South Africa and much of the world and has placed the country's judicial system under close scrutiny.

Bulewa Makeke, spokeswoman for South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority, said the attempted murder charges had been reinstated against Botha on Feb. 4. Police say they found out about it after Botha testified in Pistorius' bail hearing Wednesday.

Botha and two other police officers had seven counts of attempted murder reinstated against them in relation to a 2011 shooting incident. Botha and his two colleagues allegedly fired shots at a minibus they were trying to stop.

Asked about Botha's court performance and handling of the investigation, Phiyega said South Africa's police force "can stand on its own" compared to others around the world.

Makeke, the spokeswoman for the national prosecution office, had said before Botha was dismissed from the Pistorius case that he should be taken off, but added that it was up to the police force to make that decision.

Makeke indicated the charges were reinstated against Botha because more evidence had been gathered. She said the charge against Botha was initially dropped "because there was not enough evidence at the time."

Pistorius' main sponsor Nike, meanwhile, suspended its contract with the multiple Paralympic champion, following eyewear manufacturer Oakley's decision to suspend its sponsorship. Nike said in a brief statement on its website: "We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely."

The judge is still trying to decide whether to grant Pistorius bail, and under what conditions.

During Thursday's bail hearing, Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair asked the defense of Pistorius' bail application: "Do you think there will be some level of shock if the accused is released?"

Defense lawyer Barry Roux responded: "I think there will be a level of shock in this country if he is not released."

Opposing bail, prosecutor Gerrie Nel painted a picture of a man "willing and ready to fire and kill," and said signs of remorse from Pistorius do not mean that the athlete didn't intend to kill his girlfriend.

"Even if you plan a murder, you plan a murder and shoot. If you fire the shot, you have remorse. Remorse might kick in immediately," Nel said.

As Nel summed up the prosecution's case opposing bail, Pistorius began to weep in the crowded courtroom, leading his brother, Carl Pistorius, to reach out and touch his back.

"He (Pistorius) wants to continue with his life like this never happened," Nel went on, prompting Pistorius, who was crying softly, to shake his head. "The reason you fire four shots is to kill," Nel persisted.

Earlier Thursday, Nair questioned Botha over delays in processing records from phones found in Pistorius' house following the killing of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and budding reality TV contestant.

"It seems to me like there was a lack of urgency," Nair said as the efficiency of the police investigation was questioned.

Botha is himself to appear in court in May to face seven counts of attempted murder. Botha was dropped from the case but not suspended from the police force, Phiyega said, and could still be called by defense lawyers at trial.

Pisatorius' behavior Thursday reflected the change of mood in the courtroom as his defense lawyers attacked police procedures and maintained his innocence.

Pistorius, in the same gray suit, blue shirt and gray tie combination he has worn throughout the bail hearing, stood ramrod straight in the dock, then sat calmly looking at his hands. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the athlete had been slumped over and sobbing uncontrollably at times as detail was read out of how Steenkamp died in his house.

"The poor quality of the evidence offered by investigative officer Botha exposed the disastrous shortcomings of the state's case," Roux said Thursday. "We cannot sit back and take comfort that he is telling the truth."

Roux also raised issue of intent, saying the killing was not "pre-planned" and referred to a "loving relationship" between the two.

He said an autopsy showed that Steenkamp's bladder was empty, suggesting she had gone to use the toilet as Pistorius had claimed. Prosecutors claim Steenkamp had fled to the toilet to avoid an enraged Pistorius.

"The known forensics is consistent" with Pistorius' statement, Roux said, asking that bail restrictions be eased for Pistorius.

But the prosecutor said Pistorius hadn't given guarantees to the court that he wouldn't leave the country if he was facing a life sentence. Nel also stressed that Pistorius shouldn't be given special treatment.

"I am Oscar Pistorius. I am a world-renowned athlete. Is that a special circumstance? No." Nel said. "His version (of the killing) is improbable."

Nel said the court should focus on the "murder of the defenseless woman."

Botha testified Thursday that he had investigated a 2009 complaint against Pistorius by a woman who claimed the athlete had assaulted her. He said that Pistorius had not hurt her and that the woman had actually injured herself when she kicked a door at Pistorius' home.

The hearing is to continue Friday morning.


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

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Homebuilding takes a breather, wholesale prices up

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. builders broke ground on fewer homes last month but a jump in permits for future construction to a 4-1/2 year high indicated the housing market recovery remains on track.

Another report on Wednesday showed wholesale prices rose for the first time in four months in January. However, the gain was smaller than expected and left scope for the Federal Reserve to keep buying bonds to stimulate the economy.

Housing starts dropped 8.5 percent in January to an 890,000-unit annual rate, pulled down by a sharp drop in the volatile multi-family unit category, the Commerce Department said.

But starts for single-family homes hit their highest level since July 2008 and permits for future construction, which lead starts by at least a month, were at their highest level since June of that year.

The drop in starts followed an outsized gain in December and was confined to the Northeast and Midwest, suggesting cold weather likely contributed to the pullback.

“The fundamentals are there and the drivers are looking good,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. “We see more new construction this year. The only question is whether it will be in the multi-family or single-family segment.”

Housing has shifted from being a headwind for the economy to being a pillar of support, although mortgage rates have crept higher in recent weeks, cooling loan demand.

Luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers on Wednesday reported disappointing quarterly results, hurt in part by lower selling prices, but other homebuilders have been able to take advantage of the recovering market.

A separate report from the Labor Department showed producer prices rose 0.2 percent last month as rebounding food costs offset declining gasoline prices. Wholesale prices had slipped 0.3 percent in December, and economists had expected them to rise 0.4 percent in January.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data. By midday, stocks were down as weakness in energy and materials sectors weighed on the indexes, while Treasuries were slightly higher. The dollar was up against a basket of currencies.


Food prices accounted for more than 75 percent of the rise in wholesale prices last month.

Away from the spike in food prices, the producer price report showed inflation pressures were generally muted.

In the 12 months through January, wholesale prices were up 1.4 percent and data on Thursday is expected to show consumer inflation below the U.S. central bank’s goal of 2 percent.

“Inflationary pressures remain well contained,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago. “The Federal Reserve would rather see inflation slightly higher in response to stronger economic conditions than benign because the recovery remains tepid.”

In an effort to drive down borrowing costs and spur stronger growth, the Fed last year launched an open-ended bond buying program and said it would keep it up until it saw a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market.

Wholesale prices excluding volatile food and energy costs edged up 0.2 percent last month after gaining 0.1 percent in December. In the 12 months through January, so-called core prices rose 1.8 percent, the smallest gain since February 2011.

A surge in the cost of fresh and dried vegetables pushed up food prices in January. Gasoline prices surprisingly recorded another substantial decline last month, even though prices at the pump have been rising almost every week this year.

The core PPI was lifted by a jump in the cost of drugs, while passenger car and light truck prices fell.

(Additional reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Tim Ahmann)

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SDTC Looking for Canada’s Next Cleantech Innovators

OTTAWA, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – Feb 20, 2013) – Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) is looking for the next wave of innovative cleantech entrepreneurs with the announcement of our call for applications to the SD Tech Fund™ from February 20th to April 17th, 2013.

“This is an exciting time for Canada”s cleantech industry, projected to grow to generate as much as $ 62 billion in revenues by 2020,” said SDTC President and CEO Vicky Sharpe. “SDTC is excited to meet and work with another set of cleantech entrepreneurs, bringing technologies to market and changing the way business is being done.”

On behalf of the Government of Canada, SDTC finances and supports the late-stage development and pre-commercial demonstration of clean technologies. Through its SD Tech Fund™, SDTC helps companies through the critical juncture when capital and scaling costs become challenges and the risk profile deters other investors.

SDTC supports technologies that address the challenges of Climate Change, Clean Air, Soil and Water, including technology solutions focused on these current priority areas:

  • Natural Resources: Mitigate environmental impacts associated with Canada”s natural resource sector including “green mining”, cleaner fossil fuels and forestry.

  • Clean Energy: Enable cleaner energy production, including natural gas, and improved energy efficiency of transportation, the built environment and industrial processes.

  • Agriculture: Increase yield and improve temperature and drought resistance of agricultural crops and mitigate land-use changes and biodiversity loss.

  • Northern/Remote Communities: Innovative solutions for self-sufficiency in smaller communities.

  • Packaged Solutions: Integrated technology packages that combine one or more clean technologies, such as renewable energy generation, energy storage, and waste and wastewater management.

The SDTC portfolio is currently comprised of 245 clean technology projects, for a total value of $ 2.1 billion, of which over $ 1.5 billion is leveraged primarily from the private-sector.

It should be noted, however, that the SD Tech Fund™ has been fully allocated. The availability and timing of funding for future rounds is dependent on SDTC receiving additional support in 2013.

About SDTC

On behalf of the Government of Canada, SDTC helps commercialize Canadian clean technologies, readying them for growth and export markets. With a portfolio of companies under management valued at more than $ 2 billion, SDTC is positioning cleantech as a driver of jobs, productivity and economic prosperity.

SDTC operates two funds aimed at the development and demonstration of innovative technological solutions. The $ 590 million SD Tech Fund™ supports projects that address climate change, air quality, clean water, and clean soil. The $ 500 million NextGen Biofuels Fund™ supports the establishment of first-of-kind large demonstration-scale facilities for the production of next-generation renewable fuels.

SDTC works with the private sector, the financial sector and all levels of government to meet the Government of Canada”s commitment to create a healthy environment and a high quality of life for all Canadians. SDTC operates as a not-for-profit corporation.

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