Should we give Lance another chance?


  • Mike Downey: I haven't a smidgen of sympathy for the dope "pedaler"

  • Randy Cohen: If many cycling fans are right, most of the top riders engaged in doping

  • Jeff Pearlman: Lance racing again is not truly an option anyway -- he's almost 42

  • John Hoberman: Any lifting of his lifetime ban should be based on his total cooperation

(CNN) -- CNN asked for views on whether disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong deserves another chance in light of his apologies to his charity, Livestrong, and his soon-to-be-aired interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which it's widely reported he admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong is banned from professional cycling for life and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

Mike Downey: No sympathy for the dope "pedaler"

I was at the Champs-Elysees finish line on July 27, 1986, when the bike of Greg LeMond whizzed by, making him the first American to win the Tour de France. It was a monumental achievement: 210 cyclists, 23 grueling days, long and winding roads, treacherously steep hills.

Mike Downey

Mike Downey

Equally hard had to be the abuse LeMond endured in retirement after publicly decrying the sport's hypocrisies and daring to suggest that seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, the All-American boy himself, had not been on the up-and-up. Vilified and disdained, LeMond was treated like a tobacco company's insider who blew the whistle on the industry's methods or like Carl Lewis speculating that his rival Ben Johnson had not won foot races fairly and squarely. As if he had an ax to grind.

I haven't a smidgen of sympathy for Armstrong now that he is exposed for the dope-pedaler -- that's pedal, not peddle -- he truly was. He played the Jean Valjean part of the persecuted man for every franc that it was worth. Let us resist the magnanimous gesture to forgive, forget and give Lance a second (eighth?) chance. He was caught, unlike certain baseball players who have been merely suspected or accused, and has, evidently, confessed. Seven strikes and you're out.

Professional athletes do exist who 'fess up, serve a suspension, then are welcomed back. They, as with the ballplayers, did disgrace their life's work, yet none single-handedly won their sport's championship with their chicanery. None stood apart as Armstrong did and hogged credit for being a champion, a hero. None won a championship by compelling teammates to also cheat, at risk of being shunned, smeared or dropped from the team.

I say we say goodbye for good to Monsieur Armstrong, farewell, adieu. Off to Elba and exile with you, you rogue. Vive LeMond.

Mike Downey is a former columnist for The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

To Armstrong's critics, doping admission would be sweet

Roxanne Jones: He's not trustworthy

When my son comes to me with a guilty apology for some horrible-at-the-time wrong he's done, of course, I forgive him - over and over again. That's a mother's love. If my partner asks forgiveness for a wrong turn he's taken, I look a little closer at the root of his sincerity. If it's there he gets a second shot, too, if he's worth my trust again.

But Lance Armstrong, who maliciously lied for more than a decade, who I watched from my sideline seat in sports try to crush the voice of anyone who dared to call him a cheater. No, he gets no second chance from me. There are too many reasons to question his apology. Is he trying to stave off fleeing endorsement dollars? Save his LiveStrong Foundation? Avoid paying back all the sponsors he defrauded? He could at least pay back the U.S. Postal Service, especially if those are taxpayer dollars.

I've had it with these public crying-after-you-caught apologies. Armstrong has had a decade of second chances to come clean but he was too arrogant, too caught up in his God-like stature. And now, he should live strong among us mere mortals and show the world - his supporters and his doubters what kind of man he really is when the camera's are off.

Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete" (Random House) and is CEO of Push Media Strategies and is working on her second book.

Randy Cohen: All big-time cyclists who doped should confess

The important ethical question isn't whether Lance deserves a second chance. Chance to do what? Cheat in seven more Tours? Lie about it seven more times? Bully seven more teammates into doping? He behaved badly and is rightly censured.

Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

But that should be the beginning, not the end, of this disheartening story. There's a lot more blame to go around. Cycling's governing bodies also have an ethical duty, and that's to provide a setting in which honest athletes can participate.

If many cycling fans are right, most of the top riders engaged in doping. You simply can't compete against them without doing the same. What was Lance to do? Quit the sport? And who inherits his Tour titles? Some other cheat?

It would be thrilling if one by one, they declined in a Spartacus moment -- an honest, I-am-drugged-Spartacus moment. This is a community problem; it demands community solutions. Unless those who run big-time cycling institute real reforms, Lance's fall will be merely a celebrity scandal, and there's little good in that.

Randy Cohen wrote The Ethicist column in The New York Times Magazine till 2011, and he is a former writer for "Late Night With David Letterman." His latest book is "Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything."

Jeff Pearlman: He's almost 42, forget about it

Back when I was 8 or 9, my parents took me to my first trip to Disney World. I remember Space Mountain, and I remember Mickey Mouse's enormous head. For some reason, though, what I remember most is a sign posted within the borders of Epcot. It read: If you can dream it, you can do it.

"Dad," I said, "I dream of being 8-feet tall. But that'll never happen ..."

"Well, son ..."

Jeff Pearlman

Jeff Pearlman

"And, Dad, I dream of being able to fly just like Superman. But that'll never happen ..."

"Son, the thing is ..."

"And Dad, I'd really like to win an Olympic gold medal for my Joanie Cunningham impersonation, but ..."

"Son," my father said, "It's a sign. It's just a damn sign."


Throughout Lance Armstrong's recent fight to prove he hadn't cheated, and throughout the plights of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire and the alleged PED abuses of dozens upon dozens of others, I've often thought about that day at Disney and, specifically, of that sign.

As a boy, it spoke to me as a kid longing for greatness. Maybe, just maybe, I can accomplish anything. Maybe ...

As a sportswriter who has chronicled much of the past two decades, however, it strikes me as foolish nonsense. As Armstrong's recent admission shows, the words must be altered to -- if you can dream it, you can do it -- as long as you leave your ethics at the door and cheat your ass off and don't mind throwing your supporters under a bus.

Lance Armstrong over the years


























That, now, is the sad, pathetic legacy of men such as Armstrong and Bonds. Once upon a time, they dreamed of doing wonderful things: Of hitting baseballs 500 miles; of speeding down the largest mountains; of being special. Then, however, they learned (as we all do) that we are bound by the confines of humanity. Within the rules and regulations, there is only so strong. There is only so fast. There is only so big. Hence, one can either accept his lot in life and put out the best possible effort, or he can cheat and lie and enjoy the temporary fruits while trying to avoid the inevitable plummet.

Do I think he should be allowed to race again? No. Lance Armstrong racing again is not truly an option anyway -- he's almost 42.

Just the same, I am thrilled that he has -- at long last -- begun to come clean. There are lessons to be learned here, beyond those pertaining to cycling. And day's end, when the cheering has stopped, there is something to be said for trying your best, even if your best doesn't result in triumph.

There is empowerment in knowing you gave your all. There is satisfaction in achieving your own PR. There is the sense of community and camaraderie that comes in the aftermath of a sporting event. Cold beers, casual conversation, sore muscles -- bliss.

Armstrong and Bonds forgot that long ago. For them, it was all -- and only --about winning. They got lost in a corrupt world of enhancers and boosters and had their heads turned by the fame and accolades and money.

Now, though, they are outcasts. They are the tombstones of long-ago dreams.

Jeff Pearlman is the author of "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton." He blogs at Follow him on Twitter.

Oprah interview won't reduce sanctions against Armstrong, officials say

Wayne Norman: Like a convenience store robbery that goes wrong

Lance knows that a quick mea culpa is not enough -- otherwise, he would have admitted to doping long ago. Instead, he made a calculated gamble that he could preserve his reputation and brand by lying, defrauding corporate sponsors, impugning the authorities pursuing him and actively slandering and suing honest whistle-blowers who stood in his way.

Wayne Norman

Wayne Norman

That bet has not paid off.

Like a convenience store robbery that goes wrong and leads to a hostage-taking and a high-speed chase, Lance's doping is by far the least of his transgressions. A highly calculated confession about the doping still looks like Lance gambling to advance his interests. Former fans will need contrition and a sense that he genuinely regrets the gamble. Those he slandered and defrauded should demand even more.

Lance cannot get another chance as an athlete at this point. That would make a mockery of all sporting rules and their enforcement. When you've been that blatantly dishonest, it won't be easy to convince people to trust you again.

Wayne Norman is the Mike & Ruth Mackowski professor of ethics at Duke University.

John Eustice: Armstrong can make a deal and get leeway

What Lance has, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency wants, and Lance is not going to give it to them unless he gets his (athletic) life back. USADA knows that Lance stands at the nexus of two distinct cultures, two completely different mindsets: The ideals and dreams of Olympic sport and the harsh, ratings-driven business of the professional game.

John Eustice

John Eustice

They view this conquest of Lance as their great chance to have the Olympic vision triumph over the cynicism of the pros. But they need his cooperation to win.

Despite the admitting of pros into the Olympic Games, in truth, the two cultures do not mesh. Pro sports are businesses where talent, ratings and the subsequent cash flows from them, must be protected just as in any other entertainment business.

USADA needs to understand how the professional mentality has "infected" the Olympic movement, and Lance is the key. Was he protected by the International Cycling Union? Was the Tour de France involved? Did it go even higher that that?

USADA makes deals. If Lance can provide them with information on the underground system that fuels athletes worldwide, and explain, for example, how of the 6,000 drugs tests given at the London Games, only one came back positive, allowing him to participate in some triathlons seems a very small price to pay.

Cycling analyst John Eustice was one of the pioneer Americans to break into the world of European pro cycling. He co-founded and captained the first American team to race in the Tour of Italy, and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.

John Hoberman: Is it possible to acquire a conscience overnight?

The report that Lance Armstrong choked up during his apology to Livestrong Foundation employees earlier this week would seem to mark an abrupt departure from the cold, calculating and manipulative personality he has displayed throughout his celebrated athletic career.

Having closely followed the Armstrong saga as a doping researcher, I have come to doubt whether this is man is capable of genuine contrition. One can only imagine the apologetic telephone calls he has been making to the former teammates and other victims he persecuted, threatened, bullied and slandered over so many years.

John Hoberman

John Hoberman

Is it really possible to acquire a conscience overnight? Can a person who has long-demonstrated reckless self-assertion, a lack of empathy, coldheartedness, egocentricity, superficial charm and irresponsibility suddenly repent after months of hostile intransigence?

One is tempted to say no, since this ensemble of traits bears a disturbing similarity to the psychopathic personality. Let us hope that Armstrong is capable of leaving his old self behind and building a healthier personal identity.

Any lifting of his lifetime ban from officially recognized competitions should be made contingent on his absolute and total cooperation with the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Armstrong must demonstrate some good faith by revealing everything he knows about the illicit trade in doping drugs as well as the cynical and opportunistic doctors who have profited from these corrupt arrangements.

John Hoberman teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of "Mortal Engines: The Science of Performance and the Dehumanization of Sport." He was a consultant in 2005 for the SCA Promotions of Dallas, the insurance company demanding that Lance Armstrong repay a total of $7.5 million it paid to him in Tour de France bonuses.

Shawn Klein: If he cooperates, maybe the lifetime ban could be reduced

After years of adamant denials and protestations of his innocence, Lance Armstrong has reportedly come forward to admit his use of prohibited performance enhancing drugs. If Armstrong is sincerely contrite and forthright in his apology, most people, including myself, will forgive him for his use of prohibited drugs.

Shawn Klein

Shawn Klein

He cheated in a sport known for its widespread cheating; that doesn't justify his use but it does put his actions into an understandable context that makes it easier to excuse the use. Further, if Armstrong cooperates with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, his lifetime ban from cycling ought to be reduced to something more reasonable.

The more troubling aspects of the Armstrong case are the allegations that he harassed and intimidated team members and potential whistle-blowers. Violating the arbitrary rules of a sport shows a character flaw and poor judgment, but it is hard to see who else is truly harmed by such actions. But to threaten, intimidate and coerce others (either to use performance enhancing drugs themselves or to cover up his team's use) causes real harm.

Even if only some of these reports are accurate, Armstrong will have to do more than sit on Oprah's couch to earn forgiveness. 

Shawn Klein teaches at the Department of Philosophy and Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship at Rockford College in Illinois and writes the Sportsethicist blog.

What do you think? Comment below and join us on Friday for a live chat on Twitter @CNNOpinion about Lance Armstrong.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is back, but can he flex Box-Office muscle?

LOS ANGELES ( – Arnold Schwarzenegger is back at the box office, but will anyone notice? We’ll find out on Friday, when he debuts as a kick-ass small-town sheriff in “The Last Stand,’ his first starring role in nine years.

When Schwarzenegger famously delivered his “I’ll be back” line in 1984, it was as a time-traveling android in “The Terminator.” Following his stint as California governor and a very messy divorce from Maria Shriver complete with love child, his return as a box-office force seems almost as unlikely as his role as a time-traveling android.

But Hollywood has embraced the return of California’s 65-year-old former “Governator.” He has three films coming out in the next 12 months and Universal is developing “Triplets,” a sequel to the Danny DeVito-Schwarzenegger comedy “Twins,” as well as another “Conan the Barbarian” movie.

But whether the movie going public is as excited as Hollywood about Arnold‘s return is an open question.

Lionsgate is distributing “The Last Stand,” an action film with a reported $ 50 million budget.

Directed by Korean director Kim Jee-woon and written by Andrew Knauer and Jeffrey Nachmanoff, “The Last Stand” is the tale of an aging border-town lawman drawn into a showdown with a drug cartel kingpin. Johnny Knoxville, Forrest Whitaker and Eduardo Noriega co-star. It was produced by Leonardo Di Bonaventura and was acquired by Lionsgate back in 2009 before Schwarzenegger was involved. Liam Neeson was attached to star at one point.

Lionsgate has proven adept at marketing genre films, including “The Expendables” and Tyler Perry franchises, and last year’s “The Possession,” and that will help “The Last Stand.” Distribution chief Richie Fay tells TheWrap he’s confident Schwarzenegger‘s return will connect with the public.

“I’ve been in a number of screenings and at the premiere,” Fay told TheWrap Tuesday, “and the reaction to the film has been great. People are laughing at his one-liners, they seem very comfortable with Arnold back on the screen in his action mode.”

Fay has reason to be bullish. Schwarzenegger‘s most recent screen appearance was in another Lionsgate entry, the ensemble action film “The Expendables 2,” last August. That one has taken in more than $ 300 million worldwide. And he’ll be back – there we go, again – with Sylvester Stallone in “The Tomb,” for Lionsgate‘s Summit Entertainment in September.

Others aren’t so sure.

“I can’t see this film opening to more than the mid-teen millions,” Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap. “There’s not a lot of negative buzz, but people aren’t dying to see him come back, either. Bottom line, I don’t think he’ll inspire anywhere the level of passion he once did at the box office.”

If Lionsgate is to make money on “The Last Stand,” it appears foreign will be critical; analysts see the film topping out at $ 30 million domestically.

Schwarzenegger is still a big deal overseas,” Bock said, “and that’s where this movie will make or break itself.

I could easily see it doing double whatever it does in the U.S.”

At this point in his career, the stakes for Schwarzenegger may be higher than they are for the studios. His paycheck for “The Last Stand” is reportedly in the $ 8 million to $ 10 million range, with some potential profit participation. That’s about half of what he commanded in his heyday for the “Terminator” films, “True Lies” and “Total Recall.”

Schwarzenegger‘s box-office clout was beginning to fade prior to his heading to Sacramento in 2003. His last film, “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” made $ 150 million domestically for Warner Bros. in 2003, but his two previous movies, “Collateral Damage” and “The Sixth Day,” topped out at $ 40 million and $ 34 million respectively.

Hollywood’s expectations have changed, too. Most of Schwarzenegger‘s hits were big summer movies, with budgets well over $ 100 million. “The Last Stand” cost half that, and its release on a moderate 2,800 screens in January, typically a soft time for new releases, is no accident. “Ten,” Schwarzenegger‘s third film, is scheduled for release on January 24, 2014, by Open Road Films.

The Last Stand” is the first of three upcoming openings for action movies with older stars. Warner Bros. is opening “Bullet to the Head,” starring Stallone, on February 1. Bruce Willis stars in “A Good Day to Die Hard” from Fox on February 15.

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HMV boss ‘confident of solution’

Chief executive Trevor Moore: “We will be working tirelessly to take this business forward.”

The boss of HMV has said he is confident of finding a solution to the embattled retailer’s troubles.

Trevor Moore said management had begun working with administrators Deloitte.

“We remain convinced we can find a successful business outcome,” he told journalists. “The intention is to continue to trade the stores.”

HMV revealed late on Monday that it intended to appoint an administrator. The firm has struggled against online competition.

Mr Moore said the board would do whatever they could to support staff, while Deloitte assesses the prospects for the business and seeks potential buyers.

“I would like to personally pay tribute to the 4,500 people who work for HMV. Clearly this is a very worrying time for them and their families.”

‘Disappointing’ Christmas

The company has said that it is not accepting gift vouchers or issuing any more.

Mr Moore did not reveal how many customers held the vouchers but said: “We’re working to reconcile that number.”

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Start Quote

2edcf   65289622 vincechalmers HMV boss confident of solution

I’m surprised, it seemed to be busy at Christmas. I’ve got a gift card and I can’t use it now”

End Quote Vince Chalmers

Over the past week, the company had redeemed a significant amount of vouchers – more than they sold – he said, but admitted they had still been selling them up until Monday.

But Allianz Insurance, which underwrites HMV’s extended warranties, said it would continue to honour insurance claims made under extended warranty policies taken out by HMV customers.

Mr Moore said that trading over Christmas had been disappointing, particularly so in technology products.

“We had a very limited supply of two key brands of tablets,” he said, without specifying the brands.

He said that while HMV’s problems had been well documented, “the events of last night will have come as a shock to many of you”.

Chief financial officer Ian Kenyon added that the company had received “amazing support” from its suppliers.

Brand in decline

HMV is the last remaining national music retailer. It has 230 stores in the UK and Ireland, as well as nine shops under the Fopp brand.

News of its imminent administration has been greeted with sadness by customers and those in the music industry.

Since its first store opened in 1921, it has been one of the most recognisable brands on the High Street, with its iconic dog and gramophone trademark.

But many analysts say its demise has been inevitable over the past 20 years as it failed to embrace the shift towards online sales and digital downloads.

The expense of having so many stores, and therefore a large rent bill, is likely to have contributed to its decline, they say.

Continue reading the main story


  • Founded in 1921 with its first store on London’s Oxford Street

  • Its trademark dog and gramophone image is taken from the 1898 oil painting, His Master’s Voice, which features Nipper the dog listening to an early gramophone recording

  • Moved into live entertainment but started selling off its live venues last year, including the flagship Hammersmith Apollo in west London

  • Bought the Waterstones book chain in 1998 but sold it last year as its debts mounted

As its debts mounted, HMV sold off parts of the business, notably its live entertainment arm and the Waterstones book chain.

Last week, the group announced a month-long sale with 25% off prices, sparking worries that it needed to shift stock after poor Christmas trading.

HMV follows electrical goods firm Comet and camera chain Jessops into administration, but while those two companies have ceased trading, HMV hopes that a buyer can be found and the business will be able to continue on the High Street.

“There are likely to be very many options for this business in the coming days,” Mr Moore said.

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Holiday sales rose 3 percent, below forecast: NRF

By Phil Wahba and Jessica Wohl

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Shoppers spent only 3 percent more during the 2012 holiday season than they did a year earlier, the National Retail Federation said on Tuesday, citing economic uncertainty for tempering consumers’ enthusiasm.

The NRF’s data, based on U.S. government figures, fell short of the trade group’s own forecast, which called for a 4.1 percent jump. In 2011, such sales rose a stronger 5.6 percent. The NRF looks at U.S. sales from November and December excluding automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants.

After a strong showing over the Thanksgiving weekend in late November, when many consumers start their Christmas shopping, their willingness to spend was dented by concerns about the sluggish pace of job recovery and the possibility of higher taxes.

“The larger impact is simply the fact that the economy has been growing slowly, employment has been growing slowly and consumers are still in a deleveraging mode,” said Ira Kalish, Director of global economics at Deloitte Research, noting that many Americans are giving priority to paying down their debt.

Total spending during the holiday season rose to $ 579.8 billion, the NRF said.

Non-store sales, which are mostly online, rose 11.1 percent. The group had forecast online sales growth of 12 percent. Non-store sales were not included in the 3 percent figure.

The NRF will issue its 2013 forecast next week. Many analysts and economists are not expecting a big jump, with consumption likely to be curbed by the recent 2 percentage point increase in payroll taxes that is leaving consumers with less money in their paychecks.

“Heading into 2013, consumers could continue to think twice about their discretionary purchases as they face decreases in their paychecks and other concerns with their household budgets,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.

The trade group also called on U.S. lawmakers to put their differences aside and work on improving the level of employment. The U.S. unemployment rate stands at 7.8 percent.

Earlier on Tuesday, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that its broader measure of U.S. retail sales rose 0.5 percent in December, after rising 0.4 percent in November. That was better than the 0.2 percent increase expected by economists polled by Reuters.

(Reporting by Phil Wahba and Jessica Wohl in New York; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Tim Dobbyn)

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Wall Street cuts declines as retailers gain

NEW YORK - Stocks cut earlier declines on Tuesday, with the Dow turning positive as shares of retail companies rose.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> edged up 2.44 points, or 0.02 percent, at 13,509.76. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> slipped 0.12 point, or 0.01 percent, to 1,470.56. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was off 5.69 points, or 0.18 percent, to 3,111.82.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Are gun curbs just symbolism?


  • Gun violence recommendations are expected from Vice President Biden on Tuesday

  • The proposals are expected to contain substantive and symbolic ideas to curb gun violence

  • Presidents use symbolism to shift public opinion or affect larger political or social change

Washington (CNN) -- The pictures told the story: Vice President Joe Biden looked solemn, patrician and in control as he sat at a long table in the White House, flanked by people on both sides of the gun control issue.

The images conveyed a sense that the White House was in command on this issue.

And that's the point. Historically, presidential administrations have used symbolic imagery—at times coupled with marginal actions—to shift public opinion or affect larger political or social change.

"Politics is a risk taking project," said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian and CNN contributor. "They put together these commissions in response to some crisis. You try a hundred things and hope something works."

As Biden's gun control task force recommendations land on the desk of President Barack Obama, political experts say it is important that his administration sends a clear signal that it has things in hand.

Obama says gun lobby stokes fear of federal action

That is especially critical in what will likely be an uphill battle to push specific changes, like an assault weapons ban, as part of a broader effort on gun control.

The first move in the image battle will be to appear to move quickly and decisively.

"You have to give the Obama administration credit for one thing: They've learned from history to do things quickly," Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said of previous task force initiatives that fizzled.

In 2010, Obama appointed a bipartisan commission headed by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, a former Democratic White House chief of staff, to come up with a proposal to balance the budget and cut the debt.

Like the gun task force, Simpson-Bowles reviewed current regulations, gathered input from the public and engaged in tense internal conversations. But after months of working on a proposal—a blend of steep revenue increases and spending cuts—the group struggled to agree to a solution. The president did not take up the recommendations.

Obama largely avoided the issue of gun control during his first term.

He wrote an opinion piece two months after the 2011 assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, acknowledging the importance of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. In the piece he also called for a focus on "effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place."

Newtown searches for answers a month later

But in the aftermath of that shooting and as the election season loomed, the Justice Department backed off from a list of recommendations that included a measure designed to help keep mentally ill people from getting guns.

For now, at least, there is a sense in Washington that the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting where 26 people -- 20 of them young children -- were slaughtered could lead to meaningful legislative reform.

Public opinion would seem to suggest that the White House efforts are well timed.

In the month since the massacre, a new poll showed the percentage of Americans who said they were dissatisfied with America's gun laws has spiked.

The Gallup survey released on Monday showed 38% of Americans were dissatisfied with current gun regulations, and wanted stricter laws. That represented 13-point jump from one year ago, when 25% expressed that view. "You want to strike while the iron is hot," Sabato said. "We Americans have short attention spans and, as horrible as the Newtown shooting was, will anyone be surprised if we moved along by spring?"

The White House has since worked overtime to show it considers gun control an urgent matter.

The vice president has spent the last week meeting with what the White House calls "stakeholders" in the gun control debate.

On Monday, Biden was to meet with members of a House Democratic task force on guns, along with Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services.

Universal background check: What does it mean?

In a series of face to face discussions on Thursday, Biden sat down with the National Rifle Association and other gun owners groups before conferring with representatives from the film and television industry.

In a sign the White House is prepared to move aggressively on its proposals, Biden made public comments just before meeting with the National Rifle Association, the country's most powerful gun lobby.

"Putting the vice president in charge of (the task force) and having him meeting with these groups is intended to show seriousness and an effort to reach out and respond to concerns and wishes of various groups," said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University.

Still, the NRA expressed disappointment in its discussion with Biden and later released a statement that accused the administration of mounting "an agenda to attack the Second Amendment."

Organizations seeking tougher gun control laws insist an assault weapons ban is critical to addressing the nation's recent rash of mass shootings. However, such a ban could be difficult in a Congress mired in gridlock.

"The bully pulpit is limited. It's hard for the president to sustain that momentum," Zelizer said of the White House's gun control efforts after the Newtown shootings. "The thing about symbolism is, like the shock over Newtown, they fade quickly."

Newtown opens eyes to other gun violence against young people

CNN's Jim Acosta and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report

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Poet Sharon Olds wins T.S. Eliot award

LONDON (Reuters) – American poet Sharon Olds won the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry on Monday for “Stag’s Leap”, a critically acclaimed collection that traces the end of her marriage 15 years ago.

The annual award, celebrating its 20th anniversary, goes to what a panel of poets decides is the best collection of verse published in the United Kingdom and Ireland each year, and is considered to be one of the world’s top poetry prizes.

Stag’s Leap, published in Britain by Jonathan Cape, was chosen from a record 131 submissions and a shortlist of 10.

“From over 130 collections, we were particularly impressed by the strong presence of women on the list and were unanimous in awarding the 2012 T.S. Eliot Prize to Sharon Olds‘ Stag’s Leap,” said Carol Ann Duffy, chair of the judges.

Duffy, also Britain’s poet laureate since 2009, called the work “a tremendous book of grace and gallantry which crowns the career of a world-class poet.”

Olds wins a cheque for 15,000 pounds ($ 24,000) for the prize, which is administered by the Poetry Book Society and supported by the estate of leading 20th century poet T.S. Eliot whose works include “The Waste Land”.

When her marriage ended, Olds, now 70, promised her children she would not write about the divorce for 10 years. In fact, it took her 15 years to get around to publishing a collection which some critics said was her best yet.

“Olds, who has always had a gift for describing intimacy, has, in a sense, had these poems thrown at her by life and allowed them to take root: they are stunning – the best of a formidable career,” wrote Kate Kellaway in The Observer.

The critic added that the collection was surprisingly kind considering its subject matter.

In “Unspeakable”, from Stag’s Leap, Olds writes:

“He shows no anger,/I show no anger but in flashes of humor/all is courtesy and horror. And after/the first minute, when I say, Is this about/her, and he says, No, it’s about/you, we do not speak of her.”

Olds was born in San Francisco in 1942 and her first collection of poems, “Satan Says” (1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award.

She went on to win a string of other prizes and currently teaches creative writing at New York University.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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Flat-rate pension plan hits many

Pensions Minister Steve Webb: “People will retire with a single, simple, decent state pension”

Plans for a “simple” flat-rate state pension have been unveiled, but many of those entering the workforce now will be worse off than under current rules.

The government’s White Paper shows that there are short-term gainers but longer-term losers from the policy.

Instead of a basic pension of £107 a week plus various mean-tested top-ups, recipients will get £144 in today’s money from 2017 at the earliest.

The government said this was fairer for the self-employed and many mothers.

Figures in the White Paper, published on Monday afternoon, suggested that at least half of all people reaching state pension age before 2050 were likely to have a better outcome under the new system than they would if the current system were to continue. Of these, the majority would be better off by at least £2 per week.

However, by 2060, more than half would be worse off than if the current system continued, because they could not build up a state second pension.

After April 2017, people will also have to work longer, making 35 years’ worth of National Insurance (NI) contributions, rather than the current 30, to qualify for the full pension.

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Pension facts

  • Currently 11.5 million people claim the state pension

  • 2.8 million women receive a state pension of less than £80 a week. Only 474,000 men do so

  • 3.2 million individuals receive pension credit to supplement their retirement income

Source: DWP

Anyone who has not paid NI for at least 10 years will not qualify for the new state pension at all.


The current full state pension is £107.45 a week, but can be topped up to £142.70 with the means-tested pension credit, and a state second pension which is based on National Insurance contributions.

Anyone who qualifies for the state pension before April 2017 will continue to receive their entitlement under the current system.

For new pensioners from April 2017, the second state pension and pension credit will be abolished. The replacement – the universal flat-rate payment in England, Wales and Scotland – will be the biggest overhaul of the pension system for decades.

Pensions Minister Steve Webb said that the single payment would make it clearer for people to see how much extra they needed to save, in private or workplace pension schemes, for a comfortable retirement.

He told MPs that 10 million people were not saving enough for their pension.

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Winners and losers

Winners include:

The self-employed, who currently do not build up a state second pension

Those who have spent time out of the workforce, such as mothers and carers of those with disabilities, will benefit in the short-term

Losers include:

Those entering the workforce now are likely to receive less than they would have done had the current system remained in place

Those who have fewer than 10 years of National Insurance contributions, who will get no state pension under the new rules

“The current state pension system is too complicated and leaves millions of people needing means-tested top-ups,” he said.

“Our simple, single-tier pension will provide a decent, solid foundation for new pensioners in an otherwise less certain world, ensuring it pays to save.”

But Labour said that the government had “dithered and delayed” over proposing reforms.

“We support sensible pensions reform but this government has consistently acted with secrecy and incompetence and we will study these plans very closely to ensure ministers are completely straight with the millions of hardworking people who will lose out under these plans,” said Gregg McClymont, the shadow pensions minister.


The change involves merging the state second pension with the basic state pension, to create one flat-rate payment.

The self-employed will benefit, as they tend to get a lower state pension. Women who have taken time out of the workplace to bring up children are also set to benefit.

“[These are] people who don’t make enough contributions throughout their working life to, in particular, the state second pension, which includes people with intermittent work patterns, periods of low earnings and the self-employed,” said Chris Curry, from the charity the Pensions Policy Institute.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: “This reform is good news for women who for too long have been effectively punished by the current system.

“The single tier will mean that more women can get a full state pension in their own right, and stop this shameful situation where they are let down by the system when it comes to retirement because they have taken time out to care for their family.”

Under the new system, anyone who works, has been claiming benefits for being unemployed, has been looking after children aged 12 or under, or caring for sick or disabled adults for 35 years will receive a fixed pension of £144 a week when they reach state pension age.

The amount will be lower if their if they have fewer “qualifying years” of this kind.

However, it will be updated each year – as the state pension is now – in line with earnings, prices, or 2.5%, whichever is higher.

Under established plans, the state pension age is rising to 66 for both men and women by 2020, with further plans for this to increase to 67 between 2026 and 2028.

Mr Webb told MPs that he wanted to see a review of the state pension age every five years, starting in the next Parliament.

He also said that all current workers’ accrued pension rights will be recognised, so the new system will have to involve some future pensioners being paid a top-up to the new, merged, flat-rate payment.

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The Comeback Cities of the Housing Recovery

The nationwide housing market is now in full recovery mode after suffering greatly during and following the market meltdown, and it’s believed that 2013 will be a big year for many markets. However, some cities did better than others.

Las Vegas and Seattle had the two biggest year-over-year improvements in home asking prices between 2011 and 2012, according to data from the real estate tracking firm Trulia. Las Vegas saw prices climb 16.3 percent in 2012 after falling a total of 11.2 percent over the course of 2011, marking a total jump of 27.5 percent. Meanwhile, Seattle’s total appreciation was 24 percent behind a 10.2 percent appreciation in 2012 after a 13.8 percent decline the year before.

[Related Article: Why You Can't Get a Home Loan]

“What a difference a year makes,” said Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist. “In 2012, prices rose in 82 of the 100 largest metros, compared with just 12 metros seeing price increases in 2011. The 2012 price turnaround was strongest in the West and Southwest, where steady job growth and vanishing inventories lifted home prices by more than 10 percent in many markets.”

Rounding out the nation’s top three largest appreciations was Phoenix, which saw a 21.8 percent overall improvement, where prices have risen in both of the last two years (26 percent in 2012 and 4.2 percent in 2011), the report said. Oakland and San Jose, Calif., where the year-over-year differences came in at 21 and 20.8 percent, respectively. Oakland saw prices rise 12.7 percent last year after an 8.4 percent decline in 2011, while San Jose’s spiked 16.1 percent following a 4.7 percent drop the year prior.

[Related Article: Will 2013 Be the Year You Can Finally Get a Mortgage?]

Kolko also noted that all these improvements bode well for property values nationwide headed into 2013, the report said. He added that because prices particularly accelerated in the third and fourth quarters of the year after a slow start, it’s reasonable to assume that rising prices will encourage more new constructions, and entice more existing homeowners to put their properties on the market once again.

However, some experts have also said that there may be some amount of slowdown in acceleration over the coming year, simply because the improvement in the last six months or so have been so impressive that they likely cannot be repeated.

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S&P, Nasdaq dip as Apple weighs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street slipped on Monday, weighed down by shares of Apple in the face of demand concerns, while investors faced a busy week for earnings in what is expected to be a lackluster quarter.

Apple lost 2.8 percent to $505.84 as the biggest drag on both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 <.ndx> indexes after reports that the tech company has cut orders for LCD screens and other parts for the iPhone 5 this quarter due to weak demand. The stock earlier hit a session low of $498.51, the first dip below $500 since February 16.

"There is this speculation building 'Is this the end of Apple?'" said Carol Pepper, chief executive of Pepper International in New York.

But Pepper said Apple also "doesn't have to grow at the rate it was to do extremely well. It's still going to be one of the marquee companies of the U.S. and the world."

Apple suppliers also lost ground, with Cirrus Logic off 6.8 percent to $29.43 and Qualcomm down 1.2 percent to $64.13. The S&P tech sector <.gspt> gave up 0.9 percent as the worst perfumer of the 10 major S&P sectors.

The pace of earnings season picks up this week with 38 S&P 500 companies set to report, including Goldman Sachs , Bank of America , Intel and General Electric .

Overall earnings are expected to grow by just 1.9 percent in this reporting period, according to Thomson Reuters data.

President Barack Obama is expected to hold a news conference, which will cover looming budget and debt ceiling due dates on Monday, White House officials said.

"We could have some more noise because they are trying to get people to focus on their issues, but I don't think they are going" to allow the government to default, said Pepper.

Separately, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will be speaking on monetary policy, recovery from the global financial crisis and long-term challenges facing the American economy at 4 p.m. (2100 GMT).

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> added 6.79 points, or 0.05 percent, to 13,495.22. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> shed 3.37 points, or 0.23 percent, to 1,468.68. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> lost 14.16 points, or 0.45 percent, to 3,111.48.

Appliance and electronics retailer Hhgregg Inc slumped 9.6 percent to $7.13 after the electronics and appliance retailer cut its same-store sales forecast for the full year.

Transocean Ltd has disclosed that billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn has acquired a 1.56 percent stake in the offshore rig contractor and is looking to increase that holding. Its shares rose 2.5 percent to $55.43.

The Dow, which does not list Apple as one of its components, fared better than the other two indexes as Hewlett-Packard rose 3.8 percent to $16.78 after JPMorgan upgraded its rating on the stock and raised its price target to $21 from $15.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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