Wall Street ends sour week with fifth straight decline

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks fell for a fifth straight day on Friday, dropping 1 percent and marking the S&P 500's longest losing streak in three months as the federal government edged closer to the "fiscal cliff" with no solution in sight.

President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders met at the White House to work on a solution for the draconian debt-reduction measures set to take effect beginning next week. Stocks, which have been influenced by little else than the flood of fiscal cliff headlines from Washington in recent days, extended losses going into the close with the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 each losing 1 percent, after reports that Obama would not offer a new plan to Republicans. The Dow closed below 13,000 for the first time since December 4.

"I was stunned Obama didn't have another plan, and that's absolutely why we sold off," said Mike Shea, managing partner at Direct Access Partners LLC in New York. "He's going to force the House to come to him with something different. I think that's a surprise. The entire market is disappointed in a lack of leadership in Washington."

In a sign of investor anxiety, the CBOE Volatility Index <.vix>, known as the VIX, jumped 16.69 percent to 22.72, closing at its highest level since June. Wall Street's favorite fear barometer has risen for five straight weeks, surging more than 40 percent over that time.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> dropped 158.20 points, or 1.21 percent, to 12,938.11 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> lost 15.67 points, or 1.11 percent, to 1,402.43. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> fell 25.59 points, or 0.86 percent, to end at 2,960.31.

For the week, the Dow fell 1.9 percent. The S&P 500 also lost 1.9 percent for the week, marking its worst weekly performance since mid-November. The Nasdaq finished the week down 2 percent. In contrast, the VIX jumped 22 percent for the week.

Pessimism continued after the market closed, with stock futures indicating even steeper losses. S&P 500 futures dropped 26.7 points, or 1.9 percent, eclipsing the decline seen in the regular session.

All 10 S&P 500 sectors fell during Friday's regular trading, with most posting declines of 1 percent, but energy and material shares were among the weakest of the day, with both groups closely tied to the pace of growth.

An S&P energy sector index <.gspe> slid 1.8 percent, with Exxon Mobil down 2 percent at $85.10, and Chevron Corp off 1.9 percent at $106.45. The S&P material sector index <.gspm> fell 1.3 percent, with U.S. Steel Corp down 2.6 percent at $23.03.

Decliners outnumbered advancers by a ratio of slightly more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, while on the Nasdaq, two stocks fell for every one that rose.

"We've been whipsawing around on low volume and rumors that come out on the cliff," said Eric Green, senior portfolio manager at Penn Capital Management in Philadelphia, who helps oversee $7 billion in assets.

With time running short, lawmakers may opt to allow the higher taxes and across-the-board federal spending cuts to go into effect and attempt to pass a retroactive fix soon after the new year. Standard & Poor's said an impasse on the cliff wouldn't affect the sovereign credit rating of the United States.

"We're not as concerned with January 1 as the market seems to be," said Richard Weiss, senior money manager at American Century Investments, in Mountain View, California. "Things will be resolved, just maybe not on a good timetable, and any deal can easily be retroactive."

Trading volume was light throughout the holiday-shortened week, with just 4.46 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT on Friday, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares. On Monday, the U.S. stock market closed early for Christmas Eve, and the market was shut on Tuesday for Christmas. Many senior traders were absent this week for the holidays.

Highlighting Wall Street's sensitivity to developments in Washington, stocks tumbled more than 1 percent on Thursday after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that a deal was unlikely before the deadline. But late in the day, stocks nearly bounced back when the House said it would hold an unusual Sunday session to work on a fiscal solution.

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

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

"Economic reports have been very favorable, and once Congress comes to a resolution, the market should resume an upward trend, based on the data," said Weiss, who helps oversee about $125 billion in assets. "All else being equal, we see any further decline as a buying opportunity."

Barnes & Noble Inc rose 4.3 percent to $14.97 after the top U.S. bookstore chain said British publisher Pearson Plc had agreed to make a strategic investment in its Nook Media subsidiary. But Barnes & Noble also said its Nook business will not meet its previous projection for fiscal year 2013.

Shares of magicJack VocalTec Ltd jumped 10.3 percent to $17.95 after the company gave a strong fourth-quarter outlook and named Gerald Vento president and chief executive, effective January 1.

The U.S.-listed shares of Canadian drugmaker Aeterna Zentaris Inc surged 13.8 percent to $2.47 after the company said it had reached an agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on a special protocol assessment by the FDA for a Phase 3 registration trial in endometrial cancer with AEZS-108 treatment.

(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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Clippers beat Jazz 116-114 for 16th straight win

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Chris Paul could hardly be heard over Jay-Z's pounding music as his Los Angeles Clippers teammates sang along in the visitors' locker room.

And why not?

The Clippers had just pulled off a 19-point comeback for their 16th straight victory — in a venue where they had often struggled.

Paul did most of the damage, leading the Clippers (24-6) with 29 points, including the final seven, as Los Angeles squeaked out a 116-114 win Friday night over the Utah Jazz.

The Clippers' winning streak is the longest in the NBA since Boston won 19 games in a row from Nov. 15 to Dec. 23, 2008.

The last time the franchise won three straight in Salt Lake City was 1979-81 when they were the San Diego Clippers.

"This one is a great win for us because we kind of needed a challenge," said Blake Griffin, who added 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Clippers. "(We had) to prove not only to everybody else but to ourselves that we can still win close games like this and win a game down 19 in the third quarter."

In the opposing locker room, the Jazz were lamenting another one that got away — the second loss at home to the Clippers during their franchise-record streak. Utah dropped the first by one on Dec. 3 after leading by 14.

On Friday, ex-Clipper Randy Foye put up a 3-pointer at the buzzer that was contested by Matt Barnes, but no foul was called. Foye finished with a season-high 28 points for Utah.

Foye did his best not to say anything about the officiating.

"I felt as though I pump-faked," Foye said. "He knew that I wanted to shoot the 3 and I felt the contact. He made me go straight up and shoot the ball straight down. It was just a tough play."

Paul was tough down the stretch, hitting the clinching free throws after getting fouled by Al Jefferson with 3.4 seconds left.

"When (DeAndre Jordan) came to give me the ball screen, I wasn't worried about (Gordon) Hayward, I was just worried about Al Jefferson," Paul said. "I could tell (Jefferson) was going to try and blitz me. Anytime two guys try and trap me, I'm always going to attack the slower guy. If they wouldn't have called the foul, I was right around Al anyway."

Paul sank both free throws this time, after missing one with 18 seconds left that allowed Jefferson to grab the rebound, draw a foul and sink two free throws at the other end to tie it at 114.

Paul made sure he hit both the next time.

"Man, I couldn't wait to get to the line. I couldn't wait to get to the line," Paul said. "I was mad at myself for missing that last one. I couldn't wait to get to the line to redeem myself."

Just like the first game this season against the Clippers, Utah had the upper hand early.

The Jazz used a 36-point second quarter to turn a seven-point deficit into a 58-48 halftime lead. Utah reserves did most of the damage.

Alec Burks and Earl Watson pushed the pace, big men Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors provided a presence inside and Hayward found ways to score.

Kanter's block of Ronny Turiaf ignited the crowd.

Hayward's 3-pointer tied it at 34 with 7:04 left in the second and he scored 10 straight for the Jazz, who forced eight turnovers in the quarter and held the Clippers to 37.5 percent shooting.

Foye, who kept Utah close in the first with a 13-point quarter on 4-of-5 shooting, gave the Jazz their biggest lead of the half, 54-41, with two more free throws.

The Jazz led 74-55 with 8:08 left in the third on a pair of free throws by Paul Millsap. But the Clippers outscored Utah 29-14 the rest of the quarter to pull to 88-84 going into the fourth.

Paul provided the offense in the third with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

"At the beginning of the third quarter, they made another run at us but then we got a little bit of a rhythm and then started guarding. We started getting some stops and getting out in the open court," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.

"Give Utah credit but our guys battled back tonight. They found a way to win and that's what it's all about. We stayed together, we weathered the storm when we had to and gave ourselves a chance and we were fortunate to make enough plays."

The loss dropped Utah below .500 at 15-16. The Jazz have lost six of their last eight.

Jefferson added 22 points for Utah. Hayward had 17 off the bench.

The Clippers had six players in double figures. DeAndre Jordan had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

"It's all tough," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "On our home court, we had a lead, we gave up the lead but we continued to fight. We made some mistakes but fought our way through it and had a chance to win the ballgame at the end. Unfortunately they got a lot of free throws."

The teams combined for 81 free throw attempts, with Utah making 37 of 40 and the Clippers 33 of 41.

Points in the paint were identical and rebounds were close (36-35 Jazz), but the Clippers had a four-point edge on second-chance points.

That was enough.

NOTES: An unidentified Jazz employee was disciplined and had his access to the team Twitter account discontinued after what team officials deemed an inappropriate tweet regarding the firing of Nets coach Avery Johnson and Brooklyn's interest in Phil Jackson. The tweet said Jackson only wants "great players," an apparent reference to ex-Jazz point guard Deron Williams, who had criticized Johnson's offense. ... Jazz point guard Mo Williams still has swelling in his sprained right thumb and remains out indefinitely. ... The Clippers got a scare late in the first quarter when Lamar Odom came up limping. He returned in the second and finished with 12 points. ... The Clippers failed to register a blocked shot despite coming into the game averaging 6.52.

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Associations React to EPA Admin’s Resignation

On Thursday, Lisa P. Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced that she would be leaving her post after President Barack Obama makes his State of the Union address in January. Here are some of the reactions from energy and environmental associations across the country to the news.

* “Administrator Jackson put into action the Obama administration‘s commitment to ethanol and other biofuels,” stated Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, adding that Jackson’s work with making E15 more available at the gas pump “protected the progress that has been made in reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

* Carol M. Browner, a former EPA administrator, former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy and Distinguished Senior Fellow from the Center for American Progress, stated that Jackson had directed several successes at the EPA, including new standards for fuel efficiency, protections against mercury pollution and proposed standards to limit carbon pollution from new power plants.

* Michael Brune, the Sierra Club executive director, stated that he wanted to express gratitude to Jackson on behalf of the club’s 2.1 million members and supporters. Brune called the administrator “a steadfast advocate for clean air, clean water, a stable climate and public health — often in the face of very vocal and forceful detractors.”

* The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette reported that Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association said that Jackson’s resignation is good news for his state and that Jackson’s policies are to blame for coal’s decline in Appalachia.

* Raney stated in a report from the Bluefield (W.Va.) Daily Telegraph that he hopes Obama’s new pick to lead the EPA will have respect for coal miners in the eastern United States and that “for the past four years, our coal miners have had no respectful recognition for all they have done to provide Americans with the quality of life we now enjoy.”

* According to an Associated Press report , Scott Segal, the director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, stated that Jackson’s tenure featured some of the most expensive environmental rules in the agency’s history and that those rules were used “as blunt attempts to marginalize coal and other solid fossil fuels and to make motor fuels more costly at the expense of industrial jobs, energy security, and economic recovery.”

* Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch stated that the news of Jackson’s resignation had long been expected but that she would be missed by environmental and health advocates. According to O’Donnell, one of Jackson’s most significant successes at the EPA was that she “reversed the findings of the Bush administration and declared that climate change poses a real threat to health and the environment.”

Energy News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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2013: Energy issues on front burner

From left, John Krasinski, Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon promote what Sheril Kirshenbaum says will be a controversial film.


  • Public attitudes shifted on key energy issues in 2012

  • Sheril Kirshenbaum says controversy has grown over natural gas fracking boom

  • She says climate change, renewable energy are likely to be on agenda for 2013

  • Kirshenbaum: A turbulent year has increased public interest in energy issues

Editor's note: Sheril Kirshenbaum is an author and director of The University of Texas at Austin's Energy Poll.

(CNN) -- After a year of tumultuous weather and global change, it should not be surprising that 2012 proved to be a transformative period for public opinion on energy.

Changing attitudes on the most hotly debated topics matter a great deal because they set the course for future policy decisions. Taking a closer look at trends over the past 12 months hints at what to expect in several key areas of the U.S. energy landscape in 2013.

Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum

Natural gas boom -- and controversy

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," has been around for more than half a century, but recently expanded rapidly because of advances in horizontal drilling deep underground.

Despite this proliferation of new wells, 59% of Americans say they are unfamiliar with the term, down from 63% in March, according to the latest findings from the University of Texas at Austin's Energy Poll.

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

Although the majority still does not seem to know much about fracking, a deluge of media attention to this controversial extraction technology has likely raised its profile significantly since last year.

However, increased awareness is not synonymous with public approval. Among those familiar with hydraulic fracturing, support decreased from 48% to 41% over six months. Similarly, a December poll by Bloomberg reported that 66% of Americans would like greater government oversight of the process, up from 56% in September.

When Matt Damon's new film "Promised Land" debuts in January, expect public recognition and heated debate over hydraulic fracturing to rise further.

Climate change gets real

When Gov. Mitt Romney quipped, "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans" at the 2012 Republican National Convention, his audience burst into laughter. During the debates that followed, neither party's nominee mentioned climate change once as a policy priority.

Weeks later, Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeastern United States, flooding many parts of New York City, New Jersey and other regions along the Atlantic Coast. Both candidates immediately canceled campaign events in the wake of the storm and Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Obama, citing his commitment to tackling climate change. After a summer of record-breaking drought followed by this single powerful hurricane in a major metropolitan area, attitudes shifted.

In March, 65% of Americans surveyed said they thought that climate change was occurring. By September, after the summer drought, that number reached 73%, with the greatest gains among Republicans and independent voters. Earlier this month, The Associated Press-GfK poll followed up, reporting that after Sandy, 78% of Americans now say global temperatures are rising.

Because weather can influence opinions on climate change, it's possible that a wet and stormy winter -- ironically, also exacerbated by climate change -- could push attitudes in the other direction. Regardless, in 2013 expect to hear less argument about whether the Earth is warming and a more serious policy discussion by elected officials across levels of government about how we might mitigate the effects of rising seas, changing ocean acidity, agricultural uncertainty and extreme weather events.

Renewables gain ground

Renewable energy technologies have been available for decades, but 2012 may have been the tipping point for their wider adoption. There has been a significant increase in the percentage of Americans who say they are likely to buy hybrid or electric vehicles or use "smart" electric meters within the next five years. Most notably, between September 2011 and September 2012, the percentage of Americans who say they are likely to install solar panels at home increased from 21% to 28%.

These trends may reflect changing attitudes on climate, media attention to energy during the election cycle, rising gas prices or cheaper, widely advertised new alternatives. Most likely, it's a combination of all these.

What's clear is that we are now on the cusp of a renewables revolution with greater options and cost-saving technologies than ever. They are finally becoming more affordable, reliable and practical, with solar power at the helm. Still, it's important to note that as we ring in 2013, China, not the United States, has taken the lead on renewables.

The big picture

Polls tell the story of how attitudes are shifting, but short of having a crystal ball, there is no way to unequivocally predict what major world events will influence our nation's energy future. For example, another nuclear disaster or offshore oil spill could play an enormous role in shaping the next generation of energy priorities.

What can we count on in 2013?

In the past year, the percentage of Americans saying they consider themselves knowledgeable on how energy is produced, delivered and used has increased from 24% to 33%. More are likely to seek added information about reducing their own energy use and a higher percentage rate energy issues as important to them.

Amid economic uncertainty, volatile prices and global unrest, Americans are paying closer attention to the energy decisions that affect us all.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sheril Kirshenbaum.

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Chicago marks 500 homicides

Chicago police investigate the scene of a fatal shooting in the 1000 block of North Lavergne on Chicago's West Side. (Chris Sweda/ Chicago Tribune)

On the surface, Nathaniel Jackson fit the profile of the vast majority of Chicago's homicide victims in 2012 — he had a lengthy arrest record and alleged gang ties.

But when Jackson was shot and killed Thursday night, just months after getting out of prison, he also earned the unfortunate distinction of being the 500th homicide victim in Chicago this year, a grim milestone the city reached for the first time in four years.

While Chicago had almost twice as many slayings 20 years ago as it did this year, the number 500 is a largely symbolic threshold, a reminder of the year's escalated violence and a numerical bar the city had not reached since 513 were killed in 2008.

By mid-November the city already had tallied the most homicides in four years. As of Friday, Chicago had an estimated 17 percent increase in homicides over 2011, and an 11 percent increase in shootings, according to police.

The city's rising homicide tally has been a thorny issue for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy for much of the year.

"It was a milestone on those days when we had zero murders and zero shootings. Those are milestones. This is a negative one, something that we never wanted," McCarthy told the Tribune Thursday afternoon, hours before Jackson, 40, was killed. "But in perspective, there's no such thing as an acceptable murder number. Even if we cut it down to 300 next year, it's still … unacceptable."

The department went back and forth Friday over whether Jackson was the 500th homicide victim so far this year, at first confirming it and then denying it, saying a homicide last week had been reclassified as a death investigation, therefore making Jackson the 499th homicide. But by late afternoon, the department once again confirmed there had been 500 homicides.

"The city has seen its 500th homicide for 2012, a tragic number that is reflective of the gang violence and proliferation of illegal guns that have plagued some of our neighborhoods," McCarthy said in a statement. "Every homicide in Chicago is unacceptable to me and the hardworking men and women of the Chicago Police Department, who, this year, achieved a record drop in overall crime throughout our city."

Chicago's homicide rate also remains a major issue for Emanuel heading into the new year. Beyond the very real human cost, there's a perception problem for the city.

The homicide rate in Chicago far exceeds the rates in New York City and Los Angeles. While the homicide rate in LA has remained relatively flat and New York's has gone down — homicides there have fallen by more than 20 percent this year — Emanuel, known for carefully trying to craft the narrative of his tenure as mayor, has seen Chicago's violence attract national attention.

The mayor was on vacation Friday with his family but issued a statement to the Tribune:

"Chicago has reached an unfortunate and tragic milestone, which not only marks a needless loss of life but serves as a reminder of the damage that illegal guns and conflicts between gangs cause in our neighborhoods," Emanuel said, adding that his efforts to lengthen the public school day and provide before- and after-school programs for youths were part of the eventual solution.

Emanuel last week also noted that overall crime in Chicago was down about 8.5 percent for the year.

This previous winter was particularly violent. In the first three months of 2012, when the city experienced unseasonable warmth, homicides ran about 60 percent ahead of the 2011 rate. As the year went on, the increase in killings leveled out but still remained higher than in previous years.

In his statement Friday, McCarthy lauded the overall drop in crime in the city and said department efforts resulted in less violence in the latter part of 2012.

"CPD has put the right people in the right places to accomplish our long-term goal of reducing crime and ensuring that our streets and our neighborhoods belong to the residents of this city," McCarthy said in his statement. "Since the gang violence reduction strategy was adopted, we have seen drastic reductions in shootings and homicides that spiked early in the year."

Some within the department feel the disbanding of two specialized units that swooped into "hot spots" to reduce violent crime had a negative impact on this year's rate. After McCarthy was installed last year as the city's top cop, he eliminated those strike forces to move those officers to beat patrols, in the hope they would have more meaningful and positive interactions with the community. The department now uses cops who work all over the city to fulfill the same function as the strike forces, but these "area teams" comprise fewer officers.

McCarthy has blamed the proliferation of guns on Chicago's streets and the splintering of large street gangs into small factions as reasons for the homicide spike.

In October, the Tribune reported that 1 in 4 homicide victims this year were affiliated with the Gangster Disciples, the city's largest street gang, and one also riddled with internal conflict.

Jackson, who authorities described as being affiliated with the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, falls into a category shared by more than 80 percent of Chicago's 2012 homicide victims: those with criminal histories.

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Indian gang rape victim dies; New Delhi braces for protests

NEW DELHI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - An Indian woman whose gang rape in New Delhi triggered violent protests died of her injuries on Saturday in a Singapore hospital, bringing a security lockdown in Delhi and recognition from India's prime minister that social change is needed.

Bracing for a new wave of protests, Indian authorities closed 10 metro stations and banned vehicles from some main roads in the heart of New Delhi, where demonstrators have converged since the attack to demand improved women's rights. About 100 people staged a peaceful protest on Saturday morning.

The 23-year-old medical student, severely beaten, raped and thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi two weeks ago, had been flown to Singapore in a critical condition by the Indian government on Thursday for specialist treatment.

The attack has sparked an intense national debate for the first time about the treatment of women and attitudes towards sex crimes in a country where most rapes go unreported, many offenders go unpunished, and the wheels of justice turn slowly, according to social activists.

"We are very sad to report that the patient passed away peacefully at 4:45 a.m. on Dec 29, 2012 (2045 GMT Friday). Her family and officials from the High Commission (embassy) of India were by her side," Mount Elizabeth Hospital Chief Executive Officer Kelvin Loh said in a statement.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was deeply saddened by the death and described the emotions associated with her case as "perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change.

"It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channelize these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action," Singh said in a statement.

Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, said the woman's death was a "shameful moment for me not just as a chief minister but also as a citizen of this country".

The woman, who has not been identified, and a male friend were returning home from the cinema by bus on the evening of December 16 when, media reports say, six men on the bus beat them with metal rods and repeatedly raped the woman. media said a rod was used in the rape, causing internal injuries. Both were thrown from the bus. The male friend survived the attack.

The public outcry over the attack has caught the government off-guard. It took a week for Singh to make a public statement on the attack, infuriating many protesters who saw it as a sign of a government insensitive to the plight of women.

The prime minister, a stiff 80-year-old technocrat who speaks in a low monotone, has struggled to channel the popular outrage in his public statements and convince critics that his eight-year-old government would now take concrete steps to improve the safety of women.

Protesters, mostly young middle class students, fought pitched battles with police around the capital last weekend. Police used batons, water cannon and teargas to quell the protests, and sealed off the main protest sites.


T.C.A. Raghavan, the Indian high commissioner to Singapore, told reporters hours after the woman's death that a chartered aircraft would fly her body back to India on Saturday, along with members of her family. The woman's body had earlier been put into a van at the hospital and driven away.

Indian media had also accused the government of sending her to Singapore to minimize any backlash in the event of her death but Raghavan said it had been a medical decision intended to ensure she got the best treatment.

"She was unconscious throughout," Raghavan said of her time in Singapore. "She died because of the severe nature of the injuries."

Some Indian medical experts had questioned the decision to fly the woman to Singapore, calling it a risky maneuver given the severity of her injuries. They had said she was already receiving the best possible care in India.

On Friday, the Singapore hospital had said the woman's condition had taken a turn for the worse and she had suffered "significant brain injury". She had already undergone three abdominal operations before arriving in Singapore.

The suspects in the rape - five men aged between 20 and 40, and a juvenile - were arrested within hours of the attack and are in custody. Media reports say they are likely to be formally charged with murder next week.

Many Indians have called for the death penalty for those responsible.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told Times Now television on Saturday the government was committed to ensuring "the severest possible punishment to all the accused at the earliest".

"It will not go in vain. We will give maximum punishment to the culprits. Not only to this, but in future also. This one incident has given a greater lesson" Shinde said.

He said earlier the government was considering the death penalty for rape in very rare cases. Murder carries the death penalty.

The case has received blanket coverage on cable television news channels. Some Indian media have called the woman "Amanat", an Urdu word meaning "treasure".

Commentators and sociologists say the rape tapped into a deep well of frustration many Indians feel over what they see as weak governance and poor leadership.

Many protesters have complained that Singh's government has done little to curb the abuse of women in the country of 1.2 billion. A global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found that India was the worst place to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery.

New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011.

(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin and Diksha Madhok in New Delhi; Kevin Lim, Saeed Azhar, Edgar Su and Sanjeev Miglani in Singapore; Editing by Ron Popeski, Mark Bendeich and Robert Birsel)

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Yen hits two-year low, Asian shares rise on U.S. fiscal hopes

TOKYO (Reuters) - The yen fell to its lowest level in more than two years on Friday, lifting Japanese stocks to 21-month highs on expectations of drastic monetary easing, while shares in the rest of Asia rose as Washington races to avoid a fiscal crisis.

U.S. President Barack Obama and lawmakers are launching a last round of budget talks before a New Year deadline to reach a deal or watch the economy go off a "fiscal cliff," that economists fear will push the United States back into recession and stamp out fragile signs of recovery elsewhere.

"A big issue is being made of it, but eventually they'll do something to kick the can down the road," said Steven Robinson, senior investment manager at Alleron Investment Management in Sydney.

European shares were seen flat to higher, with financial spreadbetters predicting London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> would open little changed to as much as 0.3 percent higher. U.S. stock futures suggested a steady Wall Street start. <.l><.eu><.n/>

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> rose 0.5 percent, hovering around a near 17-month high. It has gained about 18.7 percent this year, a sharp turnaround from an 18 percent plunge in 2011.

Australian shares <.axjo> rode iron ore stocks up to finish at a 19-month high, with a recovery in battered mining shares driving the market to its strongest annual gain since 2009. Hong Kong shares <.hsi> hovered near a 17-month high with a 0.1 percent gain and Shanghai shares <.ssec> jumped 0.8 percent.

Oil prices rose on hopes the United States would resolve the fiscal cliff, easing concerns about weakening demand.

Brent crude was up 0.4 percent to $111.25 a barrel and on course to post a full-year increase of about 3.6 percent, which would be its smallest gain in four years. U.S. crude rose 0.5 percent to $91.30, set for its first yearly loss in four years.

"The U.S. fiscal cliff will continue to direct crude prices until it's resolved," said Natalie Rampono, a commodities analyst at ANZ in Melbourne.

As well as being deadline day for the fiscal cliff, December 31 is the date the federal government is set to reach its $16.4 trillion debt limit. The Treasury will have to take measures to buy time for the government to approve a rise in the debt ceiling.

A similar political stalemate over raising the federal debt limit in the summer of 2011 raised fears over a U.S. default, and prompted Standard & Poor's to strip the U.S. of its top-notch credit rating, causing turmoil in financial markets.

Asian bond issuance jumped to $133.8 billion so far this year, eclipsing the previous year's tally of $76.34 billion, as retail investors stepped up purchases of the region's corporate bond. Those bonds have returned nearly 20 percent this year, outshining Asian equities.

Asset returns in 2012: http://link.reuters.com/nyw85s

Asian 2012 bond issuance: http://r.reuters.com/xyz93t

Japan industrial output: http://link.reuters.com/xyt65s

SE Asia foreign inflows: http://link.reuters.com/byr84t



Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office earlier in the week, Japan is speeding up efforts to turn around its economy, battered for decades by its strong currency and persistent deflation.

A survey on Friday showed Japanese manufacturing activity contracted in December at its fastest pace in more than three years while core consumer prices fell last month and industrial output plunged 1.7 percent in November from October.

Abe's repeated calls for "unlimited" monetary easing and policies aimed at reducing the yen's strength have bolstered expectations of a sustained period of yen weakness. This has lifted the mood in Japanese stocks as a weaker yen improves earnings prospects for the country's exporters.

The benchmark Nikkei average <.n225> closed up 0.7 percent at a 21-month high, ending 2012 with the sharpest yearly gain since 2005. Japanese markets will be closed for New Year's holidays and will resume trading on January 4. <.t/>

"The Japanese equity market has turned positive, providing good sentiment for global investors, with many making money and putting the money into commodity markets such as oil market," said Tetsu Emori, a commodity fund manager at Astmax in Tokyo.

The dollar climbed to its highest since August 2010 of 86.64 yen on Friday. The yen is on track for a drop of more than 12 percent this year, its steepest since 2005. The yen also fell to a 17-month low against the euro at 114.675 yen on EBS on Thursday.

The Australian dollar hit a 20-month peak against the yen of around 89.83 yen, according to Reuters data.

The Japanese government will compile spending requests for a stimulus package on January 7 and finalize the proposal shortly thereafter as Abe tries to quickly enact his agenda of increased public works spending to boost the economy.

(Additional reporting by Umesh Desai in Hong Kong, Jessica Jaganathan in Singapore and Victoria Thieberger and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Eric Meijer)

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Net loss: Brooklyn fires coach Avery Johnson

NEW YORK (AP) — Coach of the month in November, out of a job by New Year's.

The Brooklyn Nets have elevated expectations this season, and a .500 record wasn't good enough. Coach Avery Johnson was fired Thursday, his team having lost 10 of 13 games after a strong start to its first season in Brooklyn.

"We don't have the same fire now than we did when we were 11-4," general manager Billy King said at a news conference in East Rutherford, N.J. "I tried to talk to Avery about it and we just can't figure it out. The same pattern kept on happening."

Assistant P.J. Carlesimo will coach the Nets on an interim basis, starting Friday night with a home game against Charlotte. King said the Nets might reach out to other candidates, but for now the job was Carlesimo's. The GM wouldn't comment on a report that the team planned to get in touch with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

King said the decision to dismiss Johnson was made by ownership after a phone discussion Thursday morning. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov had expressed faith in Johnson before the season.

"With the direction we were going we felt we had to make a change," King said.

Johnson was in the final year of a three-year, $12 million contract.

"It's a really disappointing day for me and my family. It's my wife's birthday. It's not a great birthday gift," Johnson said. "I didn't see this coming. But this is ownership's decision. It's part of the business. Fair or unfair, it's time for a new voice and hopefully they'll get back on track."

The Nets have fallen well behind the first-place New York Knicks, the team they so badly want to compete with in their new home. But after beating the Knicks in their first meeting Nov. 26, probably the high point of Johnson's tenure, the Nets went 5-10 and frustrations have been mounting.

"Our goal is to get to the conference finals," King said. "We started out good and then we stumbled. We have to get back to playing winning basketball. It's the entire team. It's not like golf, where Tiger Woods can blame the caddie. It takes five guys on the court and they're all struggling. We have to figure out the ways to get back to winning. I don't know what happened. I'm not sure. But unfortunately, it did happen."

The Nets were embarrassed by Boston on national TV on Christmas, then were routed by Milwaukee 108-93 on Wednesday night for their fifth loss in six games.

Star guard Deron Williams recently complained about Johnson's offense, and Nets CEO Brett Yormark took to Twitter after the loss to Celtics to voice his displeasure with the performance.

King said the change was not made because Williams was unhappy, and he added the point guard himself has to play better.

Johnson also stood by Williams.

"From Day One, I always had a really good relationship with him. I don't think it's fair for anyone to hang this on Deron," Johnson said. "We were just going through a bad streak, a bad spell. It's not time for me to be down on one player. That would be the easy way."

Brooklyn started the season 11-4, winning five in a row to end November, when Johnson was Eastern Conference coach of the month. But he couldn't do anything to stop this slump, one the Nets never anticipated after a $350 million summer spending spree they believed would take them toward the top of their conference.

Johnson has been the Nets' coach for a little more than two seasons. He went 60-116 with the Nets, who moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn to start the season. Johnson coached the Dallas Mavericks to a spot in the NBA Finals in 2006.

"You don't always get a fair shake as a coach," Johnson said. "I'm not the owner. If I were the owner, I wouldn't have fired myself today. But life is not always necessary fair. It's a business and in this business, the coach always gets blamed."

This is the NBA's second coaching change this season following the dismissal of Mike Brown by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Johnson arrived in New Jersey with a 194-70 record, a .735 winning percentage that was the highest in NBA history, but had little chance of success in his first two seasons while the Nets focused all their planning on the move to Brooklyn.

They looked to make a splash this summer when they re-signed Williams and fellow starters Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries, traded for Atlanta All-Star Joe Johnson, and added veteran depth with players such as Reggie Evans, C.J. Watson and Andray Blatche.

Johnson didn't have a contract beyond this season but seemed to have the confidence of Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who before the season said he had faith in "the Avery defense system."

Some thought the Nets would finish as high as second in the East behind defending champion Miami, and the predictions seemed warranted when the Nets started quickly amid much fanfare. But all the good publicity faded in recent weeks once the losing started.

Williams, who has struggled this season, stirred the waters when he expressed his preference for the offense he ran under Jerry Sloan in Utah before a loss to the Jazz. Williams and Johnson, nicknamed "Brooklyn's Backcourt" and expected to be one of the best in the NBA, have shot poorly and rarely meshed.

The Nets were embarrassed near the end of their 93-76 loss to Boston, when fans exited early amid a chant of "Let's go Celtics!"

"Nets fans deserved better," Yormark tweeted after the game. "The entire organization needs to work harder to find a solution. We will get there."

Not under Johnson, though.

The Nets should be able to entice a big-name coach with Prokhorov's billions and the chance to play in a major market at Barclays Center, the $1 billion arena that has drawn praise in the city and from visiting teams.

Carlesimo has previous NBA head coaching experience in Portland, Golden State and Seattle/Oklahoma City. He has a career coaching record of 204-296 in the regular season and 3-9 in the playoffs.

"Right now, P.J. is our coach and I told him to coach the team like he'll be here for the next 10 years," King said.


AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford and AP freelancer Jim Hague contributed to this report.

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Texas gas prices increase 4 cents

HOUSTON (AP) — The average price across Texas for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline increased 4 cents this week.

AAA Texas reported Thursday the average price increased to $ 3.07. Motorists in Texarkana are paying the most, with an average of $ 3.12 per gallon. Drivers in Beaumont are paying the least at $ 3.02 per gallon.

The average price for fuel in Texas is 19 cents less than the national average of $ 3.26.

AAA Texas says gas prices may be impacted by what happens regarding the “fiscal cliff” — budget cuts and tax hikes that would kick in on Jan. 1 unless the White House and Congress agree on a budget deal. The group says a deal will likely been seen as an economic positive, sending prices higher, while no deal could lower prices.

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2013: A year for big issues in the courts

By Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Legal Analyst

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin

After that, here are my guesses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

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

Part of complete coverage on

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 27, 2012 -- Updated 0237 GMT (1037 HKT)

Bassam Gergi and Ali Breland says we should mourn for Newtown's victims, but also take steps to stop the slaughter of young people in inner cities

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

December 26, 2012 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)

Tseming Yang says the 25 major carbon emitters should come to an agreement just among themselves about fighting climate change.

December 25, 2012 -- Updated 1252 GMT (2052 HKT)

David Frum says the National Rifle Association's "Death Wish" style vision of America as a land of armed civilians fending off criminals is a fantasy.

December 27, 2012 -- Updated 0207 GMT (1007 HKT)

Lawrence Krauss says the nation must grieve with the families of Newtown after such a tremendous loss, but religion is not the right framework

December 26, 2012 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)

Jonathan Batiste says jazz is a complex, traditional and utterly contemporary art -- the language that we use to state our deepest, truest feelings

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

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

December 26, 2012 -- Updated 1344 GMT (2144 HKT)

MADD started as a small grass-roots movement that grew and radically changed society's views on drunk driving, says Candace Lightner.

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

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

December 19, 2012 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)

William Bennett says having armed and trained people could help protect schools and other vulnerable places from gun violence

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Fatal shooting appears to have pushed city's homicide toll to 500

The fatal shooting of a 40-year-old man Thursday night on the West Side appears to have pushed Chicago's 2012 homicide toll to 500, the first time the city has had that many killings in four years.

The slaying came hours after the Chicago Police Department said the city was one homicide away from the 500 mark for the year.

The victim was standing outside a convenience store around 9 p.m. at Augusta Boulevard and Lavergne Avenue in the city's Austin community when he was shot in the head, police said. He was pronounced dead at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County at 12:18 a.m., a spokesman for the Cook County medical examiner's office said.

At the shooting scene, a pool of blood stained the sidewalk outside Noah Foods. Police tapped apartment windows and knocked on doors looking for witnesses. A stray dog trotted through the crime scene before taking off in a sprint up Lavergne.

A few bullet casings, which police initially believed to be from a .45 caliber handgun, were found next to where the man was shot. Before officers left the scene, three people walked out of the store and pounded the metal gate shut.

The last time Chicago had 500 or more homicides was in 2008. As of Thursday night, homicides were up 17 percent over last year, and shootings had increased by 11 percent, according to police statistics.

Largely contributing to the spike was the unusual number of homicides that occurred during the early part of the year, in which the city experienced unseasonable warmth. In the first three months of the year, homicides ran about 60 percent ahead of the 2011 rate.


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CAR appeals for French help against rebels, Paris balks

BANGUI (Reuters) - The president of the Central African Republic appealed on Thursday for France and the United States to help push back rebels threatening his government and the capital, but Paris said its troops were only ready to protect French nationals.

The exchanges came as regional African leaders tried to broker a ceasefire deal and as rebels said they had temporarily halted their advance on Bangui, the capital, to allow talks to take place.

Insurgents on motorbikes and in pickup trucks have driven to within 75 km (47 miles) of Bangui after weeks of fighting, threatening to end President Francois Bozize's nearly 10-year-stint in charge of the turbulent, resource-rich country.

French nuclear energy group Areva mines the Bakouma uranium deposit in the CAR's south - France's biggest commercial interest in its former colony.

The rebel advance has highlighted the instability of a country that has remained poor since independence from Paris in 1960 despite rich deposits of uranium, gold and diamonds. Average income is barely over $2 a day.

Bozize on Thursday appealed for French and U.S. military support to stop the SELEKA rebel coalition, which has promised to overthrow him unless he implements a previous peace deal in full.

He told a crowd of anti-rebel protesters in the riverside capital that he had asked Paris and Washington to help move the rebels away from the capital to clear the way for peace talks which regional leaders say could be held soon in Libreville, Gabon.

"We are asking our cousins the French and the United States, which are major powers, to help us push back the rebels to their initial positions in a way that will permit talks in Libreville to resolve this crisis," Bozize said.

France has 250 soldiers in its landlocked former colony as part of a peacekeeping mission and Paris in the past has ousted or propped up governments - including by using air strikes to defend Bozize against rebels in 2006.

But French President Francois Hollande poured cold water on the latest request for help.

"If we have a presence, it's not to protect a regime, it's to protect our nationals and our interests and in no way to intervene in the internal business of a country, in this case the Central African Republic," Hollande said on the sidelines of a visit to a wholesale food market outside Paris.

"Those days are over," he said.

Some 1,200 French nationals live in the CAR, mostly in the capital, according to the French Foreign Ministry, where they typically work for mining firms or aid groups.


The U.N. Security Council issued a statement saying its members "condemn the continued attacks on several towns perpetrated by the 'SELEKA' coalition of armed groups which gravely undermine the Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement and threaten the civilian population."

U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the U.S. embassy had temporarily suspended operations and the U.S. ambassador and other embassy personnel had left the country.

Officials from around central Africa are due to meet in Bangui later on Thursday to open initial talks with the government and rebels.

A rebel spokesman said fighters had temporarily halted their advance to allow dialogue.

"We will not enter Bangui," Colonel Djouma Narkoyo, the rebel spokesman, told Reuters by telephone.

Previous rebel promises to stop advancing have been broken, and a diplomatic source said rebels had taken up positions around Bangui on Thursday, effectively surrounding it.

The atmosphere remained tense in the city the day after anti-rebel protests broke out, and residents were stocking up on food and water.

Government soldiers deployed at strategic sites and French troops reinforced security at the French embassy after protesters threw rocks at the building on Wednesday.

In Paris, the French Foreign Ministry said protecting foreigners and embassies was the responsibility of the CAR authorities.

"This message will once again be stressed to the CAR's charge d'affaires in Paris, who has been summoned this afternoon," a ministry spokesman said.

He also said France condemned the rebels for pursuing hostilities and urged all sides to commit to talks.

Bozize came to power in a 2003 rebellion that overthrew President Ange-Felix Patasse.

However, France is increasingly reluctant to directly intervene in conflicts in its former colonies. Since coming to power in May, Hollande has promised to end its shadowy relations with former colonies and put ties on a healthier footing.

A military source and an aid worker said the rebels had got as far as Damara, 75 km (47 miles) from Bangui, by late afternoon on Wednesday, having skirted Sibut, where some 150 Chadian soldiers had earlier been deployed to try and block a push south by a rebel coalition.

With a government that holds little sway outside the capital, some parts of the country have long endured the consequences of conflicts in troubled neighbors Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo spilling over.

The Central African Republic is one of a number of nations in the region where U.S. Special Forces are helping local forces try to track down the Lords Resistance Army, a rebel group responsible for killing thousands of civilians across four African nations.

(Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas and Louis Charbonneau; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Paul Simao)

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Asian shares up with eye on "fiscal cliff"; yen slips more

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares rose on Thursday amid caution as U.S. lawmakers prepared to resume negotiations to avoid a fiscal crunch by December 31, while the yen hit a 21-month low against the dollar on the prospect of drastic monetary easing and massive state spending.

European shares were seen returning from the Christmas holiday break with a fall, financial spreadbetters predicting London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> would open down as much as 0.6 percent.

A 0.1 percent gain in U.S. stock futures suggested a firm Wall Street start. <.l><.eu><.n/>

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> was up 0.3 percent, with Australian shares <.axjo> also adding 0.3 percent. Hong Kong shares <.hsi> rose 0.4 percent to a near 17-month high, although Shanghai <.ssec> steadied after earlier touching their highest level since July.

In a sign that there may be a way to break the deadlock in the U.S. Congress, Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner urged the Democrat-controlled Senate to act to pull back from the cliff and offered to at least consider any bill the upper chamber produced.

U.S. President Barack Obama will try to revive budget crisis talks which stalled last week when he returns to Washington on Thursday after cutting short his Christmas holiday in Hawaii.

"There is no easy way to resolve the U.S. fiscal cliff, but there should be a compromise at some point and that's what the market is looking for," said Tetsu Emori, a commodity fund manager at Astmax in Tokyo.

Economists warn that the "fiscal cliff" of higher taxes and spending cuts worth $600 billion could hurl the world's largest economy into recession, dragging other economies with it.

Such concerns underpinned the dollar as the fiscal impasse continues to sap investor appetite for risky assets, raising the dollar's safe-haven appeal.

"Most risk assets will probably remain range-bound until we get a clearer indication of what to expect from the fiscal cliff negotiations," said Stan Shamu, a strategist at IG Markets.

There were some signs of economic improvement in the Asian region, with data showing profits earned by China's industrial companies jumped 22.8 percent in November from a year earlier, accelerating from October's 20.5 percent.

London copper rose 1.7 percent to a one-week high of $7,932 a tonne on the positive data from China, the world's top copper buyer.

U.S. crude futures inched up 0.2 percent to $91.14 a barrel on hopes the new Japanese government's policies would spur demand. Brent crude steadied at $111.03.

However, South Korea warned on Thursday of only a modest recovery in the economy next year. India's economic growth could get stuck at 5-5.5 percent if a policy logjam continues, said Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a key policy adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Asset performance in 2012: http://link.reuters.com/muc46s

Fiscal cliff woes impact: http://link.reuters.com/num84t



Against the yen, the dollar at 85.87 yen reached its highest since September 2010, with investors accelerating their yen sales after new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government would pursue bold monetary policy, flexible fiscal policy and a growth strategy to encourage private investment.

Abe has pledged to make his top priority beating deflation and taming the strong yen, which are dragging down the world's third biggest economy.

The yen is on track for a drop of more than 10 percent this year, its steepest since 2005. It also fell to a 16-month low against the euro at 113.65 yen on EBS on Thursday.

The weaker yen, a boon for Japanese exporters, lifted the benchmark Nikkei stock average <.n225> 0.9 percent to close at its highest since March 2011. It is on track to log its best yearly gain since 2005. <.t/>

"People are putting on some positions based on what we saw after the cabinet appointment and LDP policy decision," a dealer at a foreign brokerage said, referring to the ruling party.

The yen is expected to stay under pressure given the new government's clear resolve to prevent it rising. Japan's top government spokesman said recent yen declines were a reversal of past "one-sided" gains in the Japanese currency.

"I'm still bullish on the dollar/yen quite a bit," said a trader for a U.S. bank in Singapore. "In this thin market, I think anything can happen. But definitely I wouldn't go against the trend. The trend is quite clear at this point in time."

New Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said the prime minister had ordered him to compile a stimulus package without adhering to the previous government's 44 trillion yen ($519 billion) cap on new bond issuance.

The benchmark 10-year Japanese government bond yield rose to three-month highs of 0.80 percent, while lead 10-year JGB futures hit a three-month low of 143.48.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Lau in TOKYO, Miranda Maxwell in MELBOURNE and Masayuki Kitano and Ramya Venugopal in SINGAPORE; Editing by Paul Tait)

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Peyton Manning, Peterson make Pro Bowl

NEW YORK (AP) — Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson want to cap their sensational comebacks with Super Bowl appearances. For now, they can be proud of Pro Bowl spots.

So can Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, one of two rookies chosen Wednesday for the Jan. 27 NFL all-star game.

Manning missed all of the 2011 season with neck and back problems that required several operations. He then signed with Denver as a free agent and has led the Broncos on a 10-game winning streak to take the AFC West.

"I know there's great players out there in the NFL, but there's some great players on this team this year that deserve to go," said Manning, whose 12th Pro Bowl is a record for quarterbacks. He ranks fourth in league passing this year, has thrown 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Four other Broncos made the AFC roster: DE Elvis Dumervil, linebacker Von Miller, CB Champ Bailey and tackle Ryan Clady. Bailey's 12th appearance is a record for defensive backs.

"My goal has always been to go out and help the team win and play at a high level," Manning added. "Anything that comes along with that, like being honored as a Pro Bowl selection, is very humbling."

Minnesota's Peterson tore up his left knee on Christmas Eve last year, underwent major surgery, then was back for the season opener. He's gone from uncertain to unstoppable, running away with the rushing title with a career-high 1,898 yards and lifting the Vikings toward an NFC wild card.

"Coming into the season after going through the rehab process, I just told myself that I wanted to lead my team to a championship and make sure that I contribute and do my part," Peterson said. "I've been doing it."

Griffin is one of three rookie QBs who had superb debut seasons, along with Andrew Luck of Indianapolis and Russell Wilson of Seattle. Luck and Wilson weren't voted to the Pro Bowl by players, coaches and fans, although their teams are in the playoffs; Griffin can get to the postseason if Washington beats Dallas on Sunday.

"You can't play down those kind of things," Griffin said. "I've always said my whole football career that you don't play for awards. They just come. You don't say you're going to win the Heisman. You don't say you're going to win MVP. You go out and you prove it on the field, and if everyone feels that way then they'll give you that award."

San Francisco had the most players selected, nine, including six from its second-ranked defense. Houston was next with eight, six on offense.

Kansas City, despite its 2-13 record that is tied with Jacksonville for worst in the league, had five Pro Bowlers, including RB Jamaal Charles, who like Peterson is coming back from a torn ACL.

One other rookie, Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh, was chosen. Walsh has nine field goals of at least 50 yards, an NFL mark.

The AFC kicker is at the other end of the spectrum: Cleveland's Phil Dawson earned his first selection in his 14th NFL season.

"I deliberately tried not to know," Dawson said. "We wanted to watch the show with my kids. I had a really good idea what was going on, but it was a pretty priceless moment when we saw the name flash up on the screen. My kids went nuts 'cause my wife went nuts. That makes these 15 years of waiting worth it."

Another record setter will be heading to Honolulu: Detroit WR Calvin Johnson.

Johnson broke Jerry Rice's single-season yards receiving record and has 1,892 yards with a game left.

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez set the record for Pro Bowls at his position by being chosen for the 13th time.

The league's top two sackmasters, DEs Aldon Smith of San Francisco and J.J. Watt of Houston, were first-time selections. Watt has 20 1-2 sacks, one ahead of Smith; the NFL record is 22 1-2.

Other newcomers, along with Griffin, Walsh and Dawson, were AFC players tackle Duane Brown and guard Wade Smith of Houston; safety LaRon Landry of the Jets; kick returner Jacoby Jones of Baltimore; and punter Dustin Colquitt of Kansas City.

For the NFC, first-timers were Giants WR Victor Cruz; Atlanta WR Julio Jones; Seattle tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger; San Francisco guard Mike Iupati, linebacker NaVorro Bowman and safety Donte Whitner; Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings and defensive tackle Henry Melton; Washington tackle Trent Williams and special teamer Lorenzo Alexander; Minnesota fullback Jerome Felton; Tampa Bay DT Gerald McCoy; and New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead.

Eight teams had no Pro Bowl players: Carolina, Philadelphia and St. Louis in the NFC, Tennessee, Buffalo, Jacksonville, San Diego and Oakland in the AFC.


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

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The forgotten victims of gun violence

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, center, and other area officials call for stronger gun regulations at a news conference last week.


  • While America was mourning Newtown victims, guns were claiming lives elsewhere in U.S.

  • Authors: Media focus on mass shootings, but continuing violence also needs coverage

  • They say inner cities suffer an epidemic of gun killings, and young are particularly vulnerable

  • Authors: There is a day-by-day slaughter of children that must be stopped

Editor's note: Bassam Gergi is studying for a master's degree in comparative government at St. Antony's College, Oxford, where he is also a Dahrendorf Scholar. Ali Breland studies philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin.

(CNN) -- On the Sunday after the Newtown massacre, President Barack Obama traveled to Connecticut to comfort the grieving community. As the president offered what he could to the town, other American communities, in less visible ways, were grappling with their own menace of violence.

In Camden, New Jersey -- a city that has already suffered 65 violent deaths in 2012 , surpassing the previous record of 58 violent deaths set in 1995 -- 50 people turned out, some bearing white crosses, to mourn a homeless woman known affectionately as the "cat lady" who was stabbed to death (50 of the deaths so far this year resulted from gunshot wounds.)

Bassam Gergi

Bassam Gergi

In Philadelphia, on the same Sunday, city leaders came together at a roundtable to discuss their own epidemic of gun violence; the year-to-date total of homicides is 322. Last year, 324 were killed. Of those victims, 154 were 25 or younger. A councilman at the roundtable asked, "How come as a city we're not in an outrage? How come we're not approaching this from a crisis standpoint?"

Ali Breland

Ali Breland

The concerns go beyond Philadelphia. In the week following the Newtown massacre, there were at least a dozen gun homicides in Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and St. Louis alone. In a year of highly publicized mass shootings, inner-city neighborhoods that are plagued by gun violence have continued to be neglected and ignored.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, large metropolitan areas account for more than two-thirds of deaths by gun violence each year, with inner cities most affected. The majority of the victims are young, ranging in age from their early teens to mid-20s, and black.

To track these violent deaths, many communities and media organizations have set up agonizing online trackers -- homicide watches or interactive maps -- that show each subsequent victim as just another data point. These maps are representative of a set of issues far larger than the nameless dots suggest.

In the immediate aftermath of Newtown, as politicians and public figures across America grapple with the horrible truths of gun violence, far less visible from the national spotlight is the steady stream of inner-city victims.

Illegal firearms confiscated in a weapons bust in New York's East Harlem is on display at an October news conference.

The media is fixated, and with justification, on the string of high-profile massacres that have rocked the nation in Aurora, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona; Virginia Tech; and now in Newtown. Yet in many of America's neighborhoods most affected by the calamity of gun violence, there is a warranted exasperation -- residents are tired, tired of the ubiquity of guns, tired of fearing for their children's safety, tired of being forgotten.

Critiquing a narrow media focus doesn't deny the horrible, tragic nature of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School; mass shootings, however, make up only a small fraction of America's shockingly high level of gun crime.

In his study "American Homicide," Randolph Roth showed that while the overall risk of being murdered is higher in America than it is in any other first-world democracy, homicide rates vary drastically among groups.

According to Roth, if current trends are maintained, one out of every 158 white males born today will be murdered, but for nonwhite males it is likely one of every 27 born today will be murdered.

The stark difference in these racial trends can be traced to the high levels of racial segregation in America's cities, which have created a spatial barrier between poor inner-city youths of color and more mainstream America -- a barrier that is often responsible for the lack of media and political attention paid to inner-city problems.

Many experts claim that actually it is the spectacular nature of mass shootings that naturally magnifies media coverage and explains the resonance of these tragedies to the broader public. Inner-city violence on its own, however, does not suffer from a lack of awful, spectacular violence and calamity. In fact, the gruesome nature of violence in inner cities has contributed to widespread social desensitization to gun violence. How then do we explain the differing public responses?

An indicator of the difference of attention levels lies in the tone of the public rhetoric in the wake of mass shootings: "This was supposed to be a safe community," and "This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen here."

These statements imply that in America's leafy-green small towns and suburbs, gun violence is a shocking travesty; it strikes against America's perception of what is acceptable. In contrast, gun violence in the American metropolis has been normalized, and the public and media display a passive indifference toward the lives of inner-city youths.

This normalization of inner-city violence is due in part, to the isolation and segregation of America's ghettos from wider America, but it is also due to a sense that the victims of inner-city violence are responsible for their own condition.

As Robert Sampson, a professor at Harvard University, has highlighted, the gun violence in American cities is born out of neighborhood characteristics such as poverty, racial segregation and lack of economic opportunity. This shortened explanation for the high levels of inner-city violence has often been mistaken to imply that it is the direct choice of inner-city residents to remain either in poverty or in their segregated community that leads to their victimization.

In reality, the victims of inner-city gun violence are the victims of a dual tragedy. The first is that the poverty and segregation, which play a crucial role in spurring the downward cycle of crime, are the result of social arrangements predicated on longstanding oppression and prejudice.

Through a complex mix of violence, institutional arrangements and exploitation, black Americans were pressured into ghettos, which are the hotbeds of contemporary gun violence. Their inability to escape their conditions is not a choice but rather the byproduct of continued structural discrimination. Slowing the tide of inner-city deaths through gun control is therefore a modern-day civil rights issue.

If the refusal of America's national politicians to move on gun control before Newtown represents a political failure and a paucity of American will, then the disregard for the lives of inner-city youths stricken by gun violence on a daily basis is an illustration of the limits of American compassion.

The slaughter of young children en masse should be a moment of reckoning for any society, but there is a day-by-day, child-by-child slaughter occurring in America that has gone on too long and is yet to be reckoned with.

If Newtown should teach us anything, it is that all of us in America share this same short moment of life, and that we all seek to ensure safety, security and prosperity for our children.

As Vice President Joe Biden and the presidential task force meet to negotiate about what new gun laws to recommend, they must look to Sandy Hook Elementary and beyond. We need to protect the children of Newtown from the threat of future gun violence, but the children of Chicago and Camden and Detroit deserve the same long-term security.

We may not be able to ensure absolute security for America's children, but through smarter policy America can surely save more of its children from gun violence.

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

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