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.

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

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Stahl arrested for investigation of lewd conduct

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles police say actor Nick Stahl has been arrested for investigation of lewd conduct.

The 33-year-old “Terminator 3″ star was arrested about 8 p.m. Thursday on Hollywood Boulevard. He was booked on a misdemeanor count of lewd conduct and released from custody.

The Los Angeles Times reports (http://lat.ms/YU6uBO) that Stahl was arrested at an adult movie shop during a routine undercover police operation.

In May, Stahl had been reported missing by his wife, but he later turned up.

Stahl was a child star who performed in the 1993 film “The Man Without a Face.” He also has appeared in the 2003-2005 HBO series “Carnivale’” and starred in “Mirrors 2″ in 2010. An email seeking comment from his publicist was not immediately returned Friday.


Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com

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Obama ‘optimistic’ on cliff deal

US President Barack Obama: “An agreement is being discussed as we speak”

US President Barack Obama says he is “modestly optimistic” that a deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff” is possible, after a last-ditch White House meeting.

Mr Obama said Senate leaders were working to craft a bill that could win approval in both chambers of Congress.

But if a compromise was not reached, the president said he would ask for a quick vote on preventing tax rises.

Congress has only four days to reach an agreement before across-the-board tax rises and spending cuts take effect.

Analysts say sliding over the so-called “cliff” could tip the US into recession and set back the global economic recovery.

If Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell do not work out a deal, Mr Obama is seeking a vote to prevent tax rises on incomes up to $ 250,000 (£150,000) and ensure unemployment insurance is continued.

He described that as the “bare minimum” Congress should get done before 1 January.

“The hour for immediate action is here, it is now,” Mr Obama said.

‘Imperfect’ deal

Earlier on Friday, Mr Obama met Mr Reid, Mr McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi at the White House for just over an hour.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

“The American people are watching what we do here – obviously their patience is already thin”

End Quote Barack Obama

Mr McConnell and Mr Reid said they were entering talks shortly after the meeting, and gave relatively upbeat assessments on their task.

Mr McConnell said he was “hopeful and optimistic” that he could present a comprise to his caucus by Sunday, just over 24 hours before the deadline.

His Democratic counterpart said he would “do everything I can” to make the deal happened.

But Mr Reid cautioned that “whatever we come up with is going to be imperfect”.

The renewed effort towards a Senate deal that could pass both chambers comes after much of the focus in negotiations rested on House Speaker John Boehner.

An alternative plan proposed by Mr Boehner – which would have seen taxes rise only on those earning over $ 1m – failed in the House of Representatives late last week.

Continue reading the main story

What is the fiscal cliff?

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

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

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

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

Mr Boehner has called the lower chamber into session on Sunday. A staff member in the house speaker’s office told Reuters that the House would consider Senate legislation.

“The Speaker told the president that if the Senate amends the House-passed legislation and sends back a plan, the House will consider it – either by accepting or amending,” the unnamed aide said.

Mr Obama’s plans to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans have remained a point of division between the two parties since he won re-election in November.

Many Republicans oppose new taxes as a matter of principle, and are demanding cuts to what they see as deficit-inflating public spending, putting at risk healthcare and welfare benefit schemes popular with Democrats.

During the news conference on Friday, Mr Obama said any last minute action on tax rises would form the groundwork for further negotiations in the new year.

“The American people are watching what we do here,” he said. “Obviously their patience is already thin.”

Cuts and benefits

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

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

Other tax cuts and benefits set to expire include:

• A 2010 payroll tax cut, the expiration of which would prompt immediate wage-packet cuts

• Benefits for the long-term unemployed

• Compensation for doctors treating patients on federal healthcare programmes

• Inheritance taxes are also likely to be affected if no deal is reached.

In addition, spending cuts mandated by a law passed to break a previous fiscal impasse in Congress will come into force, affecting both military and domestic budgets.

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

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Artaflex Reports First Quarter Results

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – Dec 28, 2012) – Artaflex Inc. (TSX VENTURE:ATF) (“Artaflex” or the “Company), a specialist at delivering integrated product solutions and support to the global technology and electronics industry, today reports unaudited first quarter financial results for the three-month period ended October 31, 2012.

Artaflex reports in U.S. dollars and all numbers below are expressed in thousands of U.S. dollars, except per share information and gross margin percentages.

The financial statements for the first quarter ended October 31, 2012, including required comparative information, have been prepared in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards (“IFRS”) as issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (“IASB”).

Further information is available on the Company”s website at www.artaflex.com and the System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval (“SEDAR) at www.sedar.com.

Q1 2013 Financial Highlights:

Sales increased 79.2% to $ 6,510 in the first quarter of 2013 compared to $ 3,632 in 2012, primarily due to the acquisition of Adeptron in March 2012. For the quarter, sales to the Company”s four largest customers represented an aggregate of 54% (2012 – 72%) of the Company”s total sales.

Gross profit decreased $ 195, to $ 881 compared to $ 1,076 in the same period of 2012. Gross profit as a percentage of sales was 13.5% compared to 29.6% for the same period in 2012. The decrease in gross profit and percentage in the quarter is largely due to the acquisition of Adeptron which historically had a lower gross profit.

Selling, general and administrative (“SG&A) expense increased 86.0% to $ 1,408 compared to $ 757 for the same quarter in 2012. The increase was primarily due to one-time legal and professional costs associated with the terminated acquisition of MTI International, Inc. SG&A expense as a percentage of sales was 21.6%, comparable to 20.8% in 2012.

The net loss and comprehensive loss was $ 906 compared to a net income of $ 467 in the first quarter of 2012.

Adjusted EBITDA loss was $ 312 compared to an adjusted EBITDA income of $ 467 in the same period last year.

EBITDA means earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Adjusted EBITDA means earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization, stock-based compensation and restructuring costs. EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA are not recognized measures under IFRS. However, management believes that EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA as herein defined are useful supplemental measures to net income (loss), as it provides investors with an indication of cash earnings prior to debt service, capital expenditures, income taxes and other non-recurring and non-cash items. Readers should be cautioned, however, that EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA should not be construed as an alternative to net income (loss) determined in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles as an indicator of the Company”s performance or to cash flows from operating, investing and financing activities as a measure of liquidity and cash flows. The Company”s method of calculating EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA may differ from the methods by which other companies calculate EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA and, accordingly, the EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA used herein may not be comparable to measures used by other companies.

About Artaflex:

Artaflex is a specialist at delivering integrated product solutions and support to the global technology and electronics industry. As a leading global provider of complete Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS), Artaflex offers world class manufacturing facilities and global partners throughout Canada, the United States, Israel and China, allowing Artaflex to provide its customers the flexibility and scalability to competitively achieve total solutions to their present and future electronics outsourcing needs. Visit Artaflex at: www.artaflex.com.

This news release may contain forward-looking statements and information relating to such matters as expected financial performance, business prospects, technological developments, development activities and like matters. These statements involve risk and uncertainties, including but not limited to risk factors described in documents filed with regulatory authorities, such as the company”s most recently filed annual and quarterly MD&A”s. Actual results could differ materially from those projected as a result of these risks and should not be relied upon as a prediction of future events. Artaflex Inc. undertakes no obligation to update any forward-looking statements to reflect events or circumstances after the date on which such statement is made, or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events, unless required to do so under applicable law.

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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) — The Los Angeles Clippers already have a December to remember.

Sunday they can close it out in perfect fashion against a familiar foe — the same Utah team they rallied to beat 116-114 Friday night to earn their 16th straight win.

If they extend their streak by beating the Jazz at home Sunday, they will join the 1995-96 Spurs and 1971-72 Lakers as the only teams in NBA history to complete a 16-0 month.

If they fight the way they did Friday, it should be easy.

"Give Utah credit, but our guys battled back tonight," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "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."

Afterward, team leader Chris Paul could hardly be heard over the pulsating music of Jay-Z as his teammates sang along in the visitors' locker room.

Why not?

The Clippers had just pulled off a 19-point comeback in what had been a dreadful venue for them.

Paul did most of the damage, leading the Clippers (24-6) with 29 points, including the final seven, as Los Angeles pulled out the two-point victory.

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

The last time the franchise won three straight in Salt Lake City was 1979-1981 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 had 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 record streak. They 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, with 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."

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

Paul made sure he got 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 Jazz, 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.

Their reserves did most of the damage. Alec Burks and Earl Watson pushed the pace, big men Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors showed their 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 go ahead 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," Del Negro said.

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

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

DeAndre Jordan had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers, who had six players in double figures.

"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 ball game at the end. Unfortunately they got a lot of free throws."

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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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.)

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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 28, 2012 -- Updated 1044 GMT (1844 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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R&B singer Brandy engaged to music executive

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – R&B singer and actress Brandy Norwood is engaged to music executive Ryan Press, a spokeswoman for the singer said on Thursday.

This will be the first marriage for the singer, who goes by the moniker Brandy. Press is an executive with music publisher Warner/Chappell Music. A date for the wedding has not been announced publicly.

Norwood, 33, has a 10-year-old daughter with her former boyfriend, music producer Robert Smith.

Norwood has starred in numerous television and films since the 1990s and is best known as the lead character in the popular television series “Moesha” from 1996-2001 on the now-defunct channel UPN.

She also scored a hit song in 1998 with “The Boy is Mine,” a collaboration with the singer Monica, which garnered the pair a Grammy award. Brandy released her sixth studio album “Two Eleven” in October this year.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and David Brunnstrom)

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How Often Do We Use Guns in Self-Defense?

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

If you had to sum up the National Rifle Association’s response to the Newtown (Conn.) school massacre, and to any proposal for tougher gun-control laws, that one sentence from the NRA’s Dec. 21 press conference pretty much does the trick.

The gun owners’ lobby opposes restrictions on civilian acquisition and possession of firearms because, it contends, law-abiding people need guns to defend themselves. Millions of people also use guns for hunting and target-shooting. But at the core of the NRA’s argument is self-defense: the ultimate right to protect one’s ability to remain upright and breathing.

So how often do Americans use guns to defend themselves? If it almost never happens, then the NRA argument is based on a fallacy and deserves little respect in the fashioning of public policy. If, on the other hand, defensive gun use (DGU) is relatively common, then even a diehard gun-control advocate with any principles and common sense would admit that this fact must be given some weight.

Criminologists concur that the unusual prevalence of guns in America—some 300 million in private hands—makes our violent crime more lethal than that of other countries. (See, for example, the excellent When Brute Force Fails, by UCLA’s Mark Kleiman.) That’s the cost of allowing widespread civilian gun ownership: In this country, when someone is inclined to commit a mugging, shoot up a movie theater, or kill their spouse (or themselves), firearms are readily available.

One reason the gun debate seems so radioactive is that gun-control proponents refer almost exclusively to the cost of widespread gun ownership, while the NRA and its allies focus on guns as instruments and symbols of self-reliance. Very few, if any, participants in the conflict acknowledge that guns are both bad and good, depending on how they’re used. Robbers use them to stick up convenience stores, and convenience store owners use them to stop armed robbers.

If guns have a countervailing benefit—that lawful firearm owners frequently or even occasionally use guns to defend themselves and their loved ones—then determining how aggressively to curb private possession becomes a more complicated proposition.

As with everything else concerning guns in this country, the DGU question prompts divergent answers. At one end of the spectrum, the NRA cites research by Gary Kleck, an accomplished criminologist at Florida State University. Based on self-reporting by survey respondents, Kleck has extrapolated that DGU occurs more than 2 million times a year. Kleck doesn’t suggest that gun owners shoot potential antagonists that often. DGU covers various scenarios, including merely brandishing a weapon and scaring off an aggressor.

At the other end of the spectrum, gun skeptics prefer to cite the work of David Hemenway, an eminent public-health scholar at Harvard University. Hemenway, who analogizes gun violence to an epidemic and guns to the contagion, argues that Kleck’s research significantly overestimates the frequency of DGU.

The carping back and forth gets pretty technical, but the brief version is that Hemenway believes Kleck includes too many “false positives”: respondents who claim they’ve chased off burglars or rapists with guns but probably are boasting or, worse, categorizing unlawful aggressive conduct as legitimate DGU. Hemenway finds more reliable an annual federal government research project, called the National Crime Victimization Survey, which yields estimates in the neighborhood of 100,000 defensive gun uses per year. Making various reasonable-sounding adjustments, other social scientists have suggested that perhaps a figure somewhere between 250,000 and 370,000 might be more accurate.

What’s the upshot?

1. We don’t know exactly how frequently defensive gun use occurs.

2. A conservative estimate of the order of magnitude is tens of thousands of times a year; 100,000 is not a wild gun-nut fantasy.

3. Many gun owners (I am not one, but I know plenty) focus not on statistical probabilities, but on a worst-case scenario: They’re in trouble, and they want a fighting chance.

4. DGU does not answer any questions in this debate, but it’s a factor that deserves attention.

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FRO – Financial Calendar 2013

HAMILTON, BERMUDA–(Marketwire – Dec 28, 2012) – Frontline Ltd. plans to release its financial statements on the following dates in 2013:

28 February 2013 – Preliminary fourth quarter and financial year 2012 results

31 May 2013 – First quarter 2013 results

30 August 2013 – Second quarter 2013 results

29 November 2013 – Third quarter 2013 results

Please be advised that the dates are subject to change.

Frontline Ltd.
December 28, 2012

This information is subject of the disclosure requirements pursuant to section 5-12 of the Norwegian Securities Trading Act.

This announcement is distributed by Thomson Reuters on behalf of Thomson Reuters clients. The owner of this announcement warrants that:

(i) the releases contained herein are protected by copyright and other applicable laws; and

(ii) they are solely responsible for the content, accuracy and originality of the information contained therein.

Source: Frontline Ltd. via Thomson Reuters ONE


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Stock futures fall ahead of "cliff" talks restart

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stock index futures fell on Friday, putting the benchmark S&P 500 index on track for a fifth straight decline as legislators prepared to resume talks to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

President Barack Obama and lawmakers are launching a last round of talks before a New Year's cliff deadline, when a series of tax hikes and spending cuts that could send the economy into a recession are set to begin.

U.S. stocks fell for a fourth straight session on Thursday but managed to recover most of their earlier losses after the House of Representatives, in the barest sign of progress, said it would return to Washington on Sunday night to work on avoiding the cliff.

Highlighting market sensitivity to cliff headlines, on Thursday stocks fell more than 1 percent earlier after Senate Majority Harry Reid warned a deal was unlikely before the deadline.

S&P 500 futures fell 4.9 points and were below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures lost 40 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures dropped 11 points.

Economic data expected on Friday includes Chicago PMI for December at 9:45 a.m. (1445 GMT) while the National Association of Realtors issues Pending Home Sales for November at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT). Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a reading of 51 for the main PMI index and a 1 percent rise in pending home sales.

European shares edged lower as investors waited to see if a deal to avoid the U.S. "fiscal cliff" would be reached before further boosting their exposure to equities. <.eu/>

The yen fell to its lowest level in more than two years, 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.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak)

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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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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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Billy Crystal channels real-life role in “Parental Guidance”

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – After a decade away from the big screen, funnyman Billy Crystal has mined his real-life experiences as a grandfather and is back in the holiday season movie “Parental Guidance.”

The film, which opened in U.S. theaters on Christmas, stars Crystal as a recently fired baseball announcer, who agrees to watch his three grandchildren with his wife (Bette Midler), while his daughter and her husband go on a business trip.

Crystal, 64, sat down with Reuters to talk about the film, being a grandparent and why he won’t host the Oscars ceremony anymore.

Q: You have not been on the big screen in a starring role since 2002′s “Analyze That.” Did you miss making movies?

A: “I spent over four years doing my one-man Broadway show, ’700 Sundays’ and didn’t care about doing movies. I just so love being in front of live audiences. The play is more satisfying than anything. I’m not interrupted by planes flying overhead, waiting for them to light and all those gruesome slow things on a movie. But really, the last five years were spent getting this movie made.”

Q: How did “Parental Guidance” become your return to film?

A: “When I wrote the first story for this movie, my wife Janice and I babysat for our daughter Jenny while she went away with her husband. We had six days with their girls, all alone. It was an eye-opener. When you’re not used to that energy, it’s tough. On the 7th day I rested and came in to the office and said, ‘Here’s the idea for the movie.’”

Q: What was eye-opening about those six days?

A: “The eye-opener was the bible that we were given before they left town about what to say (to the kids), what to do, all the rules, don’t do this, don’t do that, this child has to be taken here. They have my respect of how they programmed their days and weeks. It’s insane what they have to do nowadays for schooling and parenting. It’s wild.”

Q: Quite a difference between your childhood and the grandkids’ childhood, right?

A: “When I was a kid growing up, it was basically ‘Go outside and play and I’ll see you at dinner.’ There was no thought that there were bad people out there. There was such a carefree wonderful trust which forced you to use your imagination, which also bonded you with the best of you, and your friends. We didn’t have that ‘inside’ thing like videogames. My only ‘inside’ thing was watching the Yankees. Otherwise everything was outside.”

Q: Speaking of the Yankees, your well-documented lifelong love of baseball is incorporated in to the film with your character being a ball-game announcer. That must have been fun to do.

A: “I love the game and I thought it was a really interesting occupation we hadn’t seen before. And a good one for me to play because I love it. I wanted my character to have something he loved doing where I didn’t have to fake it.”

Q: In being absent from the silver screen for a while, did you find that the movie-making business has changed much?

A: “The studios are so concerned with quadrants (capturing four major demographic groups of moviegoers – men, woman and those over and under 25). I’d never heard of these things when I was in my early years of making movies. You just did them. There was no interference. Now it’s a whole different ball game. They’re so worried: ‘Who’s going to come?’ Well, there’s 77 million American who are babyboomers. That’s a huge audience who wants to laugh and have a story told to them that doesn’t have bombs and spies and killing.”

Q: Does “Parental Guidance” reflect where are you now at this stage of your life?

A: “I was fortunate to be in a great romantic comedy about falling in love (1989′s ‘When Harry Met Sally’). I wrote the original story for my turning 40, ‘City Slickers’ (in 1991), which became a huge hit and a very liked movie. And now ‘Parental Guidance’ happened at this point in my life. I relate to it as a parent and a grandparent.”

Q: You will be a grandfather for the fourth time in March. What do you like best about that role?

A: “It’s so hard to understand how you can love someone so much that’s not yours, but extensions of you. I’m always so moved seeing my girls pregnant, and seeing them move on in their lives. I’m going to turn 65 on March 14. My wife’s birthday is the 16th. The baby’s due the 18th. So we’ve got maybe a straight flush happening here. That would be the greatest present of all – a healthy new baby.”

Q: Last year you hosted the Oscar ceremony for the ninth time, making you the second most-used host after the late Bob Hope. Are you gunning for his title?

A: “I’m not even close. I’ve done 9, he’s done 19 and neither one of us are doing it again. It’s hard to say, ‘Can’t wait to do it again,’ but I can wait.”

(Reporting By Zorianna Kit, Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Cynthia Osterman)

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America, Please End the Small-Minded Policy Blather

The United States is a country that likes to be taken seriously. It’s also a country that just spent upwards of an entire year and $ 5 billion on elections that achieved approximately nothing. While the politics industry was consumed by urgent, domestic concerns—can you believe that Mitt Romney wants an elevator for his cars?—one or two things were happening overseas. You know, meltdown in Europe. Political collapse in Japan. Civil war in Syria. Scandals, slowdown, and a leadership transition in China.

Sometimes it was difficult to retain focus on Clint Eastwood’s empty chair, Ann Romney’s horse, and Elizabeth Warren’s Cherokee lineage. Somehow the country rose to the challenge, taking time to weigh which was more troubling, Romney’s method of dog transport or Barack Obama’s memory of dog meat being tough when he tasted it as a boy in Indonesia.

The British say Americans lack a sense of the absurd. Not so. Consider the Oct. 22 presidential debate on foreign policy. Mostly it was about domestic policy, though the candidates did note that China, Iran, and several other foreign nations exist. Events in Europe weren’t worth mentioning, but Israel was a friend, they agreed. Discussing geostrategy, Obama explained to Romney: “We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines.” Romney was unfazed. “We will stand with Israel,” he affirmed.

The same absurdist tradition extends to fiscal policy. The country’s political class maintains it’s been grappling with fundamental questions about the limits of markets and the role of government, when it’s mostly been arguing about the top rate of income tax, a topic so narrow it’s almost beside the point. In the negotiations over the so-called fiscal cliff, real choices about fiscal ends and means have been excluded by tacit agreement, just as they were during the campaigns.

The White House talks as though adequate public provision, including an enlarged commitment to publicly supported health insurance, can be financed by a sliver of taxpayers at the top; everybody else gets something for nothing. Republicans offer a similar deal. Taxes can be driven lower by deep spending cuts (details to come) which the country would hardly notice. That’s the great debate about the country’s direction?

A more attentive political class would have noticed, first, that fiscal policy is not merely a domestic issue, and the global economy is still a dangerous place. Five years after the onset of the Great Recession, the biggest and most populous economies are stressed and many governments are flailing. As an exporter, outward investor, and record-breaking debtor, the U.S. is bound up with all of them. A worst-case scenario in Europe could send the U.S. back into recession. The same Europe mentioned only in passing in that Oct. 22 presidential debate.

The world economy is growing at between 3 percent and 4 percent—a crawl by ordinary standards. The International Monetary Fund predicts that the advanced economies will grow next year by just 1.5 percent. The euro area is back in recession, and Japan could be headed that way. The volume of world trade grew by just 3.2 percent in 2012, and the IMF expects growth of less than 5 percent next year. Compare that with the four years leading up to the crisis: Trade volumes grew by an average of nearly 9 percent annually. The Great Recession isn’t over.

Emerging and developing economies were a source of strength when the downturn began, but that phase has ended. China’s growth slowed this year with the shrinking of its export markets and after the government tightened access to credit, fearing a real estate bubble. There are hopes that Xi Jinping, freshly installed as head of the Communist Party’s fifth-generation leadership, will have a bigger appetite for economic reform than his predecessor. Still, expect setbacks. The expansion has been powered by investment in infrastructure of dubious viability, financed with short-term bank loans rather than bonds—a formula for financial frailty.

In 2012 many investors decided India’s economic reforms had stalled. Too little infrastructure remains India’s problem, as the biggest power outages in a decade illustrated. Business confidence sagged, and output slowed. In recent weeks, Manmohan Singh’s government has renewed its commitment to liberalization. We’ll see.

Brazil’s government thought it was pioneering a new model combining social inclusion and rapid growth, but the global slowdown and its own efforts to stem inflation cut growth to just 1.5 percent in 2012. Its leaders said the U.S. had started a “currency war” and was resorting to “monetary protectionism.” (It’s called quantitative easing in the north.) Growth slowed in Russia and South Africa as well. Blame weak governments and strong economic ties to Europe.

In all, the BRICs aren’t what they used to be. The developing countries in the aggregate grew by only a little more than 5 percent this year, down from over 7 percent in 2010. IMF forecasters expect little improvement in 2013.

Political paralysis plagued Japan all year. The Liberal Democratic Party’s landslide election victory this month and Shinzo Abe’s return as prime minister could make a difference. Abe has promised a dose of economic radicalism—starting with stronger fiscal and monetary stimulus. But Japan’s debt is already so vast that his budget options are few. Heavy spending on reconstruction after the earthquake buoyed growth this year. Forecasters expect it to subside again.

Britain’s experiment with “expansionary austerity” failed. Its overdeveloped financial sector, overextended mortgage borrowers, and exports to the euro area all continue to weigh on demand. With a currency of its own, the Bank of England resorted to quantitative easing and tolerated persistent overshoots of its inflation target. That helped, but growth stayed slow and the economy contracted again.

Which brings us to the central figure in our great global drama. Despite the recent lull in financial markets, the euro area still tops the list of dangers. Massive unemployment in the currency zone’s periphery and, as yet, no real prospect of recovery make political upheaval and a new round of financial alarm all too probable. Europe’s banking system is far from safe. The recent agreement to create a single bank supervisor for the euro countries is welcome but stops well short of a credible plan to deal with the main problem—which is to recapitalize distressed banks without driving peripheral-country governments to insolvency.

A big new setback in Europe is all too possible. It would shrink American export markets further and could trigger a new round of panic in financial markets. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has tried to influence developments in Europe, Japan, and the big emerging economies, but these efforts to persuade haven’t worked. What the U.S. should do instead is use its own financial resilience as a beacon of reassurance to financial markets.

In practical terms, what does that require? Like it or not, fiscal policy is crucial. On current policies, America’s net federal debt would rise from roughly 70 percent in 2012 to more than 90 percent after 10 years and roughly 200 percent by 2040. Thereafter it rises literally off the charts. The bargaining position that the White House brought to the fiscal-cliff talks is essentially its budget from last spring, which proposes to stabilize the debt ratio at a level a little higher than now: between 75 percent and 80 percent.

The experience of other countries suggests that stabilizing the debt at such a high level isn’t enough. Japan has shown it’s possible to run net debt as high as 135 percent of gross domestic product—the ratio estimated for 2012—without provoking a bond-market backlash. For that, though, thank the country’s captive savers, a cultural legacy the U.S. can’t count on. And whatever Abe, the incoming prime minister, may say, Japan’s space for further fiscal stimulus is close to zero. The lesson is that chronic inattention to fiscal control eventually kills fiscal flexibility. In the next crisis, you’ll need it and it won’t be there.

In Europe, put Greece aside as an outlier; Italy, one of the region’s biggest and richest economies, is more to the point. Its ability to borrow has been called into question at a debt ratio not much higher (and with a flatter trajectory) than America’s. The debt ratio of Spain, another distressed euro-area borrower, has been lower than America’s throughout. Neither Italy nor Spain is able to print currency to service its debts.

Just where the debt limit is for an economy attached to a mint, such as the U.S., is impossible to say—until the economy encounters it, a discovery best avoided. The real lesson from the rest of the world is not about exact debt-ratio thresholds, but that fiscal space eventually runs out, and when it does you’re in trouble.

Look at it this way: The fiscal response to the Great Recession increased the U.S. debt ratio by some 35 percentage points of GDP between 2007 and 2012. Let’s suppose, like the White House, that the fiscal stimulus was money well spent. The next economic calamity would presumably call for another robust intervention. Can the country plausibly hope to increase its debt by another 20 percentage points of GDP, let alone another 35 percentage points, starting at a ratio of 80 percent?

America’s goal should be to bring the debt ratio back down to the point at which it can safely contemplate another big fiscal intervention if it needs to make one. That sounds hard. It will demand a different kind of discussion than the one Washington is presently having.

Yet it’s feasible. Policymakers even have a blueprint: the plan designed by the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, a panel the president summoned—and then ignored. It proposed a fiscal adjustment roughly twice as powerful as the one being framed in the fiscal-cliff talks. This would stabilize the debt ratio by the middle of this decade, then reduce it to 60 percent of GDP by 2024 and 40 percent by 2037. The commission showed that if the government looks for savings in every category of spending, the cuts aren’t fierce. Broadening the country’s depleted tax base by closing loopholes and exemptions (including preferences for investment income) could raise ample revenue without higher marginal rates.

Naturally, there’s more to economic policy than the budget. A demanding global policy agenda also needs American attention and leadership. After the crash, there was genuine international cooperation. The resurgence of protectionism many predicted as the global contraction got worse never happened. Central banks coordinated their responses effectively.

On the other hand, governments pursued financial reform mostly at the national level. Defects in the multinational Basel process for regulating bank capital helped cause the crisis in the first place, and there’s no substitute for effective coordination in this area. America must take the lead. Trade protection didn’t explode after 2008, but the Doha Round of new liberalization is defunct. The U.S. should look to revive it. Worldwide, efforts to insure against the dangers of climate change are flagging. Here too, American leadership, disgracefully overdue, is needed.

At home, suppressing the instinct to obsess over points of disagreement, Washington could make common cause over education and skills. A little less navel-gazing might scare the town straight. For decades after 1945, the U.S. increased the proportion of its workforce with a college education faster than anywhere else, and the economy reaped the benefits. That advantage is at an end. By the early 2000s a little over 40 percent of Americans aged 25-34 had post-secondary education, about the same proportion as those aged 55-64. In other advanced economies, the younger generation is typically much better educated than people approaching retirement—and in a dozen or so countries, rates of higher education for 25- to 34-year-olds have surpassed America’s.

The U.S. still has priceless assets in the vibrancy of its private sector and its culture of innovation and risk-taking, but its skills and education deficits are a big and worsening concern—holding back growth, contributing to income inequality, and adding to poverty that’s already high by advanced-economy standards. Immigration reform offers a partial short-term remedy. Longer term, education policy requires an overhaul.

Policies like these needn’t divide the country. They aren’t a matter of Left or Right. Members of both parties backed Simpson-Bowles and support liberal trade and pro-skills immigration reform. Prominent Democrats and Republicans advocate far-reaching education reform. Scaling these ideas up to national policy, though, requires a broader consensus and the willingness to concentrate on practical points of agreement, rather than totems of doctrinal correctness.

Washington can do better than that. Consensus is a lost art that many voters hoped President Obama would rediscover. He achieved a lot in his first term—the health-care reform he’d promised in the 2008 campaign and a fiscal stimulus that likely avoided an economic catastrophe—but he didn’t mend America’s broken, inward-looking, small-minded politics. Starting now, he gets another chance.

Businessweek.com — Top News

Title Post: America, Please End the Small-Minded Policy Blather

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Mortgage rates inch downward at year’s end

Mortgage rates don’t seem poised to start the new year at record lows, but they’ll be close enough to the bottom.

fe202  mortgage analysis lg Mortgage rates inch downward at years end30 year fixed rate mortgage – 3 month trend

30 year fixed rate mortgage – 3 month trend

The benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.59 percent from 3.62 percent, according to the Bankrate.com national survey of large lenders. The mortgages in this week’s survey had an average total of 0.34 discount and origination points. One year ago, the mortgage index stood at 4.21 percent; four weeks ago, it was 3.52 percent.

The benchmark 15-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 2.87 percent from 2.89 percent. The benchmark 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage fell to 2.77 percent from 2.78 percent.

Mortgage rates reached record lows numerous times in 2012. The 30-year fixed, which fell below 4 percent for the first time in mid-May, averaged 3.88 percent in 2012. The average for the 5/1 ARM was 2.92 percent.

Will borrowers continue to enjoy the low-rate environment in 2013? It depends on your definition of low.

“Who knows if we’ll hit new all-time lows? But they should be low enough to keep (refinances) and purchases humming along,” says John Stearns, a mortgage banker at American Fidelity Mortgage Services in Mequon, Wis.

Results of Bankrate.com’s Dec. 26, 2012, weekly national survey of large lenders and the effect on monthly payments for a $ 165,000 loan:

A forecast by the Mortgage Bankers Association estimates the 30-year fixed rate will stay below 4 percent at least through the first half of the new year.

“We may see a spike upward in rates if the ‘fiscal cliff’ is avoided before the end of the year,” Stearns says. “I expect that to be short-lived, however. The (Federal Reserve) buying and the euro crisis will keep rates low.”

The Fed is expected to continue to spend billions per month on purchases of mortgage and Treasury bonds to help rates stay low.

The low rates have been crucial help for the recovering housing market. Home prices rose 4.3 percent in October compared to a year ago, according to the closely watched Case-Shiller home-price index released Wednesday.

The index of 20 major cities dropped 0.1 percent in October from a month earlier, but the fall was expected because prices are usually lower in autumn and winter.

“Looking over this report, and considering other data on housing starts and sales, it is clear that the housing recovery is gathering strength,” says David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Higher year-over-year price gains plus strong performances in the Southwest and California, regions that suffered during the housing bust, confirm that housing is now contributing to the economy.”

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Title Post: Mortgage rates inch downward at year’s end

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