Storm over Depardieu's 'pathetic' move






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed Russian citizenship on actor Gérard Depardieu

  • For Depardieu, a public war of words erupted, with many in France disgusted by his move

  • Depardieu more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit, says Agnes Poirier

  • Majority of French people disapprove of his action but can't help loving him, she adds




Agnes Poirier is a French journalist and political analyst who contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and TV in the UK, U.S., France, Italy. Follow her on Twitter.


Paris (CNN) -- Since the revelation on the front page of daily newspaper Libération, on December 11, with a particularly vicious editorial talking about France's national treasure as a "former genius actor," Gérard Depardieu's departure to Belgium, where he bought a property just a mile from the French border, has deeply divided and saddened France. Even more so since, as we have learnt this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed the actor Russian citizenship.


Back in mid-December, the French media operated along political lines: the left-wing press such as Libération couldn't find strong enough words to describe Depardieu's "desertion" while right-wing publications such as Le Figaro, slightly uneasy at the news, preferred to focus on President François Hollande's punishing taxes which allegedly drove throngs of millionaires to seek tax asylum in more fiscally lenient countries such as Belgium or Britain. Le Figaro stopped short of passing moral judgement though. Others like satirical weekly Charlie hebdo, preferred irony. Its cover featured a cartoon of the rather rotund-looking Depardieu in front of a Belgian flag with the headline: "Can Belgium take the world's entire load of cholesterol?" Ouch.


Quickly though, it became quite clear that Depardieu was not treated in the same way as other famous French tax exiles. French actor Alain Delon is a Swiss resident as is crooner-rocker Johnny Halliday, and many other French stars and sportsmen ensure they reside for under six months in France in order to escape being taxed here on their income and capital. Their move has hardly ever been commented on. And they certainly never had to suffer the same infamy.



Agnes Poirier

Agnes Poirier



For Depardieu, a public war of words erupted. It started with the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and many members of his government, showing their disdain, and talking of Depardieu's "pathetic move." In response the outraged actor penned an open letter to the French PM in which he threatened to give back his French passport.


The backlash was not over. Fellow thespian Phillipe Torreton fired the first salvo against Depardieu in an open letter published in Libération, insulting both Depardieu's protruding physique and lack of patriotism: "So you're leaving the ship France in the middle of a storm? What did you expect, Gérard? You thought we would approve? You expected a medal, an academy award from the economy ministry? (...)We'll get by without you." French actress Catherine Deneuve felt she had to step in to defend Depardieu. In another open letter published by Libération, she evoked the darkest hours of the French revolution. Before flying to Rome to celebrate the New Year, Depardieu gave an interview to Le Monde in which he seemed to be joking about having asked Putin for Russian citizenship. Except, it wasn't a joke.


In truth, French people have felt touched to their core by Depardieu's gesture. He, more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit. He has been Cyrano, he has been Danton; he, better than most, on screen and off, stands for what it means to be French: passionate, sensitive, theatrical, and grandiose. Ambiguous too, and weak in front of temptations and pleasures.



In truth, French people have felt touched to their core by Depardieu's gesture. He, more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit
Hugh Miles



For more than two weeks now, #Depardieu has been trending on French Twitter. Surveys have showed France's dilemma: half the French people understand him but there are as many who think that paying one's taxes is a national duty. In other words, a majority of French people disapprove of his action but can't help loving the man.


Putin's move in granting the actor Russian citizenship has exacerbated things. And first of all, it is a blow to Hollande who, it was revealed, had a phone conversation with Depardieu on New Year's Day. The Elysées Palace refused to communicate on the men's exchange. A friend of the actor declared that Depardieu complained about being so reviled by the press and that he was leaving, no matter what.


If, in their hearts, the French don't quite believe Depardieu might one day settle in Moscow and abandon them, they feel deeply saddened by the whole saga. However, with France's former sex symbol Brigitte Bardot declaring that she too might ask Putin for Russian citizenship to protest against the fate of zoo elephants in Lyon, it looks as if the French may prefer to laugh the whole thing off. Proof of this: the last trend on French Twitter is #IWantRussianCitizenship.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Agnes Poirier.






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LA sisters Haim lead hopes of pop revival in 2013






LONDON (Reuters) – Three sisters from Los Angeles producing fun and infectious folk-pop could be the tonic that chart music needs to lift it from what some experts are calling a creative slump.


As music channels, journalists and record labels step up their search for the “next big thing” in 2013, the Fleetwood Mac-inspired Haim sisters have appeared in a growing number of lists produced at the start of each year.






They include MTV‘s “Brand New for 2013″ survey, the band topped BBC’s “Sound of 2013″ poll on Friday decided by over 200 experts and also appeared on the cover of music magazine NME’s new music edition out this week.


Matt Wilkinson, New Bands Editor at NME, was upbeat about indie music in 2013 because up-and-coming acts like Haim had the attitude to succeed unlike more “reluctant” stars of the past.


“The difference (from recent times) is that they want to be pop stars, want to be on the front of NME, want to create their own scene and want to be No. 1,” he told Reuters. “It’s been quite a long time since bands really wanted to do that.”


Haim is made up of Este, Alana and Danielle, all in their early- to mid-20s – as energetic as they are photogenic and signed to the Polydor label in Britain.


Dorian Lynskey of the Guardian praised their “fantastic, inventive songs”, and said they were part of a revival from “the current sickly condition of chart pop” dominated by familiar faces like Rihanna and producers David Guetta and Calvin Harris.


RETURN OF GUITAR HEROES?


Sharing NME’s new music cover with Haim is Palma Violets, a London-based indie quartet also longlisted on the BBC’s annual survey whose past winners include chart queen Adele and 50 Cent.


The death or otherwise of indie guitar rock has been discussed almost obsessively by the British music press over the years, but George Ergatoudis, head of music on BBC’s Radio 1, bravely predicted: “Rock and alternative guitar acts are going to find public taste swinging their way” in 2013.


If that is true, those set to benefit include two Birmingham acts – quartets Peace and Swim Deep – two London bands – female post-punk foursome Savages and alternative rockers Bastille, and two Irish acts, Kodaline and Little Green Cars.


As in previous years, one area with the biggest potential for topping charts around the globe is the single female act.


Whether or not inspired by the likes of Gaga, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and beyond, a new crop of female performers-with-attitude has emerged ready to take on the world.


Creating the biggest stir so far is Angel Haze, a U.S. rapper whose sexually explicit lyrics and self assertive manner have put her on a path to stardom, helped by the success of her EP “Reservation” which draws on her Native American heritage.


“I will say to anyone’s face I am the best out there right now,” she said in a recent interview, with typical bluntness.


At the other end of the musical spectrum comes Gabrielle Aplin, a singer-songwriter who built up an online following by posting acoustic covers before signing to a major label.


Underlining the increasing crossover between merchandising and musical success, Aplin has already scored a No. 1 single hit in Britain with her cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love” which was used in a John Lewis commercial.


Somewhere in between falls Laura Mvula, whose powerful voice has earned comparisons from acts as diverse as Billie Holiday and Adele, and MTV has selected Ebony Day as its unsigned artist to watch this year.


There are precious few single male artists on the radar in early 2013.


Tom Odell appears on MTV‘s Brand New list, the BBC’s Sound Of survey and won the BRITs Critics’ Choice award for up-and-coming talent, while London rapper K Koke is included on Digital Spy’s “Ones to Watch” column and MTV.


ACCENT ON AUTHENTICITY


Duos are de rigueur in 2013 with British brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure delighting with their house music including new single “Latch”, and MS MR from New York the enigmatic pair who have music critics drooling.


“Prepare to be blown away,” wrote Paul Lester in the Guardian. “This duo could be the first superstars of chillwave.”


London electro pop pair AlunaGeorge have been championed by the same newspaper and were runner-up in BBC’s poll this year.


The surveys have a patchy track record in predicting chart success, and are crammed with dozens of acts already signed to record labels and so well on the way to success.


But they are closely watched by a music industry facing falling sales and desperate to spot the next Rihanna, Lady Gaga or One Direction.


While no one is suggesting the chart reign of Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift is over, there is growing optimism about a new crop of acts who have commercial ambition as well as musical ability and originality.


“I think across all genres there is a thirst from the audience for authenticity, whether it’s from folk acts or rappers or dance artists,” said David Mogendorff, digital media director of talent and music at MTV International.


He was involved in drawing up the music channel’s “Brand New” list of 10 artists destined for greatness overseen by Anna Karatziva, head of talent and music at MTV UK. Voting for the winner is open at www.mtv.co.uk/brandnew from January 14-31.


Outside Britain and North America, K-pop sensation Psy will seek to build on his global hit “Gangnam Style” which became the first video on YouTube to reach one billion views last month.


Whether he can prove more than a one-hit wonder in the West remains to be seen, while other South Korean acts including Girls’ Generation are gearing up to follow in his footsteps.


NME has singled out Australia’s indie-dance duo Jagwar Ma for special attention, while Russian-German dance music producer Zedd has begun to make inroads in the U.S. market.


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


Music News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Obama says U.S. can’t afford more showdowns over debt, deficits






HONOLULU (Reuters) – Fresh from the long legislative fight to prevent a “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts, President Barack Obama warned on Saturday that the United States could not afford further budget showdowns this year or in the future.


Obama, who returned to Hawaii for a family vacation shortly after the House of Representatives passed a compromise bill on Tuesday, said in his weekly radio and Internet address that the new law was just one step toward fixing the country’s fiscal and economic problems.






“We still need to do more to put Americans back to work while also putting this country on a path to pay down its debt, and our economy can’t afford more protracted showdowns or manufactured crises along the way,” he said in the address, broadcast on Saturday.


“Because even as our businesses created 2 million new jobs last year – including 168,000 new jobs last month – the messy brinkmanship in Congress made business owners more uncertain and consumers less confident.”


Government data released on Friday showed the U.S. unemployment rate remained at 7.8 percent in December.


Lawmakers in the Senate and the House passed legislation this week that raised tax rates for the wealthiest Americans while making Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class permanent.


It was a victory for Obama, who campaigned for re-election largely on a promise to achieve that goal.


Republicans have indicated that they are ready for another fight over the U.S. debt ceiling. Representative Dave Camp, delivering his party’s weekly address, warned, at least indirectly, that they would expect spending cuts in return for raising the ceiling again.


“Many of our Democrat colleagues just don’t seem to get it. Throughout the fiscal cliff discussions, the president and the Democrats who control Washington repeatedly refused to take any meaningful steps to make Washington live within its means,” Camp said.


“As we turn our attention toward future discussions on the debt limit and the budget, we must identify responsible ways to tackle Washington‘s wasteful spending.”


Obama repeated that he would not negotiate on the debt ceiling, hoping to avoid the 2011 conflict that led to a credit rating downgrade and pushed the country close to default.


“If Congress refuses to give the United States the ability to pay its bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy could be catastrophic,” he said. “Our families and our businesses cannot afford that dangerous game again.”


Obama said he was willing to do more on deficit reduction and suggested that the hike in tax rates for wealthy Americans was not the last tax change he expected to make.


“Spending cuts must be balanced with more reforms to our tax code,” he said. “The wealthiest individuals and the biggest corporations shouldn’t be able to take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren’t available to most Americans.”


(Editing by Christopher Wilson)


Economy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Avatar Energy Ltd. Receives Final TSXV Approval With Respect to the Sale of Its Pembina Strawberry Creek Properties








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"Cliff" concerns give way to earnings focus

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investors' "fiscal cliff" worries are likely to give way to more fundamental concerns, like earnings, as fourth-quarter reports get under way next week.


Financial results, which begin after the market closes on Tuesday with aluminum company Alcoa , are expected to be only slightly better than the third-quarter's lackluster results. As a warning sign, analyst current estimates are down sharply from what they were in October.


That could set stocks up for more volatility following a week of sharp gains that put the Standard & Poor's 500 index <.spx> on Friday at the highest close since December 31, 2007. The index also registered its biggest weekly percentage gain in more than a year.


Based on a Reuters analysis, Europe ranks among the chief concerns cited by companies that warned on fourth-quarter results. Uncertainty about the region and its weak economic outlook were cited by more than half of the 25 largest S&P 500 companies that issued warnings.


In the most recent earnings conference calls, macroeconomic worries were cited by 10 companies while the U.S. "fiscal cliff" was cited by at least nine as reasons for their earnings warnings.


"The number of things that could go wrong isn't so high, but the magnitude of how wrong they could go is what's worrisome," said Kurt Winters, senior portfolio manager for Whitebox Mutual Funds in Minneapolis.


Negative-to-positive guidance by S&P 500 companies for the fourth quarter was 3.6 to 1, the second worst since the third quarter of 2001, according to Thomson Reuters data.


U.S. lawmakers narrowly averted the "fiscal cliff" by coming to a last-minute agreement on a bill to avoid steep tax hikes this weeks -- driving the rally in stocks -- but the battle over further spending cuts is expected to resume in two months.


Investors also have seen a revival of worries about Europe's sovereign debt problems, with Moody's in November downgrading France's credit rating and debt crises looming for Spain and other countries.


"You have a recession in Europe as a base case. Europe is still the biggest trading partner with a lot of U.S. companies, and it's still a big chunk of global capital spending," said Adam Parker, chief U.S. equity strategist at Morgan Stanley in New York.


Among companies citing worries about Europe was eBay , whose chief financial officer, Bob Swan, spoke of "macro pressures from Europe" in the company's October earnings conference call.


REVENUE WORRIES


One of the biggest worries voiced about earnings has been whether companies will be able to continue to boost profit growth despite relatively weak revenue growth.


S&P 500 revenue fell 0.8 percent in the third quarter for the first decline since the third quarter of 2009, Thomson Reuters data showed. Earnings growth for the quarter was a paltry 0.1 percent after briefly dipping into negative territory.


On top of that, just 40 percent of S&P 500 companies beat revenue expectations in the third quarter, while 64.2 percent beat earnings estimates, the Thomson Reuters data showed.


For the fourth quarter, estimates are slightly better but are well off estimates for the quarter from just a few months earlier. S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.8 percent while revenue is expected to have gone up 1.9 percent.


Back in October, earnings growth for the fourth quarter was forecast up 9.9 percent.


In spite of the cautious outlooks, some analysts still see a good chance for earnings beats this reporting period.


"The thinking is you need top line growth for earnings to continue to expand, and we've seen the market defy that," said Mike Jackson, founder of Denver-based investment firm T3 Equity Labs.


Based on his analysis, energy, industrials and consumer discretionary are the S&P sectors most likely to beat earnings expectations in the upcoming season, while consumer staples, materials and utilities are the least likely to beat, Jackson said.


Sounding a positive note on Friday, drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co said it expects profit in 2013 to increase by more than Wall Street had been forecasting, primarily due to cost controls and improved productivity.


(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Manziel leads A&M to Cotton Bowl rout of Sooners


ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — At one point early in the Cotton Bowl, with "Johnny B. Goode" blaring through the stadium speakers, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel peeked up at the accompanying highlights on the huge video board hanging over the field.


Texas A&M's exciting dual-threat quarterback known as Johnny Football sure puts on a show worth watching.


"Best player I've ever played. He does so many good things. He's got magic," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "He'll have a chance to win four (Heismans) if he stays healthy."


Manziel tiptoed down the sideline for a 23-yard TD on the game's opening drive and went on to an FBS bowl record for quarterbacks with 229 yards rushing on 17 carries. He also set a Cotton Bowl record with 516 total yards as the 10th-ranked Aggies beat No. 12 Oklahoma 41-13 on Friday night to wrap up their first SEC season.


With first-year coach Kevin Sumlin and their young star quarterback after leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, the Aggies (11-2) overwhelming won the only bowl game matching teams from those two power conferences. They won 11 games for the first time since 1998, their only Big 12 title season.


The Aggies never trailed while winning their last six games and became the first SEC team with more than 7,000 total yards — 7,261 after gaining 633 in the Cotton Bowl.


"It's huge for this program, and for me especially, with the kind of woes A&M has had over the past decade or however long it's been since they had 11 wins," Manziel said. "For us to get up tonight and watch them battle back, it's good when we strike first. That's what we like to do. It was good to do that and not really look back."


Texas A&M led by only a point at halftime, but scored on its first three drives of the second half — on drives of 91 and 89 yards before Manziel threw a short pass to Ryan Swope on fourth-and-5 that turned into a 33-yard TD and a 34-13 lead.


Oklahoma (10-3), which like the Aggies entered the game with a five-game winning streak, went three-and-out on its first three drives after halftime in what was quarterback Landry Jones' 50th and final career start.


"Feel just disappointed that he's going out this way, getting beat like that," Sooners center Gabe Ikard said.


Jones completed 35 of 48 passes for 278 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He won 39 games and three bowls for the Sooners, in a career that started on the same field in the 2009 season opener when he replaced injured Heisman winner Sam Bradford in the first college game at Cowboys Stadium.


But Jones missed out becoming only the third NCAA quarterback to go 4-0 as a starter in bowl games.


"It was obvious tonight that we didn't play the way we should have played," said Jones, whose frustration was evident when he yelled at a teammate after a failed fourth-down play. "We couldn't run it. We couldn't throw it. It happens, you know."


SEC teams have won the last five Cotton Bowls, all against Big 12 teams, and nine out of 10. That included Texas A&M's loss to LSU only two years ago.


It had been six weeks since the Aggies played their last game, and four weeks since Manziel became the first freshman to win college football's highest individual award.


Manziel got it started with an electrifying 24-yard run on third down on the opening drive. Then on a third-and-10, Manziel rolled to his left and took off, juked around a defender and got near the sideline. He tiptoed to stay in bounds and punctuated his 23-yard score with a high-step over the pylon for a quick lead.


Officials reviewed the play to make sure he did stay in bounds, and the replays showed clearly that he did.


"There is too much talk about how you perform after the Heisman and about the layoff and all of that," said Manziel, who set an SEC record with 4,600 total yards in the regular season. "There wasn't anything holding us back. No rust, there was no nothing. We played as a unit."


The chants of "S-E-C! S-E-C!" began after Swope's TD catch with 4 minutes left in the third quarter. They got louder and longer after that, and Manziel spread both his arms out and ran off the field like he was flying.


Oklahoma was in the Cotton Bowl for only the second time. It was the first bowl matchup between the former Big 12 rivals, but the 17th consecutive season they have played each other.


The Sooners had won 11 of 13 in the series since Bob Stoops became their coach. That included a 77-0 Oklahoma win in 2003 that was the most-lopsided loss in Texas A&M history.


Sumlin was the A&M offensive coordinator in 2002 when the Aggies upset the top-ranked Sooners. The next year, Sumlin was hired by Stoops as an assistant, and he stayed there five seasons before going to Houston as head coach and now the Aggies.


"I think tonight was really indicative of this season," Sumlin said. "It's one of the teams I thought in the country that truly got better every week."


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Myanmar: Evolution, not revolution




Tourists walk around the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon in April. The tourism industry is set for expansion.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Myanmar is undergoing incremental change, welcomed by all, says Parag Khanna

  • But he says people still tread lightly, careful not to overstep or demand too much

  • Myanmar has survived succession of natural and man-made ravages, Khanna adds

  • With sanctions lifted, foreign investment is now pouring in from Western nations




Editor's note: Parag Khanna is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and Senior Fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. His books include "The Second World," "How to Run the World," and "Hybrid Reality."


Yangon, Myanmar (CNN) -- Call it a case for evolution instead of revolution. While the Arab world continues in the throes of violence and uncertainty, Myanmar is undergoing incremental change -- and almost everyone seems to want it that way.


The government is lightening up: holding elections, freeing political prisoners, abolishing censorship, legalizing protests, opening to investment and tourists and welcoming back exiles. But the people still tread lightly, careful not to overstep or demand too much. Still, the consensus is clear: Change in Myanmar is "irreversible."


Read more: Aung San Suu Kyi and the power of unity


As the British Raj's jungle frontier, Burma was a key Asian battleground resisting the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia during World War II. As with many post-colonial countries, the euphoria of independence and democracy in 1948 gave way in just over a decade to the 1962 coup in which General Ne Win nationalized the economy and abolished most institutions except the army.



Parag Khanna

Parag Khanna



Non-alignment gave way to isolationism. Like Syria or Uzbekistan, Myanmar became an ancient Silk Road passageway that almost voluntarily choked itself off, choosing the unique path of a Buddhist state conducting genocide, slavery, and human trafficking.


Watch: Myanmar in grip of economic revolution


The military junta began its increasingly cozy rapproachment with Deng Xiaoping's China in the 1970s, just as China was opening to the world, and used cash from its Golden Triangle drug-running operations to pay for Chinese weapons.


Mass protests, crackdowns and another coup in 1988 led to a rebranding of the junta as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and the country's official renaming as the Union of Myanmar.


Terrorized, starving and homeless: Myanmar's Rohingya still forgotten


The 1990 elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a majority of the seats, were annulled by the SLORC, which continued to rule until 2011 when it was formally disbanded. Most international sanctions on Myanmar have now been lifted.






Read more: Myanmar: Is now a good time to go?


In just the past few years, Myanmar has survived a succession of natural and man-made ravages, from the brutal crackdown on the Saffron Revolution of 2007 (led by Buddhist monks but more widely supported in protest against rising fuel prices and economic mismanagement), to Cyclone Nargis (which killed an estimated 200,000 people in 2008) to civil wars between the government's army and ethnic groups such as the Kachin in the north and Shan and Karen in the east, and communal violence between the Muslim Rohingya (ethnic Bengalis) and Buddhist Rakhine in the west.


There are still approximately 150,000 Karen refugees in Thailand (and over 300,000 total refugees on the Thai-Burmese border) and more than 100,000 displaced Rohinya living in camps in Sittwe. So difficult is holding Myanmar together that even Aung San Suu Kyi, who helps lead the national reconciliation process, ironically advocated the use of the army (which kept her under house arrest for almost two decades) to pacify the rebellions.


Though sectarian conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine underscores the Myanmar's tenuous search for national unity, the genuine efforts at religious pluralism are reminiscent of neighboring India: Every religion is officially recognized, and days are given off for observance. Surrounding Yangon's downtown City Hall is not only the giant Sule Pagoda but also a mosque, synagogue, church and Jain temple. The roundabout is therefore a symbol of the country's diversity -- but also the place where protesters flock when the government doesn't live up to promises.


Q&A: What's behind sectarian violence in Myanmar?


Scarred from decades of oppressive and ideological rule and still beset by conflict, it is therefore against all odds that Myanmar would become the most talked about frontier market of the moment, a top Christmas holiday destination and a case study in democratic transitions. Myanmar's political scene is now a vibrant but cacophonous discourse involving the still-powerful army; upstart parliament; repatriated civilian advisers; flourishing civil society, including human rights groups, ambitious business community, the Buddhist religious community, and a feisty media (especially online).


The parliament is pushing for accountability in telecom and energy contracts, and its speaker, Shwe Mann, is already maneuvering to challenge the chairman of his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) -- current president Thein Sein -- in the 2015 elections.


In the meantime, however, the establishment in Yangon and the new capital of Napyidaw need to focus much more on building capacity. Thein Sein, who traded in his uniform for indigenous attire in 2011, has reshuffled the Cabinet to make room for functional experts in the energy and economic portfolios. He's even spearheaded an anti-corruption drive, admitting recently that Myanmar's "governance falls well below international standards." By many accounts he is also very open to advice on investment and other reforms.


He will need it, as Myanmar faces crucial tests of its international credibility in the coming years. In 2013, Myanmar will play host to the World Economic Forum (WEF) as well as the Southeast Asian Games. In 2014 it will chair the ASEAN regional group, and in 2015 it is expected to enter a new ASEAN Free Trade Area.


The military's power is still pervasive, placing it somewhere on the spectrum between Indonesia, where military influence has been rolled back, and Pakistan, where the military still dominates. On the streets, it's often difficult to know who is in charge.


One numerological fetish led to the driving side being unilaterally changed, making Myanmar the rare place where the steering wheel is (mostly) on the right, and cars drive (mostly) on the right. At least a dozen official and private newspapers (though private daily papers are not allowed yet) are on offer from meandering street hawkers, while you inch through Yangon's increasingly dense daily traffic jams.


At this time of year, visitors to Burma enjoy crisp, smoky morning air and dry, starry nights. Yangon is undergoing a construction boom, with faded colonial embassies turned into bustling banks, the national independence column being refurbished and redesigned with a park, and tycoons building columned mansions near downtown -- and seeking Buddhist blessings by pledging lavish donations for the construction of even more monasteries and pagodas.


By 2020, the population of Yangon could easily double from the current 5 million, at which point it may look like a mix of Calcutta and Kuala Lumpur.


Thant Myint-U, the grandson of former U.N. Secretary-General U Thant and noted historian of modern Burma, now wears several hats related to ethnic reconciliation, foreign donor trust funds and urban conservation. He says that as foreign aid flows grow from trickles into a flood, they have to be systematically focused on sustainable employment creation and infrastructure. USAID has pledged to spend more than $150 million in Myanmar in the next three years.



Myanmar's opening, however, is strongly motivated by an anti-Chinese sentiment that is part of a much wider global blowback against China's commercial and strategic encroachment
Parag Khanna



Outside of Yangon, the pace of Burmese society slows to a timeless pace -- as do Internet connections. On village roads, cycle rickshaws and monks with parasols amble by fruit vendors and car part stalls. Whether at the Dhammayazika Pagoda in Bagan or Mandalay Hill in that city, locals enjoy watching sunrises and sunsets as much as tourists.


Traveling around Myanmar, one observes the paradox of a country that has massive potential yet still needs just about everything. Yangon's vegetable market is a maze of tented alleys overflowing with cabbage, pineapples, eggplant and flowers, but they are still transported by wheelbarrows and bicycles. Ox-drawn ploughs still power farming in much of the country, meaning agricultural output of rice, beans and other staples could grow immensely through mechanization.


Similarly, the British-era light-rail loop circling Yangon takes about three hours to ride once around, with no linking bus services into downtown. But with cars already clogging the city, a major transport overhaul is essential. The communications sector actually needs to be re-invented. At present, the country's Internet and mobile phone penetration are only just growing; both are still governed by India's 1886 Telegraph Act. Mobile penetration is only 3 million but could easily grow to 30 million (half the population) within the next couple of years, as the price of SIM cards come down (so far from $2,000 to about $200), and foreign telecoms are allowed in to provide data coverage.


With sanctions lifted, foreign investment is now pouring in from Western nations, in addition to the players who have been making inroads for years such as China, Thailand and Singapore. The paradox, however, is that Myanmar lacks the infrastructure (physical and institutional) to absorb all the investor interest.


Major nations have thus focused on special economic zones that they themselves effectively run. The way Japan has moved into Myanmar, one would think that its World War II imperialism has been forgotten. After their major bet on the Thilawa special economic zone south of Yangon, Japanese contractors have plans to deepen the Yangon River's estuary so that cargo ships can sail directly up to the city's shores and offload more containers of cars that are already being briskly snapped up at busy dealerships.


Besides natural gas and agriculture, everyone agrees that tourism will comprise an ever-larger share of the country's GDP. Especially with much of the country off-limits to foreigners due to security restrictions and the military's economic operations, tourists already clog all existing suitable hotels in Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay, meaning a massive upgrade is needed in the hospitality sector.


Annual tourist visits are climbing 25% annually to an estimated 400,000 for 2012. Daily flights arrive packed from around the region, with longer-haul routes beginning from as far afield as Istanbul and Doha.


Still, Myanmar is a traveler's dream come true. In Bagan, you can walk or take a sunrise jog around countless pagodas that feel like they haven't been touched in 800 years -- some actually haven't. There is also the sacred and enchanting Golden Rock; the pristine beaches of Ngwe Saung, which rival the best of Thailand and the Philippines; the temperate climate of Inle Lake; the Himalayan foothills near Putao in far northern Kachin state where one can trek; the rich dynastic history of Mandalay; and the languorous Irrawaddy River cruises that harken to George Orwell's "Burmese Days."


Yangon has a pleasant charm and gentle energy, with vast gardens and riverside walks, the grandeur of centuries-old monuments such as the Shwedegon Pagoda, a fast-growing cultural scene of art galleries and music performances, and a melting pot population of all Myanmar's tribes as well as industrious overseas Indians and Chinese, who make up 5% of the nation's population.


Mandalay in particular is where one feels the depth of China's demographic penetration into Myanmar, owing not only to recent decades of commercial expansion from gems trading to real estate but also centuries of seasonal migrations across the rugged natural border with Yunnan province. Some have begun to call the Shan region "Yunnan South."


The combination of the Saffron Revolution, civil strife, sanctions, its economic lag behind the rest of ASEAN, and the status of becoming a captive resource supplier to China all played crucial roles in Myanmar's opening. China has traditionally been a kingmaker in isolated and sanctioned countries and well-placed to capitalize on the infrastructural and extractive needs of emerging economies as well.


For China, Myanmar represents a crucial artery to evade the "Malacca trap" represented by its dependence on shipping transit through the Straits of Malacca. In 2011 China was still far and away the largest foreign investor in Myanmar, bringing in $5 billion (of a total of $9 billion) across their 2,000-kilometer (1250-mile)-long border. The massive ongoing investments include 63 hydropower projects, a 2,400-kilometer (1500-mile) Sittwe-to-Kunming oil pipeline from the Bay of Bengal and a proposed gas pipeline to China's Yunnan beginning at Myanmar's Ramree Island -- not to mention an entire military outfitted with Chinese tanks, helicopters, boats and planes.


Myanmar's opening, however, is strongly motivated by an anti-Chinese sentiment that is part of a much wider global blowback against its commercial and strategic encroachment. Even well-kept generals are fundamentally Burmese nationalists and awoke to the predicament of total economic and strategic dependence on China. The government has taken major steps to correct this excessive tilt, suspending a major hydroelectric dam project at Myitsone and re-evaluating Wanbao Mining company's giant copper mine concession near Monywa.


Myanmar is now deftly playing the same multi-alignment game mastered by countries such as Kazakhstan in trying to escape the Soviet-Russian sphere of influence: courting all sides and gaining whatever one can from multiple great powers and neighbors while giving up as little autonomy as possible.


India sees Myanmar as the crucial gateway for its "Look East" policy and is offering substantial investments in oil and gas as well as port construction and information technology; Europe has become a larger investor, especially Great Britain; Russia is being courted as a new arms supplier; Japan is viewing Myanmar as its new Thailand for automobile production; and of course, U.S. President Barack Obama visited in December, paving the way not only for greater U.S. investment but even for Myanmar to potentially participate in the Cobra Gold military exercises held annually with America's regional allies.


Obama was not only the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar but also the first to call it by that name, conceding ground in a long-running dispute. The administration hopes that North Korea, Asia's still frozen outcast, will learn the lessons from Myanmar's steady but determined opening.


But countries that are playing multi-alignment don't have to thaw domestically -- witness Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. Myanmar is simultaneously undergoing political liberalization and international rehabilitation -- a tricky and laudable feat for sure but not one North Korea is likely to emulate entirely. What the two do have in common, however, is the growing realization that having China as a neighbor is both a blessing and a curse.


During my visit to the "Genius Language School," where university students go for professional English tutoring, I asked the assembled round table whether they were happy that Obama came to visit and whether they considered America a friend. All giggled and chanted: "Yes."


Then I asked, "Are you afraid of China?" And the answer came in immediate, resounding unison: "Yes!"


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Parag Khanna.






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“Django Unchained” on pace to be Tarantino’s biggest box office film ever






LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) – After nine days in theaters, “Django Unchained” is on pace to be Quentin Tarantino‘s highest grossing movie ever.


That’s right, if the trend holds, the blood-soaked slave-revenge fable will rack up more at the box office than “Pulp Fiction” ($ 213.9 million worldwide), “Kill Bill Vol. 1″ ($ 180.9 million worldwide), “Kill Bill Vol. 2″ ($ 152.1 million worldwide) and previous record holder, “Inglourious Basterds” ($ 321.4 million worldwide).






Even though “Django Unchained” has only debuted stateside, with $ 82.4 million through January 2, it is outstripping all of the previous Tarantino movie mash-ups. At a similar point in its rollout, “Inglourious Basterds” had netted $ 67.6 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo.


“It’s the Quentin Tarantino brand,” Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst with Boxoffice.com, told TheWrap. “People appreciate what he’s doing. He makes these purely cinematic movies that allow even casual moviegoers to feel like they get to be a film snob and the great cast helps.”


With a Cinemascore rating of A- (something of an imperfect arbiter of quality given that “Parental Guidance” has the same score) and a RottenTomatoes ranking of 89 percent “fresh,” the film has been embraced by both audiences and critics, which bodes well for the proverbial “word of mouth” business.


“The exit polls are fantastic, the results have been outstanding and we’re looking forward to a long run,” Erik Lomis, head of theatrical distribution at The Weinstein Company, told TheWrap.


Not that “Django Unchained” has been immune to criticism. A fierce debate has erupted over Tarantino’s proclivity for using a certain racial epithet that begins with “N,” with directors like Spike Lee boycotting the film and decrying it for making light of slavery.


However, the red-hot controversy does not appear to have singed ticket sales.


And Fandango Chief Correspondent Dave Karger argues that the controversy may be helping the film. He notes that the plethora of opinion pieces on the subject as well as a viral video of star Samuel L. Jackson trying and failing to get an interviewer to use the racist term have kept “Django Unchained” in the public eye.


“This is the kind of movie that, as the best movies do, really inspires conversation and debate afterward and that only helps it,” Karger said. “There are going to be people turned off by the use of the word, but they’re going to just avoid the movie, and clearly it hasn’t been a huge deterrent.”


Indeed, as of 7 a.m. PT, “Django” was the number-one ticket seller on Fandango, ahead of other holiday hits like “Les Misérables” and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” It currently accounts for 21 percent of the ticketer’s sales and, based on studio tracking, it should add another $ 18.5 million to its haul over the weekend.


That will likely push it over the $ 100 million mark after two weeks in theaters.


In contrast, it took “Inglourious Basterds” 23 days to hit a similar figure domestically. Moreover, by that point in its release schedule, “Inglourious Basterds” was never showing in less than 3,165 theaters whereas “Django Unchained” has never unspooled across more than 3,010 since it debuted, giving the Nazi drama a major per-screen advantage.


Starting on January 16, “Django Unchained” will find out if its film grindhouse humor translates abroad when it opens in France and Belgium and then rolls out across Russia, most of Europe and much of Latin America later that week. Sony will handle the international launch, while The Weinstein Company is overseeing the movie’s domestic release.


Of course, highest grossing doesn’t mean most successful. Adjusted for inflation, “Pulp Fiction,” which amassed its $ 200 million-plus nearly 20 years ago, would be the top earner among the Tarantino oeuvre. Moreover, it still ranks as the director’s most successful film having been produced for a meager $ 8 million.


Operating under the principle you have to spend money to make it, the Weinstein Company shelled out $ 87 million to produce “Django Unchained.” Still if foreign audiences embrace the picture and the film picks up Oscar nominations, the studio will ride out of the holiday season with an awful lot of green-backs in its saddlebags.


Celebrity News Headlines – Yahoo! News




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Infosys says media report of firing 5,000 staff wrong






(Reuters) – India‘s Infosys Ltd said on Friday a newspaper report it was planning to fire up to 5,000 poorly performing workers was “wrong”, although it encourages “chronic under-performers” to leave as part of its staff management.


Infosys , India’s second-largest software services exporter, was sacking up to 5,000 poor performers to trim costs, the Economic Times reported earlier.






Infosys, which is also listed in the United States, added the number of potential under-performers that could leave the company was “significantly lower” than the 5,000 quoted in the media report.


(Reporting by Harichandan Arakali in BANGALORE; Editing by Rafael Nam)


Economy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Young adults fear budget cuts will hit loans






Young adults in America have reason to like the fiscal cliff deal, but they aren’t celebrating yet.


The bill, which was signed into law by President Obama on Wednesday, kept a number of tax breaks for education and low wage earners that many young adults rely on. However, the deal merely put off budget cuts that could hurt key programs like education grants and job training programs.






The so-called sequester, which includes across-the-board slashing of funds to domestic programs, is now slated to start in March.


Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a letter to Congress that it would cut programs like the Free Applications for Federal Student Aid, which allows millions of students to apply for post-secondary student aid. Duncan said that under the sequester, the Education Department may also have to cut contracts with private-sector entities that service federal student loans. This could hurt borrowers once they’re out of school.


Though the popular federal Pell Grants for education are safe from the sequester, they aren’t protected come 2014 and beyond, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


“This generation is facing rising college costs and high unemployment rates, so those are the kinds of investments we need to make sure we’re preserving,” said Jennifer Mishory, the 27-year-old deputy director of Young Invincibles, an organization that represents the interests of 18 to 34-year-olds.


Programs like Americorps, which provides skills training through community service projects, or Job Corps, which helps people find jobs though training programs, are also expected to take a hit.


Besides the specific budget cuts, young adults are also worried about the quick fixes that Washington has resorted to recently, rather than long-term agreements that would remove uncertainty.


“We’re frustrated that this is only a short-term agreement that has set up more of these ‘crisis countdown’ scenarios in the coming months,” said Matthew Segal, the 27-year-old founder of OurTime.org, a news website for young adults.


While many young adults are concerned for what’s next, they did not fare as badly as other demographics in terms of tax changes stemming from the fiscal cliff deal.


Congress saved the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps defray the cost of higher education, the Earned Income Tax Credit, a benefit for low-income individuals, and the Child Tax Credit, which helps low-income parents pay for education by allowing them to claim up to $ 1000 per child.


Most tax increases were limited to upper-income earners — a group that excludes the vast majority young Americans. The median income for people aged 25 to 34 barely topped $ 30,000 in 2011, according to the U.S. Census.


“We are pleased that the president and both parties in Congress came together to prevent more severe tax increases that could have adversely impacted young Americans,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of Young Invincibles.


View this article on CNNMoney


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Global shares, oil slip on Fed stimulus nerves

LONDON (Reuters) - World shares edged lower and the dollar rose before U.S. jobs data on Friday which investors will watch more intensely than usual after the Federal Reserve linked future stimulus to labor market performance.


Minutes from the Federal Reserve's December policy meeting unsettled financial markets on Thursday by revealing some policymakers already want to slow or stop asset purchases before the end of 2013 due to worries about financial stability.


Fed bond-buying has underpinned appetite for riskier assets across the markets so a strong jobs number may boost chances the central bank could halt its purchases sooner than many had expected.


"After the minutes, markets perhaps expect the Fed to reduce its bond purchases or shorten the time it will continue such purchases," said Richard Falkenhall, FX strategist at SEB.


Wall Street was likely to open slightly higher, with S&P 500 futures up 0.1 percent and contracts for the Dow Jones and the Nasdaq 100 up 0.2 percent, but much will depend on the non-farm payrolls report due at 8:30 a.m. ET.


Analysts polled by Reuters expect a 150,000 rise in jobs, with unemployment holding steady at 7.7 percent. However, after a better-than-expected ADP employment report on Thursday, many may now be betting on an above-consensus jobs number.


"The Fed has made it clear that it will keep policy loose until unemployment drops to 6.5 percent or below, so strong jobs data will undoubtedly raise expectations of a more hawkish Fed," analysts at Tradition brokerage said in a note.


European shares echoed their Asian peers to edge lower. But following a sharp jump on Wednesday after the United States edged back from the "fiscal cliff" budget crisis, they were on track for weekly gains of almost 2.7 percent.


Tentative signs that the euro zone economy may have passed the worst of its downturn also helped to restrict the moves.


Markit's Euro zone Composite PMI, which gauges business activity across thousands of the region's companies, rose in December to 47.2 from 46.5 in November - below the 50 line which divides growth from contraction but at its highest level since March last year.


"The surveys at least bring some substance to the belief that the worst is over and that a return to growth is in sight for the region in 2013," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.


London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were flat to down 0.4 percent, while the MSCI index of world shares was just over 0.2 percent lower at 345.85.


CORE WEAKNESS


The Fed's concerns about the longer-term impact of its policies gave fresh momentum to the recent slide by low-risk bonds including U.S. and German debt.


Bund futures slipped over half a point to 142.72, having already fallen steeply from last week's close of 145.64.


Benchmark U.S. Treasury yields continued their climb, hitting an eight-month high of 1.95 percent, while in Asia, 10-year Japanese government bond yields touched a 3-1/2-month high of 0.83 percent.


In the currency market, the dollar hit its highest level in nearly 2-1/2 years against the Japanese yen at 88.34 yen, up 1.2 percent on the day. The euro fell to a three-week low of $1.3006. The dollar <.dxy> also touched a six-week high against a basket of currencies.


"We have seen quite a broad-based dollar rally after the minutes which has ignited a fresh debate about how much liquidity the Fed is going to pump into the economy," said Daragh Maher, FX strategist at HSBC.


The yen has fallen in recent weeks as investors bet the new government will push the Bank of Japan to weaken the currency by implementing aggressive economic stimulus.


The dollar's recent climb makes dollar-based assets more expensive for non-dollar investors and this hit precious metals and oil.


Brent crude shed $1.43 to $110.71 a barrel while U.S. crude was down $1.12 at $91.80.


The fresh focus on when the Fed may end its so called quantitative easing (QE) program of asset purchases sent gold down 2 percent to a 4-1/2 month of $1,629.59 an ounce.


"The market had been too preoccupied with the sheer size of the quantitative easing program, and had not seen that at some point you would need a phase out of QE policy," Christin Tuxen, an analyst with Danske Bank, said.


Among other precious metals, silver was down 3 percent to $29.24 an ounce, having also slipped to a 4-1/2 month low at $29.21 in earlier trade.


(Additional reporting by Anooja Debnath and David Brough,; editing by David Stamp and Giles Elgood)



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Oregon runs past K-State 35-17 at Fiesta Bowl


GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — As Oregon coach Chip Kelly was about to receive the massive Fiesta Bowl trophy, Ducks fans inside University of Phoenix Stadium started a chant of "We want Chip!"


Whether he returns or not is up in the air.


If Kelly does head to the NFL, this was a great send off.


Sparked by De'Anthony Thomas' 94-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff, No. 5 Oregon turned the Fiesta Bowl into a track meet from the start and bolted past No. 7 Kansas State 35-17 Thursday night in what could be Kelly's final game with the Ducks.


"This wasn't going to be a distraction," Kelly said of reports that he was headed to the NFL. "It wasn't a distraction for me — I think it's an honor. But I think it's an honor because of the players we have in this program that people want to talk to me."


Teams that had their national title aspirations end on the same day, Oregon and Kansas State ended up in the desert for a marquee matchup billed as a battle of styles: The fast-flying Ducks vs. the methodical Wildcats.


With Kelly reportedly talking to several NFL teams, Oregon (12-1) was too much for Kansas State and its Heisman Trophy finalist, Collin Klein, who were playing catch-up from the start.


Thomas followed his before-everyone-sat-down kickoff return with a 23-yard touchdown catch, finishing with 195 total yards.


Kenjon Barner ran for 143 yards on 31 carries and scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota in the second quarter. Mariota later scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter, capped by an obscure 1-point safety that went in the Ducks' favor.


Even Oregon's defense got into the act, intercepting Klein twice and holding him to 30 yards on 13 carries.


"We got beat by a better team tonight, combined by the fact that we let down from time to time," coach Bill Snyder said after Kansas State's fifth straight bowl loss.


Last year's Fiesta Bowl was an offensive fiesta, with Oklahoma State outlasting Stanford 41-38 in overtime.


The 2013 version was an upgrade: Nos. 4 and 5 in the BCS, two of the nation's best offenses, dynamic players and superbly successful coaches on both sides.


Oregon has become the standard for go-go-go football under Kelly, its fleet of Ducks making those shiny helmets — green like Christmas tree bulbs for the Fiesta Bowl — and flashy uniforms blur across the grassy landscape.


Thomas offered the first flash of speed, picking up a couple of blocks and racing toward a not-so-photo finish at the line.


Thomas hit the Wildcats (11-2) again late in the first quarter, breaking a couple of tackles and dragging three defenders into the end zone for a catch-and-run TD that put the Ducks up 15-0.


It's nothing new for Oregon's sophomore sensation: He had 314 total yards and two long touchdown runs in the 2012 Rose Bowl. The Ducks are used to it, too, averaging more than 50 points per game.


And they kept flying.


Oregon followed a missed 40-yard field goal by Kansas State's Anthony Cantele by unleashing one of its blink-and-you'll-miss-it scoring drives late in the second quarter. Moving 77 yards in 46 seconds, the Ducks went up 22-10 at halftime after Mariota hit Barner on 24-yard TD pass.


Alejandro Maldonado hit a 33-yard field goal on Oregon's opening drive of the third quarter and Mariota capped a long drive with an easy 2-yard TD run to the left. Kansas State's Javonta Boyd blocked the point-after attempt, but even that went wrong for the Wildcats. Chris Harper was tackled in the end zone for a bizarre 1-point safety that put Oregon up 32-10.


It was the first 1-point safety in major college football since 2004 when Texas did it against Texas A&M, STATS said.


"There were so many things that could have changed the outcome of this game," Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown said.


Kansas State needed a little time to get its wheels spinning on offense, laboring early before Klein scored on a 6-yard run early in the second quarter.


Klein kept the Wildcats moving in the quarter, though not toward touchdowns: Cantele hit a 25-yard field goal and missed from 40 after a false-start penalty.


Klein hit John Hubert on a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but all that did was cut Oregon's lead to 32-17.


He threw for 151 yards on 17 of 32 passing.


"It wasn't really complicated," Kelly said of slowing Klein. "He's a great player, one of the greats of college football. I had my heart in my throat a couple of times watching him around, but our guys just made plays when they had to make plays."


By doing so, they may have put a nice exclamation point on Kelly's college career.


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How Donald Trump hijacks U.S. media






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Howard Kurtz: Donald Trump said the GOP can go nuclear in budget showdown

  • Kurtz: It's remarkable that Trump draw attention no what what he says

  • He says it's so easy to hijack the media in the age of Twitter

  • Kurtz: Journalists like sexy stories but shouldn't lose focus of what's important




Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.


(CNN) -- After a year of national gridlock that ended on the precipice of a cliff, Donald Trump went nuclear.


The man who called Barack Obama's re-election a travesty said Republicans could gain control of the budget showdown because they "are sitting there with a nuclear weapon": the specter of voting against a rise in the debt ceiling in the coming weeks. In other words, the GOP could get its way by again threatening to push the country into default.


The remarkable thing here is not Trump's apocalyptic advice but that the man who still doesn't concede that the president was born in Hawaii draws attention no matter what he says. The colorful businessman has a knack for hijacking the media -- and he's hardly alone.


Watch: Hey Fox, Hillary Clinton was sick after all



Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz



In fact, one of the most striking developments in recent years is how easy it is to carry out the hijacking. You don't need a weapon, nuclear or otherwise. You don't have to be a famous zillionaire to pull it off. In the Twitter age, almost anyone can capture the spotlight for 15 seconds.



We're so easy. If it's new, novel or naughty, we are there.


A critical mass of tweeters hijacked the presidential debates by turning Big Bird and "binders full of women" into trending topics. What, you thought what was most important was what the candidates said during those 90-minute face-offs? Nope, it's just as much about winning the post-game chatter. A single "oops" by Rick Perry enables the press to wipe out everything else that was said.


Watch: Are critics being too harsh on Chelsea Clinton?


Clint Eastwood, telling Obama (in the guise of an empty chair) to perform an anatomically impossible act? That hijacked Mitt Romney's convention.


Eric Fehrnstrom inadvertently hijacked his boss' campaign when he compared Romney's election strategy to an Etch A Sketch. Nothing like a kid's toy to seize the attention of grown-up journalists.


Any invocation of a celebrity has great hijacking potential, even if the story is a sprinkling of fairy dust.


The political press recently surrendered to the notion that Ben Affleck might run for John Kerry's Senate seat in Massachusetts. This was based on nothing more than local chatter, amplified by Politico. Affleck shrewdly kept the door ajar -- such speculation helps in the gravitas department --but on Christmas Eve, he gave the press a lump of coal by admitting he wasn't running.


Watch: Were the media swept away by fiscal cliff madness?


Next the media got excited by the idea that Ted Kennedy Jr. would run for office -- until he quickly popped that trial balloon.


Sometimes the hijacker wants no part of the limelight but is swept along for the ride.


Paula Broadwell was embedded in the nation's consciousness for weeks after her affair with David Petraeus prompted his resignation as CIA director. And her romantic rival, Jill Kelley, became a captive as well.


Racial tension can grab the media's attention like few other issues.


There are more than 15,000 murders annually in the United States, but only a few move beyond local headlines. The killing of Trayvon Martin, initially overlooked even in Florida, became a national sensation once activists persuaded the media that race played a role in the teenager's shooting (a perception deepened by NBC's misleading editing of George Zimmerman's 911 call). Week after week of routine murders in cities such as Chicago barely register on the radar.


Most journalists gravitate toward sensational and sexy stories (and I haven't been immune to the temptation) because we want the clicks and the ratings. And perhaps to alleviate our own boredom with the daily grunt work of reporting. The on-and-off negotiations over the fiscal cliff have been tedious and incremental. Along comes Trump and boom, you've got an easy headline.


The problem with all this media hijacking goes beyond the strange twists and turns along the way. It's that we cede control of what's important.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.






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Putin grants Depardieu Russian citizenship






MOSCOW (AP) — Gerard Depardieu, the French actor who has been sparring with his native country over taxes, has been granted Russian citizenship.


A brief announcement on the Kremlin website said President Vladimir Putin signed the citizenship grant on Thursday.






Depardieu is angered by French President Francois Hollande‘s attempt to raise taxes on the mega-rich to 75 percent. Russia has a flat income tax of 13 percent.


A representative for Depardieu declined to say whether he had accepted the offer and refused all comment.


Depardieu has made more than 150 films, among them the 1991 comedy “Green Card” about a man who enters into a marriage of convenience in order to get U.S. residency.


Depardieu said in an open letter published in mid-December that he would turn over his passport and French social security card.


Hollande wants to tax incomes of the ultra-rich at 75 percent to reduce the debt and deficit, and Depardieu’s subsequent decision to move to tax-friendly Belgium was slammed by Hollande’s government.


“I’m a true European, a citizen of the world,” Depardieu wrote in the letter.


The tax on millionaires was struck down by France’s highest court Dec. 29, but the government has promised to resubmit the law in a slightly different form soon.


Depardieu was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1990 film by the same name.


He’s well known in Russia, where he appears in an ad for Sovietsky Bank’s credit card and is prominently featured on the bank’s home page.


France’s Civil Code says one must have another nationality in order to give up French citizenship because it is forbidden to be stateless. Thursday’s decision by the Kremlin appears to fulfill that requirement.


Entertainment News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Starbucks to open first outlet in Vietnam in early February






(Reuters) – Starbucks Corp said it will set up its first outlet in Vietnam early next month as the U.S. chain continues to expand in fast-growing Asian markets.


Starbucks said it will partner with Hong Kong‘s Maxim’s Group to open its first store in Ho Chi Minh City and reiterated that Asia continues to be a significant growth driver for the company.






“Vietnam is one of the most dynamic and exciting markets in the world and we are proud to add Vietnam as the 12th market across the China and Asia-Pacific region,” said John Culver, president, Starbucks China and Asia Pacific.


Starbucks already buys some of the highest-quality arabica coffee from Vietnam and said it is committed to sourcing more from the region in the long-run.


Vietnam is the second-biggest coffee producer in the world after Brazil.


Starbucks operates more than 3,300 stores across 11 countries in the China and Asia-Pacific region.


Through its licensed partner, Coffee Concepts (Hong Kong) Ltd, a unit of Hong Kong’s Maxim’s Group, Starbucks operates more than 130 stores in Hong Kong and Macau. Last year, Starbucks opened its first store in India.


(Reporting by Sakthi Prasad in Bangalore and Ho Binh Minh in Hanoi; Editing by Matt Driskill)


Business News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Global shares stall, dollar up as more U.S. budget fights loom

LONDON (Reuters) - World share gains stalled and the dollar rose on Thursday as investors grew concerned about political battles looming in Washington over spending cuts, following this week's deal to avoid sharp U.S. tax hikes.


The MSCI world equity index <.miwd00000pus> dipped from an 18-month high to be down 0.15 percent at 346.7 points while the dollar hit a three-week peak against a basket of major currencies <.dxy> and oil prices fell.


Share index futures point to a weak start on Wall Street as well after stocks began the new year with their best day in over a year on Wednesday, when relief that lawmakers had reached a deal to prevent a fiscal crunch swept the markets. <.n/>


President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans now face two more months of tough talks on spending cuts and an increase in the nation's debt limit as the hard-fought deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" mainly covered taxes and delayed decisions on expenditure until March 1.


"Of the three key issues - tax increases, spending cuts and the debt ceiling - policymakers have tackled just one," said Mouhammed Choukeir, chief investment officer at Kleinwort Benson.


"The fiscal cliff issue is unresolved. This is likely to increase market volatility, supporting safe-haven assets such as gold and some commodities," he said. "Paradoxically, as the U.S. debt and deficit issues continue to make investors jittery, the dollar can be expected to remain a safe-haven asset."


The dollar was up 0.3 percent <.dxy> against a basket of major currencies at a three-week high of 80.12 on Thursday, although it slipped 0.4 percent against the yen to 87.14.


The euro, which had touched an 8-1/2 month high against the dollar on Wednesday, was down 0.2 percent at $1.3162,.


"The reality is that budget talks will continue for the next two months and could get sour," said Jane Foley, senior currency strategist at Rabobank. "We see the dollar index reclaiming some ground."


The prospect of more bitter U.S. political battles in the next few weeks over the spending cuts also halted a sell-off in U.S. Treasuries and safe-haven German government bonds.


U.S. benchmark 10-year T-note yields were unchanged at 1.837 percent, while 10-year German cash bond yields were flat at 1.44 percent


Across Europe the main share indexes in Germany <.gdaxi>, Britain <.ftse> and France <.fchi> were flat to 0.5 percent lower, having hit their own multi-month highs on Wednesday as part of the global rally in riskier asset markets.


OIL SLIPS


The dollar's strength and rising oil supplies pushed crude prices lower, with Brent slipping 0.5 percent to under $112 a barrel. U.S. crude futures were down 53 cents at $92.59.


Analysts expect oil prices to drop in 2013 as supply outweighs demand especially after U.S. crude production hit a 19-year high in 2012 and Russia pumped more oil to remain ahead of Saudi Arabia in production.


Gold followed equities lower to be down about 0.3 percent at $1,681 an ounce.


The precious metal hit its highest level in two weeks on Wednesday in the wake of the initial U.S. fiscal deal adding to gains of around 7 percent in 2012 - its 12th straight annual rise, marking one of the longest bull runs for a commodity.


"The deal to avoid a fiscal cliff has booted some problems into the long grass by a considerable distance, but there are still issues out there such as expanding the debt ceiling, which could prove to be difficult negotiations," said David Jollie, strategic analyst at Mitsui Precious Metals.


GROWTH OUTLOOK EYED


Thursday's retreat across riskier asset markets might have been sharper but for data showing activity in China's services sector and at U.S. factories had expanded in December, brightening the outlook for global growth.


China's official purchasing managers' index (PMI) for the non-manufacturing sector rose to a four-month high in December, adding to signs of a revival in the world's second-largest economy.


Investors will now turn their attention to the December U.S. employment report on Friday. This is expected to show modest job growth of around 150,000 compared with 146,000 in November.


(Additional reporting by Anooja Debnath and David Brough.; editing by David Stamp)



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Louisville upsets Florida 33-23 in Sugar Bowl


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Terell Floyd and the Louisville Cardinals gave the embattled Big East Conference at least one more triumphant night in a major bowl — and at the expense of a top team from the mighty SEC.


Floyd returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown on the first play, dual-threat quarterback Teddy Bridgewater directed a handful of scoring drives and No. 22 Louisville stunned the fourth-ranked Gators 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night.


"I can't speak for the whole Big East, but I can speak for Louisville and I think this means a lot for us," Floyd said. "We showed the world we can play with the best."


The Big East is in a transitional phase and losing some of its top football programs in the process. Boise State has recently backed out of its Big East commitment and Louisville has plans to join the ACC.


Even this year, the Big East wasn't getting much respect. Louisville, the league champion, was a two-touchdown underdog in the Sugar Bowl.


But by the end, the chant, "Charlie, Charlie!" echoed from sections of the Superdome occupied by red-clad Cardinals fans. It was their way of serenading third-year Louisville coach Charlie Strong, the former defensive coordinator for the Gators, who has elevated Cardinals football to new heights and recently turned down a chance to leave for the top job at Tennessee.


"I look at this performance tonight, and I sometimes wonder, 'Why didn't we do this the whole season,'" Strong said. "We said this at the beginning: We just take care of our job and do what we're supposed to do, don't worry about who we're playing."


Shaking off an early hit that flattened him and knocked off his helmet, Bridgewater was 20 of 32 passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Among his throws was a pinpoint, 15-yard timing toss that DeVante Parker grabbed as he touched one foot down in the corner of the end zone.


"I looked at what did and didn't work for quarterbacks during the regular season," said Bridgewater, picked as the game's top player. "They faced guys forcing throws ... and coach tells me, 'No capes on your back or 'S' on your chest, take what the defense give you.' That's what I took. Film study was vital."


His other scoring strike went to Damian Copeland from 19 yards one play after a surprise onside kick by the Gators backfired. Jeremy Wright had a short touchdown run that gave Louisville (11-2) a 14-0 lead the Gators couldn't overcome.


Florida (11-2) never trailed by more than 10 points this season. The defeat dropped SEC teams to 3-3 this bowl season, with Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi still to play.


"We got outcoached and outplayed," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "That's what I told the football team. That's the bottom line."


Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel, who had thrown only three interceptions all season, turned the ball over three times on two interceptions — both tipped passes — and a fumble. He finished 16 of 29 for 175 yards.


Down 33-10 midway through the fourth period, Florida tried to rally. Andre Debose scored on a 100-yard kickoff return and Driskel threw a TD pass to tight end Kent Taylor with 2:13 left. But when Louisville defenders piled on Driskel to thwart the 2-point try, the game was essentially over.


Florida didn't score until Caleb Sturgis's 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter.


The Gators finally got in the end zone with a trick play in the closing seconds of the half. They changed personnel as if to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but lined up in a bizarre combination of swinging-gate and shotgun formations and handed off to Matt Jones.


The Gators tried to keep the momentum with a surprise onside kick to open the third quarter, but not only did Louisville recover, Florida's Chris Johnson was called for a personal foul and ejected for jabbing at Louisville's Zed Evans. That gave Louisville the ball on the Florida 19, from where Bridgewater needed one play to find Copeland for his score.


"We game-planned it and felt good about it," Muschamp said of the onside kick attempt. "We wanted to steal a possession at the start of the second half."


On the following kickoff, Evans cut down kick returner Loucheiz Purifoy with a vicious low, high-speed hit that shook Purifoy up. Soon after, Driskel was sacked hard from behind and stripped by safety Calvin Pryor, ending another Florida drive with a turnover.


"We had the right attitude, had the right mindset that we would go out and beat this team," Pryor said.


After Louisville native Muhammad Ali was on the field for the coin toss, the Cardinals quickly stung the Gators. Floyd, one of nearly three dozen Louisville players from Florida, made the play.


Driskel was looking for seldom-targeted Debose, who'd had only two catches all season.


"I threw it behind him, (he) tried to make a play on it, tipped it right to the guy," Driskel said. "Unfortunate to start the game like that."


When Louisville's offense got the ball later in the quarter, the Florida defense, ranked among the best in the nation this season, sought to intimidate the Cardinals with one heavy hit after another.


One blow by Jon Bostic knocked Bridgewater's helmet off moments after he'd floated an incomplete pass down the right sideline. Bostic was called for a personal foul, however, which seemed to get the Cardinals opening drive rolling. Later, Wright lost his helmet during a 3-yard gain and took another heavy hit before he went down.


Louisville kept coming.


B.J. Butler turned a short catch into a 23-yard gain down to the Florida 1. Then Wright punched it in to give the Cardinals an early two-TD lead over a team that finished third in the BCS standings, one spot too low to play for a national title in Miami.


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Time to rebrand in Lincoln's image?




Wade Henderson thinks the modern Republican Party should look to Abraham Lincoln for some inspiration.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Wade Henderson: January 1 is 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

  • He says GOP should look to Lincoln, a canny politician who led moral fight on civil rights

  • He says GOP has history of civil rights support that it has largely abandoned in recent years

  • Henderson: In 2012, election minority voters unimpressed; GOP should return to roots




Editor's note: Wade Henderson is the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund.


(CNN) -- On January 1, the nation will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which legally freed slaves in the secessionist Southern states. Meanwhile, thousands of theaters will still be presenting the film "Lincoln," portraying the soon-to-be-martyred president's efforts in January 1865 to persuade the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery throughout the nation.


Coming at a time when many Republicans are seeking to rebrand their party, these commemorations of the first Republican president raise this question: Why not refashion the Grand Old Party in the image of the Great Emancipator?


Steven Spielberg's historical drama, as well as the biography upon which it is based, Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," both remind today's Americans that Lincoln was not only a moral leader but also a practical politician. The political identity that Lincoln forged for the fledgling Republican Party -- uniting the nation while defending individual rights -- was a winning formula for half a century, with the GOP winning 11 of 13 presidential elections from 1860 through 1908.



Wade Henderson

Wade Henderson



Moreover, support for civil rights persisted in the party throughout the last century. Among the Republican presidents of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt famously hosted Booker T. Washington at the White House. Dwight Eisenhower ordered federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce school desegregation. Richard Nixon expanded affirmative action. And George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.


Brazile: A turning point for freedom in America, 150 years later




In the U.S. Senate, such prominent Republicans as Edward Brooke of Massachusetts (the first African-American senator since Reconstruction), Jacob Javits of New York and Everett Dirksen of Illinois were strong supporters of civil rights, as were governors such as Nelson Rockefeller in New York, George Romney in Massachusetts and William Scranton in Pennsylvania.


Former California Gov. Earl Warren served as chief justice when the Supreme Court issued its decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ordering the desegregation of the nation's schools. As recently as 1996, the Republican national ticket consisted of two strong civil rights advocates, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and former New York Rep. Jack Kemp.



Unfortunately, by 2012, the Republican Party had veered far from its heritage as the party of Lincoln. Prominent Republicans supported statewide voter suppression laws that hit hardest at vulnerable minorities or called for the "self-deportation" of immigrants and their families.


While some Republican senatorial nominees needlessly offended women, leading moderates such as Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe and Ohio Rep. Steven LaTourette opted for retirement. In what I hope was rock bottom, 38 Senate Republicans rebuffed their former presidential nominee Bob Dole -- a wheelchair-bound war hero -- to block an international civil and human rights treaty for people with disabilities.


Not surprisingly, the GOP in the presidential race lost the black vote by 87 points, the Asian-American vote by 47 points, the Latino vote by 44 points and the women's vote by 11 points, according to CNN exit polls. As Republicans reflect on their path forward with minority voters and persuadable whites, there are opportunities to advance civil rights.










While the GOP has increasingly promoted diverse candidates, it has not yet begun to reflect the values of our diverse nation. Fiscally conservative officeholders can fight for civil and human rights.


Just a few years ago, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions championed a reduction in the sentencing disparity between people charged with possession of crack and powder cocaine. These are two forms of the same drug, but crack cocaine is used more by minorities and carried much harsher punishments for possession. Working with Sessions, civil rights advocates pushed to reduce this disparity significantly -- among the greatest advances in criminal justice reform in decades.


Looking toward to the 113th Congress, several civil rights initiatives would fit conservative values. They need congressional champions. Conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist and conservative strategist Richard Viguerie have called for criminal justice reforms that would reduce the number of prisoners in U.S. prisons.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has joined the civil rights coalition's call for federal initiatives to narrow the educational achievement gap between minority and white students. And more Republicans are joining Jeb Bush's support for comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for long-term, law-abiding residents.


Most importantly, the GOP must embrace one of Lincoln's most enduring legacies, the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race. The GOP must stop trying to suppress voters and begin to champion electoral reform that shortens lines and helps more people to vote.


I don't expect another Abraham Lincoln or Frederick Douglass from the modern Republican Party -- I'll settle for a few more Jeff Sessions. When Republicans consider the consequences for their party's narrow appeal, they'll try to return to their roots.


I'm happy to help.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Wade Henderson.






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