Thursday, December 20, 2012

Turmoil in Egypt makes some pine for army’s steady hand

On Friday, the eve of the second stage of voting in the two-part referendum that will approve their new fundamentalist-leaning charter, Muslim Brotherhood members plan a massive march after midday prayers in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria – a show of force bound to raise national tensions.

All this leads many in the opposition to think the unthinkable and call for Egypt’s army to step in. And the army, viewed recently with suspicion, has launched a campaign to convince the public it is the people’s friend. Throughout Cairo there are billboards showing a soldier in full kit cradling a baby in his left arm. The line underneath reads: “The Army, The People: One Hand”

“I think the army would be better than these guys,” said Walid Hamada, 33, a small-business owner who was out protesting at the presidential palace this week against the Islamist nature of the proposed constitution. “The army could do a better job keeping things stable while we move to real democracy and a more balanced constitution.”

Hard as it is to imagine, “a lot of people feel this way,” said Emad Gad, a political analyst at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

Hard to imagine, indeed, because it was the same army that was the power behind Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, and the army that held power in the 17 months after Mr. Mubarak’s ouster early last year. At that time, there were frequent protests against the military rule.

“They don’t really like the army,” Mr. Gad explained, “but they prefer it to what’s happening now.”

“Even leftists feel this way,” said Mr. Gad, who was a candidate for the Social Democrats in the parliamentary elections early this year.

Former foreign minister and Arab League head Amr Mousa expressed discomfort at the prospect of the army returning to political power. “I have heard this talk,” said Mr. Mousa, a leader of the principal opposition group, the National Salvation Front. “But I hope we will achieve our goals by democratic means.”

Throughout the recent protests and deadly clashes between opponents and supporters of Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s military has remained remarkably neutral.

Even its armoured vehicles positioned around the presidential palace make an effort to appear benign. The tanks’ barrels are pointed to the side, not toward the protesters in the street, and there are no machine guns set up in the turrets of the armoured personnel carriers.

So far, the military command has gone to great lengths to assure everyone it is not taking sides.

Last week, Mr. Morsi ordered the military to prevent attacks on his palace and on Muslim Brotherhood offices around the country. He even accorded it powers to arrest civilians, something he had denounced when in opposition. The chief of the military, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, responded by inviting opposition leaders to his office for a lunch aimed at reducing tensions.

By seeking the army’s help, Mr. Morsi had thought he could “send a message to the opposition that the military is on his side and that no force will be able to depose him,” said Hafez abu Seada, chairman of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights.

But Gen. al-Sissi outmanoeuvred him. And a good thing, too, Mr. Abu Seada said. “We do not want the army to be dragged into politics.”

An apparently angry Mr. Morsi ordered his military chief to call off the meeting with the opposition. The General did so, but his position has not changed.

On Tuesday, Gen. al-Sissi again publicly warned that the nation was becoming polarized. “The divisions are affecting the economy and threaten social peace, requiring of us solidarity, renouncing differences and putting public interests first,” he was quoted as saying – an unusual position for a military commander to take.

But Egypt’s military is unusual. In theory, it reports to the president, but in practice, it is a law unto itself. As such, it may be the only institution to which the opposition can turn for help.

Retired General Hossam Sweilem, a former tank and regional commander, said the army pledged after the Six-Day War in 1967 it would not get involved in politics. Before, he explained, the army had been a political tool of then-president Gamal abdel Nasser. “But it isn’t aloof from the people,” he added. “There is great empathy for the people’s concerns,” he said.

He cautioned that the army would intervene only under certain circumstances. “If the army intervened,” Gen. Sweilem said, “it would be to end severe bloodshed” and would insist first that martial law be declared – meaning the army would be in control, not answering to the president.

The military command would not want to be seen as siding with the President, explained Gen. Sweilem. And, before turning power back to him, “I believe it would insist that the President reconsider all those articles of the constitution that provoked the opposition” in the first place.

Mr. Gad agrees that such a scenario could happen. But why would Gen. al-Sissi, a devout Muslim who was appointed military chief by President Morsi, do such a thing?

Because, Mr. Gad said, “at the end of the day, al-Sissi is an Egyptian first and a Muslim second. He does not want to change this country’s fundamental identity” by siding with the Islamists.

First major storm of winter pelts U.S. Midwest

The first major winter storm of the year hit the U.S. Midwest on Thursday, bringing a blizzard to the Plains and tornadoes to Alabama and Arkansas, and leaving some 133,000 customers without electricity.

Bad driving conditions led to a 25-car pileup on a highway near Clarion, Iowa, that left three people dead, authorities said. Blizzard warnings were in effect in eastern Iowa and parts of Wisconsin and Illinois Thursday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

"It's going to be very windy with considerable blowing and drifting of snow," said Bruce Terry, a senior National Weather Service forecaster at the HydroMeteorological Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. He called the pre-Christmas storm "a major winter snowstorm" for the Midwest and western Great Lakes.

Accumulations of up to a foot of snow were expected in some areas, Terry said, adding there was a potential for severe weather on the so-called "warm side" of the storm in the U.S. Southeast.

Blowing snow led to school closures in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, plus the closure of all state government offices in Iowa.

"Thunder" snow was reported in Iowa Wednesday night, especially in southeastern Iowa, as thunder and lightning accompanied the storm as it surged across the state.

Travel was not advised on Iowa roads for the rest of the day, according to Annette Dunn with the Iowa Department of Transportation.

"We're going to have visibility and drifting problems through midnight," she said.

Late Thursday morning, troopers responded to a 25-car crash which killed three people on southbound Interstate 35 in northern Iowa. Iowa DOT closed I-35 at Highway 30 due to deteriorating conditions.

The Iowa National Guard has deployed about 80 soldiers from across the state to help highway assistance teams cope with the storm.

In Nebraska, portions of I-80 were closed Thursday due to snow-packed and icy road conditions. The entire road was expected to reopen before 4 p.m. local time.

In Chicago, rain was expected to change to snow Thursday night, with wind gusts of as much as 50 miles per hour, the NWS said.

Due to low visibility, airlines at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport were reporting delays of up to 90 minutes and have canceled more than 200 flights. At Midway Airport in Chicago, airlines canceled 150 flights and Southwest Airlines canceled all flights after 4:30 p.m.

A twister near downtown Mobile, Alabama, damaged buildings, snapped trees, downed power lines and flipped vehicles early on Thursday, but there were no reports of injuries, authorities said.

"The potential is there certainly for some isolated tornadoes," Terry said, referring to a broad swath of Gulf of Mexico coast and inland territory stretching from southeast Louisiana through the western Florida Panhandle.

The National Weather Service confirmed on Thursday that a tornado destroyed a mobile home southwest of Sheridan, Arkansas. There were no reports of injuries.

High winds of around 45 miles per hour in Tennessee knocked down trees and power lines.

While the heavy snow in the Upper Midwest will create potentially dangerous travel conditions, meteorologist Jeff Masters said it put an end to this year's "record-length snowless streaks in a number of U.S. cities."

Writing on his website, Masters said the storm would also provide "welcome moisture for drought-parched areas of the Midwest."

The winter storm, named Draco by the Weather Channel, began Tuesday in the Rocky Mountains and marked a dramatic change from the mild December so far in most of the nation.

High winds kicked up a dust storm in West Texas on Wednesday, leading to at least one death in a traffic accident near Lubbock.

Power companies reported electrical outages in Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee, with a peak of 400,000 customers without power Thursday morning. That fell to 133,000 by Thursday afternoon.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Okla. student allegedly planned shooting same day as Sandy Hook

An Oklahoma high school student is in custody on charges he plotted to bomb and shoot students at the Bartlesville High School auditorium on the same day 26 people were shot and killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Police arrested 18-year-old Sammie Eaglebear Chavez at about 4:30 a.m. Friday after learning of the alleged plot Thursday. Chavez was found at a residence in Bartlesville early Friday morning, and had not attended school on Thursday, CBS affiliate KWTV in Oklahoma City reported.

"We are extremely pleased that our students were never in harm's way," Superintendent Gary W. Quinn said to KWTV. "I am proud of our administrative personnel who took what started out as an unsubstantiated rumor, and through their diligent work and exhaustive investigation were able to determine there could be a future threat. We appreciate the excellent relationship we have with our local law enforcement and their swift response to the information we provided them. We will always put the safety of the students of the Bartlesville Public School District first and foremost."

An arrest affidavit obtained by KWTV says Chavez tried to convince other students on Wednesday while in the school cafeteria to help him lure students into the auditorium, chain the doors shut and start shooting. The Tulsa World reports that authorities say Chavez threatened to kill students who didn't help.

Chavez planned to detonate bombs at the doors as police arrived, the affidavit said. He also tried to get a map of the school and told a teacher he had recently bought a Colt .45 handgun and had been practicing shooting it over the weekend. In addition, another student said he saw Chavez looking up how to build pipe bombs.

The school district says students were never in danger. A parent told KWTV that they received an email from the school district on Friday about an "incident" on Thursday, but no additional information was given.

Chavez is being held on $1 million bond and has been charged with a felony threatening to kill. If he makes bond, he will not be able to have contact with any Bartlesville schools or possess firearms.

Kelly Clarkson Engaged: "Miss Independent" Set to Be Mrs. Blackstock

Kelly Clarkson, Brandon Blackstock 
Kelly Clarkson is officially no longer "Miss Independent!"
The 30-year-old singer got an early Christmas present from beau Brandon Blackstock—an engagement ring!
Kelly Clarkson talks getting married but taking it slow—that's so three months ago!
The American Idol alum tweeted the news Saturday, exclaiming: "I'M ENGAGED!!!!! I wanted y'all to know!!
Happiest night of my life last night! I am so lucky and am with the greatest man ever :)"
Brandon, a talent manager and also the son of Clarkson's own manager Narvel Blackstock, and Kelly began dating a year ago.
Congrats to the adorable couple!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dodgers, pitcher Zack Greinke finalize $147 million contract | Baseball

The Los Angeles Dodgers finalized a $147 million, six-year deal with right-hander Zack Greinke, a former Los Angeles Angel who was considered the top pitcher on the free-agent market..

Dodgers finalize Greinke deal
The Los Angeles Dodgers finalized a $147 million, six-year deal with Zack Greinke on Monday.
Greinke, 29, was considered the top free-agent pitcher on the market and his contract is the richest of all time for a right-handed pitcher. He ended last season with the Los Angeles Angels.
Greinke, who won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award with Kansas City, joins a staff that includes 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
"We were definitely hoping for Zack," said NBA legend Magic Johnson, a partner in Guggenheim Baseball Management, which bought the Dodgers for $2.15 billion last spring. "Zack is a proven winner. When you put him together with Clayton, man, we feel really good."
The Dodgers introduced South Korean left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin, who has a $36 million, six-year deal, at a news conference. Ryu will be the first player to go directly from the Korean league to the North American major leagues.
Ichiro might return to Yankees
Ichiro, 39, and the New York Yankees are making progress toward a one-year contract, according to numerous media reports.
Ex-Mariners outfielder Ichiro was traded to the Yankees in July and batted .322 in 67 games for New York.
White Sox sign Keppinger
Infielder Jeff Keppinger, a 32-year-old who hit a career-high .325 for Tampa Bay last season, signed a $12 million, three-year contract with the Chicago White Sox.
Meanwhile, reliever Jason Grilli, 36, re-signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for two years and $6.75 million.
High-school pitcher Shohei Otani, 18, has decided to stay at home in Japan instead of immediately pursuing a career in the major leagues.
The right-hander's fastball has been clocked at close to 100 mph. He announced plans to compete for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan.
League cancels more games
As the NHL and the players' union struggle to reach a new labor agreement, the lockout continues to eat away at the 2012-13 season.
League officials canceled all games through Dec. 30, bringing the total of regular-season games lost to 527 — 43 percent of the season.
The Jan. 1 Winter Classic, where Detroit and Toronto were to play outdoors in Ann Arbor, Mich., was canceled last month, as was All-Star Weekend in Columbus, Ohio.
The league and union have held informal discussions about resuming negotiations this week.
Commissioner Gary Bettman is believed to be about a month away from a "drop-dead" date for canceling the season, according to The New York Times.
During the 2004-05 lockout, Bettman canceled the season Feb. 16, but it is believed he would not wait as long in this, his third lockout.
"When it gets to the point where we can't play a season with integrity, with a representative schedule, then we'll be done," Bettman said Thursday, adding he "can't imagine" each team playing fewer than 48 games.
That is how long the season was after Bettman's first lockout, in 1994-95. That season, he set a cancellation date of Jan. 10, but an agreement was announced Jan. 11. That settlement was not finalized, and details were still being worked out after play had resumed.
NHL officials are believed not to want to resume play this time until all details are codified and an agreement signed.
College basketball
Zags drop to 14th in polls
Gonzaga (9-1) dropped from 10th to 14th in the Associated Press media and USA Today/ESPN coaches polls released Monday.
The Zags, listed as 12-point favorites, lost at home 85-74 to then-No. 13 Illinois on Saturday. The Illini are 10th in both polls this week.
The top four men's teams in both polls, in order, are No. 1 Indiana, Duke, Michigan and Syracuse.
Stanford, which had time off for exams, continues to lead the AP women's poll and Connecticut remains second.
• The PGA Tour's event in Mexico will anchor a six-tournament schedule next fall. For the first time since 1970, the schedule will not include a stop at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla.
The Tour next year goes to a wraparound season and will offer FedEx Cup points for the six tournaments that will kick off the 2013-14 season. That season will start with the Open in San Martin, Calif., from Oct. 10 to 13 and conclude with the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico from Nov. 14 to 17.
After about a two-month break, the 2013-14 Tour schedule will resume in Hawaii with the Tournament of Champions.
Disney tournament officials lost their title sponsor when the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals did not renew.
• Shoe and apparel giant Nike Inc. plans to expand its operations in Oregon and hire hundreds of workers but wants the state government to promise tax rules won't change, prompting a special session of the Legislature.
Gov. John Kitzhaber said he will call lawmakers together Friday in Salem to create a new law authorizing him to grant Nike's wish, and legislative leaders indicated they will go along with the plan.
Arturo Gatti, a world champion in two weight classes, will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum in Canastota, N.Y., on June 9.
Gatti retired in 2007 with a record of 40-9 and was selected in his first year of eligibility. Gatti died in July 2009 in Brazil at age 37 under mysterious circumstances.
Other boxers selected were Virgil Hill and South Korean Myung-Woo Yuh from modern times; Wesley Ramey and Jeff Smith in the old-timer (posthumous) category and Ireland native Joe Coburn in the pioneer category.
Other inductees: referee Mills Lane, ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr., manager Arturo "Cuyo" Hernandez of Mexico, cartoonist Ted Carroll and British journalist Colin Hart.

Linsanity: Jeremy Lin finally breaks out for Houston Rockets

2:08AM EST December 11. 2012 - Jeremy Lin always has been a late bloomer: lightly recruited, undrafted, two years on the bench and in the NBA Development League.
It took a quarter of a season, but Linsanity has reached Texas. The Houston Rockets point guard had a season-high 38 points Monday night in a 134-126 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
The Rockets were without their leading scorer, shooting guard James Harden, and Lin filled the void as he proved so capable of last season with the New York Knicks. His previous season-high points total was 21, on Nov. 2.
Lin had been mired in a funk lately, scoring 15 total points in his previous three games while losing minutes to backup Toney Douglas. But the expensive free agent busted out without Harden around.
Lin started out slowly, scoring two points in the first quarter, but then took over in the second and third, scoring 24 of Houston's 66 points in the high-scoring stanzas.
He finished 11-for-21 from the field, 4-for-5 from three and 12-for-12 from the line and added seven assists, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals for good measure.
Characteristically, Lin brushed aside his individual contributions.
"I'm thankful that I was able to get comfortable out there, but that's definitely secondary to the fact that we blew another close game," he said.
It was the breakout performance the Rockets needed from Lin, whom they invested $25.1 million in over the next three years. Lin burst onto the scene last February when the injury-plagued Knicks shuffled him into a starting and starring role, but his career before his two-month hot streak was full of D-League and DNPs.
Lin's game was not perfect. Near the end of regulation, with the score tied, he was ticking down the clock to set up a last shot when Danny Green poked the ball away from him.
"I had the ball to win it and didn't even get a shot up," Lin said. "That one hurt."
But that hurt can be overcome if this is a sign of things to come. Lin and Harden, who sat with a sprained ankle, have not always been on the same page this season. Lin is at his best as an aggressive playmaker, but Harden is the star of the team and demands the ball.
If Harden misses a few games, Lin could find his rhythm. Harden can adjust to an aggressive point guard; he played with Russell Westbrook on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale said before the game he wanted Lin more involved, with or without Harden.
"We have to find a way to get Jeremy playing with the ball more even playing with James," McHale told the Houston Chronicle. "We've got to make sure he's able to do some things and have some strong side, weak side action where he is involved, anyway."
He was involved Monday. And the result was spectacular. Linsane, even.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

With Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Record High, Worries on How to Slow Warming

Global emissions of carbon dioxide were at a record high in 2011 and are likely to take a similar jump in 2012, scientists reported Sunday — the latest indication that efforts to limit such emissions are failing.

Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project.

Josep G. Canadell, a scientist in Australia who leads that tracking program, said Sunday in a statement that salvaging the goal, if it can be done at all, “requires an immediate, large and sustained global mitigation effort.”

Yet nations around the world, despite a formal treaty pledging to limit warming — and 20 years of negotiations aimed at putting it into effect — have shown little appetite for the kinds of controls required to accomplish those stated aims.

Delegates from nearly 200 nations are meeting in Doha, Qatar, for the latest round of talks under the treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Their agenda is modest this year, with no new emissions targets and little progress expected on a protocol that is supposed to be concluded in 2015 and take effect in 2020.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the climate convention, said the global negotiations were necessary, but were not sufficient.

“We won’t get an international agreement until enough domestic legislation and action are in place to begin to have an effect,” she said in an interview. “Governments have to find ways in which action on the ground can be accelerated and taken to a higher level, because that is absolutely needed.”

The new figures show that emissions are falling, slowly, in some of the most advanced countries, including the United States. That apparently reflects a combination of economic weakness, the transfer of some manufacturing to developing countries and conscious efforts to limit emissions, like the renewable power targets that many American states have set. The boom in the natural gas supply from hydraulic fracturing is also a factor, since natural gas is supplanting coal at many power stations, leading to lower emissions.

But the decline of emissions in the developed countries is more than matched by continued growth in developing countries like China and India, the new figures show. Coal, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is growing fastest, with coal-related emissions leaping more than 5 percent in 2011, compared with the previous year.

“If we’re going to run the world on coal, we’re in deep trouble,” said Gregg H. Marland, a scientist at Appalachian State University who has tracked emissions for decades.

Over all, global emissions jumped 3 percent in 2011 and are expected to jump 2.6 percent in 2012, researchers reported in two papers released by scientific journals on Sunday. It has become routine to set new emissions records each year, although the global economic crisis led to a brief decline in 2009.

The level of carbon dioxide, the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, has increased about 41 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and scientists fear it could double or triple before emissions are brought under control. The temperature of the planet has already increased about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1850.

Further increases in carbon dioxide are likely to have a profound effect on climate, scientists say, leading to higher seas and greater coastal flooding, more intense weather disasters like droughts and heat waves, and an extreme acidification of the ocean. Many experts believe the effects are already being seen, but they are projected to worsen.