Stock futures edge higher hours before "cliff" deadline


NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks were set for a flat open on the last trading day of the year on Monday as political leaders in Washington struggled to find a bipartisan agreement that would keep the United States from going over the "fiscal cliff."


Negotiations continued between top lawmakers and the White House on how to head off the fiscal cliff - $600 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that kick in January 1. Economists say it could drag the economy in recession.


A Republican Senate leadership aide described discussions between Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden as "good talks," saying they lasted late into Sunday evening.


The lack of panic suggests investors still expect officials to find a solution to the budget problems early in the New Year.


Despite recent nervousness over the stalemate in U.S. budget talks, the S&P 500 is up 11.5 percent for the year compared with a nearly flat performance in 2011. The Dow industrials are up 5.9 percent and the Nasdaq composite is up 13.6 percent for 2012.


The Democrat-controlled Senate reconvenes later in the day, with only hours to find a legislative solution, most likely a stop-gap deal, that would also have to be passed by the Republican-majority House of Representatives.


"I expect today's move to be exaggerated considering that it will be a light volume day. The market is hopeful that there will be some kind of temporary fix here, so if we don't see a deal here, not even a mini deal, I suspect the market could sell off," said Peter Cardillo, chief market analyst for Rockwell Global Capital in New York.


While midnight is the deadline for a deal, the government can pass legislation in 2013 that retroactively prevents the United States going over the fiscal cliff, an 'option that is viewed as politically easier.


S&P 500 futures rose 12.5 points, in line with fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures added 89 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures dropped 2.5 points.


Also supporting the market, activity in China's vast manufacturing sector achieved its fastest pace in December since May 2011, a survey of private factory managers showed, with a sub-index for new orders pointing to continued strength in the new year.


European shares ended slightly higher in the final truncated trading session of 2012, but investors were unwilling to take on much risk, given the U.S. budget crisis and after strong year-to-date gains.


U.S. stocks dropped on Friday, with significant losses in the last minutes of trading, as prospects for a deal worsened at the beginning of the weekend.


On Sunday, President Barack Obama, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," said investors could begin to show greater concerns in the new year.


Investors have remained relatively sanguine about the process, believing it will eventually be solved. In the past two months markets have not shown the kind of volatility that was present during the fight to raise the debt ceiling in 2011.


Rather, equities have largely performed well in the last two months, buoyed by signs of economic recovery, an improving housing market and monetary policy designed to stimulate growth and lower unemployment.


(Reporting By Angela Moon; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



Read More..

Redskins beat Cowboys 28-18 to win NFC East


LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — "R-G-3!" was all Redskins fans needed to chant when they wanted to express their love for Robert Griffin III. For the lesser-known rookie, they opted for his whole name: "Alf-red Mor-ris!"


It's a new generation that has Washington atop the NFC East for the first time this millennium. There's Griffin — the vocal leader, the first-round draft pick, the Heisman Trophy winner, the team captain. And there's Morris — the out-of-nowhere sixth-rounder from Florida Atlantic who merely ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the division-clincher and broke the franchise single-season rushing record.


"These," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said, "aren't ordinary rookies."


The Redskins claimed their first division title since 1999, beating the archrival Dallas Cowboys 28-18 Sunday night in a winner-take-all finale to end the NFL's regular season.


"I was 9 years old in 1999," said Griffin, sporting a black baseball cap commemorating the title. "So I stand before you at 22, and the Redskins are the NFC East champions. To me, talking to Alfred after the game, it's the first time the Redskins have been champs since '99 and we came in and we did it in one year. The sky's the limit for this team."


Griffin, gradually regaining his explosiveness after spraining his right knee four weeks ago, ran for 63 yards and a touchdown for the Redskins (10-6), who finished with seven straight wins after their bye week. They became the first NFL team to rally from 3-6 and make the playoffs since the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996.


With the running game working so well, Griffin didn't have to throw much. He completed nine of 18 passes for 100 yards.


Washington will host Seattle next Sunday, the Redskins' third consecutive playoff game against the Seahawks. They lost at Seattle as a wild-card team in the 2005 and 2007 seasons.


"I've been here for the 4-12, the bad times, almost being the joke of the NFL," veteran defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "But to do this with this group of guys — the old and the new — it's good to be here."


Certainly, Sunday night was mostly about the new. Morris had touchdown runs of 1, 17 and 32 yards and was so dominant that the Cowboys — missing their five best run defenders due to injuries — fell hook, line and sinker nearly every time the Redskins faked the ball to him. He finished with 1,613 yards for the year, topping Clinton Portis' 1,516 in 2005.


"I'll tell you what: Alfred Morris became a star tonight," Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said. "He deserved it. He's a phenomenal football player."


To which Morris answered: "I'm never a star. I'll never be a star. Other people might think I'm a star, but I'm just Alfred."


He won't have much choice if he keeps this up. On the Redskins' go-ahead drive in the third quarter, six plays were runs by Morris and the other three involved fakes to him. The touchdown came when Griffin faked to Morris — one of several times linebacker DeMarcus Ware was totally fooled by deception in the backfield — and ran 10 yards around left end to put Washington ahead 14-7.


The Cowboys (8-8), meanwhile, will miss the playoffs for the third straight season, having stumbled in a make-or-break end-of-regular-season game for the third time in five years.


Tony Romo threw three interceptions — matching his total from the last eight games combined. A poor throw was picked by Rob Jackson when the Cowboys had a chance to drive for a winning score in the final minutes.


"I feel as though I let our team down," Romo said.


Romo completed 20 of 31 passes for 218 yards, and his career is now further tainted by post-Christmas disappointments, including Week 17 losses to the Philadelphia Eagles (44-6) in 2008 and the New York Giants (31-14) last year. He's also 1-3 in playoff games.


"Your legacy will be written when you're done playing the game," Romo said. "And when it's over with, you'll look back. ... It's disappointing not being able to get over that hump."


The Cowboys played catch-up after Morris' 32-yard scamper gave the Redskins a 21-10 cushion with 10:32 to play, pulling within three on a 10-yard pass to Kevin Ogletree and a 2-point conversion with 5:50 left. But Morris' third touchdown sealed the win with 1:09 remaining.


The Cowboys also dealt with in-game injuries to receivers Miles Austin (left ankle), Dez Bryant (back) and Dwayne Harris (lower leg). Bryant, who had a torrid second half of the season despite breaking his left index finger, had four catches for 71 yards.


Washington's slow start this season prompted coach Mike Shanahan to dismiss playoff hopes and declare the remaining seven games would determine which players would be on his team "for years to come."


Griffin and his teammates had other plans, and the coach quickly changed his tune. Now the Redskins will be playing in January.


"All odds were against us," Morris said. "But we believed in each other."


Notes: Griffin set two more NFL rookie records. His 102.4 passer rating topped Ben Roethlisberger's 98.1 in 2004, and his 1.3 percentage of passes intercepted is better than Charlie Batch's 1.98 in 1998. Griffin had already set the league mark for rushing yards by a rookie QB (815). ... The Redskins also set a franchise record for fewest turnovers in a season with 14, fewer even than the 1982 team that played only nine regular-season games because of a players strike.


___


Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP


___


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


Read More..

Japan Launching Ambitious Asteroid-Sampling Mission in 2014






Japan’s space agency is readying a new asteroid probe for launch, an ambitious mission that aims to build on the victory of the country’s first round-trip asteroid mission that sent the Hayabusa spacecraft to retrieve samples of the space rock Itokowa.


The new Japanese asteroid mission, called Hayabusa2, is scheduled for launch in 2014 and aimed at the asteroid 1999 JU3, a large space rock about 3,018 feet (920 meters) in length. It is due to arrive at the asteroid in mid-2018, loiter at the space rock and carry out a slew of challenging firsts before departing the scene at the end of 2019.






If all goes well, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft will return to Earth with samples of asteroid 1999 JU3 at the end of 2020. The probe’s name is Japanese for “Falcon2.”


Building on success


Officials with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said Hayabusa2, like its Hayabusa predecessor, will also involve a significant level of international cooperation. The initial Hayabusa mission launched in May 2003 and returned samples of Itokawa — the first asteroid samples ever collected in space — in June 2010. [Japan Returns 1st Asteroid Samples to Earth (Photos)]


Like that first flight, the Hayabusa2 mission will rely on NASA’s Deep Space Network of ground stations to help track the spacecraft. The spacecraft’s return capsule will also land in Australia, another similarity to the first flight.


Hayabusa2 is expected to stay with asteroid 1999 JU3 for more than a year, 18 months in all, thereby allowing ample time for observation and careful sample collection, according to the mission’s project manager Makoto Yoshikawa of Japan‘s the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS).


Asteroid 1999 JU3 is of particular interest to researchers because it consists of 4.5-billion-year-old material that has been altered very little. Measurements taken from Earth suggest that the asteroid’s rock may have come into contact with water.


The C-type asteroid is expected to contain organic and hydrated minerals, making it different from Itokawa, which was a rocky S-type asteroid. Asteroid 1999 JU3 is also larger than Itokawa, which was 1,771 (540 m) long.


New and novel hardware


While the configuration of Hayabusa2 is similar to that of the first Hayabusa, the second probe will carry new and novel asteroid-studying hardware.


For example, the antenna for Hayabusa was a single parabolic dish, but Hayabusa2 will sport two flat high-gain antennas to support faster communication speeds than its predecessor. Also, Hayabusa2 is to will fly through space with more propulsion power from its ion engines. [How Japan's 1st Asteroid Probe Worked (Infographic)]


Another addition is a 4-pound (2 kilograms) “collision device” that will be used to create an artificial crater on asteroid 1999 JU3 during the mission. This human-caused dent is expected to be a small one, a few meters in diameter. But it will allow Hayabusa2 to acquire samples of the asteroid that are exposed by the smashing event, fresh specimens that are less weathered by the brutal space environment on the asteroid’s surface.


Yoshikawa noted that during the first Hayabusa mission, the probe’s MIcro/Nano Experimental Robot Vehicle for Asteroid (MINERVA) failed to reach the surface of Itokawa. “So for Hayabusa2 we have even greater motivation to succeed with our new version of the robot, MINERVA2.”


Hayabusa2′s MASCOT hitchhiker


For its part, the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) Institute of Space Systems in Bremen is contributing the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout asteroid lander, or Mascot, to the JAXA mission. Mascot is being developed by DLR in collaboration with the French space agency and JAXA.


After Hayabusa2 arrives at asteroid 1999 JU3 in 2018, Mascot will be released from the main spacecraft. A spring-loaded mechanism will push the 22-pound (10 kilograms) lander clear of from Hayabusa2.


Mascot is a “hopping” lander packed with four separate instruments and is designed to move across the surface of an asteroid. Doing so will enable it to take measurements at different sites. As Mascot performs the near-asteroid maneuvers, a radiometer will measure the temperature of the asteroid and a camera will image the fine structure of the surface of 1999 JU3.


The lander will be controlled from DLR’s Microgravity User Support Center in Cologne.


Free-falling on an asteroid


“Mascot will free-fall to the asteroid from an altitude of around 100 meters [328 feet],” said Tra-Mi Ho, DLR’s project leader for the device, in a statement. Sensors will then ensure that Mascot knows which way is up and down, so it can orient itself and, if necessary, correct its attitude.


Once on the asteroid, Mascot is expected to automatically adjust itself and “hop” from one measurement site to the next.


“Mascot is due to take measurements of the regolith itself, which will provide reference data about the surface and enable the samples subsequently brought back by Hayabusa2 to be interpreted in the correct context,” said Ralf Jaumann, a DLR planetary researcher and scientific spokesman for the experiments on the lander.


Mascot will work on the asteroid for a total of 16 hours, the equivalent of two days on asteroid 1999 JU3.


Up close with an asteroid


“We anticipate obtaining close-up photographs of the asteroid surface up to the order of centimeter-level resolution, something that Hayabusa1 was unable to capture,” said Masanao Abe, Hayabusa2 project scientist at ISAS.


The experience gained from that first Hayabusa mission, in terms of asteroid sample collection and analysis technologies, is proving highly useful, Abe said.


“Japan is at the forefront of sample-return technology and execution,” Abe added “and we are constantly thinking about how we can maintain our position and steadily working on things that will keep us at the leading edge.”


New discoveries ahead


Akio Fujimura, an advisor in JAXA’s Lunar and Planetary Exploration Program Group, said that in Hayabusa2′s snagging of carbonaceous asteroid material, there is a high probability of gaining samples that contain organic matter — the fundamental building blocks of life.


“So, first, I expect Hayabusa2 to be a success. Then after that, I’d like us to proceed with an inquiry concerning where we came from and how life came about,” Fujimura said. “It would be great to uncover the origins of the solar system, Earth, the other planets, and life itself by getting information that we can’t obtain here on Earth. I’d like us to open up new lines of scientific inquiry that seek to discover these origins.”


JAXA and the ISAS has learned a great deal from the first Hayabusa mission, said Michael Zolensky, a Hayabusa team member in sample analysis at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.


“Although the second spacecraft is based on the first one, they have made significant upgrades and expanded the capabilities of the spacecraft for Hayabusa2,” Zolensky told SPACE.com. “It should be a fantastic mission. No fooling.”


Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is the 2011 winner of the National Space Club Press Award and a past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society’s Ad Astra and Space World magazines. He has written for SPACE.com since 1999.


Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Space and Astronomy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





Title Post: Japan Launching Ambitious Asteroid-Sampling Mission in 2014
Rating:
100%

based on 99998 ratings.
5 user reviews.
Author: Fluser SeoLink
Thanks for visiting the blog, If any criticism and suggestions please leave a comment




Read More..

13 key stories to watch for in 2013




Among the few virtual certainties of 2013 is the ongoing anguish of Syria and the decline of its president, Bashar al-Assad.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Look for more unrest amid power transitions in the Middle East

  • Disputes and economic worries will keep China, Japan, North Korea in the news

  • Europe's economy will stay on a rough road, but the outlook for it is brighter

  • Events are likely to draw attention to cyber warfare and climate change




(CNN) -- Forecasting the major international stories for the year ahead is a time-honored pastime, but the world has a habit of springing surprises. In late 1988, no one was predicting Tiananmen Square or the fall of the Berlin Wall. On the eve of 2001, the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan were unimaginable. So with that substantial disclaimer, let's peer into the misty looking glass for 2013.


More turmoil for Syria and its neighbors


If anything can be guaranteed, it is that Syria's gradual and brutal disintegration will continue, sending aftershocks far beyond its borders. Most analysts do not believe that President Bashar al-Assad can hang on for another year. The more capable units of the Syrian armed forces are overstretched; large tracts of north and eastern Syria are beyond the regime's control; the economy is in dire straits; and the war is getting closer to the heart of the capital with every passing week. Russian support for al-Assad, once insistent, is now lukewarm.


Amid the battle, a refugee crisis of epic proportions threatens to become a catastrophe as winter sets in. The United Nations refugee agency says more than 4 million Syrians are in desperate need, most of them in squalid camps on Syria's borders, where tents are no match for the cold and torrential rain. Inside Syria, diseases like tuberculosis are spreading, according to aid agencies, and there is a danger that hunger will become malnutrition in places like Aleppo.


The question is whether the conflict will culminate Tripoli-style, with Damascus overrun by rebel units; or whether a political solution can be found that involves al-Assad's departure and a broadly based transitional government taking his place. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has not been explicit about al-Assad's exit as part of the transition, but during his most recent visit to Damascus, he hinted that it has to be.









2012: The year in pictures










































































HIDE CAPTION





<<


<





1




2




3




4




5




6




7




8




9




10




11




12




13




14




15




16




17




18




19




20
























































>


>>












"Syria and the Syrian people need, want and look forward to real change. And the meaning of this is clear to all," he said.


The international community still seems as far as ever from meaningful military intervention, even as limited as a no fly-zone. Nor is there any sign of concerted diplomacy to push all sides in Syria toward the sort of deal that ended the war in Bosnia. In those days, the United States and Russia were able to find common ground. In Syria, they have yet to do so, and regional actors such as Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran also have irons in the fire.


Failing an unlikely breakthrough that would bring the regime and its opponents to a Syrian version of the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war, the greatest risk is that a desperate regime may turn to its chemical weapons, troublesome friends (Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Kurdish PKK in Turkey) and seek to export unrest to Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.


The Syrian regime has already hinted that it can retaliate against Turkey's support for the rebels -- not by lobbing Scud missiles into Turkey, but by playing the "Kurdish" card. That might involve direct support for the PKK or space for its Syrian ally, the Democratic Union Party. By some estimates, Syrians make up one-third of the PKK's fighting strength.


To the Turkish government, the idea that Syria's Kurds might carve out an autonomous zone and get cozy with Iraq's Kurds is a nightmare in the making. Nearly 800 people have been killed in Turkey since the PKK stepped up its attacks in mid-2011, but with three different sets of elections in Turkey in 2013, a historic bargain between Ankara and the Kurds that make up 18% of Turkey's population looks far from likely.


Many commentators expect Lebanon to become more volatile in 2013 because it duplicates so many of the dynamics at work in Syria. The assassination in October of Lebanese intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan -- as he investigated a pro-Syrian politician accused of obtaining explosives from the Syrian regime -- was an ominous portent.


Victory for the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels in Syria would tilt the fragile sectarian balance next door, threatening confrontation between Lebanon's Sunnis and Hezbollah. The emergence of militant Salafist groups like al-Nusra in Syria is already playing into the hands of militants in Lebanon.


Iraq, too, is not immune from Syria's turmoil. Sunni tribes in Anbar and Ramadi provinces would be heartened should Assad be replaced by their brethren across the border. It would give them leverage in an ever more tense relationship with the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. The poor health of one of the few conciliators in Iraqi politics, President Jalal Talabani, and renewed disputes between Iraq's Kurds and the government over boundaries in the oil-rich north, augur for a troublesome 2013 in Iraq.


More worries about Iran's nuclear program


Syria's predicament will probably feature throughout 2013, as will the behavior of its only friend in the region: Iran. Intelligence sources say Iran continues to supply the Assad regime with money, weapons and expertise; and military officers who defected from the Syrian army say Iranian technicians work in Syria's chemical weapons program. Al-Assad's continued viability is important for Iran, as his only Arab ally. They also share sponsorship of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which, with its vast supply of rockets and even some ballistic missiles, might be a valuable proxy in the event of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program.


Speaking of which, there are likely to be several more episodes in the behind-closed-doors drama of negotiations on Iran's nuclear sites. Russia is trying to arrange the next round for January. But in public, at least, Iran maintains it has every right to continue enriching uranium for civilian purposes, such as helping in the treatment of more than 1 million Iranians with cancer.


Iran "will not suspend 20% uranium enrichment because of the demands of others," Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said this month.


International experts say the amount of 20% enriched uranium (estimated by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November at 297 pounds) is more than needed for civilian purposes, and the installation of hundreds more centrifuges could cut the time needed to enrich uranium to weapons-grade. The question is whether Iran will agree to intrusive inspections that would reassure the international community -- and Israel specifically -- that it can't and won't develop a nuclear weapon.


This raises another question: Will it take bilateral U.S.-Iranian talks -- and the prospect of an end to the crippling sanctions regime -- to find a breakthrough? And will Iran's own presidential election in June change the equation?


For now, Israel appears to be prepared to give negotiation (and sanctions) time to bring Iran to the table. For now.


Egypt to deal with new power, economic troubles


Given the turmoil swirling through the Middle East, Israel could probably do without trying to bomb Iran's nuclear program into submission. Besides Syria and Lebanon, it is already grappling with a very different Egypt, where a once-jailed Islamist leader is now president and Salafist/jihadi groups, especially in undergoverned areas like Sinai, have a lease on life unimaginable in the Mubarak era.



The U.S. has an awkward relationship with President Mohamed Morsy, needing his help in mediating with Hamas in Gaza but concerned that his accumulation of power is fast weakening democracy and by his bouts of anti-Western rhetoric. (He has demanded the release from a U.S. jail of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted of involvement in the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.)


The approval of the constitution removes one uncertainty, even if the opposition National Salvation Front says it cements Islamist power. But as much as the result, the turnout -- about one-third of eligible voters -- indicates that Egyptians are tired of turmoil, and more concerned about a deepening economic crisis.


Morsy imposed and then scrapped new taxes, and the long-expected $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund is still not agreed on. Egypt's foreign reserves were down to $15 billion by the end of the year, enough to cover less than three months of imports. Tourism revenues are one-third of what they were before street protests erupted early in 2011. Egypt's crisis in 2013 may be more about its economy than its politics.


Libya threatens to spawn more unrest in North Africa


Libya's revolution, if not as seismic as anything Syria may produce, is still reverberating far and wide. As Moammar Gadhafi's rule crumbled, his regime's weapons found their way into an arms bazaar, turning up in Mali and Sinai, even being intercepted off the Lebanese coast.


The Libyan government, such as it is, seems no closer to stamping its authority on the country, with Islamist brigades holding sway in the east, tribal unrest in the Sahara and militias engaged in turf wars. The danger is that Libya, a vast country where civic institutions were stifled for four decades, will become the incubator for a new generation of jihadists, able to spread their influence throughout the Sahel. They will have plenty of room and very little in the way of opposition from security forces.


The emergence of the Islamist group Ansar Dine in Mali is just one example. In this traditionally moderate Muslim country, Ansar's fighters and Tuareg rebels have ejected government forces from an area of northern Mali the size of Spain and begun implementing Sharia law, amputations and floggings included. Foreign fighters have begun arriving to join the latest front in global jihad; and terrorism analysts are seeing signs that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria are beginning to work together.


There are plans for an international force to help Mali's depleted military take back the north, but one European envoy said it was unlikely to materialize before (wait for it) ... September 2013. Some terrorism analysts see North Africa as becoming the next destination of choice for international jihad, as brigades and camps sprout across a vast area of desert.


A bumpy troop transition for Afghanistan


The U.S. and its allies want to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another haven for terror groups. As the troop drawdown gathers pace, 2013 will be a critical year in standing up Afghan security forces (the numbers are there, their competence unproven), improving civil institutions and working toward a post-Karzai succession.



In November, the International Crisis Group said the outlook was far from assuring.


"Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections (in Afghanistan in 2014) could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out," the group said.


Critics have also voiced concerns that the publicly announced date of 2014 for withdrawing combat forces only lets the Taliban know how long they must hold out before taking on the Kabul government.


U.S. officials insist the word is "transitioning" rather than "withdrawal," but the shape and role of any military presence in 2014 and beyond are yet to be settled. Let's just say the United States continues to build up and integrate its special operations forces.


The other part of the puzzle is whether the 'good' Taliban can be coaxed into negotiations, and whether Pakistan, which has considerable influence over the Taliban leadership, will play honest broker.


Private meetings in Paris before Christmas that involved Taliban envoys and Afghan officials ended with positive vibes, with the Taliban suggesting they were open to working with other political groups and would not resist girls' education. There was also renewed discussion about opening a Taliban office in Qatar, but we've been here before. The Taliban are riven by internal dissent and may be talking the talk while allowing facts on the ground to work to their advantage.


Where will North Korea turn its focus?


On the subject of nuclear states that the U.S.-wishes-were-not, the succession in North Korea has provided no sign that the regime is ready to restrain its ambitious program to test nuclear devices and the means to deliver them.



Back in May 2012, Peter Brookes of the American Foreign Policy Council said that "North Korea is a wild card -- and a dangerous one at that." He predicted that the inexperienced Kim Jong Un would want to appear "large and in charge," for internal and external consumption. In December, Pyongyang launched a long-range ballistic missile -- one that South Korean scientists later said had the range to reach the U.S. West Coast. Unlike the failure of the previous missile launch in 2009, it managed to put a satellite into orbit.


The last two such launches have been followed by nuclear weapons tests -- in 2006 and 2009. Recent satellite images of the weapons test site analyzed by the group 38 North show continued activity there.


So the decision becomes a political one. Does Kim continue to appear "large and in charge" by ordering another test? Or have the extensive reshuffles and demotions of the past year already consolidated his position, allowing him to focus on the country's dire economic situation?


China-Japan island dispute to simmer


It's been a while since East Asia has thrown up multiple security challenges, but suddenly North Korea's missile and nuclear programs are not the only concern in the region. There's growing rancor between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea, which may be aggravated by the return to power in Japan of Shinzo Abe as prime minister.


Abe has long been concerned that Japan is vulnerable to China's growing power and its willingness to project that power. Throughout 2012, Japan and China were locked in a war of words over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, with fishing and Coast Guard boats deployed to support claims of sovereignty.


In the days before Japanese went to the polls, Beijing also sent a surveillance plane over the area, marking the first time since 1958, according to Japanese officials, that Bejing had intruded into "Japanese airspace." Japan scrambled F-15 jets in response.


The islands are uninhabited, but the seas around them may be rich in oil and gas. There is also a Falklands factor at play here. Not giving in to the other side is a matter of national pride. There's plenty of history between China and Japan -- not much of it good.


As China has built up its ability to project military power, Japan's navy has also expanded. Even a low-level incident could lead to an escalation. And as the islands are currently administered by Japan, the U.S. would have an obligation to help the Japanese defend them.


Few analysts expect conflict to erupt, and both sides have plenty to lose. For Japan, China is a critical market, but Japanese investment there has fallen sharply in the past year. Just one in a raft of problems for Abe. His prescription for dragging Japan out of its fourth recession since 2000 is a vast stimulus program to fund construction and other public works and a looser monetary policy.


The trouble is that Japan's debt is already about 240% of its GDP, a much higher ratio than even Greece. And Japan's banks hold a huge amount of that debt. Add a shrinking and aging population, and at some point the markets might decide that the yield on Japan's 10-year sovereign bond ought to be higher than the current 0.77%.


Economic uncertainty in U.S., growth in China


So the world's third-largest economy may not help much in reviving global growth, which in 2012 was an anemic 2.2%, according to United Nations data. The parts of Europe not mired in recession hover close to it, and growth in India and Brazil has weakened. Which leaves the U.S. and China.


At the time of writing, the White House and congressional leadership are still peering over the fiscal cliff. Should they lose their footing, the Congressional Budget Office expects the arbitrary spending cuts and tax increases to be triggered will push the economy into recession and send unemployment above 9%.



A stopgap measure, rather than a long-term foundation for reducing the federal deficit, looks politically more likely. But to companies looking for predictable economic policy, it may not be enough to unlock billions in investment. Why spend heavily if there's a recession around the corner, or if another fight looms over raising the federal debt ceiling?


In September, Moody's said it would downgrade the U.S. sovereign rating from its "AAA" rating without "specific policies that produce a stabilization and then downward trend in the ratio of federal debt to GDP over the medium term." In other words, it wants action beyond kicking the proverbial can.


Should the cliff be dodged, most forecasts see the U.S. economy expanding by about 2% in 2013. That's not enough to make up for stagnation elsewhere, so a great deal depends on China avoiding the proverbial hard landing.


Until now, Chinese growth has been powered by exports and infrastructure spending, but there are signs that China's maturing middle class is also becoming an economic force to be reckoned with. Consultants PwC expect retail sales in China to increase by 10.5% next year -- with China overtaking the U.S. as the world's largest retail market by 2016.


Europe's economic outlook a little better


No one expects Europe to become an economic powerhouse in 2013, but at least the horizon looks a little less dark than it did a year ago. The "PIGS' " (Portugal, Ireland/Italy, Greece, Spain) borrowing costs have eased; there is at least rhetorical progress toward a new economic and fiscal union; and the European Central Bank has talked tough on defending the Eurozone.


Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, fended off the dragons with the declaration in July that "Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough."



Draghi has promised the bank has unlimited liquidity to buy sovereign debt, as long as governments (most likely Spain) submit to reforms designed to balance their budgets. But in 2013, the markets will want more than brave talk, including real progress toward banking and fiscal union that will leave behind what Draghi likes to call Europe's "fairy world" of unsustainable debt and collapsing banks. Nothing can be done without the say-so of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, renowned for a step-by-step approach that's likely to be even more cautious in a year when she faces re-election.


Elections in Italy in February may be more important -- pitching technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti against the maverick he replaced, 76-year old Silvio Berlusconi. After the collapse of Berlusconi's coalition 13 months ago, Monti reined in spending, raised the retirement age and raised taxes to bring Italy back from the brink of insolvency. Now he will lead a coalition of centrist parties into the election. But polls suggest that Italians are tired of Monti's austerity program, and Berlusconi plans a populist campaign against the man he calls "Germano-centric."


The other tripwire in Europe may be Greece. More cuts in spending -- required to qualify for an EU/IMF bailout -- are likely to deepen an already savage recession, threatening more social unrest and the future of a fragile coalition. A 'Grexit' from the eurozone is still possible, and that's according to the Greek finance minister, Yannis Stournaras.


Expect to see more evidence of climate change


Hurricane Sandy, which struck the U.S. East Coast in November, was the latest indicator of changing and more severe weather patterns. Even if not repeated in 2013, extreme weather is beginning to have an effect -- on where people live, on politicians and on the insurance industry.


After Sandy, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that after "the last few years, I don't think anyone can sit back anymore and say, 'Well, I'm shocked at that weather pattern.' " The storm of the century has become the storm of every decade or so, said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences at Princeton.


"Climate change will probably increase storm intensity and size simultaneously, resulting in a significant intensification of storm surges," he and colleagues wrote in Nature.


In the U.S., government exposure to storm-related losses in coastal states has risen more than 15-fold since 1990, to $885 billion in 2011, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The Munich RE insurance group says North America has seen higher losses from extreme weather than any other part of the world in recent decades.


"A main loss driver is the concentration of people and assets on the coast combined with high and possibly growing vulnerabilities," it says.


Risk Management Solutions, which models catastrophic risks, recently updated its scenarios, anticipating an increase of 40% in insurance losses on the Gulf Coast, Florida and the Southeast over the next five years, and 25% to 30% for the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states. Those calculations were done before Sandy.



Inland, eyes will be trained on the heavens for signs of rain -- after the worst drought in 50 years across the Midwest. Climatologists say that extended periods of drought -- from the U.S. Midwest to Ukraine -- may be "the new normal." Jennifer Francis at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University has shown that a warmer Arctic tends to slow the jet stream, causing it to meander and, in turn, prolong weather patterns. It's called Arctic amplification, and it is probably aggravating drought in the Northwest United States and leading to warmer summers in the Northern Hemisphere, where 2012 was the hottest year on record.


It is a double-edged sword: Warmer temperatures may make it possible to begin cultivating in places like Siberia, but drier weather in traditional breadbaskets would be very disruptive. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that stocks of key cereals have tightened, contributing to volatile world markets. Poor weather in Argentina, the world's second-largest exporter of corn, may compound the problem.


More cyber warfare


What will be the 2013 equivalents of Flame, Gauss and Shamoon? They were some of the most damaging computer viruses of 2012. The size and versatility of Flame was unlike nothing seen before, according to anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab.



Gauss stole online banking information in the Middle East. Then came Shamoon, a virus that wiped the hard drives of about 30,000 computers at the Saudi oil company Aramco, making them useless. The Saudi government declared it an attack on the country's economy; debate continues on whether it was state-sponsored.


Kaspersky predicts that in 2013, we will see "new examples of cyber-warfare operations, increasing targeted attacks on businesses and new, sophisticated mobile threats."


Computer security firm McAfee also expects more malware to be developed to attack mobile devices and apps in 2013.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is more concerned about highly sophisticated attacks on infrastructure that "could be as destructive as the terrorist attack on 9/11."


"We know that foreign cyber actors are probing America's critical infrastructure networks. They are targeting the computer control systems that operate chemical, electricity and water plants and those that guide transportation throughout this country," he said in October.


Intellectual property can be stolen, bought or demanded as a quid pro quo for market access. The U.S. intelligence community believes China or Chinese interests are employing all three methods in an effort to close the technology gap.


In the waning days of 2012, the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States said "there is likely a coordinated strategy among one or more foreign governments or companies to acquire U.S. companies involved in research, development, or production of critical technologies."


It did not name the country in its unclassified report but separately noted a growing number of attempts by Chinese entities to buy U.S. companies.


Who will be soccer's next 'perfect machine'?



There's room for two less serious challenges in 2013. One is whether any football team, in Spain or beyond, can beat Barcelona and its inspirational goal machine Lionel Messi, who demolished a record that had stood since 1972 for the number of goals scored in a calendar year. (Before Glasgow Celtic fans start complaining, let's acknowledge their famous win against the Spanish champions in November.)


Despite the ill health of club coach Tito Vilanova, "Barca" sits imperiously at the top of La Liga in Spain and is the favorite to win the world's most prestigious club trophy, the European Champions League, in 2013. AC Milan is its next opponent in a match-up that pits two of Europe's most storied clubs against each other. But as Milan sporting director Umberto Gandini acknowledges, "We face a perfect machine."


Will Gangnam give it up to something sillier?



Finally, can something -- anything -- displace Gangnam Style as the most watched video in YouTube's short history? As of 2:16 p.m. ET on December 26, it had garnered 1,054,969,395 views and an even more alarming 6,351,871 "likes."


Perhaps in 2013 the YouTube audience will be entranced by squirrels playing table tennis, an octopus that spins plates or Cistercian nuns dancing the Macarena. Or maybe Gangnam will get to 2 billion with a duet with Justin Bieber.







Read More..

Tribune Co. to emerge from bankruptcy today









The last day of 2012 is the first of a new era for Tribune Co.

After spending more than four years embroiled in a contentious Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, the reorganized Chicago-based media company is emerging today under new owners and a newly appointed board, freed from its massive debt and facing an uncertain future.

Senior creditors Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo, Gordon & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are set to take control of Tribune Co.’s storied portfolio of publishing and broadcasting assets, including the Chicago Tribune, officials said.

It was an almost anticlimactic end to a long and painful chapter in Tribune Co.'s 165-year history. Late Sunday, the new Tribune Co. named its board of directors, filed notification with the Delaware bankruptcy court where the bulk of legal wrangling took place and declared its existence.

"It took a long time to get here," said Ken Liang, a managing director at Oaktree and a new member of the board. "It was a tough restructuring. We're pretty excited about the exit."

The new board also will include Tribune Co. CEO Eddy Hartenstein; Ross Levinsohn, who recently left as interim chief executive of Yahoo Inc.; Craig Jacobson, a well-known entertainment lawyer; Peter Murphy, a former strategy executive at Walt Disney Co. and Ceasars Entertainment; Bruce Karsh, Oaktree president; and Peter Liguori, a former top television executive at Fox and Discovery.

Liguori is expected to be named chief executive of Tribune Co. going forward.

Hartenstein, who is publisher of the Los Angeles Times, has been CEO of Tribune Co. since May 2011. He will remain in the role until the board convenes its first meeting in the next several weeks, where it will name the company’s executive officers, according to a company statement.

“Tribune will emerge from the bankruptcy process as a multi-media company with a great mix of profitable assets, strong brands in major markets and a much-improved capital structure,” Hartenstein said in the statement.

Tribune Co. owns 23 television stations, including WGN-Ch. 9, WGN America, eight daily newspapers and other media assets, all of which the reorganization plan valued at $4.5 billion after cash distributions and new financing. Eventually, all the assets are expected to be sold, according to the new owners.

They take the reins of a company that saw its worth essentially cut in half since 2007, when Chicago billionaire Sam Zell took it private in an $8.2 billion leveraged buyout. The rapid decline was mostly due to falling newspaper valuations in the face of digital competition. The anticipated hiring of Liguori suggests that broadcasting will be the operational focus going forward, according to several media analysts.

Los Angeles-based Oaktree, the largest shareholder, with about 23 percent of the equity, appointed two of seven board members. Both Angelo Gordon and JPMorgan have roughly a 9 percent stake and appointed one seat each. The three jointly appointed two more board members, with the final seat occupied by the chief executive.

Among the outgoing board members is Zell, whose deal was seen at the time as an alternative to the squabbles within Tribune Co. that threatened to break apart the then-publicly traded company. But the Great Recession and plummeting advertising revenues across all media, especially the struggling newspaper industry, made the company’s resulting $13 billion debt load untenable.

Tribune Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2008. Zell blamed a “perfect storm” of industry and economic forces. But the bankruptcy case turned on charges leveled by junior creditors that saddling the company with such a debt burden left it insolvent from the outset.

Led by an aggressive distressed debt fund called Aurelius Capital Management, the junior creditors pressed litigation that stretched out the case for three and a half years in a Delaware court before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey confirmed the reorganization plan in July. An emergency appeal to stay that decision was dismissed by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September. In November, the Federal Communications Commission signed off on waivers needed to transfer Tribune Co.’s broadcast properties to the new ownership, clearing the last hurdle to its emergence from Chapter 11.

“Usually, bankruptcy cases like this take much less time and cost less money,” said Douglas Baird, a bankruptcy expert and law professor at the University of Chicago.

Baird said legal fees for most large corporate bankruptcies run 3 to 4 percent of the company’s total worth. The Tribune Co. case, which will likely cost the company more than $500 million in legal and other professional fees, was more than twice that percentage, due to both the extended litigation and the company’s declining valuation.

Before cash distributions and new financing, a 2012 analysis by financial adviser Lazard valued the broadcasting assets, including the TV stations, WGN-AM 720, CLTV and national cable channel WGN America, at $2.85 billion. Other strategic assets, such as online job site CareerBuilder and cable channel Food Network, are worth $2.26 billion.

Tribune Co.’s newspaper holdings, including the Tribune, Los Angeles Times and six other daily publications, have withered to $623 million in total value, according to Lazard. In 2006, entertainment mogul David Geffen made a $2 billion cash offer for the Los Angeles Times.

Read More..

Assad's forces push to retake Damascus suburb


AMMAN (Reuters) - Heavy fighting raged on the outskirts of Damascus on Monday as elite troops backed by tanks tried to recapture a strategic suburb from rebels in one of the largest military operations in that district in months, opposition activists said.


Five people, including one child, died from army rocket fire that hit Daraya, the activists said. Daraya is one of a series of interconnected Sunni Muslim suburbs that ring Syria's capital and have been at the forefront of the 21-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.


"This is the biggest attack on Daraya in two months. An armored column is trying to advance but it being held (back) by the Free Syrian Army," said Abu Kinan, an opposition activist in the area, referring to a rebel group.


He said that tens of thousands of civilians had fled Daraya during weeks of government assault but that 5,000 remained, along with hundreds of rebels. Daraya is located near the main southern highway leading to the Jordanian border 85 kms (50 miles) to the south.


Activists said the military is trying to push back rebels who have been slowly advancing from the outskirts of Damascus to within striking distance of central districts inhabited by Assad's Alawite minority sect.


Assad's forces have mostly relied on aerial and artillery bombardment, rather than infantry. Rebels have been able take several outlying towns and have clashed with government troops near Damascus International Airport, halting flights by foreign airlines.


Another activist in Damascus with connection to rebels, who did not want to be named, said Daraya has been a firing position for rebels using mortars and homemade rockets. From it, they have been able to hit a huge presidential complex located at a hilltop overlooking Damascus and target pro-Assad shabbiha militia in an Alawite enclave nearby known as Mezze 86.


"So far they have missed the palace but they are getting better. I think the regime has realized that it no longer can afford to have such a threat so close by, but it has failed to overrun Daraya before," he said.


(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Oliver Holmes and Peter Graff)



Read More..

Wall Street Week Ahead: Cliff may be a fear, but debt ceiling much scarier


(Reuters) - Investors fearing a stock market plunge - if the United States tumbles off the "fiscal cliff" next week - may want to relax.


But they should be scared if a few weeks later, Washington fails to reach a deal to increase the nation's debt ceiling because that raises the threat of a default, another credit downgrade and a panic in the financial markets.


Market strategists say that while falling off the cliff for any lengthy period - which would lead to automatic tax hikes and stiff cuts in government spending - would badly hurt both consumer and business confidence, it would take some time for the U.S. economy to slide into recession. In the meantime, there would be plenty of chances for lawmakers to make amends by reversing some of the effects.


That has been reflected in a U.S. stock market that has still not shown signs of melting down. Instead, it has drifted lower and become more volatile.


In some ways, that has let Washington off the hook. In the past, a plunge in stock prices forced the hand of Congress, such as in the middle of the financial crisis in 2008.


"If this thing continues for a bit longer and the result is you get a U.S. debt downgrade ... the risk is not that you lose two-and-a-half percent, the risk is that you lose ten and a half," said Jonathan Golub, chief U.S. equity strategist at UBS Equity Research, in New York.


U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said this week that the United States will technically reach its debt limit at the end of the year.


INVESTORS WARY OF JANUARY


The White House has said it will not negotiate the debt ceiling as in 2011, when the fight over what was once a procedural matter preceded the first-ever downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. But it may be forced into such a battle again. A repeat of that war is most worrisome for markets.


Markets posted several days of sharp losses in the period surrounding the debt ceiling fight in 2011. Even after a bill to increase the ceiling passed, stocks plunged in what was seen as a vote of "no confidence" in Washington's ability to function, considering how close lawmakers came to a default.


Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's lowered the U.S. sovereign rating to double-A-plus, citing Washington's legislative problems as one reason for the downgrade from triple-A status. The benchmark S&P 500 dropped 16 percent in a four-week period ending August 21, 2011.


"I think there will be a tremendous fight between Democrats and Republicans about the debt ceiling," said Jon Najarian, a co-founder of online brokerage TradeMonster.com, in Chicago.


"I think that is the biggest risk to the downside in January for the market and the U.S. economy."


There are some signs in the options market that investors are starting to eye the January period with more wariness. The CBOE Volatility Index, or the VIX, the market's preferred indicator of anxiety, has remained at relatively low levels throughout this process, though on Thursday it edged above 20 for the first time since July.


More notable is the action in VIX futures markets, which shows a sharper increase in expected volatility in January than in later-dated contracts. January VIX futures are up nearly 23 percent in the last seven trading days, compared with a 13 percent increase in March futures and an 8 percent increase in May futures. That's a sign of increasing near-term worry among market participants.


The CBOE Volatility Index closed on Friday at 22.72, gaining nearly 17 percent to end at its highest level since June as details emerged of a meeting on Friday afternoon of President Barack Obama with Senate and House leaders from both parties where the president offered proposals similar to those already rejected by Republicans. Stocks slid in late trading and equity futures continued that slide after cash markets closed.


"I was stunned Obama didn't have another plan, and that's absolutely why we sold off," said Mike Shea, a managing partner and trader at Direct Access Partners LLC, in New York.


Obama offered hope for a last-minute agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff after a meeting with congressional leaders, although he scolded Congress for leaving the problem unresolved until the 11th hour.


"The hour for immediate action is here," he told reporters at a White House briefing. "I'm modestly optimistic that an agreement can be achieved."


The U.S. House of Representatives is set to convene on Sunday and continue working through the New Year's Day holiday. Obama has proposed maintaining current tax rates for all but the highest earners.


Consumers don't appear at all traumatized by the fiscal cliff talks, as yet. Helping to bolster consumer confidence has been a continued recovery in the housing market and growth in the labor market, albeit slow.


The latest take on employment will be out next Friday, when the U.S. Labor Department's non-farm payrolls report is expected to show jobs growth of 145,000 for December, in line with recent growth.


Consumers will see their paychecks affected if lawmakers cannot broker a deal and tax rates rise, but the effect on spending is likely to be gradual.


PLAYING DEFENSE


Options strategists have noted an increase in positions to guard against weakness in defense stocks such as General Dynamics because those stocks would be affected by spending cuts set for that sector. Notably, though, the PHLX Defense Index is less than 1 percent away from an all-time high reached on December 20.


This underscores the view taken by most investors and strategists: One way or another, Washington will come to an agreement to offset some effects of the cliff. The result will not be entirely satisfying, but it will be enough to satisfy investors.


"Expectations are pretty low at this point, and yet the equity market hasn't reacted," said Carmine Grigoli, chief U.S. investment strategist at Mizuho Securities USA, in New York. "You're not going to see the markets react to anything with more than a 5 (percent) to 7 percent correction."


Save for a brief 3.6 percent drop in equity futures late on Thursday evening last week after House Speaker John Boehner had to cancel a scheduled vote on a tax-hike bill due to lack of Republican support, markets have not shown the same kind of volatility as in 2008 or 2011.


A gradual decline remains possible, Golub said, if business and consumer confidence continues to take a hit on the back of fiscal cliff worries. The Conference Board's measure of consumer confidence fell sharply in December, a drop blamed in part on the fiscal issues.


"If Congress came out and said that everything is off the table, yeah, that would be a short-term shock to the market, but that's not likely," said Richard Weiss, a Mountain View, California-based senior money manager at American Century Investments.


"Things will be resolved, just maybe not on a good time table. All else being equal, we see any further decline as a buying opportunity."


(Wall St Week Ahead runs every Friday. Questions or comments on this column can be emailed to: david.gaffen(at)thomsonreuters.com)


(Reporting by Edward Krudy and Ryan Vlastelica in New York and Doris Frankel in Chicago; Writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Martin Howell, Steve Orlofsky and Jan Paschal)



Read More..

Michigan State edges TCU 17-16 in BWW Bowl


TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Michigan State labored on offense throughout the first half, unable to get anything going on the ground, in the air, anywhere.


For a team that had lost five games by a combined 13 points during the regular season, it was starting to feel familiar.


The Spartans changed their luck by turning to brutally effective running back Le'Veon Bell in the second half, setting up Dan Conroy for another game-winning kick in a bowl game.


Bell ran for 145 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown, Conroy kicked a 47-yard field goal with 1:01 left and Michigan State rallied to beat Texas Christian 17-16 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday night.


"With so many close games and losing like we did during the season, to have one go our way was definitely sweet," Conroy said.


It wasn't always pretty for the Spartans.


Michigan State (7-6) managed 76 yards of offense during the first two quarters as TCU bottled up Bell.


The 237-pound junior started to wear down the Horned Frogs in the second half, grinding out 107 of his yards on a 32-carry night.


Behind Bell, the Spartans went on the longest drive in their bowl history in the third quarter, marching 90 yards to set up freshman Connor Cook's 15-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Burbridge.


Michigan State then recovered a muffed punt by TCU's Skye Dawson at the 4-yard line midway through the fourth and Bell scored two plays later by racing around left end for a 14-13 lead.


TCU (7-6) still had a little life after blowing a 13-point halftime lead, moving just far enough to set up Jaden Oberkrom for the longest field goal in the bowl's history, a 53-yarder that put the Horned Frogs up 16-14 with 2:42 left.


They just left Michigan State too much time.


Starting at their own 25-yard line, the Spartans moved 45 yards in eight plays, setting up Conroy for his second game-winner in a bowl after beating Georgia with a 28-yarder in the third overtime of the 2012 Outback Bowl.


Michigan State's defense held after that, sending the Spartans to their second straight bowl win after three consecutive losses.


"There was no doubt in my mind that after so many losses in similar fashion that we were going to come out on top in this one," Spartans linebacker Max Bullough said.


The Horned Frogs shut down Michigan State's offense in the first half and did just enough when they had the ball to put together three scoring drives.


In the second half, TCU couldn't get anything going against the Spartans' defense — 84 total yards — and its defense gave up the long scoring drive in the third quarter, along with the game-winner in the fourth.


Trevone Boykin threw for 201 yards and an interception on 13-of-29 passing for the Horned Frogs.


"A little bit empty feeling inside because we felt like we left a lot on the field," TCU coach Gary Patterson said.


TCU and Michigan State came to the desert with an awful lot of similarities.


The Horned Frogs opened their first season in the Big 12 with four straight wins before losing four of their final six games. Michigan State started 4-2, then lost four of six down the stretch.


Michigan State had the nation's fourth-best defense and was 10th in scoring defense during the regular season. TCU was 18th in total defense and 10th against the run.


Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell was up-and-down in his first season as Kirk Cousins' replacement, throwing 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. Boykin took over after four games for Casey Pachall, who was suspended and later left the team, and threw for 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.


The biggest difference between the teams was Bell.


He ranked third nationally with 137.3 yards rushing per game and had 1,648 on the season, second-most in Michigan State history and 242 fewer than TCU had as a team.


Early on, the Horned Frogs gave him nowhere to go.


Filling holes inside and stringing plays out toward the sidelines, TCU stuffed the bruising Bell on nearly every touch, holding him to 38 yards on 11 carries in the first half.


Of course, it didn't seem to matter what Michigan State did. The Spartans had 29 yards on 12 plays in the first quarter and weren't a whole lot better in the second, with Maxwell throwing two near-interceptions on consecutive passes and an ill-advised trick play that probably should have resulted in a turnover, too.


The Spartans still seemed to be stuck in the ruts in the third quarter before grinding out a 14-play scoring drive led by Cook, who replaced Maxwell for the second time in the game. They had their biggest play on a floating pass from Bell to fullback TyQuan Hammock (29 yards), then Cook threw his first career touchdown pass, a 15-yarder to Burbridge on a crossing route that cut TCU's lead to 13-7.


"I thought Connor did a good job on the 90-yard drive, gave us a little momentum," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said.


TCU didn't exactly have its way with Michigan State's defense in the first half and missed some chances to build a bigger lead.


The Frogs started gashing the Spartans for decent-sized chunks with their option midway through the first quarter, setting up Matthew Tucker's 4-yard touchdown on an end-around.


Boykin had an impressive off-the-back-foot throw to freshman Kolby Listenbee for 59 yards on the last play of the first quarter and nearly had a 19-yard touchdown pass to open the second, but LaDarius Brown was bumped and dropped the ball in the end zone. Oberkrom followed with a 47-yard field goal and added another from 31 yards after Boykin hit Josh Boyce on a 61-yard pass to put TCU up 13-0 at halftime.


The Frogs couldn't keep it up in the second half.


With Michigan State clogging the running lanes and chasing Boykin around, TCU had 30 yards of offense in the third quarter and continued to struggle in the fourth. The Horned Frogs did manage the short scoring drive to set up Oberkrom's late field goal, but ended up going backward on their final drive after Conroy's kick.


"What I thought happened in the third quarter was Michigan State dialed up the heat and we didn't have an answer," Patterson said.


Michigan State did — for one of the few times this season.


Read More..

Panda Cub Gets New Toys






Like millions of kids who celebrated Christmas on Tuesday, the newest giant panda cub at the San Diego Zoo enjoyed playing with some new toys this week.


During his checkup Thursday (Dec. 27), Xiao Liwu was distracted by a doughnut-shaped plastic ring big enough for the baby bear to sit in, a stick of bamboo and a plastic ball, zoo offiicals said.






“He’s getting past his awkward movement phase,” Meg Sutherland-Smith, director of veterinary services for the zoo, said in a video. “He’s walking around with much more confidence, he’s not stumbling anymore, and today we also gave him a small piece of a bamboo stem, which he readily held in his hand and was mouthing like he was a big boy.”


Keepers are waiting for the nearly 5-month-old cub to become a stronger climber before they put him out in a public panda exhibit.


Xiao Liwu, whose name means “Little Gift,” was the sixth cub born to the zoo’s panda mom Bai Yun. All the San Diego Zoo giant pandas are on a research loan from China, the only place where the species still exists in the wild. Four of Xiao Liwu’s siblings have already been moved out of California to join the Chinese panda conservation and breeding program.


Captive breeding is an important way to study and conserve the endangered species, as just 1,600 giant pandas are thought to be left in the wild. In addition to habitat loss from human activities and low reproductive rates, giant pandas’ survival is also threatened by climate change. A study released in the journal Nature Climate Change last month found that global warming could wipe out much of the bears’ chief food source, bamboo, over the next century.


Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We’re also on Facebook & Google+.


Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Science News Headlines – Yahoo! News





Title Post: Panda Cub Gets New Toys
Rating:
100%

based on 99998 ratings.
5 user reviews.
Author: Fluser SeoLink
Thanks for visiting the blog, If any criticism and suggestions please leave a comment




Read More..

Stories for 2013: Syria to 'post-Gangnam'




Among the few virtual certainties of 2013 is the ongoing anguish of Syria and the decline of its president, Bashar al-Assad.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Look for more unrest amid power transitions in the Middle East

  • Disputes and economic worries will keep China, Japan, North Korea in the news

  • Europe's economy will stay on a rough road, but the outlook for it is brighter

  • Events are likely to draw attention to cyber warfare and climate change




(CNN) -- Forecasting the major international stories for the year ahead is a time-honored pastime, but the world has a habit of springing surprises. In late 1988, no one was predicting Tiananmen Square or the fall of the Berlin Wall. On the eve of 2001, the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan were unimaginable. So with that substantial disclaimer, let's peer into the misty looking glass for 2013.


More turmoil for Syria and its neighbors


If anything can be guaranteed, it is that Syria's gradual and brutal disintegration will continue, sending aftershocks far beyond its borders. Most analysts do not believe that President Bashar al-Assad can hang on for another year. The more capable units of the Syrian armed forces are overstretched; large tracts of north and eastern Syria are beyond the regime's control; the economy is in dire straits; and the war is getting closer to the heart of the capital with every passing week. Russian support for al-Assad, once insistent, is now lukewarm.


Amid the battle, a refugee crisis of epic proportions threatens to become a catastrophe as winter sets in. The United Nations refugee agency says more than 4 million Syrians are in desperate need, most of them in squalid camps on Syria's borders, where tents are no match for the cold and torrential rain. Inside Syria, diseases like tuberculosis are spreading, according to aid agencies, and there is a danger that hunger will become malnutrition in places like Aleppo.


The question is whether the conflict will culminate Tripoli-style, with Damascus overrun by rebel units; or whether a political solution can be found that involves al-Assad's departure and a broadly based transitional government taking his place. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has not been explicit about al-Assad's exit as part of the transition, but during his most recent visit to Damascus, he hinted that it has to be.









2012: The year in pictures










































































HIDE CAPTION





<<


<





1




2




3




4




5




6




7




8




9




10




11




12




13




14




15




16




17




18




19




20
























































>


>>












"Syria and the Syrian people need, want and look forward to real change. And the meaning of this is clear to all," he said.


The international community still seems as far as ever from meaningful military intervention, even as limited as a no fly-zone. Nor is there any sign of concerted diplomacy to push all sides in Syria toward the sort of deal that ended the war in Bosnia. In those days, the United States and Russia were able to find common ground. In Syria, they have yet to do so, and regional actors such as Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran also have irons in the fire.


Failing an unlikely breakthrough that would bring the regime and its opponents to a Syrian version of the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war, the greatest risk is that a desperate regime may turn to its chemical weapons, troublesome friends (Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Kurdish PKK in Turkey) and seek to export unrest to Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.


The Syrian regime has already hinted that it can retaliate against Turkey's support for the rebels -- not by lobbing Scud missiles into Turkey, but by playing the "Kurdish" card. That might involve direct support for the PKK or space for its Syrian ally, the Democratic Union Party. By some estimates, Syrians make up one-third of the PKK's fighting strength.


To the Turkish government, the idea that Syria's Kurds might carve out an autonomous zone and get cozy with Iraq's Kurds is a nightmare in the making. Nearly 800 people have been killed in Turkey since the PKK stepped up its attacks in mid-2011, but with three different sets of elections in Turkey in 2013, a historic bargain between Ankara and the Kurds that make up 18% of Turkey's population looks far from likely.


Many commentators expect Lebanon to become more volatile in 2013 because it duplicates so many of the dynamics at work in Syria. The assassination in October of Lebanese intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan -- as he investigated a pro-Syrian politician accused of obtaining explosives from the Syrian regime -- was an ominous portent.


Victory for the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels in Syria would tilt the fragile sectarian balance next door, threatening confrontation between Lebanon's Sunnis and Hezbollah. The emergence of militant Salafist groups like al-Nusra in Syria is already playing into the hands of militants in Lebanon.


Iraq, too, is not immune from Syria's turmoil. Sunni tribes in Anbar and Ramadi provinces would be heartened should Assad be replaced by their brethren across the border. It would give them leverage in an ever more tense relationship with the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. The poor health of one of the few conciliators in Iraqi politics, President Jalal Talabani, and renewed disputes between Iraq's Kurds and the government over boundaries in the oil-rich north, augur for a troublesome 2013 in Iraq.


More worries about Iran's nuclear program


Syria's predicament will probably feature throughout 2013, as will the behavior of its only friend in the region: Iran. Intelligence sources say Iran continues to supply the Assad regime with money, weapons and expertise; and military officers who defected from the Syrian army say Iranian technicians work in Syria's chemical weapons program. Al-Assad's continued viability is important for Iran, as his only Arab ally. They also share sponsorship of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which, with its vast supply of rockets and even some ballistic missiles, might be a valuable proxy in the event of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program.


Speaking of which, there are likely to be several more episodes in the behind-closed-doors drama of negotiations on Iran's nuclear sites. Russia is trying to arrange the next round for January. But in public, at least, Iran maintains it has every right to continue enriching uranium for civilian purposes, such as helping in the treatment of more than 1 million Iranians with cancer.


Iran "will not suspend 20% uranium enrichment because of the demands of others," Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said this month.


International experts say the amount of 20% enriched uranium (estimated by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November at 297 pounds) is more than needed for civilian purposes, and the installation of hundreds more centrifuges could cut the time needed to enrich uranium to weapons-grade. The question is whether Iran will agree to intrusive inspections that would reassure the international community -- and Israel specifically -- that it can't and won't develop a nuclear weapon.


This raises another question: Will it take bilateral U.S.-Iranian talks -- and the prospect of an end to the crippling sanctions regime -- to find a breakthrough? And will Iran's own presidential election in June change the equation?


For now, Israel appears to be prepared to give negotiation (and sanctions) time to bring Iran to the table. For now.


Egypt to deal with new power, economic troubles


Given the turmoil swirling through the Middle East, Israel could probably do without trying to bomb Iran's nuclear program into submission. Besides Syria and Lebanon, it is already grappling with a very different Egypt, where a once-jailed Islamist leader is now president and Salafist/jihadi groups, especially in undergoverned areas like Sinai, have a lease on life unimaginable in the Mubarak era.



The U.S. has an awkward relationship with President Mohamed Morsy, needing his help in mediating with Hamas in Gaza but concerned that his accumulation of power is fast weakening democracy and by his bouts of anti-Western rhetoric. (He has demanded the release from a U.S. jail of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted of involvement in the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.)


The approval of the constitution removes one uncertainty, even if the opposition National Salvation Front says it cements Islamist power. But as much as the result, the turnout -- about one-third of eligible voters -- indicates that Egyptians are tired of turmoil, and more concerned about a deepening economic crisis.


Morsy imposed and then scrapped new taxes, and the long-expected $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund is still not agreed on. Egypt's foreign reserves were down to $15 billion by the end of the year, enough to cover less than three months of imports. Tourism revenues are one-third of what they were before street protests erupted early in 2011. Egypt's crisis in 2013 may be more about its economy than its politics.


Libya threatens to spawn more unrest in North Africa


Libya's revolution, if not as seismic as anything Syria may produce, is still reverberating far and wide. As Moammar Gadhafi's rule crumbled, his regime's weapons found their way into an arms bazaar, turning up in Mali and Sinai, even being intercepted off the Lebanese coast.


The Libyan government, such as it is, seems no closer to stamping its authority on the country, with Islamist brigades holding sway in the east, tribal unrest in the Sahara and militias engaged in turf wars. The danger is that Libya, a vast country where civic institutions were stifled for four decades, will become the incubator for a new generation of jihadists, able to spread their influence throughout the Sahel. They will have plenty of room and very little in the way of opposition from security forces.


The emergence of the Islamist group Ansar Dine in Mali is just one example. In this traditionally moderate Muslim country, Ansar's fighters and Tuareg rebels have ejected government forces from an area of northern Mali the size of Spain and begun implementing Sharia law, amputations and floggings included. Foreign fighters have begun arriving to join the latest front in global jihad; and terrorism analysts are seeing signs that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria are beginning to work together.


There are plans for an international force to help Mali's depleted military take back the north, but one European envoy said it was unlikely to materialize before (wait for it) ... September 2013. Some terrorism analysts see North Africa as becoming the next destination of choice for international jihad, as brigades and camps sprout across a vast area of desert.


A bumpy troop transition for Afghanistan


The U.S. and its allies want to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another haven for terror groups. As the troop drawdown gathers pace, 2013 will be a critical year in standing up Afghan security forces (the numbers are there, their competence unproven), improving civil institutions and working toward a post-Karzai succession.



In November, the International Crisis Group said the outlook was far from assuring.


"Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections (in Afghanistan in 2014) could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out," the group said.


Critics have also voiced concerns that the publicly announced date of 2014 for withdrawing combat forces only lets the Taliban know how long they must hold out before taking on the Kabul government.


U.S. officials insist the word is "transitioning" rather than "withdrawal," but the shape and role of any military presence in 2014 and beyond are yet to be settled. Let's just say the United States continues to build up and integrate its special operations forces.


The other part of the puzzle is whether the 'good' Taliban can be coaxed into negotiations, and whether Pakistan, which has considerable influence over the Taliban leadership, will play honest broker.


Private meetings in Paris before Christmas that involved Taliban envoys and Afghan officials ended with positive vibes, with the Taliban suggesting they were open to working with other political groups and would not resist girls' education. There was also renewed discussion about opening a Taliban office in Qatar, but we've been here before. The Taliban are riven by internal dissent and may be talking the talk while allowing facts on the ground to work to their advantage.


Where will North Korea turn its focus?


On the subject of nuclear states that the U.S.-wishes-were-not, the succession in North Korea has provided no sign that the regime is ready to restrain its ambitious program to test nuclear devices and the means to deliver them.



Back in May 2012, Peter Brookes of the American Foreign Policy Council said that "North Korea is a wild card -- and a dangerous one at that." He predicted that the inexperienced Kim Jong Un would want to appear "large and in charge," for internal and external consumption. In December, Pyongyang launched a long-range ballistic missile -- one that South Korean scientists later said had the range to reach the U.S. West Coast. Unlike the failure of the previous missile launch in 2009, it managed to put a satellite into orbit.


The last two such launches have been followed by nuclear weapons tests -- in 2006 and 2009. Recent satellite images of the weapons test site analyzed by the group 38 North show continued activity there.


So the decision becomes a political one. Does Kim continue to appear "large and in charge" by ordering another test? Or have the extensive reshuffles and demotions of the past year already consolidated his position, allowing him to focus on the country's dire economic situation?


China-Japan island dispute to simmer


It's been a while since East Asia has thrown up multiple security challenges, but suddenly North Korea's missile and nuclear programs are not the only concern in the region. There's growing rancor between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea, which may be aggravated by the return to power in Japan of Shinzo Abe as prime minister.


Abe has long been concerned that Japan is vulnerable to China's growing power and its willingness to project that power. Throughout 2012, Japan and China were locked in a war of words over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, with fishing and Coast Guard boats deployed to support claims of sovereignty.


In the days before Japanese went to the polls, Beijing also sent a surveillance plane over the area, marking the first time since 1958, according to Japanese officials, that Bejing had intruded into "Japanese airspace." Japan scrambled F-15 jets in response.


The islands are uninhabited, but the seas around them may be rich in oil and gas. There is also a Falklands factor at play here. Not giving in to the other side is a matter of national pride. There's plenty of history between China and Japan -- not much of it good.


As China has built up its ability to project military power, Japan's navy has also expanded. Even a low-level incident could lead to an escalation. And as the islands are currently administered by Japan, the U.S. would have an obligation to help the Japanese defend them.


Few analysts expect conflict to erupt, and both sides have plenty to lose. For Japan, China is a critical market, but Japanese investment there has fallen sharply in the past year. Just one in a raft of problems for Abe. His prescription for dragging Japan out of its fourth recession since 2000 is a vast stimulus program to fund construction and other public works and a looser monetary policy.


The trouble is that Japan's debt is already about 240% of its GDP, a much higher ratio than even Greece. And Japan's banks hold a huge amount of that debt. Add a shrinking and aging population, and at some point the markets might decide that the yield on Japan's 10-year sovereign bond ought to be higher than the current 0.77%.


Economic uncertainty in U.S., growth in China


So the world's third-largest economy may not help much in reviving global growth, which in 2012 was an anemic 2.2%, according to United Nations data. The parts of Europe not mired in recession hover close to it, and growth in India and Brazil has weakened. Which leaves the U.S. and China.


At the time of writing, the White House and congressional leadership are still peering over the fiscal cliff. Should they lose their footing, the Congressional Budget Office expects the arbitrary spending cuts and tax increases to be triggered will push the economy into recession and send unemployment above 9%.



A stopgap measure, rather than a long-term foundation for reducing the federal deficit, looks politically more likely. But to companies looking for predictable economic policy, it may not be enough to unlock billions in investment. Why spend heavily if there's a recession around the corner, or if another fight looms over raising the federal debt ceiling?


In September, Moody's said it would downgrade the U.S. sovereign rating from its "AAA" rating without "specific policies that produce a stabilization and then downward trend in the ratio of federal debt to GDP over the medium term." In other words, it wants action beyond kicking the proverbial can.


Should the cliff be dodged, most forecasts see the U.S. economy expanding by about 2% in 2013. That's not enough to make up for stagnation elsewhere, so a great deal depends on China avoiding the proverbial hard landing.


Until now, Chinese growth has been powered by exports and infrastructure spending, but there are signs that China's maturing middle class is also becoming an economic force to be reckoned with. Consultants PwC expect retail sales in China to increase by 10.5% next year -- with China overtaking the U.S. as the world's largest retail market by 2016.


Europe's economic outlook a little better


No one expects Europe to become an economic powerhouse in 2013, but at least the horizon looks a little less dark than it did a year ago. The "PIGS' " (Portugal, Ireland/Italy, Greece, Spain) borrowing costs have eased; there is at least rhetorical progress toward a new economic and fiscal union; and the European Central Bank has talked tough on defending the Eurozone.


Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, fended off the dragons with the declaration in July that "Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough."



Draghi has promised the bank has unlimited liquidity to buy sovereign debt, as long as governments (most likely Spain) submit to reforms designed to balance their budgets. But in 2013, the markets will want more than brave talk, including real progress toward banking and fiscal union that will leave behind what Draghi likes to call Europe's "fairy world" of unsustainable debt and collapsing banks. Nothing can be done without the say-so of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, renowned for a step-by-step approach that's likely to be even more cautious in a year when she faces re-election.


Elections in Italy in February may be more important -- pitching technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti against the maverick he replaced, 76-year old Silvio Berlusconi. After the collapse of Berlusconi's coalition 13 months ago, Monti reined in spending, raised the retirement age and raised taxes to bring Italy back from the brink of insolvency. Now he will lead a coalition of centrist parties into the election. But polls suggest that Italians are tired of Monti's austerity program, and Berlusconi plans a populist campaign against the man he calls "Germano-centric."


The other tripwire in Europe may be Greece. More cuts in spending -- required to qualify for an EU/IMF bailout -- are likely to deepen an already savage recession, threatening more social unrest and the future of a fragile coalition. A 'Grexit' from the eurozone is still possible, and that's according to the Greek finance minister, Yannis Stournaras.


Expect to see more evidence of climate change


Hurricane Sandy, which struck the U.S. East Coast in November, was the latest indicator of changing and more severe weather patterns. Even if not repeated in 2013, extreme weather is beginning to have an effect -- on where people live, on politicians and on the insurance industry.


After Sandy, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that after "the last few years, I don't think anyone can sit back anymore and say, 'Well, I'm shocked at that weather pattern.' " The storm of the century has become the storm of every decade or so, said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences at Princeton.


"Climate change will probably increase storm intensity and size simultaneously, resulting in a significant intensification of storm surges," he and colleagues wrote in Nature.


In the U.S., government exposure to storm-related losses in coastal states has risen more than 15-fold since 1990, to $885 billion in 2011, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The Munich RE insurance group says North America has seen higher losses from extreme weather than any other part of the world in recent decades.


"A main loss driver is the concentration of people and assets on the coast combined with high and possibly growing vulnerabilities," it says.


Risk Management Solutions, which models catastrophic risks, recently updated its scenarios, anticipating an increase of 40% in insurance losses on the Gulf Coast, Florida and the Southeast over the next five years, and 25% to 30% for the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states. Those calculations were done before Sandy.



Inland, eyes will be trained on the heavens for signs of rain -- after the worst drought in 50 years across the Midwest. Climatologists say that extended periods of drought -- from the U.S. Midwest to Ukraine -- may be "the new normal." Jennifer Francis at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University has shown that a warmer Arctic tends to slow the jet stream, causing it to meander and, in turn, prolong weather patterns. It's called Arctic amplification, and it is probably aggravating drought in the Northwest United States and leading to warmer summers in the Northern Hemisphere, where 2012 was the hottest year on record.


It is a double-edged sword: Warmer temperatures may make it possible to begin cultivating in places like Siberia, but drier weather in traditional breadbaskets would be very disruptive. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that stocks of key cereals have tightened, contributing to volatile world markets. Poor weather in Argentina, the world's second-largest exporter of corn, may compound the problem.


More cyber warfare


What will be the 2013 equivalents of Flame, Gauss and Shamoon? They were some of the most damaging computer viruses of 2012. The size and versatility of Flame was unlike nothing seen before, according to anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab.



Gauss stole online banking information in the Middle East. Then came Shamoon, a virus that wiped the hard drives of about 30,000 computers at the Saudi oil company Aramco, making them useless. The Saudi government declared it an attack on the country's economy; debate continues on whether it was state-sponsored.


Kaspersky predicts that in 2013, we will see "new examples of cyber-warfare operations, increasing targeted attacks on businesses and new, sophisticated mobile threats."


Computer security firm McAfee also expects more malware to be developed to attack mobile devices and apps in 2013.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is more concerned about highly sophisticated attacks on infrastructure that "could be as destructive as the terrorist attack on 9/11."


"We know that foreign cyber actors are probing America's critical infrastructure networks. They are targeting the computer control systems that operate chemical, electricity and water plants and those that guide transportation throughout this country," he said in October.


Intellectual property can be stolen, bought or demanded as a quid pro quo for market access. The U.S. intelligence community believes China or Chinese interests are employing all three methods in an effort to close the technology gap.


In the waning days of 2012, the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States said "there is likely a coordinated strategy among one or more foreign governments or companies to acquire U.S. companies involved in research, development, or production of critical technologies."


It did not name the country in its unclassified report but separately noted a growing number of attempts by Chinese entities to buy U.S. companies.


Who will be soccer's next 'perfect machine'?



There's room for two less serious challenges in 2013. One is whether any football team, in Spain or beyond, can beat Barcelona and its inspirational goal machine Lionel Messi, who demolished a record that had stood since 1972 for the number of goals scored in a calendar year. (Before Glasgow Celtic fans start complaining, let's acknowledge their famous win against the Spanish champions in November.)


Despite the ill health of club coach Tito Vilanova, "Barca" sits imperiously at the top of La Liga in Spain and is the favorite to win the world's most prestigious club trophy, the European Champions League, in 2013. AC Milan is its next opponent in a match-up that pits two of Europe's most storied clubs against each other. But as Milan sporting director Umberto Gandini acknowledges, "We face a perfect machine."


Will Gangnam give it up to something sillier?



Finally, can something -- anything -- displace Gangnam Style as the most watched video in YouTube's short history? As of 2:16 p.m. ET on December 26, it had garnered 1,054,969,395 views and an even more alarming 6,351,871 "likes."


Perhaps in 2013 the YouTube audience will be entranced by squirrels playing table tennis, an octopus that spins plates or Cistercian nuns dancing the Macarena. Or maybe Gangnam will get to 2 billion with a duet with Justin Bieber.







Read More..