G20 steps back from currency brink, heat off Japan


MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Group of 20 nations declared on Saturday there would be no currency war and deferred plans to set new debt-cutting targets, underlining broad concern about the fragile state of the world economy.


Japan's expansive policies, which have driven down the yen, escaped direct criticism in a statement thrashed out in Moscow by policymakers from the G20, which spans developed and emerging markets and accounts for 90 percent of the world economy.


Analysts said the yen, which has dropped 20 percent as a result of aggressive monetary and fiscal policies to reflate the Japanese economy, may now continue to fall.


"The market will take the G20 statement as an approval for what it has been doing -- selling of the yen," said Neil Mellor, currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon in London. "No censure of Japan means they will be off to the money printing presses."


After late-night talks, finance ministers and central bankers agreed on wording closer than expected to a joint statement issued last Tuesday by the Group of Seven rich nations backing market-determined exchange rates.


A draft communiqué on Friday had steered clear of the G7's call for economic policy not to be targeted at exchange rates. But the final version included a G20 commitment to refrain from competitive devaluations and stated monetary policy would be directed only at price stability and growth.


"The mood quite clearly early on was that we needed desperately to avoid protectionist measures ... that mood permeated quite quickly," Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters, adding that the wording of the G20 statement had been hardened up by the ministers.


As a result, it reflected a substantial, but not complete, endorsement of Tuesday's proclamation by the G7 nations - the United States, Japan, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy.


As with the G7 intervention, Tokyo said it gave it a green light to pursue its policies unchecked.


"I have explained that (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe's administration is doing its utmost to escape from deflation and we have gained a certain understanding," Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters.


"We're confident that if Japan revives its own economy that would certainly affect the world economy as well. We gained understanding on this point."


Flaherty admitted it would be difficult to gauge if domestic policies were aimed at weakening currencies or not.


NO FISCAL TARGETS


The G20 also made a commitment to a credible medium-term fiscal strategy, but stopped short of setting specific goals as most delegations felt any economic recovery was too fragile.


The communiqué said risks to the world economy had receded but growth remained too weak and unemployment too high.


"A sustained effort is required to continue building a stronger economic and monetary union in the euro area and to resolve uncertainties related to the fiscal situation in the United States and Japan, as well as to boost domestic sources of growth in surplus economies," it said.


A debt-cutting pact struck in Toronto in 2010 will expire this year if leaders fail to agree to extend it at a G20 summit of leaders in St Petersburg in September.


The United States says it is on track to meet its Toronto pledge but argues that the pace of future fiscal consolidation must not snuff out demand. Germany and others are pressing for another round of binding debt targets.


"We had a broad consensus in the G20 that we will stick to the commitment to fulfill the Toronto goals," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said. "We do not have any interest in U.S.-bashing ... In St. Petersburg follow-up-goals will be decided."


The G20 put together a huge financial backstop to halt a market meltdown in 2009 but has failed to reach those heights since. At successive meetings, Germany has pressed the United States and others to do more to tackle their debts. Washington in turn has urged Berlin to do more to increase demand.


Backing in the communiqué for the use of domestic monetary policy to support economic recovery reflected the U.S. Federal Reserve's commitment to monetary stimulus through quantitative easing, or QE, to promote recovery and jobs.


QE entails large-scale bond buying -- $85 billion a month in the Fed's case -- that helps economic growth but has also unleashed destabilising capital flows into emerging markets.


A commitment to minimize such "negative spillovers" was an offsetting point in the text that China, fearful of asset bubbles and lost export competitiveness, highlighted.


"Major developed nations (should) pay attention to their monetary policy spillover," Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao was quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying in Moscow.


Russia, this year's chair of the G20, admitted the group had failed to reach agreement on medium-term budget deficit levels and expressed concern about ultra-loose policies that it and other emerging economies say could store up trouble for later.


On currencies, the G20 text reiterated its commitment last November, "to move more rapidly toward mores market-determined exchange rate systems and exchange rate flexibility to reflect underlying fundamentals, and avoid persistent exchange rate misalignments".


It said disorderly exchange rate movements and excess volatility in financial flows could harm economic and financial stability.


(Additional reporting by Gernot Heller, Lesley Wroughton, Maya Dyakina, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Jan Strupczewski, Lidia Kelly, Katya Golubkova, Jason Bush, Anirban Nag and Michael Martina. Writing by Douglas Busvine. Editing by Timothy Heritage/Mike Peacock)



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Beckham must wait before making PSG debut


SAINT-GERMAIN-EN-LAYE, France (AP) — David Beckham will have to wait at least one more week to make his debut for Paris Saint-Germain because his coach says he needs to get in better shape.


Coach Carlo Ancelotti ruled out the 37-year-old former England captain for Sunday's match against Sochaux in the French league.


"He will stay here and work," Ancelotti said Saturday. "He will stay here and improve his physical condition. He still needs to work, and with a week's work he will be ready the following week against Marseille."


PSG hosts title rival Marseille on Feb. 24 and again three days later in the French Cup.


"I think he can play easily against Marseille after one week more training, no problem," Ancelotti said. "I will make the decision whether he starts or not."


Beckham, looking to win a league championship in a fourth country, started full training with PSG this week and has not played since his last appearance for the Los Angeles Galaxy on Dec. 1. He worked out last week in London with personal fitness trainers.


"The level of French football is high, there is a lot of rhythm, a lot of intensity," Ancelotti said, adding he plans to use Beckham either in a defensive central midfield role or out wide on the right.


"He brings his experience, his quality, his professionalism. These are the things we need from David," said Ancelotti, who is close to Beckham after coaching him at AC Milan. "I'm not just keeping him for the Cup or the Champions League. He can play in every match."


Entering this weekend's matches, PSG leads Lyon by six points and Marseille by eight.


"We are in very good form at the moment," Ancelotti said, referring to PSG's unbeaten start to the year.


PSG took a step toward reaching the Champions League quarterfinals by winning 2-1 at Valencia this week.


Read More..

Russian Fireball Highlights Asteroid Threat, Lawmaker Says






The dramatic meteor explosion over Russia Friday (Feb. 15) highlights the need for more attention to be paid to the threat of near-Earth asteroids, an influential American congressman says.


Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), vice chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, responded to the Russian fireball by saying the event should serve as a wakeup call.






“We have been looking forward to the close pass of asteroid 2012 DA14, which will pass between the Earth’s surface and our communications satellites this afternoon,” Rohrabacher said on Friday, referring to the 150-foot-wide (45 meters) space rock that came within just 17,200 miles (27,000 kilometers) of our planet that day.


“We have calculated that there is no chance this asteroid will impact the Earth, and that we will get an opportunity for a close-up view as it flies past,” he added. “Unfortunately, we didn’t see the one that exploded over Russia until it happened.”


Rohrabacher said that the United States has been spending millions to find and track asteroids and comets, but the object that exploded over Russia was apparently so small “that we aren’t even looking for objects of this size.”


Astronomers estimate that the Russian meteor was caused by a 50-foot-wide (15 m) object that weighed about 7,000 tons.


“What concerns me even more, however, is the fact that we have no plan that can protect the Earth from any comet or asteroid,” Rohrabacher said. “So, even if we find one that will hit us, we might not be able to deflect it.”


Change may be in the offing, however. The House science committee announced today that it will hold a hearing in the coming weeks on how to deal with the threat posed by potentially hazardous asteroids.  


 “This is the only preventable natural disaster, and we have mounting evidence that this a real and tangible danger,” Rohrabacher said. “Our heartfelt prayers go out to all those affected by this [Russian] event, and this shows that we must protect ourselves, and the planet, from this clear danger.


Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space 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. Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook & Google+. 


Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Pope's resignation 'shows leadership'











By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor


February 16, 2013 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)




















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STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Pope Benedict stuns world by announcing he will resign

  • Roland Martin says it's a wise decision for a leader to step down when his powers fail

  • He says a mark of a good leader is the care he takes about the institution he is leaving

  • Martin: Too many in power try to hang on after they are no longer capable




Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."


(CNN) -- When Thurgood Marshall retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1991, a reporter asked him what were the medical reasons that contributed to his leaving the bench -- and its lifetime appointment -- after serving for nearly 25 years. He was his usual blunt self.



"What's wrong with me?" Marshall said at the packed news conference. "I'm old. I'm getting old and falling apart."



When the news broke this week that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics because of his concerns about being able to do the job, many began to speculate that there were other reasons for the decision.




Roland Martin

Roland Martin



We have become accustomed to a pope dying in office. That's not a surprise. It has been nearly 600 years since the last pope, Gregory XII, quit in 1415.



Even though the job of pope is a lifetime appointment, frankly, it is selfish of any individual to hold on to the job for dear life, knowing full well they don't have the capacity to do the job.




"Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," according to a statement from Pope Benedict released by the Vatican.



Whether we want to be honest or not, it was sad to watch the decline of Pope John Paul II. He was a vibrant figure when he became pope in 1978, traveling the world and spreading the gospel to anyone who would listen. But toward the end of his life in 2005, he was barely able to move or talk, clearly worn down by significant health challenges.



Any leader who respects the organization they serve should have the common sense to know when it's time to say goodbye. We've seen countless examples of CEOs, pastors, politicians and others hang on and on to a position of power, hurting the very people they were elected or chosen to serve.



It takes considerable courage for anyone to step away from the power bestowed upon them by a position, as well as the trappings that come with it.



I'll leave it to others to try to figure out other reasons behind the resignation. But we should at least acknowledge the value of an ego-less decision that reflects humility and concern about the very institution the pope pledged his life to.



All leaders should be concerned about their institution continuing to grow and thrive once their days are no more. That's why a proper succession plan is vitally important.


Too often we have assessed great leaders by what they did in their positions. But their final legacy really is defined by how they left a place.



Pope Benedict XVI knows full well the Catholic Church cannot grow and prosper if its leader is limited in traveling and attending to his flock. There comes a time when one chapter must end and another begins. He has more days behind him than in front of him. He should enjoy his last years in peace and tranquility, without having to worry about trying to do the work designed for a younger man.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.











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Off-duty Chicago police officer dies in SUV rollover on Skyway













 


 
(Tribune illustration)


























































A 31-year-old off-duty Chicago police officer died when the SUV she was driving rolled over on the Chicago Skyway late Friday, according to authorities.


The officer's older sister works in the section of the Chicago Police Department that investigates fatal accidents and answered the phone when officers on the Skyway called to notify them of the wreck, police said.


Shaunda Bond, 31, was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m. at the Cook County medical examiner's office. She lived in the 4100 block of South Michigan Avenue in the Bronzeville neighborhood.





The crash happened about 10:40 p.m. near 81st Street on the Skyway when the 2003 Land Rover SUV Bond was driving flipped over.


Bond was the lone occupant in the SUV, which was the only vehicle involved in the crash.


Bond joined the police department in December 2009 and was assigned to the South Chicago District, which covers the area from 75th Street south to 138th, between roughly Woodlawn Avenue and the state line.


According to a witness interviewed by police, her SUV was seen traveling at a high rate of speed before it hit a concrete barrier and rolled.


pnickeas@tribune.com
Twitter: @peternickeas






Read More..

Pistorius, slain girlfriend had planned future: uncle


JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, known as the "Blade Runner", was planning a future with the girlfriend he is accused of shooting dead this week, his uncle said on Saturday.


Pistorius, 26, one of the world's most recognizable athletes, was charged on Friday with murdering swimsuit model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of the previous day.


He broke down during a 40-minute bail hearing at a Pretoria court but was not asked to enter a plea.


"They had plans together and Oscar was happier in his private life than he had been for a long time," Anthony Pistorius said in a statement released by his nephew's agent.


"We are in a state of total shock - firstly about the tragic death of Reeva who we had all got to know well and care for deeply over the last few months," he said. "All of us saw at first hand how close she had become to Oscar during that time and how happy they were."


The suggestion that Pistorius' family was close to Steenkamp runs counter to comments from Pistorius' father, Henke, who told the New York Times he had never met his son's partner.


"I don't discuss my son's relationships. I have, in fact, not met the lady," he was quoted as saying.


Prosecutors alleged the shooting was premeditated, a charge that could put Pistorius behind bars for life if convicted.


Police have said there are no other suspects and the pair were the only people in the house at the time. Initial reports suggested he may have mistaken her for an intruder.


Anthony Pistorius reiterated the family's belief that the track star - a double amputee who became one of the biggest names in world athletics when he ran at last year's Olympics - had not shot Steenkamp deliberately.


"After consulting with legal representatives we deeply regret the allegation of premeditated murder," Anthony said.


"We have no doubt there is no substance to the allegation and that the state's own case, including its own forensic evidence, strongly refutes any possibility of a premeditated murder or indeed any murder at all."


NUMB


Pistorius is being held in a Pretoria police station before the resumption of his bail hearing on Tuesday. He is "numb" with shock and grief, the statement said.


Several South African media reports have said Steenkamp was shot through the bathroom door and was hit four times - in the head, hip, arm and hand.


Police said on Thursday witnesses had heard disturbances at the home before the shots, adding that there had been previous incidents of a "domestic nature" at the home.


The shooting has shocked South Africa, where Pistorius was revered as a hero whose achievements transcended the racial divides that linger in Nelson Mandela's "Rainbow Nation" 19 years after the end of apartheid.


The disbelief was felt across the globe among the millions who saw in Pistorius the ultimate tale of triumph over adversity - a man who rose to the highest pinnacles of athletics despite having no lower legs.


He was born without either fibula but reached the semi-final of the 400-metres in the London 2012 Olympics, running on high-technology carbon fiber prosthetic 'blades'. He also won two Paralympic gold medals and one silver medal.


Although the public image was of a charming and easy-going young man, a Twitter posting by Pistorius in November paints the picture of a would-be action man obsessed with security.


"Nothing like getting home to hear the washing machine on and thinking it's an intruder to go into full combat recon mode into the pantry! waa," read the Tweet on the morning of November 27


Police recovered a 9mm pistol from his home after the shooting. The Afrikaans-language Beeld newspaper said Pistorius had a license for one firearm and applications pending for a further seven, including a semi-automatic rifle.


Police declined to comment on the Beeld report.


"We're releasing nothing," spokeswoman Katelgo Mogale said. "Details of the incident will come out in court."


South African state broadcaster SABC will on Saturday evening air the first episode of a tropical island reality show featuring Steenkamp that was filmed last year in the Caribbean.


SABC said her family had given their blessing to the show's airing, which will be preceded by a short tribute.


(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Jason Webb)



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Wall Street flat after data, S&P on pace for seventh weekly gain

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Friday and the S&P 500 remained on track for a seventh week of gains after upbeat consumer sentiment data, as equities continued a phase of consolidation after a strong start to the year.


The S&P 500, up nearly 7 percent so far this year, is facing strong technical resistance near the 1,525 level. But investors, expecting the index to advance further in the quarter, have held back from locking in profits.


"The market has run awfully hard on a year-to-date basis and certainly some consolidation, a couple of percentage points of pullback, is probably at hand, probably healthy and is probably where we are," said Jim Russell, senior equity strategist for U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Cincinnati.


Data released Friday illustrated the bumpy road the U.S. economic recovery continues to take.


The New York Federal Reserve said manufacturing in New York state expanded for the first time in seven months, while Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary reading of consumer sentiment rose from the prior month and beat expectations.


But data also showed U.S. manufacturing fell in January after a rise in the prior month.


"We are at a point where the macro news will continue to be a two-steps forward, one-step back kind of progression, with most of the news showing a firmness, but an occasional data point that will represent a step back," Russell said.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> added 5.07 points, or 0.04 percent, to 13,978.46. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> shed 0.20 points, or 0.01 percent, to 1,521.18. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> gained 1.02 points, or 0.03 percent, to 3,199.68.


The benchmark S&P 500 is on track to register its seventh straight week of gains by the close of trading Friday, a feat not seen since a run of consecutive weekly gains between December 2010 and January 2011.


A surge in merger and acquisition activity, with more than $158 billion in deals announced so far in 2013, has given further support to the equity market as it points to healthy valuations and bets on the economic outlook.


Herbalife shares jumped 13.1 percent to $42.27 a day after billionaire investor Carl Icahn said in a regulatory filing that he now owns 13 percent of Herbalife and was ready to put it in play.


MeadWestvaco Corp climbed 10.6 percent to $35.04 as the biggest percentage gainer on the S&P index after activist investor Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management LP said in an SEC filing it had bought about 1.6 million shares of the packaging company.


Burger King Worldwide shares gained 2.4 percent to $16.98 after it beat estimates with a 94 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit, thanks to new menu additions.


Oil service stocks declined, weighed by a 5.8 percent drop in shares of Transocean to $55.89, after the rig contractor reported its fleet update and Deutsche Bank cut its rating on the stock to "sell." The PHLX oil service sector <.osx> lost 1.9 percent.


(Editing by Bernadette Baum)



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Ligety wins GS for 3rd gold medal at worlds


SCHLADMING, Austria (AP) — Ted Ligety became the first man in 45 years to win three gold medals at a skiing world championships by blowing away the field in winning his favored giant slalom on Friday.


The American can match French great Jean-Claude Killy, who earned four golds in 1968, if he wins Sunday's slalom.


"I am super pumped. This is such a cool feeling," Ligety said. "I am glad I've done it ... it's been a dream for sure. It's been a really cool experience."


Defending champion Ligety, who also took the super-G and super-combined titles, built on his big first-run lead of 1.31 seconds with a fast start but cautious finish in the second.


Marcel Hirscher of Austria was 0.81 behind in second, and Manfred Moelgg of Italy took third, trailing Ligety by 1.75.


"This has been a crazy and unbelievable week. It's definitely far exceeded my expectations," Ligety said. "To win three gold medals here is awesome. It's a really cool feeling to join some of the legends of our sports."


Ligety is the first American to win two world GS titles, and has equaled Bode Miller's American record of four golds at the worlds.


"It's been pretty surreal," Ligety said. "I knew I had good chances of medals in those other two events but I didn't think the chances were gold-medal chances. So to achieve that this week it's been unbelievable. It's been by far the best week of ski racing in my life. So hopefully I can continue that streak and step up in those other events on a more regular basis.


"I definitely had a lot of pressure in the GS being the defending champion. With these gold medals it added a little bit of extra pressure for sure, so to live up to that is awesome."


Ligety, who smiled and closed his eyes several times while listening to the American anthem during the flower ceremony in the finish area, was widely praised by rivals and coaches.


"Ted is the man. He's the best in the world," Aksel Lund Svindal said. The Norwegian was second after the opening run but had only the 13th fastest time in the final run and was edged for third place by Moelgg by 0.04.


"It's not possible to beat Ted, I think," added Svindal, who won gold in downhill and bronze in super-G. "With two golds already in his pocket I bet he was fairly confident in the start."


Stephen Eberharter, the Austrian who won the 2002 Olympic GS, called Ligety's GS skiing "sensational."


"He completes these turns to perfection," Eberharter said. "He is unbelievably steady. And if he gets in trouble, he knows how to correct them immediately."


According to Alpine sport director Hans Pum of the Austrian ski federation, Ligety was "flying, not skiing. He goes from one victory to another."


"He's in very good form, he has a very good setup with the materials and he skis well," Pum said. "He got his first super-G win in the first race and then he just carried on. He's doing (whatever) he wants to."


After sunshine in the morning, grey clouds moved in and worsened visibility for the final run. In front of 35,000 visitors, Ligety increased his 1.31-second advantage over Hirscher from the first run to 1.68 before slowing down to avoid further risks.


"I wasn't easy. I took some risks but it was very difficult," Ligety said. "It was pretty dark and bumpy. I had several mistakes but I could afford them being 1.3 ahead."


Hirscher, the defending overall World Cup champion, posted the fastest time in the final run to win his second medal of the worlds after taking gold in the team event.


Hirscher hurt his lower back while GS training in nearby Haus on Thursday and had more treatment after his first run. The Austrian said he even considered skipping the race when he woke up at two in the morning.


"I wasn't sure if would make sense to race but I mobilized all energy in my body," Hirscher said. "Normally you would stay in bed. I had only had four or five hours of sleep. My neck also hurts ... it was difficult with the expectations. It was difficult to race and I am extremely happy with silver."


Hirscher was regarded as Ligety's closest challenger after beating the American in Val d'Isere, France, in December, Ligety's only loss in five World Cup giant slaloms this season. Most of the wins were by huge time differences.


"I've just had a good feeling on this hill and snow and I have high confidence," Ligety said, "so I think that helps me right now."


Read More..

Robot Car’s Copilot is an iPad






Think you need a chauffeur to get around in style? Think again. New robotic technology is making it possible for drivers to get where they’re going without having to do all that pesky steering themselves.


Engineers at the University of Oxford recently demonstrated the latest in automated technology using a Nissan Leaf electric car. The navigation system in this self-driving car uses built-in cameras and lasers linked to a computer in the trunk and is controlled by an iPad on the dashboard.






When the system recognizes a familiar route, the iPad flashes a prompt for the driver to activate ‘auto drive.’ From there, the system takes over navigation but can be halted at any time with a tap on the brake pedal.


And though automated technology in vehicles is nothing new- there are many cars on the market that can park themselves and react to changing road conditions- researchers believe that this “auto drive” system could be the next big thing for the car industry.


“Instead of imagining some cars driving themselves all of the time we should imagine a time when all cars can drive themselves some of the time,” said Paul Newman of Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science. “The sort of very low cost, low footprint autonomy we are developing is what’s needed for everyday use.”


Researchers can thank recent advancements in 3D laser mapping for the affordability of the automated system, Newman said. Unlike GPS navigation systems, this robotic technology relies on the rapid upload of detailed images of the car’s immediate surroundings.


“Because our cities don’t change very quickly, robotic vehicles will know and look out for familiar structures as they pass by so that they can ask a human driver, ‘I know this route, do you want me to drive?’ and the driver can choose to let the technology take over,” said Newman.


Researchers believe automated technology has the ability to make the driving experience safer, more efficient, and even more enjoyable for commuters.


Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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How Carnival can clean up PR mess






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • David Bartlett: For Carnival, impact of 'cruise from hell' potentially devastating.

  • Passenger video, media puts Carnival increasingly on the defensive, he says

  • He says it must show real concern, lay out plan, go a long way to make amends

  • Don't try to justify or explain, he says, but get proactive now about fixing problem




Editor's note: David Bartlett is a senior vice president of Levick, a crisis and issues management and strategic communications firm based in Washington. He is the author of "Making Your Point" (St. Martin's Press), a guide to communication strategy and tactics.


(CNN) -- As three tugboats towed the disabled Carnival cruise ship Triumph back to port in Mobile, Alabama, things went from bad to worse.


The fire that caused the ship to lose power and drift aimlessly on rough Gulf of Mexico swells was just the beginning. Raw sewage seeped into corridors and cabin ways. Food had to be rationed. There were fears of looting. Not surprisingly, passengers were furious and emotional. Some were reported to be "acting like savages."


For Carnival and the rest of the cruise line industry, the implications are potentially devastating. The deadly capsizing in January 2012 of the Costa Concordia ship off the coast of Italy still lingers in the public's mind. About a month later, the Costa Allegra liner suffered a similar engine fire, lost power, and was set adrift in pirate-infested waters in the Indian Ocean. Carnival owns Costa Cruises, and now a third high-profile crisis for Carnival in just over a year threatens to cement the perception among vacationers that cruising might not be worth the risk.


Five things we've learned about cruises



David Bartlett

David Bartlett




In the age of social and digital media, the problems faced by cruise lines are compounded. Using mobile phones, passengers aboard the Triumph have been providing concerned family members with constant updates. Those enraged family members have immediately passed the horror stories along to the eager media. The public is getting the full play-by-play in virtual real time, leaving Carnival playing catchup from an increasingly defensive posture.


But as bad as the potential damage to Carnival's image may be, the company, as well as the rest of the cruise line industry, has an opportunity to blunt the impact, if it acts quickly and wisely.


It seems counterintuitive, but while the gruesome stories of the "cruise from hell" are still fresh, the crisis offers an opportunity for the cruise line to make a compelling statement about the industry's commitment to its passengers. (Statements from Carnival.)


Crisis management experts know that customers and the general public are more likely to judge an organization by how it handles a problem than how it got into the problem in the first place. That means Carnival has to go much further than mere reimbursements and vouchers for onward travel.


The challenge to Carnival's reputation is three-fold.


First the company must articulate real concern for passengers and clearly communicate what it is doing to make things right for customers. This will require financial sacrifices, of course. But Carnival has little choice but to pay now and win some badly needed goodwill -- or pay later in the courtroom, in the court of public opinion, and, of course, at the cash register when bookings decline.


Second, the company must clearly communicate what it is doing to fix the problem and prevent anything like it from ever happening again. How did an engine fire, serious as that might be, so quickly develop into a disaster of this magnitude?


My celebration trip on the Carnival Triumph: From joy to misery


How could it have been allowed to happen? Why was the widely reported chaos and disorder allowed to develop? Why did Carnival not have emergency response plans in place? What is the industry doing to prepare for what would seem to be a manageable situation? The public will demand answers to these basic questions before it will begin to trust again. Uncertainty breathes life into a crisis. Accurate and timely information smothers it.




Third, Carnival must aggressively and clearly deliver these messages now, and for as long as it takes to restore the public's trust.


So far, the story has been about the unthinkable conditions the passengers have been forced to endure. Carnival must move aggressively to reshape that narrative to reflect all that it is doing to rectify the situation.


After a bad cruise, can you cruise into court?


Carnival has to resist the temptation to explain, minimize, or justify what happened and position itself instead as part of the solution to the problems that caused the disaster. That is what the public will focus on and remember, but only if Carnival is able to communicate it fast and effectively.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


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The opinions in this commentary are solely those of David Bartlett.






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Exhausted passengers describe woes on disabled cruise ship








MOBILE, Alabama—





Thousands of relieved passengers poured ashore from a stinking cruise ship on Friday after five days adrift in the Gulf of Mexico with overflowing toilets and stench filled cabins.

Exhausted passengers lined the ship's decks, waving towels and flashlights, cheering and singing "Sweet Home Alabama" as tug-boats pulled the stricken Carnival Triumph into the port of Mobile, Alabama.

Some travelers kissed the ground when they walked off, others disembarked wearing the ship's white bath robes, part souvenir and part protection against a chilly night.

With only one working elevator, it took several hours to get the more than 4,200 people off the ship, Carnival said. Passengers were greeted dockside with warm food, blankets and cell phones to call family and friends.

About 100 buses waited to carry passengers on a seven-hour bus ride to Galveston, Texas, while others buses departed for shorter rides to New Orleans, as well as hotels in Mobile, before eventually flying home.

The end of the saga, documented live on U.S. cable news stations, was another public relations disaster for cruise giant Carnival Corp. Last year, its Costa Concordia luxury liner grounded off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people.

Carnival officials said the Triumph, which entered service in 1999, would be towed to a Mobile repair facility for damage assessment.

The 893-foot vessel was returning to Galveston from Cozumel, Mexico on the third day of a four-day cruise when an engine-room fire knocked out power and plumbing across most of the ship on Sunday.

Passengers described a gut-wrenching stench on parts of the ship and complained to relatives and media by cellphone that toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking many cabins and interior passages in raw sewage.

"The stench was awful," said Robin Chandler, a 50-year-old from Dallas who spent her birthday on the ship. "A lot of people were crying and freaking out."

Jacob Combs, an Austin, Texas-based sales executive with a healthcare and hospice company, praised the ship's crew.

"Just imagine the filth," said Combs, 30. "People were doing crazy things and going to the bathroom in sinks and showers. It was inhuman. The stewards would go in and clean it all up. They were constantly cleaning," he said.


Debbie Moyes, 32, of Phoenix told the Los Angeles Times she was awakened Sunday by a fellow passenger banging on her door, warning people to escape.

"That was one of the only points in my life I thought I might die," the mother of four said as she stood in the parking lot.

Soon after, she said some passengers panicked.

"People were hoarding food -- boxes and boxes of cereal, grabbing cake with both hands," she said.


APOLOGY FROM CARNIVAL

Facing criticism over the company's response, Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill boarded the ship to personally apologize to passengers.

"I know the conditions on board were very poor," he told reporters, sounding shaken in a brief media appearance before he boarded the ship. "I know it was difficult. I want to apologize for subjecting our guests to that," he said.

"We pride ourselves with providing our guests with a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case," Cahill added.

Operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, the flagship brand of Carnival Corp, the ship left Galveston a week ago carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew. It was supposed to return on Monday.

Some passengers said conditions deteriorated rapidly on the Triumph earlier in the week, saying people were getting sick and passengers had been told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.

"It wasn't a vacation anymore it was like survival mode. Eat what you can. Snack when you can. It was awful," said passenger Tammy Garcia.

Smoke from the engine fire was so thick that passengers on the lower decks in the rear of the ship had to be permanently evacuated and slept the rest of the voyage on the decks under sheets, passengers said.

COMPENSATION OFFER

Some passengers said they tried to pass the time playing cards and organizing Bible study groups and scavenger hunts for the children on board the ship.

Cahill has issued several apologies and Carnival, the world's largest cruise company, said passengers will be reimbursed in full plus transportation expenses, a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for this voyage, plus a payment of $500 a person to help compensate them.

Chandler, the passenger, scoffed at the compensation offer. "There are lost wages, I've got a baby sitter at home and I had to take off work," she said.

Some passengers said conditions improved on Thursday after a generator was delivered to the ship, providing power for a grill to cook hot food. Passengers said toilets began flushing again on Thursday and the ship served steaks and lobster - a relief after a steady diet of cold sandwiches of cucumber and cheese.

Carnival Corp Chairman and CEO Micky Arison was criticized in January last year for failing to travel to Italy and take personal charge of the Costa Concordia crisis. The tragedy unleashed numerous lawsuits against his company.

He has not publicly commented on the Triumph incident.

"I think they really are trying to do the right thing, but I don't think they have been able to communicate it effectively," said Marcia Horowitz, an executive who handles crisis management at Rubenstein Associates, a New York-based PR firm.

Carnival Corp shares closed down 11 cents at $37.35 in trading on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel and the Bahamas Maritime Authority will be the primary agency investigating the cause of its engine room fire.

Earlier this month, Carnival repaired an electrical problem on one of the Triumph's alternators. The company said there was no evidence of any connection between the repair and the fire.

For all the passengers' grievances, they will likely find it difficult to sue the cruise operator for any damages, legal analysts said. Over the years, the cruise industry has put in place a legal structure that shields operators from big-money lawsuits.

Reuters and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times






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Meteor explodes over central Russia, 500 people hurt


CHELYABINSK, Russia (Reuters) - A meteor streaked across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday, sending fireballs crashing to earth which shattered windows and damaged buildings, injuring more than 500 people.


People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave, according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 950 miles east of Moscow.


The fireball, travelling at a speed of 19 miles per second according to Russia's space agency Roscosmos, had blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake which could be seen as far as 125 miles away.


Car alarms went off, windows broke and mobile phone networks were interrupted. The Interior Ministry said the meteor explosion had caused a sonic boom.


"I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," said Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains.


"I felt like I was blinded by headlights," he said.


No fatalities were reported, but President Vladimir Putin, who was due to host Finance Ministry officials from the Group of 20 nations in Moscow, told Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov to help those affected.


"Unfortunately, the normal work of some industrial enterprises was disrupted, people have suffered as has social infrastructure - kindergartens, schools," Putin told his Emergencies Minister Sergei Puchkov in televised comments.


"First of all, it is necessary to think about how to help the people, and not only to think about it, but to do it immediately," Putin said.


A local ministry official said such incidents were extremely rare and Friday's events might have been linked to an asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool due to pass earth. However, the European Space Agency on its Twitter website said its experts had confirmed there was no connection.


"There have never been any cases of meteorites breaking up at such a low level over Russia before," said Yuri Burenko, head of the Chelyabinsk branch of the Emergencies Ministry.


Russia's Emergencies Ministry said 514 people had sought medical help, mainly for light injuries caused by flying glass, and that 112 of them were kept in hospital.


Despite warnings not to approach any unidentified objects, some enterprising locals were hoping to cash in.


"Selling meteorite that fell on Chelyabinsk!," one prospective seller, Vladimir, said on a popular Russian auction website. He attached a picture of a black piece of stone that on Friday afternoon was priced at $49.46.


WINDOWS BREAK, FRAMES BUCKLE


The blast at around 9.20 a.m. (12:20 a.m. ET) shattered windows on Chelyabinsk's central Lenin Street and some of the frames of shop fronts buckled. The shockwave could be felt in apartment buildings in the city's center.


"I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend," said Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name. "Then there was a flash and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shockwave that smashed windows."


Chelyabinsk city authorities urged people to stay indoors unless they needed to pick up their children from schools and kindergartens. They said what sounded like a blast had been heard at an altitude of 32,800 feet.


A wall was damaged at the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but a spokeswoman said there was no environmental threat.


Although a rare occurrence, a meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 1,250 miles in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 125 miles from the point of impact.


The Emergencies Ministry described Friday's events as a "meteor shower in the form of fireballs" and said background radiation levels were normal. It urged residents not to panic.


Simon Goodwin, an astrophysics expert from Britain's University of Sheffield, said it was estimated between 1,000 and 10,000 tonnes of material rained down from space onto the earth every day, but most burned up in the atmosphere.


"While events this big are rare, an impact that could cause damage and death could happen every century or so," he said. "Unfortunately there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop impacts."


The meteor struck just as an asteroid known as 2012 DA14, about 46 meters in diameter was due to pass closer to earth than any other known object of its size since scientists began routinely monitoring them about 15 years ago.


The small asteroid was expected to pass at a distance of 17,100 miles from earth on Friday.


(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow, Writing by Alexei Anishchuk and Timothy Heritage, Editing by Michael Holden)



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Wall Street erases earlier losses; M&A news, data support

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks erased earlier losses to trade flat by late morning on Thursday as a flurry of M&A deals and better-than-expected jobs data fed optimism to the market, although signs of economic weakness in Europe and Japan curbed appetite for risky assets.


Among the M&A announcements, shares of H.J. Heinz Co jumped 20 percent to $72.50 after it said Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital will buy the company for $72.50 a share, or $28 billion including debt.


Also supporting the market, U.S. data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected in the latest week. But data out of Europe showed a contraction of 0.6 percent in gross domestic product in the euro zone, the steepest for the bloc since the first quarter of 2009. Japan's GDP shrank 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, crushing expectations of a modest return to growth.


"The only reason a company buys another company is because they see an upside. Even though we are at multiyear highs, this kind of activity shows that there is more room for a rally, feeding optimism to the market," said Randy Frederick, director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.


"The jobless claims numbers were solid, and with the European market closing, the news out of Europe is pretty much done for the day."


But Frederick added the market would have to see small corrections before breaking above current levels, where indexes have been hovering for almost two weeks. The S&P 500 is up more than 6 percent so far this year, near its highest level since November 2007.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 1.20 points, or 0.01 percent, at 13,981.71. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 0.03 points, or 0.00 percent, at 1,520.36. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 2.65 points, or 0.08 percent, at 3,194.23.


Constellation Brands soared more than 35 percent to $43.26 after terms of its takeover of Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo were revised, granting it perpetual rights to distribute Corona and other Modelo brands in the United States. AB InBev ADRs gained 5.5 percent to $93.08.


American Airlines and US Airways Group said they plan to merge in a deal that will form the world's biggest air carrier, with an equity valuation of about $11 billion. US Airways shares fell 2.4 percent to $14.31.


Shrinking European economies translated to a 5-percent drop in revenue from the region for Cisco Systems , which nonetheless beat estimates as it reported its results late Wednesday. The company's shares slid 1.4 percent to $20.84.


General Motors Co reported a weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, also citing bigger losses in Europe alongside lower prices in its core North American market. The stock was off 0.8 percent at $28.42.


(Reporting By Angela Moon; Editing by Nick Zieminski)



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Olympian Oscar Pistorius charged with murder


PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius was charged Thursday with the murder of his girlfriend who was shot inside his home in South Africa, a stunning development in the life of a national hero known as the Blade Runner for his high-tech artificial legs.


Reeva Steenkamp, a model who spoke out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women, was shot four times in the predawn hours in the house, in a gated community in the capital, Pretoria, police said.


Hours later after undergoing police questioning, Pistorius left a police station accompanied by officers. He looked down as photographers snapped pictures, the hood on his gray workout jacket pulled up, covering most of his face. His court hearing was originally scheduled for Thursday afternoon but has been postponed until Friday to give forensic investigators time to carry out their work, said Medupe Simasiku, a spokesman for the prosecution.


South Africans were shocked at the killing. But while Pistorius captured the nation's attention with his Olympic quest, police said there was a recent history of problems involving him. Police spokeswoman Brigadier Denise Beukes said the incidents included "allegations of a domestic nature."


"I'm not going to elaborate on it but there have been incidents (at Pistorius' home)," Beukes said. Police in South Africa do not name suspects in crimes until they have appeared in court but Beukes said that the 26-year-old Pistorius was at his home at the time of the death of Steenkamp and "there is no other suspect involved."


Pistorius' father, Henke, declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press, only saying "we all pray for guidance and strength for Oscar and the lady's parents."


Neither Pistorius' agent Peet van Zyl nor coach Ampie Louw could be reached while Pistorius' own cellphone went straight to voicemail.


Pistorius' former coach, Andrea Giannini, said he hopes it was "just a tragic accident." Giannini said he believed that Pistorius had been dating Steenkamp for "a few months."


"No matter how bad the situation was, Oscar always stayed calm and positive," Giannini told the AP in Italy. "Whenever he was tired or nervous he was still extremely nice to people. I never saw him violent."


Yet Pistorius had troubles in his personal life. In February 2009, he crashed a speed boat he was piloting on South Africa's Vaal River. Witnesses said he had been drinking before the crash and officers found alcoholic beverages in the wreckage, though they acknowledged at the time they hadn't conducted a blood test on the athlete. Pistorius broke his nose, jaw and several ribs in the crash, as well as damaged his eye socket and required some 180 stitches to his face.


In November, Pistorius also found himself in an altercation with a local coal mining millionaire over a woman, South African media reported. Eventually, the two men involved the South African Police Service's elite Hawks investigative unit before settling the matter.


Pistorius owned firearms and posted a photograph of himself at a shooting range in November 2011 to the social media website Twitter, bragging about his score.


"Had a 96% headshot over 300m from 50shots! Bam!" he tweeted.


Police said that earlier reports that Steenkamp may have been mistaken for a burglar by Pistorius did not come from the police. Several local media outlets initially reported that the shooting may have been accidental.


Capacity Relations, a talent management firm, earlier named model Steenkamp as the victim of the shooting. Police spokeswoman Lt. Col. Katlego Mogale told the AP that officers received a call around 3 a.m. after the shooting.


A 9 mm pistol was recovered and a murder case opened against Pistorius.


Pistorius enjoyed target shooting with his pistol and an online advertisement featuring him for Nike read: "I am a bullet in the chamber." An article in January 2012 in The New York Times Magazine described him talking about how he pulled a pistol to search his home when his alarm went off the night before an interview. At Pistorius' suggestion, he and the journalist went to a nearby target range where they fired at targets with a 9 mm pistol. At one point, Pistorius told the writer: "If you practiced, I think you could be pretty deadly."


Asked how often he went target shooting, Pistorius replied: "Just sometimes when I can't sleep."


Police have still not released the name of the woman, but the publicist for Steenkamp confirmed in a statement that the model was dead.


"We can confirm that Reeva Steenkamp has passed away," Steenkamp's publicist Sarit Tomlinson said. "Our thoughts and prayers go to the Steenkamp family, who have asked to have their privacy respected during this difficult time, everyone is simply devastated. She was the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth and will be sorely missed."


Tomlinson said Steenkamp, known simply as Reeva, was one of FHM's (formerly For Him Magazine) 100 Sexiest Women in the World for two years running, appeared in countless international and national advertisements and was one of the celebrity contestants on the reality show "Tropika Island of Treasure," filmed in Jamaica.


She and Pistorius were first seen publicly together in November at an awards ceremony in Johannesburg. Later, she began mentioning the athlete in public messages on Twitter.


She also tweeted messages urging women to stand up against rape as well as her excitement about Valentine's Day. "What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?" she tweeted. "It should be a day of love for everyone."


Pistorius made history in London last year when he became the first double-amputee track athlete to compete in the Olympic Games, propelling him to the status of an athletics superstar.


Having had both his legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday because of a congenital condition, he campaigned for years to be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes. Having initially been banned because of his carbon fiber blades — which critics said gave him an unfair advantage — he was cleared by sport's highest court in 2008 and allowed to run at the top events.


He competed in the 400 meters and on South Africa's 4x400 relay team at the London Games, making history when his selection for South Africa's team was confirmed at the very last minute. He also retained his Paralympic title in the 400 meters in London.


South Africa's Sports Confederation and Olympic committee released a statement on Thursday saying they had been "inundated" with requests for comment but were not in a position to give out any details of the shooting. The International Paralympic Committee also said it wouldn't comment in detail apart from offering its condolences to the victim's family.


South Africa has some of the world's highest murder rates, with nearly 50 people killed each day in the nation of 50 million. It also has high rates of rape, other assaults, robbery and carjackings.


U.N. statistics show South Africa has the second highest rate of shooting deaths in the world, second only to Colombia.


"The question is: Why does this story make the news? Yes, because they are both celebrities, but this is happening on every single day in South Africa," said Adele Kirsten, a member of Gun Free South Africa. "We have thousands of people killed annually by gun violence in our country. So the anger is about that it is preventable."


___


Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa. Associated Press writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Johannesburg.


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Where's Obama's foreign policy?








By Isobel Coleman, Special to CNN


February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)









STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Isobel Coleman: Obama mainly addressed domestic issues: economy, immigration, energy

  • He spoke very little about and offered nothing much new on foreign policy, she says

  • Coleman: He talked about ending Afghanistan War, spoke briefly about Iran, Syria, China

  • Coleman: His reinvigorated free trade agenda seems to be the boldest move




Editor's note: Isobel Coleman is the author of "Paradise Beneath Her Feet" and a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.


(CNN) -- President Obama's State of the Union address predictably focused on his domestic priorities.


Immigration reform, a laundry list of economic initiatives including infrastructure improvements (Fix it First), clean energy, some manufacturing innovation, a bit of educational reform and the rhetorical high point of his speech -- gun control.



Isobel Coleman

Isobel Coleman



As in years past, foreign policy made up only about 15% of the speech, but even within that usual limited attention, Tuesday night's address pointed to few new directions.



On Afghanistan -- America's longest war -- Obama expressed just a continued commitment to bringing the troops home, ending "our war" while theirs continues. On Iran, there was a single sentence reiterating the need for a diplomatic solution, which makes me think that a big diplomatic push is not likely. On North Korea, boilerplate promises to isolate the country further after its provocative nuclear test, and on Syria, a call to "keep the pressure" on the regime, which means more watching from the sidelines as the horror unfolds.


Notably, China was mentioned only twice -- once in the context of jobs, and another time with respect to clean energy. Nothing about managing what could very well be this administration's most vexing but critically important bilateral relationship.


Obama's call for a reinvigorated free trade agenda was his boldest foreign policy statement of the evening. He is right to note that free trade "supports millions of good-paying American jobs," but his pledge to pursue a "comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership" -- a free trade agreement with Europe -- will run into significant opposition from organized labor, especially given ongoing weaknesses in the economy.






Without fast track negotiating authority, the prospects for such a deal are minimal. Fast track authority, which allows the president to negotiate trade deals that Congress can then only approve or disapprove but not amend, expired in 2007, and it would require quite a breakthrough for Congress to approve it again. Still, despite these challenges, an agreement is worth pursuing.


Aside from a free trade agreement with Europe, there was little else in this State of the Union that hinted at foreign policy ambition. But unpredictable events have a way of derailing America's best laid plans to stay above the fray of the world's messiest problems. Who could have predicted just a few months ago that Mali would get a mention in the State of the Union? Iraq -- not uttered once tonight -- could re-emerge as a formidable crisis; Iran, Pakistan and North Korea also have tremendous potential to erupt.


While this administration seems determined to focus inward on getting America's economic and fiscal house in order, I doubt events in the rest of the world will be so accommodating.


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Isobel Coleman











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'Blade Runner' Olympian charged with girlfriend's murder









JOHANNESBURG -- South African "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who became one of the biggest names in world athletics, was charged on Thursday with shooting dead his girlfriend at his upscale home in Pretoria.

Police said they opened a murder case after a 30-year-old woman was found dead at the Paralympic and Olympic star's house in the Silverlakes gated complex on the capital's outskirts.






Pistorius, 26, and his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, had been the only people in the house at the time of the shooting, police brigadier Denise Beukes, told reporters, adding witnesses had been interviewed about the early morning incident.

"We are talking about neighbors and people that heard things earlier in the evening and when the shooting took place," Beukes said outside the heavily guarded residential complex. Earlier, police said a 9mm pistol had been found at the scene.

Beukes said police were aware of previous incidents at the Pistorius house. "I can confirm that there has previously been incidents at the home of Mr Oscar Pistorious, of allegations of domestic nature," she said.

Pistorius, who uses carbon fiber prosthetic blades to run, is due to appear in a Pretoria court on Friday.

"He is doing well but very emotional," his lawyer Kenny Oldwage told SABC TV, but gave no further comment.

A sports icon for triumphing over disabilities to compete with able-bodied athletes at the Olympics, his sponsorship deals, including one with sports apparel group Nike, are thought to be worth $2 million a year.

South Africa's M-Net cable TV channel said it was pulling adverts featuring Pistorius off air immediately.

"WE ARE ALL DEVASTATED"

Steenkamp's colleagues in the modeling world were distraught. "We are all devastated. Her family is in shock," her agent, Sarita Tomlinson, tearfully told Reuters. "They did have a good relationship. Nobody actually knows what happened."

Pistorius, who was born without a fibula in both legs, was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics and reached the 400-metre semi-finals in London 2012.

In last year's Paralympics he suffered his first loss over 200 meters in nine years. After the race he questioned the legitimacy of Brazilian winner Alan Oliveira's prosthetic blades, though he was quick to express regret for the comments.

South Africa has some of the world's highest rates of violent crime, and many home owners have weapons to defend themselves against intruders, although Pistorius' complex is surrounded by a three-meter high wall and electric fence.

In 2004, Springbok rugby player Rudi Visagie shot dead his 19-year-old daughter after he mistakenly thought she was a robber trying to steal his car in the middle of the night.

Before the murder charge was announced, Johannesburg's Talk Radio 702 said the athlete may have mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar.

Recent media interviews with Pistorius revealed he kept an assortment of weapons in his home.

"Cricket and baseball bats lay behind the door, a pistol by his bed and a machine gun by a window," Britain's Daily Mail wrote in a profile published last year.

Pistorius was arrested in 2009 for assault after slamming a door on a woman and spent a night in police custody. Family and friends said it was just an accident and charges were dropped.

Read More..

"Blade Runner" Pistorius charged with murdering girlfriend


JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who became one of the biggest names in world athletics, was charged on Thursday with shooting dead his girlfriend at his upscale home in Pretoria.


Police said they opened a murder case after a 30-year-old woman was found dead at the Paralympic and Olympic star's house in the Silverlakes gated complex on the capital's outskirts.


Pistorius, 26, and his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, had been the only people in the house at the time of the shooting, police brigadier Denise Beukes told reporters, adding witnesses had been interviewed about the early morning incident.


"We are talking about neighbors and people that heard things earlier in the evening and when the shooting took place," Beukes said outside the heavily guarded residential complex.


Police said a 9mm pistol had been found at the scene.


Beukes said police were aware of previous incidents at the Pistorius house. "I can confirm that there has previously been incidents at the home of Mr Oscar Pistorious, of allegations of a domestic nature," she said.


Pistorius, who uses carbon fiber prosthetic blades to run, is due to appear in a Pretoria court on Friday.


"He is doing well but very emotional," his lawyer Kenny Oldwage told SABC TV, but gave no further comment.


A sports icon for triumphing over disability to compete with able-bodied athletes at the Olympics, his sponsorship deals, including one with sports apparel group Nike, are thought to be worth $2 million a year.


South Africa's M-Net cable TV channel said it was pulling adverts featuring Pistorius off air immediately after blanket coverage of the arrest in a country more used to honoring Pistorius as a national hero.


"WE ARE ALL DEVASTATED"


Steenkamp's colleagues in the modeling world were distraught. "We are all devastated. Her family is in shock," her agent, Sarita Tomlinson, tearfully told Reuters. "They did have a good relationship. Nobody actually knows what happened."


Pistorius, who was born without a fibula in both legs, was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics and reached the 400-metre semi-finals in London 2012.


In last year's Paralympics he suffered his first loss over 200 meters in nine years. After the race he questioned the legitimacy of Brazilian winner Alan Oliveira's prosthetic blades, though he was quick to express regret for the comments.


South Africa has some of the world's highest rates of violent crime, and many home owners have weapons to defend themselves against intruders, although Pistorius's complex is surrounded by a three-meter high wall and electric fence.


In 2004, Springbok rugby player Rudi Visagie shot dead his 19-year-old daughter after he mistakenly thought she was a robber trying to steal his car in the middle of the night.


Before the murder charge was announced, Johannesburg's Talk Radio 702 said the athlete may have mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar.


Pistorius was arrested in 2009 for assault after slamming a door on a woman and spent a night in police custody. Family and friends said it was just an accident and charges were dropped.


OLYMPIAN UNDERGOES POLICE TESTS


Steenkamp, a regular on the South African social scene, was reported to have been dating Pistorius for several months.


In the social pages of last weekend's Sunday Independent she described him as having "impeccable" taste. "His gifts are always thoughtful," she was quoted as saying.


Some of her last Twitter postings indicated she was looking forward to Valentine's Day on Thursday. "What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow???" she posted.


Pistorius was on Thursday being processed through the police system. "At this stage he is on his way to a district surgeon for medical examination," the police brigadier said.


"When a person has been accused of a crime like murder they look at things like testing under the finger nails, taking a blood alcohol sample and all kinds of other test that are done. They are standard medical tests," Beukes said.


Pistorius is also sponsored by British telecoms firm BT, sunglasses maker Oakley and French designer Thierry Mugler.


"We are shocked by this terrible, tragic news. We await the outcome of the South African police investigation," a BT spokeswoman said before Pistorius was charged.


A Nike spokesman in London said before hearing of the murder charge that the company was "saddened by the news, but we have no further comment to make at this stage".


Pistorius also has a sponsorship deal with Icelandic prosthetics manufacturer Ossur.


"I can only say that our thoughts and prayers are with Oscar and the families involved in the tragedy," Ossur CEO Jon Sigurdsson told Reuters. "It is completely premature to discuss or speculate on our business relationship with him."


Neighbors expressed shock at the arrest of a "good guy".


"It is difficult to imagine an intruder entering this community, but we live in a country where intruders can get in wherever they want to," said one Silverlakes resident, who did not want to be named.


"Oscar is a good guy, an upstanding neighbor, and if he is innocent I feel for this guy deeply," he said.


(Additional reporting by Sherilee Lakmidas, David Dolan, Ed Cropley, Jon Herskovitz, Keith Weir and Kate Holton; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Will Waterman)



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