Analysis: Italian election explained











Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back for the fourth time

  • The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11%

  • Pier Luigi Bersani of the center-left Democratic Party is expected to narrowly win

  • Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances




(CNN) -- Little more than a year after he resigned in disgrace as prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back -- for the fourth time.


Berlusconi, the septuagenarian playboy billionaire nicknamed "Il Cavaliere," has been trailing in polls behind his center-left rival, Per Luigi Bersani.


But the controversial media tycoon's rise in the polls in recent weeks, combined with widespread public disillusionment and the quirks of Italy's complex electoral system, means that nothing about the race is a foregone conclusion.


Why have the elections been called now?


Italian parliamentarians are elected for five-year terms, with the current one due to end in April. However in December, Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL) withdrew its support from the reformist government led by Mario Monti, saying it was pursuing policies that "were too German-centric." Monti subsequently resigned and the parliament was dissolved.






Berlusconi -- the country's longest serving post-war leader -- had resigned the prime ministerial office himself amidst a parliamentary revolt in November 2011. He left at a time of personal and national crisis, as Italy grappled with sovereign debt problems and Berlusconi faced criminal charges of tax fraud, for which he was subsequently convicted. He remains free pending an appeal. He was also embroiled in a scandal involving a young nightclub dancer - which led him to be charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute.


MORE: From Venice to bunga bunga: Italy in coma


He was replaced by Monti, a respected economist and former European Commissioner, who was invited by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano to lead a cabinet of unelected technocrats. Monti's government implemented a program of tax rises and austerity measures in an attempt to resolve Italy's economic crisis.


Who are the candidates?


The election is a four-horse race between political coalitions led by Bersani, Berlusconi, Monti, and the anti-establishment movement led by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo. Polls are banned within two weeks of election day, but the most recent ones had Bersani holding onto a slender lead over Berlusconi, followed by Grillo in distant third.


READ MORE: Will Monte Paschi banking scandal throw open Italy's election race?


The center-left alliance is dominated by the Democratic Party, led by Bersani. He is a former Minister of Economic Development in Romano Prodi's government from 2006-8 -- and has held a comfortable lead in polls, but that appears to be gradually being eroded by Berlusconi.


Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances, and the Democratic Party has teamed with the more left-wing Left Ecology Freedom party.


The 61-year-old Bersani comes across as "bluff and homespun, and that's part of his appeal -- or not, depending on your point of view," said political analyst James Walston, department chair of international relations at the American University of Rome.


He described Bersani, a former communist, as a "revised apparatchik," saying the reform-minded socialist was paradoxically "far more of a free marketeer than even people on the right."


Bersani has vowed to continue with Monti's austerity measures and reforms, albeit with some adjustments, if he wins.


At second place in the polls is the center-right alliance led by Berlusconi's PdL, in coalition with the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League.


Berlusconi has given conflicting signals as to whether he is running for the premiership, indicating that he would seek the job if his coalition won, but contradicting that on other occasions.


In a recent speech, he proposed himself as Economy and Industry Minister, and the PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano as prime minister.


Roberto Maroni, leader of the Northern League, has said the possibility of Berlusconi becoming prime minister is explicitly ruled out by the electoral pact between the parties, but the former premier has repeatedly said he plays to win, and observers believe he is unlikely to pass up the chance to lead the country again if the opportunity presents itself.


Berlusconi has been campaigning as a Milan court weighs his appeal against a tax fraud conviction, for which he was sentenced to four years in jail last year. The verdict will be delivered after the elections; however, under the Italian legal system, he is entitled to a further appeal in a higher court. Because the case dates to July 2006, the statute of limitations will expire this year, meaning there is a good chance none of the defendants will serve any prison time.


He is also facing charges in the prostitution case (and that he tried to pull strings to get her out of jail when she was accused of theft) -- and in a third case stands accused of revealing confidential court information relating to an investigation into a bank scandal in 2005.


Despite all this, he retains strong political support from his base.


"Italy is a very forgiving society, it's partly to do with Roman Catholicism," said Walston. "There's sort of a 'live and let live' idea."


Monti, the country's 69-year-old technocrat prime minister, who had never been a politician before he was appointed to lead the government, has entered the fray to lead a centrist coalition committed to continuing his reforms. The alliance includes Monti's Civic Choice for Monti, the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy.


As a "senator for life," Monti is guaranteed a seat in the senate and does not need to run for election himself, but he is hitting the hustings on behalf of his party.


In a climate of widespread public disillusionment with politics, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo is also making gains by capturing the protest vote with his Five Star Movement. Grillo has railed against big business and the corruption of Italy's political establishment, and holds broadly euro-skeptical and pro-environmental positions.


How will the election be conducted?


Italy has a bicameral legislature and a voting system which even many Italians say they find confusing.


Voters will be electing 315 members of the Senate, and 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Both houses hold the same powers, although the Senate is referred to as the upper house.


Under the country's closed-list proportional representation system, each party submits ranked lists of its candidates, and is awarded seats according to the proportion of votes won -- provided it passes a minimum threshold of support.


Seats in the Chamber of Deputies are on a national basis, while seats in the senate are allocated on a regional one.


The party with the most votes are awarded a premium of bonus seats to give them a working majority.


The prime minister needs the support of both houses to govern.


Who is likely to be the next prime minister?


On current polling, Bersani's bloc looks the likely victor in the Chamber of Deputies. But even if he maintains his lead in polls, he could fall short of winning the Senate, because of the rules distributing seats in that house on a regional basis.


Crucial to victory in the Senate is winning the region of Lombardy, the industrial powerhouse of the north of Italy which generates a fifth of the country's wealth and is a traditional support base for Berlusconi. Often compared to the U.S. state of Ohio for the "kingmaker" role it plays in elections, Lombardy has more Senate seats than any other region.


If no bloc succeeds in controlling both houses, the horse-trading begins in search of a broader coalition.


Walston said that a coalition government between the blocs led by Bersani and Monti seemed "almost inevitable," barring something "peculiar" happening in the final stages of the election campaign.


Berlusconi, he predicted, would "get enough votes to cause trouble."


What are the main issues?


There's only really one issue on the agenda at this election.


The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11% -- and hitting 37% for young people.


Voters are weighing the question of whether to continue taking Monti's bitter medicine of higher taxation and austerity measures, while a contentious property tax is also proving a subject of vexed debate.


Walston said the dilemma facing Italians was deciding between "who's going to look after the country better, or who's going to look after my pocket better."


He said it appeared voters held far greater confidence in the ability of Monti and Bersani to fix the economy, while those swayed by appeals to their own finances may be more likely to support Berlusconi.


But he said it appeared that few undecided voters had any faith in Berlusconi's ability to follow through on his pledges, including a recent promise to reverse the property tax.


What are the ramifications of the election for Europe and the wider world?


Improving the fortunes of the world's eighth largest economy is in the interests of Europe, and in turn the global economy.


Italy's woes have alarmed foreign investors. However, financial commentator Nicholas Spiro, managing director of consultancy Spiro Sovereign Strategy, says the European Central Bank's bond-buying program has gone a long way to mitigating investors' concerns about the instability of Italian politics.


Why is political instability so endemic to Italy?


Italy has had more than 60 governments since World War II -- in large part as a by-product of a system designed to prevent the rise of another dictator.


Parties can be formed and make their way on to the political main stage with relative ease -- as witnessed by the rise of Grillo's Five Star Movement, the protest party which was formed in 2009 but in local and regional elections has even outshone Berlusoni's party at times.


Others point to enduringly strong regional identities as part of the recipe for the country's political fluidity.


READ MORE: Italian Elections 2013: Fame di sapere (hunger for knowledge)







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It’s Indie Vets Vs. Upstarts at a Varied Independent Spirit Awards






LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) – After finding the Oscars encroaching on their territory for a number of years, have the Film Independent Spirit Awards finally gotten a little space from their bigger, flashier weekend neighbor?


You’d think so, given that six of the Oscars’ nine Best Picture nominees have grossed more than $ 100 million, and the roster of represented companies includes Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks, Disney and Sony.






But one of those $ 100 million films, David O. Russell‘s “Silver Linings Playbook,” will be competing for five Indie Spirit Awards on Saturday, the day before it takes its eight nominations to the Oscars.


Another Oscar Best Picture nominee, Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” will also be in the running for the top Spirit Award at the ceremony, which as usual takes place in a tent on Santa Monica beach.


Oscar best-pic nominee “Amour,” meanwhile, is nominated in the foreign-film category at the Spirits, while Wes Anderson‘s best-film Spirit Awards contender “Moonrise Kingdom” is up for an Oscar for its screenplay.


The Oscars are still honoring independent film, even in a year of unexpectedly big box office and surprising participation by the major studios. And the Spirit Awards’ definition of indie is still broad enough to encompass a wide range of movies, from the small-budgeted “Keep the Lights On” to the Weinstein Company release “Silver Linings Playbook,” which skirted the $ 20 million budget limit to qualify for the Spirit Awards but was let in on a judgment call by the jury assembled by Film Independent.


“The Spirit Awards are a celebration of independent film, and one of the things I love is that there’s a lot of diversity in there this year,” said Josh Welsh, co-president of Film Independent with Sean McManus.


“We have first-time directors and new filmmaking talent like Benh Zeitlin, but we also have directors that we go way back with, like Wes Anderson and David O. Russell. This year is a combination of discovery and bringing back people who are a part of what we’ve been doing for years.”


Russell first came to the Spirit Awards in 1995 with “Spanking the Monkey,” for which he won the Best First Feature award; he returned two years later as a Best Director nominee for “Flirting With Disaster.” Anderson won the Spirit Award as Best Director for “Rushmore” in 2000.


Their two films, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Moonrise Kingdom,” lead the pack with five nominations each. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” has four – and, crucially, the Spirit Awards jury opted to nominate it and its director in the Best Feature and Best Director categories rather than putting them in the Best First Feature category, where they would almost unquestionably have won.


“Keep the Lights On” and “Middle of Nowhere” also received four nominations each, though the latter film did not crack the Best Feature category.


Despite the presence of “Bernie” and “Keep the Lights On” in the top category, this year’s awards do seem to be a shootout between “Silver Linings,” “Beasts” and “Moonrise,” perhaps with a slight edge to the first two – the first a crowd-pleasing film with real awards momentum, the second the clear indie breakout of the year.


Last year’s winner, “The Artist,” was the first film to win both the Spirit Award and the Best Picture Oscar.


Of the 21 Spirit acting nominees, the only ones to also be in the running at the Oscars are Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from “Silver Linings,” Quvenzhane Wallis from “Beasts” and Helen Hunt from “The Sessions.” Chances are that Cooper and Lawrence have the edge, with more than 80 percent of Spirit Awards winners since 2000 coming from the ranks of Oscar nominees.


The awards are voted on by the 4,000 members of Film Independent, which is made up of professionals in the indie world but also of film fans who pay the yearly dues. Voting is done online, and Film Independent holds free member screenings in Los Angeles and New York to allow voters to see the films.


MacManus told TheWrap that Film Independent also made a deal with iTunes this year to make some of the nominated films available online, while members also received a 14-film DVD collection containing all the nominees that had chosen to participate. (Members had to sign restrictive use agreements to receive the package, added Welsh.)


This year’s show will be hosted by comic and actor Andy Samberg, whose film “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is in the running in the Best First Screenplay category.


“He brings a very new vibe and personality to the show,” MacManus said. “We wanted to look at this year’s show with fresh eyes. There’s a new look to the room, we’re doing something different with the food – everything is a new take.”


Last year’s host was Seth Rogen, who took the stage and immediately labeled the show “inconsequential.”


“Winning one will get you absolutely nothing,” he said, drawing a big laugh. “It won’t even raise your price, because it proves that you’ll work for nothing.”


If Samberg takes similar shots at the show, both MacManus and Welsh said they won’t mind.


“The awards are incredibly meaningful,” MacManus said. “We believe in independent film and we take it seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. We are okay with poking fun at ourselves.”


Added Welsh, “We’re not all puffed up or self-important. But all joking aside, these awards are significant. It’s a genuine act of honoring the independent film of the last 12 months.”


Movies News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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The Fraser Institute: 42 Elementary Schools Across Alberta Score Improvement in Fraser Institute School Rankings






CALGARY, ALBERTA–(Marketwire – Feb 23, 2013) – Across Alberta, 42 elementary schools showed significant improvement in their academic performance over the past five years, according to the Fraser Institute”s annual school rankings.


Among these improving elementary schools are public, private, separate, francophone, and charter schools.






“This is why the Fraser Institute school report card is the go-to source for measuring academic improvement: it highlights school success stories from Grand Prairie in the west to Fort McMurray in the east and from La Crete in the north to Cardston in the south,” said Peter Cowley, Fraser Institute director of school performance studies.


“Our report shows that all schools are capable of improvement, regardless of the personal or family challenges their students might face. If educators want to help students learn and improve, they should be talking to these schools.”


The Report Card on Alberta”s Elementary Schools 2013 rates 659 public, private, separate, charter, and francophone elementary schools based on nine academic indicators using data from the annual Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) administered by Alberta Education.


“By pinpointing the subject areas in which individual schools are improving or declining and how their academic performance compares to that of other Alberta schools over the past five years, our report helps parents and educators prioritize learning challenges in their schools,” Cowley said.


The report card also includes important information about each school”s make-up, including parents” average income, the percentage of ESL students, and the percentage of special needs students.


The complete results for all 659 elementary schools will also be available at www.compareschoolrankings.org where visitors can compare individual schools with others based on their results over the last five years.


Of the 20 Alberta elementary schools showing the fastest academic improvement over the past five years, 13 are public schools where the parental income is below average. At seven of those schools, ESL students account for more than 40 per cent of school enrolment. The complete list follows.


“We all want the best possible education for our children. To achieve this, every Alberta school should make improvement Job 1,” Cowley said.


Top 20 Fastest-Improving Alberta Elementary Schools


  • Bannerman (Public), Edmonton

  • Pollard Meadows (Public), Edmonton

  • St. Augustine (Separate), Ponoka

  • Thickwood Heights (Public), Fort McMurray

  • Westglen (Public), Edmonton

  • Annie Foote (Public), Calgary

  • Langevin (Public), Calgary

  • Virginia Park (Public), Edmonton

  • Grandview Heights (Public), Edmonton

  • Two Hills Mennonite (Public), Edmonton

  • Erin Woods (Public), Calgary

  • High Prairie (Public), High Prairie

  • St. Clare (Separate), Calgary

  • St. Lucy (Separate), Edmonton

  • Derek Taylor (Public), Grande Prairie

  • Blueberry (Public), Stony Plain

  • McLeod (Public), Edmonton

  • Meyokumin (Public), Edmonton

  • Hill Crest (Public), La Crete

  • Millwoods Christian (Public), Edmonton

Follow the Fraser Institute on Twitter | Like us on Facebook


The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian public policy research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global network of 86 think-tanks. Its mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals. To protect the Institute”s independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit www.fraserinstitute.org.


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Grief besets family of Pistorius' slain girlfriend


JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Far from the courtroom drama that has gripped South Africa, the family of Oscar Pistorius' slain girlfriend has struggled with its own private deluge of grief, frustration and bewilderment.


The victim's relatives also harbor misgivings about efforts by the Olympian's family to reach out to them with condolences.


Pistorius, meanwhile, spent Saturday at his uncle's home in an affluent suburb of Pretoria, the South African capital, after a judge released him on bail following days of testimony that transfixed South Africa and much of the world. He was charged with premeditated murder in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day, but the athlete says he killed her accidentally, opening fire after mistaking her for an intruder in his home.


"We are extremely thankful that Oscar is now home," his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said in a statement that also acknowledged the law must run its course. "What happened has changed our lives irrevocably."


Mike Steenkamp, Reeva's uncle, told The Associated Press that the family of the double-amputee athlete initially did not send condolences or try to contact the bereaved parents, but had since sought to reach out in what he described as a poorly timed way. After Pistorius was released on bail in what amounted to a victory for the defense, Arnold Pistorius said the athlete's family was relieved but also in mourning "with the family" of Reeva Steenkamp.


"Everybody wants to jump up with joy," Mike Steenkamp said, speculating on the mood of Pistorius' family after the judge's decision. "I think it was just done in the wrong context, completely."


A South African newspaper, the Afrikaans-language Beeld, quoted the mother of Reeva Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, law school graduate and participant in a television reality show, as saying the family had received a bouquet of flowers and a card from the Pistorius family.


"Yes, but what does it mean? Nothing," June Steenkamp said, according to the Saturday edition of Beeld. She also said Pistorius' family, including sister Aimee, a somber presence on the bench behind the Olympian during his court hearings in the past week, must be "devastated" and had done nothing wrong.


"They are not to blame," June Steenkamp said. According to Beeld, she said she had hoped to plan a wedding for her daughter one day.


In an affidavit, 26-year-old Oscar Pistorius said he was "absolutely mortified" by the death of "my beloved Reeva," and he frequently sobbed in court during the several days during which his bail application was considered. However, prosecutor Gerrie Nel, suggested in a scathing criticism that Pistorius was actually distraught because his vaunted career was now in peril and he was in grave trouble with the law.


"It doesn't matter how much money he has and how good his legal team is, he will have to live with his conscience if he allows his legal team to lie for him," Barry Steenkamp, Reeva's father, told Beeld .


"But if he is telling the truth, then perhaps I can forgive him one day," the father said. "If it didn't happen the way he said it did, he must suffer, and he will suffer ... only he knows."


Barry Steenkamp suffered "heavy trauma" at the loss of his daughter and his remarks to the newspaper partly reflect how he is working through it, said his brother, Mike Steenkamp.


Steenkamp was cremated in a funeral ceremony on Feb. 19 in her family's hometown of Port Elizabeth on South Africa's southern coast. Mike Steenkamp delivered a statement about the family's grief to television cameras, at one point breaking down in tears.


The three-story house where Pistorius is staying with his aunt and uncle lies on a hill with a view of Pretoria. It has a large swimming pool and an immaculate garden.


Pistorius was born without fibula bones due to a congenital defect and had his legs amputated at 11 months. He has run on carbon-fiber blades and was originally banned from competing against able-bodied peers because many argued that his blades gave him an unfair advantage. He was later cleared to compete. He is multiple Paralympic medalist, but he failed to win a medal at the London Olympics, where he ran in the 400 meters and on South Africa's 4x400 relay team.


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How troubled Italy fell into a coma











Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Bill Emmott: "Good Italy and Bad Italy" represent spit personalities of troubled country

  • In 1950s, Italy was Europe's "emerging economy" and a pioneering center for design

  • Old demons, including corruption and bloated public pensions, nearly bankrupted Italy

  • Today Italy's biggest problem is the country's refusal to take responsibility and change




Editor's note: Bill Emmott is a British journalist and was the editor of The Economist from 1993 to 2006. His book "Good Italy, Bad Italy" was published in English in 2012, and he is the narrator of "Girlfriend in a Coma," a documentary about Italy's current crisis.


(CNN) -- On my first visit to Italy, at the age of 18, I fell in love with the country and its amazing history almost at first sight, as I and my friends sailed across the lagoon on the ferry to Venice. When we returned and found our camper van had been emptied out by thieves, I felt a little less enamored, to say the least.


This was my first glimpse of the split personality of a country that is expressed nearly 40 years later in the title of my 2012 book, "Good Italy, Bad Italy," and is the theme of the new film I have just narrated for the Italian director Annalisa Piras, "Girlfriend in a Coma".


Yet what I didn't realize then, as a (fairly) innocent teenager, was quite how significant Italy's history is for the whole of the West.



Bill Emmott

Bill Emmott



The greatest case study, or cautionary tale, comes from Venice itself. In medieval times La Serenissima, as Venice is known, became the richest and most powerful city-state in the Mediterranean. It was run by a quasi-democratic "grand council", made up of the merchants who were making the city rich, an elite that was open to newcomers if they had new ideas and new energies.


But in the 14th century the elite decided to close its doors to newcomers, allowing in only those related by family to the old guard, and nationalizing trading rights. The decline of Venice began with that decision.


Italy today is like a huge re-run of that sad Venetian story. During the 1950s and 1960s, the country was Europe's own "emerging economy" of the period, enjoying the third fastest average annual GDP growth rate in the world during those decades, beaten only by Japan and South Korea. It was helped by the global move towards freer trade and by the early European Union, but also by its own then very dynamic society and economy.


New, entrepreneurial companies were formed, new ideas blossomed; Italy became a pioneering center for design, for cinema, and for fashion, and the migration of millions of workers from the poor south to the industrializing north provided the factories with labor at a competitive price.




But then old demons came back to haunt Italy. The sharp polarization, combined with fear, between left and right that was a legacy of the fascist period of Mussolini from 1917 to 1943, returned first in the form of a huge wave of strikes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and then in a deadly form of political violence. Nearly 500 people died in shootings, bombings and other tragedies during the decade and a half from 1970 as extremists on both left and right fought a running battle.


As well, sadly, as taking part in the violence, governments responded by trying to buy social peace -- first by implementing a very restrictive labor law which had the effect of making the law courts the principal arbitrator in industrial disputes; and second by an explosion of public spending (and thus borrowing) chiefly on pensions and a national health system.


Public pensions became the main form of unemployment insurance, as unwanted workers were permitted to retire early and draw pensions. But public debt became the main albatross around Italy's neck as governments ran budget deficits that in 1975-95 averaged (yes, averaged) almost 10% of GDP each and every year. The result: a pioneering crisis of sovereign debt and a foretaste of the crises now roiling the eurozone, as Italy's debt load reached 120% of GDP in the early 1990s and sent the country into near bankruptcy.


That financial crisis, in the course of which the Italian lira was ejected from Europe's pre-euro exchange-rate system (along with Britain's pound sterling) coincided with a huge political crisis, as corruption investigations brought crashing down the parties that had dominated Italian politics for the past 40 years.


The crisis brought talk of a new start, a "second republic" (to succeed the first, formed with the postwar constitution in 1945-48) and even a renaissance. In the interim, governments led by so-called technocrats (a professor, a governor of the Bank of Italy, an ex-diplomat) were brought in to make reforms and give the country a much needed "reset" before normal politics would be resumed.


It didn't happen. Hence, 20 years later, Italy finds itself in yet another crisis, one that looks eerily similar. The country's sovereign debt is -- you guessed it -- 120% of GDP. A mix of financial crisis and scandals brought down the long-running government of the media billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, while also discrediting establishment politicians of all parties.


In November 2011 a technocrat, the economics professor and former European Commissioner Mario Monti, was brought in to stabilize the country's finances, make reforms and give the country a "reset" before normal politics commence again after the upcoming elections.


It is too soon to say that the "reset" -- or, to use a broader metaphor, the upgrading of Italy's cultural, political and economic software -- will fail again. But it can be said that progress has been slow and disappointing.


Prime Minister Monti succeeded in stabilizing the public finances, but at the cost of a deeper recession than in all other eurozone economies except Greece and Spain. Beyond that, however, no major reforms have been implemented -- so the justice system remains painfully slow, the labor laws still discourage hiring while leaving millions of young people on poorly paid temporary contracts, competition remains overly restricted, too many markets are over-regulated, meritocracy remains stunted, corruption remains rife, and the huge cost of politics and political privileges has been left unchanged.


These tasks all remain for whichever coalition succeeds in forming a government after the elections. They should, however, have been done during the previous 20 years. Some progress in liberalizing markets was made, but not enough to stop Italy's GDP growth rate during 2001-10 from being the 180th worst in the world, just ahead of Haiti's.


Why not? Resistance from entrenched interest groups has been strong. Berlusconi's entry into politics in 1994 was essentially designed to obstruct change, to preserve his quasi-monopolistic businesses, and to ensure the old political ways could continue. On the left, suspicion of capitalism has remained rife, trade union powers have been maintained more successfully than in Germany or even France, and the use of political patronage to build power networks and reward supporters has helped destroy meritocracy.


The big question, however, is why Italians have allowed this to happen. The answer in our film, "Girlfriend in a Coma", is taken from Italy's, and arguably Europe's, greatest ever poet: Dante Alighieri. In his "Divine Comedy" of the 14th century, the sin he condemned most vigorously was "ignavia," by which he meant sloth -- the failure to take responsibility, the failure to show moral courage and to change things.


That is the coma that filmmaker Annalisa Piras and I diagnose as the Italian condition: economic stagnation, yes, but also a failure of consciousness and responsibility, which is in effect a moral failure.


Umberto Eco, the philosopher and novelist, adds a further explanation in the film. Italians, he says, "do not have a sense of the state." They had and respected a very powerful state in Roman times but that collapsed. The only states that have successfully replaced it since then have been the city states of Venice, Florence and elsewhere, which produced great riches and even the Renaissance of art, science, humanism and culture of the 15th century, but never achieved a set of stable, respected, still-less national institutions.


To get Italy out of its coma, its second crisis of 20 years, new governments will have to work hard to fix that problem. To make sure they do so, Italians will need to shed their ignavia and to become more active and demanding -- not in their sectional or local interests, but in the national interest.







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Mira Sorvino cast in Jim Gaffigan’s CBS pilot






LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) – Mira Sorvino and Jim Gaffigan are getting hitched. At least on the small screen.


“The Replacement Killers” star Sorvino has signed on for Gaffigan‘s CBS comedy pilot. as the comedian’s wife.






The as-yet-untitled, single-camera pilot stars comedian Gaffigan as a happily married and harried New York City father of five (as, perhaps not coincidentally, he is in real life). Sorvino will play Jeannie, a super-wife and super-mom of five who has a sixth child in the form of her husband, Jim.


Gaffigan and “Rescue Me” creator Peter Tolan are writing and executive producing the pilot, which comes from Sony Television in association with Fedora Entertainment. Michael Wimer and Alex Murray are also executive producing.


Sorvino had previously been cast in the TNT pilot “Trooper” from Jerry Bruckheimer, a procedural drama about a recently divorced mother of three and state trooper who takes an unconventional approach to her work.


TV News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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NFL exec: HGH testing resolution needed


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch says the league and players association need to reach agreement soon on HGH testing.


The NFL and the union agreed in principle to HGH testing when a new 10-year labor agreement was reached in August 2011. But protocols must be approved by both sides and the players have questioned the science in the testing procedures, stalling implementation.


Speaking at the scouting combine Thursday, Birch says the NFL has full confidence in the test and "should have been a year into this by now." He calls the delays "a disservice to all of us."


On Tuesday, the union said in a conference call it favors HGH testing, but only with a strong appeal process. Otherwise, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said, "it's just a nonstarter."


Read More..

Would the pope vote be hackable?




The Conclave of Cardinals that will elect a new pope will meet in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Bruce Schneier: Rules for picking a new pope are very detailed

  • He says elaborate precautions are taken to prevent election fraud

  • Every step of the election process is observed by people who know each other

  • Schneier: Vatican's procedures, centuries in the making, are very secure




Editor's note: Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and author of "Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Survive." In 2005, before the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, Schneier wrote a piece on his blog about the process. This essay is an updated version, reflecting new information and analysis.


(CNN) -- As the College of Cardinals prepares to elect a new pope, security people like me wonder about the process. How does it work, and just how hard would it be to hack the vote?


The rules for papal elections are steeped in tradition. John Paul II last codified them in 1996, and Benedict XVI left the rules largely untouched. The "Universi Dominici Gregis on the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff" is surprisingly detailed.


Every cardinal younger than 80 is eligible to vote. We expect 117 to be voting. The election takes place in the Sistine Chapel, directed by the church chamberlain. The ballot is entirely paper-based, and all ballot counting is done by hand. Votes are secret, but everything else is open.



Bruce Schneier

Bruce Schneier



First, there's the "pre-scrutiny" phase.


"At least two or three" paper ballots are given to each cardinal, presumably so that a cardinal has extras in case he makes a mistake. Then nine election officials are randomly selected from the cardinals: three "scrutineers," who count the votes; three "revisers," who verify the results of the scrutineers; and three "infirmarii," who collect the votes from those too sick to be in the chapel. Different sets of officials are chosen randomly for each ballot.


Each cardinal, including the nine officials, writes his selection for pope on a rectangular ballot paper "as far as possible in handwriting that cannot be identified as his." He then folds the paper lengthwise and holds it aloft for everyone to see.


When everyone has written his vote, the "scrutiny" phase of the election begins. The cardinals proceed to the altar one by one. On the altar is a large chalice with a paten -- the shallow metal plate used to hold communion wafers during Mass -- resting on top of it. Each cardinal places his folded ballot on the paten. Then he picks up the paten and slides his ballot into the chalice.


Pope may change rules to allow earlier election


If a cardinal cannot walk to the altar, one of the scrutineers -- in full view of everyone -- does this for him.










If any cardinals are too sick to be in the chapel, the scrutineers give the infirmarii a locked empty box with a slot, and the three infirmarii together collect those votes. If a cardinal is too sick to write, he asks one of the infirmarii to do it for him. The box is opened, and the ballots are placed onto the paten and into the chalice, one at a time.


When all the ballots are in the chalice, the first scrutineer shakes it several times to mix them. Then the third scrutineer transfers the ballots, one by one, from one chalice to another, counting them in the process. If the total number of ballots is not correct, the ballots are burned and everyone votes again.


To count the votes, each ballot is opened, and the vote is read by each scrutineer in turn, the third one aloud. Each scrutineer writes the vote on a tally sheet. This is all done in full view of the cardinals.


The total number of votes cast for each person is written on a separate sheet of paper. Ballots with more than one name (overvotes) are void, and I assume the same is true for ballots with no name written on them (undervotes). Illegible or ambiguous ballots are much more likely, and I presume they are discarded as well.


Then there's the "post-scrutiny" phase. The scrutineers tally the votes and determine whether there's a winner. We're not done yet, though.


The revisers verify the entire process: ballots, tallies, everything. And then the ballots are burned. That's where the smoke comes from: white if a pope has been elected, black if not -- the black smoke is created by adding water or a special chemical to the ballots.



Being elected pope requires a two-thirds plus one vote majority. This is where Pope Benedict made a change. Traditionally a two-thirds majority had been required for election. Pope John Paul II changed the rules so that after roughly 12 days of fruitless votes, a simple majority was enough to elect a pope. Benedict reversed this rule.


How hard would this be to hack?


First, the system is entirely manual, making it immune to the sorts of technological attacks that make modern voting systems so risky.


Second, the small group of voters -- all of whom know each other -- makes it impossible for an outsider to affect the voting in any way. The chapel is cleared and locked before voting. No one is going to dress up as a cardinal and sneak into the Sistine Chapel. In short, the voter verification process is about as good as you're ever going to find.


A cardinal can't stuff ballots when he votes. The complicated paten-and-chalice ritual ensures that each cardinal votes once -- his ballot is visible -- and also keeps his hand out of the chalice holding the other votes. Not that they haven't thought about this: The cardinals are in "choir dress" during the voting, which has translucent lace sleeves under a short red cape, making sleight-of-hand tricks much harder. Additionally, the total would be wrong.


The rules anticipate this in another way: "If during the opening of the ballots the scrutineers should discover two ballots folded in such a way that they appear to have been completed by one elector, if these ballots bear the same name, they are counted as one vote; if however they bear two different names, neither vote will be valid; however, in neither of the two cases is the voting session annulled." This surprises me, as if it seems more likely to happen by accident and result in two cardinals' votes not being counted.


Ballots from previous votes are burned, which makes it harder to use one to stuff the ballot box. But there's one wrinkle: "If however a second vote is to take place immediately, the ballots from the first vote will be burned only at the end, together with those from the second vote." I assume that's done so there's only one plume of smoke for the two elections, but it would be more secure to burn each set of ballots before the next round of voting.


The scrutineers are in the best position to modify votes, but it's difficult. The counting is conducted in public, and there are multiple people checking every step. It'd be possible for the first scrutineer, if he were good at sleight of hand, to swap one ballot paper for another before recording it. Or for the third scrutineer to swap ballots during the counting process. Making the ballots large would make these attacks harder. So would controlling the blank ballots better, and only distributing one to each cardinal per vote. Presumably cardinals change their mind more often during the voting process, so distributing extra blank ballots makes sense.


There's so much checking and rechecking that it's just not possible for a scrutineer to misrecord the votes. And since they're chosen randomly for each ballot, the probability of a cabal being selected is extremely low. More interesting would be to try to attack the system of selecting scrutineers, which isn't well-defined in the document. Influencing the selection of scrutineers and revisers seems a necessary first step toward influencing the election.


If there's a weak step, it's the counting of the ballots.


There's no real reason to do a precount, and it gives the scrutineer doing the transfer a chance to swap legitimate ballots with others he previously stuffed up his sleeve. Shaking the chalice to randomize the ballots is smart, but putting the ballots in a wire cage and spinning it around would be more secure -- albeit less reverent.


I would also add some kind of white-glove treatment to prevent a scrutineer from hiding a pencil lead or pen tip under his fingernails. Although the requirement to write out the candidate's name in full provides some resistance against this sort of attack.


Probably the biggest risk is complacency. What might seem beautiful in its tradition and ritual during the first ballot could easily become cumbersome and annoying after the twentieth ballot, and there will be a temptation to cut corners to save time. If the Cardinals do that, the election process becomes more vulnerable.


A 1996 change in the process lets the cardinals go back and forth from the chapel to their dorm rooms, instead of being locked in the chapel the whole time, as was done previously. This makes the process slightly less secure but a lot more comfortable.


Of course, one of the infirmarii could do what he wanted when transcribing the vote of an infirm cardinal. There's no way to prevent that. If the infirm cardinal were concerned about that but not privacy, he could ask all three infirmarii to witness the ballot.


There are also enormous social -- religious, actually -- disincentives to hacking the vote. The election takes place in a chapel and at an altar. The cardinals swear an oath as they are casting their ballot -- further discouragement. The chalice and paten are the implements used to celebrate the Eucharist, the holiest act of the Catholic Church. And the scrutineers are explicitly exhorted not to form any sort of cabal or make any plans to sway the election, under pain of excommunication.


The other major security risk in the process is eavesdropping from the outside world. The election is supposed to be a completely closed process, with nothing communicated to the world except a winner. In today's high-tech world, this is very difficult. The rules explicitly state that the chapel is to be checked for recording and transmission devices "with the help of trustworthy individuals of proven technical ability." That was a lot easier in 2005 than it will be in 2013.


What are the lessons here?


First, open systems conducted within a known group make voting fraud much harder. Every step of the election process is observed by everyone, and everyone knows everyone, which makes it harder for someone to get away with anything.


Second, small and simple elections are easier to secure. This kind of process works to elect a pope or a club president, but quickly becomes unwieldy for a large-scale election. The only way manual systems could work for a larger group would be through a pyramid-like mechanism, with small groups reporting their manually obtained results up the chain to more central tabulating authorities.


And third: When an election process is left to develop over the course of a couple of thousand years, you end up with something surprisingly good.


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bruce Schneier.






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Actresses walking Oscar’s red carpet to exude sophistication, not sex






LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – When actresses sashay down the red carpet before the Oscars ceremony on Sunday, they are expected to be wearing gowns exuding glamour and sophistication, not flesh-exposing jaw-droppers.


Performers at this month’s Grammys were issued a “wardrobe advisory” ahead of the big music awards show, telling them to cover up and keep buttocks, nipples and genitals under wraps. The advisory appeared to work, as no one bared too much skin.






But fashion experts do not expect guests at the 85th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday night to shock, instead forecasting original fashions inspired by last month’s Paris haute couture week where made-to-order gowns worth tens of thousands of dollars are hand-crafted.


Top designers are keen to dress the hottest Hollywood stars, loaning them creations and jewelry for the awards ceremony that is watched by an estimated one billion people worldwide, with many as interested in the fashions as the films.


The importance of looking good on the film industry’s biggest night is critical for up-and-coming actresses wanting to be noticed and for designers and cosmetic and jewelry companies seeking global recognition and the next big contract.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, says on its award show tickets that attire for the event is “formal.” An Academy spokeswoman declined to elaborate on whether more detailed advisories are given to nominees and presenters, saying only that “the Oscars and the Governors Ball are black-tie events.”


With the red carpet televised live, there is no room for wardrobe malfunctions. And attendees know that the critics are ready to pounce on anyone whose frock does not live up to the event.


LEGBOMBING


Designer Marc Bouwer, who is dressing three Oscar attendees this year, called the Oscars red carpet “the greatest, biggest runway show on earth,” pointing out that the right outfit can take someone’s career “from zero to a hundred.”


Bouwer would know. His creations are regularly featured on best-dressed lists, with the white satin gown worn by Angelina Jolie wowing the audience at the 2004 Oscars.


Jolie is a pro of the red carpet. She again stole the spotlight last year when she thrust her right leg out of her high-slit Versace dress, setting off a global copying craze and leading to the adoption of a new word, “legbombing.” Her right leg even got its own Twitter account.


The value of red carpet exposure is hard to pinpoint, but a vintage Christian Dior dress worn by actress Natalie Portman at the 84th Academy Awards later sold for $ 50,000.


The photographs of the actress who takes home the Best Actress statuette becomes part of Oscar lore.


It’s a night when images of beautiful women in spectacular gowns become Hollywood history, such as pictures of Grace Kelly in a blue satin gown by Edith Head in 1955, Julia Roberts in a black vintage Valentino in 2001, and Halle Berry in an Elie Saab gown with a sheer upper bodice and burgundy satin bottom in 2002.


One actress in the spotlight this year is 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, who is a favorite for the Best Actress award for her role in the quirky romance “Silver Linings Playbook.”


Lawrence has built a relationship with Christian Dior’s creative director, Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons, and wore Dior gowns to the recent Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and the BAFTA awards in London.


It remains to be seen if she will don Dior for the Oscars, but style expert Sam Saboura, a fashion host on the cable channel TLC, said he expected the copious amounts of black and white used by Dior and Chanel in Paris last month to appear at the Oscars.


He said the full skirts used by Dior in Paris are also likely to influence gowns on Oscar night, while spring and fall colors like cobalt blue, poppy red and yellow, as seen at the Golden Globes, could emerge.


“The Oscars carpet is the grand dame of all red carpets,” Saboura told Reuters. “It’s a world stage and what’s worn on that night will set the tone and trend of what everyone else will be wearing … and other designers will follow suit.”


Bouwer expects prints to make a big return to the red carpet as designers use computer software like photoshopping and art applications to add prints easily.


“Prints have been on day dresses for years, but now it’s moving into haute couture and ballgowns,” Bouwer told Reuters. “It’s something different. It’s pushing the envelope and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be on an evening gown.”


No matter what color, pattern or designer is chosen for the Oscar red carpet, hair stylist Jose Eber said the underlying theme will be, as always, a celebration of the golden years of Hollywood and a bygone era of timeless elegance.


“Every nominee and presenter gets inspired by that era, and you will see them paying homage to stars like Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, Audrey Hepburn and others,” Eber told Reuters. “But they will all have their own new twist” on elegance.


(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Philip Barbara)


TV News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Wall Street opens lower after jobless data

TORONTO, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Canada's Rebecca Marino, a rising star in women's tennis, stepped away from the sport in search of a normal life on Wednesday, weary of battling depression and cyber-bullies. Ranked number 38 in the world two years ago, the 22-year-old admitted she had long suffered from depression and was no longer willing to make the sacrifices necessary to reach the top. "After thinking long and hard, I do not have the passion or enjoyment to drive myself to the level I would like to be at in professional tennis," Marino explained in a conference call. ...
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Prosecutors: Pistorius top cop should be dropped


PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Prosecutors reinstated attempted murder charges against a policeman leading the murder investigation into Oscar Pistorius, in the latest twist in a case that has captivated South Africa and threatens to bring down a national idol.


The announcement that detective Hilton Botha faces reinstated charges in connection with a 2011 shooting incident came a day after he testified for the prosecution in Pistorius' bail hearing, and by all accounts bungled his appearance. He acknowledged Wednesday that nothing in the world-famous athlete's account of the fatal Valentine's Day shooting of his girlfriend contradicted what police had discovered.


The spokeswoman for the nation's prosecutors urged that Botha be removed from the Pistorius case.


Pistorius, an Olympic runner whose lower legs were amputated when he was less than a year old, claims he mistook girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot her through a locked door in a bathroom in his home. Police said Pistorius fired four shots, hitting Steenkamp three times.


Bulewa Makeke, spokeswoman for South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority, acknowledged Thursday that the timing of the attempted murder charges against the detective was "totally weird" but said Botha should be dropped from the case against the athlete. However, Makeke said the charges against Botha were reinstated on Feb. 4, before his testimony Wednesday and even before Steenkamp was killed. Police said they were notified Wednesday of the reinstated charges which stem from a 2011 shooting incident in which Botha and two other officers allegedly fired at a minibus.


Makeke indicated the charges were reinstated because more evidence had been gathered. She said the charge against Botha was initially dropped "because there was not enough evidence at the time. But then, obviously the investigation continued up to the fourth (of) February and the senior public prosecutor was in a position to make a decision to reinstate the case."


She emphasized that it is a decision for police and not prosecutors whether to take Botha off the Pistorius case, one that has riveted the world's attention and is bringing scrutiny on South Africa's justice system.


"Is he going to be dropped from the case? I don't know. I think the right thing would be for him to be dropped," Makeke said outside Pretoria Magistrate's Court shortly before Pistorius' bail hearing went into a third day. "Obviously there will be consultations between the two (police and prosecutors) to determine what is the best course of action."


Pistorius' main sponsor Nike, meanwhile, suspended its contract with the multiple Paralympic champion, following eyewear manufacturer Oakley's decision to suspend its sponsorship. Nike said in a brief statement on its website: "We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely."


Botha was summoned unexpectedly by the magistrate at the start of Thursday's proceedings and was questioned for around 15 minutes before being excused — but only after it took him around 40 minutes to get to the courtroom.


Pistorius' bail hearing began on Tuesday and is already running behind schedule, with it expected to have been completed on Wednesday.


Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair asked the defense of Pistorius' bail application: "Do you think there will be some level of shock if the accused is released?"


Defense lawyer Barry Roux responded: "I think there will be a level of shock in this country if he is not released."


Opposing bail for Pistorius, prosecutor Gerrie Nel painted a picture of a man "willing and ready to fire and kill," and said signs of remorse from Pistorius did not mean that the athlete didn't intend to kill his girlfriend.


"Even if you plan a murder, you plan a murder and shoot. If you fire the shot, you have remorse. Remorse might kick in immediately," Nel said.


As Nel summed up the prosecution's case opposing bail, Pistorius began to weep, leading his brother, Carl Pistorius, to reach out and touch his back.


"He (Pistorius) wants to continue with his life like this never happened," Nel went on, prompting Pistorius, who was crying soflty, to shake his head. "The reason you fire four shots is to kill," Nel persisted.


Earlier Thursday, Nair questioned Botha over delays in processing records from phones found in Pistorius' house following the killing of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and budding reality TV contestant.


"It seems to me like there was a lack of urgency," Nair said as the efficiency of the police investigation was again questioned after Botha conceded to a string of blunders on the second day of the hearing.


They did not discuss anything relating to the attempted murder charges against Botha and if he should continue on the case. Police say that Botha and two other police officers fired at a minibus they were trying to stop, and will appear in court in May to face seven counts of attempted murder.


Pistorius, in the same gray suit, blue shirt and gray tie combination he has worn throughout the bail hearing, had stood ramrod straight in the dock as the magistrate arrived Thursday and then sat calmly looking at his hands as Roux picked apart the prosecution's argument. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the athlete was slumped over and sobbing uncontrollably at times as detail was read out of how Steenkamp died in his house.


Roux continued to cast doubt on the state's case and the investigation, following up after lead investigator Botha conceded Wednesday that police had left a 9 mm slug in the toilet where Steenkamp died, had lost track of illegal ammunition found in the home and that Botha himself had walked through the scene without protective shoe covers, possibly contaminating the area.


"The poor quality of the evidence offered by investigative officer Botha exposed the disastrous shortcomings of the state's case," Roux said Thursday. "We cannot sit back and take comfort that he is telling the truth."


Roux also raised issue of intent, saying the killing was not "pre-planned" and referred to a "loving relationship" between the two.


He said an autopsy showed that Steenkamp's bladder was empty, suggesting she had gone to use the toilet as Pistorius had claimed. Prosecutors claim Steenkamp had fled to the toilet to avoid an enraged Pistorius.


"The known forensics is consistent" with Pistorius' statement, Roux said. The lawyer said the evidence does not even show Pistorius committed a murder. In summing up the defense argument in the bail hearing, Roux asked that bail restrictions be eased for Pistorius.


Nel presented the prosecution's case before proceedings ended for the day, and said that Pistorius hadn't given guarantees to the court that he wouldn't leave the country if he was facing a life sentence. Nel also stressed that Pistorius shouldn't be given special treatment.


"I am Oscar Pistorius. I am a world-renowned athlete. Is that a special circumstance? No." Nel said. "His (Pistorius') version (of the killing) is improbable."


Nel said the court should focus on the "murder of the defenseless woman."


Botha also testified earlier Thursday — and after he was surprisingly recalled — that he had investigated a 2009 complaint against Pistorius by a woman who claimed the athlete had assaulted her. He said that Pistorius had not hurt her and that the woman had actually injured herself when she kicked a door at Pistorius' home.


Botha was only questioned briefly before he was excused by Nair, but South Africa's prosecuting authority and the police still had to make a decision over whether the 24-year police veteran would be removed from the investigation because of the charges against him.


The hearing was to continue Friday morning, with the possibility of magistrate Nair ruling then if Pistorius can be freed on bail before trial.


___


AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray in Johannesburg contributed to this report.


Read More..

Obama can't kick his legacy down road











By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst


February 19, 2013 -- Updated 2122 GMT (0522 HKT)







President Obama has a small window of opportunity to get Congress to act on his priorities, Gloria Borger says.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Gloria Borger: Prospect of deep budget cuts was designed to compel compromise

  • She says the "unthinkable" cuts now have many supporters

  • The likelihood that cuts may happen shows new level of D.C. dysfunction, she says

  • Borger: President may want a 2014 House victory, but action needed now




(CNN) -- So let's try to recount why we are where we are. In August 2011, Washington was trying to figure out how to raise the debt ceiling -- so the US might continue to pay its bills -- when a stunt was hatched: Kick the can down the road.


And not only kick it down the road, but do it in a way that would eventually force Washington to do its job: Invent a punishment.



Gloria Borger

Gloria Borger



If the politicians failed to come up with some kind of budget deal, the blunt instrument of across-the-board cuts in every area would await.


Unthinkable! Untenable!


Until now.


In fact, something designed to be worse than any conceivable agreement is now completely acceptable to many.



And not only are these forced budget cuts considered acceptable, they're even applauded. Some Republicans figure they'll never find a way to get 5% across-the-board domestic spending cuts like this again, so go for it. And some liberal Democrats likewise say 8% cuts in military spending are better than anything we might get on our own, so go for it.


The result: A draconian plan designed to force the two sides to get together has now turned out to be too weak to do that.


And what does that tell us? More about the collapse of the political process than it does about the merits of any budget cuts. Official Washington has completely abdicated responsibility, taking its dysfunction to a new level -- which is really saying something.


We've learned since the election that the second-term president is feeling chipper. With re-election came the power to force Republicans to raise taxes on the wealthy in the fiscal cliff negotiations, and good for him. Americans voted, and said that's what they wanted, and so it happened. Even the most sullen Republicans knew that tax fight had been lost.


Points on the board for the White House.




Now the evil "sequester" -- the forced budget cuts -- looms. And the president proposes what he calls a "balanced" approach: closing tax loopholes on the rich and budget cuts. It's something he knows Republicans will never go for. They raised taxes six weeks ago, and they're not going to do it again now. They already gave at the office. And Republicans also say, with some merit, that taxes were never meant to be a part of the discussion of across-the-board cuts. It's about spending.


Here's the problem: The election is over. Obama won, and he doesn't really have to keep telling us -- or showing us, via staged campaign-style events like the one Tuesday in which he used police officers as props while he opposed the forced spending cuts.


What we're waiting for is the plan to translate victory into effective governance.


Sure, there's no doubt the president has the upper hand. He's right to believe that GOP calls for austerity do not constitute a cohesive party platform. He knows that the GOP has no singular, effective leader, and that its message is unformed. And he's probably hoping that the next two years can be used effectively to further undermine the GOP and win back a Democratic majority in the House.


Slight problem: There's plenty of real work to be done, on the budget, on tax reform, on immigration, climate change and guns. A second-term president has a small window of opportunity. And a presidential legacy is not something that can be kicked down the road.


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.











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Read More..

Oscars in Hollywood cliffhanger over Best Picture, Director






LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Sunday’s Oscar ceremony is set for a cliffhanger ending after a topsy-turvy awards season that has left the two top prizes – Best Picture and Best Director – too close to call.


With just days to go before the movie industry’s highest honors are handed out on February 24, awards watchers are keyed up for one of the most exciting nights in recent Academy Awards history.






Despite entering the Oscar race with a leading 12 nominations in January, the front-runner Best Picture status of Steven Spielberg‘s presidential drama “Lincoln” has been undermined by a slew of awards picked up Ben Affleck‘s Iran hostage thriller “Argo.”


But an “Argo” win despite Affleck’s omission from the Best Director shortlist would defy the conventional wisdom that says the Oscar for Best Film usually brings a trophy for its director.


“Argo” would be the first movie to take home the statuette for Best Picture without its director winning even a nomination since “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1990.


“Everything is kind of haywire, so those of us in the (awards prediction) business are all left scratching our heads and saying what does it mean?” said Matt Atchity, editor in chief of movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.


After beating “Lincoln” at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, directors, producers and writers guilds, “Argo” now has the edge in the Best Picture race.


“Even if ‘Argo’ wins for Best Picture, which is kind of a foregone conclusion at this point, it still feels exciting because ‘Argo’ has managed to keep this underdog status even though it has been winning every award,” Dave Karger, chief correspondent for Fandango.com told Reuters.


“If ‘Lincoln’ wins, ironically it will be considered an upset even though it has the most nominations. That’s what’s strange about this year – all the rules seems to be turned on their heads,” Karger added.


A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday underlined the stiff competition. Some 17 percent of the 1,443 people questioned in the United States between February 15 and 19 thought that “Lincoln” was most likely to win Best Picture, but the same percentage gave their backing to musical “Les Miserables.”


“Argo” was thought most likely to take home the Oscar by 8 percent of those questioned, while “Django Unchained” and “Life of Pi” tied with 4 percent. Some 41 percent of those asked in the Reuters/Ipsos poll were unsure which movie would win on Sunday.


JOCKEYING FOR POSITION FOR MONTHS


Unlike last year when silent film “The Artist” had the race sewn up weeks ahead of the Academy Awards ceremony, four films have moved in and out of the front position six times since September, according to movie pundits at Goldderby.com.


They include quirky comedy “Silver Linings Playbook” which won the top prize at the Toronto film festival, and “Les Miserables” the screen version of hit French Revolutionary stage show which has a strong fan following but which got mixed reviews.


“The fact the front-runner has changed so many times has made it exasperating, but almost more fun,” said Karger.


“Argo” is thought to have come through less because of a sympathy vote for the snub to Affleck and more because of its deft blend of thriller with a satire on Hollywood movie making. The movie is based on the true story of the CIA rescue from Islamic revolutionary Tehran of six U.S. diplomats who pretended to be producing a fake film.


“I think people genuinely love that movie and it’s very inclusive to the Hollywood professionals who are voting on these awards. It allows people in Hollywood to say, we helped get those hostages out, and there is an appeal there,” Atchity said.


“The critical reaction to ‘Lincoln’ tended to be that it was a very educational and really impressive film but it didn’t grab you emotionally the way some of the other nominees did.”


Directors Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables”), Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”) were also left off the Oscars short-list although their movies earned nominations.


That leaves Spielberg as presumed favorite for a third Best Director Oscar after victories with 1990s films “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.”


But don’t count out David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” and Ang Lee, the self-effacing Taiwanese director who brought Yann Martel’s mythological shipwreck survival novel “Life of Pi” to the big screen.


“No one thought that book was filmable, and yet Ang Lee was able to pull it off. When you think this was the same man that made ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ he is so versatile it’s astonishing,” said Karger.


“Lincoln” is distributed by Walt Disney Co. and 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp; “Argo” is distributed by Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner; “Les Miserables” is distributed by Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp; “Life of Pi” is distributed by 20th Century Fox; “Zero Dark Thirty” is released by Sony Corp’s movie studio arm; “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Django Unchained” are distributed by privately held Weinstein Co.


(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)


TV News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Bruno Mars Reveals Worldwide Tour Dates; “The Moonshine Jungle World Tour” Kicks Off June 22nd in Washington, DC; European Leg Begins October 2nd in Belfast; Mars Scores 10th Consecutive Top 10 Single on the Billboard “Hot 100″; “When I Was Your Man” Joins “Locked Out Of Heaven” in the Top 10, Breaking Records in Billboard’s Chart History; Tickets for “The Moonshine Jungle World Tour” on Sale Beginning March 1st






NEW YORK, NY–(Marketwire – Feb 20, 2013) – Atlantic recording artist Bruno Mars has unveiled details of his hugely anticipated world tour. The North American leg of “The Moonshine Jungle World Tour” gets underway on June 22nd at Washington, DC’s Verizon Center and then continues through August. The European leg of the tour begins October 2nd in Belfast, Northern Ireland (see attached itinerary). A special promo video for “The Moonshine Jungle World Tour” is now viewable here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m59LgGC4IIQ. Special guests on select dates of the North American leg include Ellie Goulding and newly signed Elektra artist Fitz & The Tantrums. Tickets for select North American dates and all European dates and will go on-sale March 1st. For full details and ticket availability, please visit www.brunomars.com.


The announce of “The Moonshine Jungle World Tour” comes just as “When I Was Your Man” — the latest single from Mars’ just-released sophomore album, “UNORTHODOX JUKEBOX” — has exploded into the top 10 on Billboard‘s “Hot 100″ where it joins the album’s blockbuster first single, “Locked Out Of Heaven,” which recently spent six consecutive weeks atop the “Hot 100″ chart. The immediate success of “When I Was Your Man” – which additionally earned honors as the week’s top “Streaming Gainer” and “Airplay Gainer” – marks the GRAMMY®-winner’s 10th consecutive single to hit the top 10, continuing his already-established status as the male artist with the longest streak of top 10 hits as a performer since his debut. Furthermore, the single’s chart ascension places Mars in the history books as the first male artist to simultaneously place two titles in the top 10 since his own “Grenade” and “Just The Way You Are” doubled up on the chart in December 2010/January 2011.






The official companion video for “When I Was Your Man” — directed by Mars and his frequent collaborator, Cameron Duddy (“Locked Out Of Heaven,” “The Lazy Song”) — is also looking like an instant smash. The clip, which premiered earlier this month, has already drawn close to 5 million individual views at Bruno’s official YouTube channel, located at http://youtu.be/ekzHIouo8Q4. “When I Was Your Man” first shot to the top 10 on the iTunes “Top Singles” chart within 48 hours of its official release last year.


Mars recently led a breathtaking performance on the 55th Annual Grammy Awards fronting an all-star tribute to Bob Marley alongside the likes of Sting and Rihanna, which marked the Grammy-winner’s third consecutive year to perform on the acclaimed show.


As its title suggests, “UNORTHODOX JUKEBOX” once again sees Mars melding a multitude of musical approaches to create his own distinctive sound. Executive produced by The Smeezingtons, the hit-making production team comprised of Mars, Philip Lawrence, and Ari Levine, the collection also features contributions from such top producers as Jeff Bhasker (fun., Kanye West, Jay-Z), Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Lil Wayne, Black Lips) and Diplo (M.I.A, Usher).


“UNORTHODOX JUKEBOX” made a stunning SoundScan/Billboard 200 debut upon its release last year, entering the chart at #2 with sales in excess of 192,000 – the singer/songwriter/producer/musician’s highest first week sales debut thus far. In addition, the album exploded to the top spot on the British album charts, making history as the United Kingdom’s fastest selling solo album of 2012. The phenomenal success of “UNORTHODOX JUKEBOX” follows the equivalent popularity of Mars’ now classic 2010 debut, “DOO-WOPS & HOOLIGANS,” which proved the U.K.’s third best-selling album of 2011 and also entered the charts at #1.


Bruno Mars is undoubtedly among contemporary pop’s most gifted and compelling artists. And with global sales currently certified at 40x-platinum and over 50 million singles sold worldwide, the 14-time Grammy Award nominee has fully proven himself as a true superstar.


Released in October 2010, “DOO-WOPS & HOOLIGANS” was greeted with both popular success and critical acclaim from all corners of the globe. ”The year’s finest pop debut,” raved Rolling Stone. ”Near-flawless…(the album) delivers pleasure without pretension.” Fueled by a remarkable string of hit singles, including the multi-platinum #1 smashes, “Just The Way You Are” and “Grenade,” the album instantly confirmed Mars as a major force in modern pop music.


Mars soon racked up a remarkable record of prestigious international awards and nominations, with victories including a “Best Male Pop Vocal Performance” Grammy Award (for “Just The Way You Are”), an American Music Award for “Pop or Rock Music/Favorite Male Artist,” a 2012 Brit Award (for “International Male Solo Artist”), two Teen Choice Awards, a 2012 People’s Choice Award (for “Favorite Male Artist”), a Soul Train Music Award, two MTV Europe Music Awards, two MTV Music Awards Japan, a BT Digital Music Award, an ECHO Award, and multiple 2011 Billboard Awards including “Top Male Hot 100 Artist of the Year.”


As if that weren’t enough, Mars received a truly stunning assortment of 2011 and 2012 honors from ASCAP, including the ASCAP Pop Award for “Song of the Year” (for “Just The Way You Are”). In 2011, he was named to the prestigious Time 100, confirming the superstar as one of the most influential people in the world.


For up-to-the-minute news and information, please visit: www.brunomars.com, www.facebook.com/thatbrunomars, www.youtube.com/brunomars, and twitter.com/BRUNOMARS.


(TOUR ITINERARY ATTACHED)







































































































































































































































































































 
BRUNO MARS
THE MOONSHINE JUNGLE WORLD TOUR
*on sale March 1st
 
NORTH AMERICA
Date Market Venue Support Act
Saturday, June 22, 2013* Washington D.C. Verizon Center Fitz & the Tantrums
Monday, June 24, 2013* Philadelphia, PA Wells Fargo Center Fitz & the Tantrums
Wednesday, June 26, 2013* Boston, MA TD Garden Fitz & the Tantrums
Thursday, June 27, 2013 Uncasville, CT Mohegan Sun Arena Fitz & the Tantrums
Saturday, June 29, 2013* New York, NY Barclays Center Fitz & the Tantrums
Monday, July 01, 2013* Newark Prudential Center Ellie Goulding
Tuesday, July 02, 2013 Pittsburgh, PA Consol Energy Center Ellie Goulding
Wednesday, July 03, 2013* Toronto Molson Amphitheatre Ellie Goulding
Friday, July 05, 2013 Montreal Bell Centre Ellie Goulding
Wednesday, July 10, 2013 Columbus Value City Arena Ellie Goulding
Thursday, July 11, 2013 Detroit, MI The Palace of Auburn Hills Ellie Goulding
Saturday, July 13, 2013* Chicago, IL United Center Ellie Goulding
Sunday, July 14, 2013 Minneapolis, MN Xcel Energy Ellie Goulding
Wednesday, July 17, 2013 Calgary, AB Scotiabank Saddledome Ellie Goulding
Thursday, July 18, 2013 Edmonton, AB Rexall Place Ellie Goulding
Saturday, July 20, 2013 Vancouver, BC Rogers Arena Ellie Goulding
Sunday, July 21, 2013 Seattle, WA Key Arena Ellie Goulding
Monday, July 22, 2013 Portland, OR Rose Garden Arena Ellie Goulding
Wednesday, July 24, 2013* Sacramento, CA Sleep Train Arena Ellie Goulding
Thursday, July 25, 2013* San Jose, CA HP Pavilion Ellie Goulding
Saturday, July 27, 2013* Los Angeles, CA Staples Center Ellie Goulding
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 San Diego, CA Valley View Casino Center Ellie Goulding
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 Phoenix, AZ US Airways Center Ellie Goulding
Friday, August 02, 2013 Salt Lake City, UT Maverik Center Fitz & the Tantrums
Saturday, August 03, 2013 Las Vegas, NV MGM Grand Fitz & the Tantrums
Monday, August 05, 2013* Denver, CO Red Rocks Amphitheater Ellie Goulding
Thursday, August 08, 2013 St. Louis, MO Scottrade Center Ellie Goulding
Friday, August 09, 2013 Kansas City, MO Sprint Center Ellie Goulding
Saturday, August 10, 2013* Oklahoma City, OK Chesapeake Energy Arena Ellie Goulding
Monday, August 12, 2013 Dallas, TX American Airlines Center Ellie Goulding
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 Austin, TX Frank Erwin Center Ellie Goulding
Thursday, August 15, 2013 Houston, TX Toyota Center Ellie Goulding
Saturday, August 17, 2013 Nashville, TN Bridgestone Arena Fitz & the Tantrums
Sunday, August 18, 2013 Louisville, KY KFC Yum! Center Fitz & the Tantrums
Monday, August 19, 2013 Indianapolis, IN Bankers Life Fieldhouse Fitz & the Tantrums
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 Charlotte, NC Time Warner Cable Arena Fitz & the Tantrums
Thursday, August 22, 2013 Atlanta, GA Philips Arena Fitz & the Tantrums
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 Tampa, FL St. Pete Times Forum Fitz & the Tantrums
Friday, August 30, 2013 Miami, FL American Airlines Arena Fitz & the Tantrums
Sunday, September 1, 2013 San Juan, PR Coliseo de Puerto Rico TBA






































































































































































































 
EUROPE
Date City Country Venue
Wednesday, October 2, 2013* Belfast NI The Odyssey Arena
Thursday, October 3, 2013* Dublin EIRE The O2
Saturday, October 5, 2013* Manchester UK Manchester Arena
Sunday, October 6, 2013* Glasgow UK Hydro
Tuesday, October 8, 2013* London UK O2 Arena
Friday, October 11, 2013* Birmingham UK NIA Arena
Saturday, October 12, 2013* Sheffield UK Motorpoint Arena
Monday, October 14, 2013* Paris France Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy
Tuesday, October 15, 2013* Amsterdam Netherlands Ziggo Dome
Thursday, October 17, 2013* Antwerp Belgium Sportpaleis
Friday, October 18, 2013* Luxembourg Luxembourg Rockhal
Sunday, October 20, 2013* Mannheim Germany SAP Arena
Monday, October 21, 2013* Stuttgart Germany Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle
Wednesday, October 23, 2013* Zurich Switzerland Hallenstadion
Thursday, October 24, 2013* Vienna Austria Stadthalle
Saturday, October 26, 2013* Milan Italy Mediolanum Forum
Monday, October 28, 2013* Berlin Germany O2 World
Tuesday, October 29, 2013* Hamburg Germany O2 World
Thursday, October 31, 2013* Copenhagen Denmark Forum
Saturday, November 2, 2013* Oslo Norway Spektrum
Sunday, November 3, 2013* Stockholm Sweden Ericsson Globe
Wednesday, November 6, 2013* Prague Czech Republic O2 Arena
Thursday, November 7, 2013* Budapest Hungary Papp Laszlo Budapest Sport Arena
Saturday, November 9, 2013* Dusseldorf Germany ISS Dome
Tuesday, November 12, 2013* Munich Germany Olympiahalle
Wednesday, November 13, 2013* Marseilles France Le Dome
Friday, November 15, 2013* Madrid Spain Palacio Vistalegre

Marketwire News Archive – Yahoo! Finance




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